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A culinary controversy has been simmering in Washington, D.C., ever since an article appeared in last week's Washington Post titled, "What's missing from D.C.'s food scene? A lot. " It was penned by Mark Furstenberg: a baker, chef and the former owner of Marvelous Market and Remarkable Breads.
"I think I feel slightly more hopeful than the article that appeared reflected, but I'm very critical of the food scene," he says.
The way Furstenberg sees it, D.C., lacks what he calls a "discernible food culture": "People who care deeply about food and who come to Washington or grow up here, learning about a food tradition that is geographically native to us, as well as culturally native to us."
Furstenberg's comments got many in the local food scene pretty steamed up, including Jessica Sidman, food editor for Washington City Paper. She says Furstenberg isn't giving local diners enough credit.
"The people who live in Washington come from all over the world," Sidman says. "They come from those supposedly superior cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. They know good food, and they're going to judge the new restaurants just as harshly as the old ones."
She also says Furstenberg dismissed a major part of D.C.'s culinary culture: the burgeoning craft beer and mixology scene. Which, says Derek Brown (who owns The Passenger, Columbia Room, and his newest spot, Mockingbird Hill, isn't all that "burgeoning."
"The Ricky was invented here in the 1880s," Brown says. "I mean, what other kind of tradition do you want? I invite Mark Furstenberg to come let me make him a Ricky so he can shut up about all of this no local tradition stuff."
Mark Furstenberg says he's aware of the food-based furor he sparked; in fact, that was the idea. He wants to get people talking about Washington's food scene.
"I'd like people, particularly young people, to notice much more acutely what they eat," he says. "I'd also like people to object to prices and object to pretention. I'd like to have restaurants that don't take reservations called to account for that."
[Music: "Hey Good Lookin" by The Nashville Valley Boys from Country Piano & Guitar Favorites]