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A Vittles Clip Show
138th Newsletter Extravaganza
Good morning and welcome to Vittles.
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This month, I’m celebrating the two year anniversary of this newsletter in its current form! Vittles started in March 2020, but only really became sustainable six months later when I felt confident enough to publish my own writing and put it behind a paywall. Yet the running of this newsletter is so shambolic that it was only recently that I realised that 1) the About Me section has been at factory default settings for over two years and 2) the email you get when you subscribe has zero information about what this newsletter does, or the various paywalled sections it operates. So I assume there are quite a few subscribers who read but don’t really know how it works, or what Vittles has published in the past.
The paywalled slot on Friday now operates as its own publication within a publication, and has now grown to encompass a variety of columns from writers I love: Feroz Gajia on supermarket snacks; Yvonne Maxwell on Black food culture in the UK, and Ruby Tandoh on incidental eating. There is also a rotating column, Red Wall Feasts, about the everyday food culture of the north of England, which will soon expand to the whole of the UK. The latest column, Grand Paris, is my own, and explores the restaurant and architecture of Paris and its suburbs.
However, for the first year of Vittles I set myself a task: to write an essay, or a guide, or do an interview every single week. It’s difficult to search for these with Substack’s accessibility function, so I doubt anyone who wasn’t subscribed at the time has read them (and even then, you probably skipped most of them). Given Vittles’s readership has expanded in that time, I’m republishing them here in a sort of clip show, so you can go back through the archives and see how this newsletter has evolved. For long-time subscribers, I guess this is the index some of you have been asking for. Looking back at these essays now, I disagree with myself more often than not but a lot of the thinking and spirit has gone into my own writing for London Feeds Itself.
For today and this weekend, I’ve made all essays, interviews and tea guides free to read. The restaurant guides will remain paywalled. If you enjoyed them then do consider subscribing.
Vittles is a reader-supported publication which pays its writers. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Restaurant criticism is not like art criticism. It doesn’t matter where you watch a film or whether you read a book in London or in Tokyo. But it does matter where a restaurant is. Restaurants and restaurant writing are inextricable from place ─ this is why the most perceptive restaurant writers are, at heart, city writers. If there is any power or importance in restaurant writing it is in its ability to form and shift narratives around an area, a city, a street, a building; or in the case of Brixton, a predominantly Black and Latin, predominantly working-class neighbourhood whose worth has only been evaluated because of and defined by the arrival of European restaurants.
Out of 100 national restaurants, 74% were in one city: London (this drops to 68% if you exclude critics whose sole remit is London). Of those 74, only four of them were not in central London. Out of the 100 reviews, 20 of them were in Chelsea or Mayfair. Another 20 were in Soho and Fitzrovia. This means that 40% of reviews in the entire UK are covering a few square miles of the most expensive real estate in the country.
What does this mean for diversity? Well, given that almost every critic is on record as lauding London’s diversity as a food city, it might be surprising that 83% of all restaurants serve Western cuisines - so British, European, American, Antipodean. There were more pasta restaurants reviewed in the UK this year than Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, east African, west African, and Caribbean restaurants put together (in a nod to diversity, only half of these pasta restaurants were in Soho).
Sohofication is not a trend limited to Soho or even London. It’s a phenomenon seen in many city centres across the world, from New York’s East Village to the Marais. It is not only an indicator of quality (generally competent and nothing more) but also a kind of homogenisation, a reduction of world cuisines to the same set of rules, the same small plate structure, the same suppliers, the same prices, the same dining rooms the same concept of ‘elevation’. Sohofication gives you the world but it gives you it sanitised, an ‘It’s a Small World’ theme park of restaurants: one Indian, one Iranian, one Sri Lankan, one Peruvian, one Japanese, one Korean, one Thai, all of which are kind of the same restaurant.
In the thousand years since Shonogan, the listicle went out of fashion, came back when Martin Luther wrote one he was so pleased with he nailed it to a church door so everyone could see it, and then took over as the dominant form of journalism.
You can now see this everywhere. Lend Lease’s office opposite the centre boasts “the most vibrant neighbourhood in Zone 1” ─ the nod to diversity sitting slightly uneasily against what is clearly a pitch to the type of people completely unfamiliar with the area. The walls of Manor Place development round the corner shout ‘HOLA!’ in capitals, with three chillis to denote ethnic spiciness. On the blog of Lyvly, a property management company, Elephant and Castle is described as ‘waking up’ and advertises £1350 per month rooms in close proximity to a “rich variety of world restaurants that you should really check out”. When you click the link, unbelievably it sends you to my own Eater London map.
