While interviewing world-renowned Chef Marcus Samuelsson at last month’s Chefs & Champagne was an honor and privilege indeed, I also interviewed another very special someone on that glorious Hamptons evening. Someone I’m very excited to feature as this month’s “Inspiring Woman of Food + Wine,” James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro.
You see, the 2017 Chefs & Champagne event had special significance not only because of its amazing honoree, fabulous sponsors and talented Chefs. It was also the last for Ungaro in her official capacity. After eleven years with the foundation, she announced just weeks before this year’s event she would be stepping down in December.
And as the woman behind one of the most revered culinary organizations in the country, not to mention one of my favorite foodie events of A L L time, I just couldn’t let that happen without giving this inspiring lady some major props!
But Ungaro’s role with the foundation was not this accomplished woman’s first rodeo. Prior to joining the JBF, she made a name for herself during her twenty five years at Family Circle Magazine, twelve of which she spent as the publication’s Editor-in-Chief. Here, she received numerous accolades and awards for her achievements and only left in 2005 after the magazine sold.
Ungaro assumed the reigns of the James Beard Foundation in 2006 during a very tumultuous time, rife with financial scandal. Previous President, Leonard Pickell, Jr., had recently been convicted and imprisoned for embezzling over one million dollars from the organization, leaving it seemingly inextricably tarnished.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Ungaro spent the next eleven years restoring the culinary institution’s once sterling reputation and elevating it to new heights. She re-energized the foundation’s scholarships programs which today award over $750,000 in financial aid to deserving students. Ungaro also created the super successful Women in Culinary Leadership Program and even moved the James Beard Awards ceremony, the culinary equivalent of the Oscars, from New York City to Chicago where it will remain until 2021.
Ungaro also expanded the Chefs & Champagne event from a mere “Summer soirée” to a true “party with a purpose” and I was happy to catch up with her before this year’s event on a gloomy evening at Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack. As if on cue, however, the clouds dissipated as soon as guests began to arrive, revealing a stunning blue sky followed by a breathtakingly beautiful sunset…what can’t this woman do?
The warm and welcoming Ungaro was happy to expound on the highlights of her career with the foundation as well as her future plans:
Q: What went into making the decision to step down from your role as JBF President?
A: Well, this is my twelfth Chefs & Champagne and I really feel like I’ve done so many things I really wanted to do with the Foundation and honestly, I really want to think about my next adventure. I’ve had two great careers, one in publishing at Family Circle and this running a foundation as great as James Beard and I want to do things that maybe a little bit simpler, give back, maybe work part time…I’m really not sure.
I’ve got five more months on the job, got a lot of things happening and I’m just going to be here for the board and staff as the next leadership is decided upon and help with that transition.
Q: What has the Chefs & Champagne event in particular meant to you?
A: It was one of my first big events. My very first was the James Beard Awards but I was only on the job two weeks, but the next big event was this one here in the Hamptons when Christian Wölffer was still alive [Wölffer passed away unexpectedly in an accident in Brazil in 2009]. What I’m really proud about was the first year I asked him if we could start a scholarship in his name and he agreed. That’s when we decided we’d make this event a “party with a purpose” and raise more money for our mission and its just grown every year.
Also, our first honoree was Chef Thomas Keller and what’s really special about Marcus [Samuelsson] is he’s been around this tent cooking for other honorees, he’s a man whose always giving back, honoring others and I just think tonight is so special that we’re able to honor him for all the great work he’s done in the food world and his philanthropy work as well.
Q: What’s been the highlight of your tenure at the James Beard Foundation?
A: I’m proud that every year is our best ever, you want each year to be better than the last. I’m also proud we’ve never had rain even when it’s forecast (laughs) somehow even if it’s not the sun, the weather is cooperating and I’m proud we’ve named a scholarship for the man who founded this vineyard. This is the twelfth time we’ve honored him and I think his family appreciates that as well.
