Me and Ms. Greene
Photo: Ethan Hill for The New York Times
Gael Greene you may know as a foodie. One of the first tier over the top originals of that species. She was restaurant critic for New York Magazine from 1968 to 2002 (Basta!). We share her aversion to foams, but mostly the lady strikes us as way too florid in her prose about what’s to chew. To put it her own way, a pen with butter for ink. Think, fussy finicky food fetishist. But, that’s us. Cooky Cat is finicky and fussy in his own inimitable way. So we won’t throw any more stones.
Anyway, we once had a nice lunch with her nibs. But, first some background.
I was an Ad Biggie in the Big Apple some time ago, around the Mad Men era. It was one of the perks of the job to get complimentary magazines delivered to your home. One day I arrived back to Casa Wronski to see in my latest New York Magazine a contest eligible to advertisers and industry types (not tipped into the regular newsstand editions). The challenge was to unscramble the letters to spell the correct names of ten of the magazine’s top ten restaurant advertisers. Then you would be judged based on how creatively you packaged your answers. The prize was lunch at the restaurant of the winner’s choosing; and, as it turned out, with Ms. Gael Greene herself and Mr. George A. Hirsch, the founding publisher of the magazine.
Always up for a creative challenge, one Saturday me and the little lady toodled off in our bouncy Citroen 2CV city car to collect match books from each of the restaurants whose scrambled names we previously had locked down. Then I constructed a colorful Paris style columnar kiosk complete with a pointed turret top and pasted the match book covers all around. This I placed inside a tall box with a top rigged so that when it was pulled off the four sides would drop away to reveal the matchbook decorated kiosk inside. Think voilà! And, Ta Da!
And, can you believe it, we won! Match that!
Our choice was Café Chauveron, then a top NYC restaurant. Here is the Insatiable Critic’s own review of that erstwhile great place, Cafe Chauveron as Love Object.
On the appointed day we met Ms. Green and Mr. Hirsch at the restaurant. I don’t recall what we actually ate, but two things I do remember.
If you have had the exposure you will know that Gael Greene was a shooting star celebrity critic in the New York City culinary world. One must pay proper due. She was the expert at our table; don’t make any mistake about it. While scanning the French language menu, I read out loud, “Champignons”. Gael, without a second’s pause quickly translated, “Mushrooms”. Well, I already happened to know that, but didn’t say so. It just struck me as her smart, perhaps sly way of, as they say, making me her bitch. Lovely. I’ve been a big fan ever since. Not. Maybe she was attempting to be helpful, and I am being not too kind. But, even so, one shouldn’t assume one’s guest is ignorant and (even worse) be too quick to enlighten. Word!
But the kicker came later at the dessert course. Ms. Greene ordered the chocolate mousse. To die for she said; and it was. A big dollop of dark airy creamy rich soft chocolate mousse served in a squarish shallow chocolate cup. After having a taste Gael called for the waiter. Per my approximate recollection, “This mousse, it seems different. Are you using the same chocolate?” When the waiter returned with the answer to that weighty question he smilingly reported that, indeed, the usual chocolate for the mousse was not available and this was made with a substitute.
OMG! Holy crap! That is one sophisticated palate. My first take was that it was a set up designed to shock and awe (I was a cynical adman, after all). But, again, I performed my part like a gentleman and beamed my deeply impressed approval her way. But, come on, Gael.
What was the truth of it, we’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, dear Gael Greene, thanks for the memory.