I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but almost did. October 17, 2006 Elliott was recovering from hip replacement surgery and not driving and I was recovering from sympathy back pains with four bulging discs. There was no way either of us could drive to New Jersey. But the ever gracious and generous Knowles sent a car for us so we got to participate in this unforgettable event that I’ve been wanting to post but have been waiting for some very special photos and for the courage to do it full justice.My connection to the Manor goes a long way back to when my then 92 year old grandmother had her wedding ceremony there. (She married a younger man of 89!) It was a very intimate celebration so I wasn’t actually included, but only a few years later I had the good fortune to meet the owner of The Manor Harry Knowles, the family patriarch of the 6 generation restaurant family, at an event of the Chaine de Rotisseurs. And when the Cake Bible was published over 18 years ago, it was Harry who hosted the first press party for it at the Manor. By the time the Pie and Pastry Bible was published I had celebrated several more of my book publication parties at the Manor. And the incomparable Mary Jane Frankel, who is responsible for all the publicity including their publication “Manorisms,” always did a fantastic job rounding up all the local press and organizing the events. At our first dinner at The Manor Elliott and I enjoyed a tour of the kitchens and we were both awed by this Utopia that addressed every possible comfort and indulgence not just for the guests but also for the staff. I had never before nor since seen a kitchen that had carpeting to make it easier underfoot. When I asked Harry how they maintained it he said “we just tear it up and replace it whenever necessary. It’s worth it because it makes the staff happy.” The pastry chef had a separate air-conditioned kitchen all to himself (believe me this is not the usual case—pastry chefs are usually relegated to the bowls of the restaurant where it is the most hot or an equally hot corner of the kitchen.) We learned that the Manor even has it’s own metal shop which produces and repairs all the copper cookware. And Elliott rejoiced over the substantial dining room chairs with arms which add so much to comfort for dining pleasure.
(from left to right, Kurt Knowles Junior, Chef Pasquale (the first chef at the Manor, Harry Knowles) The Manor really pulled out all of its stops for the grand 50th celebration. The buffet preceding the formal dinner would have been more than enough. It included foie gras ravioli with fresh truffles, beef Wellington, rack of venison, every manner of cold seafood, and endless flowing champagne. But then we were ushered in to a dinner that was dramatically spectacular in every sense. The butter roses created by pastry chef Nicola Petullo, were the most stunningly beautiful presentation of butter I’ve ever seen. Dinner included specialties that had become Manor classics such as Veal Oscar, Harry’s famed oysters escargot, a dense and deliciously bittersweet chocolate almond daquoise and a sorbet listed on the menu as a “Gold-Framed Treasure Chest” because it was served on a block of ice shimmering from some special light source that was magically imbedded from within. The finale dessert wine was an exquisite 2003 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls, appropriately leaving a sweet memory in the mouth and the mind. What added immeasurably to the meal was the moving presence of every chef who had ever worked at The Manor since its inception, and a speech given by Bob Lape who dubbed the Manor the best restaurant in America and on CBS AM a few days later said that “The Knowles and The Manor have woven a perfect partnership with they community they live in, and the state of New Jersey. They are an essential part of the fabric of this state.” The guest list was impressive including former NJ Governor Brendan Byrne; Michael Uslan, producer of Batfilms; Angelo Del Rossi, Executive Director Emeritus of Paper Mill Playhouse; Joseph Friedman, Executive Director of the NJ Motion Picture & Television Commission; NJ Superior Court Judge James H. Coleman, Jr.; and Mark Gillman of the New Jersey Restaurant Association; Joanna Pruess; and Laurent Drouhin. It was also a great treat to see old friends, especially the Knowles brothers Kurt and Wade and their families. Kurt’s eldest son is already part of the restaurant operation. Of course it was a special joy to be witness to the celebration of consistent quality and success resulting from a half century of hard work but the Knowles go beyond that—somehow they make those around them feel very much a part of it.