Q: What are your favorite flavors of Summer?
A: Right now I’m really into peaches and cherries. I like James Beard’s approach of, “whatever’s in season.” When strawberries were in season, I was very into them, the ones that were literally just picked – there’s nothing like a fresh picked strawberry!
Q: Favorite wine or cocktail of this Summer?
A: In the Summer I like Rieslings and I’ve also been going along with the rosé trend so of course tonight along with the Champagne, I’m gonna enjoy some Wölffer Rosé.
Q: Is there anything else about the foundation you’d really like people to know?
A: Yes! The one thing people don’t realize…is that anyone can come to James Beard’s house in New York City. We’re online, on Open Table there’s welcome for anyone to come and enjoy one the over 200 dinners a year at the James Beard House.
The gracious Ungaro closed with the sentiment, “I’m moving on but my heart will always be involved.” I know all my fellow Glamorous Gourmets join me in wishing her the best of luck on her next adventure and I greatly appreciate her taking the time to chat.
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Last Saturday marked the James Beard Foundation’s 27th annual “Chefs & Champagne,” the Hamptons most glamorous Summer food and wine event, not to mention one of my favorites!
The bucolic bliss of Wölffer Estate Vineyards located in picturesque Sagaponack once again provided the perfect backdrop for this uber-chic culinary fête which featured the cuisine of some of the country’s best Chefs paired with delightful bubbly from Champagne Barons de Rothschild and a selection of Wölffer Estate’s eponymous wines.
Past honorees of this prestigious event have included culinary icons such as Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay and John Besh, and this year’s honoree was no exception. Chef Marcus Samuelsson is a multiple James Beard Award-winning Chef, author, philanthropist and restauranteur who’s been dazzling diners and critics alike with his multicultural cuisine since his arrival in New York City in the early ’90’s.
Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson and his sister survived a harrowing early childhood and were ultimately adopted into a nurturing Swedish family. His maternal grandmother Helga was the inspiration for his love of cooking, introducing him to ingredients such as lingonberries and blueberries for the first time as a young child.
After studying at the Culinary Institute in Sweden, Samuelsson ultimately landed an apprenticeship at Manhattan’s Aquavit in the early ’90’s. It was here, in 1995 that he became the youngest Chef to ever receive a 3-star restaurant review from the New York Times. Following this distinction, Samuelsson’s career blossomed and, to date, his impressive accomplishments include five James Beard Awards, numerous cookbooks and an array of restaurants which began with Red Rooster in 2010 established in his adopted hometown of Harlem where he currently lives with his wife, model Maya Haile, and young son, Zion.
In addition to opening two more restaurants in Harlem (Ginny’s Supper Club and Streetbird Rotisserie), Samuelsson also currently has restaurant projects in Bermuda, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Chicago and, most recently, London. Samuelsson also devotes a significant amount of time to philanthropic work benefiting charities such as the Three Goats Organization, C-CAP and UNICEF.
I was fortunate to have the chance to speak with the nattily dressed Chef before the big event and get his take on everything from his favorite Summer flavors to figure skating:
Q: Have you been enjoying your time in the Hamptons?
A: “I got here just a couple of days ago. I always love to come out but it’s been such a busy year I haven’t been able to come out that much. Chefs and Champagne is such a great anchor event to link the city Chefs with what’s going on out here so I’m excited to be here.”
Q: What are your favorite Summer flavors?
A: “I was actually cooking with my friend [Chef] Marc Murphy last night and all day we were putting beautiful wild salmon on the grill, lamb chops, eggplant, tomato, corn and zucchini. In the Summer, especially out here, you just want to eat really light and delicious.”
Q: How about a wine or cocktail that feels like ‘Summer’ to you?
A: “Well we’re at Wölffer Estate and they have one of the best rosés you can have so why not that? It’s light, it’s bright and I drink rosé basically from March to October but in Summertime it’s even better.”
