I Listened to the First Dave Chang Podcast So You Don't Have To

The Dave Chang Podcast with guest Bill Simmons appeared on iTunes about a week ago and I’ve been avoiding listening ever since.

I’m a food writer, food lover, and avid food tv consumer, so Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix seemed like it was made for me. “Seemed” being the operative word, because it kind of drove me crazy—too broey, scattered, and feigning intellectualism while displaying a frustrating lack of self-awareness. But I also spend far too much time listening to podcasts, so maybe this deserved a chance? Or maybe I just like to torture myself.

And then there’s Bill Simmons. I used to read his stuff. I don’t know whether I liked him or liked to hate him, but I do know his shtick has worn thin. The idea of listening to him talk about food, a topic he knows next to nothing about, is painful to me. Even listening to him talk about basketball, a topic he supposedly knows something about, is pretty painful lately.

Nevertheless, I decided I’d take one for the team and listen to these two notorious blowhards talk over each other while recording my thoughts in an old-school Simmons-style running diary (remember when he used to write?), because sometimes you have to rewatch the 1986 World Series to remember the joy of 2003. Or something. Go Sox!

The things I do for my readers…

Before we get started, though, I followed yet another Simmons trope and devised a drinking game to help me through the upcoming 47-minute ordeal. So if you do decide to listen for yourself, grab a Ringer approved Miller Lite and play along as I take a sip each time any of the following come up:

  • Jimmy Kimmel

  • Kobe Bryant

  • Adam Perry-Lang

  • John McEnroe

  • Jonathan Gold

  • Mario Batali

  • Tiger Woods. Finish your drink for a waitress joke.

  • Joe House. Finish your drink for a House cameo.

  • Ben Simmons. Either the basketball player or Bill’s son.

  • ZipRecruiter. Finish your drink if mentioned outside an ad.

  • The Washington Professional Football Team.

  • The movie The Big Night.

  • Analogy between building a basketball team and a restaurant staff.

  • Simmons compares starting Grantland or The Ringer to opening a restaurant.

  • Simmons compares mistakes made with his TV show to mistakes Chang made at Nishi.

  • A woman not related to Simmons or Chang is mentioned in a positive light.

  • Simmons mentions working as a bartender/server.

  • Food media is compared to sports media.

  • Simmons tells Chang he should open in Boston.

  • Simmons mispronounces foie gras.

That should be a good start. Apologies in advance for any hangover that may ensue. So without further ado, let’s get to the diary…

1:00 p.m.: They said it couldn’t be done! A running diary about a podcast? That’s like if video killed the radio star and then radio talked all about that. Speaking of, tune in to The Watch on The RINGER podcast network! Pop culture and a self-serving ad that includes screaming the name of “my” website and podcast network already? I’m on a Simmons-style roll. That roll, by the way, is actually a Thomas’ English muffin, loyal sponsor of The Watch, on The RINGER podcast network.

But anyway, Chang is actually opening with a mattress ad. Cause everyone loves thinking about Chang sleeping soundly on his copper-infused latex mattress. Did he refuse to do the English muffin or Blue Apron spots? Smart. Don’t worry though, the mattress ad is followed by mentions of Ugly Delicious, Majordomo, and The Ringer.

All is well, self-serving ads are what makes a podcast on The RINGER podcast network go.

1:01: Chang manages to get his name out before Simmons interrupts to say that Chang hates doing intros. Mission accomplished, intro ruined!

Simmons says he’s only on the first couple episodes. Oh nooooo! Might we actually get some experts instead? Probably just Joe House.

We’re apparently going back as far as December with recordings made while Chang was opening Majordomo in LA. There are, no joke, five episodes on that topic. Nobody can run an idea into the ground like Simmons. Bring on the Recappables pod recapping the Dave Chang pod, coming soon to The RINGER podcast network. Ok, maybe I’m also good at running “jokes” into the ground.

1:03: Why won’t you let Chang explain his own podcast??? Stop correcting/interjecting! But at least it resulted in you pronouncing “obsessed” as “obsheshed.”

1:04: Jalen Rose mention. Damn it! That really should have been in the drinking game. Take a drink anyway, we’re gonna need it…

Redskins mention! Drink again.

Joe House mention. Apparently, he won’t show up until later episodes though. I’m sad. And maybe slightly buzzed already.

1:06: The actual podcast is finally getting started. Not bad. Marc Maron called and demanded another ten minutes of rambling intro for episode two.

1:07: We’re talking the name Majordomo. Simmons loves it. It’s Latin for “major dominus,” says Chang—fancy! He also likes that it sounds Japanese. Umm, cool?

p.s. What’s English for major dominus? Which should actually be “major domus” anyway.

