I really wasn’t in the mood for Chefs’ Night Out on Friday. I’m down on the whole celebrity chef thing these days. The hype, the superstarification of them, the fact that their fame no longer seems to stem from their food … A few years ago I thought the celebrity chef phenomenon was good for the industry, but these days I just think it’s all a bit much. As I wrote in a recent column in Nation’s Restaurant News, Gordon Ramsay, who once had a reputation as a great chef, is now best known because he yells at people (although, to be fair, he has long had a reputation for doing that, too).
Still, I feel like it’s important to go to such things, maybe because I’m afraid I’ll miss something good.
Chefs’ Night Out is the traditional pre-Beard Awards Party, thrown by Bon Appétit magazine. It used to be a see-and-be-seen event. Over the past couple of years it’s been relatively low-key (I didn’t even hear about it last year until the night it was happening, and I ended up going to a party at 60 Thompson instead).
But the formal invitations went out this year, and everyone, everyone was invited. I think I might have gotten two invitations, in fact.
I’d had enough of my office by 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and the party didn’t start until 9, so I wandered in the party’s general direction trying to find away to amuse myself for an hour and a half.
I ended up at Grayz, where I thought I’d stop in for a drink and a snack and ended up with a tasting menu that kept me there until after 10, giving me anxiety that I was missing something, even though I wasn’t in the mood for a party with a bunch of celebrity chefs.
But the thing is, I like celebrity chefs, and even more so I like almost-celebrity chefs and sous chefs and chefs with no fame at all and restaurateurs and cooking instructors and my fellow food writers.
And those were the people with whom I spent most of the evening, except for John Besh and Harold Dieterle, who have both been on TV competition shows, so I guess they’re full-blown celebrity chefs
One of the first people I saw was restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who expressed outrage that he hadn’t seen me at the National Restaurant Show Chicago, when his Tribeca Grill was inducted into NRN’s Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
“Was that when you were going to tell me about your new restaurant?” I asked, because you see he gave that scoop to The New York Times.
He didn’t hear me, though. It was that kind of party. Lots of shouting, lots of polite nods, lots of slaps on the back. But as the party ebbed I met a couple of sous chefs named Matt – one at Oceana and the other at The Oak Room, which reopens this fall. Actually I guess Matt from The Oak Room is chef de cuisine. Nice guy, from Philadelphia. Sleeping on the executive chef’s floor for now, but that will work itself out, I’m sure. I also had a good chat with Ben Pollinger and Jansen Chan, chef and pastry chef of Oceana. Jansen said someone had confused him with Pichet Ong earlier in the evening. They are both ethnic Asian pastry chefs who studied architecture, but they look nothing alike.
Pichet was there, too, and he said he might end up working on a project with Andy Yang, the chef-owner of my favorite Thai restaurant, Rhong-Tiam (541 LaGuardia Pl., between Bleecker and W. 3rd). Interesting.
And I met Brian Canlis, scion of the Canlis family, which owns the restaurant of that name in Seattle. He had been in the Air Force, doing sorties over Afghanistan, but he decided to come home and run the family business. He was hanging out with Will Guidara, general manager of Eleven Madison Park, which I guess the in crowd is calling E.M.P. these days. We talked about the Big Apple Barbecue, which happened today. I said I wasn’t going, because it was going to be in the mid-90s today, and the Beard Awards are on Sunday, and I’m leaving for Colorado on Monday, so I wanted some me-time.
Who else? Oh, Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit’s restaurant editor (and a bit of a celebrity, since he was a judge on the TV show The Next Iron Chef). It’s been such a long time since I’d spoken with him that I think his voice has gotten deeper since then. Or maybe he had a cold. He pointed to his wife Christina’s ever-so-slightly poochy abdomen. So I complimented Andrew on his virility and he talked about their looking for a bigger place to live.
Mina Neuman’s expecting a baby too. She’s the chef at the Edison Hotel, where the party was held, but she’s been a chef all over New York. I probably hadn’t seen her in five years, though. She looked well. She expressed some sadness that she couldn’t have a drink at the party.
Lee Jones, baby-vegetable and mini-herb supplier to the celebrity chefs, was there in his trademark outfit (literally, he trademarked it) of a white Oxford shirt, red bow-tie and denim overalls. He talked about the cocktail phenomenon, and I suggested that the one I was drinking – a Margarita derivative, with elderflower liqueur – would benefit from some of his micro-shiso.
Finally I chatted with Sean Brock, whom I didn’t recognize because he was clean-shaven and baby-faced last time I saw him, and now he has a beard (although, come to think of it, so do I, and he knew exactly who I was).
Sean was a bit of a pioneer in molecular gastronomy, and he was doing it in Nashville. Now he’s in Charleston and more into farming, although he still finds a place for methylcellulose from time to time.
I have no idea how the food was at the party, because I was all full from Grayz.
What I ate there:
Mini pork-belly sandwich with guacamole and chipotle
Grilled prawn with kaffir lime rémoulade, served on a heated salt block
Sumac-crusted tuna loin with red pepper paste and micro-cilantro
Weisswurst, a pretzel and a cheese spread whose name I didn’t catch
Oyster Rockefeller, salmon tartare and scallop ceviche
Tapioca-crusted lobster on peaky toe crab with chilled honeydew-cucumber gazpacho
Cheese spaetzel, truffled foie gras and a mache and beet salad with hazelnut-truffle vinaigrette and bacon bits
Soft-shell crab in artichoke-tomato broth with saffron-orange emulsion, topped with artichoke heart chips, olives and capers
Thai bouillabaisse in lobster-coconut milk broth
Duck breast with succotash and tamarind glaze
Fruit salad under a little lychee granite, a mini fruit parfait and two chocolate-covered ice cream balls served over dry ice.