If you ever need your patriotism refreshed, you ought to swing an invitation to next year's Who's Who of Cooking in America Awards. The fourth annual gala was in October, this year sponsored by Restaurant Business Magazine as well as Cook's Magazine, which originated it. Every year this celebration of American culinary talent has grown better.
That might not be apparent in the numbers: This year there were 12 awards, whereas the other years have had twice that number. And the party was missing some of the luminaries from previous years -- the late James Beard, Simone Beck and Julia Child (who sent a videotape to accept her special award). In its few years, this event has drawn the most respected food professionals in American cooking.
It is a great party. The theme this year was regionalism and the food was brought from around the country: Washington's Olympia oysters on the half shell, California's Petaluma duck sausages, Texas' Chianina beef, dried tart cherries from the Midwest, smoked chicken from Connecticut and shellfish from Maine, crawfish from Louisiana and wines from not only California but Washington, New York and Michigan.
It reminds you what exciting foods are grown and produced -- everywhere in this country.
This time it was a particularly warm and personal ceremony, with each award preceded by a brief speech about the recipient and his region. Robert Del Grande of Cafe Annie in Houston said his award would get his mother to stop nagging him about having given up his career as a scientist. Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque in New York explained the task of a restaurateur: "You have to be patient, and try to be there -- most of all, try to be there." Jovan Trboyevic of Le Perroquet and Les Nomades in Chicago took that requirement so much to heart that he couldn't even leave his restaurant for the New York award.
There were charming inconsistencies: Representing the Northeast among the awards were Brendan Walsh from the Bronx, celebrated for his Southwestern food in Manhattan's Arizona 206 restaurant; and Anne Rosenzweig, the tiny dynamo who has tackled the mega-power 21 Club to become its chef (along with the ex-chef from Le Cirque, Alain Sailhac). The two other women recipients couldn't have been more different than the sedate Shirley Sarvis, who spreads the gospel of matching wine and food; and brassy, witty Leslee Reis, whose gospel is American inventiveness though her Chicago restaurant is called Cafe Provencal.
In the Northwest honors went to two producers who surmounted great challenges -- David Lett, who turns the difficult pinot noir grape into a great American wine, and Jon Rowley, who crusades for the rights of seafood and seafood eaters. Dean Fearing, of Dallas' Mansion on Turtle Creek, was wearing pure Texas ostrich boots and a pure punk hairstyle, a new image for a chef.
And then there was the South, with two recipients who represented the extremes: Alex Patout is as homegrown Louisianan as anyone can get, despite his family-run group of restaurants having spread to Los Angeles. And Jean-Louis Palladin is consummately French, a Gascon who came to Washington eight years ago to open a stellar restaurant in the Watergate Hotel. But get Alex Patout and Jean-Louis Palladin in front of a wild duck, though, and give them a saute' pan, and you will find that they speak the same language.
The upper crust of New York restaurants are reporting such an influx of Japanese visitors that some are printing menus in Japanese. Look for bilingual menus at The Quilted Giraffe and the Manhattan Ocean Club.
Fast food is beginning to involve slow choices. Wendy's is test-marketing its SuperBar, an 18-foot all-you-can-eat buffet of 50 hot and cold items. An array of Italian and Mexican main dishes, salad bar of fruits and vegetables, baked potato station and desserts of fresh fruit and pudding, the SuperBar is priced about $3 at lunch and $3.60 for dinner. Test markets have spread from Louisville to about 380 Wendy's branches around the country -- about 10 percent of the company's restaurants. So far, the reading is that the format is popular, the food costs the company more, but the labor costs and overhead are lower with the SuperBar. Even so, says Wendy's, hamburgers "remain the most important product on our menu."
It came in style and is leaving in style, the Frog restaurant in Philadelphia, which 14 years ago helped spark that city's restaurant renaissance. Frog's retirement on Nov. 28 is going to be followed by an Attic Sale, Buffet and Wine Tasting on Dec. 4, 5 and 6. Owner Steve Poses will still be feeding Philadelphians at the Commissary and the 16th Street Bar & Grill.
JEAN LOUIS PALLADIN'S VEGETABLE TERRINE (Yields 20 slices)
4 yellow squash
2 medium eggplants, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, peeled and seeded
2 yellow bell peppers, peeled and seeded
2 medium onions
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and pressed flat
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, poached in consomme until soft to the touch, and sliced
15 fresh basil leaves, green or purple
FOR THE ASPIC:
1 1/2 packages ( 1/4-ounce each) unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups rich consomme
Slice squash, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes thinly; season with sea salt and pepper, and saute' each in olive oil a few minutes until softened. Let cool. Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup consomme, warm the rest of the consomme and dissolve the gelatin in it to form an aspic. Let cool.
Spoon some aspic into a 12-by-4-by-4-inch rectangular mold. Layer the bottom and sides with eggplant slices overlapping so that they will also cover the top when finished. Layer remaining vegetables, garlic and basil, alternating colors, to build the terrine. Add aspic as necessary to fill the corners as you layer. When the terrine is full, fold over the eggplant slices to cover. Cover with waxed paper and weight with 3 or 4 pounds (cans, for example) to compress the terrine. Refrigerate overnight with weight.
To unmold, dip mold briefly in hot water and turn upside down onto a cutting board. Cut with a warm, clean sharp knife into 1/2-inch thick slices. Arrange each slice on a plate, decorate with fresh herbs, and spoon some sauce (for example, tomato, pepper or basil) around bottom.