It’s Never Good Enough

I am a not an easy man to work for. (Ask anyone here.) I am frequently pleased but rarely satisfied.

Each morning I walk to the bread rack to look at and feel the breads – to see if they are baked to the color I want, whether they were proofed fully before baking, whether they are heavy or light.

For several days our Palladin’s bread was too dense.









It didn’t have the crisp crust and light, airy interior it is supposed to have. And so I came to work at 3 am the other day to learn what had changed and to make it possible for us to get back the qualities we want in that bread.

One very busy Saturday morning I passed through the bread bakery and saw baguettes that were heavy and soft. (You get accustomed to looking at breads and know if they don’t look right.) I picked one up. It was indeed heavy and soft.

I asked what happened. Nafta had felt rushed when at 10:30 we ran out of the 7 am baguettes. He felt the frustration of customers and baked the second batch before they were ready to be baked.

We talked about it.

Then as fate would have it, I ran into a customer who said to me, “I come here for your baguette because it’s so wonderful.” I saw her carrying a deficient one and I resisted saying what I thought. For this reason:

A decade ago a customer was sitting in a corner of The BreadLine, my restaurant downtown. He motioned me over and said, “You make the best baguette I have ever had.”

“That’s funny,” I said, “I have never made a baguette that satisfied me”

I saw his face drop and I realized what a cruel and insulting thing I had done. Now when a customer pays a compliment I say simply, “Thank you.”

But our customers are really sophisticated and I think you expect us to police our quality. You should expect it.

IMG_2125    So every day I taste our soup and a salad or two and other foods as well. (Not good for my figure as you may have noticed.)

Sometimes I say to Robert that the fried chickpeas don’t have enough cumin or the soup needs a little salt.

That’s my job here.

I am certainly not the only person here who pays attention to what we do – far from it. Eun Yim, our manager, certainly does. She is particularly sensitive; it seems to me, about English muffins too small or bagels with that tight navel opening that I dislike

I think our staff contains a lot of critics and we want that to be the case. We want to be proud of what we do and I believe – I hope we all take every opportunity to accentuate the positive: Our baguette is the best I have made in my baking career and our croissant is perfect every day. But I remain, I guess, generally critical.

I have no right to have such confident in my judgments. I became a baker at the age of 52 and before that had been just an eater. When I was a child my grandmother used to say that I had a stomach but no palate. I hope I became discerning as an eater and certainly I always had strong opinions about food that I felt free to express. But I wasn’t a professional. (One doesn’t have to be a professional to be opinionated about food.)

When I opened Marvelous Market in 1990, I knew nothing about bread other than how to replicate some of the breads I had seen in other bakeries. We offered very little food and no pastry at all. And seven years later I audaciously opened The BreadLine, a restaurant, never having been the chef of a restaurant.

Now after 26 years of making foods that others like to eat, I may have some claim to knowledge; but I am still a novice compared to many of my colleagues whose careers began practically in childhood. I just hope I have learned enough to earn the right to my naturally opinionated personality.

When I am trying to develop a food, bread, or dessert I nearly always have in my mind what I want, how I want something to look and taste and feel. It starts with an idea that I work on in my head before using my hands.

Driving to the bakery or reading the newspaper, I get an idea.   We had received colorful carrots from the Mennonite cooperative in Pennsylvania. Roasting the carrots would make them really sweet. Pomegranates are still available and I thought about adding arils for color, texture, and flavor. Wheat berries for texture. Radicchio for a seasonal bitterness. Radicchio with wheat berries. Two wintery ingredients. Different textures. Very different flavors. Then I thought about tahini for a nutty flavor.

Great ideas, perhaps, but the salad didn’t taste good and was utterly ugly. That was a really bad idea.   It doesn’t matter; I’ll think about it and another idea will come.

I am not autonomous here, however, and I certainly don’t do all the development. When we were tasting new coffees to replace what we had, I expected certain flavors of chocolate and a certain bitterness and sweetness. We tasted coffees but it was Eun who chose La Colombe.


In the pastry kitchen Cecile Mouthen is on a spree right now.  She is creating new muffins and cookies and greater varieties of all sorts of desserts. Just yesterday she presented for sampling a baklava pie and a coffee cake – a cake made with coffee.


Much of what we all do is monitor and correct. Eun and Jesse tasted the carrot cake and thought it was gummy inside. I agreed and so did Cecile. She thought she knew why and made changes in the size of the carrot pieces inside.

A soup had too much cumin. The rye bread was flat. We make imperfect foods every day.

Sometimes we have recipe drift; a recipe becomes so familiar and made so frequently that the paper disappears and that doesn’t matter because everyone knows how to make it anyway. Except one day we notice that it’s become something other than the original recipe.

Sometimes we get a better idea. Less rice and more peas in the chicken salad. We are lucky; we we can make changes right away in our food. A multi-store bakery wouldn’t be able to do that.

We want to be proud of what we do and one of the pleasures of making foods is that we always have a chance to make them perfect the next time we make them.

One of the frustrations of making foods is that they are never perfect. This is my third bakery and although I know we are making very good foods here I am never satisfied. It’s a curse. It prevents my enjoying as much as others do what we make here. It makes me restless.

I have a secret list of improvements, changes to make in foods customers already like. I have recipe fragments for spring vegetables. I look at cookbooks and favorite blogs and websites. Others do the same thing.

If consistency is the hobgoblin, invention is the angel.

I made a list of new foods for spring. We’re going to discuss it. Other will have other ideas.

Where are the customers in all this? Well, for one thing customers make suggestions. Customers remember foods I made 25 years ago and ask that we make them again. Most important, customers criticize. (Perhaps not as much as we would like.)

But if the customers like and buy our foods shouldn’t that be sufficient, indeed shouldn’t that be conclusive?

I just don’t think so. We are unable to stop tampering.



When Did Emergency Become Snow’s Last Name?

I returned early from a conference in California to which I had committed myself. I did that because Bread Furst was robbed.

Two men invaded our space and beat Jesse McCormick with a pistol.


It was in the middle of the day and brazen. It was awful. I wanted to be here and left San Francisco the moment my obligations ended there. I arrived 13 hours before the snowstorm.

Our staff met that morning to talk about the storm even before I arrived. By that time Metro had peremptorily announced it would close for three days.   A three-day closing even before the first snowflake fell? Our public transporation, our bus and subway system closing because streets above would be snowy?


I understand closing pieces of the city when closing is made necessary by the weather. But I don’t understand what we, the city of Washington now do: Close virtually everything in anticipation of difficult weather.

