Friends with Benefits – Restaurant-style

We’re not talking about groping in the walk-in. Michael Ruhlman entitles his recent NYTimes article, Friends with Benefits. Intentionally and artfully, he conjures a special type of intimate friendship most of us have had at some time – the “FWB” or “FSP” (friend with benefits or friend, special privileges). These are friendships in which a boundary can be crossed, a favor asked and given, with no enduring damage to the relationship.

An example, for those two or three of you out there who have not had this type of connection, may be order. Imagine a Monday morning water cooler encounter the sotto voce conversation…

“Hey Maureen, I heard you and Brad left the party together Saturday night. I thought you guys were just friends.”

“Joe, Brad and I are just friends – FSP.”

Then, Maureen, Brad and Joe go on working in harmony. No changes in the relationships. No tears or jokes or insinuations. Business as usual.

FWB’s in Restaurant Circles

Ruhlman correctly, I think, suggests chefs and restauranteurs are also givers. Consent and willingness to serve each other, to help each other’s causes, is fundamental to a unique type of friendship among chefs who are FWBs. I have certainly been on the receiving end of gracious and generous gifts from chefs and restaurants when I’ve solicited them for charity events.

The recent dinner at the Astor Center in New York hosted by Ruhlman and prepared by Chef Chris Cosentino was another reminder. Chef’s friends and fellow cooks, even a few cook-volunteers showed up to help him prep the meal.

NOLA

Emeril Lagasse is a chef, big TV personality, and a New Englander-turned-New Orleanian. Depending on who you ask, Emeril is either a part of New Orleans or not. It’s hard to imagine that with the support he’s given the city, he’d still be considered unworthy of insider status. I guess that’s not my call to make, but it certainly seems to me with so much rebuilding yet to be accomplished, the city can ill afford to be less than grateful to an adopted son as generous as he.

Lagasse’s Foundation has raised and donated millions to support New Orleans culinary programs in the schools and in the community. Programs such as the Edible Schoolyard to Cafe Reconcile, that will help teach children in New Orleans how to garden, how to cook, how to work in restaurants. Life skills that so many children need and will serve NOLA in particular.

When you see how much needs to be done three years later, FWBs should be celebrated, particularly in that small community.

The story of the rebuilding of Willie Mae’s Scotch House is one more example of how people in the food biz are just getting it done. The Southern Foodways Alliance newsletter, Gravy #23, (PDF to download is free) describes how folks (a lot of them restaurant chefs, foodies) banded together to save an icon of New Orleans food “culcha”. It’s a great read and another example of FWBs getting it done, with culcha in the lead.

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