A Hot Dog For Everyone!

Sure, you can indulge in hot dogs any time of year, but for some reason munching on these babies just feels right in the summer. From the beloved dirty-water dogs to gourmet frankfurters, hot dogs are everywhere, and tomorrow, they get showcased at the 7th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn. This instance, it’s not just amateur cooks competing; for the first time the competition features professional chefs from Gramercy Tavern, Mile End, Marlow and Daughters, and The Meat Hook. Of course, the pedestrian dogs are fun, too, and come with whimsical names like The Dogfather, You Had Me at Swine, and the 99 Percent Dog. There are 25 total entries, and guests can wash down the hot dogs with KelSo Beer Company’s Belgian Pale Ale and Pilsner while bopping to DJ Rabbi Darkside. Proceeds go to the Food Bank for New York City and the amateur chefs have procured their organic beef dogs courtesy of Applegate Farms.

Can’t make the cook-off? Well there are plenty of other ways to get your hot dog on. One of my favorite joints is Crif Dogs, which has locations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the East Village (famously the doorway to PDT), and serves a bacon-wrapped hot dog with avocado and sour cream that’s to die for. Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope, Brooklyn is another good option for you sausage lovers who can get down with a classic sweet-relish-topped hot dog. Also in the neighborhood is Dogmatic, which features “good for you” dogs with additive-free meat. Plus, they offer the vegetarian-friendly asparagus “hot dog” that you can get topped with truffle Gruyere cheese sauce. But, if you gourmet hot dogs aren’t your thing, I suggest passing up the hot dog cart and instead heading to one the many Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Kings, where the frankfurters there have a following. And, at under $3, you really can’t go wrong.

The Best Places to Become an Amateur Sommelier in New York

Most people aren’t aware of the small cooking school nestled next to the swimsuit department on the eighth floor of Macy’s Herald Square. It’s there I found myself last Saturday afternoon, sipping cool Rieslings while most of my food-focused brethren sweated, and waited it out for bite and beer at GoogaMooga.

The school, De Gustibus, was founded in 1980 and has hosted numerous cooks, many who are now celebrity chefs, including Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and April Bloomfield. The host on Saturday was Juliette Pope, the beverage director of Gramercy Tavern, and she was teaching a three-hour course all about Rieslings. Three hours, and yes, it felt like a long time to me, too. But with 14 vintages to try, numerous nibbles from the restaurant, and more information than I knew was possible to cram in, the class went by in a flash.

Unfortunately Pope’s course was a one-time deal (though she did it last year, so hopefully she will continue the trend), but they do have another class in their Best in Glass series on June 2. This one features wine writer Jim Clarke, who is the beverage manager of Armani Ristorante, and South African chef Hugo Uys. This team will pair South African wines like Chenin Blanc and Syrah, with food by Uys.

Don’t worry, the wine education doesn’t stop there. New York City has a plethora of options, including wine bars that are happy to teach you a thing or two about what you are drinking. Terroir in the East Village is one of them, and their Bible-like book of wine proves almost a class in itself. At City Winery, head winemaker David Lecomte teaches a class on how to craft wine, and, as bonus, you can discuss your newfound knowledge over a flight in their in-house wine bar. As a bonus, you can also buy and compose your own barrel of vino.

Another great place to learn about wine is at master sommelier Laura Maniec’s Corkbuzz Wine Studio in Greenwich Village. Here they offer all sorts of classes from all about Spanish wines to basic wine education. They frequently plan food and wine pairing courses where they match six vintages with themed snacks as a way to teach you how certain foods and wines can enhance the other. Coming up on June 15, they will feature pizza pairings.

That’s right, wine goes with pizza. In fact, it goes with everything, and now, given the availability of classes and chatty experts, is a great time to stick your nose up, and put it right in that glass.

PDT’s Jim Meehan Talks About His James Beard Award Win

This year the James Beard Foundation debuted the Outstanding Bar Program Award, an honor sponsored by Campari that is given to a bar that “displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.” The winner of the inaugural award was PDT. We chatted with the humble owner of PDT, Jim Meehan, after he won the prize.

