What happens when a chef steps away from the stove? In the case of a couple of the Accidental Locaovore’s old favorite restaurants, it may be time to say adieu. Long ago, it was the death of chef Antoine Magnin of L’Ami Louis in Paris that took it from being where I would, without doubt, choose my last meal from, to just being an extraordinarily expensive roast chicken (and where I have had my last meal from).
Recently, it happened with one of our favorite restaurants in Maine, Cafe Miranda. About a year ago, Kerry decided to stop cooking on a nightly basis to focus on other projects. While we’ve had meals there in the past with someone else manning the line, this was the first time we were unknown to the staff.
The bar at Miranda has always been the best place to sit, eat and watch the mad dash between the chefs and the wood-burning oven. Watching Kerry in action we all picked up lots of ideas, tips and skills, from hitting an ear of corn with a blow torch (corn brÁ»lée — tastes like popcorn!) to using tongs as an extension of your hand. In the midst of this, he’d be shouting orders to sous and staff and everything hummed on in a skillful example of controlled chaos. If he didn’t feel you were paying enough attention he would resort to shenanigans, like shooting a stream of oil into the fire, until you were once again focused on the show in front of you. And the food was nervy, inventive, fun and delicious!
This night, there was chaos, but of the messy and sloppy sort. Once we were seated, there was a long wait, and then a request, which finally brought menus and water. Bread was withheld “until you order.” There was no show, just a couple of extremely harried cooks, trying to put ingredients on plates. At one point we counted eleven dishes pulled from the flames, stacked, sitting and waiting to be finished.
My appetizer of pork belly and kimchi was lukewarm despite the fact that the pork belly was almost singed beyond recognition. This would prove to be the mantra of the evening, with almost everything from my husband’s pork chop to my Dan Dan noodles being overcooked and swimming in oil. Kerry always boasted about the “fat delivery system” in some of the dishes, but under his hand, you wanted all the fat and then some!
The unfortunate thing about restaurants is that no matter how stellar the past, one mediocre meal often means you don’t go back. Especially in this case, when it’s a once or twice a year event and you know the chef isn’t cooking anymore. Sorry Kerry, but we missed you and we’ll miss Miranda.