1:08: “You’ve been stalking the farmers’ markets. You love it!” I mean, he also pronounced farmers as “farmens” but whatever, let’s get to the good stuff.

1:09: “You’re almost like a basketball coach who finally has all the players to run your offense,” says Simmons about west coast produce versus east coast. James Harden and Chris Paul are to Fuyu persimmons and Meyer lemons as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are to carrots and cabbage? Oh, and Chang is Mike D’Antoni? I don’t know...just drink I guess.

1:10: Simmons admits he knows nothing about opening restaurants. Glad you’re here to talk about it then! Chang calls it a Sisyphean task. He’s smart you guys—he speaks Latin and knows Greek mythology.

1:12: “How do we do something awesome that adds to the awesomeness,” says Chang on not being a gentrifier. But also definitely being a gentrifier.

1:15: Chang doesn’t know how to explain the food at Majordomo. That seems problematic. More problematic, he can’t explain the food at Momofuku when Simmons asks. To be fair, Momofuku doesn’t refer to any one restaurant so the question makes no sense. Says he often tells non-food people he makes Asian food.

I say we should all stop using the term “Asian food.”

1:16: APL mention! Just like that, as “APL” with no explanation. But, yeah, that’s Adam Perry-Lang and we’re back to drinking. Thank Yahweh.

1:18: Here comes the run-up to Chang making excuses for the mess that was the Nishi opening. And now Chang’s making a football coaching analogy, not Simmons. Whatttt? Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time? This is the middle of the podcast, not the end. Who says M. Night has lost his fastball?!?

As an aside, I lived in the same building as Haley Joel Osment on 13th Street in New York during his snow-dick drawing days. Is that interesting? Let’s do a podcast about it on, well, you know what network.

1:21: It’s been like two whole minutes since Simmons really interjected in the middle of a sentence. Is he ok? I’m concerned. He must be texting with Kevin Durant.

1:24: Chang is talking about being manic and off his meds a few years ago. This could actually be interesting with a good interviewer.

1:25: Simmons instead makes it mostly about himself. There you are, Billy!

1:28: Chang admits he’s scared of opening in LA because he doesn’t know if he can handle a bad review. Simmons comforts him by saying, “Chen(?) and I will fight everyone for you.” Who’s Chen? Did he say Chen? Maybe it was Choe, as in David Choe, but he also brings him up right after and it seems like a different person. I don’t know. Does Bill know this podcast goes out to the public? It doesn’t help that the podcast-network-that-shall-not-be-named doesn’t really hire qualified audio engineers. Shout out to Tate! Or is he now just an unqualified podcast host?

1:29: Is that ZipRecruiter’s music? My God, it is! ZipRecruiter is making its way to the ring! That’s how you make a wrestling reference, right? Just an ad though, so only a sip of that drink…

ZipRecruiter.com/Chang in case you were wondering.

1:31: Simmons brings up erstwhile celebrity chef Todd English. Ok, so it’s not Mario Batali, but it kind of is… Drink if you’re feeling frisky. Frisky like Batali and English around women who have no interest in them.

1:34: Chang blames “tiger parenting” for his low self-esteem. Can we count that as a Tiger Woods reference? No, that would be the behavior of an alcoholic.

1:35: Speaking of, Chang talks about “drinking his face off for years.” Shout out to The Weeknd? Pop culture reference!

Simmons is now comparing Chang to Lebron and Durant. He’s no longer D’Antoni or some other coach. Just in case you’re keeping track. If you are, please stop. That’s my job.

1:37: MARIO BATALI mention! Are you kidding me? Drinks all around!

“There’s a sense of dread of responsibility for chefs,” says Chang. “Because we are caregivers and caretakers and we want to take care of people.” Maybe not the best sentiment to almost immediately follow the Batali reference.

1:40: “I remember the dinner you did at Kimmel’s house,” says Simmons, surprising approximately no one. Drink.

1:41: The “fucks” are flying lately. Edgy.

1:42: “It’s like being told by a guy or a girl that you’re a nice person,” says Chang. “It’s the worst compliment.” Yeah, fuck nice people. Dumb fucks. I want to be the fuckin’ bad boy. Don’t you know I’m edgy? #italicedgy

1:45: Apparently this was supposed to be released so that the five “pre-opening diaries” episodes would lead up to the opening of Majordomo. Oops?

Chang, talking about building a team, references Simmons’s book. That’s close enough to a basketball team building analogy for me. We’re almost at the end and I’m thirsty.

1:46: Are you shocked that starting The Ringer was just compared to opening Majordomo? Me neither. Bottoms up, this thing’s basically over!

And as we reach the end and the slightly creepy theme music is playing, it’s time to note some major upsets in the drinking game.

