Cigarette Man, the Watcher, and the guy on the grassy knoll have nothing on the Time Out Chicago staff, who have been relentlessly staking out the Top Chef cheftestants and have delivered up what they believe to be a major spoiler about the next four episodes.
The Times article on portly foodists is out today, and we can't help but wonder if this is some kind of seismic shift in the city's gastronomic mood. After several years of what Alan Greenspan might have called “irrational exuberance” over the joys of pork belly, short ribs, bacon, and other such unwholesome treats, the city's “fat pack,” as Kim Severson dubs them, seems to have put the brakes on the spree, opting instead to focus on their health.
According to Mediabistro’s FishbowlNY, Marco Pierre White is coming to NBC as star of the latest food reality show, The Chopping Block, an Apprentice-like elimination series about eight couples running two competing restaurants in New York. This show might actually be good: White is a true mentor, rather than a self-aggrandizing ogre after the mode of his former protégé, Gordon Ramsay, and NBC's track record in food reality TV is short but stellar, with both The Restaurant and Top Chef to its credit. Not only will we be able to write about the show, but also to dine in! The restaurants the contestants create will be open for business, just like Rocco's unlucky venture a few years ago but there weren't nearly as many food blogs back then.
Marco Pierre White Tapped for NBC's New 'Top Chef'/Hell's Kitchen Killer [FishbowlNY/Mediabistro]
Related: Batali, Bourdain, and Ramsay Mentor to Finally Take on America?
Has it really come to this? Maxim and Esquire are going at it hammer and tongs to see who can print more ridiculous images of chefs as fashion models. Esquire started it, with a never-to-be-forgotten Simon Hammerstein–David Chang tough-guy shoot. This year, Maxim released its April spread early to get the jump on Esquire, but both mags shared a few models (formerly known as chefs): Michael Psilakis of Anthos, Neil Ferguson of Allen and Delancey, and Craig Koketsu of Park Avenue Winter. Psilakis, for his part, is even wearing similar suits in both spreads. (Did he leave the Maxim refrigerator and head straight to his Esquire lunch at Insieme?) Other chefs of note in the shoot include Ben Chekroun, the elegant maître d' of Le Bernardin, whom we interviewed for Ask a Waiter back in the day; San Domenico's affable wine director, Piero Trotta; and the boyish Wesley Genovart of Degustation, tucking into a plate of duck and soba noodles. We give Esquire the edge for shooting the dapper John McDonald at Keens. Though he’s more of a bon vivant restaurateur than a chef, Johnny Mac is a quintessential Esquire man.
Man’s Gotta Eat [Esquire]
Related:Chefs Put on Something a Little More ComfortableWhen Chefs Play Dress-Up
Signs that a seafood restaurant may be in trouble, in order of severity: adding a $20 whole lobster to the menu; adding a free burlesque show; having Gordon Ramsay come into your restaurant to torment you for his reality-TV show, Kitchen Nightmares. We knew about number three, but now it turns out, via Metromix, that symptoms one and two have appeared at Black Pearl, the troubled seafood restaurant across from Hill Country. And you know what? Conditions sound pretty damn entertaining. As long as Ramsay, the burlesque show, and the lobster aren't physically connected in any way.
Black Pearl Lobster & Burlesque Tuesdays [Metromix NY]
Related: Gordon Ramsay to Inflict ‘Kitchen Nightmare’ on Black Pearl
It's not just on the highest plane of fine dining that critics, customers, and restaurants wage their unceasing war against each other: The same drama, played out in miniature, occurs everywhere. For evidence, look no further than Zach Brooks's encounter, on Midtown Lunch, with Spice Fusion, an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet that raised its price $1 after the blogger praised it. Yes, it's the Fiamma saga all over again, but we'll have to see how this plays out. Will Spice Fusion's corporate parent issue a press release vowing to lower prices? Or will the guy who hands out flyers on 48th Street just continue to thrust them wordlessly into the hands of passersby? Only Midtown Lunch will know.
First Fiamma, Now Spice Fusion Follows Accolades With Price Hike [Midtown Lunch]
Related: Fiamma Prices Drop After Bruni Post
When we received a voice mail last week from Kim Severson of the New York Times, saying that she wanted to interview us, our natural response was one of delight. Was the topic to be hamburgers or our upcoming book on same? Or perhaps the larger topic of meat? Or perhaps the ongoing efforts of Grub Street? It was with giddy fingers that we dialed Severson’s number only to find out that the lady was writing an article on how fat and unhealthy food bloggers are, and to ask us, in so many words, why we were still alive. Apparently, bloggers aren’t the trenchermen they once were: Off the Broiler’s Jason Perlow recently had some serious health problems, and even Steven “the Fat Guy” Shaw of eGullet has gotten on the austerity program. But, as we told Severson, the day we start eating salad she’s welcome to our place at the table. Grub Street may cost us the vitality of our once-springy carcass, but by God the work will go on!
Late in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of David Chang, the Momofuku man makes a confession: “I’m slowly realizing that I’m a highly complex individual,” he says. It’s not an insight likely to surprise readers of the piece, which will appear in The New Yorker this week. Chang comes across as brilliant, inspired, and high-strung to the point of actually giving himself shingles, a diagnosis made by a doctor after the chef literally incapacitated himself with worry and anxiety. But if you want to get a sense of how intense Chang really is, just read the passage where he reads the riot act to a group of hapless Noodle Bar cooks, who had committed offenses ranging from using tongs on the family-meal chicken (a Chang bête noire) to cutting up the fish cakes for the ramen carelessly.
