Tag Archives: fine dining

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.

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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.


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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.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

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.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

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.

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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….

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

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.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Best Food of 2012…

A few things…

#1- My “best of’s” always come after the first of the year.  This is due in part to the fact that I procrastinate, but also because I’m superstitious about discovering a place or a dish during the last week of the year that will torture me for twelve months before I can put it on the next “best of”.

#2- It’s harder than I thought to wrangle food folks for interviews over the holidays when they are busy as hell, but I continue to compile Squander Log talking points that don’t read like a goddamn Susie-the-foodie-got-herself-a-blog blog.

And #3- I’ve been preoccupied as shit for a very good reason.  The luxuries of not doing something for money or popularity include the ability to achieve greatness in writing very sporadically, and to be unfettered with worries such as….“If I include a Best Place to Get a Handy category, will it hurt my chances of becoming a “name” Kansas City Blogger?!?!?!?!?!”  (It’s Manifesto…I mean, I’m not speaking from experience and I’m not trying to be a disrespectful asshole here, it’s a fantastic place, but come on. It’s dark. You can’t tell me nobody has gotten pregnant in there.) I like doing something that my friends can enjoy that is just fucked up enough to eliminate any potential awkwardness that comes with the ubiquitous “I mentioned you on my blog. Can you please promote my blog?  It can help drive traffic to my blog. I have a blog. And I said you were good there. Can you please promote my blog?” horseshit.    If I say something good about you, it’s for your entertainment as well as my own.  The Handjobs-At-Manifesto thing is up at the top to protect you from sharing this all over the place. And I’m not saying my writing is any good, but there sure is a lot of it.  Respect the bulk of my best of list you sonsofbitches.

AND HERE ARE YOUR WINNERS!

Greatest Name in the Entire History of Any Type of Business”- Little Freshie   

They also win the award for “Wish it Was Closer to Home”, because I want to roll in there in my pajamas and somehow having to cross the river to get there makes it prohibitive.  I love Little Freshie, everything about it is good.  Seventy five years from now when the neighborhood has flip-flopped between gentrified/ghetto/gentrified/ghetto a few more times, I want it to be the local business with inexplicable staying power….similar to Italian Delight in KCK.

Fiercest Local Rivalry That Only I Am Aware Of”- Local Pig vs. Paradise Locker  

I’ll keep this limited to the topic of sausages in order to keep it brief.   Which is better?  The over the top flavor and texture of Local Pig’s goat chorizo, or the sustained deliciousness and flexibility of Paradise Locker’s smoked hot kielbasa?  I could reframe that question with various products that I love from both vendors, but it would all be the same scenario….which is better- foie gras or a Wagyu ribeye?  Uni or Razor Clams?  It all depends on the moment and the meal….all I can say is I shop at both places and they both serve a great purpose.  Paradise Locker is like home for me, if a steak is being grilled or a pork shoulder is being smoked at my home, there is a 99% chance it’s from Trimble.  When I’m in an experimental mood or hankering for a dash of depravity, Local Pig is a sure bet.  Meat eaters in Kansas City have many delicious conundrums through which they can fly on wings of caulfat.

 “Best Special Dinner That Needs to Happen in 2013”- Pasta Thunderdome with Howard Hanna and Michael Beard

I’m fucking serious.  I would give up my dream of an Offal Dinner in The Rieger’s PDR….twice….to make this happen.

Best Brunch”- Bo Ling’s   

There are 3 things about Brunch that suck. #1- No longer having hangovers that make breakfast food an option I actually give a shit about around noon on a weekend. #2- Choosing from a limited menu at a restaurant with a much larger menu any other time, because you always want something that’s not available and only a HUGE asshole asks for favors when dealing with a staff that probably got about 90 minutes of sleep between dinner service and brunch. #3- And this doesn’t really fit, but I want to complain about it anyway…people who try a favorite restaurant you’ve been recommending forever, but they go for brunch and then come bitch to you about “I’m not sure why you think that place is so special…..blah blah blah, all they had was eggs and you said they were very creative, blah blah blah, I deserve to be cuckolded, blah blah blah”.  ANYWAY- dim sum is the ultimate choice for brunch.  Bo Ling’s now opens at 10am on the weekends, and over the past few years my wife and I have whittled down a must-have selection of the best dishes.  So you can go choose from five goddamn dishes somewhere else or join us for the magical caravan at some point.

