Thursday, May 31, 2007

Passionate About Food, Music, etc

It seems like passionate talk about food is surrounding me these days. The Lefsetz Letter, which usually is about music, has been dedicated this past week to music industry people’s entries on pizza. It all started with Bob mentioning Pepe’s Pizzeria which just opened a second branch in Fairfield. Pepe’s clam pizza is one the culinary joys in life. It ranks up there with some of the best meals I’ve ever had dining out, which include Nobu, Danube, Gramercy Tavern, etc. Someone on Lefsetz commented that if people were this passionate about music these days, there might not be a slump in the business. On Tuesday Keith and I went to the 92nd St Y to see a panel on NY Dining: Is It Better Than Ever? Gael Greene, the long time food critic from New York Magazine and Arthur Schwartz who was the Daily News critic for many years were on the panel. The reason for my attendance was the chef Jacques Pepin. He is a class act. The way he spoke about his passion for being a cook, he used that term, and the excitement about food especially in NY made me want to go home, pull out the arborio and start a risotto. The risotto would have to wait as The Shield was coming on the minute we got home from the event.

Apparently there is a rise in enrollment in culinary schools, probably fueled by the Food Network. Apparently tuition is running $30,000 to $40,000 and when students get out they are either making $9 an hour or working under some of the best chefs for nothing. Jacques said you have to love cooking in order to withstand the drudgery of moving up the ranks. He said pay your dues for three years, learn everything you can and you will be successful. Chefs are not what you see on the Food Network. He lovingly described an egg yoke, bread and caviar dish he had at Jean Georges as well as the best Lobster Rolls at the Clam Castle in CT (back to CT again). It just reinforces that there must be passion in life, whether it be your job, your hobbies, your family or friends. Without it, it just ain’t no fun. As Kinky Friedman said “Find What You Love and Let It Kill You."

Things I learned about the NY food industry: 40% of a restaurant's budget used to go to food, now it's about 25-28%, 40% or more is now real estate. There are some restaurants in the Meat Packing district that are pulling in $70,000 a night. Between rent and design, restaurants can now run up a bill of $15 million before one meal has been served. The first 6 months of a restaurant usually have a menu with far more items on it. The crazier combinations are there for reviewers or for a wow factor and these fall off the menu as the average customer won't order them. Other items that prove to be less than popular also leave the menu. Most young diners today do not frequent the same spot, but like to try different places each time.

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