Friday, November 9, 2012

The State of the Union

  When I started to plan what would become RnR a very important part of it was the location. I wanted to put the restaurant in a neighborhood that could support the casual, local, and special cooking from America that was coming together in my mind. The cooking, decor, and vibe would be one of acceptance without exception because that was what I believed made America so special. Being a Southerner in New England from Oregon via New Mexico, New Orleans, Nebraska, California, and Virginia gave me a sense of the fantastic array of cooking that is called American. Our gastronomical personality is one that can not be defined as burgers, fries, steak, and potatoes. It is so much more. I saw that in Roslindale 10 years ago and still see it today. Maybe the Republicans should come on down for bingo Tuesday.

As this election got closer, more heated, and polarized it began to take on a life of it's own ripping the country in two. With us or against us was everyone's stance and it showed in the polls. But as I watched Romney's early numbers climb over Obama's the numbers of who was voting started to become the true indicator. The white vote was represented but not as drastically as the black, Asian, young, Hispanic, and gay. They came forward and were counted like true Americans. The millions of American lives that have been sacrificed so we have the opportunity to vote were well remembered as the voice of a true representation of America was counted and heard.

Of all the issues that were brought forward in this election one stood out to me as I sipped beer from behind the bar at the end of dinner service watching the polls with my patrons. All races were represented at the bar from varying economic brackets as I had always hoped to have at RnR. What stood out were the amount of same sex couples watching attentively the results. I was never more aware of what was at stake for them as far as their basic human rights and how close they came to being taken away. I, Chef Delicious, feel that homosexuals are fiercely discriminated against and deserve every right that heterosexual citizens do. Growing up down south racism and its effects were apparent every day and it disgusted me even though I was in the privileged group of young white male. How could people look down on their neighbor because of reasons beyond their control? How could parents tell their sons and daughters that they could not date that person because they had a different skin color? My opinions have grown more mature and clearer, but never weaker. That's why one of my proudest days for America was coming out of work in Central Square, Cambridge MA many years ago to the roar of celebration as the first gay couple was wed in the USA.

Where are we today? Much, much closer to seeing a true America that screams with diversity happily and peacefully without discrimination. The election guarantees that development and will hopefully bring more people to that view. A healthy family supports each other, accepts the unchangeable characteristics of each other, yells, fights, says unspeakable things to each other, but stays together for the greater progressive good. I'm excited for the next four years but hope more then anything that ALL Americans can look at who we are, continue to argue about everything under the sun publicly and openly, but do it together and move forward like a true family.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Annual Review 2011, what a wild ride!

In regular fashion I need a little time to reflect on the year, all it has brought, and how to weave a tale out of it. I am returning to the format of stream of consciousness with copious editing and embellishment so let's go for a ride.

January 2011- Oh how long ago. Naive, idealistic, headstrong, and socked in with snow banks so high and sidewalks so narrow we have to abandon the Cadillac stroller, force Olive to walk it out, and buy something new for twin transport. Of course it is a GREAT time to be negotiating a restaurant of my own. I went to this space 6 years previous, never forgot it, and now it has a dying business in it waiting for someone to swoop in. Why not?

February- Give notice, turn it up! finish strong, you are always remembered by your last days at a job, unless you get fired. Not that that has ever happened to ME?!

March- Painting, tiling, buying, selling, trading, writing, anything but cooking. Will this place ever take shape? Of course but how soon? Money's wasting, every day costs, how far before it is go time? Trip to the Law Room for some cocktail research ( word up!), encounter a lawyer that I actually trust and respect. Kids growing up fast. Running, playing, singing, ahhh childhood, ...pushing, shoving, biting, ahhhh....parenting.

April- Opening looming. Bring it together, come on! I need a cook who can handle the hot line? No experience but you REALLY want it? Sureee. Lots of ifs, especially with wine. Why is all this product showing up? No time right now but I really should look into these invoices tomorrow...Friends and family night! Who knew we were so popular! Not me, but the new cook who decided to not come in did. A classic SHIT SHOW! KJ steps to the mike and owns her first hot station, Sandy runs the expo like only your brother can, Antonio shows in one night just how valuable he is going be to RnR, and my General Manager? Houston, we have a problem.

May- General Manager fired, chef now also GM. Waitstaff incompetent and sinking the ship. Fire, fire, fire! Send back the $100 sparkling, get me some fucking Malbec! Blankets and pillow are sent to the restaurant by my loving wife along with a note that she has to travel with to Uganda in a week. Oh my god this is going to hurt.

