I shall return Fall of 2024….and you seriously won’t fucking believe it…
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Ra Sushi: Leawood
You have to be a real asshole to resent your baby. At least that’s what I used to believe. It wasn’t until I was actually at that crossroads when I realized…there are extremely valid reasons to resent your child. For example, when you realize that the time and money associated with raising the kid is going to cost you something you and your wife have dreamed of since January 7, 2013. What’s the significance of that date? Well, if you don’t follow every Housewives show on Bravo like we do, you probably don’t realize that January 7 was the premiere of the show Vanderpump Rules. And if you’re not serious foodies like we are, you also don’t know that the show focuses on the inner workings of Sur; a destination that has been the object of our obsession since we learned that Lisa Vanderpump was opening this sexy, tres chic alternative to her other restaurant, Villa Blanca. But now we’ll have to scrap any plans to visit anytime in the next couple of years thanks to this kid. When we’re watching reruns on DVR, we’re careful not to look at her and go “It’s YOUR fault!”, but emotions run high and mistakes do happen. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to never being able to experience the height of culture and fashion, and the all-encompassing vibrance that the Los Angeles dining scene has to offer. But that whole attitude changed one day recently when a friend rekindled that hope. The request was simple- I had not taken my wife out for sushi since before she was pregnant, so I wanted to find someplace nice….super classy and sophisticated, with a good energy, but less rapey than what one might find in the Power and Light District.
“Have you heard of Ra Sushi?”, they asked me.
“Yeah, isn’t that out in Town Center Plaza next to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Panera?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, buddy….it is NOT at Town Center Plaza, it’s at Park Place Village…across the street from Town Center Plaza. It’s just the kind of classy you’re looking for, and the parking garage makes it much less like a strip mall. Plus, there’s a cupcake store and one of those upscale barber shops.”
Well, what the hell. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same as eating at Sur, but the promise of mediocre sushi and improvisational courting antics courtesy of “Puma Wednesdays” made it the closest thing we’d be finding for awhile….so we headed out to the land of prefab developments based on tourism photos from larger cities in the early 90’s. I think of it as “Earl’s Scottsdale”.
It’s quite a drive from north of the river, and the fact that we drove past so many restaurants we already knew were good really upped the anticipation. But my friend was right, the addition of the parking garage gives the impression that you’re going to have to work just a little harder to get where you’re going, so it was kind of urban-y but without any of the loitering Westport rank and file. We did have one very strange encounter between the parking garage and the front door. While there isn’t exactly a lot of street parking, there are a few spaces between the entrance and the garage. As we got closer to the entrance, we noticed a small group of six or seven men flanking a vehicle parked near the curb. It is kind of hard to describe exactly what was going on…the closest comparison I can think of would be early to mid-90’s footage of rockabilly youth in Japan, dressed in rolled cuff jeans, white t-shirts, motorcycle jackets with extremely exaggerated ducktail hairdo’s and huge sideburns. They were all just kind of shimmying around this Kia Soul with the back gate open, and Bowie’s “Suffragette City” blasting and cracking the cheap speakers. That seemed like a really weird combination of things, but the closer I got I realized…they were all middle aged Indian men. And I’m pretty sure I worked with one of them across the street at Sprint about ten years ago. It was a lot to take in, but it was the constant (not exactly synchronized) movement that was most off-putting…constant swaying, fidgeting to get just the right hand-in-pocket poses, assorted Zippo lighter tricks….I wasn’t sure if it was purposely ironic like the movie Johnny Suede, or if we were about to witness a “Greased Lightning” flash mob. I was planning for us to walk right past and do our best to forget about it, but the guy I recognized started walking over. At first I thought it was to say hi to me, but he made a bee line for my wife.
“Heeyy there Ms. Lady coming to Puma night! Why you don’t bring some more ladies instead of this turd?”
Thinking he was just screwing around because he remembered me, I was like “Hey man! You still at Sprint?”
“Whooo the fuck you think you talking to? I’m talking to the lady about Puma night, boy. You out of your league, so go over and tickle some Aaron Sanchez nuts across the street at Mestizo before it gets hurting here! He might let you wash dishes, fucking turd!
I was convinced he was just really committed to this joke, “Yeah, you literally worked two cubicles down from me, how’s it been going?”
“WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK THIS IS? We don’t need no more sausage at this party, boy. Leave the lady, but I think she has your PURSE!”
Finally catching on, I wasn’t sure how to respond to this level of ineffective badgering. I wasn’t afraid, these guys were tiny, but I was really, really wanting to check out the sushi, and at this point we’d gotten the attention of his posse. They didn’t stop with any of the shimmying or posing, but they just kind of started drifting over our way and forming a perimeter. It was not unlike the Martin/Aykroyd wild and crazy guy dance. Just meaner.
“YOU AIN’T GONE YET FUCKING PUSSY?!?! Am I a joke here to you or some thing? Am I your bitch ass chai wallah out here? You thirsty pussy? As soon as I get done selling this data plan I’ll be right with you! I been stealing rides on trains all day but I can still show you around the Taj Mahal motherfucker! Special rate for white turds! You think I’m joking? Piece of shit! Wanna see some fucking jai ho dancing? I do it on your broken DICK!
At this point I figured what the hell. Zero danger unless these little bastards had tiny switchblades. “Hey, I love Sha Na Na! Which one of you is Bowzer’s SHIT?”
Fucking switchblades. This night was not going well. You’d think after living out this scenario a few dozen times at Sprint, I would have remembered the switchblades. I told my wife this would probably take a few minutes, but to head inside and get us on the list for a table. As the wee Roy Orbisons closed in, a well dressed gentleman burst out of the front door of Ra.
“Sumit! I have TOLD YOU a HUNDRED TIMES to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE! Haven’t I?”
“Yes Sir. Sorry.”
“You and your boys are to stay at least fifty feet from the entrance on Puma Wednesdays! Are we going to have to file a restraining order like we did for Milf Mondays?”
“No Sir! No! Sorry Sir! We’ll stay off the property!”, but then he looked right at me and mouthed “Fucking PUSSY!” So this clearly wasn’t over.
“Folks, I am so so sorry, please, come right in and we’ll get you a table! Welcome to Ra Sushi!”
“Thanks! Hey, did you say there’s Milf Mondays too?” I was a little pissed I didn’t know about that. It would clearly be superior to Puma Wednesdays, culturally speaking.
“We haven’t had them for about three months now. Long story, but we had some staff suffering recurring nightmares due to Milf Mondays, and before someone pulled OSHA into the mix we cancelled them. But Puma Wednesdays are great! Anyway, sorry again about that silly Sumit. He’s actually a very nice man. Faithful customer. If you need anything at all, my name is Greg.”
The only other minor hiccup we experienced was being seated in a windowless room next to the kitchen, along with Fred Durst and that little old lady who died in the movie 54. Oh, and a Steampunk couple. Clearly, they did not know I am “PX” in many fine establishments AND my Yelp reviews have received “Review of the Day” status on numerous occasions. Nobody seats us in the section of the damned. After showing my Yelp Elite profile to the Hostess, the problem was quickly remedied. So FINALLY, we felt that we had arrived at the infamous Ra Sushi. And while we may not have had Jax or Stassi from Sur to wait on us, we received the most cheerful confirmation that we were indeed at the right place at the right time. Shortly after we were seated, the Britney Spears song “I Wanna Go” began playing. It was the theme song for what was arguably the best ever “Summer By Bravo” commercial from back in 2011, and I could not think of a more pleasant way to begin our meal.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…..Ra is actually a buffet. A buffet of style and culture. The interior is the perfect combination of Z Gallerie and Hot Topic, with low lights, dark finishes and geometric accents. A loyal commitment to black and red. Sure the dark finishes are probably harder to clean, there is the occasional hand stuck to the table, but appearance is what’s most important. And the great thing is, they not only have an early and a late happy hour, but almost every night has some sort of theme in between them that has drink and food specials as well. Pretty smart on their part. When you’re putting out that kind of volume, presentation takes a back seat, so it really takes the pressure off and adds to the trendy indifference vibe.
We anticipated a much larger crowd for Puma Wednesday. We were hoping for a packed house energy that would transport us out west, but it was strangely quiet. We did have a table of sharp looking thirtysomething men next to us. And by sharp looking, I mean that they had on those really cool jeans with the bedazzled crosses on the pockets, and tight fitting button down shirts with the same big crosses…but embroidered. And flip flops. It takes real moxie to pull off flip flops when you’re a male older than ten and there’s no pool in sight. They didn’t seem to be having a great time, but they perked up when the server came over to take their drink order.
“Would you gentlemen care to start with a cocktail? I see you’ve got our list of Puma Wednesday drink specials!”
“Yeah, I’ll have a Summer Breeze Vagiplasty. Ciroc in that if you’ve got it. Oh, no homo.”
“I’ll have the same, but whatever you’ve got in the well is fine. No homo.”
“I’m gonna try the Kegel Kooler.”
“Raspberry or Kaffir Lime with that, sir?”
“Kaffir Lime. No homo.”
“Kaffir Lime….that’s my favorite! And for you sir?”
“I’ll have the I Know, Right??? Up instead of on the rocks. No Homo.”
“That sounds kind of homo”, his buddy chuckled.
“Just leave it alone Todd! I like the little ice chips from the shaker! DAMMIT!”
“Thank you gentlemen, I’ll put those orders in and be right back to talk about dinner! Oh, I should go ahead and mention that we’re sold out of the Honey Mustard Maki Rolls.”
Propelled by a gust of disappointed groans, the server headed our way. She was way friendlier than one would expect in a restaurant that’s trying to corner the suburban exclusivity market. That would be my only complaint about the service. Other than that, very professional. First off, I had to inquire about the sparse, predominantly male and assorted couples crowd. Was this normal for Puma Wednesday? Where were all of the Cougars pretending to be young enough to be Pumas?
“Oh, are you two swingers? White Rock Garden night is actually THURSDAY….”
“Oh no. God no. Nothing like that. My friend just said that Puma Wednesdays were as close to a happening Los Angeles scene as you’re going to find in Kansas City.”
“Oh NORMALLY, it is. It’s usually very happening in here. I think most of our usual ladies are at a fundraiser tonight down at The Bullet Hole. Kris Kobach is hosting a Bullets for ‘Bortions pro-life rally. It’s similar to those Beer Pong for Babies type fundraisers, but his whole thing is that new laws are always a good idea unless they involve guns. Apparently his events are a great place to find guys who aren’t very good at arguing with you!”
Oh well, there would be other Puma Wednesdays. Apparently the crowd who wants to make the world safe from voter fraud that doesn’t actually exist had won this round. We were feeling pretty defeated, and decided we’d have the drinks we ordered and leave. Food isn’t the reason you come to a restaurant like Ra, so we would return another time when we could enjoy the spirit of outdated concepts and vacuous attitudes.
As we were waiting for the server to pick up our tab, I headed to the men’s room in preparation for the long drive north. A huge surprise awaited me! What’s that you ask? I shit you not, Ra Sushi has a DJ in the bathroom! Right there in the corner, near the paper towel dispenser, is a full DJ station. And it is LOUD in there! I don’t know if Dubstep is the usual choice, but the telltale Casio keyboard and WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU had begun ramping up as I walked in.
Loud and CROWDED! No kidding, there were about eight urinals along the wall and I got the only one that wasn’t in use. I looked over at the DJ station and asked the guy next to me, “Hey, is that DJ Ashton Martin?”
“No, he hasn’t played in here in about six months. That’s DJ Fiat Abarth. Ashton Martin has gone off the charts lately, you can’t get him to play a toilet north of 135th anymore!”
It took me about ten more seconds to realize…nobody was moving. No flushing, nobody leaving, nothing. In a full bathroom, no peeing was taking place. Since the guy next to me was aware of the rise and fall of Ra’s Ashton Martin period, I asked him what the hell was going on.
“Waiting for the drop!”
“The drop man, the DROP! This song is just taking a little longer, but still, no pissing before the DROP!”
“I really have to go!”
“We ALL really have to fucking go, man! But trust me buddy, save it for the drop. You’ll see!”
It’s hard to tell with Dubstep, but it sounded like we weren’t TOO far from the drop. The WUH-WUH-WUH-WUH had gotten loud enough to change the air pressure in the room, and through my strained eardrums I could hear ocean waves start to feather into the mix. Then all of a sudden- silence, gong, a single dog barked, Optimus Prime screamed “NO HOMO!”, aaannnd the DROP!
A wave of relief made its way down the row of men as the streams of urine found purchase. That guy wasn’t kidding. You wait for the drop. Between the relief of urination and the pressure in the room going back to normal, I finished my business on a wave of euphoric contentment. The disappointment of a Puma-less Wednesday was far behind me as I went back out to meet my wife and head home. As we walked outside, I spotted that crazy Sumit and his friends perched on the hood of the Kia Soul, a safe distance from the front door. He was as good as his word.
“HOPE YOU HAD A GOOD TIME, PUSSY!”, he screamed, “BE SURE TO BRING YOUR WOMAN BACK SOON, YOU FUCK! ”
Oh, I will. Trust me Sumit, I’ll be back. While our evening did not turn out as we had hoped, the promise of Los Angeles evenings in the Midwest was strong enough to draw us back, floating in on the siren’s song of the Pumas.
