Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Real Life is Hard to Beet

Chris Nuttall-Smith is an exceptional writer. His Toronto Life feature on why the ROM stinks ( The Curse of the Aluminum Crystal ) was one of the best things to appear in the magazine in a long while. Don’t take my word for it though – the piece also won a National Magazine Award.

Anyway, Chris N-S has a feature about lunatic control-freak chef Claudio Aprile in the current issue of Toronto Life. Like his other work, it’s well researched, well-reported, well-written. The only thing it lacks is a clear sense that Chris N-S finds the molecular-foodie ambitions of Aprile absolutely ridiculous. I suspect that Chris N-S prefers to be subtle, giving Aprile enough rope to hang himself, while allowing the reader locate their own conclusions. But at the same time, by giving Aprile so much attention to begin with, the reader is left to deduce that he’s a serious, important person. As you read the following passage, try and remember that it is not an except from Russell Smith's latest satirical novel. This actually happened, and, equally importantly, we’re supposed to care:

“What I’m thinking about, to make a statement, and to differentiate from Colborne Lane, is to serve a big, fat beet. Like, just one big beet, peeled, served whole on the plate, right? With everything on top of it. So it’s not sliced, it’s not fanned out, it’s not pretty.” This is Aprile talking, in a menu meeting a few days after what he’s begun to refer to as “the foie gras meltdown,” with Steve Gonzales, whom he calls Steve-O, and whom he’s tapped to become chef de cuisine at Origin.

“So it’s, like, straight up, with accompaniments?” Gonzales asks.

Aprile draws a picture. It looks like something Roz Chast would do: big, round head, frizzy mop on top. “There’s your beet, and then just dump everything on top of it.”

“Makes sense,” Gonzales says. He’s eager. Gonzales has been ready for Origin to open for months.

“So, like, it would be bold. People would go, ‘What the hell is that?’ And we’d be like, ‘That’s your beet.’ ”

“But if you’re eating it, I’m sure it would be great,” Gonzales says.

“Because then you’re getting the meatiness of the beet, and so basically everything—the goat’s cheese, braised red onion, dill, saffron vinaigrette, beet chips—everything’s sticking on top of it.”

There’s a pause. Aprile sees Gonzales differently than Matt Blondin. At 34, Gonzales is eight years older, and he’s been working with Aprile on and off for more than 10 years. He doesn’t push the way Blondin does, either. Gonzales is a good cook, but he’s also laid back—Aprile calls him the guy who all the guys want to have a beer with and all the women want to bed.

“The other thing that would be cool, but again, we’re getting a little trippy if we do it, is to syringe the vinaigrette into the beet,” Aprile says.

“That wouldn’t take long.”

“So we get syringes and the saffron vinaigrette goes right inside it. Because the problem with serving it whole is that a big part of it is not seasoned.”

“So that way it’s all seasoned.”

“No gels, there’s nothing funky. It’s just straight on—”

“Just a fucking beet.”

“A beet. And if we can even, if we can get really professional about this and, you know how the beets have, they have the little stringy root that comes off?”


Aprile draws another picture, with the root this time.

“Wouldn’t that be amazing if we could leave that on there so it comes out so beautiful, so rustic. It makes a real statement.”
The beet, however it evolves between now and the restaurant’s opening, will make Claudio Aprile’s statement. Steve Gonzales will execute it faithfully.