NYC Pricey Food Trend Leads to $1,000 Bagel

New York City is home to many exorbitantly priced culinary delights such as the $25,000 sundae and $10,000 martini. Now, there's a $1,000 bagel. It is whole wheat, available without toppings for $1.20. But it is what's on the bagel that boosts the price: white truffles and gold leaf jelly.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Rising wheat prices have nothing to do with our next story, even though it's about the rising cost of bagels in New York City - make that the rising cost of one particular bagel. A new trend in the city is exorbitantly priced food items. There's the $10,000 martini and the $25,000 sundae.

NPR's Mike Pesca reports on the first bagel that requires a credit check.

MIKE PESCA: When I first heard about the thousand-dollar bagel, I thought, huh. A bagel. That's a weird name for a computer. But no, it's a real bagel - whole wheat, actually - available with no topping for $1.20 at H&H Bagels. It's what's on the bagel that makes its creator, the Westin Hotel's executive chef Frank Tujague, go gaga. First, the base.

Mr. FRANK TUJAGUE: I used a Mascarpone cream cheese, which is an Italian cream cheese. It's a little less sweet. And I paired it with a wine jelly. So it's not your normal grape smear that you get in the morning.

PESCA: Atop that, white truffles.

Mr. TUJAGUE: They're probably the most wonderful thing you'll ever experience.

PESCA: The truffle content alone is worth a couple of hundred dollars because truffles are so rare, so Italian, and the dollar is so weak. But to get the price tag to a thousand, Tujague resorts to the bread and butter of all exorbitantly priced food items: edible gold.

Mr. TUJAGUE: It's pretty neutral in taste. You know, we - I only put a small amount just to accentuate the color and to add the touch of elegance. It's not really there for the flavor.

PESCA: Might I suggest tofu and food coloring as a cheaper alternative? But, of course, cheap is exactly not the point. So what is the point?

I asked USC Professor Barry Glassner, author of "The Gospel of Food," who's been thinking about the relationship Americans have to their food stuffs. He said something very interesting.

Professor BARRY GLASSNER (University of South California; Author, "The Gospel of Food"): Bagels and sundaes are delicious.

PESCA: No, not that. This.

Prof. GLASSNER: I just wish there was some way that those of us who care really deeply about the tremendous number of people who are hungry in this county could find a way to make that story as interesting to this population, meaning, to your listeners and to TV viewers of cable TV and to everybody else, as that story about that ridiculously expensive food item.

PESCA: Glassner's reaction to the thousand-dollar bagel isn't outrage, exactly. He just thinks that it symbolizes the gap between the rich and poor, and at the same time convinces the middle that there might not be such a gap.

But the New York City Food Bank says that we are currently experiencing a dire food shortage, and that 1.3 million New Yorkers rely on food pantries each year, up sharply since 2004.

So if you're coming to New York this holiday season, the Westin Times Square requires 24-hours notice if you want a thousand-dollar bagel. They haven't sold any yet, and perhaps more tragically, they aren't giving sample bites to inquisitive reporters. Your local food banks, on the other hand, are trying their hardest not to turn anyone away.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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