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Archive for the ‘celebrity chef’ Category

Postcard from Dan

This postcard just arrived in the mail… 

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Yes, I've whited out some parts

 WHAT?

Yes, I too did a double take when it arrived. Not only is this a postcard from Dan Barber, but it is actually handwritten. It is no doubt in response to the customer survey card I filled out at the end of my meal at Blue Hill (that’s the only reason they have my mailing address). Talk about customer service. Hope to see you soon, indeed.

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The James Beard Awards are the Academy Awards of the culinary field. It’s one night where you can see the likes of Mario Batali rubbing shoulders with Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert, all dressed in black tie. Sadly, I didn’t see any of them as I spent most of the awards tying pickled ramps in knots and resting them atop pieces of bone marrow. Mmmmm. 

Kyle and I arrived at Lincoln Center, as directed, at 2:30 pm and were given our credentials. 

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This year, the awards celebrated women in food, and all of the chefs who were invited to cook were female. And, everything was pink. Don’t get me wrong, I love the color pink. But, I do think that women in the culinary field often struggle to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and that turning Avery Fisher Hall into something reminiscent of a middle school girl’s bedroom was maybe not the wisest decorative choice. 

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I was assigned to Chef Debbie Gold, and spent the better part of my first few hours at the awards awaiting her arrival. It turned out that she had been using a kitchen offsite to toast the croutons for her dish (there is no kitchen at Avery Fisher) and so she didn’t wind up arriving until 4:30. While I was waiting, Kyle and I snuck a peek into the theater, which was a good thing as it was the only glimpse that I would wind up getting the whole night (unlike Kyle who got to watch some of the awards).

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After Chef Gold arrived, I helped assemble her dish (along with another volunteer and another chef who is a friend of Chef Gold’s) and served guests. The awards themselves ran from about 6:30 to 10, but starting at around 9 guests began to circulate and sample the many offerings. The dish I worked on was comprised of salt-cured bone marrow on a mustard crouton topped with a pickled ramp and parsley.

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Things began to wind down at around 10, which is when Kyle, already a few drinks happy, came and rescued me. By then, the chef and her friend had long wandered away and I was manning the table with the other volunteer. We were pretty well-stocked at that point so I took off with Kyle and managed to sample the food and spy some of the chefs. We saw Dan Barber, Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, Aaron Sanchez, Maria Hines (of Tilth who won Best Chef: Northwest), and Michelle Bernstein, and I spoke with Jeff from the most recent season of Top Chef. I even got to see my boss, Ryan Tate (chef de cuisine at Savoy), looking quite dapper in a tux.

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Sadly, I did not see the two people I most wanted to see: Tom Colicchio (who supposedly stood right in front of the table where Kyle was working for about 10 minutes!) and Michael Pollan, who won an award but was a no-show.

The best dishes I sampled were definitely the desserts. My top three, in order:
1. Warm coconut-cardamom rice pudding with rhubarb and kumquats – Kate Zuckerman (pastry chef of Chanterelle in NYC) 
2. Beet brownies with Veldhuizen Bosque blue cheese, Miss Van’s honeycomb, and Swedish-style Texas pecans – Monica Pope (Chef of t’afia in Houston, Texas)
3. Toasted almond and rose bonet with rhubarb and candied rose petals – Danica Pollard (pastry chef of Lidia’s in Kansas City, Missouri)

We left the awards with our pockets full of chocolate (the Green & Black’s table was closing down and we walked by at just the right time) and a bag full of tequila (Kyle made friends with one of the booze promoters). It wasn’t the best night, but it sure beat staying home and watching the Yankees lose to the Red Sox.

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Salt-cured bone marrow on mustard croutons with pickled ramps and parsley.

This is the dish the chef I was assigned to at last night’s James Beard Foundation Awards (Debbie Gold of The American Restaurant in Kansas City) made. I helped with the plating and distribution. While I didn’t have as great of a time as I was hoping, it was a good experience and I got to see some great chefs. More on the awards tomorrow.

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I was ecstatic when my friend Rebecca (a culinary school classmate) emailed me to ask if I wanted to join her and Clare (another classmate) at an event at Astor Center featuring Eric Ripert, the executive chef and part-owner of Le Bernardin.  Ripert, who is also know for his frequent appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef, is one of my culinary idols.  Le Bernardin — one of only four restaurants in NYC awarded three Michelin stars — remains on the tippity top of my “to eat at” list.

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During the Q&A

Ripert gave a talk about his new book, On the Line, which takes readers into the trenches at Le Bernardin, showing them what it takes to maintain a New York Times four-star-rated eatery.  The format of the talk was an interview of Ripert by Christine Muhlke who co-authored the book.  

Ripert spoke for about an hour, and I was riveted the entire time. He then took questions from the audience.  When asked about his favorite foods and guilty pleasures, he cited dark chocolate (to eat) and black truffles (to cook with), and maintained that he has no “guilty pleasures” because he has no guilt about eating anything.

One attendee asked about leadership, not just in the context of the kitchen.  To answer, Ripert used the metaphor of sled dogs saying that the one who leads the pack is not the fastest (who might go too fast and burn the others out) or the oldest (who is past his prime), but rather the one who is most in tune with the rest of the pack and can pick up on all the signs and signals that the other dogs send.

He likened going out to eat to going to see a movie but better as, “you’re IN the movie.”

One compelling thing Ripert touched upon was when Muhlke brought up the current economic situation.  He talked about how Le Bernardin’s strategy to keep their tables filled has been to increase their marketing budget, and NOT reduce their prices.  He gave as an example the brand Hermes and how during last year’s recession they were the only luxury brand who increased sales, largely due to the reputation of the craftsmanship and quality of their leather products.  He said that when people who used to be able to afford five bags could only afford one, they would buy an Hermes.  He hopes that dinner at Le Bernardin will be the same sort of choice.  As people cut back and can only go out on special occasions, Ripert has faith that they will walk through his doors because he hasn’t compromised with discounted menu items or, “replaced black truffles with black olives.”

He even said that food blogs are great for the industry, so there you have it.

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Ripert signing Rebecca’s book

After the talk, Ripert and Muhlke signed everyone’s books, and even stopped to pose for some photos. What I’ve read of the book so far is quite good.  It goes into great detail about how a restaurant is run, from the roles of each person on staff to the way the walk-in refrigerator is organized.  It also includes several recipes, some of which are accompanied by charming little sketches and notes. Hopefully, some day, I’ll get to try the food firsthand.  

Until then, at least I have a great new Facebook profile photo.

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With Ripert

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