TALKING SHOP: Charlotte Druckman, Part 2

More Highlights from Our Conversation with the Author of Skirt Steak

Charlotte Druckman's Skirt Steak, just out this week.

Happy Friday, everybody!

Here’s part 2 of my conversation with fellow scribe Charlotte Druckman, whose new book Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen, debuted this week.  Part 1 can be found here.

TOQUELAND: How did Skirt Steak come about? Do you remember the moment when the idea popped into your head?

DRUCKMAN: I wrote an article for Gastronomica, which was something I had been thinking about. .. there is a famous essay that art historian Linda Nochlin wrote at the end of the ‘70s called “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” And it’s rhetorical.  It’s supposed to get you annoyed.  And it was sort-of the anti‑feminist’s feminist’s art-historical essay, because she kind of said, “Let’s stop looking at the differences between how men and women paint, and let’s look instead at what our institutions are doing to present a story of men or women, and in history what opportunities have been opened to women.”

I worked at Food & Wine, and I really loved working there. .. I remember how much care went into picking the Best New Chefs but how there was always [just] one woman on the cover, possibly two [out of 10].  And you know, you’re in this office with these incredibly smart women who would like to support women, so why aren’t these chefs being found?  And I started to think, “What if you took that approach that Linda Nochlin used and stop thinking about it as, ‘who cooks better,’ but ‘let’s think about what the underpinnings are.’”

TOQUELAND:  That’s interesting.

DRUCKMAN: I thought it would be awesome to talk to women chefs about this, but to do it in that same way where it’s not like everyone’s going to give you a sob story.  There are going to be some great epic moments of sexual harassment, obviously, but it’s not going to be about that.  Because I don’t think that’s the real problem at the end of the day.

TOQUELAND: Without getting too specific about it, was it easy to sell it?

DRUCKMAN: No. It was really hard to sell it because no one had heard of what I was trying to do, which was to write a communal memoir, if you will, that has a strong narrative voice but isn’t about me.  Everyone now wants—especially if you’re a food writer—for it to either be about you or wants it to be about one person dishing.

TOQUELAND: Was it was easy to get interviews?… 

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TALKING SHOP: Charlotte Druckman, Part 1

The First of a Two-Part Conversation with the Author of the new book Skirt Steak

When I re-booted this blog back in January, one of the things I had it in my mind to do was to meet up with fellow scribes and talk about what we do and how we see things in the chef world.  For my long-delayed first rap session, I selected Charlotte Druckman, who I’d never met, but had read and admired, and had always heard nice things about. In addition to writing for the Wall Street JournalTravel + Leisure, and myriad other publications Charlotte also collaborated on Anita Lo’s cookbook Cooking Without Borders.

The reason I picked Charlotte to kick off this new, occasional feature: her first nonfiction book, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen–for which she  interviewed more than 70 of the best female toques in the business–officially debuts this week. This is a topic I’ve long had an interest in, having discussed it with a number of chefs myself, and having noticed the almost total absence of women competitors in the Bocuse d’Or competition when I covered it a few years back.

Charlotte and I had a long conversation, the highlights of which I’m sharing in two posts. Herewith, Part 1:

Skirt Steak author Charlotte Druckman (photo courtesy Charlotte Druckman)

TOQUELAND: Why food writing?

DRUCKMAN: Why did I choose it as my linchpin? I say this in the introduction of my book: For me food is the sugar that helps the medicine go down. You can talk, especially now, about politics, agriculture, economics. You can talk about, if you want, gender. And you can talk about any of that stuff using food because it’s become the fixation point for the country, high and low.

You can finally talk about things like hunger and the fact that it’s a problem because, thank God, Jamie Oliver is doing a prime time show on it. But for such a long time, you couldn’t do that. So I think if you love food, you already had that interest anyway. You’re interested in the people making it. But now I just think it’s cracked wide open. So I think writers should think about it possibly in a different way than food writers, right?

TOQUELAND: It’s funny, I saw Josh Ozersky recently and he asked me if I liked being called a food writer. And I kind of don’t. I always say I consider myself a “chef writer,” not a food writer, because that’s what I know more than anything else—-the people and the life. I don’t know why, but it’s become almost like a literary ghetto a little bit in that non-food writers sometimes don’t give it equal respect.

