Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming of Awesome Food

Something about the word “catering” just doesn’t bring to mind interesting food, let alone good food. At Pinch Food Design, co-founders Bob Spiegel and TJ Girard are changing that, but they are also altering the way that the goods are displayed and utilizing what they dubbed, “food furniture” to do it.

“A party is a live moment, and it’s only going to be that way in that moment just that one time,” said Girard, the designer of the pair. “something that is really pure and exciting about combining memorable and entertaining presentations with delicious cuisine.”

Last night I got a double taste of what they have been doing since 2011 at this sleek studio in Chelsea, and each aspect was more delightful than the last. In one section, a handsome waiter put out clipboards that had a sheet covered in thin slices of cheese, bread, and charcuterie. The bottom of the board had a circular groove cut in it, perfect for resting the makeshift plate on a glass of pinot gris.

As the night went on, more sharply dressed waiters came by with plates of “green eggs and ham,” which had neat little compartments built in them to stash the used spoons and toothpicks. Another round showcased a long sandwich holder that, instead of inserting trays of food into a conversation, created a line in the center so people on all sides could pluck a truffle-laced bite.

The back section featured a “rolling table,” which was covered in white marbles so dishes could easily slide over to the guests without teetering. Here they dished up novel plates of sashimi before switching over to a multi-layered dessert operation that involved coconut-mango sauce inside what looked to be a silicone udder.

“I think that event planners and caterers tend to not make the riskiest choices in food and design because they’re usually preparing an event for a large group of people,” said Spiegel, the executive chef, in a written statement. “If we can do something that pushes the envelope, does not seem too risky, yet is out on the edge with its presentation and robust flavors, then we’ve made an impact that will resonate with clients and their guests, and hopefully impact the catering industry as a whole.”

All the tools Pinch Food Design displayed were of their own making, and are ones they utilize on a daily basis. Also, while the plates, trays, tables, and displays shined, Spiegel’s food also took a bow. The menu, said Spiegel, is a retake on classic flavors, and incorporates multicultural cuisines with new American fare. So far, the list includes over 300 choices, and one day, I hope, I will get to try them all.

NYC Ballet Wins By Choosing FAILE

When Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil of the Brooklyn-based artist collaborative FAILE got a commission from the New York City Ballet to create an art installation, neither had any inkling of this time honored dance save for a run in with the Nutcracker when they were children. “It was neat to look at the history of NYC Ballet and realize it’s about being contemporary, modern, and pushing what ballet is,” said Miller. “[George] Balanchine was this amazing figure who broke out of the chains of what ballet is, which is something we like to do too.”

Now, they not only have gone through archives of programs, posters, and photographs of the NYC Ballet, but they have seen numerous performances and got to watch behind the scenes productions. With all the newfound knowledge of this dance, FAILE has created a towering masterpiece in the center of the David H. Koch Theater that pays homage to this fine art.

“We connect to them not only as artists, but athletes in their own rights,” said Miller about watching the ballerinas rehearse and perform. “We would see them practicing the same pirouette 10 to 12 times and only nail it twice, and then, seeing them when they were in the full throes of the ballet—that was interesting and inspiring.”

They call their installation Les Ballets de Faile, and it’s the inaugural work for the dance company’s New York City Ballet Art Series. The piece reaches right to the ceiling and features panels of art that look like they may have fluttered out of a graphic novel version of Swan Lake (or Black Swan). There is one image of a tattooed girl hugging the legs of a ballerina, a wolf with dancers gams, and a Betty Paige-esq woman wrangling a large orange man.

For many lucky ballet goers on February 1 and May 29, FAILE has packaged up two-by-two wooden blocks from their project, each hand painted, and each unique. “They are ‘building blocks’ of the installation in the show,” said Miller. “It’s to extend the conversation after the performance, and hopefully, it encourages more people to go out and enjoy the ballet.”

