My quest for food experiences and those who influence the world of food has recently taken me to Seattle, Washington, Nice, Monte Carlo, Menton, Cannes in France, and Ventimiglia in Italy in May and the early part of June thus far this year. Mid-June I headed to New York City for the first and apparently the last for now World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards (and all the events around it) that had moved from across the pond. I was back home in time to meet with Alice Waters for a most interesting dialogue, and then it was off to the city by the bay (San Francisco), the picturesque Half Moon Bay, and Napa Valley to enjoy some wonderful meals and meet with some amazing chefs.
An invitation to a dinner to honor Magnus Nilsson of Faaviken in Sweden at the Modernist Lab home of Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine and cookbook took me to Seattle. It was an incredible experience from the moment I arrived at the nondescript office park on the Microsoft campus in Bellevue on the outskirts of Seattle. The twenty three course intimate dinner served to the fourteen guests included a Taco el Pastor (it was Cinco de Mayo) with a laser etched image of Magnus on the taco that definitely broke the ice amongst the small group. Seated next to the usually reticent Magnus I saw the consternation followed by amusement on his face as he gamely folded the taco with his face on it and took a bite. Daniel Burns of Lukshon and Torst in NYC and I suggested he should ask the host to make him a pack to take home to his three young children. Magnus said he was not quite sure what they would make of it. An interview with Nathan Myhrvold and a story on the dinner will follow soon.
My dear friend Mauro Colagreco chef patron of Mirazur, France is celebrating his restaurants tenth anniversary with ten guest chef dinners at his restaurant over the next few months. Last October he came to my restaurant and cooked a collaborative dinner with me to celebrate my restaurants 30th anniversary. In the absence of any family anywhere in the world my friends around the world are my family, always beside me when I need them and I cherish each and everyone of them. It was a given that I would go at least to the first two dinners in this celebratory series. David Kinch of Manresa the three Michelin starred restaurant in Los Gatos , California initiated the dinners with an elegant multi course repast. The Daurade sashimi and the crostillant of foie gras, the caramel of chèvre on the vanilla glacé had my dinner companion Julia Colagreco and me ready to beg for seconds. David and Mauro have been friends for over fifteen years when they met in the kitchens of a restaurant in Toulouse, France. Colagreco and he have cooked together in each other’s kitchens on numerous occasions during this time.
The next day after a morning shopping trip to the Ventimiglia produce market across the border with Kinch and Colagreco in Italy we all (the Colagrecos, their son Valentin, and Kinch with his team members) set off for Cannes and a boat ride to the Ile Sante Marguerite. We landed on the picturesque shore to walk into La Guerite a relaxed beach restaurant, with sand underfoot, sunlight filtering through the canopy overhead leaving the views of Cannes over the water to enjoy over the next several hours. The festive live music, the Nebuchadnezzar’s of wine (yes, at almost every table) and Chef Yiannis Kioroglou’s amazing food inspired by his Greek heritage and the exceptional produce of the region made for a memorable afternoon that extended into evening. David and Mauro checked out a few yachts for fantasy purchases and then we headed back to Menton for a late night meal at Mirazur. I saw Yiannis two days later in the Mirazur kitchen when he could not make it in time from his island retreat for a seat at Redzepi’s dinner. I think he will soon be flying to Copenhagen for the experience.
The following morning the team from Noma arrived for guest chef Rene Redzepi’s dinner the next day. After a meal at Louis XV during the hoopla over the Grand Prixe in Monte Carlo it was back to the kitchen to prep and then dine at Mirazur that night. Colagreco’s exquisite cuisine following the grand meal in the afternoon actually blew everyone away. No surprise the two-starred Michelin Colagreco moved from #11 to #6 two weeks later in NYC at the world’s 50 Best awards. It was a joy to be with them in the moment to celebrate their well-deserved success.
I enjoyed a very interesting conversation at the dinner table with the team from Noma about our industry and people and after Mauro joined in we were there till the early hours of the morning. I will be seeing them again soon in August at MAD5 in Copenhagen. Redzepi though somewhat under the weather hunkered down next day to prepare one of the most brilliant meals from the Noma team that I have enjoyed. It surpassed my last meal in the private dining room at Noma last October which was one of the best I had all of last year.
The next evening began with the most excited diners I have seen entering the restaurant and the guest list included well-known chefs from all over Europe. Such is the charisma of Rene Redzepi not to mention the fact that reservations at Noma are not easily acquired especially since Redzepi announced the closing in December to reopen in another location in 2017/2018.
It was a magical evening and there was a spirit of camaraderie in the air and the dining room. One after another beautiful plates appeared along with wine pairings. Redzepi and Colagreco first met in 2005 in London for an evening with grand chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria, Andoni Aduriz and conjectured that the two of them were thrown in the mix as young chefs to add interest. Nevertheless the two hit it off and have been friends since.