“This is not a storm that anyone should take lightly, and I would urge all residents to plan to get to a safe place before the storm arrives Friday afternoon,” said Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld.

I don’t believe that anyone was taking the storm lightly and I realize that Mr. Wiedefeld is new to his job. But surely he knows that our busses and subway are not a discretionary service.   The people who make the city run depend on busses and the subway. Those who work in stores and restaurants and hospitals commute by bus and train. Shutting down public transportation shuts down our city.

Our general manager, Eun Yim, anticipating the snow and the city’s shut-down, rented rooms at the Day’s Inn down the block and she offered them to staff who wanted to stay. Four did.

Others of the staff who live within a mile or so walked to work.

Thus we were able to stay open during the storm; and because we paid incredible sums for Uber rides we opened on Monday fully staffed.


            When I was a child my family lived on West North Avenue in Baltimore across the street from Gwynns Falls Park. Our elementary school was a mile away.


During winter snow days we hoped our school would close.  It rarely did and so we would dress up, put on galoshes, wool hats, and mittens and go to the corner to wait for the streetcar. In general snow was fun for kids.

For grown-ups too life went on during snowstorms. People were often late to work but they went to work. Businesses opened. People drove.

It is true that cars were heavier then; perhaps they had better traction than cars do now. And during snowstorms people put chains on their tires. Chains were a lot of trouble and got replaced by snow tires with deep treads and metal studs.


We had two sets of tires, summer and winter then. Now many of us have lighter cars and snow tires have given way to all-weather tires that are a compromise between summer and winter.

In addition, of course, people live far afield and travel long distances to work.   Children don’t walk to school any longer.

But still Washington seems unusually timid to me. Cities more northern that ours cope better with snowfall.   I know they have larger snow removal budgets and more equipment but I think they cope better because for them snow remains part of life.


Not here. In Washington we traumatize ourselves. Last winter the simple forecast of snow was enough to get schools canceled and the Federal government closed. The threat was sufficient.  I found that particularly outrageous. I was offended when weather forecasters forgave themselves when the storms they puffed up abruptly deflated by explaining how difficult it is to forecast here.

At least this time the snow came. But look at what we did in anticipation!

We shut down the city. We closed even the federal government.   Is the federal government a non-essential service?

No postal delivery – well, we privatized that. But that can’t be the reason. Chipotle was open and it’s private.

The DC government was closed but gas stations were open.

Is Grover Norquist right?

I am pretty certain that the Pentagon and National Security Agency went on working during the storm. But the rest of us conspired to make a winter storm a danger nearly as terrifying as ISIS.

We are doing this to ourselves.   When storms begin to form we are told minute-by-minute about their rising threat.   We follow the forecasts obsessively as television and the Internet burn with news. As a storm approaches we are pulled into near-frenzy. We predict closings and then impose them. We cancel thousands of airline flights.


We are redefining what constitutes an emergency. Before the storm hit the city Washington’s mayor declared a disaster; so did the Commonwealth of Virginia. And Maryland’s governor warned people to stock up in preparation for a week of isolation.

(He must have been brought up on the prairie.)

We were not shut down by the storm. We shut ourselves down in anticipation of it. We left only the duration of the shutdown to be determined by how much snow actually fell.

We are simply accepting a redefinition of emergency. If emergencies are now awful things that might happen, are we now going to live in a perpetual state of emergency?

I know I am an old-timer, a fogey, but it wasn’t like this before.

“The actions we are taking today are all in the interest of our customers’ and employees’ safety, and will help us return to service once the storm passes and the snow is cleared,” Mr. Wiedefeld said.

No, that’s not so.   Metro trains were not sheltered during the storm as he promised; and even two days after it ended only fractions of service were restored.   Two days after the storm ended even the few busses that ran were given a 5 pm curfew.

Mr. Wiedefeld explained that Metro has consistently promised more than it was able to deliver and he wants to change that culture.  He did not want to make promises he couldn’t keep.

But of course if you promise nothing, that is a promise you will always be able to keep.

The timorous response of Metro contrasted sharply with the transportation systems of other eastern cities and with Amtrak that continued its service through the storm.

New York schools opened on Monday. Washington schools did not and Arlington County announced that its schools will be closed until Thursday, five days after the snow ended.

Why not open the schools and require students who miss days to make up work?

Jesse was pistol-whipped a week ago and has 18 stitches in his head. He lives in Alexandria where the Metro wasn’t running; but with a concussion and drugs for it he returned to work yesterday.


As for the return of our public services, we’ll just have to wait and see.





Slipping into Tipping

At the very end of 2014 I wrote an essay about my tipping dilemma and asked for advice.

You know, I suspect, something about restaurant tips. Restaurants are able to pay a modest hourly wage, below the normal minimum because the preponderance of a waitstaff’s salary comes from tips. This is a good thing for both sides. Restaurants are able to contain labor costs and waitrons earn far more than they would if they were receiving an hourly wage.

Of course it’s you who are paying the difference.

Retail is something else. Bread Furst pays a good wage to our retail staff – well, good by industry standards.   We do that because we don’t expect customers in our bakery to pay a 15-20% tip. Indeed, I don’t expect our customers to tip at all.


It is not, after all, expected in hardware and grocery stores, nor at Saks Fifth Avenue.  So why should it be in a bakery?

I have always disliked the way in which quick-service food retail handles tipping .

For me this is an aesthetic issue and I take my lesson from what I have experienced as a customer:

I order at the counter from a young woman in torn jeans and a wrinkled and slightly soiled shirt. I want a coffee to go. She turns around, takes a cup, presses a spigot, asking, “Leave room for milk?”  

She turns back, hands the coffee to me and with a few strokes hands me an I-Pad that says:  

Coffee                              $2.95 

Gratuity          ______      10 %

                          ______      15 %

                          ______      20 %

I think, “Jeeze, she’s simply filled a cup. Why should I tip her?” I look up querulously. She is looking directly, expectantly into my eyes. 

I didn’t want customers to have this experience here and so I banished tipping.


Well, guess what. It happened here.

If you are a regular customer of Bread Furst you know that our service has been slow. One of the principal reasons is that I made a big mistake at the beginning in my choice of point-of-sale systems – our cash register system. At the time it seemed to be the best choice available; but in fact, I chose a system that made customers wait long times to check out. It was frustrating to you and awful for us.

We took a long time to choose a new system but finally we did and we installed it last week. It comes with a tipping option that forces you to choose.



As a result tipping increased 300 percent.

