A chef's coat has two fronts. The chef wears the double doubled-breasted uniform buttoned up one way under his apron when he's working in the kitchen, as he does the kinds of spattering, whisking, splattering tasks required to cook. When it's time for the chef's other job–schmoozing in the dining room with patrons–he removes the apron and re-buttons his chef's coat the other way, so he can present a pristine white front to his guests.
So, two images, one chef. The cliché profile is of a moody tyrant in the kitchen and an unctuous promoter in the dining room.
These days, thanks to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and all the other social media in this age of over-communication, we probably know more about the chef–well, we know more about everyone–than we need to.
The question is, should a chef's politics and personal opinions that we see on social media affect our opinion of his food?
This comes to mind because I recently ate at 350 Main, whose chef, Carl Feissinger, has caused ripples in the food-writing community with his unpopular—in some quarters--Facebook posts.
Feissinger stepped into the rather large shoes left by Michael Leclerc, who left the restaurant after a tenure of 12 years, during which time the restaurant won several dining awards from this magazine.
Feissinger has reworked the menu pretty completely; his dishes are a little heartier and homier than Leclerc's, but they suit the haute-Western look of the restaurant. The Caesar variation was an intact heart of baby romaine arranged over sliced yellow tomatoes, garnished with blue corn croutons and dressed with a creamy blend of Heber Valley raw milk cheddar studded with bacon. The lettuce was sweet, the dressing was a contrasting balance of tang and spice–a lovely salad, especially as a stand-alone first course.
The oh-no-not-again beet and chevre salad, recommended by our server, turned out to be an I-told-you-so surprise: possibly the best version of this salad I've had, mostly because instead of crumbling the goat cheese, the chef aerated it so it was a light whipped cream consistency. A pomegranate gastrique underscored the link between the tang of the cheese and the earth of the beets.
Speaking of the server, she was quick, attentive, knew the menu well, and even remembered to bring my water without ice, a request that's almost always forgotten.
The mains were also updates of favorites: buffalo meatloaf; salmon with black-eyed pea succotash; a venison roulade and a wagyu steak. A far cry from Leclerc's menu de sante. We tried the pork chop, Berkshire, cooked in a sarsaparilla sous-vide, sided with creamed corn and a beet slaw. (More beets, but so different from the salad that it seemed almost like two different vegetables.) The pork ended up slightly to sweet for me, but the meat was juicy, pink and porky.
Several other dishes had Southern roots (meaning sarsaparilla, not beets): buttermilk fried game hen and lobster and grits, a take on the Low Country classic. A perfect mountain of grits supported two little tails and a lot of random lobster meat; why are Utah portions so large? I took half of it home, but the grits were fabulous–nubbly and tasting like fresh corn.
The desserts we tried didn't please me, but I'm pretty picky about pecan pie, and the peanut butter pound cake with roasted banana mousse and coffee nib gastrique just missed–the cake reminded me of those awful foam rubber-like peanut-shaped candies that people used to hand out for Halloween.
So Feissinger has made a good start at 350. I'm eager to explore the rest of the menu and to see how it changes seasonally. Even though I may not like his Facebook personality. After all, I don't have to go there, do I?
Can we keeo keep a distance between the plate, politics and personality?