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Steve Klc

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Everything posted by Steve Klc

  1. That's right, next week smack dab in the middle of Grand Central Station there will be 50 very diverse cakes on display by top wedding cake artists from all over the country, including some eGulleteers. It's not so much a formal event, but an informal free public exhibition--and it promises to be an impressive assemblage of talent and creativity. Too often there's a sameness in other wedding cake events, rarely do the "judges" of the prestigious events and the most creative artists, be they more traditional or more progressive, get together to display work. It's organized by Maria McBride-Mellinger of Brides Magazine, and if you have ever looked in any of her books, you know she's open-minded and has a very keen eye (with a talented staff) so I'm fairly certain this will be the most diverse and visually interesting assemblage of cakes this country has seen. Colleen and I plan to take pictures, and we'll report back after the event--and I'm taking pictures now, planning to post later on this thread about how to prepare for something like this, how to transport the cake to the photoshoot, how to build a cake box (insulated in my case since I'm doing a cake with chocolate decor) those kinds of things, not so much how to make a flower, etc. I haven't seen a list of everyone involved, but Maria told me Kerry Vincent will be there because she's doing a public demonstration in the big hall on Tuesday at 2PM. I only know that because I'm doing the demo right after her at 3PM. That'll probably be the only day I can get away from DC to be there. One e-mail I received was copied to Jan Kish, Margaret Braun, Betty van Norstrand, Gail Watson, Dimitri Fayard, Michelle Bommarito, and Sylvia Weinstock--so I know they're coming--and I'm sure someone with more time will find the official link and list eventually. There hasn't been a group assembled like this in a long time--with the national folks joining the NYC folks. There was a special event in DC back when the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary, and they invited 18 top national pastry chefs and cake artists each to create an anniversary cake themed around a particular Smithsonian museum--folks like Colette Peters, Norman Love, Stan Ho, Rosemary Littman, Toba Garrett came to town, some locals like Ann Amernick and I were asked as well and then all the cakes were displayed for a few days while a hundred thousand or so folks on the Mall marched past. Hundreds of thousands if not a million people will see these, I just hope 1) it doesn't get too warm and 2) that it isn't a stampede. Vanderbilt Hall, 42nd & Park entrance will be the best, I'm told. See you Tuesday.
  2. I'm not so sure I agree Tepee--it's certainly not easy to cover a large tier with rolled fondant, let alone build a multi-tiered cake. And I think that's part of the larger point chefette was trying to make--the way this is worded, with Gail teasing that "Detailed instructions, and all the tools you need, are included to guide you through the simple process of completing the perfect cake" just might mislead some folks. It's not simple. I don't think there's any problem recognizing on the one hand, hey, great idea but wondering on the other, how this actually turns out for those kit-buyers and what percentage of people who take on a kit would do it again? (I did our two wedding cakes and I wouldn't, if I could do it over again.) That aside, my concern, from years of teaching and demonstrating, is that I think there is a tendency to rush in and over-evaluate one's own skills, and I think the use of the terms "savvy baker" plays in to that. It may be once someone places an order, that Gail gets on the phone and confirms they can handle it or gets some feel of their experience level. (I hope so.) Sherri, you're new to the biz, right, just got out of cooking school and now you're decorating cakes as a pro? "With clear instructions, covering a cake with fondant is not difficult, especially for people who are familiar with working with dough or spent a lot of time playing with Play-dough as a kid. I managed to do it perfectly on my first try." I think you're the exception. Covering a 15" tier with rolled fondant--play dough practice aside--is difficult, even with practice, and even if your standards are somewhat flexible. I know because I've taught amateurs and pros how to roll out everything from pie dough to rolled fondant and it isn't easy to do even pie dough well--but at least with a pie or tart dough you can patch a tear here or there, chill the dough if you take too long, crumble it all up and start again, etc. I "judged" a graduating FCI pastry class one year--and one student had a rolled fondant covered wedding cake as their final assignment. It had nice gum paste flowers, nice coloring, but the rolled fondant was sloppy--and this from a student whose other work was very good and who had practiced a lot AND had months of professional instruction! With fondant, as you know, you can't just patch or recover--you have to be confident, perfect, there's no patching, and once you begin to drape it over a cake tier and it sticks a bit to the buttercream or to your rolling pin you're stuck--there's no lifting it off and beginning again if you realize hey, I didn't roll this out wide enough or thin enough. It depends on how humid it is, it can be done, of course, the first time, but for most people it will not be done even adequately, let alone well--in takes significant practice to do it well, so it's smooth and not nicked. (There should also be some guidance about how to recover from a mistake--as we all have had to do--how to re-arrange your decor to hide your mistakes. But then if you have to be told that you probably shouldn't be trying this in the first place.) As long as this is stressed in the instructions--and folks are prepared for the expense of practicing--I'm fine with it in concept. But I think you risk conveying false information (and like Gail, setting up false expectation) to eager amateurs and home bakers, especially those on a budget, that because they rolled out Play dough they can handle the demands of wedding cake fondant. Ain't so, at least in my experience. And that's not condescension, that's the value of having pros here--and not just pros but a few teaching pros--we're a corrective, a reality check. This rings very true for me: "I think it's the actual construction of the thing that seems most daunting. I also imagine most people aren't going to attempt to make one of these things unless they're relatively confident in their baking abilities" and I also hope there's plenty of information provided not only about building the cake but then transporting the cake once you assembled it using the kit. I think there's a tendency to get so excited about the flowers, about making the decor, that this aspect is glossed over, often with disastrous results. This isn't professionals denying that amateurs and home bakers have the need to express themsleves in the kitchen or to find a way of being creative...it's real talk from real experience helping to shape expectations and standards. Do with it what you will. If anyone chooses to go forward after having some informed consent about what's involved, more power to them. Just don't go blindly. Anne, I kept thinking this as well: "I also know there will be some professional bakers out there that will be there to "pick up the pieces" when the bride, or the bride's friend, or the bride's mother, decides they're not such a savvy baker after all" I hope they have the number of a local cake artist or understanding pastry chef on speed-dial. (Just an fyi, if anyone is concerned about the "tone" of these forums, pm a host privately. That's the place to share your observations, not on thread.)
