The Sunday Magazine: BBQ

All great food has an olfactory element to it, to be sure. For me the type of food which carries the greatest fragrant punch is BBQ. When you think about it using a dry rub and smoking the meat is akin to perfuming it and just as there are different styles of perfume there are different styles of BBQ.

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Shorty's Bar-B-Q in S. Miami, FL

I started my life in, and have recently returned to, the southeast part of the US and the BBQ I grew up on is most often referred to as “Carolina BBQ”. One of my favorite restaurants as a child was Shorty’s where I would valiantly try and put away a basket of ribs slathered in the characteristic vinegar-based tangy bbq sauce. I always remember breathing in deeply when the ribs were delivered to the table to smell the smoke and the spices cooked into the meat. Carolina BBQ is almost always pork based and besides the ribs, pulled pork is the other specialty of the region.

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Mesquite Charcoal

Texas BBQ is beef based and it is the brisket which is the cut of choice. There are beef ribs but it is the meatier brisket which makes Texas BBQ special. I always think of Texas BBQ as sauce and smoke, but it’s mostly the smoke. They pioneered the use of mesquite wood chips as part of the smoking process to add an extra layer of flavor. This has expanded to all kind of exotic hardwoods all adding a unique flavor to the meat. The 2014 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Championship is happening this weekend in Memphis, TN and I always look to see what woods the winners are using. Besides the stand-bys of hickory, oak, and mesquite; I’ve seen applewood, maple, mulberry, and my favorite, whiskey barrel. I am waiting for someone to take a shot with oud some year.

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Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

Texas BBQ is sauce and smoke, Kansas City BBQ is all about the sauce. The base of it is ketchup and molasses but after that the variations are endless. This is the sauce the majority of people identify as BBQ sauce and what you find on your supermarket shelf. I like to add chipotle and a secret ingredient a friend told me about, tamarind paste. This gives my BBQ sauce a bit of citrusy top note over the sweet and spicy.

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Racks of Ribs with Dry Rub on them

I may have grown up on Carolina BBQ but my favorite version is Memphis BBQ. That is mainly because through my love of perfume I have come to love spices, too. We are fortunate to have an outpost of Penzey’s Spices near where we live. Every visit there is as enjoyable as a visit to a perfume counter, for me. I spend time going through the ingredients looking for new things to cook with. By using a dry rub for Memphis BBQ you trim the fat off your rack of ribs and then rub in your spice mixture. The composition of the best dry rubs are as closely guarded as the formula of Coca-Cola. The final step after the meat has aged a few hours with the dry rub is to cook it in a smoker and then serve it off the grill right away.

I thought I would share my recipe for my dry rub with y’all if you are feeling adventurous:

Colognoisseur Coca-Cola Coffee Dry Rub

1 tablespoon ground coffee

1 tablespoon coca-cola

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika

2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl it will have a slightly sticky quality due to the coca-cola and brown sugar. To a trimmed full rack of ribs rub it all over and coat both sides of the rack. Once you are done wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit for four hours at room temperature. Then take them out and either grill them or bake them in the oven.

It shouldn’t surprise you that after I finish BBQ’ing I often look longingly at the spicy section of the perfume vault. Where I can add my own fragrant “sauce” to myself.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Arsenal Football Club

This morning I will be sitting down in front of the television set to watch the final match of the 2013-14 season of Arsenal Football Club. I realized this will be the 20th season I have been following the club. I started following Arsenal back in 1994 after the World Cup had come to the United States that summer. Living on the East Coast of the US I was traveling from Washington DC to Boston, Massachusetts to see as many games as I could. Besides rooting for the home team US I was relishing the opportunity to see football played at the highest level. When I attended the match of Netherlands v. Saudi Arabia I watched one of the great national teams of that time. My favorite player on the Netherlands after viewing the team was their striker Dennis Bergkamp. After the World Cup was over I wanted to pick a favorite team to start to support and when I found out Mr. Bergkamp was the striker for Arsenal, a team was found.

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Arsenal’s nickname is The Gunners and those of us who support the team are referred to as Gooners. Over the twenty years I’ve walked around with a jersey on or my scarf in the winter I am frequently greeted with a hearty “Oi Gooner!” accompanied by a wink or a smile. It happens no matter where in the world I have been and it always makes me feel part of a vast worldwide family. I think that is part of the enduring appeal for me being part of this tribe of Gooners who all spend August through May of every year aspiring for our lads to carry the day.

