Last night was the Food & Wine Best New Chefs party, at which the magazine helps to launch ten careers by declaring them to be up-and-coming talent.
Food & Wine does an extraordinary job at finding relatively obscure chefs. It’s my business to know about chefs all over the country, and I only knew of three of this year's winners, April Bloomfield, Gavin Kaysen and Paul Virant. (here's the full list of winners).
At the party I ran into Drew Nieporent — as I always do — and he gave me an earful about a story in Nation‘s Restaurant News that he didn’t like — as he often does. Then he handed me a card for his newest restaurant, Mai House, and told me to eat there. He also introduced me to Los Angeles celebrity chef Nancy Silverton. She asked me who the evening's winners were and I told her that the only one from her area was Gavin Kaysen.
She stared at me blankly.
"He’s the chef at El Bizcocho in the San Diego area,” I said.
“Never heard of it,” she said.
“He represented the U.S. in the latest Bocuse D’Or competition,” I said.
She shrugged her shoulders.
I think Nancy was the only chef I actually met for the first time. The evening's winners were introduced near the end of the evening and then vanished somewhere.
Oh wait! I met David Chang of Momofuku, too. He was a winner last year and was serving his beloved pork buns.
Chris Lee, who buried me in his food the night before at Gilt, was dishing up a delicate ravioli preparation. When he ran out of food he hung out with some other chefs I was talking to, including Pino Maffeo, who like Chris was a Best New Chef last year, and E. Michael Reidt and Randy Lewis (both Class of 2001). Randy’s at Mecca in San Francisco now, and E. Michael has Sevilla in Santa Barbara and The Penthouse in Santa Monica. Pino just bought restaurant L, where he was executive chef, and is now in the process of reworking it. It will reopen soon as Boston Public.
Chef agent Scott Feldman was there, of course, and gave me the rundown on his plans for Aspen. Food & Wine's June extravaganza there is always fun, and I’ll be covering it for NRN this year.
There was some talk about the Beard Awards. The blog world is all up in arms that the awards are being held at Avery Fisher Hall, which doesn’t allow for propane burners and other things that make serving food at tasting stations easier. The chefs don’t seem to care. What makes a good chef a good chef is not the ability to prepare a delectable seven-course meal for 12 people if given two days to prepare it. That makes you a good cook. A good chef has the skill and temperament to get a good meal out for a banquet hall full of hungry people even if the ceiling collapses, destroying all of the kitchen equipment and killing two sous chefs.
Soon there was talk of the evening's afterparties. The official one was a few blocks away at Les Halles — the party's organizers even had business cards printed with a map from the Food & Wine party (which was on the 52nd floor of 7 World Trade Center) to the afterparty. I followed the map, but no one was there, so I hopped in a taxi to the Lower East Side where Eater was sponsoring a party at Freeman’s. That, too, was a small affair in the back of the restaurant, where Eater editor Ben Leventhal — the New York food scene’s favorite Paul Rudd lookalike — seated next to David Chang, was holding court, condemning the day’s review of The Four Seasons in The New York Times. With just 52 restaurants a year to be reviewed, he wondered, why waste the ink on an institution that is immune to the vicissitudes of critics.
(Drew weighed in on the review earlier in the evening, by the way, expressing outrage that the owners, Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini, weren’t even mentioned).
I also met Eater’s other editor, Lockhart Steele. Isn’t that a great name?
Between Freeman’s and my subway stop was New Wonton Garden on Mott Street, where I stopped in for a bowl of won ton and noodle soup.
Today, rumor has it that the proper afterparty to go to was at The Spotted Pig, which would make sense since April Bloomfield is the chef there, but no one told me about it last night. Maybe Kate Krader’s mad at me.