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  1. Dude, couldn't agree with you more, except the cheese comes from Murray's, just like every other high-end restaurant in New York.
  2. IML

    Critical Mass?

    Of the current four-star restaurants, Per Se is the only one planning for a Cuba after Fidel Castro. "Legacy" is one of its eleven core values. Taillevent is Thomas' favorite restaurant. He talks frequently of his restaurants outlasting him, and de-emphasizes his importance. Most importantly, though, is the team he's assembled around him and its focus on solving problems before they occur. It is very hard, though, to reconcile the image of the Time Warner Center and Taillevent.
  3. chicagowench: Discourse can play a positive role in informing action, as long as it is constructive and used toward a useful end, and hence my emphasis on: what are we going to to about it? And for further clarification, it matters little to me if a person disagrees with my personal tastes (i.e., I like this, but I do not like this), which have little to do with the current discussion (people in the restaurant industry, me being one, are very passionate and often conflate the two).
  4. It's a littel tough to take you seriously. And from your old website I noticed you are younger than I am ... ← ChefCAG: There's no reason why you should take my opinion over anybody else's; that's what grains of salt are for. I applaud what you're doing because I've long believed that Midwestern cities lack quirky, locally-owned restaurants that have a culinary point-of-view. My comments on this thread are not meant as an indictment of any person or business; they're just views I hold dear to me. They're not prescriptions for the way everybody should operate, and, as I previously wrote, I cannot blame a person who chooses to sell out versus somebody committed to the local-organic-seasonal ethic or anybody in between. Life is too complex to pass such judgments. My criticisms of bluestem were a summary based upon several visits during the restaurant's infancy. You may well be operating the best restaurant in Kansas City as I type this; I wouldn't have a clue, as I have not dined there since then. As I wrote: It matters very little to me if anybody takes me seriously. What matters more, for me, is whether communities can make a difference for their local foodways, and create serious opportunities for small-time food purveyors. moosnsqrl: There's a good percentage of privileged diners in New York who do not want to think, so they have the service staff make choices for them. "Off menu" in this case would be those guests who, at times, seem to relinquish conscious thought altogether, and wouldn't know an aged red Burgundy from a young, bright Malbec, even if they had both many times. Of course, I should be fair. I was recently manager at a restaurant of some prestige (think three Michelin stars) with a staff to match. During new menu tastings most of the service staff would cling to printed food descriptions, and still couldn't identify each round of new dishes as they came out (even through process of elimination) or obvious substitutions (common sensical ones like, say, using a white-fleshed fish for a red-fleshed in a raw presentation). Of course, staff members at such restaurants become savvy through repeat exposure and testing, which flows back to a similar point many people on this thread have made: education has an impact that cannot be overstated.
  5. Food recognition drastically decreases when people have no menu to rely upon. It has been my experience that most guests at the high-end, including many eGullet members not in the industry, haven't a clue what they're eating. If I were tell them leeks were spinach and sweetbreads were chicken, most would believe me. It's somewhat saddening. It's tough for me to read a lot of restaurant "reports" in the New York forums because many members don't have their facts straight about what they're eating. What encourages me more than anything is to hear (or read) about people taking gastronomy into their own hands, and making good food at home. Hands-on, repetitive education is always the best. Per reading from menus, most guests are thrown off and will ask "what's that?" with variety meats; fish types that stray beyond the typical salmon, sea bass and halibut; shellfish types that are not served at Hooters; root, wild and/or Asian vegetables; any French, Italian and Spanish preparations designated on a menu; and so on. Interestingly enough, questions (and knowledge) go way down when people are dining on an expense account (more a New York phenomenon than Midwestern) or when they're old and rich (i.e., regulars).
  6. This is a tangent from the original discussion about using local products, but I can't resist it. As a native Midwesterner, I'd strongly disagree that there isn't a Midwestern culinary accent. Of course, there is. But, like Midwestern linguistic accents, it's often perceived to be "standard American." I grew up in Detroit (where broadcasters were once sent to learn to speak standard American English) and I now live in Chicago and I find very distinct differences between everyday food in these cities and what people eat when I travel to other regions. There's a bigger emphasis on meat and potatoes here than on the East or West Coasts, or even in the South, for example. When my friends who moved to Seattle came on a visit, the first thing they wanted was a steak, and they claimed -- whether true or not, I can't say -- that they couldn't get steak as good as ours at home. (And the place we were eating was only in the middle rank of Chicago steakhouses; the meat was wet-aged, USDA Choice.) Even though we now see seafood from all over the world here, lots of Midwesterners shy away from things that swim, and when they do eat them, they have a predilection for freshwater fish: whitefish, perch, trout, pike. Dairy products get more emphasis here than on the coasts. We also have our share of ethnic influences from immigrants, exhibited in dishes like chicken Vesuvio and Cincinnati chili. You don't see this region's cuisine emphasized in fine-dining situations very often -- the erstwhile Prairie in Chicago was a notable exception -- but it certainly exists. It also tends to be pooh-poohed and dismissed by people from other regions, especially people who disdain red meat and dismiss this area as "flyover country." ← Please take my comments with a few caveats, as a lot of people on this thread have not: I'm making generalizations, trying to summarize the Midwest as everything north of Texas and sweeping over to, say, Ohio ("flyover country," as you said). This conversation originally started with a focus on Kansas, but I think state-specifics are irrelevant. The second implication of this thread concerns a particular strain of restaurant and cookery, and I think a lot of what has been said implies either high-end restaurants or locally-owned restaurants trying to make a difference (like a bluestem or Devotay). While one could say overblanched, unsalted veg lumped next to meat and potatoes is prototypical Midwestern food (my family falls in this category), my comments were more geared toward the high-end, where most restaurants in the Midwest tend to be culinary carbon copies of the coasts, where a high percentage of chefs receive their formative training before "returning home." (My girlfriend and I are both Midwesterners working in the high-end segment here in New York. And, in all fairness to the Midwest, I think the majority of high-end restaurants on the coasts resemble each other, including those here.) Aaron: Good point. Going local tastes better (assuming farms have built quality), and is ultimately more efficient (from every perspective) in the long-run. I've worked on many local and organic farms across the country, and so many good friends in Kansas grow organic produce and rear livestock for a living. Having lived places that have a developed network of local growers (farm-to-market and farm-to-restaurant) versus those that do not, I have learned the main difference is that the former has people who have simply buckled down to do the gruntwork necessary to eat good, locally-produced shit. That's it. There's no mystique to it. It's damned hard work, but it pays off in the end. Going local doesn't mean swearing off foodstuffs grown elsewhere; such equivocations are mindless, and miss the point of what's around you.