June- Starting to come together but the food still is solid. At least we have this going for us. "This place is great!", "Wow, this is really GOOD!", "What a surprise. And you got the veges from where? Hell, yeah!"finally got some damn Malbec and a server who can handle their own.

July- 4th. Kids are gone to Cranberry Lake and I'm still here. Head down, work through it, go see the fireworks with Sandy and a road soda. The Charles never looked so good. Patio poppin, weather is perfect, I think we are getting the hang of this thing, review from the Globe coming, I wonder what would happen if when the review came out I wrote a letter to the reviewer giving her my "two cents" about the reviewing process? And hence forth Chef Delicious will be known as "the guy who wrote the letter"

Chapter one, my letter

Chapter two, review

Chapter three, her letter

Home Run, except for all the shit I could have prevented but didn't I need more less better smarter oversight get them going push push push....Oh hell just keep on and actually live what you wrote.

August- New GM on the hook, finally taking off one of the hats. Damn that was heavy. Trip to NYC, 11MP w CDB. PIMP! Trip to the beach with the Mitch,Swift, Erik, wives, kids, and all that comes with it. How is it possible that four people can stay so similar,convince such wonderful women to marry us, and have kids with us? Escapes me but I am grateful. Gin fizz, sparkle this, skinny dip, baby splash pool, who knew you could talk so much shit over shuffle board? Big ups to the old school. Wave on. Website goes up. Computers, how I loath and love thee.

September- Busy, busy busier. Finally becoming a real restaurant. Cornhole set arrives, now we're popping! Weather stays warm, tomatoes still coming, two months solid! Hell yeah. Whole pigs coming in the back door, charcuterie, curing, sawing, cutting, youtubing, tweeeeeeeeting, who is this guy Delicious?

October- Cool it down and shut the patio. Get that record player but where is the automatic spindle? In the toy box?! Arghhhhh! Time to get my hands dirty again. Cook, cook, cook. Putting in 100+ miles on bike, who knew a commute could be so good? Gotta keep it tight for my girl.

November- Farms are still cranking and things are coming together. Even with the Commonwealth breathing down my neck and the City of Boston's gangsters hitting me up for thousands to renew my golden liquor license that is from prohibition we are still head up and looking good. Family, work, car, health, hitting the gym to get some weight on ( that damn bike is melting me away!), still no sign on the door and the city has no money for me. Still can't be stopped. But it sure is tight! Thanksgiving includes a blast up to Maine, warm relaxing dinner lake side, good wine, and a swift return to Boston.

December- Just let this year end with a bang, please? Best of 2011 from Boston Globe, Phantom Gourmet running a piece all month, doors still swinging. It;s a good thing I run my mouth and have no shame.  Wrestling masks, talking shit, I've lost my mind....but people love it! Check out the link below of a tv spot, but please don't recite any of these lines to me...please. It's embarrassing enough being me.

To 2012- Prosperity, Peace, Security, and more sleep.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Records, Details, Memories

After a few days off around the holidays to reflect and evaluate where we are here at the restaurant I thought it would be fun to share about where the thought process went and is continuing to go. It all started with records.

When creating the concept for the place music was an important part of it. What we played, how it was played, and how we make the ambiance match with the concept. At home I love the warmth and style of vinyl and I wanted it in the bar. Old tunes right next to the new stuff that artists are going the extra mile to demand pressings of was what I wanted to show. Upon opening there was no phono and no time to train the team
to do it properly. We had bigger problems in our service that dwarfed the need for a subtle touch like vinyl. Everything was wrong with the service and it needed quick fixing. So just like the rest of the world I plugged in an iPod, made a couple of playlists, and away we went. The tunes and vibe I wanted was there but the detail had been passed over. Cutting corners.

