An Open Letter to My Daughter

January 2nd, 2014

So, you became a vegetarian. If memory serves, it started when you were 9 and Mom took you to Fuddruckers where you saw a side of beef hanging on a hook. It just didn’t seem right to eat another animal, did it? As the years passed you became more involved in the moral issue and eventually became vegan. As did your sister.

Good for you both.

Then I partnered with Carena to open a Jamaican restaurant replete with oxtails, curry chicken, beef patties, and goat. I then went on to other opportunities leaving you to manage the restaurant. How hard it must have been at times. I know.

So I sold my interest and we opened a nice, friendly, health oriented bistro serving food that I can only describe as, well, fucking awesome. For lack of an exhaust hood we relied on a tiny, hand build, double deck stone pizza oven and proceeded to make all of our pitas to order for the sandwiches, amazing pizzas, crazy good cookies and cupcakes (thanks to your mom). Oh, and the tapioca pudding. Add soups and salads and you have a restaurant to satisfy even hard core carnivores.

I was one. Carnivore, that is. Still am. But I remember working there the first eight months and realizing how seldom I ate meat. Not for moral reasons, mind you, but because the food was so good I didn’t miss it.

That’s behind me now. Today I’m taking your grandmother to O’Toole’s for a burger. But your mission continues. Feeding healthful food to people that ‘get it’. I know a day doesn’t pass that customers don’t shake your hand and say “thank you”. Your food is every bit as good as anything I have served in my restaurants.

Yet, there’s a fly in the ointment. While you’re trying to make pennies on the dollar, Five Guys gets $2.49 for $.17 worth of cola flavored corn syrup and $3.69 for two potatoes, cut and deep fried. Two burgers, one fry and two sodas cost me $22. You could pay off your mortgage and buy a new car at those prices.

Something’s terribly wrong here.

So, to make money you need to jack up your prices to reflect your costs and you need a soda fountain. OK? Call Coke today and have it delivered. And no more of this “I don’t want to serve chemical additives and genetically modified food” baloney. Suck it up. Serve a hot dog.

Or, stand by your principles. Sure, you’re helping make people healthier. Look how many of your customers come in 2, 3, 5 times a week. And new ones every day who apparently “just heard about you”. You’re not only doing the right thing, you’re doing it very well. I’m more than proud. I stand in awe.




Here’s a story I found while cleaning up my files:

A few years back I was asked to give a speech, in Las Vegas, for 350 chefs, during Super Bowl week. Now, January isn’t a very busy month for us, and going to Vegas had its appeal. But what really intrigued me was the chance to speak to 350 of my peers. Heady stuff. I agreed to do it.

There was, however, a catch. I also had to oversee the luncheon, and serve a dish featuring turkey. No problem. I’ll do the boned leg and thigh, stuffed with Edwards’ Virginia Ham and Shiitakes. That, with our awesome stone ground grits and some candied ginger carrots should rock their world. It’s a lot of work, but they promised that the hotel would provide plenty of staff to help.

The deal was that I would talk from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, and then put out the lunch (with plenty of help, remember?). Well, it turned out that the hotel, which I shall not name (rhymes with Leo), didn’t provide any cooks to help except for one very hard working exception (thanks Mora). Something about a staff shortage. Never mind, you learn to expect these inconveniences. By coincidence, my mentor, and good friend, Jean-Louis Palladin, has a restaurant in the Rio. His chef, Michael, was more than happy to help me bone and stuff turkey legs, for 20 hours, non-stop! (Apologize to your wife again for me, will you Michael?)

When I finally got to my room, at midnight, my wife gave me the message that my speech was rescheduled. I was now supposed to give a 45 minute talk, during lunch! No way! I was promised two hours! Besides, who would put out lunch??

“Don’t worry,” I was told. “You’ll have plenty of help.”

The next morning I had a friendly chat with the organizers, and they agreed to give me 1hour to talk, maybe a little more. But the hotel would have to dish up the lunch we cooked.

I started my talk at 11:45, and boy, was I funny. I mean, really, really funny. I talked about the good old days with Jean-Louis (whom I lovingly refer to as ‘the asshole’) and Guenter Seeger. I talked about the years of unbridled screaming in Jean-Louis’ kitchen, and the frightening precision, and cleanliness, of Guenter’s kitchen. I talked about naked chefs, holding their blender. I talked about the turkey dish I was demonstrating and serving, and how I ‘invented’ it for Julia Child’s TV show. There’s nothing like speaking to a ballroom full of chefs, in Las Vegas, and having them laugh hysterically at your stories. God, was I funny. Or so I thought.

