I was in NYC trapped in a hotel for four days while Sandy did her best to crush the indomitable spirit of the tri-state community. Too many stories, too many telling it better than me, and you should follow @dineoutnyc @pete_wells @johnny_luzinni @fwscout @dhmeyer @baltzco @kitchensense on Twitter and then go and check out their timelines for info on how to help. If you want to help the restaurant community back east without picking up Twitter, simply pick a city—for me its NYC—go online and buy as many gift cards to restaurants most affected as you possibly can. Spread the wealth, pick plenty of mom ‘n pops, not just swanky joints, pick them geographically (start in lower Manhattan, Queens etc.). The restaurant gets the dollars today, you get a great meal when you fly east on your next trip (and who doesn’t go to NYC?), and we get to help THOSE IN NEED! Those businesses are the ones who consistently are the on the front lines of every recovery effort, providing discounted or free food for every cause-related benefit, you name it. In every city and town in America, it’s the hospitality community that is always there first. Always. Now they need your help. So many eateries lost weeks of revenue, equipment, staff, and many won’t be able to successfully relaunch. Do what you can.
Of course, you can always go to redcross.org and donate there as well. As a born and bred New Yorker, I was in tears watching the news in the hotel lobby where I spent most of my time. I was overjoyed at the restaurants and stores that opened on Monday evening—YES, MONDAY EVENING—just to hand out bottles of water or bread and butter. I was amazed at the generosity of so many that shared apples, stools, pillows, electrical outlets, anything they could to help a friend or a stranger.
Hurricane Sandy (Photo courtesy of NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab)
Two Weird Moments:
The hotel I stayed at on East 49th and Lexington Avenue deserves a HUGE tip of the hat for keeping hundreds calm and providing services to all. I was impressed with every move its staff made, and in the face of screaming, crazed, angry, scared customers they matched the customers insanity with serenity. Bravo. BUT, in the face of food rationing, stressed-out, overworked staff forced to stay in hotel for days on end, two-hour waits for the food items that were available (all expected by the way), and not allowing me to make 10 gallon batches of potato/onion soup in an unused banquet kitchen was not right. First I was told yes, and then no, because non-union peeps can’t cook in the kitchen . . . I get it, you’re a union shop, but in face of a natural disaster of biblical proportions those rules need to go away and we need emergency response proportional to the matters at hand. Any union house should proudly want to allow for a non-union volunteer to make soup during an emergency the size and shape of Sandy.
The second weird moment was walking into a restaurant, facing a two-hour wait for a table, and were told that the food may run out by time we were seated or the menu may be abbreviated. Waiting to leave my name with host, I felt a tap on the shoulder and a restaurant manager whispered that he had a seat for my guests and me, several of whom walked more two miles to get a hot meal, leaving homes with wet ground levels, no electricity, and few prospects for change any time soon. I felt a need to let the lifeboat pass without getting in. Who was I to take that table? Then again, why not? It’s an ageless ethical dilemma; do you take the offered hand, even when it’s out of turn? Had I been alone I would have passed immediately, but I was with five others and they needed some food and love, and my recognizable face got them what they needed. I took the table, and I am grateful for it. The restaurant stayed open around the clock, everyone was served, and while it all “worked out,” it raised an issue that I am asking all to chime in on. So what do you do?
Last Sunday was the second annual Charlie Awards. Huge congrats to all the committee members who have clearly created a unique and lasting event. Second years are the hardest, for sure. While everyone can argue about who deserves what, this year’s honorees reflect a broad swath of choices and most are pretty defendable! Almost every award could have gone to several folks who lost, but the winners are certainly deserving.
2012 Charlie Awards honorees are as follows:
- Lifetime Achievement – Lenny Russo, Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market
- Community Hero – Brenda Langton, Mill City Farmer's Market and Spoonriver Restaurant
- Outstanding Chef – Doug Flicker, Piccolo
- Emerging Food Professionals – Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen, Hola Arepa
- Outstanding Pastry Chef – Michelle Gayer, Salty Tart
- Outstanding Restaurant Service – Meritage
- Outstanding Restaurant – Tilia
- Outstanding Restaurant Design – Bachelor Farmer
- Outstanding Bartender – Johnny Michaels
- Outstanding Neighbor – Randy Stanley, Parasole and Uptown Restaurant Taskforce
- Outstanding Cup of Coffee – Moroccan Mocha from Cahoots Coffee Bar
- Outstanding Local Craft Brew – Summit Saga IPA from Summit Brewing Company
- Food Truck Item – Hola Arepa’s Slow Roasted Pork Arepa
- Outstanding Restaurant Food Item – Masu Robata’s Masu Roll
Charlie Awards (Photo courtesy of Charlie Awards)
Now, you didn’t expect me to go so sweetly into that good night, did you? I think picking restaurants, chefs, designers, brewers, etc. is do-able. And the results reflect that. My favorites didn’t win in every category, but they did in many. My favorite food truck is Chef Shack and it didn’t win, but Hola Arepa is very deserving, and I adore that truck so much so that I featured them last season on my Travel Channel show. Full disclosure, an item from my truck was also nominated. Anyway, back to the point at hand. Is Cahoots a good coffee shop? For sure, but is its Moroccan Mocha the best in show? Same with Masu: Great restaurant, but the Masu Roll isn’t even the best item on its menu! Picking an individual item for excellence is not sustainable. Too broad a spectrum, too narrow a judging lens, too awkward a nominating system . . . The Charlie Awards need to be commended for a job well done, and we salute all the winners and nominees. And I think that if you take away the individual awards for food items and expand the categories to include trucks and bloggers, local cookbooks, etc., you would end up with a much more representative sustainable platform for celebrating excellence. Like 10 “best” lists, the fun is hashing it all out after.
For months I have been talking about the GMO Labeling amendment that was essentially a Truth-in-Labeling vote that sat before the good people of California last Tuesday. Like many, I thought for a variety of reasons that this would pass. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to know what’s in their food, especially genetically modified ingredients? Well, I guess I underestimated the Appetite for Profit that is so eloquently written about in this Michele Simon piece that Mark Bittman sent me late last week. Simon’s blog is a good read on most days; this piece was no exception.
At one point, Simon notes talking about the silver cloud: “But the campaign is still an important step forward in the larger political fight against Big Food, one that raised a lot of awareness about GMOs, food production, and corporate tactics, both in California and nationally. As Twilight Greenaway noted at Grist, win or lose, the effort to pass Proposition 37 in California demonstrates a 'bona fide movement gathering steam.'” I like the sound of that and I agree.
If we are going to change the massive set of problems in the food world, we need to create a social movement. It worked with seat belts in cars, it worked with cigarette warning labels, and it will work here too . . . tell your friends.