Welcome to the Era of the "I Ate Sichuan Peppercorns With Danny Bowien" Piece
Last year, everyone in the national food media was going wild over Copenhagen's Noma and its forager chef, Rene Redzepi, to the point where Eater started tracking the evolution of the "I Foraged With Rene Redzepi Piece." The fascination with New Nordic has since waned, but there's a new story to take its place: the "I Ate Sichuan Peppercorns With Danny Bowien Piece," which has run in GQ, Bon Appetit, and New York on the heels of Mission Chinese Food's opening in Manhattan. I'd bet good money that more will follow.
Alex Hochman Bowien in the dumpling station at Mission Chinese Food, several years ago.
For the record, San Franciscans have been writing articles about Mission Chinese's crazy spice levels and Bowien's particular genius for years. The headline on my predecessor Jonathan Kauffman's review of the restaurant was "Mission Chinese Food offers a Matrix mind-twister of a meal" (he describes the lamb soup as tasting "like licking a spark plug"). And former SFoodie editor John Birdsall pretty much called this very era in a 2010 blog post titled "Someone Besides Us Takes Notice of Danny Bowien," a headline that seems so quaint now:
"As for Bowien's work at Mission Chinese Food, [Chow senior editor Lessley] Anderson's is the kind of trend-defining portraiture the New Yorker eats up with rosewood chopsticks, except that New York hasn't caught on to Bowien. Not yet."When the New Yorker inevitably does profile Bowien, I hope they won't pass off the same "I Ate Sichuan Peppercorns With..." angle as everyone else by adding an self-conscious aside about how everyone else has already written it, like Jane Kramer did with her 2011 profile on Redzepi. That's the problem with these first-person, experience-based profile pieces: No matter how good the writer, unless they're one of those truly gifted lunatics with a bizarre perspective on the world, all the articles eventually come to the same conclusions.
So can we please call a moratorium on the "I Ate Sichuan Peppercorns With Danny Bowien" story now, before it becomes the only story about Mission Chinese that anyone is telling?