I really don’t know what to make of this and what to do about it. I know that customers have asked frequently during our year and half of life if they could leave tips; and for a year we have had a discretely placed jar for those who really wanted to do so. That seemed like a good compromise. Customers who really wanted to tip could do it and those who didn’t want to weren’t made to feel guilty about that.

But it seems to me that some customers who didn’t think about tipping were now being asked directly to tip and I wonder if some of you may resent that.

But perhaps that is just the view of a 77-year old traditionalist.



Eun Yim, our general manager and a far younger person than I, says that the practice “has become so standard (that when I shop) I don’t think about it. If it’s a quick service place and I order a cup of coffee, I don’t see any reason to tip.”






Matt Demma who works here on weekends, a young man committed to the retail food business, says he always tips when he buys because he knows that like him, the people serving him “survive on their tips.”

And I know that some of you want to tip.  Indeed a customer told me just a day ago that she wanted the option when she checks out.  (But another customer overhearing the conversation said he finds the tip screen a subtle coercion.)

I really don’t know what to do. On the one hand I don’t want to deprive our service people of a wage increase. That’s what it is, a wage increase that costs us nothing. On the other hand we already pay a decent wage and we are paying a fortune for health insurance.

We could do what restaurants do and, in view of the energized tipping, lower our base wage. We’d benefit from that as an organization but it wouldn’t please our sales people.

But what about that? Why is it that the salespeople alone benefit from tips?

Our sales staff is very important as it is the face of our bakery.   But what about those who produce what we make for you? What about the bakers, cooks, and pastry staff? They don’t benefit from tips unless we pool them; and that is something that some restaurants do.

None of this addresses the curious fact that in spite of what I wrote in 2014, we slipped into tipping and did that at a time when others, led by Danny Meyer, the estimable New York restaurateur, are questioning and abandoning the practice.

We have taken the tipping option off our point of sales system at least for the time being. Please let us know what you think.




Cooking from the Pantry

Would you like to know about my craziness – well, some of it.

My new year’s resolution is not to lose weight; that’s a year-long, lifelong resolution. Nor is to be a better person; that’s unachievable. My resolution this year is to bring greater order to my home.

That may seem to you so simple as to be unworthy of a new year.  But it’s not.

I am focusing right now on the kitchen and have a bossy friend helping me.

Clearing space there required me to take from the cupboards all of their contents.

IMG_2085            In my defense, I point out that I am a professional and so sometimes I buy ingredients with which I can experiment. They accumulate.



And in my defense, sometimes people bring to the bakery foods they want us to sell and friends bring to my home gifts of foods they think I will enjoy.




Those foods pile up a bit but this does not explains some foods that only I could have brought in.


I will learn what this is only by opening it. (I hope it isn’t durian.)

I suffer from a peculiar pathology, culinary hoarding.

I go to a store to shop for a particular recipe I have in mind, one that requires, say, unsweetened coconut milk and I stand before the store shelf on which it reposes and say to myself, “Do I have any coconut milk at home?”

Well, I say again to myself, “I don’t want to make a special trip if I don’t have it, so I’ll buy a can just in case. Oh, I might as well buy two so I don’t have to wonder the next time.”   But when the next time comes I repeat that litany and the result is:


I do not want simply to put back into the cabinets what I have removed and so right now I am sleeping each night with dreams of food combinations.

I try to imagine foods composed exclusively of what I have on hand. But how could I combine one of Joyce Goldstein’s superb jams with another ingredient also in the pantry. I stand before the counter and try to imagine combinations. But do hearts of palm really go well with lingonberry?



So I altered this unrealistic aspiration and tried to think of recipes that might combine an ingredient I have on hand with fresh ingredients I buy. That was easy but I fear the weeding out will take too long.


My helpful friend had a better suggestion. Meals composed of several courses each of which uses one jar on hand:

Martinis with pickled corn served with toasts with caper flowers and anchovy paste.

Followed by room temperature pork roast with with mango chutney and a salad of avocado and hearts of palm

And a dessert of shortbread cookies with assorted jams.

I can do this. I can have a series of dinners here with friends who are adventurous eaters. I have a lot of such friends. But with foods like these, how long will I keep them? How many dinner parties must I hold? How long will it take?

Frankly I am praying for a couple of blizzards.





The Democratization of Criticism

Back in the old days, there were two public voices of food criticism in Washington. She was Phyllis Richman of the Post and he was Robert Shoffner of the Washingtonian.

Shoffner immersed himself in Washington’s culinary history and wrote with real knowledge about our traditions and development.

Richman first wrote a food column for the Baltimore Jewish Times, then a restaurant column for the Washington Star, then for the Washingtonian and starting in 1976 for the Post.


Richman was a pioneer of newspaper food criticism in America, of the generation of Craig Claiborne at the New York Times, Lois Dwan who wrote over three decades for the Los Angeles Times, and others.

Richman had a demanding role; much was expected of her and after a few years at the Post she had three jobs: Food editor, restaurant critic, and syndicated columnist.

What made her job particularly difficult, it seemed to me, was that before the era in which she and others were writing, food criticism had been thought of as “woman’s work.” But Richman considered herself – and was in fact a journalist. She was boxed in, however.   When, as she says, “Food was just food and family, it was acceptable for women to write about it. But when it became money and glamor, then it was men’s work.”

As true as that is, Richman’s voice became more powerful in the Washington food scene’s than anyone else’s had been. Many times I saw the reactions of restaurateurs who realized that she was sitting at one of their tables. They knew how powerful a review from her could be. Her review of Marvelous Market on a Sunday in October, 1990 brought 250 people to a line outside our door. The police came to see what was happening and busses paused to see the sight.

No one will ever be that powerful again.

From 1983 to 1988 Tom Sietsema, then a college student, was her assistant before he moved to Milwaukee to be food editor of the Journal, then to the San Francisco Chronicle to write about food, then to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to write about food.  He returned to Washington in 2000.


The demands now made on Sietsema are greater even than those that were made on Richman. He is of course first our restaurant critic and writes a restaurant review for the Post Magazine every week. As well he previews new restaurants in the Post’s Wednesday food section, writes periodic stories for the front section, hosts a weekly on-line chat, and wrote post cards from the road once a month that have now been replaced by major stories on the food scenes in other cities.

Yet in spite of it all he is far from being the only food voice in Washington. There is David Hagedorn of who writes for D.C. Modern Luxury and the Wall Street Journal, Don Rockwell who hosts a popular Web site, Tim Carmen of the Post, Todd Kliman and others at the Washingtonian Magazine, Prince of Petworth, Bright Young Thing, and occasionally Warren Rojas of Roll Call.

