There was this moment, shortly after the finale of Top Chef: New Orleans had aired, shortly after Nick Elmi had been named the winner, when another chef walked up to him at one of the big food events in town, shook his hand, congratulated him, and asked him what the hell he was thinking, opening a 22-seat restaurant.
Because, seriously? When you win Top Chef, you suddenly become one of the most famous chefs in America. At least temporarily. Shoot, even losing on the show can be enough to raise you up out of obscurity and turn you into a brand — a known name who can draw down the dollars just by having been featured on the jumping box for a few hours. Cookbook deals, product endorsements, cruise-ship gigs — it all comes to you. And a big-ass restaurant with high-volume turnover on the floor? Of course. That’s just a given.
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Junto | Photos by Courtney Apple
“Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up,” members of Ben Franklin’s mutual aid society would ask one another, “whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?”
They’d ask the same thing about “deserving stranger[s] arrived in town since last meeting.” And while neither description exactly matches MacGregor Mann, who’s cooked in Philadelphia for more than a decade, they’re close enough. Before naming his solo debut after Franklin’s eclectic club, the Garces vet went on a culinary walkabout ranging from an Idaho fly-fishing lodge to a stage at Denmark’s Noma—often named as the best restaurant in the world. And when he returned, he was bent on digging deeper into his home turf.
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Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney
Just how much sinning do you like to do over dinner?
That’s a good question to chew on at Nicole Marquis’s mysterious new bar on 13th Street, where you can drink bourbon and absinthe beneath a looming hardback edition of In Cold Blood, watch sultry projections of Marilyn Monroe flicker upon the ruffles of a diaphanous wall curtain, and soak up your alcohol with food completely untainted by animal products.
In an era abounding with culinary hobgoblins—gluten for him, fructose for her, GMOs for the guy down the street—veganism still reigns unrivaled as the diet of the ethically upright. But the plant-only jawn feels a little racier at Charlie Was a Sinner, and not just because it’s next door to the last surviving porn shop on this once-seedy strip. Marquis, the woman behind HipCityVeg, named her lounge the way Elmore Leonard started crime novels. Who’s Charlie? Has he—or she—repented? Exactly what sort of sin are we talking about here?
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