Sous: “Well, I won’t be here next week”
Co-worker: “Oh yeah? Where you goin?”
Only in a very few work environments would that question be 100% appropriate and normal. Ours is one of these. With no hesitation, our sous said he wasn’t sure but listed a few places here and there that he knew he would have friends and hook ups. Beyond that though, lies a Wish List. Every food lover has one of these, and I have the privilidge of working in a restaurant that is on several peoples’. The best part of that, by the way, is watching people take the first bite. Their eyes light up, they smile, they nod in approval at the dish or at their dining companion and then the plates (or bowls) switch so the other(s) can enjoy it too. It’s the most lovely silent reward that most front-of-house and certainly almost all kitchen staff never get to see. I have the best vantage point in the room, I think to myself. In fact, I shared that particular reaction with our Wizard-of-Soup cook last week and he said it carried him for the rest of the day.
My list, modest as it may be because I just don’t travel as much as I would like, is more about location and total experience than simply what’s on my plate (as most food moments should be, arguably). Per Se in New York, French Laundry in Napa, Alinea if only to verify that it’s a fun and not stiff experience, el Bulli (the dream, soon RIP), Craft, Aquavit and just about any quiet little French place someone recommends. And that’s just stateside.
Ultimately, my version of food heaven is a sunny/shady sidewalk cafe in Venice with crusty bread, local red wine, the whir of two stroke motors and languages I don’t understand. That’s not about the food, is it? Cocktails before dinner in DC at Palena. San Sebastian and its wandering tapas – but again, it’s the wandering part I’m intrigued by.
So you go to some random city. You ask the locals what’s good. You do a little research. You get the local flavors, ingredients, influences, scenes, chefs, natives and you form your opinions. You dream about it. The experience creeps in on a random Monday night four months later and you smile. Not what, but where.