Chefs Matt Levin and Anne Coll pop in

Posted: October 21, 2010

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online:

Craig LaBan: We have special online guests, two of Philly's hottest young 3-bell chefs, Anne Coll, who's been spinning her elegant Asian-fusion fare at Meritage in the neighborhood formerly known as Graduate Hospital, and Matt Levin of the contemporary Queen Village bistro Adsum. Welcome to the chat house!

What single dish from your current menus defines you most as a cook right now?

Matt Levin: I've gotta say the poutine because it's everything I love: fatty, cheesy and greasy and smothered in brown gravy. The best comment I've gotten from a guest was "It's so good it makes me wanna get drunk so I'll have another!"

Anne Coll: Right now one of my faves is a grilled quail with sweet and sour red cabbage with toasted mustard seeds, heirloom apple chutney, and a fresh apple cider gastrique. Sweet, sour, and salty is really what I love.

Reader: Matt, congrats on the 3 bells, well deserved. Any chance you would resurrect Rubb . . . I'd love to see what new tastes and techniques you'd bring to BBQ.

M.L.: Thank you. Yes a BBQ "joint" is definitely in my future. My take on BBQ is different than most, that's what will make it so much fun.

C.L.: How is your 'cue different, Matt?

M.L.: I don't smoke with traditional woods, I prefer more exotic woods like pistachio or orange wood, maybe some peach wood from Texas also. Plus my sauces are based with an unusual ingredients and techniques.

Reader: Anne, with all your success with Korean tacos and Korean fried chicken, what do you think will be the next big food trend?

A.C.: Well . . . I would really love for BBQ chicken butts to become popular in the US like in Asia. Grilled right on a skewer, it's every cook's favorite part of the chicken.

C.L.: Are we talking about the "pope's nose" people fight for on turkeys around the T-day table?

A.C: You got it! The part of the chicken I can't get enough of: fatty, juicy, meaty, delish! On a skewer even better.

C.L: A few years ago, Anne was at Susanna Foo and Matt was at Lacroix. Both of you have made the transition from the fine-dining heights of 4-bells to your more casual current bistro settings. This push from formality has been a major trend in the past few years - because of the economy and changing tastes. Do you miss the pomp and unfettered luxury of haute cuisine?

A.C.: I am really glad to be in a less formal environment. I definitely feel more free to make fun fresh food that appeals to more people.

M.L.: The less formal side of dining has always been where my heart is, but I do miss the more luxurious side, and the longer I'm away the more I'll miss it I'm sure. It's a new challenge for me, taking lesser ingredients and making something fantastic is fun and I'm embracing it fully.

C.L.: Do either of you see the pendulum swinging back, where we'll once again see kitchens that are dedicated to gastronomy for the sake of culinary art, without the pricing restrictions that the tight economy brings?

A.C: I really don't think you will see a return to haute cuisine in this city, not because of the gastronomy. I think people in this city don't want to get dressed up to go out to dinner.

M.L.: I really hope . To me there's something special about dressing up and going out for the night and having an exquisite dining experience. Spending 3-5 hours being wooed over by food and service can be amazing.

C.L.: Anne, don't you think there will still be a place in this city where people will want to get dressed up for a special occasion? Or has food just become so good that it's dulled that need?

A.C.: Absolutely, but it won't be a great experience like it was at Le Bec. People here want a more trendy scene like at a Starr restaurant. More smoke and mirrors.

M.L.: I'd love to do crazy intense progressive food in a simple almost abandoned-warehouse-feeling room. But I think that as a whole less formal seems to be trending toward less expensive.

Reader: I've always thought that was part of Philadelphia's unique charm: the accessibility to all levels of cuisine. There aren't places you can't get in if you don't know someone - really indicative of the spirit of the city itself in many aspects.

Join Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan for a live online chat Tuesdays at 2 p.m. at

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