11638 Ash St.
Leawood, KS 66211
Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene
Quad Macchiato Quest 2013…
I didn’t start this thing to claim I found the “BEST” in Kansas City, because coffee is just so subjective. I think the OCD nerdiness eclipses beer and wine combined when you get into nuts and bolts of what constitutes coffee aficionado conversations and strong opinions. With that said, MY personal favorite quad macchiato in all of KC can be found at Benetti’s. Now, they DO use half and half in their standard drink, but I tried it more than once with regular milk just to make sure the ultra-lush feel from the added milk fat wasn’t skewing my opinion. This particular macchiato is absolutely perfect in flavor and milk ratio. Their espresso blend has most of the predominant elements I found in other examples, but the balance is exactly what I am looking for. Bright sunshine from what I associate with Central American beans, immediately passes under some storm clouds of more earthy/spicy/slightly bitter flavors that come from the other side of the world. It’s a full rotation of the earth in every sip. It’s a thinker. Very long finish, about as complex a cup as you’re going to get when adding milk. I use half and half a lot at home, because I’m convinced that there are flavors/chemicals/oils in my super strong brews that are more soluble and disperse better with a little fat. The Benetti’s macchiato helps to bolster that opinion (this is where an ultra-nerd fight could kick off, just FYI). In addition to a fantastic drink, the place is easy to find, located in a part of town where it’s a godsend, parking is ample, the staff knows what they are doing and are extremely friendly (and they remember you and what you drink), and their selection of house roasted beans is always rotating quickly. Locals from every background can be found there at all hours. If you’re in the area, this is a place to try.
If you think I’d leave out the Grand Poo-Bah of locally roasted, Starbucks slaying coffeehouses, you’re a totally different kind of fucking insane. Actually, what REALLY set this whole Macchiato Quest in motion was when a friend commented to me on Facebook after I was crowing about the supremacy of Benetti’s version…..”I think John Cates might disagree with you”. Well shit, point taken. How could I go compare Broadway if I wasn’t also going to do include every other coffeehouse that roasts their own? So there you have it. Long story short, Broadway serves a fantastic macchiato that I would drink all the time if I weren’t an old man who hates dealing with Westport (but I am getting to one of their tastings soon…another trend they pioneer that should be followed by all local roasters). Good ratio of milk to espresso, and I find the overall flavor profile to be the King of Balance in this particular quest. Constant, steady flavor, great finish, no huge peaks and valleys…the flavors run parallel, and my drinks were always gone before I was done thinking about them…a good sign. Thinking back to the flavors, the closest drink to Broadway’s was the PT’s coffee I drank at Black Dog…hopefully that’s a compliment considering the nerd love that PT’s gets. Broadway is a for-real coffeehouse, I don’t think I need to expound on the knowledgeable staff, huge menu, and selection of fresh roasted coffees….out of all the places I’ve visited, this is the place where I’d first point anyone interested in finally getting away from the macro-batch roasting operations. They are well equipped to provide a delicious, unpretentious education for any and all levels of coffee lovers.
You gotta save the most divisive “new” kid on the block for last. Oddly Correct is what I think of as the Justus Drugstore of coffeehouses…you’re going to get something very fantastic with very little wiggle room allowed for modifications. Also, similar to talking with Jonathan Justus about food, you better buckle in tight because there is no hard limit on how deep the coffee conversation can go….you might get fatigued if you’re not constantly reloading the caffeine. I totally sympathize with the eye rolling and nearly complete dismissal of the place by some, based on the fact that you drink the coffee in a manner that they find is the best representation of that particular bean or drink. I can’t really include them in the Quad Macchiato Quest, because there’s no quad macchiato. And definitely no quad macchiato “to go”. There’s a 3oz macchiato served in a demitasse with a side of sparkling water to cleanse the palate. And it is a stunningly beautiful and delicious drink. There’s no espresso baseline for me to build upon, because the blends and selections are constantly changing. Me, I love this place. I’ll happily head over there from Parkville on a Saturday morning to “start a tab” as I work my way through a couple of different types of espresso and pourovers, and then head off to enjoy my day. Again, I can see where some can write the place off as pretentious or too preciously hip, but as someone who loves coffee I find it to be an incredible place for someone like me to learn about the craft. I’ve roasted for years, I know what I like, I stick to what I like…so if someone can pour a single origin Central American espresso (that I actually enjoy) down my gullet and then engage me in conversation about that particular bean and the flavors I’m picking up from it…they are doing something great. Not for everyone, but definitely for me. Get past the initial “I can’t just have that to go?” shellshock, strike up a conversation, ask what you think are probably stupid questions, and you’ll quickly find that these folks love what they do and they want you to love it too.
Sooo….these are my completely unscientific findings with no hypothesis to guide me other than I love me a fucking quad macchiato. I’m always open to adding more places to the list as I discover more locally roasted beans, but as it stands I have to give Benetti’s the biggest shout out just because they make my personal favorite version. Revocup was a shocker….another cup I’d go back for. Overall I didn’t find any “bad” coffee, just a full spectrum of examples with a few that hit me right in my comfort zone. If this in any way helps to promote local coffee over the Starbucks and Caribous of the world, then bonus. If you love coffee, there is a lot to love in KC. Just like our farmers and chefs, you’ve got a core group of dedicated people who are doing their best to hit a high water mark in their trade. Now that I’ve chipped away at the top of the iceberg, it’s definitely a community I want to get to know much better just as I have those farmers and chefs. Most importantly, I need to get to know them better so that I can make fun of them and write something that doesn’t make me sound like your run of the mill boring blog douche. Because damn, the data here is solid but the delivery is shit-tay. Wouldn’t you agree?
Filed under Coffee, Coffee Reviews, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene
The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…
On the evening of February 11, 2013, while participating in CCVI Food Fight 4 at The Guild in Kansas City, I finally became a Foodie. If you know me, I have never viewed that as good thing. In fact, my mockery of foodies has fueled many a chortle on this very blog. I’ve met many self-proclaimed foodies whom I don’t think actually like food, they just like to collect food moments….so they use this ambiguous label that has no actual definition as a way to carve out a self-promoting niche based on what makes their particular brand of chewing and swallowing unique and a potential object of great envy. For the most part, “foodies” aren’t the people I want to eat with. I want to eat with some crazy motherfuckers who talk some crazy shit about some very unhealthy obsessions and always order way too much fucking food and tip well. A “foodie” would waste time trying to think of a more palatable way of saying crazy motherfuckers before they wrote something like this and guilted everyone they knew into reading it. I don’t have time for such things. I’d rather entertain five crazy motherfuckers than five thousand boring motherfuckers.
BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT….I’m working on a classy piece here because dammit if it wasn’t the best time ever. And I say that as someone who has attended some extremely hoity toity and professionally run galas and fundraisers, as well as helped organize far less hoity toity affairs. Food Fight was a hell of an event, top notch across the board. A lightbulb had gone off in my head a few days prior, and as we were prepping onstage I told Howard Hanna “so tonight I’m officially a foodie”, to which he gave me his heartfelt congratulations. I was like “Yeah, I have somehow managed to reap the benefits owed to people who break their backs in this industry on a daily basis by weaseling in at the last second and getting some of the limelight without doing any real work. So that’s it. I’m a foodie now.” So I can’t make fun anymore. The foodies have won.
I’m flippant about foodie culture, but in all sincerity it was a huge deal to be asked to participate in such an amazing event. I’ve got some pretty crazy life experiences that just kind of appeared, so while I can chalk this one up to my usual dumb luck, other than Dave Crum’s massive crush on me and Dolly Wood being cool as hell I have no idea how this materialized. I have a weirdly high level of insecurity when it comes to my place in the world, so I figured this was a matter of “let’s throw the poor Make-A-Wish kid a bone”. That’s just how my mind works. And the awesome byproduct of that gaping hole in my psyche is always being “ON”….completely balls-out or zero….no game but my A-Game. When I commit, I fucking commit. When Dave asked if I’d be Alex Pope’s sous chef, there was almost zero hesitation. A friend whom I respect asked me if I’d do something super cool that could have a positive impact, so not much thought needed. The only hesitation I had was that, as a FOODIE, my livelihood is in no way tied to the food community…I’m just along for the tasty ride. Even though they were looking for “civilian” sous chefs, several friends came to mind that may have been able to benefit from having CCVI Food Fight on their list of accomplishments. To be honest, I didn’t go beg their case, I was too floored to have been asked in the first place and immediately flew into balls-out mode to prepare. But in general, that’s how I try to approach this whole thing and why “foodie” has creeped me out….as someone skilled in the arts of bullshit and yapping away, it’s important to me to be authentic in my relationships. I’m not saying that anyone who simply beams under that moniker is immediately inauthentic, but self-proclaimed titles have a way of allowing someone to bypass the consistent behavior that would normally be the path to high regard and respect. I live my life according to a program that breaks it all down for me. I am lucky to count so many great people as friends. That point was driven home to me when I read the list of all of the chefs and restaurants involved in Food Fight…no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I would get to look stupid in front of my friends.
Looking stupid was actually task #2. Task #1 was to drive my chef crazy with my shocking lack of skill. Oh, I’m a great home cook. Give me enough time to prepare and a cookbook and I can make almost anything. And if it’s something I end up sucking at, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right. No such luck with Food Fight. I emailed Alex and basically said “I have nice knives and no knife skills, but I take direction well”. But he’s a pro, a crazy busy chef who took the time to put my mind at ease. The plan was…think of things we can cook quickly. In an hour there’s only so much you can do, and my initial thought was that if I could stay out of the way, expedite simple tasks and handle some dessert prep, I could add value. In addition to getting my knives sharpened and practicing basic cuts on mirepoix and potatoes, I thought that a couple of doughs that don’t require yeast could be handy for sweet or savory preparations. Alex mentioned he was bringing a deep fryer, so I tried finding a recipe for funnel cake/fritter batter. I tried one that was a huge failure, but I also practiced on some pate a choux to make gougeres or profiteroles without realizing the shit fries up like a champ. So going into Food Fight my entire plan was to bring sharp knives, parchment paper, a Japanese mandoline, my own apron and cutting board, piping bags with tips already attached, rubber gloves, various tools like peelers and thermometers, and to practice choux dough enough times for it to basically become a reflex action. Oh, and to be an ambassador for Pointer Brand jeans and clothing….100% American made products that are a fitting rebuttal to Baldwin Denim for the poor and/or fat crowd. Pointer Brand. Quality and Affordability, Made in the U.S.A.
A bit of knowledge for future CCVI Food Fighters…cooking in a space that isn’t normally a kitchen is different from cooking at home. Biggest differences? No running water, a lack of large gas burners and ovens, and you don’t have all of the same kitchenware and serveware that you do at home. If you have giant, blinding spotlights pointing at you at home already, then boom….you’re one up on the competition immediately. I am missing those at home, so it took some getting used to. Another advantage is if you already have four or five top local chefs milling about your kitchen. A constant reminder that you do not know what you are doing provides a backdrop of nagging doubt that builds character. I am a master at smiling and nodding when food talk goes over my head, but there’s no such thing as being TOO good at that. Even if I know what something is, when I have a lot of terminology coming at me from different sources, it takes a few seconds for me to gauge how deeply I should commit to a conversation about saucisson or vadouvan. Usually, if you just shut up you can piece it together from what’s being said. But if you seriously have no clue whatsoever, the earlier you can admit that and ask a clarifying question the better off you will be in the long run.
Another thing I learned was to be honest and to the point when Alex would ask me “you got that?” or “you get what I’m saying?” There isn’t a lot of time to discuss technique or basic philosophy when you forget basic things like…adding water. Chopped sweet potatoes and piloncillo cooking down too thick too quickly? Add a little water. Those same sweet potatoes bunching up at the top in the blender and not mixing? You may want to consider adding a little bit of water. I could theorize that a liquid may facilitate the process, but what kind? Some sort of broth? A simple infused syrup? What would they use at Joe Beef? When I’m forced to think on my feet and act quickly, I forget things like water exist to help you, and which side of a peeler is the sharp side. But my pre-tipped piping bag, and identical backup piping bag (redundant systems), looked fabulous over by the blender that was top-heavy with large sweet potato chunks. Chef Pope is a real pro, these guys could do something like this in their sleep, so when I did not wreck anything beyond the power found in adding more water, I felt very successful. My main concern was whether or not I’d be any help to my chef, because being in front of a crowd, speaking in public or being onstage have zero effect on me. And speaking of crowds, the place was packed, so it was actually a relief to have a comparatively vast expanse of space to work with on the stage.
