2007, a year in review
My personal strides during the past 12 months seem to have come full circle, and I’m right back where I started. Much has happened, I left my post at Fahrenheit after making what I felt where great improvements to their operations. The Wonder Bar hired me to be their opening head chef, my first position with such a title. The E. 4 st neighborhood seems on the cusp of greatness, but without the simple gimmick, or big money backing of the current tenants the Wonder Bar has struggled with its internal hierarchy and shifting image. The news out of the kitchen at the Wonder Bar is almost all good, with reviews from the Scene and the Free Times praising the food as well as a cover spot for Cleveland Magazine, the underdog Camembert Mac&Cheese gets praise as one of the city’s most comfortable comfort foods. The kitchen has been described as “laughably” small, but I take pride in making it efficient, it’s mine at least, and I’ll do the best I can with it.
Enough about me, what did I see happen around me over the past twelve months. Most disagreeably the catchphrases of, organic, green, sustainable, and local have become so unlikely common that they are almost always unbelievable. When I was young in the kitchen, it bothered me that the menu said “homemade” gnocchi for example, when In fact we bought them pre-make , frozen from a purveyor. As I moved from kitchen to kitchen I found that this is the case more times than not. I’ve taken great pride in bucking this trend, and will pony up when something isn’t truly home made. I’ve also refused to use the green or local label where it does not apply. Unfortunately the culinary community has not been so honest with their approach and this is very troubling to me. I’ve talked with local chefs who don’t know where the farmers market is, but boldly claim that some things on their menu are purchased there. It is very disappointing to discover these things, very disheartening to work within my means so hard to keep things honest, then open the food section on Wednesday and see some smuck blabbing on about his local produce knowing full and well that it’s from Sysco, pre-diced at that!!!
Tapas, small plates, dinner snacks, an unsuccessful idea by any name. I’ve had my thought about small plates from the customer’s perspective posted here in the past. I felt that purchasing 3 plates that didn’t add up to an entrée in quantity but cost as much as an entrée was not in the customers best interest. From the chef side I’ve come to see that it is quite difficult to find someone willing to purchase 3 small plates, in turn making it difficult to squeeze out a decant profit margin. This is a new concept for Cleveland in any case, most likely a healthy choice we didn’t even know we were making, but it doesn’t pay the bills if you’re the restaurateur. It also isn’t inviting to the dinner time crowd when your dining room is sitting behind a 30 person bar. For this reason, we abandoned the tapas menu full time, turning to the faithful entrée as our savior. The small plates might work somewhere, just not here, not now.
Science, chemistry, and biology have all merged into the realm of food deeper and deeper this past year. No longer is ‘starch,’ what’s in a potato. We as chefs have deft understanding of smaller and smaller building blocks which we can manipulate to create a variety of culinary experiences. We have edible ink, vapors, centrifuges, and stills in the kitchen all pushing the limits, bolding going where Emeril has not gone before. A lot of what I remember from my time in college micro-biology laboratory seems common place in kitchens, and it makes sense to be. The end product is not to make what we know as food better, but to absolutely change what we know as food. I find this quite interesting. Has anyone wondered about the nutritional value of the edible ink, or the tomato foam? Why do we eat? Oh the times they are changing
In total contrast to the vast array of kitchen gadgets and food chemistry are two points, or perceived low points in food science this past year; first was a NY Times article and a response post by me on this blog that condemned every chef to ever use or appreciate truffle oil as a fraud, second we have the mostly ethical commotion concerning cloned food products. I don’t want to totally revisit each idea, you can go through the history of the blog, but how can you get excited about turning a perfectly good tomato into an air and water emulsion, while condemning the use of a chemical that smells exactly like a truffle? The cloned food issue is much more an effigy of education, or miss-education if you will. Personal ethical reasons withheld, the idea of using cloned food products make much more sense than pumping genetically inferior animals full of anti-biotics, and growth hormones. The question for the next year is which direction with this scientific influence push the culinary scene? Into a healthy, self-motivating, nutritional arena, or a flashy, Vegas style culinary scenario where a meal of ink and foam needs a fiber and vitamin supplement.
The next year will surely prove to be one of change once again. In an eager scramble through the rat race it seems every man is for himself. While deep financial hardship and disappointment have rained over the past year, hopefully hard work and determination will pay off in the future.