I was privileged recently to go on a study tour to New York City – what an experience. The whole five-day tour had been masterminded by Michel Roux Senior, one of, if not the most, respected chefs in the UK who, along with his brother Albert in 1984 created the Roux Scholarship to enable a new generation of chefs from Britain to train in some of the greatest restaurants in the world. As vice chair and a judge of the scholarship, I was honoured – and delighted! – to attend.
Michel had invited a group of past winners, and a party of 16 expectant winners and judges gathered at Heathrow Airport at 6am to go on a gastronomic tour of the Big Apple. Now, I’m not sure whether it was because of the attendance of one of Britain’s sexiest Frenchmen or the fact that we were a group of young vibrant chef restaurateurs, but boy did those ladies, dressed in dazzling red, organise us and get us on board the Virgin Atlantic flight in such a friendly and efficient manner it was poetry in motion. And all with a glass of Champagne in hand – what a start!
On arrival in New York it was off to the Intercontinental Hotel on Times Square, right in the heart of Manhattan and so close to so many restaurants. In fact, next door was the famous Shake Shack, part of the Danny Meyer empire. They serve up to 3,000 burgers a day. We were invited to taste all the dishes on the menu (did it take much persuasion?). There we were, almost a dozen Michelin stars between us, and we all agreed the burgers were just what we needed. That evening, off we went to the Hill Country Barbecue where I had the best ‘dry rub’ barbecue I’ve ever eaten – I still now think of the smoked brisket...
Day two we were honoured to attend the Culinary Institute Of America where Michel gave the graduation speech. The students served us a brilliant breakfast and sublime lunch before we travelled back, going through the village of Sleepy Hollow to Dan Barber’s Blue Hill At Stone Barns, where the ever-talented chef showed us his non-profit farm and educational centre showcasing the produce of Hudson County. He then delivered a ‘no menu’ 31-course – yes, 31 courses – dinner. What a revelation!
Breakfast at Gramercy Tavern was delicious before a trip to Greenmarket – where local farmers sell to the local restaurants – followed by an emotional trip to Ground Zero, then dim sum in Chinatown. The boys scrubbed up well for dinner, and rightly so; the kings of New York, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, were cooking dinner for us. It was magic from start to finish – we are still talking about it.
We were now feeling quite sated, so a trip to a deli, then an American football game followed by steak and on to a digestif bar seemed quite light in comparison to other days! Our penultimate day saw a little sightseeing around Manhattan harbour on a boat then another unique dinner by Danny Meyer at the Museum of Modern Art, with a private viewing – how did Michel organise that?!
So to the final day: a return trip to Shake Shack – quite emotional really – and a pizza before our return flight. What a whirlwind five days but boy can New York turn it on... and it sure did!