For Warren and me Chinese New Year has always meant family and friends. To express our love and affection we do what we do best: offer good food. For many years our Chinese New Year celebration centered on a ten-course banquet. Our nieces would invariably be the focus of the evening. But this year was different. One of our nieces is now living in Singapore and the other one is off in college at Cornell University. Fortunately we live in a Harlem apartment building full of young and lively families. They have become our extended family, so our Chinese New Year tradition continues with them.
If you feel that this has been a very hot summer then you’re right. In fact this last twelve-month period is the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To escape the heat of July and August, residents of overcrowded cities throughout the Northern hemisphere abandon their homes and flock to the nearest beach resorts. Over the last several years something else has been gathering to welcome the tourists: the jellyfish.
Juggling consulting work at Lotus Blue and other freelance consulting gigs, I almost neglected my own family’s reunion dinner for Chinese New Year. But since we were entering the Chinese zodiac’s dragon year it would have been improper not to have a grand celebration to welcome it. Among the flurry of my activities I staged a sumptuous Dragon Chinese New Year banquet for a small group of family and friends.
I am very fortunate to be living in the most wonderful building in the greatest city. This year my schedule around Chinese New Year was absolutely crazy. What with cooking classes, cooking demos, panel discussions and a guest chef event I had neglected preparations for my own family New Year dinner. The day before New Year’s Eve only four members of my family had been invited and confirmed. I was not looking forward to spending a quiet New Year’s Eve celebration with so few people. Determined to change this I turned it into a festive gathering of friends and neighbors.
There is something slightly disconcerting about planning a dinner intended entirely to highlight different kinds of exotic meat such as wild boar, veal, pork, quail, rabbit sausages, lamb sausages and oysters. Separately they each would make a winning dish, but how would you put them all in one dinner without overwhelming the diners. Should there be a specific style of cuisine? What kind of supplementary ingredients would be suitable? This was the challenge Christo at Chez What? faced when offered a bounty of these meats from Marx Foods to sample. His solution was to invite a few bloggers to get together and cook.
We’ve just entered the year of the tiger and according to the five elements of Chinese geomancy it is the metal tiger year, which is also known as the white tiger year. Consequently for most people it is to be a turbulent period with unpredictable outcomes and uncertain prospects. But if you were born in the year of the sheep, horse, dog, tiger, ox or dragon, you’re in luck because your birth sign counteracts the negativity. You’ll have more good fortune and opportunities for success in your career this year. Since I was born in the year of the horse I’m due for some good fortune or career success. But as a practical man that I am I just wish for a successful New Year’s dinner.
When I prepare a dinner party at home I try very hard to put together a plan with menu, ingredients list, preparation schedule, dinner service schedule and all. But I have never been able to put together a foolproof plan. There would always be last minute items I forgot to buy or cook. Warren will always be the one to rescue me by going across the street to Pathmark and get whatever I forgot. Now imagine working with a group of star chefs preparing a six-course Chinese banquet for 250 guests at the James Beard Foundation gala dinner and auction. The logistical problems as you can imagine increased many fold.
What’d you do when an opportunity comes up to meet star Chinese chefs from all over the world, and work with them in a kitchen presenting a banquet? You jump at it. That was the offer a little over a month ago from a friend at the James Beard Foundation. They needed someone who spoke Mandarin to help escort and assist the chefs from China during their gala auction and conference. I immediately agreed to volunteer. After a full month of coordinating with the foundation, I finally spent four days with the chefs last week. What follows is the story of a journey through the world of star chefs that’s harrowing, entertaining, educational and, most of all, fun.
Photography by Ron Boszko We did it! We had a blast on Saturday night. I managed to serve the full ten-course dinner without any mishap. We even photographed each course of the meal. My friend Ron, who is a great photographer, helped me with the photography. We set up a small “studio” area in our bedroom. Each course was carefully transferred to the “studio” prior to serving. And what great guests we had, they were so patient with the entire process. I love my neighbors! So, I am now ready to share the dinner with all of you!