Two themes dominate this month’s issue: food and death. As themes go, it’s hard to think of two that touch more people’s lives. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of us earth-dwellers are unified by our dependence on the former and avoidance of the latter. Even those unhappy few in the pro-death, anti-food wing of humanity are, by their very nature, philosophically invested in the subjects. But in magazine parlance, a Food & Death Issue is what they call a “hard sell.” True, everyone likes to eat and most of us don’t want to die, but it’s somehow unappetizing to brood over the end while you’re gnawing on a lamb shank or oooing and ahhhing over a devilishly tasty amuse bouche. So we cut to the chase and dubbed this the Best Restaurants issue. That ought to take your mind off the dark stuff.
But before you dig in, a little more about that final good night. Not all of us go gentle into it, that’s for sure. About two years ago, executive editor Linda Vaccariello noticed a short article about a body that had washed up on the banks of the Ohio River near North Bend. Dead bodies appearing anywhere tend to get your attention, but in this case the intrigue went deeper. What happened to this woman? How did she end up floating in the river? And most of all, who was she? Those questions led Vaccariello to a subculture that has grown over the last few decades—a world inhabited by detectives and pathologists and coroners and loved ones, all looking for the same thing: a name to give the nameless. Her story is a fascinating window into that world. Kathy Y. Wilson travels that same territory, though in her case the subject of her story—the artist and renowned printmaker Thom Shaw—is, thankfully, very much alive. Still, for Shaw, mortality is an ever-present, intimate, painful issue due to the health troubles he’s experienced over the years. But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Shaw’s bouts with illness have certainly had an intense effect on his art, which in the end is what he cares about the most. As he tells Wilson, “I really don’t even look at the future…I’m more concerned about now.”
Of course, right now, the now is not so much fun to live in. The economic meltdown the United States is going through has left few if any of us untouched. Which brings the food and death theme full circle: Our list of the Top 10 best restaurants this year is notable for many things—star chefs, boffo dishes, and excellent newcomers—but perhaps the most notable thing about it is the absence of Jean-Robert at Pigall’s. Jean-Robert de Cavel is not just one of the greatest chefs in the country, he’s a marvelous, winning, dynamic human being. A true mensch. Whether you’ve ever dined at his table or not, if you live here you’ve been the beneficiary of his great good grace and deep loyalty to this city. Which is to say, he makes Cincinnati a better place. While his flagship restaurant will be sorely missed, I hope we’re fortunate enough to keep Chef Jean-Robert in our orbit, not to mention a kitchen or two, so we can all look forward to living in the now.