Friday, April 15, 2011

Week #15 - Gina Talley

I couldn't be more excited about this week's interview. For those of you reading this that do not know Gina Talley I'm jealous about what is going to happen to you when you check out her blog.

Gina Talley and I first crossed paths during that first year at Teresa's Next Door when the place seemed to be on its own orbit. In many, many ways it still is it's own suburban planet, but there was something in the air surrounding that place before people grew accustomed to the amazing things that happen there. People were freaking out about it. It was a mystical time and a mystical place. Gina's knowledge of beer and food shined at Teresa's, which is a testament to their staff trainings and her constant personal quest to learn every detail about all things food and drink. Combine this with her being a self-admitted service industry geek and it's not hard to figure out why we became fast friends. Gina's blog, Femme Fermental is an honest look at food and drink wherever she goes. Her rap list of employers includes Teresa's Next Door, Maia, & Tria and she's got great stories to tell. So, here it is then. Gina Talley, in her own words...

Bring us up to speed on how Gina Talley became the Femme Fermental. At what point did things start clicking in your mind about food and beer and wine and restaurants?

Not surprisingly, this whole thing involves working at a few restaurants, and meeting a few people. While I was mildly into food during college, I never really knew what it meant to be “into” food. I lived in Philly during college and accidentally went to some great restaurants. In 2003, for my 19th birthday, I went to Django; I had no idea what it was, what the concept was, or that I was eating Bryan Sikora’s food.

I started at Teresa’s Café in Wayne and got into food. Then, with the idea of Teresa’s Next Door floating around, I started to get into beer. I bought an intro book on Belgian beer and went to Monk’s for the first time. I was really dorky back then; I took notes in the book. I still do that now, but never when I’m actually sitting in the restaurant. Essentially, the beer side of me developed just before Teresa’s Next Door opened.

The wine side came later. I remained a beer snob for a few years. Wine seemed esoteric and unattainable. When I worked at the infamous Maia, I met Melissa Monosoff. I credit Melissa, now a Master Sommelier, with demystifying wine for me. The layouts of her menus made sense, I learned basic styles, and retained enough to get by for the time. Then I enrolled in the WSET program and started working at Tria.
I decided to go for the blog once I had a good name for it. I was tired of just being a critic in my head. And a few people were tired of listening to me complain about Philly restaurants.

What were some of your early discoveries on the beer side of things? Beers or places or people?

Once I decided to get into beer, a few places were indispensable to me. First, Monk’s Café. I went there as much as I possibly could. I also went to Tria Café, late at night. I was still newly into beer, and I found some solid stylistic examples there.

Then I found a beer store on Beer Advocate: State Line Liquor, in Elkton, MD. I started venturing down there to buy single bottles. Pennsylvania is a hard place to learn about different beers in a very cost effective manner.

Specifically, the first beer I remember being blown away by was Monk’s Café Sour. I was SO into this beer that I actually bought a case of it. Now, I don’t drink it. But, it was my introduction to sour beers. I call it a gateway sour because, while it tastes far too sweet for me now, it will blow your mind if you’ve never tasted a sour beer. I quickly got into serious sours: lambics and gueuzes.

I love on the blog where you say that you're a, "Semi-retired restaurant employee by obsession," I find it totally relatable. What is it about restaurants that makes some people just fall in love with the work? What is it about the service industry that you find so irresistible?

When I went back to school a year and a half ago, I figured I better change my blog description. Semi-retired made sense. I’m not willing to give up the industry entirely; this past summer I went back to working at Tria. I love working at restaurants.

I think there are a few things that make people fall in love with the industry; the people, the pace, and the lifestyle. While many of these qualities aren’t likely to seem like a good thing, to people in the industry it just makes sense. Working in a fast-paced work environment creates (at its best) a sense of camaraderie amongst employees. The pace can also be particularly addicting. In a busy restaurant, hours will fly by and you won’t even notice. The other benefits include an instant group of potential friends: a group of people usually in the same place in life, who also happen to enjoy drinking. This last part can be both the best and the worst part about the business. Everything about it can go so right, or it can go so wrong.
Oh, and the money’s pretty good too.

What's one lesson that you will take away from your years in the business?

Give the guest what they want. The cost of fixing a problem right away is less than the cost of losing a guest. It’s the little things that can be the difference between going back to a restaurant, and telling five friends never to go there. This includes being attuned to the details. I love it when I go to a restaurant and they’ve thought of some service detail that I’ve never seen before.

You did a little bit of everything at Tria. How does working in someplace so tuned into the details and the tiny bits of our favorite fermentables inform your palate and sensibilities for all things wine, beer, and food?

Tria is all about developing amazing systems. Everything is systematized. This includes the way that you learn about beer, wine and cheese. I started working at Tria thinking that I knew so much about beer. But, really, I had no idea how to categorize everything. I didn’t know how to put what I knew into useful language to help guests figure out what they want to drink. Now, when I think about a new beer, wine, or cheese I’ve tried, I put it into a category in my head.

Alright, down to brass tacks. I've been at the table with you for two of the benchmark meals of my life: Talula's during the Sikora years and Suckling Pig at Amada. If you could take one of the two places and plop it down in Amherst, which one are you taking up the coast? Do you go with the always changing sensory jamboree of Talula's or the always consistently awesome Amada?

This question is really, really tough. Talula’s would fit very well in Amherst. The Pioneer Valley is the number one produce-producing region in New England. Talula’s would have a ton of great farmers to work with for their menus. On the other hand, Amherst needs a “fancy” restaurant, badly. But, personally, I’d take Talula’s during the Sikora years. Those meals were so memorable.

Also, you were at THE dinner...Garces & Garrett. What from that night remains present in your mind?

The third course: Pato Verde. Duck confit, beer rice, and fava beans paired with Brooklyn Local 2. I can still taste this dish. The duck was perfect, the beer rice was perfect, and the beer paired so well. This dinner was the first time I had Local 2, and it has proved to be one of my favorite beers. I paired beers for a dinner party this past summer and used Brooklyn Local 1 and Local 2. While Garrett can be quite a handful, his beers really do pair well with food.

Get ready for it.......lightning round:

Most versatile style of beer for pairing and why?

Cliché as it is, it’s true: saison. It has everything you need: spice, fruitiness, carbonation, and balance. It’s a go-to beer.

Hardest style of wine to pair and why?

A white or red with terrible American oak. It’s just gross.

What's one thing food fad or trend that needs to just die already?

This might be blasphemy, and I sound like a terrible snob, but someone has to say it: restaurant week. Restaurant week has devolved into a terrible experience for all. The restaurants that participate loathe it, the restaurants that don’t participate loathe it, and the people who enjoy good food at good restaurants on a regular basis loathe it. Restaurant week menus aren’t exciting; they are clear attempts to save on food-costs and to cater to the unadventurous palate. And now, restaurant week has been extended to restaurant month. It was a great idea to begin with, and in “these tough economic times” it still seems like a great idea. But, it has transformed into a pretty mediocre experience for everyone involved. Maybe it doesn’t have to go, but it certainly has to change.

What's one dish or style of food that you're dying to try, but still haven't had the chance?

This is pretty lame of me, but I haven’t made it to Bibou. I really want to try the Pied de Porc: braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras.

Beef or Pork?

Beef in its purist form, pork in all its incarnations.

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