It seems that one older couple took offense to my language, and said so to the organizer. For christ’s sake, it’s LAS VEGAS! If you can’t use the ‘f’ word here, where can you use it? And besides, I got a standing ovation. They flooded the stage, took pictures and asked for my autograph. Now I know how Elvis must have felt, except he was fatter and on drugs.

Anyway, the sponsor of the conference, an itty bitty, little, insignificant publication called ‘Chef’ took issue with my speech. (By the way, I’m no longer bitter.) The editor, Brent Frei, went so far as to write his editorial in the April issue on ‘yours truly’. He announced that he was twice appalled. The first thing was the speech itself: “I was taught that a chef is not to use the f-word in public, nor swear at all, really, nor should he or she make disparaging remarks about other chefs, even in jest”. (Did he just say that chefs don’t swear?)

As for the ‘f’ word, I offer no apologies. It’s just a word, and by elevating it to the unspeakable you make it more than it really is. It has its place, and that place is Las Vegas. As for the disparaging remarks, I spent five miserable years getting screamed at by Jean-Louis. The kind of screaming that you will never, ever hear in your lifetime. Times ten. Referring to him as an asshole is my minuscule revenge, and it’s done with much love and respect.

The second thing that appalled Mr. Frei was the attendees’ response:

“When I got back home to Chicago, a deluge of mail praised Jimmy’s presentation as one of the best, if not the best, event at our conference. The writers loved everything he had to say, and as I recall, he had most of the attendees rolling with laughter. Virtually everyone who commented on Jimmy’s presentation requested we ask him back next year.”

Go figure.

In 2002 I moved from Richmond to Charleston, SC mostly to be near my mother.  I took over management of a stunning restaurant that had not, in its 18 months open, found its footing.

One night a waiter came to me and said that the guests on table 12 wanted to say hi, as they were from Richmond and had been fans of The Frog and the Redneck.

Sweetheart that I am, I go to the table to greet them.  There were two couples, one of which lived in Richmond and the other in Charleston.  Turns out the Charleston couple had moved from Richmond eight years prior and loved living in Charleston.  I innocently asked if they missed Richmond.  “Not at all!” they practically shouted in unison.  “Richmond is an angry town.”

I was shocked.  Not by the idea that they thought Richmond was generally angry, but that it struck such a chord with me.  I too sensed a lot of anger in Richmond, even before moving here in ‘93 and certainly afterwards.  People advised me not to open The Frog in Richmond saying it was a town that would never accept new ideas and certainly not a restaurant located downtown with such a silly name.  So many statements began or ended with “This is Richmond” that I banned it from use.

But there was indeed tangible anger.  Anger over the way things had changed, over local, state and national politics, over allowing women into VMI, putting Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue, desecrating downtown with the 6th Street Marketplace and of course losing the Civil War.

Fast forward 20 years.  We’ve since moved to Las Vegas and the suburbs of Chicago and then back to Richmond.  Twice.  I’m often asked if I think Richmond has changed over the years?  Is it a ‘nicer’ place?  Hell yes!  It’s alive, with youth:  Bicycles, kids in strollers, dogs on leashes with grins on their faces, interesting restaurants, really good coffee shops and nicer folks.  How on earth….does that happen?

Well, cultural dilution, for one thing.  Back in the 90’s it seems that every week you read in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that some new company was moving its headquarters to Richmond.  That meant new blood, new ideas.  Come-heres as they were known.  And, speaking of the newspaper….

How awful.

Whoever coined the phrase ‘wrong side of history’ must have been talking about the Times-Disgrace.  Women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality, smoking in restaurants, Fox News politics and, if you’re old enough, bussing.  Remember “massive resistance”?  Does the name James Kilpatrick strike a familiar?  Or Ross McKenzie?  The first time I saw him in person I was stunned that he looked, well, normal.  I expected at the very least a lizard tongue and scales.

Such an embarrassment the Times-Dispatch was that the first time I was interviewed, back in 1993, the reporter, Charles Slack, started by saying that the news side of the paper had absolutely nothing to do with the editorial side.  It became an oft repeated refrain from their reporters.

Thankfully the RTD as we knew it is all but dead.  Perhaps the new ownership will help it to reflect the community instead of trying to make it into its image.

So, the answer is yes.  Even if I’ve forgotten the question.

Hello.  My name is Jimmy (Hi Jimmy!), and I’m a carnivore.  So is my wife.  And our son, although less and less so each year.  Our daughters are both vegan, the youngest committed, the oldest hardcore.  So hardcore, in fact, that she urged me to sell my interest in a Jamaican restaurant, with its awesome oxtail, cow cod and jerk chicken, and help her open a little vegetarian ‘bistro’  serving vegetarian pizzas, sandwiches, stews and desserts.  (It’s called Fresca on Addison, in Richmond, VA).