DRUCKMAN: Those ghostwriter stories in the spring solidified it for me by positing the whole question of ghost recipe testing versus ghost writing.  Because I am full-on a writer. I like to test recipes when I do my Wall Street Journal stuff, but I am by no means professionally trained to be a recipe tester.

And, if you think about when you’re writing a cookbook, it’s left brain/right brain. The person who’s working on it–if it is a book that is really personality-shaped, the kind of work that you have to do to give it a point of view and organize it and then capture that voice is very different than what’s going into writing a recipe and making sure that the recipe’s okay. They’re two entirely different things.

So again, when you say “food writer,” what do you mean? Are you writing recipes? Are you coming up with recipes? Or are you sitting down and writing about maybe the culture of food, or the person behind the food?

So yeah, I think it’s easier to say, “I’m a journalist who writes about food” .. . [but] now I just say “food writer” because people seem to get confused or bored if you go into it too much.

TOQUELAND: Do people assume you’re a critic when you tell them you’re a food writer?… 

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A Chef’s Adventure in Self Publishing

Guest Poster David Mahler Shares the Story of Getting a Book Done .. . the Hard Way

[Editor’s Note: I’ve struck up several e-pan-pal relationships with chefs around the country since re-launching Toqueland in January. One I’ve especially enjoyed corresponding with is David Mahler, who recently succeeded in the daunting task of self-publishing his book, Cooking At La Cusinga with the Chef of the Jungle. I invited Dave to share a little about what it took to persevere on the less-taken road to book-dom, and his reflections are published below. If you want to check out his book, it can be ordered through in a paperback edition or as a download for Kindle, and is also downloadable from Google Books. A quality signed paperback edition is available directly from David by sending a check for $24 to David L Mahler; PO Box 397; Scotts Mills, OR  97375, or by paying directly through PayPal to* You can find Chef Dave’s own musings on food, life and cooking at – A.F.]

Chef David Mahler’s Labor of Love (photo courtesy David Mahler)

I am a chef. And I am the author of a cookbook, a real live cookbook (Cooking at La Cusinga with Chef of the Jungle, available on Amazon and Google). Finally. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Lots of chefs write cookbooks, and lots of people who are not chefs write cookbooks. How hard can it be to write down some recipes, especially if you create them every day? As it turns out, the writing is the easy part, but self-publishing a finished, beautiful, heft-it-in-your-hand-and-drool-over-the-photos cookbook took a lot more steps than I knew existed.

The writing and publishing spanned two countries and two years. Working at eco-lodge La Cusinga on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, new recipes tripped over one another as I discovered the underutilized bounty of amazing ingredients available. Shrimp, mangos, ayote, mandarinas, hearts of palm, artisanal goat cheese—these ingredients don’t show up in the faux French restaurants that tourists flock to, and the locals stick to beans and rice. I got to know the owners of tiny organic farms and bought fish right off the boats. The lodge was full of guests and rare was the day when I wasn’t asked for a recipe for one my “fabulous” fresh tasting dishes. “You should have a cookbook, why don’t you have a cookbook?” I heard it so often I started to believe it. My boss offered his backing, and we were off and running.

It took about 250 hours of writing and menu testing to get the recipes down on paper. The photos I took on the fly as we served the food. With a talented local artist working on the cover, we were getting closer to production. Until the vagaries of life stepped in, and I found myself moving to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to be with my fiancée, leaving the tropics behind but confident that I could find a small publishing house interested in “Chef of the Jungle”. After all, isn’t Costa Rica the darling of high-end vacationers in the U.S. and elsewhere? But I got a quick turndown in some cases and no response at all in others. “No one cares about Costa Rica” was the opinion of one publisher. I shelved the book. I sulked. I immersed myself in cooking.

Fast forward six months. With strong encouragement (read kick in the pants) from my fiancée and family, I pulled the files back up and took a look. It wasn’t bad. It was better than I remembered. In fact, it was even pretty good. Good enough that I blithely thought, in this day and age of on-line wizardry, “I’ll just publish it myself.” Ha.

It helps if you have a team. My sister, a professional indexer, edited and indexed it for me. (We all know how crucial a good index is to a cookbook; how many times have you cursed when you couldn’t find an entry for “chard” because it was under “Swiss”?) My brother-in-law worked on the cover. Together they formatted it and dropped the color photos into the right places. My younger sister did the copy editing, weeding out stray commas with a vengeance. They all, bless their hearts, made “suggestions.” Suggestions incorporated, final adjustments to color, indexing, and table of contents made, photos in place and text formatted, it was starting to look like a book.