  3. diva--that's a much larger, and more general discussion, at least in terms of the dumbed-down DC palate. But our region's collective palate--and its approach to food--has been too tolerant of convenience and too accepting of mediocrity for decades, but I see this in most of the country not just here. I'm not up on national barbecue-specific history, but I've always thought our region has always had more alternatives, more high end, more New American, more ethnic dining choice and diversity, than almost all of the barbecue-rich regions in the South and Midwest. I never got the sense we embraced barbecue as our own and certainly never touted it in a primary way, say, as a Carolina or Louisville or Kansas City or "insert name of southern city here" touted its barbecue as part of a definition of its region. We may have had the dedicated little shacks and smokestacks out in the sticks but much of our culinary focus has always revolved around the downtown core--and as more and more people moved out to the burbs to raise their families, enduring longer commutes on inadequate roads, their focus became their strip malls. That would hinder anyone's palate growth. And as has been mentioned on quite a few other threads--it's not like our region's transportation planners and consultants have done a decent job enabling us to get around the region as we've continued to grow. I think your real question, though, of why there aren't more good independent barbecue joints out in those burbs even today--is a valid one--but it's not like there are many good independent anythings out in those burbs--even the more accessible kid friendly pizza and pasta places have a tough time making it, leveraged out of space by franchises and more corporate entities because of better margins. The independent "ethnic" destinations become more homogeneous, more predictable, because that's what their clientele wants: if that weren't the case, there would be more restaurants emulating the approach of Bangkok 54 and Minh's, rather than mailing it in. When John Snedden opened his first Rocklands location in Glover Park it was a breath of fresh air--it was very good then and even with expansion it still is very good, unlike, say, Red Hot & Blue, which opened strong and then declined rapidly over time, or Old Glory, which was never more than merely adequate for tourists in an area with relatively poor dining options. I too think Famous Dave's Woodbridge does an at least adequate to pretty good job--it's kind of like the job Rio Grande does within its genre: if you're careful about what you order, and don't have too much of a purist's agenda or overt chip on your shoulder going in--you can get some very good ribs or fajitas, at a fair price, with good service and refilled iced teas with real lemon wedges albeit in a hokey environment. Measured against strip mall, edge city and suburban fare in general, places like Famous Dave's and Rio Grande are in the top tier--frankly, Famous Daves is the best "restaurant" option in their area (Potomac Mills-IKEA-Best Buy) not just the best "barbecue" option. Second-best is probably a tie between the Chik-Fil-A across the street and the IKEA Cafe. Sad, I know, but that's what all of us are up against. That's also why Famous Daves is always, always packed. Rocklands I place just a rung higher. All of them--Rocklands, Rio Grande and Famous Daves belong on a some kind of pedestal, though, given the number of terribly mediocre alternatives which surround them--it's just that their pedestals, and our collective awareness, isn't that high to begin with. There are now at least a handful of proven destinations in Courthouse/Clarendon (where I live) that are worth a drive even if you don't live here--Ray's and Minh's still lead the way in their niches. They offer better, more interesting, cooking, in what they do, than what you have available in your neighborhood. Not much else here surpasses being merely a good neighborhood option--though at least we're lucky to have other good options. In terms of barbecue, I still find myself returning to the Carpool Rocklands for brisket, and I'd drive there or to the Glover Park Rocklands for it, along with some mustard greens and mashed potatoes. If you ever have a chance to have John and Rocklands cater a party you're throwing, do so without hesitation--and ask him to do a whole pig for you. It's delish. But overall, I think most people in our area will find barbecue comparable to Rocklands wherever they live. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you're looking to put your Calvin Trillin hat on and wax poetic.
  4. I'm not sure that perception is true, tweaked, most of the ground that Apple covered has already been covered by the Post team. It's just Jose has his hand in a lot of activities--the Post told us about Jose's 30-episode television series in Spain, "Vamos a Cocinar" ("We're Going to Cook") before the Times did. (Question for the day: just how many French chefs working in the US have ever had their own TV show in France?) In the last year you've seen Sietsema reviews and multiple Weekly Dish mentions, there have been Foraging mentions, Eve Zibart has written about him several times, he was in on January's Judith Weinraub olive oil piece, there was a great piece in the Business section which focused on Jose's tireless efforts over the years driving the DC Central Kitchen non-profit (which in terms of sustained giving and commitment to charitable causes just might be without parallel in food for a working chef) and which Jose himself might just say was the most meaningful newspaper mention for him. I do think this Johnny Apple piece captures Jose and his creative, independent reach really well, and then there is Mark Bittman (also of the New York Times) in his latest book and PBS television series "How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes On America's Chefs." He picked two chefs from DC among 13 nationally to feature--Michel Richard and Jose Andres--and even calls Jose a "windbag" in the book, which he is, if you can ever get him to slow down enough to just sit and talk passionately about whatever is on his mind at the moment. So no one is going to deny the NY Times gets his significance in the grand scheme of things, but I believe the Post does, too. Back before Jose won his Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award, Judith Weinraub wrote a very in-depth profile of him in the Post--the best I had seen on Jose outside of Food Arts--so when Jeanne McManus was editor of Post Food she was actually ahead of the Times in terms of recognizing that we had a home-grown talent who would lead on a national stage like Jose. It's true that the new editor of the Post Food section hasn't approved a piece on him that rivals the breadth of this Apple piece, but give her time. It's always tough for a new editor to come in with new ideas and try to break from the perception of the previous regime. My exact memory is a little shaky on this without looking in my files, but even in terms of the futuristic food angle of Jose, the Post beat the Times to the punch--it was the Post that featured Jose's brilliant deconstructed clam chowder dish years before the Times did, years before the Times ever heard of the term "molecular gastronomy." So for people who were paying attention locally, we've had Jose's unique talents before us for years and the Post is largely responsible for that. Our local diners (and some in the food media) weren't quite ready to process it or recognize the significance, say, of Jose using Pop Rocks in a frozen strawberry soup or his "Organized salad" wrapped in jicama or Corn nuts with a foie gras soup at Cafe Atlantico--all of which date back to 1998. Maybe not even now, though pieces like these in the NY Times certainly help reveal how influential the experimental path Jose opened up in the US years ago really might turn out to be--because that was years before any of the current corps of Chicago chefs started their experimentations. I'd love to see more nuanced and reflective assessments like the Bruni piece as well, VeryApe77--instead what we get a little too much of locally is the limiting romantic notion of a chef cooking "soulful" food. Food, cooking and creativity are broader than that.
  5. And now for a contrarian point of view: if you care at all about taste, you will use metallic dusts very very sparingly or for non-edible decoration only--meaning on a decorative element that can be removed from your cake and not eaten. You won't paint wide heavy swaths with any metallic dust, even though it appears to be all the rage in the cake decorating circles. You should also be be concerned about whether the dust you are using is considered edible and food-safe or merely labelled "non-toxic." You'll look for words that actually say it is safe to be consumed rather than words that say, specifically, it is not meant to be consumed. You'll realize that "most" dusts are nowhere near as pure as leaf, and not as safe. It is the purity of those gold and silver leaves that make them edible, and why leaf has historically been used in some very special sweet and savory culinary applications--like a French opera cake with a little gold leaf or an Indian kulfi dessert with a little silver leaf. Everyone has to make their own decisions, just a word to the wise.
  6. I've used the Special Dark in a pinch, it is a different, better, product from their regular pale, insipid stuff. It had a different label and I think the version I used was also called European Style--I wouldn't be surprised if they are one in the same. And it was probably the best of the very commercial, very widely distributed cocoa powders, and I liked it much more than the Droste. I'd rate it at least "acceptable" if not fairly good. It's a little harsh to roll truffles in, and I wouldn't use it in an application with very subtle flavors, but in any basic chocolate baked good where you 1) were blending it in with some chocolate or 2) wanted a decently intense chocolate flavor and were pairing it with some other flavors, I think it'll work just fine.
  7. Look in the frozen aisle--where they have frozen tart shells, bread and pizza doughs--that's where you'll find sheets of frozen puff. Then check the ingredients--last time I looked Pepperidge Farm puff was not all butter but one that is all butter that has fairly wide distribution is DuFours. I've used it, it's quite good.
  8. Will, this is a nice idea. Instead of one, long, unmanageable thread all over the map, though, we should separate each one into its own thread, like "Secrets of the Pros: Cleanliness" and "Secrets of the Pros: Production," so discussion of the various elements can remain focused--and so students and non-pros can weigh in with their questions.
  9. Probably a good thing--been to Rosa Mexicano? I don't get the sense Montgomery County is that tapped into food, Danny, it's even more of an uphill battle there than it is in the Virginia burbs. I'd love for that situation to change, but even the better restaurants clustered in Bethesda are a little more conservative than they'd probably like to be because their clientele is that much more conservative. As I've said on other threads about TS, I think Tom is in a tough spot, if he doesn't get out into the burbs he'll get criticized for being too DC-centric and when he does, to deliver a one star review, he'll get criticized by other folks. I'd sooner go to Pazo in B-more. He also doesn't have the luxury like Todd at the City Paper to be a critic when he feels like it one week--visit a place but once and then write a "review"--and then morph into feature food writer mode the next week, and file a column. Tom's the Post restaurant critic, he carries that baggage and tradition, and he has to adhere to tougher standards, visiting all these places repeatedly over time, plus he's limited by that strict Magazine review form and word count week in and week out, probably to his long term detriment. He has to go to so many places he'll never write about and never be able work into a column like, say, Todd's roundups of local chefs using goat or shad roe.
