Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chefs We Dig: Imre Kose

Given the all-consuming quiet caused by the recession, I thought I'd stumbled into a speakeasy in prohibition-era America. Vertigo is not a small restaurant, and conversation and laughter emanated from both of its large dining rooms.

And the chef was in the house. Imre Kose was dashing back and forth from kitchen to dining room, speaking with guests, holding hurried court as chefs do. And his English. Oh, his English. It's hard to pin down an Estonian accent. To me, it seems less an accent and more a brief pause on the way to having no accent whatsoever. But Kose's accent isn't even that. He's somehow made English his own. Perhaps due to a blend of natural charisma and having to be heard over chattering diners, something unique has emerged. Were I Estonia's dictator, I'd send language teachers and academics to study it.

Over a Jack on the rocks I watched a parade of violin-case-packing middle-aged women enter the restaurant. They were either visiting orchestra members with instruments too expensive to check, or they were about to shoot up the place. Later, halfway into a rack of lamb and Imre approached our table: "There's a Filipino woman, part of some orchestra, and I half-jokingly asked her if she wouldn't want to play a song..." And then there she was, violin unsheathed and under her chin, playing for our table. Playing for the restaurant. Playing for Imre.

Recommended (for those like me who seem to dine out once an eternity): Vertigo.