  7. moosnsqrl: Thanks for the terrific reply. Culture certainly plays a part, but the advantage here is that one of the main avenues of cultural change is education. The lack of subsidized capital for infrastructure for small-scale farming, however, is certainly a more significant hurdle, but it's only a hurdle. I say "only" because others have found ways to overcome it. You're right about farmers, by the way, and I am always amazed by the selection I can get from Satur Farms during winter here in New York. One advantage to global warming is longer growing seasons for warm-weather produce. JWest: I cannot comment on what you wrote about the dining public or chefs' motivation because it simply doesn't make sense. If chicagowench, Devotay, and moosnsqrl are but three devotees to this cause (on both sides of the equation, consumption and production), then it follows there are probably others. In this case, as in many others in micro-economics, demand follows supply backed with plenty of effort, time, and education. We can blame the Midwest's non-foodie population; small-town groceries for their lack of locally-grown or -reared foodstuffs; local, state and federal governments for misappropriating tax dollars; agribusiness for hiking up the operating costs of the local guy growing turnips, ultimately forcing him or her to sell the farm; or anything we want to. Blame does little but generate finger-pointing, as defeatism only breeds more defeatism. So, again I ask, what are we going to do about it? joiei: NOLA is my hometown, but I have never had the pleasure of dining at Maras' restaurant. Is Bern's Steakhouse still open? That's awesome a steakhouse went local. Where did they source their beef from? Devotay: I love Iowa City, and was planning to dine at your restaurant before I left the Midwest several years ago. Obviously it hasn't happened, but it will one day. Just wanted to say say kudos for carefully sourcing your fish. I was raised offshore fishing, and the preservation of our oceanic ecosystems and marine life is often overlooked at most high-end restaurants, even the "thoughtful" ones here in New York.
  8. Here’s a paradox I have yet to resolve: Why (or, better yet, how) do so many of the French and Spanish chefs we mimic and study and fawn over stateside have a cuisine imprinted with a particular geographical accent, despite being located in their respective hinterlands? And why is there no American analog in the Midwest? (I was born in the South, and a strong case can be made that it has its own culinary idioms.) Best of all, as one of my great mentors in this industry would ask, what are we doing to do to develop one?
  9. moosnsqrl: I often look to some of my favorite haunts wherever I've lived, and many are chefs and restauranteurs committed to localism, found in every pocket of North America. Without venturing too far west, which has marchéd (bad pun, I know) to the beat of the "local-organic-seasonal" drum for decades, I've long admired Sharon Hage of York Street in Dallas; Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix; formerly Odessa Piper (now Tori and Traci Miller) of L'Etoile in Madison; Monica Pope of t'afia (formerly Boulevard Bistrot) in Houston; Stuart Scruggs and Mark Paul at wink restaurant (and several others) in Austin; Sam Hayward of Fore Street in Portland, Maine; Chrysa Kaufman of Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale; Dan Barber and the entire team at both Blue Hill locations here in New York; and, of course, Peter Hoffman and his dedicated crew at the Savoy in SoHo (whatever's at the market is invariably on the menu). There are just simply too many to name, and I'm sure everybody else has plenty of suggestions. I was a regular at Pizzeria Bianco long before local and national media pitched every manner of accolade his way, and so many things Chris told me still stick out in my mind. His forged a relationship with his miller to get a strong, protein-rich flour specifically milled for him that had the necessary elasticity he was looking for at lower dough-hydration levels. He couldn't find a stable, year-round source for excellent mushrooms, so he provided the money (and patience) to an acquaintance who had a passing interest in mycology to grow them for him on South Mountain. And so on he went, adding more locally-produced items year-by-year until he ended up where he is today.
  10. Great point. The dining scene in most small towns is often too static to require in-depth, weekly coverage, unless one considers column space dedicated to food writing (rather than criticism).
  11. Take the turnip allegorically. As long as you view it as an either/or (succulent scallop versus dirty tuber), it will always be so. Kansas isn't so far north that it cannot support greater produce diversity, with an extended growing season that could offer the same range one might find in, say, Portland, Maine, a town smaller than Lawrence but with greater agricultural wealth. Taken as a controlled experiment, one has to ask: Why does a predominantly working-class town with an inhospitable climate have an abundance of locally-owned and -operated farms, while the other does not? Or Austin, Texas? Or Madison, Wisconsin? It does not begin with demand, but developing local infrastructure, which is an arduous, collaborative effort that effectively loses money in the short-term (maybe even short long-term). I think this is practically truism by now, and I'm certainly not finger-pointing. I'm just fearful -- fearful I'm always going to eat New York in Kansas, and everywhere else for that matter. High-end restaurants, for the most part, are moving locality toward a bland universalism, and away from what it means to be at one particular place at one particular time.
  12. moosnsqrl: Kansas tomatoes are great, especially during the first few weeks of September, after having baked in the hot, sticky summers. I still think California and Arizona grow better tomatoes, but I'm not one to argue produce. Kansas has better wheat and mushrooms. The question of buying local versus sticker shock just doesn't hold up for me. I've worked in the high-end food industry for some time, and I can honestly say that FedExing a rare ingredient (say, the fish any expensive KS restaurant uses) will always be more expensive than trying to find a creative, tasty way of serving a local turnip in-season. The question then becomes: What's more desirable between a "luxury" item flown in to optimize its freshness, or building relationships with local purveyors to grow or rear food whose origin you can readily trace and attest to? The first is the easier of the two (and more expensive), while the second takes years of commitment, patience, and shitloads of hard work.
  13. IML