From 1997 through 2005 Arsenal won the Premiership title three times and the FA Cup five times. The last title in 2003-04 was memorable as the team went through an entire 38 match season without losing which gave that team the nickname of “The Invincibles”. Since the last FA Cup victory in 2005 Arsenal has not lifted another trophy. The current season held out the possibility of glory as Arsenal was in first place for more time than any other team but as the season drew to a close injuries had caught up to them and they faded from the top of the table. As consolation for that disappointment they will be playing next weekend in the final of the FA Cup against Hull City and the opportunity for that trophy is exciting to break the drought for silverware.

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Me in my Arsenal jersey with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz on my shoulders

I visited London in December of 2005 during the last season at the stadium in Highbury and attended three games. All three games were memorable for me. In the first game against Birmingham I took my sports hating wife and shockingly she fell in love with the game and the atmosphere. She will be sitting next to me this morning when we watch our team together. Waiting for a colleague who worked in London to meet me for the second game a camera crew asked to interview me and I think they expected to capture the “golly gee whiz isn’t this soccer stuff neat”. What they got was a complete explanation of the defensive back four and the concern that there were too many injuries. I knew I had made an impression when the reporter re-filmed his intro. After the third game I ended up laughing with the fans in the Clock End and one of them said “I never expected to hear intelligent football talk with an American accent” which made me beam from ear to ear. Even though I wasn’t born to it my fellow Gooners had given me the seal of approval.

I will be rooting for all my lads in the upcoming World Cup and hope they all are big stars for their national teams; but already I am hopeful for next August and the new season when once again with high hopes I will join Gooners all over the world in cheering on the side.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Apple iPhone 5s TV Commercial “Powerful”

In the day of the DVR we rarely have to watch a commercial, unless we want to. It takes a special bit of magic to get me to pay attention to that which I have become so accustomed to tuning out or fast forwarding through. Every now and then there is an advertisement which makes me look up, pay attention, and keep my finger off the double arrow to the right key on the remote. That it comes from Apple should be no surprise.

Apple has been making little attention getters for 30 years ever since the Ridley Scott directed commercial named “1984” debuted during the Super Bowl in January of 1984. As the iPod rose to prominence the songs chosen to go along with the day-glo silhouette graphics became instant hit makers for artists like Jet, The Fratellis, and Feist to name a few. Once you were in one of those commercials your rise on the charts was nearly assured. As iPad has become more prevalent there have been little tone poems of all the things you can do with it and the apps that run on it. For the most recent iPhone 5s commercial all of these are combined into one very memorable commercial which is named “Powerful”

The commercial begins with a few different musicians tuning up and getting ready to play all with an iPhone running an app in frame. After skipping around the bass player begins a familiar bass line and the rest of the musicians we see combine to start playing a version of The Pixies 1988 single “Gigantic” off the album Surfer Rosa. From there we see video gamers playing on their phone but projected gigantically. A father filming his son acting like Godzilla to his city of building blocks. A girl launching a fleet of model rockets and we end with a teacher showing a star map to her students and finishing with a graphic that says, “You’re more powerful than you think.”

This commercial succeeds for me on multiple levels. First it depicts the versatility of the iPhone as these devices we carry around in our pockets are able to do powerful things. The music chosen is familiar but not too familiar. Gigantic was never a chart hit failing to crack the top 40 at any time during its release. This is another thing that is interesting about this song choice. When I was listening to music at that time if The Pixies came on I was probably asked to change the channel away from that “noise”. Now in nostalgic hindsight The Pixies join The Ramones and Iggy Pop as musical acts that all of a sudden have the power to sell things thirty, or forty, years after they were making music. I know most of my contemporaries didn’t listen to any of these acts all of which were on many of my mix tapes so why this nostalgia sells things is fascinating to me. Finally as with the original “1984” ad “Powerful” has a great visual sense to itself from the musicians at the beginning to the people doing “big, big” things in the second half it forms an endearing whole. Really TV commercials just don’t get much better than this.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Candy Crush Saga

I have been a gamer all of my life. From playing Dungeons and Dragons for an entire weekend in the 70’s. Live Action Role Playing with boffer swords and my Wizard’s cloak in the 80’s. Magic:The Gathering throughout the 90’s. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing games in the Naughts. It is funny how technology has transformed my gaming experience. These days most of my gaming is done on my smartphone. My current favorite, which I’ve been playing for 7 months, is the massive success in the gaming industry called Candy Crush Saga.

