Chef and Menu Report: Week of 9/7/14

Chef and Menu Report: Week of 9/7/14

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Evolution Fresh has announced the addition of two new cold-pressed juice smoothies that were crafted in partnership with Whole Foods Market and are exclusive to the retailer. Taking a cue from the growing demand from consumers, Evolution Fresh and Whole Foods Market worked in tandem to design the two new smoothies: Organic Avocado Greens and Organic Splendid Carrot. Using distinctive ingredients such as chia seeds, turmeric, and avocado to create unique flavors and address relevant trends, the cold-pressed smoothies aim to meet the health and wellness needs of customers.

New York
Chef David Santos of Louro shows off his love of duck and skill for utilizing whole animals with the next Nossa Mesa event: All About Duck Dinner on Monday, September 15 at 7 p.m. Five savory dishes will highlight the versatility of duck like duck prosciutto with arugula and housemade pickles, duck eggs with foie gras and potato hash, duck sausage raviolo with whey and charred shishito pepper tea, roast duck breast with pluot butter, pancakes, and stir-fried vegetables. Tickets are $65 and, like all Nossa Mesa dinners, the Duck Dinner is BYO wine and beer.

Grand Central Market, located in Grand Central Terminal, will be fêted September 15 to 19 with a daily mix of gifts-with-purchase, photo contests to win foodie gift baskets, and “flash sales” designed to inspire commuters’ and visitors’ own creations. Flash sales will happen daily that week from 10 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. Customers receive free canvas tote bags with the purchase of any flash sale item, while supplies last. Deals include 20 percent off items at Oren’s Daily Roast, 25-cent fudge at Li-Lac Chocolate, buy-one/get-one-free sauces and dressings at Ceriello Fine Foods, discounts at Pescatore Seafood Co., Spices and Tease, and more.

il Buco, Donna Lennard’s beloved, rustic Italian restaurant on Bond Street, will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In commemoration, the restaurant will host its outdoor Sagra del Maiale (festival of the pig) on September 21 led by chef Joel Hough and famed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. Plates will include Flying Pigs Farm’s pork slow-roasted on an infiernillo, porchetta panini, and house-made apple-pork sausages, alongside farmers market panzanella, pasta Genovese, and ricotta fritters. Tickets are available in advance through Brown Paper Tickets.

The week prior to the festival, from September 15 to 21, the restaurant will welcome back its acclaimed chef alumni for a series of special dinners. The lineup is as follows:

  • Monday, September 15: Jody Williams
  • Tuesday, September 16: Sara Jenkins
  • Wednesday, September 17: Justin Smillie
  • Thursday, September 18: Joel Hough and Roger Martinez
  • Friday, September 19: Christopher Lee
  • Saturday, September 20: Ignacio Mattos
  • Sunday, September 21: Francis Mallmann (beginning at 8 p.m., following the pig roast)

The dinners, beginning at 7:30pm, will also include an aperitivo hour including wine and cicchetti from 6 to 7 p.m., for which separate tickets are being offered. Reservations for both are required and can be made by calling il Buco directly or online via OpenTable.

In conjunction with California Wine Month, Dovetail will offer a California Harvest Menu featuring renowned wineries from several of California's premier wine growing regions. From September 15 to 26, guests will have the option of two four-course prix fixe menus, one being entirely vegetarian. Each menu will include a selection of premier California wines chosen by Dovetail's wine director, Jaime Kaloustian, including gems such as the Dunn 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Kalin Chardonnay 1995.

As part of Oyster Week, on Tuesday, September 16, Grand Banks will host AHOYsters, a benefit for the Maritime Foundation and Billion Oyster Project. Tickets are necessary to score a spot at the open liquor and oyster bar; 100 percent of all sales will go non-for-profit maritime conservation and education initiatives based in the city.

Reservations are now open for the first-ever Astoria, Queens Restaurant Week, Eat In Astoria, focused on the rapidly growing food scene in the neighborhood. Taking place September 19 to 28, Astoria Restaurant Week will feature a range of restaurants, including Arepas Grill, Bourbon & Vine, De Mole, La Rioja, Marketa, Mojave, MP Taverna, Kopiaste Taverna, Piccola Venezia, The Sandwich Bar, The Thirsty Koala, Pachanga Patterson, Vesta Vino, and The Sparrow Tavern (recently featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives). To kick off the festivities, organizers are hosting the Eat in Astoria Food Festival on September 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. All-access tickets to the festival are available for purchase here; diners interested in attending, and vendors interested in participating, should visit for more information.