Early on a customer came in, perused the chalkboard menu, ordered some food, scrutinized the work area and then ate.  He came back a few days later and repeated the ritual after which he introduced himself.  Turns out he’s a heart surgeon at Bon Secours and claimed (are you ready for this?) that heart disease can be reversed with the proper diet.

Oh, I’ve heard stories and listened to customers over the years with their own tales of beating death with the right food.  Macrobiotic this, organic that.  Avoid meat and dairy and eat veggies without adding fat.  Now don’t get me wrong: I worked at Fresca for the first 8 months or so and something quite unexpected happened.  I forgot to eat meat.  Seriously, I’d go three or four days eating pizza with mozzarella, roasted red peppers and seitan ‘chorizo’, or roasted broccolini on one of Jenna’s warm, yeasty, baked-to-order pita breads.  Then there was the egg salad, chili or curried vegetables over stone ground grits.  So, am I ready to go all vegetarian, the Full Monty?  Hell no.  I’d rather die than give up foie gras and tapioca pudding.

 I may get my wish.

You see, Jenna, our extreme vegan, asked a favor of me:  Dad, please.  How could I say no?  Go see a movie at the Byrd Theater sponsored by the Vegetarian Society of Richmond (wearing Birkenstocks I suppose).  It’s called Forks over Knives.  So Stacey and I went to see it and while I did doze off a few times, as I’m prone to do at movies, each time I revived all I heard was ‘meat is bad, vegetables are good’ blah blah blah.

Well, maybe that’s not all I heard.  There was this guy named Esselstyn from the Cleveland Clinic and a couple other doctor types offering testimonials of folks that have renewed energy, sleep better and no longer need Viagra, all from eliminating meat products.  Man, some people will say anything to get a rise out of me.

Oh, did I mention that a ‘whole food, plant based diet’ will magically lower LDL, blood pressure, heart rate and pretty much bitch slap diabetes.  Not a little, but dramatically and quickly.  Their star patient went from taking nine different medicines a day to one.  No more statins, no more blood pressure medicine, no more insulin.  Do they understand what havoc this can wreck on the pharmaceutical industry, not to mention cattle ranchers?  They could go the way of tobacco farmers.  These nuts want us to give up meat and pharmaceuticals?  Un-American I say.  What next?  Assault rifles?

Well apparently it’s not. Stacey and I were in NYC last weekend for our son’s wedding. A great time was had by all. Monday morning we got up and walked to a nearby coffee shop called Think Coffee. We had a cup of very good coffee (although there was some confusion among the staff as to who roasted their coffee, and a bagel (sesame for me, everything bagel for Stacey).

Anyway, halfway through breakfast a girl and her companion came out of the shop, sat down at one of the sidewalk tables, and lit up a cigarette. So I moseyed inside and asked the barista whether, under New York’s new smoking laws, one was allowed to smoke under the awning.

“They are not” said the barista. “Why? Is someone out there smoking?”

Not just someone, I noted, but an employee of the coffee shop. “Well,” they paused, “I guess we should, um….”

“Fire her?” I said, half in jest.

Whereupon a customer (in his early 30’s I’d say) piped up “I say live and let live.”

Me: Really. That’s interesting because that’s what I say as well. Let me live without breathing in cigarette smoke.

Him: Your advocating her being fired was a bit extreme, I’d say.

Me: I said it (half) in jest. Nevertheless it is against the law and reflects poorly on the

Him: You can always vote with your feet.

Me: Let me get this straight. You’re suggesting that I, what, walk away in the middle of my breakfast? Or should I just sit there and breathe in cigarette smoke? You do know by now, like anybody who can read, that cigarette smoke is a class A carcinogen.

Him: So are a lot of things. Deal with it.

Me: And that guy outside with his baby in the stroller, should he just sit there as well? Or perhaps he should grab his baby and run away. Is that what you’re suggesting?

Him: That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. Goodbye.

Me: Goodbye. And don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

(Ok, I didn’t really say that. After all, this is still New York. Or, as a good friend of mine once said: The subways here are very safe. Just don’t make eye contact with anybody).

It’s true, I came very, very close to having a great meal while out of town Sunday.  The restaurant in question is quite new and has received huge acclaim in a very short time.  Huge.  So I went there with high expectations and was not disappointed.  At first.

