Big Bird at Newark Airport

Newarker restaurant menuJoe Baum was barely 30 years old when he created the first fine dining restaurant located at an airport. It was the Newarker at Newark airport, NJ.

Thanksgiving Day, 1953, was the opening day.

It was a disaster.

Thanksgiving Day dawned, but barely. The airport was shrouded in fog and all the planes were grounded.Newarker restaurant Passengers, who in olden days dressed in high heels and nice dresses, jackets and ties, were grounded.  There was nothing to do. But, Continue reading

Farm-to-Table Concept Is Growing

Among the most powerful little words in our language are: Guilty!Not Guilty!; I’m Pregnant; It’s a Boy!; We won!; Thank you;  Yes and NO!

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione said, NO!

He said, “NO,” while standing at the podium in front of 350 of the top-flight food folk in the nation. He spoke at The First Symposium on American Cuisine convened by Phillip S. Cooke and Daniel Maye in Louisville, Kentucky in 1982.

Larry Forgione was the keynote speaker. He was chosen because he was, and remains to this day, a pioneer of farm-to-table local ingredient sourcing.

Chef Forgione talked in poetic, inspirational words, describing the joys of farm-fresh ingredients, grass-fed pork and beef, handmade berry and cherry preserves, honey and local dairy, artisanal cheeses.

At the end of his speech, he was asked if he would provide the audience with a list of his suppliers.

He said, “No” because  he couldn’t say, “Yes.’”

Why Not?

Forgione said NO but failed to explain to the audience that small farms and cottage industries that supplied his restaurant couldn’t possibly handle the huge volume that would be needed for deliveries to giant enterprises.

A view from Windows on the World restaurant

A view from Windows on the World restaurant

For example, the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center, was actually two acres of restaurants, serving hundreds of guests every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The management also dreamed of saving the environment and serving fruits and vegetables filled with sunshine, but their desire for quality always had to be tempered with practicality, and the need for large quantities of supplies.

Not incidentally, it was far too great a hassle for small farmers to drive many miles into downtown Manhattan and wrestle with security guards and crowded elevators in order to deliver their small batches of newly plucked peaches, live lobsters, bunches of fragrant herbs, small batches of smoked salmon, a few dozen new laid eggs and some“free-range” chickens. (“Free-range” is a term Forgione himself coined.)

An American Place

Larry Forgione’s restaurant, An American Place, named by food legend, James Beard, his mentor and friend, had room only for 45 seats. Similarly Alice Waters’ trail-blazing, tiny Chez Panisse restaurant, founded in 1971, served only a handful of guests, though with the highest quality, organically-grown and in-season ingredients on its prix fixe, limited menu.

The New American Cuisine

Larry Forgione provided his long-ago audience with a vision of a New American Cuisine; a table for two with every element in perfect balance. On one plate, a perfectly roasted quail; on another, a perfect breast of duck with a simple sauce and combined tastes that were coaxed and nurtured until they explode into a symphony of flavors. And everything — fresh, fresh, fresh!

Back then he was sharing a philosophy — not a shopping list. His listeners didn’t understand then.  Now they do.

Larry’s great, great uncle was Francesco Forgione from Pietrelcina Italy, otherwise known to practicing Catholics as “Padre Pio” — or ever since Pope Paul Canonized him in 2002, “Saint Pio.” Following in his ancestor’s saintly footsteps, Chef Forgione is universally acknowledged as the Godfather of American food.  (Alice Waters seems to have similarly been awarded a sort of honorary culinary sainthood.)

Forgione’s long journey began at the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated in 1974 and continues to preach to the choir — He was named “Chef Of the Year” at the 1993 James Beard Awards. Now the CIA has just launched a new program that allows students to study farm-to-table cuisine with him as their guide and mentor at the college’s California campus, the CIA at Greystone.

Chef Forgione glimpsed the future: it is Mensana in Corpore Sano, meaning “A sound mind in a healthy body.”

Thanks to Larry’s vision, today there also is such a food job as farm-to-table chef, and folks are hiring.

What’s Up?

The pendulum is still swinging between sumptuous and the sublime, the stark and austere and these contrasts of style are found not only in the restaurants but also in the food itself.  In some places styles overlap while at others they are more clearly defined.

The revolution in the ways we are eating today is still evolving, and it is a wondrously intriguing game to try to sample it all and all at once.  There are instant gratifications of new pleasures paired with old indulgences. We are seeing everything on the same menu — from duck with fresh foie gras and cornmeal pancakes with caviar to almost instant ice cream fabricated with liquid nitrogen.

Here’s Chef Larry Forgione’s recipe for :

Cornmeal Pancakes
from An American Place
Makes about 24 9-inch pancakes

1 cup flour

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Corn oil for frying the pancakes

Mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, eggs and egg yolks.  Gradually whisk in the milk and continue stirring until the batter is smooth. Stir in the melted butter.

Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Lightly brush a 9-inch non-stick frying pan with oil.  Heat the pan and pour in about 2 tablespoons of batter to coat the bottom.  If the batter does no easily cover the bottom of the pan, thin it with a little milk.

