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March 27, 2014

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

  • Buvette, the book, debuts today, April 22, 2014.
  • BON VOYAGE - Boulud Sud' Executive Chef Travis Swikard
  • ENZO AND ELVIS - My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter
  • B 6745
  • NYT-Magazine-Food-Issue-Flynn-McGarry
  • THE BOSS - In a Chef-Centric Age, Restaurateur Drew Nieporent Has Stayed as Famous as His Toques

Toqueland Wire

    January 18, 2012

    Hotel California

    Notes from Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee, Part 1

    Sean Baker introduces himself to Chefs' Holidays attendees. (photo by Jessica Abdo, courtesy Ahwahnee Hotel)

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, JANUARY 17, 2011—It’s not right to generalize but I’ve long felt that it’s a victim-less crime when you do so in a positive way, like when you say that you love Italians (which I do) or Australians (guilty, again) or that you never met a meanie from Seattle (seriously, the CEOs in that city will give you a lift to the airport).

    I know too much about the cooking trade to believe for a second that all Northern California chefs are nice guys and gals, but the three I’ve been with since Sunday night—Sean Baker, Peter Chastain, and Emily Luchetti—tempt me toward that conclusion nonetheless. The four of us just wrapped up Session 3 of Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee, a magnificent hotel in Yosemite National Park, where the chefs conducted cooking demos and I acted as moderator and host.

    Having arrived in San Francisco on Saturday, the “work week” (yeah, right) began for me on Sunday when Luchetti, executive pastry chef of Farallon and Waterbar, picked me up at the Huntington Hotel, perched high atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill. Emily and I had never met before, but she was kind enough to give me a lift from the city up to Yosemite.

    The four-hour drive passed remarkably quickly. Not only was it a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm day, but we had the benefit of being total strangers. We discussed everything from the restaurant scene in our respective cities to writing books (Emily has penned six) to the Beard Foundation (Emily recently served on the board; I was married at the Beard House in Manhattan) to the French Culinary Institute (she’s currently a dean; I studied there).

    Emily was also kind enough to consent to a lengthy interview in which we discussed everything from the pastry arts in general to her individual career path; she walked me through the formative days of Stars restaurant, one of the most important American dining establishments of the past 40 years, the place where Jeremiah Tower reached full flight and became one of our first celebrity chefs. Emily was part of the opening team of Stars as a line cook, but tired of the savory slog, and with Tower’s support, began transitioning to pastry, eventually becoming executive pastry chef.  Wasn’t it nice of Jeremiah to encourage such a drastic change? Expand

    Talking Meat, Eating Veggies, at Nopa Restaurant

    Jimmy Bradley, left, and I at Nopa restaurant.

    When I relaunched this site a few days ago, one of the things I wanted to do was give you a seat at the table for some hang time with chefs, which inevitably produces something worth sharing, whether it be a nugget of industry insight, or simply a war story, anecdote, or memorable quip.

    So, here’s the first: I spent Saturday in San Francisco with my good pal Jimmy Bradley, chef-owner of The Red Cat and The Harrison in New York City. During an evening divided between drinks at the Hotel Huntington bar and dinner at Nopa restaurant (both with a civilian friend along for the ride) we lapsed into a running discussion of the distinct challenge of cooking meat to its proper doneness, and the madness to which it can drive toques.

    Can’t remember how or why it came up, but Jimmy told the story of how, years ago, while working the sauté station at a midtown Manhattan restaurant, he tried to warn the kid on the meat station next to him that he had been cooking various cuts to the wrong degree of doneness all night long.

    And how did Jimmy, standing several feet away, know this?

    “As with anything that’s blue collar and repetitive in nature, you learn things over the years,” he said. “Meat starts out red and ends up gray; in between, there are shades of both, and of brown.” But the answer goes beyond that: Most seasoned chefs will tell you they can just look at a piece of meat and tell what doneness it is, or at a piece of fish and know if it’s cooked through or not, but none can quite put words to what they see, beyond color cues, that reveals this; it’s an intuition that must be earned personally.

    Anyway, the guy didn’t heed Jimmy’s warning, and put up three pieces of overcooked filet mignon, their shortcomings as apparent to the chef as they had been to Jimmy. Already reeling from the mounting pressure of an intense service, the chef went ballistic, chucking piece after piece of meat right at the cook’s head.