The format is part Iron Chef part Chopped. Upon arrival you’re welcome to investigate the pantry as well as a cooler full of mandatory ingredients like cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, salami and cheese. Then right before the cooking begins they let the cutest child alive unveil the secret ingredient…sweet potato. So there was a decent amount of time to get some sort of game plan together and hope that the secret ingredient didn’t destroy it completely. As Alex was going over what he thought would work, the aforementioned smiling and nodding came in handy. When a scaleable multi-course plan is required on demand, you leave it to the professionals. A tartare first, followed by sautéed cod, and then funnel cakes. I was on the hook for dough and working the secret ingredient into some whipped cream cheese. Normally that wouldn’t be a scary plan to me, but everything leading up to this sentence should let you know how that became a scary plan to me. With the addition of sweet potatoes, chips were added to the tartare, sautéed potatoes and onion to the main, and a puree to the dessert. Normally I’d have an annoying breakdown of each preparation along with exhaustive tasting notes, but shit went fast and in the end I think I had one bite of a funnel cake and I shared a Jacobson meatball with Howard. In the end, Doug Frost broke out of his Moscow on the Hudson impersonation long enough to praise the cod dish, and Debbie Gold was all about some funnel cakes. Everything up to that point was a blast, so to have Alex win was an insane bonus to the evening. A special thanks to Reames Photography for capturing proof that my emotional range is larger than pissed off and/or sarcastic….
If I had to offer praise to foodies, I would say that they generally take more chances than I do. They’ll take a chance and investigate whether or not a place like Mestizo is about as shitty as one would imagine with that concept in that location. I will not take that chance. At least not until I hear first hand from someone I trust that it’s worth investigation. Because I keep my circle very tight and build outward very, very slowly. Not because I’m special, or because I’m cool, but because I value things like loyalty, trust and friendship in a way that makes me someone with lifelong relationships that are very rarely disturbed by needless drama. I take that with me into the world of dining and procuring goods, and again, have managed to build what I hope are lifelong friendships that also remain undisturbed by dramas or agendas. If I’m cool, or fun, or funny, it’s because I’m able to be comfortable as myself and not a caricature that shifts with the trends and current places to-be-seen. The amicable bullshitter persona is part of the package, for better or worse. I don’t practice that or consciously think about it, it just exists. But with all of the solemn omerta-ish duty to authenticity comes the tendency to be a total fucking control freak who simply expands his comfort zone rather than ever just get out of it. An event like Food Fight helps me to remember a saying I have lived by less often than I should in the past four or five years….always have something in your life that makes you wonder what in the hell you are doing. Foodies are probably better at that than me because they lack the insane vetting process I have and just go with the flow, taking the hits and the misses. I still rule though, I mean, come on.
The bottom line is, the list of things that I love has to become larger. The place in my life meant for others has to become larger. The asshole with a heart of gold schtick, and years of ministry, allow me to skate by without putting in real work. I’ve had a few years to get my shit together, and things are going better than I ever dreamed. Marriage and fatherhood are the life for me. I’m always going to help drunks, and I’m always going to be helped by drunks. That is as natural as breathing at this point. But it’s not the end game, it’s just part of the expanded comfort zone. A friend contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I was asked to take part in Food Fight, and they asked me “as the restaurant guy, if I knew people who would want to get involved with a charity”. I’ve been asked that question before, and should have done more before now, but this time it struck me differently. The path that my life has taken, and the resulting laundry list of miraculous moments and fantastic people, is equal to the debt that I owe. Now, I don’t have a bug up my ass to go and die from not being able to shit like Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”…..I’m not about to launch into reckless self discovery here…I’m just a lucky guy who should do more. I’m good with people and I know a lot of people. Something like helping with CCVI Food Fight in whatever capacity they need me (I won’t be a valet, not because it’s beneath me, I’m just not running back and forth) from now on is a no-brainer. The organization my friend works for is another path to investigate. Unexpected moments that are out of your control can be great practice at working towards a meaningful impact. Broth is great, but sometimes water will do just fine.
Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene
The Squander Logs: #002
The Squander Logs: A series of anonymous interviews/conversations specific to food production, cooking and service. The identity of an interview subject is something I do not plan to intentionally reveal at any point, and the acquisition of an interviewee falls into one of three categories that will also not be revealed but are meant to minimize my influence in the acquisition and promote diversity within the subject pool. Anonymity serves various purposes that include but are not limited to:
1- To keep the dialogue as honest, spontaneous and unedited as possible.
2- To avoid some of the complexities inherent to self-promotion, cross-promotion, gratuitous social media competition, shark-jumping, over-saturation and various agendas/coalitions geared towards monetizing every aspect of the food community.
3- To squander what would otherwise be a perfectly great opportunity to capitalize on my connections within the food community and drive traffic to this blog, just because I thought it sounded like a good way to follow a path through the Kansas City food community that creates itself without the same predictable and well-worn stops along the way.
Category: Type 2
ME: How do you think that customers view you vs. how your staff views you?
002: That’s a good one to start off with.
ME: Yeah, goes deep.
002: I know a lot of people that come here that maybe don’t know who I am, they’ll ask the staff is the owner here and they’ll point over to me over at the expo station and they’ll see me and be surprised. I think I’m really really lucky to have what I think is probably one of the better staffs in the entire city. Our core group of servers especially are probably four of the strongest servers in the city that all work here…all of them started as part time and now they’re all full time. They kind of were feeling it out, and they make a lot of money here and people love them.
ME: As far as popularity goes with restaurants in general, do you think that a popular chef is better off or worse off when it comes to finding solid help?
002: I think that really solid help is just difficult to find in this city regardless. Speaking from my own personal experience, getting really interested in food at the time when I did, your only option at that time was to go work at the one or two really good restaurants at the time or to move away to go work at a “real restaurant”. So here, you get a lot of really good people that come from places that they don’t have good experience. They’re nice people, they’re trustworthy, they want to work hard, but they just don’t know the difference between working at, like, a shitty bar and grill and working at a place that’s trying to be a good restaurant.
ME: That brings up a good question, what kind of balance do you look for between experience and passion? Where can somebody with experience fuck you up, or someone with too much passion end up doing the same thing?
002: I think that when you run a place that’s really busy or there’s some hype, there’s not as much interest in having a project, whether it’s an intern or really young guy or girl that just wants to get some experience by being in the kitchen.. I’m not really interested in n that. I know some of my chef friends like to have some of those people around. I really don’t have time for that shit.
ME: When I go out, nine if not ten times out of ten it’s from word of mouth. I’m a word of mouth diner. Are you a word of mouth employer?
002: We haven’t had very much kitchen turnover at all. Had to fire a couple of guys early on, but a lot of people have been here since the beginning. I’ve been really, really lucky. The number one frustration is dealing with a different level of passion depending on the type of cook. A lot of people cook for a paycheck rather than a craft or the love of cooking or love of food, and a really good way to tell that is by bringing in stacks and stacks of cookbooks and finding out which one of them takes them home and even looks at them.
ME: When it comes to your cooks…their input on a menu, ad-libbing, collaboration, where are you with all of that?
002: A lot of people come in and are cooking a different type of food they just don’t have any experience with, it can be really new to people. Food they’ve never cooked or even eaten, different sauces, ethnic identities, so there’s not a lot of collaboration right now but it’s definitely something that I’m open to and would like to see.
ME: With your experience in other cities, do you have any lessons from the past from other kitchens where now you’re waiting for the shoe to drop….what are you guarding against and what habits are you trying to instill?
002: Really good questions. You don’t really need to see their FLAIR; I just want them to do what I need them to do all the time. What I tell them to do on slow nights is to still try to do everything as fast and as good as possible every single time, because then it creates a sense memory. You’ll never do it slower; you’ll never do it dirtier, because you always know how to do it like that. And that’s something that’s really hard for some cooks, be it laziness or being lackadaisical, you want them to always make it nice and that’s something that’s hard to do with the volume of food we do…. I never anticipated having tumbleweeds blowing through the restaurant, but I also didn’t think we’d do this number of covers on a Saturday night. Sure, it’s not all complicated stuff going out but it’s another plate that someone is going to eat.
ME: It’s still one more thing for people to pick apart!
002: Absolutely, absolutely.
ME: I know a few cooks and servers, and this is probably just my own imagined reality based on the teevee, but there’s that front and back of the house rivalry….as far as keeping the peace is that just myth or is it something that can really become an issue?
002: To me, that front vs. the back is a thing of the past. I’ve hated some servers before. Hard. But that’s something that for me is in the past. Especially as an owner, now these are people that whether you want it or not basically become your family. You see them all the time.
I’ll give you two examples that just happened….I told everyone in a staff meeting that this will never be a place that you get bullied by the customers, this will never be a place where the customer is always right, and this will never be a place where you have tire marks on the backs of your shirts. I will go to bat for all of you every single time if I think you’re right and you’re doing what’s right for the business. The other night a guy came in and was pretty drunk when he got here; got a little drunker while he was here. He was being a real dick to our hostess who does a great job. We got word of it and went over and told him “this isn’t a place where you get to do that and your night is done here”. He wanted to continue the conversation about it, so we all went outside and I stepped in when I thought I needed to step in and told him “these are people I’ve been working with on a daily basis, and if three of them tell me the same thing I’m going to go ahead and take their word over your drunken word since I’ve only known you for three minutes. So you need to go, and we can call people if you want to make this a bigger issue, but right now you’re just fucking out of here and you need to be out of here”. So of course he did the whole “well we’re never fucking coming back here”….well, fantastic, you’re a dick and I don’t fucking want you to!
Then yesterday a guy came in and just wants to change the whole menu because he’s so smart and knows so much about the food. “Just do a grilled skirt steak or something”…well, we don’t have that. Just shit like that, giving the server a hard time, and so he’s like “why don’t you just send the chef out?” And she says okay, and comes back, and I go over there and I’m like “I’ve been beckoned by someone! Who beckoned me?”
ME: Me personally, I just don’t know where THAT comes from…..just a control tactic, dick measuring? It’s just so foreign to me to treat people like that.
002: And what you do is you totally spin it on them… you came through my doors, you’re in my house right now. You don’t get to dirty up my house.
So he goes into how his kids need a special kids menu, what can they order? They can order anything on the menu, they’re not restricted. Or we could make them a grilled cheese or something, and he goes “well my daughter is kind of allergic to cheese”. I started laughing and asked “she’s KIND of allergic?”…”well no, she’s actually allergic to cheese”. What the fuck? So, she can have some chips and I’ll give her a pile of chicken or whatever she can eat. But we don’t have chicken tenders and mac n’ cheese.
ME: That’s hilarious. I don’t have a bad meal in this town. I know who to ask, where to go, and when you don’t assert yourself, you treat people normally and you tip well, you’re golden. Just staying off the radar not asking for special shit, tipping well and repeat business, I mean, isn’t that the formula. That’s funny, my initial question for you before I tried to make it fancy comparing customer and employee views of you was, what makes a good customer?
002: I think it’s just someone who is open to the experience. I mean, this is really, really fucking hard to do. People have zero idea how much fucking money it costs to build out a place. You can walk into any turnkey restaurant on 39th and you could go to Thomas and four months later it could be Randy’s and they could do nothing to change it and it STILL costs money…it still takes time to get a new liquor license and to build an identity. When you’re building a place from the ground up and every single thing is something you’ve chosen, it’s an insane amount of energy and time and care and money and effort, and it takes a lot of people to make that happen.
ME: When I did the first one of these it was about foodies. In your opinion, how responsible is a customer for having feelings about ANY of that? Is respect enough? Is it an asshole who says “it’s not my fucking deal, I’m here to have a meal, your walls look nice, what do you want me to do?”
002: The people who do this and do this really well, you have to have the balls to say this is what I like, this is the type of food I like, the drinks I like and I want you to come in and like it. I’m not someone who thinks food is ART, there are definitely creative and passionate elements to it, but its food, you eat it and shit it out. But there’s a part of it where you zip yourself open and put your guts out there and hope people like it. That’s why it’s insanely offensive to have someone come in and just flippantly say “this sucks” or “I don’t like it”…do you have any idea how hard this is?
ME: If you don’t like something you can articulate it….well I didn’t like it because you over-roasted the shit out of this, or this sauce has too much of something…
002: And that’s totally valid. We do so many covers, to say one thing came out and it was too salty….
ME: Kansas City is really scene based as far as a lot of this goes, and I mean, how much flack do you think you catch from the foodie elite over your clientele?
002: That’s really funny because you can be tagged as a place to be seen, or for soccer moms, or hipsters or the elite, old people….you know what? Those are the fucking people who go out to eat! If I opened a place only trying to reach a demographic like the people who eat at The River Club, I’d be fucked. I have a lot of friends who cook or are bartenders or servers, and I like to not only draw from that pool of people, but we’re lucky because for whatever reason we have people from Prairie Village and Leawood and Mission Hills who LOVE this place.
ME: And you have to know the next “THING” is going to come along, and what’s going to sustain you is the food. One thing, you kind of touched on it, where is that point between creating an INSPIRED dish and you just want to fucking crank out a reproducible product every single time.
002: That’s a balance I don’t even think we’ve found yet. Before you’re doing anything, you’re trying to see what your cooks can produce on a large scale over and over and over and have it be good every time. I can put some super fancy shit on the menu, and they can fuck it up every time and it costs me money and people don’t like it and that becomes our identity. What I like to do is make things I like to eat. Things I would want to go out and have. Our newer menus will probably be a little smaller, a little weirder, pushing the boundary a little bit.
ME: How do you depend on your staff for your work life balance?
