Sometimes I wonder just what exactly I am thinking. I do some bonehead things on occasion, however, I have to say one of my best qualities is the ability to laugh at myself. Lately, those opportunities have been coming in droves. The last two weeks have been crazy as I’ve been rushing to finish an enormous project in the midst of juggling several other gigs. Unfortunately, its feast or famine with me and this latest deluge of work has left me a bit distracted. Some may say spacey and I just might agree with that. This is what gets me into trouble, where I miss key details around me (I parked in tow zone? Really? Crap.)
I was fortunate this week to be invited to a blogger/media breakfast at the Hotel Allegro with a man I admire – blogger and pastry chef David Lebovitz – put together by the folks at Spice Islands for whom he is doing a guest blogging stint. For this invitation, I thank my pal Caroline over at Whipped for her generosity in thinking of me when she was unable to attend. I’ve been pitching in and helping with her business lately and well, I there to represent the team. Oh just wait, it gets good.
I was rather excited by this opportunity as I adore David’s books – the out of print Ripe for Dessert is a long-time favorite – and his blog is one of my few weekly must-reads. It’s entertaining, beautiful, informative and the recipes are great. I’m trying not to gush here but frankly, I’m a fan. I’m just going to say it … he’s leading the life I want – we all want – in Paris. Living the dream, as my friend Linnzie would say. His book on these experiences, The Sweet Life in Paris, provides an entertaining look behind the curtain of this dream with hysterical accounts of the bureaucracy, the oddities and surprises through the eyes of an American ex-pat. He’s rather generous with his knowledge and I’m sure he doesn’t realize this but we were introduced via email several years back through a mutual pastry friend and he gave me some wonderful tips on Parisian pastisseries for an upcoming visit. Through him I found the remarkable Madame Acabo at a jewel box of a chocolate shop in Pigalle called A l’Etoile d’Or. That afternoon lives fondly in my memory as do those salted butter caramels and the Bernachon Kalouga bar. But that’s another story.
So the event turned out to be a rather intimate gathering of just a handful of bloggers who pleasantly chatted David up. As food people are apt to do especially with visitors, the predominant line of questioning was: Where are you going to eat? Where have you eaten? What do you want to eat? I cracked up but was thinking the exact same thing. Well, where are you going to eat?? He brought up a good point – if he had a visiting Chicagoan in Paris he wouldn’t take them for deep dish so why assume he’d want macarons or even a French meal here? Turns out, all he really wanted were burgers and Mexican and lots of them. I can relate. My first meal upon returning from long overseas trips is always Mexican. The evening before, he’d been to Kuma’s Korner which made me smile. That place is a riot and serves ridiculous gut-busting burgers and whiskey on tap in a loud, tattooed heavy metal environment (if you can get in.) If only Hot Doug’s, right around the corner, did dinner it would have been a hell of a night.
There were a few other bloggers present and the hotel’s pastry chef, the lovely and talented Kim Schwenke, made the most delightful spread – warm freshly made ricotta and baked oatmeal, chocolate biscotti to nibble, really fabulous pate de fruit infused with a smidge of tarragon and a rich olive oil cake served with a remarkable chunky grapefruit campari marmalade. I didn’t think I liked campari but I could not get enough of this stuff. I’m regretting not turning all crazy grandma and slipping the extras into my purse but then I didn’t need to bring any more attention to myself (I’m getting to that part.) I was surprised, for a group of food bloggers, they didn’t throw down like I thought they would. Interesting.
We talked about the restaurant biz, food trends (namely bacon and cupcakes), his days at Chez Panisse, the surprising lack of males in pastry kitchens, the American fascination with French macarons, crazy customer stories and in a most interesting discussion, the similarities between pastry chefs (and chefs in general I suspect) and prisoners of war with the common denominator being sleep deprivation. At least I think that was the net of that conversation … my notes are a little sparse and I took exactly one picture because frankly, I was flustered. You see, prior to and just after arriving, I committed a series of signature bonehead moves.
Consider the following a guide on what not to do when meeting someone you admire:
Mistake #1: Overconfidence with rush hour traffic. So this breakfast is at a downtown hotel at 9am. No problem. I’ve got it all figured out and even googled nearby parking garages the night before. Thinking I can finish that one recipe test before leaving for this thing and miscalculating the commute, I hit the parking garage entrance at 8:57am. Result: running about 1 minute late. OK, I can haul when I need to so this can be overcome. Rush, rush, rush.
Mistake #2: Not learning exactly where this event is before leaving the house. This was a key piece of missing information. Result: zipping around the hotel lobby like a crazy person and knowing they’re here somewhere, hoping I didn’t miss that this is at some other location and sensing that I’m missing the introductions. God, I hope I can slip in unnoticed. I HATE being late.
Mistake #3: Trying to rush in unnoticed and taking the empty seat in the middle of the table. The good news is everyone was just settling into their seats as I blew in, so it could have been worse. I even had time to hand off a gift to David from a friend. Whew. All is well. The bad news is I missed meeting everyone and erroneously thought that the guest of honor would sit at the head of the table. Well that was stupid. Of course he’ll sit in the middle. Right next to my late butt. Egad.
Mistake #4 aka the doozy of all bonehead moves: Take a nervous sip of water and then proceed to sit the very full glass on the uneven edge of tablecloth covered (i.e. invisible) table edge and spill the entire thing in the honored guest’s general direction. Oh. My. Gawd. Then I have to stand so the server can clear my entire place setting and lay down 4 thick napkins, in a sort of absorbent kiddie place mat, before I can sit. Did I mention I chose to sit in the middle of the very long table? Good god. I try to pretend it didn’t happen but that’s absurd so I just go with it in a self-mocking manner. It didn’t help that the server, god love him, used his arm to make a deep dent in the napkin “mat” so I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
So consider it a lesson grasshoppers of what not to do in situations such as these. But I can’t help it, I’m cracking myself up just writing this. I mean, seriously?? Did that really happen? I received a few nice thank you tweets and emails so I hope I haven’t been forever posted on that list of spazz’s (yes, I know I’m dating myself but that term just applies perfectly sometimes.)
On the plus side, it was a really lovely event and it was a pleasure to finally meet people I admire especially David and the other bloggers, many of whom I only know through blogs and social media. However, I feel like I missed an opportunity, a chance to ask how he stays motivated to post so frequently (and so well) as I find myself often with the equivalent of “cooking block”. A chance to ask about his theory on cobbler (He wouldn’t take Willie’s side. Right?) But another time, perhaps. When I have steadier hands. And an even table.
So the moral of the story … laugh. It’s the only thing that will save your sorry ass sometimes. And it really was rather funny. On a certain level, even I can see that.
Side note: of course I brought along my favorite book, not sure if I’d have the nerve to ask to get it signed. I’m always uncertain about these things but luckily, another gal asked to have a book signed so I jumped on that. I just opened the book to read the inscription, several days later, to see what he wrote and it was rather sweet with no reference to my blunders. Thank god. What a peach.