Step Inside Waldorf=Astoria's Kitchen; Reviewer Has a Personal Connection to the Hotel - His Father Was Head Chef

By Scanlan, Dan | The Florida Times Union, November 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Step Inside Waldorf=Astoria's Kitchen; Reviewer Has a Personal Connection to the Hotel - His Father Was Head Chef


Scanlan, Dan, The Florida Times Union


Byline: DAN SCANLAN

I remember it like it was yesterday, not 40 years ago.

One second I am walking past the classic bronze clock in the main lobby of the Waldorf=Astoria hotel; the next I am tail-deep in the beautiful plants then at its base, and my father was pulling me out.

Not so bad, right?

Not when Dad was head chef of the hotel at the time, and his son's faux pax was in front of a lobby full of guests and co-workers. From childhood until early adulthood, my family spent many days and weekends at the Waldorf with my father, proud of what he was and amazed at the scope of overseeing the block-long kitchen that fed 42 floors and 1,080 rooms full of guests, plus four restaurants and a grand ballroom. It was cool to see Jacques Cousteau, have lunch with Shirley Bassey and dine in Oscar's, Peacock Alley, the Bull and Bear and elsewhere in the hotel.

My father, who retired as vice president and general manager, cooked at home, too, although my mother was the head chef there. Through them I learned an appreciation of good food, fine wine and grand cuisine, which carries over to my love of cooking. So it was with some anticipation that I set out to review The Waldorf=Astoria Cookbook (Bulfinch, $50) by current hotel Executive Chef John Doherty and cookbook writer John Harrisson.

My father supervised the recipe selection for an earlier Waldorf cookbook in 1981, with 271 pages full of the history of the grand hotel on Park Avenue, the famous people who lived there and dozens of classic recipes - so I was game to check out the new book.

Doherty presents a lavishly illustrated, almost foot-tall book with new recipes for classic and nouveau cuisine, as well as appetizers, drinks and desserts. We see more photographs of the famous and infamous who supped at the hotel, plus there are interviews with the chefs who work in various aspects of the huge kitchen.

The hotel history listed in the new book is briefer - the first Waldorf was on the site of the current Empire State Building, the Astoria Hotel next door, joined by a glass corridor called Peacock Alley. That's where the "=" mark comes in the name, looking like the corridor where the rich and famous would parade. The Empire State Building was erected on that site, and Lucius Boomer opened the current hotel on Park Avenue in 1931, where it became the place to be seen.

The rest of the book is all Doherty's favorite hotel recipes interspersed with tidbits of history and insights from his senior staff on pastries, soups and the like. With 20 years of history at the hotel, Doherty, like my father, saw all aspects of the kitchen before he was in charge of it. So his selection includes the fun, the simple and the complex, some from his current and former staff.

Bottom line - you need to understand more than just the basics of boiling water, and be prepared to work, knowing the result will be worth it. The recipes are mouth-watering - Gruyere cheese souffles with prosciutto-chive cream; lentil soup with Italian sausage; sauteed foie gras with caramelized apples and fresh apple salad; chile-encrusted venison with chocolate sauce, red cabbage and spaetzle. Hotel classics such as Veal Oscar and Waldorf Salad are there too, but lightened a bit for a modern palate - a disappointment, and I wish Doherty had put old and new versions here so we could choose our decadence level.

The recipes are well written and clear, although again, you need to know what you are doing and have access to some ingredients (Thai basil leaves, Japanese breadcrumbs, fennell bulb and rabbit) not found at the supermarket. You will need to be precise with the cooking time for each element of some recipes, so everything is done at the same time. And you may need a friend or spouse who can cook to help, since I don't have sous chefs like my late father did and Doherty does.

That said, I picked one and did it - Parmesan Encrusted Chicken with Asparagus Morel Risotto and a Tomato Confit. …

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