(NEW YORK) Superluxe global hotel and resto group Relais & Châteaux hosted a scrumptious lunch of leisure, in the name of business, at their 2014 press luncheon on Tuesday at Daniel. “The wonderful thing about throwing a party at Daniel is that everyone accepts, even in inclement weather. How could they not?” said Jean-Francois Ferret, Relais & Châteaux’s CEO. As a welcome gift for Relais & Châteaux’s newly-elected international president, Phillipe Gombert, Ferret gave his “secret weapon”: papaya enzyme, a digestive aid for all the rich morsels to be eaten on the job.
“Daniel is the most French New Yorker and most New York Frenchie I know,” said Gombert of the afternoon’s honoree. Gombert got a warm welcome from the chef-studded crowd, which included Michael White (who’s a Relais & Châteaux Grand chef) and Daniel Humm, plus Travel + Leisure EIC Nancy Novogrod. Then, a familiar small screen face (and voice) took to the podium to present Boulud with his Welcome Trophy: Al Roker.
“Another interesting event that happened in 1954 was my birthday,” said Roker, referring to the hotel group’s nearly six decades in existence. “I am going to be 60 next year! Any of the new [Relais & Châteaux] properties that want to host my party, I am available,” Roker informed the crowd.
As for the connection between Roker and Boulud? It goes back a solid quarter-century. “Our daughters were the same age, and 26 years ago I did a special on up-and-coming chefs in New York—Daniel was in a one-bedroom on the Upper East Side, and while we were taping and he was cooking, I was holding his daughter in my arms,” Roker recalled. Another fun fact: For the past three years, the Roker fam has feasted at Thanksgiving chez Boulud. The relationship has come full-circle, as Roker’s oldest daughter interned in the kitchen at Café Boulud and worked at Bar Boulud and is now working with the one of the chef’s prodigies, Jonathan Benno. Boulud, who tied the knot to his second wife this past June at Relais property Glenmere Mansion in upstate New York, hammed it up with his trophy as he thanked the hotelier.
Seated across from Roker was Elizabeth Olsen, who we’re more accustomed to seeing on the silver screen and step-and-repeat than surrounded by some serious foodies. Olsen’s post-lunch destination? Home. “ I think my kitchen is a mess right now. I need to clean my dishes,” explained Olsen. You’ll often find Olsen in the kitchen (dirty dishes or not), and the actress makes dinner most nights of the week. “I don’t really repeat things often, but I do make a good, staple salad—it involves Bibb lettuce and avocado, and it’s just simple and yummy.” A more elaborate recent meal to remember was “Friendsgiving,” which Olsen hosted for pals. “I cooked the whole meal! I followed everything that Martha Stewart suggested,” said Olsen, who’s apparently a major Martha adorer. “I would be starstruck if I met her. I saw her once from a distance but I just couldn’t go over to her—I was too nervous.”
And now, for the food, the first two courses of which were crafted by the newest duo of Relais & Châteaux Grand chefs. The delectable menu kicked off with chicken liver mousse topped with thick black truffle slices, translucent ribbons of celery, and bits of porcini mushroom, concocted by chef Jason Franey of Seattle resto Canlis. Another West Coast chef, Justin Cogley of Carmel’s Aubergine, whipped up course deux—“Monterey Bay Abalone in its Natural Surroundings,” aka a slice of the sea snail in a tangy broth with sea lettuce, preserved plum, and sprouted lentils. Boulud took care of the absurdly delicious entrée: wild turbot stuffed with Maine lobster, served with confit fennel, Sicilian green olives, and an intriguingly neon, nearly iridescent coral-lobster sauce. Turkish coffee cake spiked with ginger confit sable and accompanied by a tiny scoop of coffee-cardamom ice cream wrapped things up. The only problem with such a lavish lunch in the middle of the workday? How desperately a nap is needed afterwards. But we’ll deal with four-course-lunch-induced fatigue any day when it involves Daniel…