The Food Party of the Decade

I’m very proud of my association with Food Arts Magazine. I have been a contributing editor for many years now and have written some of my best pieces for the publication. So of course I was longing to be part of the 20th anniversary celebration held this week in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. Unfortunately for those of us who longed to be there, the invitation list included only the winners of the Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance in the food industry and about 250 were expected.It wasn’t the food or wine (which I knew would be wonderful) that I longed for. It was seeing and congratulating the many people of whom I’ve grown so fond over the years. But I was resigned to miss it. Such is the miracle of our industry—the support and affection of our colleagues—that somehow I got to go in the best way possible—as a participant of sorts. The afternoon of the event I happened to be walking in the west village and passed Pichet Ong’s restaurant P*ONG and dessert store Batch. Pichet is an amazingly talented chef both sweet and savory, known for combining both elements in his creations. He is also the author of a terrific cookbook appropriately called The Sweet Spot. Assuming that he was surely busy preparing the dessert for the event I hesitated to disturb him but he was totally in control of the preparations and asked if I would be at the event. When I explained why I couldn’t be there he didn’t hesitate to insist that I come as his assistant! We went back and forth several times with great conviction, me saying no and he saying yes and then I just couldn’t resist. So I ran home to change into my best white pique chef jacket with red piping and red patent leather special occasion chef clogs and then ran back to accompany Pichet to the Plaza.

My biggest fear was that Michael Batterberry (publisher of Food Arts and esteemed friend) would take one look at me and his eyes would say “what are YOU doing here!” but I should have known better because when he saw me before the event started his eyes lit up with delight. Ariane Batterberry was also utterly gracious on seeing me as was executive editor Beverly Stephen, managing editor Kelly McClaine, and senior editors Jim Poris and Gary Tucker. I can’t tell you my joy and relief. The cocktail reception was the most fun because I got to say hello to so many old friends—Barbara Kuck from the Chicago Culinary Museum & Chefs Hall of Fame, Emeril Lagasse and his lovely wife, André Soltner, Drew Nierporent, Karen and David Waltuck, Joan Nathan, Rozanne Gold and Michael Whiteman, Jennifer Lang, Betty Fussell, Alfred Portale, Dan Barber, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, Jan Longone, Gael Greene, Hal McGee, Joan Nathan, José Andres (and I finally got to meet his delightful wife!), Michel Nischan and his delightful wife, Greg Drescher, farmer Lee Jones, Susanna Foo, Cesare Casella, Michael McCartney, Roger Yaseen who headed the Chaine de Rotisseur for many years, the wonderful Knowles family (of the Manor), Jacques Torres, Alain Sailhac and Arlene Feltman Sailhac, and Paul Prudhomme’s lovely escort took a picture of the two of us which I’ll post if she sends it along with a really cute story about Paul, and of course countless other people I saw but didn’t get to greet such as my dear old friend George Lang. It was indeed a night to remember and the greatest highlight of all was finally getting to meet the chairman Marvin Shanken for the first time. At dinner I was seated next to the handsome and talented Todd English, and opposite one of my favorite pastry chefs Emily Lucetti. Also at the table were Harvey Steinman whom I knew from his days at the S.F. Chronicle and Eileen Yin-Fei Lo and husband Fred Ferreti whom I’ve known and admired for so many years. Before the dessert course, violinist Stefan Milenkovich played several solos starting with Bach. Each note rang with perfect clarity and beauty and I was in heaven listening. So was everyone else as there was not another sound in the room. My plan was to help Pichet Ong serve dessert which was set up much the way the cocktail course was arranged with several chefs stationed behind tables that formed a huge closed rectangle. But as Pichet has much experience serving at large events he had everything, again, perfectly under control. He chose wisely for his dessert course as it was light in texture with a titillating balance of flavors—Little rectangles of creamy quark cheesecake, encrusted with finely chopped walnuts, accompanied by tiny cubes of vanilla roasted pineapple, and sauced with pink peppercorns, basil, and fleur de sel. Fabulous. Realizing that I would have to crawl under the table to get to his side I decided to take his advice and have a good time, which believe me I continued to do! And I was not alone. As I looked around the room at the smiling departing guests it was as if each had been touched with a magic wand of happiness.