Best Beverage”-  Goya Ginger Beer  

Even if Chris Conatser hadn’t moved to goddamn Oregon and I could go have my onion shrub at Justus on a whim, I think I’d still pick this “Jamaican Style” Ginger Beer as the finest drink in all the land.  It’s like a delicious pepper spray in that you cannot breath through your nose and mouth at the same time as you bring it to your face or it will choke you the fuck out.  It burns and it gets the blood moving…an aperitif, digestif and palate cleanser all in one.  To compare it to any other soft drink would be like comparing the finest Van Winkle bourbon to a stale pool of simian urine evaporating in the Congo mud.

Best New Pork Dish”- Pig Tails at Port Fonda   

They also win the category “Some of the Best Reading on Yelp!”.  I’ve been loving some Port Fonda since the first lengua tacos were passed to me from the airstream window, so I’m a bit biased.  Their food is consistently great, and I am not scared of the hipster hordes,  Joco folks gone a-slummin’, the unimpressed moneyed people from the coasts, or foodies who bitch about how much cheaper the food would be at some magical taco truck tucked in the colon of a sketchy underpass.  The pig tails are everything that is good about a hot wing…but made of pork.  The food, the space and service are good enough to draw me from my anti-social hole to fucking Westport, so that says a LOT. And I personally like the music loud because I am happy to sacrifice some conversational abilities at my table if it means I can’t hear conversations at other tables, because that’s just how I am.  So, a third impromptu award for Port Fonda….”Best Inadvertent Enforcement of Personal Space”.

Best Appetizer”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s   

This is on the list every year, and will remain. The Italian Nachos are fantastic, some of the best food in the world.  They have no equal.

Best Burger”- The Jacobson Burger at The Jacobson  

Needlessly rich, huge and awesome.  Before you write off the “boutique burger” as a concept and turn into one of those Town Topic Nazis, go try this burger.  If you don’t like it, then you’ve got much bigger problems than an obsession with burger theory.  Rumor has it that Chef Smith held the record as biggest baby born in Chicago for an extended period of time….and THAT is the type of man you can trust to serve a great hamburger.

Meat of the Year”- Rabbit!

I give 2012 to rabbit in the hopes that 2013 will be goat. We’re starting to see some great goat-y foodstuffs, but between the bbq bunny at The Rieger (and the grilled rabbit hearts, and the poached kidneys in the steak and rabbit kidney pie, rabbit livers in the pasta….), the rabbit ravioli at 715 and a number of stuffed rabbit leg/loin dishes at Justus….this was the year of the goddamn rabbit.  Oh, and just FYI…while it may never end up as a staple on local menus, within the next 2 years I’d like to see horse on special.  Those of you who would cook it know who you are.  Let’s get on it.  If not horse, then at least get some spleen in the offal rotation.

Best Offal Discovery”- Rabbit! 

See parenthetical comments above.

Best Value”- it is a tie between the lunch deals at 715 and the $39 four course tasting menu at Room 39 (do a blind tasting).

Show of Respect to a Local Icon”- Farm to Market Bread   

As we were eating a loaf of sourdough along with some homemade KC Steak Soup the other night, it struck me….damn if we don’t eat a lot of Farm to Market Bread.   With the exception of various on-sale sandwich breads, FTM has sneakily become more of a workhorse in our kitchen.  I am crazy about bread and would never limit myself to FTM…Fervere, Le Monde, Bloom and New Traditionalist are other great examples that come to mind, but the bread we buy “as a staple” is most often Farm to Market (and sometimes I get the vibe from people that they are now “too big to still be cool”..which is bullshit).  Grains Galore is practically a meat substitute for me.  I’m trying to think of some smartassery to throw in here, but I’ve got nothing. Good bread is beautiful.

