A Food Submission to the Local Paper

heidi-chronicle

 

Page is a small town, but I have lots of thoughts and ideas on how the food joints here could seriously progress. It is possible for the food culture here to become better. And so I wrote up a little ditty and submitted it to the paper. And they were crazy enough to print the thing. Here it is, in it’s entirety:

Page’s Peculiar Food Scene

By Heidi Roth

In the forward of Ivan Orkin’s new cookbook, Ivan Ramen – Love, Obsession and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint, celebrity chef David Chang has these encouraging words to say about Ivan’s new restaurant opening in New York City: “Let me be the first to congratulate you on a terrible decision. Get ready for the most ridiculous complaints known to mankind. Fifty percent of people will be cheering you, and the other fifty percent will want you dead. Use that as fuel.”

Seemingly harsh words directed at a chef who has had unbelievable success making some of the most highly sought after ramen in the dish’s native country of Japan. What Chang was trying to get across was this: working in the food world can be one of the most challenging, thankless and ruthless occupations ever undertaken, but it can also be the most rewarding. It is not for the weak of heart. It is not for the lazy. It is not for people who are not in love with food.

Growing up in Page, there wasn’t a wide selection of food to choose from, but we had our favorites. It’s hard to know what you’re missing if you don’t make it off the mesa very often. That all changed when I began traveling for work. I ate out a lot, pretty much for every meal, and I soon found myself trying foods I’d never eaten and had seldom heard about. I was sampling alligator, crawfish etoufee and boudin in Louisiana, I was enjoying some of the best Vietnamese pho and banh mi in Atlanta, Georgia, and I had the best bowl of ramen in my life at a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Las Vegas’ miniature Chinatown (did you even know they had one?). I’ve moaned quietly to myself as I devoured deep-fried roasted beets with kewpie mayo and schichimi togarashi at the famous food-truck turned restaurant-behind-a-bar East Side King, and I stood in line for two and a half hours for the best Texas BBQ I’ve ever had at Franklin BBQ in Austin, TX (you’ll find sauce on the table, but never on the meat). The complex yet crazily satisfying world of food had opened up to me and I was enjoying giving it a serious bear-hug back.

Being out in the real world for weeks at a time always made coming home to Page a very good thing. I’m a long-time resident and I have a ton of respect for the people of this town who have worked to keep the home-town feeling alive. There are a lot of things about big-city living that I would not want here, but what I miss most when I come home is the immense satisfaction I get out of enjoying a superbly cooked meal at a restaurant whose sole goal is to share their joy of good food with their customers. This ultimately led to me learning how to cook the dishes I missed from the road, and that’s how my food blog, FoodnWhine, got started.  

To be fair, there are a few serious restaurants in Page that I believe have a vision to make memorable eating experiences a constant possibility, but why aren’t there more? The reason there are so few serious restaurateurs in this town eludes me. I have a theory, though I can’t vouch for its credibility. I can recall a time when many of the restaurants in this town were cooking from scratch. It was good food, it was consistent, and it’s what kept the locals in their seats long after the tourist season was over. But over the years, more and more people began passing through Page on their way to other points of interest. Tour buses were shuttling larger numbers of people through town, but they were here long enough for a quick evening meal and then they were on their way. Restaurants found it necessary to produce more food more quickly to keep up with the demand of these high-volume, eat-and-run customers. Scratch cooking took a backseat and pre-packaged and processed foods replaced fresh ingredients that took more time to prep. I guess you can’t deny the logic in running an eating establishment in that way, but inevitably something’s got to give. I feel it’s the local people who contribute not just seasonally but yearly who have suffered.

I know there is a bean counter somewhere in this town who can prove to me that we see more people pass through our little town today than ever before in its history (give or take in recent years due to a sluggish economy and a major road closure), and yet more and more restaurants are closing down for the winter or seriously cutting back their hours. Before we start finger-pointing too heartily in one direction, we have to ask ourselves, is the restaurateurs or the locals? We can quite easily suggest that local eating establishments have simply stopped caring. We can provide examples of inconsistency on our plates, poor customer service (an extremely popular topic that shall require more detailed discussion in future articles) and ever-increasing prices, but I would also inquire as to whether or not the people of Page are really ready for a serious food revolution.

Yes, I know – we, dear citizens, may very well be part of the problem.

I recently read an article online at http://www.azcentral.com featuring Cottonwood’s burgeoning food scene. I’ll be honest with you, it gave me hope. Michelle Jurisin, who recently opened Pizzeria Bocce this summer, suggested that Cottonwood is more open than ever to quality eateries. ““I think it was time. Ten years ago, I don’t think Cottonwood was ready, but the town has grown. There’s an appreciation now for great ingredients and careful preparation.” I wonder if the people of Page are ready to embrace the same? For the most part, we’ve done well at keeping our small-town charm and supporting our local businesses, but we’re pretty harsh on our local eateries. What is it going to take to turn that around?

Here’s what I do know, in the myriads and multitudes of celebrity chef cookbooks that I own (I just bought three new ones last week), there is a common theme that I see in every single one of these insanely hot-right-now restaurants: they were founded by and are operated by people with a passion for passing along every great food memory they’ve ever had to their customers. They share that love, that adventure by caring about every single dish that goes out the kitchen door. They prove they should be getting the rave reviews they do by training a wait-staff that wants to be there and who work hard to make every diner’s experience a memorable one. They make us want to come back again and again because they’re serious about the ingredients they use and where they come from, how they’re sourced and they want to share that information with us.

There are a few places in town that are doing this. It may be an old-timer we frequent over and over because we know we’re going to consistently get good food. It may be an innovative visionary who brings a cuisine and an atmosphere to town that everyone says “will never make it” and yet they’re still the place we want to go to every Saturday night. Is it possible for a new restaurant to open up that offers modern, “New American” food and are we adventurous enough to take it on? Is it possible for a well-established local restaurant with plenty of loyal locals to take a leap of faith and offer a few new menu items that riff off of its tried-and-true standbys? I believe the answer to both of those questions is yes, and I’m ready for it to happen.

So, who’s hungry?

About these ads