How did it feel to win?
It’s a crazy feeling, but it feels spectacular. This is something that we have paid very close attention to for a long time. It’s amazing that bars are now a part of the awards. I kind of left last night wondering if they were going to ask for it back.

Campari had a big part in the creation of this category. Do you like the spirit?
Campari is one of the ingredients that ends up in many cocktails and we use it a lot. Last night one of the bartenders made a good Campari drink with Plymouth gin, spiced honey syrup, and champagne.

Why do you think you won?
For five years we have taken care of our industry. We have always been a bar that is a little something extra, and, when chefs stop by we always take care of them.

You run you bar very well. What is your inspiration?
I came from Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club. Audrey [Saunders, owner of Pegu Club] came from a five-star hotel and she taught us all how to offer hotel service in a cocktail bar.There were a lot of Gramercy people awarded last night too, and at that place it’s like a finishing school for service.Our own form of hospitality, the way we run the bar, is the way a restaurant runs its dining room—meaning, there is no standing and there is enough staff to serve you. My team for five years now has bought into this concept of running a bar like this. It’s very gratifying to get this award from this industry’s most celebrated and respected chefs.

What other bars do you think should win this award?
All the bars nominated deserve this award. Pegu Club is where I learned so much. Bar Agricole has an amazing wine program and their cocktails are elegant and well presented. Plus, it’s a certified green restaurant and I am surprised it didn’t win. Also, for Grant Achatz to open up a bar [The Aviary in Chicago] is such a huge thing for the bar industry. Last but not least, Toby Maloney who was our head bartender at Pegu Club and the first to head out and open up the Violet Hour in Chicago. It was bittersweet to walk away with the award because I am close with all the nominees and they all deserved it.

Now that you won, what are your plans today?
My plan is to try and reply to all my text messages and emails from people all across the country that reached out to say congratulations. Then I have a meeting at a bar and tonight I am having dinner with my brother and our wives at wd-50 for the launch of their new menu. All in all I am kind of speechless and really happy, but, in my experience you got to try to live up to the award. It’s important not to let it go to your head, so, it’s back to work. 

Photo by Kent Miller

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 25th Annual James Beard Award Winners

Over two decades have passed since the James Beard Awards began handing out trophies to the best in the restaurant world, and it continues to be the Academy Awards of the food world. Last night, at the packed Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the awards commenced with their 25th annual ceremony that honored the country’s top chefs, restaurants, food writers, journalists, servers, bartenders, and television personalities. Not surprising, New York took a big chunk of the glory, with awards going to Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, who won Best Chef in New York, and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar who won Rising Star Chef of the Year, beating out Dave Beran of Grant Achatz’s Next, which won the Best New Restaurant award. New York also boasts a win for the outstanding chef award, which went to Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. He trumped the other top-notch contestants including David Chang, Paul Kahan, Nancy Silverton, and Gary Danko. Paul Grieco took the prize with Terroir for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. PDT won for Outstanding Bar Program, and La Grenouille achieved victory for outstanding service.

Though only a handful of people walked away with a medal, Lincoln Center filled up with the country’s hottest foodie folk. April Bloomfield of the Breslin and Spotted Pig made an appearance decked out in a snappy suit and—shocker—with makeup on. Food Republic spotted Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston sneaking a flask of Fernet, and, rumor has it a PR gal got fired after failing to recognize renowned French chef Jacques Pépin and not letting him enter the pressroom. Naturally, the nominees were there, as well as haute chefs like Ed Lee, Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Stephanie Izard, Cathy Whims, and dozens more. Keep making us tasty treats guys, and, may you all win next year.

The List of Winners:

Outstanding Chef: Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park (NYC)

Outstanding Restaurant: Boulevard (San Francisco)

Rising Star Chef: Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar (NYC)

Best New Restaurant: Next (Chicago)

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH):  Bruce Sherman, North Pond (Chicago)

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama (Hoboken, NJ)

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI): Tory Miller, L’Etoile (Madison, WI)

Best Chef: New York City: Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT): Tim Cushman, O Ya (Boston)

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY), Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce (Seattle)

Best Chef: Pacific (CA, HI), Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles)
Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS): Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club (Birmingham, AL)

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV): Tie between Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten (Athens, GA) and Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta)

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT), Paul Qui, Uchiko (Austin, TX)

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, Paul Grieco, Terroir (NYC)

Outstanding Wine Program, No. 9 Park (Boston)

Outstanding Bar Program, PDT (NYC)

Outstanding Service, La Grenouille (NYC)

Outstanding Pastry Chef, Mindy Segal, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Chicago)

Outstanding Restaurateur, Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants (Seattle)

For a complete list of winners, go here.

Photo of Momofuk’s Christina Tosi by Kent Miller

From Garden to Snifter: Veggies Land in Cocktails Across America

Is that a cucumber in your cocktail or are you just happy to see me? I, for one, am just happy to see the cucumber. With the emergence of ‘vegetails’ (vegetable laden cocktails) popping up on bar menus from coast to coast, the days of ordering a salad might soon go the way of the tape cassette. These days, you can find all the greens you need right in your drink, from walloping tubers to delicate slices of cucumber, and you can bet those veggies come from organic pastures.

Whilst carousing at New York’s Gilt in Midtown East recently, I found myself gleefully swilling chef/mixologist Justin Bogle’s Watermelon Coolers, made with Bulldog Gin, fresh watermelon, and basil. Like a symphony played upon the taste buds, this legume-y libation partied on my palate and went down almost too smoothly. Summer, watermelon, and basil go together like peas and carrots, which decidedly should be Bogle’s next veggie-inspired cocktail. Always an intrepid foodie (and cocktailie), I’d come back for some muddled peas mixed with vodka and a carrot garnish any day. He could call it The Forrest Gump.

Ever since, I’ve been thinking—what else is out there in the vegetails realm, and how deep does this alcoholic spin on the farm-to-table trend really go?

Owner of Williamsburg’s Huckleberry Bar, Stephanie Schneider explains that there are many reasons to use vegetables, fruits, and even meats to create cocktails. She says, “Being in the restaurant business for so many years [Schneider put in time at Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Eleven Madison Park, and Jean Georges before opening Huckleberry Bar in 2007], I saw chefs working with seasonal herbs and vegetables all the time. It’s bringing the same mindset to cocktails. If you’re serving a fennel and blood orange salad, why not make a cocktail with fennel and blood orange juice?”

Huckleberry Bar serves up a bevy of booze, from citrus-infused vodka to rosemary-infused rye to anise hyssop-infused vodka to lovage-infused rum to jalapeño-infused tequila. You name it, they infuse it. Most of their ingredients come directly from the Green Market in Union Square. “You take the fresh herb, shock it with hot water to release the oils, then pour the booze over and let it sit for two to five days,” Schneider explains. Not only does it make for great tasting drinks, but it’s also cost effective. “When you make dinner and you buy tarragon or thyme why not use the leftovers for the drinks? It eliminates waste in a small place like ours by using all parts of the vegetable and animal.” If you ever go to Huckleberry Bar for brunch try the bacon-infused bourbon. But I digress.

Aimee Olexy, co-owner of Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, maintains a purist mindset when adding herbs and vegetables to cocktails. “One of the things that we do is try to focus on food and then the drink as a result of it,” she says. “We manipulate ingredients but still showcase the liquor. If we’re going to use a pure spirit then what can we do to take some of those inherent flavors and showcase them in a natural way?” The goal of the cocktails at Talula’s is to relax you and get you ready to eat, a precursor to a nice bottle of wine. “People that are drinking good cocktails these days are such foodies that the drinks must reflect some of the flavor profiles of our food,” Schneider adds. “Take the flavor of rum. We think about what characteristic from the farm will make a nice marriage to it. Its woody because it’s aged in oak so honey or a cucumber nuance will bring the flavor out. We want the integrity of the spirit itself to exist by finding something in the garden that will accentuate the taste.”

A house favorite at Talula’s Garden is the Gardner, a classic play on the Mojito. “The fresh mint will bring some more fragrance to this nice vanilla woodsy spirit, making it a little grassy. The use of cucumber, basil, or mint tends to open up your palette far more than juice. This drink literally makes you start to salivate and then you crave food,” Schneider says.

