Bon Appetit’s 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party
So when you’re a food writer and the editors of Bon Appetit invite you to an exclusive party for 15 of their favorite bloggers at their Culinary Studios in New York, you go.
(Um, of course, you go!)
And when they add that it’s a bake-off, you go bearing your very favorite dessert.
For me, that meant a whirlwind run from Boston to New York City and back again in a single day, carefully protecting a little cooler full of chocolate caramel tartelettes.
(Yep. That’s this tart in miniature form. I’ll post next week about how I made them.)
The event was a blast. The food was amazing. (You can see all the desserts here.) The company was second-to-none. The weather was cold and clear, and New York was positively vibrating with crazy holiday energy.
Thanks to a train break-down (no really, they needed to replace the engine), I got in at 3 am on Friday morning. I think it’s safe to say that I’m still officially pooped.
(Quick, somebody get me a Corpse Reviver and two aspirin!)
Let me back up.
The idea of cooking for people you don’t know can be a little daunting when you’re not a trained chef.
I’ve never done any kind of cooking competition before, much less one judged by the likes of Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild, world-famous pastry chef Francois Payard (who has also been a judge on Iron Chef America), and Fox news anchor Dari Alexander.
As a professional copywriter, my skin is pretty thick. After all, I’ve made my living doing creative presentations to large groups of people for almost 15 years.
That said, I’ll admit it: I had a bona fide case of nerves on the train down.
So what was the most memorable thing about the Bon Appetit Bake-Off?
It’s a toss up.
Francois Payard telling me that the crust on my tartlettes looked too thick. Or Andrew Knowlton telling me not to fret about it.
Seriously, though, it was the people: All of them.
The Bon Appetit editorial staff was wonderful. (Thanks so much to online editor Emily for organizing the event!) It was a pleasure to meet everyone and such a tremendous honor to be included.
Pastry Chef Francois Payard, Bon Appetit Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild
I also got to meet some the peeps behind some of my favorite blogs. (You know who you are: Megan from Brooklyn Farmhouse, Marc from No Recipes, Olga from Sassy Radish.)
And meet a bunch of new fabulous folks, including Lee from Peanut Butter & Co., Kelsey from the Naptime Chef, Alexandra from Blondie and Brownie, and Kat from AOL food.
Huge congratulations to Marc from No Recipes (below), who won with his Kabocha Pumpkin Cream Cake.
Ah, New York
I forgot just how much I love New York. The lights. The people. The sensory overload waiting around every corner. It’s intoxicating, really.
My trip also made me realize that no matter how much I love New York, I’ll always love Boston more.
New York has changed so much in the last 20 years. I grew up in southern Connecticut, so I spent a fair amount of time in the city as a teenager.
And it’s been way too long since I visited last, in early 2001. (I know, I know. Be righteously outraged with me: I live too close to New York to not visit at least three times a year.)
I ran into one of the other party-goers in the lobby of the Conde Nast Building.
“What the hell happened to Times Square? Where are all the hookers and junkies?” I blurted out after we said our hellos.
She burst out laughing. “Oh, Giuliani took care of all that.”
Don’t believe me? Here’s what I mean. (Weird, eh? I mean, nice. Totally nice. Charming, even. But weird, if you know old New York.)
Thankfully, the Bon Appetit Bake-Off more than made up for what the neighborhood was lacking in flavor.
Getting to New York
(Because, you know, I have to get a step-by-step into this post somehow.)
More than a few of you said you wished you could come with me. I wish I could have brought a full party from Boston, but since I couldn’t, here’s what went down.
The Angry Chef packed up my tartlettes for me and took me to the train at Boston’s South Station. There was an ungodly amount of traffic for 10 am. (Really, guys, we don’t need such a massive escort!)
And by train, I mean the super-sexy and ultra-sleek Acela, which is so smooth that it almost doesn’t feel like you’re moving. The thing is like a spaceship compared to the commuter rail train I take every day to work.
Here’s my Obligatory Dramatic Train Picture. (Dammit, I forgot my little hat with the feather on it…)
Hmm, Payard was a judge on Iron Chef. What will he think of my tarts?
When you take the train from Boston to New York, you get to see a lot of quintessential New England-y scenes.
There’s also a lot of this:
And some of this:
I started to get excited around Stamford, Connecticut. (“Oh no! You have to retake the picture! There’s a man in it!” exclaimed the very nice Asian businessman sitting across from me.)
And I got really excited when we finally hit the outskirts of New York. By that time, my case of nerves was officially gone. Hell, this was going to be fabulous, no matter what happened.