When you come up in great kitchens one of many things you take from it is details. Why is the food in these places so special? Expensive ingredients? Silver and China? Soft linens? Servers who cater to your needs? A chef that is a craftsman of the highest order? No. Details. How the groceries are selected and only accepting the best. Preparing these items with full and complete respect for what they are and wasting nothing. Cutting each herb/scallop/liver/parsnip with purpose, thought and precision. Having a fucking sharp knife. I mean come on! How many jokers calling themselves chefs work with dull knives or even worse knives they don't sharpen themselves?! Details, DETAILS, DETAILS! Cutting corners instead doing things the proper way is the slippery slope of any craft. Those habits of proper technique are what I wanted to get more then anything from my work experiences and why I sought out the best in my field wherever I was. Tasting everything with Rick Robinson at Mondo Bistro. Making every plate shine at the Siena. Only using the best ingredients at Paley's Place. Precision in prep and execution at Radius. Developing simplicity and systems at Hamersley's. Refining all of those at Lumiere and finally learning to sharpen my knife properly. How to make a kitchen (and everything in it) work within cost at Coda. Details that drown most in this industry.

To me the details of cooking technique are the most important thing and they can be found anywhere. I've experienced it:
 in the soft pastas made by an old women in Torino with fresh porcini,

Price's chicken coop's fried chicken is perfect and harbors a detail I can not discover and don't want to,

Gordon Hamersley's roast chicken (when the grill cook is paying attention and Gordon is looking over their shoulder),

 Michael Leviton's scallops, pupusas at roticerria cancun in Maverick,

my Mom's angel food cake with peppermint icing,

my wife's dalbat where I can taste Nepal and the glory of the Himalayas,

 at El Bulli from the reservation process, the clams Oaxaca, the box, to the parting handshake from the whole team there, including the most famous chef in the world who still took the time to get up from an interview and check and see how I liked everything,

Dinner at Celler de L'Aspic in Priorat after El Bulli that was just as good. Why? DETAILS! We don't have the time here to cover it, come in, we'll share a glass (or bottle) of wine and go over it.

my first Michelin meal in Paris at Carre De Feuillant that reset the bar of what a special dining experience could be.

Fresh baguettes and roast lamb at a road side earthen oven in central Mali

The street food of Mombasa with my friend Alex and the mash of Africa, Arabia, India and all that trade cultures can do together.

Lexington BBQ with Mitch; Gastonia Que with Swift; butter beans with Lynn; Rogers BBQ while skipping school with E-Rock; Beans and braise in Wyoming with Emily; Fish tacos with Max and Jill; my first Pho with Leather on Powell; Mission burrito, cherry pie and jazzfest with Chris; my first IPA with Shawn; the best Chianti I've ever had with short ribs at Stone House with Wally, Maya, and friends; Kreb's, it will always go back to Kreb's in Skaneatles. Thanks to all.

11MP with CDB (OMG! PIMP!)

So as I listen to Cat Power warm my soul like only vinyl can in my dining room between brunch and dinner I feel a strong sense of pride that one of the many details is done right. Now if I can only get a sound system that can handle the White Stripes turned up to 11 we will really be heading in the right direction.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Shout Outs

In a season that sometimes focuses too much on buying, giving, and receiving  I try and reflect, give thanks, and remember how lucky I am. This always ends the year with a sense of peace that brings balance to what usually is a chaotic reunion of family and friends. This year, 2011, has easily been the busiest year of my life with more blessings then any man should have.

In business I have found out what people are truly made of and that I am surrounded by a solid group of REAL people. They continue to pick me up after weathering another vicious uppercut, brush off the dirt, and throw me back in the ring with words of encouragement that make me wiser, stronger, and hungrier. When choosing where you work coming up in any field, finding the best leaders in your industry links you with so much: mentors, consultants, lawyers, purveyors, farmers, fisherman, politicians, cooks, bakers, activists. All are brought together by passion and a belief that America, and especially Boston, is and will continue to be an incredible place to eat and enjoy all that food has to offer. Boston is an incredible food town with resources that other cities dream about and I feel very lucky to call these people colleagues.

 RnR is housed in a very special building surrounded by an incredible group of neighbors . I sat on the patio at table 31 six years ago on a sunny summer stroll with the woman that I would eventually marry and saw in what was Salute a restaurant space that seemed perfect for what I dreamed to do. What we ate at the restaurant I don't remember but the patio, how the windows opened the whole restaurant to the patio, the size and layout, how you could eat and have the breeze of a great summer day be a part of that made me realize the things that I wanted in my place. A place where nature's gifts could be a part of a dining experience, not just on the plate. After lunch and we ducked into the bakery, used book store, fish market, and Lebanese grocery I was left with an impression of Roslindale as a TRUE neighborhood city center that cared for itself and was growing with pride. I am very lucky to be a part of a group of business owners that work their asses off to make Roslindale Square real. Diverse, safe, friendly, inviting, vibrant, and beautiful.