    This, in turn, reminded me of a story, witnessed firsthand while trailing in a South Beach, Miami, restaurant many years ago, that involved a customer who couldn’t get no satisfaction with a rack of lamb. After it had been sent out to the dining room, a waiter returned the lamb to the kitchen, reporting that the guest wanted it more well done. Though slammed, the meat cook was happy to comply, slipped it under the salamander (broiler) for a bit, and sent it back out. Expand

    Published in Dispatches, Restaurants

    In the First Post of a New Recurring Feature, the Chef of Perilla and Kin Shop Shares his Favorite Ingredients, and Why They Make the Cut… 

    Harold Dieterle (photo courtesy Perilla)

    Harold Dieterle and I are in the early, kicking-it-around-in-coffee-shops stage of conceiving a book project that we hope to write together in the near future.  (Read a little about our backstory here). Originally, Harold wanted to do a book about Thai food, but we recently decided to write a more general cookbook putting forth the style of food he serves up at Perilla, which draws on American, Thai, Italian, and other influences… in other words, his own personal brand of that thing we desperately need a new name for: contemporary American cuisine.

    The challenge at this stage of the process is coming up with what I refer to as the “bridge” between what home cooks do and what chefs do. One exercise I use to help get to the core of what a chef is all about on the plate is to ask him or her to name ten favorite ingredients and explain the choices. (Writing this post, it occurred to me that this is a revealing thing to do with any chef, so I’ll be sharing more Toqueland Ten interviews soon, and indefinitely.)

    Herewith, the inaugural list, from Harold Dieterle:

    1. SALT. Hadn’t heard this one before, and at Number 1, no less. Of course, salt might be the most important ingredient, but a favorite? Not only does Harold appreciate salt (“It’s what it all starts with,” he said.), but he enjoys using different salts for different purposes: Kosher salt on meat; fine sea salt on roasted fish; coarse sea salt on raw fish, and so on. He also has a special fondness for the ceremony of presenting whole roasted fish in a salt crust to a table of guests, and the cracking and portioning that follows.

    2. CRAB. “When I was a kid on Long Island, we used to go crabbing,” says Harold. “On vacation, my parents would pick out restaurants based on which ones had crab on the menu. They always made me order from the kids’ menu in our hometown, but on vacation, they insisted I treat myself to the adult crab dishes. There’s just not another protein that makes me so happy.”  His favorite varieties, in order of preference: (i) King, (ii) Dungeness, (iii) A tie: Blue and Snow, (iv) Stone, and (v) Peekytoe. Expand

    Why This Joint is Called Toqueland

    For those who have inquired, this is a toque:

    Image by Jean Victor Balin (via creativecommons.org)

     

    ’nuff said!

    - Andrew

     

     

    Published in About Toqueland

    Paul Liebrandt Revamps His Legendary Apple-Wasabi Palate Cleanser

    “Almost everybody who ate that little morsel thought it was the best thing they ever tasted.”

    -  Former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes, in the documentary A Matter of Taste: Paul Liebrandt

    New Take on a Classic: Apple-Wasabi 2012

    Anybody who’s followed Paul Liebrandt from his earliest days in New York will be familiar with the dish to which William Grimes refers in the above-quoted snippet from the recent HBO documentary.

    During his brief tenure at Atlas restaurant, on Manhattan’s Central Park South, from late-summer 2000 until fall 2001, Paul introduced what might be the only “signature” palate cleanser in the annals of modern cuisine: his Apple-Wasabi Sorbet.

    The genesis of the sorbet is described in detail in the book Paul and I are writing. (You can read a little about it at the top of this site’s book page.) Hailing as he did from the three-star dining temples of Europe, Paul found the notion of including a palate-cleansing sorbet on the menu appealing, but wanted to take it to the next level. For the sample chapter that was included in our book proposal, we penned a description of its genesis, in Paul’s voice, of course:

    “It was a telling exercise in developing a dish instinctually that began with a combination that intrigued me: crisp, tart green apple and icy, hot wasabi. It was a satisfying sorbet, but I wanted it to have more of a presence in the meal, to linger on the palate. So I tuned to Moulin de Peneton olive oil from Provence (it actually has a slight hint of banana, what I think of as a greenness), and finished it off with a grain of Maldon sea salt, perched atop the sorbet like an ice flake. By the time the dish debuted on the menu, I had the idea of waiters finishing it at the table with a drizzle of the oil.”

    For all of the attention it received at Atlas, once he left that restaurant, Paul never served the sorbet again. Not at Papillon, which made perfect sense. Not at Gilt, where it would have been right at home. And not at Corton. Until now. Expand

    Michael White Remembers His First Days in Italy, Tastes a New Risotto, and Welcomes a Surprise Guest … Just Another Afternoon at Marea

    Interviewing Michael White, left, in the dining room at Marea. (photo by Nick Solares)

    I often lie, to myself as well as others, that my least favorite place to meet with chefs is in their own restaurants, because of all the distractions. But the truth is that, while it might not be the most productive venue, I actually love working in restaurants. Love breaking one of the hospitality world’s many fourth walls by moving the pre-set silverware and glasses to the next table. Love the ready availability of food and drink. And, as a writer spends most of his time alone, I love the presence of all the people; the more the merrier.

