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My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants Hardcover – March 18, 2014
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A Q&A between Colman Andrews and Gabrielle Hamilton, chef–restaurateur (Prune); author of Blood, Bones & Butter
Gabrielle Hamilton: What was the magic of a restaurant like Chasen’s, the famous Hollywood hangout of an earlier era, that generally eludes us today in the restaurant scene — both in the customer and in the establishment?
Colman Andrews: I think Maude and Dave Chasen, like most of the best restaurateurs of their era, were natural hosts, warm and in some ways humble, and they really did welcome their customers and try to make them feel at home. Diners, for their part, understood the rules. They dressed appropriately, rarely made scenes, and knew how to have a good time. There was congeniality in the air.
GH: Are you as happy to eat alone as with companions in restaurants?
CA: Dining with friends, or with people who are more than friends, is of course one of life's delights, but I don't mind sitting at the table by myself, either. A lot of what I've learned about restaurants, about how they work, about their rhythms, their foibles, their behind-the-scenes magic, I've learned as a lone diner, watching the goings-on between bites. It's also a good way to catch up on my reading.
GH: Do you think it’s possible to have a chef-driven restaurant that still makes the customer feel like they can make it their home away from home?
CA: Possible, I guess, but it doesn't happen a lot. The moment I hear "The chef wanted you to…" I know that it's his or her place, not mine. That doesn't mean I won't have a good meal there, even a great one, but I probably won't want to settle in and relax and come back again tomorrow night.
GH: You write that you have won — among many many cookbook awards and magazine-industry honors—a Grammy nomination! What further honor, in what category, would you still like your work to receive?
CA: I entered two poems, old ones but ones I'm quite fond of, in this year's Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize competition, and was disappointed, though hardly surprised, not to have won at least third place.
GH: What is the “low-fat cassoulet” catchphrase you relied on when you and Dorothy Kalins and Christopher Hirsheimer were originally getting together to create Saveur?
CA: Around the time we first started to talk about what Saveur should be, Pierre Frenay, who was a very good, classically trained French chef and a collaborator with Craig Claiborne for the New York Times, published a recipe for just that. I'm sure it was a good recipe, but to me it seemed to symbolize all that we wanted to oppose. If you give recipes for low-fat cassoulet, I said, and quick-and-easy cassoulet, and Cajun cassoulet, and Tex-Mex cassoulet, and lord knows what else, what will happen eventually to real cassoulet, this wonderful, ancient dish, expressing so much culture and tradition? Let's give our readers the closest thing we can to the genuine article, we said, and let them leave out the duck fat if they want to.
GH: What things about wine that you learned from the late Roy Brady do you continue to pass along in your own wine writing?
CA: Above all that there is virtually no dependable relationship between the price or reputation of a wine and the pleasure it will bring the drinker. Also that, contrary to generations' worth of common wisdom, most wines are better young than old.
GH: What are some of the most reliable ways to become a cherished customer in a restaurant, a customer with “a usual table”?
CA: Come back often. Tip well, assuming that the server isn't an idiot (in which case you probably don't want a usual table at the place anyway). Order intelligently. Be polite.
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Top Customer Reviews
shares, illuminates and expertly translates the joy of food in this memoir of restaurants, women, and wine.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the best book about the world's finest restaurants I have read. I thoroughly recommend it to all lovers of good food and wines and fine restaurants.Published 3 months ago by cinquale
Starts out really exciting and lively, then becomes somewhat repetitive, with lots of name dropping. Still, an interesting read for someone interested in food and food writing.Published 5 months ago by Panache
I've eaten at some of the restaurants featured. The book augmented my enjoyment of the meals I had. It also had moments of nostalgia for tables no longer available because the... Read morePublished 7 months ago by vls'son
Egotistical and food descriptions were more like listing than describing. He phoned this one in.Published 19 months ago by Sally McArthur