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On this week’s episodes, we had David Lebovitz, whose popular blog about Paris, baking and cooking is longtime favorite; his new book, L’Appart: The Delights And Disasters Of Making My Paris Home. We also had Andy Little, the executive chef and partner in Nashville restaurants Josephine and Prima. Last up was Claus Meyer, the Noma co-founder who moved to New York City in 2015 and has become one of the Big Apple’s most innovative and energized culinary characters.
My co-host Krista Ruane and I also delved into all the sexual harassment news around Mario Batali, Ken Friedman and Johnny Iuzzini, discussed the potential cure for “avocado hand” and found out which brewery will make the official beer of the 2018 Boston Red Sox. Here’s what we learned from our guests this week:
1. David Lebovitz (listen above), whose new book may be the first-ever home improvement memoir, says that even though his renovations tested his resolve, he wouldn’t trade Paris for anything. “Paris is a great city to live in. I love living there. I love my neighbors now. I love the food culture and I write about that a lot. This book happens to be about a specific incident that went on way too long and was way too difficult.”
2. How’s the Paris dining scene these days? “It’s changed a lot in the last five years,” Lebovitz says. “There was a bistronomy movement, which kind of evolved into these chefs doing these plates with different elements and a smear of sauce and things put down with tweezers. There are young French people trying to prove a point, trying to express themselves.” This experimentation hasn’t always been successful, but it’s led to a more dynamic dining scene. “The young people have really got it. There are restaurants that are sort of referencing classics and some of the restaurants are really good right now.”
3. French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity level is sinking, according to Lebovitz. “He was elected to change things, and he started to change things, and everyone got mad. So that’s always the dilemma in France: How do you change things without making everyone mad and going on strike? I don’t have the answer.”
4. Andy Little (listen above) debuted a new tasting menu at Prima, his restaurant in Nashville’s neighborhood The Gulch, that’s unusual to say the least. The inspiration? The meat-and-three restaurant Arnold’s, where people grab a tray, wait in line and then order a main meat dish and three side dishes. “Arnold’s is the best known of the meat-and-threes. There are meat-and-threes all over town. That’s a pretty common way for people, from bankers to the guys fixing the pipes under the street, to eat.”
5. “How do we take those iconic dishes and become inspired by them but don’t actually reproduce them,” Little says on the podcast of Arnold’s. Little studied how people were eating at Arnold’s as research for his tasting menu, and considered how to adapt Arnold’s signature mains. The chicken and dumplings, for example, became a pheasant consommé with gnocchi and shaved black truffles. It’s been a success; the menu at Prima was slated to run only for the month of October, but will be available through the end of the year.
6. Little hails from Hanover, PA, home to Utz’s potato chips and Snyder’s pretzels, so he’s snack-obsessed. At Prima’s, there’s a house-made potato chip appetizer on the menu. “I don’t want to be known as the potato chip guy,” he says, but he can’t resist complaining about the quality of chips in Nashville on social media, and he’s even driven 40 minutes outside of the city to find Utz chips. “Maybe I am the potato chip guy.”
7. The reception he’s received in Nashville, from a James Beard nomination to reactions from diners and local chefs, has blown Little away. Drawn to the city by the booming real estate market — he reasoned that all those cranes in the sky meant more hungry people on the way — he’s more impressed with the sense of community. “It’s a little bit like the Stepford Wives. I would leave places and I didn’t know anyone. I was just some guy from central Pennsylvania who wanted to come down and cook at a restaurant. Everyone was so overwhelmingly nice to the point where I thought it was a joke. No one’s that nice in the Northeast.”
8. The next project from Claus Meyer (listen above) will be to create a food hall in the Frank Gehry–designed cafeteria in the former Conde Nast headquarters in Times Square in Manhattan. It’ll be for residents and workers in the building — “Not open to the public,” he notes — and will rotate different cuisines to keep things fresh. Meyer signed on to keep honing his growing New York operation, and in part because of his relationship with Douglas Durst of the Durst Organization, and Durst’s Danish wife.
9. Though his Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central Station has tried to turn commuters on to Scandinavian-style sandwiches, but they’ve recently started offering house-made bagels, and they’ve become an instant hit. It’s a concession that Meyer says he had to make. “There are a lot of people in the terminal and passing by and you have to try to capture the minds of some of them, and they don’t all want open rye.”
10. Why has Meyer made such a commitment to Brooklyn? Meyer says he’s enjoyed helping the young Scandinavian chefs Fredrik Berselius of Aska and Norman, and Mads Refslund of Knightshift, get their restaurants off the ground. And in Brownsville, where he has started a bakery/restaurant/culinary school that has 60 graduates per year, he says he’s trying to apply what he’s learned from training prisoners in Denmark to the challenged Brooklyn neighborhood, and that he’s optimistic about the project’s progress. “Brownsville has been so consistently let down by society,” he says. Meyer and his team went in and met with the community to assess their needs, and found that residents wanted a place to get healthy, affordable food, and wanted a place for children to learn a trade. “One of the reasons we’ve been accepted is that it’s been a true collaboration,” he says. “We’ve been listening more than we’ve been talking since day one. And we have surprised them by the vitality or our initiatives and our stamina.”