It all started out as chutzpah. But perhaps a better snapshot of the Ringo Restaurant Empire might be his recent nomination for induction into my Icarus Award Hall of Fame. Icarus awards are handed out to those that fly with waxwings too close to sun, too high, too fast, too soon.
Remember all of chatter several months back from the Ringo and Forum owner Jim Ringo about re-writing restaurant industry rules? About menus that would be changed monthly and chefs who would function also as general managers? Well, I got home and my inbox was overflowed with notes from friends and Twin Cities dining enthusiasts reporting ominous bits of news from the month-old restaurants. One of my spies told me that he was given a photocopied lunch menu at Forum and when he asked about it was told major changes were occurring. Another dined at Ringo the same week and was repeatedly told menu items were unavailable. The initial opening management structure seems to have splintered, including FOH/Sales & Events manager Don Schier gone.
Does anyone like these restaurants? Who’s been? Any regulars that care to chime in? Is anyone going to Ringo? Not one friend or person I know of has said to me in casual conversation, “Hey, I had lunch last week at Ringo’s” or “We had dinner last night at the Forum.” Where I come from that’s the biggest sign of a stone cold lock of a problem. When no one is talking about your restaurant that means no one is going. Not in sizeable enough numbers to sustain a business.
Now from what I understand of the restaurant world, some ownership groups can afford to keep doors open despite the register not ringing with regularity, but who knows if that is the case here. Time will tell.
Multiple Lumberjack World Champion, sports trainer, world class athlete, Bizarre World alum (Wisconsin episode), and perpetual super fox Shana Martin reminded me that the hippest event of summer is going down and I think you should check it out. Log rolling and boom running is a blast. I love it, and if I wasn’t going to be in where-the-heck-am-i-stan that week, I would be stuffing my face with Ian’s Pizza and rolling logs in Madison with Shana. Check it out.
*****This is definitely the summer of the food truck, and with that comes controversy. Chairman Bao, Bao Truck, Bao House . . . with trademarked businesses selling wares nationally, you have copyright protection issues. What if you are a micro local business with a national reputation at stake? Tempers will fly. I am thinking that if you sell pizza out of a storefront in Eden Prairie and someone else sells pizza from a shop in Edina, no one cares. But put two oven-equipped pizza trucks within a mile of each other and everyone screams foul about idea pilfering and turf wars. I think this will sort itself out as customers around this city and others vote with their feet and find food that matters . . . and eventually a lot of food carts/trucks selling second rate fare will be gone. Until then, everyone thinks their bao or gyro or Italian ice is better than the guys down the street and everyone wants to get every advantage they can over the next guy and the best way to do that is to say that the competition down the street doesn’t belong there. Don’t listen.
*****Anyone see John Mariani’s blog the other week, the one where he hacks away at Tony Bourdain? In case you missed it. Mariani read TB’s newest book in galley form and thinks that in Medium Raw Tony loses his writing mojo! Bullshit. Mariani doesn’t like the way the food world, food celebrity, food writing genres are tilting and then proceeds to take one of my fave Bourdain-isms out of context.
Last year TB was asked about his role as a culinary culture god and Tony (who is in reality a very kind, thoughtful human being) took aim at himself in a humble self-effacing way . . . and like many of us who feel lucky and blessed to be where we are career-wise, he offered the following bon mot:
I'll live with 'celebrity chef,' or 'television personality,' but in my heart of hearts, I'd put it on the same level as lighting director on porn film, habitual masturbator, or aspiring arsonist.
TB meant that none of us should take ourselves that seriously because, at the end of the day, what we (hybridized TV people, chefs, food freaks, et al) do for a living isn’t all that important. Mariani went on to say of Bourdain:
He once had a novel voice, an iconoclast's passion, but now he has spiraled down to the level of the foul-mouthed bloggers who idolize him. Once he was a valuable demolisher of culinary pretension; now he is a fanatic seeking to shore up his own sick TV persona.
First off, John, don’t speak that way of people I consider friends, taking their words out of context while at the same time unfairly railing on them for taking creative license, especially when you, sir, are doing the same. Second, if you read the book you will wish you could write with as much humor and honesty. I like Mariani’s stuff; I've read him for 20 years, he’s smart and does some great work. BUT he doesn’t have half the voice that Tony does. Third, "spiraling down to the level of food bloggers who idolize him?" C’mon John! What a mean spirited thing to say about the world of the food blogger. This is a typical reaction from writers of a certain generation who are being left behind in the age of new media where the handful of food writers with jobs are finding thousands of talented folks competing for the same readers and the same food junkets to Shanghai to eat dumplings on someone else’s dime!
And last but not least, Tony is the reigning champ of culinary pretension busters. And as someone who knows all the assholes in this business who indeed do fanatically shore up their sick TV personas I can tell you with certainty that TB isn’t one of them.
According to the news wire, Salmonella found in raw alfalfa sprouts appears to have sickened at least 22 people in 10 states, including a baby in Oregon, prompting a nationwide recall of the product from Caldwell Fresh Foods of Maywood, Calif.
The company said the alfalfa sprouts were sold at restaurants, delicatessens, and retailers nationwide. Stores include Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's, Kings Supermarket, Numero Uno, Cardenas Markets, Gonzales Northgate Markets, Jons Marketplace, and Canton Foods, mostly in California. The official word from the state of Oregon was that the sprouts may have gone to more than 400 stores, including Wal-Marts in several states. Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment. The recalled alfalfa sprouts were sold in plastic cups and plastic bags under the Caldwell Fresh Foods brand, plastic cups under the Nature's Choice brand, and plastic containers under the California Fresh Exotics brand. What a horror show.
I just came back from two weeks of traveling and I spent one of those weeks in Syria. In that country, everything, and I mean everything, is fresh and the channel between farm (or producer) and consumer is short, straight, and uncomplicated. Public health poisoning is essentially non-existent there for a simple reason: Even in the biggest cities, all the people shop in neighborhood markets where each day farmers, cheese makers, butchers, and so on bring whatever they have made, grown, or portioned into their shops. Fruit never touches a fridge or sees a chemical in its formative weeks.
Every day I went to the market, and on the fifth day there was so much hub-bub I thought it was some sort of holiday, but I was wrong. The yellow honey apricots had finally finished tree ripening and had come to market. No one picked them early and forced them to sell. The whole city stopped once the first carts, wagons, and even open air trucks brought them to the souk. And when I tried one I was reminded of the one simple reason why their system works better than ours: taste. Well two really . . . I forgot about public health. Oh, and a third . . . the planet is safer and healthier that way. Whoops, I forgot another . . . the animal and plant kingdoms prefer it that way too.
Now, of course, amongst other incomprehensible facts, Facebook and YouTube are banned in Syria, public freedom of expression is frowned upon, Hezbollah ashtrays are available in trinket shops, and I was followed by secret police all the time (I am sure of it).
What a crazy world.