Chef Amanda Cohen Reacts to The New York Times' Review of Her Restaurant Dirt Candy
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Was the review fair? Is there anything she would take issue with? How do you spot a critic?
Dirt Candy in Manhattan's East Village.
A New York Times review may not have the same effect that it used to, but it's still a powerful call to attention for a restaurant, whether it warns people away, or builds up their excitement for dining there. So it's interesting when possible, to get the reaction of a chef immediately after their restaurant has been reviewed. Was the review fair? Was it useful? Did the reviewer point out anything the chef hadn't previously noticed? Are there any dishes the chef would change, or ideas noted that will be implemented post-review? In this brief interview with Chef Amanda Cohen of the special East Village vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, a sliver of a spot on East Ninth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, the chef reacts to Pete Wells' recent two-star review of her restaurant, spills on her tactics for identifying food critics at work, and shares some thoughts on the questions above.
Do you think the review of Dirt Candy was fair?
I got two stars. I’m not complaining!
Is there anything you would take issue with?
No, I mean, this is what I want in a review. Someone who comes more than once and tries to see what I want to accomplish with the restaurant and then evaluates how I’m doing at accomplishing it.
What tactics have you used to identify critics, if any?
I take a blood sample from all my customers and subject it to rigorous lab analysis while they eat. Little known fact: the blood of critics reacts strongly to acids, so it’s an easy test to apply.
Getting reviewed can obviously be a boon or a boondoggle — what's the most difficult thing about getting a review from The New York Times?
The hardest thing about this review was knowing it was coming. The first time you hear that you’re getting a review from The New York Times is when the art department calls and schedules a photo shoot. I’ve been swamped this fall doing publicity for the cookbook and trying to train a new line cook and replace a server, so I panicked when I got that call. I felt like I just hadn’t had my head in the game as much as I should have in September and early October because so much was going on (but it’s a tribute to my staff that my schedule didn’t have a negative impact on the restaurant).
The photographer comes and I can’t sleep for five days knowing the review is going to drop and Wednesday comes and…it’s a review for M. Wells Dinette. I was living with so much stress I thought my head was going to explode. Our review came out the following week but it was a tough wait. I know chefs are supposed to be all cool and not care about things like this, but I’ve put my heart and soul into Dirt Candy for so many years and The New York Times review is huge.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Read more articles by Arthur, or click here to follow Arthur on Twitter.
Hey Chef, What Can I Do With Sumac?
You may never have eaten sumac, but it's sneaking up on you. Somewhat uncommon in American cuisine, the citrusy, berry-like, bracingly tart flower is an old hand with Middle Eastern flavors, and more and more cooks and restaurants are embracing it with gusto. (You can buy it at Middle Eastern groceries or online.)
Sumac's bright acidity complements a wide variety of cuisines and flavors. To get some inspiration on ways to bring it into our kitchens, we polled the pros on their favorite ways to use it, from snacks to main dishes to sweets.
INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT & FOODSERVICE SHOW OF NEW YORK TO FEATURE A PRESTIGIOUS LINE UP OF CHEFS AND PRESENTERS ON CENTER STAGE
NEW YORK, NY, December 11, 2018 – Center Stage at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York and Healthy Food Expo will showcase the most influential names in the restaurant industry. A wide range of chefs and culinary professionals will make vegan and vegetarian recipes, award winning Gumbo, mouthwatering Beignets, Fresh Fettuccini, Zucchini Noodles, delicious Kelp recipes and more. Mareya Ibrahim, an award-winning entrepreneur, chef and author will emcee the action-packed Center Stage during the three-day, co-located events taking place March 3-5, 2019 at the Javits Center in New York City.
“We invite all of our attendees to join us at the Center Stage where our inspiring line-up of chefs and presenters will offer new techniques, recipes and never before heard stories. Meatless Monday dishes will be featured on Monday and our Tuesday presenters will focus on Fat Tuesday in honor of Mardi Gras,” said Tom Loughran, Vice President for the Clarion UX Food & Beverage Portfolio. “In addition to culinary presentations there will be exciting culinary and beverage competitions, panel discussions, award presentations and book giveaways from several of our chefs and authors. The full Center Stage schedule is available on the Show website.”
Sunday, March 3
- Keynote Presentation: Michael Oshman, Founder, Green Restaurant Association, will kick off the Show to discuss the importance of integrating sustainability into the fabric of a restaurant and how to successfully tackle consumers' environmental sustainability needs.
- Chef Pankaj Pradhan will join Michael Oshman and demonstrate how to add a stellar vegan item to menus, with the mission to entice a diverse group of people to try vegan and vegetarian restaurants.
- Behind the Scenes of Real Food Real Kitchens: Craig Chapman, Producer of Real Food Real Kitchens, and Owner of OEG Media LLC along with guest Chef John LoCascio will share the "secrets" behind the Amazon Prime hit cooking show. Together Craig and John will discuss what it takes, as well as, how sponsorships work on the show using John’s recipe as an example.
- Chef Rochelle Trotter: TV Personality, Speaker, Author and President of R’Culinaire, and creator of Aw, Sugar Wellness Program, Chef Trotter will feature "The Natural Sweet Spot" Utilizing Dates, Sweet Potatoes and Carrots To Sweeten Menu Items.
- Mareya Ibrahim, an award-winning entrepreneur, chef, and author of Eat Like You Give a Fork (coming out in June). She is the founder and CEO of Grow Green Industries, Inc. creators of patented, plant-based organic and Kosher solutions and will prepare Zucchini Noodles With Romesco Sauce and Real Vitality Tonic.
