Saturday, March 15, 2008

dispatch on the way to New York

Five months ago, we created a menu with wine parings that we sent off to the James Beard House in New York City for a dinner we would present this March. For printing and pr purposes, they need to have a finalized menu so many months in advance, but it's somewhat of a bane to the chef who cooks by what looks best at the market. But after cooking so long, you get to know what’s available when, and you cross your fingers that no blights or unexpected freezes, hailstorms, or drought will wreak havoc on the arugula, or the oranges, or the della cotta squash.

Over the last three weeks, we have arranged for the wines, arranged for donations of materials as dinners at the James Beard House are fund-raising events for the foundation. We have made detailed lists of ingredients needed and prep schedules, copied out wine notes, made copies, designed the menus and printed them up. But today, on the Saturday before out dinner, we pack up the car, nervous the whole time that we won’t be able fit all the food, three bodies, and three bags into our Subaru. We have friends who are coming down to the city tomorrow, and their car is held in reserve in the event the we can’t wedge in the six and half gallons of soup made a few days before—so it would have time to talk to itself and become richer and more complex in flavor—into the back seat.

Surprisingly, we fit it all in, and drive in torrential rains through Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and finally, into New York. In the evening when we arrive, the rain has stopped and the sky clears, and a balmy southern wind whips around the buildings and blows down the streets of the lower west side. We can even see stars. We unload the car at our host kitchen at Great Performances, a long-standing New York catering company that offers support to the James Beard Foundation by providing kitchen space for visiting chefs. A kitchen that holds about 40 cooks and pastry chefs who start at 6:30 in the morning and wrap up their day at about 3 pm. This is where, tomorrow, Caleb will spend the day chopping vegetables, mixing bread, and preparing pastry cream.

It is good to have made it to the city, the first and most difficult part of the journey complete. We reward ourselves with a simple dinner at a favorite haunt, Cubana Café on Thompson. We order very fine mojitos and eat shrimp quesadillas, black bean soup and various dishes of pulled pork. Dessert is a light moist chocolate cake, a flawless flan, and a dreamy tres leche cake that tastes of almonds and milk.


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