April 6, 2019
This is from the chapter called Enormous Changes which begins on page 149.
Willoughby agreed to make the trip from Boston, but I had the distinct impression that he had little interest in a new job. “I’ve been longing to visit the Conde Nast Cafeteria,” he admitted..
Si would have been pleased; this was exactly why he’d lured Frank Gehry to Four Times Square. The cafeteria might masquerade as the company canteen, but Si had wanted to create New York’s most exclusive club.
It was a singularly brilliant move, and it worked exactly as planned. The cafeteria got so much press that the whole world yearned to visit Gehry’s soaring space with its sinuous glass panels and curving titanium walls. The fact that an invitation was required made it that much more enticing.
For prospective employees the cafeteria was always an attraction. This was fine with me; I like interviewing people over lunch. You can learn a lot about a person by watching them eat and I wondered what I’d glean from my meal with John.
He walked in and looked around, seeming suitably impressed. He pointed to the Chinese-food line, where a famous actor was waiting. “Is that . . . ?”
On any given day, the Condé Nast cafeteria was packed with celebrities whose agents had wangled invitations. John slipped in behind the star and watched a cook toss tough nuggets of precooked chicken into a wok, add some limp, overcooked vegetables, and smother it all with garlic-free kung pao sauce. Tugging on his apron, the cook gave the mess a listless stir. “That looks dreadful,” said John, slipping out of the line.
I herded him toward the sushi station, where “sushi chefs” were arranging pre-sliced fish onto soggy seaweed. The skinny Vogue assistant in front of us leaned in to negotiate.
“Will you please cut my tuna roll in twelve?” she asked the chef.
“Eight!” he said curtly.
“Please.” She actually batted her eyelashes. “Please cut it into twelve. For me. I’m on a diet and it makes it seem like more.”
John gave a shout of laughter and edged out of the line to move on to the steam table, where a pair of GQ editors was earnestly discussing the merits of lukewarm fried chicken. He shadowed them as they surveyed a vast tray of macaroni paved in a thick orange crust. “I’d bet my life that’s not Velveeta!” said one.
John looked at the oozing tray and shuddered slightly. “But everyone says the food here is good!” His disappointment was palpable, and
after we’d wandered around the cafeteria he said, “Would you mind going somewhere else for lunch?”
He’d aced that part of the interview. We went out for oyster stew.
Oyster Stew for Two
Carefully open a dozen and a half oysters and save the liquor. Combine the oyster liquor with ¼ cup of bottled clam juice in a saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce , 2 tablespoons of butter, ½ teaspoon of paprika and 1/4 teaspoon of celery salt. Bring it just to the boil over low heat and add one cup half and half. Gently add the oysters, lower the heat a bit and cook just until the oysters’ edges begin to curl.
Transfer to a bowl, add a pat of butter and a sprinkle of paprika.
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