Magazine article The New Yorker

Mile-High Dinner

Magazine article The New Yorker

Mile-High Dinner

Article excerpt

MILE-HIGH DINNER

Like all cooks, Ron Paprocki--the pastry chef at Gotham Bar and Grill, on East Twelfth Street--has his favorite tools. One is a needle-nose medical clamp, which he uses to position tiny garnishes. "I took it from my doctor," he said. Another is an iced-tea spoon that he bought at Crate & Barrel and uses as a quenelle-maker. With it, he shaped a seamless ovoid of yogurt sorbet and placed it on a bed of pineapple-and-mango tartare, which he had spooned into the central depression of a rum-soaked, apricot-glazed baba. He used the clamp to decorate the sorbet with tiny celery leaves. Before going to culinary school, in Germany, Paprocki spent ten years as a landscape designer--he is at ease with vegetation. "The nice thing about this dish is the rationality of the babas," he said. "You can leave them in the freezer for three months and pull them out when you need them, with no issues."

Paprocki was serving dessert because his boss, Alfred Portale, Gotham's co-owner and head chef, was stuck on a train. Portale is one of nine chefs on Singapore Airlines' International Culinary Panel, which helps create the menus for all three passenger classes on Singapore flights. Devising successful airplane meals is more complicated than many fliers might think, and one of the challenges is turbulence. "No blueberries on flat plates," Paprocki said. The session at Gotham was an early step in a long process that Singapore calls "a development." Portale and his staff had created a number of potential in-flight dishes for business- and first-class passengers, and they were serving samples to a group of Singapore representatives, including several chefs from the airline's catering unit at J.F.K., who were making notes and taking photographs.

Portale arrived just as the participants were finishing off the last of the dessert. He wore a dark-blue chef's coat, and he got to work immediately. "So, this is pork-roast soup," he said. "It has little meatballs. Meatballs are all the rage in New York, although I don't know if they've made it to Singapore yet." He added some sea salt. There was a large pile of clean flatware in a tray on the table, and everyone took a spoon. "When I came up with this, I was thinking about a very successful dish we did years ago," he continued. "It was a short-rib soup, in which the ribs were not poached but braised, and it was served in a bowl like this, with a really rich beef broth and lots of soft leeks and carrots. …

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