Review: Some Enchanted Evening…of “Food and Pleasure”

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Florence Fabricant, Drew Nieporent, Gabriel Kreuther, and Bill Yosses
How It’s New York: “Pen, Paper and Palate” takes place in New York City, the brainchild of Ruda Dauphin. The May, 2012 installment included  two of the City’s premiere chefs, a restauranteur, and a food columnist.
How It’s Irish: The program was presented jointly with the Irish Arts Center. The debonair Frank Delaney, born and bred in County Tipperary, was the moderator.

Sue Sylvester attends a delicious panel about food that feeds her soul but sadly not her tummy:
“The feeling was nothing less than an intimate dinner party with friends – who happened to be among the culinary elite…”

In the shadow of MoMA, there nestles at the base of the building at 13-15 West 54th Street a promising little restaurant called La Petite Maison. Within its Euro-white walls, a third Pen, Paper and Palate event celebrating Irish, French, and American writing, culture, and food took place on May 8th (we’ve also written a bit about earlier Pen, Paper and Palate outings, Writers as Witness, and the first one last May!).

Billed as “Food and Pleasure”, the evening featured a panel discussion with such culinary lions as Gabriel Kreuther,  head chef at The Modern at MoMA; Bill Yosses, executive pastry chef at the White House and former executive pastry chef at Bouley; and Drew Nieporent, restaurateur who operates Tribeca Grill and “all the Nobus.”  Florence Fabricant, food and wine columnist for the New York Times, punctuated the discussions with her expansive international experience. Rounding out this amazing roster was golden-voiced Frank Delaney, noted BBC host and author extraordinaire, as ringmaster, tossing questions out to panelists with fearless – and often humorous – aplomb.

The claws were out for most of the question-and-answer portion:  
  • food television (“trivializes the word “chef”), 
  • Around the World in 80 Plates is stupid”, 
  • “tends to document what chefs do rather than cast a critical eye”, 
  • “more “reality style” these days [but losing the great traditions of cooking]”, 
  • “people are more demanding [now] but have little knowledge”, 
  • “it’s about celebrity [not the food]”);  
  • molecular gastronomy (the science in cooking); 
  • nouvelle cuisine and the kiwi (an illustration of fad cooking); 
  • and agra business (“not sustainable because the ground is depleted.”


On the other hand, the chefs seemed encouraged by Walmart and Walgreen’s going organic.  There was also  information about the documentary Finding North about the ubiquitousness of hunger, made by Tom Colicchio’s wife’s, Lori Silverbush. 

In answer to the question “Which is more important: food criticism or restaurants’ reputation?”, Nieporent answered it was a restaurant’s reputation, and further stated that critics are stingy with stars.

The stories were the real stars of the evening. We listened to Yosses and Nieporent reminisce about meeting and working together at Montrachet in 1985, each prompting the other to relate wonderful tales. We watched as Kreuther humbly talked about growing up in his native Alsace region of France surrounded by cooking and cuisine, the child of a culinary family naturally continuing his heritage. “I just followed my heart,” he said.

We laughed as Delaney admitting that his first exposure to TV and food was that wonderful Aussie chef Graham Kerr, the “Galloping Gourmet” – and “aha-ed” as Nieporent admitted that the same show inspired him to get into the restaurant business. 

A feast for the ears (@Sue Sylvester)

Yosses told us that the Obamas‘ dining philosophy is “having a lovely conversation” around wonderful food, and that they only allow their lavish dinners to last 55 minutes. He also said that both presidents (George W. Bush and Barack Obama) love American pies – adding, with his ready grin, that it’s the only thing they agree on. The feeling was nothing less than an intimate dinner party with friends – who happened to be among the culinary elite.


Best of all was the amazing amount of information generously extended to our eager ears: what an education! From the off-hand observations, such as Kreuther stating simply that “Learning about food starts at home” and “I believe schools could be used in a better way,” to  extraordinary discoveries such as Yosses telling us that, according to olfactory studies at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, flavors can be transferred to fetuses in the third trimester, the panelists both entertained and fascinated. 

To the all-important question “Who is the greatest living chef…”, they answered unhesitatingly: 

Florence Fabricant and Frank Delaney (@Sue Sylvester)

Nieporent, said André Soltner and Gabriel Kreuther.
Pierre Gagnaire, said Yosses.  
 Fabricant came up with the surprising (to the other panelists, who promptly agreed) answer of “Alice Waters”, and also showed her metal when she stated that “There are no children’s menus in France.” This was one of my favorite quotes during an evening of rapid-fire bon-mots.

“If music be the food of love”, we were served up numerous tasty “dishes” in the performances of toothsome violinist Gregory Harrington and the charming, gregarious Yves Montand-“tributor” Jean Brassard. In solo performances and duets, these two men commanded our attention – no small feat, considering the rest of the program.
Aside from the evening starting late with some small confusion, and noise from an upstairs dining room occasionally adding an unintended distraction, I had only one problem with the entire evening: why would the event planners, putting together a program that features Gabriel Kreuther,  head chef at The Modern at MoMA, and Bill Yosses, executive pastry chef at the White House and former executive pastry chef at Bouley, not offer samples of their work to us, their adoring audience? Does this sound as strange to you as it does to me?

The “ad” sent out from the Irish Arts Center even said to stay around for a surprise – which turned out to be a very touching musical remembrance of VE Day, sung and played on the harmonica by Brassard.   I certainly don’t quibble over that: my own father served in both theaters in World War II. La Petite Maison stepped up to the plate, so to speak, serving a limited, “special” menu…of hamburgers, tiramisu, and house wine, among other familiar fare. 

Perhaps I’m just a spoiled, jaded New Yorker but, even though the hamburgers had a béarnaise sauce and rosemary fries,  I was uninspired enough not to order anything except what my dad used to call a two-cents plain (water) – although I was told that the Caesar salad was delicious. If truth be told, I was gleefully anticipating being the pied piper to a new midtown restaurant. I guess I’ll just have to open my Zagat’s – oh, perhaps not: that was panned by the panelists, too. Quite an evening!

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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts
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