We somehow had a long discussion about Nishi without the Simmons tv show coming up. Admirable restraint by Bill, or does he just not even acknowledge his own failure there? Probably the latter.

Neither Ben Simmons was mentioned here, but this was an old recording. It’ll happen sooner rather than later. I won’t be listening, but I know it will. Same goes for Bill mentioning his bartending days.

Nancy Silverton was briefly mentioned for “knowing about an area” of LA because that’s where the “Mozzaplex” is, but counting that as really speaking positively about a woman seemed like a stretch. Even for a borderline alcoholic like me who was trying to have fun listening to this podcast. I don’t have high hopes for much better on this note going forward. I’m drunk, not crazy.

To be honest though, overall this wasn’t as bad as I feared. Definitely better than early House of Carbs episodes. Is that a compliment? Sure, it’s like being called nice.

So be nice to yourself and just listen to Doughboys instead. It’s still the only worthwhile “food” podcast.

Reviewing Restaurant Reviews, Part II

Writing restaurant reviews is hard. I now know that. I wrote one on a short word limit. It's not great. It's kind of annoying. It's fine. Whatever, who cares about me? You know what's not hard? Writing restaurant reviews without resorting to inexplicable and sexist personal attacks. Unless you're Mark Pupo. So, Mark Pupo, let's take a closer look at your recent Grey Gardens "review" cause nothing makes me happier than criticizing critics.

Grey Gardens review: Jen Agg divides opinion, but it’s hard to deny that her new Kensington Market restaurant is a casually sophisticated success.

There’s only room for one Jen Agg.
Fortunately, she’s one person. Unfortunately, there’s room for more than one bad restaurant critic in Toronto.

In an industry that runs on big personalities, she’s the biggest.
I don’t know, that Guy Fieri guy is pretty out there. Ok, though, I’ll give you a chance...

This month, she released I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, a memoir that’s equal parts score-settling and self-congratulation for her own success as a trend-setting restaurateur.
Whereas this “review” will clearly be 100% score-settling. For some non-existent score?

She first cemented her meanie reputation in 2013 when, annoyed by the customers at the Black Hoof, her flagship, she tweeted, “Dear (almost) everyone in here right now. Please, please stop being such a douche.”
That tweet is kind of funny. Meanies are so scary. I hear she’s a real meanie. Sad!

She reminds me of a hard-bitten diner owner in a ’40s detective movie—the kind who doesn’t appreciate your tough questions and makes a show of spitting in your coffee. I steel myself before entering an Agg restaurant. Partly it’s the pressure to be cool enough to deserve a seat; mostly it’s induced by Agg herself.
You’re a profile in courage. Also, I’ve been to Rhum Corner, possibly the “coolest” of the meanie’s spots in Toronto, with some very uncool people. I’m also not cool. Agg was there. We had a great time. One time, the bartender even agreed to mix the two frozen drinks together for my friend even though he wasn’t supposed to. He didn’t spit in it. The meanie didn’t fire him. As far as I can tell, she has a supremely loyal staff.

Agg hasn’t shared the spotlight—not since she fell out with Grant van Gameren, her former chef at the Black Hoof and now her arch-nemesis, inasmuch as he’s her one true competitor for the hipster restaurant dollar.
Huh? Her nemesis, except not nemesis at all, except maybe he is because there’s only room for one Jen Agg? Oh, and everyone who likes Agg’s many successful restaurants is a hipster. All of Grant’s customers? Also hipsters. Toronto is all hipsters. #6ipsters

So I was caught off guard when she announced last year that she’d partnered up with Mitchell Bates, the founding chef at Shōtō, the tasting-menu room in the Momofuku complex, to open a new Kensington Market restaurant called Grey Gardens. When Shōtō opened in 2013, I named it the city’s best new restaurant; years later, I still yearn for one dish: an extravagant bowl of spaghetti, roe and deep-fried sardines. That’s all Bates.
I can’t believe this successful restaurateur partnered with a chef I like. This combination of two talented people with complementary skills in the same line of business is shocking. She is evil, he is innocence personified. There is ROOM FOR ONLY ONE.

He’s the exact opposite of Agg, rarely tweeting and never bragging. In all my times at Shōtō, I never witnessed him speak to his staff above a whisper, which confirmed a pet theory that the quietest chefs are always the most serious talents.
The EXACT opposite. Jen Agg: she tweets, she brags, she now allegedly SCREAMS at her staff(?), she clearly is not a serious talent. I have some pet theories about you. Spoiler alert: they’re not flattering.

