Resolutions for a Culinary Revolution

Michael Nagrant / 01.09.09

I punked out a few times this year. Tired and overworked and having drunk too much bourbon or ingested too much garlic (I’m mildly allergic) on a Pat-Bruno-worthy Italian red-sauce bender, I’ve occasionally written a few columns that didn’t require a whole lot of research (like this one). I’ve hated myself for it. Shame on me. I plan on doing better next year. But, I’m not the only one who mails it in from time to time in the culinary world, and so in the spirit of the New Year, I give you my resolutions for the Chicago food community.

Stop advertising green initiatives

Low VOC paints to reclaimed wood to your hipster waitstaff who save water by not washing their hair is so 2007. No one even knows what LEED certification is, or if they think they do, they’re pretty sure it has something to do with electricity. You don’t see me advertising how carbon neutral I am because some days I commute from my bed to my desk. Hey good for you, you should be green, but the movement has been adopted by the highest of corporate lackeys, and it’s no longer a unique culinary selling point.

Can the chalkboard menus

Nothing says French brasserie circa 1927 like a chalked slate menu, but half your diners can’t read them and you’re printing the menus out to hand out to tables anyway, so who are you kidding. Plus you’re totally compromising your green initiative.

Stop overcharging for small plates

Yeah, sure, food costs are out of whack, but two slices of heirloom tomato dressed with balsamic vinegar for $14 ensure that your customers don’t regard you as trendy or crafty, but totally cheap ass.

Don’t be a cocktail poseur

Just because you make your own cocktail bitters and house-infuse Gatorade with lime zest and mix it with Jeppson’s Malort does not make you a mixologist. Learn some balance and take Bridget Albert’s bartending class.

Stay in NYC

I know you think you need to expand your empire and you think it’s way cooler to buy a classic bungalow and slum in the Windy City than weekend in the Hamptons, but celebrity chefs who capitalize on the hard work of our native chefs, we don’t need you (exceptions to Marcus Samuelsson and Jose Garces of Philly who somehow found a way to carpetbag right).

Food writers who fake it

Stringing twelve quotes together from noted culinary experts, relying exclusively on your own personal biases and hang-ups and pretending to be anonymous, but never paying for a meal has already been reserved by Esquire magazine’s John Mariani. Get your own schtick.

Anyone who uses the word “meh” to describe a food experience

Do you speak English? Articulate whether the dish had poor seasoning, whether the server disappeared to do drugs in the bathroom for far too long, whether the pan-Mexican, Chinese, African menu was too confusing or whether the death metal was too loud on the restaurant intercom. Even the poorest restaurant experiences are often borne from the blood, sweat and tears of the owners and employees, and you at least owe them some constructive criticism, even if you paid for the experience or you’re posting on a food forum from your parents’ basement.

Stop upscaling ethnic and comfort food badly

If you’re rocking high-end pho or slumming with sausage and charging twice as much, I’d like to see some basic seasoning and execution, and then I’d like some black truffle and foie gras dumplings in that broth or on that dog. Just because you cook Asian street food and you worked in high-end kitchens does not make you David Chang. Just because you name your hot dogs after rock stars does not make you Doug Sohn.

Stop vilifying molecular gastronomy

Yeah, I worked on the Alinea book and I’ve met Homaro Cantu of Moto a few times, so maybe I’m biased, but I’m so tired of smart, otherwise very talented, chefs and media folk engaging in some kneejerk bagging on the post-modern cooking movement. Dude, frisee and mache were frickin’ scary twenty years ago, too.

Put away the pork belly and sweetbreads

As much as this one hurts me personally, I feel culinary innovation of the porcine and organ meat variety have stalled at the hands of these two hall-of-famers. Now that you’ve sucked us in, show us something else, be it killer kidneys or crispy pig ears (thank you Publican).