We are in the midst of a global food crisis. Commodity prices have doubled and tripled, governments are in fear of being toppled by “hunger revolutions,” oil is at a record price, and starvation is becoming a rampant phenomenon on every continent. I fully concede this is not the best of times to be writing about fancy pants restaurants, but I am proud of the work that chefs around the planet are doing to diligently raise money—and awareness—for globally focused good works. Think about it: At every fundraiser, charity ball, and benefit, there is always food. And chefs and restaurants are always leading the charge to lend a hand, cook a meal, or donate a gift certificate in their own backyards or across a continent.
Last week in LA, I noted that Ripert, Flay, Puck, Torres, Ducasse et al. were all doing a dinner that put big money (100K) in the pockets of a local California charity, John Besh is forever raising dollars for Katrina victims and to promote the city of New Orleans, and JD Fratzke and Scott Pampuch were the first to start working the phones last year when the flooding disaster ripped apart the southern regions of our state. I think it is important to remember that cooking food in fancy restaurants is “steel juzt a shob Ahhndrew,” as Pierre Gagnaire told me the other day, and some would think it is crazy to indulge ourselves in this type of dining chat when starvation crisis is not an “if” or “when” but a “now” subject. But the restaurant industry is a huge part of the global economy, provides relief both spiritually and physically to millions of customers each year, and, most importantly, is one of the largest agents for change in a world that could use more of it.
Want to do something great for the world? Celebrate Earth Day today. Go to this link to learn about various activities happening around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
A few months ago, I was asked to be a part of the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards process for 2008. For years I had been an avid fan of the rankings and musings, but this year was special since I got to be a judge for the event. The number one restaurant in the world was, for the third year in a row, Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, and seeing as how I have been lucky enough to eat in many of the top fifty restaurants on the list, I can tell you that E. B. was my top restaurant experience of the last couple of years as well. The Fat Duck was second and Gagnaire was third. The highest ranked American restaurants on the list were my old boss Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Per Se in New York. Grant Achatz’s Alinea came in at number twenty-one, and the full list can be seen here.
Fergus Henderson’s St. John won the 50 Best Chef’s fave restaurant award, and there was a regional judges’ poll of local hot spots this year that also that can viewed on the website. Anyone have any problems with the rankings this year? Anyone planning to use this list as a guide on where and what to eat when you travel? Lunch alone at Gagnaire will cost you $500 without even touching the wine list. Lunch at Le Bernardin or Jean George can be had for approximately $50. Is it worth it? Well, I had approximately fourteen courses there the other day, and perhaps it was because I got to eat in the kitchen with the master himself during the lunch rush, but it was a transcendent experience. More on that some other time.
Gagnaire and I
Gagnaire working with one of his cooks
The shrimp course in five components
Speaking of congrats, a huge shout out to Adam Platt and the mspmag.com all-stars who are responsible for debuting Foodie File last week. FF is our new MSP communal food/restaurant blog. This is a great place to check out when you are online; you can catch up on local review gossip and original content, including material from MSP newcomer Stephanie March.