Bates and Agg’s joint project started off modest. They talked about opening a cider bar, or maybe it would be a wine bar. There’d be snacks. But then they dropped hints of something far more ambitious and grand. Bates was bringing along his Shōtō chef de cuisine, Peter Jensen. Agg shared photos of the renovations and of the staff tastings and trial runs. The countdown was excruciating.
Oh no, I’m sorry it was so painful for you to have to wait to write this dumb sexist personal attack. That’s what you meant by excruciating, right?

Grey Gardens, like everything involving Agg, was shaping up to be a truly big deal. The day they began taking reservations, the online system overloaded.
It’s almost like she’s good at her job and people like her restaurants.

Agg says they didn’t name Grey Gardens after the Maysles documentary. She simply likes the colour and decorated the new place with grey bentwood chairs and a mural of grey-toned foliage.
I don’t know, the foliage is green and blue. It’s in a picture right below this paragraph in the original review. In fact, there’s a lot more mint green and light wood going on in the restaurant than grey, but your inability to see green is less problematic than your inability to see strong successful women. That dress was white and gold by the way.

There’s nonetheless an off-kilterness to Agg’s version of Grey Gardens that would remind the batty, shut-in Bouviers of home. It’s in the weathered, hard-to-see signage and the decorative security gate pulled across the street-facing windows, as if there’s no one home. It’s in the hoarder’s collection of flea-market curios and the pots of plastic greenery (possibly ironic) decorating a stairwell. It’s in the box of anti-nausea pills I found discarded, like an omen, on the floor of a bathroom one night.
You guys, someone threw something on the floor of a restaurant bathroom. The horror.

I half expected a family of raccoons to drop from the ceiling.
Again, a guest missed the trash can. Maybe cause they were having fun and drinking good wine and wanted to get back to their friends even though the bathrooms are lovely. Call the health department, suddenly raccoons are falling from the oh so grey skies!

Once you find the door, the greeting is warm—much warmer than I’ve ever experienced at the Black Hoof, where the staff always seemed resentful of success. Even though the room is as narrow as any downtown business and busy with servers hustling bottles of wine between full tables, it’s airy and placid.
Admittedly a strange point to pick on here, but are all downtown businesses narrow? Is that like a known, true fact?

All that grey does the trick.
Green.

The best experience I had was at one of the old-timey doctor’s stools
These are also painted green.

facing the open kitchen, where I had a full view of the effort that Bates, Jensen and their crew bring to every dish.
Those men were so full of effort, they didn’t even have time to tweet. Or golf. Or start World War III. I think I may have strayed off-topic here, but the world is fucking scary right now, ok? Like, for real scary. Not a talented restaurant owner might tweet something funny scary.

The focused menu is divided into small, medium and larger courses, and the idea, now a given, is to share.

Although the menu’s unadorned list of ingredients reads like a Shōtō tasting menu (“beets, stracciatella, lamb bacon, Meyer lemon”), what appears before you looks like those ingredients, not some over-intellectualized composition of foams, jellies and other molecular gastronomical flourishes.
Are actual Shōtō dishes over-intellectualized compositions of foams et al.? No. No, they’re not. So...weird comparison. Besides, you said you loved Shōtō and that description doesn’t sound positive. I’m confused.

Cheese resembles cheese and beets resemble beets.
Snozzberries resemble snozzberries.

I had a few just-okay dishes, like those beets, which had been roasted then compressed in a vacuum machine with a few drops of soy and vinegar, then paired with the sweetly fresh cheese and a garden’s worth of herbs.
This sounds good. Why was it “just-okay”? You know, review the restaurant’s ACTUAL FOOD properly before you get back to bashing its owner. Or maybe don’t bash the owner at all? Why are we bashing the owner? How does this not go without saying? What in here is about her performance as a host in this restaurant? What score are you settling? Are you the crusader for unnamed douches from some four year old tweet? Are you four years old? WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON HERE?

So anyway, those beets. They were kinda just-okay. You know what else was just-okay? My annoyingly short word limit review of Grey Gardens. The one where I didn’t horribly insult the owner due to some unexplained personal vendetta or desire for clicks. Now I’m exploiting you for clicks though. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

But not Agg, because she’s a mean woman. And also because there can only be one.

There’s one dud, a plate of handmade pasta with a sour sauce of cheddar whey and butter seasoned with paprika, plus more cheddar that’s been dehydrated; it made me long for the simplicity of Kraft Dinner. But I also had some incredible inventions, up there with my all-time Bates favourites.
Bad men invented Twitter for scary women to be meanies. (Also, Uber. Bad men invented Uber. That is a known, true fact.) Good man invented some ravioli.

His butter-glazed ravioli, stuffed with smoked sweet potato and covered in wafers of black truffle, are a clever cross with pierogi. If you didn’t get the hint, he gives you two dipping options: sour cream and a sauce made from slow-baked-until-supersweet gala apples.

