OK, I am back. After several weeks on road promoting the new season of Bizarre Foods America and shooting another eight episodes of Appetite for Life, I am enjoying the peace and quiet of the foggy and warm Twin Cities. I went to D Spot and had some pretty good wings with the kid. Thrillist recommended it so I drove to Maplewood and chowed down. Loved it, got a large variety and liked the hot ones best. They have 60 kinds. I thought the garlic wings were awful but the rest were pretty tasty.
Speaking if casual food, my hero Mr. John T Edge has a new book coming out in May, The Truck Food Cookbook, from Workman Publishing. In it are recipes from Chef Shack and Magic Bus, two of the best trucks patrolling in and around our city. I am making the Magic Bus’s garlic beet sauerkraut this weekend for sure. Next time I will make it with my homemade kraut, but for now a good fresh kraut from the refrigerator section of the market works fine. It uses Eden brand in its recipe but I like Ba Tempte and Franks (in the bag).
Grate a large beet, peeled, combine with 2 cups sauerkraut, one thinly sliced onion and 4-5 minced garlic cloves. Let sit overnight and serve.
I plan on microplaning the garlic, adding a hot chile, and placing the onion on bottom to ensure it pickles faster.
Carrie and Lisa from Chef Shack offered up their bacon ketchup recipe and I cant wait to make that too . . . I will print that one for you when I talk to Edge about the book for these pages.
Here’s the deal with John: He is one of the smartest and most gracious men I know; he is principled and devoted, and to say I admire him is an understatement. Many food people know him, read him, and look to him for inspiration and leadership . . . I know I do. But to the layman here is his CV. And if this doesn’t convince you to devour his content, I don’t know what will.
He writes a monthly column, “United Tastes,” for The New York Times. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun. He is a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. He was a contributing editor at Gourmet. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eight editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. He has been nominated for five James Beard Foundation Awards, including two M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Awards. In 2009, he was inducted into Beard’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America. He holds a master’s degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. The SFA has completed more than 550 oral histories and 30 films, focusing on the likes of fried chicken cooks, row crop farmers, oystermen, and bartenders.
He has a number of books to his credit, including the James Beard Award-nominated cookbook, A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. Putnam published his four book series on iconic American eats: Fried Chicken: An American Story; Apple Pie: An American Story; Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story; and Donuts: An American Passion. Algonquin Books published, in 2007, and again in 2001, revised and expanded editions of Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South. Edge is editor of the foodways volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. And he is general editor of the book series, Cornbread Nation: The Best of Southern Food Writing.
In a world where we are obsessed with the spin of the celebrity chef world, where 90 percent of the people doing food/travel TV are talking heads with no real ability at all, Edge is the realest real deal I know. And he isn’t someone who has ever been dubbed a celebrity chef, a term I revile. Anyone who doesn’t isn’t legit! Here’s a quote from the amazing Wolfgang Puck, a supremely talented chef, an all-time great and someone who’s own career has been mislabeled ‘celebrity’ in stature at every turn.
Puck said, “The title of celebrity chef is sort of bogus. Do we have celebrity shoemakers, celebrity butchers? The good news about showcasing chefs and the TV shows is they’ve attracted a lot more smart kids to the profession than 30 years ago. On the downside, though, these young chefs all say they want their own restaurant and their own TV show. Very few say, ‘I want to have the best restaurant in town.”
Now, that’s a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
As loyal readers to this column know, for me, it’s about pursuing excellence. It’s not about getting there. Getting there is something that either happens or not, and is a subjective and relative term. But you gotta be aiming there, regardless of your medium, you economic model, your concept . . . it’s not worth doing if you will accept anything less than that as the goal. And there is a whole generation of folks who want the rewards without doing the work. Just because you worked for three years as a line cook somewhere and saw a Wiley Dufresne demo doesn’t mean you are the second coming of Ferran Adria.
Speaking of which: Next’s next menu is a tribute to El Bulli, a restaurant that Grant Achatz and his staff are intimately familiar with. Check this out, and book your table now.
And since for more than a century the phrase “the customer is always right” has occupied our collective dining psyche, I would like to point out that its days as the driver of all things service oriented is over. Not a single one of these chefs like it or agree with it and to quote Dan Patterson it’s more about asking yourself as a restaurant owner “Is the customer happy?” Anyway this makes for a great read.