Q: What does it mean to be honored at Chefs & Champagne this year?
A: “It’s such a huge honor for me and my team. I look at the success of the foundation and all the young, ambitious Chefs that have aspired to be here and that’s something I hold on to and then pass on to someone else. This idea between mentor & mentee is something the foundation really aspires to and I think successfully achieves.”
Q: Of your many accomplishments, is there one that stands out above them all?
A: “My wife and I were blessed with our son Zion last year and he’s with us here today. So for him to slowly start seeing my world in terms of cooking and I cook with him so he would definitely be number one.”
Q: Your cooking has such a multicultural influence, is there anywhere you’ve traveled recently that’s really inspired you?
A: “We just opened Red Rooster, London and London’s food scene is similar to New York in terms of diversity but just tastes and eats very differently. I think it’s a great food scene, especially Middle Eastern food in London is really delicious, Persian food is fantastic and a couple of the dishes we might not have in New York so much – there’s so much you can see in London and I love that.”
Q: Do you have a favorite culinary quote or words to live by?
A: “My favorite Chef Leah Chase always says, ‘And still I cook.’ No matter what happens around her, ‘And still I cook.’ And I feel that, as a Chef, no matter what crazy turbulence goes on in the world, we can disagree or agree with certain things but when I go back to the kitchen and I’m gonna make you happy, I feel centered, I feel I can do this. We all need that gravity to hold on to and for me, it’s cooking.”
Q: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
A: [Thinks for a minute and laughs] “Growing up in Sweden with two sisters I did a lot of ice skating. Ballerina ice skating. I was not good at it but there are good pictures that I think might even be in the Internet.”
Another milestone was also being marked at this year’s Chefs & Champagne. It was officially the last for James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro who announced earlier this Summer she would be stepping down after eleven years with the organization.
Ungaro did much for the foundation during her tenure including developing the Chefs & Champagne event into a “party with a purpose.” I had the chance to speak with her about her experience and accomplishments before the event and I look forward to sharing more with you in this month’s “Inspiring Women of Food & Wine” so please stay tuned.
After the interviews, we mixed and mingled with the glamorous crowd sipping Champagne and rosé and sampling all the Chefs’ delectable dishes. Here are my Top 10 Favorites:
1.) Chef George Mendez’s (Aldea & Lupolo, NYC) Chilled Shellfish Broth with Sea Urchin, Melon & Shiso: the layered complexity of the flavorful broth was the perfect vehicle for the textures of the sea urchin, mussels and other shellfish.
2.) Chef Shane McBride’s (Balthazar & Augustine, NYC) Rabbitt Rillettes with Summer Vegetables & Pickles: the rich flavor and texture of the rabbit was balanced nicely by the bright, fresh vegetables and tangy acidity of the pickles.
3.) Chef Oliver Lange’s (Zuma, NYC) Wagyu Beef Tartare with Saikyo Miso Buns & Australian Black Winter Truffles: a decadent bite that featured silky and incredibly flavorful beef tartare beautifully highlighted by paper-thin shavings of fragrant, earthy black truffle.
4.) Chef Todd Richards’ (Richards’ Southern Fried, Atlanta) Lamb Merguez Sausages with Watermelon, Pickled Rind, Shiso & Coffee: this combination is Summer perfection featuring classic sausage and watermelon paired with unexpected textures and flavors of the pickled rind, shiso and coffee.
5.) Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s (Red Rooster, NYC) Jerk Pork Belly with Stone Fruit, Pickled Cabbage & Cornbread Crisp: the master of flavor did it again, creating a truly memorable bite packed with flavor that kept us coming back for more (…and more).
6.) Chef James Ahearn’s (Verde Wine Bar, Deer Park, NY) Foie Gras Torchon with Wagyu Beef Pastrami & Cocuzza Squash: the decadent, creamy texture of the foie gras was complemented beautifully by the flavorful pastrami, squash and crispy, toasted topping.