Indulging in the delectable union of apples and honey is a well-known Rosh Hashanah tradition, which symbolizes hopes for a “sweet” New Year. With that in mind, chef Francois Payard has introduced green apple and honey macarons, as well as an apple honey cake. The desserts are available at all Francois Payard Bakeries and FP Patisserie Manhattan locations.

André Balazs and Michelin-starred chef John Fraser’s garden restaurant, Narcissa, is now open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Chef Fraser's vegetable-heavy and rotisserie offerings ring true for the new lunch menu including Locusts Farm kale salad with bacon lardons, corn, and goat cheese atop kale grown at the restaurant’s Hudson Valley farm; grilled baby squid with marinated eggplant, shishito peppers, and chimichurri; whole rotisserie Branzino with fennel arugula and soft herb vinaigrette.

As Dallas Cowboys and NFL fans gear up for the 2014 football season at AT&T Stadium, appetites of all kinds will be satisfied with an amazing and expanded menu of delicious flavors characterized by farm-fresh ingredients carefully prepared by chefs. Featured new arrivals on the 2014 NFL Season menu are a fire-roasted turkey burger, a Texas torta, Texas chicken and waffles, slider dogs (a regional favorite), and a surf-and-turf sushi roll.

Brennan’s of Houston welcomes special guest executive chef Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, to collaborate with the restaurant’s own executive chef Danny Trace for two nights of Creole cooking. Last night, the celebrated chefs created a six-course dinner menu, complete with wine pairings and cocktail reception, to celebrate their own unique vision of Creole cuisine. The dishes served included stuffed gulf coast flounder, spicy goat head tamales, prickly pear barbecued with 44 Farms beef belly, and Mardi Gras flambeaux cake.

Tonight, the chefs will again collaborate, this time on a special cooking class demonstration, in which they will prepare a three-course meal consisting of barbecued vegetable salad, Louisiana tur-duck-hen, and candied Texas tomato galette.

On Wednesday, October 15, Balena will host world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura of Italy’s most celebrated restaurant, the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana. Balena invites guests to enjoy a seated Italian-inspired dinner prepared by executive chef Chris Pandel, who has spent months reading and learning from Massimo Bottura’s new book, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef. Tickets include the food menu and a personalized copy of Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.

Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant/City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.

Restaurant Review: Mu Ramen in Long Island City, Queens

Of all the restaurants in the city where you are expected to make loud slurping noises while you eat, Mu Ramen may be the most civilized.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Of all the restaurants in the city where you are expected to make loud slurping noises while you eat, Mu Ramen may be the most civilized.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

The communal tables touch but don’t quite line up, creating little pockets of semi-intimacy, along with a sense of roominess.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

After an experiment with reservations, Mu Ramen is now first come first served.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Joshua Smookler, Mu Ramen’s chef and its owner, trained in Per Se’s kitchen. He was born in Korea and raised in New York as an Orthodox Jew, and some dishes reflect his upbringing.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Heidy He, Mr. Smookler’s wife, works the front of the house.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Before you face down the ramen, the appetizers may call your name. Here, kuro edamame.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Saffron aioli drizzled over clams.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Like all of Mu Ramen’s broths, the tonkotsu has a flavor both deep and long, with extraordinary balance and a rounded profile that has no jarring, gamy edges.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Mr. Smookler’s Mu Ramen stock is inspired by the Korean dish seolleongtang. For the toppings, he corns beef brisket, brines cucumber ribbons and shaves raw cabbage into threads that cook when they hit the bowl.

Credit. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Before telling you how impressed I am by the new Mu Ramen in Long Island City, Queens, I want to clear up my role in the demise of the first Mu Ramen.

Last March, I wrote an article about New York’s quickly diversifying ramen landscape. One place I discussed was Mu Ramen, which had found a temporary home operating after-hours inside a bagel shop. Almost as an afterthought, I made a list of the 10 ramen bowls I had enjoyed the most during my reporting, putting Mu’s suave and creamy tonkotsu at the top.

The article and the list appeared online on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, Mu Ramen canceled all future appearances, saying it had been deluged with requests for reservations. Immediately, I was blamed in some quarters for killing the pop-up. One person on Twitter, accusing me of stoking a demand that the place could not handle, went so far as to call me a “herb.”

If I knew how to make money, I wouldn’t work for a newspaper. Still, I had a sense that this is not how capitalism works. Last week, Joshua Smookler, Mu Ramen’s chef and its owner, told me “the real reason” he had decamped from the bagel shop.

