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…

 

 

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

A Valentine’s Day Menu

Be My Valentine Courtesy of http://dribbble.com/shots/892286-Be-My-Valentine-Sketch-WIP

The following Valentine’s Day menu was imagined for The Rainbow Room when restaurant impresario Joe Baum was in charge.

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Diamond-cut Toasts with Roses of Salmon

Hearts of Artichoke

Love Boat of Oysters, Clams and Shrimp

Baby Pot-Likker Dumplings

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Doves Roasted with Lovage and Rosemary

Breasts of Chicken Nested on Fingerlings

Grilled Bass Wrapped (modestly) in Grape Leaves

Ring of Angel Hair Pasta

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Salad of Frisée Garnished with Forget-Me-Knots

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Upside Down Pair of Tarts

Coeur à la Crème    Love Apple Napoleon

Honey Ice Cream   Rose Petal Mousse

Cold Violet Soufflé

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.

The Rainbow Room Lights (Almost) Out

The Rainbow Room at Night

The dazzling, venerable Rainbow Room has been in the news again, sadly…Former colleagues have wept to learn of its current demise.

Today, I remembered when I was working at The Rainbow Room, there were hardly any reservations for the big New Year’s Eve gala dinner one year. We were all terribly worried.

A full-page ad was designed for placement in The New York Times. It listed all the fabulous goodies the guests would be receiving–free champagne, gorgeous food, top flight entertainers, big bands, dancing, fantastic view of the fireworks on the East River and a lot of other impressive stuff that I’ve now forgotten.

CEO Joe Baum reached for the designers’ proposed advertisement.

Across the entire page he wrote:

SOLD OUT!!!

“Run it,” he demanded.

We gasped.

“Wait,” he instructed. He left the room, leaving us to think that he had gone quite mad.

The moment the ad appeared in the paper, the phones rang non-stop.

Callers told the most incredible lies: “I am the chef’s mother,”  “I made my reservation six weeks ago,” “I’ve been coming to New Year’s Eve every year for 35 years…”

The reservations desk responded: “I’m so sorry…we’re sold out…but we can put you on a waiting list. It’s an additional $25 per person cost.”  (I might have made up that last bit.)

No problem!

The room filled immediately.

The lesson I learned was that Joe Baum knew to whom he was speaking.

In Manhattan, if a place is sold out, you’ve positively got to go there.

Speech, Speech

Giving a speech for many can feel like being a deer in the headlights

Giving a speech is a hard thing to do. It requires careful planning, rehearsing, exact timing and a thorough knowledge of the audience. All these elements have equal importance, even if the speaker is simply offering a toast (particularly if a few drinks have preceded the moment).

For several years I wrote the speeches for Joe Baum, the legendary former CEO of The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.  The procedure was always the same. He hated giving speeches and invariably canceled at least five of our first scheduled meetings.

The next step required his secretary to retrieve copies of every speech he had ever given since the beginning of time.

Then I showed up and he began by insisting certain paragraphs from his previous talks be included included in the forthcoming speech (regardless of the occasion or the assigned topic).

After dozens of drafts, false starts, whining on my part, whining on his part, my refusal to speak to him, he glowering at me…we traveled together to the meeting.

Introduction over, he’d look over at me — and wink.

Then he’d shove all my neatly typed triple-spaced pages in his pocket and say whatever came into his head.

It was always a huge success.

It took me years to understand my part in this equation was simply to help him summon the courage to accept the notion that he was loved.

The lesson I so painfully learned is that all writers are not great speakers, and speakers succeed only when they accept the original premise that a speech requires “careful planning, rehearsing, exact timing and a thorough knowledge of the audience.” These rigid rules only apply to some people though…

I love this quote from Walt Disney. He said, “I’d rather entertain and hope that people learn, than teach and hope that people are entertained.”