Susur Lee Says New Yorkers "Don't Understand" His Food
New York in recent months seems to have attracted its share of dissatisfied and vocal visitors. First, Alain Ducasse dissed us for London. Then, noted baboon killer A.A. Gill dribbled his viscous prose all over our restaurant scene like so much flop sweat. And now, Susur Lee is heaping part of the blame for Shang's less than spectacular performance on our lack of readiness to embrace his brave, progressive take on Asian cuisine.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Lee discusses the restaurant's "tough year." Although he acknowledges the bad timing of opening Shang three weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he reserves the brunt of his blame for our closed little minds.
"You know what, looking back ... no, I don't think they were ready," he says...."New York is always difficult," says Lee. "Your idea has to be suitable for New York. No matter how creative you are, if they don't understand, they won't come. Tradition is really important here."
"People won't go for chicken feet no matter how many truffles you stuff in there," says Lee. "It's a question of culture. On Asian cuisine they are not that advanced."
But it's more convenient to place the blame for (relative) failure anywhere but the vicinity of one's own restaurant: if he chose, Lee could just as easily point to an atmosphere so boring "that your eyeballs hurt," or erratically portioned dishes served at constantly elevated prices.
Lee does have another finger to point -- this one's at Toronto, which he considers more daring than New York. So daring, in fact, that he closed his groundbreaking namesake restaurant almost two years ago and re-opened it as a European restaurant serving such forward-thinking fare as lobster bisque and spinach ricotta gnocchi.
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