Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Schmoozing for a cause

February 28

The annual benefit for C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program — bad name, terrific organization) is always fun, and a good way to catch up witn many of the big players in the New York restaurant scene. The chefs generally show up themselves rather than sending their lackeys, and the industry moguls spend the $450 or more per person required to attend (ticket prices go up to $1,000), because everyone wants to help underpriveleged kids learn to cook.
The benefit, held last night at Pier 60 on the Hudson River, is one of those tasting events at which many chefs (I think 37 at this event) set up tables and prepare food for all the attendees to sample.
My first stop, after sampling Patricia Yeo’s chicken and black mushroom dumplings, was Aquavit’s table, where I wanted to say hello to Johan Svensson. I hadn’t spoken to Johan since I outed him as Aquavit’s executive chef.
Johan said, as he handed me a small plate of beef cheeks with endive salad and horseradish, that he had his hands full in his new job but had settled in well. I told him that I had been to Aquavit for lunch a couple of weeks ago and he expressed annoyance that I hadn’t told him I was there (this is common practice for chefs; the only one whose annoyance really struck me as genuine was Josh DeChellis, who when seeing me eating with a large party at Sumile a couple of years ago practically stormed into the dining room, uttered a few words as he glared at me, stomped back into the kitchen and sent out free stuff).
Johan’s pictured here flanked by extern Jonas Hederqvist and Jonathan Moreira, a beneficiary of C-CAP’s operations in Boston.
I marveled to Alfred Portale at his 22 years as chef at Gotham Bar and Grill and that he had yet to open a restaurant in Las Vegas or Scottsdale or anyplace else.
“Not yet,” he said, as though that were about to change, giving me something to mull as I ate his artichoke ravioli with wild mushrooms, parmesan and rich squab broth.
To his right here is Philippe Bertineau of Payard Bistro, whose wild mushroom and morel flan with black truffle oil and crème fraîche with wild mushroom broth was the hit of the evening.
Drew Nieporent insisted that I write something for Nation’s Restaurant News about the dust-up between Jeffrey Chodorow and The New York Times ( is following this topic relentlessly, in case you haven’t been). I told him that my colleagues Paul Frumkin and Peter Romeo had the topic covered and I asked him to tell Chodorow that he now needed to follow up on his promises and actually review some restaurants. Drew was then interrupted by some people for whom he had apparently promised to get reservations at elBulli.
Here’s Drew, on the right, with Michael Lomonoco of Porter House.
I caught up with Andrew Carmelinni, who fed me "My Grandmother’s Meat Ravioli,” which, unlike his grandmother’s ravioli, is made with short ribs and costs $16 at his restaurant, A Voce. I asked him if he was aware that he had a type of bean named after him.
Of course he did: The Carmellini bean was thus dubbed by Lee Jones of Chefs Garden, an Ohio supplier that grows produce to order for high-end chefs. Andrew told me he grew up not far from the Jones' farm and knew them long before they were selling herbs at $140 a pound to Charlie Trotter and many, many other fine dining chefs. When he was at Cafe Boulud, he asked the Joneses to grow small haricots verts for him, which they did, and then named them after him.
Andrew is pictured here with Cameron Levkoff, who he said was his assistant.
C-CAP honors a particular chef or restaurateur every year — this year it was Lidia Bastianich pictured here with her trophy, a sculpture of a sprouted fava bean which, as C-CAP founder Richard Grausman points out, must be cared for and nurtured, just like a young person.
C-CAP also has one of its alumni give a brief speech at the gala. This year, the speaker was Amar Santana, whom I’d met back in 2004 when he was sous chef at Aureole. I was having lunch there with the Charlie Palmer group’s publicist and C-CAP’s publicist, who was having Amar make lunch for me. One of the dishes he made was a tuna tartare with celery pana cotta and celery soda. The soda was made by putting mirin and celery juice into a seltzer bottle and squirting it into a shot glass.
I told him it would make a good "Dish of the Week" in Nation’s Restaurant News. I figured I had a 50-50 chance of one of the two publicists actually following up on that and getting me a decent picture of the dish.
Instead, Amar popped into the kitchen, grabbed a digital camera, took a bunch of nice photos, burned them onto a CD and handed them to me before I had finished my coffee.
Smart kid.
Here he is reading his speech, with Tim Zagat looking on.
Now he’s about to be executive chef of a restaurant that Charlie Palmer plans to open in the Bloomingdale’s in Costa Mesa, Calif., next winter. Cool.
Later, as the evening wound down, I ran into Chris Lee, the chef at Gilt, and his wife Melissa, who is a manager at Gotham Bar and Grill. They are pictured below. Chris marveled at the lack of media attention he has gotten since returning to New York from Philadelphia where, as chef at Striped Bass, he had gained national acclaim.

Chris has been back in New York, where he used to work at Oceana under executive chef Cornelius Gallagher, for months, but his first review only came out today.

Here is Del Posto executive chef Mark Ladner with "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto. They know each other not only because Del Posto is across the street from Morimoto, but also because Mark is Mario Batali's assistant on Iron Chef. After serving me his caviar and baccala crostada, he sent me to the next table, where Felidia chef Fortunato Nicotra was dishing up pickled turnip "ravioli" with shaved branzino, pea sauce and Mediterranean mostarda.
Here’s Fortunato with Felidia pastry chef Lara Brumgnach.

One more picture, because you don’t see many of grill cooks. This is grill cook Jennifer McCullen with her boss, Landmarc executive chef Marc Murphy.

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