  10. I don't get to Gaithersburg that much, Danny, and when I do I drive over to L'Oustalet (King Farm, Rockville) which I think is a Maryland restaurant and chef really worth the drive no matter where you live in the DC area, so I've not yet been to Cafe Spice. I hope some MoCo locals weigh in about Cafe Spice for you. But what exactly is the problem with the review? Have you been there and think it deserves more than a single star? I'd been to Dawat a bunch of times in NYC in 2000-2001 and by then it wasn't special at all (I did the desserts for a more forward-looking Indian restaurant literally right next door to Dawat which got 2 stars from William Grimes in the Times) so if the Dawat folks are behind this place, that isn't incentive enough. Review in question here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?n...111503&typeId=2 Tom has always liked Heritage India a lot, he gave Indique and Indebleu 2 stars and Sudhir Seth in Bethesda (who I thought WAS the talent at Heritage India when I was living in Glover Park) is probably at least doing 2 or 2+ cooking as well, right? So for a 2 star review to mean anything there have to be one stars.
  11. I agree Danny, I'm interested in all of those things as well, and I suspect it is because we're curious diners. There's a difference between curiousity, though, and self-entitlement as a diner and I'm afraid if we veer too far down that path, we risk losing sight of what really is the core transaction taking place: the chef serves a dish, we taste the dish, and hopefully, we enjoy it. Before we taste, though, knowing that the pasta is Barilla, the venison Cervena or the avocados Californian, or that the chef is known with sponsorship deals or unknown, isn't crucial; if anything, it's a distraction which might impede our ability to taste what's put before us. The chefs and pastry chefs I know are first, trying to serve tasty food to their customers and second, run a profitable business, paying their employees and suppliers on time. Sponsorships can help many more people than the celebrity chef endorser himself--better quality for the diner at a better price and a little more stability for his employees in what is normally a very unstable way to make a living. Would that the WSJ had thought this through a bit. Beyond that, ascertaining desire, motivation, talent, image, integrity, etc. makes nice dinner table conversation amongst foodies but too often assumes too much that is speculative and confusing rather than clarifying what really should begin with the only essential transaction between diner and chef--does the dish taste good and does it "work" in its context? Agreed. As far as expecting disclosure, though, I think that's a slippery slope. Too bad the WSJ didn't explore this. I've addressed why I feel asking for disclosure in advance on this issue--and not also on myriad other issues and concerns--is misdirected, here, in the national thread on this issue, since you also posted there and it's really more general than local: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=66252
  12. yes, Danny, in this case I'm with Russ, and a lot of blame lies with her editor for not displaying a little more mental clarity or acuity. This piece could have been tightened up a lot, there could have been historical perspective, some exploration of how sponsorship over time may have led to the decline in performance in certain chefs, or how sponsorship over time has helped chefs keep from raising prices or helped chefs send their staff away for training to gain experience, or how sponsorship has helped spread good products more quickly across the country, etc. Michael's criticism of this piece is valid and rings true to me: "writers' coming up with a premise...and then pursuing info to support the premise, regardless of the more nuanced and difficult answers. It's an incomplete and biased view of a broader phenomenon and therefore harmful to readers, harmful to the chefs and their businesses, and harmful to readers who want the whole picture." And that's what eGullet provides, the broader picture. You, menton1 and Busboy have helped flesh this out in your own ways, even though I believe you're ultimately holding the incorrect, perhaps somewhat shortsighted and minority, view. In this case, if the WSJ had employed one of their previous methodologies for food reporting--read eGullet first, perhaps have the reporter start a thread here and ask us to e-mail her--THEN write the article--they'd have been in much better shape. No, that's not news. Most of us have either seen ads for the past 20 years featuring chefs and connected the dots or simply don't care, because the taste of the food is what is primary when we sit down to a meal in a restaurant, any restaurant, even at the hands of celebrity chefs who have coffee table books, television shows and media hype out the wazoo. My hope is this thread will allow us to expand the discussion a bit and really expose this WSJ piece for its lack of depth: why shouldn't a diner view raw ingredients like tools, they're there for the chef to choose (and granted, there's an incredible range to choose from) there for the chef to combine with processes simple or complex and use as he sees fit, as his own palate or customer sense or budget directs him? Even the strip mall diner realizes restaurants are businesses, certainly insiders and frequent diners realize there are many complex and inter-related pressures that impact what a chef does, the end result of that whole process is what you taste. Why pick out one minor aspect like "sponsorship" related to an ingredient? Do you need to know the equipment a chef uses in order to "taste" his dish? The minute you go beyond "taste," where does the slippery slope of hyperventilation and expectation stop? Let's say you're still tempted by the cheap hook of the false WSJ premise--that it is VERY IMPORTANT chefs should disclose in advance that they're using x brand of shrimp/avocado/beef/pork/venison/whatever as a result of a sponsorship, promotional or more competitive pricing deal they've struck. Why not also expect chefs, in advance, to disclose how much they contribute to charity, how well or not well they're paying their sous chefs, whether they offer health insurance to their staff, which convection oven they have on the line, whether it was "made in the good ol' USA or is imported" and how much they paid for that and whether they're sponsored by the convection oven manufacturer as well--essentially, if you follow this road, will there be anything a chef doesn't have to disclose in advance in order to satisfy every small subset of self-entitled diners personally-passionate about any given cause or issue x, y, z? Do you a think a chef in bankruptcy protection should have to disclose this on his menu and website? Do you think if a chef has had several failed restaurants on his resume that he has to disclose this for the few current diners who might actually care about that and not give him a second chance? (Maybe if that chef had cut better sponsorship deals he'd be solvent, paying his vendors on time and not having to let his staff go.) Do you think chefs should disclose how many weeks behind they are on paying their staff or vendor accounts? If you want to start down this "disclosure" road, where does it stop? Shouldn't all these chefs expect diners simply to taste their dishes first? This article was calculated to appeal to two sets of diners: the first who don't know any better--because most diners are still very clueless about chefs and dining out--and the second, a small subset of experienced, inquisitive diners who might latch onto this as a valid and very important issue for them--when in reality, for most experienced diners, this is putting a false cart before the horse (that $5,000 beef spot on Fox News excepted but that's really a separate case.) I doubt it, and I think the majority of us on this thread and on eGullet will continue to argue the point, and sway the greater percentage to our view, that any discussion of advance "disclosure" is un-necessary, that the main thing we should expect from any chef, celebrity or not, sponsored or not, at least in the restaurant setting, is a dish that tastes good like Daniel said and, like Russ said, doesn't make us sick. That's the only contract any chef makes with any diner, beyond that assumes too much. Touaregsand has it right: something cynical could creep in when you see menu branding like Valrhona or Niman Ranch, that branding is neither good nor bad on its face, the chef could be catering to a certain customer who is name brand crazy or the chef has a cut a deal--there's also something naive about diners worrying about--or exploring the deeper meaning--of, say, a Keller, ANY Keller, doing a California raisin tasting menu and then there are those luckily "too focused on the actual food" to fret much in advance about those things. But cynical, naive or hyper-focused about a particular narrow issue--it all should begin with tasting the dish and that's what's most important. After you taste a chef and his dishes on his terms, with an open mind and palate and without prejudice being key, then if you want to poke and prod about sponsorship deals, about who owns the restaurant, how long the lease is, how many charity events or Beard dinners the chef cooked and at what cost, about whether all of his ingredients are feel-good certified organic hand-picked by barefoot waifs, their toes going squish squish in the mud, about whether the fish you had had previously been frozen or the sardines were overnighted from Portugal, that's fine. Being inquisitive, being interested in the answers to these questions is not the problem, it's feeling you're entitled to full disclosure of all these things in advance that is. And I'm sure if you asked any chef about this, they'd tell you, and they'd tell you why they do what they do, why they make the decisions they make, right down to crossing the t's and dotting the i's. But, if I'm taking the temperature of this thread correctly, most of us feel that to expect ALL of this disclosure in advance before you actually taste a $6.95 app or $14.95 entree or a $7 dessert is either naive or comically unrealistic. You want to start a real scandal, you start petitioning chefs, especially chefs without sponsorship deals, to disclose where they're buying all their stuff from. Ask the next pastry chef in the next restaurant you happen to dine in (that is, if there's even a pastry chef involved) whether he or she is "sponsored," and if not, ask them to show you which dirt-cheap chocolate-like substance they're using before you order their signature chocolate dessert, that is if you feel you're even qualified to judge which chocolate would be a "good" chocolate beforehand. See how far you get with that approach. It may just turn out that the guys and gals WITH the deals more often than not are getting the best stuff--since they're the only ones able to afford the good stuff. Maybe it's the chefs without deals that the WSJ should worry about? Kelly? You reading along? Oh, and allow me to let you all in on another little secret of the business: the best chefs in town, every town, usually receive things for a lower negotiated price from distributors than the "just-average-to-pretty-good" chefs in town--so those salesmen can, in turn, trumpet to other chefs that Marcel "Ain't he the baddest-ass chef in town" is using their foie gras and you should too--which according to the weak WSJ criteria would also be a troubling form of sponsorship which should be disclosed in advance, no? And, what's worse, some large distributors even put extra financial pressure on chefs to buy all of their goods solely from them...or else higher prices! Different prices for different chefs for the same things--and this is going on every day? Now that would be a really good subject for an investigative piece.
