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Why We Do What We Do

October 30, 2014

These races we’ve run were not for glory,
No moral to this story, we run for peace of mind.
But the race we’re running now is never ending,
Space and time upending, there’s no finish line.
~Chris Smither

There hasn’t been a song of the day for a while. I’ve been hearing this on the radio recently. Probably because he’s got a gig coming up locally at Helsinki Hudson on November 14. Anyhow, it really speaks to me and I can’t get it out of my head.

Like the singer of the song, those who work in food aren’t in it for the money or the fame. Most chefs aren’t on television. Most don’t get out to the farmers market. Instead, they spend countless hours on their feet in cramped hot kitchens far removed from any face to face contact with those who are eating their food. Good chefs will put a ton of work into each and every dish. Much of their labor goes either unappreciated by both those who shovel food into their faces without taking time to taste what was so painstakingly crafted, or is slighted by those who are so fastidious as to find room for improvement in almost every detail.

But the world of people who care about good food goes beyond the cooks, farmers, and craftspeople. It includes importers, distributors, merchants, and yes, even writers.

Why am I rambling on about all this? Well, I’ve got a big idea that I want to share with you all.

There’s a difference between people who care about good food and those who help shape the culinary path of the region they serve. For lack of a better word, let’s call those people tastemakers.

From the beginning I was philosophically at odds with the food coverage in the Albany Times Union. The paper saw its mission as trying to be a reflection of its community rather than working to elevate the tastes of the region. And when I looked around, I was hard pressed to identify any individuals who were working towards that goal.

Why aren’t local restaurants better? Quite simply, because they don’t have to be. Many are doing just fine as they are. And those businesses that are making money are deaf to the argument that they should spend more on ingredients, or put more labor into their dishes. There’s no upside.

So that leaves me over here fomenting dissent and trying to get people to demand more. Lately it’s occurred to me that my approach offers a lot of stick, but very little carrot.

There is a lot of risk and not much reward for local tastemakers. For those putting in the extra effort. For those who are pushing boundaries. Well, I’m hoping to change that in my own fussy little way with the… [drumroll please]

FLB Tastemaker of the Month

The one thing I have to offer are the eyeballs of the thousands of readers who come to the blog every month. And I’m prepared to put a picture of every regional superstar on the top right corner of every single page for the length of a month. Of course, there will also be a corresponding story as to why this person was chosen.

There will certainly be nominations. You are always welcome to weigh in with your thoughts. But the FLB isn’t a democracy. Ultimately, I’ll be making the call every month about who gets featured. Which isn’t to say that reader comments won’t be carefully considered in the determination. I care a lot about what you say, and reader input totally changed the course of Saturday’s Tour de Donut.

Nominations for December will be held during the first two weeks of November.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about one chef who is going above and beyond, I invite you to check out the new blog from chef Dominic Colose. It was the mystery link of the day for this week’s Ask the Profussor. But I wanted to share it again out in the open.

Chef Dominic, in his third post, addressed a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to the menus of the region. There is so much Thai curry in non-Thai restaurants it could make your head spin. He entreats other chefs in the area to knock it off,

There’s so much more to these complex cooking styles than ginger, soy, scallion, wasabi, hoisin, curry powder, and a few chilis. Opening a can of coconut milk and curry paste does not qualify any of us to sell Thai anything. Sure it tastes pretty good, but let’s keep it at home.

But then this seasoned chef takes it a step further. Instead of just explaining what he won’t do, Colose goes on to describe his new focus. “I will work on improving my strong suit rather than wasting my time goofing around with half-assed Asian dishes that deserve more respect.”

And if that strong suit looks anything like the current menu he’s put together for fall, we’re all going to be in luck.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2014 10:06 am

    Thank you for the mention, Daniel. I think our area is at a culinary crossroad and this is the time to really focus. We have more talented young cooks now than ever before and they would benefit from solid leadership to bring us to a higher level. My advice to young cooks is to find your place, and stick to it. Perfect your individual style as it will set you apart from the mediocre.

  2. October 30, 2014 10:28 pm

    Chef Colose is selling sweetbreads, his blog says, which he couldn’t move a few years back. That is very good news. I haven’t been to the Wine Bar since he reassumed the helm and am looking forward to it. Also to trying Chef Brady Duhane’s Kung Pao sweetbreads at 15 Church. Yes, that’s the kind of crossover cuisine you’re complaining about but hey, sweetbreads.

    P.S. Fish sauce is immune from the crossover complaint. There’s nothing that won’t go better with a splash of Red Boat. Except coffee, maybe.

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