Thursday, September 10, 2009


September 10

“That’s Duff Goldman,” said Metromix’s Matt Rodbard.

“I don’t know who that is,” I said.

“You know, from Ace of Cakes.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“You know, it’s, like, the Food Network’s biggest show.”

“I don’t watch it.”

“Ace of Cakes!”

“Don’t know it. I don’t watch food TV.”

“It’s, like, a huge show.”

I don’t think Matt was being obtuse, he was just having fun. And I was being a curmudgeon who doesn’t watch food TV — like lawyers don’t watch law shows and doctors don’t watch medical dramas — because there’s already enough food and food-related things in my work life. I don’t want to sit in front of the TV at home and watch more of it.

Being in the presence of a celebrity you don’t care about can be awkward, because the fawning fans look so pathetic and I feel embarrassed for them.

We were at the James Beard House, at a Greens event. That’s what the Beard Foundation calls events targeting people younger than 40. I think it’s an attempt to create a tribe of young food enthusiasts who are loyal to the Beard Foundation, and I’m not sure how well it’s working. Greens have been around for as long as I’ve been in New York, but I don’t hear about them much.

This particular party was in celebration of Jack Daniels’ birthday, which is celebrated for the entire month of September as no one knows the exact day on which the whiskey’s namesake was born. I don’t expect that anyone has tried too hard to find out, either, as not knowing gives Jack Daniels, the company, an excuse to celebrate and promote the brand for an entire month.

Duff Goldman had made a 150-pound human-shaped cake that looked like Jack Daniels. It was pretty cool. My friend Andy Battaglia of The Onion was appropriately impressed.

I was more interested in checking in with Dave Wondrich, the cocktail historian, drink maven and delightful person who had developed the cocktails for the evening — the Monkey Nut and the Little Ricky.

The monkey nut was a type of Manhattan with orange bitters. I asked if he was using Regan’s orange bitters. Their creator, Gary Regan, was Nation’s Restaurant News’ beverage columnist, and thus we are forever inextricably bound.

In fact, Dave said, he was using a blend of Regan’s bitters and another company’s orange bitters. He said the New York tribe of cocktail makers had all decided pretty much simultaneously that one of those bitters was too orangey and the other was too bitter, so now it’s common practice here to combine the two.

Tribe’s my word, not Dave’s, because tribes are the theme of this blog entry. But Gotham’s mixologist community really is a tribe. It is.

Anyway, the Little Rickey was exactly that.

Not to say it was Desi Arnaz Jr.

Dave explains: Jo Rickey, of Fulton County, Mo., was a prominent Democratic lobbyist at the end of the 19th century. His signature drink was bourbon with soda water and lime juice; later, people made it with gin.

So a Rickey can be any cocktail of booze, citrus and soda water. This one was made with a fancy small-batch bottle of Jack Daniels, a little honey syrup — an addition of which Jo Rickey would not have approved, as he believed sugar heated the blood, Dave said — and lemon juice, shaken, poured into cylindrical shot glasses and topped with sparkling water. Little Rickeys.

I didn’t meet Duff Goldman, and during all the speeches in honor of Jack Daniels I hung back and let the gawkers gawk, but he sounded like a smart, good-natured guy.

“Let them eat cake!” declared Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro, which was silly of her, because, as Duff pointed out, the person who originally said that was beheaded.

As you may know, that sentence was supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and wife of King Louis XVI, when she heard that the peasants had no bread to eat.

In fact, I believe what she was supposed to have said was “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or, “they should eat brioche.” It displayed her failure to comprehend the fact that her peasantry was so poor that it had nothing to eat — that their caloric shortfall caused by the lack of ordinary bread could not be alleviated by switching to richer, egg-enriched bread, because they didn’t have that either. Ignorance is not a crime, but it’s no excuse, either, and perhaps her executioners decided that it should, in fact, be a crime.

Anyway, they killed her, and uttering her infamous declaration at an event of well-heeled young New Yorkers who have been spending the evening gorging themselves on ribs and little mac & cheese tartlets is weird at best. It was nice that Duff knew that.

Also, incidentally, his cake was delicious.

Anyway, tribes. Legitimate tribes of cocktail makers, an attempt to invent a tribe of young Beard Foundation devotees.

In recent weeks over at the listserv of the Association for the Study of Food and Society , in which I participate, there was quite a kerfuffle that started with a discussion of the meaning and sociological implications of the word “gastronomy,” and that ended with the departure from the list of a person who felt completely justified to hurl ignorant, baseless and personal insults at the gastronomy program of Boston University simply because she felt like doing so.

