August is a good month to stay inside in the AC with memories.
Some of the Bistro’s richest are our August memories of preparing for our first Beard House dinner.
The most demanding and most exhilarating dinner a restaurateur will ever produce is a performance dinner at the James Beard House in New York City – America’s culinary temple.
The coveted invitation begins with discreet visits from anonymous members of the Beard House board.
If they consider you worthy, you get an interview.
Susan and I travelled to the House for an interview with Mildred – a tough lady with “dred” right there in her name.
I wore my New York jacket and tie and sported a Golden Spoon on my lapel.
The Golden Spoon was awarded by Florida Trend to the top 20 restaurants in the state.
The Spoon was a big deal – in Florida – but it seemed to just antagonize Mildred.
“So what’s a Golden Spoon except something to stick on your jacket?”
Nice. An auspicious beginning.
Mildred’s culinary universe ended at the shores of Manhattan. There were lesser satellites in Boston and Washington, but she saw no signs of culinary life south of the Mason-Dixon.
I asked if we got to perform a dinner if we could reserve some tickets for guests traveling with us.
Mildred sniffed. “You need not worry. You will never sell out the Beard House.”
My Irish blood began to simmer.
I gave her my pale imitation of my Uncle George’s stink eye.
“M’am I will buy every one of those tickets right now if you like. We will sell out the Beard House.”
Mildred made her sniffing noise.
She turned to our media packet. “So, you host a St Patrick’s Day parade.”
I was aggravated. I boasted a little. “It’s the largest St Patrick’s Day Parade south and east of Savannah.”
It was the only St Patrick’s Day Parade south and east of Savannah.
Mildred baited me. “In our little town on Long Island we have an elephant in our St Patrick’s Day parade.”
Susan looked at my face and thought, “Uh-Oh. We are going to have an elephant in our next St Patrick’s Day parade.”
Weeks later the Bistro received its invitation. Our date was set for September of the next year.
That August was a torment. Getting the world’s best lamb, shrimp and lobster and a thousand accoutrements from all over the hemisphere into the basement kitchen of the W Hotel, 1500 miles away, was the logistical culinary equivalent of D-Day.
I arrived a week early to catch the scores of shipments. I gave out $100 bills to hotel staff like they were fives.
They could have stolen us blind. I had to make sure everything hit the walk-in and stayed there.
The more complex sauces and butters had to be carefully prepared at the Bistro and then shipped in massive coolers with dry ice on the inside and duct tape all over the outside.
The chef team arrived and began securing our provenance.
A panicked chef called.
“UPS busted one of the coolers.
The chocolate truffle terrine is floating in the blue tomato soup! What are we gonna do?”
“Taste it,” I said.
“Taste it. When are we going to get another chance to taste chocolate terrine in the tomato soup.”
That night we started our dinner with a fresh batch of blue tomato soup.
The place was packed.
I told Mildred we would sell out the Beard House, and we did.
Our food heaven with butter-poached lobster and foie gras on domestic Colorado rack of lamb wowed them.
I finished my evening swilling a bottle of Caymus, sitting with my bare feet poking out of my hotel window. I was exhausted, but triumphant.
Mildred be damned.