Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 1, 2010 12:21PM

How I Ended up Eating at "Hell's Kitchen"

Rate: 57 Flag

When I auditioned for "Hell's Kitchen" three and a half years ago and didn't make the cut, I never imagined that a few years later I would end up as a guest dining on the set of the love-to-hate chef's reality TV restaurant in Culver City, Ca. with a renowned California chef.   At the time of my audition, holding the dubious distinction of being the first restaurant critic in the state of Florida to be sued for having an opinion may have precluded me from becoming a contestant, but it certainly didn't stop me from taking the opportunity to become the Gordon Ramsay of food critics a few years later. "Sweet dreams are made of these" as Annie Lennox once sang.

Drum roll and a little background.  Enter chef Josiah Citrin.

Josiah and I met in the Louvre back in 1987.  I had left the cruise industry (for the first time) and decided to take a year off and bought an around the world trip ticket to rethink my life plan.  I got as far as Paris.  Dressed like Maddie Hayes' character from "Moonlighting", I had no business parading around France with perfectly coiffed hair, high heels and a wardrobe that belonged more in New York than in Nepal.

I made (and still make) a terrible tourist; I almost deliberately miss the landmarks and highlights of every destination until the very last minute.  I want to taste the raw ingredients of every country I visit by getting to know the people; I'm less interested in the finished "product".  Seeing the Mona Lisa was no exception.  Getting into the room where the famous painting hangs is like standing in line at Disney World for some ride.  I hate standing in line and I don't go on rides.  

Throngs of tourists were filing out as I tried approaching her from the opposite direction.  Josiah (who was then 18) and his father were the only two people who noticed my desire to fight oncoming traffic.  They parted like the Red Sea so I could make my way through. Twenty minutes later, satisfied that I could say that I had seen the Mona Lisa (but frankly thought to myself, "yeah, so?") I crossed paths with father and son while sitting in the cafeteria having coffee and minding my own business.  They could have chosen at least a dozen tables to sit at alone.  Instead they walked over to mine. Josiah's father Michel delivered the greatest pick-up line ever.

"Sorry I'm late," he said apologetically with a disarming smile.

"Don't do it again," I replied with equal charm.

We were off to the races.

Our relationship ended about a year later but Josiah and I were and are bonded forever.  At the time, Josiah was peeling potatoes and carrots in a small restaurant for almost no money and returning to our apartment exhausted and degraded (by the chef)  every night. Josiah was determined to be the "best chef" in the world.  He had vision, will and determination.  It paid off. Twelve years later, I read a review by John Mariani in Esquire magazine about a restaurant in Los Angeles called "JiRaffe" of which Josiah was the partner with his childhood friend, Rafael. I called to congratulate him and he informed me that he had just been voted one of Food and Wine magazine's best ten chefs in America in the upcoming July issue.  He also told me he was coming to France and would like to see me.   It just goes to prove that even when a relationship ends, it's always good to keep the friends.  

Josiah had decided to branch out on his own and open a new restaurant.  He brought his two sous chefs to France that summer and wanted them to learn firsthand that French kitchens operate completely differently than those in American restaurants. Translation:  virtually every real kitchen in France is ruled with an iron fist by a temperamental chef whose job it is to break down every person who works in it until they understand that perfection can't be achieved, it's only something to strive for.   

I was living in the south of France at the time supplying vegetables to the Gordon Ramsey of our region; a large, colorful chef named Bruno Clement. He has a booming voice, fierce temper, enormous appetite, secret sources for truffles and a very short fuse.  A cross between Pavarotti and the Pillsbury dough boy, Bruno scares the pants off his staff and charms the customers that enter his hallowed one star Michelin establishment "Chez Bruno" in the village of Lorgues, France.  


Bruno is a dear friend and I arranged for Josiah's sous chefs to live with us and do a "stage" at Bruno's restaurant for one month. Those boys came home defeated every night, feeling as if they knew nothing about cooking at all at the end of every service.  I assured them they didn't but by the end of the month, they would know more.  They did and they do, but not as much as Bruno and Josiah.

Fast forward to the present.  Josiah has received numerous awards and the respect from publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Food and Wine, Gourmet and Wine Spectator as well as patrons . His restaurant "Melisse" is a coveted Mobile 4-Star and Zagat award winning restaurant in Santa Monica.  When Michelin decided to venture into the United States and award stars, two (out of a possible three) stars were awarded to Melisse.  Bruno who?


