Last week, I was a guest on The Front Burner, a new and really interesting Heritage Radio Network podcast devoted to food-and-beverage industry issues, such as chefs grappling with mental illness and restaurants trying to achieve longevity in a novelty-obsessed culture. I was invited to participate in an episode about criticism, along with New York Times food editor Sam Sifton and Eater critic Ryan Sutton.
Host Andrew Friedman asked us whether we’d learned anything from chefs. Maybe, he theorized, Sifton once ranted in a review about the price of a dish, prompting the responsible chef to send a calm and persuasive e-mail detailing all of the costs the Times hadn’t considered.
We told Friedman (calmly and persuasively, I hope) that such an exchange never occurs, for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t mean we don’t learn from chefs: In our non-critic capacities, we’re constantly talking to chefs about why they do what they do, and gleaning insights that inform our reviews.
The list of chefs who’ve taught me things is long, but Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill is definitely on it. Smith, who’s next week cooking at The Glass Onion, has made a point of collecting wisdom from everyone he’s met, and he’s generous in sharing it.
In his cookbook Crabs & Oysters, an entry in the University of North Carolina’s Savor the South series, Smith cites his aunt Dot, who helped him appreciate bottled French dressing in crab dip; salutes his friend Poppy Tooker’s devotion to rice fritters and thanks a “Latino grocery store around the corner” for stocking the Maseca (corn flour milled for tamales) that he uses to fry oysters: He picked up that trick by scanning the backs of seafood breading boxes sold at the now-touristy French Market in New Orleans.
As that last example suggests, Smith is an intuitive instructor in the arts of wandering curiously and treating people respectfully – a highly important lesson in the kitchen context.
The four-course menu for The Glass Onion dinner on Feb. 10 includes deviled eggs; Smith’s famous Atlantic Beach pie and brown oyster stew. Smith learned how to make the stew from Louis Osteen, who prepared the dish for a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium breakfast.
Tickets to the dinner are priced at $70 per person, or $125 per couple; admission includes a copy of the book (although each couple will have to share.) To purchase, click here or call 843-225-1717.