Dispatches: Growing Chefs

American Food Pioneer Larry Forgione Schools a New Generation at the Culinary Institute of America

Larry Forgione in St. Helena, California. (photo courtesy Culinary Institute of America)

Larry Forgione in St. Helena, California. (photo courtesy Culinary Institute of America)

Thanksgiving, one of the most American of holidays, seems the perfect time to share a story I’ve been sitting on for a little while, about what American food pioneer Larry Forgione has been up to the past couple of years.

Historically speaking, Larry’s a titan. But he’s been without a restaurant in a major city for quite some time, so isn’t as well known to younger chefs and culinary enthusiasts as he once was, or should be. But if you care about food, especially American food, you really ought to know about the man, because he belongs on the same pedestal as contemporaries Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, Jeremiah Tower, and the rest of the gang he came up with in the 1970s and 1980s.

Larry was the first prominent chef to emerge from Buzzy O’Keefe’s The River Café (which later provided a runway for Charles Palmer and David Burke, among others), before opening his own restaurant, An American Place, in Manhattan in 1983. During his heyday, Larry made several essential, abiding contributions to our national restaurant landscape. Foremost among these was the development of a repertoire that was achieved in part by mining under-appreciated regional dishes from across the USA, at times actually working in tandem with James Beard. (On occasion, the two would leaf through books together in the library at Beard’s house on West 12th Street.) At a time when journalists categorized a wide range of styles under the umbrella “New American Cuisine,” Larry was actually cooking American food, elevating it with world-class technique.

His other crowning legacy was establishing a network of purveyors that was sorely lacking on the East Coast in the mid-to-late 1970s, when he returned from cooking at London’s Connaught Hotel and began plying his trade in New York City, first at Regine’s, then at River Café; the lengths to which he went to procure superlative ingredients would floor today’s chefs, for whom any edible esoterica is just mouse-click away. (The victory lap was his menu, which–as Gael Greene once wrote–included “farm, ranch and geographical credits for every periwinkle and prawn.”) He simply couldn’t understand why a chef in New York City didn’t have access to the same great ingredients he’d cooked with in London, and which his grandmother grew on her farm in Eastern Long Island, which he visited on weekends and summers in his youth.

Here’s a snippet of Larry back in the day; if you think “farm-to-table” is a newish concept, pay close attention to his comments, uttered three decades ago, starting at the one-minute mark:… 

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Milestones: The Easterner

Jeremiah Tower Discusses His New Role as Chef of Tavern on the Green and Personal and Professional History with New York City

Jeremiah Tower, far from NYC in Playa del Carmen, 2009 (photo courtesy Jeremiah Tower)

Jeremiah Tower, far from NYC in Playa del Carmen, 2009 (photo courtesy Jeremiah Tower)

The Big News in Gotham this week is that Jeremiah Tower, the legendary chef behind Stars, and onetime Chez Panisse toque, has taken over the kitchen at Tavern on the Green, following Katy Sparks’ unfortunate departure in September, on the heels of no-star reviews from both the New York Times and New York Magazine. Tower, who hasn’t been a regular presence in a major American restaurant since departing Stars in 1999, has been living in Mexico for nearly a decade, but has nevertheless remained in the news: Most recently, he was a featured speaker at the MAD conference, and Anthony Bourdain and Zero Point Zero are currently producing a documentary about him. As I’ve been in regular touch with him in connection with my forthcoming book about the American chefs of the 1970s and 1980s, I caught wind of this development shortly before he and Tavern owners Jim Caiola and David Salama announced their new collaboration, and am pleased to be able to share this interview:

Friedman:  Obviously, most people connect you and your career with California. You also, though, have a long history with New York City, having started life on the East Coast, even though you never cooked here professionally. Can you take us through that a little bit?

Tower:  When I first saw New York it was eating at wonderful restaurants like the old Luchow’s and ‘21’ and stuff like that where my parents would go. And then, when I was in college, they lived in Brooklyn Heights in General Livingston’s old farmhouse, so Gage and Tollner and that kind of New York restaurant was what I remembered. And then all through college they lived there and in graduate school they lived there, and then back to Connecticut. So, I’m a New Englander. All my family is from New England. I was seen as a Californian, but between Boston and New York, I always felt like an Easterner, as some people in Berkeley would be happy to tell you. (laughs)

Friedman: You made some legendary visits to New York City in the 1980s, these nights when you would go on dine‑arounds. What was a typical visit to the city like for you during that time?

