There's something about New York that makes it more exciting than just about anyplace else I've been. Paris has it's sophisticated swirl, Los Angeles it's choking sprawl, and San Francisco it's own special claustrophobic buzz, but none of them compare to the gritty, frenetic livewire that pulses through the streets of Manhattan. Maybe it's the sense that so many things are happening there - I don't know, but whatever it is, it's both intoxicating and exhausting!
Maybe it makes me sound like a rube, but I'm not afraid to admit that I've never been to a party where Moet White Star was freeflowing by the glass. Welcome to the world of Gourmet. And New York. After that opening, I knew this weekend was going to be special.
We started the day on Monday with a buffet breakfast at the Millenium Broadway Hotel. I'm not an early riser to start with, and having to actually be in my seat at these programs at 9 AM (on vacation!) was a little daunting, I have to admit, but I managed to get to the buffet in time to scarf down a bite to eat and grab some coffee to go. My first seminar was with Ruth Reichl and Drew Nieporent, on the relationship between restaurants and critics.
Drew was hilarious, and told many stories about his encounters with critics - including the first time he met Ruth. When she was a critic at Westways magazine, on the West Coast, and he was managing his first restaurant - he walked up to her table while she was dining there and asked if anyone at her table was related to Ruth Reichl. Her mother, who is quite a character (as you know if you've read her books) said something to the effect of "Who wants to know?" Ruth was shocked that he would know who she was at that point, it was before she went on to become the critic for the Los Angeles Times and eventually the New York Times. Apparently he reads and pays attention to reviews religiously, including blogs.
Ruth talked about her feeling that a critic owes a duty to the reader and no one else, and should be utterly honest in reviews. She also talked about journalistic standards and about blogs - which of course don't always adhere to those standards for various reasons. The topic of blogs was the subject of a whole nother seminar that I did not attend (it conflicted with Masaharu Morimoto's demonstration) but I would if it were offered again, from what I understand it was quite interesting.
My next seminar was called "Recipe Accessories" taught by Media Food Editor Zanne Early Stewart and Chef John Besh. Chef Besh is currently on the "Next Iron Chef" show - and I have to say, either he was faking it here, or they are making an extra effort to make him look arrogant on the show. He was sweet as pie in person, and really just worked his ass off during the whole weekend, including this seminar. The "recipe accessories" were condiments and add-ons that you can make and store and then use to accessorize your meals, like relishes, jams, etc. Zanne Stewart said she came up with the idea when she had kids who liked plain food, but she and her husband wanted something more interesting - with these "accessories" you can customize.
We were allowed to sample several, and the recipes were handed out. Some of them, like the preserved lemons and the quick tomato sauce Chef Besh made, are very easy. He also had a vinaigrette that he proposed as a southern alternative to balsamic vinaigrette - made with something called "cane syrup" - it was more like molasses than Lyles Golden Syrup, but made a nice sort of sweet and sour dressing. The other recipes included candied fennel, habanero jelly, fig jam and a caramel fudge sauce. Zanne Stewart has been with the magazine for years, and I've enjoyed her articles for a long time - especially one I always look back at in the December 1995 issue about her family's traditional Christmas quiche recipe.
Noon brought a lunch buffet prepared by the Millenium Broadway hotel. They outdid themselves once again with a huge buffet of salads, sandwiches, soup and an amazing assortment of pastries and desserts. The Good Living Travel Pavilion (really a very elaborate Hospitality Suite) was also open during this time with food samples and book signings - I had Morimoto sign a copy of his new cookbook, and bought a calendar to have some of the chefs sign.
Chef Besh's lunchtime demo was a shrimp and grits dish that was fabulous - I just bought some grits today, and I'll post the recipe sometime soon (I don't think he'd mind since he was handing it out like candy at the demo.)
These demos were also accompanied by some local Louisana beer that he had brought, and wine and cocktail tastings were available at all times - not to mention the Haagen Dazs table, the crab salad and ceviche served up at the Peruvian table (with Pisco Sours) the wine tasting... you get the picture. Luckily, there was also coffee.
My first afternoon seminar was Morimoto's cooking demonstration. Let me tell you, that guy is hilarious in person. Really funny. He did a sugar cured salmon, a demo sushi roll (which he admitted looked better than it tasted), a tuna "pizza" that we sampled, and a daikon "pasta" dish made with ribbons of daikon tossed with tomato sauce. He has the whole cooking demo thing down pat - a few jokes, some good food, dazzling technique, and of course he has a great subject for Q and A at the end - Iron Chef. It turns out the "secret" ingredient really isn't so secret. The chefs are given a list, and they know it will be one of them - they then plan a set of dishes for each ingredient. He said he hates Iron Chef, because he has to plan - he said - 72 dishes for each episode. Sheesh.
After that I was back in the same room for the Spanish molecular gastronomy demo. Originally this was supposed to be a demo with Grant Achatz, which would have been phenomenal - but he is ill with oral cancer and was unable to attend. I haven't heard any updates on his condition lately, I hope he's doing ok. Jose Andres was going to fill in, but at the last minute he couldn't make it - so his adorable sous chef (I assume) stepped in to take over. He was so charming that we didn't even care - in fact we scarcely noticed - that he burned the paella.
We got to sample some interesting items - including ajoblanco (cool creamy garlic almond soup) with olive oil encased in isomalt, and a spoonful of red wine sauce encased in a jellied shell - almost like an egg yolk. The soup was cool and garlicky - the best way to eat it with the olive oil was to put it in your mouth, break it, and then drink the soup. It was really quite good. The red wine sauce was good too. It was sweet, since it was part of a dessert using red wine poached apple and vanilla ice cream.
He had the chemicals there and explained how it was done, but honestly I wasn't able to follow it. Something to do with a calcium bath - but that's as much as I got. In any event, it was fun, and he was adorable. Did I already say that?
After that, it was back to the Travel Pavilion for a glass of wine and a chair massage, and off to my room for a nap before dinner at Le Bernardin.
To be continued...