Every fall about this time, New York erupts in a contagious feeding frenzy, exciting thousands of foodies -- like it or not, that's what we are, my friends, people obsessed with what we eat and in some cases, how to cook it. Each year it grows bigger and more complex, the Food Network NYC Wine and Food Festival, launched first in South Beach, created and directed by Lee Schrager of Southern Wines with Food & Wine.
I was very touched when Lee, the man the NY Post salutes as "the consummate noshing nomad," reached out in the middle of complex logistics and invited me to choose where I'd like to eat. Of course, I longed to storm the big Burger Bash but I knew my knees wouldn't hold up to the walkathon on the pier.
That's how I came to be seated right next to the kitchen at David Bouley's Botanical Lab Friday evening for his visionary event, The Chef and The Farmer.
I've been a Bouley fan and a Bouley baiter since the debut of the remarkable villa he and his brothers built on Duane Street in 1987. (Click here to read my review, "Vaulting Ambition." Click here to read my essay, "David Bouley: Magic Chef.)
Twenty-seven years later he has become obsessed with food as medicine, experimenting with dehydrated greens to cure whatever ails you. Indeed, this evening's muse, farmer Renee Giroux, bills herself as nourishingplants.com -- "Clean Food. Clean Medicine." But not everything has changed. Bouley still takes forever before he lets you take your seat. The cocktail hour stretched on into the evening (never for a minute interrupting the marathon of canapés and non-stop flow of white wine.)
Then at last, the chilled heirloom tomato terrine is rushed to the table. Bouley is a star chef who actually loves to cook. His meticulously just-cooked dayboat lobster -- evoking memories of Frédy Girardet minimalism -- swam with hibiscus. I suspect that David plated my entrée himself. The "all-natural Pennsylvania chicken with Hudson Valley foie gras" was pure Bouley mastery. Sure, an organic farmer raised the bird to be happy and well-behaved, but Bouley taught his team how to deliver white meat, moist-beyond-imagining, and sublimely perfect foie for, how many were we, 80 or 100? I couldn't help but note that my neighbor's plate did not look as photo-ready as mine -- a Bulgari jewel setting. But the discipline of cooking was the same.
"The Big Apple's French Revival," celebrating bistro cuisine at Benoit with Alain Ducasse and his French-cooking friends, was quite another story. It began precisely on time. I tried to avoid the cocktail swoon and arrived after everyone was seated. Interestingly, except for Benoit's executive chef Philippe Bertineau, none of Ducasse's bistro cookers were French. Two were from our own left bank, Brooklyn. Of course, I had to go into the kitchen to say hello and remind Alain I has first tasted his food at Juana before he moved into Louis XV in Monte Carlo, before anyone ever heard of Alain Ducasse, before he got his Napoleonic global armada marching.
At dinner, I recognized the marvelous octopus terrine of Bâtard's Markus Glocker on the charcuterie platter. He's Austrian. The cauliflower steak with poached oysters was cooked up by Lisa Giffen of Maison Premiere. The very French skate with green garlic and mussels came from Montmartre's Michael Toscano. The thrilling lamb's neck "en crepinette" was by Ryan Angulo of French Louie. (My friends at our table have promised ourselves, we'll make the Brooklyn detour soon.) Benoit's pastry chef did the classic quince and apple tart with crème fraîche. And everyone was home in time to watch the season premiere of "Black Dynamite" on the Cartoon Network.
Thank you Lee. And the city thanks you too for the festival's gift to the Food Bank for New York City and to No Kid Hungry.