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Inside a James Beard Dinner

Authors note: With the rebirth or EOL I figured I'd republish some of my favorite articles.
All the Best,
G

The De Seversky Mansion

 

Presenting a dinner at the James Beard House is one of the jewels most Chefs would love to have in their resume. Chef Robert Rizzuto CEC, CCE of the New York Institutes of Technology (NYIT) de Seversky Conference Center in Old Westbury New Yorkhosted two events there in 2002. The first one was an Easter Brunch and the most recent, December 28th 2002 a "Palm Springs Christmas".
To get an overview of the process involved in putting on one of these events I spent two days prior to the dinner in the kitchen at the de Seversky, taking pictures and talking to the staff. I am pretty comfortable in this kitchen; I worked there under Chef Rizzuto (Bobby or Robert, as he prefers to be called by the staff) for over a year. It was like a home coming. In the small world category I have also had most of the staff as students my self.
The Ball Room at the deSeversky mansion The Center is housed in the neo-classical Georgian Gold Coast Mansion commissioned by Alfred I. Du Pont in 1916. An active Culinary Arts program under the auspices of the NYIT Culinary Arts Program at the Islip Campus is on the site, with classrooms and practical kitchens. School functions for NYIT and a from scratch Gourmet lunch buffet during the school year keep them busy. (It's open to the public but don't tell anyone, it one of the best kept secrets on Long Island. For specific information, please call 516-686-7675) The Center is noted for its very high end weddings and catered special events on the weekends. No advertising is permitted to promote catering at the Center by the local town, but the word of mouth keeps the weekends booked. The annual Gold Coast Wine Classic, Vatel Club picnics, Chaine des Rotisseurs dinners and monthly Epicurean Club Dinners are some of the other numerous culinary events that keep Chef Rizzuto and his fine staff from getting bored.

In July of 2002 Bobby was in his office doing the next weeks schedule, when Mildred Amico, program director of the Beard House, called. After speaking to her for a few minutes, Bobby walks down the hall from his office to the lower kitchen and announces to the staff "Guess what guys, we've been invited back to the Beard House!"
The process of preparing dinner at the Beard House is similar to a 5 course dinner for 100+ in a three story house out of your home kitchen. Only, it's not your kitchen. It's one where you have to bring in EVERTHING and you don't know what to expect until you enter the kitchen. In many off premises catering situations you can bring in your own cook tents and stoves. This is frowned upon in lower Manhattan. Did I mention that as guests arrive, they enter first through the kitchen, during service, and procede to the dining areas? Fortunately, this is Chef Rizzuto's second experience, so he knows his mise en place has to be perfect.
90% of the work, is in the planning process for the event . The menu has to take into account the space available in the tiny kitchen as well as the fact there is no walkin and very minimal refrigeration. You bring in all of your own cookware and special serving dishes and there is only minimal storage space. There is no parking area except for the street, and that is taken up on one side by the doctor's only parking and the other by staff and visitors to St Vincent,s Hospital, directly across the street from the Beard House.
There are many considerations to be taken before submitting the menu to the Beard House. Befor the event a meeting is held with the staff. Considerations- the taste of the menu, La Grande Dame 1995 especially because it's a Champagne tasting menu made in cooperation with Veuve Clicquot Champagne. (Mierelle Guiliano, President of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and wife of Dr. Edward Guiliano, President of NYIT are both great supporters of the de Seversky Center). The deadline for submitting the Beard House newsletter for the menu is September 15th. The initial menu is created and forwarded to Veuve Clicquot for wine pairings with the food. A suggestion was then made to replace the orange marmalade garnish for the crab salad and the chocolate dessert to blend better with the champagne. A switch is made to a celeriac salad for the crab app and to a dessert with fruit and nuts- Praline and Dried Fruit Charlotte with Champagne Anglaise Sauce.

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Now that they have the menu it's time for list, and lists of lists. All the standard kitchen lists are required, grocery, produce, dairy, meat, fish, serving ware, prep schedules, staff schedules etc. But there are even more for this type of event. You need lists for packing and unpacking as well as task schedules for all for the day of the event, to avoid any wasted time. The prior prep I critical, you have to do absolutely everything possible ahead of time. Everyone has to know their duties and timetable, from the moment the truck arrives in front of the Beard House.
On December 6th there is a trial run for the menu at the monthly Epicurean dinner at de Seversky. The small sautiors and glass ware for the seafood sampler, which were due in September, are still lost somewhere in customs.
The two days of prep before the event are pretty much the same as if they were doing the event at the de Seversky Center except everything is labeled, put in sealed containers and the location where they are stored and where they will be stored at the House are listed on the ever present check sheets.

