Dinner of Hope
And an intriguing lunch. The easiest strawberry ice cream. And superb salami.
In 2008 Alice Waters wanted to make sure that food issues were on Barack Obama’s agenda. “First,” her contacts told her, “you have to help get him elected.”
I got the call. So did a number of other people: we formed the Art Food Hope Committee (Jose Andres, Becky Draper, Rachel Goslins, Margo Lion, Danny Meyer, Joan Nathan, John Philips, Ayelet Waldman and me) to raise money. The New York effort was so successful that Alice decided we should do a series of dinners around the inauguration to raise money for charity.
In this dispiriting American moment I find myself thinking back to those dinners. What a different world it was! How optimistic we were!
The dinners were fantastic. Chefs (Tom Colicchio, Dan Barber, Floyd Cardoz, Nancy Silverton, Lydia Bastianich, Daniel Boulud) came from across the country to cook at the homes of various artists, journalists and philanthropists.
I stupidly hadn’t reserved a hotel room, and there were none to be had. Jose Andres said, “Come stay with us!” It was a halcyon few days; I have the most wonderful memories of him cooking playful meals for his daughters. One morning he made pancakes and topped them with salmon roe and maple syrup. Watching him constructing breakfast I thought “those kids will never eat that.” I was wrong.
Another memory: Tom Colicchio saving Joan Nathan’s life with the heimlich maneuver while the rest of us looked helplessly on. And Zeke Emmanuel sitting next to me as he explained the importance of the National Institutes of Health. In that moment none of us could possibly have imagined that Covid was on the horizon.
So much can change in such a short time….
Because we seem to be in a slightly political vein, here are notes from a much earlier meal that almost ended my marriage before it began.
It was 1982. I’d been hearing about an extremely talented but little-known chef who was cooking fantastic food at the Regency Club in Los Angeles, which had recently been created by billionaire David Murdock. Only members were allowed, and I certainly didn’t know anyone in that league. But the more I heard about Joachim Splichal, the more intrigued I became. Finally I asked my editor if she had any idea how I might gain entry. “Ask the publisher,” she suggested.
Our publisher, it turned out, had a friend at the club. “I’ll get him to invite us for lunch,” said John Marin. I was ecstatic.
Then he told me who the friend was. H.R. Haldeman.
When I told Michael that I was about to lunch with the infamous Watergate figure, he was apoplectic. “Are you crazy?” he said. “You can’t possibly go!” But I had a job to do.
Here are my notes from the meal.
I’ll spare you the rest of the notes which are, sadly, about the food and not the conversation. I remember asking Haldeman what it was like to be in prison. He was remarkably forthcoming, but I didn’t write any of that down.
The food? The regular menu - club food - was fine. Splichal’s food, on the other hand, was extremely impressive.
Here is Joachim Splichal’s menu. The club could certainly have used a proofreader, but the food was a fine introduction to the cutting edge cuisine Splichal would go on to serve three years later at his wonderful, over-the-top Max au Triangle.
and the lunch menu…
The Easiest Strawberry Ice Cream
This is a miracle of a recipe that requires only three ingredients, very little time - and does not demand an ice cream maker. It has another virtue: Because you freeze perfect berries at their peak, you can save summer, freezing the berries now so you can serve this sweet pink treat months from now when the snow is falling.
Simple Strawberry Ice Cream
18 ounces (about a quart) fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market
1/4 cup sugar, plus a tablespoon for sprinkling
1 cup heavy cream
Wash and stem your berries, and cut them into large chunks (leave them whole if they’re very small). The weight will vary with different varieties of berries, but I’ve found that a quart, once it’s stemmed and the inevitable overripe berries tossed, will be about 20 ounces.
Sprinkle the berries with a tablespoon of sugar, and put them in the freezer until they are frozen solid. (You can do this ahead of time, toss the berries into plastic bags and have them on hand whenever you want them.)
When you’re ready to make the ice cream, mix the cream with the sugar.
Put half of the frozen berries into a blender, and slowly add half of the cream mixture, stopping to stir from time to time. (This can be a bit annoying; the blender will keep stopping. Be patient.) Blend until it has all come together into a cool, gorgeously pink, ice cream.
Repeat with the rest of the berries and cream mixture.
Serve immediately to 4 to 6 people. Best when freshly made, it will keep in the freezer for a few weeks.
I’ve just discovered this salami from La Salumina, and I’m in love with it. New Yorker Eleanor Friedman was studying to be a butcher in Siena when she met Gianpiero Pepe, who was running a restaurant there. Now they’ve moved to Hurleyville, New York, where they source local humanely-raised pigs to create their impressive products.
I’m so happy I’ve found them. You will be too.