The evening began with a rhubarb rose, followed by a radish tart and ten more courses and I watched the faces around the table that included well known French chefs , transfixed and amazed. Several guests commented that they didn’t want the evening to end, but it did, leaving us all wanting more. Chef Jean Luc Rabanel from Arles was so happy to see me and I was touched that he still appreciates the story I wrote about him a few years ago. I couldn’t visit this time but maybe in October when I will be back in France. All good food events end in the kitchen and it was chock a bloc with Michelin chefs vying to take pictures with Redzepi over the jumble of languages in play along with the free flowing Billecart Salmon champagne. These are some memorable moments and hard to put in words. The night ended well into the early hours and the next morning after an early breakfast the Noma team headed back.
While in Monte Carlo I visited JimmyZ the hottest new nightclub adjacent to Alain Ducasse’s Pit Stop and Trattoria with my two partners in crime. Time flew by leaving magical memories to cherish and revisit and on the long trip back home I reflected on relationships, special people in my life. Redzepi commented that I was home anyplace in the world and can count on friends just about anywhere, and I agree that I am very fortunate to have all of these wonderful people in my life.
Soon it was time for the biggest party in the food world in New York on June 13th and I headed to my former home. The first morning at breakfast in the NoMad hotel it was wonderful to see all the familiar faces from around the world and be greeted with kisses and warm embraces by some of the nicest people I have the good fortune to know. Elena Arzak, Massimo Bottura, Sven Elverfeld, Jose Andres, and the room kept filling up with the who’s who but then one of my favorite chefs Alain Passard waved and beckoned me over to the group of French Chefs that included Pierre Herme. Soon the Mexican group walked in followed by Mitsuharu of Maido and Virgilio of Central in Lima. It continued for the next few days with familiar faces of Wylie Dufresne, Dan Barber and other New York chefs dropping by to meet and greet their friends. I spent the afternoon the day before the awards with Massimo Bottura and his lovely wife Lara and conversing over lunch at Danny Meyers new restaurant Untitled at the Whitney Museum. That amazing conversation will be coming up in the next few weeks.
The evening of the awards at a cocktail reception in the NoMad library before we were transported in sprinter vans to the Cipriani Wall Street for the awards there were dressed up chefs, with spouses getting a bite and few drinks. I joined Joshua Skenes of Saison in San Francisco and his lovely wife for a cocktail and were digging into fried chicken, fries, crudités, etc. when Massimo Bottura came over and we plied the anxious chef with some food since he had missed lunch that day. Jordi Roca and wife were into some serious PDA moments. There were anxious faces including Massimo Bottura and the Roca brothers, especially since they were both contenders for the number one spot. A spiffily dressed Dominique Crenn reminded me of a brunette Ellen, all ready to take to the stage to accept her World’s Best Female Chef award. The evening ended with a jubilant and emotional Bottura on stage. It was wonderful to see everyone celebrate, though some did not achieve the position they had hoped for but to make it into the top 50 or even the top 100 restaurants is an achievement. Joshua Skenes from Saison, his wife and I had traveled together along with Mitsuharu Tsumura and Virgilio Martinez with wife Pia Leon to the event, and just a few hours later it was wonderful to see them victorious and celebrate their happiness with them.
These rankings are very subjective and in no way the last world on who is the best since it is hard to justify term in the very competitive industry. Some chefs were notably missing including Alex Atala of DOM, Sao Paolo, chef Rene Redzepi of Noma whose restaurant dropped to #5 this year, David Thompson and a few more. Eleven Madison at #3 ended up as the best restaurant in the U.S which did not surprise many. Next year with the awards moving to Melbourne it will probably be some Australian restaurants in the top ten and we will wait and see.
The bar at NoMad was bursting at the seams with journalists and chefs over the days leading up to the event which was followed by a roof top barbeque courtesy of the Aussie chefs next morning as an introduction to next year’s awards event in Melbourne. The NoMad hotel is run by the Eleven Madison team who had hosted many of their friends from around the world. They also hosted one of the after parties at Eleven Madison where chefs not at the awards like Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud joined the crazy partying throngs. The bar was almost inaccessible so we headed to the kitchen for Perrier-Jouet accompanied by bites of the whole roast pig and tiny hot dogs. There were people dancing on the table in the middle of the normally elegant and formal restaurant and we all watched as it was being literally trashed and the cleanup later that night must have been a bitch. The overjoyed Massimo and Lara walked in to a champagne shower courtesy of Mauro Colagreco who got real handy with a case of Perrier Jouet. The sedate Alain Ducasse with whom both Massimo and Mauro Colagreco worked at one time did not escape the fizzy shower. I will never forget Daniel Boulud trying to take a video on his I phone of the bacchanalian festivities over the crowd!
Needing some serious R&R, I headed to the beautiful Ritz Carlton resort at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco on the scenic coastline of California. The incredible views were matched by superb service and an amazing dinner at their Navio restaurant helmed by Executive Chef Jason Pringle. The next few days took me to Napa and a meeting with chef Christopher Kostow of the three Michelin starred The Restaurant at Meadowood. That interview along with conversations with chefs Mourad Lahlou of Mourad and Aziza, Chef Michael Tusk of Quince and Cotogna will also be coming up soon. Chef Joshua Skenes’ Saison (the Michelin starred restaurant that jumped to number #27 in the 50 Best list this year) is the subject of a profile along with the most interesting take on the food industry that will also appear soon.
Now I must hunker down and catch up on my stories!