Here’s what I had to say in the original letter:
Show some wit: Each dish should be a story well told, even if it’s one that has been told many times before. Maybe you are making a beet and goat cheese salad, or macaroni and cheese. Instead of cutting the beets into wedges, you might sliver them into carpaccio rounds. And with so many La Brea truffle oil pit versions of mac and cheese around town, wouldn’t it be fun to envision one that is surpassingly light and delicate?
Here’s whyI think Smith exemplifies this quality:
Southern food is big. Pork is big. Cured meat is big. Farm-to-table cooking is really, really big. We all need to give Ryan Smith, the executive chef at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South, a hand for not only sidestepping the clichés of contemporary Southern cooking but for giving it a fresh, urbane perspective. Let other restaurants tout their country ham; Smith makes his own “city ham” — a house-cured cooked version (think prosciutto cotto) that he pairs with fresh ricotta and pickled watermelon rind for a flavor that feels both new and nostalgic. It’s just what you want from a plate of pig. Speaking of which, don’t miss his house bologna, which arrives in juicy seared cubes over a pool of crisped rice, corn kernels and chanterelle mushrooms. A tremulous poached egg, ready to ooze, sits poised on top. What do you want with bologna? Mustard, of course — a weirdly fitting side dish of bourbon mustard that lends a banjo twang high note to this wonderful business. Count on Smith to give your every expectation of farm-to-table Southern cooking a fresh twist.