Chef's tables used to be the final word on special treatment: the one table in a good restaurant to which the chef paid personal attention. But as the entertainment ante is upped each year blurring the line between gastronomy and theater chef's tables have given way to the even more intimate chef's counters. There, the lucky diner sits only a few feet of burnished wood away from the action. From the high-end bar at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon to the counter-only option at Momofuku Ko, diners are eager to see the sausage being made. Here are a few of our favorite counters, each an example of the narrow border between feeder and fed.
Eater L.A. posted an interesting interview with Joël Robuchon yesterday afternoon, conducted by Las Vegas public-radio host John Curtas, one of that city’s top food journalists. Of special note is Robuchon’s predictably hostile stance toward food bloggers (“Too often the Internet can be used as revenge tool by people who have something against the chef or restaurant”). Like, say, paying $800 for a disappointing lunch? Robuchon also weighs in on what he considers “the most dangerous thing you can do as a chef”: overthinking and trying too hard to impress customers. (Which, again, you have to do if you’re going to charge the cost of airfare to China for lunch.) In any case, it’s a good, and short, read. Maybe too short: Is Curtas saving the outtakes for his radio show?
Joël Robuchon and the Dangers of the Foodblogging Age [Eater L.A.]
First the Spin article in which Anthony Bourdain remembers the glory days of CBGB, then Metromix starts a “Kitchen Radio” column in which chefs talk rock (the first subject, Jimmy Bradley, says he listens to Zeppelin in the kitchen and compares his cooking to the drumming of Charlie Watts), and now the Times asks Fergus Henderson for his playlist. We’re glad to see it’s remarkably diverse including cuts from Handel, Etta James, William Blake, Fela Kuti, and The Jungle Book soundtrack because this thing of rock-and-roll chefs (and we’re not talking about Kerry “The Rock and Roll Chef” Simon) is getting a little tired. Whether it’s Sam Mason’s Dinner With the Band show, David Chang comparing the opening of his second restaurant to Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, or Mario Batali dancing his ass off at a U2 concert where he hilariously snaps a camera-phone photo of himself singing “With or Without You” with Michael Stipe, we get it. Chefs like to rock. We’re warning you: This will only get worse. Think Joël Robuchon bragging of mixing batter with Lars Ulrich’s drumstick.
Related: Bourdain’s Spin Essay Is Pretty Thin SoupLiving With Music: Fergus Henderson [NYT]
Michael Stipe Beautiful Day [YouTube]
Kitchen Radio: Jimmy Bradley [Metromix NY]
Dinner With the Band [On Networks]
How does Ania Zawieja describe her job as a sommelier? “I drink a lot and try to remember.” Rather than attending sommelier school, Zaweija got her start at a Philadelphia wine bar that rotated its 120 glasses every week. She eventually went on to help open Café Gray, then the Modern, and finally — after the food-and-beverage director of Joël Robuchon’s then-soon-to-open New York outpost dined at the Modern and succeeded in luring her away — she ended up at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Since female sommeliers have lately been a subject of some controversy, we asked her to uncork the particulars of her job.
The annual Cheap Eats issue arrives this week and represents, as usual, a massive compendium of low-end gastronomic wisdom. The Underground Gourmet round up some of the city’s very best cheap eats in the main section, but Adam Platt also weighs in on what passes for cheap in the city’s high-end places, some top chefs give their own picks, and three of the city’s greenmarket specialists vie to outdo each other not just in locavorism but also in “cheapavorism.” Add to that laser-focused profiles on burgers, barbecue, and Korean fried chicken, and you have a Cheap Eats supplement to put all others to shame.
The question the Gobbler gets asked more than any other is “What’s hot?” And for a several months now, the Gobbler has answered, with tedious regularity, “Nothing.” People are still clawing their way into Waverly Inn, and if you enjoy offal products done up in an elegant, Asian-fusion style, Momofuku Ssäm Bar is the place for you. But the grandiose cycle of openings which began with the arrival of Masa and Per Se at the Time Warner Center four years ago and reached a crescendo early last year with the giant Meat District extravaganzas like Buddakan and Del Posto has more or less petered out. Sure, there have a been a few tepid revivals (the Russian Tea Room), and bigfoot out-of-town chefs like Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay have opened franchise outlets. There are plenty of restaurants in town, and plenty of them are busy. But this most recent boom may have run its course. Here are some possible reasons why.
This week’s magazine is an overflowing egg basket of fascinating features. First, Adam Platt proves himself a glutton for punishment: Just a week after successfully securing a table at the Waverly Inn without being a movie star (just the brother of one), he charges head first into the dining crunch at Morandi. Rob and Robin, meanwhile, take on the equally ambitious task of attempting the perfect poached egg — part of an “egg primer” that rounds up their favorite dishes and introduces us to specialty eggs that don’t exactly taste like chicken. Meanwhile, Gael Greene opts to down her egg in fish form at the newly opened counter at Wild Edibles.
Burger King swears off cage eggs and inhumanely treated pork — although it will be a while before its suppliers can catch up with the new policy. [NYT]
New York molecular gastronomy alert: Spanish neurologist-scientist-chef Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera is scoping out NYC locations — must have greenhouse. [NYP]
Cafe Fonduta’s ordeal with the Department of Health highlights the overall klutziness of the system. [NYO]
Recently, apropos nothing much, a prominent young chef we were chatting with launched into a tirade about the restaurant world’s “labor problem.” “None of us can get enough good cooks!” he exclaimed, by way of explanation. Between 2000 and 2006, only a handful of high-end restaurants — Lespinasse, Meigas, Quilty’s — have closed, and there has been an avalanche of major openings: Robuchon, Ramsay, Per Se, Masa, Craft, Del Posto, Morimoto, A Voce, the Modern, Lever House, Buddakan, Cafe Gray, Alto — the list goes on and on. “And it’s not just the massive boom of restaurants,” Adam Platt tells us. “They also have to be either bigger, or chefs have to open multiple places, so that they can enjoy the economies of scale they need to compete.”
An inside look at what restaurants’ produce suppliers go through and the razor's edge their business turns on. [NYT]
Nina Lalli believes that we were wrong to defend Rachael Ray, who, she says, just throws fatty food at the masses, with no care for their well-being. [VV]
Joël Robuchon has confirmed that he’s going to open a restaurant in Chicago; now it looks like Alain Ducasse will be doing the same. If, as some speculate, Ducasse never reopens here, we may actually end up behind Chicago in something. [Chicago Sun-Times]
As the Treasury Department starts looking around for new sources of revenue, restaurants should be afraid. Very afraid. [Foodservice Blog/Nation's Restaurant News]
Arepas: not just sold by some lady under the El tracks at midnight. A Colombian immigrant aims to make them the new bagel. [NYT]
Newsday's Erica Marcus explains this whole "molecular gastronomy" thing alluded to on Top Chef. [Newsday]
There's a two-course menu of Top Chef dish today. In the magazine, three contestants reveal their less-than-glowing feelings about host Padma Lakshmi — “Some of the things she wore, I wouldn’t suggest anyone wear around a working kitchen” is our favorite line. And over at Daily Intelligencer, they vented about the contestant everybody loves to hate, Marcel Vigneron. Known on the show for his preposterous foams, Vigneron is accused of a particularly vile and, we would add, wildly inappropriate act of homage to Joël Robuchon.
So Hot She's Flammable [NYM]
Top Chef's Marcel Doesn't Love Joël Robuchon That Much [Daily Intel]