A new restaurant is like a black hole that draws everything in without mercy or intention. As I pointed my hands together and dove into the center of this hole I took my whole damn family with me. Thankfully they were ready. My wife is a rock  that I grip to by the fingertips keeping me from falling into this hole without chance to return. My kids support both of us with surprisingly mature understanding about the hard decisions we sometimes are forced to make. My brother is there whenever I need him, without fail, and also seems to know when to show up when I need him the most and don't have the time to ask. And he's the best egg cook in town especially when the Panthers are streaking. My other two brothers have been just as supportive with words of encouragement, investment on the fly, and helping me steer the ship in the right direction. My In-laws continue to amaze me with their advice whether about business or balancing life against it. Mom and Dad provide the anchor when the ship is caught in storm. Always solid, predictable, and there. Always there. Ready. Willing to give all they can and then some. Thank you all.

RnR is a team. Some places say they are and then are anything but. Not here. This team is one of the strongest I have ever worked with not because of experience or resumes or glamour. They have all that but what they all share in abundance is heart, drive, and want for a better place. They shoulder the burdens placed upon them happily and ready to carry more to help this place succeed. They are the nicest servers you will ever encounter, cooks who help each other out when in the shits, writers and artists that give the restaurant a voice that reflects the passion we all share for our work, and growing more and more each week. Who could ask for more then a staff that has endless potential?

The final group that needs thanks, probably the most, are our guests. Thank you for your support. RnR is nothing without your visits, encouragement, and continued patronage. I tell our regular guests when they come in with new people every time they are the most valuable commodity a restaurant can have. That is and will always be the truth. Now onward to 2012 and all it holds! Good luck to all and we will see you soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chapter 3- The Melting Pot

This is a story of pain, suffering, and coming above it all.
I took a job at The Melting Pot after the summer excited about this newest restaurant in town. Fondue? We had fondue night at my house with a classic cheese fondue pot on a coffee table in front of the tv to watch Alabama football or The Sound of Music, the only important television events in my parents house. The ritual of fondue was cool and I could relate to it. This fondue was not my moms Velveeta. It was romantic, sensual, and GOOD. I worked day one and knew that I had found something special.

Once again Swift was my sidekick. " I can work whenever, but I have to work with my friend Swift."
"You HAVE to work with him?"
"I'm his ride."
And that was how our education in divorce, anal stimulation, and public displays of sexual stress continued to nurture. All that in one restaurant? You're damn right.

Leaving the Outback a teenage romantic I was excited to work in a destination restaurant. This place had it all: private booths, dark maroons and browns, fondue vapors that wreaked of romance, hand jobs.

How great is it at 17 to discover a couple giving each other manual stimulation under the table as your bussing the table across the way? To a 20-30 something thats not a big deal but when your 16 and struggling for a HJ whenever you can get it to see one going on in a sexy restaurant blows your mind. Never saw that at the Outback. There must be something to this fondue. Although the only date I took there ending up giving my buddy a HJ so...

With pleasure sometimes comes pain.

Hans, the chef, takes a phone call in the kitchen, comes unglued after being the rock we all depended on, and begin randomly punching the walk-in wall. A kitchen is emotion at its rawist. I have been there when co-workers get calls about: parents dead, car accidents, terminal illness, baby on the way, all of it. And they always finish the pick up and sometimes the shift. But Hans ws being torn apart in front of us. His children were being taken away from him, and they were his life. He was the man at the restaurant, but to see him hurt, hurt me. As he got off the phone and screamed,
"That FUCKING BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!"
and preceeded to punch the living shit out of the steel wall of the walk in the pain, true suffering, and reality of adult life became real. How could someone take the most important thing from someone after sharing such special times together? How could one inflict such pain upon another knowingly? How could another person be so cruel? Life. The facts of. They suck. The roots of my bitterness and melancholy. Life is your own. Own it. Be careful who you trust. Be VERY careful who you decide to reproduce with. Your stuck with them. Those knuckle marks on the walk in wall reminded me of that daily and I think of them often.

On another subject equally as disturbing to a 17 year old good boy and compounded by experiences at Outback on Tuesdays ;
Winston- "If your going around the corner, only lick it once."
As he described the finer details of stimulating the "other" regions of sexual focus to Swift and me as we prepared the raw meats for a simmering court bouillon the idea of toying with "there" continued to perplex my comrade and me. I was scarred and perplexed for life. Again, adult education at warp speed with cigarettes, cheese, and lots of grease...... I'm talking about fondue, what are you talking about? Don't make it weird.