  13. I try not to read reviews in advance of a show or movie, I like to see something first on its own terms, then go back and read the review. Despite getting dissed by someone in the Globe, who I fear might take PBS and WGBH (Boston) just a little too seriously, I'm looking forward to tonight's two episodes. However, if any of you are like me, don't go to the otherwise very good PBS website about the show and poke around too deeply: it is revealed in the Episode 2 journal entries just who gets voted off the island and which other competitor had to apologize for screwing up bigtime. Consider this a spoiler alert. (Oh, and eGullet.org is not listed as an online resource, though a bevy of blogs of varying quality and pretentiousness are.)
  14. http://www.calraisins.org/recipes/chefs/
  15. You might be right, but how that particular voting is handled, I think, is via the Washington Post and Washpost online ballot perhaps, which probably has a similar demographic and awareness level as Washingtonian magazine readers. These folks aren't quite up to the average Sietsema chatter level. Maggiano's won the Post Reader's Choice "Best Italian" restaurant last year and I think Cheesecake Factory has won the Washingtonian popularity thing before, and that was before a big fat new one opened in Clarendon, with lines snaking out the door. Just saying don't be surprised...
  16. Tom, he is and they are--the stuff he did for the RAMMY judges last week was clean, elegant and tasty. His style is classic and very traditionally grounded, he's very strong with chocolate and I think it's great he hooked up with a similar-minded chef in Bob Wiedmaeir. There is pastry talent in hotels that much of the public just doesn't get to experience--and the demands placed on them in a hotel job are so tough. I think you should continue to expect great things from Didier at Marcels, unlike most restaurants they have a very large pastry station and have always been committed to trying to end the meal well. One of the problems in this town, which has kept it a notch below, say Chicago, is desserts that don't live up to the cuisine and fail to follow it appropriately. More restaurateurs need to follow Wiedmaeir and hire top pastry talent and pay them appropriately, if only as a consultant if their check averages aren't as high as that of Marcels. The situation has improved a bit, Tom was one of the first critics nationally to go out of his way to mention pastry chefs by name, but there's still a long way to go. What Chris from Kinkeads did for the tasting was also really good, don't forget he opened Colvin Run as well, and I think his stuff follows the style of the food there well, doing a great job giving his customer base what they want and expect. This year they've really nailed so many people doing special work it's win-win no matter how this turns out. I don't envy the judges trying to choose, especially in Informal Dining, New Restaurant and Rising Star Chef. I'd have a really hard time. Favorite restaurant of the year (voted on by the public)--my early money is on Cheesecake Factory.
  17. lexy--what kind of cake? Some can be un-molded almost immediately, others it's best to wait a bit. If you're doing something basic, say a genoise or pound cake variation, you can pop them out immediately no problem. Everyone has their own method which works for them, but if you're using the typical straight-sided 2" aluminum cake pans--all I do is butter and flour the pans--and cakes pop right out. I don't mess with parchment. When you unmold your cake you have a few choices, you can invert it on a wire rack, if you do don't let it sit in one place for too long, move it around so it doesn't sink into the rack--sometimes I unmold a cake onto a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface, and let it cool upside down, it helps keep the top flat and then makes it easier to trim. You'll find your own little trucs that work for each type of cake. I think it's worth it even for home bakers who do small cakes infrequently, maybe just for holidays and family, to get a duplicate 9" (or whatever size you have) pan just for efficiency and even baking. Less hassle, less worry, more time to do other things. But I can definitely understand not wanting to have more stuff in the kitchen, more stuff to store.
  18. John--small world, you, Jose and I were in Zaytinya at the same time on Wednesday. I was in and out, picking up a tool I needed, I didn't know Jose was going to be there, and I didn't know you were there. So I say hi to Jose, he's just back from doing his television show in Spain, I'm driving away, on my way to Oyamel to begin prep for this big charity fundraiser we're doing tonight: http://sweetcharity.org/ and I get this call on my cell. I see it is Jose but I can't answer it because I didn't have my headset (DC now has a handsfree cellphone law.) Turns out he's telling me to come back to meet you. I'm really glad to read you enjoyed yourself, especially since I had no clue. Reports like yours, though, are the best to receive because it indicates that day-to-day things are going well. That Greek yogurt-apricot dessert hasn't changed since day one, it's too popular to pull off. Excellent yogurt, an excellent Greek muscat dessert wine, and a couple of different apricots--fresh, dried, frozen. As a pastry chef I just stayed out of the way. Thanks for the kind words. It's hard to pick amongst your own children, but the new "Apples & Saffron" is my current favorite there, I picked that dessert to present to the RAMMY awards judges this year. Zaytinya is up for a few awards, for informal dining restaurant of the year and for best desserts. Maybe we'll meet the next time you are in town!
  19. Let's take this to the extreme, let's create a hypothetical where there WAS some degree of corporate control and there WERE some strings--let's even use this Jose/avocado promotion--and extrapolate it to a situation where they "backed" Jose in the development of a restaurant or bought an ownership stake of a restaurant. This is the Miami Danny example gone wild: instead of the Raisin Council "getting" to the chef's partners, who are running the business, the Raisin Council IS one of the chef's partners. Let's say the Avocado folks or the Raisin folks were in on dish development, pricing, promotions, like any other investor or partner would be. The problem with this is, exactly, what? Why should this, inherently, even matter to you? Does it matter to you who the investors are of any given restaurant? Do you require an ownership disclosure statement in advance of all the restaurants you dine at? Chefs are under all sorts of different financial pressures and have to please different masters and market pressures. What if the California Avocado Growers back a chef like Jose and a restaurant project--and have as much control over how that restaurant functions as any other investor would--as a diner why isn't your first, main and perhaps only responsibility to taste the dishes and react to them? The food is still the food--the dish is either going to taste good or not, it's either going to be presented creatively or not. And, inherently, it matters not one bit whether the California Avocado Growers had a seat at the investor or partner level or not, unless one is concerned more about perception rather than taste. From earlier in this thread, MJCB2 recounted an experience in Oyamel: Seems to me to be what it's all about.