His bowl of ricotta dumplings redefines matzo ball soup, the fluffy white orbs in a broth that out-turkeys every grandma’s turkey stock, laced with kombu, dried shiitake, bonito and a dash of tare.
No, my Passover soup does.

I also loved the disarmingly simple fish dip, made from applewood-smoked Spanish mackerel blended with sour cream, mayo and pickled onions, to be spread on wafer-cut potato chips dusted with caper powder. It’s a perfect after-work snack with a glass from a wine list (this is, after all the hubbub, a wine bar) that leans toward organic and Burgundy, and one night offered two orange wines—in a city where one is noteworthy.
#6ipsters are orange wine 6ippers.

The absolute standout, which you must run and order right now before the season ends or Bates changes his mind, is the duck, butchered Chinese-style and left to dry-age for two weeks.
I had this duck. It’s good. I have no idea what Chinese-style butchery means.

The breast is scored, the fat cap left lusciously thick so the roasted skin turns extra crispy and the meat absorbs all the fatty deliciousness. The remaining duck bits and bones are fuel for a sauce that gets extra tang from Japanese hot mustard. He plates it with a house sauerkraut and wild rice that’s slightly overcooked into fluffiness then tossed in a pan with mirepoix and the duck’s liver—a fancy fried rice. It’s real, albeit casually sophisticated food, much like what they’re serving at La Banane and Brothers Food and Wine. Real food—that’s the best adjective to describe it—is shaping up as the dominant trend of 2017.
Yes, that definitely is the best adjective to describe it. The one you just used. Maybe I spoke too soon when I said this review would be 100% score-settling, and thus wouldn’t be equal parts self-congratulation like Agg’s memoir that you tried to dismiss as part of your restaurant review. Double duty. You’re a real food pro. That was real food sarcasm. Also, “real food” is not an adjective.

I couldn’t figure out why I felt so stress-free at Grey Gardens during those first visits. Then I discovered, checking Twitter, that Agg was thousands of kilometres away, on a Caribbean beach with her husband.
Maybe she did a good job if her staff made you feel welcome when she wasn’t there due to a brief vacation? In the early days of the restaurant no less... No, that can’t be it, for she is evil scary devil meanie woman who sometimes tweets. Sometimes she even tweets angrily in response to sexist bullshit. And general unprofessional bullshit. One day she might even tweet about a bull shitting. Can you imagine?

We were all safe: there was no threat of being called out as a douche.
Ultimately, I’m unqualified to mansplain. Well, too qualified to mansplain. Which is kind of the issue here. But ... I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that by now you discovered, checking Twitter, that she’s not the only one calling you a douche. Not by a longshot.

Why I Took a Food Writing Class

Food writing often drives me crazy. Clichés, meaningless flowery language, and lack of base knowledge sometimes seem to be the norm, not the exception. With that in mind, I knew it must be hard to write thoughtfully about food and hoped learning how difficult it was for myself might stop me from getting quite as annoyed on my daily scroll through the internet. Understanding through empathy or some similar platitude? Sometimes, though, nothing can save me. This is one such time...

Joanne Kates is a professional restaurant critic, now working for Post City Toronto. Previously, she was the longtime restaurant critic at the Globe and Mail, Canada's most widely read newspaper. By contrast, I’m some obnoxious guy taking a continuing education class. I’m sure she’s a nicer person than me, but even though I'm quickly learning how hard writing about food can be, I’m not so sure she’s a better writer than me. And I don’t think I’m a good writer.

Let’s take a look at her recent review of La Banane in the style of Fire Joe Morgan, an old favorite blog of mine where comedy writers pseudonymously took aim at bad sportswriting, and then decide if I’m way off base. Even though this is meant in good fun, that pseudonym part was probably smart, but oh well...

Restaurant Review: La Banane is Ossington’s dishy new bistro
Chef Brandon Olsen hits the spot with his ode to French fare

Take a restaurant dream team, add a pinch of hipster, a soupçon of cream and a healthy dollop of impeccable seafood, season it à la française, and what have you got?
I’d say you’ve got a sentence full of gibberish that stretches the recipe cliché well beyond its breaking point? You also might have a cannibalistic seafood ragout...with a hint of handlebar mustache.

The dishiest new resto to hit Toronto in a year!
1) Please don’t say resto.
2) On the upside, it almost distracted me from “dishiest.”

La Banane is the marriage of the King Street Food Company (three Bucas, Jacobs and Co.) and chef Brandon Olsen (ex-chef at Bar Isabel and The Black Hoof). Add the fact that chef Olsen created the resto in the image of his own personal food passions, and you have a recipe for enchantment.
Do I add that fact to the pinch of hipster? Is Olsen the hipster? Would that make too much hipster? This recipe is getting confusing. Or is this a new recipe? The first was for a dishy resto and now this one is for enchantment. I hope this review is really just a cookbook.

