Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chicago Michelin guide retweeted

November 16

The big news in American fine dining today was, of course, the release of the first Michelin guide for Chicago restaurants. 

If you were awarded a star, heartfelt congratulations. If you weren’t, remember, it’s just a guide book by a tire company.

Being the branché hep cat that I am, I had my TweetDeck up and followed yesterday’s apparent leaking to Yelp of the list of restaurants anointed with stars and today’s reaction by its winners.

There’s not much more to say than that, except that one of the two three-star restaurants, L20, recently lost its chef, although perhaps just temporarily, making the brand new book already a bit obsolete. People who know the Chicago restaurant scene much better than I are already doing their analysis, and will likely pillory it the way it was pilloried in New York and San Francisco. 

I think I’ll just let the chefs speak for themselves, as they did through their twitter accounts.

Paul Kahan, whose restaurant Blackbird got a star, but his restaurant Avec did not:


@Paul Kahan
In the begining, they didn't understand the clash either. Avec rules.

Curtis Duffy, whose restaurant Avenues got two stars:

Feeling for the Michelin Release on Wednesday: excited, enlivened,psyched, edgy, anxious, restless,tense! What will it be?

It's official Avenues gets 2 Michelin Stars! Thank you to my team from the past and the present! Amazing!

Grant Achatz, whos restaurant Alinea got three stars:

What does it mean when Jean Luc Naret films NBC news show from your dining room on the morning of the release? I guess we will find out...

True??? How do they deal with chef Gras' departure? http://tinyurl.com/2b239xz

Graham Elliot Bowles, whose restaurant graham elliot got a star:

My name may be on the door but this star belongs to the GE team. From chef de cuisine to dishwasher, sommelier to busser...job well done XO

@grahamelliot graham elliot
Congrats!! Official 2010 Chicago Michelin-Starred Restaurants http://bit.ly/9cgSfK

@grahamelliot graham elliot
Graham Elliot Spoofs Jean-Luc Naret on His Voicemail eater.cc/akYZrb via @EaterChicago

NoMI restaurant, which got a star:
Thank You! We are very excited! RT @Audarshia CONGRATS to @NoMIChicago for its one star @MichelinGuidechi!

RT @JLynnePR Wish I had more than 140 characters to recognize all of the @MichelinGuideCH honorees - Congrats to all. Chicago is very proud.

Congrats to all! RT @ChicagoCVBPR Congrats to Blackbird, Boka, NoMi, Seasons, Sixteen, Spiaggia, Topolobampo, Tru, Vie, NAHA for a star!
Carrie Nahabedian, whose restaurant NAHA got a star:

Michelin Guide Chicago winners appear to have been leaked | Consumer | Crain's Chicago Business shar.es/0N3vK

Great 10year anniversary gift. A Michelin star and a phone call! Congrats to all our friends, it is such an honor. LOVE our NAHA staff! Xox

I've been tough on Charlie Trotter over the years, but most of these Michelin stars don't exist without him and Jean Banchet. Bravo.

is having a glass of Champagne.

The usually twitter-loquacious Rick Bayless, whose Topolobampo got a Michelin Star, and which also recently got a three-star certification from the Green Restaurant Association, actually was pretty succinct: 

Thanks!! T @GreenChicago: A Michelin Star AND Guaranteed Green - CONGRATULATIONS @619blackbird and @Rick_Bayless!!!

Thanks to all of you who've sent your congratulations on Topolobampo's star from Michelin. Needless to say, our staff is really proud!!

 And finally Paul Virant, whose restaurant Vie got a star.

Alright, Facebook friends! It's official!! Chef Paul Virant just received the good news: Vie has been awarded a... http://fb.me/Es8uaWlH

We're so excited to be included in the very first Michelin Guide for Chicago! http://fb.me/Er5p7wAM

We knew our staff was the best, but it's nice to know that others agree! Congrats to the whole crew on the... http://fb.me/Leht3we3

What do you say? Chef Paul Virant for Mayor of Western Springs??

RT@alpanasingh Alpana Singh
@jarstarvie I worked w/Paul and would 2nd that! One of the nicest, most thoughtful human beings put on this earth. Whole family is great.

RT@ChicagoBites Chicago Bites
[Post] Michelin: Comparing ratings from around the Web http://bit.ly/co5TVK

@jarstarvie Paul Virant
If you're interested in buying the Michelin Guide, it will be available 11/18. http://fb.me/AVKGNipC

And for the record, the winners:

Three stars:

Two stars:
Charlie Trotter’s

One star:


Crofton on Wells


graham elliot

Longman & Eagle






Sunday, November 07, 2010

Takashi’s dashi

November 6

“Look, I have goose bumps,” Suvir Saran told me.

It was true. He had goose bumps.

Suvir, Indian chef extraordinaire, chairman for Asian culinary studies at The Culinary Institute of America, and just a puppydog of a sweet guy, had just finished telling Takashi Yagihashi how awesome he was for figuratively staring his Japanese compatriots down.

Takashi, you see, had — on stage, in front of everybody at the Worlds of Flavor conference — added ground duck to dashi and then used a coffee siphon to infuse it with lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf.

It seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Indeed, I'd seen a coffee siphon — you might have seen these things, especially if you were drinking coffee in a hotel in Bangkok in the mid-’90s as they were all over that city at the time; they look like glass, high-tech percolators — used to infuse similar herbs into lobster stock at David Burke Town House in New York last year.

But Suvir told me that Japanese chefs would have regarded such acts as desecration of sacred dashi — the broth made by steeping kombu seaweed and then skipjack flakes (often called bonito flakes, but I’m told it’s really skipjack) in hot water. Dashi is the Great Mother Broth of Japanese cuisine, the source of much of the umami that makes their food so delicious.

