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

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