This coming week you will see a new food truck roll out on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul; it’s called AZ Canteen and you can learn all about it at azcanteen.com. We are sampling at the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon by the International Bazaar entrance, so come find us and say hi. I am also taping a Travel Channel special that day for next season; it’s a “Fan Favorite Moments” show, and we have built a giant tent where you can view clips and vote on your favorites. See you there.
My favorite curmudgeon—the man who keeps more people honest than Anderson Cooper—is Stewart Woodman, the uberchef of Heidi’s and Birdhouse. He had this (excerpted) to say on his blog, Shefzilla.com:
So a critic is now in the food truck biz, what an interesting development. The new reality raises some very interesting ethical questions for me. Is Zimmern still on the editorial board at MSP-picking cheap eats like he did this month? Does his role as critic and writing about the business conflict with his now actually being in the business? They can’t make the claim that they won’t cover his truck, and keep an arms length, they wrote about it yesterday. Who will review his food truck? Obviously I will for this blog, but who will for the magazine?
MSP has blurred the lines already by having Steven Brown, Johnny Michaels, and Marianne Miller write for the mag. So I’m not sure that there is much consideration along those lines, though you would think they would seek to create the impression of objectivity. You can’t imagine the Star Tribune ever crossing that line. But should a magazine follow a similar code of conduct as a newspaper? Should they try to keep some distance from the industry they cover, or just throw in the towel? Very, very interesting.
This is a topic that Stewart loves to talk about and his questions are legit. He takes this stuff really seriously, and while I disagree with him as much as I see eye-to-eye, I count him as a friend and I love his passion and chutzpah. I replied on Shefzilla, but there are a couple of things our readers here should know:
First off, I don’t review anything for MSP Mag these days; I haven’t for years. Second, I would hope our readers would want people with a little bit of experience such as Steven, Johnny, Marianne, and myself recommending places around town that we enjoy and urge our readers to check out. That’s called reader service, and it’s an important component of what we do at the magazine and online. The whole notion that we need “more serious dining criticism” is puzzling to me. It’s been a hot topic for months—this idea that only someone such as Jonathon Gold, Jay Rayner, or a reincarnated Johnny Apple can write about dining and take some punches at the best chefs in a town. I read and enjoy Lucky Peach, and the conversational diatribes of Chang et al always remind me that if you get real serious and preach to a very narrow audience you are really over intellectualizing something that, at its basest level, is just food. Our papers and magazines have a broader audience here in Minnesota. And most importantly, I am not sure the restaurant community would like to be held to the standards of the excruciatingly fidgety “dining crit community” that is in many other cities, and I do not see it as being necessary for growth.
In fact, what we have created here in the last decade is a BOOMING restaurant scene. Why mess it up? As one of the people directly responsible, and in many cases personally responsible for shining a national spotlight on Minnesota restaurants and food community, I would caution those looking for more intense scrutiny to be careful for what they ask for. … We know the restaurant scene here is serious—it’s taken that way. Who isn’t taking it that way? Who isn’t knowledgeable about food that is writing about it? I can name a few, but they aren’t at MSP Mag! Newsweek featured some of my picks in its 100 best restaurants around the world feature . . . if I can answer to them I think I can recommend a Chinese restaurant for my local monthly.
There are still some inexperienced morons writing about food and wine in this town. It’s sad, and it shouldn’t be that way, but some media outlets just have no clue and couldn’t care less and often promote someone to the dining beat who just last week was writing about antique stores. I remember when Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his place at The Chambers and I was aghast reading what was written about the place by people who had never eaten his food or been to one of his restaurants for a drink! I think the best food team in town is at MSP Mag, and our expertise is deep. Our editors know whom to assign to which restaurants, and often if I see something in a review that bugs me or I view it as uninformed, I write about it here … and my editors happily allow that to happen. That’s symbolic of a great organization. I have been at this company for nearly 15 years, and it’s a world-class group of folks.
One last thought: Several friends of mine have famously put it out there that you have to earn your stripes to publicly get paid to open your mouth about judging other people, whether it’s music, food, sports . . . whatever. I offended some Iron Chef judge years ago, who was essentially a beverage blogger from Vegas and was judging food, but not doing a good job of it. I lost it. So I do agree with you, Stew; on a larger playing field, you need pros challenging other pros so that the lay-person can rely on their criticism. I think Dara and Stephanie know what they are doing when doling out the assignments and managing our more serious takes on who is cooking what and how.
Now, as for the truck: I am a businessperson. I make television shows, write magazine articles, edit online and print content, write books, sell products, make web content of all sizes and shapes, and yes, now I am in the food truck business with several partners and it’s really fun to be serving food again. I will advocate for freedom within that business model, and for access for entrepreneurs of all sizes and shapes. I don’t find it interesting at all to write about food on food trucks except to recommend something I like. The Star Tribune hires journalists who ascribe to a very strict code of ethics. My friends in their food section are superb writers, award-winning in every sense of the word. I subscribe to no such code. But I try to be sure to balance what I say and do in my daily life.
While the State Fair will keep me close to home this next week, anyone who loves BBQ should be headed down to the Cochon Heritage BBQ event in Memphis, Tennessee. The pork mavens at Cochon 555, the premiere hog cooking folks in the world, are doing a three-day festival on Labor Day weekend. Heritage pork, National Bourbon Month, and BBQ will all be celebrated in a big way, with dozens of famous chefs cooking whole hog bbq all in support of Brady Lowe’s Cochon 555 mission of promoting sustainable change in the industry and educating the world about heritage breeds of pig. Tastings, panels, classes, pitmasters, brewers, vintners, distillers, craft spirits, and more will be raging through the streets of Memphis all weekend long. You won’t want to miss this. Go visit the Heritage Preview site at cochon555.com and get your tickets now.
Closer to home check meritage-stpaul.com/oysterfest for the latest and greatest info on one of the slickest food events in the state. What the Kleins have done is remarkable. Meritage has announced its Second Annual OysterFest in downtown St. Paul on Sunday, Sept. 30 at noon. All five species of oysters will be available, and according to Russ Klein, “Guests will be able to meander through shucking stations manned by oyster farmers from both coasts, including the famous Hama Hama from Hood Canal, WA; the award-winning Island Creek from Duxbury, MA and Penn Cove Shellfish from Coupeville, WA.” Olympias and Belons will also be shucked. Summit will launch its Kinsale Oyster Stout that day, pairing stations will be sponsored by Summit and Southern Wines and Spirits. Seminars, cooking classes, live music, fish shack foods . . . the whole shebang. There will be a star chef shucking contest and a limited number of VIP passes will be sold in advance for $100, which includes all-you-can-eat oysters, a gift bag, and a commemorative pint glass. Be there.
This coming Monday is the season finale of Bizarre Foods America. The new season starts in January 2013. We are shooting it right now. Tune in, and be sure to check out my live tweet of the episode as well, @andrewzimmern.