It’s where The Saint used to be, and the room, while renovated, feels very like its predecessor, which was wonderful. The space is still warm and welcoming, attractive without shouting its glamour,
The room was wonderful or the Saint was wonderful? You might also want to explain what the Saint was.

p.s. Your sentence just ends with a comma,

Immediately upon entering you see the new marble raw bar, a long display of incredibly fresh seafood with several pretty cute shuckers at work.
No to this “cute shuckers” thing. Not cute. Arguably offensive.

Très français.
Dégueulasse.

I like the front dining room, done in a suite of dark greens, but there’s something to be said for the insouciance of sitting at the raw bar, or the cosiness of the back dining room.
in·sou·ci·ance
inˈso͞osēəns,inˈso͞oSHəns / noun / casual lack of concern; indifference.
Examples:
Joanne Kates’s review of La Banane exhibits a complete insouciance towards the craft of writing.

I cannot remain insouciant while reading this review. Not even in the cosy back dining room that you failed to describe in any real fashion.

As for the taste of things, I was in New York last week, eating at Esca, the famous Mario Batali’s Italian seafood resto.
1) Please don’t say resto. Pretty please.
2) I mean, is this for real? This is an insane way to start a paragraph. We weren’t talking about “the taste of things” at all. And we certainly weren’t talking about Esca. And if we were this would be a weird way to describe Esca anyway.

I love it,
You love what?

but my raw marinated scallops at Esca were neither as sweet nor as sensitively sauced as La Banane’s freshly shucked raw scallops marinated with garlic-tinged buttermilk.
So you love Esca? I guess? Is that what you meant? You love “it”, but love one dish at “it” less than a semi-comparable dish at La Banane. Too bad famous Mario Batali’s Esca didn’t know to alliteratively sauce their scallops.

Score for the home team!
Our it’s better than their it!

Similarly fab are the barely cooked marinated mussels with a touch of heat from espelette pepper vinaigrette.
Please don’t say fab. You also didn’t really describe anything prior as fab, just as preferable to a largely undescribed dish at a restaurant in New York that you may or may not love.

Then cometh the magnificent:
I give up.

A European sea bass is presented tableside wrapped in a latticework of pastry. They take it back to the kitchen, remove the latticework on top and debone the fish, presenting its pristine white flesh with a pour of yuzu-scented beurre blanc.
Who they?

The fish is perfectly cooked, the sauce a francophile’s dream.
That traditional french ingredient beloved by francophiles the world round: yuzu!

Also impeccably French are the sweetbreads with hedgehog mushrooms. The sweetbreads are superbly tender with a hint of smoke, the mushrooms fresh and almost tangy, and as for sitting this confection on a pool of blanquette — white sauce built on veal stock —
And as for your love of “as for” in strange situations, I hate it. For the record, confection almost always refers to something sweet, but we have bigger issues to get to. And as for “sitting this?” That sounds good to you?

this is the kind of layered complex cooking that only the French understand.
The Chef isn’t French. You’re not French. This is false/racist/choose your own objection. I think you meant to suggest that this is the kind of layered complex cooking that typifies traditional French cuisine. Or that French cuisine is built upon. Or that French cuisine popularized or was a vanguard for. Probably not that it’s cooking only French people can understand. I hope not for this resto’s dream team of owners anyway, because they’re going to need some non-French customers to survive.

I also heard about this rat that understood it, so how hard could it be? But then again, he was a French rat. Score for the home team!

ratatouille-movie.png

Chef Olsen makes only two miscalculations: His pommes Aligot are mashed potatoes with so much comte cheese that it’s gone gummy.
If you've ever taken a standardized test like the GMAT or GRE that includes sentence correction questions, this sentence likely reminds you of that.

“His pommes Aligot are mashed potatoes with so much comte cheese that it’s gone gummy.” Nope. Unless, of course, this is the same "it" as before. In that case, I'm totally with you.

And his signature dessert, Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg (made at Olsen’s College Street chocolate shop) costs $50! — an ego trip and not worth it.
This ego trip part seems not très gentil. It’s a pretty labor-intensive dessert, it’s unique, and quality chocolate is expensive. More importantly, while it might be expensive, it's also the dishiest dish of all the dishy dishes at this dishiest of dishy restos and thus brings in many a heaping tablespoon of "hipster" customers. Just check Instagram for details.

