In the Newseum Auditorium on Monday, the restaurant critic and the chef held about 500 people enthralled for nearly two hours. David Hagedorn was there, too, but as moderator he was lagniappe: a nice surprise but not vital to the experience. He did add to the ambiance of the sartorial spectacle with his chartreuse socks.
But I get ahead of the story. First, there was the reception for those in Press Pass, the annual membership program for the Newseum. There were passed nibbles, wine and a view on the sixth floor, then a trip down in the glassed-in elevator to the best seats in the auditorium. Those in the first row could rest their wine glasses on the edge of the stage. What a perk!
As an introduction, two short videos were shown. There were clips of a Sixty Minutes segment on Chef Jose, and “Tom Sietsema’s TV Dinners,” featuring a tour of Tom’s refrigerator. The highlight? A souvenir from the White House: M&M’s signed by POTUS himself.
Then they got down to a wide-ranging conversation encompassing not just the current foodie scene, but back stories of both men and tales of restaurants gone but not forgotten; the new neighborhoods of destinations like H Street, and the trend, partially fueled by social media (ahem), of reviewing new places as soon as they open.
That led to a discussion of amateur online reviews, which Tom described as both great and hellish at the same time. Now, critics get judged too – and even though “the Washington Post still has gravitas, it keeps us on our toes!”
Chef Andres reminisced that in the early 90’s, he would wait in front of the Post building on Wednesday for the Sunday magazine to be delivered, to see if he had been reviewed. His first review was only two stars!
Last Sunday’s Spring Dining Guide made amends for that. The only four-star review was for Chef Andres’ Minibar, and he was called a “genius” on the cover, to boot. That led to a discussion of the cost – at $600 a person, it should be a “transporting experience!” But Chef Jose maintained that good food costs money: “Put these things in balance – do you want the DNA of a clown, or do you want to be an avatar?”
Tom pointed out that the DC food scene has been encouraged by a President and First Lady who enjoy eating out and who have elevated their personal chef. And on the subject of trendy places which don’t take reservations, he expected that FLOTUS and POTUS would have to stand in line at Little Serow (but I’m not sure he was serious)!
Then he blamed Chef Jose for the whole “small plates” trend. After all, he was the first to introduce Washington to tapas at Jaleo. But tapas, the chef countered, gives one control over the dish – it is eaten at the perfect moment of creation!
The discussion ended on a high point with Chef Jose extolling the burgeoning food scene, including food trucks. Young people can own their own business, control their destinies! “More is more!”
And no occasion of 2014 would be complete without a selfie.
But this is my cherished souvenir: