Ken Goodman
Quince and foie gras macarons served at the JBF Silver Anniversary Gala Reception.
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Happy Birthday, Beard

Beverly Stephen / November 19th, 2012

The late James Beard himself was the inspiration behind the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Gala held Friday at New York City’s Four Seasons restaurant. Host chef Alfred Portale (Gotham Bar and Grill, NYC) drew on his own memories as well as Beard’s Menus for Entertaining to establish the theme.

When Portale was fresh out of culinary school, he was working at Michel Guérard’s Comptoir Gourmand at Bloomingdale’s. “We cured our own hams and made 12 or 13 different pates, ballottines, and galantines,” he said. One day when he was elbow-deep in making terrines, James Beard and Julia Child paid a surprise visit. “I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he was impressed. It was meaningful enough that I thought it was appropriate to do charcuterie for this dinner.”

As for the book: “Entertaining is what we’re doing; we’re entertaining 280 people,” he said. “My biggest challenge was coming up with a first course that could sit on the table during the live auction.” Charcuterie was perfect for that purpose, as well as a nod to the inspiration that came from Beard. For the first course, he produced duck rillettes, foie gras torchon, pheasant ballottine with Perigord truffles and some classic vegetable dishes such as artichoke à la barigoule and mushrooms à la Grecque.

Four other Beard “Outstanding Chef” award winners followed, some interpreting Beard more loosely (if at all) than others. David Bouley (Bouley, NYC) did porcini flan with black truffle dashi and Dungeness crab. Tom Colicchio (Craft, NYC) monkfish with savoy cabbage and truffles. Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, NYC) stuffed filet of beef. Michel Richard (Citronelle, Washington, D.C.) crème brûlée napoleon.

“It’s not that Beard’s combinations don’t hold up. He was about buying local and buying from farms,” Colicchio said. "But there’s a different approach today in the way things are cooked and plated. Also he was an instructor. He wasn’t cooking for restaurants. His books were for home cooks. We found a recipe for cabbage that worked. The monkfish is mine, and here’s where it gets modern. They’re smaller now than they were, so I take two fillets and put them together head-to-tail with meat glue. I wrapped it in pancetta and cooked it partially sous vide and then roasted it in the oven."

Daniel Humm’s main course, stuffed filet of beef, was inspired by Beard’s beef stuffed with celery and truffles, wrapped in Swiss hard, and served with a Madeira sauce. The original recipe stuffing included chicken livers, but for this interpretation Humm served chicken liver pâté on toast as an accompaniment.

As to Richard, he just selected one of his own recipes, a napoleon filled with crème brûlée, and served it with a caramel sauce.

The evening began with a Champagne reception (there were Manhattans and Martinis, too) and a silent auction in the Grill Room, birthplace of the power lunch at the venerable Ludwig Mies van der Rohe/Philip Johnson-–designed Four Seasons, which was born in 1959 and built on Beard’s American seasonal tastes.

The limited edition JBF bowtie cash call, led by event chair John Kessler and former NY Giant Dhani Jones, raised a total of $35,000 for the foundation’s culinary scholarship program, when restaurateur Stephen Starr kicked off the donations with a generous $15,000 contribution to support the great American chefs of tomorrow. Other high ticket items were reservations at Noma in Copenhagen and a private dinner with Martha Stewart. Altogether the silent and live auctions raised $400,000.

Videos featuring three scholarship winners, including Food Arts intern Ana Nicole Rodriguez, were shown to put a human face on the scholarship program.