Last week, Food & Wine magazine announced their 2012 awards for America’s Best New Chefs. While it’s possible to debate the merits of the particular publication and the value of awards in general, this list is eagerly awaited in the culinary world. Past recipients have included Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, David Bouley, Nobu Matsuhisa and David Chang, so they’ve picked some winners along the way.
This year, the awards go to: Erik Anderson & Josh Habiger (The Catbird Seat, Nashville); Danny Grant (RIA, Chicago): Dan Kluger (ABC Kitchen, New York); Corey Lee (Benu, San Francisco); Jenn Louis (Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern, Portland, OR); Cormac Mahoney (Madison Park Conservancy, Seattle); Bryant Ng (The Spice Table, Los Angeles); Karen Nicolas (Equinox, Washington, D.C.); Rich Torrisi & Mario Carbone (Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York); Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn, Lummi Island, WA).
I began thinking about what I might say to the young chefs if I were chosen to address them at the award ceremony, or at any other time. What advice could I give them to hold close to their hearts, as the trajectory of their careers began to climb?
Remember that you’re a cook, and that no one cares about your political opinions (heads up, Mario Batali).
Remember not to steal tips from your employees, and do pay them minimum wage and overtime (Mario, heads up again).
Don’t open 27 restaurants. Whatever talent you have is unique—people want to eat your food, not the version of it turned out by some guy you’ve trained to reproduce your recipes.
Remember that every time you go off to do a photo shoot or a TV appearance, or cook at a charity event, you leave your restaurant in the hands of someone who doesn’t care about it.
Remember that your customers pay the rent and make your celebrity possible, so it doesn’t hurt to accommodate their requests.
To summarize: It’s not about you. More stove, less mouth.