Just before Passover, our good friend Josh Tupper at Russ & Daughters appeared on the Martha Stewart Show to tout the now famous "Super Heeb" sandwich. Even before it was called the Super Heeb, I was purchasing whitefish and baked salmon salad and horseradish cream cheese, bringing it home and schmearing it on a bagel. Tupper not unceremoniously named the sandwich after our magazine when we named it one of the best foods in the whole wide world in our 2006 Food Issue. Since 2006, the public hasn’t been able to get enough of the sandwich. The Heeb (the "Super Heeb" is topped off with wasabi flying fish roe) has gone on to become the most popular sandwich at Russ & Daughters (according to Tupper) and has garnered critical acclaim by people who know much more about food than we do.
To be sure, the origins of the sandwich have been widely acknowledged
, though we gave the matter little thought because our informal collaboration was inspired not by the love of attention–but by the love of whitefish. And to their credit, Russ & Daughters
have never hidden the sandwich’s origins. That’s why Tupper’s explanation of the name of the sandwich felt so strange when he explained it to Stewart. For some strange reason, just before the show, Tupper decided to change the name to "Heebster" in a naive effort to divorce the sandwich from the magazine. For those of you too lazy to click on the first link in this post, here are the highlights:
Martha Stewart: What’s a Heebster?
Josh Tupper: It’s kind of a combination of old and new. We have whitefish salad, which is the traditional thing we’ve served forever and we have wasabi roe…
Martha Stewart: (interrupting) But what does Heebster mean?
Josh Tupper: Heebster means nothing. Just kind of hipster. Sort of old school and hipster. We made it up.
Now, I’ve said plenty of stupid things when I’ve been interviewed over the years and can easily imagine misspeaking when put on the spot–especially by someone with as much power as Stewart. So, I asked Tupper why he went out of his way to conceal the true origins of the sandwich. He told me that he had quite a few discussions about it beforehand and then made the conscious decision to tell the fish story out of the fear of offending Martha’s people and potential customers.
Let’s put aside the argument that Tupper should have simply told Stewart that the sandwich was named after a satirical Jewish culture magazine that helped inspire it. Let’s also put aside the argument that the word "Heebster" isn’t any less "offensive" than the word "Heeb." Let’s also put aside the argument that Tupper’s apocryphal (and just plain weird) origins myth might have inspired more people to turn the channel than the claim that his sandwich was named after a magazine called "Heeb." Let’s also put aside the idea that Tupper has 12 other sandwiches on his menu to talk to Stewart about. (Why not show her how to make the one with sturgeon, sable and smoked salmon? I’m sure she’d love to utter it’s name–"Meshugge"–on the air.)
Put aside all of this because what is truly significant here is that Tupper was doing this for Martha. Yes, she has the power to move more fish sandwiches in one television spot than I could probably eat in my entire lifetime, but it is not just any old power. This was not Rachael Ray power. Or even Oprah power. Martha Stewart’s power is the power of WASP respectability. I don’t blame Tupper for wanting to keep a time-honored family business alive under the most brutal economic conditions in recent memory. I blame him for not being more self-conscious about the larger significance of his actions. Changing a name to fit in with the WASPs is an embarassing chapter in our cultural history–even if it was just the name you gave to your whitefish, baked salmon salad and cream cheese sandwich.