Because I love to cook, Larry and I eat at home most of the time. However, we do go out to dinner for special occasions. Last Saturday was such an evening. We enjoyed an early Valentine’s Day dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Oceana . The dinner party was graciously hosted by Lynne Ryan of Chefs To Dine For. Lynne has a passion for bringing together like-minded people who enjoy a sophisticated dining experience. And this one was a Valentine’s dinner to remember—a magical night.
The evening started off with drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the bar—and Chef Ben Pollinger even came out of the kitchen to mingle with our group. At one of Lynne’s dinner parties, you not only get to meet fascinating food lovers, you also get to meet the executive chef. Chef Pollinger could not have been more warm and welcoming of the Valentine revelers. Chef Pollinger took our group—wine glasses in hand—on a behind-the-scenes look at his culinary wonderland, a VIP tour of the kitchen.
Watching the staff prepare and plate such wonderful seafood made me (and the rest of the group, I’m sure) eager to get to the meat of the evening—a beautiful three-course dinner paired with great wines. We all made our way to the private dining room with great anticipation of the delights that lay ahead. Upon settling into our seats, Lynne welcomed the guests and officially introduced Chef Ben Pollinger, who made everyone feel welcome. Lynne offered a toast, as the wine started flowing and the first course was set before us. From the first bite of the Meyer lemon risotto with crispy New Orleans shrimp and broccoli rabe, the reason Michelin honored Oceana with a coveted star was obvious. It was truly divine, as was the rest of the meal—steamed George’s Bank sole with baby artichoke barigoule and fingerling potatoes, followed by a decadent baked chocolate mousse with spiced pears and vanilla ice cream.
During the course of an evening filled with divine foods and fine wines, lively conversation led to budding new friendships. If you’re starting to feel left out, don’t. There’s another dinner coming up on March 4, 2012. In fact, the next event is sure to be another night to remember, but with a totally different twist—a beefsteak at Beacon. If you are not familiar with a beefsteak dinner, then you will definitely want to read about it on Garlandia, Larry Garland’s blog. After you read about the beefsteak, I’m sure you will want to jump right over to the Chefs To Dine For website and make a reservation to attend the Beacon dinner party.
Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone and do something that makes us feel uncomfortable. Before I left for my weekend in Seattle and the CreativeLive photography workshop with Penny De Los Santos, I knew that I had been given a rare opportunity, and I told myself, and Larry, that I was going to take 100% advantage of the gift that I’d been given. I was going to use this weekend to reach down into the depths of my soul and find the creative person that lives there, pull him out and help him live to his full potential. And this is the story of how I started doing just that.
I arrived in Seattle on a Thursday morning, checked in at my hotel, and headed out to for lunch. I perused downtown Seattle and I settled on a quaint, little, non-descript Vietnamese restaurant. A safe decision, because I love Vietnamese food. After lunch, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take another route back to the hotel—the explorer in me I suppose—and I discovered a lovely restaurant called FareStart. I stopped along the side of the restaurant long enough to kick myself in the butt for not finding this place first, and as I rounded the corner at 7th and Virginia, I saw a sign near the front door that read, “Guest chef night every Thursday.” This piqued my curiosity, and I opened the front door to find a beautiful restaurant humming with the sounds of people enjoying a nice lunch. I asked the hostess about the “guest chef night.” She told me that the guest chef was going to be Mauro Golmarvi from Assaggio Ristorante in Seattle, and the price was $24.95 for three courses. This seemed rather inexpensive to me, as a New Yorker, so I made a reservation for 7:30 that evening. It was going to be a nice three-course dinner for one where I could quietly contemplate the upcoming photography workshop and how I could make the best use of it.
Upon being seated at the restaurant, I overheard a conversation between a woman at the table next to me and a gentleman who appeared to be working, in some capacity, at the restaurant. I learned that FareStart is “a culinary job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals.” I learned later that they have been in operation for 19 years and have provided opportunities for nearly 5,000 people to learn a skill and turn their lives around. In those 19 years, FareStart has also served more than 4.5 million meals to disadvantaged men, women, and children.
Because of their selfless, spirited efforts, FareStart won the 2011 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award. “The James Beard Humanitarian award is a fantastic honor that we at FareStart are humbled to receive,” said FareStart Executive Director, Megan Karch as she accepted the award at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 9, 2011. “It has always been our mission to empower homeless and disadvantaged individuals while creating nourishing and excellent food. To be recognized by the food industry is not only exciting, it’s a confirmation of something we’ve known all along—the power of community. For nearly 20 years, FareStart has provided opportunities for more than 5,000 people to transform their lives through culinary job training and placement. By awarding us with this prestigious distinction, it is clear that the James Beard Foundation understands the transformative and community-building power of food.”
