If Gourmet Magazine ever invites you to a party–and I’m still not convinced Gourmet Magazine’s ever invited ME to a party, they must think I’m someone else–three words of advice: go go go!
First comes the fancy cardboard invitation in an envelope with erotic Chinese drawings; then there’s the event itself at the new Lower East Side restaurant Shang with a velvet rope and a walkie-talkie crew with clipboards checking for your name on a list. Then there’s the crowd–where to begin? In one corner, Tom Colicchio, in another corner, Calvin Trillin. Last night alone I spotted: David Chang, Daniel Boulud, Marco Canora, Rocco DiSpirit. Then I had a few celebrity chef encounters of my own, which I’ll tell you about after the jump.
Celebrity Encounter #1
Craig and I were there a bit on the early side (the event started at 9; the big-wigs didn’t roll in until 11) but we walked in anyway because we were so hungry. After grabbing our first complimentary cocktails of the night (me: champagne; Craig: some cucumber drink) we stood in a corner of the James Bond-like room and searched eagerly for food. Finally a man came around with a tray which slowly snaked its way toward us. By the time it got within our reach, there were only two bites left on it and I saw two blonde women make their move as we began to make our move. Realizing what was happening, the blonde women gestured for us to take the last two bites but being the gentleman that I am I said, “No, please, you take it.”
“Thank you,” said a familiar voice and it was only when she reached for the food did I realize who I’d just given up my hors d’ourves to: Sarah Moulton, the woman responsible for my entire food career!
I’m not exaggerating: those of you who read my book know that five years ago I was a miserable law student who’d come home from school every day, unsure of my life, crashing on the couch in front of the TV. There was no indication, at this point, that food would even be on my radar–I came from a non-cooking family that ate out every night–but soon I discovered the Food Network and, more specifically, Sarah Moulton.
First I found Sarah soothing, and I’d just vegetate on the couch as she prepared whatever dish she was preparing and I’d find her methodical stirring and whisking and folding incredibly calming; so much so that all my law school worries floated away and I was in a happy place called Sarah Moultonland.
This, of course, had nothing to do with food; it was sort of like yoga. Then, at some point, she made something very specific–was it chili? Was it something she baked? That made me think: “Hmmm, maybe I could make that?”
And that was it. Soon, I was cooking up a storm and I’d fail and fail and fail and despair and think I’d never get good at it, but there was Sarah Moulton’s bright face each day encouraging me and eventually I started taking more risks, I bought more cookbooks, I watched more cooking shows and I started a little blog called The Amateur Gourmet. The rest is history.
Of course, I didn’t have a chance to tell her ALL that standing there at the Gourmet party. But I gave her a good synopsis and she was incredibly gracious and kind and I almost felt she would’ve talked to me for as long as I could keep talking, so I decided to release her from my fandom lest I enter Kathy Bates territory. Plus, Craig and I were still starving so we bid her adieu in search of more food.
Before I get into Celebrity Encounter #2, let me share some of the food with you. This food was really good. The chef, Susur Lee, is a celebrated chef from Toronto, Canada. His food is considered fusion food and he’s been hailed not just by Gourmet Magazine, but also Food & Wine. Restaurant World named his Toronto restaurant one of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants. So it’s a big deal that he’s opening in New York (though I don’t know how anyone will find the restaurant; it’s sort of hidden away on Orchard street, but I guess that’s on purpose?) Let me show you some of the food.
We started, at the Sarah Moulton end of the room, with the Spicy Braised Veal Cheeks, Olive Preserved Vegetable and Rice Porridge:
This was a serious dish; the kind of dish that makes you raise your eyebrow and say, “This guy’s not kidding around.” The veal cheeks were wonderfully tender and the rice porridge was elusive and comforting, sort of like polenta but more textured and, here, more flavorful.
Then there was this bite of foie gras:
Specifically: Foie Gras Mousse with Green Onion Pancakes and Huckleberry Jam.
At first, I avoided it because it looked so rich and intense but eventually I caved and it was as decadent and indulgent as a single bite of food can be. Craig had two, but I showed restraint and let that be my one. That makes me better than Craig.
These people aren’t food, but they quickly became our party friends–that’s Hugh Merwin of Gothamist Food (that link’ll take you to Hugh’s account of last night’s party) and his girlfriend Tejal Rao (who works for Gourmet.com):
With them, we tried one of the culinary highlights of the night: Singapore Slaw with Salted Apricot Dressing.
According to Hugh, this slaw had 19 different ingredients; and, indeed, it was so complex, so vivid, and refreshing, I could’ve eaten five of them. However, because I’m better than Craig, I only ate one.
Here’s a trio of some other bites: Garlic Shrimp with Soybean Crumb and Indian Tomato Jam; the foie gras; and Mexican Goat Cheese Tart, Black Olive, Red Pepper, Eggplant & Tomatillo:
My favorite bite of the night is one I don’t have a picture of: Caramelized Sable, Miso Mustard, Salmon Caviar and Rice Chip. I mean just that combination of items should give you a sense of how good it was; sweet, salty, and savory–if this is on the menu when Shang opens, definitely order it.
I stupidly passed on several opportunities to try the Curried Lamb Chop with Fried Banana, Carrot and Cardamom:
But Craig certainly didn’t. I had to stand there while he gnawed away at the bone, like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park.
And that concludes the food portion of our post. Now for our second celebrity encounter.
Celebrity Encounter #2
The other celebrity encounter was another one that caught me off-guard. I was turning a corner with Craig and right there, within arm’s reach, was Bobby Flay and his wife Stephani March. Bobby beckoned me over and, get this, he remembered my full name. He introduced me to his wife as, “Adam Roberts.” Isn’t that classy? Do you realize how many people he meets in a day, let alone a week? And he remembered my name from working with him twice on the FN Dish?
He’s a great guy–incredibly genuine and likable. It’s funny because when people ask me about Food Network celebs (and I’ve met them all!) people ask if Bobby’s a jerk and I always tell the truth: he’s the nicest one out of all of them. He takes the time to ask you about yourself, he’s genuinely curious about what you do, who you are, what you think. And the fact that he’s a world-class chef too only amplifies his charm. I am now the official president of the Bobby Flay Fan Club.
One More Bit
I have to point out, that later at the party, someone in a maroon jacket grabbed my arm. The second I saw his face I realized who it was: Mauro Maccioni, son of Sirio, and antagonist in my Le Cirque saga from two years ago. (For those who missed it, I wrote a post called, Only A Jerk Would Eat at Le Cirque.) Well, allow me cut myself a piece of humble pie: Mauro was incredibly kind and gracious, he treated me like an old friend and introduced me to his new chef, Craig Hopson. It’s the second time I’ve called someone classy in this post, but that to me is the definition of class: looking past old grudges and moving onward. Or maybe it’s just keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?
(Funny: a professional photographer, probably from Gourmet, took a picture of me, Craig, Mauro, Craig Hopson and Craig Hopson’s wife (or girlfriend?) If that picture surfaces, it’ll be pretty funny.)
* * * * *
And that, my friends, concludes our time at the Gourmet Magazine Preview of Susur Lee’s Shang. As you can tell, it was quite a party–the sort of event you don’t forget for a while. Thanks to Gourmet Magazine for having me, if it was me you really wanted. Are you sure you didn’t confuse my address with Jeffrey Steingarten’s?