Greatest Food Related Words Uttered in 2012”- “What if Stroud’s served GOOD chicken?” (Anonymous)

 “The Thing I Managed to Fit Into Every Conversation This Year”-  Bossa from Green Dirt Farm   

I’d eaten Bossa before the Bourdain KC episode aired, but I had not insanely over-indulged in it.  And insane over-indulgence is how Bossa needs to be enjoyed.  Sitting and eating an entire, ripe and runny, funked out to the point of being questionable Bossa, or plunging it into the middle of a par-cooked frittata cooked over an open fire (as seen at Green Dirt Farm) is the only way to go.  Get the one that just reeks like hell and tear it up.  Pop the top and discover why it wins a second award- “Best Aroma to Make a Pregnant Woman Gag and Heave”.

Best Membership”- Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch  

I know that my constant food-driven monologue mostly centers around my own interests and consumption, but anyone who really knows me knows that I’m pretty serious about supporting and promoting local businesses and producers whenever possible.  A huge part of the enjoyment of a meal comes from not only knowing the people who prepare your food, but the people who grow your food…and meeting other likeminded individuals who share your enthusiasm and learning from them as well.  Howard’s is a great example of what makes me love the food community in Kansas City…we are all about collaboration in this town.  I get pretty tunnel-visioned with my favorite local producers and suppliers, so it’s nice to learn there are far more of them out there than I even knew about, and Howard’s is a “hub” of sorts that provides great alternative sources in a very convenient manner.   This is a place that I constantly wish wild success because its success will be good for all of us.

 “Best Place Where I Try to Find Something Wrong In Order to Bust Some Good-Natured Balls But Never Can”- Bluestem  

They just kill it at Bluestem.  I only splurge on a dining room meal there once or twice a year, and when I do I like to go into sub-atomic breakdown coastal-foodie mode just to sharpen my chops.  I’ve been eating there since they opened, and with all of the great new restaurants that have arrived since then I’ll do the whole “is Bluestem still staying on top of it?” inner dialogue on the way there.  Then they deliver. Every time.  Composition, technique and flavor co-existing in perfect harmony. They make incredibly fucking good food.

The Finest and Most Exclusive Invitation-Only Dining Event of the Year”- White Trash Picnic at The Rieger   

Oh my word, what a time!  I’m not sure how we’ll handle invitations this year, but it’s safe to say that if you received a golden ticket last year, you’re grandfathered in this year.  And it will definitely be happening again this summer.  Some items like the crockpot meatballs and scalloped potatoes will probably have to remain on the menu to avoid rioting, but we’ll come up with some new stuff as well.  I’ve already discussed a unique idea for a Jello mold with Howard that will impress and delight.  No better place and no better staff to pull this off every year than our friends at The Rieger.  We will hit a new level of trashy.

 “Best Roadtrip-Worthy Dining Destination”- Lincoln Café in Mt. Vernon, Iowa  

I kid you not, take the five hour drive and check this place out.  Perfect concept, perfect execution.  This is the restaurant that needs to exist on every little Main Street in America.  For specifics you can always look at my lengthy writeup- https://unsavedlovedones.com/2012/04/23/lincoln-cafe-mt-vernon-iowa/

 “Best New Home Away From Home That Isn’t The Rieger”- Remedy   

Favorite restaurant in KC- The Rieger.  Favorite people in KC- The Rieger.  BUT we are always looking for places where the food is good enough, interesting enough, and shows a potential for evolution that will make us anticipate each new menu.  When the mood is laid back, the staff loves the food, and the restaurant can serve the dual purpose of a weeknight meal on a whim and a budget AND a full-blown Saturday date night meal…we have a winner.  We love Remedy.  It is the newest member of our rotation and will get our repeat business.  Eggplant fries, Sweet Potato Banh Mi, Pork Belly….three things they currently serve that are perfect examples of food everyone should eat often.

Favorite Way to Be Cool Without Growing Ironic Facial Hair or Listening to Shit Music That All Sounds Like that Mumford Pussy With a Violinist Who is NO GODDAMN WARREN ELLIS While Crafting Repurposed Goods With Old World Tools And Being Smug About It. And Wearing Clothing with Hooks Instead of Buttons Until I Realize It’s a Pain in the Ass.”-  Crossroads Social Club    

I’m not a cool guy, my main talent in the food scene is my ability to hold down a seat and run my yap, so I’m treating this like Fight Club.   I will say that I appreciate the spirit of the club as well as the people, and how it serves as a great equalizer that strips away the bullshit and lets us all get straight into the enjoyment of good food and loud interaction.  My only other comment is that if a motherfucker no-shows, that motherfucker should pay in blood.  But I guess that is a general belief that I hold close.  And I say it here because someone who actually has to deal with customers but can’t openly shame that particular brand of idiot in front of his woman can live vicariously if only for a moment.

