Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Big Night III - The Event

As I ended my previous post, the guests were arriving for the big party at Bobby Jay's, the restaurant making a brief appearance at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). To refresh your recollection, the menu for the event consisted of the following:

As people arrived, they were plied with drinks, especially champagne, and a parade of hors d'oeuvres. I was quite happy with the way all of them came out, but I think the shrimp in kadaifa nests was the surprise star of the group.

Corn Soup, Crabcakes and Shrimp in Kadaifa Nests

We had taken over the entire sixth floor of ICE, so guests could wander around and observe Chef Brendan's wonderful team in the two kitchens getting ready for the final plating of the tomato salad and the firing of the main courses.

Lettuce Waiting for Tomatoes; Chef Brendan and Bobby Jay

Finally, dinner was served in Bobby Jay's. The duck breast with port and plum sauce was fine, just what I expected, but the fish (which I didn't choose as my own main) was extraordinary. Brendan chose to use fillets of striped bass rather than the smaller Mediterranean sea bass that I had called for, and it was a great decision. The sesame crusted skin was crispy, and the pungent argan oil made its presence know while not overwhelming the other flavors -- a chick-pea purée and a Moroccan melange of fava beans and other vegetables.

Duck Breast with Plum Sauce; Sesame Crusted Bass

After the main courses, J made a lovely speech, describing the history of the event, acknowledging many of our friends, particularly those of longest standing, and, touchingly, calling me "the most successfully retired person" she has met. Indeed, I felt that way all night.

Then the cheese platter from Ann Saxelby's wonderful shop in the Essex Market, followed by a series of wonderful toasts that made me blush. Next, the blueberry almond tart, a speech by Bobby Jay and, finally, the trio of chocolates, macarons and mini-madeleines.

Blueberry Almond Tart with Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream; Gourmandises

In hindsight I realize that this was not merely my "Big Night," which after all refers to the second best food movie. Given the happiness and love in evidence at Bobby Jay's that night -- evoked by a celebratory meal -- from my perspective, at least, the event was more reminiscent of the greatest food movie of all time: perhaps I should have called this series of posts "Bobette's Feast."

Farewell, Bobby Jay's

Either way, it was a dream come true for me, and I was a bit sorry to see the end of my restaurant's fleeting existence.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Big Night II- Prepping for the Meal

As I noted at the outset of my 60th birthday dinner project, there is no way I can cook for 60 plus people, so I needed to recruit help from among those who would be at the dinner. This proved to be easy: nearly all the first people I mentioned the party to volunteered to help. So a band of eight people worked for six hours the day before the party and six worked for three hours on the day of the event itself.

While it was definitely work, it was also really fun. Essentially we got nine hours of hands-on cooking lessons from our designated chef, Brendan McDermott, his principal assistants Sue, James and Bianca and a host of other helpers from ICE. Brendan is a masterful chef and he and his team could not have been more accommodating and helpful; a huge plus is that they actually enjoy teaching.

Looks Like Fun, Doesn't It?

Cooking for 60 is not like cooking for four, six or eight in many ways. First, there is just more of everything. But things also respond differently when made in larger quantities, so my recipes had to be altered. Finally, you have to make a lot of the food a day in advance, and it is important to know which things can and which cannot be stored for 24 hours. To read and see what happened, click on "More" below.


We accomplished an enormous amount on the first day. We made the cold corn soup, made and formed 240 crab cakes and made the relish and vinaigrette that would be used for final assembly, made an astonishing amount of risotto to be chilled overnight before, sauteeing at the last minute, we smoked and grilled the pork tenderloin, we made the purée for the fish dish, we made the ice cream, we made the mini-madeleines and attempted the macarons (more on this later) and we made the shells for the blueberry almond tarts. Left for the day of the event were the appetizer tomato salad, the main courses (fish or duck) and accompanying vegetables and one of the purées, the filling and baking of the blueberry almond tart and the chocolates. Piglet and I had worked with chef Brendan earlier in the week to make the foie gras, which needs five days or so to come to its full glory.

Chef Brendan and the Corn Soup Team

Although the orange lavender buttercream for the macarons was perfect, the shells were not, and had to be redone by me at home that night. Fortunately, I have done this often so, apart from the fact that I was pretty tired from the day's prepping, I had little problem knocking off ten trays of macaron shells, and the assembly was quickly accomplished the next day.

Assembling Macarons

On Sunday we gathered to finish up. Making chocolate seems pretty easy, but making five pounds of it at one go is not. It takes nearly an hour to melt it over a bain marie, and tempering it by cooling and reheating to precise temperatures also takes a huge amount of time. And then you have to work with it pretty quickly or it starts to set. So this occupied a lot of time for the chocolate team. The results were great, however.

Making Chocolates

One of the highlights was making mozzarella for the tomato salad. Melting the curds (firm, roughly 2-inch cubes), then stretching them, tearing off bits and forming balls, always as gently as possible.