Those who fall in love with a city are doomed to have their hearts broken. For Sinclair, everything interesting and joyful and real has gone from London ─ on his London Overground project he observed how an ecosystem of regeneration was taking place across the tracks in a golden ring, a cash-cow for developers, where Clapham, Peckham, Haggerston and Kentish Town could all contain the same signifiers: the same smell of Yirgacheffe, the same packs of joggers, the same homes, the same art. Sinclair acknowledges that London rebirths itself, but asks where its rebirth currently is; that if things have been replaced, then what have they been replaced with? He finds no answer.
We cling to these dishes because for a brief moment, they allow us to access a part of us that we thought we had lost ─ each time I eat beef brisket noodles from Wong Kei, or a Macau pork chop from TPT, or the prawn dumpling soup from Hung’s, I am also recalling every version of me who ate that dish and every version of me who will eat it, and the imperceptible progression to the person I am now, eating that same dish, finally seems a little clearer.
With its opinion column ancestry, British restaurant criticism has always been blessed with a keen satirical edge: read the accumulated columns of Jonathan Meades or AA Gill in the 90s and early 2000s, and what you start to notice sewn through them is a critique of the tastes of the rich and the language of the high-end restaurants they frequent, a ruthless undermining of the pretentious ways they are designed, constructed, and talked about, a counterpoint to the bluff and PR copy written about how great British - and particularly London - dining is. If I was being particularly generous, I’d also say Michael Winner was a satirical creation, like Colonel Blimp or Lorraine Kelly, designed to parody the entitled diner, but there’s the possibility that he was also completely real.
Magnum is a neoliberal totem pole, with the smooth contours and luxe-matte finish of an upmarket sex toy. Magnum advocates for the individual over the collective. The success of personalised Magnum shops say why settle for what someone else is having when you can have something completely different? Magnum is the atomisation of society. Magnum is the destruction of the post-war ice cream consensus. Magnum is pure unfettered dominium, without any concept of the nation state. The Magnum wants to impose austerity measures on Greece. The Magnum is a citizen of nowhere, and yet it is everywhere. It’s just a shame that they fucking bang.
Customers may use delivery apps regularly, but a part of us feels scammed. We feel scammed by the delivery fee, which is artificially low. We feel scammed when restaurants raise their prices to try and offset the huge commissions. Even if the prices are level, we still feel like they should be paying less given that they’re not sitting down in a restaurant. We feel scammed by long delivery times or when the order is cold, even though this is the price paid by not going to pick it up in person. We feel scammed even though the apps have created a whole infrastructure that’s unfairly tilted towards the customer. We have become so used to feeling scammed by capitalism, by the inevitability of low paid jobs and inflationary rent, that we miss the small times when we do have power, and where solidarity is required.
I was helping make drinks to pair with two meals at a Michelin-starred restaurant, one for influencers and one for journalists. The restaurant had sorted out the invites and beforehand we were given a list of journalists (and their publications) and a list of influencers (and their follower counts). I was intrigued that the meals were demarcated like this: there was an assumption that one would be more serious than the other. As it turned out, the influencers were engaged, switched on and lovely to be around, arguably more so than some of the journalists. They asked the right questions and wrote the better captions – in a way, they were on the job whereas the journalists were there for a free meal that comes as a perk of their actual job. But more than this, the quid pro quo seemed much clearer with the influencers. We would make them a meal, they would photograph it and then post about it to their followers. With the journalists, the relationship was less clear, opaque even.
But this narrative glosses over all the hard questions: what, for instance, is the difference for workers between buying a ‘high quality’ orthodox tea and a ‘low quality’ CTC tea when it’s being made by the same people on the same plantation? Who is benefiting from the higher prices paid for quality tea? Is it the many workers and pickers, or is it the owner of the plantation? If quality is really linked to wages, then how, for instance, can a South Indian smallholder making what is perceived to be ‘lower quality’ commodity tea be paid the same or more than a plantation worker in Darjeeling making what is considered to be the ‘Champagne of teas’?