Pork, Pork, Women, and Pork at Cochon 555

The only thing that makes pork better is when you can get a sustainably raised, heritage bred pig, which is exactly what Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon 555, thinks. “Buying into heritage pork is synonymous with putting your money directly into the farmer’s pocket and creating a diversified landscape of flavor for the future, and that feels good to me,” he said. “The best part, heritage pork is not super expensive, it just takes time to find a local farmer, butcher shop or restaurant buying from these farms.”

Cochon 555 takes place on February 10th at Chelsea Piers, and there, you can see chefs showing off their skills at taking down a whole pig, and preparing a menu of pork-centric dishes for the audience. This is the fifth year they are doing it, but this time, the butcher block is made entirely of women, including Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Elizabeth Falkner from Krescendo, Leah Cohen of Pig and Khao, Shanna Pacifico of Back Forty West, and A Voce’s Missy Robbins.

“Five years ago it was hard to find five chefs taking in whole animals, or would stand behind their teams while they prepare a whole pig in competition for their peers,” said Lowe. “Now, look how far we’ve come, in one of the best culinary food cities in the world, an all-female cast can stand behind family farms, with their teams and turn out 36 amazing dishes of heritage pig for a good cause.”

Lowe dubbed the event 555 for, five chefs, five pigs, and five winemakers, which this year showcases Scholium Project, Elk Cove Vineyards, Greg Linn Wines, Turley Wine Cellars, and Buty Winery. Also, in honor of their fifth year anniversary, they are adding five bourbons to the list including Templeton Rye, Breckenridge Bourbon, High West, Four Roses, and my favorite, Buffalo Trace. In between sips, watch a butchering demonstration by Sara Bigelow from the Meat Hook, sample artisan cheese at the cheese bar, or root for your favorite bartender at their inaugural Punch Kings competition.

Of course, the focus is the pig, and bringing awareness the heritage breeds, of which there are about 30 (Lowe’s favorite is the Large Black), and this is just one of the 10 cities Lowe brings his snout-to-tail event to. “My goal is to provide choices to chefs and to diversify the pig landscape so life is more interesting for those of us who care,” said Lowe. “It’s important to let family farms know that we care about the choice to buy a better, more flavorful product, even if cost is higher.”

Get Warm at the NYChilifest

As the days keep getting colder, the idea of a chili festival sounds might warm and inviting. You’re in luck; this Sunday is the Third Annual NYChilifest, taking place at the Chelsea Market from 7 to 9pm. For $55 you get unlimited Sam Adams beer and chili samples from some of the city’s, excuse the pun, hottest purveyors. Twenty-three restaurants are participating, including Perla, Pies n’Thighs, Potlikker, Salvation Taco, Talde, and Gramercy Tavern.

Like last year, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, one of the presenters along with The Cleaver Company, is supplying each team with t100 percent dry-aged, locally raised beef. After sampling from each crock, cookbook author Rick Rogers, New York Times food writer Julia Moskin, Wrighteous Organics‘ Martin Tessarzik, and Laura Silverman, founder of Gluttonforlife.com will decide the winner of the Golden Chili Mug of 2013.

What’s not to like about 500 feet of hot chili fun, with perky country music by The Dixon’s included. All proceeds benefit Food Systems Network NYC, so when you leave to hold your belly and down an antacid, you will know your chili binge was totally worth it.

Boobs, Bubbles, and Beaumarchais

Most people know Beaumarchais for their wild brunch parties on the weekends that start soft and end up with dancing on the tables. Last night, though no one got higher than a chair, I was pleased to see Wednesdays are also hot, and that after 11pm, the swanky French restaurant turns into a mini nightclub.

This, of course, didn’t come on sporadically. The party fire was fueled by an unbelievably sexy and classy performance by a troop of burlesque dancers, courtesy of Dances of Vice, an entertainment and party organization run by vintage-goth Shien Lee. Every week these ladies tease the stage and audience with Nuit Blanche, their theme-based weekly show that runs from 9:30 to 11pm right in the middle of the dining room. This week we were treated to a Boardwalk Empire premise, flapper dresses, bee-stung lips, and feather boas included.

