Friday, April 04, 2008

Best New Chefs ’08

April 4

“Like the goatee. Are you riding a Harley now too?” That was Todd English. I guess I haven’t seen him in about a year-and-a-half, because that’s about how old my beard is.
“Yes, I am. Because I am a shit-kicker,” I said.
Todd English seemed shorter at Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs party. Surely he hadn’t shrunk, but he wasn’t towering over the crowd the way he usually does. That’s when I realized how many extraordinarily tall people were there.
Here he is with former "Top Chef” winner Hung Huynh, who just extended his contract at Sòlo — I heard that was because the owners of that restaurant want him to be the chef of a non-Kosher restaurant they plan to open, but one hears a lot of things.
Anyway, as you can see, Todd English is pretty tall.
Starting last year, Food & Wine took to announcing who was on their career-making list of ten best new chefs on the day of the party, in the morning, rather than at the party itself. That kind of defeats the purpose of the party, but, well, it’s still often one of the New York food world’s funnest parties of the year. The crowd’s entertaining and in good cheer, the drinks are plentiful, the food’s delicious.
Anita Lo of Annisa was there early, to catch up with friends and so on, but she also has a restaurant to run so she didn’t stay long, although she was there long enough to say that her new place, Bar Q, would be opening soon (maybe next week, shh).
This year’s winner from New York (and the only one I knew, because Food & Wine really does a very good job at finding relatively unknown chefs) was Michael Psilakis, pictured here with his wife Anna, before he put on his Best New Chef jacket.
“Busy?” he asked me.
“Medium,” I said, and he looked concerned, because, being a chef, he assumes that everyone wants to be crazy-busy with 11 million things going on at once. But I’m a food writer. Medium busy’s just right.
I didn’t take Dan Barber’s picture, but he was there. We spoke about veal that he’s using these days, which is the non-kosher part (below the 13th rib, he said) of kosher veal. I said the non-kosher part could be made kosher by removing a tendon or something, but that it was difficult and time consuming and, now that I think about it, maybe not worth it for veal.
Anyway, Dan says it’s delicious.
I definitely hadn’t seen Scott Conant in awhile (he’s on the left, next to Fiamma chef Fabio Trabocchi) and so he commented on my goatee while handing me a card for Scarpetta, his restaurant on 14th Street and Ninth Avenue that he’s working on. He said a scarpetta is like a streak of sauce that you sop up with a piece of bread, and the restaurant’s logo is, in fact, just such a streak.
Scott used to be the chef and owner of l’impero and Alto, but he sold out of those ventures and Michael White, whom I also ran into at the party, took over as chef of those restaurants. To do so he left his job at Fiamma, leaving an opening for Fabio Trabocchi to fill.
Small world.
Here’s John Besh, the chef of August in New Orleans, towering over Café Boulud’s new executive chef Gavin Kaysen. Gavin is quick-witted and good natured, and he was dishing up crayfish and quail egg en gelée with asparagus, but one of his qualities I like best is that he’s about my height.
Serving of alcohol was temporarily halted so we could watch live entertainment (I could only listen to it because Rick Bayless’s head was right in front of me) and so Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin could introduce the Best New Chefs.
Here she is, a little later in the evening, with Myriad Restaurant Group chief Drew Nieporent. Drew’s 17-year-old restaurant Tribeca Grill is finally being inducted into Nation‘s Restaurant News’ Fine Dining Hall of Fame this year, so he can finally stop asking me when it’s going to be inducted. We’re both happy about that. Drew said he cried those many years ago when Montrachet was inducted.
I asked him when that restaurant was going to reopen.
“You’ll know when I know,” he said. I didn’t ask him if Paul Liebrandt was going to be the chef. That’s the rumor, but you know how rumors are.
Among the passed hors d’oeuvres at the party were little gold boxes of candied, gilded almonds from Gilt. Both executive chef Chris Lee and sommelier Jason Ferris were there, looking pleased. Gilt took awhile to draw crowds, but both Chris and Jason say the place is on fire now, which is always good to hear.
Here’s Chris, on the left, with Tom Colicchio.
Of course plenty of journalists were at the party too. I caught up with Food & Wine intern Nick Pandolfi, brother-in-law of my friend and former colleague Erica Duecy. Nick did a lot of the fact checking for the best new chefs — making sure they fit the award’s criteria. He’s about to graduate from college and so I couldn’t help offering him avuncular advice about career choices. I seem to do that a lot with Nick, give him advice, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need it. He takes it graciously enough, though.
Here’s a bad picture of Grub Street’s Josh Ozersky and Ben Leventhal of Eater. It seems to be saying “Here’s handsome Ben and some other guy,”
The picture below is much better, because Josh, too, is handsome in his own way and, well, why shove a guy into the background? It’s mean. And this is a better picture of Ben, too.
Rocco DiSpirito was also at the party. Can you believe it? I hadn’t seen him since December of 2005.
Some people feel bad for Rocco.
“Poor Rocco!” They say. “He had such promise as a chef, and now he’s doing all this weird celebrity stuff.”
Mm hmm. He used to spend countless hours a day in the kitchen of Union Pacific, winning the respect of his peers and nods of appreciation from Gourmet (okay, a cover story, but still) while Emeril Lagasse had cheering crowds and Bobby Flay had screaming teenage girls.
Then, after the Gourmet cover story he was in People magazine, shirt open, chest oiled, as the “sexiest chef alive” and he ran with that.
Once he became the star of the reality TV show The Restaurant, the foodservice industry started to mock him, but last night’s party was an industry event and, believe me, he had no shortage of company.
“Hey! How ya doin’?” he said to me before he was hijacked by a chef who wanted to have him in to his restaurant. I would have taken their pictures, but it seemed like a cliché. I wouldn’t have minded catching up with the guy, but I wasn’t going to stand in line to do it.
One last picture, of (from left to right) fellow journalists Jay Cheshes, Rachel Wharton and Amy Cortese
Oh, I almost forgot to list the winning chefs. Here they are: Jim Burke of James in Philadelphia, Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis, Tim Cushman of O Ya in Boston, Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu in Napa, Calif., Koren Grieveson of Avec in Chicago, Michael Psilakis of Anthos in New York City, Ethan Stowell of Union in Seattle, Giuseppe Tentori of Boka in Chicago, Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vt., and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans.


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