And above all – Zagat, the little red book (not to be confused with the sayings of Mao Tse-tung).

In 1978 I was working for the Boston Police Department and one evening Barney Frank, then in the state legislature, told me that our mutual friend from the National Student Association, Tim Zagat was going to create a restaurant guide.

Zagat during our student years had talked about ways of empowering consumers, aggregating them so that their opinions about many consumer goods could have more powerful effects. He had dreamed of rating restaurants, films and stores, airlines and others.

I was then an avid home cook and Craig Claiborne reader, a believer in expertise, and I said to Barney, “That’s an awful idea.   You don’t become a restaurant critic just by eating out.”


Wow was I wrong! That is exactly what happened. People became critics. The little red book was successful in city after city. Hundreds of thousands of people bought it, responded to its surveys, and relied on it.


But what empowered consumers even more was, of course, the Internet that gave a forum to everyone, anyone, and a forum of irresistible immediacy.

There are many, many professional Web sites like and offshoots of publications like the Web sites of the Post and the Washingtonian. There are wonderful food sites like Serious Eats, personal Web sites, travel sites like Trip Advisor. And then – of course – there is Yelp.

Yelp is in a category of its own, getting 135 million visitors monthly who want to know about hair salons and dry cleaners. (Under the category “Best Prisons” the D.C. Jail gets one and half stars.)


Even though it carries consumer ratings to great extremes, Yelp, it is said, has great power. A Harvard Business School study argued that a change in the number of stars given to a business affects its business volume by five to seven percent.

How can it be then that virtually no restaurateur – even those with the thinnest of skins – pays any attention whatever to Yelp. Most don’t bother to look at it.

Some have had bad experiences.   Some Yelpers, restaurant owners believe, use the threat of bad reviews to get favors. Some restaurateurs have been publically critical, even rebellious about Yelp. But most just ignore it.

One colleague told me, “I check Open Table almost hourly and check Trip Advisor at least weekly. I don’t regularly check Yelp as I can’t stand the pukes that actually “review” restaurants…”

Another:   “I don’t pay much attention to Yelp. Yelp is for people who have never stepped foot in a restaurant and yet they write about it. If someone walks into the restaurant and can’t get a table, they rate you zero.”

Some believe that Yelp biases its reviews based on who advertises on its site and who doesn’t. One said, “I really never looked at Yelp because it is falsified by competitors and by restaurants themselves who pay people to write good reviews for them. Plus if you do advertise with them they will keep the reviews with five stars stay on.”

Yelp vice president of corporate communications, Vince Solitto, firmly denied to public radio the accusations of extortion:   “…there is no amount of money that anyone can pay to manipulate Yelp reviews or move their placement. Yelp reviews are written by real consumers about real businesses, and they serve as a helpful resource for more than 50 million consumers each month.”

I believe that is true. Yet Yelp called me the other day. That’s not unusual. The company calls restaurateurs all the time to solicit advertising. This time I made notes during the call:

“Eun is not here,” I said, “she went to a meeting. This is Mark Furstenberg. May I help you?”

“I called to go over your options for advertising.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t advertise.”

“Well Eun said that she was interested and I want to discuss the various options.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think Eun told you that. I appreciate your calling but we aren’t interested in advertising.”

“Why not?”
“We just don’t do it.”

“So you don’t want to build your business and do better in the winter months because you could if you advertise.” We have many programs…” On and on.

“Thank you for calling but we’re not going to advertise.”

“You realize Yelp is giving you a lot of free advertising by reporting what your customers say about you. And in the last week alone we have given location information and directions to 68 people.”

“And I appreciate that but we are not going to advertise.”

“You don’t want to be on Yelp?”

“Are you telling me that if we don’t advertise we’ll drop off Yelp”?

“We’re giving you a lot of free advertising by letting people see who you are and where you are.”

“And I appreciate that. But I just don’t advertise. I haven’t ever advertised.”

“Are you saying that you don’t want to be on Yelp”?

“Again, you’re telling me that if we don’t advertise you’re going to drop us from Yelp?”

“I don’t even know who you are. I called to speak to Eun.”

“Then you ought to do some homework before calling.   Now, I want to get off the phone and go back to work.”

He hung up.

I was almost from birth a sucker for the hard sell. I bought atomic rings advertised on the radio.  I saved cereal boxtops to get secret codes advertised on radio.  I remember listening on the radio to the creator of Charles Antell Formula No. 9, also the creator of the thirty-minute commercial. He pitched lanolin, “Did you ever see a bald sheep?”



I dutifully sent my money through the mail although I can’t imagine now why in 1949, at the age of eleven, I was concerned about baldness.

Perhaps that is why since the age of eleven the hard sell has been unpleasant to me and I always rebeI against it. But perhaps it is effective for Yelp whose its name alone is unpleasant to me although it certainly does justify the hard sell.

But I have other issues to raise in this essay.

If chefs and restaurateurs don’t respect Yelp where do we get our information about our customers’ experiences? Those who use Open Table, the service that allows diners to reserve tables on its on-line site and also carries reviews, is respected. “These are the people who actually dine here,” a friend said to me, “They are sharing their experiences.”

Many of my colleagues pay attention to Trip Advisor. For all of us, what are most powerful are oral comments, letters and emails.   When a customer bothers to complain about food or service I – and I think everyone else in the food business – pay attention. We know that it takes a certain amount of courage to complain directly and in person. We know that it takes a certain amount of industry to write a letter, even an email. And we learn from complaints.

Our responses to them depend on how thin-skinned we are and how firmly we feel about the issue being complained about. I mean that if a customers says to me that our coffee is not hot enough when it’s served, I want to know that and correct it. If they say that they don’t like our coffee I pay attention to the number of people who say that. If they say that our coffee is too strong, I am interested but believe I should be the final voice.

There are now so many voices and if food criticism has been democratized it has also become amateurized. That is not a bad thing but it means I must rely on my own taste.   If I try to respond to every customer complaint by making changes I get lost. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but truthfully if I didn’t trust my taste I would not make foods.

It is nonetheless a good thing that customers have so many ways to express their opinions.   It is really wonderful that customers are paying so much attention to what they eat and are so knowledgeable about food and interested in it. But because the Internet has increased so much the volume of customer comments we who make food have to be selective about which media we pay attention to.

Nearly all my friends in the food-making business do that and virtually all of them exclude Yelp from their attentions.