A shrimp dish from Cooking at La Cuisinga (photo courtesy David Mahler)

But there are more steps than that. A book has to be copyrighted. It has to have a barcode. It has to have an ISBN number, two in fact—one for the hard copy and one for the .pdf version. Check, check, check. It was ready to sell.

Sell, yes, but how? So many people had told me that it was incredibly simple, a piece of cake (no pun intended) to create an ebook through Google or Amazon. Uh huh, right. That would be for those of you that are versed in the intricacies of .pdf and jpeg files, of royalty and pricing platforms. I floundered in the minutiae of Google’s instructions. I did manage, after several false starts, to get the book into a Kindle format using Amazon’s KDM program. Still working with Amazon I dug into their Create Space program to turn the book into a “print on demand” paperback. Create Space reported the book ready to print and sent me a proof (not free). Some issues remain, but with Create Space you can fix things as you go.

Some of us are still adherents to real books, made with paper and with pages you can turn, and I wanted printed copies that I could sign and sell, that you could prop up in your recipe holder or give to your aunt for Christmas. I needed a small, high-quality printer that would do a run of 100 books or less, all that my budget would stand. On a lead from an old Mennonite bookbinder practically in my own backyard, I found a small printer, Gorham Printing, up in the tiny town of Centralia, Washington. The price was right, and off went the .pdf files. Now I had both digital and hard-copy books I could sell.

The View from Chef Dave Mahler’s Old Kitchen at La Cusinga (photo courtesy David Mahler)

Ah, yes, sell. As in, marketing. Ugh. I turned to Facebook—mocked by many, but still a great way to reach people. A copy of my book cover posted, I sent it to every “friend” I could think of, and, by virtue of Facebook’s pervasiveness, to some I couldn’t think of as well. I pushed the ease and familiarity of buying it on Amazon. I pushed yesterday, I pushed the day before yesterday, and I pushed this morning. I wangled a full-page story in a Costa Rican newspaper, and put an ad in a coastal magazine. I’ve been lucky enough to have a good number of pre-orders, some Kindle downloads, and a handful of “print on demand” paperbacks. I got great help getting here from friends and family, but now it’s up to me. Sales, R&D, bookkeeping, inventory control, and tech support. And, oh yeah, I’m also the author of a cookbook. And a chef.

– David Mahler

* Toqueland takes no responsibility for fulfillment/delivery, but we’re required to say that. Make no mistake: We encourage our readers to support Chef Dave, and any chefs/writers brave enough to put it all out there like he has, by buying their books and visiting their blogs.


A Writer, An Agent, and an Editor Walk into a Cooking School . ..

An Upcoming Two-Part Class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City Takes a Look at All Aspects of Selling, Writing, and Publishing a Cookbook

There are still some seats available for a two-part class I’m co-teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City next week. The class, Developing a Cookbook from Conception to Publication, will take place on two consecutive Wednesday nights, October 3 and October 10. I’ll be joined on the dais by my agent, David Black, and Pam Cannon, executive editor of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House; among other projects, Pam is editing my forthcoming cookbook collaboration with Michael White.

David, Pam, and I will examine all aspects of the cookbook process, from ideation and proposal-writing to the pitch/sell to the writing, editing, and marketing/publication.

In addition to whatever wisdom I have to offer, this is a rare chance to hear from some of the top people in the publishing game. If you are a writer or aspiring writer who might be interested, you can register here. If you know somebody who has cookbook aspirations, I’d appreciate if you passed this along.



The Toqueland Interview: Atera’s Matthew Lightner

One of Today’s Rising Chefs on Hating High School, the Challenges of an Open Kitchen, and the Meaning of a Dining “Experience”

Matthew Lightner, left, visits New Jersey’s Well-Sweep Farm (photo copyright by Nathan Rawlinson, courtesy Atera)

Matthew Lightner, the chef of Atera, has been having quite an inaugural year in New York City.  With rave reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and – most recently – Bloomberg, Lightner has announced himself as a major talent. Still in his early thirties, Lightner comes to Manhattan by way of Spain’s Mugaritz and Portland, Oregon’s Castagna, where he was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2010. As readers of this site probably know, Lightner’s style is an arresting marriage of two of-the-moment movements–modernist and foraging–set within that most au courant of dining contexts: the countertop restaurant.

