Sam Hazen’s Prized La Côte Basque Souvenir
Just interviewed Sam Hazen of Veritas restaurant for my forthcoming oral history about the American chefs of the 1970s and 80s. I’ve known Sam since he took over the kitchen at Cascabel restaurant (in the space that is now Osteria Morini) in the mid 1990s, and have flitted in and out of touch with him over the years.
It was a fun interview: Sam attended the Culinary Institute of America in the early 1980s, and went on to cook at La Côte Basque and the Quilted Giraffe, among other New York restaurants. When I first walked into Vertias to meet him, he surprised me with a bag of keepsakes from his line-cook days, just for fun. The highlight was this jacket, which Jean-Jacques Rachou (one of the first French chefs to welcome young American cooks into his kitchen in those transitional days), gifted his brigade for Christmas 1983. When the old gang reunited in 1995 for the shuttering of the restaurant’s original location (it reopened in a nearby home a few months later), Sam asked a number of them to sign the jacket–an all-star line-up that included Rachou himself (“JJ Rachou,” right under the restaurant’s name), Charlie Palmer (just under Sam’s embroidered name), Rick Moonen (under Charlie), and Waldy Malouf (lower right corner).
Sam’s fondness for Rachou and La Côte Basque was plain. He worked there for five years, an almost unimaginable length of time by today’s standards. When I remarked on how emotional he seemed when discussing those days, he whipped out his cellphone and showed me that La Côte Basque’s phone number was still in his directory, even though the restaurant has been gone for about a decade.
“You can’t erase that one,” I said, thinking of my own policy of not deleting the phone numbers of the deceased.
“No, that one stays forever,” he said.
We didn’t get through all we had to talk about today and Sam promised to bring some more “fun stuff” to our follow-up interview. I can’t wait.