Today's DI/DO piece on chef's tables seems like a curious echo of last weeks Rocco kerfuffle. Instead of dismay that Rocco would rather get paid for doing the limbo with Jerry Rice than busting his ass at the stove, we get amazement that Top Chef's Tom Colicchio is actually cooking at the restaurant that bears his name. The confusion and disappointment that attends such things seems to be a funciton of a semantic drift of the word "chef" -- it can mean someone who cooks in a restaurant, someone who owns a restaurant they always cook in, someone who owns a restaurant they sometimes cook in, someone who owns restaurants in Dubai and Vegas, as well as a flagship in some regular place, or it can mean a person who has essentially become a brand, or someone who gets a W2 from the Food Network.
It's almost Christmas, and maybe Benjamin is a bit heavy, but it seems to me as if food's resistance to mechanical reproducibility is part of the question here. If we compare a star chef to a star musician, the challenges facing the chef are apparent -- the recording artist can press up more CDs, or start playing larger venues, and people will be getting fundamentally, if not exactly the same experience. Obviously, your Santogold CD is not the same thing as seeing her in a basement in Williamsburg, but it is closer to the same experience than, say, the difference between Emirils' ca. a decade ago, and Emil's Steakhouse in Gulfport, MS. In this light, the chef's table phenomenon, (which in its dodgier iterations sounds like one of those baseball camps named after a famous Red Sox player, but actually staffed by galoots from Northeastern ), seems to be an attempt to leverage a name by charging a premium for what used to be the norm. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.
The 2008 Please Everyone Tour will be heading in a whole new direction right after Christmas, when the Cod busts a Fievel, and heads to San Francisco for a fun sexy convention. I will be setting the record straight on Habermas, but otherwise, will be hungry and thirsty. I welcome suggestions for interesting/cheap restaurants / bars / cafes in the general vicinity of Union Square. And a) I take back every bad thing I have ever insinuated about the Bay Area and b) please do not tell the Suede Denim Secret Police I am in town.
An individual still supporting his family via the fishwrap industry (I know) asked if I thought the Rocco piece in last week's DI/DO was more torch and hatchet or kneepads and chapstick (I may be paraphrasing). Evidently, both responses have been popular. I have not folowed Rocco's career closely, and don't watch reality TV, but on perusal and reflection, I have to say my inclination is to neither. By all accounts, Rocco is a talented chef. The question the article raises is if it is incumbent on someone blessed with talent to manifest that talent in the realm where it manifests itself, or if it is acceptable to leverage that talent to pursue a more nebulous, and more lucrative prominence, in other areas, such as Dancing with the Stars. The discourse around chefs treats the talent like an artistic one, but I am not sure that that is the right analogy. We could condemn a great chef for screwing around on reality TV shows in the same way we might lament Caruso's late-career foray into yodelling, as similar wastes of talent, but I'm not sure if that's fair. Being an actual chef in an actual restaurant is actual hard physically demanding work, and repetitive in a way that other arts are not. A more apt analogy might be to a boxer or running back who quits while they still have possession of their faculties. In any event, it's not clear what obligation Rocco has to people who would like to eat food he might cook, if he stopped supporting himself in less demanding ways.
I've been asked for suggestions on how to cook a ca. 15 lb. standing rib roast. As I have never engaged such a thing before, I thought I would throw the question open to readers. For the sake of a young bride who has been spirited off to North Dakota, please offer your standing rib suggestions.
A storm blew the 08-09 Please Everyone Tour off course, creating an unexpected opportunity last night for a dinner in Brooklyn with family and friends. One of our party was keen to try Vinegar Hill House, and the rest of us agreed it sounded pretty good. A call to ascertain seating availability went to an answering machine, and advised communicating with the restaurant via email. Space-age to be sure, but not so useful for day of. We wondered if the restaurant was closed, but the website indicated that they were open, except for a couple of specific dates around Christmas, and not including last night. So we trekked over to the Navy Yard. People there seemed to be having a good time, but we were informed that we were looking at a 90+ minute wait, and a wait which would have involved hudding outside in a remote corner of Brooklyn, or do-si-do-ing with the waitstaff.
