In the latest of our occasional series of postcards from top industry names, Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Perthshire, gives an account of his trip to New York in April. Along with Claude Bosi, chef-patron of Hibiscus in London, he was there to represent the UK at the second Relais & Châteaux Dîner des Grands Chefs
New York is one of my favourite cities in the world so when Claude Bosi and I went there for the Relais & Châteaux Dîner des Grands Chefs in April, we decided to go a few days early to try and eat in some of the best restaurants.
The first place I wanted to try was the new three-Michelin-starred Brooklyn Fare. Easier said than done; this was one of the most difficult restaurant reservations I have ever had to make. With a table booked for two, I tried to change it to three - but they would only accept even numbers up to a maximum of six diners. After we found a willing friend to join us, we had to prepay for the entire amount of our fixed-price menu a week in advance. We were then told at what time we were dining, what we had to wear, no photos, no note taking and getting to Brooklyn for 6.30pm on a Friday is no easy task. This had better be good
Brooklyn Fare seats 18 guests around a horseshoe-shaped stainless steel table in Cesar Ramirez's kitchen. He serves a twenty-something-course menu, which starts with mostly bite-sized fish and shellfish that are brilliant in both their simplicity and balance of flavours. After course three we all knew we were in for something special.
Ramirez works silently in front of the diners with two young chefs, plating the most beautiful amuses that are presented with virtually no explanation other than the main ingredient. From memory we had oyster, fluke, tuna, saba, sea urchin, scallop, sardine, caviar and crab, eventually giving way to more vegetables and the only red meat course - a stunning breast of duck. All in all we sampled 22 dishes of almost perfect composition of art, texture and taste.
This is a restaurant where we wanted to find fault because of the stress he put us through to get there. But we couldn't - we all agreed it was a truly memorable meal.
Our second meal was lunch at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. This is a very lively and loud bar-cum-diner from the David Chang group of restaurants. David, who is a friend of Claude's, had organised a table for us at short notice. We wanted a light lunch as we were dining at Eleven Madison Park that evening. No chance - as soon as we sat down we were served large jugs of iced tea quickly followed by his now famous steamed pork buns, selection of pickled vegetables, veal sweetbreads, soft shell crab, crab claws and pork sausage.
We eventually had to tell them to stop as we were struggling to keep up but they insisted on giving us one more dish, which they really wanted us to try. It was a whole duck roasted on a rotisserie and it was superb - we couldn't finish it but we did try. Ssäm Bar had such a great buzz we could quite happily have spent the rest of the day there.
That evening we dined at Eleven Madison Park. We had a table booked for three, which we tried to change to four as Gary Jones from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons had just arrived in town that day, also for the Relais & Chateaux event. We were told it was impossible as the restaurant was full.
This would be my fourth visit to Eleven Madison Park but Claude's first and he was really excited. Let me start by saying that I love Eleven Madison Park and have been a huge fan since the restaurant opened. However, on this occasion it didn't work for me. We got off to a bad start when, seeing our large rectangular table set for three I asked why we could not have had another setting, only to be told, "well you know chef, it's a numbers game," which I'm sorry to say set the tone for the evening.
We chose the tasting menu with wines and though the food was completely acceptable, it didn't quite hit the heights it had done on previous occasions.
The next morning all the Grands Chefs met at Per Se for a special brunch prepared by Thomas Keller and his team. It was at this point that both Claude and I realised just how big a deal this was going to be. We were met by Thomas at the door, then we started to recognise some of the great chefs of the world - Marc Meneau, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Patrick O'Connell to name but a few. We were given a full tour of the restaurant and kitchens and it was great to meet so many British chefs and front-of-house staff working at Per Se. Talking to Thomas later he told us how much he respected his British staff for both their work ethic and passion for the industry, which was great to hear.
That night we all wanted something simple and asked Thomas where we should go for the best burger in town. He suggested Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. It originally opened in the 1930s and is a classic New York steakhouse-cum-Parisian bistro. It was renovated by Keith McNally in the late 1990s but still has that look and feel as though it has been there forever.
We had a fantastic chefs' night out with Gary now joining us. We ate brilliantly simple food, drank great wines and talked about food and characters we have worked with over the years. I'd recommend the black label burger.
After a photoshoot on the Hudson River, we were then given a briefing on how the day would work out and were split into teams of three chefs. That afternoon we went to the production kitchens in West Village to double check on our mis en place, which would then be moved to the venue, Gotham Hall, for dinner (see page 42). I was teamed up with Mark Ladner from Del Posto in New York and Patrick Bertron from Le Relais Bernard Loiseau.
The ticket prices were $1,600 (£1,020) per head so we were all pretty nervous and keen to deliver exceptional food. The atmosphere in the room was electric with TV crews and photographers everywhere. Mark, Patrick and myself had a quick run through each other's dishes so we could all help each other out during service. When guests were called through for dinner there was an amazing light show projected around the walls of the hall, which really added to the spectacle.
Once the last course was served each chef was called up on to a large stage to receive a medal presented by Dominique Loiseau, the wife of the late Bernard Loiseau. I was very proud at that moment to be included in such an esteemed group of chefs, many of whom I have admired for many years.
After all the chefs had spoken to the guests at their respective tables we then headed to the after party that was organised by Relais & Châteaux for all the chefs and organisers at the Nesspresso Boutique on Madison Avenue. The boutique was decorated in cherry blossom, there was great finger food, lots of Champagne, a DJ and great chat. We stayed until 3am, though Gary did leave early, as he had a flight to catch.
All in all it was a brilliant experience and something I was very proud to have been a part of.