Best Place for Group Dining”- 715

And by group dining, I’m not talking about someplace that has been beaten into submission by large families fresh from church who monopolize the entirety of time and space and then tip like crap.  I’m talking about some next level Seal Team Six shit.  People. Who. Know. How. To. Get. It. Done.  Anywhere between six and twenty quality individuals, and someone probably already thought ahead and gifted the kitchen with a bottle of whiskey.  Whether it’s six OR twenty people, you pretty much order the whole menu and the act of dining is a fun-filled collaboration between you, the servers and the cooks.  It’s a guaranteed good time. And if you’re NOT having a good time you’re at least smart enough to stay the hell out of everyone else’s way.  And the method of settling the check is “whatever is easiest”.  I don’t drink. I don’t buy alcohol. BUT I am giddy as shit to pay my share of the booze portion of the tab if it serves the purpose “whatever is easiest”.  And I don’t have to worry about people taking advantage because they are vetted dining professionals!  There is no on the job training. You need to bring these skills with you. Start by approaching twenty strangers in a restaurant and eating from their utensils. When that no longer bothers you, you’re on your way. The best place in the entire area for this meal to happen?  It’s 715.  It’s magical. Ask for extra Calabrian chile oil. And the entire menu.

So cheers to you 2012, blah blah blah…..gratuitous wishes for 2013, blah blah blah.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Best Of, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, 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

Location: Midwest

Industry: Cooking

Topic: Employees

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.

002:  Absolutely.

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.

002:  Yeah.

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…

002:  BAWLS!

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!

 

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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 End

 

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Photography, Food Reviews, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

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.

Special app of the night- homemade cotechino sausage over Italian lentils w/spinach and preserved lemon. Great level of spice and fat, salt from the preserved lemon, earthiness of the lentils and sweet spinach....

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.

One of our surprise "extras" from the chef...housemade charcuterie sliced right, thin enough to melt really nice on your tongue. A fantastic chorizo on the right, with the perfect hit of funk to it, and if I remember correctly, a good and fatty Italian salami.

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”.

Surprise course #2- homemade pasta with a braised pork shoulder ragu and fava beans. Very rich, just a killer because we each got a bowl of this...great texture to the pasta, favas are a smart addition to wedge something fresh and clean in there.

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.

We had two out of the three nightly specials- this one was a very, very high quality piece of butter poached salmon with some very light gnocchi, asparagus, leeks and citrus bechamel....solid dish, both entrees contained proteins my wife named the best version of either she's ever had.

Lamb with green garlic and fava beans, falafel and meyer lemon ricotta....awesome amount of crisp sear and fat on the lamb, reminded me a lot of great Colorado lamb, but this was from Australia. Great dish at any restaurant, anywhere.

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.

We pretty much had to order dessert even though they had almost killed us at this point...chocolate cake with different citrus and coconut sorbet. Well composed with good balance of sweet, rich and tart.

Most fun surprise dish of the night....the chef took some of the Shatto cotton candy milk we brought them and created a custard with it, accompanied with different elements like peanuts, apple sorbet and funnel cake...creating the perfect homage to fairground classics. Excellent dessert, and they sent two...excellent, but also brutal. We were shocked to be hungry again by breakfast.

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.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Annoying Customer 2.0

There is an inspired conversation happening all across the Midwest right now, and with an abundance of talent in Kansas City positioning our town to be THE next big food destination, the conversation that all of us industry outsiders with a camera, a blog and a subscription to Lucky Peach are having sounds exactly like THIS…..

 TRUDY: So did you have dinner at The Second Coming yet? …….HA! HA! HA! RHETORICAL!!!!

