Chef Evan Funke discusses diners and why cheap food doesn’t exist
Evan Funke, chef-owner of Bucato, an Italian restaurant specializing in handmade pasta, will be opening a diner in the Hayden Tract of Culver City sometime in 2015. Called Thoroughbred, it will be a classic diner and is going into a space that was once a car showroom. We recently caught up with Funke, who gave us his highly opinionated take on the diner scene.
The more and more that I eat in diners, I’m finding that most of the menu is basically buy-out. It’s from Sysco, US Foods or whatever; it’s boxed pancake mix and boxed waffle mix and frozen French fries and sausage from IBP or whatever -- the lowest common denominator. Which is why it’s so cheap.
The whole diner concept when it first began was to offer good food at an affordable price for people who are on the road. With the industrialization of the food complex, it became cheaper and cheaper to supply cheap food to people, and they went away from the handmade quality of the original diners. Because in the ’30s, there wasn’t anything -- you had to make your pie dough from scratch, you had to make your biscuits from scratch. There were no refrigerated big rigs to drop off your 30 cases of frozen French fries.
You can’t have cheap diner food; you can have properly priced food. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you get what you pay for. Whether that’s experience-driven, whether it’s the quality of the food, whether it’s the labor associated with that food. If it’s handmade burger buns and handmade burgers and handmade biscuits -- or handmade pasta. And there’s no more magic. There’s no more cheap food. It does not exist. If you’re buying cheap food then you’re buying crap. Period.
I don’t think there was ever cheap food. It was likely artificially made cheap through subsidization, by flooding the market with too much. So there was never cheap food; we just made it cheap by growing too much. If you consider the span of the last couple hundred years, the amount of money that a family would spend on food has been dwindling. There wasn’t entertainment to spend your money on; you spent your money on food. But as we came into the modern age, the amount we spend on food now is next to nothing. It’s completely backwards.
I’ve been getting fat(ter) doing recon in diners in the Western states -- unfortunately it’s been largely uninspiring. We’re planning an East Coast and Southern R&D trip in December. I want to rekindle that feeling when I was a kid and got to sit at the counter on the swivel stool and watch those giants sling hash like well-oiled machines. We want to present a diner in its purest sense, an eating house, for everybody. The way it’s supposed to be, from scratch. I want to buy ketchup and mustard and that’s it. It’s gonna be loud and fast and greasy and handmade. Thoroughbred is my American table and it’s delicious.
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