Chef/Mixologist Mariena Mercer of the Chandelier at Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas takes a culinary stance when it comes to her cocktails. “I explore individual roles of the four basic tastes [salty, sour, bitter, and sweet], coalescing them and bringing them into unity,” says Mercer. “The spirit needs to stand out, as does each element.” One of the newest additions to their cocktail menu is the Thai Down, made with Milagro Blanco, Domaine De Canton, strawberry puree, Thai Chili Syrup, and Thai basil leaves. “We eat a lot of Thai food so we wanted to channel the cuisine into the cocktail,” says Mercer. “The Thai basil has strawberry puree, but not in a gratuitous sweet way. It’s all about creating perfect harmony in the drink,” says Mercer

Beverage director Jonathan Baird of Hatfield’s in L.A. agrees wholeheartedly. Baird takes leaps and bounds to concoct myriad mixed creations for their discerning and thirsty clientele. “We base everything on balance,” says Baird. “That is to say, we make sure that you can taste each item that goes into the drink. It’s also about using the freshest ingredients we can get our hands on from the local Farmers’ Markets.”

Baird reveals how it’s done, “For our Cucumber Mint Gimlet we peel and slice the cucumber thin and blend it with an immersion blender instead of steeping the cucumber coins in vodka. This gives the drink more of a cucumber flavor and adds a nice green hue to it.”

Now that fresh herbs and vegetables can be obtained through bar hopping, I may never have to masticate them in salad form again. The veggies in these drinks must counteract the calories from the alcohol (they simply must!). And besides, why expend energy chewing when you can sip your greens and simultaneously get a buzz?

WineChap Is Your Personal Sommelier in NYC, Hong Kong and London

If you hate your job, stop reading this, because there are some jobs that are cooler than yours. Like medical marijuana testers. Or that secret shopper position nobody on earth knows how to get. Or the job of Talia Baiocchi, a wine reviewer for WineChap.com who basically goes to the most notable restaurants in NYC to review their wine lists. Not a bad gig. Talia—a hipsterish girl, not a chap—recently completed a marathon of on-the-job drinking, having visited more than 30 restaurants in Manhattan in the past 30 days. And she got drunk on their wine for free. We caught up with her to find out more info on WineChap and, of course, to check on her liver.

How did you get hooked up with this gig and why are you qualified for this job?  I had left my job in fine wine and was more or less en route to Argentina to live the good life, feast on beef, and continue to write my blog (about music, art, and wine) that was too esoteric to appeal to more than 25 people. I hear no one works down there. But my 5-year plan was interrupted when I was introduced to a British guy named Boo Murphy (WineChap’s founder) through a friend who recommended me as a wine writer with a penchant for spending all of my money on eating out. They read my blog and asked if I wanted to review 150 wine lists and oversee the NYC site. The rest is history. Why am I qualified? I have been drinking wine since my conception, which gives me more than 2 ½ decades of experience.   What exactly is WineChap?  It’s really just a half dozen people in three corners of the world who are in love with wine and had to figure out how to make a living drinking it. The constant nagging by friends for advice on what to drink at this or that restaurant gave the guys in London the idea to put all of their advice online. What it eventually came to be is a dining resource reviews of NYC’s top wine lists and breaks them down into categories with recommendations that allow you choose a wine or scope out the wine list’s strengths before you get to the restaurant. There’s also an iPhone app that funnels that content into a lottery that allows you to choose a wine by category, price, and style and shake your phone for a reco. It’s magic.   WineChap.com caters to the three biggest wine markets—Hong Kong, London and NYC. What market do you think has the best wines?  New York is the greatest city for wine in the world. The sheer density of wine available here is mind-blowing and the variety of atmospheres in which one can drink has sustained several different wine cultures that people can identify with.   Do you try every single wine on the wine menu?  If I did, we’d have one wine list review on the site and WineChap would be millions of dollars in debt. There’s 2,500 selections at Eleven Madison park alone. So no, I wish, but that would be impossible.   What restaurants, in your opinion, have the most well-rounded wine lists?  I think Gramercy Tavern is perhaps the most well-rounded list in the city. It caters to a variety of different palates and manages to span the globe without tiring the reader. Wine Director Juliette Pope is a veteran of the business and has an incredible talent for placing wines on the list that, regardless of style preference, are appealing. The beer program there is also pretty out of this world and should not be overlooked.   What is the most expensive wines you’ve had to taste?  In my life? Oh, geez. 1985 Sassicaia always sticks out in my mind largely because it’s ridiculously overpriced. That’s about $1,750 retail and anywhere from $2000-$3500 on a wine list.   What is the nastiest wine you’ve had?  I had a pinot noir from Australia at a tasting the other day and that went to the top of my shit list quickly. It was all kinds of wrong. The first problem being the fact that someone decided to plant pinot noir in South Australia in the first place.   How is your liver?   I’ve upped my dosage of Milk Thistle and things seem to going alright. Ask me in 20 years, though.

