Friday, October 24, 2008

field promotion

the evening started like any other.  the 188 year old new york eye and ear infirmary was having their celebration dinner and i was assigned a table of happy eaters.  my orders from command were to keep the water and wine glasses charged which i followed to a 't'.  there was really nothing out of the ordinary about the beginnings of the evening.  we preset the first course.  had what i call the bermuda triangle glass set.  in fact, this is my first contribution to the new york catering world.  it has already moved from "bermuda triangle glass set" to "bt set up" which everyone knows is the white wine glass at the top of the knife, the red wine glass up and to the right, and the water glass up and to the left.  the bases of the three glasses forming the isosceles triangle (thanks, dad, for teaching me what that was so many years ago).  bermuda refers to the fact that any liquids in this triangle have a curious way of disappearing.  

after clearing the first course, we served the main.  the captain for the evening was roberto who i've worked with before.  a stickler for service who runs a tight ship and appreciates his soldiers.  in fact, i love that he says "thank you" to us several times a night.  last night he offered kisses to the entire company.  i didn't see any evidence of delivery.  in order to conquer the room more efficiently, we were divided into platoons and led by a couple sergeants who had direct communication with captain roberto at all times.  ear pieces, sleeve mics...the whole deal.  field communication advances in the dining room have come a long way.  

since i was supposed to stay in the dining room for clear up, my evening was just about over.  and then it happened.  the captain called me over for special duty.  he asked me to leave the clean up in the dining room and move to a new theater of activity...dessert!  this was taking place in another room on site with dueling pianos going at it.  fun room.  

however, the big moment was still to come.  at 9:45 pm with about 15 minutes left in the event, one of the sergeants promoted me to bartender!  finally my bartender's license put to good use.  
yep...not a bad night.  promoted in the field.  things are going to start happening to me now!


several nights ago i had dinner with some more celebrities.  quite the group, really.  mayor bloomberg, anna wintour (editor of vogue), tommy hilfiger, calvin klein, and emceed by deborah norville.  it was amazing to me, that when calvin told the group that "ralph couldn't make it," everyone knew exactly who he was talking about.  at my table was an up and coming actress and film maker i recognized from the movie city slickers that starred billy crystal.  what i didn't realize is that this woman at my table whose name plate read, "lindsay miller" is in fact lindsay crystal miller, the daughter of billy crystal.  and she was at my table.  i served her dinner.  and dessert.  and filled her water glass...she said hi to me.  

the event was a charity dinner to thank some top donors.  the fashion industry is among those donors but there were many others, including the mayor.  the group is called, "god's love, we deliver."  they deliver meals to people debilitated by various diseases including hiv/aids.  some 800,000 meals were delivered last year alone.  a great work and a tremendous number of volunteers that make it all happen.  my roommate's mother received meals here in the apartment i'm living in from this organization in the last couple years of her life.  

obviously, the organization's name caught my eye and caused some thoughts to brew in my mind since there was no mention of god during the dinner, or his love which was being delivered.  matthew 25:31 and following talks about the sheep and the goats being separated by particular activities.  "i was hungry and you gave me something to eat, i was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, i was a stranger and you invited me in, i needed clothes and you clothed me, i was sick and you looked after me, i was in prison and you came to visit me.  then the righteous (the sheep) will answer him, 'lord, when did we do all that?'  the king will reply, 'i tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."  it's difficult to argue with the actions of this group.  in fact, i'm not.  the sheep in the story appear to be surprised that they are among god's righteous and i'm sure there are others in this world who will be in this category.  probably some surprised goats, as well.  is all this delivery the spirit of christ at work?

the other side of the argument comes from john 6:28-29.  here some people ask jesus, "what must we do to do the works god requires?"  and jesus answers, "the work of god is this: to believe in the one he has sent."  this would appear to say that belief is the primary action for disciples.  is the spirit of christ at work in the charity without recognition of that spirit or is it merely human effort?  is it sufficient to believe correctly but not engage in the activities of the sheep?   

i have no real conclusion at this point beyond saying that both appear important.  i mean, jesus said both things.  you may have clearer thoughts.  these were just fun musings that ran through my mind during the dinner that ralph couldn't make.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

french service

who knew that the public library would be a venue for a wedding reception?  is that the first place you think of for your special party?  i guess this was the location for one of the "sex and the city" girls to have her reception.  i'm not too up on my episodes.  so someone figured they would do the same thing.  and heck, why not, if you have an extra $100,000 lying around just to rent the space! after that, you could drop another 300k on the designers and rental of tables, candelabras, dinnerware, etc.  then of course, you'll need lighting so you can light up the tableware just right...oh, and you'll need to light the entry hall, mezzanine level and third floor bars, and certainly can't forget the dance hall.  all of this is before paying me to cater your party, along with about 100 of my friends.  food and wine for the 400 guests and as many vodka shots as they want to down will be an additional cost.  the 12 piece band for the dance, the violinist to play jewish-russian wedding music, keeping the ice bar solid from 5 pm saturday night to 3 am sunday morning, and other sundries.  that should do it...shouldn't be more than 2 million dollars.  maybe a little more.  

