#teamgilbert

 

First of all, I know I’m one of those gung-ho out of the chute foodie bloggers who falls off the radar for an extended period of time. But as it clearly states in my About page, I do this when inspiration hits me, and lately I’ve been working on a way longer, more involved story that is based on an idea I had about 15 years ago. It’s restaurant related, and quite a departure for me, so you have THAT to look forward to!!!!  For now, this is just going to be a long ramble with some stock photos.
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During times of high stress, when I have the chance to get out for a few hours during a weekend evening, I tend to gravitate towards the familiar. I love a lot of places, and I’m a pretty happy solo diner. It gives me the time to think about all of this shit. My rotation is much bigger than the tight circle of trusted Saturday night destinations, but on the weekend I’m probably hitting The Rieger, Novel, The American or Le Fou Frog….in some combination. The Frog is a pretty new addition to the micro-rotation, but it shares the critical elements- I know the people, I feel at home, and the food is exactly what makes me love food. Last Saturday night I was going to hit The American, Novel and then The Rieger, but I ate too much at The American and had to hang out and watch the show for a while. Their entire network went down…POS completely unavailable and no way to create or process checks for customers. Sitting at the bar gave me a good vantage point for all of the action. It was impressive. Busy Saturday and they handled that shit. I love that place. I really love it. I know that the butt hurt over the fact that they will no longer pay you to eat in the lounge during happy hour caused a very whiny diaspora of people with zero regard for how businesses function. And of course, changes in management prompted the people who really come for the subservient vibe to make up reasons why the place sucks now instead of admitting something is just….off….with the quality of throatjobs their ego is getting these days. I get it. It’s getting tougher and tougher for the upper middle class to bridge the gap between themselves and that next rung on the social ladder with Gatsby era excess and servitude at a reasonable cost. Thanks Obama!
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That fake, fickle, need for ego stroking drives me insane. A lot of foodie culture is just mid-life crisis in the form of a very loud and annoying high school clique. It reminds me of a girl I used to know who worked as a stylist at Mario Tricoci. She always had the greatest stories about the society types and the flow of free “champagne” that they offered customers. It was total rotgut gas station kiosk crap, but it was free, and it was served to people throughout their visit…replenished on-demand by some cute guy or girl. The height of fake luxury and exclusivity. BUT GOD HELP EVERYONE when they were running low or out of that sparkling wine, because people lost their shit. The absence of $4/bottle garbage was a very serious issue that would have people threatening to take their business elsewhere if the salon couldn’t “get their act together…I don’t pay that kind of money to blah blah blah”. I kid you not. The parallel I’m drawing between restaurants and hair salons here is rooted in the need to have a level of faux-exclusivity that expands and contracts with the amount of expendable income thrown at it. The trendsetters are fickle, volatile, and rarely recognize how the shit that doesn’t really matter is the barometer for their overall experience. I say all of THAT shit to say…the food at The American is on point. Period. I’m not saying it’s the end all be all of the KC scene, and that it’s for everyone. We have a LOT of great food in this town, and this isn’t the first time phenomenal food has come out of that kitchen. But anyone who pretends to know about service and dining and is dismissive of what is happening there right now is clueless. If you ever liked Corvino’s food, it has never been better than it is right now. If you have some bone to pick with an imaginary upheaval in the quality of service, you are more than likely just butt hurt in the same way someone is aghast over a change in the lotion used for their customary tugjob.
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I speak for myself and only for myself here. I’m on the record all over the place stating my disdain for foodie culture, but haven’t really taken the time to lay it out properly. It’s Kardashian Land…no real accomplishments or tangible contributions other than spending some money and somehow establishing a weird level of celebrity for eating food. Part of what prompted this is the growing number of people I know in KC who actively avoid the loudest, ambience ruining, omni-present self-appointed alphas who have the title because they have enough money to attend every event, and either possess an unfathomable ignorance or arrogance that allows them to poison an evening for everyone within earshot. The other part is a recent article outlining the need for cooks these days…the analysis being that foodie/food tv culture and the marketing of cooking school and the “superstar chef” created a bubble that has burst. The reality of the business finally caught up to the machine. Food Network has become MTV, and there is no fast pass for the line that hands out the rockstar chef crowns. Somewhere in that caustic ecotone between the trend seekers and commercial appeal, the next big ingredients, techniques, ethnicities du jour, personalities, destinations and styles are cobbled together and then jettisoned into popular culture on the unforgiving winds of disdain for the trends that they will replace and the lesser foodies who still follow them. That is how the needlessly competitive nature of foodie culture is born. There is a lot of other stuff I could add about the same people who operate the major food media being besties with the people who JUST SO HAPPEN to be the foodies with their finger on the pulse of what constitutes “in the know”, and the vapid nature of all of that extremely fake, whitebread bullshit. BUT….I will simply state that at the end of the day foodie culture is the only chance and reason many white people will have to visit a ghetto. Oh, don’t worry, they’ll let you know when it happens.
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I don’t pretend to know what people who make their living in the industry feel about all of this. They are pros, and I can’t imagine the level of bullshit from idiots they put up with on a daily basis. That’s because, like all foodies, I don’t make one penny that comes from the service industry. I miss out on some cool stuff that would be fun to participate in, but it’s real work and the one luxury I enjoy is being able to say whatever I want.  The chances of me doing something I don’t really want to do with people I don’t really know or like, in order to carve out a niche in that hyperactive playroom is exactly…zero…point…zero.  A lot of foodies use hospitality like a shield to cover up some pretty bad behavior, and if my family’s livelihood could be threatened by my big mouth, I would put a different value on shutting up and playing the game. I’d be way more hospitable. As it is, I keep my mouth shut about a lot of very specific obnoxious and self-serving behavior that is perpetrated by many. I don’t want anything to ever come back on the people I know who DO depend on the hospitality aspect of the industry, so that’s pretty much all I’ll ever say about it. But just so nobody misses the point here….many mistake basic aspects of hospitality with A) their ownership of a person or their place of business, or B) permission to act in a manner that drives away other customers with impunity. Combined with that mind-numbing lack of self-awareness is a sense of entitlement that, if questioned, will drop the façade of friendship and move on to the next shiny thing after a very public dismissal of the business that bumped up against their cognitive dissonance.
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Look, I know I’m taking a giant dump on the easiest thing to hate about this, and probably most, cultures. And as it is with all things, it’s the very vocal minority that gets the spotlight. The people I’m talking about are the outliers. The vast majority of foodies, of which I am one because there really isn’t an equivalent designation, are into dining or cooking because of a genuine interest. The rockstars-because-they-say-so probably started off that way too, before it became another way to show off and social climb. If it wasn’t food, they’d find something else to ruin. But seriously, the main reason I’m not a bigger asshole about it more of the time is because I do meet a lot of genuinely nice people at all levels of knowledge and passion that comes from a normal, organic approach.  It’s about the process of learning, and value of family and community.  Someone who totally obsesses over perfecting their own biscuit recipe because of a Paula Deen episode is a hundred times more interesting than someone who is an authority on foie gras after their one trip to France. My approach to the food community is just different….first of all, I really hate mixers/social hours, etc. with a bunch of people I don’t know under the guise of something food related. They probably don’t want to hang out with me either, it’s definitely not because I think I’m too cool….I am inept. Secondly, my free time is limited and if I have the choice I’m going to interact more with the people who know way more than I do about a subject I love. I’m sure there are a lot of foodies who know way more than I do about any aspect of the culture that I enjoy, but you know who is ALWAYS going to know a lot more? The people who do it for a living. I can cook anything. Any trained monkey can follow a recipe and do a little improv on it. What I truly care about learning are things like the science of service at The American, the constant development of flavor in one dish at Novel, or how the line works on a totally fucking insane Saturday night at The Rieger. The people who handle that shit are the food people I know. I am happy knowing the least of all of my friends on any given food related subject. The mercy that they have on my dumb ass is duly noted. I make up for it with what I think are some pretty great stories of life experiences and the ability to communicate them effectively.  Plus, if I’m annoying the entire restaurant by doing the equivalent of screaming at the top of my lungs every time I speak, they can tell me to shut the fuck up without me using my completely broken definition of hospitality against them.