  20. The only thing I find alarming is that there are, apparently, some people who have never seen a chef featured in an ad before nor heard of a "chef endorsement." Some chefs do, some chefs don't, most are not ever asked. Have you ever opened a Food Arts magazine and looked at any ads in there? Been going on a long time--I opened a Food Arts from way, way back--1990--just for the hell of it and in short order found a big 2 page ad for Plugra butter featuring David Burke, and another one featuring Jeremiah Tower in an ad for, no suprise, Food Arts itself. Yes, that doesn't make it right nor does it mean chefs should somehow escape all scrutiny--but the scrutiny has to be realistic and not naive. It's a personal choice whenever a chef is approached about an opportunity and frankly, one of the ways you get ahead in this business--a business which is very competitive, constantly changing--is by leveraging all sorts of opportunities, demos, appearances, ads, charity gigs, Beard dinners, those are ways you extend your brand and extend your sphere of influence and get more people into your restaurants, one way of many ways that you become more nationally significant. Some chefs are content to stand in their kitchen, cook every single dish, day after day. That works for them and my wish is they can make a nice living on their own terms and that they tap in to an audience which sustains them. Others have more grand dreams and aspirations--are more entrepreneurial, more motivated, more motivational, more talented or talented in different ways, more...significant...perhaps, who are we to limit them? How is this news to anyone? Of course chefs endorse products, most of the time we do it week in and week out when we order ingredients--when I choose "Total" yogurt from Greece for use in a dessert, I'm endorsing it. When I choose Skotidakis goat milk yogurt from Canada for use in another dessert, I'm endorsing it. When I choose any number of products from any number of suppliers I'm endorsing them--and I think in order to criticize my choices you have to begin by eating my desserts. Whether I have a sponsorship deal in place compensating me somehow for, say, the chocolate I choose, or for using a particular product in a demo is, frankly, irrelevant: the only promise I'm making to you as a diner or to anyone is that I'm going to serve you a delicious dessert. Begin and end there--is the dish delicious?--before you get alarmed. How much do you think chefs make? How profitable do you think running a restaurant actually is? How many hard years (and 80 hour work weeks) do you think even the most successful of these supposed celebrity chefs had to put in BEFORE any of these opportunities came their way? Do you think it is easy to stay in business, pay your employees and vendors on time? I also wasn't aware we had put a cap or income ceiling on chefs, in any event. Cooking isn't socialized medicine. Not that we could define or agree on some appropriate level, or limit, of "success" for them anyway. We'd have a hard enough time defining what it means simply to be called "chef:" http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=57505 Not that it matters, (it doesn't) but how do you know the chefs weren't using these products all along--and the manufacturers or marketers finally realized that maybe other chefs or the public would be interested in what the sponsored chef had to say? A few years ago Charlie Trotter endorsed a new chocolate on the market from Hawaii--the very first chocolate "grown" in the US--it was a shitty flat flaccid chocolate as far as I was concerned--but I didn't begrudge them from approaching Trotter and featuring him in a national ad promoting the fact the he was using that chocolate. I couldn't care less if he got paid or if he just negotiated a better pricing deal. We as fellow chefs (and you as consumers) still have to taste the chocolate on our own and make up our own mind. You think Trotter has some obligation to be impartial about the chocolate he uses? Do you think he has some responsibility to "disclose" whatever arrangement he made with this chocolate company? If so, why? That's but one linkage Ms. Crow failed to persuade in her superficial piece. Some public trust being violated? Diners being duped by false assumptions? No, the only thing Trotter had to do to fulfill his end of the bargain was put out a great tasting dessert with the product. Since when are chefs supposed to be impartial? I'm very opinionated about what I do and why I do it, I'm very partial, yet as a chef I've never met a customer who has pulled me aside and thanked me for being impartial. What they thank me for is doing a great cake or a great dessert, ending their meal well, for never having tasted something so good. And I think you over-value the case the article makes--I don't think Ms. Crow made the case that this was "alarming" nor "ever-increasing" nor that sponsored chefs impartiality was impugned nor that there was a cloud over their restaurants because of this. I think what she demonstrated--for the few readers who naively had never imagined that chefs, like the leaders in any given field or profession, would not also enter into all sorts of agreements, arrangements, contracts, consulting gigs, etc.--that chefs, too, can be multifaceted professionals who stretch their bounds and refuse to be conveniently boxed in, just like any influential leader in any profession refuses to be so bound. The (unintentional) upside of this article is that the definition of a chef has been expanded for those people, that being a chef can be a little more complicated than the simplistic romantic notion of getting up in the morning and standing at the stove of your restaurant cooking all day. By the way, I've been a "sponsored chef" several times over according to the weak criteria of this article. I'm not currently sponsored at the moment, in the past for one year I agreed to use Chocolates El Rey exclusively, and I received compensation for promoting it, I travelled around the country giving demonstrations to other pastry chefs on how to use it, how to create with it, developed recipes for its use and my not-so-handsome mug and one of my desserts appeared in a national full page ad in a magazine. I got a ton of free product that I otherwise would have had to pay for and improved my chocolate skills and knowledge in ways that my peers weren't able to. The problem with this is, exactly, what? It's not like I was the host of "World Chocolate News" on the BBC reporting on ALL chocolate companies, nor did I write the "Chocolate Consumer Watch" column for Chocolate Consumer Reports. After that agreement ended, and a few years later, another chocolate manufacturer hired me, sent me to France to train inside their elite factory, paid me to develop recipes and go to NYC and give demonstrations with their chocolate at FCI--the French Culinary Institute. This compromises my 1) skill 2) talent 3) judgement or 4) ethics how? That said, have you tasted Ming's frozen shrimp? Maybe those shrimp are damn good, I don't know, and I'll withold judgement until I do. I've read lots of other pros report that flash-frozen just-caught fish way out at sea is often superior to the supposedly fresh fish you'll encounter at a typical supermarket--which means, yes, the fish you'll find at Costco in the frozen aisle just might likely taste better than what you could buy fresh. If I'm dining at his restaurant, the first and main thing I'd care about is whether his shrimp dish tasted good. If it didn't, then I'd probe a little deeper. Have you ever eaten at Tru, Rick Tramonto's restaurant in Chicago? If you had, you wouldn't blink twice about him developing that citrus dust product because he's a great chef and his restaurant is superb. How do you think he is impugned, how is there a cloud over his restaurant in any way? Rick and Gale Gand and Rich Melman are amazing talents--who wouldn't want to take them on for product development or consulting? These pros are supposed to be "impartial" about why they do what they do and how they do it? Rather, when I dine at Tru I want Rick to be totally partial, to give me what he wants to give me. Same with Gale, last time I visited with her she was developing a few desserts which used Splenda. I don't expect she'd serve a dessert in Tru which had Splenda in it, but if she did, I bet it would taste great! And I'm damn grateful for the opportunity to experience them at their "partial" best. Why is that? Trust. I have trust in them--so this is a non-issue for me--and for those chefs or products I do not know--I have trust in my own palate to be able to tell when I'm getting something less than what it could or should be. That any of these guys or gals might have a side deal means very little to me. The "integrity" is in the end product. Oh, I work for one of the chefs mentioned in this article, Jose Andres. One of his restaurants is Mexican-inspired, another Latin-inspired, we use avocados, a lot of avocados, and since Jose is one of the best chefs in the country (Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic (pre-scandal), Bon Appetit magazine Chef of the Year) more than a few people just might be interested in how he uses avocados and why. He's done a little "dim sum" dumpling of avocado inside a paper thin slice of jicama, he's been doing some variation of it for years. He and his creative team come up with interesting avocado dishes all the time. Maybe you've had guacamole before, this is different, it's really good. Before you lose a wink's sleep over any deal he may have arranged, taste his avocado dishes. When you're done smiling, when you're done saying for the third time to your dining companion, "mmm, this is really good, how come I've never had anything like this before," you won't be thinking about clouds, integrity, or shame, at least as far as Jose is concerned. You'll be wondering how you might be able to do something with avocados at home, which is just perhaps why he was approached in the first place. Win-win. Give the same benefit of the doubt to every other chef until you've tasted first hand.