002: There are a lot of parts to that question. Part of it is you have a really brief conversation with people you have in authority, in management positions and tell them that if I don’t feel comfortable leaving here knowing that things are going to be okay, then I will fire you. If I can’t be gone, have to be here all the time, what the fuck do I need you here for? I’ve said this to people before, that I don’t expect you to care as much as I do, it’s unrealistic because their ass and their money isn’t on the line. If the place goes out of business they can go and get another job and I’m fucked. At the same time, being someone who is funny or fun to work with or for, that inspires a general notch above other places…
ME: People want to have your back.
002: They do, they do. And going to bat for people…I told the hostess when the guy was being a dick to her, nobody EVER gets to treat you like that here. That never happens. They’ll be out on the street. We have your back. Those little instances instill so much care and more like family.
ME: As someone who has done a lot of people management…people, customers, I just wrote down this phrase “blood in the water”. In order to support that work/life balance you’re going to have to cut some heads from time to time in-house, but it sounds like that can be applied to asshole customers too.
ME: If you string somebody up and gut them in front of the staff, toss them out, there’s your credibility in spades.
002: One night we just had one of those really, really rough services where things were just going bad on every level. I took the cooks outside and sat them down and started talking to them about what this place meant to me, and asking them what they thought it cost to open a place that looks and feels like this….ten grand? Forty? Four hundred? I told them, in order to get THAT money back before anybody starts MAKING money, you have to produce and it has to be really good. I’m an emotional person, and I just sat there and cried…either showed them care or weakness or strength or however you want to view it, and basically said this place really fucking matters and I need you to care about it. And if you don’t go work at fucking Recordbar or fucking Gilhouley’s and sling fucking drinks. Whatever you want to fucking do, but don’t ruin THIS.
ME: Cut my teeth at Gilhouley’s. Mid 90’s, good times, lots of FBI surveillance going on at the time.
002: I don’t know if I’m allowed to go back there after a night I had.
ME: I always have to ask one gossipy thing. When it comes to lessons you’ve learned, have you learned any of them from the mistakes other chefs have made in this town? Any common threads?
002: The few owners that I know…all of the people I know who run kitchens tend to put out. If I have a mini-feud with someone, instead of trying to attack their business, I just don’t go there or talk about it and try to run my business really, really well to make it annoying for them.
ME: No matter who you hate or whatnot, it seems like in this town you just let people hang themselves instead of going around naming names. The dumbest thing you could do is have a vendetta and shop it all around town.
002: I see how some people act, and you have got to be really, really, really talented and amazing to overcome a bad attitude. I’m all for confidence and I’m all for feeling really good about where you’re at, but at the same time if you hate everybody and everybody is a dick you WILL go out of business.
ME: If everyone is an asshole, chances are you are the problem.
ME: Talent can only make up for so much asshole behavior. To some degree you probably end up establishing a persona, an image, over time, and you can throw a bit of the FUCK YOU out there….but you’ve earned it and you know how to do that dance. Too many people lack the social skills to know where that balance is.
002: The single best thing I’ve done is maintaining and developing collaborations with people that I like, who have done cool stuff, they’ve helped my identity as a person and as a business. Having our crew of people…I don’t have to spend time and energy talking shit about people because I have too much stuff on my plate where I’m developing things with people I like and respect. I don’t have time for that shit.
ME: I always get to this phase and call it the random shit part of the interview; it’s a little less cerebral. So, say some bad things about Yelp.
002: You know, as a person who cares about what you do and what your business is, you want to read that shit. You want to read what people are saying. So rarely is it a sounding board for people who are educated or have any idea about running this type of business. You kind of go through phases with Yelp or Urbanspoon where it’s like, when you first open, you just want to see what everyone is saying. Maybe they love it, or they hate it, and I get pissed. But now I’ve taken to…I don’t look at it at all or read it at all. Part of that comes from, you’ll see two reviews that are one star, they hated absolutely everything about it, it starts to fuck with your head a bit…
ME: And then if they just misspell shit…..
002: Then immediately what I do is click on twenty other things they’ve reviewed and it’s all one star…..from a dog grooming place, to fucking Blockbuster, to Chili’s, and everything is horrible, everything sucks.
Longman and Eagle in Chicago totally killed it by printing their Yelp reviews on coasters where people are like “everything about it sucked” and they just take all of the power away from you.
ME: That is awesome!
002: They’re showing people, here is one way to show everyone how stupid you are.
ME: I understand in a digital age the need for it. If I want to see a map, hours of operation, a picture of a fucking menu, that’s pretty much what I use it for. And you can read between the lines with the reviews and get something from them, but what I view it as becoming is kind of like a corrupt union….”if we get enough of us Yelpers together we can get them to do whatever the fuck we want them to DO!”.
002: There was an article a while back, I can’t be certain if it was San Francisco or Portland, but basically that’s what they did. A group of about thirty or forty people that Yelped a lot went to businesses and told them you need to discount our meals or we’re going to try and ruin your businesses by Yelping about you.
ME: Holy shit.
002: They should have a situation where you can write a one star review and trash a place, but the next day you have to go and introduce yourself to the owner and see what happens.
ME: From what I know, there’s generally going to be a difference in the treatment of a well-known restaurant critic when they come in your place, but when you come in as a nobody and depend on power in numbers to bully, that’s just insane.
002: It’s just a site that I don’t pay attention to at all. I try to say to all of my friends, I’m an open, open, open book that if somebody comes in here and something isn’t good, whether it’s food or service or whatever the fuck it is, I hope my friends like me enough and care about my business enough to tell me something just didn’t hit it. I’m open like that. I don’t have an ego to where I’m like, NOPE! Everything is perfect! I’m sure you just didn’t like how perfect it was.
ME: If a little thing is off with a dish or something, and it’s a busy night and it’s just a matter of temperature, then that stuff isn’t worth mentioning. But if I see something that is symptomatic….if I’m in a few times and start to see a common thread, then I’ll say something. Honestly, I’m just pretty easy to please.
002: A friend of mine came in and later they told me about an issue with one of my servers when they were taking their order. I asked the person, “Did you do that? Do you know that you’re doing that? Because if so you won’t be working here”.
ME: When you go out of your way to accommodate dietary restrictions, NOT death from peanuts or something, but more like I MIGHT be allergic to cheese….how much of that is really out of concern and how much is you know you could fuck up your image by being the I’M OUT TO POISON MOTHERFUCKERS guy?
002: Gluten allergies are easy enough to accommodate, and that’s popular these days, but so much of the time I think people are lying…I’m allergic to cilantro? Just say you don’t like it. I have zero problem if you just don’t like it. I don’t like raw mushrooms, I won’t order them. As cooks then you start to play this game….you’re allergic to onions? So you can’t have anything with stock in it? Bullshit! If someone says they are really allergic to peanuts, I eat a lot of peanuts and we have them in the restaurant, so I say that if you are deathly allergic I probably wouldn’t eat here at all. I don’t want to kill you. You just play the game I guess.
ME: As things stand in KC right now, what is a dish to you that needs to be eaten often? Off the top of your head, what is a crazy good bite of food to eat right now?
002: People are very, very surprised where I like to go…
ME: Are you kidding me? Dude, (TOP CHEF IN KC’S NAME REDACTED) fucking loves Olive Garden.
002: To me personally, and you can fuck off if you don’t like it, but one of my favorite meals in town is to go to Jack Stack in the Freighthouse and I have consistently the best meal and the best service every single time. Grilled shrimp appetizer, Caesar Salad, split the big sampler platter, and then have that huge fucking chocolate dessert. It’s awesome every time. I love it.
ME: Love their lamb ribs, onion rings. I love goddamn Red Lobster.
002: Yeah, those cheddar bay biscuits. I went to Houston’s the other night…
ME: Chicken fingers at Houston’s!
002: We had a really, really, really good meal.
ME: I don’t know if they still have it, it’s been on and off the menu over the years, but they do a Hawaiian steak, just a marinated ribeye that is just the shit…. Anyway, is there a piece of produce that you wish was in season 365 days per year?
002: I think as a cook it’s almost like there’s a double edged sword. If it was available all the time then you don’t appreciate it as much. I think the first time you see really, really good tomatoes; it’s so good to work with fresh and good tomatoes. But at the same time, if they were awesome year around it would be just like Driscoll strawberries.
ME: Any food, foodie or chef trends right now that you’re done with?
002: Seasonal. Seasonal American food has been boring for a long time. I remember at one point last year going online and printing off menus. I took off the fonts, the logos and just printed the menus and seven out of nine had a beet risotto. It’s hard enough to get people to come back over and over and over to your restaurant, but especially if you’re all serving the same thing.
ME: When something becomes the tuna tartare of its day.
002: I just want to try and have something that nobody else does. Seasonal American can become so boring.
ME: Is seasonal and American something that really needs to be advertised?
002: No, you’re right, it doesn’t. I think people are still just holding onto that, housewives..”Are you SEASONAL?”.
ME: Chefs I know, seasonal is kind of a given. Is it going to be December and that night’s special is heirloom gazpacho? Kind of like organic…if you have to keep saying organic to me I’m going to start questioning it. Goes back to the onion allergy….you can’t have stock? I start to get legalistic.
002: It’s a good point that you bring up. What if it IS winter and I really want to serve tomato soup and a grilled cheese? I don’t want to NOT be able to do it because my customers would say it’s not seasonal. I think we’ve come full circle to where we’re back to something like fusion…it’s funny to say that, but a guy who really sticks out in my head is David Chang. He wants to make that kind of food with whatever ingredients he wants, and from Grant Achatz to Adria, you start getting into that…well seasonal is seasonal and local is local but what if the seasonal local peaches aren’t NEARLY as good as the ones you can get from Georgia or wherever? If you are truly wanting to give THE best and offer the best you’ll use the best product no matter where you can get it from. If you’re seasonal and you’re local, you basically say to your customers that for two months of the year I want to give you the best thing I can give you. For the rest of the year I don’t really care. I just have to get what I can get.
ME: I just have to give you one out of left field to end with because I have to. This cracked me up thinking about it…..celebrity chefs. Think of that show Jackass, you know how they spring shit on people?
002: Yeah, kick someone in the nuts or something.
ME: If you could get a goddamn celebrity chef of your choice who could get surprise teabagged…who would it be?
002: Probably Paula Deen!
ME: Ohhh, goddammit! That’s exactly… I thought about Paula Deen the whole time!
002: Yeah, Paula Deen. I watched that video over and over where they’re doing an event and they’re tossing turkeys into the back of a semi and she turns her head for a split second to wave at the camera and takes a ham to the face.
ME: It’s so hilarious that you say Paula Deen because I was thinking of this whole scenario if you said Paula Deen because I think it would backfire….because that twisted old broad…
002: Yeah, she’d get up on it.
ME: “Look at those BALLS!” “Have you seen those BALLS?!?!”, but spelled B-A-W-L-S…
ME: Have you seen BAWLS like that! Oh my GAWD, y’all! Get me some black ones and some white ones and everythin’ else up in here!
002: I think now knowing so many different people in my life who have been on reality TV shows….and I’ve met Tyler Florence and different people, and in real life they’re all really, really fucking cool. You know, you have to be a character when you’re on TV, they turn you into something, they edit, make you look like a douchebag. Guy Fieri should be one of the coolest guys in the world. He gets to do whatever he wants! Why would he be a dick and why would you hate him? I see Michael Symon, the chef from Cleveland, doing commercials. You could put anybody in a room, any of the KC chefs we know, and say that hey we’re doing a commercial for Lay’s potato chips and the first person to raise their hand gets four million dollars. I’d raise my hand fast as fuck! Until you’re presented with that opportunity or until you know what that situation is like, fuck off if you’re going to judge somebody. Do you know how many chefs work for 30 to 38 thousand dollars for years and years and years…and you’re telling me that if you get a little popularity if they offer you a huge check that basically says your kids and your kids’ kids are going to be okay or don’t have to pay for college, or you can pay off your house…I would do that in a millisecond.
ME: It’s that whole Rachael Ray billionaire syndrome. Oh, back to the Paula Deen thing and playing a character…who do you think thought it was a good idea to have both of her sons play characters from that “To Catch a Predator” show? At what point did someone say, hey, let’s get a couple of dudes who really seem like child molesters? Have you seen Alton Brown in those weird grape commercials…
002: Yeah, Welch’s. God!
ME: Me and my wife are sitting there saying he’s starting to look like a toucher.
002: And I’ve actually heard he’s a total dick.
ME: Kind of pretentious, like when you see him on that stupid Food Network Star show, seems like a huge douche.
002: He probably is.
ME: But you’re right, Guy Fieri should be the coolest sonofabitch in the world though, because to me that is living the dream.
002: We were watching No Reservations last night or the night before, and Anthony Bourdain should be the coolest guy ever. He should be, and I think he’s at least pretty cool or tries to be.
ME: He’s got those BAWLS!
002: Got those BAWLS! Paula Deen!
