With the recent news that the celebrated Charlie Trotter might be opening up an outpost here in New York, our thoughts turned to the whole phenomenon of out-of-town chefs and their usually disastrous forays to New York. We thought to contact our dour friend Adam Platt to see what kind of world-weary wisdom he might dispense on the subject. As expected, the big man had deep thoughts at the ready, and we transcribed our exchange for posterity, in case Charlie Trotter wants something to put on his refrigerator.
Ozersky: Now, Platt, what do you make of this business of Charlie Trotter threatening to come to New York?
Platt: Trotter’s a great chef. But if he’s going to succeed in New York, or San Francisco, of Dubuque, for that matter, he’s going to have to be around. He’s going to have to spend all his time cooking in New York. This is a fickle market, and there are many evil critics waiting in the weeds.
Ozersky: And you most evil of all. But even when these out-of-town chefs are here, often the food is strictly from hunger. Look at Tim Love’s restaurant. Or for that matter, look at the mixed reception Fabio Trabocchi got at the new Fiamma.
Platt: Texas Tim Love was just overmatched. The Trabocchi is clearly talented, but it’s not really his restaurant, and you get the feeling he’s doing everything on the fly. As for the jet-setting divas like Ramsay and Robuchon, they jet in, they jet out. Their operations are less like restaurants and more like high end, haute cuisine franchises. This is a tough town, Cutty. You’ve got to shell out the big money for rent, then you have big lumbering dimwits like you and me trolling through.
Ozersky: I know, that can’t be fun. Even our homegrown chefs dread our appearance. But I think it’s harder for the out-of-town ones, because their creations overawe their hometown brethren and then fall flat here.
Platt: Let me say this for the grand out-of-towners. There’s too much a sense that the chefs have to come here, that it’s their duty to play in New York. In the end, for most of them, it’s a trap.
Ozersky: So what should they do? Not come?
Platt: If I were them, and I had a successful restaurant elsewhere, I would not come. Times have changed. I’m pained to admit it, but in this egalitarian, greenmarket-oriented restaurant economy, you don’t have to have New York on your résumé to be a star.
Ozersky: The hell you don’t! I don’t care how many “best of the Great Lakes” awards you get. If you haven’t brought it here, you’re playing AA ball.
Platt: You’re too myopic, my ursine friend! Great Lakes?!?! They’d get butchered here anyways. But there are plenty of successful chefs in places like San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles who don’t come to NYC. I don’t see Mr. Puck setting up shop in Times Square!
Ozersky: Give him time! But maybe you’re right, Platty. I am perhaps somewhat chauvinistic in my attitudes.
Platt: But you’re not wrong! The poor saps keep coming! Look at that poor Japanese gentleman and Wakiya. He’s trying to cook Japanese-Chinese food for a bunch of confused hip-hop fashion victims. The results have been grimly predicable.
Ozersky: Okay, now I feel better.