Traumatized in Toulouse

Here are a few sentences you will never hear in a French restaurant:

“Hi, my name is Emile and I will be your waiter for this evening.”

“Have you dined with us before?

“May I explain our menu to you?”

“How are you guys doing?”

“Are you still enjoying that?”

“Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“Here is your check – when you’re ready…”

The French waiter/waitress is a professional. He is such a well-known character that when one dines in a French restaurant, he (or she) becomes an important part of the experience.


Whether haughty or cool or professional or negligent, the French waiter is never like an American server and that’s how I became traumatized in Toulouse.

Someone I trust a lot, a colleague here told me that Christian Constant had opened a restaurant on the Place du Capitole in Toulouse; so when I checked into my hotel, nearly on the grand place itself, I took a walk in the city and inevitably found myself near the restaurant – somewhat too early for dinner in Europe but not too early for a drink.

Christian Constant is an admirable person, a transformational person on the French culinary scene. He was the chef of the magnificent Crillion Hotel on the Place de la Concorde where he trained a generation of chefs who went on to reestablish a simple, ingredient-based, seasonal cuisine. It borrows from other cultures but is thoroughly grounded in French cooking.

One of his protégés, Yves Camdeborde has gone on to great glory in his restaurant, Le Comptoir and his hotel, Le Relais Saint Germain; and another Tierry Breton is the chef/owner of Chez Michel, another restaurant I like a lot.


I had no thought that Le Bibent in Toulouse would be anything other than wonderful and when I arrived at the restaurant I was sure it would be. I intended to sit outside on the soft evening facing the stunning Place but when I saw the inside, I couldn’t stay outside as wonderful as that would have been. The interior was too magnificent.

Baroque, Art Nouveau, this restaurant goes back to 1882; and that it had been taken over by a chef I admire so much made me happy to be there. I wanted to be in that room. I wanted to watch the food pass on its way to other tables. I wanted to see the service.


I wanted simply to stare. I wanted to have a pastis and drink it and drink in the sights, the ornate walls and ceiling. That’s permissible in a French restaurant. Unlike American restaurants no one ever rushes French diners. I had been eating alone during my stay in Bordeaux and in Auch and my dinners had been tranquil evenings of two and half hours and more.

An attractive young server arrived at my table and I smiled. She didn’t. “Avez-vous choisi?” she asked.

I was surprised and I told her that I didn’t have a menu. She brought one.

It was 7:50 PM, an unfashionably early hour for dinner in Europe and only two other tables were occupied. Nevertheless, after three minutes, the waitress returned. “Avez-vous choisi,” she asked again?

Now I was irritated. I told her that I wanted an aperitif. Even before it arrived she returned and asked a third time whether I was ready.

I was – for her. I told her that when I was ready I would let her know. I ordered a second pastis just to spite her – and calm myself.

My appetizer was delivered to my table almost immediately after I ordered it and my main course came just as quickly. I was given my check before I asked for it.

There I was – on the main square of Toulouse on a beautiful summer night, my one dinner in that city – and I might have been at Mon Ami Gabi in a northern Virginia shopping mall. The restaurant was still largely empty. My dinner – even with the delays I had imposed – was 75 minutes long.

Capitole of Toulouse, and the square of the same name with the Occitan cross designed by Raymond Moretti on the ground.

Restaurant service in France has rarely been warm but it has always been proper. I was getting in this beautiful restaurant in Toulouse, the restaurant of a great contemporary chef, service that would have embarrassed him.

It made me think about what is happening to food in France.

My son Philippe pointed me to a study by the French Union of Hotel Skills and Industries that claims 85 percent of the restaurants of France, without telling their customers, use frozen, vacuum-packed, partially, even foods wholly cooked in advance somewhere else.

Some unsuspecting diner (like me) could order tête de veau (prepared in a factory) followed by steak au poivre (cooked in a sous vide factory) accompanied by sauce bernaise (packaged in plastic bags by a factory), frozen vegetables, desserts made by a big supplier, and so on.

Eighty-five percent seems like a very high number but whether it’s literally 85 percent or not those practices have been adopted widely by French restaurants whose customers have no suspicions that they are eating food factory-made.

At the beginning of this year a new law gave restaurants that make food on premises permission to advertise that. Can you imagine? French restaurants having to advertise that they make their food?

Many, many years ago I did a stage in a little bakery in Paris. It was/is a wonderful bakery that makes huge loaves of crusty, mixed grain bread. I worked through the nights there learning the rustic pastries of that bakery. I had hoped as well to learn by working there more about Viennoisserie. But I didn’t.

As it turned out the bakery bought frozen croissants from a big manufacturer of frozen pastries. We removed from the freezer the number needed for the next day, let them defrost and proof and then we brushed them with egg and baked them.

The owner of the bakery told me as we worked that he could offer a better, more consistent croissant by buying than he could by making his own. I believed him but it seemed wrong.

How naïve I was! How persnickety I was!   The croissants my friend made (didn’t make) were good, really good even though they weren’t fait maison. The croissants I saw in France last month were nothing like those of my friend. They were pretty shocking.

What’s going on? What is happening my beloved French food?

Some people say labor laws make impossible the kind of intense work that French restaurants always did when they made their own food.

Others say that Common Market standardization has doomed some of the food-making practices that were followed for ages.

Still others say that the industrialization of food that in the U.S. has been the norm for 70 years is now coming to dominate France too.

But none of that accounts for the service in that beautiful restaurant in Toulouse.

France has lots of treasures: Paris, Mont Saint Michel, Provence, the Louvre, countless treasures. But certainly no treasure has been more important in France – and to France – than its cuisine and dining culture. In variety and quality, no cuisine other than Chinese has been that good (in my opinion). In service no food culture has been as good.

What happens to all of us if they are now in decline?

A Caper on the Road in the Dordogne

I didn’t know exactly where I was, somewhere between Agen and Perigueux  and I was enjoying not knowing. I was meandering the little roads back and forth between Dordogne and Cahors, avoiding the “N” roads staying on “D” roads, passing fields of sunflowers bending in union away from the hot sun as if in prayer.


I had begun in March to plan this trip to Southwest France and Corsica and in my fantasy planning I would go into the Aquitaine, Dorgogne, to Garonne and Gascony, and just drive, knowing where I would end each day but not knowing how I would get there.

Following my plan, I was hungry; it was 1:30 pm.

I passed a handwritten sign: “Dejuner, 30E. 100 mètres à la droite.” I faintly saw it, drove on, and then I said to myself, “What am I doing? That’s just what I want to do.”