- Presentation of the Torch Award to Chef Marcus Samuelsson: The Torch Award was created to honor outstanding chefs and/or restaurateurs who embody certain qualities and will be presented to Marcus Samuelsson, the acclaimed chef behind many restaurants worldwide including Red Rooster Harlem, Red Rooster Shoreditch, and Marcus B&P. Samuelsson was the youngest person to ever receive a three-star review from The New York Times and has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards including Best Chef: New York City. and characteristics. T
Monday, March 4
- Chef Jeff Trombetta and JP Vellotti - Is kelp the new kale? JP Vellotti, President, East Coast Kelp Farms teams up with Chef Trombetta, Culinary Professor of Norwalk Community College to discuss kelping today! Kelp is a sea vegetable that is versatile, tasty, local and sustainable.
- Chef Anita Lo - Michelin Star Chef, 3-Stars New York Times, Iron Chef Winner, Top Chef Winner will present a cooking demonstration and a limited number of signed copies of her new cookbook Solo: Easy Sophisticated Recipes for a Party of One will be distributed.
- Foodservice Council for Women Panel followed by the Beacon Award presented to Chef Amanda Cohen.
- Moderator: Kathleen Wood, Founder, Kathleen Wood Partners
- Amanda Cohen, Chef/Owner, Dirt Candy
- Elizabeth Falkner, Chef/Author/Artist
- Anita Lo, Michelin Star Chef, 3-Stars New York Times, Iron Chef Winner, Top Chef Winner
- Claire M. Marin, Proprietor, Catskill Provisions
- Chef Amanda Cohen - After receiving the Beacon Award, Amanda will present a culinary demonstration from her award-winning vegetarian restaurant and a limited number of signed copies of her book Dirt Candy: A Cookbook will be distributed.
- Chef Fabio Viviani will prepare and share a Fresh Fettuccini with Roasted Pinenuts and Basil Pesto. Plus, a limited number of signed copies of his book Fabio's 30-Minute Italian: Over 100 Fabulous, Quick and Easy Recipes will be distributed.
- Rapid Fire Challenge: Meatless Monday Edition sponsored by Total Food Service and supported by Meatless Monday will feature three selected chefs who will present their finest and most creative meatless dish for a chance to win $1,000. Judges include:
- Maria Loi, Chef, Restaurateur, Greek Food Ambassador, Author, Healthy Lifestyle Expert
- Peggy Neu President, The Monday Campaigns
- Gennaro Pecchia, Partner, @aosbysosa/co-host @rolandsfoodcourt @siriusxm
- Fabio Viviani, Chef, Culinary Personality, Restaurateur, Cookbook Author
- Moderator: Fred Klashman, Co-Publisher, Total Food Service
Tuesday, March 5 - Celebrating Fat Tuesday
- Chef Scottish Francis,The Donut King will provide attendees with mouthwatering Beignets.
- Chef Adam Lathan will demonstrate his award-winning Gumbo made with his signature 2-hour roux, and secret blend of herbs and spices.
- Hip Sip: Battle of the Modern Bartender Competition – Mardi Gras Edition, sponsored by Professional Bartenders Association and Bar Business Magazine will feature three bartenders who will compete to win $1,000 for the best French 75, Hurricane, Sazerac, Vieux Carré, etc. Judges include:
- James Menite, world renowned bartender from the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel
- Warren Bobrow, 6x Author/Chef/Barman/Cannabis Alchemist
- Claire M. Marin, Proprietor, Catskill Provisions.
The 2019 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York will be held Sunday, March 3 - Tuesday, March 5 at the Javits Center in New York. The tradeshow and conference will provide thousands of industry professionals with access to the hottest menu trends, state of the art design and decor, a renowned education program, special events, and hundreds of leading vendors and purveyors dedicated to serving the restaurant & foodservice community. For more information, click here.
The 26th annual trade show and conference will be co-located with Healthy Food Expo New York and Coffee Fest, and one badge will grant attendees access to all three events offering the largest food & beverage experience in the Northeast. Healthy Food Expo New York will bring attendees access to the latest and greatest healthy products from organic, vegan, gluten-free and allergy-safe to hormone-free, non-GMO, plant-based, low-sodium, low-fat, and more. Coffee Fest will bring all things tea and coffee under one roof to provide attendees with the most innovative products in the industry.
Share All sharing options for: Dirt Candy's Amanda Cohen Talks Tipping, Tough Openings, and the Changing Vegetable Scene
New York's reigning vegetable queen Amanda Cohen packed up her tiny vegetable palace Dirt Candy last August to prepare for a move into a space nearly five times the size on Allen Street. "Big Candy," as Cohen calls it, opened in February, and despite the lead time, Cohen said all of the moving happened last minute, mostly via Uber cars.
Cohen and her team revamped the menu for the move, adding dishes like carrot waffles with mole and jerk style carrots, and large format Brussels sprout tacos. At the new space, Cohen also made the radical decision to do away with tipping, asking her guests to pay a 20 percent service charge instead so she can pay her waiters a consistent salary. Now, a couple months in, Cohen talks with Eater about all that, plus getting reviewed, keeping a sense of humor, and her role in the veggie canon.
How were the first few weeks at Big Candy?
Amanda Cohen: It's a whole new world here. It was a "work-mare," like a nightmare, but all centered around work. When you're a chef I think you have these constantly, where you're in your nightmare, and you're at a job, and you sort of know the job, and you don't understand the job, and the tickets keep coming, and you're being asked to make things that you don't know how to make. You think: but this is the restaurant I work at, what happened? I just came into work today, and there's just more and more people, and more and more tickets. It's a little crazy. It's been really fun.