7.) Chefs Jeffrey McInnis & Janine Booth’s (Root & Bone, NYC; Stiltsville Fish Club, Miami) Shrimp and Grits with Melted Tomatoes, Charred Corn, Pickled Onions & Bacon-Beer Jus: a deliciously complex and flavorful twist on the classic Southern dish!
8.) Chef Brian Cheewing’s (Wolffer Kitchen, Sag Harbour) Chilled Corn Soup with Duck Confit & Black Truffle: Cheewing’s dishes never disappoint, delighting both the eyes and the palate with an incredibly thoughtful and flavorful combination of ingredients.
9.) Pastry Chef Brit Marie Culey (Coquette, Cleveland) Smoked Ohio Peaches Elderflower Crémeux with Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Rosé Aspic. A synergy of deliciousness which takes a classic Summer ingredient and kicks it up five notches with a glamorous French twist!
10.) Pastry Chef Abby Swain’s (Fowler & Wells, NYC) Lemon Posset with Blueberries & Cornmeal Cake: a delightful bite that embodied the essence of Summer with it’s juicy blueberries, creamy posset and toothsome cornmeal cake.
Towards the end of the evening, all participating Chefs gathered in the field behind the event for a group photo. As the Press lined up to get our photos, the mischievous Samuelsson playfully doused us with Barons de Rothschild Champagne. In the photo above you can glimpse his devilish grin right before he made it rain Champagne!
Cheers to the James Beard Foundation on another magical evening and please stay tuned for more information on this “party with a purpose” with the fabulous Susan Ungaro.
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I’m back from the Hamptons after attending one of my favorite Summer food and wine events, the James Beard Foundation’s “Chefs & Champagne.” From oodles of Champagne to fabulous Celebrity Chefs this event has everything a glamour fan could ask for, AND it also raises funds for the philanthropic work of the Foundation – what’s not to love about that? I was smitten the first time I attended in 2014 (click here for the delicious deets) and happy to be back for more.
Set amidst the bucolic splendor of Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, NY (they make a FABULOUS rosé!) the 26th annual “Chefs & Champagne” featured delectable dishes from some of the country’s most celebrated Chefs paired with an endless supply of bubbles including a brut, rosé and blanc de blancs from Champagne Barons de Rothschild. The pièce de résistance, however, was this year’s honoree, one of America’s most talented and celebrated Chefs, John Besh.
Besh is a multiple James Beard award-winning Chef, cookbook author, philanthropist and restaurateur known for his dedication to and passion for his hometown in Southern Louisiana. Today, he is currently the proprietor of 12 restaurants which celebrate the bounty and traditions of this special region. As a result, this year’s “Chefs & Champagne” was dubbed “From the Big Easy to the Big Apple” and a sunkissed and extremely affable Chef Besh kindly took some time to speak with me before the chic Hamptons shindig got underway:
SM: So how does it feel to be here and be honored at the 2016 “Chefs & Champagne”?
JB: Thrilled, tickled to death, it’s humbling. So many greats have been honored by “Chefs & Champagne” & the James Beard Foundation it’s an honor to be included on that list. It also offers a great opportunity to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while and connect with friends through food.
SM: What are some of your favorite Summer flavors?
JB: In the Summer, it’s really all about what the garden is giving us. I might have had the best peach of my life yesterday from a farm up here, it was just perfect! Summer’s a time where you really don’t want to manipulate the food a whole lot. I want fresh, big, bold flavors but at the same time I want simplicity. The perfect tomato, basil straight from the garden, what’s not to like?
SM: How about something to pair with those flavors? Are you more of a wine or cocktail guy?
JB: I’m much more a wine guy than a cocktail guy. I like things like Grüner Veltliner, with light, crisp, green appley flavors to go with shellfish and fish on the grill. Something that’s still going to work with the acidity in tomatoes and salads and things of that nature. So I’m very much white wine centered this time of year.
