Call it the Savage Inequalities Tour 2k11 -- yesterday, the Cod was visiting a public HS in rural SC, getting his school lunch cherry took, and hearing exhortations over the school PA for the students to raise money for the soccer team by eating at Zaxby's. Today, the Cod is a spy in the house of Berwanger, returning to a very different Hyde Park than the one that was there when the Cod was getting his school on there. For one thing, Z&H MarketCafe, where I am currently gruffling:
Neuske’s bacon, ham, cheese and organic egg on a croissant or wheat bread
Not mad at it, at all. Never thought I'd see Neuske's bacon on 57th st.
Earlier today, I asked you to identify the chef referred to in this quotation:
"He was once the toast of the culinary world and he just exudes passion and authority."
It is, in fact, not the aforementioned Charlie Trotter, but none other than Auguste Gusteau, as described by Ratatouille creator Brad Bird. However, the possiblity of confusion suggests something of what distinguishes Trotter from the chefs with more restaurants and more exposure. Gusteau is a Disney version of a French chef -- a betouqued owner-proprietor of one very serious restaurant. His successor, Skinner, is a villain because he wants to extend/dilute the Gusteau brand after Gusteau dies. Like Gusteau, Trotter is perhaps closer to an older and populist notion of what a chef is than the Marios and JGVs of the world?
3) Yes, I read The Perfectionist. Yes, Trotter has high standards for himself and his crew. However, it seems that not getting three stars in the USA is going to feel different to everyone from Trotter to his dishwashers and purveyors. In France, it seems as if getting into Michelin at all is a big deal. Obvs, three stars are better than two, two are better than one, etc. The notion of a resto being entitled to three stars, to being snubbed if it does not get one, seems to be one that could only come from a country that also retails bumper stickers like the on the right of this graf. I not a Michelin inspector, but in my day job, I do have to do some evaluating, and I see a lot of the sensibility expressed below. In a country that does not have home schooled honor students, getting only two Michelin stars might seem like less of a tragedy.
If being a has-been who never quite lived up to expectations means two Michelin stars and a host of good works, then sign me up.
It's always nice to see David "United States of Arugula" Kamp in DI/DO, but this was a curious sort of piece. Charlie Trotter raised the bar for dining in Chicago, and still runs this exellent restaurant. And he brings in utes, cooks them nice food, and tries to motivate them. His former employee, Grant Achatz, has three stars, while Trotter has to content himself with two. Even that is a dis:
Evidently, a lack of bacon trapezes (Alinea) or wild-boar sloppy Joe (gonzo-hipster)* consigns a chef to the unhappy fate of simply running a really good restaurant. The bigger knock, however, is Trotter's failure to establish a beachhead in NYC, or to thrive in Vegas. Trotter's absence from Top Chef Masters goes unmentioned here, but seems of a piece with the larger concerns with what Trotter's done since opening the best restaurant in Chicago at the age of 27.
What strikes me about Kamp's piece is not any lack of sympathy on his part, but how much the yardsticks for cheffly success have changed. Not that long ago, holding down two Michelin stars in a relatively out of the way part of the dining world would have been something to celebrate. Indeed, a two-Michelin-star chef who screams at his cooks sounds like MFKF's bread and butter. Put Trotter's in France a generation ago, and it's a Thing. Evidently, Trotter's food is very good:
I'll take that over a wild-boar Sloppy Joe, thanks. In general, what Kamp describes -- a chef-proprietor with some love from Mr. Bib, who consistently cooks really good food and yells at his staff -- is what used to be the epitome of Chef. Now, lack of an outpost in Dubai, and failure to hobnob with Padma, put you in the also-ran category. Were I Trotter, I might be saying something to myself about how it's the pictures that got small. (Speaking of pictures, in the print ed of the Times, the big B&W pic seems to be laying it on a little thick, considering that it was taken in 1991, when color photography was widely available. Based on available images, the B&W seems like a reach.
*Achewood fans cannot read the words "gonzo" and "restaurant" in the same sentence without recalling the Sani-Taco story arc.
A former student who lives in Chicago was lucky enough to visit Alinea recently. She had the bacon on the trapeze, see left. She had the bacon on the trapeze, that is to say, in January of 2011. Frank Bruni, (remember that guy?) had the same thing at Alinea had the same thing at Alinea in May, 2005. I'd been under the impression that Alinea and other aggressively molecular restaurants were committed innovate, and thus you would not expect Achatz to be hanging the same old bacon off the same old trapeze six years down the line. Was the bacon trapeze part of some sort of turn back the clock to 2005 event at the restaurant? (Lessee... MIA is still interesting, but Obama is only a senator -- win a few, lose a few.) Is the menu at Alinea as static as Chez Paul's, or is this a coincidence?