The funny part about writing is how much your opinion can change within a few short months of the completion of the original piece. This letter, in particular, was written for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s food blog, PG Plate, for which I contributed a few random blog posts, but was never posted.
Dearest Pittsburgh Diners,
It’s no secret that I move around a lot. Whenever I feel the need to try something new, I usually wind up in a new place. Before I get there, I make a mental checklist of things I’m hoping to accomplish there and changes I’d like to see in myself and my food.
This time around it’s different. As I prepare to leave Pittsburgh, instead of making a list for the next phase of my life, I find myself using my last few weeks to reflect on my time here and why it had such an impact on me.
Part of why Pittsburgh captivates my attention is its position right at the brink of a culinary “revolution.” In all the cities I’ve called home, I’ve never been able to witness the first stages of a true shift in restaurant industry dynamics. Pittsburgh is perfectly poised to take the reins and define what happens with their city’s food scene.
With all of these changes happening, I feel the dining community of Pittsburgh is on a similar revelatory fluctuation of sort. I mean, let’s be real here. Three years ago there was no Sousa empire, Cure was a twinkle in Severino’s eye, and, with the exception of Dish, Italian food was, well, Eye-talian at best. Red sauce soaked, prepackaged pasta was the diamond in the rough from what I gather.
Now, Pittsburgh is a getting a taste of solidly executed, sometimes a little strange, beautiful food by the likes of Racicot, Steel, Felder, Branduzzi, Deshantz, Fuller, and I could keep going, but I’m not fond of circle jerks. You’ve imported heavy hitters like Gourmet, Martha Stewart, and Washington Post published, Melissa McCart. One of the best sommeliers in the country, John Wabeck, is on his way from DC to you as I write.
You have natural talent as well. You’ve not only given Brooklyn their head pie-guy at Roberta’s, but you’ve installed the pastry chef at Sean Brock’s McCrady’s. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: If I could wish for anything to happen in Pittsburgh over the next year, it is that you, the customers go out and eat. Invest your money into this community of eager and talented chefs, support collaborative dinners, be okay with an occasional “bad experience,” tell your friends about the good ones, don’t use yelp, and don’t review restaurants unless you’re qualified, and most of all, eat something you’ve never had before.
Reflecting back on what it was that kept me in Pittsburgh for so long, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the food or really anything to do with the industry. Pittsburghers are a proud people. The city is, unequivocally, the most beautiful, urban setting I have called home. And the friendships that I made will be long-lasting. I’ve even managed to bring a couple people with me to Michigan City.
While I don’t necessarily have too much internal conflict with the original letter (other than my own personal circle jerk near the end); I do have something I’d like to add: A letter to the chefs.
Slow the fuck down.
It seems that this new attention; a two-paragraph blurb in a much larger article on a Cleveland chef in the New York Times; an insider’s guide to Pittsburgh tourism in the Wall Street Journal; has given much awareness to the “What could be?” and not the “What it is.” Companies are expanding too fast before perfecting their flagships. Money is important, but isn’t a reputation for a consistent, quality establishment of greater importance?
Teach your cooks how to cook.
Outside of management, from what I have seen in Pittsburgh, ninety-five percent of cooks can’t sear a piece of meat or keep their aprons clean for longer than an hour. If you don’t have the time to do this, don’t hire them. It drags down the rest of your colleagues. It makes for no progress.
Leave the city once and a while.
You’re spitting distance from DC, NYC, Chicago, and Philly. You’re never too old or too experienced to go stage. When a cook says they can’t afford to do it, tell them they’re in the wrong business. Where there is a will, there’s a way, or so they say.
If you’re going to suck another chefs dick in person, then please don’t talk shit about him to others. Own being an asshole, or change your attitude.
Do with this advice what you will. I mean, what the fuck do I know? I’m just a “28 year-old hack that is too big of a pussy to say anything.”