The Future of Dining

Snouts and molecules are destined to become the lava lamps of the future while great ingredients lead to classics.

It’s fine to explore, it’s necessary, but let’s be honest: So little remains of shifts in any cultural experience, be it music, art, writing, or food.

Pete Wells noted in his ** review of Rotisserie Georgette that a lot of the new places he’s reviewing are to dining as The Beatles and Stones were to the popular music which preceded them.  Leaving aside the elevation of food to an art, it’s an interesting point.

Specifically, so much that is performed and recorded simply isn’t worth listening to any more and really wasn’t back then.  The great stuff, as always, is in the 2%.

And what made The Stones and Beatles great were many things: Knowledge of blues and rock; high-level ability to play music; awareness that every choice made was critical; and, a massive amount of highly-disciplined practice.

And something else.

Interviewing a chef in Japan recently for a long piece on seasonality, I learned from him: “In France, the cuisine is based on adding ingredients, while in Japan it is based on subtracting ingredients.”

What matters most are a few things: A few notes, a few ingredients.  Think of love.

Where To Eat Well

It was a strange feeling last night looking over the Dining section of The New York Tines, and seeing a very good, lively, detailed piece on Richie Torrisi, by the very estimable Jeff Gordinier, and then a second piece on Rotisserie Georgette by Pete Wells.  Strange because I know the chef and restaurant owner pretty well, and it’s odd to know people privately and see them in a public light.  Both pieces captured accurately the strengths and knowledge of Richie Torrisi and Georgette Farkas.

Torrisi’s PARM sells the chicken parm of one’s imagination.  At least my imagination: It’s served on a good roll with good sauce and that chicken?  It’s good.

Farkas’s chickens are moist with crisped skin and served in a delightful, low-key and yet fancy pants room.

Closer to home, it’s Heat versus Celtics tonight and slim pickings for a pre-game meal.  How many pubs can I go to before it’s quits?  Steak tips?  Never had ‘em.  Wings?  Did that last time.  Pizza, burgers, fries?  Go ahead, it’s on me.

How about a good plate of pasta that’s not overly salted and costs less than twenty bucks?


On the Menu, Off the Menu

In between guessing that the Malaysian jet is inside Afghanistan, at a remote air base, and writing about the ironic disharmony of Japanese seasonality in cuisine, while reading reviews of Lorrie Moore’s new book, I’ve been taking stock.

Sicilian blood oranges, first of the season, arrived this past week at Russo’s, and at $27 a case, this brings new life into a glass each morning.  It’s cheaper than a cup of Joe at Starbucks, I’m told; I still have never been to one of the coffee shops, but rumor has it that it’s good, hot, and expensive.

Alaskan black cod loin showed up at New Deal fish.  Pickled asparagus are on the shelves of Grillo’s.

New restaurants are opening up, too.

There’s what I predict and what I hope will happen.

More fat and big plates.

More vegetarian dishes.

Boys in the Kitchen

Bacon cocktails, pig hearts, and fried anything with loads of fat and salt, piled high, are on award winning menus coast to coast these days, and it’s a trend that started a year or so back and is now in its heyday.

Most of the boys are white and from the upper middle classes, whose hopes of rebellion were fixed in teen dreams of success on the playing field, but who found that a failure to compete professionally left them stranded.

Not especially academic nor inquisitive, but eager for some structure outside of themselves that might help them get and stay organized, the military was a logical option.  But their families were, by and large, opposed to that kind of service and what with decades of wars, it was a dangerous course.

So many of these wayward, talented souls wound up cooking.

When you think of the real food that will last and is satisfying in this country, you think of Alice Waters.  Her menus remain gentle and reflective of desire and botany.  Fat and salt are there, but measured out like tension, and rather not the point.

The funny thing about dining out, in any event, is that the food, as a baseline, has to be good.  But since food is usually better at home, if you take the time and thought to get good ingredients and use them seasonally in abundance, a restaurant must provide conviviality and pleasure.  It’s one reason among many that the French, Italian, and Japanese succeed in that enterprise: Hospitality with pleasure.

I look forward to the day when we have more adults in the kitchen.

What’s Cooking?

I’m befuddled, perplexed, and discombobulated by all the books and blogs about how to cook this or that, and even more flummoxed by the guides to make things at home.  Seriously?  Make bacon at home?  Make your own sausages?  Folks, better to find a great purveyor.

Can you fly a plane?  I didn’t think so.  So what makes you think you can make better products at home than a top producer?

The best chefs don’t do everything from scratch.

Robuchon spent two years sourcing what he needed before opening his eponymous place in Vegas.

Your best bet is to spend time looking for great ingredients and learn how to use them.  Cook simple dishes until you have a bona fide repertoire of about twelve.

Meanwhile, beyond the stove: I sold my latest book to a publisher in Delhi on the subject of Indian resiliences.

Food Trends: March, 2014 and Beyond

First of all, save money on the Acela if you’re Boston based.  NYC dining is coming to town.  We already have the Ken Himmel, NYC based investor, here, what with the very estimable Grill 23 as well as Bistro du Midi, Post 290, and Harvest.  Next up?

