I'd like to address a couple of issues that arose from a recent post. Actually I would like to clarify our approach to eating out, learning from other chefs and what we actually write about here. In the past we've written about our experiences in restaurants. Although I tried to make note of the fact that these were observations from one-time visits, the reactions to many of the things that we, mostly I, wrote were inflammatory. Several of them didn't make it onto the blog, as they came in the form of calls or emails. Oddly even on posts that were clearly written by me, Alex got the most grief about what was said. For some reason people think that Alex and I have the same opinions about everything. Now clearly we agree on many issues, though anyone who is married or in a serious relationship will tell you that no one agrees on everything. Frankly we hardly ever agree on a basic cooking method for a particular piece of meat of fish, much less on a reaction an entire experience at a restaurant. Anyway, after the responses we got last year I reconsidered my approach to writing about restaurant experiences. Only a fool completely ignores their critics.
Actually I didn't realize how many people actually read this site until I saw how upset people were by my posts. I'm not a stat-counter type of person. I can write more freely if I imagine that I'm writing just for myself. I try not to think too much about who else might be reading. That is not always a good thing. I'm very much a "live in the moment" kind of person. I do something and then I forget it. It's one of the things that drives Alex crazy about my cooking. I'll get fixated on an idea, figure it out, and then put it completely out of my head. If Alex asks me to recreate something months later I often won't remember what he's talking about. If I don't write it down at the moment I figure it out, it's gone. If I don't write about a place as soon as I've experienced it, the salient details slowly fade. Once I do write something down I forget it even more quickly because I have written it down and there's no need to remember it. Although I'm exaggerating a little bit, for the most part this really is the way my brain works.
Alex has a much more detailed memory than I do. He can remember exact dishes from meals we've eaten ten or more years ago. It's actually pretty amazing. He doesn't like to write about his experiences outside the kitchen because he almost always gets in trouble when he does. Somehow even when he thinks he's being completely complimentary, he's always a little too honest and ends up getting chewed out. His inner editor is a bit lax. So for the most part, he tries not to say too much about about other people's food in public forums. I understand where he's coming from. I just think that we learn so much from experiencing other people's food and restaurants that I can't not write about it.
Years ago, I read Jay Jacobs book A Glutton For Punishment, Confessions of a Mercenary Eater. In the book he talks about his time as a restaurant critic for Gourmet and the fact that he was only allowed to write positive reviews. He considered this a scandalous practice and so did I. Especially since he did visit the restaurants multiple times. If a restaurant is bad on several different visits over a period of weeks then it is probably a bad restaurant. On the other hand, if you only visit a place once and have a negative experience, there is a good chance that you simply caught them on a bad day. We all know how one person's bad day, especially if it's a key person in the organization, can snowball into a bad day for the entire establishment. Some days are simply crazy and things go wrong from the moment you wake up and all you can do is hang on to your sense of humor and make it through. No one would ever want to be assessed on day like that. It's so much harder to create an outstanding experience than it is to create a unfavorable one. So I decided to stop talking specifically about the negative ones. I'm not saying that bad things don't happen and that we won't mention them. We probably won't say where a adverse experience happened because it probably won't be relevant to the conversation. We're not restaurant critics, we're consumers who are there to learn and to experience. The conversation will be about what I or what we learned from the experience, not about who did what, when and how. Good experiences, like the ones we had recently at Lupa, Momofuku and Ssam Bar will be mentioned because they are worth mentioning. Sometimes we have mixed experiences, like the one last Saturday. We have meals that encompass the not so great and the extraordinary all in one sitting. In those cases again, we probably won't mention any names because we want to see where the Chef and the establishment will go. Because we believe that a flash of genius will probably develop into something more, given the time and space to grow. But we'll mention elements or experiences because they inspire us and lead us further down the path to culinary evolution.
Those are the guidelines. We all know there will be exceptions to the general rules. I would also like to note, because it's come up, that just because we haven't written about a place doesn't mean we didn't enjoy it. Sometimes we need time to mull things over, sometimes things come up and sometimes we just don't write about an experience. Ssam Bar being a case in point, we had an exceptional meal there last week and never mentioned it until now. With all of the things we do, in and out of the kitchen, there isn't always time to write about everything.
Lastly I'd like to make a point about learning. As children we all learn through imitation. We all study our trade and read cookbooks and share techniques. It's nothing to be ashamed of or to look down on. We've all head the the adage that if you give five chefs the same recipe you'll end up with five different results. I believe that's true. For every famous or unknown chef with signature dishes, except perhaps Adria and even his inspirations had to have come from somewhere, anyone willing to do a bit of detective work can trace those dishes back to another chef. It's not about where the dish comes from, it's about the execution in it's latest incarnation. In that controversial post I used the phrase "too reminiscent of others that came before" and I want to clarify that. There's nothing wrong with doing something like another dish that has come before. It's just that if you are going to riff of a well-known creation it has to be better than the original and it has to speak to your own muse. If your dish simply reminds people of the original version without garnering an appreciation for your unique interpretation, then there's no point in calling it your own. We may not always appreciate or even respect that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Upon reflection though, it is the truth.