John Curtas is …


Enough Already – Chef Worship

Food & Wine: Noma Tulum

“He’s making his own rules,” is how a full-of-himself Yelper described Grant Achatz to me the other day. ” “[Alain Passard] is a culinary god, you know, most chefs are in awe of him,” is how another referred to the well-known French chef. ” L’Arpège is a temple; Noma is a “religious experience” that “changed everything,” according to Joshua David Stein (whoever he is). Osteria Francescana will “change your life with one bite.” Food is profound, and “beyond delicious.” Chefs are visionaries and the rest of us merely unworthy pilgrims begging to bask in the aura of their brilliance.

No, no, no, no, no, fuck no, and please just shut the fuck up.

We are talking about cooks here, ladies and gentlemen. People who take raw materials and apply heat (or not) to them to make them more palatable to eat. No one is curing cancer, creating masterpieces, or doing something heroic. Those being lionized have figured out a way to seduce an always-looking-for-the-next-big-thing food press so that they (the food press) can induce the more-money-than-brains crowd to slavishly worship at the alter of some friggin’ kitchen — a kitchen that excels in eliciting oohs and ahhs from gullible customers and separating rich show-offs from their cash.

It all started when Paul Bocuse became a celebrity in his own right. (This was back in the early 1970s.) “He got the chef out of the kitchen,” is how Pierre Troisgros put it to me when I interviewed him 18 years ago. (When he uttered the words, Troigros did so with a tone of both admiration and regret. He seemed in awe of Bocuse, but also wistful for a profession he knew was changing, and that he no longer understood.)

Chefs started to be a big deal in America in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Tom “Call Me Thomas” Keller hit big with the French Laundry in ’96-’97 that the cult of chef fetishization really took off over here. Concurrent with all the hyperventilating press Keller was getting, the rise of the Food Network in the late 90s gave restaurant cooking a cache previously reserved for musicians and bad boy actors.

By 2006, every working class kid in America suddenly had path to being idolized as a “bad ass,” or, even worse, a “misunderstood, passionate genius.” All the while, the media and the audience and the chefs themselves were losing sight of the big picture: restaurant cooking is a brutally hard, physically-taxing profession, that, at its core, is about as glamorous as window-washing.

The rise of the interwebs and social media over the past 10 years has turned what was once annoying into the sublimely ridiculous. Every chef now has to have a following, and every chef worshiper is hanging on whatever lavish food porn (e.g. the panting, hagiographic, hyper-absurd Chef’s Table) or Instagrammable dish or MAJOR AWARD has been handed out that week. (Cooking has thus become more about publicity and bragging rights than taste, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that you can’t taste publicity – or bragging rights.)

Who gives a flying fuck if Rene Redzepi is traveling the world with a pop-up restaurant reserved for the .00001% of the people able to actually eat there? Star-fucking doesn’t make anything taste any better, And as soon as a chef becomes a star, he pretty much quits cooking altogether….so what, exactly are we worshiping? I’m pleased for any chef who can parlay their skills into a brand or fame or some degree of celebrity, but when it comes to what I put in my mouth, the people I worship are the ones in the kitchen, sorting the vegetables, grilling the fish, and stirring the sauce. Mexicans, mostly.


I Hate Breakfast

I hate Breakfast.

Breakfast is a waste of time and calories.

I hate even the idea of breakfast.

Breakfast is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch.

Everything about breakfast sucks.

For one: it comes too early in the day. I mean, who wants to eat a lot of food when they’re barely awake? How well do your olfactories function, or your mandibles munch, when you’re barely ambulatory?

Secondly (and this is, by far, the most important thing): Who wants to eat when you’re not even hungry? I’ve never bought, for once second, that whole “break the fast” stuff that my mom tried to shovel down my throat. No one, and I mean NO ONE, is all that hungry when first they awaken. If you’re a fully-functioning, non-hung-over adult who is rising and shining at the break of dawn, there are only three things you want to do: 1) go back to sleep; 2) relieve yourself and then enjoy a warm or slightly cool beverage; or 3) sit on the iron throne and relieve yourself further of whatever you enjoyed the night before.

The only other thing people want to do in the mornings is watch or read the news — which (next to #3 above) is just about the most unappetizing thing on earth.

No matter how you slice it, consuming food in close proximity to any of these things is the last thing on your mind.

But year after year, from the time you’re a wee one until you’re so old you’re having trouble taking a wee wee, some authoritative voice is constantly shoving the idea of breakfast down your throat even though you don’t want it.