Following a dinner at Atera in the late spring, I had a chance to sit down with Lightner, whom I found refreshingly understated and thoughtful. Herewith, the highlights of our conversation:

TOQUELAND: You’re getting a lot of attention right now among chefs and critics. Are you enjoying the spotlight?

LIGHTNER: For me it’s not so much about the spotlight; it’s more about the food and the experience always. So if I get recognized now for it, if I get recognized in five years or two weeks ago, I think that’s what’s more precious and important.

TOQUELAND: I’m sure there are a lot of faces you recognize –


TOQUELAND: Is that something you have to try to shut out and say, “I’m just doing my thing?”

LIGHTNER: Yeah. I’m just kind of a quiet, laid-back kind of guy so it is kind of shocking when we have chefs come in here. It’s amazing.

TOQUELAND: Three-part question: How often do you change the menu? Does it have to change? And how hard is it to change a thing that has a very clearly thought-out ebb and flow and rhythm to it? In other words is it difficult to incorporate a new element?

LIGHTNER: That’s always the big challenge. Right now, we’ve worked very hard to get a really flowing menu together. And we think that it’s good, but it’ll change. Seasons and nature continuously evolve and we want to evolve with them. So right now we’re starting to get little lovage shoots. The lovage will get larger, more intense, and we’ll have to implement it in a different style. And then finally it goes to seed, and it kind of moves on. We want to feel like there’s a life to the food.

TOQUELAND: With a menu that has as many courses as yours, and which is built to change all the time, how finalized does a dish need to be before it’s ready to come out of the kitchen?

LIGHTNER: I think before it stays on the menu, it has to be very final.

TOQUELAND: Is your success rate pretty high? When you have an idea for something and you take it out for a test drive in the kitchen, do you usually get pretty close to what you had in your mind on the first go?

LIGHTNER: It just depends. For instance, sometimes if I want to come up with a dish and it just happens to be the day that nothing’s going right, it’s not going to go right. But now, if I come up with a dish when everything’s going right, it seems to go right . .. it’s funny, because it’s almost like destiny, as if sometimes a dish was meant to kind of happen, as if it were somewhere hidden in the back of my head or hidden in the back of my notebooks of old experiences that I can bring into the new and into my style. And then some things might not ever work.

TOQUELAND: How did you first get interested in cooking?

LIGHTNER: I got into cooking out of necessity. I wanted to make money. Because I wanted to buy my own shoes and I wanted to buy things for myself and take care of myself, and I felt like that was the way. So I started washing dishes.

TOQELAND: I assume this was a high school job?

LIGHTNER: Yeah. When I was 14-years old, I started washing dishes at a cafe. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Family owned place that did tons of covers. I washed dishes. It was funny because it was probably one of the cleanest places I’ve worked. And really hard working. The idea was always to beat the cooks: the dishwashers always had to beat the cooks.

I really wasn’t interested in academics whatsoever. I had real issues at high school.

TOQUELAND: Were you just bored with it?

LIGHTNER: I don’t know. My interest was very low. Didn’t really care. I was one of those kids. Didn’t care. I’d just sleep all day in class. But I’d go to work and I loved working. I loved working with my hands. And the people I worked with really appreciated me.

TOQUELAND: When you say you didn’t have any interest: You seem like a highly intelligent person. Were you able to coast by and get okay grades not doing very much, or were you really academically challenged?

LIGHTNER: I had some really bad issues my senior year in high school because academically I was pretty much failing. I really just wanted to work on my feet. I wanted to work with my hands. I also always loved art, loved sculpture, loved painting. That interested me more.

TOQUELAND: So you did stuff like that as a kid?

LIGHTNER: Yeah, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue. .. so I started working at different restaurants . .. and then started learning a bit more through cookbooks. I think I was 17 and I found out that there was a whole world of mother sauces in France. And then I started reading books about how some of these chefs were so organized and perfect and clean. And I was, like, “That’s what I want. I want to be a part of a profession that seems kind of dingy or bad, but that’s not, that is actually very respectable.”

