“I was kind of disappointed I didn’t bring my opium pipe,” The View co-anchor Lisa Ling told the crowd at the beginning of the annual James Beard Foundation Awards at the New York Marriott Marquis on May 6. Ms. Ling, who M.C.’d the event, was making some reference to the theme of the evening-“The Spice Connection”-but, in truth, the event was plenty trippy without any narcotic assistance.
It was the kind of night where Larry King, one of the celebrity presenters, told the crowd that so many thank-you’s had been uttered that he felt compelled to deliver one of his own: “To my urologist.” When The Transom asked the CNN personality what he meant by that, he looked shocked. “For sitting so long,” he said. “I had to explain that?”
Meanwhile, Babbo chef Mario Batali, who won the American Express Best Chef: New York City award, delivered one of the evening’s better unscripted lines. As Mr. Batali and Jamie Oliver, star of the Food Network series The Naked Chef , were walking to the podium to present a cookbook award, they were preceded onstage by an unannounced addition to the show: the Naked Cowboy, that muscular lunkhead who strums a guitar in his briefs in Times Square. As the scantily clad sight gag scurried off the stage, Mr. Batali-who’s known for his way with head cheese-deemed the cowboy “classic New York offal.” Or was it “awful”?
The Beard awards were also where restaurateur Drew Nieporent realized his lifelong dream of becoming the Bono Vox of the restaurant set.
Mr. Nieporent and Windows on the World chef Michael Lomonaco opened the ceremony at 5:30 by performing Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” with the Overtime Blues Band. But the crowds, which tend to arrive late to avoid the slew of regional radio and TV-show awards that lard the beginning of the program, missed the performance. So the black-clad, newly svelte Mr. Nieporent played twice more with the band at the awards after-party at Peter and Penny Glazier’s Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse.
The Transom missed Mr. Nieporent’s first two performances but caught the final one, which took place shortly before 1 a.m. “Are you ready to rock ‘n’ roll?” Mr. Nieporent said to the crowd, which responded enthusiastically despite having stuffed themselves with cuisine like Annisa chef Anita Lo’s dry-cured Magret duck liver mousse with Chinese cinnamon and black vinegar reduction.
“All those people at Cipriani”-by this he meant the café that the father-and-son restaurant team run at Grand Central Terminal-“look out for the $25 cover charge,” Mr. Nieporent said, right before going into a crouch and launching a blood-and-guts version of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”
The owner of Montrachet and Nobu then coaxed the band into playing “Takin’ Care of Business” for the third time that night. “James Beard was takin’ care of business,” Mr. Nieporent told the crowd during a mid-song interlude that included a shout-out to chef Daniel Boulud, among others. Beppe chef Caesare Casella and Gourmet magazine editor in chief Ruth Reichl were also in attendance. Later, Mr. Nieporent said that he and the band had rehearsed only five times together before their performance.
Meanwhile, downtown, a group of chefs that included Alain Ducasse and Kitchen Confidential author Anthony Bourdain, food writer Gael Greene and food journalist Nina Griscom joined Le Bernardin owner Maguy Le Coze and executive chef Eric Ripert, who was nominated for the All-Clad Cookware Outstanding Chef Award, for their annual post-ceremony dinner at Balthazar. At the dinner, Ms. Le Coze wore the Beard Foundation medallion that Mr. Ducasse won last year for Best New Restaurant. “See, I got something,” she said.
“She is le king ,” Mr. Ducasse said, referring to Ms. Le Coze .
Launch of the Year
On the evening of Monday, May 6, under a plastic canopy that covered the garden at the back of his 57th Street townhouse, bantam-like publisher Harold Evans welcomed some 70 guests to “the first birthday party of The Week ,” a somewhat humorous newspaper digest of current events that was imported from his native Britain by the publishers of Maxim . Standing on a pedestal before a crowd that included Bianca Jagger, Salman Rushdie, Ralph Fiennes and Candace Bushnell, Mr. Evans-who consults for the publication-extolled its many virtues, which mainly had to do with his assertion that there was always something in The Week that he didn’t previously know.
Then the editor of The Week , William Falk, took his turn on the small pedestal for a mercifully brief talk that nonetheless had Mr. Fiennes chit-chatting with his neighbor the whole way through. Finally the mistress of the house, Tina Brown, who was dressed in a light-blue getup, took her turn on the box.