A giant chocolate egg painted with many colours sits on the plate, to be cracked open. Inside are very good chocolate truffles, with chili-tinged coffee-scented dried apricots on the inside of the chocolate egg. Very good truffles, but $50?
"Inside are very good chocolate truffles, with chili-tinged coffee-scented dried apricots on the inside of the chocolate egg." Paging Post City editors? Are you out there? It’s me, the English language, and I miss you.

Otherwise dinner at La Banane is utterly enthralling. On the small table at the entrance, you notice, as you leave, a hardcover copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the grand bible of French cuisine.
I tried, to read, the beginning of, the second sentence five times, before, I gave up. Meanwhile, why don’t you notice it, first, at the entrance, as you enter, I wonder?

Larousse tells cooks precisely how to cook every precious and wonderful item in the classic French lexicon. Chef Olsen has chosen his calling card well — for he is clearly an adept lover of la grande cuisine.
Meme s’il ne peut pas la comprendre, dumb non-French guy.

Maple Leif

Leif Friedmann looks out from behind the stove, ensuring that glasses are filled and guests are happy. Satisfied, he turns to his sister Daiva and asks her to check on the remaining diners in the room around the corner. Leif turned 14 two weeks earlier. Today, he’s the head chef. Daiva, age 12, is one of three servers in matching striped blue aprons tasked with helping him serve a crowd of 25 paying customers. Their eight-year-old brother Evan looks on from a distance, unsure what to make of all these strangers in his home.

Like everyone else, I’ve come to this restored 200-year-old home on the outskirts of Dundas, Ontario for the first annual Springhill Eating Club Sugar Shack Lunch. The gluttonous multi-course meal centered around maple syrup tapped from trees on the 12-acre property was conceived by Leif along with his father Scott, my first cousin and an innovation consultant by trade. This is the first time they’ve welcomed paying guests, but the Springhill Eating Club plans to host events every month or two going forward—workshops on fermentation and sourdough bread baking, outdoor feasts cooked over wood fire, and intimate tasting menu dinners served in the home’s original formal dining room have all been penciled into the calendar.

As family, I have a seat at the kitchen counter where I can see the slow scrambled eggs that open our meal coming together. Once Leif is happy with them, they’re plated along with duck fat pancakes and fire-roasted bacon. Finally, everything’s topped off with maple syrup and extra duck fat for good measure. Three types of fish, foie gras, two kinds of homemade bread, beans, greens, pork, cheese, three desserts, and more follow. It was lunch in name only. I couldn’t eat dinner that day.

Two weeks later, I once again make the hourlong drive west from downtown Toronto to the Springhill property. Located high up on the Niagara Escarpment with views of Lake Ontario and the Ancaster Valley, the grounds are especially picturesque as flowers come into bloom on this warm spring day. Leif and his family moved here three years ago, after spending his first 11 years in Toronto. He loves nature. He’s happier here. After all, in the city we probably couldn’t go foraging for green garlic.

On our way to the garlic patch he scoped out in advance of my arrival, Leif—today sporting a gray hoodie and navy baseball cap in place of apron and chef’s toque—stops at a small creek that runs near the front gate of the property to pick dandelion greens. I tell him that at his age I was instructed to remove dandelions from our garden because they were weeds, not lunch.  “Stuff that everyone thinks is weeds is actually edible,” Leif replies, though he warns that it’s important to be careful when foraging. He always checks three sources to make sure anything unfamiliar isn’t toxic, and even picks dandelion with care, avoiding its “slightly fuzzier” lookalike. “It’s not poisonous, it just doesn’t taste good.” Even so, his haul sometimes ends up in the trash. “People always throw out stuff that I forage. Like, ‘it looks like old bark, why would he need bark? It’s been sitting there for a week, I’m gonna throw it out.’ But really, it’s fermenting!” I’m told his family is starting to learn. He’s also getting better at labeling.

As we leisurely harvest common garden weeds, Leif’s reminded of the first time he discovered ramps—the wild allium with a unique blend of garlic and onion flavors celebrated as a culinary herald of spring. “I had been looking for ramps for the last little while cause I wanted to eat ramps. I hadn’t found any, but I bike to school every day and knew that was an area they should grow in. All the conditions were right. So, I just saw them on the side of the road, these huge ramps. I had to stop obviously. My friends were up ahead, so I just screamed ‘I found ramps,’ but of course, they didn’t know what ramps were.” His friends biked on to the school, only later realizing they had lost Leif. “But then I came 15 minutes later and I had just like tons of ramps in my bag.” When I ask how his friends at school react to his obsession with food, Leif responds without skipping a beat, “Oh, they all think I’m crazy!”

