Redeeming Fieri

A restaurant review of Guy Fieri’s newest concept in the New York Times has recently gone viral. The platinum blonde, husky host of Diner’s Drive ins and Dives is an easy target; he’s not known for subtlety nor for setting the world of gastronomy on fire. His concepts – much like his TV show “Diners Drive-ins and Dives” – are all about food that he would like to eat himself.

Fieri flingin' flava!

Fieri flingin’ flava!

In that regard, I can understand why a snooty food reviewer would be inclinded to fire off on all cylinders and write a hyperbolic review of a restaurant created to take advantage of Mr. Fieri’s Celebrity, especially when paired with the tourist trap appeal of Times Square. Reading the review, it became apparent that the only difference between this new outlet and other established American dining chains like Ruby Tuesday’s or Chili’s, is the fact that there is a Food Network Celebrity’s name attached to the sign out front.

I doubt he cooks there himself, and I’m fairly certain the recipes were developed by an underling and approved by at a tasting session by a group of Bluetooth-equipped suits. Mr. Fieri is all about marketing the concept. So, with that being the context, one wonders if the restaurant even merited a review in the first place? Certainly the review was a pointed and at times personal attack, and reading between the lines, it seems the men and women on the ground – the people actually preparing the food – were the ones at fault.

Yet the piece became extremely popular; even to merit a response by Guy himself who explained that the staff may require retraining – while at the same time reaffirming faith in the concept. The sensationalist piece spawned another article as to whether or not a negative review actually affects customer’s willingness to try out the restaurant. Interestingly, it did not, and even encouraged some people to try it to see how bad it really was. Sort of like watching a train wreck – we know we shouldn’t gawk, but we can’t look away either. This review probably did Guy Fieri a big favor by putting the spotlight on a new restaurant, and perhaps even opened a few doors for high profile appearances at the location.

In this light, I can’t help but be on Guy’s side: the plucky Food Network Star standing on the event horizon of a New York Times Black hole review. And honestly even if the food was as advertised, was he going to get a 4 star review? I certainly wouldn’t have given 4 stars, no matter how much I enjoyed the food; but I’m prejudiced and I’ll admit it. The New York Times should admit it, too.

Contrast that review with another, decidedly negative review of a Neuro-Gastronomy restaurant in New York. Yes! This is what food writing is all about. There was no hyperbole in the review: just brass tacks. It reads like a cautionary tale of culinary snobbery, pretentiousness and blindness. That’s a review I can take seriously; I would no more go to that restaurant than have dinner at a “lights out” restaurant. But while both reviews document restaurants that are – at their core – gimmicks; one has a gimmick we can appreciate, while the other is made at our expense.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The restaurant industry is not an easy one, and it doesn’t get easier at the top. Restaurateurs and Executive Chefs may not slave away in front of an army of saucepans; but the job trades one set of physical burns for another set of emotional ones. The emotional ones tend to be more expensive to heal.

Percolated, 35 Minutes.


The Pop Up: Chef

It seems like I’ve been talking about this project everywhere except on my own website. I blame twitter because there is instant feedback and the pressure to write a particularly interesting post dissolves when you’re faced with 140 characters. I’m sure there’s an observation to be made about decreasing attention spans or the power of haiku styled tweets; but let’s be honest and say it: I’ve been lazy busy.

The story of the Pop up and it’s progression has been documented in a number of online and print publications, as well as on my twitter feed or the Pop-up facebook page. Please excuse the cellphone pictures of the food; my photographer friend has been too busy walking the spanish countryside.

I’ve aggregated the full list of links below; If you haven’t seen these yet, please take a look and leave a quick message about how I’ve changed your life and given your palate a purpose to keep on living.

Chef’s Table listing on Guestaurant

Big Bang Theory by David Blanks, Daily News Egypt [Review]

A Victorious Concept by Sarah Khanna, Egypt Monocle [Review]

Sit at the table of a Top Chef by Dalia Ferrer, Ahram Online [Interview]

Pulling the Strings by Wesam Masoud, Egypt Monocle [Opinion]

5 minutes, nuked.


Internet Trolling: NYT on “Mindful Eating”

The New York Times today has an interesting piece about focusing on the texture and flavor of foods has its roots in Buddhism and it’s myriad benefits, both psychological and physiological.

“The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating. “

Porn groove soundtrack  is completely optional.

Cooking Time: Boom Chica Wow!

Essence, Mohandessin

<Original article over at Cairo360>

I’ve been on a bit of an Subcontinental food buzz recently; and an invitation to take AmounsBouche back to Essence Barbecue in Mohandessin was one i could not resist. We both love Massala at the Karvin Hotel, but being bound to the island of Zamalek and its immediate vicinity, we were pleased to finally have an alternative to the horrendous Nawab when the curry bug bites.

Nothing has changed from my previous review – the Pakoras are still among the best things I have ever eaten; pungently spiced with an impossibly light and airy texture and the potato samosas are little potato curry flavor grenades. We did not like the meat samosas, which had a strong lamb flavor, but were bland otherwise.

The kitchen clearly enjoys the process of creation, even going so far as to add a little black salt to the lemonade we ordered. It was a nice flourish, i thought, but it should have been announced to prepare us for the added twist. It was sent back in favor of the more boring ‘regular’ lemonade (but they did add a tinsel umbrella…) Probably more successful is their new Lunch menu, offering both vegetarian and carnivorous options for a flat price of EGP50. Included are four courses, and it can be ordered, and indeed is designed for, takeaway.

The service is still as fresh faced as ever, and the head waiter is more comfortable and familiar with all the items on the menu. We didn’t get a chance to meet the Chef this time, but if you take my word for it, she won’t be leaving cairo anytime soon.

Cooking time: 5 minutes


Richoux, City Stars and Mohandessin

One of my favorite eateries here in Cairo; the standards have been consistently excellent for the past 2 years. Check out the review over at Cairo

Peace out.

Foodie’s Guides

For the past month or so, I’ve been writing feature articles for Cairo 360 and even a few reviews. For convenience, the links are listed after the jump.

One of the toughest things about writing these guides is the word limit. Like any well-run publication, adherence to word limits borders on fanaticism; a necessary evil I’m afraid. Otherwise, pages will be truncated and look horrible. The word limit necessitates that I miss a few outlets and even a few districts of Cairo to stay within the limits. The good news is that there will be at least one more follow up for each guide coming in the next couple of months (Carpal tunnel and Editorial Favors willing).

I remember when getting peanut butter was akin to searching for the Golden Fleece, but now the heretofore unfulfilled demand for better quality and wider variety of foodstuffs is being met by large chains and smaller, specialty shops around the capital. The flipside is that by definition, prestige ingredients are not cheap. Unless you possess Croesus’ wealth, having porcini mushroom omelets for breakfast should not be how you live your life. Lest I be accused of living in a bubble and encouraging greed, I want to go on record and fully explain that not all things we eat need to cost an arm and a leg; so plan your shopping lists accordingly.

Now that’s out of the way, click on “Read more” to get to the links.

5 minutes, Deep fried.

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4 Non Blondes…

If you live in cairo and have an internet connection, then you’re already aware of the latest addition to the Cairo Guide scene. I’ve written a few articles for them over the past few weeks: some are about food, others are not. Below, I’m going to link to the food writing. Enjoy.

Mom, Dad … I’m a foodie.

Foodie Shopping in the Capital

Right now, I’m making Coca Cola fried chicken, mashed potato and buttermilk biscuits. I’m thinking of experimenting with making a chicken breast au crepinette. Thoughts?

Cooking time: 5 minutes