Whenever we write about Bruce Buschel's New York Times blog, Start-Up Chronicle, Curbed readers take it as an opportunity to vent their personal frustrations with both Mr. Buschel and his restaurant, Southfork Kitchen. Some comments call for the restaurant's closing, others complain about the admittedly-high prices, and a few just demonstrate an intense dislike the man himself.
At its essence, the idea of opening and running a locally-sourced, sustainable eatery is a noble pursuit. That's why we haven't been able to pinpoint why the mere mention of his name inspires such vitriol.
To help us figure that out, we went straight to the man himself. Mr. Buschnel was
foolish kind enough to answer a few of our questions via Email. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.
What effect do you think the blog has had on the restaurant, if any?
I knew it would be a double-edged sword from the beginning ? I have a bad habit of spilling too many raw beans. About myself and everything else. The blog would get the word out, but that word would be mixed. I just try to share my experiences as I encounter them, nothing more or less. Honesty is my only guideline, and my editor at the Times. This theory will inevitably attract some people and repel others. The best part of the blog is that I get chance after chance after chance to explain what we are doing and why. I can dig beneath the obvious surfaces and reveal what is discovered.
Do you ever feel like you're sharing information not meant for "normal" ears?
As a newbie in the restaurant business, I find most of the "kitchen confidential" secrets to be fascinating, and I want to share that with anyone who goes out to eat, even once in a while. Who doesn't like to peek behind the scenes? And what do we have to hide? If the town had allowed it, we would have had an open kitchen as both a practical and symbolic artifact. What I try not to do is hang anyone out to dry. I won't point a finger and name names. I ask anyone who may appear in the blog if I have their approval. No "gotcha" blogging. While you may think we share too much info, the hardcore business community would like more numbers, like profit and loss statements, maybe our tax returns. Ha ha ha. I may be naive, but I ain't nuts.
Whenever we post something about Southfork Kitchen, the commenters are always especially vicious. What do you think brings it out in them?
The comments on the blog, which has a national audience, are generally supportive and empathic. I can only surmise that locals ? whatever that means nowadays ? see me as an uppity interloper, see upscale dining as pretentious, and really don't understand what we are doing. After all, we had local builders and local tradesmen from the start, we pay local taxes, and we buy from local farmers, local baymen, and local vineyards. Some restaurants import their staff from the city and their food from all over the world. Some restaurants may be seem friendly because they are very affordable, but are not actually local ? except for the clientele that pays the freight. Without fear of sounding pollyanna-ish, I think there is room enough for all the colors of the rainbow, and burnt sienna too.
The biggest complaint seems to be that your restaurant isn't acknowledging the local clientele. Do you think this is a fair accusation?
Yes and no. We have a high price point, but no higher than any other restaurants aspiring to fine dining. Dave's Grill in Montauk has a fish stew for $43 and a lobster roll for $37. Do they get flak? The Palm has three-pound lobsters at $24 per pound. We have a three-course lobster dinner for $55 and folks jump all over us. We think we offer excellent value, good bang for the buck. Amuse bouche, Blue Duck bread, home-churned butter, local honey, salt from the end of Ocean Road. But we don't have a television, we don't play rock'n'roll, and we don't have French fries or a burger. We play soft jazz and pay attention to traditional protocol. Our staff is polite and well versed in what they are serving. I consider the thousands of people who dine with us to be local and deserving of any experience they are in the mood for.
What makes this criticism all worthwhile?
This is a simple query that begs for a simple answer. To be succinct, I love dealing with the people who supply sustainable seafood and organic produce and Long Island wine. It makes me feel part of the earth and sky and sea. I love providing a place where folks enjoy a really delicious, really relaxed, really mindful meal with friends and family. I know some of those meals are among the most memorable nights of my life.