Joe Schultz, who is the spirit as well as the name behind India Joze restaurant in this coastal city, has been a lot of things in his 35 years: a dancer, a poet, a mechanic and a furniture maker. Little could anyone have predicted that what would bring him fame (if not fortune) would be his way with squid.
"We put squid on the map," boasts his partner, Tom Brezsny. And he isn't exaggerating. This year the city of Santa Cruz renamed the tiny street behind the restaurant "Squid Row." And this week Squid Row will be the site of the Annual International Calamari Festival, which seven years ago began as a one-day event, and now occupies the entire month of August.
"That's our feeding frenzy," says Brezsny of the squid festival. It will have squid cooking classes, a squid art contest (last year's winner was squid shoes), squid souvenirs, T-shirts, posters and post cards. The restaurant's centerpieces for this month will be rubber squid lures, the ceiling will be strung with tentacles. And during the month a hundred different squid dishes will appear on the menu. Last year 600 to 800 people a day ate squid to the tune of 4,000 pounds over the month. "It's a total burnout for the kitchen," says Schultz.
The festival started as a subject of meditation, an idea Brezsny, who began at India Joze as a janitor, dreamed up to occupy his mind while he cleaned a couple hundred pounds of squid at a time for the kitchen. Fortunately, before the festival grew to its present size, a local man invented a squid-cleaning machine.
The festival will begin this year with a tentacle-cutting ceremony; the tentacles will be tied together and stretched across Squid Row. Although the month's events are bound to include some form of impromptu theater, the festival won't be as bizarre as it was in those early years, when there were squid comedians, squid jugglers, squid revivalist preachers. But there is usually a calamari version of Handel's Messiah, and the art show runs the gamut from blown glass to pottery to paper art. Nowadays, though, the emphasis is more on the food, with dishes from Ceylon, the Philippines, Indonesia and more. The most popular one will probably continue to be plain fried squid: cleaned and scored, dipped in flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika, and fried in peanut oil. India Joze adds its wonderful skordalia sauce -- a kind of mayonnaise made with walnuts, potatoes and plenty of garlic -- for dipping.
Why squid? Not only is it a bother to clean, it is, according to Schultz, the most perishable of foods. On the other hand, it is quick to cook and mild in flavor, an amenable backdrop to many kinds of seasoning. Furthermore, it is local. Nearby Monterey is one of the world's largest squid fishing areas, and on a good day squid can be netted right off the Santa Cruz pier. Brezsny adds that squid are particularly interesting animals; not only are their eyes so similar to humans' that they are used for research, squid "are kind of a living fossil. They've been on Earth longer than man has." Even more important to a restaurant, they are cheap and plentiful.
There is, however, the problem of squid squeamishness. A lot of Americans cringe at the idea of eating them. That's changing, though, says Brezsny; he has even seen squid on the menu of the cafeteria of nearby Cabrillo College. One reason it is changing is that people are learning that squid doesn't have to taste like rubber bands. You only get that special effect when you overcook it -- which most people do. Schultz suggests squid be scored so that they roll up prettily in the cooking, and cooked only until they begin to do so. That means 20 to 30 seconds in a wok or 1 to 2 minutes in a saute' pan.
During the other 11 months of the year, India Joze is more subtle about its squid inclinations. Squid is only one category on a menu that is divided into salads, fritters, "entrees and extrees," chicken, red snapper, prawns, lamb, beef and vegetarian. Not the usual mix of categories, but then India Joze is far from a usual restaurant. Mondays through Wednesdays it specializes in Mid-East Asian Dinners, featuring on some nights male and female belly dancers. Thursdays and Fridays are East Indian dinners; Saturdays and Sundays, Indonesian. There are Thai lunches on Fridays and brunches on Sundays. There are Vietnamese dishes, Persian dishes, Moroccan dishes.
And with every order the diner is asked whether he prefers it mild, moderate or hot. India Joze makes its own ketchup, relishes, curry pastes and condiments -- red pepper sauce, pickled lemons, toasted walnut-sesame salt. The breads and pastries -- about 15 different ones a day -- are made in-house. Not only does the restaurant have an herb garden, every member of the corporation has one at home. And while the wine list, as one would expect in California, is very interesting, there are also Indian yogurt drinks made with fresh berries and a lovely cold red hibiscus drink. On some afternoons Schultz gives free cooking classes.
Schultz was a chef who backed into business. As the oldest of five children he had always cooked a lot, and in college cooking was his recreation -- his procrastination, as he calls it. Since he didn't have much money, Asian cooking particularly suited him; it uses inexpensive ingredients but builds up complex flavors, he says. Eventually his dinner parties grew until they turned professional. Using a restaurant facility part-time, Schultz was a one-man show: host, waiter, cook, dishwasher. By 1972, at age 21, Schultz was running a full-fledged restaurant.
Of necessity Schultz has been attracted to cuisines "that did a lot with a little," but he also likes those "that serve many, many dishes -- things where you are drawn from one part of the plate to the other -- and have hot and intense tastes." Not only was he self-taught, he cooked a lot of things he had never tasted before. So he finally decided to see those dishes in their original contexts, and took two years off to travel to Asia and the Middle East, returning last November.
Observing how people used food and how it related to their culture, he struggled with the question of whether authenticity is reproducing the way things are made or the way they taste in the mouth. Japanese food, he came to realize, is a performance, "It is a dance." He found that food tasted different when it was eaten with the fingers, since thicker things could be combined in one bite. In Asia, dishes are made to be eaten with a lot of rice, so if we eat them with little or no rice they will not taste authentic. In Iran herbs accompany the dishes so that the diner combines them with the food he eats; at India Joze, Schultz adds herbs to his Persian dishes to duplicate the effect.
In general, Schultz makes his dishes richer and more elaborate than the originals, and he combines on one plate "something that's Turkish, something that's Persian, something Greek and something Egyptian."
Schultz sees restaurants as drama, as poetry. "Our job," he says, "is to wake people up and, like a poet, show them something they are used to, as if they are having it for the first time."
Squid, he has learned, wakes people up.
We missed it: The 52nd Annual Mold Count School, sponsored by the Indiana Food Processors Association. Imagine counting molds for 52 years.
Instead, we'll try not to miss the Carolina Chocolate Celebration next Feb. 6-8 at the Raleigh Inn in Raleigh, N.C. We've seen plenty of chocolate weekends, but none that included a chocolate auction, a chocolate fantasy confession booth and a chocolate celebrity dunk.
I was taken aback by the publicity for Beck 'N Call, an invention that uses microprocessor signals to alert the staff when a table at a restaurant is cleared, an order is ready or a customer is waiting for service. Throughout the publicity release the term used for the service people was "waitresses." Can't waiters be at its beck and call?
INDIA JOZE SKORDALIA SAUCE (Makes about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon walnuts
2 tablespoons cooked potato or crustless french bread
2 tablespoons chopped garlic (more than seems reasonable)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil (more if necessary)
In a blender, food processor, or with a mortar and pestle pure'e all ingredients except olive oil. Add a small amount of water if necessary to obtain a smooth, thin paste. Taste and adjust seasonings; it should be quite tart and salty. If using a blender or food processor, turn motor on and gradually add olive oil until sauce has the consistency of thin mayonnaise. If mixing by hand, use a wire whisk and add olive oil very slowly. Adjust seasonings and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temperature, with fried or boiled squid -- or any other seafood as desired.