Sunday, November 1, 2009

David Cheng Smokes Too Much Pot

My friend Kurt who lives in the Castro in San Francisco sent me an article from the SF Gate about David Cheng's recent foray into book promotion and his inability to say two words about SF that weren't somehow offensive, stupid or just patently untrue.

I love that the article has a picture of Cheng standing in front of a picture of Anthony Bourdain suggesting a kind of joined at the hip father and illegitimate son kinship.

For regular visitors here you'll know that I was just in the San Francisco Bay area last August and thought that, of all the places in the world I have been, the Bay area has the most consistently delicious food I've ever experienced - truly amazing! - and they also have a restaurant culture that puts local and organic and humanely raised as a top priority. New York wins on diversity of choices and Bangkok is up there as well.

Apparently this simple fact bothers New York chefs to no end. I've already reported here on the unnecessary and nasty comments that seem to spew like projectile vomit from Anthony Bourdain's mouth. I named him the Rush Limbaugh of Food and I'm glad to see in his most recent stint at the New York City Wine and Food festival he was interviewed and said about Alice Waters:


Of course it's clear that he understands the self promotional aspect to his career as TV host and author knowing that the more offensive and outrageous his statements the more attention he gets and, hopefully, the more books he sells and the bigger his TV audience. It just strikes me as mean, like the bully in the sand box or the out of control dog who can't stop marking his territory.

Then comes along David Cheng, the hot, new, celeb, New York chef of the moment, whose wildly successful Momofuku is admittedly one of my favorite places in the city. (Although not for the reason I think Mr. Cheng would like to think. I like it because he lists on a chalk board the farmers he buys from and uses humanely raised meat) .

"I call bullshit on San Francisco. There's only a handful of restaurants manipulating food...fucking every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate with nothing on it", he says.

Well several things come to my mind about this. First SF is a very small city, so a handful of restaurants is a fair amount. I'd say only a handful are doing it here so not really sure what's up with that, and maybe Mr. Cheng is doing "manipulation" at KO but Saam and Momofuku seem pretty straight forward to me. I haven't been overwhelmed by his El Bulli-style experimentation, but more to the point what does it matter?

Sure it's exciting to discover new flavors or have something experimental or unique,but for the most part when eating out what I most want is food that tastes good.

As for "figs on a plate", one of the seminal experiences of my food life was being served grapes and a peach on a plate at Chez Panisse, it was like I had never experienced a peach before. Beat the hell out of all these flown in from Chile, out of season "fruit plates" that are standard on most New York restaurant menus.

Even Mr. Cheng admits Northern California is blessed with some of the best produce in the world, due both to it's amazing weather and the farmers' commitments to organic and bio-dynamic farming methods. New York has some pretty tasty produce and fruit, but our weather limits us, something I have in recent years seen as a fun challenge (how to preserve the season through out the winter by canning, jamming, drying, freezing etc).

But then Mr. Cheng, in a rebuttal to the fuss his comments made and the resulting cancellation of his book signing at the prestigious Asia Society in SF, says he was misquoted about the fig line and that :

Maybe not the best tack to take Dave! SF has an abundance of growers clubs and medical marijuana "offices" that are easily accessible even to tourists. If there is one thing that San Francisco does better than food it's pot. And my limited experience would suggest that people in SF have a hardy appetite for both.

Anyway this nonsense seems to go on and on, as you will see if you read the whole articles. Mr. Cheng announces defensively "I'm never going to open up a place in SF" (So he can say whatever he wants cause it doesn't matter? Does the phrase "I know you are but what am I" have any meaning to you Dave?) Also, just a thought, but when you are caught talking shit maybe the best response isn't to call your critics "retarded" and denying he ever said what he said (the fig comment), I wonder then why he didn't reiterate, for the record, what he did intend to say?

I could dissect this for pages, but I think I already have made my point. Both Bourdain and Cheng come from the bad boy, high testosterone school of competitive New York restaurants. Both are very successful and both know that what ever shit talk they can get away with they will do, because it will just get them more press (look at me here writing about it for example).

At the end of the day here's is what I am left with.

This Thanksgiving Momofuku is presenting a special menu for 8 people for $350.

It features among other progressive, food manipulating, cutting edge items, to highlight is exceptional experimental technique as:

Sweet Potato Gratin with Maple and Marshmallow

Now that is breathtaking, daring and out of the box, don't you think?

Here are the important facts, as far as I'm concerned:
Alice Waters she has been educating kids and teaching people about food and cooking for most of her life. Her restaurant has a foundation to further these efforts. Sure maybe you find her precious or holier than thou or even out of touch, but she has truly made a profound impact to the good on how people in this country eat and think about food. Her work goes beyond the self promoting self interest of her career. All Anthony and David, bad boy food twins of the moment, have done is collect a pay check.
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