Food Paparazzi. The TMZ, err, ABC of Petrossian
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So there I was.
Camera focused tightly on me, mic in my face.
And the word just wouldn’t come.
“Recip… reciprocit… recipricosit…”
Why didn’t I just say “mutually beneficial”?
Photo courtesy of Food She Thought
For someone who considers himself a writer, this was disturbing. Words are my tools. I was at that moment struck by a fear that this was the clip that they’d choose to use of me. Me, fumbling for words, stumbling like a drunk through his vocabulary. Great.
Perhaps I should just stick to the pictures. After all, that’s what they’re calling us, right? Food paparazzi?
Photo courtesy of Food She Thought
Let me backtrack.
Some of you may have seen this article in last Monday’s LA Times. Titled “Dinner is the theater as food paparazzi converge”, it brought the term “food paparazzi” into the public consciousness. And not in the most flattering light. Nevertheless, I was quoted and devoted four paragraphs and, all in all, treated gently. More importantly, the LA Times ran three of my photos with the article. Just click through to pictures 5 to 7. See my real name there? Okay, so no more anonymity but this was the LA Times. A byline in the LA TIMES, people!
The story also generated two calls from the ABC7 newsroom. They wanted to do their own story on the food paparazzi. Would I be interested? I tossed around the notion in my head. Would this be a puff piece? Or a negative piece about smug, self-appointed, camera-toting, foodie know-it-alls?
Of course the answer was always going to be “Yes”. I just wanted to stack the odds in my favor. So, just like Charlie in Charlie’s Angels, I gathered three of the smartest, most TV-friendly food writers and photographers I know – Liz of Food She Thought, Felicia of The Food Ledger and Amy, my partner in life and dining – for an impromptu dinner that the ABC7 news crew would cover. And I took them to one of the most blogger-friendly restaurants in town, Petrossian, headed up by one of the most blogger-friendly chefs I know, Chef Ben Bailly. This interview was going down on home turf, whether ABC7 knew it or not. Besides, I love the food at Petrossian, reviewed previously here. It also plates beautifully for camera and the light there lends itself to gorgeous photos, which I knew they’d run.
And so I found myself, somewhere between the Caviar Surprise and the Salmon Tartare, unable to pronounce “reciprocity”.
Truth be told, by that stage we just wanted the camera crew to wrap up and leave us to enjoy what would be a six course tasting from Chef Bailly, mainly of off-menu specials. The only other table dining at Petrossian that night was Chef Walter Manzke’s, recently of Church & State, and Chef Bailly was also preparing a tasting menu for him, so the kitchen had free reign that night.
Besides, the harsh light from the news camera’s on-board light was killing our photos! We’d let them shoot B-roll of us taking photos, then wait for them to turn off the light and shoot our photos again.
The night started off with hibiscus champagne as is customary at Petrossian. After all, what is caviar without champagne? Or vice versa?
Luckily, this wasn’t a question we needed to answer as the first course to arrive was the much talked about “Caviar Surprise”. King crab and apple cider gelée, topped with a layer of creme fraiche, and topped again with a generous layer of caviar, all served in the distinctive blue Petrossian caviar tin with blinis and toast points. A decadent beginning to the meal, I almost felt bad eating this on camera. The equivalent of an edible “Fuck you” to the recession. The sweetness of the apple cider gelée complemented the brininess of the caviar and the crab, the creme fraiche softening the punch of the dish like a velvet and butterfat glove.
After a brief interlude for interviews, we returned invigorated to the salmon tartare topped with more caviar and a sunny side up quail egg. Simple, well seasoned and balanced, this was a salmon tartare elevated by the addition of caviar. Break the yolk and let it permeate the caviar, combine with salmon and eat in one bite. Delicious.
Staying in the egg theme, next up was the Crispy Egg. In fact, this was egg on egg as it too was topped with a healthy dollop of caviar. Coated in bread crumbs and precisely cooked, the egg sat in a onion and potato soubise, essentially a purée. The crispy exterior played nicely with the silky smooth onion soubise, the caviar adding brine and the runny egg yolk coating it all in a rich smoothness. While the crispy egg was ostensibly the star of this dish, the onion purée was where I found warmth and comfort in this dish.
This was followed by the skate wing topped with a brown butter foam atop a bed of crushed potatoes. Around the plate were caper berries, cubes of an extremely tart sherry vinegar gelée, and croutons. I can’t fault the skate or crushed potatoes but my memory goes back most vividly to the mouth puckering cubes of sherry vinegar gelée.
Our final savory course was sweetbreads with baby spinach and maitake mushrooms. A relatively light course as the size of Chef Bailly’s servings were taking their toll. The sweetbreads were lightly coated and tender, always reminding me of the most delicate chicken nuggets.
Thankfully the trio of desserts was brought out to share. An extremely rich gianduja chocolate parfait with hazelnut biscuit and vanilla mascarpone, the delicious pistachio creme brulée with strawberries I had on my previous visit, and the most playful way to end the meal, the vanilla panna cotta topped with a mango marmalade and pop rocks! I love my dessert with a serving of whimsy and this has to go down as one of my favorite panna cottas of recent memory.
The meal over, the only thing left to do now was to wait for the story to air. I was out when it did the following evening on the 11pm news but my cell phone lit up with tweets and Facebook comments. I’ve since watched it more times than I care to admit and, I have to say, it was positive and presented with minimal spin. Of course we’re still referred to as food paparazzi but we got some important points across. No flash. Shoot the food, not the guests. Shoot when dining with other bloggers and not in mixed company.
Most gratifying to me, though, was the quote “but his food photos are simply mouthwatering”. That and the photos I shot that they ran with the quote.
Perhaps I should just stick to the pictures.
Oh, and to any producers at the Food Network or Bravo who are reading this, I was absolutely serious about wanting that guest judge spot on Iron Chef or Top Chef. In return, I’ll pretend to laugh at Toby Young’s jokes and even say I’m a long lost cousin of The Chairman.
How’s that for reciprocity?Petrossian West Hollywood 321 North Robertson Boulevard West Hollywood, CA 90048 (310) 271-6300