Alain Sailhac & Arlene Feltman-Sailhac
Jim Poris / January 2003
Food Arts presents the January/February 2003 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Alain Sailhac and Arlene Feltman-Sailhac, the New York City couple, who, through different tracks, have each advanced the course of culinary education by opening up the mysteries of the professional kitchen to the curious, hungry public.
During his 11 years at The French Culinary Institute (FCI) in New York City, first as dean of culinary studies and now as executive vice president, Sailhac has presided over a vast expansion of the culinary education program, which includes the on-site restaurant L'Ecole, and has served as mentor to hundreds of graduates. As owner/director of the 22 year old De Gustibus program enshrined in Macy's flagship stor in Herald Square, Feltman-Sailhac (who married Alain in 1992) set the template for show-bizzy, interactive big-name chef cooking demos. By promoting chefs as refined craftsmen worthy or stardom, De Gustibus has served as the model vehicle for boosting chefs' public recognition. This fall, De Gustibus offered attendees 55 thematic cooking performances by the likes of Mario Batali, Judy Rodgers, Robert Kinkead, and Gary Danko in an up-to-the-minute kitchen designed for the home cook.
"My mission at FCI has been to teach what's best about French cuisine, to fill students with passion and pride for the profession," says Sailhac. "When I first came to America in 1965, there were Germans, Swiss, French, Italians, and Latinos in the kitchen. Now there are Americans—lots of them, and talented, too. At FCI we've contributed to that."
Corralling Sailhac significantly raised the fledgling FCI's public profile. After all, it was Sailhac who, as executive chef from 1978 to 1986, first put Le Cirque (now Le Cirque 2000) on the culinary map and in the society pages. That followed a bravura reign as kitchen commander at Le Cygne, where, in 1977, he garnered four-star praise from the New York TImes. "I've cooked for kinds, queens, presidents, and people who were neither," says Sailhac. "I was only interested in giving them all good food."
De Gustibus grew from Feltman-Sailhac's need to slake her intense interest in the food business. While working as a graduate student supervisor in speech pathology at City College in 1980, she (and a colleague) invited such luminaries as Julia Child and Jaques Pépin to New York to cook and talk before an audience in Off-Broadway theaters. Word spread, the classes took off, space was leased and outfitted at Macy's, and soon Feltman-Sailhac was sole proprietor of a program featuring star instructors and others—Alain Ducasse, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay, to name a few—who have appeared before anyone but the hardcore food cognoscenti had heard of them.
"Chefs like this format because, for them, it's a forum where they can take the pulse of the public," says Feltman-Sailhac. "For the consumer, it exposes them to great chefs, new ingredients, what's hot on the restaurant scene. It gives them a chance to feel the connection between a chef and his or her food."