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I had the great good fortune to interview Dan Barber before a sold-out crowd at Cleveland’s MOCA last night, talking to him about his fine book, The Third Plate (NYTimes review here). Barber, chef and owner of New York’s Blue Hill restaurant and maestro of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, is the most vocal and articulate chef soap-boxing for a sustainable food future. The problem has long been that, while he’s been very good at articulating the problems, he’s never had a realistic solution. Americans can’t completely opt out of the industrial food system by relying exclusively on CSAs and farmers’ markets (much as we cherish them). And chefs must cherry-pick the best ingredients if they are to keep their restaurants filled. Until this book, that is. Barber, through excellent reporting (how many chefs record interviews Read On »

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No surer sign of spring, this lovely photo above. And when wild edibles grow together they’re often great cooked together. Last week for one of the final shots for the new book I ordered fresh morels from a fabulous company in northern Michigan called Earthy Delights (thanks, Chip and Ed!). I love the food of Michigan—the stone fruit, the eau de vie made from their skin, the tart cherries, the mushrooms. Same as the Great Lakes territories of Ohio, which booms with ramps right now. We get so many wild ramps that Jonathon Sawyer, who turned 13 today, spiritually (good luck at the Beards, JS, kick those Chicago bastards’ asses!), used them as centerpieces that diners could take home when he chefed at Bar Cento before opening his Greenhouse Tavern. What did Donna shoot for Read On »

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This is not a great photo, technically, but it’s a favorite of 2012 for all that it represents. That’s Billy Harris, apparently looking for tonsils to nibble on. Next to him is Paul Kahan, the Chicago chef, entrepreneur, badass cook, and purveyor of fine meats. At right is Jonathan Waxman, chef-owner of Barbuto in NYC and one of the godfathers of the new American cuisine. Bless them, they’d all come with many other colleagues to my town to benefit our amazing West Side Market and celebrate its hundredth birthday. The head, it will be no surprise to Cleveland food lovers, is courtesy of Jonathon Sawyer, chef-owner of The Greenhouse Tavern (he also just started an ancillary vinegar business; see below). It had come to the table with much roasted meat still attached and was deeee-licious. How can you not Read On »

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The word is passion and I used to hear it from chefs. “I can teach you to cook, but I can’t teach passion,” they would say. I took this at face value from so many chefs I can’t tell you, until I didn’t anymore because I realized it meant exactly nothing. Thomas Keller, the chef from whom I have learned the most, and the most by far, noted this a while back as well. Passion is the wrong word, he said. Desire was what he wanted to see in a young cook. What, really, though, is that elusive quality that makes a great chef, a great musician, a great anything? It’s not passion, and I’m not sure it’s desire either. A lot of people have passion for something they aren’t good at. In my twenties Read On »

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A couple weeks ago Tuesday, I was lucky enough to score an early rez at the restaurant Animal, the much-hyped LA restaurant run by chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (Vinny’s the bushy one, photo courtesy of Animal). A few weeks earlier, in town for a gig at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (bet you didn’t know I played the cello!), a friend took me to their second restaurant Son of a Gun. I told this friend I loved it and that it reminded me of The Greenhouse Tavern, because it did the same kind of food. (Only of course it didn’t really–Greenhouse doesn’t sell alligator schnitzel!–so what did I mean? Fabulous dish, that schnitzel.) It wasn’t till I ate at Animal with my friend the writer Dan Voll and our kids that I realized Read On »

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