Famous faces have long adorned the walls of New York restaurants, from the caricatures of world leaders at the Palm to the autographed glossies of pro athletes at the Pump. But when the chef Laurent Tourondel opened BLT Market in the Ritz Carlton at Central Park last fall, he decided to decorate the new space with snapshots of a guy cradling a duck; another one wielding a big slab of ribs; and a saintly looking woman sporting a wheel of cheese as if it were a halo.
These hitherto anonymous purveyors—butchers, farmers, fishmongers—are the new stars of a New York food scene consumed with carefully “sourced” ingredients. And they’re relishing their moment in the spotlight.
“It’s all models, parties, celebrity chefs,” drily said Rob Kaufelt, the longtime proprietor of Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village, the other day. The temperature- and moisture-controlled caves beneath his store on Bleecker Street are stocked with wheels of cheese bound for Le Bernadin, Bar Boulud, Bouley and Blue Hill—and that’s just the Bs. The shop also provides a pungent and complex Winnemere, washed in beer and wrapped in spruce bark, to Thomas Keller’s posh Per Se.
The previous evening Mr. Kaufelt, 61, who appears on Mr. Toroundel’s wall and gets a shout-out on the menu of the Lower East Side eatery Allen & Delancey, had attended a fund-raiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama at the PaceWildenstein gallery in Chelsea. Composer Philip Glass and novelist Salman Rushdie were there, along with gastronomical grand pooh-bahs Mario Batali and Danny Meyer. “They’re all celebrities now,” Mr. Kaufelt said. “You can imagine how strange our culture has gotten if purveyors are celebrities.”
“You can’t turn crap into gold,” said Louis Rozzo, 45, fourth-generation president and CEO of F. Rozzo and Sons, over a plate of rock shrimp last week at Nobu Next Door in Tribeca, one of some 350 restaurants that order fresh seafood from his family’s 109-year-old company. “Chefs depend on their purveyors. Their reputations are on the line every day.”
Mr. Rozzo, also pictured at BLT Market, credited chef André Soltner of now-defunct Lutèce for being the first to publicly acknowledge suppliers, back in the 1970s—the last time Manhattan cuisine had an eco-conscious moment.
Eat My Meat
“My dad laughs at it sometimes,” said Pat La Frieda, 37, a third-generation Manhattan meat wholesaler whose forebears surely never expected to see the family name (both his father and grandfather were also named Pat La Frieda) synonymous with fancy $16 hamburgers. “Pat La Frieda’s special blend of short rib and brisket,” is how they’re heralded on the menu at City Hall restaurant in Tribeca, which doesn’t mention any other food supplier or preparer by name—not even the place’s chef and owner, Henry Meer.
Hats bearing the company’s logo and slogan, “Eat My Meat,” worn in kitchens across the city, were sold out at press time.
“We’re very behind-the-scenes type of people,” Mr. La Frieda said. “It’s strange for us to then read about ourselves. Why do they want to know about the meat? I mean, it’s sort of obvious. But to my dad, it’s like, ‘I don’t understand. It’s about the restaurant.’ Lately, though, it’s about the meat.”