 

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I seriously think I know about five people who are really into food and don’t work in some aspect of the industry. That’s the result of the way I have slowly built my relationships in this town…it is very specific and has been a constant in this period of my life…and it’s just how I do things. I’m not going to outline my whole method or philosophy because it’s more personal than I’m going to get in a blog post where I’m ripping the shit out of an aspect of food culture. But it’s about people. It’s always about people, and the people that they hold in high regard. I want them to know that I am totally on board with doing what I can to help them to be successful, and even though we aren’t hanging out during their brief periods of free time when they should be spending it with their families and friends who suffer from their fucked schedules, they can count on me for a level of loyalty and discretion that is reserved for close friends. A lot of that goes back to my own insecurity as an “extremely outgoing introvert”… I will always assume that when it comes to any potential social situation, I’m the odd man out. I don’t have angst over it. I don’t fret. It’s important for me that everyone feels like they can just be themselves.  I just know there is a big difference between regular customer and friend, and the friendships happen as they happen. There isn’t a shitty experience I’m going to have as a customer that is going to derail a friendship, and there isn’t a personal conflict that is going to be used as a public bullhorn against a business. That’s the core of what pisses me off about the flippant nature of the “cutting edge” foodie crowd. The culture is a Yelp doppelganger with the same baseless sense of entitlement and self-importance. I had some foodie ask me one time about “the places I love” and followed it up by asking about “the places that I hate”. I think I gave them an asshole answer like “I’m too connected to have to worry about going someplace that isn’t great” just to shut them up. My worst enemy isn’t going to get sold out to some random dumbass looking for dirt.