I flew out to LA a couple of weeks ago and had my belated 50th birthday dinner at Melisse with a friend.  We were treated to an extraordinary tasting meal that included:

Creamless creme of broccoli, with burrata cheese raviolini, argan oil

Egg caviar:  poached egg, lemon chive, creme fraiche, and American osetera caviar.  You dip the spoon in and find three layers of flavors exploding in your mouth.

Hamachi with potato blinis, leeks and salmon roe

Fennel flan with Valenica orange gelee and cashew froth.  Yes, you can make froth from cashews.  Who knew?

Foie gras three ways with dated confiture and tarragon.  Pure bliss.

                          Melisse foie gras

Seasonal vegetable salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette that turned the plate into an abstract painting when it was finished.

Truffle crusted Dover Sole fillet.  Divine.

Wild Norwegian salmon (available for the first time in 25 years). Exquisite.

Liberty Farms Duck breast and confit with lentils, turnips and ruby red grapefruit.  How duck should be made. (More about that in Part II)

Sonoma rack of lamb "persillade" with salsify and barley risotto

A selection of French cheeses

That these food were all splendidly paired with beautiful champagnes and wines goes without saying.  There was dessert but I think I was too food drunk to enjoy more than one bite.  My mind and palate had already exploded; I didn't need my stomach to do the same.  

Josiah’s temper has calmed down (although several of his staff of 40 admitted that he still can yell with the best of them) even though his passion still remains.  His kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine and the décor was inspired partially by my friend Bruno’s restaurant.  Josiah is still a perfectionist (the butter plate was sent back twice when he saw that it wasn’t perfectly centered) and he watches everything like a hawk.  He came out and sat with us through several courses as we discussed the merits and flavors of each dish.  That I had sent clients from Paris to his restaurant the same evening (whom I had met earlier in the day) reminded him why we have remained such close friends.  The perfume inventor and his wife were floored by their meal.  Impress the French and you must be doing something right.  

                          Melisse Chef Josiah Citrin

A couple of days later, while having dinner at Josiah's house with his lovely wife Diane and their two children, August and Olivia, Josiah asked me if I would like to accompany him the following day to a "Hell's Kitchen" taping where we would be among the dining guests.  He thought I would get a kick out of critiquing the food with him.  What he didn't tell me until we were driving to Culver City the next afternoon was that the winners of the most recent challenge had been in his restaurant with Gordon Ramsey the day before for a meal that was prepared by Josiah and was supposed to serve as an inspiration for their next menu, which we would be tasting.

They don't call it a challenge for nothing.  

Tomorrow:  Heading into "Hell's Kitchen".

                          Josiah and Me


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The first course is served.
I would love to be on the wait staff for a day there!!
Assigned your table of course...
Great piece! wonderful!
When I used to go to the neighborhood in Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen, I would usually get a hot dog and few beers. Your dinner sounds a lot better.

A good 50th birthday story, accompanied by an appropriately decadent meal. Cheers.
Ooh my mouth is watering! You have my dream job!
(P.S. had the same reaction to the Mona Lisa - was far more impressed by The Three Graces, which I passed by on my way there...)
Nose pressed to the window. Exquisite writing, dishes inviting. You amaze us (me anyway) yet again! (r)
Now I'm extremely hungry . . . both for food, and for the next part of the story . . .

You really know how to cook, lady!
Good looking man! Is he on the menu? Welcome back.
Sitting here eating my lunch of black beans and rice. Initially, I was feeling pretty satisified with it. Now, I want what you had! Looking forward to part 2.
I love that show and I'm sure I saw the episode featuring your friend's restaurant. I can't wait to read the rest!
My mouth is watering. Excellent post, cartouche.
Wow. That dinner sounds so delightful, and is so well-described, I feel as if I had been there. Mmmmmm.
You don't do anything without panache! Looking forward to more!!
good god woman, what a life! and what a meal!
"Impress the French and you must be doing something right."