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Candy Crush Saga is what is called a “Match-3” puzzle game. When you match three, or more, pieces of the same shape or color they are removed from the board and others drop into place to replace the matched shapes. In Candy Crush you are matching candies. In the original versions of Match-3 games like Bejeweled it was an 8X8 grid which never changed. One of the ingenious wrinkles added in Candy Crush is the puzzle aspect and the different shaped grids. Each level has a specific goal for you to reach, score a certain amount of points in a time limit or alternatively within a certain amount of moves. The tasks get more challenging as you move higher in levels and the game offers you greater challenges by adding new impediments. It makes for a fun gaming experience that can be played while waiting in line at the grocery store or for longer sessions at your leisure.

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Level 285

Candy Crush Saga has been one of the biggest success in what is called mobile gaming. I know when I ride the bus to work I notice a lot of my fellow riders playing and based on the number of Facebook friends I have playing it has penetrated every age group I know. One of my favorite conversations at Esxence was a Candy Crush strategy session with a very famous perfumer who is also one of my Facebook friends. The game is casual but addicting. I am currently on level 547 out of 575 available.

I like it because of the portability of it. By having it on my smartphone whenever I feel like playing it is there for me. Each single game takes a minute or so and over the course of a day I can play a dozen games just in the time I am waiting for something. It has made plane flights and train rides go by in a flash. It is just the right amount of challenge without the time commitment other forms of gaming require.

It is still amazing to me that what used to take a whole weekend at a friend’s house 40 years ago, for a D&D module, has evolved to minute size bites of the same fun available in my pocket at a moment’s notice. There are many wonderful technological advancements much more important but for my personal joy none are much bigger.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones

The book is better than the movie is a truism most of us subscribe to. The corollary to that is the more complicated the book the more disappointing the movie is. When it comes to getting epic fantasy onto the screen it was very much a graveyard of good intentions and failed technologies for many years. Then Peter Jackson and his team were able to amazingly put a version of JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” on the screen and by the time they finished they were lauded with awards, kudos, and not a whole lot of “The book was better than the movie” commentary. Mr. Jackson understood what was intrinsically necessary to tell the story and stripped away the fun, but extraneous, side journeys leaving the main threads of the tale intact. After this success I imagine Hollywood was busy optioning every epic fantasy series on the bookshelf.

If there is a modern successor to Tolkien’s masterwork in the genre it would be George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Through five complete volumes with two left to come Mr. Martin has created a world as texturally complex as Middle-Earth but his characters are less easily segregated into “good guys” and “bad guys”. This series is about the way power, or lack of it, motivates people to the deeds they do on the page. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a character and through that narration the story progresses. Because of these storytelling conventions and a sprawling story with characters spread everywhere I would have expected this series to be among the last Hollywood would take a stab at.

game of thrones promo

The people at HBO had a different idea and proposed that instead of turning it into a movie let’s turn it into a television series. Once that decision was made the showrunners and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss undertook the casting and in March of 2011 the first episode of Game of Thrones appeared. One of the key things Mr. Benioff and Weiss did was to bring Mr. Martin on board. He has written one episode in each of the four seasons, and they have been the pivotal episodes in many of those seasons. Having the author of the source material writing material for the visual adaptation shows the commitment to getting this right.

Getting it right is exactly what Game of Thrones has done. As a reader of the books there was so much they could have done wrong but up to this point they have preserved every critical beat from the books and translated them to the television screen. The acting is superb from actors well known like Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean, and Lena Headley to newcomers Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, and Natalie Dormer. They inhabit these characters so fully that they convincingly deliver lines of dialogue that when said out loud could sound arch but in these actors’ reading sounds genuine.

The production values are sumptuous as all of the world of Game of Thrones comes to life and the crew films in Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Morocco, and Croatia. The locations used bring the fictional land of Westeros to life and the acting and words give it power.

