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Archive for September, 2009

Restaurant Stories: Kevin Gillespie, the Southern Sophisticate

kevinThis week’s Restaurant Stories column is a profile of Kevin Gillespie — the Woodfire Grill chef who’s making a splash on “Top Chef” and, more importantly, shaking up things on the Atlanta dining scene.

One day, about eight years ago, Kevin Gillespie received an envelope from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Not just any envelope, but the fat one, with a letter of admission addressed to the Henry County High School senior.

Once Gillespie got over his shock, he hid the envelope. Hid it from his parents, friends and college placement counselors so he could rethink his ambition to become a nuclear engineer.

Gillespie eventually ’fessed up and told his parents he didn’t want to go to MIT, despite the nice scholarship thrown in for good measure. He wanted to go to the Art Institute of Atlanta and study cooking. His mother — who may be eligible for sainthood — told him it was good that he knew what he was meant to do early in life.

It looks like she was right. …

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“Top Chef” Episode 6: Teardown

pennteller

Have you ever paid more than $17 for a dish that weighs less than three ounces and has no discernible texture? Then perhaps you are familiar with this new development in gourmet dining: The waiter who instructs you how to eat your food.

“Please drop the quivering magenta orb into the shot glass of green soup, then tip it back all the way to drink it in one gulp. Immediately thereafter take a spoonful of the frozen beige powder and lean in close enough to the plate so you can smell the fumes of the exotic tree bark burning underneath it. This is what we call our “Twinkie.”

This is also what chefs call “deconstruction” — an exciting new style of cooking that delights diners with dishes that re-imagine their constituent parts. As an added bonus, deconstructed food often trades in textures that pop, ooze, wiggle and appear to suppurate like open sores. According to Wikipedia, French philosopher Jacques Derrida was a huge fan.

Before we get into all of this, the angel who sits …

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Restaurant Stories: Fried calamari and a Manhattan

Calamari (not at McCormick and Schmick's) AJC Staff

Calamari (not at McCormick and Schmick's) AJC Staff

This week’s “Restaurant Stories” column is about one of those times when you just want something fried with a drink. Promise to go back to regularly scheduled programming next week.

Comfort is Crunch and Salt

The day had started very early in a little town in western Massachusetts. My wife and I got up, looked at the morning fog that had enveloped our hotel and packed. We were among the first at breakfast, where we ate a little of our bread and cheese in relative silence. We talked about a story in that morning’s New York Times, checked our watches and declared it time to go.

We drove 10 minutes to meet our daughter, who had just spent the first night in her new college dorm. We had moved her in the previous day and then spent much of the afternoon figuring out which clothes she could squeeze into her closet, which ones she would store for the winter, and which ones we’d schlepp right back to Atlanta. Girls always overpack. …

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“Top Chef” Recap: Episode 5 — The Blair Lunch Project

Donner Party Memorial

Donner Party Memorial

Welcome to the desert, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, you, with your avocado mousse, and $40 tubes of hair gel, and dashi broth, and jaunty kerchiefs, and your fancy French words like “paillard,” and your woeful senses of entitlement. Welcome to the raw elements, the unforgiving sun, the blistering sand, and the snakes that only come at night.

You, chefs, will cook your preening vittles in a pit. Over an open flame. In a rusty pot. And you will feed it to Padma, queen of the desert, and her 20 cowboys. We do not — repeat, do not — want a repeat of that dinner scene in “Blazing Saddles.” Got it?

One of you won’t make it out alive. Your sun-parched skeleton will remain in the sand for eternity, your flesh having been feasted upon by vultures (and special guest judge Tim Love), your knobby metacarpals wrapped around a spatula.

Who will that be? Read on if you dare.

Okay, rewind. Let’s go back before the start of the Blair Lunch Project, to another morning …

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Two cookbooks of note

photoForgive my “just the facts, ma’am” approach to photography, but I have been enjoying paging through these two cookbooks. 

On the left, we have the just-released “Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook” by Chris and Idie Hastings with Katherine Cobbs (Running Press, $35). The Hastingses, who are married, run this great Birmingham restaurant, which is just up the street from its more famous neighbor, Highlands Bar & Grill.