Tower: A visit to the city was usually around some special event, especially CityMeals on Wheels at Rockefeller Center. And I would always bring four people and about two thousand pounds of luggage so that we could make a huge display of ourselves. And then we’d get a limo and go and visit ten of the hot new restaurants, spending twenty minutes in each one, so that we would go back to San Francisco exhausted but inspired. New York was the inspiration…. 

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Vins of the Father

Chef Bruce Marder plays Godfather to Son Max’s New Restaurant Marvin, Which Opened Last Week in Los Angeles

Bruce Marder and his girlfriend, Shelly Kellogg, at Buvette.  May 23, 2014.

Bruce Marder and Shelly Kellogg, at Buvette restaurant, New York City. May 23, 2014. (photo © Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

NEW YORK, NY — A new restaurant called Marvin “officially” opened in Los Angeles last Wednesday, after quietly welcoming walk-ins for several days. According to co-owner/operator Max Marder, when we caught up with him a week ago today, despite some issues with the phone lines and website, the restaurant itself had been performing to his expectations.

Whether or not it is running according to another man’s expectations is another story: That man is Max’s father, Bruce Marder.  If you live and dine in LA then you probably know him as the man behind such fondly remembered restaurants as West Beach Cafe and Rebecca’s, and more recently Capo and Cora’s Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, as well as Brentwood restaurant and its adjacent cafe.  If you don’t reside in the City of Angels, then it’s quite possible you never heard of the guy.  That’s, in part, because Bruce is famously introverted (some would say antisocial) and completely uninterested in the PR/marketing game that has become de rigueur among professional chefs…. 

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Slice of Life: Enzo and Elvis

My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter

ENZO AND ELVIS - My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter

Charlie Trotter and the author, minutes before saying goodbye. June 2012. (Photo © Table 12 Productions, Inc)

BROOKLYN, NY—On November 5 of last year, reports that Charlie Trotter had died, at the tragically young age of 54, ripped through the restaurant industry.  In a quirk of timing, I was interviewing Jeremiah Tower in the lobby of the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco that morning.  When he had to take a phone call, I sneaked a peek at my iPhone to see that my wife, Caitlin, had texted me the news.

Tower called it “a shock.”  I agreed. It was shocking, but not as shocking as it should have been.  I had visited Trotter in Chicago for an interview sixteen months earlier, in June 2012.  He didn’t look well.  I won’t speculate as to why because it would be just that–pure speculation–although on the heels of his demise, friends and the media pointed to both a heart condition and a brain aneurysm; a few weeks later, the Cook County Medical Examiner ID’d a stroke, resulting from high blood pressure, as the cause of death.

When I heard the news, and for days afterward, it wasn’t to my actual interview with Trotter that my mind traveled.  Rather, it was to what had happened on its margins, our personal interactions when the recorder wasn’t running.  It was an odd, at times infuriating, and ultimately heartening twenty-four hours, but it was none of those things for the right reasons.

I started writing this piece that fateful week in November, then set it aside; it didn’t feel right to share it then.  But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and enough time has elapsed that I wanted to now.  Having finished it, I wish I had posted it back in the fall, because at the end of the day, it’s a positive yarn:

A few months before Charlie Trotter shuttered his eponymous restaurant, I had been invited to interview him for this website and made the trip to Chicago to do it in person. He was granting a great many audiences in those months, and I had just sold a book project about his generation of chefs and had been meaning to ring him up anyway, and to visit the restaurant before it served its last supper.  Nevertheless, I was a bit hesitant to invest time and money in the trip because he was the only chef who’d ever stood me up for an interview, albeit just a phoner.  I’d also had an uncomfortable encounter with him at the Bocuse d’Or tryouts in Orlando, Florida, in 2008. Nonetheless, having been repeatedly assured that a last-second cancellation — or, worse, a no-show — was out of the question, I bought a ticket and made a date via his publicist.