And so I turned around and drove off onto a dirt road and after a hundred yards I arrived at a dirt parking lot with deep ruts. Just up a hill I saw an unprepossessing building and an improbable number of occupied plastic tables and chairs.

I was greeted warmly (in the French way) and led to a table. The menu of the day was appealing enough but I saw a display of fois gras around the counter in the rear and that’s what I wanted.

Pretty soon I was served a salad that reminded me of every good salad I have ever eaten in France.


Just good greens, three wedges of ripe tomato, sweet onions, red pepper, olives, herbs of Provence, cubes of feta, and capers all very lightly dressed.   It was perfect.

The feta cubes were small and uniform.   The red pepper nicely roasted and onions carefully minced. And the capers were fat, begging to be noticed.

My little carafe of rosé arrived.

I looked at it and the farmland below, the scenery and the others on the terrace. I was on vacation.

People who spend most of their waking moments thinking about food ought to savor it, not snort it. I eat too quickly. I am an oxymoron, a food lover who eats far too fast, and most people in the food business eat too fast. I don’t admire them for that; I don’t admire myself for it.

I go to dinner frequently with my friends David, Michael, and Saied. We find cheap restaurants, usually in the suburbs, the kind much valued by some food critics who far more frequently than I find food virtues in the suburbs of Washington.

A few months ago, we went to dinner at the Panda Gourmet, a truly seedy restaurant, not suburban, at the seedy intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. (It could have been suburban.)


As usual, we ordered a large number of dishes so that we could try a lot; and in spite of our entreats to the contrary, all the dishes were brought to us at the same time – six or seven different foods – soup, noodles, vegetables, pork, this and that.

In the large and frenetic dining room we ploughed through the dinner like horses and the dinner was so unrewarding that in the parking lot I told my friends that I wouldn’t do that again.

I was reminded of that evening as I started to eat my little salad, one caper at a time, with bread from the green plastic basket with a paper napkin liner.

There I was with no appointments, nowhere to go surrounded by people who had no appointments, nowhere to go.

I felt on vacation and I fletcherized every little bite of the salad before moving on to the foie gras and eating that very slowly too. I put the fork on the plate after taking each bite. I sliced the foie gras into ever smaller cubes. I kept thinking: Why can’t I slow down at home too?

A few tables away from me were two women who were already seated there when I arrived.   A waitress put in front of them a dessert, a slice of cake I think, covered with cotton candy, a child’s dessert, a plate both modern and old-fashioned.

Both women squealed softly.

I decided to practice being on vacation. The experience was great and I decided I would do it again the next day. I spent that night in Toulouse in an old and beautifully modernized hotel just off the Place du Capitole.

Again driving aimlessly the following day, again hungry at 1:30 I found myself near Renneville in the Midi-Pyrénées on my route to Carcassonne, the medieval fortified city.

I saw a lunch sign on the road again:  “Cassoulet.”

Cassoulet! I was just outside Toulouse. Could I pass up that opportunity even in the summer heat? When will I ever again be able to eat cassoulet in Toulouse?

Cassoulet restaurant

Again a little salad, this time with a few slices of preserved duck. And then cassoulet.


And so I practiced eating slowly – “mindful eating” as people like to call it – giving up my self-imposed and irrational deadline to arrive at Carcassonne. And I stayed with my cassoulet until the dining room had nearly emptied – before driving to join the 60,000 or so others who also decided to go to Carcassonne late in that hot summer afternoon.


Artists and Feeders

Years ago when I first got interested in cooking, food was for eating. No one thought about food as art. I had five siblings all of whom shared my enthusiasm for food and our breakfasts and dinners were at home.

Each morning at the breakfast table when my father finished reading the morning newspaper (there was an evening one too), I would ask him to pass the sports section to me. Even before reading about the Orioles, I would look at the back page of that section because below the fold was a half page of classified ads.

From time to time, perhaps every few months I would see the announcement that I looked for and with great enthusiasm would tell everyone at the breakfast table that the House of Welsh would be holding its dollar night. That meant we could drive downtown into a seedy warehouse neighborhood “under the viaduct” where all eight of us sat at a big round table.   After being served a desultory iceberg lettuce salad with a pink wedge of tomato and some carrot strips, we eat a T-bone steak, a baked potato, and an indifferent green vegetable for one dollar per person.

That was dining out in the Fifties and I liked it. I wouldn’t expect it to be the same now.   Food is far more interesting than a monthly steak and baked potato. We appreciate the foods of our and other cultures. We have a great variety from which to choose.

But more and more these days, it seems to me the food world can be divided into artists, those who love to sculpt and paint with food and get a deep gratification from creation and artistry, and feeders, often traditionalists, those who focus on flavor and love to see their customers enjoy (as opposed to appreciate) what they prepare.

It’s one thing for “the artists” to be so prominent in America. I understand that. We, after all, are a young country without long food traditions and rarely have had self-confidence about our cuisines. So creation and innovation are high values.

But one reason I always look forward to being in France is that I have always admired French rootedness, the regional traditions of the country. Alsatian food means cabbage and pork and Provencal food means tomatoes and olives.

The French know what they are about.

I had my first French food in 1964. I flew to Paris to visit a woman whom I scarcely knew and who later became my wife; and she chose for my first French dinner a restaurant in the Sixth Arrondissement on the rue Monsieur le Prince, Chez Maître Paul.

It was food from Jura Mountains and Franche Comté and we ate poulet a la crème, a little green salad, and apple tart. My love affair with French food began that evening and it’s never waned.

I’ve just returned from ten days in southwest France and in Corsica. Ten days is a short time and I have no right to pass judgment. In this little visit I was able to find the kind of food in France that I love so much. But it has become more difficult; and the food that can be found more easily is not anything I like very much.

I expected in the southwest, even in summer, that I would see foie gras and cassoulet, boiled meats, sweetbread, prunes. I hoped for a lot of “peasant food,” chicken livers, kidneys, and sausages. They were there but the cuisine most prominent in the restaurants was high art.

My journey began in Bordeaux, a spectacular city.


I had been urged by those who know something to go to Le Pavillion au Boulevard and that is where I went for my first dinner. I was immediately sorry I had done so. I should have known better.The dining room was beautiful and the food was too.

But I didn’t see the point of smoked fois gras and of combining peas, mango, and olives as an accompaniment to sea bass.

fois gras

And why deconstruct a classic combination of foie gras and Sauternes, diluting the wine to a foam and a gelee. Indeed, I didn’t want all those little pillows, foams, dusts, granules, and gelees.

