A Day That Will Live in Infamy

In my family we have a way of referring to the postponement of unpleasant responsibilities: I’ll do it on a rainy Tuesday in June. One Tuesday in June, 2011 may have changed that saying for the better. It was a day full of responsibilities, but all of them joyful….

Lower Merion Grads

It was the kind of day where there’s just too much to do, and you have to make every moment count, especially when they’re milestones. My 15-year old daughter, at long last, would be getting her braces off, my son would be graduating from Lower Merion High School (31 years after I had done so) and six months of planning for the Great Chefs Event was finally culminating.

I picked my daughter up at school that morning and drove the few miles to her orthodontist’s office. I was almost as excited as she was. When they called her back I started to follow—and she quickly put a stop to that. Thirty minutes later, I couldn’t contain myself and ventured back to capture the moment on my cell phone camera. This did not sit well with her. Eventually she let me snap a few shots, and the smile on her face was priceless.

Fighting to end childhood cancer

Alex, Founder of Alex’s Lemonade Stand

Then it was off to the Great Chef’s Event hosted by Marc Vetri, for a walkthrough. His goal this year was to raise $1 million for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and for the Vetri Foundation; last year the event raised $500,000. (Vetri is simultaneously working on funding for Eatiquette, which will enable him to provide healthy and nutritious food to the Wissahickon Charter School starting in September.)

At this culinary masterpiece, 40 of the country’s top chefs gather every year and donate their time to help Marc with his passion of helping children. I’ve attended for the past four years and have tasted some phenomenal dishes prepared by Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Morimoto, Paul Kahn and many others. This year I was especially excited because I would get to meet Gabrielle Hamilton, the winner of the James Beard award and author of the best selling book, Blood, Bones and Butter (which I couldn’t put down).

In addition, my company was filming the event. The event was held at the Urban Outfitters corporate offices in the Naval Yard, a humongous atrium-like space in the lobby. The only unfortunate aspect was that I would only get to enjoy it for 90 minutes before heading to St Joe’s, but it was a welcome trade-off, considering.

Gabrielle Hamilton and I at the Great Chefs Event 2011

We shot our interview with Hamilton and I even managed a picture with her, as well as tasting some exquisite food. Del Posto, New York’s only four-star Italian restaurant, was there serving a crisped mini-pasta shell with an olive, caper and grilled vegetable dish; Colicchio & Sons was serving a tuna loin set up gyro-style on a spit and sliced into fish tacos; Hamilton had sautéed shrimp with anchovy butter and lemon zest. One of my favorites was the Big Easy’s John Besh serving shrimp and grits that were just delectable. And in a nod to the City of Brotherly Love, one chef served a baby quail egg over a piece of scrapple layered atop some creamy applesauce.

As I prepared to depart the event, which was now just starting to hit its stride, I took some solace in the after party at Amis which would feature The Roots own ?uestlove as DJ, and that my son would also be joining us. I was glad that I was able to get ?uest to donate his time, just as all the chefs that evening had done.

I arrived at St Joe’s in time to hear the superintendant of the Lower Merion School District give his speech. Eventually the graduates’ names were called one by one as I looked on—a proud papa I was. Cody had been given a leadership award earlier in the week at the capping off a superb four-year run where I saw him come into his own as a student, athlete and young man.

After the commencement, we headed back downtown to what I hoped would be a great nightcap to a long day. It ended up being so much better than I could have imagined: I shared a drink or two with Gabrielle to find that her personality was as lively as her book and her cooking. I caught up with some old friends and made a few new ones. But the party really took off just after Midnight.

?uestlove spinning at Amis

13th Street was closed for the expected crowd attending Marc’s thank you to the volunteers who worked the event and the VIP’s who paid $500 to attend.

Then ?uestlove took it to a whole other level.He didn’t move from behind his turntables and iMac for over 4 hours as he worked his magic with a playlist that was unrivaled. He mixed and blended songs that sometimes included dissecting the chorus or bridge of that song, mixing it with itself, while working in another song seamlessly. I actually lost track on more than one occasion while the music took me to another level. His improvisation was like watching a jazz band playing off one another as they ascended to new heights. He did this by himself, and I was in awe. At 1:30, thoroughly enthralled but getting very tired, I made my exit.

Chef Marc Vetri, myself, and DJ ?uestlove enjoying the Great Chefs Event after party

A truly magical day had ended and it couldn’t have gone any better.

This was one rainy Tuesday for the books.

This blog post originally appeared in the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch