Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 1, 2011 D'Artagnan Duckathlon Meatpacking Madness

Man, time flies. I meant to post about this over a week ago but between work and gardening and a trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest I could not find the time. Two weeks ago I spent what was probably the silliest day in a year as a judge at an event hosted by  D'Artagnan, the extraordinary purveyor of fine food. VERY loosely modeled on an Olympic decathlon, teams from NYC restaurants competed in events where they had to do everything from reassembling a suckling pig to trying a salami around their waists and, dressed in drag (for the men anyway), dip the salami into a pail. 

Suffice it to say that I was very pleased to be a judge and  leave the monkey business to the youngsters.

Apart from the aura of wackiness around the event,  there were many pleasant surprises, especially for someone who spent most of his life living around and in New York City. For starters, the site of the event was the Meatpacking District which has undergone an amazing transformation. When I was a kid the place stunk, needles and used condoms littered the streets and NOBODY was on the street in daylight on a weekend who wasn't unconscious or dead. But on the Sunday of the Duckathlon the streets were teaming with tourists, bridge and tunnel kids and, I assume people who have actually chosen to live in what once was the very apotheosis of nasty urban America.

And The High Line park, built on the elevated train track that used to carry refrigerated boxcars full of carcasses into the district, is one of the most beautiful and crowded city parks I have ever seen.

I also got to spend the day hanging out with someone who I listened to on WNYC almost everyday for 20 years, Leonard Lopate. Leonard, who has won two James Beard awards was absolutely delightful company. And why not? Just Terry Gross, another extraordinary NPR personality, Leonard has interviewed thousands of people over the years, many of whom have made major contributions to American pop and political culture. He's someone you could talk to for a month and never run out of fresh subjects to gnaw.

Of course, I spent a good deal of time with the host of the Ducathlon, the indefatigable Ariane Daguin, founder of D'Artagnan and a woman who has done as much to elevate the quality of American fine-dining as anyone you can name. Duckathlon is the second D'Artagnan  sponsored event I've been smart enough to attend, last year I attended D'Artgnan's 25th Anniversary Party, which was a hoot as well.

Finally, I cannot fail to mention how cool it was to have King Phojonakong as my judging partner. I first met King at The Culinary Institute of America where he was a student in two of the classes I taught. In the intervening years he has gone on to become a great friend and colleague (we are both involved in an ongoing symposium at NYU) and a master of Philipino cuisine with two terrific restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. (Check out Kuma Inn and Umi Nom, you will love them).

Frankly, I cannot believe that events like this have something to do with what I do for a living. One is not supposed to have this much fun at anything that has to do with work. (At least that's what my Puritan muse tells me ;-)