This post is dedicated to Zack Randall. I don't understand the torture you're suffering right now. It is a day I know will come and dread. But like Hans, you will come out stronger, better, and focused because of the pain. 
"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" Freidrich  Nietzcshe
We are all with you. Somos un equipo.

Next : Chapter 4- The CIA. 40,000 dollars and I still can't cook

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ferran Adria, mentor from afar

Ferran Adria, mentor from afar
            What does an avant garde chef in Catalonia have to do with a Southern boy with a deep love for pulled pork and all things traditional? Everything. Who is this bad mama jama? If you don’t know look him up and get ready for a lengthy list to come up. The most famous chef in the world is a quick sum up. But I’m not trying to write about who he is, but what he is to me.
            I first heard about Ferran and El Bulli in Oregon, 13 years ago. Some guy was turning food into foam by putting things in a whip cream siphon and and squirting it in peoples mouths and calling it a “course”. I was bullshit and had many an opinion about how this guy was just trying to create to be original but I was sure it sucked. How could it not? Where is the substance? A meal is about sensations of the palate but also about satiating hunger. Foam? Not enough for me. I kept hearing reports from friends that had saved up months of hard work to go to some temple of cuisine in the US only to be amazed by the flavors but pissed because they were still hungry after. Bullshit. A tasting menu must satisfy, you must be pleasantly full. No buts about it. (A big fuck you to all the chefs who fleece guests for huge rates while not filling their bellies. You fail in the most basic requirement in your craft, filling the belly. Look less in the mirror, exercise a little more, and eat more. You will be a much better chef. Crush them without mercy when they sit at your tables.) I thought this foam guy was this kind of fake. How little I knew I would be crushed by this sensei of cuisine 13 years later with 40 courses, foam included.
            As my exposure to fine cuisine grew a curiosity in new techniques started to become more interesting. The traditional braising, sautéing, and poaching still mesmerized me as I worked hard to master the moves. The rumors about this guy in Spain continued to grow and as I spewed my doctrine about posers and their shortcomings in little bites I began to doubt myself. Maybe there was something to this that was more than a fad/ scam/ style of the bourgeois. I decided to give it some of my time.
            The library came up short. Articles about him were sensationalized with press groveling about the length of the meals but little substance about him, the food, and the soul of what it was. And then the book showed up. Gary Strack, the chef at Central Kitchen in Cambridge, came to work one day with this big black book with chalk stripes on it talking about how he couldn’t resist ordering this 350 dollar cookbook from El Bulli. I can still remember opening it after work at the bar like Travolta in Pulp Fiction with the suitcase. Enlightenment.
            The photos showed more of the sensational fantastic, whimsical platings of the food that I had already seen. What was in the book was the soul. Recipes, techniques, equipment specs, and the progression of thought to how they got to that point with their cooking. This was where my education truly began with this unbridled creativity. Inside this book was a complete journal of how this amazing team of chefs had transformed their restaurant from a mini golf spot in a Mediterranean cove to the most exciting dining destination in the world.  It was steeped in Catalonian tradition, French technique, Italian simplicity, and was unmistakably Spanish. Respect and complete understanding of classic techniques had been mastered, practiced, and changed to morph into their own magical thing. And it all happened in this small beachside stucco building in the middle of nowhere.
            My fascination continued to grow as I visited the Schlesinger Library periodically where they had all the El Bulli cookbooks. Only Harvard would have a cookbook library, thank God I lived close by. The writings from Ferran, his brother, and colleagues continued to crack open the shell of tradition that I had worked in for my entire career. “It’s all been done”, “Respect and practice the classics” and “Change should be questioned” gave way to new thinking. Requests to work at El Bulli continued to be politely declined. Words like magical, fun, bitter, surprise, and unique began to describe my ambitions in flavor development.
            One day at Harvest, Kal the bartender casually mentioned that this famous chef was coming to speak at Harvard. A regular customer from the university had told him, the press leaked it the next day, I was there 4 hours early and sat up front, and was one of 500 people of 5000 that showed up who got to hear his presentation.
            Lecture? This was the gospel preached by Jesus himself. Words can’t describe listening to an icon in your professional ambitions lay out everything you wanted him to say and go further. The points about creativity, his critics, the unfortunate exclusiveness of the restaurant, future in cooking, etc. came as a beam of light in the murky quagmire of my then current cooking situation (that’s you Mary Dumont, a culinary quagmire). As Mary shuffled off to schmooze with some other worthless Harvard square chef I sat outside the hall in the cold of January trying to take in this baptism. It was time to make a pilgrimage to the holy land.
            Reservation denied 2009. January 1, 2010
To who it may concern,
I am a chef in Boston who saw Chef Adria speak at Harvard and am finally making a request for a reservation at your restaurant. I have studied your work for years and after the lecture would like nothing more than to come and experience El Bulli in person. I am available any time August through November. If the reservation is granted I will arrange the travel accordingly. I am hoping for a reservation for 4, but will gladly accept a reservation for 2 if that is what is available. I have another chef friend who is also excited about the lecture last winter. Thank you and keep up the good work. You inspire the world.