 

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While I’m rambling about people who do things completely incorrectly within the context of my humble-bragging, I should provide the following public service. This is how you do some things correctly….by no means exhaustive and in no particular order.

 
1) If you go to a place often enough to have a regular server, tip 30%. You’re not an asshole if you don’t, it’s just my personal rule. I tip more than that a lot of the time. I’m not saying that to brag, it’s the only way I can get people to like me.  If the tip is where you cut corners when you run up a decent sized bill, then you should probably eat someplace else.

 
2) If you do math to cut tax or alcohol from the tip, you’re a huge fucking asshole.

 
3) If you go to a restaurant with any regularity and you know the chef’s name, but not your server, you’re an asshole.
4) Same as #3, except substitute sous chef for server.

 
5) If a restaurant comps your valet charge, and you don’t still pay the valet the full amount plus tip, you are an asshole.  It’s found money, don’t be such a dick.

 
6) Every once in a while, bring in a bottle of booze for the kitchen. Nothing crazy, Old Overholt is just fine.  Give it to them and then leave them alone.  If they want to do shots with you, they’ll let you know.  Don’t put so many strings on things, you sad little bitch.

 
7) If you are comped a dish or drink, or something that isn’t on the menu is sent out to you, don’t broadcast that shit everywhere. Just enjoy it, you don’t want it to seem like you’ll always expect it, and you don’t want some random dumbass on your Facebook to expect it. But you know what you CAN do? Add what it would cost to your total bill and tip on it….or you’re an asshole.

 
8) Don’t bother the chef during service. Ever. If they have time and want to talk to you, they will. You’d be surprised about how many people (total fucking assholes) get bent out of shape over not getting a visit from the chef.  And if you’re someone who has ever, even once in your life, requested that the chef come to your table (for something good or bad), please don’t ever approach me.  I don’t want your creepy stalker germs.

 
9) No matter how good of a friend you might be with a chef, don’t be too goddamn familiar with them in front of their staff. Especially not during service. Everyone hates you if you do that, it doesn’t get you respect and there isn’t any “oh, well they must really know Chef!!!” acknowledgment. You’re a dick. It’s a basic respect thing.

 
10) If you’re one of the last tables in the restaurant and you see the staff looking over at you, they’re talking about you. It’s not necessarily bad stuff, but you are in the spotlight. It is pretty thorough. Act right. And if you’re the last table, fucking finish up and go for the love of Christ. Asshole.

 
11) Kind of like #10- if any “my right as a customer” thought enters your head when you show up someplace ten minutes before it closes, I hope you die. I’m not exaggerating. I hope you die. There is an entire protocol to showing up late someplace, but I don’t share it with dead people.

 
12) If you choose to eat at prime time on a weekend at your favorite place, and everything takes longer than normal, don’t make it about you. That is the slippery slope to being a nitpicking asshole who eventually sells the place out to anyone who will listen.  Then you go find some other “favorite restaurant”, and while they’ll be happy to have your business they’ll know you are a temperamental five year old.  You are damaged goods.  A consumptive whore.

 
13) Know when to keep your fucking mouth shut. Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family. Ever.

 

 

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I definitely stand behind what I say with no apologies or retractions. The people who know me know where it comes from.  I should say, the five people who read this know where I’m coming from.  I truly love Kansas City, and I do whatever I can within my meager means to support and promote people who have taken the risks and done the work that I will never, ever have the courage to do.  Too many people want to compare this town with other towns, or make it something it isn’t through the warped prism of popular culture and forced trends.  Those people are the foodies who are essentially photo bombing their way into the evolution of the community and then artificially inflating one small segment at a time where they can maximize their own exposure.  When the faux-exclusivity fades, or some infraction is perceived, they move on.  That is the opposite of sustainable, and it is prevalent…not just in KC and not just in the food community.  It is a Warhol prophecy come to life. You can refer to any of the thousand “Best of Kansas City” lists published in the last two years alone to back that up.  Don’t get me wrong, if it means a dollar goes to a local business, I support the deluge of lists.  The more exposure for local businesses the better….that’s the Catch-22 when it comes to the people who descend en masse, get their pictures taken, and then disappear.  But with very few exceptions, a spike in Facebook postings and inclusion in random lists does more for the poster/publication than it does for the business in the long term.  Sure, every little bit helps, but slow and steady wins the race.  Consistency and history with a much larger audience than a handful of neo-Yelpers is required for success, and much of the time that balance can’t even favor a chef or owner’s true vision, much less the ever-changing patchwork of food media driven trends.  Again, there are exceptions, but for the most part the “Cutthroat Kitchen” foodie crowd far outweighs the “Mind of a Chef” foodie crowd on any given Saturday night in most popular, local restaurants.  If you truly love the community, you have to allow for that without being an elitist asshole because your attitude does not translate into dollars.  I know enough about the way the business works, and about the people, to not be a cheerleader with a list of conditions.  If food is important to you and you want to make a good impression, going back to the places you love the most and letting the people who make your food know why you love it is more than enough.

 

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Categories: Food Blog, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, New

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