City Paper food critic Jeff Allen loves nothing more than to discuss food and cuisine over a couple glasses of wine. He's the quintessential foodie, full of opinions and attitude. When he started writing for the paper, to give him an idea of what we wanted, I e-mailed him some links to my favorite food writer in the country — Jonathan Gold at L.A. Weekly. Upon reading Gold — who has an incredible ability to write about food as culture, symbol, and sustenance all at once — Jeff was inspired and enthusiastically vowed to outwrite him. In the year since Jeff started contributing, Gold has won a Pulitzer Prize (the first food critic to ever do so), and Jeff has worked his tail off to make good on his promise. He may not be on track for the Pulitzer (yet), but he has dissected, examined, analyzed, and argued about our local restaurants and singular food scene with quenchless passion.
In this issue of Dish, Jeff's opening column throws down a challenge to local restaurateurs — innovate or die. He sees the lure of easy tourist dollars threatening to make Disneyfied restaurants out of some of our most lauded establishments, and he wants chefs to stay true to the food, to push the boundaries, to embrace change and refuse to stagnate. Whether he's overstating the threat remains to be seen, but what's clear is Jeff's love of eating out. The Dining Guide is a list of restaurants that reflects his favorite places to eat in town, from lowly dives to high-end divas. Jeff is no snob — well, actually, he is a snob, if that means someone who demands authenticity. If he's going to recommend a place like Hannibal's in the East Side, you can be sure you're going to be getting some authentic poor-man's grub, not a prettified version that's packaged nicely and sold off to the tourists.
Elsewhere in this issue, we take a look at the latest trend in dining — sustainability. The Sustainable Seafood Initiative has put eco-conscious dining on the map, encouraging chefs and patrons to serve only sustainable species. Stratton Lawrence samples some of the best examples at SSI-member restaurants. One chef who's dedicated himself to sustainability is Ken Vedrinski at Sienna. He made his name at the Dining Room at Woodlands and has since become even more popular due to his dedication to growing his own herbs, making his own pasta, and keeping ingredients as fresh as possible. In a back-page essay, Chef Ken reflects on the important role chefs play in enlightening their guests to new ingredients and dishes. Many diners might not order poached skate wing without a nudge in that direction by an educated server and a passionate chef.
Other highlights of this issue include a trip to Heston Blumenthal's kitchen at Fat Duck with Tristan Chef Ciarán Duffy, Sarah O'Kelley's piece on Charleston's most delectable sweet shop, a profile of three chefs who get their inspiration from the Old World, and a recipe from Craig Deihl's new cookbook, Cypress.