Tiffani Faison and I both grew up in the same town in Sonoma County, California. While we just missed each other, she admits that the years of her youth were spent the same way as mine were: drinking in empty pastures and vineyards. After we spend a moment reminiscing in her Fenway barbecue joint, Sweet Cheeks Q
, she tells me about her upcoming appearance at MassEquality's Taste of Provincetown fundraiser, what junk food she can't stop eating, and why Boston chefs need to keep pushing the envelope.
SO TELL ME ABOUT TASTE OF PROVINCETOWN THIS YEAR. I'm excited for it! Right now, I think people think it's time to take a breath, since the president came out in support of gay marriage and all, but we really have to keep pushing! We're so close on so many levels. This year I'm emceeing/refereeing a competition between a few chefs. Last year, I asked them for their signature dish on their menus, and then they each got an envelope with someone else's dish, and had to make it into a sandwich.
I FEEL LIKE IT'D BE TONS OF FUN TO COME UP WITH WEIRD CHALLENGES LIKE THAT AFTER YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH SO MANY OF THEM. WHAT WAS THE WORST ONE YOU HAD TO DO ON TOP CHEF? The eight-minute Quickfire, definitely. They had us come into the kitchen, and Tom [Colicchio] was there by himself. The challenge was: as long as it took him to finish his dish, we had the same amount of time to finish ours. He knew where everything was, and didn't have to share space with anyone! Keep in mind on that season you had all these gigantic guys . . . we had a lot of safety conversations before and it didn't matter. It was heinous.
YOU'VE BEEN COOKING IN BOSTON SINCE 2001. HAVE YOU NOTICED A PALPABLE SEA CHANGE IN HOW BOSTON DINERS ARE EATING? Sure, yeah. I think the amount of people going out to eat is higher, and the level of knowledge people bring to the table is higher. I would love to say yes, it's changed completely, but it really hasn't. I really think we're still a city that's pretty conservative around our food choices and our restaurant choices, and I'm not sure there have been enough chefs pushing that hard enough.
WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE? Not that things have to be highly conceptual, but maybe more focused. We tend to be a city that wants to be "all things for all people" at every restaurant, and I think that becomes dangerous. Even with [Sweet Cheeks], I got a lot of questions like, "Why don't you have a green salad, or a Caesar salad, or a burger?" Because that's not what we are, that's why. You just see this "casual American" thing everywhere, and it's just different riffs on the same thing. Yes, some of it is very good, but some of it is just tired.
HOW IS THE SWEET CHEEKS KITCHEN DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER KITCHENS THAT YOU'VE WORKED IN? Aside from the fact that it's mine? [Laughs.] It's completely different, actually. Our focus is consistency. So if you come in and you have the brisket, and then you come back and want the same brisket you had last time, you can get it. And that's not something that you can just hit, and it stays that way forever. Tim Cushman [of O Ya] always used to say restaurants are like ships, always veering off course, and it's your job to steer it back.