Food can play a huge role in the construction of the nation state, but it always ends up betraying it in the end. Cuisines have always been influenced by the land, by the sea, by rivers, by unique patterns of trading and national cuisines artificially bundling things together. There are very few genuine national dishes, without any regionality, and they tend to be patriotic by nature; in Thailand, pad thai was created by the government in the 1930s to promote a nationalistic idea of Thailand and was spread around the world as a ‘Thai’ food. Our united view of Italy, which was, until 150 years ago, a fragmented set of warring kingdoms, is very much influenced by the global nature of its food: pasta, pizza, ciabatta (also a recent nationalistic invention). But the regions still cling on tightly to their own food, as evidenced by the 1970s cookbook series In Bocca, where regional dishes are written in regional dialect and by local authors, and illustrated by local artists. Perhaps it is through the celebration of regional food that the rickety nation state perseveres.
Here is what pie and mash is: it is a mincemeat pie in a suet crust; it is boiled mashed potato sans butter, sans seasoning, sans anything, smeared as a buttress on the side of the plate; it is, most of all, parsley liquor, Kermit-green and thickened with eel juice and flour; it is the perfunctory ordering system (double, double); it is a fork and spoon and never a knife, even though there are knives provided; it is chilli vinegar; it is a potential but not obligatory side of stewed or jellied eels; it is Formica tables and cold tiles; it is the family name of the shop owner in gold lettering on the door; it is London, and it is a London that is fading
The following are scams:
The Padella queue
Bacon in burgers
The mark-up on smashed cucumbers
The mythos surrounding the Pret jambon beurre
British McDonald’s specials
Now, the pudding, chips, gravy and peas was a beautiful sight to behold: a bed of khaki, followed by a few shovels of chips, followed by gravy, with a soft hat of pudding on the side. The chips then become a vehicle for three molten hot liquids, from the peas that steamed in the cold air and the gravy laden with enough salt and vinegar to disinfect a war wound to the meat filling that spilt out from the pudding onto the chips: an excess of wetness. The cod was even better, fried to order with the lightest batter that barely needed pressure to snap off into opalescent flakes. But where to fit the zinga burger into this story? The zinga doesn’t fit the narrative of an isolated, nativist North, unmoved by foreign or global influence and committed to carb-on-carb blandness.
Chinatown is now filled with restaurants whose names you might not know but which are ‘TikTok-famous’. On that sweltering afternoon in May, it felt like half of London’s teenage population was there doing some kind of crawl between them: Taiwanese fried chicken at Good Friend, pandan cake at Chinatown Bakery, fluffy Japanese souffle at Hefaure, brown sugar bubble tea at Yi Fang and Xing Fu Tang, taiyaki at Taiyakiya, ube bilog at Mamasons, and, the new hypebeast, Korean corn dogs at Bunsik, with chunky, potato-cube encrusted exteriors, like an edible, jewelled sceptre filled with nothing but cheese pull. In the Bunsik queue we asked everyone why they were there: without exception each one said TikTok and that it was their first time visiting. Many were TikTok-ing other items while in the queue, giving them ratings out of 5 or 10, or talking about where they were going next.
Gold’s project of recentering Los Angeles was one of geography, of advocating for the literal margins, but also one of culture. One tactic Gold used repeatedly was to compare ‘marginal’ foods, often favourably, to cuisines that have long been considered to be the culinary centre. A nihari is described as ‘genteel as a country French ragout’, a simile he also reserves for a Chaozhou-style dish of sugar snap peas; the freshness of a bhartha is compared to caponata; a plate of garlic-soaked rice noodles to a late-night order of spaghetti aglio e olio; a pastrami carver at Langers to a sushi master. Here Gold is not making the comparison for descriptive purposes as a way of explaining them to his audience, but he is making a case for them as foods which have refinementrather than merely being tasty. They are foods that are equivalent to, or even surpass, the best dishes of the West or Japan, but have never been admitted to the pantheon by tastemakers with colonial notions of quality.
The most complicated on-off relationship in my life is not with an absent family member, or a childhood friend, or even an ex-partner, but with Wood Green Shopping City. This is not so unlikely given I’ve lived in London all my life, and in north London for most of that. I think having a strained relationship with a suburban shopping centre is one of the signs of ‘being a Londoner’ under the age of 40, certainly more so than the answers normally trotted out when trying to definite Londonism – most of which relate to an adept but oddly protective use of public transport and a calm, emotionless resignation bordering on post-traumatic stress when being told the price of absolutely anything. Shopping centres seem innocuous enough places, but lay a Londoner down on a tan chaise longue and delve back far enough and I guarantee that repressed memories of a Zone 4 mall or a giant Matalan will come flooding back, and that, somehow, these experiences will have been as formative as a Jesuit education. The only variation is: which shopping centre?