The Chocolate Team Switches to Mozzarella

I had made the blueberry almond tart numerous times, so was confident that it would come out well. But it is not prepossessing while being made and at least one of the members of the tart team had grave doubts. But they came out beautifully.

Making Blueberry Almond Tarts

The team also made the Moroccan vegetables for the fish dish and the root vegetable plum sauce to accompany the duck.

As the start of the event neared, crab cakes were sauteed and sauced, foie gras was cut into rounds and put onto brioche bread, smoked pork tenderloin was put on croutons (over a quickly improvised creamy lime sauce), corn soup went into little glasses, risotto cakes were sauteed and shrimp were embedded into kadaifa nests and deep fried. This was all done by ICE chefs and sous-chefs, as I and my team were off dressing for the party.

As the guests arrived and were devouring the hors d'oeuvres and champagne, the ICE team worked tirelessly to make and plate the main dishes.

Our guests started arriving at Bobby Jay's at 7:00, but more of that in the next and final post on this event.

Bobby Jay

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Big Night I - Planning

I turned 60 this summer, and several months before that my wife J asked whether I wanted to have a party. I was in Japan when I turned 50 and was able to escape any major recognition, so this time I felt it would be appropriate to celebrate. But I struggled in response to her question as to what we should do. Finally I said that what I'd really like to do do was to cook a meal for our close friends, but that unfortunately I don't possess the skills or the place to entertain 50 or 60 guests. She said that if I really wanted to do that, there would certainly be a way.

I next mentioned the idea to my friend Piglet, who has from time to time appeared in this blog. An event planner who knows her way around the catering and food world, she agreed with my wife that what I wanted to do was definitely possible.

After considering teaming up with a catering facility and staff for the event, we met with the special events people at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE), on West 23rd Street, a cooking school that offers professional training and also has a robust "recreational" program of classes for non-professionals. ICE's cooking facilities, of course, are perfect, and it turned out they had an appropriate space for the event. Also, they could provide chefs and assistants to help plan and execute the event. Most important, although this event was somewhat different from others they have done, it was perfectly consistent with their mission of teaching people how to cook.

So now it was up to me to design the event.
I quickly decided on the format: a sit-down dinner, preceded by a cocktail hour. The menu would consist of things I had cooked before and wanted to share with my friends. We would do six passed hors d'oeuvres, an appetizer, a main course (choice of fish or duck), cheese, dessert and after-dinner treats. I would try to use local ingredients and to reflect, to the extent possible, the late-summer early-autumn time of year.

Thus I decided to do Jamie Oliver's mixed heirloom tomato salad -- one of my all-time favorites and likely one of the last of the waning tomato season. Similarly, seared duck breast with a fresh plum sauce (from Gordon Hamersley), to take advantage of the red plums that are among the last of the season's stone fruits. Dessert would be an almond blueberry tart from Clotilde. This left the fish dish open, and I decided to go with a recipe I recently learned at cooking school in Paris: sesame crusted sea bass over a bed of Moroccan vegetables and a chickpea puree.

With the core of the menu set, I went to work on the hors d'oeuvres. Everyone (well almost) loves foie gras, and I have a nice recipe where it is infused with cinq épices and white port. I recently made a smoked peppered pork tenderloin that turned out to be even better cold. Also cold, my own corn soup, served in shot glasses. Then two hot favorites: sauteed veal and sage risotto cakes and Bobby Flay's incredible crab cakes with black olive and pepper relish and basil vinaigrette. Finally, shrimp with a leaf of cilantro fried in a nest of kadaifa, very fine threads of phyllo dough.

The Final Menu for My Big Night

Dessert would be a blueberry almond tart, from the recipe of my beloved Clotilde Dussoulier. For the finale, chocolates with fleur de sel or a pulverized 4-pepper brittle that adds a complex spice profile, lavender orange macarons (maybe the best thing I have ever made) and honey madeleines from Joel Robuchon.

As for the cheese plate, I went to visit Anne Saxelby, who promotes and sells a fantastic array of American artisanal cheeses, and selected three cheeses from Vermont: a creamy sheep, a complex clothbound cheddar and a creamy blue.

All that remained was to select wines that would complement the meal and to pick linens, stemware, flowers and other things to perk up the pretty banal room in which the dinner would be served. J took charge of the esthetic makeover, working with our even coordinator, and did a magnificent job. Although it's out of sequence, I can't resist showing you how great the tables looked.

Table Setting

Finally, invitations. To pique people's interest, the event was described as the one and only meal ever to be served at a newly created restaurant, Bobby Jay's, to be cooked by Bobby Jay and a carefully selected team of cooks (namely, the first 8 or 10 people who heard about the event and volunteered to help).


The final thing to do was to be nervous about how things would turn out.

