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Of Chefs and Eaters

June 6, 2013

At advertising agencies there are two kinds of clients. There are some who let the creative directors do their thing and there are others who know exactly the ad campaign they want and simply expect the “creatives” to execute their vision.

Restaurants can operate the same way.

Eaters can come to an establishment eager to try what the chef has created that evening based on the season and the best ingredients available that day. Or they can come to a restaurant looking for the kitchen to deliver a tasty version of whatever strikes their particular fancy at the moment.

I have enough data points after years of study to suggest that the food culture of the Capital Region isn’t solely driven by our chefs and restaurant owners. The local restaurant goers have shaped our options. They demand a starch and a vegetable with their entrees. They want a choice between six different salads. They want large portions so that they can leave stuffed. And they are willing to pay for it.

This is why I’m really excited to see one brave restaurant take the opposite path.

You may have heard that All Good Bakers is opening up for Wednesday night dinners during the summer. Now that they offer sustainable meats and seafood, this is even a more enticing development for many.

Here’s the thing. Their place is tiny, and they only have room for ten people. So if you want to attend one of these meals, you must reserve a spot by 4 pm the Friday before at the very latest. They can only accommodate a maximum of ten people at each of the two seatings. The first seating is at six o’clock with the second seating following at eight.

Oh, yeah. And when you reserve you will have no knowledge of the night’s menu.

Can I tell you how much I love that? Not too long ago we talked about daily changing menus. Chef Nick is going to gather the ingredients for this meal from the farmers markets, and will have assembled the menu by the Tuesday before the event. That’s when attendees will get an email with what they’ll be eating for dinner.

If you want to eat at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, it’s the same thing. Granted, they are now world famous. But when it began, it started with something very honest and wholesome like what Nick and Britin are putting together here.

Last year on the second Wednesday of June, Chez Panisse had a four course dinner that sounds pretty fancy. But really it was a salad, a soup, roast chicken and dessert. But you wouldn’t have known those details when you booked the reservation a month in advance.

That menu turned out to be:
– Shellfish and leek salad with sauce des pêcheurs
– Purslane and new potato soup with chervil and crème fraîche
– Spit-roasted Felton Acres chicken au citron with zucchini and parsley risotto
– Apricot feuilleté with Muscat sabayon

It would have also cost you $80 per person to sit in their Arts and Crafts dining room, attended by polished servers and all the accoutrements of fine dining. All Good Baker’s should be in the $30 per person range before tax or tip. But I expect it to be a bit more rough around the edges, especially the first time out.

But the idea behind both of these dinners is the same.

Diners put their trust in a talented chef, who is dedicated to finding fresh, local, sustainable ingredients, and turning them into delicious food. Yes, it is for the adventurous. If you don’t like shellfish or leeks, you are out of luck. Don’t go in leek season.

It’s the adventurous that get rewarded with the delightful and the unexpected. And instead of trying to get the chef to cook what I want, I’m getting to taste what he thinks is the most delicious thing he could make with the freshest ingredients from some great local farms.

If you don’t find that exciting, than we need to talk.

I heard from Britin last night that there are still six seats available for the six o’clock seating and four seats open for the eight o’clock seating on Wednesday June 12. But you need to reserve by 4 pm this Friday to snag one. I’ll be at the eight o’clock one, but you could meet Farmer Jon himself if you booked a seat for six o’clock.

You can also reserve spots well in advance. The restaurant plans on doing these every Wednesday through the summer. So if you got nine of your friends together, you could make AGB your own little private dinner party.

I think I got most of the details. But the full rundown of how this works is available here. Be brave. Open yourself up to new possibilities. Let the chef do his thing. And hopefully that will inspire you to take home some of that passion and apply it to your cooking at home.


10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2013 9:24 am

    This is a great idea. I like what they are doing over there. I kind of want to go to a seating but it seems all small and intimate and I might have to talk to people… So I probably won’t.

    • June 6, 2013 10:29 pm

      You could sit in the nook, a bit removed from other diners, and only have to talk to us for service! We’d love to have ya.

  2. June 6, 2013 9:43 am

    Great writeup and a great description of why this concept is so exciting. One correction, you can’t eat at Chez Panisse because it burned down. But you can at All Good Bakers and it’s 3,000 miles closer!

  3. June 6, 2013 7:01 pm

    I am really excited about this and thinking about doing it the week of C’s birthday in July. :)

  4. June 6, 2013 8:48 pm

    I hate not knowing anything at all about what I’ll be eating at a restaurant. But I’m fine with a rough idea, a sample menu, so I have some rough idea about the emphasis of what might be served (Italian? sushi? organ meats?), what courses and what the prices might be. I suppose the guinea pigs can offer that to the rest of us after the first of these events.

    • June 6, 2013 10:27 pm

      KB, the ingredients we will be using were noted in our blog post, and if you have visited us before, I think you would get the general idea of what we’ll be serving. It’s unlikely we’ll do sushi or Italian since those cuisines don’t really fit what we do. Our ethos is serving mostly simply transformed farm fresh produce (with some sustainable local beef, pork, chicken, rabbit and fish). After the guinea pigs post about their hopefully delightful experience, perhaps you’ll feel compelled to join us. We welcome your potential reservation. If you can’t get behind what we’re doing, no harm nor foul. Serving food professionally is art and therefore subjective. We understand not everyone will be as enthusiastic as we are about our passion and the way we choose to present it.

  5. June 6, 2013 8:53 pm

    Nick is so incredibly excited to start these dinners. Being written about in the same breath as the incredible Chez Panisse is gratifying, Alice Waters is an inspiration. Though our dinners will be casual in vibe, Nick’s food will showcase the incredible fresh ingredients available from our farmers. We look forward to seeing you, DB, and Burnt My Fingers on June 12! And you and your boyfriend for his birthday in July irisira :). Hope a bunch of you FLBers will book a reservation this summer!

  6. June 7, 2013 8:47 am

    You were probably expecting me to say something about the ad agency analogy? Clients who expect the “creatives” to simply execute their “vision” (hate that piece of jargon because what they have is the opposite of vision) are the least favorite clients and get the worst work. Can a comparison be made to Cap District diners who expect to be addressed a certain way by the waitstaff, served food prepared a certain way, and leave with a doggie bag the size of a bichon frise?

    A little flexibility from the diner is better, and putting your trust and your fate in the hands of the chef is best and likely to get the best results of all. Looking forward to the 12th!

  7. Jon_in_VT permalink
    June 8, 2013 2:31 pm

    I mentioned wanting to see something exactly like this (small venue, tasting menu, local foods) in a reply to a Table Hopping post in the TU. I am happy to see this and will be reserving a couple of seats at least once this summer. My son, a chef-in-training, loves this concept and we will be the adventurous souls.

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