Mucho gusto,
Charlie Redd

We regret to be late giving you an answer. The demand has been again extraordinary and is difficult to go on with the management. We have found a solution but we regret that it is only for 2 people. When we start the season in mid June you can contact again to see if changes have been produced and we can add 2 more guests at your reservation.We have an option for you on Wednesday September 22nd of 2010, table for 2 people at 7.30 p.m. under the name:
 charlie reed
 Ferran Adrià will prepare a personalized tasting menu. You will try many different elaborations and it means many different products. It is very important for his confection to know in advance if some problem exists, like allergies or any other product that we could not include for anyone of you.
 I wait your news to fix the option and also with regard to this question to fix all the details at your reservation.I also ask you to give us a direct phone number to contact you, only if necessary, during your time in our area.
Sincerely yours,
Luis Garcia

It was on. But there was a new twist. Ferran Adria had announced a month before I received my reservation that he was closing the restaurant permanently after the 2011 summer! The demands of the restaurant had become too much. Lots of reasons, questions, angry people who were denied again. Fuck 'em. I had a ressy, and even though it was now worth thousands on eBay I was going. The experience had to be had.
            September found my wife and me finally taking our honeymoon after three years of marriage. We were crushed with the first year of parenting twins and a vacation could not have come at a better time. As we slowly toured the Costa Brava making our way to Roses, the closest town to the restaurant, the ways of Catalonia seeped in. The magic of the scenery, history, and most importantly the regional pride seemed all so familiar to a Southern man. As we prepared to go to the restaurant excitement and nervousness set in. What if it sucked? What if I left hungry? What if all my expectations had made the pleasures of the experience unobtainable? As we pulled onto the skinny road that led to the restaurant all the worries faded away. Down this winding road along the cliffs of the Costa Brava not a single house for 15 km as you soaked up the views of the area. The road dipped down into a cove where the restaurant waited with a few simple homes, a campground, and a dead end sign. Nothing else.
            The meal was all that and more. What did we eat? A warm strawberry and a frozen one made with Campari. Oaxaca clams. Hare in its blood. Blue cheese globes. The freshest tiny grilled shrimp. Sweet to Savory and back again. It was like a circus was in my head. Ending with a box of chocolates with easily 30 selections that are available nowhere else. The experience was a total experience and the food delighted, excited, challenged, satiated my hunger and curiosity, and made the experience one of the best in my life. As I shook Ferran’s hand after the meal I saw in his eye fatigue from the service but a glow that only a man who is filled with passion and joy contains. It showed in the dinner we had.
            So to Ferran, Buena suerte in the next phase of El Bulli as a think tank. Your influence on me has been profound and is only beginning. In this new endeavor I am excited to see how far the wings will go and I appreciate the openness and sharing you have made a large part of your work. I never thought flying was possible but you showed me that it is. Knowledge is meant to be shared and the writings and training you have passed on are invaluable to anyone who thinks about how they cook. The restaurant will be missed but the next incarnation of it will take the techniques of El Bulli to the larger world and beyond. You inspire the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Open letter to Devra First, Boston Globe Restaurant Reviewer

