It's not easy going green
I have to admit that Organixx came as a surprise. Given how much trade it was doing amid the fierce competition of Blake Street, I knew it would probably be good — but what surprised me was how the inherent goodness of its prep, presentation and cuisine so fully overshadowed the presumed, wordy goodness of its green-washed mission statement.
I am something of a killjoy when it comes to marketing fad masquerading as political movement. I am, by nature, highly suspicious of anyone who hangs their ideals out there in undisguised effort to make a buck. Sure, these might be deeply felt beliefs. They might have, at their core, some honest urge to try and make the world a better place. But the minute someone starts using their politics or their convictions to bring in the pesos, I start getting skeptical. And let's not kid ourselves here: Right now, "green" is one of the biggest marketing hooks out there for getting unreconstructed hippies, liberal-minded soccer moms and coup-counting foodies to part with their gold cards in your restaurant. Even Wal-Mart is using a local hook these days, in a calculated ploy to make those people uncomfortable with shopping at some massive, neighborhood-destroying, big-box chain store slightly less guilty as they walk out the door with their cases of discount soda and 64-ounce jars of mayonnaise.
Because of this, I'm suspicious of militant organic or vegetarian or locavore restaurants. But on the other hand, I really like Organixx (which is very green) and Shazz (ditto) and Masalaa (which is totally vegetarian) and Z Cuisine (where chef-owner Patrick Dupays does most of his shopping straight out of the farmers' markets and writes his menus accordingly) and Black Cat (so locals-only that its chef-owner, Eric Skokan, now has his own start-up farming operation in Boulder). But I did not like Root Down (which aimed for both a local/all-natural image and some weird form of from-each-according-to-his-talents culinary socialism) and have always had mixed feelings about The Kitchen up in Boulder, where pride over ingredients always seemed to overshadow the talents on the line. I like restaurants, not movements. Chefs, not slogans.
A large part of a chef's job (and, I would argue, perhaps the largest part of the job as he matures and begins to step away from actually standing shifts on the line, into a more supervisory role) is to know what is good and how best to give what's good to his customers. A chef spends years developing his eye and his palate — first, learning from his masters, and then on his own, traveling and eating, sampling and judging, separating in his head the good from the bad. All that knowledge — sometimes decades' worth — is what informs all the work that you, the customer, do not see behind the scenes. The sourcing and the shopping, the fighting with purveyors, the menu design and plate design and training of a staff to do what's best with the best ingredients available. The chef doesn't need to be told what to do by some movement, and I don't need to be told what to do or what is good for me or what I ought to be eating in order to protect myself, the planet, or all the fish and chickens and unprocessed hamburgers (also called cows) that live upon it.
My point is a simple one: Eat what thou wilt. Eat everything, from everywhere. Eat because you enjoy it — because you like the delicious, garlicky, butter-juiced savor of perfect escargot (tough for a locavore in Colorado to get French snail, right?) or the earthy musk of real black Umbrian truffles (organic for sure, but local only in Italy) or the smooth, fatty luxury of seared foie gras (politically incorrect virtually everywhere, but so worth it). Eat because you like the vicarious adventure of eating Ethiopian kittfo or jellied duck's blood in Vietnamese soup no matter how the vegetarians might squeal; eat in celebration of being able to have such luxuries when so many others must go without and because going out to eat — even in this day when the art of home cookery has been thrown over almost entirely for the drive-thru, the take-away and the fast-casual dining room — ought to be an event. It ought to be something special. And to my mind, nothing mars the pleasure of the table worse than bringing to it a bunch of guilt and fear and politics. When I am going out to eat, I want the cook or the chef to bring me dinner, nothing more. I'll get educated elsewhere. I'll save the planet on my own time.
So eat what thou wilt. That's my new rallying cry. Eat what thou wilt.
Leftovers: Across the street from Organixx, at 1525 Blake Street, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant will mark ten years in LoDo with a major bash on August 15. Although the Rio is a Colorado chain that got its start in college communities, there's nothing locavore about it — except, perhaps, the green tint to those very, very powerful margaritas.
I hope to use one to toast the reopening of Big Hoss Bar-B-Q, at 3961Tennyson Street, which suffered a kitchen fire at the end of June and, after several false starts, is finally slated to reopen on August 14. And according to a sign in the window of Brandon's, which locked its doors at 955 Lincoln Street at the end of June, Brandon's will be back on the 14th, too. For updates on that, as well as Nancy Levine's inside look at those Rio margs and more of my anti-green rant, visit our Cafe Society blog.
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