Part of the reason I decided to go was that I’d long been fascinated by what I referred to as the Two Trotters.  Even those who were close to him, or admired his gifts from afar, acknowledged or had heard that he could be difficult. This was not a secret in the industry. On the other hand, he was a chef of great passion (see clip below) and relevance; counted among his best friends two of the most amiable guys in the industry, Norman Van Aken and Emeril Lagasse; was relentlessly philanthropic; and many people who once cooked in his kitchen—Marcus Samuelsson and Graham Elliot Bowles to name just two–cherish their time with him as invaluable and formative.

My plan had been to have dinner at Trotter’s during my Chicago visit, and to interview the chef while in town.  By the time the trip came together, two chef friends from New York–one a peer of Trotters, one a contemporary of mine–had decided to come along for the ride.  When Trotter heard who would be joining me, he invited us to be his guests for lunch.  The plan, I was told, was that we’d dine at the restaurant and then the chef and I would spend the rest of the afternoon interviewing at his home around the corner.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Chicago that I realized Charlie Trotter’s wasn’t open for lunch.  I called the publicist, who explained to me that we’d be dining in the kitchen.  This was just hours before our lunch, so I also took the opportunity to assuage my lingering doubts and re-confirm that the interview was on.  Etched in stone, I was told.

It was an insanely generous meal at the famous kitchen table.  Each chef de partie cooked a dish for us, personally presenting it.  Veteran sommelier Larry Stone, back in his old stomping grounds for the final summer, was also on hand.  Trotter himself joined us for a spell, sitting at the table’s fourth chair, then disappeared.  It was a splendid, marvelous time, almost surreal in both setting and service.

It was after lunch that things got strange: The three of us were led on a tour of the wine cellars, then ushered to the front door.

“Is Chef meeting me here, or at his home?” I asked.

None of the be-suited staff knew what I was talking about.  I explained about the interview.

“He’s going to call you on your cellphone,” somebody bluffed.

“He doesn’t have my number,” I said, gradually realizing that history was repeating itself and that I was about to be stood up once again.

A lengthy, awkward silence followed.  Not wanting to shatter the halo of our lunch, I said goodbye and left.  Outside, I called Trotter’s publicist and explained the situation.  She was shocked, and hung up with me to try, fruitlessly, to find him.  I told my friends to push off and that I’d meet them for dinner, then called the publicist, told her — among other things — that I was going to plant myself on a bench in a nearby park and not move until I heard from somebody.

And there I sat, in a suit and tie. In the June sun. For two hours.  Periodically, the publicist called to update me:  Nobody could find Trotter, not even his wife.

Finally, my phone rang.  A private caller.  I answered it.

“Andrew, it’s Charlie,” came the voice on the other end, excited and happy…. 

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Amuse-Book: Gramercy, via Aspen

Gramercy Tavern was Born at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen. Tom Colicchio Remembers.

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Tom Colicchio (photo courtesy Craft Restaurants)

[Welcome to a new feature I’m introducing here on Toqueland: Amuse-Book.  Basically these are a quick way for me to share a nugget from interviews from the book research trail that seem especially timely or relevant and that I don’t want to sit on until publication day. – AF]

NEW YORK, NY – I had the chance to spend a few hours interviewing Tom Colicchio yesterday. It was a far-ranging conversation that turned up a timely tidbit for this day, on which Food & Wine Magazine announces its Best New Chefs for 2014, and fetes them at a party in New York City tonight:  Gramercy Tavern began life at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen.

As Tom tells the story:

“In 1991, I got a phone call saying, You’re going to be a Best New Chef.”

Was it a big deal?

“Oh, yeah.  It was one of the big [four]:  Getting reviewed in the Times, getting reviewed in New York Magazine, Food & Wine Best New Chef, and the Beard Awards.  These were all good things.  You checked the boxes.”

[Note: For Toqueland’s thoughts about the early importance of Best New Chefs, posted at the time of the 2010 inductions, click here.]

“It was the same year we got three stars [at Mondrian restaurant, from the New York Times].  They announced it in Aspen then; it wasn’t the same as it is now … so you had to keep your mouth shut until you got to Aspen.

