Friday, May 25, 2012

The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook Talk at the 92nd St Y

As the author of the exciting new book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook I was to provide a reading and talk, scheduled for Wednesday, May 16th, at the prestigious 92nd St Y, the venerable uptown temple to all things cultural.
The honor and opportunity were not lost on me for a moment.

Just like Gotham’s streets that pulse with eclectic frisson, so too does the networked connections palpitate with a fizzy six degrees of separation.  I am so fortunate that my Aunt Margaret’s high school friend, Helen Conover, became my friend over the years and because Helen works at the Y in the Science arena, as soon as the book was on the road to publication, she slotted me and the book in for a reading and talk.

Thus, the event came about, just like that—in a magical-New-York-way!
It was billed as “How Does a Chef Do Science?”
I was accompanied at this historic event by two of the outstanding chefs featured in the book:
Chef Jason Weiner, co-owner and executive chef, Almond Restaurants Bridgehampton and NYC
Chef Deborah Pittorini, owner and executive chef, Cuvee Seafood & Grille Restaurant the North Fork.

The theme was to illuminate how “cooking is all about chemistry—how chefs change their food’s in many ways -- to learn the science chefs employ to transform raw ingredients into delicious food!”
And in so doing, I told the background of the book’s theme: the importance and romance of using homegrown, sustainable foods – lovingly grown, tended and made by local food artisans to produce the myriad and exciting variety of recipes the chefs create.
I wove the story of how chefs, like scientists, observe the world around them and share their observations and their work. 
The program was 90 minutes.  I was to talk for approximately an hour.  A frightfully long time to speak for anyone but Castro! 
On the other hand I felt I owed it to the amazing talent and dedication of the chefs and farmers and fisherman and breeders – and photographers -- who contributed to the book, to do my very best, so I just jumped into making a PowerPoint presentation.
I started writing the text, figuring no one else could do that, adding in images too that would help tell the food stories that are at the heart of the Homegrown book, all the while asking around as to who could help me make it look brilliant – or in PPT parlance: “a killer presentation!”
It was getting itchy-close to the date and I still hadn’t found the PPT magician and then while attending the Frank Cabot tribute at The New York Botanical Garden, Garden Glamour blog post to Frank Cabot Tribute and I ran into EunYoung, Silver Flower Design who I’ve had the privilege of working with in the past – both in the garden for Duchess Designs – she is a brilliant horticulturist, landscape architect and creative artist who also works at Randall’s Island Park as Horticultural Manager and on some of my previous speaking engagements.  (She once famously said, “I will make the Powerpoint presentation so good, it will make them cry.”  That’s my kind of girl! What PPT voodoo!)
I had just returned from scooting over the Azalea Garden and met up with a small group of swarming the tulip beds and display gardens while the reception was held following the Cabot tribute.
Hugs all round and then, as I’m catching them up on my preparations for the Y event, and need for help, it was another New York minute before EunYoung said, “I’ll do it!” 
Really?!  I never dreamed I would be able to secure EunYoung’s artistic and detailed input.  Before she came to, we made a date to meet and she helped me polish it all.
There was so much going on (home renovation, garden design, writing, preparation for the Y event including getting books to sell and sign, online promotion with the Y, getting the names of the restaurants and the chefs correct, securing an adapter for my Mac from the SoHo Apple store, sight inspection, cooking demo prep for the chefs, i.e. what they need in terms of utensils, plates, appliances, etc., site-inspection) that constrained me from practicing as much as I wanted to – and from sending personal invites to family and friends.
I promised myself I would get into fighting shape for the big night – lots of sleep, healthy living, workouts, including more yoga, and a massage.  This was not to be. In fact, I was in reverse!  Several nights leading up to the event I didn’t event get to sleep till 2 am or 6 am.  I was so busy I didn’t get to work out. The only massage I was able to squeeze in was a quick one up on 19th Street, a rather plain vanilla small-room joint instead of a relaxing one at home…
On the way back from that squeezed-in head and heart therapy, I stopped at Black & White and in no time, the funny, knowledgeable salesman and foodie, had me in a new dress, complete with garden flowers embroidered on neck and hem J and shoes for the event.  I was buying confidence.
The day of, I did get ready fairly early, practiced more than a few times.  Doug Wright, the social media guru and supporter, was Tweeting early on about the event and I did my best to blog and Tweet (back) and post news to my Food & Drink column.
Despite a very bad hair day and shaky legs, my husband Bill was most kind and supportive upon arriving at the apartment and said I looked beautiful and sounded good.  (Oh the love fibs – but boy did I appreciate it.)
After I made sure Mother was on her ferry into town from the Garden State, Bill loaded up the hand truck with the books and we were out front hailing a cab on the way to pick Mother up at the ferry dock on 35th Street before heading on to the Y. In the cab uptown, I was trying to answer emails and last minute queries from the chefs, while practicing.  
We were directed to the “wrong” elevator and then had to lift the boxes of books into the other side of the building and at last, got to the assigned room.  There was Helen, looking great and confident.  I met the tech manager I’d been working with, and all seemed in order. So we got the kitchen and utensils ready – I washed them and Bill and Helen got them out on the table and kitchen counter.
Soon the guests were entering to be seated.  I was squealing with joy every time family or friend came in: Derval, Mary, Denine and John and Amy too, not to mention Mary Ann, Doug and Tristan and Janet.  It ended up it was a full room of attendees. Whew.
And then I was speaking.  Not loud enough for some who were cupping their ears in the back (OK, that was Mother!) So I tried to shout/talk louder but to me I do talk loud!   (Everyone else says I have a quiet voice. I tell Bill better to have a wife with soft speech no??)
The PowerPoint went off very well – even the video I inserted into three of the cooking and garden segments.  People looked engaged.  All good. Until the little old man in the front row says out loud, “All right.  When are we getting to the food part?!” 
While stunned, I say, to him, but for all to hear, “We are getting to that, but first the background is important.”  He is subdued, but as I soon learn, not for long.  He pipes up again, all too soon. “Enough already, what about getting to the food.”  So now I’m just bristling about his very bad manners, putting the others and me in such an uncomfortable position. Another audience member who was furiously taking notes, and perhaps fearing I might succumb to “have-to-taste-now-rude-man” she says, “No, this is very important and interesting.”  So now I’m forced to look at him with my best hairy eyeball/nun stare (his fat self leaning on his cane for support) and direct him to either listen or leave.  I said it in a very nice way, mind you.  He wisely chose to leave.  I was slightly unnerved as this was surreal and completely unexpected.  Later, attendees came up to me, complimenting me on how I graciously handled this beast and confidently put him in place.  I didn’t quite share that sense of confidence but glad they thought so. Now I know what Jay Leno must feel like!
Back on track, I completed the main part of my talk, moving on to the chefs. For this, I read part of the profile I wrote for the book, introducing Chef Deborah and then Chef Jason. Both were excellent speakers, handily addressing the audience with style and smarts and demonstrating a recipe they provided for the book. There was no sign of the hurdles they’d overcome in terms of schedule, the kitchen and lack of their prep tools and appliances.  Chefs are adaptable and cosmopolitan.

