Home at last to the beautiful gray cleveburg and have a moment to reflect on the 92nd St Y gathering, happily sold out.  I find doing that kind of event something of a nightmare—four microphones, a table, and 90 minutes of dead air I’m in charge of filling, intelligently and entertainingly while staring out at a sea of blackness, an event that’s more fun to be at than to do, I imagine.
    Happily I had three enormously articulate chefs to grill, as it were.  Tony’s agent had somehow slipped him some tranquilizers, fearing he’d offend the urbane upper east side crowd with his colorful metaphors that combine cooking and eating with sexual sadism and bestiality—in a good way!—but nevertheless diminish sales of the book we were promoting, How I Learned to Cook.  (I actually find the book better than the first, Don’t Try This At Home.  It’s equally entertaining, if not more so, but there’s also more useful information.  I had nothing to do with this book, and I recommended for all foodies who read non-fiction.)  So Tony remained docile (relative to, say, Tony at a vegan convention), Eric was enormously articulate though politically correct (remaining very quiet when the subject of Rocco came up—but as he’s said before, he doesn’t trash his colleagues in public, which is commendable, unlike the boney man in black beside him).
    I have scarcely a recollection of what was said—amateurgourmet was there and has some interesting remarks on rocco, and unexpectedly earnest ones at that.
    The impression that lingers for me is of Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, and simply how unlikely she is in this chef world, how contrary.  As Eric said, she’s kind of the anti-chef.  She has no pedigree, no mentor, no real training other than for the most part, 20 years of shitty restaurants and a standard horror-story catering history; she put down her own restaurant, there on the stage, in terms of saying she was way more critical of her restaurant than any critic could possibly be, she never went to France to stage in the Michelin stars, et cetera. And yet she’s created this very cool little restaurant downtown that is a favorite of chefs like tony and eric (tony would be filming for one of his shoGabriellews there later in the week, in fact). I never really knew what she was going to say, but it was sure to cut across the grain.  Even in photographs she’s looking the other way.

I’m eager to read her memoir, but that won’t be finished for some time yet.  Until then go to Prune.

I do recall most other events on the NY trip though (unlike Baltimore apparently—my wife read the below post and said “If you weren’t in Baltimore, pumpkin, you’ve got some splainin’ to do; I referred her to Jay’s apt comment!).  Great, great meal at Devi, on East 18th off Fifth; Indian food of enormous subtlety and expert craftsmanship; check out chef Suvir Saran in the video clip from the very interesting and no doubt growing restaurant site, savorynewyork.  A ho-hum meal at momofuko on 2nd—but only because we went at the wrong time, decent fast food but not what was expected; wait till after ten before heading there for more esoteric Korean fare.  And Ouest remains one of the few oases on the upper west side. 
    Eric invited Tony and me to lunch the day after the Y for what truly would be the highlight meal in this stellar group, and if I ever whine about the fate of the freelance writer, I can think of it. Tony noted upon being seated, both pleased and embarrassed, his number 19 status in the askmen.com’s 49 Men—whatever the hell it means.  I suppose it means that Tony has now taken to offering Rocco-like advice on how to decant a red wine (with candle!) to impress your babe.  Or perhaps it’s simply a reflection of his increasingly conventional lifestyle (at the 92nd Street event the feisty Italian said she had had enough of people telling her she ought to lay off the Krispy Kremes for a while and was setting the record straight).
    Eric had invited us to try out a relatively new Surf and Turf tasting menu at Le Bernardin—meat and fish in every course.  It was great to eat meat at Le Bernardin.   A lot of it.  A delicate white fish paired with Japanese waygu beef and pickled cabbage (the beef tasted as rich and fatty as foie gras), for instance, crispy pork belly with baby squids.  A really impressive menu.  If you’ve got Bernardin in your future, highly recommended.


16 Wonderful responses to “92nd Street and NYC”

  • Tana

    That Top 49 Men thing is funny. 60% of people wanted the #1 guy (and I ain’t namin’ names) to be rated higher.

    I’m glad you and Donna loved Dévi.

