A back-of-the-house, behind-the-scenes look at new restaurants and passionate chefs.
Making his book debut, James Beard Award–winning food journalist Alexander offers an energetic, scattered chronicle of the food world from 2006 to 2017, a decade, he asserts, when “independent, chef-owned, casual fine-dining restaurants” created a culinary revolution. He locates the revolution’s birth in Portland, Oregon, where a young chef named Gabriel Rucker opened a small restaurant, Le Pigeon, generating hype that “morphed from local buzz into a national fever pitch,” putting Rucker—and Portland—on the map of culinary stardom. Rucker, writes the author, invented a new aesthetic: “the mismatched chairs, the Goodwill plates and silverware, the lack of tablecloths,” along with “scratch-kitchen-level food made by hand using local ingredients.” Rucker is one among the many individuals Alexander profiles, gleaned from nearly 100 interviews with cooks, chefs, and bartenders whose ambitions, challenges, successes, and failures add up to “a mosaic of the last decade’s sprawling, mercurial, pyrotechnically creative culinary ecosystem.” There’s Tom Colicchio, who learned how to cook by working at top New York restaurants. At 26, he earned a three-star review from the New York Times, soon opened Gramercy Tavern with prominent restaurateur Danny Meyer, and went on to establish his own restaurant, Craft, “radical in its simplicity.” When reality TV producers wanted a chef to judge a food competition show, Colicchio was high on the list; the show was Top Chef. There’s Anjan and Emily Mitra, who struggled to open an Indian restaurant in San Francisco and ended up so overwhelmed by their success that they lost sight of their original motivation to share the texture, balance, and “crazy versatility of flavors” of South Indian food. There’s Phil Ward, innovator of the craft cocktail movement that spread across the country. Alexander’s choice of characters seems random, and their stories, though engaging, don’t cohere into an overarching analysis. Initially claiming that the revolution is over, the author concludes that “a fresh torch” is likely to be lit.
A colorful yet rambling history of transformations in the food world.