Once we landed, I walked the 8 blocks or so from Penn Station to Times Square.
(There’s the New Year’s Eve Ball.)
After a little hunting (make that a lot of hunting), I managed to find the entrance to the Conde Nast Building.
Around Bryant Park & Times Square
I was early, so I dropped off my tartlettes and trooped off to grab a quick bite to eat.
They had some pre-made stuff in the case, but I was in the mood for a warm meatloaf sandwich.
Here’s the kid tending to my sandwich.
Honestly, I was skeptical about it. Colicchio may be an amazing chef, but there are about a dozen of his stands across Manhattan, and I wondered how that quality would translate.
The meatloaf was a little on the dry side (just a little), but the tangy tomato relish made up for it. The bread was really light, and melted cheddar and bacon added the right amount of smoke and gooey-ness. I would go back, definitely.
I spent a little time walking around Bryant Park, snapping pictures.
With super-human restraint, I managed to NOT buy the penguin hat.
I stopped to watch the ice skaters for a minute or two.
And because part of me is still eight-years-old, I couldn’t pass by the fountain without tossing in a penny.
Around quarter of five, I headed back to Bon Appetit’s offices.
Aureole, one of Charlie Palmer’s restaurants, is right next door to the Conde Nast Building, and had some impressive gingerbread houses on display.
(Love the icicles and the windows!)
Getting ready for the festivities!
Egads, Mouse. It took you long enough! (Hey, Bon Appetit does know that they’ve invited a mouse into their kitchens, right?)
Upstairs at Bon Appetit’s Culinary Studios, they put a kitchen at our disposal to prep and plate our desserts.
Here are my tarts.
Once we plated them, we brought them out into the main room to be photographed.
There was a lot of this: Food bloggers taking pictures of food bloggers who were taking pictures of food. (Meta-food blogging, anyone?)
Seriously, I should have worn my fat pants. The desserts were just stunning. Somehow (don’t ask me how), I didn’t get pictures of all of them. Take a peek here.
These were awesome. (Little pies on a stick!)
Out of all the desserts, I think the Buche de Noel was my favorite.
Maybe it’s because I have fond memories of making this for my seventh grade French class (mine did NOT look like this).
Or maybe it’s those adorable meringue mushrooms! (If I had made this, it would have been hard not to tuck a few tiny, bright blue meringue Smurfs underneath.)
We had a few cocktails while we were waiting for all the desserts to come out.
Let the judging begin!
After pictures, they lined our desserts up for judging.
If anyone finds a clip of the Fox local news segment, please shoot me a link! I’d love to see it.
They asked each of us to say a little bit about our dessert. There’s Olga, The Sassy Radish, (speaking) and Jennifer from In Jennie’s Kitchen.
When it was my time to present, Payard told me that my crust looked like it was a little on the thick side for such a small tart.
I explained that I had cut it down substantially (more on this in a day or two), but would love to see what he thought when he actually tasted it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to speak with him after the event and get his final verdict.
Escape from New York: In and out in under seven hours
(Snake Plissken would have been proud of my timing.)
I had to bolt right around 7 to make my 7:30 train back to Boston. (I mentioned that this was a kamikaze run, right?)
Couldn’t find a cab, so I trotted to Penn Station as fast as my heels would allow, goodie bag in hand, where I eventually made my way home.
I’m skipping the bits with the random guy in an unmarked black car who tried to offer me a ride (Me: “No thanks, mister! I don’t know who you are!”); the guy marching around Penn Station swearing at the top of his lungs; the businessman on the train who was getting tipsy on an impressively mismatched assortment of nips; how my train broke down and needed to have its engine replaced; and the odd flock of Russian cabbies that greeted me like vultures when I got into South Station at 2:30 in the morning.
A girl has to leave some things to the imagination, after all.
Oh, I did, however, meet Penn Station’s sweetest employee. She was on the job, but kindly permitted me to snap her photo.
A deluxe goodie bag!
Thanks so much to the good folks at Bon Appetit for the sweet swag!
Here’s the loot.
Three cookbooks, a box of Payard chocolates, a cookie decorating set (that I can’t wait to try out), a copy of the latest issue of Bon Appetit, and a cookbook masquerading as a daily calendar.
The Payard chocolates are absolutely beautiful.
They’re also delicious—if just a wee bit on the thin side for me.
I had a blast! Thanks again to the good folks at Bon Appetit for having me. And thanks also to all our readers, who were so supportive and excited about the whole adventure!
And now, it’s time to get back to my own test kitchen here at The Mouse House. We have a lot of fabulous food planned for the coming months. I’d better get cooking.