Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
When I first saw Jeremy Ford, my nostrils will flare beyond the sides of my head.
Here was this overgrown frat child who claimed to have worked in famous restaurants, but came across as someone you might refuse to serve at your local bar, for fear that he'd soon become boorish.
And then he won the whole thing. Top Chef season 13. The season in which sentimental favorite Kwame Onwuachi somehow got eliminated without even reaching the final.
Top Chef is one of those ridiculously absorbing, addictive shows -- a new series has recently begun -- in which you begin not caring and end up shouting at the TV or bawling.
No television character has ever made me weep like Mei Lin, winner of season 12.
I'm unashamed to admit I wept through the whole of her final, as more of her personal story came out, more of her pain was painted over her face by master sculptors of the spirit and more of her dishes were served up to stunned judges.
And then Jeremy Ford won season 13, beating the delightfully talented Amar Santana.
That Jeremy Ford. Frat Jeremy Ford.
It so happens that Ford has a restaurant in South Beach. The South Beach in Miami.
So a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd see whether this balding, tattooed fratteur could possibly run a restaurant.
Top Chef doesn't guarantee business success.
Many winners have opened restaurants and seen relatively little in the way of consistent acclaim. For example, the first-ever Top Chef winner, Harold Dieterle, closed all his restaurants and took a break from it all.
What, then, could Ford's Stubborn Seed be like? Could this be a viable business, or would it merely be a frippery?
Shuffled to the Side.
I had a reservation for one.
The restaurant seemed to have reservations, too.
Instead of being seated in the main restaurant, I was shuffled off to the bar, there to be somewhat out of sight of the diners, there to stare at my Italian detective novel and wonder.
It's not an overly fancy place. It certainly doesn't reek of excessive pretension. Oh, perhaps they didn't like my shoes. Or perhaps the alone don't contribute positively to the atmosphere.
I decided to have the five-course tasting menu because I hoped it would be a fair representation of the menu. And, well, I hadn't eaten all day.
Then the bread arrived.
The way a restaurant serves bread can be so indicative. Earlier this year, I was dragged to a three-star Michelin restaurant where the bread was clearly stale.
I asked the server about this and was told: "It's Chef's choice to serve the bread at room temperature."
Ford's bread was sublime, and I was still busy respecting it when the first dish arrived.
Jojo Tea Cured Cobia.
You can stare at a plate of food and wonder what it's going to taste like. This, however, shot into my mouth and offered a declaration of independence.
It was perfectly, refreshingly spiced.
Too many restaurants treat spice as a challenge to the diner, rather than an element that makes food taste better.
This performed a dance, mesmerized the audience of one and quietly disappeared from the stage.
This was as remarkable a start to a meal as I could remember. I generally eat slowly and savor my food. This, I can't have taken more than a minute to finish.
Then in wafted the pappardelle with foie gras.
This was like meeting the woman who'd become my wife. I didn't see it coming and by the time it was done, I simply wanted to experience it again.
What Strange Place is This?
Fortunately, my perch at the bar allowed me to look into the open kitchen. Ford himself was presiding. No one in the kitchen was rushing. Everyone was paying attention.
But this was Miami, where precision isn't the first thing that comes to mind. What was this place? Some strange cult where acolytes congregated around a star to perform peculiar rituals?
It seemed so.
By the time I'd made the acquaintance of a butter-poached lobster and a lamb with miso brown butter glaze, I was wanting to join the frat house.
Or perhaps now it's merely a private club for the discerning.
This was superb food being dished up with the minimum of ceremony and the maximum of care.
Of course, this being Miami, people dressed for a twisted carnival began congregating in the bar.
But the quality of the dishes and the perfect timing of the delivery made the whole thing a bizarre shock, one that I had to wash down with a wonderful dessert and a small glass of Sauternes.
I confess I've been to a couple of other Top Chef winners' restaurants and walked away a touch perplexed as to what the fuss had been about.
This time, I left Stubborn Seed marveling that I'd eaten at two of genial Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio's restaurants and enjoyed neither, yet here was a recent Top Chef winner who'd served up one of the best meals I've had all year.
One should never judge a business by how its owner appears on TV.
So, about the new series...