Tuesday, January 8, 2013


HUMBLE PIE by Gordon Ramsay
HUNGRY FOR PARIS by Alexander Lobrano

For the most part, restaurant reviews are as interesting to me as traffic reports in that I do not expect the reporter to reveal if he had a fight with his wife on a morning he faced bad traffic. Contrast this with good food writing that exudes soul, and offers as much insight on food as it does the diner and the dining experience.

In Singapore, any culture created by a chef or owner is limited to the food and decor, and diluted by untrained wait staff. Although we are not short of good dining venues, it’s hard to really differentiate one place from another in terms of service and culture. Thanks to our diverse ethnic melting pot, cultural clashes are increasingly common in restaurants. I’ve had to speak Mandarin to a Chinese waiter at an Indian restaurant, struggled to understand the heavy accent of a Filipino server at a Korean BBQ restaurant who also could not explain the many varied small dishes laid out on my table, and stumped many wait staff by simply asking them to describe a dish.

Familiarity with returning customers also seem to be a thing of the past with high staff turnover. Nobody remembers you on your second visit.

For this reason, HUNGRY FOR PARIS (2008) restored my belief that it takes more than good food for a good dining experience. The book consists of reviews of 102 Parisian restaurants by American food writer, Alexander Lobrano, who lives in the city. Personalized with true anecdotes, his relationships with the restaurants reviewed go beyond mere acquaintanceship, and above pallid perfunctory observations.

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, it is not surprising then that this book offers heart-warming glimpses into Lobrano’s life in Paris. Start at Preface as he recounts what stoked his passion for Paris and French food. ‘The Happy Eater’s Almanac’ is a must-read if all you have ever heard about dining in Paris are about haughty wait staff. You will discover that having a meal in a Parisian establishment is more than a means to relieve hunger. There is a high degree of respect between the server and the diner, and the diner for the chef that is often misunderstood by non-natives as cold and distant. According to the author, you can expect servers to know what they are serving without dashing back to the kitchen to ask!

Indeed, bigotry will soon spoil anything that could be enjoyed from a Parisian dining experience. It's best to leave rigid opinions to starve at home.

HUMBLE PIE (2006) is a Christmas gift from a daughter who knows I enjoy food writing that has soul. Ramsay is a true disciple of the kitchen – bearing up its heat and rigors the same way he does life.

He has the same strong opinions about food and running a restaurant as he does about drug addicts. Rejecting the notion that addiction is a disease and that he is part responsible for his brother’s addiction, he said: ‘Addicts are selfish, the most selfish people you’ll ever meet. And self-pitying. And manipulative. Always making promises they’ll never keep. They disgust me. If I’m part of the problem I’d like to know why it’s me that picks up the bill every time Ronnie visits the clinic.’

That is a rare aseptic statement from a book richly peppered with the non-food related f-word.
His advice to loss-making high-end restaurants: ‘Your location decides a menu. It’s really all about the customer. No one should ever forget that, no matter how great their sauces are.’

 Where you can get it: Loan from NLB. S$27.81 Kinokuniya [ISBN : 9780812976830]