Category Archives: media

Will Bourdain shuffle off to Buffalo?

Anthony Bourdain, originally uploaded by arandanos.

Speaking of Ulrich’s, local rocker Nelson Starr‘s video attempt to lure Anthony Bourdain is one of four finalists. In an attempt to bait Bourdain into bringing his “No Reservations” show for the Travel Channel to the Queen City, Starr, under the direction of local filmmaker John Paget, spotlighted Ulrich’s (fish fry), the Anchor Bar (Buffalo’s original wings) and Ted’s (nicely charred dogs).

Here’s a sentence you might never see again: the Philippines, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Buffalo competing as travel destinations.

Supposedly the decision will be made this week or next. Here’s what Bourdain had to say about the search on his blog (scroll down to bottom):

Currently, wading through the submissions for the Travel With Tony thing–an often terrifying task. Just started in–but so far it’s like choosing between John Wayne Gacy, Linda Kasabian or Robyn Miller. So many people seem to be videoing themselves from a cellar apartment–a suspicious-looking chest freezer in the background. Posters of Taxi Driver and multiple copies of Catcher In The Rye. Empty tubes of airplane glue. A plastic tarpaulin rolled up against wood panelling … So many candidates seem to want to take me to rural areas in the Pacific Northwest. The words “drainage culvert” and “wooded area” keep coming up. And I’m supposed to TRAVEL with one of these people? I’m demanding a full background check, polygraph…and a Minneasota Multi-Phasic Personality test–along with the usual Rorsach. Scary!

So whether or not the No Reservations crew makes it here, we can all agree on one thing: Nelson Starr completely lacks the Jeffrey Dahmer vibe. We’re talkin’ proud!

THURSDAY NIGHT UPDATE: The woman from Saudi Arabia won. Travel Channel said Bourdain declared Nelson Starr will be on television, but stopped short of promising that Starr and Buffalo would be featured in an episode of “No Reservations.” Details in tomorrow’s Buffalo News.

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Alton Brown: The Interview

I’ve been enjoying Alton Brown’s work for years, because I nearly always learn something from episodes of his show, Good Eats. Even when his MacGyver-Mythbusters cooking hacks go a bit too far, it’s at least entertaining television.

Last week, I got a chance to talk to Brown, who the Food Network has signed through 2011. Here’s an edited transcript containing the most interesting parts of our conversation. (The feature story, with biographical information and background and such, is here.)

On the telephone, Brown was even more energetic than you might have guessed from his show. He talks really fast, and I got the impression his well-trained mouth was trying to catch up to a brain in overdrive.

I found him quite candid for a major television personality (a label that he steadfastly rejects). Here’s hoping the network gives him the resources to tackle some more serious, in-depth food issues, which he appears interested in tackling.

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The making of a restaurant: Zahav, Philadelphia

Anyone who can turn out a few decent dishes at home has heard the suggestion: “Why don’t you open a restaurant?”

Now, I have an ego that makes it touch-and-go whether I can fit in standard elevators. Sometimes I have to take the freight lift. But at least I have had the benefit of watching what people have to go through to open a restaurant. That’s why I know better.

The health regulations. The employee regulations, worker’s compensation insurance, liability insurance, snow removal, dishes and linens, leases, maintenance, sewerage backup planning. Hiring good people who will carry out your vision and not steal from you overly much.

We haven’t even mentioned the food.

So it was with great interest that I noticed a blog on the Philadelphia Inquirer site called “The Making of Zahav: Step by step, inch by inch, dollar by dollar, following a Philadelphia restaurant from inception to opening.”

The writer has better access to the inside calculations then you’re likely to see in almost any coverage of the restaurant business. I recommend you start from the end, which is the beginning, and work backwards to the present day.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a high-end restaurant and wondered why there aren’t more successful members of the species, I think you too will be fascinated.

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One hell of an eater: Calvin Trillin

Trillin: I’m no food writer

The first sentence of the first chapter of “American Fried” lays down the gantlet:

“The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five. Anyone who has visited Kansas City and still doubts that statement has my sympathy: He never made it to the right places.”

Calvin Trillin’s love affair with soulful food, played out on the pages of The New Yorker, made a lot of people hungry for things they had never seen, in places they had never been.

Over the years, Trillin has celebrated boudin, Italian sausage sandwiches, Mission burritos and other foods best enjoyed standing up in the pages of The New Yorker – a magazine of such studied sophistication it would think nothing of publishing a 16-page profile of a lesser-known Bolivian cellist.

His presence was a revelation, like the first perfect oyster loaf in a New Orleans joint. He’s even published An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing.

Today, The Buffalo News published my interview of Trillin, covering topics like why he shouldn’t be considered a food writer, how he discovered Super Taste on Eldridge Street in Chinatown, and why a guy who’ll fly to Singapore to write about snacks won’t take the 7 train to Queens for dinner.

He doesn’t seem to think too much of food blogs, especially the restaurant one-upsmanship that can take place in a competitive blogging environment.

I’ve interviewed more than a few famous writers, and Trillin was among the most humble, agreeable stars I’ve ever had a chance to chat with. His collection “The Tummy Trilogy,” the News November Book of the Month, includes “American Fried,” “Alice, Let’s Eat” and “Third Helpings,” his first three books of eating articles. It’s simply a must-read for people for whom food is more than just fuel.
Pimientos de padron, by Greg Gladman
Pimientos de padron are one of the hankerings Trillin says he just can’t satisfy in New York City. (Photo by flickr user Greg Gladman)

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Tough tables

Menu at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s East Coast outpost. Photo by baobee.

One complaint you don’t hear too often from restaurant-goers around here is that it’s too hard to get into a place. Sure, Saturday night at 8 p.m. fills up fast in the good places. But I’ve never heard of a Western New York restaurant that was impossible to get into for months. I wish we had one.

Instead, read all about the phenomenon in a Wall Street Journal article.

“Times are tough for the mere mortal who wants to land a table at a top spot. That’s because recent changes in the restaurant world, from a new cottage industry of “table scalpers” who nab desirable seats and then resell them to the shrinking number of tables of top eateries, have turned getting reservations into a global blood sport.”

Apparently, people are scalping reservations at places like Nobu and Gramercy Tavern, at $35 a pop.

What a waste. I could have bought a salad at Le Cirque for that.

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Can’t stand the heat?

Gordon Ramsay

The New Yorker has a detailed, insightful profile of Gordon Ramsay, the British chef who was introduced to most Americans while he tortured apprentice chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen,” a “reality” show.

Now he’s opened a restaurant in Manhattan, one of the toughest restaurant towns anywhere. Bill Buford, who wrote “Heat” after spending six months in Mario Batali’s kitchen at Babbo, profiles Ramsay.

Gordon Ramsay, the only chef in London honored with three stars by the Guide Michelin, is not a monster, Buford starts, charitably. One sentence in, and you’re already braced for him to sink his incisors into the pale neck of a salad boy.

Ramsay, who is also the host of three uniquely adversarial in-your-face television shows (“Hell’s Kitchen” in the United States; “The F Word” and “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” in the United Kingdom), is not the most abusive person running a restaurant. And although a British undercover documentary once captured him in mid-torrent, profanities flowing in a diatribe directed at a young intern, earning Ramsay the title of one of the country’s “most unbearable bosses,” the people who work for him show a tenacious, irrational-seeming loyalty verging on love. But he does get angry, helplessly and uncontrollably angry—not an earthly anger but something darker—and has trouble knowing how to stop.

Oh, my.

The rest is worth a read, if you’re at all interested in the world of big-time celebrity chefs and what happens when they start spending more time in front of cameras than they do in front of stoves.

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