The 14th Annual Chefs Dinner, a benefit for Hayground School, was an orgy of Long Island Crescent Duck, Corn Creme Brûlée, Honey Lavender Sauce, Clams in Fennel, Shallots and White Wine Broth, Beef Rib Tacos in Mole sauce, artisan cheese, serious French desserts and much more. But, ask honoree/menu consiglieri Jacques Pépin what he himself cooks and he’ll tell you: simple food, fresh from the garden. Backyard to table. And what’s the deal with foraging for mushrooms? (More on that later.)
Although today’s restaurant dishes are no longer piled skyscraper high, our chefs sometimes need a little lift. Almond owner Eric Limonedes flew from East Hampton to Chester, CT to pick up Pépin.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were Honorary Chairs of the Chefs Dinner. Five-star chefs who participated included: Josh Capon of Lure Fishbar, Jessica Craig of L’Artusi, Christian Mir of Stone Creek Inn, Ayesha Nurdjaja of Shuka, François Payard, Joe Realmuto of Nick & Toni’s, Hillary Sterling of Vic’s, Bill Telepan of Oceana, and Carissa Waechter of Carissa’s The Bakery and Jason Weiner of Almond. Cheeses were from fromager Michael Cavaniola and wine from Château d’Esclans. The Matchbook Distilling Company sent home bottles of their special custom essences with their special gin cocktails. The funds raised go towards scholarships at the Hayground School and Hayground’s Jeff’s Kitchen culinary program. More than 80 percent of all Hayground students receive some form of financial assistance.
The Chefs Dinner Committee included Toni Ross (Chair Emeritus), Almond Zigmund (Co-Chair), Elaine DiGiacomo (Co-Chair); Grainne Coen, Cindi Crain, Erica Lynn Huberty, Scott O’Neil, Christian Troy, and Craig Wood.
A conversation between Pépin and Eric Ripert highlighted the seated dinner. Foodies in the room listening and eating included: Adam and Mahnaz Bartos, Eric Cantor, Lori Capon, Dani Effron-Kline, Joanna Fisher, Alan and Irka Golub, Arthur Maslow, Paige Patterson, Steven and Sandy Perlbinder, Tony Piazza, Sandra Ripert, Toni Ross, Sana Sabbagh, Noah Salaway, Sarah Salaway, Sheri Sandler, Jon Snow, Tinka Topping, Eli Zabar, and Almond Zigmund.
Pépin’s taste for simple, seasonal food is common among those for whom elaborate French cooking is a daily choice. When Pépin cooked for President Charles De Gaulle in the late 50s, he told us the state dinners were tour de forces dictated by protocol. But, Sunday after Church lunches were the private domain of the De Gaulles. “The whole family, children, grandchildren and all that would have a big lunch,” Pépin told us. “For those lunches I had to do a special accounting that they paid for from their own pocket. It was question of ethics with the president, even though they were not very wealthy. Usually you deal with the lady of the house and Madam De Gaulle as very nice. She called me Petite Jacques.” Those meals were simple French food: “Poached hake, with a warm herb butter, leg of lamb, au gratin of potato with garlic and cream, a good endive salad, certainly cheese, a soup and apple tart.”
“Did you see the menu that I made for tonight? There are ten chefs so there are a lot of choices!”
And what’s the menu when the great master chef cooks for himself? “Whatever I have in my garden. Whatever is fresh in the market. Right now, a lot of salads with chard, tomato with garlic. And I pick wild mushrooms.” Does anyone else have a neighbor who drops off bags of wild mushrooms from the neighborhood? When we left Pépin he had found a fellow forager, Alix Michel to compare the types of Chanterelles he finds in the Connecticut woods with those around her Southampton lakehouse.
For more information about the Hayground School, visit www.hayground.org.