I voted last weekend for the second phase of the Beard Awards. Anyone who wants to see the talent pool that my fellow judges and I had to work with can check it out at on the James Beard website or at NY Mag's site here.
I voted for a lot of hometown heroes during this winnowing phase of the process since we were allowed to vote for five nominees in most categories. There were a lot of head scratchers in some categories (more on that later next week), but I got to give some juice to some of the out-of-towners I have dined with throughout the last year. Lee Hefter, Mike Lata, Tony Mantuano, Gabe Rucker, Gavin Kaysen, etc. My old buddy Steve Hanson got one of my nods for Restaurateur of the Year as well.
In Tuesday’s NYT, I read that Robert Irvine got fired. The Dinner Impossible star lied about his background in his CV and told the St. Petersburg Times that he lied because he felt pressure to keep up with the Joneses! Why? He was the anti-star, the mess hall cook. How crazy is this? He didn’t have to make anything up for gosh sakes; he works for the network that airs Sandy Lee, the Neelys, and the numbingly ridiculous Fieri guy.
In the same issue, Peggy Seltzer, who wrote Love and Consequences as Margaret Jones, admitted she fabricated her whole best-selling, critically acclaimed bio a la James Frey. Except, this lady could have written her book as fiction and not lost a damn bit of the story. What gives? Seltzer says she wanted to show readers how the other half lived. Irvine and she have one thing in common: They are full of it. They wanted the . . . and rather than admit that they thought they had to lie to keep it, they keep the spin spinning. He thought he had to be pedigreed to get it, she thought she couldn’t sell fiction. Sad.
The Kathie Jenkins story keeps getting better and better. Friends who were at P & F on opening night spotted her there with a gal pal, so she bashed P & F in a first-peek style blurb, which is ridiculous in the first place since those types of notices should simply be alerts that a place is open along with a description of the look and feel of a joint. To not tell people you were there on opening night when you are lambasting the restaurant is disingenuous. Why do I care? Because I write about food, and I am shocked at the Pi Press editorial policy that allows this to be printed. I believe in transparency when it comes to these sorts of pieces, and Steven Brown is a friend of mine besides being a phenomenal talent. And it comes hot on the heels of her famous Chambers diatribe in last year’s Pi Press where it turned out that she had based some of her writing on a visit there during one of the pre-opening test dinners.
Now, on to the ethics of customer expectations, a question raised by posters to my last blog.
First off to Tony: You are nuts. The idea is to blend art and commerce, especially in the dining world, which is different than the eating world. And if you have the stones, let us know where you work. I am curious. And as someone who attended Doug Flicker’s Beard dinner, all I can say is that not only was the food sublime, but the vibe in the room was indescribable, especially to see Doug’s staff, and their faces, when he was presented with his dream knife. Wow. That night in NYC was the reason I do what I do. It was performance art; you just had to be there.
If a restaurant is taking money for their food, a customer deserves to say what they want about the level of service and quality of food they eat. And it should be good; open means open. But take the Broadway show/restaurant metaphor one step further: When I see The Producers during the first week of its run, I get a less perfect product than I do when it is 100 nights into it. But the energy is amazing, and when I go to see it again, I can compare the performances. I like that, which is why I dine in restaurants early in their lifespan.
A restaurant is a growing, moving, and changing organism. It is thrilling to see, and I always experience less than ideal service early on and eat dishes in need of work regardless of the caliber of eatery. That is par for the course even though I might be paying the same dough for that early dinner as I do for a better one three months later. But that is the fun of seeing a place grow, morph, and become refined. Sometimes the other extreme is disheartening. I have seen The Producers 500 shows in and saw the stars sleepwalk through ‘yet another’ performance. I’ll take the opening week any day over that dud. And even worse, try going to a restaurant, a truly good one, 500 nights into its run. The chef might not even be there!
That’s why I like eating out in good restaurants. It’s about more than the food: It’s about the theater.