The first time I met Derek Davis in 2001, I was pretty sure I had made a huge mistake by walking into that room. A gargantuan beast of a chef, he shook my hand and bent his full weight toward me. His impish eyes and disturbingly long eyelashes boxed me in. “So this is the wine guy?” he asked with a remarkable growl that bounced between laughter and ridicule.
“I guess so.” I muttered. I was fairly certain I had failed some unknown litmus test. The school had been located in a coffee shop, but the owner had unceremoniously kicked us out they day before. Derek somehow heard and invited me to open up shop in the wine cellar at Kansas City Prime, one of his many restaurants in Manayunk. We talked for a while after that, but I left that room thinking I had just killed the Wine School of Philadelphia. Closing the door behind me, I walked out onto Main Street in Manayunk.
By the time I got home, I had an email from Derek on my computer. ”Happy to have you here at Kansas City Prime. Let my sommelier know if you need anything.” This was clearly a dude I couldn’t figure. One thing I did now from that very moment, was that Derek Davis had just saved my fledgling school. Little did I know, Derek Davis was going to be our fairy godmother for the next two years (yes, it’s a disturbing visual).
For ya’ll youngsters out there, Derek has been a major player in Philly’s restaurant scene since the eighties. He was the executive chef at 1701 Café in the Warwick Hotel, back when it was talked about in the same breath as Le Bec Fin. He set his eye on Manayunk, and stared opening restaurants at a breakneck pace. He launched first restaurant, Sonoma, in 1992. That was followed by Kansas City Prime, Arroyo Grill, Fish On Main, and finally Carmella’s. For much of a decade, Manayunk was the place to eat in Philadelphia.
He stopped by the Wine School of Philadelphia in February to get a tour of the spiffy new place and be a contestant in the Sommelier Smackdown. He kindly answered a few questions afterwards.
How did end up in the restaurant trade?
I started working at a place called “Hoagie City ” in 1974. i cut lettuce, tomato, onions and cold cuts for sandwiches. By the time i was 16 i had already worked there, a jewish Deli, a fountain making ice cream treats and a bagel bakery. I just LOVED it and set my goal on becoming a chef and owning my own restaurant. When asked when i became a chef my reply is “I was born a chef.”
Any favorite and/or funny anecdotes in your time as a restaurateur?
Wait for the book.
Any anecdotes from the era of the Wine School at Kansas City Prime?
When the wine School started at KCp it was because we were attempting to be THE wine destination for the region and what better way than to house a wine school? The Wine School had a pretty sweet deal. We lent them the use of the space and glassware at NO charge. The only thing i asked was that the busboy’s were taken care of and compensated for their work. Conventional wisdom is that a wine school is never a profitable business and a very tough way to make a living. Looking back on it i hope that by assisting in the schools start-up that it can continue to be a profitable venture and give many more years of entertainment and knowledge to the wine drinkers of the region.
Where do you think Philadelphia’s food scene is going?
I think philadelphia’s restaurant scene arrived many years ago. i hope that it will continue to grow in quality. Unfrotunately , there may be too many restaurants and i hope that older more established ones are not choked out by the growing number of competitors, because face it, Philadelphian’s are very fickle and have always jumped to the new place. Just like wine drinkers who are always trying new wines, see the pattern here? i wish the really talented young chefs would open complete restaurants and not BYOB’s.. Though i enjoy bringing my own wine sometimes, i think a BYOB is only half a restaurant and that top chefs should not waste their time and aspire to be really great restaurauteurs, too!
Any new culinary trends that you hate, or love?
I adore food of all types and kinds. Though i tend to gravitate one way i appreciate and respect everyone’s proclivities for self expression and ultimately nourishment of not only the belly but of the soul as well.
Anything else you want people to know about?
This is a journey, a lifetime if you will. i have totally dedicated my life to gastronomy and hospitality and only hope that i can continue to do so for as amny years more as i can. Remember, my business IS pleasure. i have one more [hopefully great!] restaurant left in me. I really do not know where yet, but when i find the palce and the time it will be totally “fuck you!” meaning i want it to be the ultimate expression of all I know and offer the best quality of all products. In its design i will incorporate the most modern and up to date furnishings, fixtures , and equipment. It will be a monument to me! Investors can call me anytime! LMFAO!
