Saturday, June 21, 2008

Industry Snobbery

I've been watching interviews at the latest James Beard awards at Lincoln Center in New York City. Or more accurately on the "red carpet" before the awards. If you're not aware, the James Beard awards are the equivalent to the "Oscars" in the movie industry. Celebrating every thing from chefs, authors, designers and restaurateurs. The thing that struck me was the apparent high level of snobbery associated with these awards. The chefs and restaurateurs interviewed come across as some of the most arrogant bunch of fat cats I've ever seen. The theme for the evening seemed to be who can act the humblest. Most of the interviewees were very wealthy restaurant owners or celebrity chefs. Most from New York. I was especially taken by the comments of the gray haired Italian dude who was sweating like a pig. When asked about the state of Italian food in the United States he said it had a long way to go. Seeing the surprised look on the interviewers face the damp Italian guy says it may be OK in New York or L.A. but in between it's a "desert". My guess is this guy has never been close to "fly over country" and couldn't find his ass with a mirror. What an arrogant prick! I often complain about Italian restaurants but to make a blanket statement like that shows the attitude of the James Beard awards and the people who select the winners. They are so out of touch with 98% of the industry and America. I think James Beard would be embarrassed at what these awards have come to represent. Snobs voting for snobs.

Would I want a James Beard award? Of course but it will never happen. Just as 99.9% of chefs in America will never have a shot. Whether or not I'm capable is questionable but the big reasons have been discussed in a previous post. I'm here to serve my customers. I serve what I think my customers want. I'm also tucked away in Caledonia Wisconsin. Not exactly a media hot bed. The same goes for most of my colleagues across this country. We are satisfied with what we do. We are satisfied with making our customers happy. We are satisfied to make a comfortable living for ourselves and our employees. THAT is what the restaurant business is about. It's not about red carpets.

I would like to mention a bright spot in the awards. It is every chef's dream to have that medal with the red ribbon placed around their neck. Adam Seigal's dream was fulfilled when he won the coveted award for Best Chef, Midwest. To Adam I say congratulations! It's nice to see a local chef win and it's even nicer to see someone who serves "real" food win. I have a small connection to Lake Park Bistro where Adam is the Executive Chef. My daughter is a food server there and her best friend, who had worked for me for two years, is a line cook. (I'm proud to say I've prepared him well) We also enjoy the restaurant and traveled to New York earlier in the year to attend a dinner prepared there by Chef Seigal. So I'm familiar with the Chef's style and the Bartolotta organization for whom he works. Chef Seigal serves "real" food with "real" ingredients using tried and true preparation methods. These days the trend in the high end restaurants is to serve multiple course "tasting" menus consisting of five, seven, 14 or even 21 courses of little "bites". Also common amongst these menus is something called "molecular gastronomy" who's practitioners are becoming more and more prevalent among James Beard award winners. This style of "cooking" uses unconventional ingredients and preparation methods, ie: liquid nitrogen, xanthan gum, and others that I have no clue about. The presentation of these plates are often contrived and bizarre. I call it "cooking with smoke and mirrors". Almost like a magic show. The preponderance of these "restaurants" are located in big media centers and get alot of attention. They also cater to foodies who continue to demand something new and different. It is also these foodies who nominate and select the James Beard Award winners. So it is with satisfaction that a chef who still believes in "real" good food won the award.

By the way, what I want to know is, what is the state of American food in Italy?