 TAD: HA!….Yeah, made it to the first night of the pre-soft opening dinners before they do the actual soft opening.  Just fabulous….the food…and what they’ve done to utilize the repurposed lawn furniture while still maintaining the integrity of that abandoned mine mirrors the inherent generosity of the menu.

 TRUDY: Agreed.  When our server told me “No seriously, you really need to stay over here, that section of the mine isn’t safe yet”, I knew the food was going to have a lot to live up to…and it did. BUT…you were there that first night of the pre-soft opening?   Did you get stuck with a later seating?  We didn’t see you at the first one.

 TAD: Actually, we managed to get the last two spots at family meal, totally different menu.  We had rabbit sausage water and the crusts off the mini grilled cheese sandwiches that came with whatever you guys ate.

 TRUDY: OH! I HEARD about that!  So jealous!

 TAD: Yeah, but of COURSE, as USUAL, annoying Trip and Jenny scored the ultimate reservation.  They actually rode TO the restaurant with Chef Schvantz Grande and ate Wendy’s drive-thru on the way, then dessert course sitting on a box in the walk-in.

 TRUDY: Fuckers. I was wondering why I kept seeing those weird status updates of their middle fingers next to a Frosty and a big basket of chanterelles. 

 TAD: Well, they have money and tons of connections from their corporate non-food circles as a built-in marketing tool, therefore they have the most popular and respected food blogs.

 TRUDY: So I guess it’s safe to say that the next big trend is eating fast food with your local chefs?

 TAD: I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and while popular bloggers with major PR connections who get way more “Likes” than I do annoy me, I have to say…they may be on to something.  I mean, I’m starting to see meat and cheese from local producers in major grocery stores, even my mom belongs to a CSA now…these are both problems that indicate we’re hitting a level of saturation that will spawn the next big trend.  I think it’s fair to compare the current local, sustainable, farm to table trend with more of a Neoclassical approach to cuisine if we are still considering cooking an art form, in that it has managed to recapture a former grace and grandeur in its simplicity.  With what appears to be a trend where dining is more like theatre, and the artists themselves choose fast food over a waning locavore movement, one could make the argument that we are moving into more of a Mannerist period that emphasizes structure over nature.

 TRUDY: Isn’t that from the foreword to “Modernist Cuisine”?

 TAD: No, you probably saw it on my blog post about how the only legitimate food blogs are ones that will agree to a set of rules like Dogme film directors.  Oh, and if you have actually have a job in the industry there is a handicapping score you have to agree to as well.  AND if you’re a chef with more than one restaurant you have to let everyone else weigh in on a topic first.

 TRUDY: That’s it!  Well, great observation, and it’s a shame to see the toll that locavorism is taking on the food scene.  Just when things started getting good, did you read that piece the fucking Star did on Midwestern Cuisine? What fucked up timing.  

 TAD: Oh yeah….from Silva’s lips to Bourdain’s ears to the fat asses of the Paula Deen crowd. I am not sharing my space with those buffet behemoths on a Saturday night.

 TRUDY:  I know, I really think that the exclusivity that comes with niche dining is the only way any of us who aren’t in the industry are going to be able to get recognition IN the industry……being the best at eating food is not that hard to achieve…carving out a loyal audience of people who appreciate the unique way in which you chronicle your eating- THAT is the difficult part.

 TAD: Oh, not to interrupt, but back to that rabbit sausage water from family meal….perfect example of something we’re going to lose before it got a proper start.  You know much about Chef Grande’s new sous chef?

 TRUDY: I’ve only heard the rumors that he quit his chef position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in order to spend the last seven years staging across the American southwest.  Oh, and that he will NOT buy a piece of cutlery outside of a garage sale.

 TAD: Yeah, very different dude, real dedication to the craft.  From an aboriginal family.

 TRUDY: I thought he was just Mexican. He just goes by Segundo.

 TAD: Wow, nice racism.

 TRUDY: Saying Mexican is racist?  I thought Aboriginal was racist….you’re supposed to say indigenous I think.

 TAD: Christ, okaaaayyyyyy…so is he an INDIGENOUS Mexican or an INDIGENOUS Australian?

 TRUDY: You ate his sausage water, I figured you’d already know that.