We moved in really fast, even though we've been talking about moving in for a while. We didn't get gas until the Friday right before we started doing friends and family. we were still cooking at little Dirt Candy and bringing everything over right before service. We thought we were gonna have to do it for the first week. We must have spent like a billion dollars on Uber cars and taxis.
And then finally, one day, we actually just had to move, but instead of being really organized, we basically just brought everything over and shoved it into our basement. And we've been sorta digging ourselves out of that for the last couple weeks. So, on top of opening the restaurant and being busy, we've been just trying to find things. Like, "Do you remember where we put that blender? Did we ever bring that over?"
Did it feel a little bit like when you opened the original Dirt Candy?
It felt exactly like that. All of a sudden, you're like "I don't know how to do my job."
How are things now? Still work-mare-ish?
They're settling down a bit, we've been over for a little over two months, and we're still learning lots of new things everyday. We thankfully now have shelves and a clean basement.
There have been one or two times where I've said: "We've got the hang of it," and then something comes out of the woodwork and kicks you in the ass. We're insanely busy. The whole whole idea was not to have a wait list and now have one that's two months long.
What's the biggest thing that you learned from little Dirt Candy that you're hoping to bring here?
The number one complaint about little Dirt Candy was always that it was the most uncomfortable, awful, tiny restaurant, and you were sitting on your neighbor's lap. So here, we've really built a restaurant for comfort. I want guests to come in and feel like they're taken care of, and that, yes it's filled with people, but you're not sitting on top of your neighbor. I could probably fit in six to eight more tables. but that's not the night out I want to give my customers. I want to give them an adult night out. People are spending their money with us, and I want them to feel like they got their money's worth.
One of the biggest changes here is the new tipping policy. How is that going?
It's been one of the biggest surprises about this place. We sat down with all the servers and were like, "People are gonna be angry, they're gonna be confrontational. These are the lines we want you to say to them, and be honest about you wanting to work here, and that we're not forcing anybody to work here." And it's kinda been a disappointment, almost. Nobody has said anything about the tipping at all. Every day we're like, "Okay, I think this is actually working."
Did you experience any pushback from staff when you told them about the policy?
Nope. Everybody who we talked to was like, "Yeah. Actually, that's really exciting. If I can make my $200 a night consistently, five nights a week, then great." Everybody was very excited about it, which was surprising to me, I thought we'd have a much harder time finding servers, but they were all in. For the most part, everybody who serves here are seasoned servers. They don't feel the need to have the high of a really big tip one night. They're coming into work and they're getting paid, and if we had a blizzard, they'd still get paid. So they seem pretty happy with it.
Is it working out financially in terms of what you wanted to be able to pay your servers? Will it ultimately cover health insurance?
Servers have a higher pay rate than they would, because they're not getting paid $5/hour, which is what you pay servers when you get the tip credit. Our servers are paid a very high living hourly wage, as are my cooks. We're trying to balance it out so it becomes even more equal over time. It doesn't cover health insurance yet, hopefully one day it will. We're not successful enough to do that yet, but that is a goal.
I wanted to do it so I could pay everybody a living wage. It's something that they could depend on, and not have to feel like they had to come in and hustle. My cooks are getting paid really decently. My dishwashers walk in at $15/hour.
Do you feel like it only works in a particular type of restaurant? Could it work everywhere in New York?
I think it could work everywhere. I had this discussion with somebody the other day, and they were like "It would never work in my restaurant." And I'm like, "Why?" People tip at your restaurant. As long as there's tipping, and most people tip anywhere between 18 percent and 22 percent, why wouldn't it work? The only place it might not work is counter service. But any other restaurant in this city, absolutely.
I hope that people take us as an example, and then I hope what I get to do is roll what we're calling the "admin fee" into the prices. We all agree that our food needs to cost more. Every restaurant in this city basically keeps prices artificially low because they get the tip credit. They're expecting their customers to pay the restaurant's employees' wages, or the servers' wages. But if we were more honest, we would all roll that into the cost of the food, and admit that this is how much it costs to run a restaurant, and just go for it.
Going out to eat should be fun, it shouldn't be serious.
What role does humor play in your food, in your approach to running a restaurant, or even with dealing with your staff?
Life should be fun! Going out to eat should be fun, it shouldn't be serious. Like, if you're sitting at a table and talking in hushed tones and you're not laughing, then I'm pretty sure you might be missing out on an experience, and no matter how good I think the food at Dirt Candy is, the most important thing I want somebody to walk away with is "Wow, I had a really good time!" The food is just sort of an adjunct to the good time you're having. We do like to have fun here, because what's the point of being serious, you know? It's a job, if I can't make this fun for everybody, then I don't even want to come to work.
You focus on vegetables more intensely than almost anyone in New York, but you don't fetishize them. Your menus don't say "such and such variety of carrot from such and such farm." What are your thoughts on doing that?
I mean, that's up to every individual restaurant. For me in particular, I think it's actually really intimidating, and I don't want people to be scared of the food when they come, I want them to have fun with it. It's more fun to get a dish that says "carrot," and have this carrot waffle, and pulled carrots in a mole sauce, than something that has this really exotic name and be like, "Oh well, that's just a roasted carrot." Carrot tastes like a carrot, doesn't matter what you call it. And so I guess I feel like I'm being a little bit more honest.
What are your thoughts on local food?
I so admire the restaurants that really work hard at being local. That is tough, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of time to work with all the different farmers and figuring out the menus to go along with it. That's not my goal here. This restaurant's really just about serving vegetables. I still stand behind the fact that all our produce comes in boxes from somewhere, and it all tastes good.