If you haven’t tried this and enjoy these kind of stories you need to binge watch the first three 10-episode seasons. Season 4 has just started showing on HBO in the US. One caveat watch the series without reading the books first. Mr. Martin has made a world where anything can happen and one of the great joys of Game of Thrones is the number of “OMG did they just do that?” moments. There is a lot of television which relies on that but Game of Thrones might be the best at making those moments feel earned and truthful. I do know that there are a lot of epic fantasy properties in less adept hands who probably wish very fervently that this team had found their property first. I am very glad they didn’t and Game of Thrones will stand as a milestone in turning the page into visual where the visual is as good as the book.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files

Besides being a Colognoisseur I am also a full-fledged geek. Which means when I am not thinking about the world of medicinal chemistry or perfume you can be sure my mind is on a planet in another galaxy or fighting the supernatural on this planet. For the last twenty years it really has been a world where being geeky is more of a badge of honor than something to be hidden away. The fact that I love perfume as much as I do is probably thought to be stranger than my reading a comic book. As an avid reader of serial fiction within the mystery/thriller, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy genres I always take advantage of the summer months to pick up a new series of novels to binge read while spending time at the beach. I still haven’t made up my mind for this summer as it will either be Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Stacia Kane’s The Downside Ghosts series. If you’re looking for a series to binge read I have one to suggest you load onto your e-reader or pick up at the bookstore.

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If you’re not familiar with urban fantasy as a genre it is usually set in the modern world where supernatural creatures and magic exist. The original series in this genre is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter followed soon after by Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. The third leg of the foundation of urban fantasy is the series I want to recommend, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The series is set in Chicago and Harry Dresden is a “Wizard for Hire”. At the beginning of the first book in the series, Storm Front, Harry is under investigation by the agency overseeing the responsible use of magic The White Council. He gets hired to find a woman’s missing husband who she thought was an amateur magician but now believes he might have been more and so a wizard is needed to track him down. Storm Front does what any good first book in a series should do. It introduces you to the rules of this particular fictional world’s magic. It creates a continuing cast of characters around the central protagonist. Finally, it sets up an overarching mythology meant to stretch over multiple books. Besides all of that The Dresden Files books do the best job of fusing hardboiled detective narration with a supernatural milieu. Mr. Butcher’s prose wouldn’t feel so strange if it was coming out of Philip Marlowe’s mouth all while keeping Harry Dresden a true original. You can read the first chapter of Storm Front at this link for a sample of the style.

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Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files has now reached fifteen books with the upcoming publication of Skin Game. One of the things I applaud Mr. Butcher for doing is once he lays down something in one book that is meant to be resolved in a future book the reader is not left waiting for three or four books before returning to that loose thread. I think it is that attention to driving the overall story onward that makes The Dresden Files such an entertaining read as each entry pushes the story forward significantly and that is not always the case in serial fiction of any genre.

As you’re starting to get your beach chair and sunglasses out of their winter hibernation don’t forget to add a few books to your beach bag. If you add The Dresden Files to your summer reading list I think you’ll have a great time standing by Harry Dresden as he shouts, “Forzare!”

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Grand Budapest Hotel

When I was a child going to the movies was an event. You had to buy tickets in advance, you had assigned seating and there were intermissions. These were for the special movies shot in CinemaScope or Cinerama and projected on massive curved screens. It was the great-grandfather of IMAX. During those days the movies had multiple stars in them and the movie posters would have pictures of all of their faces. Movies like ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World’ or ‘Grand Prix’ are examples of this kind of event movie full of popular stars. As I walked by the poster for the new movie by director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was reminded of those days.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H. during the year 1932 in the titular edifice located in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave as a man completely in control of everybody and everything in the hotel. Young Zero asks to become The Lobby Boy and it is through his narration, as an older man, the events of the movie unfold through a number of chapters. One of the best things about Gustave is he has a signature fragrance he wears called L’Air de Panache. It crops up throughout the movie as people use it to know that Gustave has recently walked by and in my favorite scene the only thing he really gets upset about not having at hand after an incarceration.

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The movie shows Gustave as a companion to elderly women who also must be blonde. The movie revolves around one of these; Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton almost unrecognizable under the makeup used to age her. After her latest visit she passes away after she returns home. Gustave finds out at the reading of the will she has bequeathed him a valuable painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Fearing the family will not let him have this he takes the painting and leaves. This starts the caper aspects of the bulk of the film as the consequences of taking the painting play themselves out. Throughout the movie there is a very breezy frenetic feel which does seem a lot like those old wide-screen comedies of my youth as another current actor makes a cameo and leaves. What sets it apart is the framing sequence where an author hears the story from the older Zero in which we see The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, in 1968, as an aging blonde dowager. No matter how successful Zero’s life has been he cannot let go of this original love of his no matter whether she is showing her age.

