Lunch with Marcus Samuelsson

July 12, 2010

When his assistant called a couple of months ago to set up the lunch, my first thought was, I wish I had an assistant and my second was, why does he want to have lunch with me? But all I said was, “yes, please.”

I’m glad I did. He’s a thoughtful person, and he’s at such an interesting crossroad in his life. We talked about the restaurant he’s building in Harlem and the online site he’s creating, aimed mostly at men. (An idea, incidentally, that Richard and I tried to sell to Conde Nast about 5 years ago. The point being that men cook differently than women, and there’s potentially a great magazine waiting to happen around that idea.)

But as we talked I couldn’t help thinking about the evolution of the chef. It’s so different being a chef today than it was 20 years ago. The modern chef is not a cook – he’s a brand. And he’s the head of an organization with the potential to be an entrepreneur, author, media personality, millionaire, and charitable foundation all rolled into one. If you had suggested that possibility when I began writing about restaurants, people would have asked what you were smoking.

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Going Local

July 4, 2010

Just as the evening ended I dropped my phone into the toilet, and the pictures I had been so careful to take fizzled and drowned. But how could the photographs possibly capture this magical day?

I asked Jeremy Stanton to roast a pig for Michael’s birthday. I asked Cathy Grier to bring her blues band to play. I asked all of our friends to join us. And I prayed for good weather.

You know how sometimes things just work out? This was one of those times. Friends started arriving days ahead of time, and the house began to fill up with people and music. No matter which room you walked into, you walked into a fascinating conversation. Breakfast rolled into lunch, and suddenly it was time for dinner. The sky was clear. The weather was dry and balmy and hot. The bugs all magically flew away.

Jeremy arrived yesterday morning to build the grill and the spit, and immediately started destroying our (now greatly diminished) wood pile. His brother Sean raised the handsome pig (and the chickens we ate while he was still turning on the spit), and Jeremy and his guys picked all the vegetables on their way up here. Everything we ate – even the wheat that went into the flatbreads they cooked on the grill – came from within a few miles of our house.

The scent of the pig slowly turning on the spit was maddeningly wonderful, the fragrant smoke perfuming the air for hours. At midday Jeremy cooked the birds in an enormous pile of salt; when he cracked the salt crust the birds emerged looking sadly pale. But with a squish of grilled lemon they turned out to be fragrantly juicy and, bar none, the best chickens I’ve ever tasted. We stood there in the sun, tearing at the meat with our fingers, feeling like the luckiest people on earth.

Later I stood watching the little flatbreads puff up, going from discs to balloons in mere seconds. They were surrounded by onions, squashes, and potatoes, all glistening with oil and smoke. The children came to watch, their eyes going round at the sight of the fire, the breads and the now gorgously burnished pig.

The pork was succulent and soft – so fine. We drank Provencal rose, white Burgundy and a deliciously chewy Barbera. The sun began to set in a burst of color and the stars came out just as the band began to play. The littlest children had a cartwheel competition on the lawn. The rest of us danced with manic energy. Outside we were all so happy that we were drunkenly making new best friends. Inside a small group was fiercely debating the existence of Shakespeare. And then – suddenly – fireworks exploded into this clear night. Every community in the area was putting on a show, and up here on the mountain we could see for miles and miles. Color was bursting into the sky from every direction, and it felt as if the entire world had decided to celebrate Michael’s birthday with us.

It’s too bad I lost my phone – and all the photographs I so dutifully took. On the other hand, I’ve got the pictures in my head – and maybe that’s even better.

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