How has the approach to vegetable-focused cuisine and vegetarian cuisine changed in New York since you opened in 2008?
When I opened, vegetables definitely were not trendy, and it was hard for most people to wrap their head around the idea that we were opening a vegetable restaurant, not a vegetarian restaurant. Over the course of the last seven years, what's happened is more and more restaurants, are saying, "Hey, vegetables are something that we want to have fun with, that we want to play with. Let's experiment with it, we're tired of bacon." And you have seen this shift. Seven years ago, all these restaurants that are vegetable-focused couldn't have opened.
I think most people don't think of us as a vegetarian restaurant, they think of us as just a restaurant. A good or a bad restaurant, we're just a restaurant that happens to only serve vegetables. And seven years ago, the mainstream eating crowd, I don't think they felt that. "Oh, that's a vegetarian restaurant, you know? And I'll go with my vegetarian friends." And now most of our customers aren't vegetarians.
Right now, I can barely put my pants on in the morning I'm so tired.
Because there are more places focused on vegetables, how do you feel you have situated yourself in this new canon?
It's been good and bad. All of a sudden, I have all this competition, but that's good, because that keeps us on our toes, right? You sort of have this moment when you notice all these other restaurants getting attention for having vegetable-focused menus where you're like "[gasp] Am I good enough? Can I compete with all these great chefs?" Seven years ago, I probably would have crumpled up and cried. But we've been doing this for long enough that we know we make unique food, and we have a unique idea about food, and how we like to present it, and there's definitely enough room for all of us here.
Is there a particular vegetable dish that's flying out of the kitchen?
Yeah, the Brussels sprout tacos. We really wanted to make shared dishes, that would be substantial enough. It's not like a small-plate shared dish, but a large-format shared dish, and it took us a while to figure out how we could do this. We have a sizzling stone, and it comes to the table, and it's hot, and the whole room starts to smell like the sizzling brussels sprouts, and there's something about it that's kind of magical.
Will the menu will change with the seasons?
Yeah, I'm hoping to change it. Right now, I can barely put my pants on in the morning I'm so tired. So. [laughs]. when we thought we were gonna open this restaurant in November, we thought we'd have at least four to five months with this menu that we could just get settled in with before we start changing things. And now all of a sudden, spring is here.
When Pete Wells originally came to the old Dirt Candy, you had no idea that he was in the restaurant whatsoever. What are your thoughts on the reviewing process and on being re-reviewed?
When Pete Wells came into Dirt Candy, I wasn't expecting it at all. We had already been opened for about four years, so I figured we were off the radar for all reviewers. We sort of caught him at the very, very end of his dessert on the last night that he came in. And I was like, "Ohh. "
You want to have an honest discussion with the reviewer. Really. Getting reviewed isn't about getting the most stars possible.
It was actually one of the best things that happened to us at little Dirt Candy. having him give us such a gracious, lovely review, and not knowing he was there. I think we all felt like, "Wow, we're just doing our job, and we did it well enough." As opposed to, "Oh my god, we know a critic's here, let's all try really hard and make the most perfect plate of food, and that's the plate of food he's gonna get, and nobody else is gonna get that perfect plate of food." He just got the food that we served.
Here, it's very different. It was a much bigger opening than I thought it was gonna be, and we are now terrified we are going to get reviewed. I hope I'll be relaxed. I'll probably be crying, bawling behind the stove going, "We can't do this, let's just shut down! Set the place on fire! Let's close down for the night!" I hope we'll be relaxed enough. It is what it is.
You want to have an honest discussion with the reviewer. Getting reviewed isn't about getting the most stars possible, I really don't think so. I think it is a conversation that you have where you're like, "Oh, this is what we did really good, this is some other things maybe we could do even better, let's keep trying."
One of the best things I think that could happen in cities is if restaurants got re-reviewed more often. So you had a chance to keep proving yourself, and not have one review that stands forever.
When things do calm down, what's the next project you are dreaming of?
I think the goal is maybe to take this concept somewhere else. Not do it again in New York City, but to have smaller or different versions of this in other places, maybe warm. Warm places that I go to for the winter.
Chefs React to Gabrielle Hamilton Taking Over the Spotted Pig
For the first time since the #MeToo movement reached the restaurant industry, one of the accused men has a new business venture. After dividing his bicoastal restaurant empire with chef April Bloomfield, restaurateur Ken Friedman is partnering with James Beard Award-winning chef Gabrielle Hamilton and Prune co-chef Ashley Merriman on the Spotted Pig, the New York Times reported earlier this week. An official deal isn’t in place yet, but Hamilton and Merriman assure the press that the project will happen.
Friedman was at the center of a New York Times report revealing a pervasive culture of sexual misconduct at the Spotted Pig and the other restaurants he and Bloomfield operated together. Hamilton, meanwhile, is a revered figure in the restaurant community, both for her groundbreaking culinary style and for hiring and supporting women at her restaurant, Prune. Until now, the men at the center of sexual misconduct allegations have stepped away from their restaurants some, like Mario Batali, are making the decision to divest. But Friedman’s move is a step in the opposite direction, and one that seems to seek redemption (with help from two female chefs, no less).
Top Chef alum Merriman tells Eater she and Hamilton are “uniquely poised” to take over the restaurant. “The decision to partner with him obviously does not come lightly, and it’s something we’ve thought a lot about,” she says. “We like the work. We like the challenge. It may seem ridiculous to a lot of people, but we really believe the core values of working at Prune are, little by little, important to the universe and changing the world.”