None of this strikes me as all too crazy, but then again I have some idea of where this passion for food originated. When Scott and I were growing up in Montreal, our fathers were in the food business. They mostly sold frozen chicken products, but also dabbled in crepes and olive oil. We weren’t exactly “foodies,” but we talked about food all the time, and we definitely ate a lot. Something about that upbringing had a lasting effect. Scott’s two brothers own a restaurant together in Montreal, while he has a Master’s in Hospitality Management from Cornell, previously worked in the hotel industry, and years ago founded a beverage company. Even as an innovation consultant, Scott often works with clients like Campbell’s and Pepsi, helping them develop and market new products. He’s also taken Leif on many great eating trips, including a father and son blitz through Scandinavia with stops at Fäviken, Magnus Nilsson’s celebrated restaurant and inn located in middle-of-nowhere Sweden, and Noma, René Redzepi’s temple to modern Nordic cuisine in Copenhagen. So is Scott the source of his son’s passion? “I like to say that it’s channeling multi-generational culinary interests. I think there’s some truth to that.”

Once we’ve picked enough dandelion greens, along with a few flowers for garnish, we head to the garlic patch where Leif unearths the most beautiful green garlic imaginable—the pungent aroma breaking through the dewy spring air making me wish I could get ingredients this fresh at my local Loblaws. We then pass by Scott, now busy picking flowers to decorate the family dinner table, before visiting the beehives they’ll use to make honey, and finally moving further up the property to get a taste of wasp larvae. “They taste kinda like shrimp, but they’re like kosher shrimp.” Then, after a beat, “I don’t actually know if they’re kosher.” They’re probably not, but neither was the maple-brined Berkshire pork that culminated the savory portion of the sugar shack lunch.

Eating wasp larvae is where it possibly gets a little crazy, even for our family. Leif cuts open the bulbous portion of a goldenrod branch, describing how the plant forms these bulbs around the wasp eggs to protect them from the cold of winter, and I dutifully taste the tiny wiggling white proto-wasp found at the center. It’s subtle. A little citrusy, a little shrimp-like as advertised. A guide on a camping trip introduced Leif to larvae, but somewhat more conventional discoveries on the property—wild strawberries, onions, various herbs, even crayfish—often come by chance, while simply enjoying time outdoors. “Food is a big passion and nature is a big passion, and people ask me what I like more. But it doesn’t have to be two different things because I’ve found a way to incorporate both of them.”

Back in the kitchen, Scott opens up a bottle of the first batch of Springhill Cider, made from the five heirloom apple trees that stand at the center of the property’s main lawn, and now a year and a half old. “It’s not bad for our first time, not knowing shit about doing anything,” Scott says. It’s actually very good. Somewhere between French and Basque styles, dry, with a vibrant nose and a hint of sour beer style funk. Leif and Scott are already planning a cider making workshop when the next crop is ready, along with a meal paired with various ciders. “I have no interest in going and getting drunk,” Leif remarks, but he does like learning about the process behind wine, beer, and cider. He’s drinking the cider along with us, and comparing it to the versions he tried on a family trip to the Basque region of Spain last summer: “Basque is drier.”

Before apple season, next on the Eating Club schedule is a day of foraging for ramps followed by a ramp-inspired meal. When he found those ramps near school, Leif folded them into soft-scrambled eggs and sold the dish at the school café he’s been running every Friday for the past two years with help from his fellow students. At the first mention of the café, Leif shifts from chef to editor, telling me not to write about it. “He doesn’t want to talk about it,” Scott says, “because he thinks it’s not up to his quality standard. I think it’s notable because it’s been foundational in helping him organize a team of people. He has to create the menu, he has to cost the food, he has to manage the front of the house.” At Springhill, where he has a more seasoned kitchen staff (in the form of his father), more tools, and an audience willing to provide a bigger budget, you can bet the ramp feast will have more than just eggs. It will be up to Leif’s standards.

While Leif cooks up an early spring snack—the dandelion greens are blanched, the green garlic is chopped and sautéed, then it’s all mixed together with fermented green garlic, chopped Castelvetrano olives, lemon juice, and the dandelion flowers—we sip on our cider and talk about future plans for the Eating Club. Some, mostly from Scott, sound more far-fetched: “It’s reality TV. Basically, the idea is kids turn their house into a high-end restaurant.” Leif, while creative in the kitchen, is slightly more pragmatic: “What I also want to do, is overnight events and then breakfast the next morning.” The Fäviken of Ontario, perhaps? As you might expect, Leif’s also excited that earning an income through cooking and hospitality could save him from gigs his friends have to take, like “babysitting or working at Shoppers.”

With the sun beginning to set, our conversation diverges into other areas—slowly even to non-food topics like our various weird relatives and what they’re up to—before editor Leif swiftly reappears, wondering if there was anything else I needed to ask him.

“What, something like what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Well...that’s a dumb question.”