 TAD: HA! Totally fucking with you, I DO know….the little bastard is Australian.  But I’ve been telling everyone he’s Mexican to put them off the trail until I can blog about it.

 TRUDY: You’re pretty good.  But I don’t get the cloak and dagger over naming Segundo’s heritage.

 TAD:  He’s just a very enigmatic character.  You see his Facebook page?

 TRUDY: Yeah, that’s kind of what threw me off with his name and all, his photo is just a blank, black space.

 TAD: Ding! Ding! Ding, Matey!  He is from the old school, still thinks the camera will take his soul.

 TRUDY: VERY old school…. Very abandoned mine.

 TAD: So there’s THAT, and if you’ve ever seen him stir a risotto or a roux, you’d have noticed something very peculiar…

 TRUDY: Ohhhhh, right right right, I haven’t seen him cook but  I assume what you’re getting at is that piece you did on tribalism and the significance of handmade wooden spoons…..the whole…

 TAD: COREOLIS EFFECT!  Our little friend from the southern hemisphere only stirs to the left!

 TRUDY:  And I know he’s responsible for the latest trend in butchery and sausage making…using the dying breath of an animal to blow open the end of the casing before you thread it onto the machine.  Makes me feel really bad for Chef Grande.

 TAD: How so?

 TRUDY: I mean, he put a lot of work into getting zoning permits for that mine, and he’s bravely sticking to his guns with the fading farm to table fad, but his restaurant is pretty much over with.

 TAD: Trudy, he hasn’t even opened the restaurant yet!  They’re still busy selling out the series of soft openings! What the fuck?

 TRUDY: You’re kind of proving my point.  Already proven it actually with all of your enthusiasm for Segundo, whose first service at Second Coming was also his last.  The unknown Sous Chef IS the new Celebrity Chef.  THAT is the real trend that will put Kansas City on the map.  Terms like “ingredient-driven”, making up new names for the same old regional cuisines….that is all last-gasp material.  At one point the trend was for a chef to grow up in a smaller town, get trained and open a restaurant in a larger city that highlighted their culinary roots.  THEN you had those same people come BACK to their hometown like a king returning from battle, open a restaurant, and combine what they grew up eating with whatever they learned abroad.  We’re still in that “chefs returning home” trend, and it has hit such a point of saturation that pretty much anyone can eat stuff you only saw in the major food blogs.  When my own mother knows what sous vide is, things are getting too weird.

 TAD: I see your point, I can’t say I disagree, but…I feel kind of sick, like I’ve been set up here.

 TRUDY: I’m so sorry!  I was afraid that would happen!

 TAD: I mean, you obviously knew more than you led me to believe…

 TRUDY: I’m sorry, you were just so enthusiastic and I’ve always admired your work and level of knowledge…and now it’s like watching a dying comet.  But I mean that in a good way.

 TAD: Okay. I guess.  I just figured my focus would always allow me to predict any upcoming food movements.  I guess I got to a point where my ability to be the first to do what nobody else would be doing for another few months put me in a dangerous comfort zone…..

 TRUDY: Tad, I’m sorry, but don’t feel bad about your outdated methods. It was bound to happen eventually. But the good news is, there is a brighter world to come!

 TAD: Yeah, I trust you. It’s just a hell of a paradigm shift.  So go ahead…it is obvious you are DYING to get on with the Segundo intel……

 TRUDY: It has literally been killing me this whole time!  And I wouldn’t even know any of this if Segundo himself hadn’t walked in to my office to inquire about a graphic design for his upcoming “Real Chefs Stir to the Left” social media blitz. 

 TAD: Do tell, sensei.

 TRUDY: SO- the whole premise is based on two things: First, try to name one sous chef at any of your favorite restaurants.

 TAD: I can’t. Oh, Segundo.

 TRUDY: EXACTLY!  Being unknown or, God forbid, the “best kept secret” isn’t enough anymore…it’s over with.  Now it’s a matter of literally nobody knowing who in the fuck you are.

 TAD: But we know Segundo. WE know who he is.

 TRUDY: Obviously, and I could explain that but I was sworn to complete secrecy on most of the details…let’s just say that on opening night, as the first seating begins, Segundo is going to pass out disposable cameras and “sell his soul”.

