Don’t you just love it when something exceeds your expectations? How often does that even happen anymore? Perhaps cooking professionally has jaded me just a bit. Ever since I’ve been held to high culinary standards — Michelin-star standards — mistakes tend to glare at me, especially when I know that they’re easily fixable. Over the years, I’ve developed a list of pet peeves, but the most common transgression, at least for me, is unseasoned french fries. After all, what are french fries without the salt? Bland, greasy potatoes, that’s what. I know there’s usually salt at the table, but here’s my problem: Any cook who sends out a batch of french fries without seasoning them either just doesn’t care, or they just don’t know any better. And then I jump to ugly conclusions. Well, if they couldn’t even be bothered to throw a little salt on these fries, which takes all of two seconds, do they even go to the trouble of ever washing their hands? Because if someone in the kitchen just doesn’t care, hygiene and food safety will be the first thing to slip, since both of these things actually take effort and consideration. Think about that the next time you’re served an order of unseasoned fries.
What I really meant to say, before I got sidetracked, was that expectations can be tricky sometimes. If left unfulfilled, they can sabotage an otherwise acceptable meal. And who do you even trust these days, anyway? Food critics? Bloggers? Even someone with so-called credentials may have different tastes than you do. What about that? There are certainly no guarantees: I witnessed the most disappointing meal I’ve ever been involved with while I was volunteering at the James Beard House several years ago. Yes, the James Beard House, where you think you wouldn’t ever get a bad meal. The person in charge of that dinner, who I will never acknowledge as a chef, still peddles barbecue in the Los Angeles area. He was a total hack, completely inept, and just plain stupid in the kitchen. And yet he’s got at least two James Beard dinners under his belt. That’s right. Even after serving people that embarrassing dreck, he got invited back to do it again. It just goes to prove, even the James Beard Foundation can get it wrong. Horribly wrong. I will never understand how that dinner came to pass. But again, I digress.
Why am I so negative tonight? Maybe I’m going through a trans-fat withdrawal. There’s a decent chance of it. I’ll go ahead and keep the rest of this entry short, so that I don’t slip into another rant: I visited Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans last week with the hope of eating something good. Instead, I ate something utterly transcendent. It was the fried chicken pictured above, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted, or will ever hope to taste. Not only did it establish my new paradigm for fried chicken, it also established my new paradigm for fried food in general. But then again, that’s just my own humble opinion. If you’ve never been to Willie Mae’s, I wouldn’t want to set your own hopes too high, and at the end of the day, you may prefer the fried chicken over at Dooky Chase. Quite frankly, I couldn’t really argue with that, either.