I'm glad that VHH is doing well, and the folks who were seated seemed to be enjoying themselves. However, if you open a small restaurant in an out of the way neighborhood, with no other restaurants as alternatives, or bars to wait out a wait, especially during the winter months, it seems that some sort of device that would allow prospective patrons to communicate with you in real time about the availability of seating might be useful. If you want to push the Olde Newe Yorke vibe, one could point out that the folks at Delmonico's had one of the devices pictured above back in Prohibition.
The Gurgling Cod is no lit blogger,* but as a public service, a question for you readers out there. A friend will be spending 8 months in Patagonia, retracing Darwin's steps. What books do you pack for eight months in a place with no access to English-language bookstores? I suggested Moby-Dick, thinking that intensive, rather than extensive reading was the thing, but I welcome and will relay your suggestions. *Some of my best friends are. Honest. And the check's in the mail.
The Crassmas season rolls merrily along, with both the worthy and the worthless piling up like drifts of snow off the lake. Today, a slight departure, as the choice comes down to a) alleviating a friend or family member of the crushing burden of grinding pepper manually, or b) starting a REVOLUTION. In this corner -- the Cole & Mason electric salt and pepper mill. A nickel shy of a Franklin. A lot to pay for a pepper mill that will not work as well as the Tom David Magnum, the DC-3 of pepper mills, the which you can get from the Mack. And salt mills, as far as I can tell, are a snare and a delusion, as what makes salt salty is salt, and not volatile compounds as with pepper or coffee.
In the other corner: A REVOLUTION. For one hundred dollars? Yes. The ladies behind Nashville Femme are looking for a button maker, which runs about a hundo, they say. What do they need it for? The following:
Getting y'all involved in the artistic culture of Nashville!
Abolishing the negativity surrounding the word "FEMINISM"*
Promoting a DIY/zine culture in Nashville
They raise money for these folks, and generally promote mental and physical health for women and girls in a neck of the woods where not too many folks are doing so. You can learn more on the Facebooks. If they had buttons to distribute, it would help them do that. What will the buttons say? Buy them a button maker and find out. If you want to play Santa, and smash the patriarchy at the same time, kick an email to nashvillefemme at the gmail dot com - you will be glad you did. *My Christmas wish every Christmas is for a semester where I do not hear "I'm not a feminist or anything..." from one of those in-college, shoe-owning, non-pregnant kids that I teach.
I got involved in the 12 days of Crassmas project because The Gurgling Cod is about giving back, dammit, but there were a few Brooklyn impressions to share before they fade in a haze of spiced pecans. (It would be interesting to have someone follow you (well, me) at a holiday party, take one of whatever I take, plate it, and see what it looks like as a meal.)
--Char #4: Thanks to a rediscovered childhood friend of the cinetrix, (gearing up for a b-day arthouse binge, beetubs) we stopped in here the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The notion of a Library of Congress, except for bourbons, and other whiskeys and whiskys, is a great one. As a short money aspiring rye nerd, it was fun to try some rarer ones without making a commitment to a whole bottle. That said, I'm surprised how seriously some folks are taking the food. I can't offer a systematic appraisal -- the sausage plate I had was tasty enough, as was the Flinstone BLT I got to sample. But this is a place putting an emphasis on fried pork nuggets, (not that there is a thing wrong with that), and serving an unconsionably soupy shrimp and grits. It's nice to have something to eat as you chart your bourbon bildungsroman, but Platt dug the food a good deal more than I did.
--The General Greene. I really wanted to like the General Greene. Around the corner from TGC NYC HQ, and an eager staff who wear cute shirts with pictures of pigs and tractors. Small plates and a casual atmosphere -- seemed perfect. In principle maybe, but in reality, it falls short. They feature cocktails of their own devising, which sound nice, but tend to seem like Amway versions of brand-name products. Robin and Rob must have eaten at a different place, or, maybe we caught GG on a bad night. Innovations seemed askew, and the vaunted bacon and gruyere bread pudding tasted like a piece of French toast that had lingered too long on the buffet line. The service was similarly out of joint -- the grilled steak was, indeed, delicious, but it arrived minutes after the rest of the food, when we were expecting dessert menus or a check. I've heard better things about the burger, which I hope to try at some point, but for now, the heart may be there, but there is plenty of room for improvement in execution.
--Thirst. Better news a little bit further down DeKalb Ave. Thirst Wine Merchants offer a gracefully curated selection of wines in a small space, with an emphasis on Kermit Lynch favorites. If Other Music sold wine instead of CDs, it would be Thirst.