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The man who ate Queens serves up more courses

Queens food blogger Joe Distefano hoists a large durian fruit.
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Joe Distefano was called “The Man Who Ate Queens” by New York Magazine.

The Queens Economic Development Corp. crowned him “The King of Queens Foodies.”

Eschewing that particular f-word himself, he prefers to be labeled a food nerd, implying a more measured and intellectual approach to what he stuffs into his pie hole.

Whatever moniker you choose, he comes by his passion for food honestly.

Distefano’s food obsession began at a tender age. As a 6-year old, he couldn’t resist sampling items in his family’s larder.

“I used to eat Accent and Jane’s Crazy Salt straight out of the box,” he confided.

His parents nurtured his experimental attitude towards food, taking him on frequent excursions to Chinatown for authentic Chinese meals, and then trying to replicate the experience at home.

As a young man, Distefano moved to Woodside in the’ 90s. He was immediately drawn to the area’s exotic ethnic restaurants. Like many nascent foodies, before the term foodie was even coined, he developed a symbiotic relationship with the Chowhound website, both posting opinions and gaining leads on adventurous eating on the site’s Outer Boroughs boards.

Posting as “Canchito,” he rapidly developed a following. When Chowhound’s founder, Jim Leff published the Chowhound Guide to NY, Distefano was cited as a major contributor. This led to his first food writing gig with the blog Slashfood.com.

As he burnished his creds as Queens’ pre-eminent maven de cuisine, other freelance assignments came his way. His articles began appearing in Gothamist, Serious Eats, New York Magazine, The Village Voice food Blog, Edible Queens, and The New York Times.

In 2013, he founded his own blog, Chopsticks + Marrow. One of his first posts to go viral was about the falafel pizza slice from Benjy’s in Kew Gardens Hills.

“It’s the kind of marvelous mashup that could only happen in Queens,” Distefano asserts.

His blog also boasts an audio guide, created in conjunction with Anne Noye-Saini with key phrases for ordering your food spicy in Mandarin, Nepali, Spanish and Indonesian. The discoveries cited on Chopsticks + Marrow are regularly picked up (with attribution) by New York’s Grubstreet and Eater.com blogs.

Recently, Distefano has been handed the reins of AboutQueens.com, the Queens-centric arm of the About internet empire. When asked how he would differentiate his About content from Chopsticks + Marrow, he explained “Chopsticks & Marrow is for food nerds. About Queens is a general interest site. It’s been around a long time. It’s been given a new look, and I’m adding fresh content.”

In the mid-2000s, Distefano was a member of the legendary Big Island Barbecue team, along with pitmaster Robbie Richter and Josh Ozersky, the beloved food writer who recently died. The team won several state championships, and took home trophies at the prestigious Kansas City Royal and Jack Daniels competitions.

Somewhere along the way, Distefano became an accidental tour guide.

“The Asian Feastival called and asked if I could take about 10 people around Flushing,” Distefano said. “When I agreed to lead a group of 10, they called back twice, first upping to 15, then to 20. Unfortunately, no one thought of a way to keep outsiders from joining the tour. By the time we reached Flushing Mall, I had about 40 in tow and felt like the Pied Piper.”

Distefano soon started fielding tour requests for food luminaries and others.

He led Andrew Zimmern through Queens for an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods America,” followed by an outing for Fox 5’s “Wining & Dining With Rosanna,” with Rosanna Scotto in tow, looking squeamish. He has also done off camera tours with the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Eric Rippert to name drop a bit.

“Nothing surprises me anymore when people call for tours,” he said. “The oddest request was a group of Norwegian fishermen wanting to eat mackerel in Korean restaurants in downtown Flushing.”

Distefano markets his “World’s Fare” tours through Vayable.com, offering tours of Downtown Flushing, Southeast Asian Elmhurst, and Himalayan (Jackson) Heights. He welcomes all comers and will customize to suit.

One of Distefano’s most recent roles is as the “Food Curator” of the newly launched Smorgasburg Queens which opened July 11 in Long Island City.

The market will have both indoor and outdoor space next to M. Wells Steakhouse. According to Distefano, Smorgasburg Q, populated largely by his favorite food vendors, will better represent the ethnic diversity that is Queens than its competition.

Up and coming, Distefano in conjunction with NY Epicurean Events is producing “The Catskills Comes to Queens” Aug. 1 at Flushing Town Hall. The event will bring together some of New York state’s finest crops, locally raised meats, and artisanal comestibles with 20 of the area’s most talented chefs, including two holders of Michelin stars—Danny Brown and Hugue Dufour.

Expect an evening of fabulous farm-to-table food, local wine beer and cider and live entertainment.

After looking back at his 20-odd year involvement with food, Distefano sighs and says “I still wonder if this is a real job. If it is, then I’m lucky enough to have the best job in Queens.”

Updated 12:23 pm, July 20, 2015
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