 TAD: Hooooly shit.  Now THAT…is dedication to his art.  I mean, there was that trend where traditional Chinese chefs were cutting off their braids after reading bad Yelp reviews, but that petered out quick…there’s only a finite number of braids and hair takes so long to grow back…..ANYWAY, can you divulge the NAME of this new restaurant?

 TRUDY: SOFT OPENING!

 TAD:  The man leaves during a soft opening to open Soft Opening….totally next level stuff….

 TRUDY:  Balls-Out is the new Next Level….just FYI…you probably want to stop saying next level.

 TAD: Thanks, so anyway…enlighten me on premise NUMERO SEGUNDO!  Sorry, that was stupid, had to do it…

 TRUDY:  Second thing is really simple…the next trend is the last trend.

 TAD: Huh?

 TRUDY: The NEXT trend is whatever the trend before it was….and do NOT fucking mention this to anyone when I tell you the menu for opening night….but to illustrate the point, Segundo’s first menu is going to revolve around Gourmet Hot Dogs and Macarons using sustainable ingredients.

 TAD: Nice!  I totally get it now….wow, you can take that and run with it. 

 TRUDY: Totally. To get his point across he’s opening with a really obvious one, but I think in the fall he’s just going to make “Umami” the trend again.

 TAD: So you just keep going backwards in order to keep it fresh…..so, like, in a couple of years he could work his way BACK to doing sliders, or a noodle bar….just advertise the SHIT out of the fact he uses a local coffee roaster…

 TRUDY:  Comfort food, cupcakes, deconstruction, pine nuts, low carb…..it’s pretty endless.

 TAD: But you KNOW, at some point the food is going to get kind of shitty…and not in that “I’m making an ironic gesture towards molecular gastronomy in order to out-Achatz you” kind of way, but genuinely crappy…I mean, there is some nightmarish aspic and overcooked asparagus-laden crap when Haute Cuisine first made its way across the pond….

 TRUDY: And THAT is the process, you nailed it exactly.  The latest trend is made up of incrementally fading trends, and exclusivity for foodies becomes the desire to eat food that fewer and fewer people even give a shit about anymore. And the fact that the food starts tasting worse and more predictable with each year, really shows you who the die-hard, dedicated people are.

 TAD: Eating bad food cooked by a chef that nobody even knows about….welcome to the future, where in a few years we won’t have to sneer at being called a foodie and we know it because it’s predetermined….it’s like some kind of goddamn culinary supralapsarian genius….

 TRUDY: Shit man, you’re going to be GREAT at this…..supralapsarian….hang on to that shit, there’s not a foodie PR schmoe in the world who can compete with THAT.

 TAD: And perhaps, one day you will have to pass the role of teacher back to ME!

 TRUDY: I have to pee.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Nurture My Pig…

 

Basically the coolest possible mural...

 
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a pretty cool event at the soon to open butcher shop- Local Pig…it was the first in a series of pig butchery classes sponsored by Slow Foods Kansas City and taught by Chef and Owner of Local Pig, Alex Pope. The series will go from nose to tail, and this weekend’s instruction focused on the head….braised cheeks, guanciale made from the jowls, pork stock and headcheese created from boiling the trimmed head. On the way there, I couldn’t get a recent Portlandia skit out of my head….possibly the most brilliant one I’ve seen thus far….where everything was just like it was “back in the 90’s”….the 1890’s. Butchering, canning, pickling, microbrewing, handlebar moustaches, and the excessive amount of untrimmed facial hair that is a requirement these days for that “hillbilly hipster” look. Actually, you can’t ding Kansas City too much for getting back to a time where anyone who doesn’t live here in “flyover country” apparently assumes still exists…just like it did back in the 1890’s.
 

The key to a magical afternoon in a young man's life...

This is my pig head. There are many like it but this one is mine.

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”.

Class #1 down, three to go....cannot wait for the grand opening.

 

Cool storefront...

 

The front counter and meat case...

 

Looking back into the kitchen and workspace...

 

The "wish list", I am personally wishing they'd put Pad Thai Pate at the top of the list

 

In addition to meat products, they'll offer different salts, rubs, spices, nuts and house infused honeys...

