As the Kitchen Closes for 2014, a Look Back at Our Favorite Posts
Dear Toqueland readers,
I’m writing to you from a rented house on the outskirts of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where my family and I are winding down the year. Before the ball drops, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading this site — whether you are a regular subscriber, occasional visitor, or found your way here once or twice thanks to some love from one of the major food blogs or via social media. However you came to Toqueland, I’m grateful for your attention and hope something of value greeted you whenever you’ve dropped by.
Running a site like this is mostly a blessing, but also a curse: One wants to post all the time, but contracted (i.e., paid) work and personal commitments must come first. So I find myself constantly wishing I were able to share something every day, if not several times a day. The result is often dissatisfaction, sometimes even anxiety. But I recently glanced over the last twelve months’ worth of posts and find that it’s actually been a rather productive year on Toqueland. With that in mind, I wanted to briefly consolidate my favorite posts in one place; I thought it might be a good way for causal readers to catch up on anything you might have missed and for regulars to have one last look at a piece or two before they fade into the past. (I’d also shamelessly suggest that if you have friends you’d like to turn on to Toqueland, this post would be a good way to do it.)
With that, and with my thanks for your readership, here are the highlights of our 2014:
“I wrote an article wanting to sell it for $100 to the New York Press.”
The biggest stir we caused this year was our interview with Anthony Bourdain, in which he announced his upcoming Jeremiah Tower documentary and Get Jiro prequel. But the meat of the interview was a look at his life, past and present: He recalled his days writing his breakout book Kitchen Confidential, rising before the sun, lighting a cigarette, and hitting the computer before scrambling off to work at Les Halles bistro. He also took us inside his decision-making process, and discussed the sometimes surreal nature of his worldwide fame.
“It’s a completely valid argument, except that I don’t want to live in New York City.”
Two of our most popular posts were centered on chef Gavin Kaysen and his move from New York City to his hometown of Minneapolis. The first, “All the Right Moves,” was penned as a fond farewell during his last days at Manhattan’s Café Boulud in the spring. It was so personal (Gavin and I are good friends) that I almost didn’t run it for fear that it would seem hokey or indulgent; to my surprise, it elicited a string of emails from Gavin’s friends and family members, and from people who didn’t know either of us … an important reminder that you rarely go wrong by making it personal and writing from the heart.
The second piece, posted just a few weeks ago, went behind the scenes at the opening of Gavin’s restaurant Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, with an examination of a kitchen tradition he picked up from Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, who were also on hand to celebrate.
The Kitchen Time Machine Lifts Off
In February we kicked off a series of interviews with iconic New York City chefs and restaurateurs in partnership with Eater New York under the Kitchen Time Machine umbrella. My interviews run on their site and, usually, are accompanied by a sister post on Toqueland. The Toqueland pieces went inside Barbuto’s Tenth Anniversary with a profile of Jonathan Waxman, the opening of David Waltuck’s élan with a summary of David’s post-Chanterelle years, Gotham Bar and Grill’s Tenth Anniversary and chef Alfred Portale’s restless perfectionism, and the opening of Bâtard as seen through the eyes of owner Drew Nieporent, among other milestones.
“I’ll tell you the difference between New York and California. We share with each other. They don’t do this in Manhattan.” – unnamed California chef in “Confessions of a Closet Californian”
I spent quite a bit of time in California researching a book this year, which led to several dispatches from the Golden State. “Confessions of a Closet Californian” was my love letter to the chefs of the left coast and their spirit of generosity and inclusion, while “Food For Thought” detailed a day and night of culinary excess in San Francisco. We also profiled legendary chef Larry Forgione, currently directing the Conservatory at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa; LA chef Bruce Marder, of the late, great West Beach Cafe; and San Francisco chefs Sean and Renee Baker; and interviewed Manresa’s David Kinch, who reopens his Los Gatos restaurant this week after it was decimated by a fire last year. (Break a leg, David and team!)
Chefs Who Write
“I’m going to do this book the way that a good chef would. It’ll take you through the day. And I’ll be supportive to you and, we’re in this together and I’ll give you little clues that you’re going to be okay, but I’m also not going to make it super easy for you because it’s not easy. That’s the point.” – Sous Chef author Michael Gibney
We spent quite a bit of time examining chefs who write on Toqueland this year. Sous Chef author Michael Gibney took us inside the writing process and talked about what it’s like to be both chef and scribe; Jody Williams spoke candidly about the creative steps that led to her Buvette cookbook; and we were knocked out by Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune, which we found to be a template-shattering masterpiece.
“Buvette’s not perfect, but our intention is really genuine.” – Jody Williams
Much as I enjoy writing, there’s nothing I love more than just plain interviewing chefs and running the dialogue here. In addition to the interviews listed above, we talked shop with Annisa’s Anita Lo and got an early look inside the process that led to Jeremiah Tower’s coming out of retirement to head up the kitchen at New York City’s Tavern on the Green.
“The Two Trotters were what drew me to Chicago, and — when I least expected it — I had finally met the one who’d eluded me on prior interactions.”
We also remembered the late Charlie Trotter, who I had a chance to interview about a year before his death. Trotter and I spent two intense sessions together in June 2012, and taken together, they presented me with a window into this complex chef that I felt compelled to write about. This was, for me, the most meaningful post of the year, something that gave me a chance to work out my own tangled feelings while sharing an unforgettable, revelatory, and ultimately positive experience.
There’s more coming soon. In the meantime, thanks for being a part of this site.
Wishing you only good things in 2015…