Let’s look at the conclusions so far. A kebab is a grilled meat dish (a shish kebab), which doesn’t have to be grilled (a galouti kebab) or actually made of meat (the sad mushroom-courgette-red pepper combo your dad has quickly put together for someone’s vegetarian partner). It is cooked on a skewer (pirzola, kaburga), but it might also be not cooked on a skewer (a Wigan kebab) or not even cooked at all (raw seekh kebabs). It is often served in bread (a kebab roll), encased in bread (a beyti) or on bread (Iraqi kebabs), but sometimes there is no bread (yakitori). At this point, all that can be agreed upon is that a kebab is something which is eaten, and maybe we can’t even agree on that.
Conclusion: Every single food in existence is a kebab.
In my experience you can divide green tea drinkers into people who prefer fired teas and people who prefer steamed, just as you can divide tea drinkers into people who ‘get’ green tea and people who don’t. People who are obsessed with green tea, like Japanese sencha, tend to love the grassy freshness of it, its energetic strength, it’s umami and bite, the virtuous feeling you also get after drinking an expensive cold-pressed vegetable drink. I once served a woman who told me, straight faced, that she loved it for its ability to produce strong bowel movements and asked me if I had any personal recommendations.
Then, in the 1950s, something strange happened. There was suddenly a surge in demand for puerh by those living in Hong Kong. The reasons for this are slightly murky. Hong Kong received many immigrants from the mainland with strong tea drinking cultures; at the same time the production of tea in Yunnan was put under state control and China looked to Hong Kong to export it. In Hong Kong’s humid climate, puerh cakes were stored, aged and darkened relatively quickly by the tea houses and food made a decisive intervention: the Hong Kong mode of eating was yum cha and cheap dai pai dongs, where dark teas would cut through any oiliness and were gentle on the stomach. While there is no significant history of pairing tea with food, I once paired a late-80s Zhongcha 8653 with a double sausage and egg McMuffin and it was basically transcendent.
Also beware of getting heavily into teapots. Soon you will be finding that you don’t just want any clay, you want Yixing clay from Jiangsu province. Then you might find you don’t just want Yixing, but specific coloured clays ─ zhuni, zini, hongni ─ for different kind of teas. Then you might find different shapes work best with different teas and insist on giving each genre of tea its own pot. Then you might find that the newer clays are too impure, that you want older pots from a time when the clay was less scarce. These are in limited supply of course, and you’ll find yourself handing over big bucks for some factory pots made in the 80s. Then you’ll forget about the tea entirely, and start collecting pots from famous potters. Very soon you’ve mortgaged your house and sold your mum just to add to your burgeoning collection. Beware.
Christmas Gift Guides
It’s not that I think people who put Christmas gift guides together tend to have bad taste (there is much value in having bad taste), it’s that they tend to have no taste ─ a far worse proposition. Does anyone really need a £350 Sipsmith Cocktail Satchel? (according to Country and Town House’s essential 2020 foodie guide, the answer is yes). And if you don’t know the tastes of the person who has put the guide together, how do you know how much you can trust it? You start to suspect that the very idea of a Christmas guide is an excuse to fit in as many affiliate links as possible.
London Food Guides
Inspired by Tan, I have come up with three universal statements which I believe are axiomatic.
The sandwich is a gestalt. Every aspect of the sandwich must be considered in relation to the whole, where the subtraction or addition of one ingredient is to its detriment.
A great sandwich is not monotonous. (The Tan Principle)
To make a great sandwich, the sandwich maker must prioritise, above all else, when and how their sandwich will be eaten.
Dispatches from the Frontiers of Hype
There is nothing romantic about Hounslow, yet I love its unbeauty and its emptiness, its single-storey buildings and the way you can almost see the countryside; like if Kyoto was entirely composed of retail parks, gurdwaras and airport Premier Inns. On average, taking into account the lows, the food is not necessarily any better than any other part of London. But it feels like there is space for something to happen, to come across something you have not already seen. I love Hounslow’s potentiality, that its path has not yet been paved and that in those vast spaces in between things there may be something you could not have predicted. Even if it’s just a place serving tawa chicken on a carpeted floor in the back of a garage.
In the same way American sandwich culture developed out of the unique mixture of immigrants in certain cities, London’s wrap culture is very much a reflection of its demographics. In fact ─ and this is a crucial point ─ London’s migratory patterns have time and time again favoured wrap cultures, those from countries who intuitively understand the wrap as a format: Greek (gyros), Cypriot (souvlaki in pita), Turkish (lahmacun, tantuni), Indian (kati rolls), Pakistani (kebab rolls), Lebanese (shawarma wraps), Trinidadian (doubles), bringing with them a plethora of leavened and unleavened non-sandwich breads, from pita and lavash to roti and paratha.
