On Monday night at Rockefeller Center, there was such a concentration of famous food stars that the square practically lit itself. The event: an annual fundraiser for the Citymeals-on-Wheels titled "A Taste of Home," where eminent chefs spent the night doling out bite-size bits of 'home-cooking,' Michelin-starred style.
Citymeals-on-Wheels is a program that works to bring meals to New York City's homebound elderly, and in the past year contributors helped to bring over 2 million meals to the elderly across every borough. This year marked the 26th anniversary of the Chefs' Tribute Event, which began as the brainchild of James Beard and Gael Greene despite Beard's passing several months before the inaugural event.
This year's gala focused on family, and quite a few restaurants were represented by several generations of chefs. The Forgiones, of Marc Forgione (NY), An American Place (St. Louis), and Society Café (Las Vegas) were present in full force, with three generations represented. I asked Marc if there was something in his family's genes that could explain such a pattern. "We're all gluttons for punishment," he said. He was handing out lush disks of buffalo tartare littered with red-veined sorrel. When prompted to name his favorite type of tartare, he refused to choose. "Fresh, that's my favorite."
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges) was manning the booth with his son Cedric (Perry St.), whose upbringing must have been such that he had no choice but to go into the restaurant business. If there's anything to be gathered from the content's of Cedric's fridge, it's that he's no normal eater. "I always have Sambal olek, which is an Indonesian red chili paste," he said. "Cheeses, of course, and sea-eel. Rice, that's ready to be microwaved with the sea-eel, and chocolate." I accused him of acting like my grandmother, who keeps her Hershey's Kisses cold and waxen in the fridge. "Milk chocolate should be chilled!" he insisted.
Whether or not chefs really do have perverse tastes, or whether they love giving snippy answers to over-eager reporters is not entirely clear. Michael Paley of Proof on Main (KY) was serving roasted corn on the cob spritzed with lime and piled high with smoked aioli and Ricotta Salata. In honor of summer, I asked him his favorite vegetable. "Celery," he told me, "I love the leaves, the seeds, the stalks. Its flavor complements things, and I love surprising people." Consider myself surprised--the only positive thing I know about celery is that it supposedly delivers negative calories when all's said and crunched.
Certain chefs were apologetic about their preferences. "I like my chocolate chip cookies crunchy, and my peanut butter cookies chewy," volunteered Aureole's new pastry chef Pierre Poulin. "I'm all mixed up."
Others were not. Tony Esnault of Patina Restaurant (LA) had a wonderful rhubarb strawberry almond crumble, displayed alongside jars of vanilla beans in cream, yet his allegiances lay elsewhere. "Oh, chocolate over vanilla, always. Chocolate's an aphrodisiac," he added, as if that explained everything.
Once I had exhausted of finding out the eating habits of chefs, I moved on to bigger fish. Bill Yosses works at a little restaurant in DC called the White House, and was amiable enough to deflect questions about the Obamas. "A lot of times there's a gap between the myth and reality of the president," he said, "but in his case there is none." According to Yosses, the Obamas do eat very healthily, "He's a very disciplined man." A man who likes steak, doesn't like beets, and likes pie very much. Clearly, a man worth voting for.
As the sun set, the golden fountain glowed with colored lights. A new dance-friendly band took to the stage, and chefs began to abandon their stations and mingle in the crowd, champagne flutes in hand. "I love this event," said a woman working with an assisting catering company. "We help people in need and get amazing food while doing so? It's pretty much everything you need in life."