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Apr 25, 2007 06:50 AM

Macy's Culinary Council Chef Night

So I just reserved for this event featuring Ming Tsai and Marcus Samuelsson at the Herald Square Macy's. Has anyone gone to one of these events? What was/is it like? I was told that there will be cooking demonstrations from the two chefs, samples for the audience, and, according to its website, "special gifts and savings." It's also supposed to be 2 hours, which I think is an unusually long duration. I'm hoping that it's not one of those chefs on QVC shows where they spend an hour trying to get you to buy their goods. Since I admire Tsai and Samuelsson and it's free, I figured why not. Any light you can shed on this would be much appreciated.

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  1. A friend and I are going to one in Cincinnati featuring Seattle chef Tom Douglas May 3. Like you, since it's free, I figured why not. Plus, it's not everyday that a chef with a national/coastal reputation comes to a city of this size in the midwest (especially if they are not a FoodTV personality). Thanks for the info that the sessions are 2 hours. I did find it odd that, although the event is free, in order to make a reservation you have to give them all your credit card info. The poor woman on the other end of the 800 line told me she was just going through the prompts on the screen she was required to ask, and gave me a confirmation number, so I guess I have some fall back if I somehow end up getting charged for it. Hope you enjoy the event with Ming Tsai and Marcus Samuelsson. If they were coming here, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

    8 Replies
    1. re: intuitive eggplant

      Thank you for replying! I was starting to think that I was the only person who had heard about this. I also found it very odd and disconcerting that they wanted my credit card info. When I asked why, the woman said it's b/c they use the same system for phone orders, so they have to go through all the prompts. I was also told that I won't be charged for anything, even if I don't show up. Hope you enjoy your "chef night" as well.

      1. re: gloriousfood

        Update: Macy's called today (day before the event) to confirm. They said registration and "pre-seating" will begin an hour before the scheduled start time. I haven't seen it well publicized here, so am hoping it will be no problem that I can't get there until half an hour early. Hope you enjoy yours too, GF!

        1. re: intuitive eggplant

          Hey, how did your culinary night go? I just went to mine tonight and was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. It was standing room only. The "stage" was a full professional kitchen with lots of people bustling around. Marcus S. took to the stage first and made berbere and awase and chocolate pancakes. He's smaller in person than he is on TV (guess it's true what they say that being on TV makes you look 10 lbs heavier), has an effervescent personality, and picked as his "assistant" a 10-year-old from the audience, who was obviously thrilled and with whom he had an easy, good rapport. He mentioned how his new books on African cooking was about making people realize that Africa is not just about famine and poverty but also about the richness of its cuisine and people.

          Then Ming Tsai took the stage (they each got 1 hr.), and man, was I blown away by how funny he is! His personality really doesn't come through on his shows. He even said how he enjoys these interactive demonstrations more than just filming in front of a camera. He told several funny stories and just had a great sense of humor. Plus, he looks way better in person, IMO. He made shrimp mousse, shrimp toast, and steamed shrimp shumai w/edamames and lemon broth. We all got to sample what both chefs made. It was all good.

          Both Ming and Marcus had great camaraderie with one another and were going out to dinner together afterward (somewhere in Tribeca).

          Overall, it was a rather enjoyable and pleasant evening. And although the audience could purchase their books and have them signed afterward, there was definitely no hard sell by either Macy's or the chefs themselves.

          1. re: gloriousfood

            So nice to read your account of your culinary evening at Macy's. Also loved hearing about Chef Tsai. When we had dinner at Blue Ginger he was there and made the rounds of each table stopping at ours. We had a pleasant chat for about 15 minutes. He is very funny....great personality....and a really sweet person. The food was exceptionaly delicious and we ooohed and ahhhhed all through the meal. If I remember correctly, a shrimp dish for me and hanger steak for my partner.

            1. re: Gio

              He's got great charisma, doesn't he? And although I knew he trained in France, I didn't know he could speak fluent French. Wish he had been around when I was in Blue Ginger! He had the audience in stitches. I must say I wasn't expecting any of this from him, so again, a wonderful surprise and "revelation."

            2. re: gloriousfood

              Yes, GF, I enjoyed the one I went to. Not a life-changing event, but fun and worth it, especially since it was free. I took a friend who has been to culinary school, and we both picked up a few new pointers. She was tickled to win a frying pan, one of the door prizes.