Thursday day 1 of prep-

The Ball Room
There is a whole lot of pealing, slicing and dicing going on. Sous Chef Pilar Visconti has the enviable task of making 2 gallons of perfect small dice Yukon Gold potatoes for the potato risotto, while First Cook Brian Hoos gets to make 250 tournayed carrots for the Potted Poussin. Yes they are counted and recounted. Also present is Cook Jose Santos working with hospitality student/volunteer Anthony Marzuillo peeling and packing lima beans for the fish course and Cook Dave Tessitore gets to mince shallots.
The Ball Room The Ball Room
Another consideration with an event at the Beard House is the Chef and kitchen crew are inviting friends family and distinguished guests. The unique layout of the Beard House, 4 separate rooms of widely varying size and proportion make for some interesting decisions as to who sits where. It s no easy task and takes ups much more of Chef Robert's time than you would imagine, or he would like.

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Some of the recipes are still being tweaked to perfection including the Potato Risotto. The results are incredible; a creamy yet firm blend of small dice Yukon gold potatoes with white truffle, lemon oil and cream. All changes to the recipes are noted and entered in their recipe management program.
Pastry Chef Lori Fortunate, formerly of Patisserie J Lanciani and the Garden City Hotel is working with silplat mats and home made stencils making the small cones for the Tuna Tartare with Tobiko in Cornets and for the Ice Cream and Sorbet sampler.
 
By the way, the glass plates for the Seafood Sampler and the mini copper sautoir's for the Poussin are still MIA. The appear to have cleared customs and are in the possession of UPS but no one seems to know where they are.



Friday- day two of prep-

It's another slicing and dicing day but with some much more interesting product. One that got me excited was portioning out the A Grade Foie Gras. This trusted task was assigned to Jose. Seeing a full hotel pan of absolutely perfect lobes of cardiac clogging heaven just did something to me. The two ounce portions were part of the Potted Poussin that was to go in the mini sautoirs.
Anthony is toping, tailing, peeling and protioning the cardoons for the fish course. Cardoon's look like a large celery stalk and are prized in Mediterranean countries for its unique flavor and are similar in taste to the globe artichoke.
There is the proverbial good news and bad news story about the missing serving ware. First the bad news- The UPS contacted the shipping and receiving department at NYIT. They were told that the school was closed for the holiday recess and would not reopen until January. Now the good news both shipments are at the Uniondale office of the UPS and can be picked up anytime before 5pm. Bobby immediately dispatched Brian to pick them up.

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Cook/student John Hubner is here to give a hand today and gets to do the braised short ribs for the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower Purée in the passed Hors d'.
In the pastry kitchens Chef Laurie and Joanne are again busy making tasty sweets for the petifours displays.

Bobby would love to be working in the kitchen but instead he has to figure out the seating plan and other last minute details. The fresh truffles from France are due at any time, but are still missing and there is some concern that the Fed Ex delivery might also believe the school is not receiving.
more recently host of the PBS special "Tales from the Vineyard" shows up to say hi and see what is going on. He is certainly no stranger to this kitchen and was very instrumental in Chef Robert's early development. Recognizing Bobbie's devotion to the craft Serge was instrumental in getting him into some of the best kitchens in New York including The River Café, La Cirque , Daniel, Maxim's, La Cote Basque, The River Café and Lespinasse with Chef Christian Delouvrier.
Bobby's good friend and mentor Serge David, retired Executive Chef who's pedigree includes service at Maxim's, La Cote Basque an Pilar is working on the cod fish for the Chatham Bay Cod with Brandade and Rosemary Oil.
Serge has gone on his way and Bobby sets up Juan to clean and portion the John Dory for the Fillet of John Dory with Fennel, Cardoon, and Bean Cassoulet.

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It now after three in the afternoon and finally the produce order shows up. He checks the order in himself (as always) and sees that the vendor has doubled up and resent the order for the cardoons. Back they go.
The key to the whole event is the lists, Robert checks out where they are and where they have to go.
Jose is again up to some fishy business as he cleans, counts and pans up the Scallops for the Shell Fish Tasting item Scallop with Potato Risotto and Truffles.
Pilar is monitoring the short ribs, you can almost taste them.
When I let Bobby know I'm taking up he gives me a quick See ya in the AM while he's on the phone, still dealing with the dreaded seating plan.

