When Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter get together for their annual Wine Experience food-and-wine pairing seminar, you can count on them trading plenty of barbs with each other and executive editor Thomas Matthews, all in the spirit of friendly competition. But in the kitchens before the event, these friends shared many hugs and kind words.
Emeril, whose warm blue crab was already in the oven, was actually helping prep plates for Mario, who was a sight in his orange clogs, pale pink socks, khaki shorts and a blue fleece vest over a chef’s coat. At first, it was a hushed ballet of empty plates, layers of ingredients, and the next round of empty plates. But as they got to the end of the plating, Mario and Emeril began to relax and joke with each other. “You can’t have too much salt, you can’t have too much oil,” quipped Mario as he drizzled olive oil on his dish, stuffed pancetta with prosciutto.
“It’s another year Tom Matthews can dismiss my dish as cold cuts…again,” Mario commented to Emeril, referring to a previous event when he had brought a selection of cured meats. “Yeah, Tom,” he practiced saying, “I brought some Oscar Meyer.”
“It’s a kicked-up cold cut program,” offered Emeril.
As Wolfgang Puck walked in from the next kitchen, Mario greeted him: “What’s up handsome?”
“What are you serving?” asked Puck. “Pork with pork in it,” said Mario, matter-of-factly.
Puck one-upped him by introducing his dish to the audience as "duck on duck on duck"--as he combined slow-braised duck with duck prosciutto and foie gras--prompting Matthews to comment that Puck is trying to show off by serving foie gras every year.
Puck retorted, in a dig at Trotter, "Since they banned foie gras in Chicago, I had to use up all the foie gras they didn't want there anymore."
Being a good sport, Trotter, who stopped serving foie gras in his restaurant a while back due to ethical concerns, said he might take a bite of Puck's dish "as long as it stays in the room."
"Oh yeah. You can trust all the journalists in the room,” Batali responded, as at least two of us scribbled down every word.
But leaving aside other quips such as Puck's comment on the fat content of the pork--"Mario's dish makes my foie gras look like Lean Cuisine"--the four chefs were atypically collegial this year, compared to last year's no-holds-barred culinary bloodsport. The chefs were feeling challenged by the fact that executive editor Thomas Matthews picked the wines for them to pair food with rather than letting them choose their own, and they seemed to be ganging up on him.
So when we saw Emeril during the Friday night Grand Tasting at the Kosta Browne booth, we asked: Was there some sort of mutual non-aggression pact signed in private by Batali, Lagasse, Puck and Trotter? After laughing, Emeril provided another explanation: they'd started the morning too early. "We were all in the kitchen by 8 a.m. and only had coffee," he explained. "We didn't have any wine to drink." Hmm. We're not certain that Emeril is offering full disclosure, but we'll make sure next year that the chefs have all the wine they want, whatever the hour.
Rick Denton — November 19, 2006 3:56pm ET
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