It would have looked a bit strange if a fellow my age had jumped in Santa’s lap and told him what I wanted for Christmas. So I waited and made a New Year’s Wish List instead, thinking the old guy may be lurking in the Triad and still in a giving mood, or perhaps that friends in the culinary community will accommodate at least one or two of my 2019 desires.
To start, I am wishing for a new go-to veggie. Most folks have to strain to remember when every plate suddenly boosted asparagus, even out of season. Or haricot verts. Then it was kale – forever kale, it seemed. Then we got stuck in the collard patch. Now it looks like, uh, cauliflower. My first wish: Chefs, play with it for a while but don’t get stuck in the cauliflower patch, also. Say what you will; it doesn’t taste like anything much except what you inflict upon it, and it is hard to spell. By the way, it does come in colors!
Two: Drop the word “pulled” from the culinary lexicon. It is not a pretty word, and I am not sure how it weaseled its way onto menus. But to me it means the kitchen needed an entrée that was quick and easy. I place “pulled” offerings in the “mystery meat” category, despite assurances that it is pork, chicken or even lamb.
Three: I am wishing for “less is more.” At least with menus. I wish they were all short and tempting, and told me just enough to make me want to order every offering. And, please, share with me no more than three ingredients. If I want the recipe (I assure you, I don’t), I will look online.
Four: Take seriously the “hospitality” word in the phrase “restaurant and hospitality” industry. I applaud my many friends who already do. Give thought to who is greeting patrons. Make sure they are a welcoming presence. Memorable would be super! In 2019, if I walk into a restaurant and get the mindless question, “Are you here for dinner,” I shall answer, “No, I am here to catch the No. 9 bus!” Note that the iconic Brennan family of the 135-year-old Commander’s Palace in New Orleans — which, besides decades of accolades was named Restaurant of the Year in 2018 by the Times Picayune! — keeps a Brennan on the floor just to schmooze and make everyone feel at home.
Five: Don’t sprinkle Italian, French, Spanish — whatever — throughout menus for effect, requiring meek diners to wonder what is coming from the kitchen or bold diners to ask, “What the hell is this chicken dish?” I am a “What the hell is….” diner, by the way, and will sure as hell ask if there is something I don’t know!
I have no shame.
Six: I wish cooks would not try to marry ingredients that don’t belong together. Artfully crafted language will not disguise the fact that someone opened the refrigerator door or spice cabinet, gazed intently for a few moments and then concocted an entrée with whatever caught the eye. Generally, I like surprises, but I don’t want to poke about in my entrée and find the kitchen sink. I enjoy listening to Vivian Howard of “Chef and the Farmer” explain the logic of the ingredients she uses. She always makes sense.
Seven: And lastly, I wish for servers who are close and inconspicuous, but at my table when needed, unobtrusive and divinely helpful. This requires attentiveness. Real pros know just when to check by without interrupting. I know a lot of them. Applause. I am a storyteller, and stopping to tell a server the table is just fine for the umpteenth time never advances my enthralling narratives.
Okay, let’s stop at seven. That’s a lucky number. And if I am lucky, perhaps I will get two, or even three, of my 2019 wishes. Now that’s a happy thought!