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Tom Sietsema Plants Rumor On 6/12/02 Chat


Steve Klc
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Tom Sietsema--who I think does as good a job as any critic nationally save for Steve Shaw--dropped an interesting tidbit in his weekly online chat: "I just heard a rumor, from a Very Reliable Source, that A Hot Shot Chef with Tons of National Honors is tired of DC and thinking of relocating to New York. It would be a shame if it's true, but..."

I've written on eGullet that I think one of the problems with DC is that very few of our best--or best-known--chefs could cook in NYC and make an impact...that, effort aside, our best high-end restaurants don't stack up in terms of creativity and interest when compared with the best in other elite food cities...that we have a core group of celebrity chefs taking it relatively easy, cooking here precisely because of the lack of competition, lack of awareness and discriminating palate of our conservative diners, and that these chefs have been cooking like they were indeed tired of DC for some time now.  Historically complicit in this, I feel, have been our local restaurant critics in puffing up the value of these local celebrity chefs out of proportion to their actual efforts and product when considered nationally.

Leaving this minority hypothesis aside for the moment--I was wondering who you thought might merit inclusion on the list of DC's "hot shot chefs with tons of national honors?"  Help me define the list of candidates Tom might be talking about--are they older? younger? French?  Who here might have the skillset, media-savvy, culinary pedigree or culinary concept that NYC doesn't already have in abundance? Is there even one female chef--in this overtly female-chef-friendly food city--who might qualify as a "hot shot chef with tons of national honors?"

Then let's speculate how they'd do in NYC.  It's undoubtedly a redefining, courageous moment for someone if true.

Obviously, Michel Richard of Citronelle and his rotund ego cut a renowned swath across DC dining and he has the reputation for doing the most creative, most sophisticated cooking--but he failed once in NYC when LeNotre landed on our shores decades ago--do you think he has the energy left and might be eager to return?  Do you think the fact that Thomas Keller is opening a restaurant in NYC could be a contributing factor?

Who else might Sietsema be hinting about?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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  • 1 month later...

Steve,

I am in the restaurant business here in DC and I agree with you about DC not matching NYC...but additionally I would add Boston, Chicago, LA, SF, Portland, Seattle to the list as well. I really think it is a cultural thing. The best American chefs are not born and raised in this city. Furthermore, the majority of chefs that come to this town are distracted by a lot of things other than their art. Big fish in little pond reality is a dulling point for a person's internal motivation. This trend towards mediocrity is further exacerbated by the "maximize revenue" mentality of many restaurant owners in this city who push their inadequate kitchens to the breaking point in order to profit off that next party of 25, 50 etc. when what they should really be doing is focusing on quality in the dining room.

I have learned the hard way that hiring a star chef is a big mistake. I find it leads to overpay for underperform. There is a silver lining to all of this. But I will save that for another time.

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Special K, I was just looking at the transcript of that chat:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveo...tsema061202.htm

I wonder, should Sietsema have said what he said? I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but at first blush it doesn't strike me as good policy to say things like "I just heard a rumor, from a Very Reliable Source, that A Hot Shot Chef with Tons of National Honors is tired of DC and thinking of relocating to New York. It would be a shame if it's true, but..." Then again perhaps the standard in an online chat is lower.

Is this Sietsema related to Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice? I keep forgetting.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No, not related.

The chats do have a folksy, fun feel to them and for the people who tune in regularly, Tom is very helpful, entertaining, breezy and smooth. The Post's Live Online features are some of the coolest things going on there and Tom has a devoted following. Deservedly so, in my mind. He's a very interesting guy--online, in print and in person.

That said, no, I don't like the chef/restaurant dish and gossip element that has crept ever so slightly into his style--he now contributes a few paragraphs of "dish" to the weekly Food section as well--and he carries it off but as long as we're going to maintain the artificial barrier between lead restaurant critic and food writers--the charade of the importance of anonymity--and the delusion that the supposedly small Post readership percentage interested in chefs and restaurants is effectively being served by his one review (and by Eve Zibart's review in the Post Friday Weekend section) I'd rather see the critic be a critic and not dish, not trade in gossip and not repeat coyly what's been gleaned from all sorts of reliable sources.

I'd rather he have paid serious attention to Restaurant Seven, Elysium and Le Relais in a timely manner instead. But that's the problem Post management opens itself up for when they expect their restaurant reviewer to do more than simply review restaurants. Frankly, the Washingtonian magazine reviewers have been doing a better job than ever before and are beating Tom to more of the significant reviews.