While Highlands does a fine job of marrying Southern ingredients and sensibility to country French cooking, Hot and Hot does likewise with California. Chef Chris Hastings’ food has the ingredient-driven seasonality, easy warmth and Italian sensibility of a good meal in the Bay Area. Whenever I’m in Birmingham, I have the dilemma of which restaurant to visit and usually end up going to both. I love eating at the dining bar and, in summer, I can never resist the tomato salad, which is a lusciously stacked-up business with field peas, corn, basil and a crisp rasher of …

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Restaurant Stories: Eno Restaurant & Wine Bar

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(It’s the hair gel more than anything…)

For this week’s Restaurant Stories column, I visit chef Eli Kirshtein at Eno Restaurant — the Midtown wine-themed spot that was recently bought by Hawks player Zaza Pachulia.

Apologies, Eli! But there is something about your “Top Chef” publicity photo that brings to mind “The Little Mermaid”’s Ursula. For what it’s worth, I get told all the time that I look like Jerry Springer…

“Food First Under Kirshtein”

Eno Restaurant & Wine Bar opened in 1999 as a partnership between wine guy Doug Strickland and chef Jamie Adams.

These two baby boomers complemented each other’s expertise. Strickland knew the ropes from the wine distribution side. He knew about the tastings, the European travel, the festive dinners comprising many paired courses and the happy if blurry place where gaining wine expertise meant getting a good buzz on.

Adams, the skilled Italian chef from Veni Vidi Vici, knew the food side — the sourcing of …

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Hector Santiago fears his turn on “Top Chef” will diminish his career

Watch the morning-after interview where Hector describes his goals in going on the show, his differences with the judges and his feelings about the other contestants. It is interesting from an Atlantan’s perspective — we know Hector is the most highly lauded chef of the three locally but other viewers see only the contest.

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“Top Chef” Recap, Episode 4: French Tickler

Credit: Zagat Survey

Joël Robuchon. Credit: Zagat Survey

She’s baaaaaack.

Who? Jennifer Z., with her seitan-stuffed log of yuck?

No, Erica the Grand Poobah of Pasta! She of the freezer full of Glad-bagged peas. And here I thought a piano had fallen on her.

It’s a good thing Erica has all those Glad Bags because nothing SPOILS, unlike the details of this week’s double-down episode if you keep reading.

So we begin in the early morning in the kitchen of the suburban McMansion, and the feeling around the house is very Tony Soprano in his bathrobe scrounging for coffee and yelling at A.J. The chefs are dragging despite Hector’s cups of muddy Puerto Rican rocket fuel.

Plus, the girls’ room just keeps getting emptier and emptier. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel or maybe a slasher film, the way these women keep disappearing.

Robin’s getting worried the curse will befall her next. Not Jesse, bless her heart.

Jesse has worked her way “out of the fog of self doubt,” and claims, “I can do anything! Aww. …

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Hector Santiago’s Secret Chile Garden


This week’s Restaurant Stories column:

A light drizzle falls in the alley behind Pura Vida Tapas & Bar, a small Poncey Highland restaurant run by husband and wife Hector and Leslie Santiago. A ladder rests against the restaurant’s back wall.
Chef Hector — whose black ponytail and thick Puerto Rican accent have recently become more familiar to Atlantans thanks to his turn as a “cheftestant” on the current season of “Top Chef” — easily bounds up the ladder like Jack scaling the beanstalk. At the top, he hoists himself over a ledge onto the building’s flat rooftop. A more timorous guest follows behind.
From this roof, a wooden plank leads to the next, higher one. Here is where we find Hector’s pepper garden. A hundred or more capsicum pods in every shade of red, green, orange, yellow, purple, black and brown grow from potted plants.
Hector, a skilled carpenter, has devised a system that runs the condensation from the restaurant’s air conditioner (on a third, higher rooftop) …

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“Top Chef” Recap, Episode 3: This spud’s for you.


Credit: Bravo TV

Credit: Bravo TV


If you choose to eat lunch inside an airplane hangar in the hot Nevada desert, where the midday sun can fry a scorpion in its tracks, there is always a chance your food will SPOIL. The undercooked shrimp in a slapdash Greek salad sumpin’ or other will spoil. The highly flavorful yet oddly flavorless pimentos, capers and artichokes that you dump right from their #10 cans into a pliant mound of cold, sad pasta may SPOIL.  So unless you want to read about these SPOILERS, please visit another blog or perhaps find some pictures of smiling pets. Preferably ones not named Preeti.

So this episode started out with a frisson of tension when Laurine, lounging poolside at the start of the show, turns to one of the guys and says, “It was lonely in our bedroom.”

Excuse me? What she means is that now Eve and Jen Z. are gone, and the girls’ dorm is empty. Oh.

Soon, everyone is buttoning into their chefs coats to leave the suburban McMansion and head to Top Chef kitchen. …

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