this really was the most richly decorated event i've catered since arriving here.  the library itself is stunning.  you can check out basic pictures of the library at  the pics i've posted here are just the little ones i took with my phone of the event.  the library sits in bryant park between 40th and 42nd street with its entrance on 5th avenue.  by the way, all those candles on the steps of the entry were placed by yours truly and some cater buddies.  people were stopping constantly to ask what was going on.  some took advantage of the backdrop for their own photos.  one lady asked if it was a vigil for the war.  

the dining table was unbelievable.  the photo here doesn't really do it justice.  it almost looks like some kind of optical illusion photo, but it really does
 just keep going and going.  this i know, since i had to walk it an untold number of times in set up as well as during dinner.  200 per side.  imagine that space with 400 guests and another 50 or so waiters all trying to scoot past one another in the 2 feet behind the chairs which in this pic haven't been placed yet, and filled with 400 healthy bodies that like to sit a foot away from the table.  two words... may hem.  and then
 we were giving french service, as it's called.  this is when you take a 
tray with servings for 10 or so.  you dish it out at the table, always from the left of course which meant everyone was leaning to their right...right into their neighbor.  it was tight!  still...there was a kind of opulent elegance, or elegant opulence to the design of it all.  can those words be put together?

the day began at 4:15 am saturday morning for a catering gig in connecticut.  we arrived back in manhattan at 5:00 pm at which point i hustled over to the library for the wedding reception gig for the next 12 hours of my life.  yes...i pulled a 24 hour shift.  i think there are many who do this for a variety of reasons.  i just wanted to appear macho.  finished the breakdown of the ice bar (yep, the whole thing was made of ice!), glasses, leftover food, and a small glass of scotch with the boss around 4:00 am Sunday morning and made my way home.  dreamland by 5:00.  

next time you are at a catered event, say hi to your waiter.  they may be at the end of their strength, beyond 
even the effects of red bull.  they may be the next movie star or theater diva.  as with everything, there are so many unknown and hidden stories of those who serve us.  

Monday, October 13, 2008


i've made what is perhaps a very dangerous discovery...a wi-fi hot spot in central park.  now i can get real new york dust on my screen without it first going through the venetian blind filter over my apartment window.  

the fresh and lovely october air is nice too.  it's actually pretty warm out here.  

this will be the first of many visits to this tranquil spot, for sure.  and of course one hot spot means there could be another.  

i'm mark in central park...and i've just found, the internet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


my roommate, eric, was gone this weekend.  i found myself doing what i love to do with an empty kitchen...make nachos.  but also, creme brulee, which to my mind is among the finest desserts somebody ever came up with.  nothing like raw egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream and some special flavoring.  everything a growing artery block needs.  ever since its first appearance in a 1691 cookbook in france, this dessert with it's carmelized sugar shell has been pleasing palates around the globe.  

well...i make the best creme brulee.  truly, you should try it sometime.  i prepared some for eric and he informed me of the same thing.  the fact that he had never had it before is really immaterial. it is his new favorite dessert!


it was a late night last night.  or early morning.  same thing, i guess.  another catering gig with the food network as the general client.  and what would a gig for the food network be without another celebrity that i've never heard of but everyone else says is a really cool guy?  so, this time it was chef duff, aka "the ace of cakes."  i can see why he was given this name.  he had made a huge cake in the shape of a whisk.  pretty impressive really.  it fit the location at "the tunnel" which runs from one avenue to another on 28th street between 11th and 12th avenue.  i was told it used to be a night club and i can tell it must have been a very cool place.  

since the party didn't start til 9:00 pm, i didn't have to be there til 8:00.  but that meant going to the wee hours of this morning.  got home about 3:00 am.  sleep by 3:3o or so and my ongoing issue of not being able to sleep more than about 6 hours meant waking up promptly at 9:30.  so i figured i would catch the sermon at redeemer on the west side at 64th.  service started at 9:15.  i was out the door at 9:41.  not bad, if you ask me.  ran to the subway, down the stairs, swiped my mta (metro transit authority) monthly pass, and quickly made my way to the platform.  looked down the tunnel and realized that there was no train in site.  the view from 96th looking uptown is clear for several stops.  no lights means no train!  no way i was going to make it to 64th in time for the sermon, but perhaps that was ok.  

still, i tried.  i ran back up the steps from the platform, through the turnstile, up the stairs to the sidewalk and saw the m10 across the street heading downtown.  i booked it over there and made it on, thanking the driver.  there weren't very many on the bus so i just stayed at the front and, as i like to do, started talking to the driver.  anisha told me i was lucky to get on the bus.  i told her i was late for church and grateful that she waited for me.  she smiled and said the reason i was lucky is because she was giving her tithe to the woman who was keeping the bus from moving and got off just before i got on.  this was a sister!  

