Julie & Julia & Jimmy

August 10th, 2009

The movie’s out and it’s time for me to jump on the bandwagon.  I knew Julia for many years.  Close, you might say.  Very close.  Very, very close.

First: the movie is fine.  Meryl Streep is Julia Child, omg.  The essence of Julia is pretty much captured.  She was witty, sarcastic, unpredictable and awesome.

I got a call back in 1994 saying that Julia was putting together a new TV series and my name had come up.  We had met a few times before but she wanted a tape to look at.  I sent her one of a show I had done before and she chose me, saying I looked “so manly”.  (Remember, she was in her 80’s.)

The first time I met her, I was having lunch at Galileo in Washington, DC when a friend, Ann Brody passed by my table.  “Jimmy” she said “we’re having lunch with Julia Child in the back room.  Would you like to meet her?”  Would I ever!  Wondering how to break the ice, I recalled that Julia had gone to the Cordon Bleu in Paris and I was lucky enough to get a job there 25 years later.  The owner even arranged an apartment for me, nice, sweet old French lady that she was.  So I shook hands with Julia and said “I also was at the Cordon Bleu.  You must remember Mme. Brassart.”  At that, Julia looked at me and said, “I certainly do.  What a despicable woman!”  Not shy, she.  You’ll see the connection when you see the movie.  More later, gotta run.  But, believe it or not, they’re still showing re-runs of my shows with Julia on PBS.  Even though it has been 15 years, I haven’t changed a bit.  http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/meet/sneed.html


Bikin’ Chicagoland

July 20th, 2009

Stacey and I were due for a bike ride. Not that kind, a motorcycle. Yesterday we followed #53 to Wheeling, across to Highland Park and down to Chicago itself. We were headed to an early dinner but my bike inexplicably routed us to Intelligensia on Broadway. Rote memory. Damn good capuccino.

We then headed over to Piccolo Sogno for a dinner of appetizers. Good grilled squid/shrimp/octopus, a nice authentic pizza, some burrata and proscuitto and fried squash blossoms. All in all, good, simple food and a great patio.

Soda Scam

July 14th, 2009

The problem is: how does a restaurant make money? For many chain types, it’s soda (or pop as they say around here; weird). How so?

Next time you’re in a chain restaurant, look at the soda pricing on the menu. Guess what. It ain’t there. That’s right, no pricing. They may list their sodas (coke, diet coke, sprite, tea) but no prices. Then ask your server how much a Coke is. He/she will probably say they’ll have to check. They don’t know. They say no one has ever asked.  It has happened to me three times in the last month.

When they come back, the answer should shock you. Eighty nine cents? Ninety Nine? One eighty nine? Nope, $2.50. How in the world can they get $2.50 for a Coke that costs them 17¢ from a soda gun? Because no one asks. If you were told that soda was $1.99, you’d say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. If it were $1.29 you might say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. If it were 99¢ you might say “I think I’ll just have water with a lemon”. But if there’s no price guess what? Four people order sodas and spend an extra $10 for lunch.

P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Our best meal? For the value, passion, and all the good that represents our industry I would have to say Peasant, even if he had presented us a bill.  Frankie De Carlo represents what a cook should be.

However, Geoff and I agree that the perfect meal, the best of the best, was lunch at Le Bernardin. Cost aside (I’ll get to that in a minute…wow) I have always ranked Eric Ripert as one of the top three chefs in the country. I stand by that.

Geoff and I were joined by my great friend, Myra Fiori of illy caffe. I’ve been one of illy caffe’s biggest fans for 20 some years and Myra has been a friend for most of that time.  But enough about friendships, let’s talk food:

1st was a bowl of smoked salmon salad for the table, sort of a gimme.  Next, a tasting of six Kumamoto oysters, each with a garnish a bit spicier than one before.  3rd came a sous vide poached egg with osetra caviar.  Cheater.  Oh yeah, served with a ’95 Dom Perignon.  Cheater.

Then a thin slice of zucchini rolled around curried peeky toe crab.  Spot on I say.  Next was poached halibut, black cod with octopus stuffed with peppers, and an entree of kobe beef and escolar.  Not sure which was richer, or better.  Awesome.  Then fromage blanc with almonds and honey and finally an eggshell stuffed with some chocolate, orange meringue and chicory ice cream.  In the interest of ‘keeping it clean’ I’ll not shout out how great it all was.

And it was all finished off with a great espresso.  Illy, duh.