    So, it should come as no surprise that while I always request an office meeting with Michael White (you can read a little about our project on this site’s book page) for the privacy and productivity it affords us, I secretly prefer working in one of his restaurants. Which is good, because Michael has three of them in Manhattan alone, and likes to be in them as often as possible.  When we meet at one of them, almost always between lunch and dinner service, the sessions are like that box of chocolates that so obsessed Forrest Gump: I never know what I’m going to get—Managers come and go seeking answers and approvals; Michael’s aide-de-camp and head of media relations for Altamarea Group, Olivia Young, is often at the next table working on an Apple store’s worth of mobile devices and laptops; and then there’s Michael’s cellphone, and mine. We always get our work done, but don’t necessarily take the most direct path from A to B.

    Case in point: Tuesday’s working session. I arrived at Marea around 2pm to find Michael wrapping up an impromptu visit with his pal, photographer Nick Solares. I’d heard a lot about Nick, but never met him, so it was great to make his army-jacketed, British-accented acquaintance. And he was such a friendly guy that I felt no compunction about hitting him up for a photo of me and Michael working, which he was only too happy to stick around and shoot. (That’s his shot up at the top of this post; you can see more of Nick’s work at his site.)

    And so, we cleared our table, I busted out my laptop, and with Nick circling us and clicking away like a war correspondent, we got ready to pick up our interview where we’d left off the other day…

    But just then, out of the kitchen came chef de cuisine Jared Gadbaw, who set down before us a wide, shiny bowl of wet, red-tinged risotto and a Tupperware container full of plastic spoons. This only means one thing, no matter what restaurant you’re in: the chef de cuisine, or in some cases a sous chef or executive sous, is about to have the executive chef taste a new dish, or a rejiggered old one, or maybe samples of meat or fish from possible new purveyors that have been cooked up for evaluation. Expand

    Published in Michael White, Writing Life

    We’re Going Back on the Air, Hopefully for the Last Time

    image by J Portugall, via creativecommons.org

     

    Toqueland is back!

    That’s right, I’m putting the key in the ignition, hoping the engine turns over and that this baby can still run the way it did for a brief while in the winter and spring of 2010…

    Actually, I’m hoping the site will run a whole lot better, with more posts and even more compelling content.  Here’s where I went and how things’ll be different this time around:

    Back when Toqueland first sprang into existence, I was full of optimism about how often I could crank out magazine-feature-length pieces while also penning a bunch of books.  What can I tell you?  I was carried away by my own enthusiasm.  After a while, I realized I couldn’t keep it up and let the site quietly lapse into a vegetative state, although I never took it down.

    In the intervening year and a half, a number of things occurred to me about how the site might be different—both more manageable for me and also, perhaps, more interesting for you. Expand

    Published in About Toqueland

    Meet Me in Person at the Ahwahnee Hotel, DeGustibus, and ICE

    I’ve got a variety of personal appearances and the like scheduled in the coming months and wanted to let you know about them.

    Courtesy DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite

     

    CHEFS HOLIDAYS®

    FROM JANUARY 15 TO JANUARY20, I’ll be hosting two sessions of the Ahwahnee Hotel’s Chefs’ Holidays® program.  The magnificent Yosemite National Park hotel (pictured above) runs this program every January, gathering three chefs for each two-and-a-half-day session and inviting a writer or editor like myself to be the master of ceremonies (what I call the Mister Roarke figure), moderating the demos and performing other sociable functions.  The first session (January 15 to 18) will feature cooking demos by a trio of California chefs: Peter Chastain of Prima in Walnut Creek (Chastain will also cook a gala dinner on the last night of the session); Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Waterbar in San Francisco; and Sean Baker of Gather in Berkeley.  The second session (January 18 to 20) will feature Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas (who will serve a gala dinner on the last night), Jesse Cool of Flea Street Market in Menlo Park, CA; and Jimmy Bradley, of NYC’s The Red Cat and The Harrison, with whom I’ll be traveling and dining on the way to and from the left coast… if I have anything left in the tank at the end of each day, I’ll be posting daily from the road.

    (Fun fact:  I just learned while reading the Steve Jobs biography that Jobs was married at the Ahwahnee.  This will hopefully supplant my previous historical tidbit about the place: the set designers of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining modeled the lobby of the Overlook Hotel on its lobby.)