she asked where i was heading and i told her.  then i asked where she went and she said that driving the bus made it pretty difficult to ever go, which made it all the more amazing to me that she was giving a tithe at all.  she said she likes preachers that keep her awake since so many cause her to go to sleep.  like this one preacher she enjoyed.  "he was a preacher with drama!" which meant that he preached on adultery and used the affair he was having as a sermon illustration while his wife sat in the front row and yelling "preach! preach!"  gotta love a church that is so real that the community allows for some the pulpit! 

i told her she'd enjoy hearing me preach since i had drama too.  dr. keller at redeemer has been talking about community a lot recently.  luke 15 has the religious leaders upset with jesus since he was hangin with "sinners and tax collectors."  they had never seen a community like this before.  a community with sinners?!  crazy.  he ended his sermon by saying the body of christ must commit to the flock - the one jesus died to build.  this means committing to a community that allows each other to be sinners. 

what a gracious understanding of community.  anisha said that whatever drama i might have, god wouldn't have given it if he didn't know i could handle it.  i love it when bus drivers preach.  didn't even need to go to church anymore.  she had already reminded me of god's presence even in the isolation of this place.  and with that, had reminded me that he knew what real isolation was all about.  he experienced it for me so that ultimately, i wouldn't have to.

those 30 blocks by bus were a great start to the day.  don't worry, i still went to church.  another good sermon.  i'll save that for another time.  

Friday, October 10, 2008


you know i like burgers.  and i really like them with tasty crispy bacon under and over melted cheese.  sometimes i like to throw some bleu cheese on their for a little zing, but i have to have really thought through this since i don't keep bleu cheese around very often.  i've even waited in line for a burger before.  sometimes at wendy's where my standard order is a "double cheese plain, add bacon and mayonnaise."  sometimes i've waited at burger king where my order is similar to that of wendy's.  so i understand what it is to wait in line for a burger.

what i don't get is what i saw last night.  i've catered a number of events now.  i've seen some real celebrities.  i refreshed the water glass of michael phelps recently, and even bob costas!  it was exhilarating.  in fact i think i handle myself pretty well around celebrity types especially since one of the brat pack from some of those 80's movies lives in my building and we ride the elevator together.  you would know her.  but do i freak out when i see her?  do i get tongue tied?  do i rush to her for an autograph?  no, no, and no.  

so last night i was working at the chelsea market.  very cool building since it stretches from ninth avenue all the way to tenth.  that's a pretty good stretch for new york.  anywhere else it would simply not exist.  an indoor marketplace with cheese shops, wine shops, a couple more cheese vaults, a wine vault, some bread stores, a glassware shop with a selection of wine glasses for all the wine you can buy in the other shops...and i'm sure there must be a cutting board shop and some fun knives so you can cut up all those cheese varieties. 

chelsea market is primarily on the main floor.  the second floor is the headquarters of the food network.  yes we have a network entirely dedicated to food.  one of their celebrities is, apparently, a guy named bobby flay.  i almost titled this blog, "who the hell is bobby flay?!" since i had never heard of him.  i guess he is a burger chef who has become famous for taking a well shaped beef patty and dragging it by the stove, putting some potato chips on it and a bun and calling it a crunch burger.  the one i had was pretty rare.  sure it was tasty, but it was burger!  and where was the bacon?!!  

well, there was a burger station in chelsea market and that was the area i was bussing last night.  two words...night mare!  bottleneck all night.  and just to make it more fun, this booby flay guy comes out and stands behind his burger table every now and then.  the people went nuts for him.  cameras appeared out of nowhere, camera phones popped up over the crowd with their little blue screens jerkily tracking a moving target.  he'd stand there and smile his winning smile, serve a burger or two, sign autographs, and then disappear again behind the screen.  but the impact of his appearing made an already ridiculous crowd even worse and practically immobile.  felt like i was back at csu and some frat party with wall to wall people and very little movement.  i half expected to see a toga any moment or some naked people get passed overhead.  

behind the little screen was where i was going all the time with my teetering trays of empty wine glasses and mostly eaten burger plates for the trash.  i saw bobby back there.  seemed pretty normal to me.  nice guy.  i guess he makes a good burger.  

but once again i ask, where was the bacon?!

Friday, October 3, 2008


there are many beautiful planters around this town.  as you walk down the streets on the upper east or west sides, you pass the steep steps of classic brownstone town homes.  tree lined streets where the trees are surrounded by little barriers that hold in the dirt that gives home to the trees.  the same can be found in hell's kitchen, chelsea, the village and all the other neighborhoods in town.  

Some of these planters are made of bricks, others of wrought iron.  i've seen morning glories and clematis, impatiens and ivy, all growing at the base of leafy trees.  oak, maple, elm, birch, name it, it's probably growing in a planter somewhere in this city.

i used to think these planters were placed throughout these side streets for the beautification of the city and certainly this is a piece of the story since they are lovely and provide some nice flowers, after all.  but i know better now.  it is my observation that their primary function is to provide a place for the dogs of this city to evacuate their bladders...which they take full advantage of!  

the city is getting a bonanza on fertilizer.  


there are few things more frustrating than when you're waiting for a "c" train four "e" trains go by in a row!