This week's review is all about Chipotle Mexican Grill--both its local presence in the Seattle area and its history as a fast food innovator. I talked about the founding of the place, how it (kinda accidentally) changed the way fast food is served and chain restaurants operate, and told the tale of how chef Steve Ells parlayed an $85,000 loan from his father into a big-ass burrito empire with 1,000 locations and counting.
But the story of Chipotle has never been normal and the place never really sits still. There's always something going on there--another way to get fresh ingredients into the system, another innovation in the process, another excuse for Ells to dress like barbecue sauce and hang out with Jamie Oliver.
Today, though, things got even stranger. Better, probably, but still weird.
Grub Street New York just reported this afternoon that Nate Appleman (who won the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef award in 2009 and was one of Food & Wine magazine's Rising Star chefs that same year) has been spotted at a Chipotle in Chelsea--rolling burritos.
This is a guy who did San Francisco time working at A16 and SPQR, made a huge name for himself on the national scene, then two months after getting named awesome by the JBF, bailed out for the East Coast and a gig working for restaurateur Keith McNally at Pulino's in Manhattan. He lasted about a year there (a stint which saw him smack in the middle of some very bright spotlights) before suddenly disappearing and being replaced. Folks wondered what was going to become of him. I don't think anyone guessed that he'd end up working the line at Chipotle.
Here's the thing, though. Appleman isn't just a cook. What he's doing, apparently, is learning the ropes so that he'll be better prepared for a gig as one of Chipotle's corporate chefs--responsible for improving the model, designing new menu items, etc.
According to Grub Street:
"Appleman says that although he welcomed the opportunity to get out of the blogger spotlight, the main reason he took the gig is because it's a larger-scale continuation of what he's been doing his whole career, i.e., 'finding good ingredients, raised the right way or grown the right way.' He tells us, 'What led me to this was being able to make a change. I was just trying to figure out, 'How can I make a difference?' It's one thing to be a really good chef and cook and it's another to impact millions of people -- from the farmers, ranchers, and everyone down to the 20,000 employees. As you get older and wiser, you're looking for more fulfillment.'"
Here's hoping Appleman finds his fulfillment behind that counter. If you ask me, there are a lot worse places he could've looked.