All that invention seemed so fatiguing and I left the restaurant in the rain disheartened, determined to avoid modern food if I could do so.I managed to do that for next two meals. Lunch the next day was at a street stand and consisted of one dozen assorted Atlantic oysters, bread and butter, and a glass of Entre-Deux-Mers.

Dinner that evening at Chez Dupont was perfect.

Chez dupont

But I fell off the wagon again in Condom, a town I had to visit as it was at La Table des Cordeliers that Jean Louis Palladin won the two Michelin stars that brought him to Washington as our greatest chef. I am not sure what Jean Louis would think of the food there now – in this simple, stunning room.


The bread wasn’t good and the service a bit ragged but the big disappointment for me was – again – the modernity of the food. The tomato tart, beautiful and delicious – but why the basil ice cream?

Tomato tart

Why then the tomato ice cream with the “hamburger,” in fact eggplant and tomato?

%22Hamburger%22It seemed so contrived — ice cream in all three courses.

Fifty-one years after my first tastes of French food, I am unreconciled to what restaurant dining seems to be becoming there – those painted plates, carefully contrived arrangements of tiny vegetables with carefully shaped rectangles of meat or fish draped over.

Sauces reduced to unrewarding smears and diluted foams. Gelatinized morsels and powders. Dishes deconstructed into parts that are meant to be parts of a construct. Combinations of flavors whose great virtue is their improbability.

I am a bread-baker and therefore a traditionalist and I know that I am less enamored of innovation than many others. I know “you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth.”

But which kind of eating do you prefer?

Modern                Cassoulet

(More to Come)

Queen of the Mediterranean

I have a few friends who quality for that title: Aglaia Kremezi whose newest cookbook Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts I am looking at more than any other right now when, at the height of the summer, we are getting the best fruits and vegetables available in the mid-Atlantic. aglaia-d Aglaia lives on the island of Kia, an hour-long boat ride from Athens where she teaches people who make the pilgrimage to her home and school there.

But Aglaia is a relative newcomer (most of us are) compared to her close friend Paula Wolfert whose explorations of Mediterranean food began in Morocco before I was even fully aware of Mediterranean food. paula-warka1-s-2 When Paula published The Foods of Morocco in 1973, it was the first American cookbook to explore that cuisine – and it is still the standard – and it was the first of Paula’s explorations that came to include Southwest France, grains and greens in Mediterranean cooking, the cuisines of the eastern Mediterranean, and many more.

In 1973 when Paula published that important first book I was spending some summer times in Corsica and there is certainly no place more firmly in the Mediterranean than that. But I didn’t know enough even to see the distinctions among the various French cuisines much less the commonalities of the Mediterranean ones. My culinary brain – such as it was – was then focused on mastering the art of French cooking – as if mastery were possible.

But my candidate this week for the queen’s crown is Joyce Goldstein whose 80th birthday last week sent me yet again across the country to San Francisco. dsc_2719hr-2 Goldstein is so well known in the culinary community that chefs all over the country refer to her simply as “Joyce” just as we used to speak of “Julia.”

Few people in our Washington world achieve such distinction. Indeed I know of no one in our legal/journalistic/political city other than Barney and Cokie who are known by their first names alone. But Joyce is.

She could have been a great lawyer or journalist but she didn’t have to be. Because her father adored her. “He was a feminist,” she says, “but he didn’t know it. He gave me the courage to do what I wanted.”

And so Joyce Goldstein lived in Rome in the late Fifties, fell in love with Italy, began studying Italian food, moved to San Francisco and began teaching cooking in her home and then in San Francisco’s first school of international cuisines, the California Street Cooking School that she opened.

In 1980 she became the chef of the new café at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and stayed there until she decided to open her own restaurant, Square One at Pacific and Front Streets.

Opened in 1984 Square One was America’s first Mediterranean restaurant, offering mezze when the word wasn’t known, making sauces, spreads, and dressings like charmoula, romesco, and skordalia that were unknown to most restaurant diners in America.

Joyce featured lamb, a meat far less popular here than beef, did stews and braises, risottos that were unfamiliar here, and introduced fried kasseri cheese and bitter greens not then congenial to the American palate.  square-one-w-mural-correct-2 It was a big restaurant, 124 seats, and the menu was very ambitious, huge and it changed every day.

The recipes were complex, the kitchen jumping all the time. So of course the restaurant attracted the young, the bright and curious cooks many of whom went on to establish their own restaurants, their own cuisines always affected by their experiences at Square One.

I was introduced to Mediterranean food at Square One and fell in love with it there. I was a customer not then in the food business and didn’t meet Joyce until 1992 when on a chef and journalist trip to Rome to which we had both been invited, we sat one evening on a sofa in the lobby of our hotel smoking Havanas and getting acquainted. mark-and-joyce-first-meet-001-2 We became friends and I saw her on subsequent trips and even more frequently when I began in 1995 to commute to Napa Valley as the baking instructor at the new campus of the Culinary Institute of America. I nearly always stopped in the city to have dinner or lunch with Joyce and we worked together on the extraordinary conferences the school held each autumn.

I made a special trip to San Francisco to bake bread for a party in 1996 when Joyce decided to close Square One and retire. Retire indeed.

You have to picture: Joyce is a small woman with large glasses. L1000170She She dresses as a hippie would dress if the hippie had taste and had grown up. She moves fast, her head leaning in the direction in which she is going, slightly slouched in a familiar urban Eastern European Jewish way.

She talks fast and after all these years in California still with a New York accent.   She is opinionated, salty, articulate, active, restless, impatient – she is Brooklyn amazingly untouched by the contrary California styles.

The birthday party on Sunday was held at her son’s and daughter-in-law’s home and Joyce’s collegiate granddaughter was the bartender. Food was cooked there by Laurence Jossell of Nopa Restaurant and was (of course) mostly Mediterranean and drawn from Joyce’s books. food-at-party-d The guests were practically all food people, not celebrities but working people and all (except me) 30 years or more younger than Joyce.  They included chefs from all around the Bay area, from, for example, Delfina, Manresa, Greens, Bar Tartine as well as wine merchants, fishmongers, teachers, and journalists.

Aglaia, far younger than Joyce, is spending her summer as she always does receiving guests and teaching classes. (

Paula with an undiminished gusto has transformed herself into an Alzheimer’s activist. ( In character,

Joyce began her birthday week by drafting a letter to friends announcing that she has finished her latest book, her 27th, this one on Mediterranean Jewish cooking, and is now available for other projects. The day after her birthday Joyce preceded her party by teaching a public food class at the Ferry Plaza Market. guesa-d Since her 75th birthday she has written three books including Inside the California Food Revolution, a history of “California cuisine,” taught at the CIA in Napa Valley, conducted classes at Draegers Markets, consulted to a bunch of restaurants. She won’t stop. She looked queerly at me when I suggested slowing down, “I’m a shark,” she said, “If I stop swimming I die.”

