Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Like parents, like children

If the restaurant industry truly is a God-awful place to make a living, why does it draw so many youngsters who know exactly the sort of life they can expect? They’re the ones who’ve grown up in the business, witnessing firsthand the tribulations and opportunities it dealt their parents. But instead of driving them to law school or a saner field like engineering, the experience set the ketchup pumping through their veins.

That disproval of conventional wisdom was evident during the industry’s annual gathering last week in Chicago, where second-generation restaurateurs were as plentiful and prominent as Yankees on the All-Star ballot. I participated in a panel discussion with Jerrod Melman, who runs the city’s popular Hub51 restaurant with his brother, R.J. Their dad, Rich, runs a restaurant or two in the Windy City as well. (If you’re in the business and don’t know who Rich Melman is, hold a mirror in front of your nose and mouth to confirm the expiration, then neatly fold both hands atop your chest and await the undertaker).

When I wasn’t enriching the Melman clan during evenings at the show, I was likely milling outside the Purple Pig, wondering if I’d somehow been mistakenly transported to Wrigley Field before a game. The Michigan Ave. restaurant is the new venture of Jimmy Bannos Sr. and Jr. Jimmy the Elder is the proprietor of Heaven on Seven. The other J.B. is his son, also a chef (via New York) and restaurateur. For four nights straight, at all different times, I couldn’t cut through the throng to get a seat at the bar or common tables.

Instead, I amused myself with the latest blog chatter about a dustup in New York involving Marc Forgione, the son of famed chef Larry Forgione. The younger Forgione had scolded an employee within earshot of diners, including a writer for the New York Times. The scribe went into Forgione’s kitchen to express his dismay and ask the chef to stop.

Forgione apologized to customers, but asked the Times writer to leave, saying he wouldn’t be chastised in his own kitchen.

Okay, maybe Larry needed to focus a little more on management styles with his boy. But the point is, Marc followed his famous daddy into the business, and now cooks at a place that plays tribute to the family name, Restaurant Marc Forgione.

They’re prominent examples of a generation following the preceding one, eyes wide open, into what’s popularly portrayed as a career of last resort. Further refutation is provided by succeeding generations of Doolins, Luthers, Pettises, McCormicks, Metzes, Grotes, Thomases, and of course Brennans.

Parents always want their children to do better than they did. It’s remarkable that so many offspring pick the restaurant business as the way to make their parents proud.

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