At times in those chats he drops thinly veiled negative comments about certain "anonymous" restaurants--not directly naming them but regulars just know he's talking about Galileo, or Citronelle, or Kinkeads, etc. Or do they? Recently he said this online:

"And an aside, if you'll allow me: There are three top restaurants in town that account for the bulk of my reader service complaints, and I continue to be amazed that the people in charge of their dining rooms fail to take any action. Having been dissed myself over the years at all three of them, I can sympathize with readers who sidestep that famous seafood restaurant, that haute Italian address and The Third Place."

Now, to my way of thinking it would just be better to name names as we do here on eGullet. Bash them if they deserve it. I, for one, would applaud a more activist Post critic. It's about time we had one willing to say to a sacred cow--stop mailing it in, you're not as good as you think you are, you wouldn't make it in NYC--and not say it obsequiously.

From a week or two ago:

"What's been your biggest surprise lately... a place that either didn't live up to the buzz or somewhere that surpassed it?"

Tom Sietsema: "Let's just say that a Very Big Deal is about to lose its Well-Publicized Hire (he types, cryptically)"

But--the other side of this is access--and by exposing himself like this, in the way his predecessor Phyllis Richman did--he does take a risk, extend his reach, establish himself as a personality out in front of the written review, and yes occasionally say something he'd probably like to take back after the fact. That's the danger online--no wise editor looking over your shoulder.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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The Post's Live Online features are some of the coolest things going on there

Yes, I've been reading through the archive this evening and it is an excellent use of the technology. Personally, I don't think chat is an effective technology overall, though: It's neither as efficient as voice-based live broadcasting nor as sophisticated as non-real-time message board discussion. You simply can't get the kinds of well-considered answers in a live typewritten chat as you can in our eGullet Q&A sessions or on the radio. Still, while it isn't my favorite format, I do applaud the Post for putting its columnists out there live in front of the readership. I'd like to see the New York Times food writers do something similar on a weekly basis.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steve Klc

Posted: Jun 20 2002, 07:27 PM

“...that, effort aside, our best high-end restaurants don't stack up in terms of creativity and interest when compared with the best in other elite food cities...that we have a core group of celebrity chefs taking it relatively easy, cooking here precisely because of the lack of competition, lack of awareness and discriminating palate of our conservative diners, and that these chefs have been cooking like they were indeed tired of DC for some time now.”

Steve: the point of ‘chefs taking it relatively easy’ is only an outcome of the following, and you wrote ‘lack of awareness and discriminating palate of our conservative diners’.

Room62rocks

Posted: Aug 17 2002, 07:10 PM

“……Furthermore, the majority of chefs that come to this town are distracted by a lot of things other than their art. Big fish in little pond reality is a dulling point for a person's internal motivation….”

Room62rocks: is the distraction caused by these ‘Big Fish in little pond’ (our Politicians?), and the pond being ‘Dining is not an issue’ for these big fish?

Steve Klc

Posted: Aug 17 2002, 11:28 PM

“…….and the delusion that the supposedly small Post readership percentage interested in chefs and restaurants is effectively being served by his one review….”

Steve: it is not a delusion, but ‘Post readership percentage interested in chefs and restaurants’ is small. (so is other medias’)

Steve Klc

Posted: Aug 18 2002, 12:34 AM

“……By the way room62rocks--thank you for weighing in. Please read through some of our other nascent DC board threads and add more of your perspective.

Room62rocks: Please do!

ALL:

As you know my background, I was and still am a chef and proud of it. I never will nor ever have I considered myself a Gourmet Chef or that I could compare myself with any of our celebrity chefs. But I do consider myself of having discriminating taste, recognize cooking of others, and love to eat others’ food, plus I feel I can distinguish between the best and not so “bestest”, and am able to differentiate between people who eat because they have to, and people who eat because they like to.

Well, I worked during ‘84/’85 in DC as a civilian culinary instructor and consultant for HQ US MARINE CORPS. While living there, I discovered that a very large percentage of the DC workforce in all kinds of agencies, establishments and you name it are somehow connected with the Government, or work directly for it. I also found out that this workforce consists of a very large contingent of former military personnel retired. And through my work for the military, I also have 42 months USAF HQ Strategic Air Force Omaha NE, I discovered that these military seldom showed much interest of dining, but eating. Officers’ Clubs (now Community Clubs) have beautiful rooms and furniture, carpets, drapes and crystal chandeliers, but beer and liquor is drunk out of plastic cups, paper plates are common. Sheetpan cakes with gaudy cobalt blue decorations are de rigeur, and found to be gorgeous. At Sunday brunches tons of SOS (made with ground beef) are consumed and found to be delicious. So, these same guys that now are the major workforce in DC, after a 20 plus year stint in the “Service”, still are not demanding more discerning foods.

All the travel (or do I only assume that they all have been around the world?) of these masses seem not to have much of an impact on their culinary outlook.

Put my foot into this one! I’ll chew it and as mentioned before: I stand corrected!!

:wink:

Peter
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