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Wes Anderson

I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be a return to those old caper comedies. But through the lens of a very talented filmmaker in Mr. Anderson who allows a bit of pathos in the end to draw a tear, while wearing a smile, it has a very modern indie feel to it. To use a perfume analogy it is like the Nouveau Retro creations we are getting of defunct perfume houses. Completely feeling like a throwback but with modern flourishes.

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As for the perfume spoken about within the movie it didn’t really exist until a few months ago for the premiere. Perfumer Mark Buxton created L’Air de Panache and it was given to the cast and those at the World Premiere of the movie. When I sniffed it at Esxence it also felt like something one of the better dressed gentlemen at those event movies of my youth might have worn.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nose- Searching for Blamage

The very last event I attended at Esxence 2014 was a screening of the documentary “The Nose-Searching for Blamage”. Director Paul Rigter followed perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri of Nasomatto around as he designed his tenth, and final, Nasomatto fragrance. Sig. Gualtieri wanted to call this last fragrance Blamage which is loosely translated as mistake. The opening of the movie shows Sig. Gualtieri talking about how some of the more famous perfumes in history were improved by adding too much or too little of an ingredient. For this last fragrance in the Nasomatto line he wanted to leave it all up to chance what he would use to create Blamage. He had his assistant blindfold him with a plaster blindfold and then walk him over to his wall of raw materials where six random ingredients were selected. These would form the core of Blamage.

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After the blindfold was removed and Sig. Gualtieri saw what he had chosen he exclaims, not for the last time, “Cazzo!” The subtitle translates it as “shit” and for the rest of the film when the word is used it goes unsubtitled. What is great about the way Sig. Gualtieri uses the word is its meaning is all dependent on the tone of his voice. When he is looking at sandalwood in Delhi, India it is said with weary disgust at the cheap materials. When he is smelling one of the mods of Blamage it is said with a smile and suppressed laugh as his task at meshing these six disparate notes is proving difficult but also fun.

Throughout the almost one-hour running time we watch Sig. Gualtieri as he visits Milan for Esxence in 2012 and goes throughout the city leaving little altars of scent, as seen in the clip above. His visit to Delhi, India on a search for raw ingredients has a funny turn as he walks by a store with a knockoff of his Black Afgano. His reaction is priceless as the artist assesses the knockoff.

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By the end of the year Mr. Rigter had to stop filming before the final version of Blamage was finished. At Esxence 2014 the bottle was on display and at the movie showing a bottle was given away to a lucky attendee who was surrounded by many to get a chance to smell the result of this intentional mistake. Mr. Rigter has captured much of what is special about Sig. Gualtieri in the world of perfumery. His irreverence coupled with his serious love of making unusual fragrances comes through via Mr. Rigter’s lens.

For anyone who loves Nasomatto I think The Nose-Searching for Blamage will make you appreciate the perfumer behind your favorite perfume. If you’ve never tried a Nasomatto fragrance I’d be surprised if you aren’t a little interested in trying one after spending an hour with Sig. Gualtieri on film. The Nose- Searching for Blamage is a wonderful insight into one of our most iconoclastic perfumers.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: The Nose- Searching for Blamage will be shown at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, Canada on Apr 26, 27, and May 3, 2014. For more info click on this link.

The Sunday Magazine: Veronica Mars

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When it comes to television it seems like I am the patron saint of shows which are canceled fairly quickly. There are many shows through the years which I have really enjoyed which were canceled within their first year or two. Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Freaks and Geeks, Twin Peaks, Profit, Rome; even the original Star Trek could be included on my list. What is also great about these shows I’ve listed is even though they are gone they connected with a fairly passionate fan base who keep their memories alive with websites and forums dedicated to them. A common theme you will always find on these forums is the desire to somehow someway get the beloved show back into production. Almost all of the time because these shows are owned by studios who see no profit in bringing back a failed series this is all wishful thinking.

