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Response to Tim Carman


Kavita Singh
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Normally, we are reluctant to respond to an article or a review written by a journalist about a dining experience at New Heights. Yet, given Tim Carman's recent abrasive article published by the City Paper (Eats: Young & Hungry, "Kitchen Remodel," Thursday, 11/20/08), we believe it is our responsibility to reply, a responsibility to New Heights' exceptionally talented executive chef, Logan Cox, to the restaurants and diners of DC, and to New Heights itself.

Let us frame our reply by saying we believe that professional journalists and reviewers do have the privilege to call it as they see it; but, we also believe that with this privilege comes an obligation for journalists to know their subjects inside and out, to evaluate their dining experience with sober objectivity and to write with clarity and civility. Tim Carman's flagrant disregard of this obligation -- when writing not only about Logan Cox but also Leonardo Marino (Where does any professional food writer get off calling a chef a "dick?") -- has prompted our response.

We'd like to start with Carman's unseemly personal attack on Chef Cox, an attack punctuated by the spurious claim that "At this point in his career, Cox isn't worthy to lick Wabeck's tasting spoon" (John Wabeck being the executive chef Cox replaced). We're not certain what point Carman hopes to make with this inane comparison but, because Carman has just mentioned that Cox comes to New Heights from the Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, S.C., we can only assume that it has something to do with what Carman believes is Chef Cox's short pedigree. More than anything else, pedigree has to do with exposure, talent and a gift. Chef Cox is short on none of these. At the Woodlands Resort & Inn, Cox worked as Sous Chef with Tarver King, a Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux. Before that, he worked with Frank Ruta at Palena and, before Palena, as Sous Chef at Colvin Run Tavern with Bob Kinkead. No doubt, Chef Cox has expertly built himself a credible resume distinguished by great exposure to great mentors. We have to wonder if Carman did his homework before slashing out that Chef Cox, at this point in his career, isn't worthy to lick Wabeck's tasting spoon.

As for talent and a gift? We interviewed close to 30 candidates before selecting Chef Cox as Wabeck's replacement, requiring tastings of those on the short list. Cox impressed us with his foundation, technique, creativity, and flair for New American cuisine, all attributes we recognized in other young, gifted executive chefs who launched celebrated careers from New Heights' kitchen (these include Matthew Lake, Gregory Hill, Dean Winning, John Wabeck and R.J. Cooper). Carman, too, is not blind to Chef Cox's talent; he writes "Cox did display a flash of brilliance with a first course of butternut squash soup"; and that "Cox's appetizer of duck confit proved the kitchen could master the dish"; and "Cox clearly has a love for an eye-pleasing plate."

It's at this point in his article, after these compliments, that Carman arbitrarily turns on Chef Cox with several vague and snide remarks. We repeat, a reviewer should call it as he sees it; but he has an obligation to write with clarity and civility, and to know what he's writing about. Carman turns on Cox in a way that makes his review suspect, that calls into question whether he can be trusted to write objectively and authoritatively about food and restaurants. Or is he simply using food and restaurant reviews to show off what he thinks to be clever writing?

First example, Carman criticizes a sauce saying it tasted as if it "had been deglazed in a pan with 1,000-year-old fond in it. The Pauley Shore of the kitchen...." What is this all about? What does this comparison accomplish? Clever writing perhaps, but, like calling Marino "a dick" or chiding Chef Cox as unworthy "to lick Wabeck's tasting spoon," not the maturity or clarity we expect from a professional writer writing in the best interest of the food community.

Second example, Carman complains that eating the grilled pork left him "to worry a round of chewy pork in your mouth.... it was obvious that the kitchen had not sufficiently rendered the thin layer of fat before tossing the loin into the oven." At New Heights, the fat and cap surrounding the loin is removed in house. Yet, the meat closer to the "pork butt" is richer, fattier, and guaranteed to be a moist cut. To fully appreciate Carman's criticism, it would be good to know more about the cut. Insufficient detail here. Too, the dish calls for grilled pork. So why does Carman write "before tossing the loin into the oven?" Does he mean grilled in the salamander or baked in the oven? Or is this just another instance of cute writing? Imprecision and poor details do little to clarify his gripe and little to build the writer's authority.

Third example, Carman complains that he "waited and waited and waited for our check. I'm not sure how much more bored we could have looked." Putting aside the petulance of his "bored" posturing, the insinuation here is that Carman did not, would not, ask for the check, but rather expected the waiter to drop the bill once the meal was over, as if dropping the check is a mark of professional service. Not so. Different restaurants have different service standards. New Heights, rather than rush its customers by letting waiters drop the check at will, requires the staff to present the check only when the customer asks for it. Professional food writers know the difference between casual and fine dining service routines and will evaluate a restaurant according to the practices the operators think best for its clientele. Carman's dig about the service "lacking in fundamentals" raises another question: Is he up to speed on the different service procedures and so able to knowledgeably evaluate a restaurant accordingly?

There are several other instances in the "Kitchen Remodel" article that test Carman's motive and suitability for writing genuinely about food and restaurants, but we won't belabor the point here. Our intention is to question whether Carman can write knowledgeably and responsibly as a food writer. Given the surliness, imprecision and vanity with which Carman drafted his article, New Heights Restaurant has every right to call him to task. Not something we like or believe in doing, but something we had to do in the best interests of the D.C. restaurant community.

Kavita and Umbi Singh

Proprietors

New Heights Restaurant

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I made a point of having dinner at New Heights right after Logan Cox took over the kitchen (I was a big fan of John Wabeck and wanted to see how his replacement did). The meal we had (there were 6 of us at dinner) was excellent. All of us ordered something different, and everyone felt that the meal was excellent. So, from this foodie's point of view, the experience we had was 180 degrees different that what Tim Carman's article indicated.

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