The space is very nice.  Somebody sank a chit ton of money into it, and it shows.  Outside, the garden, front porch and side building/bar showed lots of attention and good taste.  Inside, across from the hostess was a large slate tally board that showed where every main ingredient came from and who produced it.  Quite impressive.  The menu relied on the farm to table philosophy and showed me that great thought, time and talent went into writing it.  Best of all, there were a dozen dishes that appealed to me.  My juices were flowing. Read the rest of this entry »

I was visiting my mother recently, in Charleston, SC.  She asked where we should go to lunch and I suggested the venerable Greek restaurant nearby.

“No way,” she said, “the last time I ate there they served me iced tea that had soured.”


“And, your father’s chicken was dry.”




“Dad’s been dead for 36 years.”

Lesson for restaurants?  Don’t piss off Mom.


After my freshman year of college in the 70’s I took a job managing a Panasonic store at the Eastview Mall outside of Rochester, NY.  Brrrrr.  My roommate, Jerry, managed a shoe store at the mall.  At lunchtime a bunch of us would meet at the Steak and Cleaver for a burger and a beer.  (Drinking age was 18).

Anyway, there were two waitresses there named Nancy.  One, a blonde with a bit of a complexion issue, was soooo nice, so sweet.  “Hi Guys”, she’d coo, “what can I get you today?”  The other Nancy was old, maybe 26 or so, and had no time for niceties.  “Are you guys going to order or just sit there acting like asses?”

Next thing I know, Jerry was dating Nice Nancy and then inviting her to move into our house.  Then, as fate would have it, Nasty Nancy’s boyfriend gets busted for selling drugs and Nancy needs a place to stay, so she takes our spare bedroom.  Now we have Nice Nancy and Nasty Nancy living with us.  Guess what?  Turns out Nice Nancy was nasty.  And Nasty Nancy was nice.


At a restaurant where I was consulting last year, I asked the waitstaff, one by one, to name the best restaurant meal they ever had.

Margaret:  Umm.  Umm.  Sorry chef, I have nothing for ya.

Don:  Uh, let me think.  Uh.  Can’t come up with anything.

Joey:  I don’t eat out much, sorry.

Billy:  None stand out Chef.

Ryan:  It was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Me:  Great.  What did you have?

Ryan:  I don’t remember, but I know I liked it.

Me:  OK, interesting.  What was it called?

Ryan:  I don’t remember the name.

Me:  Let me get this straight.  The best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life was at a restaurant whose name you don’t remember and you have no idea what you ate?

Ryan:  Yes Chef.

Hard as it is to believe, only one of the 15 or so waiters had eaten a meal so memorable that they could recall it.  That server had eaten with her parents at the French Laundry.  Not too shabby.

Now it gets really bad.  I challenged the chef of this restaurant’s other location to name a great restaurant in Richmond.  His reply (in front of the mortified owner) was “I like Applebee’s.”  Five for five, Baby.

Ramps ‘by god’ Virginia

April 15th, 2011

Swear to god, I’m gonna write more.  Screw inspiration.

Just picked up some ramps from the West Virginia/Virginia border.  My digger is a true mountain man, Bill Kincaid.  He pretty much hunts every day of the year:  deer, turkey, ramps, morels or chanterelles.  He has become a friend as well.  We have a lot in common seein’ as how my Dad was born not far away, in the hills of WV.  Hey, maybe we’re related!

Years ago ramps made my personal list of the ten great foods of the world.  They’re either a wild leek, wild garlic, wild onion, lily of the valley or the source of all that’s holy, depending on whom you ask.  Raw, they’ll make your eyes flutter.  Dip them into good salt first.  Cooked they become rich and deeply flavorful.  Ramps seem to grow best throughout the Ohio Valley, and not too well anywhere else.  I’ve had ‘em from the Northwest but they’re wimpy.

Back in the days before interstates, very little ‘foreign’ produce made its way to the dinner tables in the ‘hollers’ of West Virginia.  So the Hatfields and the McCoys made do with whatever they could hunt, or forage.  They ate ramps and eggs for breakfast, ramp sandwiches for lunch and ramp salad with dinner.  Out of self defense, they passed a law that allowed teachers to send home any students that ate ramps to the point that ramp essence oozed out their pores.

To that point, the first time Bill dug ramps for me I went to him to get them.  The next time I told him to stick them on a Greyhound bound for Richmond and I picked them up at the Greyhound station in Richmond.  A week later he got a letter from Greyhound saying that whatever it was he shipped, please don’t do it again.

Hopefully we’ll have ramps into early May.  Today I added a couple of raw ramps to an egg salad sandwich on warm, freshly baked pita.  Holy shit.