Rebecca Charles, the owner of Pearl Oyster Bar, a popular seafood joint in New York’s West Village, has sued her former sous-chef Ed McFarland over intellectual property rights, and the juicy story made the front page of The New York Times Wednesday. Charles accuses McFarland of copying “each and every element” of Pearl in his Ed’s Lobster Bar (in SoHo). Her grievances include design elements, but the heart of the case swirls around McFarland’s caesar salad, which Charles insists came from her own recipe. At the same time, Charles admits that Pearl was inspired by a low-key spot in San Francisco and that the salad recipe in dispute came from her mother, who got it from a defunct Los Angeles restaurant. The outcome of the case remains to be seen, but we called a few local chefs to get their reactions to the controversy-as it turned out, none were particularly sympathetic to Ms. Charles.
Here is what they said:
“Look at all the people who worked under Jean Banchet [founder of the recently closed legendary Le Français]. A lot of what we do when cooking straightforward French is stuff we learned from Jean Banchet. He could say we stole his intellectual property. But instead I think it makes him feel as though he’s got a lineage. Banchet in turn learned from Fernand Point.” –Michael Altenberg, executive chef/owner (Bistro Campagne, Crust)
“If I had only one good recipe in me, I don’t belong in this business. And I don’t see how you can copyright an aesthetic. Where do you think we got the purse stool idea [for Tru]? Alain Ducasse in Monaco was doing it. Rick [Tramonto] and I saw it on our honeymoon and knew we wanted to do it someday.” –Gale Gand, executive pastry chef/partner (Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto, RT Lounge, Gale’s Coffee Bar)
[Cenitare Restaurants, of which Gand is a principal, requires employees to sign confidentiality agreements.]
“A sous-chef for six years-I’m sure he contributed quite a bit. Some things may have become signature dishes that now define what Pearl is. He was there for six out of ten years. I’m looking at the pictures and the two places don’t look that much alike. As for the caesar salad, it’s an interpretation that she didn’t invent either.” –Paul Kahan, executive chef/owner (Blackbird)
"The place that’s serving the best food is going to have the most customers. I say focus your energy on how the food tastes and make sure your guests are being taken care of.” –Tony Mantuano, chef/partner (Spiaggia, Café Spiaggia)
“I read the story about this woman Charles. I think she should concentrate on achieving better relationships with her partners and so forth. She sued a partner and now she’s suing a chef that worked for her.” –Rich Melman (cofounder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises)
“I find it sad that he couldn’t create something on his own. But I also find it sad that she is taking it to this level. She should trust her reputation and that her client base is going to support her because they obviously have been supporting her for ten years.” –Carrie Nahabedian, executive chef/partner (Naha)
Where’s the Beef?
After a seven-year run in Evanston, Giovanni DeNigiris moved his Trattoria Trullo to Lincoln Square (4767 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-506-0093), where he opened the doors last Friday (June 22nd). If you have ever been to the original, you might recognize the pictures, the furnishings, and the menu. No matter; the place seems to be an instant hit in its new digs. Now DeNigiris plans to open Macello (1235 W. Lake St.) in early August. Macello means “slaughterhouse” in Italian. “Because it’s in the meat district the entrance will be set up like a butcher shop with white ceramic tile, a big scale, salami and prosciutto hanging over the daily case,” says DeNigiris. And lots of meat on the dining-room menu? Not really. “The cooking of Puglia-seafood, vegetables, olive oil, wood-burning oven pizzas, and assagini [think tapas].” Sounds good but somehow we figured DeNigiris had meat on his mind for Macello.
Everyone Sounds Happy
Carol Johnson recently bought Il Covo (2152 N. Damen Ave.; 773-862-5555) from Jeff Greaves, Covo’s former owner and her former boss there. Johnson and her partners-two of whom were chefs at Pizza D.O.C. and Trattoria D.O.C.-have cleaned up the baffling Australian/Italian fusion menu in favor of straight-up Italian. (No more Moreton Bay bugs with spaghetti.) Johnson says the neighborhood loves the new simplicity. “We already have regulars and we have only been here two weeks. When people walk in, it’s like a big hug.” As for Greaves, he still owns the real estate and he’s delighted with the deal. “These people will do a much better job. Now I can eat out again. I have my life back.”
She Said It
“Our lease will be up in two years. The landlord has let us know that he’s not going to renew our lease. We are investigating what we can find in the neighborhood and elsewhere if necessary.”–Jean Uzdawinis, co-owner of Café Selmarie (4729 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-989-5595)
Coast to Coast
Ruby recently checked out South Coast (1700 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-662-1700), the South Loop’s new offshoot of Coast. It was a Tuesday night, early, there was construction next door, no good restaurant signage . . . and the place was still packed. The sushi, while a tad pricey, was impeccably fresh, particularly the gorgeous sashimi sampler plate (ten offerings, $24), and the service was earnest as can be. There’s no beating BYO at a sushi place, where you’re always thirsty: we saw groups pull out multiple bottles of wine, saké, and other good stuff, and the $5 corkage fee didn’t seem to bother anyone.
“We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), American writer and philosopher
Secil Akfoy says that baklava comes from her parents’ hometown of Gaziantep, Turkey. Maybe. She also says, “All the Turkish places around here are more about entertainment and less about home-cooked Turkish food.” Probably. That’s why her parents’ friends urged them to open Nazarlik Turkish Cuisine (1650 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-327-5800). The tiny brand-new, mostly carryout place (counter service, four tables) specializes in lahmacun, a Turkish pizza with a “crust so thin, you barely see it. My mom makes the dough,” Akfoy proudly explains. “It’s not machine made. She makes it in her hands, Turkish old style.” The “gourmet” pizza is topped with vegetables and ground lamb and sells for $3.45. What about baklava? “No. Not yet. Maybe in the future. We would like to bring a baklava cook from Turkey to here, just to do it.”
Things to Do
1. Roll through Brasserie Jo (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800) during the Tour de France for a special menu featuring the cuisine of each of the stages of the race.
2. Check out this cool new blogspot for suggestions on French wines sold in Chicago for under $12.
3. Chow down on this video of Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time hot dog eating champion, who may sit out the annual Fourth of July contest due to a jaw injury.
Dot Dot Dot
Terry Alexander morphed the former Del Toro space in Wicker Park into The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave.; 773-252-1500.), but this time around the focus will be more on cocktails than on cuisine. You can belly up to the bar starting tomorrow, June 28th. . . . Egglectic Café (145 N. Hale, Wheaton; 630-690-9001) a gourmet brunch spot, opened its second location in Wheaton this week in the Danada Town Square shopping center (221 Town Square; 630-260-9001). . . . The next of Alex Dana’s Rosebud restaurants, Rosebud Prime (1 S. Dearborn St.; 312-384-1900), is scheduled to début in late July. . . . Now We’re Cookin’ (1601 Payne St., Unit C, Evanston; 847-570-4140), a new culinary service center, will be hosting a farmers’ market–inspired cooking class Saturdays starting July 7th. . . . Paddy Long’s (1028 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-280-6988), a Lincoln Park pub and grill, opens next week. . . . Ice-cream and sweet shop Sweet Occasions and More!, already a hit in Andersonville and Ravenswood, makes its move on Edgewater in late August (northwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Kenmore).
Dish will return on July 11th, Happy 4th of July!