I can tell you to go to Jenecheru for pasties, or to Boulevard a little further down, and I’m certain that your questions about Bolivian cuisine will be answered with enthusiasm. I could advise you to go to La Placita, a phenomenally fun mini-mall at the other end of Old Kent Road full of Ecuadorean seafood stalls selling ceviche in ice cream coupes soundtracked to karaoke, but just so long as you know that you will be immediately crowded by every vendor (who will come bearing smiles but whose job it is to convince you that their chaulafan, their churrasco is the one you want). This is all part of the game and it’s polite to know the rules. But my main advice is this: eat well, but do not treat the Old Kent Road like it’s your front room.
The build-up around Neco is something like the last spluttering of London before it incontestably becomes Hertfordshire. There is a dürüm wrap bar, a künefe shop, an ocakbaşı called Enfes, a trendy waffle wrap cafe and Number Four, one of London’s most chaotic Somali restaurants. Neco is still its crown jewel, specialising in tantuni, the Mersin speciality of thin lavaş, rolled tightly like a Rizla around finely chopped meat, cooked down in an upside-down sombrero with a bit of cottonseed oil. Again, the table service of pickles and lemon are essential items to enliven what is, at its heart, an extremely simple dish that lives and dies on the thinness of the lavaş, the quality of the meat, and the moisture lubricating everything together.
Now, I’m not saying you should take long, pleasurable lunch breaks as a matter of praxis (although I also absolutely am) but no matter how much you enjoy your work (and I am one of the lucky ones who does), taking the time to have a pleasant lunch break is a small adjustment to your day that can have an outsized effect on your happiness. In the last ten years, I’ve used my lunch breaks to do just this, working out the exact radius that will allow me some time to walk to and from a restaurant, to sit down, and savour my food. The result is the following list of 99 restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and takeaways, all within a 15 minute walk of Oxford Circus.
Sometimes ‘the move’ is the thing a restaurant is most famous for, which I consider cheating. What interests me are the restaurants where ‘the move’ is not the obvious thing, the hero dish, but the thing tucked away on the menu, or maybe two or three things that need to be ordered in combination, or maybe a tiny addition to a dish, or, best of all, not on the menu at all. ‘The move’ is what distinguishes the out-of-towners and day trippers from the people who know what’s up; it’s ordering a hash brown at McDonald’s to complete a breakfast sandwich and ordering the freshest thing out of the oven at Gregg’s. Here are twenty other London moves to improve your life.
On the other hand, you have Taste of Pakistan with a booking system which is more of a loose guide, a ‘we will deliver your parcel between 8am and 5pm’ kind of reservation. ‘We will seat you…today… at some unspecified point’ is the best you will get out of the Taste of Pakistan booking system. Somehow Taste of Pakistan have created the only booking system in London based solely on vibes. They’ve basically opened a lamb based Berghain. Pioneers.
The falafel at Pockets, in terms of size, flavour, structure and price, is nothing like the samosa chaat outside Sonargaon in Whitechapel. But I do want to make a case for them being related. I once said watching the falafel pocket at Pockets being made has something of a meditative effect, in the same way your mind might empty of thought upon watching the careful, ordered moves of a master conducting tea ceremony. I think you can say the same of seeing the samosa chaat being assembled: first freshly deep fried meat or veg samosas being broken apart, then doused in chana, then spicy chutney, then tamarind water, then yoghurt, then the crunch of raw onion, a drift of coriander, then more chana, more chutneys, more onion. It contains one of the best textures in food: of something hot and crispy becoming wet. My one alteration is a minor one but vital: order two samosas.
The funny thing is these chefs know, throughout their careers, that the more restrictions you have, the better your creativity is. When you have an open book it’s far too easy to get carried away and create something unfocused, but the moment you have some restrictions and a very clear path of what you need to do, your creativity goes up and you create something better. So they should be viewing this idea of creating something based on respecting the original as the ultimate version of this, where they are being restricted by a set understanding - not a recipe because recipes are different - a set understanding of what something should be. And if they can understand that, then they might be able to iterate on it and define that dish in fferent way, but still have the heart and soul of the dish. If you can’t do that they shouldn’t touch the dish in the first place. Call it something else. Rename it. You can use all the herbs of Vietnam without saying it’s a Vietnamese dish.