Other members of the listserv disagreed. She left in a somewhat self-righteous huff, and some of those who remained began a navel-gazing exercise into what the ASFS was. It is, Ken Albala suggested, a tribe.

“ Our interactions work nothing like a business or even a department within a college, because we're not in competition. We all work in different places, and if one of us benefits, the whole group and discipline benefits. And it's why we rose to the defense of our members, and it's why everyone here is so generous with time and ideas — a common enterprise and common goals.”

A tribe. Why not?

I had been at another tribal event the night before. It was the second anniversary party of Bobo, Carlos Suarez’s plaything of a restaurant in the West Village.

I don’t mean “plaything” in a bad way. I mean that it has very personal touches appropriate for his intention, which was to make his restaurant like a private home where he was throwing a dinner party, only you had to pay to eat there. Only recently did he relent and put a sign bearing the restaurant’s name outside the house, on 7th Avenue South and West 10th Street, where the restaurant’s located.

He has a top-shelf cocktail developer in Naren Young and a well pedigreed chef in Patrick Connolly, and a dining room that I find enchanting.

And he has style. He has a turntable and a collection of vinyl. At the party he served Champagne in classic tulips rather than modern flutes.

Tulips do cause a drink to slosh, but there is something extra-celebratory in being drenched in Champagne, even if inadvertently.

Usually parties like that are inhabited by fellow members of my own food-writing tribe, but I was an alien at this gathering which seemed otherwise to be populated by Carlos’s well-groomed, not-quite-lock-jawed Upper East Side friends whom I suspect might otherwise been eating at the Waverly Inn.

At least that’s what I surmised. I don’t know, as I don’t read the society pages. It seemed like some of the people there would have been mentioned in them, though.

They all seemed to know each other from the monosyllabic prep schools they had attended together.

I ended up chatting with young Diana Foote, of the Memphis Footes. I don’t know if there really are Memphis Footes, but Diana was from Memphis, and she vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard (“not Nantuckett?” I thought), although her current visit to New York was making her consider visiting the city more often.

They were gracious and lovely people. Many of them actually brought birthday gifts for the restaurant.

There was an unusually large percentage of very tall blond women there.

There was also an unusually large percentage of very tall blond women at my next party of the evening, the opening of Le Souk Harem.

We all know what a harem is. Souk is Arabic for “market.” So I can think of no other way to translate the name other than “whore house.”

I was invited by the Hall Company, who were doing PR for the restaurant’s food (the chef consultant is Doug Psaltis), but the party was really by Lizzie Grubman, whom you might remember as the society publicist who faced criminal prosecution some years ago when, in a fit of pique, she ploughed her SUV into a bunch pedestrians who were in her way when she was leaving a party.

This scenester tribe also has a bunch of tall blonde women, but rather than being gracious and elegant they’re tacky and boorish. One physically moved me out of her way so she could walk down the stairs.

The restaurant itself had hookahs and belly dancers (dancing to, among other things, Rockin’ the Casbah by The Clash — oh yes, they went there). It all seemed oddly out of place in these dour times.

Anyway, it wasn’t my scene, but I did have a tasty Caipirinha there.

So I was at Bobo and Le Souk Harem on Tuesday, and then took Andy to the Beard House on Wednesday. And then Andy took me to Le Poisson Rouge, a music venue on Bleecker Street that I remembered as Life, a loud nightclub catering to the same tribe as Le Souk Harem.

But Poisson Rouge is a dark and arty spot, and performing there was Circulatory System, and they are members of Andy’s tribe.

Andy is a music writer who went to the University of Georgia, and Circulatory System is a group of psychedelic musicians based in Athens, Ga. When Andy was in college they were Olivia Tremor Control, and he said they had tremendous influence on him.

I don’t think I knew what psychedelic music was, really, but I have an idea, now, and I think it has given me insight into electronica that might help me appreciate it more the next time Andy takes me to one of those shows.

I tend to focus on lyrics and melody and harmony when I listen to music, but Circulatory System was really creating an entire atmosphere of sound that had nothing to do with those things. They just kind of created a music bubble that filled the room, so I just let it wash over me and it was a lot of fun. Sounded pretty, too.

We went back stage after the show, and Andy was greeted with hugs and happy noises of greeting that pleased him. He was clearly glad to reconnect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

do people know what a listerv is anymore? i probably would have defined it. souded like fun. -jb