“I was scared of the government finding out what we were doing,” he said, even though he believed it was legal, “and was afraid that would have an effect on our doing a brick-and-mortar.”

He had just signed a lease on the current site, and he and his wife, Heidy He, wanted to concentrate on getting it ready.

Others can judge whether that makes me a card-carrying herb. For my part, I’m just happy to report that the new, bagel-free Mu Ramen is a great place to smooth over any hard feelings caused by its nine-month absence.

Of all the restaurants in the city where you are expected to make loud slurping noises while you eat, Mu may be the most civilized. The 22 seats half-fill a space that could easily hold more, and if you have to wait for one of them (after an experiment with reservations, the place is now first come first served, except for the tasting menus that will begin later this month), the deep built-in benches by the front door are a pleasant change from, say, the steps in front of Totto Ramen in Hell’s Kitchen. Six of the seats face a counter. The rest surround three slabs of reclaimed wood. These communal tables touch but don’t quite line up, creating little pockets of semi-intimacy, along with a sense of roominess. Running along the ceiling are thin wood slats bent into waves. They look like noodles swimming out of the kitchen.

Before you face down the ramen, the appetizers may call your name they definitely called mine. One of the best things to eat at Mu comes not from the streets of Tokyo, where Mr. Smookler has never been, but from his apartment, where he and his wife steam mussels when friends come for dinner. At the restaurant, he cooks clams instead, spooning a hypnotically aromatic saffron aioli over them. Then the dish takes a leap that makes no sense until you try it: You pick up a clam and scoop up some Vietnamese nuoc cham with the shell. Why the flowery musk of saffron reacts so well to lime and fish sauce I cannot say. Every clam was a fresh surprise and a fresh mystery.

He also makes a tender, airy corn pancake, squirts some foie-gras-fortified maple syrup over it, then covers it with smoked trout. It’s wonderful, especially if you like the sneaky feeling of eating breakfast at night. The only Japanese thing about it, other than the flyingfish roe dotting the trout, is the name. Mr. Smookler calls it an “okonomiyaki” (quotation marks his).

For a fuller immersion in Japanese flavors, try the chirashi variant called U&I, named for the uni and ikura that are mounded with spicy raw tuna over sushi rice. U&I is far from groundbreaking, which does not at all detract from its pleasure. But the two times I tried the fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras and brioche, they did not stop traffic, which they are clearly meant to do. The crust and meat were superb, but the stuffing was dull, and the quince paste that might have brought it into relief was bunched up at one end of the wing.

Mr. Smookler trained in the meticulous rigor of Per Se’s kitchen, and his gift, those wings notwithstanding, is his Keller-like drive to find a better way. This usually means a harder and more costly way. When his supply of pork for tonkotsu broth suddenly dried up last year, he went to the Midwest and persuaded nearly 40 farmers who raise Berkshire hogs to start a cooperative. Then he arranged for a small slaughterhouse to butcher the four cuts of pork he wanted and ship them to Long Island City, where he would cook 120 pounds of bones at a raging boil for most of a day.


This is a long way to go for a bowl of soup. (Metaphorically speaking, it is also a long journey for Mr. Smookler, who was born in South Korea and raised in New York as an Orthodox Jew.) If $15 seems a fair price for those ingredients, the conviction only grows once you start eating.

Like all of Mu Ramen’s broths, the tonkotsu has a flavor both deep and long, with extraordinary balance and a rounded profile that has no jarring, gamy edges. Without being greasy, it’s gorgeously full-bodied and almost chewy as you wind the noodles into your mouth, the droplets that cling to them feel like heavy cream. The flavor is very good, but it’s the texture that can rock you back on your three-legged stool.

Mr. Smookler pulls a similar consistency out of boiled beef bones, veal bones and oxtails for the soup he calls Mu Ramen. He drew the inspiration for the stock from the Korean dish seolleongtang. For the toppings, he went to the other side of his upbringing. He corns beef brisket, brines cucumber ribbons and shaves raw cabbage into threads that cook when they hit the bowl. The half-sour pickles are juicy and refreshing, and at the same time they transport you to your favorite delicatessen.

More meetings with more farmers produced the chicken skin, feet and giblets that go into the shoyu ramen that just strutted onto the menu. The broth is another full-bodied knockout, and the chicken flavor is pure and intense.

