What happens when you put the world’s three best chef’s in a kitchen together? It’s a scenario that sounds so unfathomable I almost expect it to be the set-up to a joke, albeit one that’s been granted three stars from the Michelin comedy gods. But this sort of once in a lifetime, culinary tour-de-force is an actual reality. And in a stunning turn of events, it soon becomes my reality.
I find myself invited to the Gotham Hall, a legendary Midtown venue for a seven-course meal prepared by none other than Massimo Bottura, Mauro Colagreco, and Joan Roca. (Dessert came courtesy Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi.) Normally you’d have to travel to Italy, Spain, or France to even attempt to eat at each of their respective restaurants, but now for the first time ever they’re collaborating in the same space. The event is titled “Once Upon a Kitchen” and, in many ways, I’m living out a fairytale by gaining entry to such a heralded event. It’s an incredibly fancy affair. As a charity fundraiser with seats costing upwards of four digits a plate (the proceeds go to God’s Love We Deliver, an amazing non-profit which delivers meals to sick and needy individuals throughout New York City.) I find myself lost in a sea of tuxedos and cocktail dresses. I worry about feeling out of place in such opulence, culinary and otherwise. After all, the last meal I ate out was at Taco Bell. That’s not to say I don’t have a vast appetite or fine appreciation of food, but I normally don’t have access to a ballroom full of truffles and caviar. But I’m eager to dig in.
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As I find my table, I notice the night’s menu next to my plate. Every course has a clever name and a meticulous, thorough description, with print finer than most contracts, as if to suggest these aren’t just meals, but works of art worthy of museum hanging status. Take this dish created by Massimo Bottura, for instance: “Beautiful Psychedelic, Spin-Painted Veal, Not Flamed Grilled.” If the title doesn’t make it already make it clear, this is a creative enterprise on par with the work that inspired it–the colorful canvases of Damien Hirst.
Other courses like Joan Roca’s “Truffle Soufflé with Low-Temperature Cooked Veal Oyster Blade” and his “Prawn Marinated with Rice Vinegar” cited the architecture of Antoni Gaudi and Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” as key influences. And they live up their lofty aspirations. After all, you don’t become one of the best chefs in the world by making plain old chicken fingers.
But the most stimulating aspect of the night isn’t just in eating these dishes, but watching them be made. Towards the front of the ballroom, all the chefs, sous chefs, and a bevy of other assistants work tirelessly to cook, plate and ultimately pull off these magnificent creations. There are even giant screens overhead displaying the whole affair, so you can see the meticulous process from all angles. I spoke with one of the event’s managing directors, Ronnie Davis, to get a better sense of what it takes to pull off feeding a sold-out crowd some of the finest food on Earth. Planning, a lot of planning. Whether its sourcing the highest quality crapaudine beetroots or measuring potatoes down to the centimeter, not one detail is overlooked. While the entire night goes off without a hitch, I can’t fathom the pressure one must feel coordinating such a daunting undertaking.
As the night progresses I drink fine wines and even finer foods. Over the course of the four-hour meal, I never want to leave. Any reservations I have about using the correct utensils or mispronouncing ingredient names evaporates after the first bite of Parmesan melts in my mouth. All I need to do is embrace the salty cheese, because nothing except taste matters in this moment. It’s an exercise in living in and savoring the present. It’s a lesson I hope spills into other areas of my life.
But once midnight strikes and the evening comes to a close, I’m back out in the real world, like a modern day Cinderella scrambling to catch a train home. If I’ve leaned anything from the night, its that I not only have an appreciation for some of the world’s most amazing food, and the artistry that goes into it, but I’m actually pretty good at actively enjoy it.
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