I think it might have been Thomas Keller who said this a while ago, but chefs are looked up to just like lawyers and doctors. It’s amazing to see that come along. But there’s also a lot of responsibility with it. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of cleaning. It’s a lot of organizing. It’s a lot of perfectionism.

TOQUELAND: Not a lot of margin for error.

LIGHTNER: No, and you don’t get paid like those guys do, but sometimes it’s more rewarding in the end because you get to see it every single day.

So, I ended up going to Portland. I went to culinary school up there. Just a small program; it was about twelve months. Started working in kitchens. I was lucky enough that I got into a sous chef position very early, started learning to manage people very early.

TOQUELAND: At that time–this was 10, 11 years ago–did you have a sense of the style in which you wanted to work eventually, or were you even thinking in those terms?

LIGHTNER: I always wanted to think of something different. I always felt like I wanted to just find my own path. I always knew that I wanted to have an amazing place. I always wanted to figure out what I didn’t have that other guys had, either three-Michelin-star chefs in France or at the time Thomas Keller had come out with the French Laundry book, and seeing that stuff was super-inspirational. A higher learning, a higher education, a higher place in restaurants exists, you know?

TOQUELAND: Did you have from your own personal experience at that point a gold standard of a dining experience?… 

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Jeremiah Tower and Good Profit IN at New Rochelle’s Echo Bay Naval Armory

Ex-Stars Chef Project Selected by City Council

That proposed New Rochelle project that Jeremiah Tower was attached to last month has won out over the competition and been selected by the town’s City Council to restore and operate a gargantuan food hall at the Echo Bay Naval Armory in New Rochelle, New York.

Says Tower, in the press release announcing the victory: “This project represents the culmination of my career and will provide the opportunity to inspire and launch the careers of others.”

A Rendering of the Armory as Envisioned in the Approved Plan

I couldn’t be more excited about this development, and for purely selfish reasons: I’ve never had the chance to experience a Jeremiah Tower project, and look forward to being able to interview the chef right here in New York for my forthcoming book about the chefs of the 1970s and 80s.

There’s not a lot more to report at the moment, but here’s the official press release:

September 20, 2012

For Immediate Release 

New Rochelle City Council Approves Good Profit Plan for
Echo Bay Naval Armory

The Armory renovation will save historic structures, create jobs, make the waterfront accessible to the public and establish a center for education and local/regional produce and cuisine.

New Rochelle – September 20, 2012 – Good Profit, the non-profit organization dedicated to public projects in architecture and design, public health and agriculture, announced that is has won approval from the New Rochelle City Council to move ahead with its plan to renovate the Echo Bay Naval Armory. The council approved the plan at a scheduled meeting last night.

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said, “Good Profit brings to New Rochelle a compelling and exciting concept with enormous potential to activate our waterfront and energize our entire community.  The New Rochelle City Council was greatly impressed by the broad and deep experience of Good Profit’s first-rate development team, and we look forward to working in partnership to achieve this ambitious vision.”


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Announcing Toqueland’s Fall/Winter Fan Contest

Keep in Touch with Toqueland and Earn a Chance, or Chances, to Win A Copy of WHITE HOUSE CHEF, Signed and Personalized by Walter Scheib


We’re delighted to announce the third edition of our fan contest, wherein we offer new followers a chance to win a suitably chef-related prize. This time around–in honor of election season here in the United States–one lucky Toquelander will win a copy of White House Chef, the inside story of how Chef Walter Scheib modernized the White House food program, personalized by Walter (and yours truly, who served as his coauthor).

Billed as a cookbook, White House Chef is, for my money, actually a memoir with recipes. It details how Walter got the job at the White House (following a long interview process and some “audition” cooking for First Lady Hillary Clinton and her team in the early 1990s), oversaw the refurbishment of the kitchen and protocols, and threw dinners and parties far larger than anybody had previously envisioned or attempted at the White House, all with contemporary American food as the focus. From casual family meals to the grandest of State dinners, this book tells the story of how it all got done on Walter’s watch, and also details the dramatic change that took place when George W. Bush became president. (Walter served for one term of the Bush 43 presidency.)

