This is the first part of a three-series post on a dinner that took place at the Hotel Bel Air on Wednesday, October 23rd featuring the wines of the Ca’Del Bosco and the cuisine of Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud.
Watching men like Chef Daniel Boulud is like reading a story within a story. You are in the presence of a man who has spent decades in kitchens of the highest rank. Not only has he worked with the absolute best ingredients that can be found anywhere in the world, he is among the 1% of every man who has ever transformed ingredients using fire. The amount of information he must be processing with every glance, every evaluation both visual and physical is fascinating. His hands are heavy, as if he was a sculptor of marble, yet they move with intricate accuracy. Several times I had to stop taking pictures to watch him moving a piece of fish with a delicate fish spatula, checking on a chef’s haricot vert, shaving a white truffle.
The runners were definitely under the gun and I could see that communication was difficult. Yet in high class kitchen’s such as Wolfgang Puck’s at the Hotel Bel Air, there is a backbone of organization that I witnessed everywhere from the bread toasting station, to the way the servers entered, looking through the portal first – then saving the black butter slates in a predetermined location. The entire team possessed excellent technique, allowing them to weather the onslaught of 150 covers doing 6 intensive courses. The dining room was at perfect ease to contrast the tense atmosphere of concentration in the kitchen.
I asked Chef Boulud’s Sous if there were specific seating times, and he replied, “No, they are going to come at different times, as it should be, like a real restaurant.” These men and women are professionals, they eschew the ease of doing 75 plates all at the same, the result of a prescribed seating time. I watched one of Chef Daniel’s Sous take an all-day count at upwards of 14 Beef Duos, working on several simultaneously at multiple stages of completion. His two Sous Chefs, Jean and Fabrizzio were like woodwind players, each so practiced in every motion that communication was rendered to short commands in Spanish or French, whichever shortest. Almost every haute kitchen I’ve ever worked or been in speaks primarily French. Oui, Chef! On y va! Heard Chef.
I delighted at hearing a Japanese response coming from one of Wolfgang’s sous chefs in, “12 amuse chef, Hai!” Daniel speaks to Wolfgang in crisp French, but Wolfgang responds in English, though he spoke heavy German whom I’m guessing is one of the Sommeliers. It was apparent from top to bottom, world class talent both in the front and the back of the house. Chef Puck was deeply interested in every station, routinely going around and tasting at every stage of his dishes. I watched him dunk a few Santa Barbara spot prawns in a court bouillon and taste them, quipping with Daniel that he couldn’t afford truffles because they were to expensive.
Maurizio Zanella himself was like a walking painting, his expressions were endless going from consternation, contemplation, and elation. All three of the stars of the evening made their rounds to the VIP tables. Chef Michael Cirimusti, sporting his trademark beard dined with Chef Josiah Citron in the stylish booths to the rear of the open air dining room. Amy and Patrick Sweeney of Ammo called me over to share a fantastic Amarone with me to finish the meal. Adam Fleishman of the Umami Empire as well as good friend Mike Hogland of Orsa & Winston, Baco Mercat, and Bar Alma were also in attendance.
Check back for further coverage on the FOOD and the WINE!