Chatting With Craig LaBan

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Chef Georges Perrier (left) at Le Bec-Fin, closed in 2013, with sous chef Nicholas Elmi in Erika Frankel's documentary "King Georges."

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of March 1, 2016:

Craig LaBan: The highlight of my week was most definitely the tasting menu at the chef's counter at Serpico, with so many memorable dishes. But perhaps the most brilliant little bite was a "tortellini" in which the dumpling's skin was made from a salted sheet of turnip that had been shaved paper-thin, and then wrapped around a stuffing of silky foie gras mousse. Crunch and cream. Fermented tingle and fatty richness. Small as a thimble, but what a big impression it made, this little one-bite of wow.

Also, wondering if anyone made it to the premiere of King Georges, Erika Frankel's bittersweet documentary about Georges Perrier and the final years of Le Bec-Fin? I've covered a lot of real characters over my career – but Georges has been, and will always be, one of the most fascinating. Of course, now I'm craving a galette de crabe. And I know where to get one: Le Chéri (owned by ex-Le Bec chef Pierre Calmels) cooks that very recipe for lunch.

Reader: I attended the premiere and loved every second. Frankel wonderfully captured the essence of the chef, who continues to exude passion and love for food and for Philadelphia.

Reader: I've noticed some closings lately that seem counterintuitive: innovative, hip restaurants like Petruce and Farm & Fisherman that seem to be nailing it closing their doors. Do we have an over-saturated Center City food scene, prompting somewhat successful restaurants to go under? (I am so sad about Petruce, I loved that lasagna.)

C.L.: Loved Petruce (and that lasagna), too, but it seems that location was a tough sell for nighttime traffic. So much talent but it couldn't be sustained. Farm & Fisherman is another story, but probably a more common one. According to Josh Lawler, business was fine there, but he'd outgrown that little 30-seat BYOB, especially with a big project in his Cherry Hill Tavern and plans for another somewhere else in the 'burbs. He has plans for a bigger F&F in town, I've heard.

Reader: What are your thoughts on the 30 individuals who lost their jobs at Vetri restaurants after the takeover of URBN? I was extremely disappointed by what seemed to be an unanticipated consequence of selling his restaurants. Maybe he should have considered this possibility and the impact of his decision. But Vetri is just a businessman like every other restaurant owner.

C.L.: Well, I haven't spoken with Marc about this, and he told our reporter he was "tired" of talking about it, so gave no comment. So, really, I don't know the details of what went on behind the scenes. But it's a sad side effect of a local restaurateur selling to a corporation. It seems like it was inevitable and they must have known it was coming. That's beside the point of the larger issue: the undocumented worker population in Philly's kitchens is huge and essential. Vetri sounded genuinely distraught to have lost so many valuable employees in his comments on Foobooz (before he got tired of talking about it), including one employee who'd worked for him for 10 years. That must have really hurt. But, obviously, this is an issue that needs to be addressed on a national level with immigration reform. It's certainly become the prime issue driving the loud activism of Benjamin Miller and his (undocumented) wife and co-chef, Cristina, at their South Philly Barbacoa.