Almost a decade ago, I wrote this: "Every time this country ends up with a Bush in the White House, several things most assuredly occur: The government inflicts some regrettable incident on Japan, the nation tumbles into a recession, a presidential pet writes a book, and everyone worries about the vice president's ability to run things. We're still awaiting the inevitable war..."
Not bad. Beats my only other quotable line, which was "the mere thought of marinating a brain overnight in the fridge just bugs most people."
In thinking through a decade of excess, recess, war and lunacy, we decided it was best to forget about analysis and allow chefs, managers and others associated with the restaurant industry put it in their words. Or, more precisely, we decided to pull some of our favorite comments from the past ten years.
Our criteria? Well, they had to be quotes we recorded during interviews. That's about it.
And so you're about to learn about Nick Badovinus' disturbing bacon fetish, what Kent Rathbun really thinks about creme brulee and Marc Cassel's thoughts on his 'member.'
Well, sort of
So here are the 25 most memorable comments of the 00s:
25 Tre Wilcox
"In my opinion I really don't have an opinion."
The question had to do with the various qualities of free range, grass fed beef weighed against the more common grain finished. When he said this, the future TV star and Loft 610 headliner was working with Kent Rathbun at Abacus.
24 Kent Rathbun
"It's not too creative and motivating to work with steak. For a pastry chef, creme brulee is like that. It's just vanilla custard with sugar on top."
I forget what we were talking about--menu items you see everywhere or something like that. The venerable chef is always good for a memorable comment.
23. James Neel
"It's edible, but I don't think I'd run out to the store and buy any."
The chef of Tramontana was discussing head cheese prepared by Brian Luscher for a macabre taste test: haggis, scrapple and the aforementioned.
22. A waitress at Chili's
"People ask me, 'don't you get hungry seeing all of that food all the time?' Yeah, when I bring the food out it looks good, but not when I clear a table of half-eaten scraps."
Speaks for itself, really.
21. Garreth Dickey
"Even at home I wouldn't mold my couscous into a circle and put my lamb on top."
At the time, Dickey was chef at Tucker--an underappreciated spot. We were discussing how the desire to present dishes in the most appealing light led to tall foods and other horrendous trends.
20. Joel Harloff
"It's hard to get people in Dallas to eat wild game. It seems they'd rather just shoot it."
Then chef for Landmark and the Melrose Hotel, Harloff was lamenting the fact he couldn't sell rabbit and other such meats--even though he tried several times.
19. Garreth Dickey
"You can do tuna a zillion different ways. But everywhere I see it, it's seared and served with some soy-wasabi mixture."
This time, Dickey was running the kitchen at a place called Jeroboam. Really, I can't remember what question prompted the response. It was seven or eight years ago, after all. Still not sure about his math, though.
18. John Fowler
"Most people don't look that closely, but it adds to the je ne sais quoi."
This came up during a discussion with Fowler, at the time manager of Flying Saucer in Addison, about decor. If you've never been, the pub has a wall festooned with old plates. This apparently makes people think classy.
17. Maria Sotolongo
"I'm not particularly fond of cow parts, but I like rabbit."
The former Fox 4 weather babe was speaking about organ meats when we recorded this. Her brother, she said, owned a tapas spot in Houston and she loved the open-minded, Spanish approach to food. Just not certain parts of it.
16. Waitress Lauren Zindel
"Chewing with their mouth open and talking while they chew--it's disgusting. Of course, if they tip well I can put up with their chewing."
The topic was diner faults, which brought out some interesting commentary from wait staff. One even remembered a guest who kept spitting into the ashtray. Hmm...ashtray--that shows the age of this quote.
"Besides figuring out how many different ways I could fit the F-word into sentences, not well."
When asked how he managed to cope when the flat-top stove at Cuba Libre decided to shut down during lunch rush one afternoon many years ago. Keep in mind, the place has an open kitchen. Must have been quite a show.
14 Lisa Kelley
"You get burns, you slice fingers, your hair is a mess and the chef's jacket makes you look three times the size you are."
Back in 2003, this was how the executive chef at Hattie's sized up life in a professional kitchen.
13 Louie Canelakes
"I think anything with a theme is bogus. Our theme is food and drinks. The customers have to fill in their own blanks."
The owner of Louie's was speaking to the question of real dives versus fake dives. But he says so much more.
12 Gilbert Garza
"It doesn't say whether it was a healthy goat."
The Suze chef said this while examining the label on a container of supermarket goat cheese I'd placed in front of him--and after he'd taken a taste.
11 Neil Taylor
"If they want garlic in their mashed potatoes, I'll put garlic in them. If they want the skin off, well, they can go to Popeye's."
This comment comes from March of 2001, when Taylor served as manager of Good Eats in Addison, famous (I guess) for skin in their mashed potatoes.
10 Russell Hodges
"These are the last days. In the last days, you will see a chipotle barbecued Peruvian potato. That's in the Bible."
Prophet--and also chef--Hodges ran the kitchen at Iris when he declared our doom, well ahead of those 2012 folks. Not to take him literally, but his point was more about pushing fusion beyond the limits.
9 Gilbert Garza
"It may be worth it, but it depends on what you're going to do with the butter."
Let's see...there's cooking with it, spreading it on biscuits. What else? The chef, by the way, was talking about expensive brands.
8 Marc Cassel
"I've worked in many kitchens where it's been just sports and dick jokes. It's hard to defend our gender sometimes."
This was from the days when people crowded into Cassel's Green Room, addressing the reason why there are more male chefs.
7 Sharon Hage
"Isn't it better to eat really good bologna than really bad steak?"
Don't remember what York Street's chef was speaking about, but right on.
6 Bob Sambol
"You want to see some pink."
Yes, he was speaking about steak. Just fun to take it out of context.
5 Aaron Staudenmaier
"I like places where my expectations are zero."
This from a chef who, at the time, ran operations at Jasper's for Kent Rathbun.
4 Joel Harloff
"It's like a big bucket of snakes. They're slippery and slimy and round. You have to have a good knife and a lot of patience."
He said this when working as chef for Mi Piaci, so it's going back some. What was he talking about? Killing and skinning eels, of course.
3 Mari Woodlief
"It's a big, solid piece of metal that comes between you and your food."
The political adviser took a moment to share her opinion of spoons back in October of 2000, when the decade was young.
2 Nick Badovinus
"Based on experience, bacon fat will render at 98.6 with a little friction."
Really, you don't want to pry further.
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1 Marc Cassel
"You can fry a turd and it tastes good."
Again, you don't want to know more. But over a decade of showy opulence, hard door clubs, big steakhouses, economic collapse, comfort food and small neighborhood joints, this is the number one comment.
And we'll end with something I wrote--don't know why--back in February of 2003:
They say history proves again and again how nature points out the folly of men.
In this case, "they" are Blue Oyster Cult, a band from the days of open shirts and infinite hair. We're not certain whether they are the "they" mentioned in all the other "they say" references, such as "they say it causes blindness," but they are definitely the "they" who warned us of the potential for great frustration when men step outside their league.
This week's Burning Question, you see, exposes man's fascination with the unattainable. As children, we learn that achievement comes through effort. Everyone, wrote English author Samuel Butler, "can in the end get what he wants if he only tries." But like Tom Hanks waving bye-bye to the moon or Columbus tumbling off the edge of the earth, we eventually discover--Butler's words, again--that every individual is more or less an exception to that rule. In other words, The Little Engine That Could is just a damned lie that perpetuates class...must calm down...In other words, all the striving in the world, the quest for success or glory, generally nets you only a cubicle in a room of cubicles in a building of rooms.
Be that as it may, we beat on.