Dear Devra:
First, thank you for coming to Roslindale, our quiet section of Boston. I am glad you thought enough of our project to come and consider us for a visit. Since the moment you first followed our Twitter account, I was excited and nervous about your visit. Now, on the eve of our scheduled review, I thought it would be fun (especially considering our past conversations where I criticized your rating system while praising your prose and quest for umami as the elusive Delicious), to tell the story about what I went through in anticipation of tomorrow.
Let’s rewind to a few weeks ago.
“Delicious, there is a Deborah on the line for you.”
“Heather, I told you I only accept calls from my wife on this line and her name is not Deborah. Take a message.”
“She’s from the Globe.”
[Pin drops in the background]. The wine representative I am sitting with shifts excitedly with a smirk on his face, and I say, “Excuse me, I should take this.”
As I spoke to you then, Devra, memories from the last six months with this restaurant came flooding back to me. When I was a cook, I put so much thought into the planning of a future restaurant, but also dreamed of the great reviews that could catapult me to success. When it become a reality, and the opening was upon me, the impression of a reviewer suddenly falls down the list of importance behind bookkeeping, hiring, menu planning, farm delivery schedules, painting, cable, gardening, etc., etc., etc. However, the reviews that hopefully will come are never completely out of focus. After we opened, I noticed your link to our Twitter account, and I decided to get serious about prepping for a reviewer.
As I sat up late in my dining room, sipping Pena de Lobos, I began to feel like a wolf on the hunt in the rocky slopes of Bierzo. Who are you, Devra? What did you like about other places in the past? What do you look like so we can identify your arrival? What do other people think you look like? How can I mark you and make sure that my team nails it on the times you come?
Then the idealist angel on my shoulder put down his cigarette marked with a gold dollar bill in a glass ashtray, stretched, and stood up.
“What makes this person more important?” he said.
This idealist, representing the younger me, continued on: “When we started this journey 20 years ago all I heard about was equality. A restaurant that was open to all, approachable to all, and where no one was marked with VIP (although all the 2011 Bruins are some of the few VIP’s at R’n’R since their championship defined the opening. There is an exception to every rule). How many times did you loathe that chef as they loomed over your shoulder pointing out issues with a dish you made 1000 times just because it was for this VIP?  How often did you stand on your soapbox, at the bar after work, preaching about how every guest was important and deserved equal attention? As you learned at Radius, every dish was for your mother, best friend, and Boston Globe restaurant critic. You started this project with clear ideas and initiatives that will all change, but remember ‘the why’. Why do you want to do this? Because you want to share great, local, thoughtful, fun food with whoever wants to come have it.”
The idealist continued some more, “This restaurant is for the college date who just wants to be treated with some fucking respect instead of like a child when they go out to eat with their hard earned money, and a restaurant critic.
This restaurant is for the English high school teacher that broke up two fights / was called a bitch motherfucker / was reprimanded for low test scores / had a 16 year old boy crying in her arms after class / managed to get off a trig lesson with success / bike had a flat tire, and Mayor Thomas Menino.
This restaurant is for the new parents whose 3 month old has finally fallen asleep and they can have some peace with a glass of wine and Joel Robuchon.”
 “Let her come,” he concluded. “Let Devra have a good time like everyone else, and let her write what she will write. Focus on everyone and you will succeed.” He then took a hefty drag from the cigarette he had put down and leapt onto a copper baron’s pirate ship disguised as a duck boat.
I sat back, staring at the e-mail I was writing to my fellow colleagues (the ones who had been so helpful in opening) asking if anyone had a picture of the unanimous Boston Globe reviewer. I wanted to paste her mug on the kitchen door so that everyone leaving the kitchen would be reminded of her and how important she was to our success. My old self was right: R‘n’R was supposed to be a place for all. It is a place where the working person was respected and welcomed, and a place where the experience of a reviewer was as important as the experience of a couple around the corner.
From then on, I stopped obsessing over nailing your experience here, Devra, and reminded myself what R‘n’R was supposed to be about. Nailing EVERY experience. Who will tell more people about R‘n’R? Paul “The Truth” Pierce or Chris and Kim from the bakery around the corner? Corey Kummer or the Roslindale Librarian? Zden Chara or Chris the school teacher? All are important because they have decided to spend their hard earned money at my restaurant and I want to make them satisfied with that decision. While you do a fantastic job of testing new restaurants ( I truly enjoy your column) and reporting fairly so the people of Boston can save their money from the pitfalls of shitty restaurants, should that make you more important when you visit than someone who has already decided to spend their money with me? No. In that category everyone stands equal.
While I wait for your review, life goes on here at R‘n’R. Regardless of your review there will be a group of people coming in tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that I have to give 110% to. Devra, uncovering your identity would have to wait. I hope you had a good time.

Yours in the search for umami,