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The Day of the Dinner- At the Center

When I arrive at the Center on the day of the Dinner there is snow and ice on the ground and it's about 28 degrees out. No need to worry about refrigeration to keep the food from spoiling on the hour trip to Manhattan. The lower kitchen is packed. Piles of equipment, uniforms and serving ware are everywhere. The crew is divided between doing last minute prep and checking the ever present lists.
Tasks best left to the last minute are being complete in preparation for the big move to the city.
Three perforated hotel pans hold the Girolles (chanterelle mushrooms) for the Potted Poussin stand ready. They are sautéed, the juices drained to add to the sauce and placed in half hotel pans sealed and labeled.
Brian is supervising Cook James Matos and Anthony cleaning the Kumamoto Oysters for the passed Kumamoto Oysters with Pearl Tapioca and Beluga Caviar and Robert gives them a quality test.

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Chef Robert is boning, portioning and packaging the golden brown Poussins.
The pastry kitchen is spotless and 110 gingerbread sleighs with cookies have been wrapped up as favors for the lucky guest at tonight's dinner.
The last minute prep completed it's time for last minute checks of all the lists. If it's left behind there is no coming back to get it.
The entire crew pitches in bringing all of the misenplace from the lower kitchen up to the schools 20 ft truck.
Again it's lists, lists, lists.

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The Day of the Dinner- At the James Beard House

After an uneventful but none the less nerve racking trip into Lower Manhattan we arrive at the James Beard House. Unloading the truck is again a team effort with all pitching in a hand.
Arriving in the chilly home like kitchen surrounded by all of the serving ware, equipment and product the first thought in everyone's mind is "Where are we going to put all this stuff" and the second is "Did this kitchen actually get smaller?"
All of the prior planning is starting to really show now. Everyone has pre assigned tasks (on lists naturally) that they immediately start to attack. Some of the crew starts to unwrap and rack the individual copper sautoirs, rack up the cappuccino cups for the lobster cappuccino, while others place the different misenplace in the limited available refrigeration, all the while making careful note of where everything is being placed. A quick assessment is made of available serving plates and bowls and unnecessary items are moved out to the snow covered back patio to make space for the newly arrived wares. Two rolling racks that originally held product are coming in very handy right now, allowing of the specialty serving ware to be stored in a minimum amount of space with easy access, a trick learned from the previous visit.
Robert checks his lists and tries to remember what ever might have been forgotten, so far so good. The kitchen is organized, all of the food has been stored safely, and it s time to get into production.
Brian and Pilar start assembling the crab salad for the Tasting of Shellfish appetizer. Chef Robert goes over the final assembly prototype and David and John preset the plates and garnishes and carefully stack them in the reachin.

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Chef Robert and the Beard House Maitre'd Dino Redzic go over service timing, availability service ware and space issues in the kitchen. The Beard House staff is used to pumping out these multi course events in around an hour and a half. This is no small feat when you consider that it's a new menu and kitchen crew every event, no trays are used for service and the dining rooms are spread over three floors with only narrow stair cases serving each of the rooms. That said they were also very friendly, extremely professional and a pleasure to work with.
Pastry Chef Lori designs the demo plate for the Praline and Dried Fruit Charlotte with Champagne Anglaise Sauce. The will be assembled later because there is no refrigerated space left to store them plated
Chef Robert seasons and sears off the Scallops for the Scallop with Potato Risotto and White Truffles from the Shell Fish Sampler.
Pilar is in the back kitchen sautéing the Foie Gras for the Poussin.

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Its crunch time now and the full staff have their assignments creating the passed Hor's d. There are over 50 different ingredients going into 7 different works of culinary art and as always it's lists, lists, lists.
Working on the left side of the cramped kitchen the crew from the Pastry Shop is responsible for assembling the Tuna Tartare with Tobiko in Cornets
On the right side David and Jose are tasked with opening the oysters and assembling the Kumamoto Oysters with Pearl Tapioca and Beluga Caviar. Chef Robert works on the final details of presentation and making sure everything is perfect.
In the middle James and Brian set up the demos for the remaining passed for Chef Robert's inspection. One of the first guests of the evening, Serge David joins Chef Robert behind the line and gets a detailed explanation of the savory treats. Chef Robert's mantra for this evening is "I want everything to be perfect, nothing goes out that is not identical to the one that went before it or after it."
As the guest start to arrive en masse Hors d' production goes into full swing. Just to make things interesting the guests have to walk through the kitchen to get to the reception area. In the middle of the quiet storm one of Chef Roberts favorite Chefs', Lidia Matticchio Bastianich from the PBS show Lidia's Italian kitchen comes in and greets Chef and crew.