              Here’s my report (long):

              At ours, Macy’s partnered with locals, including students from the culinary program at a local vocational high school who cooked and served samples of the demonstrated dishes to the audience and got to have their picture taken with Tom Douglas. My favorite local fishmonger got a notice in the program and was talked up by Douglas during the session. Included in the goodie bags was info from the local kitchen/cabinetry company that provided the demonstration cooking stage. Instead of picking a volunteer from the audience as at yours, a favorite local culinary media personality acted as Tom Douglas’s sidekick. From what I’ve read, keeping a local touch like this is part of Macy’s marketing strategy since they bought out and renamed a lot of beloved local department stores across the country. In addition to tastes of the dishes Tom Douglas demonstrated, we got brownies topped with Frango mints (aren’t they the famous mints from the late Marshall Fields?)

              I liked Tom Douglas a lot. He seemed down-to-earth, slightly self-deprecating, a straight-shooter, and very interactive with the audience. When asked, “What do you do as part of the Macy’s Culinary Council?” he said the group of chefs participating in this advises Macy’s on culinary trends and products to offer in their cookware departments, as well as participating in events like this.

              Like you, I didn’t feel that he or Macy’s was too hard-sell in their approach. Macy’s was running some pretty good discounts that night, but interestingly, they had only two of his cookbooks for sale and none of his spice rub. He said that if patrons asked him for recommendations about purchasing specific products, he is notorious for not being into a lot of gadgets, but would be willing to offer a recommendation on, say, which of several frying pans you’d get the most use out of it.

              A few other things he talked about in response to audience questions:

              When asked about using organic ingredients, he said he felt the need to prioritize. His crew goes local first, sustainable second, and organic third, pointing out that if the only place to get organic milk is to have it trucked to Seattle from Colorado, it wastes too much energy to be worth it.

              It was interesting to hear him talk about getting to where he is being self-taught. He now has more than 500 employees and talked with passion about making sure they have health insurance and other benefits. He said he feels it’s important for the restaurant industry to retain and cultivate workers by giving them a living wage and competitive benefits so it’s not just a revolving door where people feel they have to move on to other professions.

              When someone from the audience asked him to name some temperamental chefs, the first name out of his mouth was Bourdain. He mentioned someone else whose name I recognized, but when my friend and I tried to recall later, we couldn’t remember it. Probably because he was interrupted by an audience member who suggested Mario Batali, citing “that book.” Douglas said, “You mean Heat.” He said flat out that Batali is not temperamental and is probably the smartest chef he knows and the one most dedicated to putting flavor on the plate.

              When someone asked if Douglas teaches cooking classes regularly, he said, no, but he is offering a 5-day “culinary boot camp” this July in Seattle. I’ve been looking for a culinary vacation, so checked out his website when I got home, which described it as “culinary summer camp -- with wine.” Sounds right up my alley: cooking demonstrations and classes, tours of local farms, charcuterie, cheese-making, kitchen design, and more. Alas, at $2K, not including air fare and lodging, I guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

              All in all, I would go to another one of these free Macy’s events in town if I knew about it. (Apparently there was a previous one here with a FoodTV personality, which was even less publicized than this one.)

              That's it from the boonies.

              1. re: intuitive eggplant

                Thanks for the recap, IE. Tom Douglas sounds like a classy guy. I like his take on offering his employees real benefits and not making them feel like they're just going through the revolving doors. I also checked out his website for info on his culinary summer camp, and it sounds great, albeit a bit pricey, as you mentioned.

                It seems like your audience asked more introspective questions than mine did. I did recall one audience member, who was about to start classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, asking Tsai what advice he would give to someone who wants to be a chef. His answer was that if you don't find passion in something as mundane as chopping onions or tomatoes, then don't bother, because that's how most chefs start out. He also talked about the "testosterone" nature of the kitchen, that it can be pretty intense, and that's it not for everyone (the questioner was a woman). But mostly, he iteriated the importance of working in an actual restaurant kitchen along with attending culinary school to get a sense of what it's really like. And he joked that someone HAS TO have true passion to work in the restaurant business in a city like NY because the entry pay is low and stays low until you reach a certain level, and it's probably not even enough to afford housing.

                Like you, I would go to another one of these free Macy's events. I would like to see Todd English, who is also a member of the Council.

                It has been great sharing my experiences with you and hearing about yours!

                1. re: gloriousfood

                  Thanks for the follow-up, GF. If you are a fan of Todd English as well as Ming Tsai, did you ever see the PBS competitive cooking show they judged along with Michael Ruhlman called “Cooking Under Fire”? I enjoyed it a lot. The challenges were not as contrived and driven by product-placement as some other shows; the emphasis was much more on the food and using fresh, local ingredients from the various cities they traveled to. I took away some good insights and was definitely inspired.