The Ongoing Saga at the Spotted Pig
Hamilton and Merriman are friends of Friedman’s, and in a statement, Hamilton says she and Merriman are “helping the Spotted Pig, helping the industry at large, helping April, helping our longtime friend Ken, and helping ourselves.” She went on to explain: “You have your heroic José Andrés going into the eye of the natural disaster, and in us, I think you have two highly qualified and capable women going into the ground zero of the man-made disaster to start to help out.”
But many of Hamilton’s peers aren’t warming to the comparison — or to the partnership. In reacting to the news, the restaurant industry finds itself navigating the changing terrain of the post-#MeToo moment and, not for the last time, grappling with what a future for the disgraced men of their industry could look like.
After the news broke, restaurant industry players and those who follow along aired their disappointment on Twitter. Some, while dismayed, say they weren’t actually all that surprised by Hamilton’s decision. “I was once an admirer of Gabrielle (in an industry where there are so few women to look up to) but sadly, after paying closer attention the last few years, I’m shocked, but not surprised by this,” Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg said on Twitter. “That expression, ‘when people show you who they are you should believe them’ applies.”
San Francisco chef Preeti Mistry, who appeared with Merriman on Season 6 of Top Chef, was also not surprised. “There will always be opportunists in moments like these,” she tells Eater. “So yeah, kinda gross, but not at all surprising, sadly.”
For many, the fact that Friedman still stands to profit from the Spotted Pig is the most egregious part of the partnership. (Though the deal is not yet set, Merriman asked and answered the question in an interview with Eater: “Should the guy not make a penny again? I think he should be able to.”) Alex Pemoulie, the co-owner of Mean Sandwich in Seattle, tweeted, “The Spotted Pig, which is the site of so much destruction, should, at the very least, no longer provide profit to the man who oversaw, condoned, and participated in those acts. At best it should cease to be a restaurant.”
Anita Lo, chef of the now-shuttered Annisa, tells Eater that Hamilton’s desire to create a better culture isn‘t enough to overcome the fact that Friedman will still make money off of the restaurant. “The net effect here gives a serial sexual harasser a second chance long before he’s due salvation, and you can’t extract that from this situation,” she says. “I believe in redemption, but people first need to be held accountable and pay for their crimes, showing true remorse. The victims deserve at least as much.
“If Ken really wants a second chance,” Lo continues, “He could shut it down, change the name, step back, and let Gabrielle and Ashley open a restaurant that gives a significant portion of its gross sales to the Time’s Up organization.”
New Orleans chef Kelly Fields similarly argues that allowing Friedman to profit is a missed opportunity to uplift other women: “Ken Friedman doesn’t need partnership, investment + support,” she tweeted. “Women who are actively fighting their way out do.” Her restaurant, Willa Jean, is a part of BRG Hospitality, which changed its name from Besh Restaurant Group following sexual misconduct allegations against chef and restaurateur John Besh. (Besh stepped down from the group following the allegations.)
Not everyone is against Hamilton and Merriman taking over the Spotted Pig, though there seems to be consensus that Friedman shouldn’t profit. Andrés, whose Puerto Rico relief efforts Hamilton compared her efforts to, tweeted his support for the chefs, arguing “let’s give them the benefit of the doubt,” as “they will help maintain 100 jobs.” Andrés still advocated for Friedman, however, to divest: “But Ken Friedman I don’t understand why he doesn’t sell, and move out and give earnings to women’s empowerment NGO’s. ”
Andrés isn’t the only chef supportive of Hamilton and Merriman’s plans: Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri says he imagines Hamilton has good reasons and good intentions for working with Friedman. He tweeted, “Gab has always done the right thing, raised a family, worked her ass off, built a restaurant and great work environment, and rose to the top of our industry, through much turmoil. Excited to see what they do.”
Both Friedman and Bloomfield have remained tight-lipped through the dissolution of their restaurant empire, and about the Hamilton-Merriman news specifically. Elise Kornack, who spent time working at the Spotted Pig before opening the now-closed Take Root, sees the takeover as an insult to Bloomfield. She tells Eater, “I cannot compute how the spirit of place, so deeply connected to her vision and her voice, could ever be regurgitated through the mouths other chefs, especially while [Friedman] stands by and benefits, as if he needs to further profit from the horror show he allowed to play out.
“I fully recognize April has some reckoning to do, but she should not have to witness such an insensitive takeover of her flagship establishment after the recent unraveling of her partnership and career identity.”
Others question whether Hamilton really can change the reputation of a restaurant that is at the center of multiple sexual misconduct allegations. Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of Dirt Candy in New York City, calls the decision “a complete failure on every level.” And while she agrees that “morally, it‘s cynical and shortsighted,” she also thinks it’s a bad business decision. “I don’t understand why you would want to tie yourself to a restaurant whose biggest attraction is something called ‘the rape room,’” she says.
Portland chef Maya Lovelace sees Hamilton as part of a generation of female chefs who believe they have to act like men to get ahead, sometimes at the expense of other women. “There is a certain generation of female chefs who still very much believe in taking hard knocks, giving abuse as well as you get it, being ‘strong’ enough to get through trauma endured at the hands of men in power, letting boys be boys and encouraging women to play by the same rules, and passing those ‘values’ down to the next generation of female cooks,” she posted to Facebook. “That’s the kind of mentality that leads to a decision like this.” (Lovelace notes that she does not know Hamilton personally and is not accusing her of abuse.)
Erin Patinkin is the co-founder of Ovenly, a New York City bakery that employs people from marginalized communities, including those who have been incarcerated. In an Instagram post, she explained that while she believes in redemption, it’s too soon for Friedman. She wrote, “There are very hard questions to ask and to answer about what to do with the men who have been ousted from their careers in the wake of [Me Too], but let them first do the work to redeem themselves before we accept them back in to our business community and into our kitchens.”
