Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rip Off

Dominic, this post is not just inspired (read: I am ripping off your format for this one) by your writing, but intended to give you a nudge to keep at it. I know its hard to find time and inspiration but good ones are so hard to find and - yours is good!

I am in awe of people like Daniel, who update their blog daily  - and when he is not being a walking advertisement for yelp - his posts are often thoughtful and well articulated. 

Like I said in my last post, I don't lack ideas for writing (I  have notes written everywhere, and several unfinished drafts here waiting for revision), however I often lack the inspiration. Because of my work schedule, I always wind up writing late at night (or in this case, when I should be heading into work).. and nearly every time I type a dozen variations of the same sentence and then give up. You can't force it, I suppose.

This makes me often debate about 'borrowing' Dominic's format - and just filling the page with little bits about this or that. My ideas are often fractured, and sometimes there really isn't anything more to say than just one or two sentences. 

Perhaps I'll simply add a few little lines like this to each post - giving me the opportunity to say some things without too much expansion - as well as alleviate some of the pressure to write more than just a few paragraphs on one subject.  

Mazzone is opening a BurgerFi in Saratoga. J and I ate at one by our hotel when we were at a wedding in Florida last year. I can say with confidence that it will be his best restaurant. Take that however you like. 

People shouldn't believe everything they are told. Even the good ones aren't always so good. I often see people praising local businesses for things that I know to be untrue from my own experiences working at these places, or from first hand accounts of people I know well who work for them. 

I find myself torn about bringing stuff like that to peoples attention. In person, I will gush. Written down, its a different story. Im sure you're at least aware that this industry is built on networking. Its how I went to school - two times, in two different states. Its how Ive gotten every job I have had and booked every stage Ive done. Once you have a reputation for airing dirty laundry - things change. And that reputation will follow you. 

On the other hand - people outright lying about their food, their practices, and methods causes problems much deeper than just misrepresenting themselves. Because of the prevalence of this practice - the collective palate of this region has changed over time. When someone says 'Why does this crème fraîche taste weird?'- my answer is, 'Because its not sour cream'.

I also feel conflicted about criticisms on local businesses. I know daily struggles involved, I know the stress and the difficulties. I want to support the small guys, as much as I possibly can - not deter people from checking them out. I told Daniel that I would methodically go through his list of recommendations now that I am back in Upstate NY for a bit. So far, my thoughts on many of these places haven't changed. 

One place I have tried and I go back and forth on is Lucky Corner, in Troy. I spent a good part of my twenties (essentially) living with a Taiwanese family and have grown to love Taiwanese cuisine. These guys have the best in the area. Its not the best Ive had by any means - but its still better than others...and they're new. Still finding their feet. Go check them out. Encourage them to offer more traditional Taiwanese and scrap the dumpy American Chinese. Encourage them to cook the way their mothers did. Not only is there a large Taiwanese American community in this area, theres a large community of people with interest in more traditional Asian cuisine. Look at A La Shanghai's success.

There is a reason why you don't see chefs hanging out at some of the 'nicer restaurants' around here on a daily basis - and it isn't the price point. 

Ive been trying for several weeks to book a table at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Our schedules make it so only one day of the week works. They book two months out on to the day. This makes it tricky to get the table you want. I got the table this morning. I had an easier time booking a table at Alinea in 2011 when they were the 6th best restaurant in the world. According to the same list, updated yesterday, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the 49th best in the world (Alinea has dropped to 26). 

I am always hesitant to drop that kind of money on a meal, especially because some 95% of meals I've had at restaurants of that caliber have been...lackluster. But, I have admired Dan Barber for many years - I even thought about working for him for a while (again with the networking, a friend in Chicago knew people on the pastry team). The food at Blue Hill speaks to me in a way that most does not. I am hopeful. 

The other 5% of those meals? - they have been some of the most transformative experiences Ive ever had. 

Apparently the FDA is banning trans fats in restaurants nationwide. This reminds me of when Albany county did the same and some bakeries cried about how it would negatively affect their products. Ive never seen a better example of businesses outwardly admitting they are selling shitty products. I have not been to either since (not that I was much of a patron before..) although, now that I think about it, I would bet their product is better now.