After having some success with their Twitter hashtag campaign #MeetTheFarmers (which promoted the supposedly good ingredients that McDonald’s uses and the farmers that produce them), the wise social media sages at Mickey D’s thought it would be a bright idea to introduce a new hashtag, #McDStories, so Tweeters could tell their stories about how much they love McDonald’s!
As someone who has actually used Twitter (unlike, apparently, McDonald’s social media director, Rick Wion), on the other hand, a tweet such as “ate a big mac, sick all afternoon #McDStories” popped into my head almost immediately, without even taking the time to be clever.
How about “My 4 year old weighs 100lbs” or “”Watching a classmate projectile vomit his food all over the restaurant during a 6th grade trip,” or “Fingernail in my BigMac.” (Ok, I made up that first one, but the other two are actual tweets in response to this campaign.)
Though McDonald’s is claiming that only 2% of the tweet responses were negative, they also said that they knew of their mistake within the first hour of the campaign and are no longer promoting it. Twitter users, of course, have moved on to #McFail to keep things going.
I am going out onto a limb and be the first one to say it in print: FooBooz is dead and gone. It’s not a long limb to climb out on, though. Yesterday’s unveiling –after months of speculation– of the Philadelphia edition of Eater pretty much puts the nails in the coffin. This after a year of Philly-style hate built up against FB and its fryboy editor Jason Sheehan.
Everything went wrong Philly Mag bought FooBooz from Art Echells. His laizze faire attitude, gigantic readership, and insider track with all the major PR firms in the city meant that it was the place to get the buzz about Philly food and booze scene. There was plenty of criticism that he was a flunky for the 1%ers in the city, but in the end everyone loved Art. After all, he was just a regular Philly guy who loves hockey and managed to be at the right place at the right time.
Philly Mag, on the other hand, is just another big-money institution. Rather than hiring local talent to run the blog, they hired an outsider from Seattle. From the very beginning he was doomed. In one of his first pieces, he called Moma’s ”a sad looking vegetarian restaurant doing no trade” and then turned around and praised Village Whiskey to high heaven. It’s well known that both restaurants are top of their game (burger and falafel, respectively). Many folks found it was interesting that he only praised the one with a high-powered PR firm.
Jason may be a great guy, but his writing seems to be out of step with Philly. His writing often comes off a touch too belligerent and condescending. Compare that to the new editor of Eater, Collin Flatt. A longtime favorite who has run Phoodie and NBC’s TheFeast Philadelphia, Collin is a smartass local boy who has more connections than a heroin addict. With Eater’s credo of take-no-bullshit and Collin’s insider knowledge of the scene in Philly, it’s only a matter of time before FooBooz is turned into a giant billboard for Cook. Wait, it already is.
A few years ago, it would have seemed preposterous to pair high-end, big money Main Line Hotel dining with craft beer from a place like Brooklyn. (One typically showers before donning pink pants and sockless loafers). As such, it’s illustrative of how much respect craft beer has gained in this area that Paramour, the multi-million dollar, recently-opened restaurant in the Wayne Hotel, is hosting a Farmer Brewer’s dinner with Sixpoint Ales of Brooklyn. (January 24th, 6:30pm, $65)
At $65, this is certainly still aimed at the elite Main Liner; one could surely pick up a 4-pack of tallboys (Sixpoint’s vessel of choice) of each of the 7 featured beers (though there are a few rarities) for less than the cost for two diners. But there’s surely the food to consider as well.
The menu is beef-themed, featuring 5 courses of all-natural and locally grown Scottish Highland beef from Why Not Farm in Glenmoore, PA (as well as a salad and dessert course). 5 courses of beef! I enjoy me some beef as much as the next guy, but 5 courses of beef and 7 varieties of beer is a surefire gastro-intestinal disaster. Then again, I’m sure some of you will get all frothy about the idea of Philly Cheese Steak Sliders on Brioche (paired with Sixpoint Warrior IPA).