This edition of the contest will run through Inauguration Day 2013, which will be on January 21st because the 20th is a Sunday next year. On that day, we’ll select a winning name at random. The winner will be contacted privately so you can tell us how you’d like the book inscribed and to where we should ship it. It’s that simple. (Although we keep the winners’ names confidential, we have to share one amusing detail: The first two contests have both been won by Los Angeles-based chefs.)

To qualify, you can subscribe to us by email, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook. (You can also follow our RSS feed, but we can’t track that, so it doesn’t count in the contest.) For each way you follow, you earn one more chance to win.

We hope this gives you an extra reason to keep up with Toqueland. In the meantime, we promise to keep the content coming and make you glad you chose to keep in touch.

– Andrew

Tasting Tennis

Before the US Open Begins, Chefs Take the Spotlight

Chefs Burke, Morimoto, Mantuano, and Abbey at the US Open tasting last week.

[Note: As some readers know, I’m a passionate (read: addictied) tennis player and fan, as well as an editor at-large for TENNIS magazine. For the next two weeks I’ll be part of the publication’s website coverage team at the US Open. As time allows, I’ll also post here on Toqueland during the tournament. In the meantime, a little ditty about a food-focused day at and around the Open last week. – AF]

The penultimate day of the US Open, dubbed Super Saturday, is one of the biggest days in tennis, on which both men’s semifinals and the women’s final are played. Last week came the food and drink equivalent, let’s call it Tasting Thursday, which brought both a sampling of food and drink that will be available during the tournament, and an annual benefit event, BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis.

The tasting of US Open offerings was held at lunchtime in Aces restaurant in Arthur Ashe Stadium, one of five on-site restaurants operated by Levy Restaurants, who hold the coveted US Open foodservice contract.

As it has for a few years, the event consisted of a photo op, tasting, and the shepherding around of chefs to journalists for impromptu, tableside interviews. It was an impressive show of force: In addition to Levy’s Executive Chef for the Open, Jim Abbey, Tony Mantuano, the big-hearted founder of Chicago’s Spiaggia restaurant, which is today owned by Levy, was there to represent his longtime Wine Bar Food concept at the Open. This year, the centrally located, open-air watering hole and cafe has added a supremely runny burrata from local Brooklyn Cheese Company to its menu. As he did last year, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (appropriately enough, a former athlete, although his sport was baseball) took the floor to promote his US Open sushi. The new kid in the kitchen in 2012 is the ever-mischievous David Burke, whom Levy has brought on board to add his playful touch to Champions restaurant which will function as a sort-of steakhouse this year. (One of the items passed to seated journalists were vintage Burke: a cheesecake lollipop tree with a bubble gum-whipped cream dipping sauce.) LaFrieda’s Mark Pastore, butchery’s Vince Vaughn, was also in attendance to support to his proprietary US Open burger; LaFrieda is having quite the month, having just introduced their sandwich stand at Citi Field, across the street from the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center, earlier in August.

Usually the Open tasting draws a crowd primarily composed of food bloggers, but this year the organizers shrewdly tethered it to the tournament’s draw ceremony, enticing many tennis reporters to attend: for me, it was a chance to chow down with good friends Pete Bodo, one the deans of American tennis journalism; Tom Perrotta, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and TENNIS; Ted Loos, there under the auspices of Newsday; and Karen Pestaina of Now that the action is underway (the Open kicked off about an hour ago), you can bet the five of us will not enjoy such a semi-leisurely meal again until the tournament is wrapped, hopefully on Sunday, September 9. (The last few Opens have had Monday men’s finals due to rain.)

Quiet Before the Storm: The last meal of its kind for at least 2 weeks

My favorites of the food I sampled were Burke’s Ash-Crusted Prime Beef Carpacio, the Pesado a la Plancha from Mojitos restaurant, and that burrata that Mantuano is serving up. To be honest, my favorites here at the Open are populist grub such as the sausage and pepper sandwich, but I’ll be trying other, more fancified dishes during my two weeks out here, and if the spirit moves me, will report back on occasion.

