© Alessandra Bulow
Gagnaire's amazing "Zezette" mushroom broth.
Sure, my colleagues ate breakfast with chef-god Pierre Gagnaire
the other day. I did them one better—I ate a meal that he himself cooked. As a preview of the menu he'll be serving at Twist at the Mandarin Oriental
in Las Vegas, opening in December, he hosted a lunch in the 36th floor ballroom of the hotel’s New York City location, overlooking Central Park.
The meal started with an amazing dish that I'd never seen anything like before—lightly fried strips of Dover sole with spinach, accompanied by bowls of white vegetable velouté and bocconcini ice cream. Gagnaire topped the fish with a large, very thin disk of "Kientzheim" butter—a funny name for a butter he flavors with reduced fish stock, shallots and Champagne—that melts into the fish when warm sauce is poured on top.
Another dish, named "Zezette" after a good friend of his, was an earthy-sweet and rich mushroom broth (pictured) served with roasted duck, braised turnips (which turn deep pink after soaking in beet juice and Campari) and "Yoyo," basmati rice–Parmesan gratin named after his friend Yolanda, who also makes this dish.
Now I'm back in my cubicle, dreaming about my incredible experience and thinking that I know exactly what I'd call a dish named after Pierre Gagnaire: “Genius!”
In London, Ilse Crawford’s incredible design firm, Studioilse
, is hosting a series of "Kitchen Table Talks"
at Leila’s Shop
restaurant, starting tonight and running through October. Crawford has gathered a Who’s Who of design, food and eco-mindedness to discuss the link between growing food and building community. The lineup includes Randolph Hodgson, founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy
; Dennis Paphitis, founder of cult beauty brand Aesop
; and Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
. Click here
for dates and details.
Last week, I was up in Boston to help host a party with rock-star chef Barbara Lynch and the founders of Fresh beauty, Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg. The occasion: To celebrate an article in F& W’s September issue, in which Lynch helped her friends add more flavor to their favorite healthy recipes.
After the party, we headed over to Sportello, one of Barbara's newest restaurants, and the dinner conversation veered to keeping fit. Barbara is on a serious health kick. To keep up her energy (she just finished a new cookbook, Stir, out next month), she’s been obsessively juicing every fruit, vegetable and herb she can get her hands and storing batches in her fridge. Lynch also told me about her new favorite energy bar, Green Vibrance. (Cameron Diaz has been in Boston, filming Wichita with Tom Cruise, and her personal assistant introduced Barbara to the dark-chocolate-covered, vitamin-loaded veggie bar.)
In addition to trail-running with the Sportello staff, Barbara has also taken up boxing. And I don’t mean the cardio-punch classes they offer at fancy fitness centers. Lynch works out at Golden Gloves champion Peter Welch’s super-old-school gym in Southie. After a few drinks, Lev (he actually does the cardio-punch gym classes) and I had agreed to join her in the ring the next day. Lev was a no-show (I think he got scared), but Barbara’s publicist, Sarah Hearn, joined me for an intense hour-long session with a group that looked straight out of Rocky. After throwing uppercuts, jabs and hooks and doing what seemed like endless push-ups, I have a new respect for Barbara Lynch, way beyond her extraordinary skills in the kitchen.
Top Chef host, cookbook author and former model Padma Lakshmi kicked off New York City's fashion week by judging hors d'oeuvres created by six fashion celebs in a cook-off at Bergdorf Goodman's BG Restaurant. The contestants included designers Peter Som (panko-fried oysters with blood-orange gastrique and tartar sauce) and Naeem Khan (chicken with 26 Indian spices, wrapped in lettuce), but the hands-down winning dish, according to Padma (and F&W's omniscient Kate Krader), was Lela Rose's corn crepe topped with lobster and a cilantro–pine nut salsa. Midway through the competition, Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, peeked into the room, threw her head back with a rarely captured laugh and exited into the fashion ether.
© Alessandra Bulow
Mary-Kate & Ashley working hard for their money.