  21. Sim, no, we're pretty bare bones at Oyamel, but only good people grateful for the job and the opportunity last there. Jose Andres, the chef-partner overseeing all of these restaurants, is one of the most special talents in the country, incredibly demanding yet at the same time motivational; he manages to inspire loyalty and retains good people rather than churning through them. I don't have a PacoJet there like I do in other restaurants, not a lot of "toys" or techniques on display like at Cafe/minibar, I'm not even doing a single espuma or anything technically complex. At Zaytinya I use the same china plates used at El Bulli--here, our plates are very utilitarian. What I do have are great ingredients, though, anything I want. The dessert prep and plating station is 3 feet away and runs parallel to two deck ovens and two huge metal steam kettle things--they're not round but flat rectangles with big metal lids and all day long they're tipping them over and pouring out stock, etc. And yes, you've surmised exactly how I have my cold station girls handle setting the flan: gently re-warm as much flan as you need, they clear out say 14 sheet tray spaces in the rolling rack in the walkin, then slide in and set up 6 empty plates on what will be the bottom-most sheetpan--reach in and pour into the bowls--then repeat with successive sheets and bowls working their way up. That way no one has to move anything, they're wrapped in plastic and dated later. The walkin is so tight for space that all the rolling racks are wedged in place and won't move, so there's no chance of someone banging into it and ruining the whole batch. I have a little zippy plastic sheath over the rack, too, to keep odors out. In the beginning I had them weigh every bowl as they poured the flan in--to get used to the right amounts and time--it took maybe 2 very slow days for them to be able to do it right without the scale within 10 grams most every time. I also pour the base of another dessert into a different, smaller, bowl--my version of a caramel goat milk cajeta (which is also a kind of "flan" in that I pour the reduced cajeta over yolks and then heat to 185.) That goes a little faster and takes up less space, say 16 bowls to a sheetpan. Like the flan, gallons of the stuff can be made ahead, held for x days, then portioned out daily and bowls filled as needed. It's an elegant presentation and I usually do some version of this in every season at most of the restaurants: right now at Cafe we pour a panela-spice infused gelee in a bowl which serves as the base for a warm Latin baba, at Zaytinya it's a saffron cream in a bowl as the base of an apple/caramelized cinnamon dessert. The sheetpans in that rack stay in that rack, dedicated to dessert only, and are still perfectly flat after 6 months. Yes, it takes the cooperation of the chef (and I'm lucky Jose hires really talented chefs in their own right.) At Oyamel it's a young just-promoted-to-exec chef named Saul Herrera handling day to day who opened Zaytinya with me (as the sous of cold station--which in Jose's system plates all salads and dessert) and who helped us get a national Beard best new restaurant nomination, then moved over to Cafe Atlantico when I revamped the dessert program there, and then opened Oyamel with me. So he's seen three of my programs and helped implement each one. He "gets" the value of dessert. At Oyamel I only have that one rolling rack and a single shelf (6 foot wide 18" high) in the walkin, two normal half sheet pan width lowboy reach-in fridges at the dessert plating station, and 25% of one tall typical reachin freezer for longer term storage of dessert-related stuff: ice creams, nuts, frozen purees. There's also a small service freezer near the line dedicated to the ice creams, sorbets, granites. That's it, but that's also all we need for the system and menu there--I developed it to fit that space. Back of the house space is tight, but as you also guessed, it helps that the space was built up new--the floors are flat, the tiles smooth, the outlets work, dry storage is actually dry, etc.
  22. Here's a link to one of my menus with a picture of a simple dessert we call "Cafe de Olla" http://www.oyamel.com/pages/dessert.html The dessert pictured rotates, so you might get the round mole caliente instead. That bowl is relatively cheap and sturdy which is good for a high volume place, it doesn't chip too readily in the dishwasher and it is multi-functional: in this case we pour a thin layer of the milk chocolate-espresso flan into it to set up, then wrap each plate in plastic, date them and keep them 6-to-a-sheetpan in an enclosed rolling rack. We keep 72 of these on hand at any given time. For service, peel off the plastic, sprinkle a little crunchy chocolate-piloncillo crumble on the surface, two little cubes of Kahlua gelee, a spritz of caramelized cinnamon-syrup and finally some anise ice cream. Stuff is arranged and sprinkled precisely, in a quick circular motion, with an organic rather than formal quality to it. We also use that bowl for fruit soups--and for a few dishes in the salad station. This dessert is representative of how we do many desserts--it can be done in volume, it's simple, designed to be shared, eaten with a spoon from any angle scooping up all of the components. The prep demands aren't that great--the only thing done in advance requiring a little dexterity and finesse is pouring the flan perfectly flat into the bowl--all the individual components can be prepared in bulk--and plating demands are really no different than any salad or other item on the line. It's similar in presentation concept, I think, to Neil's dessert from school--there's nothing extraneous there--it could just as easily be a savory dish--though in Neil's picture, unless that caramelized pineapple disc was soft enough for some of it to be scooped up easily with a spoon along with other ingredients as you dug down into them, how I'd have to re-work that to meet my chef's eye (Jose Andres) is to dice up that pineapple instead so each scoop through the fritter and sorbet would get some pineapple, effortlessly. And I'd probably try to do that in a shallow bowl so you'd have a lip to help you scoop it all up as it all melts--it can be tough to eat a la minute desserts on flat plates. The plate that devinf used (above) is an example, I think, of a very good one to use, lots of options with that plate.
  23. I don't recall folks being as upset when that review of a Duck, NC restaurant ran in the Magazine, or am I mis-remembering that one? It was Duck, right? Maybe it was Eve in Weekend. I'd have a hard time defending that one, but this one is a no brainer. We have very few three-star restaurants within a reasonable drive, we deserve to know when another one pops up, so yes, I don't have a problem with this. I wish Tom had written about Jay Comfort when he was doing two-to-three star work in Fredericksburg, but Eve Zibart did, so that's moot. That's really the end of a simple story for me, nearby three-stars deserve play in our Magazine because we're the dominant regional hub, but some interesting points and issues have been raised, so I'll react to a few. I agree with you that lackadaisi's perspectives warrant no derision, mnebergall, just healthy disagreement, and I agree somewhat with your side, but only up to a point. Where do I diverge? Tom is not a "reporter" per se, the way various Post sections have multiple reporters covering different beats and stories, he's not like Judith or Walter or Candy, the talented longtime food writers and reporters, if you will, of the Post Food section. Tom left reporting and food writing behind when he became a critic, which means he is paid to give his very personal opinions and shape and guide ours--critics and reporters play by different rules, just like sports reporters and columnists play by different rules, and we should have different expectations of each. They all have their jobs ostensibly for life, thanks to the Guild, though I think it'll be a lot harder for the lead restaurant critic to stay engaged and stay vital in that post year after year and only in that post--hence why I think it's good for New Yawkers that they've had more frequent critic changes at the New York Times than we have seen in DC. (I also have a wish that whenever Tom is discussed we don't derail into that "woe is me, Phyllis this, Phyllis that, Tom's not Phyllis" knee jerk thread and that instead we deal with the job Tom has done and is doing on its own merits. He deserves that. But that's probably folly.) Back to lackadaisi--I'm afraid you lose me a bit with your very first salvo: "We have a thriving restaurant industry in DC that deserves to have a Washington Post reviewer who cares and supports it. This week's review of Pazo is just the most recent indication that Tom Sietsema has no loyalty to this city" Yes, we have an increasingly thriving restaurant industry, an increasing number of our restaurants, especially those that are chef-owned, are actually pretty good, a few are great if not unique nationally, but I'm afraid this tough talk makes too many assumptions I don't share. What we "deserve" is a critic willing to be independent and, uhm, critical, over the subject matter and subject area he's been assigned. If he's honest, fair, interesting and turns a nice phrase, all the better--and Tom is all of those. He's also RIGHT most of the time. You're complaining about this? And it seems folly to suggest his record, let alone this one review, reveals he 1) doesn't "care" or 2) doesn't "support" DC restaurants and that he somehow 3) has no loyalty to this city. I disagree, respectfully, of course. He's not paid to be a homer or industry