Yesterday I published my open letter to Atlanta chefs, asking them to up their game. While there are some amazing chefs here making memorable food, I wrote this letter because I feel that the overall standards in the city have slipped in recent years. I love dining in this town, and I want it to be as good as I know it can.
By the way, I’m thrilled to see he mentioned the spinalis steak he serves at Room. It’s one of my favorite steaks in town.
Here’s what Oltarsh has to say:
Open letter to Atlanta diners
Mr. Kessler and all the Atlanta dining folks:
In response to your open letter to chefs, as a local Atlanta Chef the message has been heard and truth be told, I concur. I think we chefs and restaurateurs have acquiesced to the challenges of the Atlanta dining scene and have done so without much fight. We need to regroup and accept this open letter challenge. But we need help from our partner, the diner, in two key areas. One, we need your financial support. Last year was tough. Please dine out! Two, the more adventurous our diners are, the more we can express our creativity. Here are my suggestions for how the Atlanta community can help us become a more dynamic restaurant town.
1) Take a chance on some new flavors or foods you have never tried before. How about celery root puree instead of mashed potatoes? Consider farro in lieu of rice. Really, these items don’t taste weird; they are simply a little out of the ordinary. In fact, I had chicken hearts for the first time recently and I could not believe how yummy they were. I am happy to serve broiled ribeye and seared trout but I also take deep pleasure in exposing my guests to new tastes such as tuna belly and spinalis steak. The list of wonderful ingredients is endless; let us chefs manipulate them to create new dishes. Support our creative endeavors by choosing innovative menu items.
2) Calamari doesn’t have to be fried to be good. You can’t imagine how delicious calamari tastes before flour and oil intervenes. Squid can be roasted, braised and grilled as well as fried and honestly, the results are quite remarkable. Trust me when I proclaim that one bite of steamed calamari fresh from the sea with ripe tomatoes and fruity olive oil will expel any future desire to order the fried version; you’ll marvel at what you have been missing. Help break the cycle whereby we silly scared chefs feel obliged to serve the same boring dishes to our customers. Take a chance and order the steamed cockles instead of the fried calamari or the grilled lamb sandwich rather than a grilled chicken breast sandwich.
3) Please don’t ask for or expect tomatoes on your sandwiches in January (i.e., don’t expect food out of season). Out of season tomatoes are mealy, tasteless and bloody expensive as well! And the same holds true for all out of season produce. It is costly and doesn’t taste good. As for tomatoes, be patient, wait until the summer and you won’t be disappointed: August thru September they are sweet & acidic, dripping with juice and bursting with flavor.
4) Sustainable fish varieties are delicious; give them a chance. Don’t get me wrong, grouper and snapper are tremendous fish but so are mackerel, sardines and barramundi. When well prepared, these mouth-watering species drive culinary variety and innovation and furthermore, their use is right by the environment. I can’t sell sustainable fish if my clientele are not willing to at least have a go at them. Moreover, I prefer to preserve our oceans and leave behind some fish for future generations
5) We restaurateurs need your fiscal support during the week. Restaurants cannot survive on Friday and Saturday business alone. We need patrons in seats Sunday thru Thursday. If we promise to do out part — serve great food in a hospitable environment with friendly service — will you come join us?
6) Good product can be expensive. I like to provide good value. I do suspect, however, that what I consider good value is not what many customers consider good value. I really want to do the right thing and serve local food, seasonal food and use animals that are treated humanely. I want to provide my guests with ingredients that are special and delicious and varied. This approach can be relatively expensive. I promise most all of us are really not trying to gouge you. The fact is restaurants are labors of love and our margins are extremely slim.
7) If the kitchen makes a mistake, please let us correct it. Kitchens screw up. We overcook meat; we over-salt food; we are slow. We try to keep these issues to a minimum but alas we fail to do so occasionally. Please, rather than writing a scathing blog about your experience two days later, give us a chance to fix the problem while you are still dining in the restaurant and let us earn your positive tweets.
8) There is a world beyond burgers and french fries. Don’t get me wrong. I eat burgers and I love them and any chef who says otherwise is a big, fat liar and a Judas to the profession. Yet, I also love exhilarating, innovative, tricky, witty and daring cuisine. Yes, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but isn’t it fun as a diner to be part of the process? So go to your favorite burger joint, where you could very well see me, but also support your local independent fine-dining restaurant. Both of us deserve your business.
Bring it on 2011! Who’s in?