Cook each pancake over medium heat for about one minute or until lightly browned.

Flip the pancake and cook the other side, for just a few seconds.

Repeat until you have used all the batter.

 

 

Thomas Keller A Hit At Culinary Institute of America!

Thomas Keller at CIA

Thomas Keller at the Culinary Institute of America

Hyde Park, NY, May 17, 2013 – Expecting a cooking demonstration from one of the world’s greatest chefs, students at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) instead were treated to something completely different from Thomas Keller on Monday, May 13.

The college hosted Thomas Keller Day at its Hyde Park campus with a keynote address from Chef Keller and breakout sessions covering various restaurant business topics. The day was scheduled to conclude with a “culinary presentation.”

Instead of a traditional demo, Chef Keller made his stage debut, leading top staff members from his celebrated restaurants including Eli Kaimeh ’00 of Per Se, purveyors, and celebrated protégés such as Grant Achatz ’94 and Jonathan Benno ’93 in a one-act play.

“You often hear it said that restaurants are like theater, with a front of the house, a behind-the-scenes crew, a colorful cast of characters, a creative script,” Chef Keller said. “Today we thought we’d take it literally.”

Sense of Urgency was the result—a performance developed by Keller’s team that portrays an evening of service at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA and named for the wording on a plaque that hangs under the kitchen clocks in all of Chef Keller’s restaurants.

The French Laundry is a Michelin Guide three-star restaurant that was honored as the World’s Best Restaurant by UK-based Restaurant magazine in 2003. “We observe the process of execution and the importance of relationships between the purveyors, farmers, and craftsmen of the products these chefs will use to serve their guests,” explains the Playbill.

Close to 1,000 CIA students attended the performance and hundreds more participated in the earlier presentation and breakout sessions, which were simulcast to the college’s campuses in Texas and California. Twenty lucky students were selected to have lunch with Chef Keller.

 

Remembering Dinner & What We Ate

Dr. Paul RozinFor 25 years, Professor Paul Rozin’s research has focused on the nature of remembered pleasure — and — an astonishing diversity of other intriguing studies too.  He is professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania.

His son, Alexander “Lex”, Associate Professor of Music Theory, teaches at West Chester University School of Music.

Both are distinguished scholars. Both have earned Ph.Ds.

Both are dazzlingly brilliant and deliciously entertaining speakers.

At a recent talk, together at The Culinary Institute of America, they explored Informative Parallels Between Music & Food.

They asked a series of provocative questions:

  • Why do we eat what we eat?
  • What music should be played in a restaurant?
  • How do we view art?
  • How do we view the plate?

triangleAlex Rozin then offered a unique perspective;

“In music there is a triangle with Composer. Performer. Listener.”

Paul Rozin responded: “In a restaurant there is also a triangle:

Farmer. Chef. Diner.”

A composer does not allow the performer to change his composition.

A farmer, by contrast, anticipates the chef will change his product — except if the chef is Thomas Keller, (and others in his culinary stratosphere). The exalted chef do not permit the staff to tinker with their ideas.

Furthermore, a music and a culinary composition follow patterns:

Overture.

Theme.

Conclusion.

Musicians use the same chords over and over again whether they are playing classical music–Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or Hip Hop or Pop.

Chefs use the same foundation ingredients: onions, celery and carrots….

Chef Ann Rosenzweig

Chef Anne Rosenzweig

Chefs also play themes on variations i.e. four mini versions of crème caramel on the same plate at Le Bernardin.

This line of creative thinking can lead to another symmetry with a difference…for example. a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) could be bacon and lobster baked in a popover or as Chef Anne Rosenzweig interpreted it: lobster and sundried tomatoes enclosed in a brioche.

As the Rozins wryly observed: “It’s not what you steal (everyone steals) but what you steal and how you use what you stole.”

Exploring a different topic, Prof. Paul Rozin commented: “There are seven billion eaters but relatively few chefs. They aim to provide the best possible experience or best memory. It is interesting though, that the memory of the dinner may have little (or nothing) to do with the food.  Many say the best meal they ever had was…. an occasion or a place or shared with another person. The occasion is vividly recalled, but in the telling of it, there may be not a word about the food. It is the setting, the sounds, the light and other sensory feelings that continue to burn in the remembrance.”

Prof. Paul Rozin’s other remarkable discoveries are:

  •  The most memorable meals are those eaten at home.
  • Nutrition is rarely a factor in describing pleasure.
  • If the food IS mentioned, it is the entrée, not the dessert.  And the most frequently named food is steak.

So some people may return to a restaurant, eager to eat their favorite food again…and hope it will be the same every time while in contrast, others go to be surprised and delighted by something new.

The ultimate test is what was the eating experience — not what’s for dinner but  what will the diner remember?

 

 

M.F.K. Fisher, The Goddess

M.F.K. Fisher

I was proud to serve as President of Les Dames d’Escoffier. Every year we honored a star from our dining and drinking galaxy.

