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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Last night Lee and I had dinner at Plumpjack Cafe. It was so amazingly wonderful that I couldn't help but sneak into the kitchen to congratulate the chef on his achievement. We came home and I immediately wrote my review which will run on SF Station soon. In general I don't like to review restaurants when the chef is just finding his sea legs, but in the case I had already heard some little whisperings that the food was something special.

The key word to chef James Syhabout's food is "restraint". Something I've noticed about young and talented chefs lately is their inconsistency. They try too hard. Sometimes they do something brilliant and other times, they fall flat. Trying too hard can mean too many elements on a plate, flavors that just don't come together, a desire to reinvent and push the envelope but without the palate or the technical skills to make it all work.

We've all heard the adage "simpler is better". But that is easier said than done. Think about the best sushi you have ever had. Just a piece of fish, right? Wrong. When done right, the quality of the fish, the rice, the knife techniques, the garnish or sauce all add up to something transcendent. But if just one element is off, frankly it's terrible.

Which leads me to advice for chefs everywhere, home cooks included. Cook to the best of your abilities and not beyond. Work on your skills, experiment and be brutally honest about your own creations. Don't serve anything you don't really believe in and that you haven't tasted. Cooking is a work in progress, but when you serve guests, put your best efforts out there and be proud of what you've done. Those who eat your food will be forever grateful.