(article written by Michael J. Burkholder – Lincoln Park Restaurant Examiner and Founder of Kitchen 212, inc.)
EXAMINER INSIGHTS: SHABU-SHABU THE ROOT OF CHEF’S DEMISE!
Done of us could have predicted that a Chef’s future – and demise – would be predicated on his ability to learn a new dish from an outsider? And who would have predicted that the dish at the core of this dispute would be Shabu-Shabu!
First a little culinary history about Shabu-Shabu.
Shabu-Shabu is a Japanese variant of hot pot. The dish is related to sukiyaki in style, where both use thinly sliced meat and vegetables, and usually served with dipping sauces, but it is considered to be more savory and less sweet than sukiyaki. It is considered a winter dish but is eaten year-round.
Shabu-Shabu was introduced in Japan in the 20th century with the opening of a Shabu-shabu restaurant “Suehiro” in Osaka. Its origins are traced back to the Chinese hot potknown as “shuan yang rou”. Shabu-shabu is most similar to the original Chinese version when compared to other Japanese dishes.
The name of Shabu-shabu was named when Suehiro served it. After that, Suehiro registered the name of shabu-shabu as a trademark in 1955. The cuisine rapidly spread through Asia. Together with sukiyaki, shabu-shabu is a common dish in tourist hot-spots, especially in Tokyo but also in local Japanese neighborhoods (colloquially called “Little Tokyos” or “Japantowns”) in countries such as the United States and Canada.
Chef Laurent Gras, the now departed Chef at L20 Restaurant in Lincoln Park, refused owner’s Rich Melman suggestion that he learn to cook the dish from an outsider. Chef’s can be difficult at times and French Chef’s probably more so, so Chef Gras decided it was time to leave for New York.
An article released by Phil Vettel explains the circumstances.
Six weeks after taking a “personal leave” from L2O and one day after seeing his restaurant awarded three stars from the Michelin Guide, chef Laurent Gras made it official. He’s gone for keeps.
In an interview with Food & Wine, Gras said the following:
“I love L2O and am very proud of everything we achieved there. But l and I have always had different points of view on L2O. In July, we talked about changes he wanted to make, and for me, these changes would alter the character of L2O and ultimately make it a different experience. I let him know then that I would be leaving. It seems sudden, but we worked together these past months to make the transition. For me, the most important thing was to make sure the restaurant stayed open and all my staff remained employed.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Melman this afternoon. “I heard what he said, and I’m disappointed. But I absolutely did ask him to make some changes. I wanted to make the shabu-shabu better; I told him, ‘I have this guy who makes the best shabu-shabu I’ve ever had; let’s bring him in to see.’ He was absolutely not open to that; he didn’t want to have anybody show him anything.
“And there were issues with how he treated the front-of-the-house people; he was dismissive and not interested,” Melman said. “And I told him, ‘I want you to be much more open about these things.’ I had a customer call me, upset, because he’d made a special request, and nothing outrageous, and he (Gras) refused.”
Melman added that he was “a little pissed off” at Gras’ implication that cost-cutting was at the root of their problems.
“I didn’t do this (L2O) as a big money play,” he said. “I’d be better off opening a bunch of M Burgers, to tell you the truth. You don’t spend $5.5 million and then worry about the pennies. And to imply that I was trying to make changes that weren’t for the betterment of the place is crazy. Anyone who works for me knows that I only want to make things better. This was nothing about the quality of the food; it was about him becoming a better-quality human being.”
Inheriting the top toque at L2O is Francis Brennan, who has worked with Gras for years, and who takes over a kitchen that has just been ranked one of the finest in the world.
In circus terms, that’s what’s called working without a net.
We do wish Chef Laurent Gras the best as he heads to New York City. He will without doubt remain one of the top Chef’s in the country. We hope he continues to bring his mastery of the culinary arts to a higher form.
We do suggest one last thought. We all can afford to learn something new from someone else. Don’t be afraid to heighten your intelligence and game!
Michael J. Burkholder
Lincoln Park Restaurant Examiner
Email comments to email@example.com