Fifty years ago, chef and food writer James Beard consulted on the very first menu at the Four Seasons restaurant. Beard's input helped galvanize the kitchen in its early days, and over the last 50 years the Four Seasons has developed and maintained its position as the city's preeminent Caesar salad and power lunch spot, complete with seating charts that are more detailed than most star maps. On Saturday afternoon, the James Beard Foundation honored the Four Seasons' co-owners Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini at their annual Chefs & Champagne event.
The event was huge: a sloping, Gaudí-style rental tent was pitched in the middle of a field at the Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, and on the periphery there was a cottage-sized porta-potty so intense that it featured both custom interior moldings and ice cold air conditioning. Given the dismal state of the restaurant business and the economy at large, it's good to remember the 501(c)(3) side of all this: the James Beard Foundation supports numerous educational programs and awards scholarships (and waivers) to young culinary students, something that makes the glitz so much more digestible than edible gold.
True to its theme, there was a lot of Champagne at Chefs & Champagne. More than twenty New York city chefs contributed small plates to the event, and a silent auction was held to raise money for the Foundation. In the late afternoon, Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro took to the stage to toast Christian Wölffer, the Sagaponack based winemaker who died on December 31, and also the Four Seasons' longtime chef Christian "Hitch" Albin, who died last month.
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