Ultimately, Pemoulie and Lo are not alone in calling for an end to the Spotted Pig. “Why can’t they just close the restaurant? Nobody needs it to exist,” says baker and cookbook author Allison Robicelli. ”There’s no juice bar or Soulcycle in that neighborhood for BLOCKS.”
James Mark, chef of Providence restaurant North, tweeted a similar sentiment from his restaurant‘s account, writing, “If this industry is going to move forward their needs to be permanent and real consequences, not redemption stories. No sacred fucking cows. Close this restaurant."
Smoked beet sandwich and potatoes at Dirt Candy Photo by Peter Hum
“And we already had some onion and chocolate desserts that worked really well and I wanted to see what happened when I combined something dense and dark tasting like mushroom with dense and dark tasting chocolate. This kitchen is my laboratory and I’m constantly experimenting.”
Chocolate mushroom dessert at Dirt Candy in New York City Photo by Liz Clayman / Liz Clayman
“We felt that vegetables are pretty amazing and nobody does anything interesting with them,” Cohen told her Cayman Cookout audience. “We started to feel like we were really pioneers and I would go look up a recipe for how you make a vegetable soufflé or a vegetable pie or a vegetable hot dog and there was nothing out there so we started to create our own language, our own idea of what to do with vegetables.”
The go-to technique of roasting vegetables at 350 F in the oven? Cohen says it rarely happens at Dirt Candy.
“If you cook them really high and really fast, they’re going to get a crunchy exterior and a really melt-y interior. If you cook them low and slow, you can get something really soft and luxurious, which is the same thing you kind of do with meat. Those are meat techniques.”
Demonstrating Dirt Candy’s carrot risotto, Cohen said: “If you think of a carrot, that’s kind of just a carrot. It’s uni-textured. What we’re trying to do with the carrot risotto is get different textures in there, get different flavours that we can pull out of the carrot just like you would with a piece of meat, so you get that mouth satisfaction.”
Cohen opened the first Dirt Candy, an 18-seater in Manhattan’s East Village, in October 2008 — “the worst month you could ever open a restaurant in recent history,” Cohen says, due to the recession that held the world in its grip.
Keith Wood kicks off Killaloe restaurant Wood&Bell
Former Ireland international rugby player Keith Wood has opened a restaurant in his native Killaloe, Co Clare, with his business partner Malcolm Bell. Upstairs at Wood & Bell is a smart room offering a “French-inspired menu”, according to executive chef Paddy Collins.
Vegetables and fruit for the restaurant, and the cafe which occupies the ground floor, are being cultivated by Wood and his wife Nicola.
“I have always been interested in gardening, and designed the layout about 12 years ago,” Wood told The Irish Times. “We populated it with some old varieties of fruits that were in our own garden next door. My sister and brother planted and managed it when we were living in London, and Nicola took it over fully a couple of years ago.
“We have mostly used the produce ourselves, but since Paddy has come on board, he has given us a wish list for planting.”
Nicola takes up the story: “We live just a few doors down from the restaurant and have an acre of walled vegetable garden with raised beds and a polytunnel behind our house. It’s an incredible asset to have in the middle of the Main Street in Killaloe, overlooking Lough Derg.
“So that is where I spend a lot of my time, especially in the summer. A couple of years ago I did a 12-week organic gardening course with local gardener, Elaine McKeogh, from Good & Green in Ogonnolloe, Co. Clare. The garden started out very much by trial and error, and I threw myself into making chutneys, jams, syrups and compotes. Any surplus fruit and veg would be used in the cafe. Now that the new restaurant is open, the potential is huge . and the pressure is on.”
So, as well as helping to grow the ingredients, is Keith Wood a hands-on restaurateur? “My office is next door and when I’m in Killaloe I am there as much as possible. Malcolm Bell does the same. Padraig Nestor runs the day-to-day, but we are there a lot.” woodandbell.com
Sustainability is at the forefront of a new joint venture between Stephen and Denise Bell’s Bell Lane coffee company in Mullingar, and Freshii Ireland franchise-holders Dave O’Donoghue and Cormac Manning.
Handprint Coffee has opened at the Freshii healthy fast food outlet at Point Square, beside the 3Arena in Dublin, selling coffee from sustainable sources, served in completely compostable takeaway cups and lids. Baked goods, sourced locally and delivered daily, will also be on offer.
The new coffee concept will be rolled out to larger Freshii outlets that have seating areas, such as the Sandyford branch, due to open this month.
Keith Symes was producing Wicklow Rapeseed oil on his family farm, but felt that the market had become saturated. So, with the help of Bord Bia’s Super Brands programme, he developed the Sussed range, which highlights the oil’s health benefits and positions it as a “healthy heart” choice.
Sussed Healthy Heart Plus, algae oil – a vegetarian source of Omega-3s and DHA – is blended with the rapeseed oil, and a little cold-pressed lime juice is added.
The extra virgin Irish-grown and pressed rapeseed oil also comes in a two-calorie-a-spray pump bottle will make calorie-counting easier for those who have started the new year with that intention.
The range is available in 250 retail outlets nationwide, including branches of Tesco, Dunnes and SuperValu. The recommended retail price for the rapeseed and algae oil is €6.95 for 500ml (€5.95 for the pure rapeseed), while the two-calorie spray is €3.40.
The line-up of chef swaps on the cards at Aniar restaurant in Galway is headed by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner at New York vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy. The Canadian, who was a speaker at the Food on the Edge chefs’ symposium in Galway in 2015 and 2016, will collaborate with chef owner JP McMahon on April 6th and 7th.