shill, he's not the spokesman for the RAMW and I'm not sure, to a critic, which charge would sting more: homer or hater? To make either case, you really have to show how, repeatedly over time, that Tom has gotten it wrong, how he's misjudged and missed things by a mile, how he has an agenda or two which lie out of sync with 1) reality 2) the majority of his readers or subjects or 3) his bosses who pay his bills. I haven't seen that case made here. Let's explore a little further--who pays Tom and who defines his job for him? And as the Post's lead critic, he still has to function within a hierarchy of editors and managing editors guiding the paper as a whole--and the paper is a business entity, an employer, a media conglomerate--but for the sake of argument lets naively assume he and he alone gets to chart his territory, define his territory, based on his whim and written reviews (the review "form," by the way, is a really really limited form for a writer.) The larger questions are--how best should the Post handle this? How much of this is up to Tom and how much of it is beyond his control--i.e. larger editorial and management priorities or direction? We don't know enough of the internal workings of the Post, I'm afraid, but methinks Tom has to put up with his share of grief sometimes. To wit, those confusing user reviews with "average reader review stars" on the Post website before his actual review and star ranking, those misleading Capital Dining advertorial inserts in the Magazine, etc. But I do know this, I drive past Baltimore often enough--and I'm also trying to drive as quickly as I can around or past Silver Spring or Takoma Park or Annapolis or the Eastern Shore and don't even get me started about all those Virginia burbs, bottom line is I'm a Post reader and I'd want to know if there's anything decent there amongst the presumed mediocrity, certainly anything of a three-star nature on "his" scale since, as I've already said, we have so few three-stars anywhere in our region. If you really care about food, you want to know this, too--it's just a question of HOW you want Tom to tell us this. Is one of his weekly Magazine reviews the appropriate place to tell us? As has already been argued, for much of the Post's readership it's a much closer drive to Bal'mer than it is to go anywhere in Virginia (ya been on the Beltway or 395S anytime lately?) I don't have facts 'n figures in front of me, but at given times of the day or week it'll probably take less time to drive to Pazo for 500,000+ of the Post readership than it would to drive to Oyamel in Crystal City. And it is definitely a good thing for Tom's mental sanity and acuity that he also finds ways to flesh things out and explore tangents with his other gigs, his book, the chats, the Postcards. There's nothing as predictable and tiresome as an aging athlete, or critic, who stays too long. Tom stepping outside the rigid form of a review can only be seen as a good thing, even when we disagree with his opinions. Tom seeing first hand just how we stack up locally against talent in others cities, again, nothing but a good thing, for all of us. Just how many "small" restaurants is Tom NOT reviewing or mentioning in a timely fashion that are somehow worthy, interesting, fresh, bursting with flavor that the million or so Post readers NEED to read about in the Post magazine? I'll wait....in the meantime, let the neighborhood sections and local gazettes and the Food section itself deal with the nice but ubiquitous middlin' amateurish flawed neighborhood places, the chefs who are undertrained, in over their ahead or who have stopped trying, who want to get home to their kids, let Eve Zibart round up the B-level or old-guard places she thinks Tom has overlooked or misjudged, Friday in the Weekend section, as she does very very well--why should any or all of that be laid at Tom's feet? If you'd like to argue the Post either needs to hire another staff member dedicated to restaurants & reviews or delegate that its food writers "cover" the restaurant scene more because the demand is there (and no one cooks anymore anyway,) I think we can do that--and agree--without indicting Tom or his track record. It's really a different issue. It's not his job to "expand" what our city offers, magically, mystically, somehow, as if his writing could even do that--it's his job to 1) be aware of all the interesting and/or special places that do somehow manage to open--which he is on top off, especially thanks to eGullet if one were to slip under his radar--and 2) alert us to them--which I think he does, especially in his chats and those Wednesday little snippets and 3) evaluate them fairly. In essence, to chronicle our restaurant scene as he sees it evolve. ok, lackadaisi--where I think you're on slightly stronger ground is when you imply a case could be made he doesn't "force" restaurants that have been reviewed to resist from living off their laurels enough--but I'd turn that around and say how many critics do? That's a natural inclination--if it's going to occur it will and if the team in place is still driven and motivated it won't. An occasional Baltimore review won't hinder that. And if it does in some small way, other inherently more timely venues or voices rise up to keep you informed, witness eGullet. Name another critic at another paper that does a better job than Tom in this respect--don't forget his chats or his book or the special magazine issues all of which offer a chance for him to amend a previous review? Remember the NY Times still had 7-8 year old four star reviews of Le Bernardin and Jean Georges up from Ruth Reichl when William Grimes stepped down! If Tom did more of that, forcing and prodding more restaurants, he'd get criticized from a different camp accusing him of being disloyal to our town and asking why's he spending time reviewing Citronelle or Kinkead's again and not a place like 21P which just opened and hasn't yet been reviewed? It's always going to be judgement calls, and it seems he'll choose to fully review a place like 21P and mention a minor change or service issue with a Citronelle or Zaytinya in his chat, rather than spend a whole Magazine review space re-reviewing them. I think it's the right choice. As it is he gets criticized by dopey or disingenuous chatters for seemingly recommending the same places over and over and over again. Well guess what? Those places and chefs usually deserve to be recommended repeatedly because they're doing a better or more interesting job or offering a better value and he feels his readership "deserves" to keep hearing about them until that's not the case anymore, or until someone else supplants them. Is that the right choice? Again, I think so, but we can agree to disagree. However, for this "resting on their laurels" charge to stick you'd have to name names of those places shockingly and egregiously resting on their laurels--supposedly overlooked by Tom--and we'd have to reach almost immediate consensus on that list and show that Tom is somehow tacitly implicated by omission and that an immediate re-review is warranted--and frankly, that's just not likely to happen. It might make for a good thread on its own, though. Who are you thinking of--is there this swell of restaurants mailing it in that deserves to be outed? Each one of us in "critic" mode is likely to cut x, y or z restaurant slack the other wouldn't, if we'd not outright disagree, that's the nature of criticism. Most of us know who is mailing it in, and I think you can infer from his chats just who Tom feels may be, too. Either way, readers still have to go to these places to form their own opinions anyway, since taste and awareness is very subjective. For example, Tom doesn't "like" chocolate, he admits he just doesn't get it like 90% of the population does, or as he savors other ingredients or flavors--so that means even after reading his review you still have to go to Oyamel to try our Cafe de Olla or the Mole caliente desserts and make up your own mind just how good or inventive or delicious they are--even though Tom didn't mention either one in his review. That, in microcosm, is what we all have to do anyway with any dish or chef or restaurant--we embrace, experience, react, on its own terms and on our very personal level. Another potentially strong media point you make lackadaisi is that because Baltimore is a real "city" a restaurant there should be treated by Tom and the Post as somehow different than a comparably good and equidistant restaurant in some lesser burb. The hidden gem clause. I view this differently and I think as many readers will disagree on this as agree, but I can see your side from a media perspective: no matter how good a restaurant is in Baltimore, is the Washington Post still the wrong venue? I certainly would have preferred a few DC restaurants--or the potential column you suggested-- featured in the Magazine during cherry blossom time, so that criticism sticks somewhat, but realize that, too, may have been out of Tom's control and in the hands of managing editor-types. But, we already have tons of Virginia folks who'd never think twice of driving to Bethesda for dinner, tons of Maryland folks who'd never drive to Tysons for dinner, DC resident's whose culinary worldview ends at the bridges or Beltway anyway, we're a bunch of harried disjointed but separate spoke-and-wheel communities concerned about what's in our backyard first, why NOT throw a bone or two to those Baltimore-willing? I think how any of us feels on that will come down to how we define, or sense, the Washington Post. Is it--or is it trying to be--a national newspaper competing with the NY Times and the LA Times? Is it--or is it trying to