Chang, Carmellini, and Simmons Talk Chefs, Fame, and the Future of Dining (‘Sous Vide’ Steakhouses?)

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Last night at the Astor Center, as promised in our Q, Andrew Carmellini talked chefs and fame with his wife Gwen Hyman, Gail Simmons, and David Chang. Gail Simmons kicked things off by saying the goal of chefs has changed, and the ideal is no longer to own a 30-seat restaurant. I love that, corrected Carmellini indeed, yesterday he told Gothamist hes still looking for a space.

Of the panelists, Chang was the most cynical about how media has changed the food industry. Sure, more people know about knife skills, but he has a hard time finding cooks who actually have them. Chang used a sports analogy to explain why the flood of culinary-school grads hasnt helped Dallas shouldnt have a hockey team. Nashville shouldnt have a hockey team. Hockey would be much cooler to watch if there were only sixteen teams. Chang complained that there are too many restaurants, and beginning chefs often lack a knowledge of what came before them, and arent prepared to toil in the kitchen (he tells his prospective chefs that theyre just statistics indeed, a Wharton grad recently left his kitchen after two years to become a food stylist).

As for Kos is-it-democratic-or-is-it-exclusive reservation system, Chang explained that he instituted it only because he didnt want to waste so much time reserving seats for VIPs. He admitted that the system was a pain in the ass and wasnt perfect, but he doesnt see the need for a reservationist at a twelve-seat restaurant. Sometimes its a problem, he said, when a chef comes in thats a culinary hero and Im like, oh what do I do here? But we still havent budged.

Chang reiterated that his open kitchens arent gimmicks; they came from a lack of space. He said he actually hates open kitchens, but in any case his doctor has told him to stop yelling and cursing. For a while when we were first getting going I would lose my temper. Some people loved it, some people hated it, but I didnt care what they were thinking because I just wanted to get it right.

It was Carmellini, not Chang, who vented about photo bloggers It drove me crazy for years, he confessed. You need to be more consistent now Theres much more immediate consequence for sucking. Its not a four-year review cycle anymore, its theres too much salt on my scallop and someone is Twittering it.

Of course, there was also talk of Top Chef Carmellini found it sad that a passionate chef who had staged with him before going on to be a runner-up on the show is now doing promotional events rather than cooking, though the panelists agreed cooking was dirty work (Chang put it bluntly: Its fucking hard). Chang, in turn, expressed dismay about a talented chef friend who wanted to go on the show as a shortcut to opening his own restaurant. Gail Simmons told a story about how Rocco DiSpirito wanted to win back the respect of his peers (so many people learned from Rocco, Chang said, he was a very talented chef), but not if it meant going back into the kitchen. Roccos words were something to the effect of, Why would I do that when I can earn eight to ten times as much money working half the hours and have a much more balanced, enjoyable lifestyle? to which Carmellini said, Thats it. Im going on Top Chef next season.

The most intriguing answer (since it may be an eye into a future project) came from Chang, who predicted that the future of dining would consist of designing menus where everything is consistent, where its not going to be great or awesome. Chang said that one of his dreams was a total sous vide steakhouse much like one he saw in Japan. I was watching this guy cooking 400 pieces of protein just by opening a bag Back then I was like, This is not cooking. Now Im not so sure.