The weightiest, richest possible broth is not necessarily the ramen ideal. Ramen Lab, on Kenmare Street in Manhattan, makes a more traditional shoyu with a chicken broth that is very pure but more restrained than Mr. Smooker’s, so it blends with the soy more willingly. Mr. Smookler’s ramen is so compelling in part because it’s an exception. My praise for it should not be taken as a signal to other chefs to try to make soups as robustly silky as his.

Speaking of praise, if I had it all to do over again, would I still tell the world how much I admire Mu Ramen? Do I feel the same way now?

Quaker Canada recently celebrated the launch of its new Quaker Oat Flour with a virtual baking class led by celebrity chef, cookbook author and TV personality Anna Olsen. The event also featured a special guest appearance by Top Chef Canada contestant and Quaker Oat Flour Quickfire Challenge winner Kym Nguyen.

An audience of baking enthusiasts had a chance to create Anna's Lemon Oat Flour Cake during the virtual baking event -- a simple and tasty recipe made with fresh lemon and almonds -- alongside an Easy Lemon Cheesecake Mousse that could be served as a side with fresh fruit or used as a decadent frosting for the cake.

Chef Kym Nguyen also shared their recipe creation inspired by Quaker Oat Flour. Opting for a savory flavor profile, the chef created Corn, Jalapeño, & Cheddar Oat Fritters with Sweet Corn Succotash, Chimichurri & Maple Syrup, highlighting the true versatility of Quaker Oat Flour as a pantry staple for any occasion.

At-home chefs and baking enthusiasts can check out these recipes in full and more oat flour creations on Quaker's website.

With a Farm in the Wings

Diners at Narcissa beneath the glow of lanterns. The restaurant is located in the Standard East Village hotel. The chef, John Fraser, is known for his refined, thought-out vegetable tasting menus at Dovetail, on the Upper West Side. His vegetable plates at Narcissa are more unbuttoned and generous.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Diners at Narcissa beneath the glow of lanterns. The restaurant is located in the Standard East Village hotel. The chef, John Fraser, is known for his refined, thought-out vegetable tasting menus at Dovetail, on the Upper West Side. His vegetable plates at Narcissa are more unbuttoned and generous.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Narcissa’s entrance. The restaurant is named for a sweet-faced dairy cow living on the estate Locusts-on-Hudson owned by the restaurateur André Balazs.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The design can have a disjointed feel. Here, the dining room is split by a low zigzag partition.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The complex, yet relaxed way Mr. Fraser treats his vegetable plates fits this casual, many-things-to-many-people dining room.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

A salad of brussels sprouts leaves, shaved roots, Fuji apple, shards of manchego and ham, dressed in a cumin-lime vinaigrette.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

“Supergreen spinach,” wilted leaves folded into a béchamel-fortified purée and topped with potato chips.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Beets, roasted for hours until their outsides are charred like grilled steak and the insides have a focused intensity. They are then split into ruby hunks that drink up the horseradish crème fraîche they sit on.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Carrots Wellington, a take on beef Wellington, features salt-cured, roasted carrots inside puff pastry. It is a startling success.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Steamed black bass, perched in a French curry broth.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

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Gather around the old Victrola, kids. Grandpa wants to tell you a story about wealth, power, real estate, pornography, carrots and a sweet-faced dairy cow named Narcissa.

About 90 miles north of Manhattan is a 76-acre triangle of land on the Hudson River whose owners over the centuries have acted out the history, in stop-frame animation, of social power in New York. When Dutch families ran half of the Hudson Valley, it was farmed by the son of a settler from the Netherlands. He sold the place to one of the Livingstons, an aristocratic Scottish family who ran the other half.

As Gilded Age capitalists crashed New York society, the property was bought by William B. Dinsmore, a founder of a company that was the U.P.S. of the Civil War era, but with stagecoaches instead of brown vans. The Dinsmores had a Gatsbyesque time there, entertaining trainloads of weekend guests with a private golf course and a greenhouse full of orchids.

Pipe down, I’m getting to the porn.

There are always fun new ways to get rich in America, and in the prolonged group grope between the invention of the Pill and the Meese Report, Bob Guccione got rich by printing photos of Penthouse pets, who exposed things that the blushing Playmates didn’t. With his earnings, Mr. Guccione bought the old Dinsmore estate. But when we chased pornography off our streets and onto our laptops, Mr. Guccione wasn’t rich any more, and his country retreat was seized by creditors.

Now we save our soft-focus pictures for pork chops, and restaurants are one of the last places where moaning in public is still acceptable. So of course the person who bought the property at auction is a restaurateur, André Balazs. Renaming the estate Locusts-on-Hudson, Mr. Balazs rents it out for weddings (the website tastefully passes over the gold-chained Guccione years) and farms the land again. Today it is home to vegetable plots, laying hens and a retired cow, Narcissa. She gave her name to Mr. Balazs’s latest restaurant, inside his Standard East Village hotel, and her moony eyes look down at the dining room from framed photographs.