Chef Deborah prepared a pesto arugula on pasta that was a huge hit with the guests.  She talked through how she is able to source all the ingredients near her restaurant in Greenport on the North Fork.  She is funny and sophisticated and engaging.  

Chef Deborah then mixed up lavender mojitos using her simple syrup made from locally grown lavender.  Wow. This was amazing. (And she gave me some of the extra syrup to take home.  I’ve been enjoying it ever since.)
Chef Jason prepared his English Pea and Mint Soup that was a knock out.  People were swooning.  In the book, the recipe includes Parmesan flan and smoked bacon.  This night, chef Jason adapted for the Y – and in the process, further demonstrated how a chef changes the food ingredients he works with as well as the creative process.  He’s a natural in front of an audience.  

There was a lively Q&A and more tasting.  Some friends helped pass out the food and take up the plates and cutlery afterward. So nice.  
And then, it was book signing and photos and hugs.
Me & the Wrights: Tristan and Doug

Mother, Amy & John

Amy, Mother & me

Helen, from the Y, Mother, me

Before long, we were taking Mother back to the ferry, where Bill waited with her and Mary Ann I continued back downtown, home…
I sincerely thank everyone who attended.  I sent thank you postcards to all, addresses courtesy of the Y.  I thank my family and friends for their unbridled and generous support on such a big night for me and the book’s launch. I thank chefs Deborah and Jason for their contribution. I thank Helen and her team for a wonderful opportunity and a successful evening.
My only regret? I wish my father were here to have seen it with us.  I know he’s looking down from heaven but ….

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