Walter Mencken 8:27 a.m., April 18
Why No Women Chefs in Top Ten?
Just saw the letter to the ed. from nameless-by-email, complaining that there were no women chefs in the Top Ten chefs. The paper didn't send it to me for an answer, so I'll answer here at greater length than they'd allow in the Letters, anyway.
Choosing just ten was rather agonizing. After all, I finally had to leave out Tapenade's Diot in favor of his protege Philippe Verpiand. This is the calibre of chef that makes the top ten: Thoroughly skilled, imaginative, inventive, with distinctive culinary personality.
First and foremost, there are very few women chefs in SD in positions of real authority in serious restaurants.. Ten years ago, when I did the first top ten, I didn't want it to be all white men, but found just one top ten-worthy woman, Amiko Gubbins (of the late Parallel 33), who's no longer actively cheffing.
Currently, there are only five possible candidates. Amy DiBiase of Cosmopolitan (ex-Roseville) has the most promise -- she's not there yet, but is a real contender a few years down the road. Sarah Linkenhall at Sally's is very good, but no rival to the top-tenners. Isabel "Food Girl" Cruz now owns many restaurants but as a chef, I find her over-pragmatic (a.k.a. lazy); I don't think she actually does much cooking at her restaurants, but instead comes up with easy formulas for the kitchen staffs to follow. Karen Krasne was a contender, but push comes to shove, I'd rather eat a potentially challenging Jack Fisher dessert than any of her sweety-sweets. (Also, I witnessed her having a little snit in her Little Italy restaurant, in front of patrons -- unprofessional, and an appetitie wrecker.) .
That leaves Deborah Scott, the Great Riddle who's become the mainstay of the Cohn Group restaurants (the empire of crowd-pleasing, tourist-tickling B-plus food). Who is Deborah, what is she? Her food is all over the map. I was looking for "auteur" chefs, with strong, definite culinary personalities. Deb is the most popular and successful chef in SD, but there's no consistency. Every restaurant of hers has at least one great dish: Kemo Sabe's "Skirts on Fire" was brilliant, but so many other dishes there were swamped iunder middens of multicolored corn chips. Island Prime has a divine corn dish among very conventional upscale fare (and the so-so lobster macaroni was invented, anyway, by early chef de cuisine Josh McGinnis). At C-Level, the food was indeed C-level when I ate there. Worse yet, at both C-Level and Island Prime, some 10 days apart, both my dinners included "stinky mussels" -- that is, mussels that had peed all over themselves and each other. The original fault lay with the seafood purveyor for both restaurants, but the chef's ultimately responsible for them NEVER being served. (The odor is so intensely foul, it's impossible to believe the line-chef cooking the mussels wouldn't smell it -- so was the line given the okay to serve this poison?.) Deb's a good old gal and I like her personally -- be great if she opened a Southern restaurant all her own -- but in comparison to chefs like Patrick Ponsaty and Brian Sinnott, no way.