  • pigeonsht

    A prune memoir. oh christ. I knew it. I knew it when I read that worse then horrible, nonsensical, vapid, vapid, vapid, and yes vapid drivel she got published (how and why they would actually print it is beyond me) in the NYT magazine several months ago about the blind guy who came looking for a job. Jesus woman, stay in the kitchen. The editors of the mag that month must have had the same affliction. Cool, gritty, and female is an attractive image, she definitely gets enough press about her just being her but she obviously shouldnt be the one with the pen. besides, who the fuck cares?

  • kristin

    So Michael we know why you have learned to cook and made it your life pursuit to write about chef’s and cooking, and we know why Tony cooks or did cook. So what about Gabrielle and Eric? Why did they learn to cook?
    BTW, pigeon, I am looking forward to reading Gabrielle’s memiors too. As someone who is getting their first job in a kitchen in the next week, I am curious about how she made it as an untrained chef. Who knows, there could be hope for even me.

  • pigeonsht

    define “untrained” chef? she was a school teacher one day then a chef the next?

  • Jane Ridolfi

    Gabrielle maybe untrained in terms of not having attended culinary school but she grew up in the restaurant business, I believe in Lambertville NJ outside of New Hope…Her father had a restaurant and she and her sister worked there……and if you have passion for the kitchen you have hope!

  • kristin

    I do have a passion for it. The chef liked me because of this I think and because I have no prior experience which means I can be taught because I do not have the bias of working in other kitchens and have become set in my ways about doing things.
    Iam always curious about why people learn to cook and have such passion for it. I started late, as a teenager, and into my early twenties when I had a part time job and lived at home while going to school. I was expected to help do dinner at home since my mom worked and I discovered I was fairly good at it. Now does this mean I can cook in a professional kitchen? Dunno, that is what I will discover I hope. My passion for it though is because I grew up in a house where my ethinic identity was important and so was eating well. In Ohio it is not always easy to find good artisinal stuff, but where I am we still have the independent meat market, and a number of good ethinic markets to buy stuff so that makes it easier at times to be a little bit more adventuresome.
    Having Food and Wine around the house also helps that too, along with some good cookbooks.

  • bourdain

    I admire writers who tell unflattering stories about themselves. I particularly admire them when, like Gabrielle, they write better than I do on my best day.
    “Vapid, vapid…vapid”? I think not. Fine, well crafted, painful, self effacing, funny and real is more like it. The NYT magazine was hardly a fluke: Hamilton’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Food and Wine and elsewhere–and it’s always worth reading (whatever one’s opinions as to content). Her book was the subject of a fierce bidding war among major publishers of literary works (we’re not talking “Poor-Me” or “How-To” publishers either)that left both Ruhlman and yours truly choked with envy.
    “Cool, gritty and female” is NOT an “image” in this case. It’s the reality. One might well add “superbly talented, witheringly funny, smart-as-all-hell” and “working mother/owner of a successful restaurant” to that. BTW: Me, Ripert and Scott Bryan had dinner at Prune the other night and found it–as always, a wonderful antidote to every other restaurant in NYC.
    Once in a while, I may not like “what” a writer has to say. I may not even like (as with the imaginary JT Leroy) “who” is saying it. I try not to let that “blind” me to the virtues of their writing.

  • Jeff

    I think there are a lot of great chefs that became great through experience, and not through a formal culinary education. Look at Rick Tramonto of Chicago’s Tru restaurant. He was a high school dropout who never went to culinary school, yet is regarded as one of the top chefs in the Midwest, if not the country. The same is true of his business partner (and ex-wife), Gale Gand who was actually an art student before turning to cooking.

    I suppose when you look at it, there probably is nothing you learn in culinary school that you couldn’t learn through experience at restaurants and catering gigs. It may take longer because you won’t get the broad range of topics and types of cooking that you can cram into a culinary school education, but is there really anything that cooking school chefs can teach you that a good chef in a restaurant setting couldn’t? Then again my cooking experience included stints at McDonald’s, Ponderosa, and cooking at the dorm cafeteria in college, so what do I know?