Some people don’t know when to retire.

Up in the Air Again

I flew to San Francisco again on Saturday and write this as I fly back after a two-day stay. I didn’t see much of that wonderful city I love so much as I spent much of my time in the kitchen of my hosts.

Dave McElroy and Kathryn Morrison are people of enormous enthusiasm and great generosity.


They express those two attributes publically about 15 times each year by giving fund-raising dinners in their home.

When I say they give the dinners, I don’t mean that they merely lend their home for dinners others put on. I mean that they turn their house upside down and buy the food and generally cook the food and host the dinners – all for the benefit of organizations whose causes they care about or causes their friends care about – like tsunami relief, Obama reelection, a women’s clinic in Africa, AIDS awareness, a Philippine mission, a community music center, and so on.


The McElroy/Morrison home is not a Pacific Heights mansion.


It is a modest house in the Glen Park neighborhood that once was a working class section of the city. Nothing in San Francisco is working class any longer but the homes in this section aren’t quite as chichi perhaps as those in other parts of the city.

The fund-raising dinner for which I flew out is one I have worked on in previous years. It benefits Creativity Explored on whose board Kathryn serves.

This is an enormous amount of work. McElroy and Morrison converted their living room into a dining room and their hall became an exhibition of art to be auctioned. They held two dinners the first of which was attended 24 people who spent a minimum of $125 and the second of which, attended by 22 people, cost a minimum of $250.


Creativity Explored is a visual arts center that for more than 30 years has provided a work and exhibition space for 160 artists with adult developmental issues like Down’s syndrome and other conditions. One of the dinners – the one on which I worked – sold out 16 hours after it was announced by Internet and the other within two days

The contribution of these fund-raising efforts is a pittance in the budgets of Creativity Explored but they are community events attended by friends, people in the food business, people active in charities and who care about this organization, people who attend such events.  They came for the food. They came for the cause. They came for the art displayed on the walls of the McElroy/Morrison home and available for purchase. And they bought it.


All this is in a great tradition. Nothing is more American than voluntary action, the giving impulse.

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing associations, in which all partake, but associations of a thousand other kinds – religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government of France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”                                          — Alexis de Tocqueville

Our “chef’s dinner” was a comparatively modest affair.   Dinners like these, fund-raisers based on food, can be twelve-course extravaganzas painful to endure. Ours on the other hand consisted of five courses – certainly enough – each one prepared by a different chef. I, because it is late spring and greens are at their peak with vegetables coming on, chose to do a seasonal bread salad.


I arrived in San Francisco on Saturday at mid-day in time to go grocery shopping at the Ferry Plaza Market. Although now profoundly yuppy-ized and really expensive, this outdoor market on the Embarcadero attracts farmers who offer spectacular produce.   I couldn’t help as I shopped for greens of exotic varieties and summer squash and perfect peas also buying a few peaches and apricots for myself. (When do we deprived Washingtonians get ripe, firm apricots?)


Early on Saturday morning I began my work taking a break to visit B Bakery in Pacific Heights where Michel Suas (see Up in the Air, September 17, 2013) had set aside some beautiful loaves, his donation to the dinner.

By the time the other chefs arrived, I had prepared vegetables to be grilled for my salad and the cumin-marash pepper dressing, and had baked ginger-black pepper cookies to accompany a peach ice cream made by Anne Walker, co-owner of Bi-Rite Market, another great institution in food-crazed San Francisco.


Guests arrived promptly and with great enthusiasm drank a bubbly Loire rose´, one of the six wines donated by guests and by Bi-Rite.

In dinners like these multi-course affairs no portion is huge in size (although the veal chop, our main course, was hardly modest). But as the guests ate happily through shellfish, vegetables, pasta, and red meat, they appeared to feel deprived of nothing.


I have been a food professional for 25 years and have participated in several fund-raisers each year. My first great fund-raising love was the Zoofari, a walk-around on the grounds of the National Zoo. Now, however, I avoid this most common style of food-based fund-raiser, the bazaar, a large space given over to booths at which restaurants serve foods to guests who walk from one booth to another.

The virtue of this style is that it can accommodate hundreds of guests and can raise huge amounts of money.

But after many years of watching people wander apparently joylessly from booth to booth, tasting a beef filet, followed by a molten chocolate cake, followed by a barbecued pork rib, followed by a poached scallop and then a strawberry granita, I decided I could no longer bear to watch people eat that way. I prefer what we did at Dave and Kate’s home, a comparatively modest menu of foods that complement each other.


Our guests on Sunday were animated and enthusiastic and, sitting at two tables of eleven people, had a real dinner party.

The chefs donated the food. We cooked it generally in our kitchens (except of course for me because my kitchen was 3,000 miles away). We stood during the service shoulder to shoulder in the modest galley kitchen, Staffan Terje kneeling at the oven to poke his veal roasts, Joyce Goldstein, the great chef-owner of Square One, America’s first Mediterranean restaurant, meticulously slicing her lasagna.


We helped each other plate the courses, drinking the wines the guests were drinking as well as the aquavit brought by Staffan, the Swedish chef of Perbacco, the Piemontese restaurant in San Francisco.   Off to the side two other volunteers washed dishes all evening long.

I like these events, especially, of course, the ones in San Francisco. It may seem peculiar, spending Bread Furst’s money to help raise money in a city 3,000 miles away particularly as there are so many needs in Washington.  It may even seem excessive.

But this is part of the food business: A cause important to a colleague becomes my cause. Something I haven’t thought about before becomes part of my life. And then I get the pleasures of mixing hard work with the pleasures of that work, enjoying the colleagueship of others who escape their kitchens for a little cooking, eating and drinking.

It occurs to me from time to time that I am in one of the few professions in which we who practice can enjoy the fruits of what we do, enjoy the pleasures we give to others.

Doctors don’t get the opportunity to treat each other for fun. Certainly they don’t give themselves injections while they work. Teachers have to practice in classrooms and don’t teach each other just for fun. Firemen don’t put out fires for fun.

But we who cook are like musicians who play with and for each other just for pleasure. We can share the enjoyment of cooking and eating and drinking with our colleagues. What makes it really special is that we are treating each other to such pleasures for a good cause.