For the record, and I wish this were the last time I’d have to write this but I know it's not, umami is basically just the flavor of protein. That’s it. It can be enhanced by exposing more of the bits of protein that trigger the umami receptors in our mouths — the amino acid glutamate along with certain nucleotides and other assorted protein components — but that’s all it is. It's one of our five tastes, along with sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. It’s not some mystical quality from the mysterious Orient. It’s just a taste. If you want to know what it tastes like, put some powdered MSG on your tongue.

If I’d taken a shot of shochu every time someone on stage said “umami” during the conference I’m pretty sure I would have died from alcohol poisoning.

Anyway, Takashi — who is the chef-owner of his eponymous restaurant in Chicago, although he’s probably better known for his work as executive chef of Tribute in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Mich. — souped up his dashi and served it around sashimi of geoduck clam that he garnished with sliced lotus root that sandwiched a shrimp mousseline and then was dipped in cornstarch and sautéed. Also in the dish was shiso leaf and two pieces of daikon, and the picture of it that accompanies this blog entry was sent to me from the smart phone of Will Dunbar, food & beverage director for the River Rock Casino in Geyserville, Calif., who had the presence of mind to take the picture.

In his notes, Will declared the dish to be “ridiculous,” but that, I soon learned, is the word he uses for foods that are unexpected, extraordinary and brilliant.

But Suvir was sure that the 39 chefs visiting from Japan would have found Takashi’s dish to be ridiculous in the more usual sense of the word and were possibly ridiculing it at that moment, while we were enjoying the day’s buffet lunch and congratulating Takashi, who gave us fist bumps and wandered off.

Then Suvir showed me his goose bumps.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Worlds of Flavor: The CIA does Japan

November 4

Did you know that Ruth Reichl’s an editor-at-large for Random House now?

That’s not the only thing I learned on the first day of The Culinary Institute of America’s 13th annual Worlds of Flavor conference, but I thought it was pretty interesting, nonetheless — almost as interesting as the fact that the Japanese used to throw away the fatty parts of the bluefin tuna in favor of the leaner parts.

That changed after the Japanese developed an appreciation of beef and thus also an appreciation for the fatty, marbled belly of the bluefin.

At least that’s what Yousuke Imada said, through a translator, as he was curing shad during the conference's first demonstration. Imada’s the chef-owner of Kyubey, a five-unit chain specializing in sushi and sashimi with four restaurants in Tokyo and a fifth in Osaka.

“Japan: Flavors of Culture” is the theme of this year’s Worlds of Flavor. It’s the first one I’ve been to, and so far, so good.

I’m a bit skeptical of the tuna-belly “fact,” though. Sometimes information like that gets a bit messed up in translation (although I must say the interpreter at the conference is one of the best I’ve ever encountered), and sometimes chefs who are very skilled at slicing tuna or assessing how much salt to sprinkle onto a shad have an incomplete grasp of history (or of nutrition, or modern animal husbandry or animal rights or the details of genetic modification or the effects on the metabolism of high fructose corn syrup or other aspects of food that they’re often asked to discuss).

Or maybe the Japanese used to throw away tuna bellies. It’s not like I know everything.

I’m more confident of the fact that the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet is now editing at Random House. Because she told me she was, and I’m just not an important enough person in her life for her to lie to me. I think this was only the second or third time we’d ever met.

She was speaking with White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who was taking a break from his presentation of adzuki beans layered with chocolate and served as an Opera pastry.

The organizers of the conference let us off easy today. They introduced themselves and the conference sponsors and then just had one presentation, by Japanese author and cooking-school owner Yoshiki Tsuji, who has the excellent qualities of speaking beautiful Cambridge English and also having the sort of cute Japanese sense of humor that meant his PowerPoint presentation had cartoon drawings of animals who had eaten too much (having gorged themselves on the cuisine of Osaka) and others imploring us to wake up.

I'm going to have to figure out how to put cute Japanese cartoons in my presentations.

The lecture part of Tsuji's presentation actually came after three brief cooking demonstrations — the first, as I mentioned, by Imada-san, the second, of a sea bream soup that would be part of a kaiseki meal, by Kyoto chef Yoshihiro Takahashi, who's the managing director and third-generation chef of Kinobu in that city, and the third by Kunio Tokuola, who is also the third-generation owner of a restaurant in Kyoto, called Kyôto Kitcho, but his demonstration was of an Osaka-style preparation made of herbs and flowers and other ingredients meant, basically, to look beautiful. Apparently in Osaka kaiseki, each dish is meant to express a different aspect of enjoyment of the meal — flavor, aroma, what have you. Tokuoka's dish, which he called Yamoki Kashima and is meant to evoke a Chinese folk tale, was supposed to represent beauty.

And it was beautiful. I should have taken a picture.

Or maybe not. I neglected to bring the wire with the company camera that would let me download the pictures immediately for you, which is why instead you have a picture of a flower arrangement from one of the sake booths at the “marketplace” and walk-around tasting that followed the Tsuji-san show. I used my cell phone to take it and, well, let’s just say my cell phone pictures are best viewed as abstract images.

Of course the food was good — lots of tasty fish in dashi with other elements added, a surprising number of pork belly presentations, indicating that that particular cut of meat has at least one winter of life left in it, and something I hadn’t seen before — “Delacata.” That’s what the catfish folk are calling a farm-raised variety of the fish that their letting grow to about three times the size of the usual farm-raised catfish, making it a suitable substitute in some preparations for grouper, Chilean sea bass and other species that have, by many accounts, been over-fished.

So that was new.

So is the cotton candy at Golden Corral, which corporate chef Debra Olson told me the chain was rolling out. I asked if she was going to be adding Japanese food to the Golden Corral buffet soon.

She said: “You never know.”