Shake Shack opened in Harvard Square.

On the horizon?

Bar Boulud in the Fall, Eataly within the year.

The impact of all this will be huge.  It’s bigger than Hamersley’s opening 28 years ago and giving the city its first open kitchen serving American interpretations of French classics by way of California refinement.

No, this will be bigger in several specific ways:

1.  People looking to get state-of-the-art training now have the opportunity to do so without leaving town.  This means, too, that local chefs and GMs looking to hire talent will have to compete against the empires from NYC that offer the better training opportunities.  Those that train with the new folks will have access to their global outposts.

2.  Local “Italian” and “French” and  burger joints will have to face kitchens that actually are producing the real thing rather than what a chef thinks might be fun.

3. Cooks and waitstaff who train at the new places will, over time, open their own places, and raise the bar all over town.

All in all, it’s a good thing for consumers especially.  The local restaurant industry?  Not so much.  But you can bank on that local industry working with local critics to put down the “interlopers.”  Can’t you see the reviews now?  “Not as good as his reputation.”





Looking Ahead: Spring Dining

It’s true, spring is here or nearly or burgeoning.  First sign: That skunk on Sunday night, unseen, but apparent in front of the house.  Then birds tweeting all week at dawn.  Yesterday?  One of the dogs stopped cold, put on the brakes, mid-walk to look up.  I looked up.  Couldn’t see what had grabbed his attention and then I did.

A huge, beautiful hawk maybe one hundred feet above us, wings outspread, patrolling and riding the wind currents.

On a base, culinary level: The estimable Oregon mushroom folks ( posted on FB this week sighting of morels.  At New Deal fish: Shad roe for sale.


Popular Mechanics & How To Be A Great Chef At Home

Back in the day, when I was a kid, the guys–the fathers, uncles, neighbors–all had workshops in their homes.  Filled with power tools, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, plywood, hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, vises, and all sorts of equipment, the workshops were not just a retreat from the intimacy of the bedroom and kitchen, but a legacy from  the recent world war and the war in Korea.

The men had the notion  that they could and that it was their responsibility to fix things, make things work, make chairs, tables, benches, and so on.  Having coming from the military just recently, the premise was that men could soldier on.  They knew how to make things work.

Nowadays, Popular Mechanics, a magazine found in many homes back then, is replaced by cookbooks and recipes cut from magazines or newspapers and downloaded from the Internet.  People actually think or believe that the dish they are reading about–and may never have tasted in a restaurant or from a cook who was trained for years–is something they can make at home.

That thought or belief is a legacy of years of both unemployment, excess, self indulgence, and decades of being told, for the affluent, that they are precious and gifted and can do anything.  The audience for the home cook who aspires to be a chef are generations of the special.

But watch out because when the hammer comes down on the thumb, it hurts.

Better to learn to make a good omelet.

The Japanese Diet

The Japanese Diet.  As if there is one diet.  Well, they call the parliament there the Diet, but is that really what we mean?

Sure, the older generation in the rural and small town areas of Japan used to thrive on local vegetables, kelp, fish, shellfish, seasonal fruits, noodles, and rice. But as far back as the Taisho period (starting in 1879, ending in 1926), the city folk have enjoyed all the of the above, but sought to add Chinese and western components to the diet.

These days more people in Japan, under the age of forty, eat more potatoes than rice, drink more wine and hard liquor than sake, eat more pizza and pasta and processed food than eel or sushi.  Processed food is what is commonplace is most homes.

There’s a romantic view of Japan held by many unfamiliar with its shifts, and the sense by some outsiders writing about the food there is comparable to goofballs going to India in search of enlightenment when the Indians dream instead of engineering models and biochemistry.

I’m not saying there isn’t beautiful food: Ishikawa holds bounty, Tokyo startles with tastes, Kyoto is a delicious city, Hokkaido marvels, etc.

I still cook soba, love yakitori, crave raw fish, and carry home with me a pound of rice and powdery, numbing Japanese pepper, but the world is changing…

Mada mada, Tokyo…

Well, I don’t know about you, but two weeks in Japan feels like a very long time indeed.  So much to absorb, inhale, take in, and observe even on this, my twelfth visit in about as many years.  From the 45th Floor here at Park Hyatt Tokyo, the view combines sprawl and order, the natural beauty of a distant mountain range and the gray and white, tomblike architecture of the city itself.

Tempting to go for a walk before the long haul home today, but Shinjuku (new village) is a neighborhood of government buildings and office buildings.  A few side streets of local shops, a street of fugu restaurants.

Yesterday, I went with the executive chef of Park Hyatt to OTA market: the center of all the produce for Tokyo.  Just past dawn, the auctions over, we walked and took an electric cart through the football stadium sized building and then to small, cement house-like structures where retail is available.  Some of the retail areas specialize in just a few ingredients.

We saw the first signs of spring (haru): Mountain vegetables, asparagus, and gigantic turnips.

I was given a musk melon (meron), pale green inside, that turned out to be the best, juiciest I’ve ever had.

Hibiki, on the rocks, red lights twinkling.