evolve and position itself as--the dominant regional newspaper giving good local coverage within its region? I think the answers are clearly yes and yes, especially if they want to keep attracting the stylish 15 page color Target catalogs. It's our local paper but it's trying to be more than that, and I don't blame them for trying to be more relevant to more people. These are uncertain times for newspapers, subscription revenues have declined steadily, the internet is forcing newspapers to reassess online media and revenue opportunities. They have to stay in business, what's so bad about stealing readers away from the Sun? You go on to say about Tom "but I am starting to feel that he wants to be more national in scope than I believe is appropriate for a Washington Post reviewer" and I'm not sure I understand your full intent. Tom is attacked often with some version of this. I've already stated my thesis that Tom has to have the national and international dining exposures so he can actually tell how well we're doing here versus other cities--and that helps us all. That's how he knows how well my work, say, stacks up against that of my friends Gale Gand at Tru or ex-eGullet pastry host Michael Laiskonis now at Le Bernardin. That's how he knows where to rank, say, a Trabocchi or Andres nationally alongside a Grant Achatz, or assess a Trabocchi or Andres against a Richard or Donna. You have to have the cuisines, experience the restaurants, to evaluate them in the grander scheme of things. That isn't the same thing as wanting to be more national in scope and writing about an occasional restaurant outside our downtown core isn't either. Russ Parsons championed Thomas Keller at and in the LA Times so much there were times it seemed Keller surely cooked in LA rather than Napa! Russ and Thomas co-collaborated on a cooking series (one of the best of its kind) which ran in the LA Times and NOT in the SF papers--you think a few elite LA-based chefs were pissed they weren't asked to cook with Russ instead in "their" hometown paper? But Russ wasn't the restaurant critic--and frankly I can't tell you how far the LA Times will travel for a review--but their territory is huge and they seem to serve it very well despite aiming for more national recognition. Maybe their critic hears the same grumblings when she dips down or up. But I wouldn't blame her or her editors for urging her to do so. And the Times readers were better off because Russ reached out and brought Keller to them, considered by many to be the best chef in the country, let alone the state of California. As long as critics are allowed by their bosses to be critics and independent, I'm happy. The marketplace will otherwise work itself out. I (personally) don't want a chauvinist or homer, either--we already have enough of them commenting that this chef or that restaurant deserves this or that award, yet failing to note that they haven't actually experienced the cooking of the other chefs or restaurants also up for said award. That gets us nowhere and it doesn't do our city or region well when praise is misplaced or half-blind. That said, how anyone can say Tom hasn't networked on behalf of the cooking talent here and hasn't represented this city well is also beyond me. All our local writers have done right by our chefs. Someone brought up the Mid-Atlantic Beard awards for best chef--that's a great place to start--it's uber-competitive and chefs are very envious by nature--DC got four out of five this year, one (Mark F.) completely out of left field, previous winners came from DC the past two years running. Like others here I think Fabio is simply fantastic, but I wasn't going to say he was robbed when Grant Achatz got the Beard award and not him--how would I know? I had never been to Trio nor eaten at Grant's table, like I had at Maestro. I wasn't in a postion to comment meaningfully--that Tom puts himself in the position to comment meaningfully by traveling and networking, and that others around the country listen is, again, all good for us. How do you think any local chefs even get nominated for Beard awards in the first place or begin to come under some national media scrutiny? Do ya' think Tom and the accuracy and persuasiveness of his advocacy has anything to do with it? Writers and critics visit with other writers and critics from out of town. Tom is but one of many local voices and judges, but who's doing a better job as a critic as a chauvinist for their city, Tom or Craig LaBan in Philadelphia? Who has been more persuasive in their local networking? We can never know for sure, but if LaBan were doing a better job (don't get me wrong, he's an excellent critic) the chef from Django would have been nominated instead of or alongside Vetri--and I'd remember his name since I've eaten at his wonderful restaurant four or five times. But no, 4 DC chefs got nominated instead. And that means that Tom (likely) has been right or more persuasive with more people more often, and that when other chefs and writers and foodies visit DC, I'm betting they leave more often than not concurring with Tom. All of this benefits DC as a whole by more and more people thinking of it as a food town, which benefits all of us in the long term, not just those nominated. Isn't that caring and supporting and being loyal enough? (Apologies for length, repetition and rambling.)
  24. So Ted, if you attended this presentation, how far would Sebastian get with you if he led with cocoa solid percentage as his hook? Would you lock up, essentially, if he led with a tasting through the 50 to 58 range? After all, he said initially "I'm interested to see how those of you who are selecting your chocolates using cocoa solids as one of your criteria are using them. Especially those of you who are using multiple products that are slightly differientated from one another" and Sebastian, since you've revealed "you've been asked by a fairly large pastry supplier to give a presentation on chocolates they're using, which they've picked specifically for their cocoa solids content," maybe we can help you with how you might try to position them for your demo and help you find differences between them. That's because even slightly less good chocolates can be used to create terrific desserts. That can be the reality of chocolate once it is blended with other flavors and ingredients. Who are we talking about and which products? What's your plan for your presentation so far--are you creating a few things to taste? Who will comprise your audience? The thing is--I think at one level of customer you cannot sell between that 50-58% range except based on price--yet at another level maybe the best thing you could offer to the supplier is your expertise (with our confirmation) to say to their audience, and then back it up with examples, just how they could use a more expensive chocolate AND still be just as profitable if not more so because it goes further, can be upscaled, can bring value-added and tangible benefits, etc.
  25. I'm not sure I can agree, JPW, that Majestic wasn't up to its hype, just what hype are we talking about? And have you not been there more recently than a few years ago? It's a solid, restrained, interesting "neighborhood" place, giving a mostly conservative older clientele what it wants, and giving the rest of us just enough culinary subtlety or interest blended with food that is hearty rustic and comfortable, owned by one of the most respected, most giving, hard-working and liked chefs in town--Susan Lindeborg--a chef who was in her restaurant seemingly every night if that kind of thing is important to you. Interesting, affordable wines. Pleasant efficient servers who do a good job caring. It got a relatively lukewarm review by Tom when it first opened and he has since reconsidered, praising it often. It's still a place very worth going to--so, too, as others said the Eve bar and maybe Vermilion. I haven't been back to Vermilion since the chef change and what I liked there, then, were the apps anyway. I also have not been back to Majestic since Vermilion and Eve opened. But I think Majestic is roughly comparable pricewise to the Eve regular bistro/dining room, so do consider that. That said, Eve is a step up from Majestic in aim and execution, it does so many little things so very well, they have many talented commited professionals, why not go there and get four-starish service, food and wine in the Bistro at Bistro prices? The only thing Cathal, Todd and Eve have to do a little better is integrate their dessert focus with their food--but they know this and they're trying. The criticism of Susan/Majestic that stuck somewhat for me, I think, is that she's not doing what she did at Morrison-Clark--years ago her work WAS as interesting and accomplished as what Cathal is doing at Eve--but then with Majestic she became chef-owner, which presents its own set of new obstacles, and Majestic is drawing its own new clientele and investors, which isn't necessarily the most culinarily aware or demanding. Look past whatever hype you have to, Majestic is still one of the very few places in Old Town or Alexandria worth a drive, even coming from more interesting and restaurant-dense areas. What Susan is doing and what she's offering is a different product than what Eve offers--and both should be considered and appreciated. However, in your shoes, I'd beg, borrow or steal my way to Eve if I had to choose one place, order several of Todd's underknown bargain-priced wines. Let the locals suffer through all the other places there, the old, familiar and/or forgotten French guard, and report back on what's still special about them. You go to Eve.
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