  • pigeon

    Prune is one of those restaurants that I can’t get enough of, and if she ever takes the sweetbreads with bacon and and capers off I’ll stage a protest. Not that she’d change the menu or anything with so much time spent writing her memoir. But please, publishers and every other editor clamor over her because they are looking for the female you. They see her and their pupils turn to dollar signs. Its about marketing, Its about selling books and this is where the person who exemplifies the image becomes it. This takes nothing away from her many attributes and all around fantasticness. She can cook like a bastard, she just can’t write, and frankly I think her writing is damaging in the end. I’m sure she has a story to tell because don’t we all and it would be a good one if a person as well versed in the craft of writing as she is in the craft of cooking were actually writing it. There was nothing fine at all or well crafted at all or funny at all or virtuous at all about that little excerpt.

  • Kristin

    I doubt they were looking for a female version of Tony. Look, publishers know, more often than not what the public wants to read. They recognize Gabrielle’s talent as a writer and chef and seized the moment. She is far better than some of the other chef/food writers out there.

  • Claudia

    I agree, Skawt. Gabrielle is Gabrielle – not a female Tony – and I’m looking forward to her memoirs. At the Y, she sounded like a harried chef who managed to escape dinner service just long enough (it was past 8 already) to describe the hell of trying to keep a small restaurant like hers going. While Eric Ripert said (of Bernadin) “We aren’t the Red Cross”, Gabrielle said, “WE (Prune) are!”, so I’m think her perspective as a chef-OWNER will be different from Tony’s. She has had her years of cooking in the wilderness, as did Tony, and she probably is as smart, tough and verbally wicked as Tony, but I think she will have her own voice – and one worth listening to.

    Oh, by the way – Tony let slip only one porn reference at the Y, which was, indeed, very prim of him (!) It was only along the lines of winding up on the floor “like Ron Jeremy”, which very few in the audience caught. And those that did just smirked to themselves, and winced in anticipation of more colorful references to Shamu, lumberjacks, Samoans and other notable elements of the finest in DVD porn. But, no. Michael bravely took the one-liner on the chin, no flinching, so there was no outward “plotzing” at the Makor 92nd Street Y. (But a typical, solo Bourdain book-signing would have wiped out half of that rather genteel demographic, for sure,heheheheheh! )

  • Ben

    When you say Momofuku I assume you meant Momofuku Ssam Bar which is indeed really just Asian fast food until 10:30 (and only certain days). The original Momofuku (a couple blocks away), though, is open for lunch and dinner and is definitely more than fast food. In fact, it’s fantastic, with the non-soup things probably being especially good oddly enough.

  • Claudia

    The first Momofuku (not Momo Ssam) on 1st and 10th is such a trip – the pork belly buns are obscenely good, and better as “slabs” than the shredded pork ones at Ssam. I watched a whole Momo of diners order and eat them, with a long MOOOOOOOOOOAAAANNNNNN sweeping the length of the counter in a group “When Harry Met Sally” moment. I’ve since had to make repeated “take out” trips just for the buns. (I give them the edge over the pork belly tea sandwiches at Fatty Crab, although Fatty still rules, for me, the rest of the menu-wise. And the kinko (?) pork belly in Japanese porridge at Morimoto’s blew me away – which is really what got me on the the pork belly trip.

    Ssam’s is easier to physically manoeuvre, but I think the “pre-chef/cook” menu (i.e., before 11) is both more varied and BETTER at Momo’s on 1st. Although I’m perfectly willing to work really late one night and stay out to test the late night menu theory (!)

  • ruby

    Bill Buford and “Heat”: I saw him on the Charlie Rose show talking about cooking, Mario, etc. About how, let’s face it, it’s just so refreshing to be with a bunch of white guys (men) in a kitchen, where you can make racist sexist jokes and not worry who’s listening. Oh, and this is the guy who picked and chose from hard-working fiction writers for the New Yorker?
    I worked in kitchens for 3 years in Seattle, and said “uncle” – I, a woman cook, felt that I would have to grow fangs and claws and become “the bitch” to become successful. It’s a male-dominated business. It’s OK for men to make the big bucks in a professional kitchen,be the food-artist,while Mom can cook at home for Dad and the kids for free.
    I think I’ll skip that read.