    NY trip report

    One of Tall Grass' bakers used to work at Bouley, interestingly enough. Bouley Bakery can, depending upon the day, serve the best commercially-available bread in the city, except most of their breads have been consistently underbaked for the last four or five weeks, in part due to staff changes.
  14. IML

    NY trip report

    Depends upon what you appreciate from a loaf of bread. Tall Grass is the only bakery in Seattle that, at this moment, is using starter-only-raised bread, with only a few exceptions. Of course, the resulting loaves have a denser, more cake-like crumb that display a greater range of fermentative flavors than, say, Columbia City Bakery (mediocre bread). Columbia is more similar to Sullivan Street Bakery's production model, except for their retardation and smaller scale. (Sullivan Street makes approximately 90,000 individual pieces of bread on any given day.) Very few New York restaurants have serious in-house bread programs (AD/NY, Per Se and Bouley are the best, with the last two being too variable, especially Bouley), and so most of these use bread that is delivered (or picked up, depending upon the restaurant) very early in the morning. The soft crust you experienced was due in large part to the age of the bread, and nothing else. The Ramsay bread is quickly reheated at the canape station when it is fired, but with a combi heat element, which isn't powerful enough to overcome mushy, old bread.
  15. IML

    NY trip report

    That's Sullivan Street Bakery bread, which, on any given day, is better than any bakery in Seattle, excepting maybe Tall Grass (the two styles are not really comparable, though).
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