I now have a sous chef, for two days a week.

If Fancis Mallmann isn't on your radar, he should be. I've never dreamed about dropping everything to go work for someone as much as I do with him. There is an episode of Chefs Table (on Netflix) about him. Here is a quote, in response to this article in the New York Times, about issues with the Pellegrino Top 50 List:

Francis Mallmannbuenos aires
Thanks so much for choosing me as one of your voting members but
I have decided not to vote any more in your awards. I have been feeling this way in the last two years, and now I can´t do it anymore.
As you know, cooking is a romance with produce, space, service, timing and silence. This runs counter to the sentiments I observe in so many of my colleagues who are so concerned with the awards that they spend the year lobbying the electorate, jetting to conferences, and, in my view, wasting precious time: walking away from the true values of what restaurants are.
Awards created a fictitious, hyper-competitive ambiance for our cooking culture.
Innovation seems to be the prime value. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it has moved us away from valuing craft in pursuit or so-called art. Young chefs attempt to cross bridges, long before they should just for the sake of being new, different and famous. Art is an intellectual thought, and eating good food and wine has more to do with the senses and with sharing. Wine and food makes us more acute, witty, trenchant. Only then can it stimulate our thoughts and improve our communion with our peers, friends, lovers. Certainly food can be intellectual, but in a more silent, dare I say humble, way.
To be sure, I have been greatly honored to be number 7 on your list the first year.
Its just that my cooking life has no links with these awards anymore.
So I wish you all best,
Let us break bread together.
Francis M.

I am turned 29 this past week.  I plan on making the last year of my twenties (as well as my last year in New York) count for something

In my 28th year:

  • I was fired from a truly awful job and lived to talk about it
  • I found a new job and love to talk about it
  • I rediscovered my love for gardening
  • I rediscovered my love for working
  • I learned the importance of mentoring people
  • I learned to relax a bit (this may be hard to believe for those of you who have only known me a short while)
  • I ate so much chocolate ice cream in one sitting I puked
  • I paid off all of my credit card debt
  • I visited 42 states and put well over 30,000 miles on my car. This leaves 7 that I have not been to - a few of which I will cross of this summer.
  • I was able to share so many of the things and places that I love with someone who I love
  • I found somewhere new that I will call home soon

4 comments:

  1. A very sincere thank you for the encouragement, Greg. I've taken on some consulting projects, bought a house, and am preparing a summer menu. All that said, I do really need to carve out some time to write, if just to have some quiet personal time. Time to take chefsday off the back burner and get some thoughts on the that interweb.

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    1. Ive loved the past two posts Dominic, keep it up! Its a pain in the ass finding the time to put stuff up. Ive found that I get most of my writing done in the notebook I carry with me. Whenever something comes to me - I jot it down. Then its just a matter of deciphering my handwriting.

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  2. Sorry you will be leaving the area and peck's, and hope you continue your blog.
    I find the 'insider' references to local restaurants intriguing and wish we 'outsiders' could be privy to this information so we could support only those that care about food.
    Wouldn't it be nice if a reporter took up the cause?

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    1. Im sure I will continue to write! The insider information is just as frustrating for those of us in the know (I feel like such a jackass writing that) as it is for those outsiders. Having your hands tied is a difficult situation to be in - especially when you feel strongly about something.

      As for a reporter taking it up - I would love to see it happen. Though, as ridiculous as it sounds, it would have to be done totally anonymously or...under cover (again with feeling like a jackass). Ive been at a number of places that can get their shit together for when it matters (the week surrounding a visit from the health inspector, for example).

      Ultimately, just use your head a little. Dont rely on what anyone tells you. If you think something is shit - it probably is. You think it is a frozen product? It probably is. Have you seen something that looks remarkably similar before? Big surprise. Think its weird some local farm you drive by regularly and know to be closed for the season is still selling their greens to a restaurant? They probably aren't. Ive addressed this sort of thing with farmers in this area and the general vibe is they don't like it but making waves can quickly mean a significant loss in revenue for a farmer. Shit situation all around.

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