Damn right! Sounds like a great dinner. Classy post and fine writing.
I remember the French kitchen tales from "Burgundy Stars." Especially the attitude that, no matter how well you cook, you are nothing until you've worked in a French restaurant.
Wow -- I feel like an insider vicariously!! Fun stuff.
Waiting impatiently for part two
Yummy. (And the food sounded fantastique, too.)
every aspect of this; food, travel, friendship...everything. made for an engrossing read.

looking forward to the next course.
Great story. Bring on the second.
tasty piece of writing, here...i'll take a second helping!
Yum! That's for the food descriptions and Josiah. ;)

I once visited Paul Bocuse's temple of gastronomy (and monument to himself) in Lyon. It was a phenomenal dining experience. Everything about it was first rate. I can only imagine how challenging it must be to work in a place like that.
I really, really enjoyed this piece. I loved how you wove in your relationship and the food, and wow, just wonderful. Rated.
A culinary history of a relationship--I love it. rated.
No wonder you've been missing.
Damn, you have a dream life.
I generally don't frequent restaurants where I'd be too embarrassed to ask for ketchup, but I'd make an exception for that meal. OK, I'm famished. What's next?
I have my napkin tucked into the neck of my t-shirt. Untensils in each fist. Where's my second course!?
My wife and I love "Hell's Kitchen" and always wondered what it would be like to be one of the guinea pigs (I mean people) dining in the restaurant during each episode's challenges. Glad you survived the experience! Great post. Rated.
Ramsay makes me feel a wee bit ill ... give him hell!
This piece was like tasteful but addictive pornography for a dedicated-follower-of-foodies like me. I'm impressed that you know Bruno and Josiah, and interested to see what you make of the Ramsay experience. I'm staying tuned.
I could almost taste that meal. And I'm turning 50 this summer (hint hint!)
Oh, this is goood... _r
I am glad I read this at 5:00 p.m. Read earlier, I'd be eating my couch, trying to overcome my now ravenous appitite. Good writing, good story, good attack on my taste buds. I am off to eat ... something! Hopefully, not too disappointing. {{{R}}}
Wow. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.
just missed dinner at melisse a month ago -- and now i'm really sorry. great piece, P. can't wait for the next installment.
And the wine ...?
You have had such a life, woman, how do you ever function in a world that is mostly mundane and trivial. As for me, this post might as well be about another planet for all this country boy knows about epicurean delights. The most exotic thing to ever tempt my palate was sashimi. I will say this, though, the seafood and shellfish soup at Le Coq auVin in Orlando is to die for.
What a delicious first course, and a great story. I live in Santa Monica and have yet to dine at Melisse. Now I REALLY can't wait to go. Looking forward to part two of this story.
Great chronicle and I'm looking forward to the taping.
Have to love Chef Ramsey, he's just about every Yes, Chef, Yes, I have met in my career.

Hell's Kitchen was my first introduction to the Chef, and then I fell into his BBC shows later on. :)

Good stuff. Rated.
Leave this place for a few hours and what happens? You get homework! Then, my comments all get eaten! What's wrong with this picture? Here we go:

Gary: I'd assign you to my table any time.
littlewillie: I was hoping someone would go there. You do not disappoint!
Dorinda: It certainly was.
Kathy: Decadence is not a bad thing...
Pavanne: I assure you, being a restaurant critic was far from a "dream" job. Glad you agree about Mona Lisa.
ClarkK: Don;t get your nose out of joint, okay?
Owl: Ironically, I really can cook!
Donna: He's like a son to me. But he is rather tasty, isn't he?
mamoore: Rice and beans are probably much healthier!
She Blogs: Thanks for your visit. I actually haven't caught any of the episodes with Josiah in them.
Jill: It was a mouthwatering experience, I assure you. Many thanks.
Blumenthal: Skimmer. Caught red handed! I didn't really describe much of it. The ingredients speak for themselves. (Watches as O takes over the keyboard). Unless of course, you are eating Chef Boyardee, blu. Have ya missed me? Huh?
Buffy: Moi? Why would I?
foolish monkey: It has been a pretty fun ride.
Thoth: Je t'adore.
Stim: "Burgundy Stars" was a great book. I would also suggest Michael Ruhlman's books for more insight without having to live through the brutality of the reality that is a French kitchen. (I have done it; it's not pretty).
mginmn: It's fun to look at from the other side!
Monique: Patience is an underrated virtue as far as I'm concerned!
Lea: Very funny, missy. And yes, he is.
Renatta Laundry (great name; pleased to meet you!): Thanks for stopping in and your kind comment. I look forward to reading your work!
Frank: He does offer a vegetarian menu in case you ever visit out there. Just sayin'....
mistercomedy: Second helping is on its way!
bikey: I couldn't agree more. Bocuse of course is a giant of gastronomy.
Sheila (with all those letters and numbers): Many thanks for appreciating the woven thread.
Caroline: I like that line: "A culinary history of a relationship". Can I steal it? ;)
Sheepy: Sit boy.
v. seijo: Glad somebody noticed! (that I was missing, not that I have a dream life) (some days are better than others) ;)
Brawer: You've shattered my illusions. I figured blu was the ketchup guy and pegged you more for mustard. What do I know?
Bellwether: Coming up!
Nick: "Guinea pig" may be an understatement.
I Mom: I think you could do a better job!
Ann: I'm interested to see what I make of the Ramsay experience too. You'll understand why tomorrow! Many thanks!
voicegal: LA - you and me? Summer?
Joan: xoxo
Rod: That couch would go wonderfully with some fava beans and a nice chianti (slurp, slurp, slurp)
Liinda Shiue: Thank you!
femme: Let me know when you go there next. I'll make sure Josiah takes good care of you.
Scarlet: Check out the link to the website in the post and you will see the wines that are paired with each dish.
Cordle: My life sometimes takes place on another planet.
Beth Fortune: Get thee to Melisse "STAT" and tell him I sent you!
Roger: Hugs to you.
Tink: Yes, chef! I have missed you!
Tompkins: Your comment reads like a menu!
I'm HUNGRY! =o) Where's Josiah to cook MY dinner??? Never mind, I'd probably have to hock my soul to pay. But I love this glimpse of professional chefs; it tells me I'm right to remain a home cook.

Eagerly looking forward to more.
Damn, you know how to celebrate a 50th. I want to go out to dinner with you!. I too, thought of Hell's Kitchen as a neighborhood in NY. so, does that mean you will be on the show? Let us know! (I've never seen it)
Cartouche: Did I miss you? Why, did you go somewhere? I hadn't noticed, but then I try to stick to noticing things that are worth noticing. You're not in that category.
I'm feeling stuffed just reading about it. Looking forward to part 2.

I wonder if that pickup line is a French speciality. When I ws working in Paris, a colleague of mine was having a drink in a bar one evening. Some well-attired gent entered in a small commotion, spied her, came over and and out with "I hope I haven't kept you waiting". She was quick-witted enough to reply "Well I hope it was worth the wait". Similarity ends there.
@sdkfsdklj (followed by whatever): What you said.
Shiral: Josiah is actually in Mammoth snowboarding for the moment. The kitchen is now closed.
trilogy: Come on out! Find out tomorrow about the "show".
tomreedtoon: As always, you are a picture of mirth.
blu: You aren't worth noticing either. So why did you come back?
Abrawang: Pick up lines are definitely a French speciality. But so, too, are the "drop off" lines that follow. Similarity ends there... ;)
First I'll say how much delight I take in deleting the advert commentations from my comment sections~take that you a-hole! very satisfying. Second, I think you may have read my post on Gordon, my lovah, complete with photos and I'm looking forward to seeing one of yours as you bring us this breaking story... cant wait! (happy five-o, abd welcome to my box, as Samantha once said on SITC)
Very wicked cool stuff Patricia. Thanks for sharing! Waiting for 2nd course (and an air date!)
Looking forward to your next installment.
I got an EP vibe about this this morning..I knew it!!!
Cartouche, having been on the receiving end of neither the French pick-up nor drop-off line, I defer to the greater sample size.
Fabulous in every sense!!
That is like so cool. I am a HUGE fan of the show.
God, what food. There's a sensual pleasure just reading about it (as I spoon cottage cheese into my mouth).
This story was charming--from Paris to Santa Monica. Melisse looks like the perfect restaurant and Josiah was a good person to keep in touch with!
Hells a kithchen you can never refuse....
I absolutely love your piece here! So much joie de vivre in your words. I am reminded of the journeys some of us take though we may never have imagined or planned them. No wonder such interesting people accompany you as you live life so fully! Joy need not be all we know as long as we can savour the moments as they come and allow them to inform our lives. Looking forward to Part Two!!!!
I love HK and that last shot of you & Josiah is excellent! He is quite the hottie. There. I said it.