ON MY MENU THIS WEEK: I’M HEAR­ING ABOUT THE NEW

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY SUDI PIGGOTT

MOST OF us have strong opin­ions about the best places we’ve dined in. Par­tic­u­larly New York Jews, who love to tell you about the best — and worst — dishes they’ve been served, and where to go for the ul­ti­mate what­ever it may be. Steve Plot­nicki, who read­ily ad­mits be­ing ve­he­mently keen to share his views, took this a whole lot fur­ther. Plot­nicki started the Opin­ion­ated About Din­ing site in 2007 as an ex­ten­sion of his food blog, which started in 2003. That year, he sent out an e-mail sur­vey to 175 vot­ers, who in turn replied with their picks of the most rec­om­mended restau­rants in North Amer­ica and Europe. Plot­nicki then com­piled th­ese into a down­load­able PDF for any­one who signed up for it. This was the start of OAD.

He’d started the mod­est on­line fo­rum af­ter sell­ing his hip-hop record la­bel Pro­file, and do­ing ex­tremely well from rights sales of the TV se­ries Ro­bot Wars in which he’d in­vested in 1994 — buy­ing the trade­mark out­right in 1998. Now the fo­rum has be­come a web­site and OAD’s “Top100 Restau­rant” lists for Europe, US and Ja­pan ex­ert con­sid­er­able clout in the restau­rant world.

Big name chefs vie to cook at his ex­tra­or­di­nary an­nual din­ners. Says Span­ish chef, Elena Arzak, of Miche­lin-starred Arzak restau­rant: “I love the in­ti­macy of Steve’s din­ners. I like be­ing able to plate up and serve the guests from a tray my­self and in­ter­act with them.”

Si­mon Ro­gan of Miche­lin-starred Lake District restau­rant L’En­clume con­curs: “It is huge fun to cook so col­lab­o­ra­tively at Steve’s din­ners and with such a great global mix of chefs whom I have not worked with pre­vi­ously. He in­vari­ably chooses chal­leng­ing themes for the din­ners and gives us com­plete artis­tic li­cence.”

The lists are care­fully cal­i­brated, tak­ing in opin­ions from on­line vot­ers and so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers. Most of the 4500 con­trib­u­tors eat out more than 100 times a year. But the real strength of OAD is the way it mixes the views of or­di­nary pun­ters and in­dus­try heavy­weights, with more fre­quent re­view­ers awarded more in­flu­ence over the list­ings.

“It gives greater bal­ance,” says Plot­nicki, who sees his lists as bench­marks for chefs to as­pire to. “What I love is when I taste some­thing I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. I like chefs who are break­ing bound­aries with their tech­niques and likely to have long last­ing culi­nary in­flu­ence.”

Over break­fast, at an art deco ho­tel in Paris the morn­ing af­ter the 2017 OAD awards that crowned Alain Pas­sard’s vi­sion­ary veg-cen­tric L’Ar­pège best restau­rant and Luigi Tagli­enti’s Lume in Mi­lan the top new­comer in Europe, Plot­nicki is un­apolo­getic that the re­sults of the OAD sur­veys are wildly dif­fer­ent from Miche­lin and other guides.

Plot­nicki, dubbed “king of the blogs” by food writer Jay Rayner, ex­plains: “OAD’s strength lies in its di­ver­sity of voices.”

The pre­vi­ous evening, Plot­nicki had cho­sen the theme of “cel­e­brat­ing grand­moth­ers’ cui­sine” for the cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the award an­nounce­ments. Din­ers — pre­dom­i­nantly OAD vot­ers, many of whom had trav­elled from Asia — were treated to haute cui­sine ren­di­tions of dishes rang­ing from Dan­ish chef Ras­mus Ko­foed’s stuffed cab­bage with horse­rad­ish and sum­mer herbs; Ja­panese style chicken curry from Shinichi Sato of Pas­sage 53 in Paris; and cod with pota­toes and veg­eta­bles from the gar­dens of Mauro Co­la­greco from Mi­razur on the French Rive­ria.

“Grand­mas are a big deal in France, al­most as big as the con­cept of booba, so it seemed fit­ting to me,” says Plot­nicki, adding, “all the chefs adored the chal­lenge”. He ex­plains that most of his father’s fam­ily died in the Holo­caust, so his ma­ter­nal grand­mother loomed large in his life and used to babysit him and make the most amaz­ing blintzes.

Fam­ily and a sense of Jewish iden­tity run deep with Plot­nicki. He re­lates a com­pli- Steve Plot­nicki is the man be­hind one of the heav­i­est hit­ting on­line restau­rant re­view fo­rums

PHOTO: STEPHANIE BITEAU

Below: Mauro Co­la­greco’s cod with pep­per sauce, pota­toes and pars­ley

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