FareStart has not gained this type of recognition by staying within their comfort zone. They have to constantly push beyond their comfort level and step into that place that feels dangerous, that place that feels like one might even fail. But then, failure is only a step toward progress and learning.
I had an inspiration while sitting there. I wanted to be a vehicle to help spread the word about this fantastic place that was helping homeless and disadvantaged people to develop a skill and change their lives. I wanted to find out more about FareStart, take photos, and write about it on my blog. But I stopped this fantasy in its tracks. I would have to actually speak to someone and ask if I could take some photos—an act that fell far outside my personal comfort zone. I’m not exactly sure why it’s so uncomfortable for me to ask something like this, but it makes a big knot in my stomach and then I start having visions of rejection. But what if they say no? I convinced myself that the world would not end, no one would point at me and laugh; I would simply have my originally planned quiet dinner and then be on my way. I thought of my promise of making a 100% effort in my personal growth during this weekend at the photography workshop—this was a seminal moment in my new career as a photographer. I knew I couldn’t get the pictures and the story if I didn’t ask, nobody was going to do it for me. So when I saw the gentleman who had earlier been speaking with the woman at the next table walk down the stairway, I threw caution to the wind. I felt my arm rising into the air as though it had a mind of its own. It caught his attention. He smiled and came over to my table. Suddenly, I began to babble as if in a foreign language, one that neither he, nor I, could understand. He politely asked if he could sit at the table with me. I took a deep breath and said, “of course.” I somehow managed to start speaking coherent English. We talked about FareStart, and I ended up in the kitchen taking photos of the food, meeting the staff, chatting with sous chef Sam Clinton, and also taking photos of the chef.
One never knows what opportunity lies around each corner that we take in life. Literally. It is important to listen to our instincts. When an opportunity arises, it’s easy to shrug it off with excuses of why it was not the right time, the right place, or whatever, to take advantage of that opportunity. But how do we grow when we do that? We don’t. We grow when we listen to our instincts, make ourselves step out of our comfort zone, and do something that is uncomfortable for us at that moment. What we gain for seizing such an opportunity is too vast to describe fully here. Some of the things we gain are new friendships, self-esteem, and a feeling of accomplishment.
When I rounded that corner at 7th and Virginia in Seattle, I had no idea that this opportunity was waiting for me, but I managed to listen to my instincts, found the courage to step out of my comfort zone, and ended up with memories that will last a lifetime—plus photos. Perhaps it was the spirit of the thousands of people who have gone through the FareStart kitchen—people who have overcome adverse circumstances and turned their lives around, faced their inner demons and learned a life skill—that gave me the courage to try. Whatever it was, I have grown and learned because of an experience that I could easily have talked myself out of doing.
Like a bright, bold San Marzano tomato rising from the lava ash in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, a 50,000 square foot slice of Italy has risen in the shadow of the famous Flatiron building in New York City. Imagine an Italian food market intermingled with an Italian-food court. As you walk into the front door, you are met with a long line of folks waiting to taste la dolce vida in the form of creamy gelato. Smell the aroma of the paninoteca as sandwiches are pressed to perfection. Just beyond the paninoteca the fishmonger picks up a rockfish, spreads its fins as though it’s taking flight, while engaging his customer with facts about the fish’s origins and exchanging ideas about various cooking methods. You’re in Eataly, a slow-food-inspired market that is modeled after its sister store of the same name in Turin, Italy.
This new emporium is a rambling mixture of food market and restaurants. Close to the fishmonger is Il Pesce, a restaurant serving … fish; around the corner next to the produce you’ll find Le Verdure, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, and La Pasta is next to … yep, you guessed it, the pasta section of the market. You’re catching on to the concept. On the roof, aside from the fantastic view of the Empire State Building, you will find a beer garden, La Birreria, pouring up a variety of beers, including one that is brewed, on that same roof, by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales. Beer aficionados will be glad to know that the rooftop brewing system is copper-clad, and the beer produced there is “unfiltered, unpasteurized, naturally carbonated and hand-pulled through traditional beer engines”, according to the Eataly facebook page.
This grand venture is a collaboration among Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Oscar Farinetti, founder of the original Eataly in Turin, Italy. Mario Batali noted, in an interview on May 4, 2010 with Tom Douglas in Seattle, that New York City has been missing a gastronomic tourist destination. Eataly is his effort to fill this void.