The cost?  Sit down.  No, really.  Sit down.  Eric ‘comped’ me for old time’s sake (and I didn’t partake in the wine tastings that accompanied the lunch) so the tab was for Two People with tasting menus and tasting wines, tax and tip.  Ready? $1,000.  For the love of god, who eats like this?  And should they?  The debate will rage on (or not).  The fact is that you’re certainly paying for the experience.  Sort of like a week long cruise, or a trip to Paris.  Only more expensive.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Tuesday dinner. Peasant. Frankie De Carlo is a great friend. I found this place 9 years ago because my good friend Nabil had built Frankie a wood burning rotisserie, wood burning grill and a wood burning pizza oven. I went to look at it and fell in love with Frankie’s food, and style. It’s simple food cooked with passion.

Three years ago Alain Ducasse, arguably the best known chef in the world, was asked to name his three favorite restaurants. He named one in Japan, one in Italy and Peasant. It’s in NoLita (SoHo) on Elizabeth and Spring. You’ll love everything from the house made ricotta to the oven seared sardines. And maybe the world’s best panna cotta.

I didn’t mean to overlook lunch Monday at the Carnegie Deli, a must for each trip to NYC. A mile high tower of the world’s best corned beef, great pickles, Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda (diet).

NYC meals: round 2

July 6th, 2009

Monday night was all about Soto. I knew him when he was in Atlanta. Word was he wigged out a time or two. Such is genius. (I don’t wig). He’s in Manhattan now, being compared to a working man’s Nobu. And work he does. It’s a small place at 357 Sixth Avenue. That’s important to know because there is no signage at all. The six of us asked him to send what he wished, make it easy for him. He refused saying we were too large a party and must order a la carte (?). I’m confused. Anyway, we ate 19 different plates of food. Most were terrific, a couple were stellar. One was awful. If you think the stinky shark I had in Iceland was bad, try the fermented sea cucumber intestine mixed with pureed squid and a quail egg yolk. But the rest was so good we have to figure it’s about as good as Japanese food gets. And his knife skills make me look like I wear boxing gloves when I slice.

New York Meals round #1

July 5th, 2009

Landed in NY Sunday, visited our son in Brooklyn and went by train to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Stunning. Wow. It’s a Rockefeller farm circa 1930, renovated by David Rockefeller. The farm apparently is run by different entities and the restaurant (Blue Hill) buys from them. The food is seasonal and very good but the setting is spectacular. It’s in Tarrytown, 30 miles from NYC. Oh yeah, the economy hasn’t seemed to hurt this, and other high end restaurants. More on this soon.


June 23rd, 2009

I’ve been fighting for a smoke free world for most of my life. When Jean-Louis (Palladin, my mentor) smoked, I ragged on him non-stop. Now he’s dead. And with Illinois pretty much smoke free it’s even harder to tolerate walking into a restaurant back in Richmond, VA. But…I got a flurry of emails last month from friends back home when Virginia passed a no smoking bill to take effect this December.

I think I’m glad to see a bill giving the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco. Not sure. We really need to protect the workers from smoke so I hope this doesn’t hamper those efforts. Maybe OSHA needs to step in. Too bad the gov’t needs get involved but there seems to be no alternative. And now I can go to jazz clubs, or bowling with my kids for the first time in years. It’s a great feeling.

Good thing I was unarmed.

June 19th, 2009

Wow. How bad can service be? I took Laura Yee to lunch Wednesday (my PR maven, business lunch thank you). We tried to get some things accomplished but this waiter thing kept interrupting by bringing plates of food to us and asking if that’s what we ordered. Three times! And he questioned out loud why I was looking at him funny.

Then came the check. He charged me for the potato omelet tapas that we never got. When I pointed that out to him he screamed over to his colleague “Hey, I found the table that the omelet was supposed to go to!”.

I’m taking my Chef de Cuisine, Geoff Rhyne, to NYC in a couple of weeks to dine. We’re taking a break from June 28th to July 6th. The restaurant will be serving a limited, non SugarToad menu.

One place I thought I’d take him is per se. Thomas Keller is one of the best chefs in America. When I made the reservation, however, the site noted that jeans were not allowed. Unfortunately, it’s all I own. I’ve made a career of telling folks I became a chef so I could wear jeans to work, and play. So I left a message for the GM of per se to see how strict the policy was, and he replied by email “if it’s jeans you wear, then jeans it is.” He then asked that I wear dark jeans, and a jacket. As it turns out we got tickets to Colbert and I had canceled per se before I got the reply.

Anyway, my philosophy is that food should be fun and by golly if you want to dress up, go ahead. And if you’re more comfortable in jeans, great. But please, wear shoes.