Narcissa the cow has no role in the restaurant’s rib-eye steak, but the farm is supposed to help in other ways. Last fall, Narcissa’s chef, John Fraser, started planning this summer’s menu by choosing the vegetables he wanted from illustrated seed catalogs. These books, he said, were “food porn in and of themselves.”

Whether teenage boys will hide pictures of undressed kohlrabi under their mattresses remains to be seen, but Mr. Fraser has already come up with one of the year’s most photographed carrots. A take on beef Wellington, it has salt-cured roasted carrots inside the puff pastry where the meat should go. It’s a startling success. The carrots are tender without a trace of mushiness, and a walnut paste darkened with cocoa and coffee gives them a brooding, bittersweet depth.


Mr. Fraser is known for his refined, thought-out vegetable tasting menus at Dovetail, on the Upper West Side. His vegetable plates at Narcissa are more unbuttoned and generous. They’re complex, but in a relaxed way that fits this casual, many-things-to-many-people dining room, where tables of chef chasers sit next to narrow-waisted colts who look as if they get their nutrients from air kisses.

Beets are spit-roasted for hours until their outsides are charred like grilled steak and the insides have a focused, waterless intensity then they’re lightly crushed into deep-ruby hunks that drink up a horseradish crème fraîche. Plum-size sweet potatoes go on the rotisserie, too, getting a hot allspice-heavy jerk sauce completely right for their sugary flesh, which can taste flabby on its own.

This kitchen knows how to build a salad, mixing vinaigrettes that have a switchblade edge and tossing in sophisticated-hippie handfuls of sunflower seeds (with saucerlike leaves of brussels sprouts) or crunchy chopped pistachios (in the mixed-greens Narcissa’s salad).

Side dishes are often a crass adventure in check-padding. That’s not the case at Narcissa, although the carrot fries — overdone carrots in a greasy battered shell — just made me miss the Wellington. (This is why magicians never repeat a trick.) But I could eat Narcissa’s steamed new potatoes in green garlic and olive oil all summer long, and I wish steakhouses would steal its “supergreen spinach,” wilted leaves folded into a béchamel-fortified purée that has a Sprite-bottle gleam.

I’m giving these vegetables lingering close-ups because they have a swaggering originality that the meat and seafood rarely match. Hake with a south-of-France trio of tapenade, oranges and artichokes, and a poussin the size of a mango with legs, in a vaguely truffled chicken reduction, were extremely pleasant, but wouldn’t get Narcissa noticed on their own.

Other dishes seemed designed for jet-lagged hotel guests who don’t want any back-talk from their dinner, like the not-quite-juicy roasted branzino with a standard-issue salsa verde. Mr. Fraser could use a few more main courses like the steamed black sea bass, which worked up some excitement — an uphill battle for steamed fish — by means of a toasty coconut-curry broth and hollow cross-sections of green almonds, squeaky-crisp as an unripe pear.

Deborah Racicot’s desserts are just clever enough if you’re paying attention, you can tell that she is, too. To go with a round chocolate tart, like a brownie with a melted center, she lightly curries bananas, using slightly green ones so they’re not too cloying. The nicest thing I can say about the long winter is that it allowed her citrus salad with tapioca pudding and orange-blossom granité to stay on the menu until May.

Tableside patter can be strange. A server one night talked up the “day-trip scallops” (lucky them) and pushed carrots Wellington as a mid-meal “palate cleanser.” There was no song and dance from the wine staff, led by Ashley Santoro, only to-the-point advice on a very appealing list.

The design has a disjointed feel. Wooden chairs hang from pegs, in the aspirational Shaker Zen style, but the low zigzag partition along the bar could come from a Vegas coffee shop. Then there’s the steep staircase to the restrooms with crazy diagonal stripes reflected in the mirrored ceiling. It looks as if the director of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” had remade “The Lost Weekend.” If you’ve been drinking, tie a rope around your waist and have a friend slowly lower you down.

Chef Jeff’s Grilled Asparagus

1. Clean the asparagus and trim away the woody bottom of the stem.

2. Marinate the asparagus in the olive oil and red wine vinegar (basic vinaigrette) for at least several hours, up to 24 hours. The impact of the acid (vinegar) on the asparagus will actually begin the cooking process.

