Manya's post on Higgins, below, made me think about what I look for in a restaurant. Manya mentioned, referring to Greg Higgins, that anyone who cures their own meat should be commended and supported. While I'd agree with that, my fear is that Greg Higgins gets the press, does the ads and promos, and may be involved with curing the meat, but rarely cooks in the kitchen.
It seems that in today's FoodTV-dominated world, the goal of many chefs is to become so popular and successful that they don't have to cook. Lots of people say that Higgins is a great chef. Okay, fine, but if he's not cooking for you, you get uncooked, folded over razor clams? Apparently, from our last meal there, he's not even overseeing the process very well. I'm not trying to pick on Higgins, but in Portland, a town not known for celebrity chefs, he seems to be one of the few who is concerned with image over quality. And lots of people I've talked to who really love food say that's pretty much the Higgins rep...it gets attention because it's supposed to be good and because Higgins is supposed to be a good chef. But if he's not cooking, how much is Greg Higgins and how much is "Higgins, Inc."?
I don't know how many people here ever visited Scarlet Begonias before they had financial troubles, but that was my type of restaurant. Small, unassuming, fun, personal, and the chef, Ronnie Vance, cooked everything himself, and made some of the best dishes that I've had in Portland to this date. Yet he still had time to visit patrons. And I've decided that this is the type of restaurant I want to visit and revisit.
Frankly, I dislike the "celebrity chef" trend. I don't want celebrity chefs, cookbooks, and t-shirts. I don't care if the chef is handsome/pretty, wears trendy clothes, or has their own line of spices. I want chefs who cook the food themselves, who love doing it, and who love seeing your reaction when you bite into the perfect crab beignet floating in a sea of tomato bisque. Ronnie, we miss you...even though you didn't cure your own meat.