From what I gather, pizza is still viewed as cheap here and shouldn’t be above a certain price point. And I think that’s a shame because it could be more. I’m not saying cheap pizza isn’t good - in New York where you can have a nice pizza or a “shitty” pizza and still enjoy it - but I think there’s an opportunity to show people that it can be more. There’s sometimes even an assumption that we’re doing this to make loads of money - that’s absolutely not true. My motivation in pursuing doing a pizza place is I’ve worked in a lot of places which are expensive, as any young cook does, and pizza seems in many ways to be more democratic. I’d prefer to serve my friends, my family, my parents on a regular basis with something of high quality, but not necessarily pricey. My parents love pizza and they came to my pizza pop ups, but they only came to my restaurant once. I don’t have an ego about fine dining, I can take the same level of expertise, of attention to detail, respect for ingredients, to a food which has universal appeal.
It is important that you know what people eat, and what you wouldn’t like for yourself you wouldn't give it to somebody. So you always make sure that when people finish eating that they have something that helps with some parts of their body. Some nutrients in the food, or when the food is so nutritious that they enjoy the experience and the aftermath of eating that food. It’s not that you come and have a piece of fish; the fish must first have taste and then it must go with something else. If you look at my plate most of the time, you have protein, you have something starchy, you have vegetables at the side. So your whole plate is a nutritious plate. That's the beautiful thing about eating, it’s not that you just eat a plate of food. You have to get something into that plate of food that helps your body if you're feeling weak.
When I say “West African”, the thing is, I wanted to move away from that thing of countries. Because we were not countries until a couple of hundred years ago, even decades ago. We were regions that had similar cultures across those regions, who ate the same, farmed the same. Our languages are variations of each other’s. And just afterwards, when we were put in nation states, that affected how we thought. We had this strong lesson of nationalism, but forgot the fact that if you cross the border, just on the other side, the people on that side; they’re family and you cook the same way as them. So recently I was talking about fonio with someone. And he went, “oh, this is what we eat“. I said “but this is what we eat as well, have you forgotten?”. And then we started talking about the old Mali Empire, we talked about how that affected things. And the thing is this same grain, that is not known in the south of Nigeria or parts of West Africa but known all over the northern part, is what connected us.
I think the "food writer" label increasingly feels like a misnomer for the ways in which restaurant writing, recipe writing, ecology writing, labour writing, tech writing, are all intersecting around food. This doesn't mean it's a bad label, or that people who call themselves food writers are "less"; it means that its richness and granularity is finally being addressed, whereas in the past I think it's felt the opposite.
Someone has to lose value, or lose market share in order for you to gain it. And in the restaurant space it’s not like other industries. Food is this thing that only grows at the rate of population growth, like 1-2% a year. That means if you want to push out a 30% growth curve on an annual basis, it has to come from somebody, you have to take it from somewhere. The easiest entity, the entity with the least amount of power at the table, is restaurants. You’ve got a husband and wife in a shop somewhere making their rules up against $40 million of cash – at least back then, now it’s $2-3 billion of cash. And with that you can say, ‘these are the new rules, follow them or you’re going to go out of business.’
If you think about any situation where you’re doing something for the first time, you will not succeed at doing that thing. The way you don’t succeed at doing that thing will be different until you find out how to do it right. I think that is something we don’t talk about enough. There is a deep emotional obstacle that most people face ─ in fact I would say everybody faces ─ a deep emotional obstacle to failing and not knowing what success will look like. And R&D chefs are different from service kitchen chefs primarily because they are either more OK with failing and not knowing what a successful outcome looks like, or they’re able to get over the fact that they’re afraid of not-knowing. And that’s a really clear distinction between the chefs who try to work on innovation all the time, and those who thrive in a service kitchen. It’s not to say that one is better than the other, just that they are different.
For me, I’m trying to carry what I consider to be Greek but this is more to do with balances and sensations, as to whether it carries that Greekness. For me, the aim is to be able to carry it in an eloquent way. Sometimes if you’re doing a spanakopita and you give that to someone, there might be an underwhelming feeling of not getting it. Even I can have that food and not get it. We grew up with this kind of food, and the accumulation of all these dishes and memories make up how we think about them. But when you have the food, especially outside of Greece, it might not carry the feeling you want. When I’m making food that has some elements of that ─ some dill, some spring onion, some lemon ─ I might push this to a degree and combine it with something else where it reaches a level that achieves a nostalgia, just before it collapses and becomes something else.