Filed under Food Reviews, Interviews, Kansas City Food Scene, The Squander Logs
Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen…
I don’t know about anyone else who has a camera, but when I was shopping for my Nikon D5100, I knew once I got my hands on it that time would stand still like I was Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway in “We Were Soldiers”. Head on a swivel, in slow motion, click-click-click, prominent cheek bones, misty background, my own somber theme music….with a PURPOSE; newly energized and reborn with laser focus in capturing timeless photographic truths. Yeah, I guess, kind of a DICK when you think about it….I mean, Mel Gibson was pretty cavalier about that one napalm canister frying half his guys, but Barry Pepper could have put down his camera for a couple of seconds to help that one Asian dude. But that’s the thing- good photography has a body count if you’re doing it correctly. That’s just the way it goes. If you have a good camera, you get to be like Barry Pepper.
But you DON’T get to be like Barry Pepper. You get to be like the dozens of 70 year old women with the exact same camera pushing past you to cockblock the picture you’re trying to take in Thorncrown Chapel. And THAT…is the beginning and the end of the glory. The added bonus is when you realize how long it’s going to take to process the gigantic fucking files you created after hearing people say “oh, you have to shoot in RAW”. The inferiority complex that is created by having a rig with limitless settings yet choosing to shoot everything in Auto-mode (without flash) is only compounded by your lack of Photoshop software knowledge and the growing fear that you are colorblind in various ranges of pigment. By the time your little preciouses are posted on Facebook or distributed via various electronic methods, you are totally sick of them and convinced they look like the work of a beshitted, cataract-heavy chimp.
YAY! A closeup of my sandwich with the cool fuzzy background look to it! All you really do to yourself is realize how much better everyone else’s pictures look. One of those idiots who holds their iPad out like it’s a board their kung fu nerd buddy is about to roundhouse kick as they snap photos ends up with better pictures than your dumb ass.
The one small comfort I have found as I beat my head against the wall is the strange sense of legitimacy that comes with owning a “real” camera. Other than the old battleaxes who order their family members in and out of shots between you and your subject, people generally get out of the way when you are taking a photo….in a sea of cameraphones, whip out the Nikon and boom- people must think you really mean business. Plus, you get to look like slightly less of an asshole taking pictures at the dinner table…real camera = real pictures = you are part of some level of media that requires your photographic prowess.
While I’m working on lining up the next installment of The Squander Logs (which has given me a new respect for people who acquire, execute and document interviews BTW), as well as a yearly check-in with “3 Years Sober, and a Church at My Grandma’s House”, I thought some decent filler would be my photographic holocaust over the last couple of months. I’ve got some “artsy” shots from our recent anniversary trip to the Ozarks, and food-nerd glory courtesy of The Rieger.
This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken thus far, because it’s just creepy. It’s a decrepit Kewpie Doll in a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks. I used a 10x macro filter and put it right up against the display glass. Lesson learned here- $10 filters only exist to show you their limitations and make you want a dedicated lens.
Nothing special here other than the fact it was early enough to get the photo without the five billion cars and people that would be arriving in downtown Eureka Springs within the next couple of hours.
Sometimes I just fuck around with foreground/background focus (I have zero comprehension of actual photography terms, so fuck off) and the picture usually sucks until you put it in black and white, and then all you’re missing is the guy to advertise for London Fog.
When processing your pictures in Lightroom, it gets boring fast. But you can always depend upon your friendly saturation settings to make any picture say “Welcome to Jamaica!”.
One of my favorite photos, and I call it “Go Fuck Yourself Instagram”. I got up early as hell and waited to make sure the sun was coming up and there were zero cars or people. This is one of the rare moments where I actually thought of the picture the night before and went out to acquire it…..but none of that shit matters, because essentially all I did was reproduce one of the gajillion Instagram settings.
It was at Green Dirt Farms, at the Rieger dinner, that I discovered my nice zoom lens wasn’t just for shooting things that are far off…like zebras and shit. I bought a good fixed focal length lens in addition to the zoom, and it takes great photos like the creepy Kewpie, but with the zoom I find you can be both lazy and sneaky….and very artsy. Just look at these bottles for instance. I was a good ten feet away with people on all sides, but I got one of those close-ups that allow you to delude yourself into thinking….hey, I am acceptable at this.
When visiting Green Dirt Farms with more than just your cameraphone, you are pretty much a dick if you don’t get a shot of the knives. That’s just how it works. And these are ACTUAL Laguiole knives…not those knockoffs that SOME restaurants use….you know who you fucking are. Quality cutlery on a farm provides a dichotomous context in which you can think of all sorts of crazy shit to feel fancy about.
You see this quaint corner of the barn and it makes you forget it wasn’t that long ago that sheep placenta reigned supreme in this space.
If you take many pictures I don’t have to tell you why this one is shitty. Is there something even flatter than one dimensional?
It’s lamb. Up close. But not so close that it blows your mind. I have those pictures too. But you couldn’t handle them.
The Bossa from Green Dirt Farms is one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in all the land. This photo is all about the quantity of cheese. It inspired me to start using Bossa cut like this as a bun.
Bossa meets The Rieger….this will definitely make my “Best of 2012” list. A mushroom frittata with half a Bossa sunk into the middle of it shortly before it’s done. The quality of the photo doesn’t matter, this is a test to prove whether or not you have a soul……no love, no soul. You don’t have to want to eat this dish, but you need to think really hard before you open your fucking mouth with anything less than pure reverence.
This isn’t a photo, it’s a cheesy obligation whenever the sun is setting. No context, no depth, I can’t afford the camera it would take to make something like this a panty dropper.
Next up- a few shots from the night of my “White Trash Picnic” Birthday Party at The Rieger. The Rieger is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, and I have zero obligation to food journalism or the food critic gods to be measured or evenhanded in my praise. The party was a smashing success, but the important thing here is the degradation of quality from photo to photo. I’m never going to be Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers. I can’t even keep my focus long enough to spend a few seconds setting up a shot or taking basic details into consideration. Then you turn me loose in Adobe Lightroom, and I do some shit like turn the restaurant walls bright green.
Now this looks pretty good….housemade cheese bugles and corn nuts. Not too bad with the available light.
It’s deviled eggs. And that’s it.
Hey, cool, you can keep switching lenses in the middle of dinner….at least the extreme closeup of the Pasta Primavera Salad (with housemade mortadella!) masks how boring you are.
No, it’s not my dick in a box. It’s pimiento celery. I am NOT kidding you!
Man. All on an angle and shit with the crockpot meatballs. Sunday Schools across the nation will be lining up to hire me.
Sorry, I was nodding off for a minute there…..the wheels were officially off the bus at this point. Sure, it’s a white trash picnic, but no need to disrespect wonderful food like this…especially the Shake n’ Bake pork chops. I’m new enough to put part of the blame on available light, but I can only milk that bullshit for so long.
What’s good for a Kewpie Doll doesn’t necessarily work for onion rings. Lose the filters. How is it possible to make something round so goddamn flat?
This had to be seen to be believed. Creamed corn or the set from the movie Dune? You decide.
It’s a fruit cocktail icebox pie from Tasha Goellner. But you would never know that because I apparently suffer from photographic Asperger’s Syndrome.
The Squander Logs: #001
The Squander Logs: A series of anonymous interviews/conversations specific to food production, cooking and service. The identity of an interview subject is something I do not plan to intentionally reveal at any point, and the acquisition of an interviewee falls into one of three categories that will also not be revealed but are meant to minimize my influence in the acquisition and promote diversity within the subject pool. Anonymity serves various purposes that include but are not limited to:
1- To keep the dialogue as honest, spontaneous and unedited as possible.
2- To avoid some of the complexities inherent to self-promotion, cross-promotion, gratuitous social media competition, shark-jumping, over-saturation and various agendas/coalitions geared towards monetizing every aspect of the food community.
3- To squander what would otherwise be a perfectly great opportunity to capitalize on my connections within the food community and drive traffic to this blog, just because I thought it sounded like a good way to follow a path through the Kansas City food community that creates itself without the same predictable and well-worn stops along the way.
Category: Type 1
ME: It’s a Saturday night, you’re on the line, Friday was exceptionally brutal, you’re hungover and down a person. It’s around 7:30. A server comes up to you and looks a little pissed off and they’re like “I just had a table of eight insist that I come and tell the chef WE’RE FOODIES!!!”. What’s your thought process?
001: Well, first of all I don’t like that term. I do not like that term. To me it’s a dead term. Cause anyone who watches food network these days is a fucking foodie. Anybody. Anybody who goes and critiques Applebees on Yelp is a fucking foodie.
001: So with that being said, I would say alright, I’m glad they’re here to enjoy the food I’m going to make, but at the same time I’m not going to go out of my way to do anything special for them. I mean, I think you should treat everyone the same that comes in that door. Regardless if it’s someone who has saved for 2 months to go eat at the restaurant or someone who says “let’s go get some snacks”. I don’t think anybody deserves any special treatment. I mean, if Thomas Keller came in today I’d be like “Wow, You’re Awesome!”, but I’ve got to get back to doing my job.
ME: I’d agree, I think your reputation isn’t built on treating anyone special, it’s consistency in everything you do.
ME: As far as foodies go, and I’m not a fan of that term, but it’s kind of a default term to use. But being in that group, as someone who is not a professional, I’m curious to hear where YOU think the line is between someone who has a genuine love for food and somebody who just has a weird, OCD-like compulsion to collect food related data, compete for blog readership…
001: I think the main difference is that if someone is truly into food and someone who loves food, they’re not going to go around saying “this was complete shit”, they’re not looking for attention for themselves they’re simply going to try what this person is doing. And if they’re going to truly call themselves a foodie, in my mind, that means they should like everything….and not just say “I don’t eat there because the drinks are just okay”, I mean, you go for the whole atmosphere. Someone who truly appreciates and knows where the food comes from.
ME: Not China Star Buffet Yelp reviewers.
001: Exactly. Exactly! Knowing where your food comes from is key in my mind. And you can call yourself a foodie all you want to, but deep down if you don’t even know who’s cooking your food….
ME: With that in mind…Bourdain, love him or hate him, he’s done a lot to communicate about the mad brigade of cooks back in the kitchen, and there is that clique of people in the industry who work the opposite hours of everyone else in close quarters and the camaraderie that that creates….and you have a lot of foodies who may try to seek legitimacy via the people they know at a restaurant, the amount of money they spend, or knowing pieces of industry, or gossip, but they “Never served in Vietnam”, so when it comes to their input, thoughts and opinions on how you do, or should do, your job, how much weight do they carry?
001: I take everyone’s opinion to heart. I am a firm believer that you can learn from everyone. So if one person comes up and says “You know what? I think it would be better like THIS”, I will think about it. Off the cuff I may be like “okay, you’re cute, just move along…unless you do this everyday you’re just a guest.” I appreciate that, but you may not necessarily know everything that goes into it, so how are you going to tell me it would be better like this?
ME: It’s funny you bring that up, because I have the tendency to be TOO protective. If someone came up and said “So and so should do THIS to a dish”, depending on how they came across I’d have the tendency to react worse than the cook in question. It’s stupidly protective, and I guess that’s not really a question, more just me wanting to hear my own rambling on the topic.
001: And that’s fine, being loyal to somewhere, that’s all that we work for. There’s a reason why someone works 70 hours and only gets paid for 45 or 50. We work a lot of hours off the clock, because we’re loyal to that person that’s above us. If someone says something about that person, I’m super, super defensive. If someone says something about the food, of course I’m going to be super defensive. We kill ourselves for a reason.
ME: In your experience, have you worked for chefs that have your back when it comes to a critic or customer coming after you, and have you worked for some that have leaned on the side of kissing ass?
001: Well, anymore nowadays it’s so fickle with Facebook and Yelp and Opentable. Anyone is a reviewer today. Everyone has an opinion, and they should, I get that. But, I think people are using the internet TOO much now. The same person that gives said restaurant a 2 star Yelp review will give the gas station a five star because the oil service was fantastic. FANTASTIC! And so I’ve been fortunate to work for people that will always stick up for the gentlemen that work for them, because I’ve always worked for people who have been there and done that and know how hard it is, you know? And that means a lot. I know that I may mess up sending out something horrible, and I get that, and I”ll probably get my ass chewed for it. But at the end of the day, if anything is ever sent back it’s never automatically, “what in the fuck did you do?” it’s “what didn’t they like about it?”. Tell me that so I can fix it.
ME: I think that is something that’s created by reality tv, like fuckin’ Gordon Ramsay screaming and throwing shit at people, going nuts. I think a lot of foodies have the assumption that is the way kitchens are. It’s like they are expecting a show.
ME: Speaking of social media…with as much as I try to visit restaurants, and the number of people I meet and blogs and reviews I read, I see what I perceive as a lot of people who are pretty picky and humorless who just want to say “this makes me a foodie”….do you think there is a percentage of people these days that you run into that don’t really LIKE food?
001: It’s more of a social status, so that they can check into their favorite place on Facebook and everbody goes , “Oh WOW! Glad to see THEM there!”.
ME: Speaking of that, I don’t want to call it a parasitic relationship because that’s way too harsh and doesn’t fit, but helpful vs. annoying…social media helps you but at the same time it curses you.