3. Grill the asparagus over direct heat for approximately 5-7 minutes, depending upon the maturity of the asparagus. You can tell when the asparagus is cooked as it begins to turn a little (but not completely) limp.

4. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the seasoned salt (optional).

5. Serve immediately as a great side dish to almost any entrée.

*Almost any vinegar will do, including balsamic, apple cider and rice wine, but you probably want to stay away from distilled vinegar due to its intense acidity and harsh flavor.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

World Class Dining in Harbor East

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1000 Lancaster Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202 410.332.7373

Dine-In Service: Monday - Thursday 5:30pm - 9:00pm, Friday & Saturday 5:00pm - 9:30pm, Sunday 5:00pm - 8:30pm
Take-Away Service: Monday - Sunday 5:30pm - 7:00pm

And to Drink …

This mildly spicy, deeply flavored stew is a warm invitation to a red wine with fresh fruit flavors and few tannins. Many come to mind, especially from the new wave of California producers who have reinvigorated the state’s wine industry. Look for bottles made with carignan, grenache, mourvèdre (sometimes called mataro) or trousseau. You could also try zinfandel, especially those made in a restrained style. Cabernet francs from the Finger Lakes of New York would be delicious, as would cabernet francs in an easygoing style from the Loire Valley of France. Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages would be great choices. Try a Rioja crianza, or a baga from the Bairrada region of Portugal. Here’s one more option: Mexico has a growing wine industry, primarily in Baja California. If you can find a bottle, try it. ERIC ASIMOV

Recipes: Birria de Res | Birria Tacos With Chile Broth | Quesabirria Tacos | Birria Ramen

Twilight of the Imperial Chef

For decades, the notion of the lone genius in the kitchen has fostered culinary creativity — and restaurants marred by abuse and unfairness. This may be the time for change.

Picture a great restaurant, the chef up at dawn, dusting hand-milled flour on a butcher’s block. The chef under a spotlight, tweezing chive blossoms in the chaos of the pass, or fanning the wood fire under a row of shimmering, trussed birds.

The chef is in sharp focus, but everything else — everyone else — is an inconsequential blur.

I don’t need to describe the chef to you. He is a man, probably. A genius, definitely. Let’s say this genius is volatile, meticulous, impenetrable, charming, camera-ready. He doesn’t just manage the staff behind a great restaurant. He is the great restaurant.

For decades, the chef has been cast as the star at the center of the kitchen. In the same way the auteur theory in film frames the director as the author of a movie’s creative vision, the chef has been considered entirely responsible for the restaurant’s success. Everyone else — line cooks, servers, dishwashers, even diners — is background, there to support that vision.

This way of thinking has informed the industry’s culture at every level. But the power of the chef-auteur as an idea is fading, and as restaurant workers organize and speak up about abusive workplaces, toxic bosses and inequities in pay and benefits, it’s clear that the restaurant industry has to change.

The elevation of the chef to front and center is relatively new. Until about 40 years ago, chefs were considered unglamorous, trolls of the stove, hidden behind the kitchen’s swinging doors.

With a few exceptions, they weren’t thought of as artists, or visionaries. They couldn’t generally aspire to magazine covers, or amass devoted, cultlike, international followings. They did not get book deals, or discuss their inspirations in interviews, or star in documentaries, or hire publicists to make horrific scandals disappear.

In his 2018 book, “Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll,” Andrew Friedman documents the mythologizing of chefs, and their rise from obscurity. He writes that before the 1970s and ’80s, chefs were “anonymous workhorses,” in many cases not only unknown, but thought of as interchangeable.

The 1970s kicked off a shift, changing the way chefs were perceived in the United States. As Wolfgang Puck built a reputation for innovation in the kitchen at Ma Maison, and went on to open Spago, he helped usher in an era of American dining when chefs became names — big names — known to the public outside the restaurant business.

As chefs inched toward auteurship, they were finally recognized for grueling, previously undervalued labor. They were also given more room to reimagine dishes and menus, to tinker with how restaurants worked, and who they were for. They made restaurants infinitely more exciting places to dine, and to work.

By the time I started cooking in restaurant kitchens, in the mid-2000s, willingly vanishing into the militaristic brigade system, the chef’s status as an auteur was beyond question, and the deeply embarrassing phrase “food is the new rock” was tossed around with almost no sense of irony.

One chef I worked for shared photocopied pages of Ferran and Albert Adrià’s cookbooks, in Spanish, so the staff could study the ratios and techniques used in the famous kitchen of El Bulli. It was thrilling, and many of us experimented with blowing isomalt sugar sculptures or setting hot jellies.