“I remember the dish I did [in Aspen]; in fact, I’m cooking Tuesday, so I’m doing the same dish Tuesday that I did in Aspen:  a squab dish with soubise … I had ramps then– there are no ramps yet, so I’m doing baby leeks tomorrow – pickled chanterelles, honey-glazed onions. So it’s essentially the same dish I did then.

“It was great.  This was awesome stuff.  I remember going there.  I brought Kerry [Heffernan, his sous chef at Mondrian] with me.  And another chef named Jeff Perry, who was a sous chef at Mondrian, and it was, like, ‘road trip.’”

Those were heady days for Tom.  In addition to being named a Best New Chef, his three stars from the New York Times came at a time when only about a dozen restaurants could claim that distinction.

But the truth was that Mondrian was under-performing, and Colicchio was beginning to think about shutting it down.

“In 1991, Michael Romano [of Union Square Cafe] won Best New Chef so I had met Danny [Meyer] there.  Plus he’d been coming to the restaurant, so I knew him there, but spent more time with him in Aspen.  In 1992, I went back and I was having lunch with Danny [in Aspen].  I said, ‘Danny, in about a month you’re going to hear I’m closing Mondrian.’

“He said, ‘Why are you telling me?’ I said, ‘Well, maybe we should do something together.’… 

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The Boss

In A Chef-Centric Age, Restaurateur Drew Nieporent Has Stayed as Famous as His Toques

[Welcome to the second in a series of monthly symbiotic posts I’m presenting in partnership with Eater New York under the Kitchen Time Machine banner.  Read my two-part interview with Drew Nieporent over there. – A.F.]

Drew Nieporent, Tribeca Grill, February 28, 2014 ( © 2014, Table 12 Productions, Inc)

NEW YORK, NY — A former employee of Drew Nieporent once told me that, in his opinion, the restaurateur broke things off with David Bouley at Montrachet, in part, to assert his independence. This was in 1986. Ten years prior, owners were king. But things had changed: chefs—mostly anonymous  just a decade earlier—were dominating the limelight.

I asked Nieporent about the comment in a recent book interview. Had that indeed been a motivation, to make it clear that it was his joint at the end of the day and that, regardless of the consequences, he wouldn’t subordinate himself to a chef, even one of the best and most exciting ones in the country?

He thought about the question for a moment, looked me straight in the eye, and said, simply and emphatically:  “Yeah.”

Drew’s been at it for a while: He graduated Cornell University’s School of Hotel Management in 1977 then worked on cruise ships and at such New York hotspots as Maxwell’s Plum and Tavern on the Green before opening Montrachet in 1985. His company, Myriad Restaurant Group, has launched more than three dozen restaurants around the globe, among them Tribeca Grill, in partnership with Robert DeNiro, in 1990, and the first Nobu, with Nobu Matsuhisa and DeNiro, in 1994.  (The latter has, of course, spawned a worldwide restaurant collection.)

In our Kitchen Time Machine interview over on Eater, Drew insists that he has always put the chef front and center, but he’s also, over the years—whether intentionally or not—created businesses that were in some regard, chef-proof; of them all, only Nobu bears the head whisk’s name on the awning or shingle, although he ultimately decided that Corton wouldn’t be Corton without Paul Liebrandt.

Many of the restaurants launched by Myriad have come and gone but the honor roll of chefs who have passed through its kitchens is extraordinary:  In the wake of Bouley, Montrachet was run by Debra Ponzek and, later, Harold Moore.  Then, when the space became Corton, it was the home of Paul Liebrandt’s career resurrection. Don Pintabona lorded over Tribeca Grill for many years.  Traci Des Jardins ran Rubicon in San Francisco.  Pat Williams helmed the hearth at City Wine & Cigar and Berkeley Bar & Grill.  The list goes on and on, and when you factor in now-famous chefs who did a turn on the line in those restaurants, the number multiplies exponentially.

And, yet, nearly thirty years after Montrachet served its first meal, Drew has managed to keep his name and punim in the limelight as much as any of those who have run or worked in his kitchens…. 