Can someone remind us, again, when chefs became fashion icons? Was it when Esquire featured a spread of Simon Hammerstein and David Chang in tough-guy postures? Or maybe the Daily News’ “Sexiest Chef” contest was the turning point. Meanwhile, the last time we looked, chefs spent most of their time either wearing grease-splattered whites, or dressing in band t-shirts to show that they were rocking hard, and ever mod. But there’s no arguing with the genre of the chef fashion pictorial, and we have to say, this one, taken from the new Maxim, is pretty soigné. But why is Michael Psilakis wearing a suit in a refrigerator? Shouldn’t he have an overcoat on, at least? And why doesn't Craig Koketsu have a Pucci apron on, if he's butchering? And as for Sam Mason’s hippie-lothario duds, we can only nod our heads in mute, approving awe.
New York City's Hottest Young Chefs [Maxim]
Related: When Chefs Play Dress-Up
As a leadup to tonight’s Village Voice Choice Eats tasting event, Robert Sietsema gives Gothamist a lengthy interview and a barely disguised photo. Sietsema recalls his worst restaurant experience (cockroach) and explains how Frank Bruni maligned Katz’s by only giving it one star. His picks are after the jump.
On the theory that you can never have enough ramen bars in the East Village, Ippudo, yet another Japanese import, will open on March 31. According to Andrea Strong, Ippudo will be in “an urban-styled log cabin hut” (um, okay…) and will serve five kinds of ramen, “including their signature Shiromaru Moto-Aji (white-pork-based broth ramen) and Akamaru Shin-Aji (a bolder-flavored red broth seasoned with garlic olive oil and their secret sauce)." Will Ippudo succeed where Momofuku, Setagaya, Minca, and others have also succeeded? Why not? The liquor license and specialty sake cocktails certainly won’t hurt.
This Just In: Ippudo to Open March 31st! [Strong Buzz]
Related:Best of New York: Best Ramen [NYM]
Food costs go up and up, but prices — especially high ones — aren’t supposed to. Given that the rent in most New York restaurants isn’t going to come down anytime soon, this creates a problem for owners. The Wall Street Journal did an excellent feature on this subject on Saturday, showing how some restaurants were dealing with it Blue Water Grill's selling beef trimmings as part of a chipotle roll, for example, or Ssäm Bar's dropping truffles. But we were curious about how some of the other chefs we know, particularly those with a well-heeled clientele, are making do. So we asked around, and here's what we heard.
A new post is up on the Bourdain blog, but there’s no need to comment yet. Bourdain, in looking back at having wrapped up the latest season of No Reservations, decided to anticipate the response by giving “a few helpful advance reviews to save food nerds time when the shows actually air.” These prereviews (“I found the civitos at San Marco, a tiny place next to the mercado, far superior to the place Bourdain went. And the morcillas he ate are nowhere near as good as the ones at.......”) are the work of someone who has read quite a few forum posts. And, we suspect, even written a few.
Past Imperfect/Future Shock [Anthony Bourdain's Blog/Travel Channel]
A month doesn't seem to go by without some kind of charity benefit, at which every chef you've ever heard gives away his time and food. Besides the warm feeling of do-goodery, what do the chefs get out of it? Michael Ruhlman had a feature on the subject in this week's Times magazine, and the answers are interesting: Danny Meyer explains charity efficiency (“It may cost me $30,000 or $40,000 to close down a restaurant for a night, but if an organization can pull in a quarter of a million dollars, what a great investment, relative to giving a $200 gift certificate that somebody buys for $225”), and Aaron Sanchez gives a frank reason for doing all these events (“I get to catch up with my friends who are chefs”). Ruhlman cites Wolfgang Puck as the “originator of the chef-driven benefit” back in 1982. As a chef’s profile rises, so does his ability to milk beneficial bucks from not only donors but also potential future customers.
Friends With Benefits [NYT]
Have you had your fill of pre-season-four Top Chef hype yet? No? Well, fix yourself a cup of coffee and settle in for a good, long read. Hosts Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi did a loooong conference call with reporters yesterday, and the results can be found in a six-page post on Monsters and Critics, among other places. Among the highlights: Tom saying that he never has a conversation with the contestants outside of the kitchen, and Padma adding “And actually, I really don’t want to.” We were also pleased to learn that the single worst thing Padma ate in the four seasons of Top Chef was made by none other than Ilan Hall. (Though she points out that he made one of the best dishes, too.) It's not the same as watching the show, but it should hold you until the premiere on March 12.
A Chat with Bravo's 'Top Chef' Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio [Monsters and Critics]
Related: Grub Street's complete coverage of Top Chef
Given our tragic view of the restaurant world — and in fact, “the sorry scheme of things entire,” as the Rubaiyat has it — we were only too ready to believe that the Moondance Diner’s move to the far west would end in ignominy and failure. (That’s certainly the way it looked the last time we saw it, broken down and caved in amid the desolate plains.) But it turns out we were wrong! According to AM New York, the diner has been rebuilt and renovated in LaBarge, Montana, right down to its iconic rotating moon sign, which will be reinforced against the fierce Montana winds. "We're hoping we can very much be a destination diner for the town and bring something new and exciting to LaBarge," the diner’s new owner, Cheryl Pierce, says. And what could be a nobler goal than that?
Owner: Moondance Diner on track to open in Wyoming [amNY]
Related: The Moondance Diner, Neglected in Wyoming, Now a Shell of Itself