For guests it’s complimentary, though don’t be surprised if a foxy lady or two saunters over to your table, tassels shaking, and steals a kiss and sip of your Champaign. It’s all in good fun.

While your there, take a gander at the menu, the food, I was surprised to find, is actually high-class. True, executive chef David E Diaz makes dishes that are as exuberant as the space and vibe, but who doesn’t want to tuck into a plate of uber creamy gnocchi with truffle, a pot of lobster topped with caviar, or a classy crock of salmon tartare, roe included. Chase that down with their jalapeño-infused tequila cocktail, or a giant glass of Rioja, and you have got yourself a night to remember.

Photo by Ben Goldstein.

Lyon Gets Revamped As Cole’s Greenwich Village

I was sad to see the French brassiere Lyon go last year, but with the onset of Cole’s Greenwich Village in the old spot, parting isn’t such sweet sorrow. After all, the new joint, owned by Lyon’s own Penny Bradley, skips the coque au vin and steak frites, and instead, they specialize in dry-aged Prime New York Strip, fresh pasta, and novel takes on classic cocktails.

On the food side, Bradley has commissioned chef Daniel Eardley, from the now closed Chestnut, who brings his knowledge of seasonal and local cuisine to the table. Try dishes including the grilled sardines with duck-fat potatoes, Eardley’s Tuscan kale salad with parmesan, a double-cut pork chop with white polenta and fig jus, and their stout-braised ribs.

Handling the drink side is booze maverick, Johnny Swet from Jimmy at The James. This means you can waltz into the corner bistro and try drinks laced with all sorts of fun stuff including honey, sage, mint, and peppercorns. Swet acts as a managing partner with David Rabin from The Lamb’s Club and Jimmy at The James‘s Larry Poston.

The space, while it maintains the integrity of its triangular shape, now is decked out with prints and sketches giving it more of a gastropub feel than the classic French that was there before. It’s 2013 folks, just like Bradley, I say, out with the old, in with the new-old-style eateries. 

Getting to Know Cruise Food With Chef John Suley

The words, “cruise food” don’t impart the idea of a delicious meal prepared with care while on vacation. No, usually these words invoke the thought of a insipid buffet on a giant ship—and this is one reason chef John Suley, the director of culinary operations for Celebrity Cruises, is trying to change his customer’s perception. From January 29 to February 1, Suley is hosting a popup restaurant in The Kitchen NYC to showcase what, and how, he is bringing gourmet back to ocean. For $40, you can try his three-course lunch, or $75 gets you a three-course dinner (tickets here). I caught up with Suley to find out how one gets into cooking on a cruise ship, what he hopes to change, and why food on boats has such a bad rep.

How did you get into cruise cooking? 
I was invited to be a guest chef on Celebrity Equinox, the second in Celebrity’s series of award-winning Solstice Class ships, and was fascinated by the fact that an operation so huge could also be driven by an unwavering commitment to creating the best food and beverage experience possible. The team onboard was energetic, engaged, excited, and genuinely passionate about what they did. These amazing individuals represent over 65 nationalities, each with their own outlook, experience, culinary influences, and culture.

What did you do before?
Earlier in my career, I worked all over the world with celebrity chefs in Michelin-starred restaurants, and found myself at a point where I too wanted to make an impact. When the opportunity to take a leadership role on Celebrity’s team came up, I knew that I could do just that. I could work, train, motivate, and inspire our crew onboard.

How does it work?
Operationally, our ships are similar to any large luxury hotel in the world. Each vessel has multiple food and beverage outlets, the only difference is that we are at sea. Celebrity puts the culinary experience at the top and wants to be recognized as the best operation on land or at sea.

What do people assume about cruise food that is and isn’t true? 
People have no idea that our food is made from scratch. That’s right, we make all products onboard, bring whole primals of meat, which our butchers break down for the guest to consume. All bread, pastry, soups, stocks, and sauces are made on board. The ship’s food experiences are consistently very high quality. Our food surprises a lot of people. 