“This newspaper was named ‘Launch of the Year,'” she said excitedly. “By a publication that probably trashed Talk magazine, no doubt!” Suddenly Ms. Brown disappeared from sight. She had lost her balance and quite literally fallen off her pedestal. A chorus of choked laughter rose up and died quickly. For a moment there was silence, as necks craned and glances were exchanged. Mr. Fiennes stopped talking. Then the sound of Ms. Brown’s voice could be heard again, though she still could not be seen. She had decided to resume her speech while keeping her feet planted on terra firma.
They didn’t know it, but both Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton were invited to a benefit for Back House Productions, the Drama Book Shop Inc.’s tiny theater company, the night of May 6. Unfortunately, a helluva media opportunity was lost when Mr. Clinton did not attend.
Ms. Lewinsky was front and center, though in a billowy low-cut number. She came with actor Alan Cumming.
After a little browsing, Ms. Lewinsky bought Mr. Cumming a book called The Dramatic Imagination by Robert Edmund Jones. “I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of Robert Edmund Jones,” Ms. Lewinsky said. “I guess I’m not knowledged enough in theater. I bought it for Alan Cumming, who I’m with tonight, because I think he”-she pointed to the cover illustration-“looks just like Alan Cumming.”
Mr. Cumming, in turn, bought Ms. Lewinsky a book of stickers.
Two of the party’s organizers, however, said separately that Ms. Lewinsky had come less because of Mr. Cumming than because she was attracted by another of the night’s guests: Norman Mailer’s eldest son Michael. Mr. Mailer fils is no stranger to scandal-plagued women: He was once affianced to Donald Trump’s ex-wife, Marla Maples.
Michael Mailer and Monica Lewinsky never crossed paths at the event, and Ms. Lewinsky would not cop to any crush. She said only that she was “friends” with several of Norman Mailer’s nine children-one of whom helped organize the event-and that she was a fan of Mr. Mailer’s writing.
” The Executioner’s Song is my favorite,” she said.
This came as a bit of a surprise to the elder Mr. Mailer, who was sitting on a stool flanked by two canes. He said he thought Monica Lewinsky’s favorite book of his would have been The Deer Park , in which a movie director cooperates with a fictional version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He would not say whether this was because Ms. Lewinsky herself cooperated with a Congressional committee to turn in Mr. Clinton. When asked to elaborate, he said only, “You’re not going to get anywhere with this.” Then he asked to be introduced to Ms. Lewinsky.
After an unexpectedly long and intense conversation with Mr. Mailer, Ms. Lewinsky stole away, and Mr. Mailer’s son Michael finally arrived. “Monica’s here,” one of the organizers told him. Michael Mailer smiled. “She came for you , you know,” the organizer went on.
“Great,” he said diffidently. “That’s just great.”
Trafficking in London
If you think it was tough driving into the city last weekend, what with all the parades and charity events, you haven’t been to London lately.
Neither has New York City’s transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, who happens to be married to our senior Senator, Chuck Schumer. So she’s planning a trip to London the first week of June to check out a new system-geared to be up and running early next year-that automatically charges Londoners five pounds for driving into the central part of the city during certain times of the day.
Satellite technology already used in the trucking industry would be adapted to track cars, which would have individual ID’s, like EasyPasses, hooked up to the satellite tracking system.
Satellites track each vehicle’s movements on the busiest roads and at the busiest times of day, and drivers pay using pre-paid cards or by sending a check in the mail. It’s called “congestion pricing.”
“If a city like London can do innovative and creative things regarding transportation,” said Ms. Weinshall, “it’s incumbent on us to sort of check it out and see what works and what doesn’t work, and what’s controversial and what’s not controversial.”
If automatic tolls for driving into midtown or lower Manhattan during peak hours seem more likely to be controversial than not, consider the (relative) popularity of the city’s ban on single-occupancy vehicles over East River crossings right after the terrorist attacks. Such measures are common in plenty of other cities-but the thinking at City Hall has always been that New Yorkers were too grumpy a lot to put up with it.
“I never thought that we could implement an S.O.V. ban,” said Ms. Weinshall. “So anything is possible.”