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.” Continue reading

Barbara Walters Missed One

Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters

One of my “food jobs” was “consultant” to the venerable restaurateur, Joe Baum.

When he was CEO of The Rainbow Room, he created The Rockefeller Center Club where its members could, (as restaurant critic Gael Greene would say), “eat lunch in tax deductible splendor.”

At the time, it was considered a step up the evolutionary ladder to invite one’s friends to dine at an exclusive club whose main purpose was to exclude those less fortunate. The initiation and annual membership fees hovered in the realm of what could be considered grand larceny.

My task was to invite speakers to entertain the folks. Monstrously huge “honorariums” were paid to seduce to the podium such notables as Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Tom Wolfe …. and Barbara Walters.

I got to do the (usually irreverent) introducing.

Barbara Walters arrived a little late. She surveyed the head table. Already seated were a very elderly gent, a very (very) large young man, a guy speaking loudly with a foreign accent, three others and — of no interest whatsoever — moi.

Ms. Walters took one look at the assemblage. A flicker of “not on your life” expressed her clear determination to make a fast get away. She spotted an acquaintance and seated herself at another table thus missing the opportunity to chat with the old guy, (David Rockefeller), the fat guy (who wrote the cover stories for Time Magazine — and the noisy fella, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I smiled.

 

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

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.”