Food Story About Joe Baum

I’d like to tell you Joe Baum who created 167 restaurants in his lifetime. Among them were the four highest grossing eateries in the United States. They were Windows on the World, The Rainbow Room, The Four Seasons and Tavern on the Green.

Joe’s philosophy was simple: “Our product,” he said, “the measure of our success, is pleasure. We are in the pleasure business.  We are organized, equipped and staffed to supply pleasure, at a profit, which means that any threats to pleasure are bad for business. We must constantly ask ourselves, “What more can we give?” What will it cost you to give ‘em a glass of champagne or an extra oyster? The more pleasure you give, the more you will receive along with at least temporary job security and higher fees.”

To illustrate the lengths Joe would go to provide his guests with a memorable occasion, I’ll tell you a little story. One evening Joe hosted a dinner for the elite Confrerie des Chevaliers du Testevin at The Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. The Chevaliers were lifelong gourmets and wine  connoisseurs without peer and this would be the ultimate test, even for the greatest of restaurateurs.

Joe planned and planned, and planned some more, and finally, the day before the dinner was to be held, the entire staff of the restaurant staged a full dress rehearsal of the exact meal.

The menu was extraordinarily complicated. Custom-made pyramid-shaped molds were manufactured.  They were designed to enable the chefs to fill them with pyramid-shaped triangles of veal loin that were then inserted int the center of the fillets of beef…foie gras was placed inside the veal, truffles were positioned inside the foie gras…The entire presentation was created out of a progression of pyramid shapes.  Everything was what we would now call —over the top.  (The dessert of Pears en Chemise, the chemises (nightgowns) were made of gold leaf).

Never one to miss an opportunity to turn simple abundance into wild excess, Joe hung Chevaliers’ ribbons from the ceiling enfolding each table as though it was a small pavilion. As a final coup, he built a platform into the restaurant’s famous 20 foot-square marble reflecting pool in the center of the room so the waiters appeared to be walking on water.

Mercifully the actual feast went off perfectly but early the next morning, after a sleepless night, Baum grabbed the publicity man by his lapels, demanding to know the Chevaliers’ reaction to his extravaganza.

“Well, Joe,” said the cornered P.R. man, “The Chevaliers where so overwhelmed that they met at their hotel last night, after the dinner, to pass an extraordinary resolution — and here’s what they said: We, the Chevaliers of the elite Confrerie, resolve unanimously that your was the finest meal every served in the history of the world!?

Baum let go of the man’s (Roger Martin’s) lapels and reflected for a full 10 seconds; then Joe blurted out, his face red with rage, “Goddamit, that just not good enough. Get me the chef. GoddamitGODDAMIT!!!

Perfection is only rarely achieved. Striving, though, is a worthwhile endeavor…

 

 

More Timeline Food Facts

Thursdays are always a good day for looking back. And, I most enjoy looking back at iconic milestones in food history:

1959

  • Gaston Lenôtre, 44  opens a petit pâtisserie  in Paris.
  • The James Beard Cookbook is published
  • Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream factory opened in the Bronx by Polish-born Reuben Mattus
  • The Four Seasons restaurant opens for all.

1960 Domino’s Pizza opens in Detroit.

1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking is published by Julia Child.

1961 Lutèce opened by André Surmain with chef André Soltner, at age 28. Continue reading

Food Timeline Begins

1946

  • M.F.K. Fisher writes Here Let Us Feast
  • Mrs. Paul’s Kitchens launches fish sticks
  • Brennan’s Restaurant opens. Creates competition for Dinner at Antoine’s with Breakfast at Brennan’s
  • Arthur Bryant opens Bar-B-Cue restaurant in Kansas City
  • Taillevent opens in Paris

1947  Reuben sandwich huge hit Continue reading

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.