This week is always a difficult one at Nation’s Restaurant News, because we lay out our special MUFSO issue.
MUFSO is, of course, our annual conference for chain restaurant operators (this year it’s October 4-6 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas), and if you’re a restaurant operator and haven’t registered yet, well, I don’t know what to say. I could ask what’s wrong with you, but that would be impolitic, so instead, I’ll just give you this link, allowing you to register for half price. Because I’m that nice.
So for the first half of the week I’m always scrambling to finish the stories that I have to write for the issue.
Our focus this year, by the way, is an examination of the likely restaurant landscape in the aftermath of the recession. It’s a good read, trust me.
This week is also when Star Chefs chooses to hold its International Chef Congress. I haven't managed to make it there in the past two years, but on Monday afternoon, with Blackberry in-hand so I’d know when I needed to go back to the office to interview people, I did manage at least to stop by the congress trade show, where I caught up with people from Pork Board and some nice folks from New Zealand. I sampled a new variety of New Zealand apple called the Envy, which, like the Jazz apple that I love, is a cross between the Braeburn and the Royal Gala. It had almost pear-like qualities because of its very floral aroma.
Then I went back to the office, finished my story on the future of fine dining (in a nutshell, recovery will be slow and fine dining restaurants have adjusted by expanding their bars and giving their customers more control over how much money they spend and also how much time they spend in the restaurant — it's now okay to have a cocktail and a snack in most fine dining establishments, not just a full-on multi-course meal).
Then I went to the James Beard House for a full-on multi-course meal sponsored by the O‘ahu Visitors Bureau, which, you may recall, brought me to that fine island earlier this year.
That was Monday night. Tuesday I mostly lay low; I just went to a little party at Bar Boulud introducing a new program called Perfect Pairings, in which liquor companies sponsor cocktails and other beverages to go with specific foods. It's a good way to encourage the upsell of a tasty beverage. My friend St. John Frizell was there, shaking a grapefruity gin cocktail. Most of the time he's at his new restaurant in Red Hook, Fort Defiance. He got after me to stop by, which of course I should do.
Wednesday found me at MAD46, the rooftop venue of the Roosevelt Hotel. I was there for the launch of Kolache Mama, a new chain that wants to popularize the East European pastry by stuffing it with all sorts of non-East European things like hot dogs and scrambled eggs and whatever else people might want inside of them.
It was a weird party. Pretty young women in pink T-shirts pointed us to the check-in table where we were handed check-in cards with our initials on them. Then a humorless bouncer showed us to an elevator where another humorless bouncer took us to the rooftop, where we handed in the check-in cards we were just given and then we were let into the party. I guess that was supposed to make the party seem exclusive, I dont know.
I tried a couple of kolaches and ran into my friend Sara Bonisteel of AOL, and we headed to the next party of the evening -- the launch of John Besh's cookbook.
Now that party really did seem exclusive. It was also on a rooftop, but it was a private penthouse residence on the corner of 93rd Street and Park Avenue, thank you very much.
A bartender handed me a Sazerac and I went outside to enjoy a buffet of shrimp & grits and rich pastas and other goodies while hanging out with John Besh and his famous chef friends like Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boulud and Anita Lo, whos working on renovations of her restaurant Annisa while doing the food for Rickshaw Dumpling Bar.
It was at that party, with all the smart people there, that the mystery of the previous week's Beard House dinner was explained to me.
What, I had wondered, were people from the big network morning shows doing eating the cuisine of Dante de Magistris?
Grub Street Boston was kind enough to find out that Dante's publicist wanted him to be on TV so the restaurant would get more destination dining.
But the question to me wasn't why a restaurateur might want morning show producers to eat his food, but how to get them to show up at the Beard House, and past their bedtime to boot.
Bret, silly, it was explained to me, Dante's publicist also represents celebrity chef Todd English.
Ah. Solutions to mysteries are so obvious once you know them.
I actually had Thursday night off, and on Friday went to an odd but charming event called Le Fooding, a French-organized tasting event to benefit hunger-relief organizations.
I took the subway to Long Island City and almost turned around and left once I saw the line to the event. I wondered what would be more rude, not going to an event that I said I would go to, or announcing the fact that I was a member of the press and wondering aloud if there might be a special line for powerful and influential people like me.
Instead I took option three, which was to follow Gael Greene around the corner to the VIP line and get ushered inside, past the actual proper paying guests.
I'm not sure why the line was so long -- you check off a person's name and let him or her in; it should take maybe six seconds -- but my embarrassment at my priveleged status didn't keep me from taking advantage of it, and soon I was in a pretty garden listening to jazz and eating chicken necks made by Wylie Dufresne and the spicy pork lettuce wraps of David Chang.
There was even a special VIP room for non-paying guests, where we could dip into steaming-cold bowls (steaming from dry ice, you see) and drink gin punch, or drink more Champagne. I mostly hung out with people from d’Artagnan, whom I understand were later escorted from the party due to rowdiness. But I had already taken my leave at that point.
Also at the party were Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appetit, whom I hadn't seen in a very long time. Kate Krader of Food & Wine was coming as I was going.