“Summer’s a time where you really don’t want to manipulate the food a whole lot. I want fresh, big, bold flavors but at the same time I want simplicity.” ~ Chef John Besh
SM: Are you a Champagne fan?
JB: Big time! Champagne is almost perfect for any occasion, the beginning of a meal, the end of a meal – you could drink Champagne all through the meal and it works! Also, Champagne when it’s hot out with the bubbles and effervescence – it’s a great thing.
SM: With all of your restaurants, how do you keep the plates spinning and maintain your high standards of quality and service?
JB: Good people. It’s really about finding people who get our philosophy about food and about service and hospitality and giving them the tools and allowing them to percolate up. Investing in passionate people makes all the difference, that’s that one ingredient that you just can’t buy and it’s the difference between good and great.
SM: Anything new on the horizon?
JB: Well, we’re about to open our Marsh House restaurant with the Thompson Hotel in Nashville so we’re really busy with that and next year at this time we’ll be opening a little Cajun place in Houston called Eunice which we’re really excited about.
SM: What’s your favorite part of your professional life right now?
JB: Making people happy through food. We also have a foundation where we offer microloans to food producers and culinary school scholarships to inner city and minority youth in New Orleans. Being able to do this, run the restaurants and do good at the same time is it.
Following the interview, I mixed and mingled among the fashionable crowd, sampling all the delicious dishes on display. While everything was truly delectable, here are my top 6 faves along with some tasting notes:
1.) A tasting of ‘haute-couture,’ French Sturia Caviar featured three selections of spectacular sturgeon roe which culminated in their divine Oscietra Grand Cru Caviar.
2.) Chef Dean James Max’s (DJM Restaurants) Nantucket Oysters with Uni Vinaigrette: bright, tasty and refreshing, each oyster was crowned with a delightful dollop of uni which accentuated its lovely, briny flavor.
3.) Chef Brian Cheewing’s (Wölffer Kitchen, Sag Harbor, NY) Spicy Octopus & Corn Salad with Calabrian Chilies & Micro Cilantro: the combination of textures and flavors was the epitome of Summer and this delicious dish was seasoned to perfection!
4.) Chef Anita Lo’s (Annisa, NYC) Potatoes with Celtuce, Buttermilk Dressing & Sturia Caviar: Chef Lo’s mastery of texture and flavor really shined as she incorporated the beautiful flavor of caviar along with creamy dressing and crisp green celtuce.
5.) Chef Jeremy Ford’s (Matador Room by Jean-Georges, Miami Beach, FL) Foie Gras with Strawberry, Granola and Sorrel: the rich, decadent foie paired outrageously well with the sweet, ripe strawberry and texture of the crunchy granola. The vibrant green baby sorrel also added a lovely pop of color – I could’ve eaten 5 of them!
6.) Pastry Chef Alina Martell (Ai Fiori and Vaucluse, NYC) Profiteroles with Strawberries & Cream: this delightful Summery spin on the beloved classic French dessert was refreshing, comforting and utterly delicious!
Many thanks to all the Glamorous Gourmet Girls who came out to support the 2016 Chefs & Champagne! To view Chef Besh’s comments on being honored at this year’s event on our YouTube Channel, please click here and for more information on this or any other James Beard Foundation events, please click here. We’re already looking forward to 2017 so mark your calendar and hope to see you there!
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The James Beard Foundation’s annual Chefs & Champagne fundraiser was recently held in Sagaponack, New York, at the idyllic Wölffer Estate Vineyard. The event featured a food and wine tasting complete with an endless supply of Taittinger Champagne, wines from Wölffer Estate Vineyard, and Stella Artois Belgian lager paired with the cuisine of some of the best Chefs on the east... Read More
The post Chef Bobby Flay Honored at James Beard Foundation’s “Chefs & Champagne” Event! appeared first on The Glamorous Gourmet.
