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Writing a Letter to Chefs

August 3, 2010

For over a year I’ve been writing about the failings and shortcomings of restaurants.  It often goes unnoticed, but I have also written about their successes and virtues as well.  Admittedly, I’m a tough critic, but I do apply a sliding scale.

I have been fairly criticized for not reaching out to chefs directly, and soliciting their input.

That’s what I want to talk about today.  I’m getting ready to take the first step.  The plan is to write an open letter to chefs and then follow up with individual emails.  But here’s the thing.  I don’t want this letter to be just from me.  I want this letter to be from us.

There are a surprising number of people who actually read this blog and who have contributed their thoughts in the comments over the past fifteen months.  You all are passionate and opinionated, and you care a lot about food.  If I’m going to be reaching out to chefs, I want to take advantage of your collective wisdom to do it.

So I’m taking the unusual step of showing you a first draft, and soliciting your input.

Now I understand that some of you may be shy.  So if you are one of those people who some refer to as lurkers, feel free to post anonymously or send an email directly to danielb [at] fussylittleblog [dot] com.  You have until sunset on Saturday to get me your input, and I’ll post the final letter next Monday.

Now without any further ado, here is the first draft.

Dear Chef:

I could never do what you do.  While I may be a tough critic of restaurants, I also maintain a high level of respect for those who put their hearts and souls into their food.  After all, nobody goes into cooking to get rich.  Most get into it because of their love of food.

Over a year ago I started a project called the FUSSYlittleBLOG, which evolved out of writing restaurant reviews on Yelp.  It seemed to me at the time that Albany area restaurants were both more expensive and less refined than their big city counterparts.  In my mind that was a most unfortunate combination.

But there are also a lot of positive things local restaurants are doing with quality ingredients, and I’d like to do my small part to publicize the good stuff.  So please consider this an invitation.  If your restaurant is doing something that is in keeping with the FUSSYlittleBLOG’s mission of promoting the use of high-quality ingredients, let me know.  Send me an email.  Put me on your press release distribution list.  I would love to highlight what you’re doing and help get your efforts out to a few more people.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things I’d love to help promote:
–       A new monthly menu reflecting the changing season
–       The introduction of local grass-fed beef
–       An announcement that farmed Atlantic salmon is coming off the menu
–       The arrival of produce from specific local farms
(e.g., the caprese salad this week features tomatoes from Roxbury Farm)

As a fellow food lover, I’m hoping things like these excite you too.  Not everyone in the local mainstream food media gets as worked up about these higher quality ingredients.  For example, Ruth Fantasia’s recent review of Black Watch completely omitted mentioning the restaurant’s dry-aged steaks.  And even Steve Barnes didn’t think it was news the week that New World Bistro Bar was serving local broccoli, wax beans and Kirby pickles.  These are exactly the kinds of things I would love to help support.

My hope is that by both writing about these ingredients and promoting restaurants that are going the extra mile to put them on the plate, the FUSSYlittleBLOG will offer a small added incentive for local restaurants to try and do more.

That’s the easy part.

You do not need to participate in the hard part.  But perhaps you may be interested in helping me and my readers untangle a problem we have been discussing for the past several months.  A complaint I’ve made of Albany restaurants is that many aren’t worth the money they charge for their food.  Too many local restaurants have high-priced menus full of mediocre options.

What I haven’t done, though, is solicit input from chefs like you, who are in the unique position of being able to explain to me why this might be the case.

Presumably I’m missing something here.  There have to be reasons that I, not being in the business, just don’t understand that explain why restaurants in Albany charge more than equivalent restaurants in NYC.  My readers and I have come up with a few hypotheses:
–       Elevated costs because of food waste related to having long menus
–       Increased food costs tied to the extra-large portion sizes local customers expect
–       Fewer covers than similarly-sized restaurants in big cities
–       Prices are what the market will bear, which is somehow higher in Albany
(e.g., there are some who blame the lobbyists, but I don’t)

This phenomenon is especially perplexing when we take into consideration that:
–       Rents are presumably lower here than in big cities
–       Wages are presumably lower than in larger metros
–       The ingredients on local menus aren’t terribly special
–       Fixed annual or quarterly menus should reduce training and sourcing costs

Like I said, this is the hard part.  Hopefully it doesn’t dissuade you from participating in the easy part.  But if you would like to attempt to answer any of these questions either openly or anonymously, or even if you would like to viciously attack my credibility for suggesting Albany restaurants are overpriced, that input is welcome too.

I look forward to hearing from you in the weeks and months to come.


That’s what I’ve got.  Now I would love to hear your thoughts.  Do you have anything to add?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink
    August 3, 2010 10:25 am

    Not exactly something to add, more of an argument:

    “There have to be reasons that I, not being in the business, just don’t understand that explain why restaurants in Albany charge more than equivalent restaurants in NYC”

    I still don’t really believe that this is true. Maybe Albany restaurants are overpriced compared to other regions, but Manhattan is one of the most overpriced areas in the country, restaurant-wise. Unless you really know where to go there, it is extremely easy to end up feeling unsatisfied and much poorer than when you started. I think in your letter you need to elaborate, or back up this claim or else I think that chefs here have reason to argue against this point.

  2. August 3, 2010 3:24 pm

    You think the chef’s with overpriced poorly sourced food are going to respond to a letter written clearly and concisely and then emailed to them? Do these guys even have email?

  3. August 3, 2010 6:53 pm

    Not going down this road. No No. You be on you own. Let us know how this works out for you!

  4. Jessica R permalink
    August 4, 2010 5:22 pm

    My question is, what do you plan to do with this information? Are you going to visit the restuarants that respond, and then review them? Are you going to publish a weekly or monthly post to let us know what local and seasonal foods are being prepared throughout the region? Are you just going to post their letters onto the blog? You say you plan to promote the restaurants, but don’t specify how. I think the chefs would like the clearer understanding of what they get out of it.

    Also, do you plan to target restuarants that you think might be using local and high quality ingredients, or just do a blitz across town? What about places like Five Guys and Chipotle, which probably do consider some of their ingredients “high quality”? Will you target chains? I think some places might be miffed because you are basically saying their restuarant is lower quality if they don’t use certain ingredients. Maybe it’s a good idea to at least get them thinking about it though.

  5. mirdreams permalink
    August 5, 2010 10:48 am

    I really think rather than putting them on the offensive from the get go your better strategy is to make the offer to partner with them to promote better food and then when you have relationships established ask your “hard question”. There is no positive way that they can respond the second half and it’s only going to make they view you as someone they need to be on their guard with.

  6. January 26, 2021 10:08 pm

    I do believe all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and can certainly work. Still

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