How can we have your job?  Drink.more.wine. And start reading wine lists like a rabbi reads the Talmud.

Industry Insiders: Jim Lahey, Bread Master

Jim Lahey is a bread man. After a trip to Italy while he was in art school studying to be a sculptor, Lahey realized that baking was his true calling. In 1994, he opened Sullivan Street Bakery, which now provides bread for over 250 of the city’s best restaurants including Jean Georges, Babbo and Gramercy Tavern. In 2008, Lahey opened his first restaurant, Co., where he turned his signature bread into artisanal pizzas. Famous for his no-knead method, Lahey is trying to spread the word with his recently published book, My Bread, as well a more personal approach: baking lessons at Sullivan Street Bakery. Over lunch at Co., the loquacious baker with “major A.D.D.” spoke with me about the importance of good reviews, culinary influences, and his idea of the most bitter, foul taste in food: effort.

Point of Origin: I ended up going to art school (School of Visual Arts) and developed a fascination with Europe. A really great teacher at the time said, “Dude you’re too smart to be a dumb fucking painter and your interests are too varied for you to be in this school. You also need to get laid. Go to college.” So basically that’s what I did. I went to college to interact with normal people as opposed to art students who tend to be trust fund kids and shit. I went to Stony Brook in Long Island. Probably not the best place for me to go. I dropped out, when back to SVA. Then I got kicked out of SVA.

On the difference between running a bakery versus a restaurant: One is moving parts. In a wholesale operation there are many moving parts, many more people involved in getting the thing to the customer. The other thing is it’s more glamorous to work in a restaurant than a wholesale operation. Restaurant have a fantastic cast of characters, but there’s a bit more glamor especially right now with the celebrification of chefs and renewed interest in cooking. Restaurants are very similar in a way because I find that as a chef I’m constantly battling with the ideas of what the worker has, of what the part is, even if it’s explained to them.

Favorite pizza: Right now, it’s the honshimeji and guanciale. As an eater, all we care about is the results, we don’t care about the effort because we don’t see the effort and hopefully we don’t taste the effort. There is no flavor more bitter or foul than effort. If I taste effort in food wherever I eat, I rarely ever return.

Where the meat and potatoes come from: The meats we get from Pat Lefrieda, phenomenal supplier. Very high quality, high standards. We try to buy as much of our vegetables from the Union Square farmers market or local farms if possible. Right now it’s obviously really difficult because it’s so cold and we get our nuts and bolts from very small wholesale suppliers.

On the importance of reviews: The most important review is watching the plates go back empty. Seeing that there is a local, loyal clientele that own the restaurant and embrace the culture of the restaurant.

On being called the David Chang of carbs: That’s flattering. I don’t know if I’ll be able to undo the damage that Atkins did to the world with bread and this phobia, this misguided phobia, that Americans have about carbs. Really at the end of the day, if you’re physically active, eat as you want. I’m flattered; it’s a really nice thing to say. David’s a phenomenal chef. I wish I was allowed to curse more in my book, but my editor killed my voice. I think we’d be compared more. I haven’t read the Momofuku book but I heard there’s a lot of fuck and shit in it.

On the haters: Because of the way the pizza industry is set up and also because of our culture about it and how we’ve been introduced to it, what our expectations are, there are a lot of people who have become “Company haters,” “Co. haters.” I wasn’t trying to dumb it down for them. I wasn’t trying to put tons of cheese and tons of sauce on. I want out product to have its own signature, its own pedigree.

