( Daniel Boulud Good Guy)
Eliza and I were told to come into the city via the GW Bridge. Daniel Boulud wanted racks for a lunch he was doing for Rudy Giuliani and Kofi Anan after they flew over Ground Zero in a helicopter. Eliza was scheduled to “trail” in Daniel’s kitchen. It was September 18, 2001, both tunnels into the city were still at least partially shut down from the 9/11 disaster.
By the Fall of 2001, Eliza had finally decided that she wanted to cook for a living. She had spent a semester in College which did not work for her. After that, she came back to the farm, worked at our plant cutting Lamb. She was and still is a good butcher, but she wanted to go further. Because she had delivered lamb with me to restaurants since she was very young, she met many of the big names by the time she went to High School. Indeed when Francois Payard was Daniel’s Pastry Chef, he fed her his famous Chocolate Souffle with house made Pistachio Ice Cream. She loved it; her reaction made his day.
A month later, she made the same dessert for Sukey, me, her Grandparents and other guests and family. It was incredible, but only Sukey, Eliza and I ate it. The rest said they were “too full,” “didn’t eat dessert” or had some other lame excuse. Eliza was devastated. She had spent two days successfully replicating a dish created by the Chef who had just won “Best Pastry Chef” by The James Beard Foundation and no one would even try it. I think that’s what changed her. She finally knew how good she was. She learned three things that day. One, she had to follow her instincts that if she thought it was good, it was good. Two, if some culinary Philistines pass on something that’s excellent, that’s their loss. Three, many of the French, and all great Chefs even boil water with passion.
I don’t think she ever forgot that episode. Now that she decided this was to be her career, Sukey and I sat back, letting her feel her way along, only jumping in with suggestions when we were sure we wouldn’t rock her boat. When she wanted to spend some time in NYC in Daniel’s kitchen, we were ecstatic. She had scheduled September 11, 2001 with Chef Yeo, one of Daniel’s assistants. Sukey called a few days earlier and rescheduled to September 18, because of a conflict at the farm.
Of course, on September 11, all Hell broke loose. We were slaughtering lambs at the Plant when we first heard about the
New York attacks. My guys and I kept on
working until we heard that a plane went down about fifteen miles as the crow
flies from where we were working. I sent them all home, while sirens were
screaming at the airport in Latrobe. Because of the crash of Flight 93 that
occurred in , we thought this was a national invasion.
They all wanted to be home with Family. Shanksville, PA
After a few days of assessing the situation, most people decided we had to keep on living, keep on working, so we did. We kept on doing what we did. We knew business, especially in
New York, would be bad. We just had no idea
how bad. Eliza and I made the trip to the City, anyway. As we drove down the FDR Drive, we were
taken by the lack of traffic. It truly looked like a ghost town.
People seemed to be walking in a trance. We delivered the lamb to Restaurant Daniel on
Street, and then drove down to a trendy hotel in
the mid Thirties. As we checked in, we realized we were the only ones in the
lobby. The clerk fell over himself as we were two of probably twelve guests in
the hotel. That night, we quickly got a cab and went to Judson Grill on 52nd St.
I think there were six other people in the restaurant. The waitress we had was attentive but then also aloof. She had to come back to the table a few times to repeat whatever specials were available that night. Finally I realized that she had been crying, so Eliza and I just waited until she was ready, and then placed our orders. After the first or second course, our waitress became more at ease, perhaps because one of the cooks told her we were vendors and friends of the chef, Bill Telepan. She began talking with us, at first guardedly, and then more easily about what the problem was.
Gallantly holding back tears, she told us three of her friends who worked at “Windows on the World” in the
were still missing. The restaurant workers in North Tower New York are very nomadic, with some working
for several restaurants at once, or at least working for one and then another.
They are also tribal. They all know each other and know that sooner or later
they may be working together. After the smoke cleared figuratively and
literally, seventy three food service workers were lost. That loss affected all
the restaurants in the city.
The next morning, Eliza and I took a cab to Restaurant Daniel. I found Alex Lee, Daniel’s Executive Chef, who quickly sent Eliza off to change into work whites, and told me to see Daniel in his “Sky Box”, the glassed in office which overlooks the kitchen. When I walked in, Daniel was on the phone, Georgette Farkas, his PR person, was there along with another assistant. Something important was going on but I didn’t know what it was, all I could see and hear was a lot of emotion going on in both French and English.
When things calmed down a little, Daniel realized I was there, apologized for the commotion, greeted me and then asked me how 9/11 was affecting the business. “What business?” says I. Just as I was about to expound, the phone rang again and his assistant asked him to take the call. By this time, Alex Lee came into the room. He and I started talking about the disaster. I told him Flight 93 went over the farm and that we in Western Pennsylvania felt the same anxiety the people of
New York were feeling. Alex seemed in a
turmoil. On this day, people were going to have to be laid off as there were
more people in the kitchen than in the dining room. I asked what was going to
happen to the workers.
He said Daniel had a plan. I assumed that had something to do with the continual phone calls being made and taken by Daniel and the office staff. It turned out that all the fuss was about a project launched by Daniel, Chef Grey Kunz, Chef Don Pintabona, Drew Nieporent and others. It seemed that there was a problem getting food to the firemen and volunteers at Ground Zero. The group of chefs and restaurateurs had decided to prepare food in restaurant kitchens in midtown and other parts of the city, send it to a staging area in
Hoboken, N. J. where it was then ferried across to Lower Manhattan.
Feeding the Firemen seemed like a great idea to me. Beside everything else it did, it certainly showed that many of the chefs and most of the cooks who had emigrated here truly loved the
USA. It also kept the staff working while it gave hope to the chefs and restaurateurs that their businesses
and city would come back. The concept seemed to run out of steam as other
agencies became involved later, but it was a great statement of purpose and
ingenuity while it lasted. Even we sent lamb shoulders to Daniel be made into a
braised ragout which was served to the Firemen and rescue workers.
That morning of September 19, when all was commotion in Daniel’s office, while calls were coming in from news agencies all over the city, one of the assistants said, “Daniel, “Good Morning America” wants to know why Chef Daniel Boulud is feeding the fireman, what should we say?”
“Tell them no fireman in my town is going to eat frozen effing chicken nuggets."