Houston pastry chef Plinio Sandalio recommended we interview Shuna Fish Lydon (Twitter: @shunafish) of 10 Downing (10 Downing Street in New York) during our recent trip to NYC. Before coming to 10 Downing, the world-renowned Lydon worked as a pastry chef for French Laundry, Gramercy Tavern and Verbena in Manhattan, Bouchon in Yountville, California, and Citizen Cake and Aziza in San Francisco. Her traveling and writing have brought her full circle back to New York, where we caught up with her.
Eating Our Words: We know this isn't exactly a question but you have quite an incredible background.
Shuna Fish Lydon: Thanks, I really try to stay modest.
EOW: We noticed you ordered a regular baked potato with nothing but butter and sour cream. Please let us in on this secret.
SFL: No secret! We are in a dive diner, just like any other diner in any other city on this planet. I prefer to spend calories on thoughtful meals.
EOW: Fair enough -- at least they are open late.
EOW: We could talk about pastries, which you are incredible with, but we wanted to know about your thoughts and feelings toward this new age of thoughtful food and chefs.
SFL: I know exactly what you are talking about. It has been said to be called the "guild theory." You see, once a connection of quality and passion has been made between various groups of artistic food service professionals, they create their own "guild" in each city. This means there is one passionate mixologist who helps the chefs create better cocktail programs. There is one chocolatier who prepares the chocolates, and so on and so on. It is up to the chefs to determine the legitimacy of the guild members. This transcends barriers and focuses on pushing the boundaries of quality in any neighborhood.
EOW: That is an incredible theory. Do you feel that these thoughts could be larger than food service?
SFL: Absolutely. Just like a coffee plant grows stronger when it is covered by the shade of a larger offering, or how English walnuts grow under the canopy of comfort from thousand-year-old oaks, so is a decision by a consumer to spend their three dollars on coffee at Café Grumpy rather than Starbucks. Support and nurture creates quality environments.
EOW: That makes complete sense. Without an independent and large corporation-independent village, then no talent can thrive in a city. We can sense a more profound message coming from your thoughts.
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SFL: It is the huge difference between societies like Houston and societies like Chelsea or East Village in New York City. I choose to spend more money on a quality meal procured of local ingredients to support my neighbor. Would you do the same? I would rather pay three times as much purchasing a book from a local independent bookstore as long as I understand that the owner is passionate about her art and craft. I hope people react to this by visiting me when they crave something delicious and unique.
EOW: What do you consider a major difference that can affect a "guild"-oriented food movement?
SFL: I use the term that the consumers are always swallowing, without ever observing, tasting, smelling and appreciating. When the general public begins to appreciate the craftsmanship it took to create their meal, then we can build a more local community of food service.
This interview is just getting started. Check back tomorrow as Shuna Fish Lydon talks about what she has learned from traveling and also gives our readers a great tip for baking at home.