On September 11, the James Beard Foundation, which promotes the culinary arts and America’s diverse culinary heritage, honored the food traditions of the Mad Men era, using The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook as a guide and invited us to join the party. The historical venues of the 1960s-era — some of New York’s most enduring and classy restaurants — Keen’s Steakhouse, The ‘21’ Club, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, Delmonico’s, and P.J. Clarke’s – crafted the food and drink for this memorable evening. As Izabela Wojcik, Program Director for the James Beard Foundation put it, “this is food that never goes out of style.”
We can’t imagine a more perfect setting for such an evening than James Beard’s home. Beard, the literal and figurative giant who towered over the mid-20thcentury culinary scene, lived in the Greenwich Village townhouse that now bears his name. His cookbook collection lines the walls of a fireplaced living room; memorabilia of his extraordinary career as a chef and writer is everywhere, from his distinctive chef’s
jacket with its finely embroidered floral design to photos of him with Julia Child.
We had the privilege of watching as teams of consummate professionals went about the work of preparing a tasting dinner for 80 guests. Tables were set and chairs relayed up the four flights of stairs that wind though the narrow home. James Conley, the
service manager at Keens, spent hours meticulously muddling bitters, simple syrup and orange slices for Old Fashioneds. Dozens of oysters were shucked and martinis readied by the staff of the Grand Central Oyster Bar: their raw bar also featured clams, Shrimp Cocktail, and Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters. Izabela herself filled endive leaves with Waldorf Salad in the downstairs kitchen and Brian Carter, who now runs the bar at the original P.J. Clarke’s on Third Street, rimmed cocktail glasses with sugar for his Sidecars – one of our favorite cocktails in our book, made with cognac, Cointreau, orange and lemon juices. We imagine it was a bit like being behind the scenes at the Bolshoi just before the curtain goes up: a little bit of chaos followed by pure elegance once the show begins.
P.J. Clarke’s also served their legendary Miniature Cadillac Burgers with Smoked Country Bacon and Classic American Cheese along with Crispy Parmesan Tater Tots with Sir Kensington Classic Ketchup. (If you haven’t tried Sir Kensington’s Ketchup, you must!) Delmonico’s offered their Famous Lobster Newburg and Oysters Diamond Jim Brady while the ’21’ Club served its signature Steak Diane and French 75s – champagne cocktails.
The chefs discussed James Beard’s influence on their careers: “Exploring all the variety of what we have to offer as Americans to the food culture of the world has been a great journey that still is not finished,” said P.J. Clarke’s chef Mike DeFonzo. “The legacy of James Beard is like a road map for me, as I wander off the guided path, I can always use his knowledge and writings to guide me back to the main road so I can wander again.”
It’s no easy feat, especially in New York City, for these restaurants to move the provisions and staff they need to participate in an event like this, especially since their
establishments were all open for business that night. But Bill Rodgers, the Executive Chef at Keen’s who was carving Roasted Mutton with mint accompaniment, told us you simply don’t decline the opportunity to participate in a James Beard House event. And if it was an honor for these legendary New York restaurants, with histories dating back well over a century, to participate, we were doubly honored to share the evening with them, to taste recipes from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook brought to life by the best in the business, and
to have our book recognized by The James Beard Foundation. Many thanks to all of the participating restaurants, chefs and the James Beard Foundation staff for this memorable evening.