Picture this. It’s a hot afternoon in the middle of July and you’re in a foreign country.
It’s times like this you might whip out your copy of Where Chefs Eat, a tome from Phaidon, now in its third edition of being a revolutionized restaurant guidebook.
Its previous editions were bestsellers, with more than 250,000 copies, each boasting of cities on and off the beaten track. Whether you’re looking for a cheap, down-home diner or a fancy, five-star feast, “Where Chefs Eat” claims it has you covered with recommendations from the celebrated stars of the restaurant world, the chefs themselves.
I spoke with editor Joshua David Stein (and former restaurant critic for the New York Observer) about Jewish representation in the food world, gatekeeping the food world and why Ashkenazi food needs better PR.
How did this book come about? How did you get involved?
I’ve been writing about food for a while, I know a lot of chefs, and I’m really driven and want to find out more about secondary and tertiary markets.
People used to consider Chicago a secondary market. I don’t think that’s true. I love places like Pittsburgh and Memphis and Minneapolis, which all have a lot going on.
Did you notice any interesting food trends when compiling the book? Like which chefs tend towards what places?
One of the eight categories was late nights or cheap eats and it’s amazing how many chefs love dumpling houses and dumpling restaurants. They all gravitate towards this type of super flavorful, fast, cheap, quick food, because when they’re done their shift, they don’t want to go out for a fancy meal. They want to relax.
I noticed there are only 23 mentions of Jewish restaurants in this entire 700-paged book, with 7,043 recommendations, from over 70 countries. What do you think that says about Jewish food’s place in the modern eating world?
By and large, Sephardic cuisine gets lumped in with Mediterranean in a lot of ways. You have that as a bucket of restaurants. And there’s a significant overlap there. Famously, Ashkenazi food has not had a great reputation. it’s this Eastern European…
Oily garbage food.
I think that’s changing with a lot of delicatessens in LA and in New York, but it still suffers from that reputation. And I’m not saying the chefs had the idea of Ashkenazi food like that, but maybe that’s why there aren’t so many places on the market. I will also say that in New York, Russ and Daughters received the highest number of votes in its category.
Do you think these restaurant guidebooks are gatekeeping the food community? Only putting in the same well-reviewed restaurants repeatedly? I get that you’re not using the Michelin star systems, but isn’t using a certain class of acclaimed chefs and their favorite restaurants serve a similar gatekeeping purpose?
Are we replacing Michelin stars? No. An additional voice? Yes. Every curatorial decision you make forms some kind of gate. But we had such a large number of chefs with so many voices that each of the recommendations ended up being more inclusive. I picked chefs across North and South America and asked them to pick eight places they enjoyed.
Shira Feder is at firstname.lastname@example.org