Michael Russell, left, and Kerry Heffernan

On Thursday night, a few hours after the Open lunch, I hit Taste of Tennis, an annual benefit event at the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It’s like most tasting events—a few contiguous rooms with tasting tables around the perimeter–but with a twist: tennis players are paired with the chefs, in theory to help them cook, though it doesn’t always work out that way because many players simply move dishes from the prep area to the pass. (In many cases, the players themselves tell me, this is for the best.) And so, huge props to Michael Russell, a veteran American player (best known for coming within a point of dethroning Guga Kuerten at the French Open many years ago) who earnestly helped Kerry Heffernan plate. The gesture was was much appreciated by Kerry as he and his wife had just welcomed a new baby boy the day before. On a personal note, it was terrific to see James Blake, whose book Breaking Back I had the distinct pleasure of coauthoring in 2007. James was working the Meatball Shop station, with his fiancée and their new baby girl, hanging out nearby. Other chefs on hand included Dan Holzman and Michael Chernow of The Meatball Shop, Chris Leahy of Lexington Brass, and Landmarc’s Marc Murphy. (Barbuto’s Jonathan Waxman was in the VIP Lounge downstairs, serving the glitterati behind closed doors.)  Top Chef‘s Gail Simmons was also there to conduct a drinks demo with the great US doubles team the Bryan Brothers.

All in all it was a fun, indulgent interlude before the tournament devours journalists and players alike for the next two weeks. By this morning, my concerns couldn’t have been more different than they were on Thursday: at the gym at 5:30am, out at the Open by 9:30, already writing. For players, obviously, the shift is even more dramatic. James Blake is out on Louis Armstrong Stadium right now, up a set up against his opponent. Think I’ll go out and see how he’s playing. The focus is all on the court now, the food relegated to the sidelines once again.


The Toqueland Interview: Charlie Trotter, Part 2

The Chicago Chef on the Food-Music Connection, His Preoccupation with Vegetables, and the Politics of Foie Gras

Charlie Trotter

Here’s part 2 of our recent interview with Charlie Trotter, who’s closing up shop at the end of the month. If you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to have a look before proceeding.

TOQUELAND: So, you’re not going to have the restaurant.


TOQUELAND: But do you think you’ll keep a toe in the water of the industry over the next several years?

TROTTER: Oh, I consult for some companies and I’m working on some other projects. I love food, you know? Of course I’m going to be involved in a number of ways in the world of food and wine . ..

TOQUELAND: You also told me that you’re going to travel. Is there an itinerary on your mind?

TROTTER: I’ve got to take care of my wife. I’ve got to take her on a few trips. Well, we’ve traveled extensively anyway. We’ve had a chance twice to go around the world for three weeks at a crack. One time we went one way; the other time we went the other way.. . I’m going to take Mrs. Trotter on a number of trips this fall.

TOQUELAND: You’re going to keep the property, is that correct?

TROTTER: I’m not sure yet. I may sell the two properties that house the restaurant, both built in 1908 as single-family homes, twin buildings. I’ll have to see what makes sense. .. People ask me often, “Why are you doing this?” And my response is very simple. And I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but, “Because I can.”

TOQUELAND: There were a lot of firsts in the history of this restaurant.

TROTTER: We were the first restaurant in America to ever have a kitchen table other than one or two places that had a table that was reserved only for the chef’s friends but not for the public. First restaurant to literally go no smoking. We only allowed smoking in the bar for the first two months, then I just said no more smoking. And then I’d get calls from the Chicago aldermen saying, “Oh, gosh, this is great. We’re trying to legislate that we should have no smoking sections. .. and we want you to come and testify that it hasn’t hurt your business.” And my response was, “If I come down and testify, I’m going to testify the other way. The government can’t get their grubby hands involved.” I made this decision. Clients can decide if they want to come or not come. Employees can decide if they want to work there or not work there. We can’t legislate everything.

We were the first restaurant to offer a vegetable degustation menu. Back then if you even saw a vegetable or vegetarian dishes, it might be at a hotel and there would be a heart next to it like a “heart-healthy” dish. And my rationale had nothing to do with health. Health, it’s a byproduct of serving exquisite vegetable items, or non-vegetable items, but it’s going to be healthy anyways because we use virtually no cream or butter. We serve mainly organic product, natural product.

TOQUELAND: Was there a revelatory moment when you got turned on to vegetables, or realized you wanted to focus on them to the extent that you did?

TROTTER: I’ve always loved vegetables and I think I was one of these guys, like maybe even yourself, who went through one of these phases in college where I was a vegetarian for, like, six months. I liked to eat everything, but I’ve always thought that vegetables are the most interesting element of food and gastronomy.

TOQUELAND: Because?… 

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