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Monday, May 30, 2005

What do you cook when Bocuse, Gagnaire and Keller come to lunch?


Happily, that wasn't my problem, I was just wall decoration that day. Unhappily for the people who had to cook that lunch, those three names were just the beginning. The list, yes that list, went on and on, Phillipe Legendre, Heston Blumenthal, Tetsuya, and so on.

Yes, yes, that's the same list I was making fun of last year. And it is still just as semi-random as the years before, everyone I've spoken to who actually was on the list thought so themselves. I mean, how do you take seriously a list that combined a place like Cal Pep and elBulli? I am not arguing that Cal Pep is not worth it or anything, but they and elBulli are so different as to be simply incomparable. This apple is better than this orange, anyone?

Anyway, the list was certainly good for a few things. Everyone on it was unmistakably happy to be there, and especially so because it was a great excuse to party, and in the company of the likes of Paul Bocuse no less! The list was also quite a PR gold mine for the young Restaurant magazine, who somehow managed to entice almost half the chefs on the list to join in the celebration in London. That in itself was quite a PR coup, you know, London in the cold and the rain in April can be positively dreary.

This lunch came the day after the glittering party the night before, where everyone put aside their chef's white and scrubbed up rather well into their fancy suits and gowns, each with their handsomely turned out significant other(s), or whatever term that's politically correct these days. To be fair, some pretty eye candies, the gorgeous Laura Cunningham and the indomitable Angela Hartnett for example, were there very much on their own deserving merits. Miss little me, on the other hand, had absolutely no purpose whatsoever but being an arm decoration -the task at which I discovered I was respectably competent.

I really did play it cool. What else was I going to do, yelp Holy Chefs? Well, in fact Laura did, though only in jest while we were chatting. But I certainly nearly lost my cool -or perhaps actually did- a couple times. Once when I realized that the unassuming Spanish guy with whom I struck up a conversation while waiting for a drink -his name, he said, was Albert- was, in fact, Albert Adrià. What a sweet and fascinating guy. He has a plan to go to Thailand later in the year, and I was on my way to elBulli just two weeks away, so we had fun exchanging travel tips. The other time was when I had a chance to speak à deux with Paul Bocuse. Paul Bocuse for goodness sakes!! The conversation -one could hardly call it that however- was rather short, what with all the noise in the room and the fact that he was seventy-five hundred years old and quite a bit hard of hearing. Perhaps I was mistaken, but I had a distinct feeling that chef thought I was nearly a foot shorter than my actual height. Ha.

Anyhow, back to the lunch thing, what would you serve with all those glitterati at table? Well, if you were the delightful Fergus Henderson and his brigade at St.John, you'd kill a pig or two for them. Evidemment. The menu was St.John sans pretension, or was that redundant? Generous slices of Middle While braised in garlic and onions, served simply with prunes and more sweet onions. Watercress salad in a strong mustard and caper vinaigrette. Boiled new potatoes -the most unbelievably buttery and delicious potatoes- and savoy cabbage. The cheese was, of course, English farmhouse cheese, and the dessert was an intense chocolate sorbet. That was it, marvelously it.

That lunch was certainly a nice touch. In contrast to the formality of the awards reception the night before, the lunch was a simple affair that took place in the stark and cool dining room at St.John in honor of Paul Bocuse. It was small and informal, and it went on a very long time, giving all the participants a chance to socialize in a happy and almost familial atmosphere. The food was generous and delicious and the wines flowed freely, everyone appeared to be in a grand mood. The man of the moment, Heston Blumenthal, dashed around the room graciously basking in his glory. Pierre Gagnaire was certainly in a grand mood himself -despite being far lower on the list than he deserved- being all smile and even chatty, or perhaps it was because he was in the company of his drop-dead-gorgeous partner. Also appearing every bit polite and -gasp- charming was Tom Aikens, without a trace of his infamous temper, one which once caused him to pick up a cook and place the man's sorry derrière on top of a hot Bonnet cook-top, losing his job in the process.

Ok, now that I am in a properly gossipy mood, there was in fact another party at St.John, a very late night one after the awards reception. There was a long table with a selected few at the very top of the list and their respective entourages. A fly on the wall reported that it went on well into the wee hours of the morning. The secret party appeared to be great fun, despite a rather awkward moment when someone -obviously English and obviously drunk- shouted "The King is dead" while raising a glass to Thomas Keller, whose three-year reign at the top of the list was deposed by The Fat Duck just the day before. "Long live the King", the same glass, and the same guy, cheered to Heston Blumenthal. A tad in bad taste if you asked me. The King -you guess which one- was not amused, let me -ahem, the fly- tell you.

P.S. Alright, I'm going to talk about something very briefly. I don't write about my love life, and I certainly don't intend to make a habit of it, but you -that's you, dear readers- may begin to see a reference to a certain David who is now a figure in my life. It's been a little complicated blogging about my life, even my eating life, while sneaking around the pink elephant in the living room. So I am just going to come out and say it. Yes, it is that David, whose arm I was decorating at the reception. Yes, it is a rather recent development. And for peace sake don't ask me what it's like dating a chef. I am not with a chef, I am with David. I haven't mentioned Manresa recently, not since it became a potential conflict of interest. Would I talk about it again? Probably, as it remains one of my favorite places to eat. And when I do, just keep in mind that I am coming now from a rather biased position. Consider yourself warned. And if you still don't like it, oh well, what can I say, this is MY life.


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