Later that night, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen served watermelon-and-candied-ginger martinis to a packed room of crazed fans in an effort to promote their clothing lines Elizabeth & James and The Row. A few minutes into the service, Ashley said, "Is there music?" and the staff turned on some beats. Any good bar patron knows that you should always tip the bartender, so I dropped a dollar on the bar (a move that confused Mary-Kate and made it into the next day's paper). After all, leaving a tip never goes out of style–even if it's for a couple of billionaires.
A table of food stars for Macy's Come Together charity.
The goal of feeding 10 million hungry people in America is not a modest one. So thank goodness some big guns are addressing the situation. Come Together,
the new initiative by Macy’s and Feeding America
, includes plenty of paparazzi-worthy celebrities (Donald Trump
, Tommy Hilfiger
, Jessica Simpson
) promoting charitable dinner parties, where hosts will ask guests to make a donation to Feed America instead of bringing a hostess gift. On Tuesday night, Macy’s hosted its own dinner with some paparazzi-worthy chefs from their Culinary Council to launch the initiative. Emeril Lagasse
prepared shrimp remoulade, chicken jambalaya and sautéed pound cake with flambéed for the assorted food stars, who included Cat Cora
, Ming Tsai
and Nancy Silverton
; my boss, Food & Wine
editor-in-chief Dana Cowin
; and my Top Chef
hero and colleague, Gail Simmons
Tony Mantuano's prosciutto with shaved artichoke salad
As we enter prime season for food lovers—the next few weeks will bring dazzling events like Le Fooding
, the New York City Wine & Food Festival
and StarChefs.com’s International Chefs Congress
, among others—it’s tempting to look at every major event as an opportunity to eat. So while I know most people go to the US Open semifinals
to see Roger Federer make the best shot of his life
, I was almost as focused on the food at Arthur Ashe Stadium, specifically at Tony Mantuano’s Wine Bar
. Mantuano, the chef at Chicago's Spiaggia
, has two tented locations at the Open this year, near the stadium entrance and on the club floor (club location preferable if you’re looking for spectators like Jack Nicholson
and Mario Batali
). Mantuano serves excellent small plates from his recent Wine Bar Food
cookbook, including prosciutto with shaved artichokes and hearts of palm. Most notable is his flaming ouzo shrimp, which combines quintessential Mediterranean flavors like lemon, garlic and anise-y ouzo with seafood. When the ouzo sauce is ignited, flames dramatically jump up a foot high (Mantuano had the Wine Bar’s tent fireproofed); it was the only thing diverting enough to make you take your eyes off one of Federer and Novak Djokovic's epic volleys on the giant screen.
Zak Pelaccio is hands on at Fatty Fest
I’ve always thought it was smart the way the Fatty Crab team expanded their empire from an outstanding-but-tiny downtown-NYC Malaysian restaurant
to include a much bigger, more comfortable and cocktail-friendly outpost on the Upper West Side
, a groovy and authentic Mexican restaurant, Cabrito
, in the West Village, and coming this fall, a Brooklyn barbecue place: Fatty ‘Cue
. But I saw an additional benefit to their expansion this weekend at the second annual, 24-hour, Woodstock-simulating Fatty Fest, at chef/owner Zak Pelaccio's
country home in Old Chatham, NY—a.k.a. the company party. Cabrito supplied the homemade chips, salsas and roast goat (which was still roasting when some of us, who didn’t appreciate the pleasures of overnighting in a field in a sleeping bag, left the party); the Fatty Crab teams took turns marinating the lamb (also still roasting late-night, although it was possible to grab chunks of delicious charred meat from the spit); and the super-succulent roast pig was allegedly a preview of what they’ll serve at Fatty ‘Cue. Also convenient with FC’s empire building is the ability to easily divide up into uptown and downtown teams for a game of Fatty Touch Football (love that name). For the record, Fatty Crab downtown won the game 4-3.