The only thing I hate worse than breakfast is brunch.

Brunch is inexcusable on many levels.

For one, brunch is never about the food. Brunch food is, by definition, even worse than breakfast food –nothing but carbs, fat and sugar, and ten times more of it than you might consume on your own during the week. Brunch is someone’s stupid idea of a weekend, daylight happy hour for people too bad at drinking to do it after dark like a real booze-abuser.

Brunch is populated by three things I loathe: drunk women in groups, bad omelets, and cheap champagne.

Women in groups are the worst — any time you see a group of “fun-loving gals” whooping it up with mimosas in their hands, you know you’re at brunch somewhere, eating one of the 400 different ways a chef can throw eggs and bread together and overcharge for it. It is a scientific fact: the more women you see living it up in a restaurant, the worse the food.

The only thing worse than brunch is brunch with music.

Brunch should be illegal.

Next week: If you insist, I’ll have a couple of brunch recommendations for you.


Enough Already – 2017 Edition


Chef Interviews – We get it; you have a back story. The problem is, it’s always the same story. If you’re from Europe, you were a bad student and a delinquent who got thrown into vocational (chef) school at age 14. If you’re from this side of the pond, you were a troublesome kid who was “redeemed” by the kitchen. If you’re from Asia,  you were working too hard to think that anything you have to say is profound. Which is another reason why we love Asian chefs.

Caviar Promiscuity – Here’s the thing: caviar used to be a luxury item. For centuries it was a wild product, difficult to obtain and expensive to buy. There were good reasons for this. The best quality came from giant sturgeon, many decades old, that were mainly found in the Caspian and Black Seas. Beluga eggs were prized by connoisseurs for their delicate salinity and an almost otherworldly nuttiness. Eating these eggs was a sensory experience few will ever forget. You, my friend, will never have this experience. You will not have it because America (with good reason) has put severe limitations on the importing of wild sturgeon caviar, making the real stuff harder to find than a six-pack at an AA meeting. What you get today is cheap-ass, farmed stuff. Tons of it. Which is why every chef in the world puts it on everything — not because it necessarily compliments the dish being adorned, but because it gives the illusion of luxury. Don’t believe the bullshit that restaurants (or caviar purveyors)  throw at you about their Chinese or Spanish or Brazilian caviar. Most of it has as much in common with real, Caspian Sea beluga as a wild turbot does with a Mrs. Paul’s Fish Stick.

Steak Tartare – Or anything tartare for that matter. Face it: chopping up proteins and mixing them with herbs ain’t exactly pastry science. I love it, but like Adam Platt, I’m tired of seeing raw meat on every menu.

Asking If Everything Is Alright (or if everything “tastes delicious”) – Quit asking a perfunctory question you don’t really want to know the answer to. And really quit asking 20 seconds after the food hits the table. If anything’s wrong, we’ll let you know. And if anything’s really good, we’ll let you know that, too.

Food Allergies – SCREW food allergies! And SCREW the lame-ass, medically-suspect, narcissistic types who (probably don’t) have them. If YOU’RE allergic to something, it’s up to YOU to let THEM know. Or better yet: save everyone the trouble and stay home.

Sommeliers Everywhere – Everyone does not need expert advice for every liquid (water, tea, hot sauce) they put in their mouth.

Odd Cuts of Beef – Spinalis? Teres major? Denver steaks??!!! Geez Louise, it used to be enough to know what a hangar steak was. These days, steak chefs try to dazzle (and confuse) you while they try to squeeze all sorts of profits out of lesser (read: tougher) cuts of steer. Give me a porterhouse, strip or rib eye and be done with it. If I want a cheap cut of meat, I’ll take it home and cook the shit out of it myself.

Beer Chic – I don’t know what’s worse: the guy who can’t stop talking about his love of Flemish sour ales, or the dude who drinks PBR “ironically.”

Pictures of Food – Unless you’re a pro, or a semi-pro, (and have an iPhone 7 and take high-quality tasty snaps), just stop it. The world is not waiting with bated breath to see what you had for dinner.

Food on Anything That Wasn’t Meant to Hold FoodWE WANT PLATES! (see picture above)

Spirits Gone Wild! – Back in the day, there were four or five vodkas, a half-dozen gins, and a handful of bourbons at any bar.  Which was more than enough to get us all drunk and contribute to whatever wacky cocktail some mixologist was dreaming up. The question has to be asked: Does the world really need a thousand brands of tequila?

Fried Eggs On Everything – Especially on sandwiches. Especially on sandwiches that aren’t egg sandwiches.

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