I was scanning various articles on Grubstreet and read about something named MAD, and that it would be visiting New York soon. I had no idea what this event was about, but after reading more, I was intrigued.
MAD was founded by the infamous Rene Redzpi as a community for chefs, cooks, and farmers who have a desire to improve the restaurant trade. MAD is based in Copenhagen, featuring a symposium and "Mad Mondays", both of which also take place in Copenhagen. Well, New Yorkers were in for a treat as Mad Mondays were coming to the Drawing Center, here! The site said tickets were free, and would open for RSVP at 10am a week before the event. You can bet that I put in an alert into all my calenders at 9:59am, and I easily secured two tickets. I invited Aaron because he really appreciates all things food and chef-related, so who better to be a +1 to something like this than him!
Since the event was free, I was worried there would be a hoard of people outside, so I suggested we meet at 6pm to make sure we got seats. Due to my inability to plan for subway delays (seriously, the MTA gods HATE me), I arrived at 6:30 and Aaron was the first person waiting outside with hardly any queue.
Aaron pointed out all the famous faces going inside (since doors didn't open till 7pm). Danny Bowien! Gabrielle Hamilton! Mario Batali arrived on his Vespa! Oh my god, there was David Chang!
The panel featured chef (and now writer) Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, Mario Batali, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson (former partners of Keith McNally - yes - Balthazar, Minetta Tavern, etc), Bill Buford, and moderator Peter Meehan, the editor of Lucky Peach. The topic focus was what it is like to be a chef today compared to when they started. Gabrielle said that when she started out, she didn't want to be a chef, she wanted to be a writer. But, she needed something that paid, so she started working in a kitchen, and it turned out she was good at it. Et voila, here she is today!
The panel was talking about how it is so cool to be a chef today because all these chefs are on TV and essentially celebrities. Gabrielle Hamilton believes that "food has eclipsed the currency of art", which I thought was pretty interesting. Mario Batali claimed that prior to celebrity chefs and big name restaurants, people used to go out for dinner and a movie, dinner and a show. But now, "we have become the entertainment". I don't think I ever do dinner and a movie or show. I just do dinner and call it a night. The last meal I had with friends, we were there for four hours marveling at how delicious our steak was, how well our crostini flavors paired together, and of course, talked about other recent memorable dining experiences.
"Now, they want to make marshmallows out of
fucking sea urchin and work for David Chang" ~ Mario Batali
To Mario's point, Gabrielle said something about how the dishes you see nowadays, you are filled with wonder by it, but it only goes back a certain distance - it isn't primordial. I see her point, it's not like our parents or care givers were making deconstructed rhubarb pie with seaweed foam gelato for dinner. I think the consensus from the panel was that we can all embrace the new things and still remind everyone of the past. As far as I'm concerned, I love a creamy mac and cheese (i.e. the now closed DuMont) as much as I love popcorn and orange gelato (i.e. Contra).
Mario also said something along the lines of when you think of the best ten meals you've had in the past years, you remember the people you were with, the place you were, the technical components, and there was a human element that adds something. True - food does evoke something. I mean, lets take our panelists - I wouldn't say the meals I've had at those restaurants were my best in the world (most of those would be at home, with food my mom has made for me), but since we are talking about how food creates memories...I remember dining at Prune with a boyfriend and we were celebrating his promotion, we ordered the bone marrow and I remember thinking that moment of sharing the bone marrow and celebrating his accomplishments (with champagne, of course!). I remember countless brunches at Balthazar and Pastis, giggling with girlfriends about the prior evenings debauchery, or when Mai and Paul took me out for a fabulous birthday meal at Balthazar. And who can forget when Becca and I went to eat the Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern when I started a new job, and how lucky I was to have a friend who celebrated my accomplishments with me! And going to Lupa with my sister and eating the most scrumptious prosciutto I've ever tasted!
Some other quotes I liked:
When someone pairs a wine with the right dish and you think, 'Fuck, that's brilliant!' ~ Mario Batali
The greatest pleasure is to have someone cook for you ~Bill Buford
Yes, Bill, I couldn't agree more.
Aaron and I lingered around afterwards to shake hands with our kitchen idols. We met David Chang and told him how much we love his pork buns. Aaron asked him what his favorite ramen place was, and his reply was "I don't eat out that much".
We were given a goody bag with some treats - including the beer below!
I left the event feeling inspired and having a greater appreciation for what it takes to be a chef and what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants. I only see the front and center of things - the beautifully plated meals, the experience you share with your dining companions, the dessert menu, ha. I look forward to attending more of these in the future, if we are so lucky to have more in NYC!