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Some of the individual Hors d' I have not mentioned yet are the Chatham Bay Cod with Brandade and Rosemary Oil, Jurgielewicz Farms Duck Cheeks with Foie Gras and Chestnuts and the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower Purée.
They are all arranged on individual serving trays and passed to the awaiting guests.
All the guests have arrived, the Hors d' are done and it's time to start plating the Tasting of Shellfish. Again it's an all hands event with the entire crew working together like clockwork to get the course assembled, plated and out to the wait staff. It's amazing how little talking goes on because everyone already knows what is expected of them.
The Tasting of Shellfish has four distinct components- Scallop with Potato Risotto and Truffles (the plan was for white truffles but black had to be substituted at the last minute) - We saw the scallops sautéed a little earlier and the Potato Risotto is being made a la minute. Trays are assembled with the individual small glass plates and each is finished with a generous shaving of Truffles.

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Agnolotti (Italian for priests caps, small crescent shaped raviolis) are filled with goat, marscopone and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses with herbs and chopped shrimp, topped with Sweet Maine Shrimp and a Corn and Butter sauce.
Originally the menu called for an Orange-Dusted Stone Crab with Kumquat Marmalade but it was decided that the marmalade would over power the Champagne Veuve Clicquot Vintage Réserve 1995 so a Celeriac salad with a Cucumber Gelee was substituted.
The last component for the Shellfish Tasting plate is the Maine Lobster Cappuccino. It is served in cappuccino cups, toped with foam made from fennel, milk and Sambuca accompanied by a tiny Cappuccino spoon. A full sized Cappuccino machine was brought along just for this garnish.
The next course is the Fillet of John Dory with Fennel, Cardoon, and Bean Cassoulet is served with Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1993. The John Dory, Chef Robert's favorite fish was kissed (sauted in a hot pan on one side ¾ of the way and then warmed at service. This technique is from Chef Christian Delouvrier). Cover with a dome and out it goes. Immediately after the last fish plate goes out the line is scrubbed and set for the main course.

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Potted Poussin with Foie Gras, Truffled Poi, and Girolles which is being served with Champagne Veuve Clicquot Rosé Réserve 1995. The individual sautoir's are lined up with their artichoke fold napkin covered serving plates. Chef Robert starts the demo plate by placing a dollop of truffled poi in the bottom of a sautoir. The pouisson breast and leg are placed on top of the poi. Girolles are sprinkled around the pouisson, and garnished with carrots, rutabagas, turnips and onions. The pouisson is topped with a piece of foie gras and about 3 oz of sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley. Again it's an all hands event with each crew member duplicating the plates that went before.
One team starts assembling the plates for the Praline and Dried Fruit Charlotte with Champagne Anglaise Sauce while another places tiny balls of ice cream on cones in beautiful black laminated displays. During service a team was out in the back of the 20 food truck assembling the displays. Absolutely everything goes perfectly.

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Part of the tradition of a dinner at the James Beard house is for the Chef and their Brigade to be brought to the different rooms and introduced to the guests. In each room Mildred Amico introduces Chef Robert and he in turn introduces all of the staff.
The evening is drawing to a close and finally Chef Robert has some time to talk with the many special guests that have attended this incredible event. Among the special guests for the evening Susan Sykes Hendee PhD, CCE; Department Chair of the Culinary Arts Program at NYIT and Chef Instructor Loring Davena Boglioi from NYIT. Chef Hendee has been instrumental in elevating the Culinary Arts program at NYIT to being fully Middle States and American Culinary Federation Accredited program, and has given Chef Robert continued support in every aspect of operation at the de Seversky Center.
With the evening winding down Chef Robert gets time to spend with Christian Delouvrier. He asks him "so how was everything" and Christian replies "Everything was perfect, but the Lobster Bisque could have used a little more salt" . He asks Chef Robert how he cooked the John Dory so perfectly and he replies "you taught me that, just cooking it on one side" and Christian responds "Yes, that is what we call Kissing the fish ."