I had stumbled across the writings of M.F.K. and applauded her description as “America’s epicure laureate.” I unhesitatingly chose M.F.K. when it was my turn to choose the honoree for our annual dinner.

The New York Public Library private dining room was the destination for the event. A committee formed to plan the evening. Tables were set with beautiful floral cloths on which her books were the centerpieces.

I stepped into the library elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. At that instant, a seemingly homeless woman shuffled through the closing doors.

“Crumbs!,” I thought.

What could I say? “GRRUMPH! Madam! This is a private dinner. Buzz off?”

No, I couldn’t possibly say that.

But what? How could I explain the situation politely?

It took only a moment to arrive at the destination.

The host of the hospitality committee stepped forward to greet us.

“Welcome! Welcome. Ms. Fisher!,” she gushed.

Windows on the World Remembered

When Governor Clinton invited the owner of the Fraunces Tavern to prepare a dinner in honor of General George Washington on November 25, 1783, the population of New York City was 4,000 people.  Almost all were of European origin.

In 1976, The opening of the World Trade Center changed the economy of downtown Manhattan. By then the population of New York City exceeded eight million, uniting virtually every nation on earth.

The Twin Towers invigorated the economy of the entire region and became a vibrant vertical city so large that it had its own zip code. Fifty thousand people were employed within the walls of these buildings.

Joe Baum and the Windows on the World team, 1976

The Windows on the World restaurant complex occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower. It employed 1,500 people at every skill level.

Windows on the World was launched on the day the Tall Ships sailed into New York Harbor. Gael Greene, New York Magazine restaurant critic, described it as: “The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World.”

“It took 54 seconds to ride the elevator to the 107th floor

On a clear day you could see 90 miles in every direction

In a high wind the  Twin Towers had an 11-inch sway.”

On the day Windows on the World opened its doors, this singular restaurant engaged a full-time staff of 30 to handle the 2,500 calls from guests seeking dinner reservations.

It was an extraordinary enterprise, unique in its capacity to handle the complexity of supplying first-rate food to each of its 22 eating spaces, and in its ability to serve 25,000 meals a day. Its construction budget exceeded $26 million. The money was well and wisely spent.

“Windows” as it was affectionately called, became the largest grossing restaurant in the world.

 The First Catastrophe

The restaurant closed after the first terrorist bombing in 1993 which destroyed its subterranean commissary.  It was completely architecturally re-conceived for its reopening on April 15, 1996. It cost another $26 million to rebuild Windows on the World

 The Triumph

4,800 candidates were interviewed for the 500 staff positions.

Just 18 weeks from opening night ( with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays slowing the work schedule), the creative team completed the following tasks:

  1. Make sure the custom-made tables, chairs, china, glass and knives, forks and spoons got to the restaurant on time (and worry desperately whether six 10-7/8″ plates, six bread and butter plates, 12 forks, 12 knives, six glasses, salt and pepper and flowers would fit on a 27″ table, bearing in mind orders, with hefty non-returnable deposits, had already been made for the china, glassware and tables).
  2. Hire the waiters, and order 600 pairs of custom-made pants, shirts, dresses, jackets, and other articles of clothing for 500 new employees, who had never worked together before and spoke a total of 23 languages. Buy extra jackets and ties for guests who arrive under dressed.
  3. Find four executive chefs who would operate the restaurants day and night.
  4. Create menus for The New Windows on The World Restaurant, Cellar in the Sky, Banquet Rooms and The Greatest Bar on Earth. Plan to change the menu for each location at least twice a day, each season and for all holidays and special events.
  5. Create a wine list. Order the wines, spirits and beer. And 1,000,000 (ONE MILLION!) bottles of champagne — and some tea and coffee.
  6. Hire experts to buy 20,000 pounds of prime beef to be delivered each week. Also 7,000 pounds of bread, pastry and cake flour, 4,000 pounds of fish, 2,250 dozen eggs, 3,000 pounds of poultry, 3,200 pounds of salad greens, 650 pints of strawberries.
  7. Hire the dishwashers, floor polishers, furniture movers and window cleaners. Hire four full-time florists.
  8. Take reservations for parties and banquets though there was not a piece of china or a stick of furniture to show to anyone…because the view is terrific though…
  9. Reassure guests that there are no terrorists within 500 square miles but still build the coat check center on the ground floor as a security precaution.
  10. Install emergency lighting and other security measures that had to be put in place without saying the word “safety” or suggesting that there may be danger of any kind.

And once the lights had been installed, remember to turn them off when the night staff leaves at 3 AM and before day staff arrives at 6 AM.

View from the Windows on the World

 ”The new WINDOWS ON THE WORLD is a kind of architectural jazz, full of syncopation, its essence a series
of allusions to design themes that are played out in a lighthearted, yet never too whimsical way. It is
an architectural riff about cities, about urban energy, about the pleasures of texture and
color and light and about recollections of American design from the 1950’s and ‘60’s.”

Paul Goldberger, The New York Times, June 19, 1996

 It was Marcel Proust, who wrote Remembrance of Things Past.