That iconic photo of Marco Pierre White looking young and angry and sleepless and beautiful in his chef whites was a talisman for several cooks I knew.

It appeared in his influential 1990 book, “White Heat,” which showed what was possible when an ambitious, brilliant young chef achieved total power: Mr. White wrote about his habit of putting cooks inside trash cans to punish them, among other forms of intimidation.

“Kitchen Confidential,” by Anthony Bourdain, was also canon. Throughout his career, Mr. Bourdain called for attention and respect for immigrants, undocumented workers and the many underpaid, overlooked roles essential to a restaurant.

But he was also a celebrity, and he upheld a romantic ideal of cheffing as the kind of brutal, impossibly demanding, but ultimately meaningful work that exalted misfits, drawing them together with a sense of purpose — at least, for the duration of dinner service.

This complicated, shared understanding of restaurant kitchens was often used to justify the work and the hours, and the unreasonable expectations in service of excellence and glory. It also explained away the gross, systemic deficiencies of the business, and normalized abusive work cultures.

In his 2019 memoir, “JGV: My Life in 12 Recipes,” the chef Jean Georges Vongerichten writes about the culture he fostered in the late 1980s at Restaurant Lafayette, which received a three-star review from Bryan Miller in The New York Times.

The restaurant’s longtime dishwasher, referred to as “Sam” in the book, had been working at the hotel for 20 years, and took a 45-minute break while a critic was in the house. Mr. Vongerichten, who took the dishwasher’s place at the sink during that time, was furious. As his sous-chef held the walk-in door shut, trapping Sam inside, Mr. Vongerichten pummeled him.

What to Cook This Week

Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • A salty-sweet garlic and scallion marinade enhances these Korean beef burgers with sesame-cucumber pickles from Kay Chun.
    • If you can get your hands on good salmon at the market, try this fine recipe for roasted dill salmon.
    • Consider these dan dan noodles from Café China in New York. Outrageous.
    • How about crispy bean cakes with harissa, lemon and herbs? Try them with some yogurt and lemon wedges.
    • Angela Dimayuga’s bistek is one of the great feeds, with rice on the side.

    “I’m not proud of it,” Mr. Vongerichten writes. After the dishwasher went to security to report the abuse, the kitchen closed ranks. “Everyone in the kitchen knew what happened,” he adds. “But nobody said a word.”

    Mr. Vongerichten went on to find international renown and open 38 restaurants all over the world. As of last fall, the Jean-Georges restaurant group managed 5,000 employees its 2018 sales totaled $350 million.

    As chefs built big restaurant businesses, often referred to as empires, they became powerful brands, capable of obscuring abuse, assault and discrimination. And if they continued to make money for their investors, they often maintained their power — as in the case of Mario Batali.

    Mr. Batali became one of the country’s most high-profile chefs and restaurateurs, opening popular restaurants, hosting shows on ABC and the Food Network, publishing a series of popular cookbooks, and playing a central role in Bill Buford’s vivid book “Heat,” published in 2007.

    But in 2017, several women spoke up about Mr. Batali’s pattern of sexual harassment and assault. It wasn’t until 2019 that he divested from the Bastianich & Batali Hospitality Group, and stopped profiting from the restaurants he’d established. In the same way, the chef April Bloomfield severed her partnership with the restaurateur Ken Friedman in 2018, after he was accused of sexual harassment, and she conceded in an interview that she hadn’t done enough to end the abuse.

    The writer Meghan McCarron recently described the lasting power of auteur theory — a way of thinking about restaurants that has come at a cost both hard to measure and impossible to ignore.

    “In the food world’s under-examined version of this theory, singular visionaries are still seen as the sole architects of a restaurant’s greatness,” Ms. McCarron wrote.

    The idea of a chef-auteur is tenacious, and sly — it limits the narrative, and it sustains itself. Look at the homogeneity among major industry best-of lists from organizations like the James Beard Foundation, Michelin and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

    White male chefs who already fit neatly into the stereotype of the auteur are overrepresented, praised for a highly specific approach to fine dining, then rewarded with more investment and opportunities to replicate that same approach.

    So many alternative kinds of food businesses are never considered for awards or investments. They don’t fit into the chef-auteur framework, and in some cases have no desire to do so — community farms with food stalls, roving trucks, collaborative projects, temporary projects, or family restaurants where three different cooks take turns in the kitchen, depending on their child care schedules.