The series kicks off with Danni Barry of Clenaghans Restaurant in Northern Ireland (February 9th and 10th), and continues with guest chefs from France (Christophe Dufau, Les Bacchanales, Vence), Russia (Stanislav Pesotskiy, Bjorn, Moscow) and Iceland (Gunnar Karl Gíslason, Restaurant Dill, Reykjavik), later in the year.
The menu options will be the same as the normal Aniar format – six courses at €65 eight courses at €85 and 10 courses at €110.
Q & A: Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen on Vegetable Restaurants, Graphic Novels, and Bacon, Part 1
Amanda Cohen doesn’t want to get political about vegetables. The chef and owner of the East Village’s Dirt Candy is more interested in offering an exquisite and innovative meal of vegetables than in convincing you to go vegetarian. This plucky attitude, combined with a moratorium on fake meat, has afforded Cohen quite a bit of spotlight. Most publicly, she appeared as the first vegetarian chef challenger on Iron Chef America. Although she lost that battle, she appears again — this time in print — as a character in her first graphic novel/cookbook.
Dirt Candy follows the animated Cohen as she opens her dream spot and navigates the hype of becoming a big-deal restaurateur. Oh, and she also shares her famed vegetable recipes along the way. Fork in the Road sat down with her at Dirt Candy to talk about the restaurant, her regular customers, and why there’s no way to beat bacon.
You’re a vegetable chef, Iron Chef competitor, successful restaurateur, and now a graphic novel cookbook creator. How did you get here?
We’ve been open for a long, crazy four years, but I was cooking for about 15 years before opening Dirt Candy. I had been vegetarian, and I really felt there was a need in the city for an all-vegetable restaurant. I’d reached the end of restaurants that I could work in before switching over to meat, and I felt like that was sad. We’re really focused on cuisine and not so much about lifestyle. We’re not very politically minded — we just care about the food. Frankly, I don’t really care what you eat as long as at Dirt Candy what you’re eating are my vegetables. I don’t care what you had for breakfast or what you’re going to have for lunch the next day. I just want you to come and see what we can do with vegetables.
Cohen’s restaurant is a tiny but inviting sunken space with blond wood and glossy white walls. The open kitchen is smaller than a standard galley and, during morning prep, half a dozen cooks are using every inch of the space to organize for dinner service. As we share a banquette, Cohen raises her voice just slightly to be heard over the background din of vegetables being pressed through a Chinois. She is clearly in her element in these tight quarters, and I ask if she thinks the restaurant could exist on a larger scale.
When we first opened, we couldn’t have done it. But we’re four years into it, and more and more people want to come and explore. And people’s diets are changing — slowly but surely — and they’re trying to incorporate more vegetables, so the notion of having an all-vegetable meal isn’t as offensive as it used to be. One of the things we do differently is try really hard not to label it vegetarian so that people aren’t as scared of the food. And that’s a sad fact for vegetarians. But I often say to people, “I bet you’ve had a meal that was just vegetables before and you’ve never really thought about it.” If you’ve just had spaghetti that didn’t have meatballs, you’ve had a vegetarian meal.
Vegetable cooking isn’t exactly a culinary style. How would you describe the food you make at Dirt Candy?
Labels can be very dangerous. I always just think of us as New American. We step outside of the traditional boundaries of American cooking, but we’re not within the boundaries of any other cooking, so we’re just this melting pot of influences. I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, so that really influences a lot of the dishes that we put on the menu. I’d love to spend more time in Mexico and Latin America, so I’m starting to study up on those places and trying to incorporate some more exotic ingredients into the food here.
As haute vegetable cooking is becoming more popular, I keep reading about chefs who are foraging for their own produce. Is that something that interests you?
Good for the people who have the time to do that and who can afford to do that. We operate on a very small budget here, and one of the things that we do is try really hard not to be intimidating. As much as I say I don’t care about what you eat, I do hope people come and are inspired. I want them to leave and say, “I want to try something like this at home.” We try very hard to use ingredients you can actually find. Our focus is kind of on supermarket vegetables. I do feel like there’s this moment in cooking where going out to restaurants can feel very intimidating. Just look at a menu and every vegetable has a fancy name attached to it. I want people to come here and think, “I’ve thought about a carrot like this.” I hope our meal stays with you for a long time.
That seems like a pretty big challenge during these bacon-ized times.
We cannot compete with bacon. We just can’t. Bacon will rule till the end of time. But I think that because the market has been so overstated with it, people are looking for a different experience. So, if six nights out of the week they want bacon, that seventh night they think, “Oh, I should go eat some vegetables.” And thank goodness we’re in a big enough city where there is always someone who wants some vegetables.
A gray-haired man in worn jeans and Birkenstocks walks into the restaurant to deliver a jar of a soupy-looking mystery food. Cohen, who not only recognizes him but remembers that he’d left his credit card at the restaurant the previous night, graciously receives the gift. Before leaving, the man opens to a dog-eared page of Cohen’s just-published book and asks for advice on a specific recipe. After he leaves, Cohen notes that the whole incident was a happy accident, but it’s obvious that she has serious fans despite offering only 18 seats. What’s the secret to getting a table?
We have a ton of regulars, and we see them every two to three months. And every night there are a few tables left open, but it really depends on how long you want to wait. And you can check our Twitter feed. But, sadly, the best way is to plan ahead.
Check in tomorrow to learn more about Amanda Cohen’s cookbook and what vegetable she’d serve the Presidential candidates if they showed up at her restaurant.