001: Oh, absolutely it helps you! If you think you’re doing something to the best of your ability, that this is fucking phenomenal…”I’m sending this out great every time!”…and five, six, seven bad reviews come in on either Yelp or Opentable, you kind of have to take that to heart because that means that you’re doing something wrong. You’re not cooking that properly. Or, maybe my dining room IS fucking gross. You know, something like that. Okay, there’s something I didn’t see. And that goes back to the fact that I take everyone’s opinion to heart.
(Redacted rambling where I bemoan the fact that I really need to work on my interview skills)
ME: There is kind of a push towards monetization of every aspect of the food industry specific to the social media we’ve been talking about, and it seems to lean towards people with near zero practical experience within the industry who wake up and reinvent themselves as a foodie or a chef….”Hey, I’ve got a background in PR or marketing, ba-da-BOOM, there you go, there’s money to be made!”. How do you see that type of phenomenon benefitting or hurting the industry?
001: Regardless of social media having an impact on that or not, there’s always people out there who go “You know what, I think I’m going to open up a restaurant”, and they could be in marketing as you said, and they just don’t get it. I’ve definitely worked for people like that, who have no idea, they have no restaurant experience. They may have been a bartender years ago, but they think they get it. And so, they don’t take the time to realize that if you’re a well oiled machine you make a nickel off of every dollar. Profit. If you are really, reeallly good, you make a nickel off of every dollar that comes in, after lights, employee costs, insurance, a nickel. And those are the types of restaurants that usually kind of fail out and die because they get frustrated and they don’t see the return so quickly, so they don’t try to build value and build a reputation. I mean, for the first years you’re going to lose money. You’re going to.
ME: In the best case scenario.
ME: Okay, you have fans, you have the people who love you, and you have people with money, notoriety, either real or imagined…friends, customers, regulars….I’m always curious to what level people try to lay claim to a chef or a restaurant. I have a tendency to hang back, that’s just my personal rule. On a Saturday night, no matter how much I know or love a chef, I will never approach the kitchen, that is bad form. You see people come in who do not live by that code…..the first place they head for is the kitchen.
001: They want to go and say hi so they can look cool. Now, I can see if it’s a legitimate friend and you haven’t seen this dude in forever. At the same time, you need to realize it’s a Saturday night and you probably shouldn’t be bothering them. BUT, everyone does it. I recently went on a little vacation. Went and visited a friend. Me and two other people, we went to a GOOD restaurant, and we were all pretty drunk. I hadn’t seen this person in probably six months, so we went and tied one on before we went to a really well known and respected restaurant.We sat down, the waiter came over and we ordered drinks, the waiter came back and asked if we had time to look at a menu. I was like “No, haven’t really had time yet”, and one of my friends goes “Three Chefs! Impress us!”. And right then I’m like “You have got to be fucking kidding me. You have GOT to be kidding me.”
ME: (laughter) Oh my god, that is painful!
001: The server just goes “heh”. And like I said, this is a nationally known restaurant, they are getting to be big time now, so…
ME: “Gee, we’ve never had chefs!”
001: They’re thinking..you’re cute! You guys are cute!
ME: That kind of goes back to my WE’RE FOODIES”
001: Exactly, yeah! I’m just sitting there going OH MY GOD….no, don’t do that….that’s the one thing you don’t do.
ME: That brings up a side point…how careful are you of the people you go to eat with? Do you have a set group you’ll go to a nice restaurant with, or when you’re travelling?
001: Most of my friends aren’t in the industry. They don’t know about it. They’re nurses or carpenters, just regular hard working people, and so they are at a point where Houlihan’s is a great meal out. And you know what, that’s fine.
ME: It’s familiar.
001: It’s familiar, it’s easy, for the most part, it’s okay…it’s a step up from Applebees that’s for damn sure. Being a cook, I don’t get that much time off, so when I do spend my time of I usually don’t go out to eat. If I do I go to a bar I get bar food. Because that’s what I want when I go out. I’m usually drinking.
ME: That seems to be the norm as far as that goes.
001: It’s one of those things….we deal with food every day…so nine times out of ten I’m not going to want go spend 150 dollars because I know damn good and well that food didn’t cost 150 dollars.
ME: The only reason I brought that up is because I’m really weird about vetting people. When I go out to a nice dinner, the people are as important to the experience as the food.
001: Absolutely, and along those lines I can’t remember a time when I went out with more than three people. I mean, I don’t have that many friends on the given Tuesday I have off where we’re going to sit down at an eight top. I don’t have that many friends, I don’t, I work in a kitchen and most of my friends I see once every six months…found out a friend of mine had a baby Didn’t know that!
ME: That’s funny because I’m having a birthday party at a restaurant here in town and was coming up with a guest list going “Holy shit, do I even have enough friends to have a party?”.
001: I get that!
ME: Okay, we’ve already covered all the foodie shit, but I had this long thing written down about whether foodie is a relevant term or is it kind of like someone just now discovering “That’s what she said” and you’re torn between lighting a candle or cursing their darkness.
001: Yeah, and like I said, I’m not a fan of the term, but I’m not a fan of the term “chef” either. I think it’s a derogatory term because, in my opinion, six out of ten chefs are non-working chefs. I’m lucky and have been fortunate enough to have worked for very hard working and very good cooks who are there every freakin’ day and love what they do, and that makes my job so much easier. But, most chefs, in my opinion, don’t work. They leave it to the guys in the kitchen and they’re like “I’ve done my due…I’ll come in at two! See you guys at two!”
ME: Or, they have a bunch of restaurants…Mall of America, Las Vegas…
001: Exactly! If you’ think you’re going to see Gordon Ramsay at one of his restaurants, you’re freaking insane. You’re insane. That man is too busy with all of his publicity bullshit…don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the guy’s a great cook. There’s a reason why he’s gotten this far. But I think, in MY own opinion, I think people get away from that and think “I’m a good fuckin’ cook”…well, you were a good cook fifteen years ago, NOW you’ve just been riding on your name. And you still have the ideas, but can you do them on a day to day basis? No. And this is a hard enough business as it is, you don’t need to get the egos involved.
ME: That brings up another foodie trend….I know people who if they had the chance wouldn’t eat at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant because you’re either not guaranteed a Gordon sighting, or it’s no longer a COOL place because he’s on tv. But, to your point, he got popular for a reason.
001: He’s a Michelin star chef, absolutely.
ME: I had some hesitation a few years ago about whether or not to eat at Gary Danko when I was in San Francisco, until a good friend of mine was like “Hey dumbass, yeah, I know it’s popular and stuff, but the food is phenomenal”. And it was.
001: And just because it’s popular doesn’t mean the food is going to be BAD. Places like The Big Biscuit and Houlihan’s are packed every day.
ME: Yeah they are.
001: Every day….it doesn’t mean their food is phenomenal, it doesn’t mean it’s shit either. It just means it’s close to where you live, they have great prices, and anymore nowadays it’s hard to feed a family of four.
ME: Even if you cook mediocre food, if you’re consistent with that mediocre food you’ll get a following to some degree. I mean, I’m unashamed about my love for Red Lobster. Once a year, I’ve gotta have it. Is it great? No, but it’s consistent. It tastes exactly like it did when I was twelve years old.
001: And the thing is, people legitimately love mediocre food.
001: They legitimately love mediocre food. Or else we wouldn’t have restaurants like Applebee’s.
ME: To your point from earlier, are you gonna go out and eat a fuckin’ foie gras terrine on a Monday, on your day off? Fuck no, you’re going to go have a burger.
001: I went to Blue Koi today. Good dumplings.
ME: Vietnam Café is like a standard. Boom.
ME: And to me it’s just as legitimate, just as good, and I look just as forward to going there as a lot of the higher end places in town.
001: And I would much rather go there, because I’m not going to spend 150 when I could spend twenty. And just enjoy yourself.
ME: Everything about it is good.
001: And you know you’re going to go there and have a good time.
ME: Okay, all that shit was just a lead up, I wouldn’t have you here unless I was going to get into some juicier aspects of this industry of yours. Setting up the theme for the next segment…..I’m not out to use anonymity as a platform for personal attacks or to talk about who is fucking who’s wife and where you can find photos….one less scandalous but still interesting tale of late in this town has to do with a chef who has been accused of selling choice beef as prime in an earlier restaurant. If that is true, is there any type of gentleman’s agreement among cooks and restaurateurs not to out them and blow them out of the water?
001: Well…I think as a cook, for a diner who like I mentioned may have saved for two months to eat at your restaurant, you have to say what is on your menu. And with the fickle social media out there, you cannot be caught publicly outing another restaurant. You can’t. That makes your place look absolutely horrible. HORRIBLE! So, it would be one of those things where IN-house, absolutely, it would be like…”Are you fucking kidding me? Did you hear about that motherfucker? Are you serious? Seriously? Why don’t they just up and buy it if they’re going to charge people for it? Just buy it.”
ME: Is there a point at which the disdain for a local chef is going to start to bleed out, either from a restaurant directly or via emissaries who have a blog and can do the dirty work for you?
001: Well, it’s one of those things that isn’t really talked about, but is just common knowledge. There are definitely things out there, and I’m not calling out names, but…there’s a James Beard award winning chef in town that no cook would be caught dead at this person’s restaurant. Because WE know, and if anyone on the street were to ask me? Absolutely. But would I ever say, at the place that I work, F THAT place? No. Because that’s just bad.
ME: I guess there is a standard that you set for yourself because A) you look like a bigger douche than the person doing the deed if you out them, and B) the damage you would do in bursting people’s bubbles…because these chefs have a following, and one person who comes to mind, possibly the same one you’re talking about, has a VERY large and loyal following and has for a very long time. SO to say something about them in a public arena….you’re going to lose business by proxy.
001: You’re going to look like a jackass…like HOW DARE YOU? Mountain out of a mole hill.
ME: With blogs and whatnot, there are a lot of people who die for that type information….because we’re turning everything into a KC Confidential type thing…I mean, how cool would it be to become the Kansas City Perez Hilton of the food community? Granted, that would NOT be a cool thing to be…but how much of THAT annoyance do you guard against…..keeping your mouth shut around people who may try to gain contrived readership?
001: Luckily, the position I’m in, nobody really listens to me or talks to me, I just happen to be there. So my opinion isn’t shit, and that’s kind of where I want to keep it. Because I do believe…loose lips sink ships, I’m a firm believer in that. Now, I have been known to talk some shit every now and again, but I keep it in-house.
ME: And I respect that, I mean, I know chefs who have gone out of their way to blast other chefs and I basically lose respect….
001: It just makes them look bad! Oh, look at THAT! TATTLING! TATTLING! TATTLING! Just realize that you’re better than the other place…and maybe it goes back to people liking mediocre food. You’re never going to get them away from going to said restaurant just because you say something, they’re just going to look at you and go “I guess I’m not eating at your fucking spot!”
ME: It kind of goes back to your point about consistency in treating everyone the same and not kissing specific asses…the same can be said for the consistency in not taking advantage of opportunities to do damage. The loudest critics seem to have the shortest shelf lives, some of the same people fall multiple times and don’t learn.
001: And this is public knowledge….Michael and Debbie….they are both VERY good about not saying anything about each other, but will they be caught dead in the same room? Noooo. They do that for a reason. THEY know that they are people that their opinion matters and people look forward to them. And they are both great cooks.
ME: I think there is a term for that….it’s called mutually assured destruction!
001: Absolutely! I mean, if one person starts the fire, burn that motherfucker DOWN!
ME: And even if the reason for peace is selfish to some degree, the result is something I really, really respect.
ME: Okay, I’m new at this whole thing without much of an idea how to switch things up, so as far as discussion I kind of just have to say, NEXT UP, going to go with stuff worthy of the most mundane blogs that I’ll probably just call GRATUITOUS SHIT! So……FOOD ALLERGIES! Real, or just another way to be a controlling asshole who should probably eat somewhere else?
001: (Laughing) Umm…I fully understand food allergies, but a lot of times I think it is just another reason for people to say they don’t like something. “I’m allergic to garlic!”…you eat onions, right? Well…..now, shellfish, people die from that. Unless you are absolutely sure you have an allergy, just say you don’t want any.
ME: I talked to a chef last night who had someone tell him they were allergic to black pepper…after eating at the restaurant for years and eating black pepper.
001: Yeah, see, that’s bullshit.
ME: Exactly, and it’s just an annoyance to me, when I talk about my vetting process, picky people….
001: Oh, they’re annoying as fuck.
ME: I’m not saying you gotta eat all the offal, I’m just saying don’t sit here and recreate a fucking dish on a Saturday night.
001: And that’s my thing, I understand people’s preferences, but say someone puts up a menu item and the guest comes in and says “That sounds great, but I can I put broccoli and mashed potatoes on it?”….go fuck yourself, eat at home.
ME: Next gratuitous thing…Is there anything you get tired of cooking and wish would go away, or a trend?
001: As far as that goes, I’m not really tired of cooking anything yet. There are definitely techniquest I don’t agree with…..I think over-manipulated food is something that NEEDS to be there, but do I want to go and have a spoonful of air? No, I’d rather have a spoon of mashed potatoes.
ME: Deconstruction is the first thing that comes to mind.
001: Yeah, “I’ve got a deconstructed Caesar salad!”….so you’ve got a whole egg, an anchovy, lemon, garlic on a plate? Now THAT’S a fucking deconstructed salad. Do I want that? Noooo……
ME: I’ve got a deconstructed Caprese salad at home…the shit is still growing on my deck.
001: DECONSTRUCTED! I do think that those places are there for a reason, I mean, El Bulli was amazing….I never got to EAT there…
ME: Me neither.
001: But, those places, that guy was THE top chef in the world for years because he had a team of scientists breaking shit down and he was at the forefront….because he’s that crazy….he can just sit there and think of shit. And god bless him for that, but fuck ME, do I want to go and have 39 one bite courses? No.
ME: Even with that level of popularity, you are talking about the most impractical business model on the planet, you gotta be pretty liquid….”Okay! Gonna shut down for nine months every year to retool…then I’ll let forty people in every night for three months, and then fuck all y’all, see you next year!”
Ah, here we go, word association…I’ll say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind……YELP!
001: Fuck it.
ME: Good answer. Here’s one that I thought of on the way over actually…I’m a big believer in loyalty to people who cook my food, serve my food….and because I interface with them the most- my server. I will live and die with the same server as long as they work there, and I like to tip well. Now, different interview for a different day, don’t want to get into front vs. back of house issues, but what is a good gesture for the back of the house? 715 in Lawrence lets you buy a six pack for the kitchen….what’s a good gesture?
001: Honestly, that is a GREAT idea, I like that idea. There is a restaurant in Canada, can’t remember the name but there’s a dvd where I work and we were watching it, having some beers, and it’s a restaurant where at any given time during service a guest can buy a round of shots for the kitchen. They ding a bell, the kitchen has to stop, doesn’t matter if it’s 8pm on a Saturday, they stop service, take a shot, get back to work.
001: That’s intense.
ME: Is there a limit? I mean, if Richie Rich comes in…..
001: I’m sure they’re allowed two per night or something…
ME: I would want to hit that limit. I would want to have the deep pockets to cause mayhem.
001: I guarantee…no chef wants his kitchen staff drunk.
ME: I’d like to see it!
ME: Alright, right now in Kansas City….one dish, one place, what’s good and what do you recommend?
001: Extra Virgin had some duck tongue tacos. I haven’t been there in a while, but they were fucking good.
ME: Good and seasoned.
001: They were fucking GOOD! That’s one thing that was legitimately one of the best things I’ve had in a very long time. So simple it’s stupid, duck tongue tacos!
ME: They’re great. A lot of people say they’re too salty, but I say fuck you, I come from the Mario Batali school of salt the shit out of everything.
001: I smoke, so they were just dandy to me!
ME: OKAY last thing I have for you….we’re starting to get into the good stuff at the markets this time of year, so….is there one type of produce you’d pick to be in season year-round if you had one wish?
ME: Ramps? Yeah, they aren’t available long and they’re so good.
001: They’re SO good.
ME: And there’s so much you can do with them.
001: Absolutely, you can pickle them, roast them, grill them, they’re awesome. One thing I know everyone wants is morels. I personally don’t like morels.
ME: I like them, but you know, come on man. How much can you eat? It’s kind of like truffles. I like them, but unless you’re going to have a whole goddamn shaved truffle on top of something, what’s the point?
001: To me a truffle tastes like cardboard. I don’t like truffles, I don’t like truffle oil…it’s so overused, truffle FRIES piss me OFF.
ME: I don’t like truffle oil, to me it has a chemical aftertaste.
001: IT’s because on the ingredient list it says “truffle essence”…what the fuck is truffle essence?
ME: They probably created it at El Bulli. Truffle essence….it didn’t make the menu. That’s where all their money comes from now!
001: Fucking truffle oil!
ME: They sell the shittiest truffle oil.
001: God bless them for doing that!
ME: Ferran Adria sells the shittiest truffle oil in the world! And that’s how he bankrolls his enterprise.
001: Can’t blame him for that!
Filed under Interviews, The Squander Logs
Lincoln Cafe- Mt. Vernon, Iowa
We headed up Interstate 35 last weekend, just as I did countless times before when I was living in Minneapolis and made frequent trips back home. However, this time when the highway forked left to send travelers up towards the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we stayed right and ventured onward through the farms and fields of eastern Iowa. Beautiful Midwestern expanse in spite of the coming storms, and a much needed respite for both of us as we took a relaxing journey that would include at least two brief stops prior to our highly anticipated dinner in Mt. Vernon that evening. My wife and I are people who would happily bypass The Louvre if we were forced to choose between it and…something like The Museum of the Inquisition. The heck with The Smithsonian, we would say…for us it’s all about the lesser known monuments, museums and displays of “outsider art”. Prior to ANY roadtrip we consult websites like RoadsideAmerica.com in order to determine if there is something worthy of venturing off the beaten path as we drive towards our destination. On the way to Mt. Vernon, there was the future home of Captain James T. Kirk in Riverside, the “cursed” Black Angel grave marker in Iowa City, and the crown jewel of this particular drive… L.J. Maasdam’s Wheel Art in Lynnville. Maasdam’s towering masterpiece was completed in 1994 when he was 90 years old, and its history includes endearing stories about his children re-welding some of the rusty wagon wheels at night because L.J. wasn’t a very good welder and they wanted to spare him any disappointment if he found out they were helping him. This is artwork well worth the ten minute drive off the main highway, and I believe this blog post will showcase the first pics using my fancy new camera….
I pulled my car up onto the small hill near the tower of wagon wheels. It is much bigger in person than one would think, and with a new camera and multiple lenses to play with, the potential for good photography would be endless….if I were a real photographer! The sky was overcast and there was a slight mist in the air that I had to contend with as I kept wiping my lens and moving around to find the best angles. Barren fields all around, out buildings off in the distance, a perfect backdrop for such a fascinating monument to folk art. My wife was back in the car waiting for me, and between my intense focus and the loud, gusting winds, it was a little bit of a surprise to realize someone had walked up to within fifteen feet of me without me noticing. There are the caricatures of farmers that exist on television and in print, and then there are actual farmers…I am familiar enough with both that I realized immediately the elderly man in the jeans, heavy workshirt, thick gloves and ballcap standing in front of me was a real farmer. After brief introductions and a handshake, he began to talk about the sculpture, and how even though he never knew L.J., he believed that it symbolized the hard facts of what it takes to make a life for oneself from the land.
Forging metal to turn the packed earth, making your vision worth all of the hard work, leaving behind a legacy that is about more than just one man….we spoke of those things for a bit, leaning up against the fence made from those wagon wheels, then he took off his right glove to accentuate one point. “A man does all of this with the only tools he truly owns; these hands”, he told me, “from the day you are born until the day you die, you always pray for the strength of your character to guide what you are building with these hands”. Much of what he said immediately rang true for me. Not that I have managed to always exhibit those traits, but anyone who knows me well and knows my story can attest to the fact that I really do try. “You keep an eye on the world around you”, he continued, “you keep your arms around the ones you love, and you keep it strong…THIS hand”, he said, putting the palm of his right hand three inches from my nose, “when all is said and done, son, you have got to keep your PIMP HAND strong!”.
Not knowing quite how I should react, I just calmly stood there, trusting the new direction his homily was taking. He never broke eye contact, but his stare did get a little wilder as he began to slowly step backward and kept repeating in a softer voice “your piiiiimp haaaand, keep your piiiiimp hand stroooong….”. For every two steps he moved backward, I took one, not wanting to alarm him, but all of a sudden he seemed to snap out of his trance, stared at my feet as they shuffled backward, looked back up at me, bared his teeth and hissed “PIMP HAND!” and kept saying it louder and louder while alternately slapping his face brutally hard (WITH his pimp hand). He did that at least twenty times as I continued backing up, afraid to just turn my back on him. Finally he stopped, dropped his head and took off his hat. He started scratching the top of his head, and a whining wail began coming up from somewhere deep inside him, and his body shook like he was readying for blast-off. As his whining turned into a shriek he slowly lifted his head and locked his eyes onto mine. At this point I was like “fuuuuuuuck THIS”, and turned around and bolted towards the car. For an old man, he was incredibly quick and I could hear him gaining on me. I started screaming at my wife “START THE CAR! STAAARRTT THE FUUUCKKIIINNNG CAAARRRRR!! START THE CAR! START THE CAR! START THE CAR!”. She was obviously startled, but I did hear the engine turn over. I was about to start screaming for her to get my pistol from the console as I ran like hell, but suddenly I stopped hearing the old farmer’s feet charging across the ground and heard instead what sounded like a single loud crack of a whip. I turned my head just enough in the same split second to see his body five feet in the air, parallel to the ground and facing straight downward, a taught length of chain holding his left ankle to some anchoring point just over the hill behind the sculpture. I quickly turned back to the car before he even hit the ground, but I did hear the thud and huge exhale of air from his lungs. Both of us safe, we drove on towards Mt. Vernon.
Soooo anyway, does anyone else remember Al Goldstein’s “Screw” Magazine? Not the boring post-Goldstein version, but the old school 70’s and 80’s porn periodical classics. How about Jim and Debbie Goad’s “Answer Me”? When I think of whatever unique voice I could bring to the incredibly dense, generally repetitive and weirdly competitive world of food writing, I go back to those fine examples of visceral entertainment. I want to be THEM. The last thing I wrote with the uber-foodies yammering back and forth is really how I see elements of the social media drenched world of “artisanal” food…slow food at the speed of the internet. Now, I am not discounting someone’s personal history in their food community or their love for their favorite chef (and if I know you and you are reading this smarmy negativity, it sure as hell isn’t about YOU, you fucking egomaniac). I know a lot of people who can cook, write or take photos, professionally or for fun, whom I totally respect. The last thing I want to sound like is the sour grapes guy whining “Booo-hoooo! Now that EVERYONE does it it’s not cool anymore!”. What I’m getting at is the increasing phenomenon where someone who is marketing or public relations savvy with almost no personal history with any aspect of the culture (not exclusive to food, obviously) can wake up one morning and reinvent themselves with such vigor and permanence that questioning the iffy provenance of their prefab calling could cause collateral damage within that culture. Contrived expertise that fabricates a dependency upon it and breeds legions of succubi who wield their weapons from the safe confines of Yelp, Facebook and Twitter. As the information on trends and the must-have reservations is disseminated more and more quickly, fond are the memories of a time when a chef or producer only had to deliver one handjob to one writer or critic to keep their world on its axis. Now, a billion blistered palms later, every personal universe of every armchair critic with an axe to grind has to be taken into account to slow the tide of potential bad reviews and miscommunications inherent to digital forums. And it is the people who have their hands on the moon phases of that tide that worry me. In many ways, it’s not mine to judge…I’m not putting in the work to build the websites or consulting services, and I don’t make my living in a restaurant or on a farm. Good people on both sides can benefit from this new relationship, no question. I have no solid answers, I’m a guy with a prohibitively rambling blog who pushes his favorite restaurants on Facebook. My speculation has to do with what I perceive as a cookie-cutter attempt to bring a corporate food and marketing angle into the food community and very aggressively pass it off as “locavorism”…. like Wal-Mart getting into the organic food game without bothering to mention that they bastardized the definition of “organic” in order to keep things cheap and the profit margins large. I constantly wonder where the line is between my own overly protective, emotional investment in my most beloved institutions and being perceived as the same thing I fear most. I guess the way I approach as much of the community as possible has to do with vetting….I am almost 100% a word of mouth customer. I’m not a good target for bloggers, social media strategists, website developers or annoying hipsters, because my dollars and my energy usually only go towards a person, place or thing that I hear about firsthand from someone I trust. And once I try it and am convinced, I will ramble on about it incessantly….but even THAT is usually either relegated to this completely shill-proof blog or is lost in the avalanche of posts in the Facebook feeds of the whopping 150 people who even have access to this stuff. I am loyal, and I think I’m a good guy to have on your side, and word of mouth has never done me wrong. Kind of like putting your money in your mattress. Fuck banks, and fuck purchases based on trending or shiny social engineering. If I want a prime reservation, wheel of cheese, piece of meat or dried mushroom…I have a small but solid network of folks upon whom I can rely without fail, and they know they can count on me for the same type of favor.
So….word of mouth. In my world it’s a very normal thing to drive for hours and spend the night in a different town just so you can try a new restaurant. Especially when said restaurant is recommended by someone whose cooking and opinions on food I trust implicitly. Lincoln Café got a big nod, so we picked a weekend, loaded up a care package with some of the best products KC has to offer, and lit out. We love a nice roadtrip, so that works well with my desire to find great midwestern cuisine that exists outside the lineup of my local haunts. Good food is good food, and one thing I’m hypersensitive about is when dickheads from much larger cities, or dickheads who ate in fucking Paris one time, come across like their personal calling is to always do that thing where they are polite but they still let you know they are being patronizing when they give any level of approval to someplace you recommend in flyover country. I try to be even more hypersensitive to the fact that I could look like an even bigger asshole if I went from the whopping metropolis of Kansas City to an outlying hamlet and acted like I was doing anyone a favor. When I check out new places based on what I hear from my friends, it is out of a genuine love for it. And if I take a care package with me, it has nothing to do one-upsmanship….sure, it is nice to show off your favorite producers, but it’s more about showing a level of hospitality that we midwesterners are famous for. So when you’re showing the love to OTHER midwesterners, you have to ramp it up a bit because we are all just so damn friendly and generous.