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Kitchen Time Machine: Jonathan Waxman, Part 2

The Chef Discusses American Food Pioneers, the Perils of Celebrity, and the Camaraderie of Chefs

Jonathan Waxman, Yosemite National Park, January 2013. (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

Jonathan Waxman, Yosemite National Park, January 2013. (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

In case you missed it over on Eater, Part 2 of my interview with Jonathan Waxman–the first in a series of conversations with iconic New York City food personalities–was posted earlier today.  In it, Waxman discusses the changing nature of the relationship between chefs and the media, how he “got street cred without earning it,” and reveals an unlikely  guardian angel from his early days in Manhattan.  (In part 1 of the interview, Waxman discussed the history of Barbuto restaurant on the occasion of its Tenth Anniversary.) Please click over and have a look.

Andrew

 

Milestones: Beard Papa

On the Occasion of Barbuto’s Tenth Anniversary, a Few Thoughts about Jonathan Waxman

[Note: This is the first in a series of symbiotic pieces I’ll be posting with Eater as I round the homestretch on my forthcoming book about the American chefs and restaurants of the 70s and 80s, due out from Dan Halpern’s Ecco Press in 2015. Periodically, Eater will feature an interview between me and a seminal figure from the era under the banner Kitchen Time Machine (click over to Eater to read my interview with Jonathan Waxman), and Toqueland will feature a complementary sister post. If you’re visiting for the first time, please consider signing up for a (free) email subscription to Toqueland, following us on Twitter, and/or “liking” us on Facebook. - A.F.]

Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, and Mark Vetri at the first of three nights celebrating Barbuto's 10th Anniversary.  Monday, February 10, 2014.

Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, and Marc Vetri at the first of three nights celebrating Barbuto’s 10th Anniversary. Monday, February 10, 2014.  (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

NEW YORK, NY — The first time I met Jonathan Waxman was at Washington Park, his long departed restaurant on lower Fifth Avenue.  I was working on a cookbook with Gotham Bar and Grill’s Alfred Portale and, as was customary for us, we’d grab a bite somewhere near Gotham after we finished the evening’s interviewing.

As soon as we were seated, Jonathan approached our table and visited with Alfred for a minute. Amidst the bustle of the dining room, he exhibited a singular, chill demeanor befitting his California roots. He seemed to be operating on his own rhythm rather than that of the room, and the city, around him, a stark contrast to the wound-up personalities that usually materialized at the table when we were out in Manhattan.

“You in for dinner,” Jonathan asked.  “Or –”

Alfred was expert at cutting off the possibility of an unwanted feast, always a possibility for a chef of his stature.  “We’re just looking for a bite.”

“A snack?” said Jonathan.

“Exactly.”

Jonathan swept up our menus with an impish smile that I knew meant a mere snack was out of the question, then moseyed away.  Minutes later came two identical plates bearing reddish rectangles of rib-eye steak, sauteed escarole, and golden roasted potato coins.

Two things struck me about that evening.  First, of course, was the food.  It was as simple as can be, but I can still picture, smell, and taste it today.  Simplicity has always been a hallmark of Jonathan’s style, but of course it’s harder to attain than most people realize, which is why his chicken, a version of which was first introduced at Michael’s restaurant in Santa Monica (that’s a young Jonathan in the upper left corner of the black and white picture in the margin of this webpage) remains a standout more than thirty years later.

The other thing that lodged in my memory was the image of Jonathan mingling along the bar, hugging and kissing more than a dozen patrons.

“What’s up with all the people at the bar?” I asked Alfred.

“That’s Jonathan,” he said.  “Those are friends of his.”

All of them?”

“Yes,” said Alfred.  “He stays in touch with people.  It’s admirable.”

