A chef and judge on Food Network shows like “Iron Chef America” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Simon Majumdar turned his blunt brand of criticism – plus glowing praise – on Fresno this week.
First, the good news: The agnolotti pasta made with Fresno State corn at The Annex Kitchen was the best dish he ate in the United States last year. He said so in an Instagram post in late 2016 and reiterated it when he met with Fresno chefs and the media at the restaurant.
He dined in 20 different countries that year.
“The dish I still remember is that,” he said of the little pillows of pasta filled with sweet corn.
After his first bite of the dish at chef Jimmy Pardini’s Shaw Avenue restaurant, Majumdar remembers immediately telling the server, who was walking away, to stop. He needed another plate of the pasta because they were going to inhale it.
“You ... have an ingredient that is second to none,” he said. “I’ve never tasted corn like that.”
And it’s not just corn. Majumdar said the Valley’s peaches, Mary’s Chicken and other ingredients are “top notch.”
“There are people all over the world, chefs, who would kill to have access to that food,” he said.
The Fresno Food Expo hosted Majumdar, who held a private meeting June 20 with about 35 chefs and restaurateurs, from Colton Social House in Clovis to La Piazza Ristorante in Tulare. They talked about using locally sourced food and other topics.
Majumdar may end up judging the food of some of the chefs during a competition at the Fresno Food Expo, July 26 and 27.
After the discussion, Majumdar met with a handful of journalists and bloggers.
Just as every report card has a “needs improvement” section, the chef had some suggestions for Fresno.
The area could be known as a foodie destination, he said.
With so many quality ingredients, chefs should be coming here from outside the area to check out the region’s produce, meat and other ingredients.
“This area has a real unique food story and it needs to tell it,” he said.
Knowingly or not, he tapped into Fresno’s inferiority complex, where some residents would rather complain than boast about the city they live in.
“What I think this area is bad at is talking about itself,” he said. “It’s too apologetic.”
The first step to raising the profile of Fresno as a food destination is to create a community of chefs, he said. He hoped the meeting with chefs – many hadn’t met each other – would kick-start other events or connections among them.