    But for so many, it’s already too late. They’ve been excluded from the narrative, over and over again, to serve the idea of the auteur. They’ve been subject to abuse. They’ve been paid unfairly. Many have dropped out of the business altogether.

    The pandemic has exposed the fragility and inequity of the restaurant industry, disproportionately affecting Black people, people of color, restaurant workers and those who keep the food chain running in the nation’s factories and farms. Bolstered by the power of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, workers are speaking up. The model for the industry, as it exists now, has to change.

    In a recent newsletter, Alicia Kennedy, a writer based in Puerto Rico, declared that the chef, as an ego, had become irrelevant. “What’s next?” she asked. And as reports of moldy food and allegations of poor conditions for cooks at Sqirl surfaced this summer, the Los Angeles writer Tien Nguyen asked another urgent question: What would food journalism look like if it centered on rank-and-file workers instead of chefs?

    It’s hard but necessary to imagine these answers. And as workers unionize at places like Tartine in San Francisco and Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Ore., they’re claiming power, demanding better conditions and pushing toward newer, fairer models.

    Other workers are pointing to the gap between how restaurants are perceived and how they’re run, as in Chicago, where more than 20 employees of Fat Rice challenged their employer’s social-media claim that it supported racial justice.

    Menus are collaborative, to some degree or another. Chefs lead that work, perhaps assigning tests, approving new dishes, or tasting them, editing them, and in most cases making the final decisions that shape the way the food comes to the table. But in some cases dozens of other cooks could be involved in the process.

    Restaurants are the work of teams, kitchens full of cooks and dishwashers coordinating with dining rooms full of servers, runners and bartenders. Each role, each day, plays a part in a restaurant’s success.

    One of my last fancy dinners before the pandemic shut down dining rooms in Los Angeles was at Somni, a small horseshoe bar inside the SLS Beverly Hills hotel owned by José Andrés. The chef, Aitor Zabala, printed out a menu that credited everyone working dinner service.

    The porters on duty that night were Josue Rodriguez and Mario Alarcon. The detailed chocolate work was by Ivonne Cerdas and Lindsey Newman. About a dozen more cooks had worked on the exuberant, fast-flowing 27-course meal, and each one was listed, like the cast and crew on a playbill.

    When I asked him in an email about the design, Mr. Zabala replied that he wanted the whole team to feel connected to the restaurant, and responsible for its experience. He explained that it’s part of why meals at Somni include a service charge, and why all employees both contribute to service and share in those earnings.

    A menu is just a menu, but I found this one a tiny, eloquent gesture, urging diners to consider the restaurant as a whole — a collective — with so many people at work beyond the chef.



    You may have heard that spicy hot peppers can help you scorch calories, but did you know that mild peppers can have the same effect? Thanks to a metabolism-boosting compound, dihydrocapsiate, and their high vitamin-C content, sweet red and green peppers can help you lose weight. A cup of these bell-shaped veggies serves up to three times the day's recommended vitamin C—a nutrient that counteracts stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection.

    RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.

    We’re Making Gordon Ramsay’s One-Pan Bacon Jam Toast For Father’s Day & You Should Too

    Are you suffering from FOMO scrolling through brunch TikTok? Have you grown tired of trite toast and eggs, craving something savory just in time for summer? Well, you’re in luck, because whatever it is you seek from a boisterous breakfast meal (which can, of course, be eaten at any time of day, no matter what people say), your brunch aspirations will surely be met once you try Gordon Ramsay&rsquos one-pan bacon jam toast recipe. In fact, I&rsquod say it&rsquos sure to exceed them!

    The award-winning chef and restauranteur posted a video preparing the straightforward &mdash yet elegant &mdash breakfast to his official TikTok, captioning the captivating clip, &ldquoReady to change your #toast game this week? My #bacon jam toast recipe will do the trick.&rdquo

    By the looks of it, we&rsquore inclined to agree with Chef Ramsay &mdash as well as the 1.2 million TikTok users who have equally &ldquoloved&rdquo his video thus far.

    So what are you waiting for? Whether you&rsquore looking to have friends over for brunch in the backyard or surprise dad with breakfast on Father&rsquos Day &mdash or just make it for yourself (no judgment) &mdash this secretly simple recipe is sure to wow anyone to whom it&rsquos served, whether they&rsquore friends, family, or some super lucky strangers. The juxtaposition between the soft scrambled eggs, thick, crackling bread and creamy, fragrant bacon jam, truly makes for any foodie&rsquos fantasy fare come to life &mdash and will make you seem like an all-star chef, too!


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