But more on that in later posts.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Crostini

One evening, with people coming to dinner and nothing to give them with drinks, I threw together some simple crostini that proved to be a big hit. Now I regularly pass them around as we gather for a prosecco or martini in the kitchen while I cook dinner. I make these often, but there is no real recipe since what I put in depends on what's I happen to have in the fridge and on the shelf.

But here's an indicative recipe:
  1. Mix together 1 cup of freshly packed ricotta, 2 tablespoons of Greek style yogurt, and 1 tablespoon of best quality olive oil.
  2. Add 5 or 6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced as finely as possible, and about 1/3 cup of mixed chopped olives (I use pitted oil-cured and Gaeta olives but any kind, including ones with herbs or garlic, will do).
  3. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, a bit of salt and a good grinding of fresh pepper.
  4. Spread on small pieces of toasted bread - slices of baguette or a country bread of some kind - and top with a little fleur de sel and a small drizzle of olive oil.
Quantities are approximate and everything in this recipe is optional except the ricotta and the sun-dried tomatoes. You can add crème fraîche instead of yogurt, dispense with both and use more olive oil. Or add chopped herbs. Whatever you like.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eataly - Definitely Worth a Visit

My friend Piglet and I visited the newly opened Eataly today, and we agree that it is definitely worth a visit. Located at 23rd Street and Broadway, this mega Italian food market has beautiful produce, meats and fish as well as a truly amazing array of Italian products. More Italian pasta shapes and brands than I would have imagined, oils, sauces, crackers, chocolates, jams, honeys, charcuterie, cheese . . . well, just about everything. And several restaurants and cafes where you can sit and enjoy the food, which we did not try.

If you like Italian food (and who doesn't?), you must go. We went mid-morning and the shopping experience was great. It is reported to be very crowded at lunchtime and on weekends, however. Prices are quite fair, especially for the meat and produce.

Eataly is a joint effort of Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Oscar Farinetti, founder of the original Eataly in Turin.

Bobby Jay

Friday, September 10, 2010

Best Roast Chicken Recipe

I have made many roast chickens from many different recipes, but I found the best one a few years ago: Gordon Hamersley's "Walk-Away" Roast Chicken. I have given the recipe to many friends, and it always becomes their go-to roast chicken because it is exactly what you want in roast chicken -- crispy skin, flavorful succulent meat -- and unbelievably simple; no trussing, no stuffing under the skin, no basting. It is virtually infallible. My wife absolutely loves roast chicken and this is her favorite version.

I have mentioned it before on this blog, and given it to friends, but never felt comfortable putting the recipe on my blog, but now it is on the Internet, notably at Fine Cooking's recipe site, so I have no hesitation in sharing it.

So here it is. Simply click on "More" below for the recipe with my commentaries, based on about 50 tries, interspersed in brackets.
Gordon Hamersley’s Walk-Away Roast Chicken


• 2 Tbs. olive oil
• 2 Tbs. Dijon-style mustard
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1 tsp. dried rosemary
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 lemon, halved
• 1 whole roasting chicken (about 3-1/2 lb.) [I like to use a 2 3/4 lb. bird if I can find one, preferably d'Artagnan, but always organic], rinsed under cold water and dried
• 1 onion, cut into thick slices [I like to use 2 good-sized but not giant red onions, cut in half lengthwise.]
• 4 medium red potatoes, washed (but not peeled) and sliced in half. [I prefer to use medium Yukon Golds, cut in half lengthwise.]
[1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock or broth (optional)]


1. Heat the oven to 375°F. [I use my convection setting.] In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbs. of the olive oil, the mustard, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Squeeze the juice from one lemon half into the herb mixture; squeeze the juice from the other half into a small bowl and reserve. Reserve the squeezed lemon halves. Spoon the herb mixture over the chicken and inside its cavity, rubbing to coat the bird thoroughly. Put the reserved lemon halves inside the chicken's cavity.

2. Put the onion and potatoes in a roasting pan. Season them with salt and pepper and toss them with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Scatter the ingredients around the pan to make room in the center for the chicken. [I put the onions and potatoes, cut side down, in the middle to make a rack for the chicken.]

3. Put the chicken in the pan, breast side up. Cook until the meat is tender and the juices run clear at the thigh, about 1–1/4 hours. [I find this time correct for a less-than 3 lb. chicken on convection setting; otherwise, allow 1 1/2 hours for an organic chicken.] By this time, the potatoes and onions should be tender.

4. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter. Pour the juices from inside the chicken's cavity into the roasting pan and transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest.

5. Spoon off and discard as much fat as possible from the juices in the roasting pan. Set the pan with the juices over medium-low heat and pour in the reserved lemon juice along with 1/2 cup water [chicken stock is better if you have it]. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

6. Cut the chicken into pieces (or serve it whole, if you like). Pour the pan juices over the chicken and serve.

7. Enjoy!

Bobby Jay