Daily bite: Forage, Prince Edward Island is Atlantic Canada’s Newest Food Festival
By Helen Earley
Prince Edward Island is busy stacking firewood, marinating steaks, and pulling up oysters in preparation for the inaugural edition of Forage, a two-day food festival and symposium, which will be held this weekend, October 18th and 19th.
Forage’s mission is described as, “an industry movement that will strengthen the Island’s food culture and brand… through real food experiences, education and networking.”
On the first day of the festival, there will be several panel discussions: Creating Influence, Women in Food, Meet the Trendsetters, and (only a day and a half since the drug will have been legalized in Canada), 420 Flavours, where panelists will the opportunities and challenges for edibles, infused products and cannabis dinners.
The keynote speaker at Forage is chef Amanda Cohen, most well-known for her New York vegetarian restaurant, Dirt Candy, the first vegetarian restaurant to receive two stars from the New York Times in 17 years (see the 2012 review here). Cohen was also the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Iron Chef: America, and the author of the is the first graphic novel cookbook in the United States, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook.
On day two, the delegates will travel by coach for A Day of Country Fire at the Inn at Bay Fortune, with interactive food stations set throughout the property, ranging from Potato Raclette, to Shuck Your Own Oysters, Pine Needle Mussels and Mussel Broth, the wood fired Taco Pit, and more… and more… and more!
There’s even a challenge in the mix: the quest to create a Guinness World Record-breaking charcuterie board. Guided by Michael McKenzie of Seed to Sausage, delegates have been asked to bring a standard mason jar of their favourite condiment, ferment or preserve, and some cured meat, charcuterie, cheese, or even caviar, for the board.
Prince Edward Island, one of Canada’s most popular summer beach destinations, takes on a new, quieter personality in the autumn once the tourists have gone. If the delegates are lucky, the weather will be crisp and cool—perfect for gathering around a campfire. The fall colours are guaranteed to be stunning.
We can’t think of a better place to celebrate good friends, good food and good stories, and we wish the festival the best of luck in its inaugural year.
Marcus Samuelsson To Receive The Torch Award And Amanda Cohen To Receive The Beacon Award
Marcus Samuelsson To Receive The Torch Award And Amanda Cohen To Receive The Beacon Award The 2019 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York will present its annual Torch and Beacon Awards to two very deserving and inspirational chefs. The Torch Award will be presented to Marcus Samuelsson, acclaimed chef of restaurants such as Red Rooster Harlem, Red Rooster Shoreditch, and Marcus B&P, and the Beacon Award will be presented to Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of Dirt Candy. The awards will be presented at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York, taking place at the Javits Center Sunday, March 3 through Tuesday, March 5. For more information about the trade show and conference and to register for this year’s event, visit www.internationalrestaurantny.com.
“Each year we select leaders in the culinary field to receive two prestigious awards and we are thrilled to add Marcus Samuelsson and Amanda Cohen, who truly embodies the best of the industry today, to our list of Torch and Beacon Award recipients,” said Tom Loughran, Vice President for the Clarion UX Food & Beverage Portfolio. “We look forward to honoring them at the upcoming New York event in March where we will bring together thousands of restaurant and foodservice professionals with hundreds of suppliers, making this the largest food and beverage experience in the Northeast.”
The Torch Award was created to honor talented chefs and/or restaurateurs for the brilliance of their careers and the impact they have had on the industry and their surrounding community. This year’s recipient is Marcus Samuelsson, acclaimed chef of restaurants such as Red Rooster Harlem, Red Rooster Shoreditch, and Marcus B&P. He was the youngest person ever to receive a three-star review from the New York Times and was tasked with executing the Obama Administration’s first State dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A committed philanthropist, Samuelsson also co-produces the annual week-long festival Harlem EatUp!, which celebrates the food, art, and culture of Harlem. Samuelsson is co-chair of the board of directors for Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Marcus joins past recipients including Geoffrey Zakarian, Danny Meyer, Thomas Keller, and others. The award will be presented on Sunday, March 3 on Center Stage at 2:30 pm. For more information on the Torch Award, by Clicking Here.
The Beacon Award was created to recognize a woman leader who has truly served as a Beacon for the industry through her leadership, contributions, and inspiration. This year’s winner of the Beacon Award, Amanda Cohen is the chef and owner of Dirt Candy, the award-winning vegetable restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side. Dirt Candy became the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive two stars from the New York Times, was recognized by the Michelin Guide five years in a row, and won awards from Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice, and many others. Amanda was also the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America. Amanda joins past recipients, including Chef Dominique Crenn, City Harvest’s Jilly Stevens, FRLA’s Carol Dover, Chili’s Kelli Valade, Chef Sara Moulton, and others. The award will be presented on Monday, March 4 on Center Stage. For more information about the Beacon Award, by Clicking Here.
The 2019 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York will be held Sunday, March 3 – Tuesday, March 5 at the Javits Center in New York. The tradeshow and conference will provide thousands of industry professionals with access to the hottest menu trends, state of the art design and decor, a renowned education program, special events including Hip Sip, Rapid Fire Challenge, several culinary demonstrations, and hundreds of leading vendors and purveyors dedicated to serving the restaurant & foodservice community. For more information, visit www.internationalrestaurantny.com.
The 26th annual trade show and the conference will be co-located with Healthy Food Expo New York and Coffee Fest, and one badge will grant attendees access to all three events offering the largest food & beverage experience in the Northeast. Healthy Food Expo New York will bring attendees access to the latest and greatest healthy products from organic, vegan, gluten-free and allergy-safe to hormone-free, non-GMO, plant-based, low-sodium, low-fat, and more. Coffee Fest will bring all things tea and coffee under one roof to provide attendees with the most innovative products in the industry.