Do you think the food on cruises is getting better?
Our food is outstanding. In terms of the perception that food on cruises needs to get better, Celebrity is working to change that belief. Last year, we not only became the first cruise line to cook dinner at the legendary James Beard House, we also created the first cruise-line, land-based, pop-up restaurant. We’re doing another one in Manhattan later this month.

What are you doing to bring gourmet food to the ship? 
We seek to procure the best ingredients from our various ports from around the world and incorporate those offerings into our menus. We’re partnering with SPE/Rouge Tomate to create healthy experiences onboard. We want to be diverse in offering multiple dining options to our guests on board. We want, and will, continue to be forward thinkers, trendsetters in our field who take our cuisine around the world to major culinary events as guests or participants. 

Are there obstacles you face when choosing a menu for a cruise? 
Because our ships are so large, and our consumption is high, we have to make sure we can source enough product to sustain a seven to 14 day cruise. We do one large loading on the first day of the cruise, and we do top off with fresh loadings of produce in daily ports to ensure the best quality and freshest product for our guests. Our ships can be in the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, the Mediterranean and beyond, so logistically, we have to be precise and organized with deliveries to our ships. 

Chefs Flock to the Cayman Cookout

Yesterday, while blissfully bathing in the warm water of the Caribbean, I watched as Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, and other chefs dipped their tanned toes into the water so they could get a group photo in the soothing orange light of the sunset.

This little photo op was just the beginning of this weekend’s fifth annual Cayman Cookout, which begins today at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman. Started by Ripert in 2009, the three-day, celebrity chef-packed even showcases the finer things in life: food, wine, and the white sands of a tropical resort.

Ripert started the event for the pure fact that he loves the island, and calls it his home away from home. He is not alone in his amour of the Cayman Islands; there are over 150 restaurants on them, and many owned by top chefs including Dean Max, who has Brasserie here, Vidyadhara Shetty, the president of the Cayman Culinary Society, and of course Ripert himself who has Blue by Eric Ripert.

As this morning kicked off the festival, along with chef Jose Andres jet-packed stunt on Seven-Mile Beach, there will also be wine tastings and classes with Food & Wine’s Ray Isle, the art of pie with Spike Mendelsohn, a beach picnic courtesy of Daniel Humm, and fresh fish with Paul Bartolotta.

It might already be Friday, but it’s not too late to jump on a plane and join this tasty beach party.

A Parisian Lunch in the West Village

Former Bagatelle partner Angelo Peruzzi opened up La Villette about three months ago, just in time to be hit by Hurricane Sandy. Now, the French brasserie has gotten into the swing of things and is kicking off their new lunch menu this week. The goal, said Peruzzi, is to bring the café culture to the corner of Downing and 6th Avenue, which once housed the restaurant 10 Downing. After Peruzzi took over this past summer, he tapped into his carpentry knowledge and gutted the place to create a café and brasserie in the classic French style.

Now, the space sports antiqued mirrors welded together to create a modern-meets-old wall piece, burgundy banquettes, and a pewter bar made from one solid piece by an artist from Seattle. The now exposed floor-to-ceiling windows are also a nice addition, and let in plenty of daylight for La Villette’s new lunch, and soon-to-be breakfast service. 

As far as the new midday menu is concerned, chef Christophe Bonnegrace has concocted a $19 prix fixe that includes coffee, your choice of appetizers like the house vegetable soup, salad, or the soup de jour, and an entrée. On a cold winter day, we chose to warm the belly with their hearty coq au vin and the piping hot hachis parmentier, otherwise known as French shepherd’s pie.

They also offer a $12 sandwich menu with classic options including croque monsieur or madame, jambon beurre cornichon (ham, butter, and pickles), and tomato with mozzarella. Each creation is served on a baguette made from dough they import from Paris and bake in house. For those of you who can take a nap after lunch, the chef’s burger for $16 is a decedent option, as its lamb and beef patty comes with your choice of cheese and topped with foie gras. Bon appétit indeed.