How to get the perfect recipe: I like, for myself, to develop recipes with two approaches. One approach is to make an absolutely mistake just to eliminate that from the realm of possibilities. The other thing I like doing is relying on the sort of vast, kind of technical, acquired sense about what things weigh and what ratios you can get away with to make things work and just make things on the fly. I love cooking without recipes. But I have to say when you make something good and you don’t record it you have to go back and scramble to find that harmony. Sometimes you can nail things so perfectly it’s funny.

Favorite chefs: Obviously I mentioned David Chang. Of course I love Jean George. He’s very inspirational. I love his restraint, executing very complicating things but holding back. I don’t taste effort at that restaurant.

Go-to restaurants: I like Bar Pitti, though they don’t buy my bread anymore. I really like Grand Sichuan. I really like Five Points. Any restaurant that Michael White has cheffed in. I think he’s a leader in that pack. I love I Sodi on Christopher Street. I haven’t been in a long time but I did have a religious lasagna experience there. I haven’t been to Eleven Madison Park, but I hear it’s amazing. And Txikito.

Best slice in the city? I have a very hard time answering that question. You know, I respect what everyone does. My favorite pizza restaurant in the United States besides my own is Pizzaria Bianco in Phoenix. It’s the only one.

Daily routine, breakfast: An egg white sandwich. Or egg white over oatmeal. Or egg white sandwich on whole wheat toast. No butter, no cheese.

Secrets he left out of My Bread: Here’s the thing. There are other books that recount the no-knead process. The publishing industry saw an opportunity to make money for this not based on their interest to change culture, but their own personal profit and gain. This is the American way. This is the land of Madoff. This is our society. I don’t really think any of those books do justice to the process. I think, again, there’s this tendency to dumb things down. I had to fight for the content that the book has.

Michelle Obama Lunches at Gramercy Tavern, New Yorkers Go Nuts

Ah, New Yorkers: we’re pretty cool when it comes to having celebrities in our presence, or at least, unspoken rules dictate that we should be. If you’re not, you’re either a tourist, or new to town, in which case: get out of my way, I have to get to work/lunch/the subway. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule: The Obama Family. So when we got word that the First Lady was having lunch at Gramercy Tavern (literally, around the corner from BlackBook HQ), like hell we weren’t going to get the chance to be twenty feet from the place. Editorial reaction, pictures of the scene, and Ms. Obama’s exit? Oh yes.

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Secret Service agents and cops were all over the place, naturally, and onlookers generally stuck around for about twenty minutes to half an hour to wait it out. This guy kept moving unmarked white vans in front of us. Asshole. We were gonna have Assistant Editor Ben Barna test the Secret Services reflexes by doing a cartwheel in front of the crowd, but we thought better of it: Ben’s both a bleeder and a Canadian.

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Danny Meyer catered the UN luncheon yesterday, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Michelle hit up the Gram for lunch. They take walk-ins and rezzies, and have a moderately priced menu with a special lunch prix-fixe (that she probably didn’t opt for). Personally, I wanted to try for a walk-in res, but Eiseley had already ordered lunch and I’m self-conscious about being frisked, so we decided it was a no-go. We’d be onlookers, too. People exiting the restaurant generally had no idea she was even there, it’d seem, as they were all kind of shocked at the complete circus that greeted them outside. And then, at about 2:10 PM, the First Lady exited the restaurant.

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Five Secret Service agents pour out, Michelle in the middle of them. Loud applause and cheering erupt; she smiles, waves, and then gets in her car. It maybe lasted all of five seconds. If that. Personally, between the buildup and my unrequited crush on Michelle Obama, I got the chills. She’s got a great smile and I felt like an indescribably fluffy pillow sacked me in the face. She’s smiling in my general direction OMG. It was wonderful. And then, fifteen seconds later, 20th was essentially the same as it was two hours ago: another brutally boring Flatiron thru-street.

Ben Barna, Assistant Editor: “It was pretty exciting stuff, I’m not going to lie. But then again I’m a starfucker and she’s a supernova. Quick climax to a long build-up, but totally worth it.”

Eiseley Tauginas, Assistant Editor: “I was shocked at how many people were gathered outside before we arrived to catch a glimpse of her. Word travels fast. It was well worth the wait to see the crowd’s reaction when she stepped out. Seeing Michelle Obama in the flesh made me aware of the reality of the American Dream. Beautiful, smart women can be role models, and if they marry the right way, they can have a Secret Service detail too.”

