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…



All Wrapped Up to Go

Almost every culture does the same thing, but each does it differently. They all enclose portions of food in edible wrappings in order to make the contents go further, but the choice of wrap makes each variation distinctive.

Some people eat burgers between the two halves of a bun or pastrami between two slices of rye. Others wrap their food in lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, grape leaves, banana leaves, palm fronds, or corn husks.

Morsels of food are enclosed in plain pastry, puff pastry, wet noodles, or various papers–rice paper, parchment paper, even newspaper.

A bewildering variety of meats, fish, cheese, vegetables, nuts and fruit turn up inside blintzes and buns, burritos, cannelloni, chimichangas, crêpes, dumplings, egg rolls, empanadas, fajitas, knishes, kreplach, quesadillas, ravioli, spring rolls, strudels, tortellini, turnovers, and won tons.

And an entire fortune can be contained inside a single cookie.

Excerpt from Great Food Jobs 2: Ideas and Inspiration for Your Job Hunt.

Anthropologically Speaking, Let’s Eat!

Let's Eat 2Basically, the ability to obtain food can be seen through the lens of the conjugation of the verb “to eat”—I eat; you eat; we eat, let’s eat; or, heaven forbid, we are eaten.

The original rationale for marriage was the formalization of a contract in which a man and woman together provided meat and two veggies for the family.

While the marriage contract has recently been expanded, originally the women foraged while the men, usually in comradely groups, preferred to hunt and kill for food (and maybe, had a little fun too).

Supermarkets rendered this model obsolete.


Our earliest ancestors developed strategies for winning in much the same way that football players and the military still devise similar plans of action for winning. Even in evolutionary theory, there is a quarterback and a team, a captain and his troops, a Queen bee and her pack.

This is the way it was with the Eskimos: one man and his mates go out on a boat. They are hunting a whale.

While they are gone, they entrust the care of their families to the community. (This is an ancient form of social security.)

Whale Carcass Carving

Whale Carcass Carving by Eskimos

When the men return towing their trophy, a huge whale, there is a riotous celebration. Lamps are lit. Dances are danced, and songs are sung. There is one ritualistic song in which the hero (winner) is hoisted aloft, and it is revealed to all that it was his harpoon than felled the whale.

Thus a star is born.

The winner smiles and gives thanks, with varying degrees of modesty. Whales are very big. There is far too much meat for one man or one family to eat, so it is cut into small pieces. Each portion is allotted according to the hierarchy of the society. This theory amounts to something like, “those who give now will receive their reward later in life.” (This is an ancient form of the insurance business.)

In the meantime, the successful hunter is entitled to a leadership position in governance. He becomes the richest man, so he is also entitled to get the prettiest girl. (There is a long-held, though entirely wrong-headed theory that the most beautiful girl will produce the healthiest boy babies.)

I mention these things just so that we may remind ourselves of baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra’s observation, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” (In government and corporate and other enterprises.)

IS there a Food Job here?: Yes! Courses in food anthropology are offered in colleges throughout the nation, while masters and  PhD degrees in the subject will take you further. For there is a wide variety of food anthropology jobs out there, from teaching to exploring the effects of droughts and dropping global temperatures on propagation techniques.


Baby Food Steps

WWII Food Rationing In England begins in 1940

England initiates food rationing and issues ration books in 1940

During World War II, adults in Britain had a weekly ration of two ounces of tea, two ounces of butter, two ounces of cheese and one fresh egg. When they were purchased, these foods were crossed off from the government-issued ration books. The system succeeded in ensuring fairness; everyone was forced to go on an austerity diet. There were no bananas.

German submarines in the Atlantic attacked British supply ships, cutting off the importation of wheat from Canada. When, in 1946, bread rationing was imposed, Winston Churchill vehemently opposed the measure. He called it “one of the gravest announcements that I have ever heard made in the House of Commons,”

Despite the widespread food shortages, the Government understood those in greatest need were not the adults, or the children but the unborn babies. For healthy pregnant mothers give birth to healthy babies they were provided with the most nutritious foods — and extra vitamins. Later, the National Health System provided adequate food and medical care for everyone.

As I plan a dinner party, I clearly remember the dark days of the London Blitz and ponder my own daily diet and the urgent need to consider how best to ensure there will be a seat at the table for all. I was reminded of this again when I watched a recent episode of  Moyers & Company on The Faces of America’s Hungry.

Today, and into the near and long-term future, the most rewarding food jobs will include the research scientists and recipe developers who are creating healthy, tasty and affordable alternatives for junk foods. Employment can be found too for activitists, who lobby on behalf of fair food legislation, and all who Share Our Strength.

Eggs-A Most Perfect Food

Easter hen and eggsEaster is nearly upon us, and with that, many young ones will be looking for a bunny with a basket filled with the most perfect of foods–the egg. I am passionate about eggs and chickens.

When I was a little girl growing up in England during the war (WWII), I had a pet chicken named Lucy. I would take her for rides in a pram (baby carriage for you Americans). She’d look around in all directions from her captive spot, like a tourist, not wanting to miss anything. Perhaps, she welcomed the distraction from her most important task–to lay an egg.

Remarkably when we mention that another has laid an egg, we titter and snicker and think Thank God, Not I! Yet, a well-laid egg cannot be matched. Its shape, its flavor… My favorite breakfast is a soft-boiled egg, toast and tea.

There has arisen a recent urban craze to raise chickens for eggs. A chicken farmer is one food job that one cannot sleep through.

Here are a few words to live by when it comes to thinking about eggs–the very symbol of fertility.

“Love and eggs are best then they are fresh.” –Russian Proverb

“An egg is always an adventure; the next one may be different.” — Oscar Wilde

“Eggs are very much like small boys. If you overheat them or over beat them, they will turn on you, and no amount of future love will right the wrong.”  — Anonymous.



Food Historians Also Cook

Food being ‘prepared’ on Downton Abby

Food historians uncover, record, and reproduce recipes. Their words invite readers to sit together at tables of long ago kitchens. They help us see, hear and smell the aromas of the food bubbling in the pots, frying in the pans, roasting or baking in the ovens.

Historians forage for unique nuggets of knowledge in ancient cookbooks, literary texts, and treasured diaries. They examine records of the daily diets and the culinary customs of our near and distant ancestors. They enable us to get a clearer picture of what the average person, not just the wealthy and privileged, ate at any given time and place.

Food historians are sleuths. They study everything from ancient cave carvings to manor house kitchen inventories. They explore the origins of labor-saving inventions. They delve into trade and taxation records; and analyze hotel and restaurant menus to gain greater understanding of changing fads and trends.

And then, they look around for ways to use their knowledge. Their information may be combined with a job in travel, teaching, writing — even food styling.

Culinary libraries need the help of historians to answer questions, undertake research for special projects, and curate culinary exhibits. Their writings are published in  academic journals and the popular press. Their expertise is sought by modern movie makers and producers of TV series.

Directors must make sure characters, whether they are: gladiators, The Titanic ocean liner passengers, even When Harry Met Sally are provided with the authentic food of their time in history.

 Some Sources To Check Out For Inspiration:

Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) by Andrew F. Smith

The Literary Gourmet: Menus from Masterpieces by Linda Wolfe

Food Stylist: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Dolores Custer

Culinary Historians of New York