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In March of 2013 I logged into my e-mail to find a message from the “Veronica Mars” fansite urging me to go contribute to the Kickstarter campaign to get a Veronica Mars movie made. I read this with the same amount of skepticism one reads e-mail from a Nairobi Prince trying to share his fortune with you. I headed over to Kickstarter to see which starry eyed dreamer was trying to raise money to convince the studio to bring Veronica back. Imagine my surprise that it was the creator/writer Rob Thomas and the star Kristen Bell with the blessing of the studio Warner Brothers. If they could get $2 Million dollars in 30 days they could make a movie. Well this wasn’t fanciful thinking this was a plan. Over the next thirty days I and 91,584 other fans donated enough money to go well past the target to end up gathering $5.7 Million. I felt great. I felt like we the fans had actually brought something back to life that I never thought to see again. Then I started to worry that it would be bad as Mr. Thomas tried to satisfy 91,585 fans/backers and it would be another failed attempt to broaden the audience.

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One year after donating my money I sat down and watched “Veronica Mars” unspool before my eyes and when it was done I was smiling ear-to-ear. It was perfect as it was everything I had loved about the writing, the characters, and the actors who played those characters. Mr. Thomas  made a movie with lots of hidden layers in throwaway lines of dialogue which made us long-time fans giggle but never making it so much of an inside joke that others couldn’t find something to laugh about, too.

As of the writing of this I don’t know whether Veronica Mars was a success at the box office and frankly I don’t care. With the help of a group of other fans we were able to get another installment of something we all connected with years after we thought it was gone. Obviously I am hoping some of the other shows I named also have the opportunity to find their way back through a Kickstarter campaign. The success of Veronica Mars will be closely watched and imitated if it is a success.

Which leads me to wonder if there isn’t a perfume brand that faded away before its time which could be Kickstarted back to life. I do have a line I would be thrilled to see return to production and I would contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to finance it. So Victoire Gobin-Daude if you’re out there and want to bring back your original collection of Gobin-Daude perfumes I’ll be the first to contribute.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten

I was very fortunate when I started my first job, in Connecticut, to have one of my best friends from college, Joe, living in Manhattan. I was able to spend numerous evenings and weekends in New York City experiencing much of what the big city had to offer. One of the things both of us enjoyed was great food. Our birthdays are eight days apart in October and we would celebrate on the weekend in between by working our way through the four-star restaurants in the City. Whenever we talk about the best meals we ever had we always agree that our 1989 birthday dinner at the Lafayette Hotel was probably the best of them all.

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Alsatian Baeckoffe as served at Jojo in 2012

Earlier that year, Joe told me when I arrived on a mid-week night we were going to try some Alsatian food at this restaurant around the corner on Third Avenue called Brandywine. Brandywine was an aging NY Steakhouse and was undergoing a menu overhaul to start serving Alsatian food. I ordered the classic Charcroute which is a traditional dish of sauerkraut and various meats. What I had served to me was something so above what one would expect from sauerkraut. It was crunchy and tart and the meat was lamb, pork, and veal. It was luscious. Towards the end of the meal a man in chef’s whites walked over to us to ask what we thought. In my usual effusive way I gushed at how fresh the sauerkraut was and how do you make it not mushy. I received a smile and an explanation along with an introduction to Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who was consulting on the menu revamp for Brandywine. A few months later we would be sitting at a table in his four-star restaurant in the Lafayette Hotel and he dazzled us with the tasting menu. This meal was full of the things he has come to be known for. Fragrant broths, poaching in juice, and herbal concoctions. It transformed traditional French cuisine into a comprehensive sensual experience.

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Peekytoe Crab Tempura at Jean-Georges

The use of lighter alternatives to traditional sauces add a visual component of vibrant color. Then, fragrance fans, it is the aroma of these dishes that was really enhanced by the use of these preparations. There was a cloud of culinary sillage wafting off every dish which was put in front of us. Sweet juice cut with herbal contrasts all blended as skillfully as our most accomplished perfumers. There is no chef who uses ingredients that perfume the air above his dishes as adeptly.

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Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Since that meal in 1989 Chef Vongerichten has become one of the Emperor Chefs who has exported his way of cooking to a number of restaurants world-wide under his imprimatur. The flagship restaurant in New York City is the eponymous Jean-Georges which is one of seven restaurants in NYC to receive three Michelin stars. Even though it has been twenty five years since the meal at the Lafayette Hotel the cuisine at Jean-Georges remains as exciting and evolutionary as it was then.

If you want a meal which is satisfying to both palate and nose look for a restaurant that Jean-Georges has opened up, near you or in a city you are visiting, and treat yourself to a singular aromatic culinary experience.

Mark Behnke