Did anyone see the interview of Charlie Trotter in the Chicago Trib this week? I’ve pulled a summary of the article from an editorial in the Trib today so you can follow in my forthcoming rant.
“To review: Trotter said he stopped serving foie gras at his North Side restaurant because he wasn't happy with how ducks were fattened up in the final stages before slaughter, force-fed with grain. Tramonto of the restaurant Tru implied that Trotter's stance was hypocritical and noted, "Either you eat animals or you don't eat animals."
Trotter retorted that Tramonto was "not the smartest guy on the block," and joked, "Maybe we ought to have Rick's liver for a little treat. It's certainly fat enough."
Tramonto countered, "Charlie's in my prayers."
This is a serious example of PR training gone array, for certain! Being a little in the know on this PR thing, I’m envisioning CT’s publicist as she/he sits in their therapist office recounting the article a thousand times and popping Zanex. Just for the record calling someone an out right idiot not once but several times throughout a FRONT page article, is NOT an advisable PR strategy….even if it may have a glimmer or more of truth to it. However, I suspect after 17 years of PR training for his restaurant, Charlie had a clue what he was doing.
Now on to my interoperation of the article:
First of all, I have seen Rick Tramonto during what one might call a less the stellar meal at Tru, in fact, an old boss of mine would have referred to it as “underwhelming” so I do not think it was a slanderous statement Charlie Trotter made when he suggested that Rick Tramanto’s liver might be a fat little treat, he is NOT a small man. Rather than being insulted by this comment I think Chef Tramonto should be flattered, after all Chef Trotter is an award winning chef known for only using the highest quality of ingredients, if he suggested serving Rick’s liver, then you know he believes it to be of stellar worth. As for Rick praying for Charlie, hey we all can use an extra prayer. Right?
Note for future diners – the Chef’s table at True is NOT like the Chef’s table at Trotter’s or many other establishments in that A) there was really no Chef to see, merely a dutiful visit from Chef Tramonto that lasted about 2.4 seconds, and B) it’s not exactly in the kitchen but more in a hermetically sealed room next to the kitchen where you have nary the chance to really experience what is happening on the line, which let’s face it is more than half the fun. Although, Tru does have an uncommon collection of modern art work, so if you don’t have time to do dinner at Tru and a tour of the Chicago Museum of Modern Art, you can take the Tru “art walk” and kill two birds with one stone. Anyhow, suffice to say if you are going to leave your mortgage payment on the table somewhere in Chicago, save it and wait for Alinea to open or head over Trotter’s where consistent success has been met for over 17 years. Again, this is only my opinion and I’m sure someone else has had a marvelous experience at Tru but since this is my blog I get to say what I want.
Now back to this interview gone bad. Any speculation as to WHAT Rick T did to deserve the wrath of Charlie Trotter? A man long known for making externs cry and causing cooks to hang up their knives forever in lieu of sharp pencils and accounting degrees. Of course not that this is a bad thing, he’s known for vetting talent and if you are good enough to spend time in his kitchen and tough enough to survive, then you are likely to make a career in this field. I for one loved the article. I think it shakes things up and reminds us that these guys are human, instead of the super-heros we make them out to be. One of the things that concerned me in this article is not the theme but the content. Specifically, Charlie’s quotes alarm me. Charlie is one of the brightest men in food, hell probably overall, he’s a scholar and known to be quite articulate. Therefore how did his direct quotes become so common in their verbiage? Was it A) taken out of context B) he had fallen from a very high ladder and hit his head or C) he assumed that Rick wouldn’t understand the insults if he used larger words?
As for the foie gras debate itself, well I say bring on the grub….but then I’m a total hedonist who knows her place in the food chain and is damn glad of it. Having never been to a foie gras farm, I can not speak with any first hand knowledge of how the ducks are treated or whether or not they display any discomfort. My husband, however, did spend time during culinary school on a foie gras farm and has told me that in fact opposite of what the article describes in the feed process is true. Thus supporting the guys at Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and no we are not receiving a free lobe next week for saying that, although guys we would not turn one down if it arrived. The ducks love feeding time and chase down the Feeder when he arrives. Again this could be an argument for nurture over nature. If they were in pain don’t you think they would run or waddle very slowly away from the Feeder and hide?
Moreover, I find this Senator Wojickik totally offensive in that she has delivered a bill to the Illinois house that would potentially ban foie gras raising in Illinois without having actually EVER been to a foie gras farm! As confirmed in this excerpt from the Trib article “She added that she hasn't actually visited any farms to observe the ducks' treatment, but she has seen pictures” Please! Have a bit of a basis of knowledge for your argument before you spend my tax dollars getting into a huff about something. Okay, they are not my Illinois tax dollars yet but soon they will be and I’m not likely to be voting for her, should she run for another term.
Furthermore, look at this comment "I do fine dining and I do pates, but we do the pate where the duck is killed naturally or the goose or whatever," she said. "It's not being brutalized. I just have compassion for animals." I have to admit she may have a point, I really am a huge fan of the “whatever” pate, it’s quite tasty and far less fattening…maybe Rick wants to enjoy some with me?
While I appreciate that the foie gras debate is quite serious to some and find it amussing when two high end Chef’s are battling it out over the topic, even educational as it spurns debate and conversation. I find it insane that a paid official is focusing her time and our tax money towards battling something so moronic when there are far greater issues at hand. I suggest that rather than Senator Wojickik successfully capturing a positive PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) press message she focus the full power of her office to address something less superficial which might allow her a platform she could proudly stand on; Hunger in the US. Rather than taking the easy grandstanding road of something like foie gras, get dirty and dig deep and seek out a plan for keeping the bottom 10% of this country from going hungry, not determining what the top 2% will or will not be eating at a shi shi restaurant. I assure you the hungry don’t care if foie is raised in Illinois but do care if you can get them a balanced meal for tonight. Just to provide a barometer to gauge the seriousness of this issue, in the US, the number of food insecure households with children has risen to 6.18 million. Somehow working towards a solution for that seems like a much better sound bite than Weight Watchers for Ducks, but then I’m not the Senator’s publicist, nor her conscience.
By the way Charlie, you are in my prayers too… I’m praying that you will add the foie back to your menu, specifically the dish with acorn squash and pecans.