 
 
Offal and charcuterie are two of my favorite things…ever. I kid you not. Even shitty stuff…..I’ll eat the hell out of that horrible braunschweiger in the orange-yellow tube from Price Chopper, canned deviled ham, I’ve never met a cheap piece of pepperoni I didn’t love. They could just come up with a line of processed meats called “GOUT” and I’d be the first in line to try it. SO WHEN I GET AHOLD OF THE GOOD STUFF…..watch out. This is another point at which, if I were an actual food writer, I’d give you the rundown of all of our local sausage makers, artisanal charcuterie gurus, and tie it all together with some historical info and a humorous anecdote or two….but again…LAZY! Justus Drugstore’s Farmer’s Platter, as well as whatever the guys at The Rieger have on the current menu, and most recently the sweet goodness at 715 are all examples of must-try charcuterie as well as nose to tail cooking in general. Different textures all in one bite, unctuousness, richness…there just isn’t anything like it. So when I showed up at Local Pig for our class, it was nice to find that our hosts had gone above and WAY beyond to guarantee us some quality deliciousness…..and they have scratch and sniff business cards.
 
 

Grass fed beef meatballs and guanciale...with a touch of tablescape.

 

Another shot of the food, it was way beyond what I expected for classroom snacks.

 

The money shot....if it doesn't excite and entice you, then it's because you have a rotten soul.

 

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.

Lots of meat in that head! I know, that IS what she said!

 

This will take some serious practice, jowls are one thing but getting the inner and outer cheeks will be pure trial and error.

 

Important note: You must skin your jowls, I think...I plan on it anyway. Because no matter how hard you try, it's tough to get those pigs shaved closely enough.

 

This is what a workspace should look like.

 

Guanciale and braised cheeks-to-be

 

Pork stock...first batch you make is with the whole head, sans jowls and cheeks, and then you recook it with all of the meat for headcheese, and THEN you have this...reduce at will.

 

Chopping the chilled meat that will go into the headcheese.

 

The meat for the headcheese is chopped up and ready for the spice mixture....

 

Then a curry blend was added, along with the hot stock and was portioned out for carryout treats....

 
 Now, anyone who has ever read any of my stuff knows one thing…no matter how normal I sound compared to many of my rants, although I’ve been pretty well behaved here, there is no way I’m letting anything out on the web without “share-proofing” it. I have to address the blessing and the curse of social media as it relates to our food community. I’m totally proud of my town, and I’m not one of those over-protective “as soon as people know about it, it’s not cool anymore” pretentious assholes. That said, the popularity of damn near anything brings with it the “great dumbing down for mass consumption and maximum profitability”.  I’ve got a million examples from Paula Deen and pop-up thermometers on turkey to “street tacos” now available at Taco Bueno and those pans where a red dot appears to let you know the goddamn thing is hot.  But here is a favorite of mine….Greek fucking yogurt.  I guess Greek was just easier to fit on the package than “Hey dumbass, we drained it. It has less water. So between that and the cool marketing we charge you more.  We know your ass isn’t going to go and find some fucking cheesecloth to drain your own…so HA HA HA!”. 

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.

 So there you go….Local Pig is opening soon and you need to check it out, and social media is key in turning assholes into major assholes.  I think I’ve got some stuff coming up that may be of interest…as I’m sure I already mentioned I’ll be learning how to make povitica, I’ll go back to some classic religious ranting when I share the tale of the Church At My Grandma’s House, hopefully spring will be here sooner than later, AANNNNNDDD I’m going to buy a meal for anybody who will assist me in doing some site updates here.  Mainly want to get stuff categorized to make it more user friendly, find a better editor than what WordPress gives me, eye-friendly layouts, fonts, that kind of shit….I really don’t get enough traffic to warrant anything major, but if nothing else I need to be more web savvy when it comes to writing/publishing software. AND if that Santorum dipshit gets any more sway he’s going to need his own page on here…..if you’ve been with me for a while you remember 2008…..
 
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All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Charcuterie, Chef Alex Pope, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Local Pig Kanas City, Paradise Locker Meats, Slow Foods Kansas City