Pros: Honest food, genuinely captured, captivating
Come in, We’re Closed
Christine Carroll & Jody Eddy
Reviewed by Jim Berman
There are few cooks, if any, which do not tire of the food served in their own places. For one reason or another, it is overload to be around the same food every day. Yeah, yeah, menus change and seasons change and products change. Still, there is a monotony that can set in with eating what you serve day after day, shift after shift. Does that mean that there is no mojo in the food we serve to our guests? Certainly not. But, imagine making and eating an omelet for breakfast everyday for three months. Consider Mumford & Sons listening to music; I would guess they wouldn’t listen to Mumford & Sons. Doesn’t mean that they don’t like music, they just want... something else.
It becomes easier to get better, but the appeal wanes. It just happens. We can work with some fantastic ingredients, but after a while, well, you get the point. And, in general, we are a simple lot. It doesn’t even have to be what we serve our guests that sustains us and keeps us motivated to work through fire and fickle customers. Nary a cook will pass up steaming mussels with a gullet load of melted butter, garlic and crusty bread to sop up the lot. Leave it Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy to wrangle a collection of restaurants’ staff meals into one, poignant and pleasing volume. From a spectrum of today’s notable, notorious and namesake eateries, Come in, We’re Closed (Running Press, 2012) brings the magic of the man behind the curtain to life. The doorway in the rear of the dining room actually houses real people that eat real food. Come in, We’re Closed digs deep into the philosophy of the staff (or ‘family’) meal, the ingredients that never get discarded, the cooks that are put to task to feed other cooks and the inspiration for these familial feasts.
Come in, We’re Closed looks behind the kitchen door of restaurants from all walks, from Morimoto, to WD-50 to City Grocery. Each restaurant the duo explores has a bit of a casual shared; a bit on, say, the chef’s philosophy, the make-up of the brigade and the cultural backgrounds that parlay into the types of food that make it to the communal table or a bit the timeline that runs up to the staff meal. All of the delivery throughout Come in, We’re Closed is comfortable, like a staff meal itself; all approachable and hospitable. Carroll and Eddy cleverly drop in many candid photos, rather than the all too common, overly staged, fussy flood-lit ‘food as art in front of white canvas’ pretentious glop. Again, very approachable and welcoming. Come in, We’re Closed quickly becomes a book difficult to put down. Each section includes a ‘conversation’ with whomever makes the staff meal and/or the owner. Succinct in inquiry, the questions get some great answers!
Asked of Sean Brock of McCrady’s, “What inspires your staff meals?”
“I’m inspired by drive-ins and dive bards, and cool place where a dude can smoke cigarette while he cooks a hamburger for you, ashes falling in there. Gives a whole new meaning to cooking with ashes.”
Of Tony Maws of Craigie on Main, “Has anyone ever gotten rewarded for making a great staff meal?”
“Do a few people move up because of stuff that they do in family meal? Hell yeah. I mean, it’s cooking: show me what you can do.”
Splayed across Come in, We’re Closed, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc pops up. But, more interestingly, not Thomas Keller. Rather, Carroll and Eddy go to the cooks that make the staff meal. And I find this refreshing. No disrespect to the head that wears the crown, but it is nice to get the guy with the beef blood on his chef coat’s perspective. Sous chef Joe Monnigh of Morimoto’s goes into the nuance of Chicken Pasta Caesar Salad. And that’s cool!
Come in, We’re Closed is for cooks. It truly is. For the inspiration that springs of the conversations alone, it is worth the page turns. Seriously. The food is formidable fodder for both, hungry staff and ravenous reader. At just over 300 pages, the photos are pictures cooks would capture, if given the time.
Wylie Drufesne wraps it up quite nicely, “I don’t think everybody here is the best of friends, but for the most part I think they’re friendly. So if you can’t make good food for your friends, how can you make good food for strangers?”