No, I'm not trying to kill you!
Over the weekend I met up with a small group of local food bloggers for brunch at The Hart and The Hunter, a happening Melrose Avenue restaurant sporting hipster wood paneling, ocean blue subway tiles, flowered tea plates and a room full of more fedoras than anyone could handle. As we all introduced ourselves around the table, we each said the name of our blog and what we write about. As I was explaining that my blog focuses on cooking and baking with fruits and vegetables, one of the girls quickly retorted, "so you do a lot of vegan food then...." I sort of paused. "I'm not a vegan or vegetarian blog, I eat everything." I said. "I just showcase fruits and veggies and I guess by the nature of my ingredients many are vegan or gluten free." She then informed me that I'm considered a "flexetarian," which is I guess the vernacular for someone who just eats everything.
At one point, we were chatting about nutrition and I brought up Andrew Knowlton's (The Foodist) article in the current issue of Bon Appetit. It struck a cord (with me- they all politely listened then changed the subject). Incidentally, I didn't want to say anything in the moment (because the pastry chef of the restaurant was sitting next to me), but the menu before me was a prime example of what he's talking about. I ordered pretty much the only thing that had green: Asparagus w/ Fried Egg and Arugula. It was delicious -but crap- with the exception of their side of granola, fruit and yogurt, everything else was over the top artery clogging. I mean, c'mon, their star dish are "butter biscuits."
I'm not writing this to pick on The Hart and The Hunter; it's a fun restaurant with passionate people behind it. But even in L.A., probably the most health conscious city in the country, here we are yet again at a hot new restaurant spending good money to leave semicomatose. As Knowlton points out via Jordan Kahn of Red Medicine here in Los Angeles:
Should not the responsibility of a good restaurant also be to think about how the guest will feel after their meal & the following morning?
Knowlton goes on:
I know it's not your job to play health police. I'm a grown-up; I should be able to control myself. Problem is, your menus are meaty minefields. Even salads, pastas, and stews are loaded with fat. No wonder that garganelli with wild mushrooms tastes so decadent: There's a stick of butter in it! Why do we mock, and in some cases sue, fast-food companies for unhealthy food, but accept and even celebrate it in fine dining?
And I get it. When you're in the food industry, especially if you're a cook, more means more. Your hardcore-ness becomes, oftentime, about cooking and eating in the most excessive ways. More booze, more courses, more duck fat butter, more more more. And that's what has become of restaurant menus. Remember when The Breslin in NYC opened? The stuffed pig trotter was the hottest dish in town. I had it. It was f***ing too much.
Then there's always the hot ingredient of the hour. When I first started working in the city, it was bone marrow. And offal. Did I go to Blue Ribbon at 3am to eat bone marrow with other line cooks? Yes! More than once! Calf's Brain "Francobolli" at Babbo? Yup. Kidney field trip to Queens? I was too lazy to go to Queens but I made up for it in sweetbreads everywhere else.
I agree with Knowlton's sentiment:
Look, I love bacon, lard, butter, duck fat. They make bad food taste good, and good food taste great. I was an early supporter of the bacon boom. But now we've reached Baconageddon: bacon on brussels sprouts, bacon on steak, bacon on dessert, and in (and on) pretty much everything. It's become a culinary crutch. Don't know how to make that chicken dish thrill? Add bacon!
Edibles are a true miracle; I don't think I've seen many things prettier than a blood orange or have had anything more life-affirming than a perfectly seared piece of foie gras. Butter and bacon are beautiful things, but so are dandelion greens. So why only show people a food group called beige?
I spent years following the latest food trends, comparing each to the other (and gainied a serious gastronimic education), but it was when I started discovering industry cultivators like Alice Waters, Dan Barber, Alain Passard, Yoham Ottolenghi and then worked for Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern that led me to my ah-ha moment(s)....true talent leaves you licking your salad plate. Curating a dish to best showcase ingredients, sourcing star produce, and then executing with skilled technique? Well that makes me appreciate the art. That's talent because they're not cheating. Mix bread with cheese and oh, let's say mushrooms...well melt that sucker and it's gonna taste great six ways to Sunday (aka what I call "cheat food"). Or again, just put bacon on it.
The fact is that I can't eat the way I did as a line cook in NYC or the way these bloggers who post new cakes biweekly do. I post what I do eat on any given day...and that's why I have "splurges," because I'm still human. I realized that when I started this blog, I, as a chef, have a certain level of responsibility. You can ask any blogger what recipes get the most views/likes/dry humps and it's pretty much always the most decadent and indulgent piece of saturated fat you can think of. That's fine, that's the way humans work. But I wanted to use my knowledge and skills to simply show people how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diets. That's all.
So to Andrew Knowlton: thank you for using your much bigger platform to share the same thoughts I've been having for years. Maybe chefs will see the message as a challenge. Maybe foodies will rejoice in meatless green beans.
But for now, I've got some turnips that need to be transformed.
Read The Foodist's full article: Dear Chef's, Are You Trying to Kill Me?