    To learn more about this program, or book a visit (think there’s still room), check out the event’s page at the Ahwahnee’s website. Expand

    Published in Appearances

    The Author of BEATEN, SEARED AND SAUCED Reflects on Culinary School, First-Time Authorship, and the Vagaries of Age

    Jonathan Dixon signed up for the Culinary Institute of America at age 38, and while toughing out his education there, managed to keep enough notes about the experience to write an insightful and revealing book, Beaten, Seared and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America (Clarkson Potter) that debuted last year. While he certainly has a reverence for good food and cooking, I especially enjoyed Jonathan’s book for its avoidance of the over-romanticized clichés that attach to a lot of memoirs about the culinary arts in general and the learning process in particular. (Case in point: his hilarious recounting of a speech about Carrot Peeling Aptitude; don’t let me spoil it for you, just get the book and enjoy.)

    Jonathan and I recently sat down at the bar at Marea to catch up over lunch and talk about cooking school and the writing life.

     

    Author Jonathan Dixon, photo by Elizabeth Albert

    TOQUELAND:  Here we are at Marea, one of the best restaurants in the city by most people’s estimation. What’s the dining experience like for you now that you’ve been through cooking school and worked in a professional kitchen, as opposed to when you were just a normal diner?

    DIXON: It’s a constant evaluation. Every dish you’re tasting you’re unconsciously giving it a grade in your head.  A friend of mine who’s a musician said to me that he has lost the ability to listen to music without thinking about what he can steal. I’ve got a little bit of that mentality whenever I eat.

    TOQUELAND: So if I ask your totally uncensored response to the meal we just had?

    DIXON: I thought it was pretty great, especially the grilled octopus. Every time I’ve had octopus in my life, which is probably a dozen or so, it’s pretty wretched, and I keep trying it hoping it will reveal its mystery to me at some point. Today it revealed itself.

    TOQUELAND: When I used to work in the film business, I felt that a really good movie was one that could make me stop wondering how they got a particular shot, or how much work went into a set up, or why the script was so weak, and I could become a moviegoer again.  Are you ever able to just be a diner in a restaurant, or is that something you’ve said goodbye to?

    DIXON: This is going to be the worst, clichéd answer, but when I eat my mother’s food, I don’t have any critical response.

    TOQUELAND: You went to the Culinary Institute of America at age 38.  What do you think was better for you than it would have been in your late teens or early twenties?

    When you’re 18 and you show up there… for a lot of kids this is their college experience and they wanted to drink, get high, get laid.  Studying kind of took something of a second place for a lot of them.  I’ve done all that. I’ve had my college experience.  When I was at the CIA I really wanted to learn and I was much more serious and single-minded about getting the education.

    TOQUELAND: What was worse? Expand

    Published in Interviews

    What We Saw, and Learned, in Hyde Park This Weekend

    [The Bocuse d'Or USA selects its 2013 team at the end of January; here's a look back at some highlights of our coverage of the 2010 team trials; this piece was originally published on February 8, 2010.]

    A platter is paraded before the judges at the CIA on February 6, 2010. (photo copyright Andrew Friedman)

    It was a successful weekend for the Bocuse d’Or USA at the Culinary Institute of America.  Team USA was selected; chef demos, panel discussions and book signings were packed; and great food was served.  Herewith, a few observations and reflections on the happenings:

    The Bocuse d’Or USA Has Cause for Optimism.  Journalists don’t get to taste the food at the Bocuse d’Or (see below for more on this), but the thing that stands out to me above all else this weekend is how very Bocuse d’Or-appropriate Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent’s food (his meat dish is pictured to the right) looked.  With a year to revise, tweak, hone, and practice for the Main Event in Lyon, I truly believe the US has a shot at the podium with Kent and his commis Tom Allan at the rudder.  Moreover, these guys are personally psyched to make a go of it, and the value of that cannot be overstated.

     

    Team EMP at the Bocuse d'Or USA:Commis Tom Allan, EMP General Manager Will Guidara, Bocuse d'Or USA champ James Kent, and EMP Exec Chef Daniel Humm (photo credit: Andrew Friedman)

    Similarly, I was impressed that, on the whole, the candidates food looked much more Bocuse-appropriate than did most of the food dished out by candidates at the 2008 Bocuse d’Or USA at Epcot.  Generally speaking, there was more “work” on the individual garnishes and they were scaled down and executed with more finesse.  (Flip side: a number of judges told me that some of the dishes didn’t taste as good as they looked.) There’s also clearly a growing pool of talent interested in investing the time and energy it takes to pursue this culinary holy grail: with chef-candidates on hand who work or have worked at 11 Madison Park, The Modern, Charlie Trotter’s, and Daniel, plus a number of candidates who had competed in either the Bocuse d’Or USA or American Culinary Federation events in the past, it was a good showing.  It was also nice to see past competitors such as Hung Hyung and Kevin Sbraga in the house to lend their support. Expand

    Published in Bocuse d'Or, Knives at Dawn
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