About 10 weeks ago, Chef Rob McCue (Hell’s Kitchen, Fox) and Chef Adam C. Banks (Roble & Co., Bravo TV) summoned me to John Allan’s, a gentleman’s den nestled amidst the towering cathedrals of midtown Manhattan.
There was a pool table, a comfy leather couch and far too many amber elixirs (neat) to go around the room. I hadn’t seen Chef McCue since this collaboration from September 2011. McCue introduced me to Chef Banks and spoke of an epic culinary adventure, that could potentially use my creative stamp. The centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was to be April 14th of this very year, 2012. To commemorate the night, he and Baks were planning to serve the very same meal those fateful first-class diners enjoyed before the inevitable demise of her majesty Titanic.
Interesting, I thought. But, why? What would be the purpose of re-creating a meal where the dishes themselves are by today’s standards, mildly interesting? What would the great people of this upstanding nation think, or how would they respond to a group of rogue culinary masterminds plotting to dish up the Titanic’s last meal? (I heard the voice of Jeff Morgan, a good winemaker friend whom I’ve turned to for advice in recent months, ask, “Was it Kosher?”)
The answer came to me after those burning amber waves of grain slowed my mental process down to the tune of a noble cause: Yes. Yes, we can I thought! Yes, we can recreate the last meal served aboard the Titanic, if… if…if and only if we dedicated ourselves to a far greater cause: to re-imagine the last meal as if it might have been served “today.“
Let us imagine that the R.M.S. Titanic had passed the iceberg and sailed into New York; if she were still out roaming the seas today, carting passengers to and from the coasts of the world. We would pay homage to the Titanic by focusing on the jubilant moments during that final meal, before the threat of danger was prevalent and when nothing by exuberance and ecstasy filled the hearts of the souls aboard the ship. To be aboard the Titanic, meant to be sailing upon a vessel the entire world was curious about – a veritable Ark, that sadly betrayed its passengers. However, by tapping into the energy and excitement that surely permeated her walls during these exultant moments, we would memorialize the passengers and crew in uplifting fashion.
The menu, it was decided, would be composed of the very ingredients and components from the original First Class menu (copies survived in pockets of a few who escaped). Our twenty-first century version would condense 11 courses to 7, and elevate the cuisine to modern standards of culinary deliverance. The next eight weeks would prove to be a Titanic undertaking, indeed.
In my mind, the beginning of this journey was marked by what I believed to be the most important questions to ask: What wines will we serve – and why? No record exists of the wines that were paired with the many meals served. There are accounts from The White Star Line’s distributors of what had been purchased and what was on board: mainly French, Italian, German and Portuguese wines. Enter: the Galloni’s. That’s right, Antonio Galloni.
On our behalf, they reached out to a distributor whose wines fit the bill of what we were hoping to accomplish with respect to pairings. I’m incredibly thankful to the Galloni’s for having made an important introduction, and from there we began to assemble our wines. To help complete that task, enter: Master of Wine, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan.
Jennifer is truly Master of the House (I’m singing Les Mis in my head) and her enthusiasm and support turned an evening of impressive wine pairings into an evening of brilliantly planned and thought-out pairings. Her goal was to help source wines from brands that existed in 1912 or before. Trying to source actual wines from 1912, and enough to pair each course for 80+ diners, was well out of our budgetary means and frankly unrealistic (we were this close ( ) to landing that $250,000 sponsorship from NASA – alas, another time). Jennifer’s approach made sense, and all our combined efforts produced this fabulous list of wines/courses:
Oysters a la Russe
Local Long Island Oysters, Tomato, Vodka, Horseradish
2009 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse (First Class)
2008 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse Les Menetrieres. (VIPs)
“Vesiga,” Celeriac Root, Vegetable Garni
2006 Alvear Fino (First & VIP Class)
Butter Poached Wild Salmon
Cucumber, Mousseline Sauce, Salmon Skin
2010 Dopff & Irion (First & VIP Class)
Filet Mignon Lili
Potatoes Anna, Artichoke, Foie Gras, Black Truffle
2007 Chateau Manon La Lagune. (First Class)
2005 Chateau Millon Saint Emilion Grand Cru (VIPs)
Ginger Oil, Rum, Champagne, Frothed Egg White
Squab & Watercress
Asparagus, Squab Reduction
2009 Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune (First Class)
2009 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin (VIPs)
Mock Waldorf Pudding, Suspended Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Eclairs
Taylor Fladgate 10 year old tawny (First Class)
Taylor Fladgate 40 year old Tawny (VIPs)
Louis XIII de Remy Martin (VIP Class only)
And what is stellar wine without a stellar wine-pouring team? I assembled a group of some of New York’s finest Somms and impresarios, who together bedazzled our guests with their wine-speak and exemplary service. They shall be named:
Without the support of these upstanding libationists, I would not have been able to focus on my most important and immediate task at hand: to prevent the Titanic from sinking.
In his book, From Time to Time, author Jack Finney reveals the story of a government agency dubbed, The Project, in which Einstein’s theories of time, space and travel are employed to transport members of The Project back in time. The Project’s process of transporting a person back in time is rooted in deep mediation practices, imagery and the presence of a “gateway,” a place that exists in the present and in the past. Some examples are the Statue of Liberty, The Dakota, certain areas of Central Park, etc. For one to be successful in traveling back to another time, one must be present in one of these gateways and in practice, settle into a state of mental deceleration. That is: to let the present move ahead and let the past catch up. Through self-hypnosis and meditation, one has the ability to latch onto “threads” of the past, according to Finney, and connect to and exist in another time.
The evening of April 14, 2012 – the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic – presented a gateway and the potential to change history in a serious way – I set out to do just that. To help in my righteous quest, to assist me in dreaming the impossible dream, was the Captain of the R.M.S. Titanic and the Jotta Girl, a character from Finney’s book:
In the words of Neil Diamond, “I’ve got an emptiness deep inside and I tried: but it won’t let me go.” And so, to help me “let go,” came the generous support of one of my best, best friends in the world: an amber wave of grain, a mountainous glass of majesty, the color of a California sunset, a libation that has been in existence since the 1800s, well-sipped over the evening to help settle me in under the influence of a decelerated state of mind, ole faithful: Glenmorangie.
Finally, underscoring the evening – the journey that is – was perhaps the finest addition to the entire Dine Titanic fete: Chrome Canyon featuring Icky Doom of Shadwbx (computer) and Megan Sears (cello). The account of the musicians playing as the ship sank is essentially common knowledge – and the moment is memorialized in James Cameron’s leviathan of a movie. Instead of a string trio or quartet, eerie sounds, ethereal sounds, sampled air, ocean and bits of “Nearer My God To Thee” were sampled into hypnotic, persistent, dark undercurrents of depth-inducing sounds. They looked like this:
And with that, good reader, good wino, good foodist, good friends, I leave you to a short documentary of my experience and a rhetorical question: what do you recall about the Titanic? Is it possible that some of you now have a memory of her docking in New York City in 1912?
For links to Press and more photos visit: DineTitanic.com