© Joanne Wilson
Mo Koyfman in action at Burger Bloodbath
When Ben Leventhal
, NYC restaurant power broker and cofounder of Eater.com
, hosted his annual Burger Bloodbath in the Hamptons last year, it looked like a scene out of MTV’s The Real World (including a shirtless Cobi Levy
of Charles Restaurant
, who spent so much time getting his photo taken that he neglected to light his grill). This year, it was slightly more like a grown-up version of Melrose Place. Cobi kept his shirt on most of the time and cooked a very good Gruyère-topped bacon burger. Returning champion Mo Koyfman
—a venture capitalist by day—also presented a pretty great cheeseburger. But, surprising some of us judges (including LaFrieda meats VP Mark Pastore
and cookbook author Katie Lee
, winner of last year's Burger Bash at the NYC Wine & Food Festival), the winner of Bloodbath turned out to be restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow
. Chodorow ordered extra brisket in his ground beef mix, so it was slightly sweet and extra-juicy, and he topped it with American cheese, spicy pickles and a Sriracha-spiked special sauce. "It's good that there's controversy over the winner," said my new hero, hotelier Sean MacPherson
. "More interest for next year's Bloodbath." Gotham Gal has all the details
, for anyone who might want to recreate the Burger Bloodbath at home.
This Friday kicks off the second annual New York City Craft Beer Week, a 10-day event that includes incredible beer-pairing dinners hosted by top New York state brewers and star New York City chefs, as well as tastings, seminars and bar crawls. Next month, a new type of beer-appreciation event will take place in Reno, Nevada. On October 23, the city will host the first-ever international canned beer festival. But don’t expect to find PBR or Miller. The event, dubbed Canfest, brings together a growing number of craft breweries, like Reno’s Buckbean Brewing Company, Maui Brewing Company and Oskar Blues, that eschew bottles for eco-friendly (and, some argue, more beer-friendly) aluminum cans. Celebrities from the beer world will serve as judges. The daylong festival will also include beer-and-food pairings and seminars with brewers.
Frank Bruni’s tenure as restaurant critic for the New York Times has spoiled me rotten. I’ve eaten with him at great restaurants and, even better sometimes, at terrible ones (more on that later). So as a small thank you, I threw a little party for him at the best party spot in the city, the third floor of the Spotted Pig.
You’re not supposed to talk about Pig’s third-floor parties. Here’s what little can be said.
* All kinds of people came to fête Frank, from one of my favorite Times political reporters, Katharine Seelye, to super-elite chefs like Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.
* A debate over Frank's absolute-worst restaurant experience came down to a meal at the now-defunct Ago (which included a wine spill on Frank’s dinner companion, a 50-plus-minute table wait and very bad food) versus any dinner at the Japanese high-concept Ninja. The Ninja dinner “won.” (Frank confirmed that Ninja was his worst meal as a critic.)
* Some of the chefs who came to see Frank off (a.k.a. the ones who actually stayed in the city and worked before the long weekend) included Craft and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, Marea's Michael White and Sueños's Sue Torres, who represented the early shift. On the late shift: the Pig’s April Bloomfield, Locanda Verde’s Andrew Carmellini and Minetta Tavern’s Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson. There for the duration: Spotted Pig co-owner and party host nonpareil Ken Friedman and LaFrieda Meats' Mark Pastore.
* Sample conversation: Colicchio grilling Frank about the Times adopting a half-star system. While Colicchio argued that not all three-star restaurants are the same (David Chang’s name might have come up), Bruni countered that half stars mean you can’t make up your mind. Also up for discussion: how quickly Frank was recognized in some dining rooms (Locanda Verde might be the winner: From their open kitchen vista, Carmellini and sous chef Luke Ostrom spotted him even before the hostesses did).
* The party was a toast to his tenure as critic and not to his new book, Born Round. Not only did Frank politely decline to sign copies (for a few brown-nosing chefs and restaurateurs), but he also didn’t tell me that the book had just made the Times nonfiction best-seller list.