The Omnivore Effect

Who do you buy your food from?

The times, they are a-changing in the restaurant industry. I've noticed a sharp increase in what I call the omnivore effect...people who read Omnivore's Dilemma and simply said, freak the fuck out. Example: Waitress A comes to the window on Saturday night and says: "I have a guest that's asking if the lamb is local, if it's from California, if we buy it from a farm, and if we do buy it from a farm, what the farm's name is."
I'm surprised they didn't just ask what the lamb's name was.

This is Jerry. His rack is a little shy on meat, but tender as hell. (Picture from statesinn.com...thanks guys)

People have "food allergies"...and while im sympathetic to my nephew, who has celiac, I am not sympathetic to the guest that has an allergy to shrimp, but is ok with "just a little" shrimp stock in their cioppino. If you don't like a particular food, just say so.

I may want to know where my food comes from...but im not going to demand to know before I order. Sad that something supposedly as enjoyable as eating out might someday come with a checklist:
  1. Is it organic?
  2. Is it local?
  3. Is it sustainable?
  4. Is it in season?
  5. Does the farm it came from have a really cute name?
  6. If it isn't local, did they use bio diesel to get it here?
  7. Was the container it came in recyclable?
Having said all that, I have to say that the small farms we deal with are great. Knoll, Brookside, Star Route...they keep us in gorgeous, unique produce all year. Knowing them is even better...like calling Knoll tonight at almost midnight, and Kristie Knoll answering the phone to take the order. In this way too, the time are changing...with pretty much every restaurant in this city boasting local/sustainable/organic. Have we been, as Dr K puts it, "intellectually shamed"? Or is this a true step towards a utopian pastoral world?

Rachel said something interesting to me the other night. "You're lucky. You get to experiment all the time..." It was something I knew, but hadn't really thought about much recently. I am lucky. I do get to experiment. And it really made me think about exactly why this point in my development as a chef is going to end up being so important. Thursday night saw me struggling with genuvisco j...constantly gelling and melting and checking notes. And in the end, it was experimenting...but under pressure, and during a dinner service. I doubt the guys at dow chemical are ever given a two hour window to develop their formulas.

It would be nice to get be like Ferran Adria and experiment and develop new techniques six months out of the year, but sadly, freedom like that will not be very likely in my lifetime, unless my lucky lotto numbers end up paying off.

Another Rachel interaction was the age old argument of food as art. The catalyst was the new foie.

I've had this conversation many, many times...and the conclusion always seems to be that yes, cooking has artistic elements to it...but as Rachel said, is not "high art." I say that cooking is simply a craft. I can teach you how to cook. I can teach you how to plate. I cannot teach you how to dance, or sing, or paint. Does plate presentation take a certain eye? Sure. So does carpentry...which for the most part, is craft. I can say that a guy like Grant Achatz kind of confuses my argument though.

The Round Up.

Top 5.
  1. Saturday night. It went just fine.
  2. A waitress asks Justin why I hate her. He tells her "Get over it. He hates everyone."
  3. Dinner Tuesdays. Joey, booze, and way too much food.
  4. Brazilian Blue Bottle Coffee
  5. Not setting my clock back an hour, so when I wake up in a daze, I freak out and jump out of bed, thinking i've slept in.

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Anita said...

Should I now be wondering if some line cook is giving me stinkeye because I had the nerve to ask where my pork chop came from? Oh, the paranoia! :)

I'll cop to asking these kinds of questions (usually one at a time!), but I'm pretty sure I'm not 'freaked the fuck out'.

My attempts at at 'locavore' dining don't stop me from ordering things that aren't locally grown -- as my friend Cookie says, 'it's not a cult' -- but I am (a) curious about who's supporting which farms, (b) interested in eating locally as best I can, and (c) trying to let chefs know that I do actually give a damn about the ethical choices they make on my behalf.

Richie said...


1) All cooks have the stinkeye. They might have pinkeye. We dont live the healthiest lifestyles.

2) I'm glad to hear youre not freaked the fuck out...but from my recent experiences, some guests are...like I talked about, food "allergies" and the like are so commonplace, ive been asked to pre mark menus for a vast array of supposed ailments. And dont even get me started on the "vegans" that are ok with the anchovy butter on their broccoli.

Either way, you sound like a well educated, thoughtful diner...and sadly, you are the kind of diner I rarely get to hear from. Thanks for your comment.

FaustianBargain said...

i am continually amazed by the american restaurant workers who bitch and snort when diners come up with a list of eating preferences.

so what if a 'vegan' does not mind anchovy butter. would you feel better in the kitchen if the diner gave a list of prefered ingredients in a printed sheet of butter. as long as you are not setting up a prep station for an entirely new dish that is not in the menu, why does a person's personal preference rub you the wrong way?

NS said...

I had the pleasure of trying the foie pictured in this post, and I have to say that it was excellent. Very innovative, with flavors and textures that came together wonderfully. I enjoyed the regular "Plate Up" foie posts you did back in September and October; have you decided to scrap that as a regular feature?

In any event, I'm glad to have discovered your blog, and I look forward to my next visit to your restaurant (and to sampling whatever foie preparation you're doing then!).

Richard said...

Ritchie, nice blog, but when you link directly to pictures of my lamb on my site,, please at least attribute and link back to us instead of ripping us off. We may not be as polished at cooking as you, being self-taught, but we do our best, 7 days a week, pretty much eyar around, with almost everything on the table from vendors I know, or things we make/grow ourselves. We'd appreciate you support! Thanks,

BTW, his name is Lambo, not jeffrey, and you should see his latest pictures - he's much bigger. He's a pet, but his brethren are heading for the freezer, all natural, all delicious.