Each week we send staff photographer Jonathan Boncek out into the field to capture, well, everything from hobo clowns to man-babies, and he never lets us down, snagging amazing shots every time. But let's be honest, if you've read Dish or any of our cuisine reviews, you know Boncek's talents really come into sharp focus when he's got his eye on the plate. He's one hell of a food photographer and, incidentally, a great cook. Plus, thanks to all those assignments, Boncek probably tastes more food from restaurants in town than anyone on our staff. So we decided to give him a spot to write about what he's seeing in the local F&B scene and what has him excited. Without further ado, we give you Boncek's inaugural column, "Leftovers." —Kinsey Gidick
I consider myself a pretty good cook. I spent six years in the back of the house at various restaurants. That said, none of those restaurants would qualify as haute cuisine. The majority of the kitchens I worked in consisted of a flat top or pizza oven. So when I say I'm a pretty good cook, my education stems from culinary lessons developed from mishaps and or drunken/impaired experimentation on said flat top.
Fast forward to 2007 in Northern California. I relocated to Lake Tahoe to live the ski bum lifestyle with my girlfriend (now wife) and, luckily, both of us had F&B experience to facilitate the move and to surpass the bum description. There, we were exposed to food and wine quality beyond what we'd ever had before. Before this venture out West, I had no idea what an heirloom tomato was. I hadn’t been exposed to techniques such as sous vide, confit, butter poaching, even a proper vinaigrette.
I explain this brief history to give reference that I am no slouch in the kitchen. I also pick up tidbits from chefs when I visit their restaurants for photo shoots. Successful or not, I love to attempt these techniques and learn. I am fortunate to be exposed to the variety of plates around the city every week via shooting for City Paper
. And more times than not, it's dishes that have a softer touch that I find most impressive.
Enter the caramelized onion: This seemingly simple preparation has been my nemesis since I could heat a skillet. Sure, it seems like a nice addition or condiment to add some pizazz to a burger or a savory texture to a pizza. But have you ever tried to caramelize your own onions at home? From the finesse of the heat, to the patience of the process, I muck these bad boys up at a 90 percent failure rate.
Recently, I learned that it's only with a skilled hand that one can successfully execute the caramelization.
Full disclosure, I had not eaten at Ted’s Butcherblock prior to shooting this latest issue of the Dish dining guide. In my ignorance, I assumed it was another sandwich shop selling $12 stackers and high-end meat that would be suitable only for Christmas feast budgets. I was delighted to find myself wrong.
My assignment was to shoot the wagyu beef panini with blue cheese aioli
for restaurant critic Vanessa Wolf's feature on aioli. I figured, blah blah blah, another panini. But let me say this, this was anything but a stereotypical beef bomb. The crew at Ted’s had a touch that impressed me enough to finish the sandwich on the car ride home. Even with a full belly!
From the sweet caramelization of the onions, to the subtle saltiness of the blue cheese aioli, this sandwich had balance. Ted created a seemingly typical combination and managed to elevate it into a subtle, rich delicacy.
It’s the people who understand this balance in the food and beverage world that I seek out — chefs who have moved away from the big portion plate value to the beautifully harmonious combinations of light touches and exceptional ingredients. And the best news, this discovery doesn’t just happen at places like FIG, where one would expect this kind of culinary mastery. These gems are all around us. In my opinion, this is a good thing, and one that makes Charleston special. So discover for yourself — uncover that hidden gem that is Ted’s Butcherblock’s $9.50 masterpiece.