Long story short, Lincoln Cafe has a specific combination of elements that make it pretty perfect. First of all, Mt. Vernon is a beautiful little town where it seems like everyone walking down the street knows everyone else walking down the street. There is an incredibly cool repurposed middle school building that houses everything from antique stores to a community center and even a martial arts studio….the perfect combination of old school small town charm along with a palpable youthful vibe that can be attributed to the nearby universities. Okay, re-reading the last sentence made me want to kick my own ass, so I’ll just say that the cafe itself is like going to your favorite diner and your favorite Saturday night date spot combined. Jeans and a t-shirt or two hours of pimping yourself in a mirror, it’s all the same thing because it’s just a friendly place to be, and the food is the thing. And yes, I meant pimp, NOT primp, I constantly drop shit like that in my writing to fuck with people who live to play online editor on news sites.
After our stop at the wagon wheel sculpture, and the cemetery with the Black Angel, we still got into town earlier than we expected and strolled around for a bit. I called Lincoln Café a few days earlier and tried not to sound like some kind of weirdo when I asked if there was a convenient time for me to stop in and take some pictures without getting in anyone’s way. They were totally cool about it, after lunch service on Saturday sounded like the best plan, so we hung around and enjoyed the town. To their credit, I will say that even though they officially “close” at 2pm, from what I could tell they were still seating people until then and nobody was getting the bum’s rush. It’s little things like that I tend to notice and add to the list that comprises really great customer service. Saturday lunch pushing out closer to 3, dinner service starting up at 5 for a totally packed house….I respect that.
I have a legitimate reason to mention THE RIEGER in this post…not that I need one, so suck it. Anyway, Howard told me about this place “up in Iowa” a couple of months ago and assured me they were great people who knew food. He had cooked with them in 2010 in the Cochon 555 event in Des Moines, and had nothing but good things to say. We met sous chef Andy that afternoon as I gave the spiel on the different items in the cooler I brought them. Totally cool guy, knows his shit, does great charcuterie….man, if you could get him, Howard and Michael Beard to do one big charcuterie collaboriation/contest/orgy, that would surely be the event of the decade. Better include Alex Pope too…that goddamn coppa and all. ANYWAY, Andy is cool, didn’t get to meet chef/owner Matt on this trip. He walked through the place a few times during brunch, but I’m not the type of douche to go “Pardon me chef….I am from the metropolitan area of Kansas City, and even though you are obviously busy I want to bore your dick off for at least ten minutes on a Sunday when you probably would rather be anywhere else”.
Foodwise, you can read the little blurbs under the photos, but the short story is- Lincoln Cafe is worth the trip. This is another element of the aforementioned perfection….a pretty standard permanent menu of chips and guac, awesome fries, hummus and pita, burgers, salads, etc…..all items ten bucks or less, and while we only tried the fries, the menu staples we did spy looked good. Especially those burgers. Then there are three entrée specials up on the board, an appetizer special and three desserts if I remember correctly. You can go high end, low end, mix and match, whatever. Including soup or salad with the entrees is a brilliant addition..how often do you see THAT these days, and also have it be of the highest quality? No liquor license, but you can bring in beer or wine for a flat $5 fee which is waived if you buy at least one bottle from their Wine Bar down the street (the fucking pizza there looks insane, definitely on the list to try next time). They do take reservations now, and you are welcome to call ahead and have them put your name down (or just show up and try your luck), but I’d recommend a reservation because that place packs out. We pulled up a minute or so before our 6pm table right as they were calling us to let us know our table was ready….very nice, mutually beneficial, addition to the service.
Speaking of the service….again, good combination of very friendly and casual mixed with a level of professionalism and detail that is required to get dishes of varying complexity fired and to your table in a seamless manner. Everyone was really sweet, and obviously into what the place is all about….that pride of ownership I never, ever shut up about. In a packed and busy room, it was apparent that the only way to get everything done was for people to help each other as the need arose. And in a room that size where it’s hard to hide, if there was any strife, competition or discord among the staff, then they were geniuses at covering it up and deserve even higher praise.
Since we loved dinner enough to definitely make the trip again, we figured….why not stop in for brunch on Sunday before heading back to KC? They open at 10am, and we walked right in and got a table. By the time we left, there was a decent sized crowd outside. Again, there is a basic menu of some brunch items as well as many of the burgers, fries, etc. The specials on the chalkboard included an omelette with spinach and pancetta as well as biscuits and gravy. We got one of each, along with an order of some very good locally made breakfast sausage and an order of their spiced up potatoes. Everything was very good, a few steps above your average smalltown diner breakfast for sure, but the major standout had to be the biscuits and gravy. I’m the level of fiend that a dipshit like Guy Fieri pretends to be when it comes to B&G. I don’t go throwing out compliments just because the people were nice to us…these things were awesome, definitely among the best I’ve ever had and I have had a LOT in my lifetime. Perfect density and flavor to the biscuits, as well as ratio of sausage to gravy. We weren’t going to get dessert, but when they offered us one with their compliments we went with the homemade lime bar with crème fraiche whipped cream. Great spin on a classic, crazy-good crust.
So that is the story of our trip to Lincoln Cafe, with all of the usual extras that add a couple thousand words. It’s how I roll. You won’t hear about every restaurant I visit, you’ll generally only hear me talk about the ones I really like. And when I really like a place I ramble on like a motherfucker…highly complimentary and usually appreciated by the objects of my affection, but jacked up enough to make me feel like I’m doing something a little different from your run of the mill Urbanspoon dickhead. If it ever gets too fucked up even for people in the service industry to enjoy it, I may rethink my methodology.
Up next: I’m putting a lot of thought into a very specific style for an ongoing series of interviews. I need to make a final decision about the actual interview questions, and approach enough people to guarantee I will have enough of them to sit back and watch the overall evolution. IF you are in the service industry and have any interest in taking part, be sure to reach out to me. I guarantee it is nothing that will reflect badly on you…in fact, it probably won’t have any reflection on you at all. AND this is actually real, not like any fake interview stuff I’ve done in the past. Anyway, there’s that. And other shit too, I’m sure.
Filed under Food Blog, Food Reviews
Nurture My Pig…
I have never, and will never, apologize for my enthusiasm for the Kansas City food scene. I don’t care where you are from, if I’m your guide in this town you will eat food that impresses you. We’ve been getting more and more much deserved press over the past few years, to the point where travel shows and publications don’t immediately feature Stroud’s and Bryant’s and then trundle onward. This is the point at which, if I were a real food blogger, I’d cite all kinds of goddamn examples…but that is not my milieu, my site is more like a teenage girl’s diary. The recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that we have amazing farmers and chefs in the area who are starting to put a hell of a dent in the Sysco Foods, stripmall chain dining that is typical in a town where eating out is a major pastime. Local, sustainable, farm to table, seasonal, artisanal, organic…if I’m leaving out any annoyingly overused terms let me know. But it’s true, we’ve got all that shit and we have an abundance of industry professionals who maximize what is available. As far as this weekend’s event is concerned, we drift on back to the 1890’s to a quaint storefront, down a quiet road past an industrial area that has GOT to have about fifteen “It puts the lotion in the basket!” style kill rooms dotting the landscape as well as the bar from “The Accused”….I’m not kidding you. It’s fucked up. It doesn’t scare me or anything, I’ve lived in worse, and I’m a Buford Pusser style badass. I’d open a bar down there and call it “The Cadaver Dog”. I would take payment in human ears. And the only song on the jukebox would be “Goodbye Horses”.
I’ve been to a bunch of different events attended BY Chef Pope, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten any of his food before Saturday… never ate at R Bar and didn’t go to either of the Vagabond pop-ups. So I won’t do the annoying high school girl foodie blogger social butterfly name-droppy oneupsmanship thing. But I will say, he was a hell of a nice guy, a great host, and it is obvious the man is very serious and dedicated to his latest venture. And it is always fun to watch someone butcher purely from muscle memory. The class moved swiftly, and was very informative in a way that…if you HAD questions about the basics they would be happily and thoroughly answered, but the assumption was that you came to the table with SOME knowledge and you weren’t eeked out by the carving of meat. I will say that was one thing that will bring me back for the rest of the series….Alex is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor, but the class isn’t geared towards the biggest dumbass in the room like many, many…okay nearly 100% of cooking classes seem to be structured (go roll with the Coffee Klatch contingent out at The Culinary Institute of Kansas City…sweet baby Jesus, the instructors deserve medals and all the oxycontin they can eat). With it being a Slow Foods KC event, it was a good crowd and pretty much everyone I spoke with was really cool. I know that if he is as successful in this venture as I predict he will be, there will be many, many classes geared towards “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Alex’s future, and for that I applaud him because I realize that patience with morons translates into dollars in the restaurant world. As a different kind of moron myself, I have had to count on that level of kindness. BUT I could never be in the service industry unless there was a need for someone who could make the impatience of the late great Tom Macaluso look positively restrained and precocious in comparison. He was famous for ringing no-call-no-show customers at 1am to let them know everyone at the restaurant was worried sick about them and that their table was still waiting. On a bad night, I could see myself taking a more direct approach, like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, wailing away on that new Corvette…”Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass???”….sure, I’d be a local hero and I could count on my service industry compadres happily chipping in to post bail, but long story short- I don’t belong in that world. I leave the hosting and the cooking to the professionals. May God have mercy on their souls.
ANYWAY, here is some carnage…..I won’t go into instructional detail, go and learn this shit for yourself, but it basically goes- cut off the jowls, skin them, cut out the inner and outer cheeks, make stock with what remains on the head, make headcheese with the chopped up bits and the stock, rub the jowls down with a spice mixture and cure them in the fridge for guanciale, and braise the cheeks.
Social media and the millions of food blogs allow whatever is new (or OLD recently made new once again) to be pounced upon with extreme prejudice…it’s not enough to know where your favorite food truck is going to be parked, you have to track it on an app via GPS. The chocolate Boulevard Beer debacle….fortunes made and reputations tainted within hours. While I don’t see Local Pig needing security to keep the throngs of Twits in line, I am sure there will soon be specific products that will disappear minutes after they are available. No harm no foul there, again, I’m not venturing into possessive mode….the whole thing just speaks to the ultra-modern desperation to leverage that 1890’s goodness. We want it to be authentic and artisanal, but we also demand that it be available immediately and in an unlimited supply.
Another thing that has fascinated me over the past couple of years, in a town this size dealing with overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations in regard to foodie hipsterness, is the parasitic relationship between expat foodies and the native malcontents. I use the term “foodie” negatively here, because I just don’t like it….”foodie” is what someone who doesn’t really know about food has to use to describe themselves in order for everyone to know it’s their thing. It’s like someone with an honorary degree insisting you call them “Dr.”, or the whole “Life Coach” concept…the shit that Napoleonic complexes are made from. You know, the “maestro” episode of Seinfeld. I like to eat at local restaurants, buy local products and cook like a madman. If I’m too cool for ANYTHING, it’s calling myself a “foodie”….if you HAVE to put a fucking name on it, then I’d prefer something like “Stud Powercock” or “Consumptive Whore”.
So…the expat foodies…those people who have come from much larger metropolitan areas and can never pass up an opportunity to point out why whatever we have that manages to be edible is still not nearly as good as the worst version in the magical land from whence they come. I’m convinced that these people just couldn’t hack it in the big city, and if we knew the real truth about their foodie exploits in that town it would be like finding out that the alleged former football hero at work who won’t shut up about the good old days was actually the kid who showered in his underwear after riding the bench at every game. Nobody who actually knows anything has to talk that much shit. If it were not for their parasitic twin, the native foodie malcontent, they may actually shut the fuck up at some point. But no, the malcontents keep them well fed with an inferiority complex that they must assume is shared, or should be, by everyone in this town. EXAMPLE: Whenever there is an article or online discussion about the availability of vegetarian food in Kansas City the expats will predictably chime in with the usual shit about their hometown, and I can forgive that to a point, it’s the one thing they’ve got. But those other dicks, who are FROM here are so quick to pile on….and it’s always framed in an incredibly patronizing and self aggrandizing manner….”unfortunately Kansas City isn’t as ENLIGHTENED as the more PROGRESSIVE cities with which I am intimately familiar”. Yes, intimately familiar. When you consulted your Zagat’s NYC to look up “vegetarian restaurants” before your three day choir trip, there were four pages of listings in Manhattan alone. When you looked up Zagat rated “vegetarian restaurants” in Kansas City, they didn’t even list Fud yet….just Eden Alley and Bluebird Bistro…which sent you into a spiral because the two places listed by Zagat’s weren’t broken out into fifteen subcategories like NYC. The height of unenlightenment. Zagat’s, Yelp, and pouting at Outback Steakhouse because you won’t venture two miles from home…that’s your wheelhouse. Even the stupid expat realizes you’re a fucking retard, but you’re the only lackey they’ve got, so they live with it.