Jonathan’s latest restaurant, Barbuto, turns ten today.  When it first opened, nobody quite knew what to make of it.  Jonathan had wandered a bit after his wildly successful runs at Michael’s and Jams in the 1980s, then emerged with this place, the name of which means “beard” in Italian, a nod to the style of food and to the fact that Waxman and his business partner, Fabrizio Ferri, both sport facial hair. It seemed like a bit of a career afterthought at the time: it didn’t quite make sense that Waxman was cooking Italian, and the location was in the way West Village, across the street from Tortilla Flats.  (All of this is discussed in my recent interview with him.)  But it built slowly over time, and has developed a loyal following, including a number of chefs and industry figures, both local and long distance. On various evenings there I’ve sighted everybody from Ruth Reichl to LA’s John Shook, of Animal and Son of a Gun. (Of course, Jonathan’s 2010 stint on Top Chef Masters didn’t hurt the cause.)… 

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Confessions of a Closet Californian

Falling in Love with the State I’m Supposed to Hate

Golden Gate Bridge © Rich Niewiroski Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

BROOKLYN, NY — To be a New Yorker means many things, and one of them is to despise California. That predisposition comes with the territory. It’s not enough to love our concrete canyons, clogged sidewalks, and cutthroat pace–one must also disdain the sunny, happy way of life on the other side of the republic. I mean, the nerve of those people to thrive on all fronts without having to endure the obstacles and obscenities that hurtle our way like a never-ending meteor shower.

Well, as longtime readers know, I’ve been researching a book about the American chefs of the 70s and 80s. Much of the interviewing has happened right here in my home base of New York City, but my attentions have been equally allocated to The Golden State. And, after several recent visits, this New Yorker has a confession to make: I love California.

It shouldn’t come as a shock. I was caught at a vulnerable moment. This month begins my 29th year in the Big Apple. It’s a fun and rewarding existence, but I’d still characterize myself as a striver. The inconveniences and the unkindness of strangers wear on me in ways they never used to. In 2009, we moved to Brooklyn for a spacious duplex and access to an above-average public school, and with twin kids in their tenth year, and all that entails, life can be Sisyphean.

And so, my seduction by the West Coast has been swift.

It began with the people. California interviews have been unexpectedly warm and social affairs.  Before I know it, drinks have been poured, or meals are being shared, sometimes cooked by the chef-interviewee’s own hand. Extra time, follow-ups, and other support have been excitedly offered. Appointments that were booked with assistants end with the revealing of private cell phone numbers and email addresses.  More than a few people, strangers at the outset, have hugged me tightly as we said goodbye. (Of course, many of the same things happen in New York City, but I’ve known people here for 20 years.)

Joachim Splichal, following an interview at his home.

Patina Restaurant Group’s Joachim Splichal, following an interview at his home.

The tone was set over an October lunch in Los Angeles with restaurateur Marvin Zeidler, outside at his Brentwood Cafe.  Not only did Marvin make the time to sit down, but he generously provided a list of contact information for key historical figures he thought I should meet. Over two weeks split between Southern and Northern California, and two subsequent visits in November and December, more than 40 chefs and restaurateurs followed suit.  Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger invited me to raid their vault of press clippings and photographs;  Mark Franz of Farallon and Waterbar encored a decadent lunch with a sit down at his home that lasted for hours;Valentino‘s Piero Selvaggio arrived at our second sit-down with a stack of books and magazines he thought might help me, personal keepsakes that he’d amassed  over the years. “Keep them,” he said, shoving the mountain of paper my way. Joachim Splichal, John Sedlar, Nancy Silverton, Ken Frank, Cindy Pawlcyn and many others–none of whom I’d met before– extended and/or shared of themselves in ways that I will expand on in a coming post of highlights from the research trail.

"Keep them." Piero Selvaggio, outside his Valentino restaurant.

“Keep them.” Piero Selvaggio, outside his Valentino restaurant.

It hasn’t just been the toques. Random characters, as if engaged in a Truman Show-worthy conspiracy, continued to woo me Westward. Chief among these was the hirsute barista at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco’s Mint Plaza who suggested their New Orleans blend to me. (It’s made with chicory, and a little sugar, and was engineered to be served over ice.)  I sipped it, nodded my approval, and stayed in line to pay. He turned to the next customer, then back toward me: “You know what, man?” he said. “It’s on me today.”

“What did I do to deserve this?” I asked.

“I just feel like it,” he shrugged, then smiled brightly and added, “Cheers!”

To put it mildly, things like that do not happen in New York City…. 

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The Ultimate Chef Wear

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 Hazen's La Côte Basque jacket

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.

– Andrew