Work is work—but some days are better than others.
Lenny Russo had a good week this week, inking a big deal with Bon Appetit Catering to run the food-service operations at the new Guthrie Theater when it opens this spring. Russo’s challenge will be huge, not just in how he cooks or operates the restaurants, (I hear there will be four food-service revenue streams), but in how much he gets to reach out and touch the food. Many chefs are great cooks, some great businessmen, but the HUGE growth in Russo’s business will mean operating more as an executive manager and operator instead of the toiling, hardworking chef on the line that he has been so successful at for so long. Control lessens as the bank account deepens, so while no one deserves the success more than Russo, who last year was my pick for hardest working chef in town (Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's December 2005 issue), the Icarus syndrome can be haunting.
Flying too high, too fast, with the wrong equipment has been trying for several local chefs as they have sought to expand their empires. David Fhima had much success at Mpls Café, but for me the quick growth and weighty organizational challenges of running so many restaurants has had a negative impact on quality and performance. On the other side of the city Stewart Woodman at Five is, from all appearances, also finding it a challenge to own and operate his own business compared to the heady days at Levain where he was responsible for the restaurant alone. When you are the boss, handyman, chef, HR manager, and have to answer to investors or banks or corporate partners, the job of putting out great food is irrevocably changed. Good luck to anyone who embarks on that wild ride.
Brenda Langton is opening her second restaurant, across the street from the Guthrie, and putting together a farmer’s market out the back door of the Mill City Museum (also down the road from the new Guthrie), making this little corridor quite a food destination. I am confident that Brenda’s new eatery will be delightful. She knows how to run a restaurant, but am I the only one who thinks that while the market is a great idea and a fabulous service to provide, its chance of success is almost nil? I have seen more satellite farmer’s markets close than I can count due to lack of interest from farmers unwilling to stand all day to sell very little product or from an inability to compete with the larger markets in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Chicago and Milwaukee both have vibrant city markets and almost all the independent satellite markets have closed due to lack of interest. And the seasons here don’t help, they hurt because just when you create some positive critical mass it’s November…and no amount of new apartment and lofts on the river can help with that cold reality.
Has anyone noticed that Jeremy Iggers's recent reviews of Trocaderos and Copper Bleu both climaxed with him awarding them three stars each—making them outrank Masa in his eyes (two and a half stars)? Anyone out there who can tell me how a star ranking system does anything else other than muddy the waters for the reader, please let me know. You can’t compare experiences at these places, and worse, Masa is twice the restaurant that these places are put together. Jus' one man’s opinion.
New website alert! Food Porn Watch is a new site I found that is hysterical, and there are some groovy blogs and links from there that any food freak would enjoy checking out.