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Industry Insiders: Katie Grieco, Crafty VP

As vice president of operations and new business development of Craft Restaurant Group, Katie Grieco works shoulder-to-shoulder with famed chef and Bravo’s most recognizable Top Chef personality, Tom Colicchio. Overseeing the Craft, Craftbar, Craftsteak and ‘wichcraft locations nationwide (New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Las Vegas) Grieco often has her hands full. She gets the job done one restaurant at a time.

Describe a typical day on the job. After the last five years being in this growth mode at Craft, opening on average a restaurant a year, a regular day for me would be normal office daytime hours. My job is dealing with developing new projects. If we’re opening a restaurant in Atlanta, then I’m working with the architect on the design, choosing materials, figuring out table layout, working on hiring managers for particular locations or working with the graphic designer. On any given day, I’m confronted with human resource issues. Someone needs to be hired or fired or counseled. I get involved with that when it takes place at the management level. I’m in constant communication with Tom. When he’s in town, it’s about sitting in his office and keeping him up to speed on everything that’s going on and asking his advice on certain decisions.

It sounds like you’re never out of things to do. No, never. It’s fun that way, and I appreciate the lack of routine because I think it keeps me inspired to continue learning.

Did Tom’s involvement in Top Chef change the dynamic of the company? The only way it changed the dynamic of the company is that it brings a group of people into the restaurant who might not have otherwise come. The show has an enormous fan base, and Tom has an enormous fan base. He gets all sorts of letters of praise, and people who watch the show and know Tom think, “Oh I should go and see what it is that he really does and understand how he is as a chef and why it makes him a good judge.” That’s certainly the main reason why he wanted to do that show in the beginning. He thought, “People know me in New York, but they don’t know who I am in Dallas, and so, if I can do this show it can get the word out about Craft.” It had nothing to do with wanting fame or notoriety in the celebrity sense. His involvement in the show has really achieved the goals that he set out to meet. It’s been a welcome addition to the Craft world.

Are you a Top Chef fanatic? I watch the show religiously because of Tom but partly just because I love it. If I had no involvement in the restaurant business, it would completely turn me off from being a chef. Many years ago, I had visions of being a chef which is sort of why I got into this business.

You started off as Tom’s personal assistant? I got my masters at Cornell in hospitality management, and when I got out, I wanted a management position somewhere. I had no service experience and was not ready to be a manager but signed on to be Tom’s assistant. I thought Gramercy Tavern seemed to be the place I wanted to work. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It got me a career that I love, and I met my husband ant Gramercy Tavern. Tom has given me so much autonomy well before I even deserved it.

Where do you eat and drink outside of Craft? One of my favorites is Lupa. I also like Boqueria. My husband, Paul Grieco, is also in the restaurant business so we go to his restaurants, Hearth, Terroir and Insieme.

Since both of you are in the restaurant business, are you competitive? I suppose some people on any given night are thinking, “Should I go to Hearth or should I go to Craft?” But not really. I think we target different parts of the market, and we’re in different enough neighborhoods.

Has Craft’s emphasis on using local foods wavered at all recently? It hasn’t changed at all. We still have the same priorities as far as using local ingredients and the highest quality ingredients we can find. The recession has made us think of different ways to use the ingredients. For example, we use fava beans for a different use at Frugal Fridays than when we use them at Craft. We can never change the focus of seasonal, high quality ingredients. We could go out of business if we ever did because that’s really what Craft is all about.

Recent positive trends in the industry? When the downturn first happened, I was sitting in management meetings and saying, “Lets not look at this as punishment, let’s look at this as an opportunity to do something great and different and new.” The restaurant business is never easy. It used to be like, if you opened your doors you could makes some money or be trendy enough for a little while. Now things need a shake. There are just too many, and having this opportunity to let the good people rise to the occasion and do some new things has been a lot of fun.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? My guiltiest pleasure is watching America’s Next Top Model. It’s horribly embarrassing.

What’s your dream spot for a Craft location? I’d have to say London. We’ve talked a lot about it, and we’ve always thought that London would be such a perfect city for a Craft.