How many corks does it take to fill an acrylic box the size of a fish tank? The person grappling with this question is Phil Winser, the 26-year-old cofounder of Silkstone, a New York City company that designs events with farmers' marketdriven food; it counts celebrities like Liv Tyler and Lenny Kravitz as clients. Winser and his equally young business partner, Ben Towill, are celebrating the opening of their new Manhattan restaurant, The Fat Radish, with a wine party on the building's roof. They'll decorate the space with wine paraphernalia and prepare a menu inspired by wine-country crush parties, starting with Bellinis topped with berries or peaches that guests will crush themselves, using a mortar and pestle.
Hosts Ben Towill (l) and Phil Winser. © Michael Turek.
It's early fall, one of Towill and Winser's favorite times of year, because they both grew up in the English countryside and have vivid memories of harvesting fruits and vegetables from their families' gardens. "It seems like everything is in season," says Towill, who is the head chef for both Silkstone and The Fat Radish. "You can build a menu using last-of-the-season summer fruits and vegetables." And the weather has cooled off enough to make the hearty roasts the two men crave.
Five hours before guests arrive, Winser, the more design-minded of the pair, is still fixated on filling those acrylic boxes, which he wants to use as benches. "They're a modern take on the hay bale," he says. Even though wine shops all over the city are sending him hundreds of corks his way, he realizes that he won't have enough to fill more than one of the boxeswhich probably hold more than 1,000 corks each. Empty wine bottles will look good inside the boxes too, he decides. So will the splintery crates he and Towill get from the farmers' market.
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As a more literal nod to a winery's crush, Towill piles a tray with 30 pounds of grapes. "It's the sorting table!" says Erin Fitzpatrick, wine consultant for Silkstone. "I worked a crush in Chile. It's backbreaking labor." Today the work is not so hardTowill just asks his guests to pull the grapes from the stems. He then gently crushes the fruit with his hands (he's decided not to use his feet) and combines it with fresh chiles and lime juice to make a lightly sweet salsa for buttery fillets of black cod; he jars the extra for people to take home. Most guests stand back as the grapes burst, but fashion designer Bahar Shahpar dives in. "I can't tell you how happy this makes me," she says as she buries her hands in the squished grapes.
Guests squish grapes for salsa. © Michael Turek.
Fitzpatrick has brought the wine, starting with an Italian roséthe strawberry-inflected 2009 Torre dei Beati Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cerasuolowhich she says has "enough guts" to drink with Towill's starters: toasts spread with raisin-studded eggplant caponata or apple-bacon chutney. When Towill brings out the main course, pork shoulder with honey-lacquered skin, Fitzpatrick chooses a Vacqueyras, a cherry-rich, Grenache-based wine from the southern Rhône. "I call this wine rustic because I hate to use terms that might put people off. Like 'barnyardy.' But that earthy, funky thing really works with the pork," she says. She pulls the corks and hands them to Winser for the next time he needs to fill a box the size of a fish tank.
© Michael Turek
"I fill clear acrylic boxes with things you'd never want to sit on, like wine bottles," says Silkstone's Phil Winser. Get similar boxes custom-cut. From about $365; plexi-craft.com.
© Michael Turek
During harvest, winery labs utilize test tubes to analyze grapes. Silkstone's Ben Towill uses test tubes to serve Bellinis made with Prosecco and freshly crushed fruit. Glass bud vases mimic the test-tube effect. Cylinder bud vases, $2.50 each; crateandbarrel.com.
© Michael Turek
Winser used his carpentry skills to build a basic wooden tabletop with a trench in the center. The trench acts as a planter for a long row of herbs and flowers. He simply set the tabletop on two sawhorses, so it's easy to take down.
To evoke the feeling of a farm, Winser covers the railing that runs along the edge of the roof with wood planks reclaimed from barns. (Never mind the incredible Empire State Building views.) From $5.50 per sq ft; farmwoodinternational.com.