The James Beard Foundation’s annual “Chefs & Champagne” fundraiser was recently held in Sagaponack, New York, at the idyllic Wölffer Estate Vineyard. The event featured a food and wine tasting complete with an endless supply of Taittinger Champagne, wines from Wölffer Estate Vineyard, and Stella Artois Belgian lager paired with the cuisine of some of the best Chefs on the east coast. This year’s Honoree was James Beard Award–winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and celebrity TV personality, Bobby Flay. Accompanied by his wife, actress Stephanie March (who portrayed ADA Alexandra Cabot on the TV series Law & Order SVU), the smartly dressed Flay mixed and mingled with revelers throughout the evening.
Flay’s culinary career began as a 17-year-old cook at Joe Allen’s in NYC and since debuting on Food Network in 1994 he has continuously hosted programs that educate viewers about American fare. Beginning with the 1996 premiere of his first show, Grillin’ & Chillin’, Flay’s two decades of TV experience include a variety of Food Network and Cooking Channel programs such as Iron Chef America and his newest show, Beat Bobby Flay. In addition to his latest TV show, Flay’s sixth fine dining restaurant, Gato, opened earlier this year in New York City’s NoHo district. As this year’s honoree, Flay joins the ranks of such gastronomic greats as Julia Child, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse.
At the tasting, an array of culinary delights beckoned from each station created by a select group of approximately 35 Chefs, many from JBF Award–winning restaurants. Each dish was better than the next and some of our favorites included Tuna Crudo with Kizami Wasabi, Olives and Basil from Chef Chris Jaeckle of all’onda, NYC; Mushroom and Goat Cheese-stuffed Zucchini Flower with Romesco Sauce from Chef John Mooney of Bell, Book and Candle, NYC and Bidwell in Washington, DC; Achiote-Marinated Carolina Shrimp with Guacamole from Chef Marc Meyers of Cookshop, Five Points, and Hundred Acres in NYC; Za’atar Grilled Lamb Chops with Tabbouleh and Greek Yogurt from Chef Steve Van Der Merwe of Celebrity Cruises; and Florida’s own Chef Lindsay Autry and her delicious Deviled Crab with Summer Vegetable Slaw, Melba Toast and Hot Sauce.
In addition to savory dishes, decadent sweets were also on hand including Passion Fruit Mousse with Blueberries and Crispy Meringue (above, right) from Pastry Chef Deborah Racicot from Narcissa, NYC and Tristar Strawberry-Valrhona Dulcey Blond Chocolate Tarts with Marshmallow and Lemon Verbena (above, left) from Pastry Chef Stephen Collucci from Collicchio & Sons, NYC.
During her remarks, James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro, applauded Flay for his commitment to the organization, calling him a “Superman” and acknowledged the large crowd of attendees and participating Chefs at the evening’s sold out event as a “testament to your talent.” Flay went on to toast Julia Child, commending her for the idea she had to preserve James Beard’s house after his passing almost thirty years ago, transforming it into a place where American Chefs are celebrated. He also added a heartfelt thanks “to my brothers and sisters who are serving the most incredible food tonight. Everybody who’s in an apron, the Chefs, the Sous Chefs, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it.” (to view a video of Flay’s full remarks, please click here).
Funds raised at the event help support the foundation’s wide variety of initiatives, including culinary student scholarships and the organization’s annual food conference on sustainability, public health, and nutrition. The recipient of the 2014 Christian Wölffer Scholarship which supports students of food and wine was also announced and went to Samantha Whitlam who will be using the scholarship to attend the Intensive Sommelier Course at the International Culinary Center (ICC). As of 2013, the James Beard Foundation has awarded more than $4.6 million in financial aid to 1,570 recipients throughout the country.
For good reason, the James Beard Foundation’s annual “Chefs & Champagne” event is widely considered the East End’s premier Summertime culinary event – I’m already looking forward to next year! For more information on the event or the James Beard Foundation please click here.
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