Ted Gideonse stood above a gigantic plastic swimming pool in downtown Brooklyn and peered at the 2,000 pounds of romaine lettuce, anchovy bits and dressing circulating below his feet.
“Want to look at the croutons, Mr. Judge ?” a man asked, tugging at Mr. Gideonse’s sleeve. A moment later, a gang of New York City fire-men emptied black garbage bags full of croutons into the pool. Students from New York City Technical College wearing white paper chef’s hats used plastic boat oars to mix the concoction.
This, of course, is how one makes an enormous Caesar salad, one capable of feeding thousands of people. But on this steamy morning in Brooklyn, feeding thousands wouldn’t be good enough. Today, the men and women of the MetroTech Business Improvement District were going for history –specifically, recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records as creators of the World’s Largest Caesar Salad. To do so, they would have to top the 4,395-pound monster blended at Moose’s restaurant in San Francisco in 1998.
And Ted Gideonse, 27, was here to make that call. A tall, muscular New Yorker with closely cropped brown hair and a goatee, Mr. Gideonse is Guinness’ first-ever U.S. researcher, charged with finding, confirming and logging world-beating achievements across the continent. On an average day, the Cincinnati-raised Harvard grad will field phone calls like the recent one he took from a pair of 10-year-old girls who wanted to know whether picking 497 dandelions in five seconds is a record ( maybe! ), or the one from a mother in Ohio who offered her late daughter as the recipient of the most liver transplants–four–by age 15. Mr. Gideonse was also investigating the matter of Ernie Fortner, a candidate for alderman in Lucedale, Miss., who received only one vote for office despite being on the printed ballot (“I think that one’s definitely a record,” Mr. Gideonse said), and an 18-year-old rooster in Oregon, whose owner nominated him as the World’s Oldest Cock.
Mr. Gideonse, the grandson of the late Brooklyn College president and anti-Communist Harry Gideonse, had come to New York after college and embarked on one of those classically dreamy, unpredictable Manhattan career paths. A journalist by trade, he had worked at Newsweek, then tried his hand at freelancing, then developed a Web zine called Gwyneth, then took a job as the New York Post ‘s books editor only to quit before he started (the section soon folded, anyway), then worked at Sony’s in-house custom-publishing magazine Sony Styles (but then that folded, too), and now he had joined the 21st-century carnival trade, judging super Brooklyn salads and aging Oregon roosters.
“The economy’s pretty bad, I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Mr. Gideonse said. “But hello ! Everyone thinks this is funny. It’s a pretty fun job. I’m sure I should be an editor at some magazine, but ….”
He had to fight to get this job, too. Mr. Gideonse beat out 450 applicants for Guinness’ North American post. He was flown to London for a week of training with the eight other Guinness researchers, all of whom are based in Britain. While in the U.K., he learned the proper rules for record tabulation and was told to always wear a suit. “Our division is called Operations, ” Mr. Gideonse said gleefully. “It’s so James Bond.”
And clearly, it’s not just a job. Mr. Gideonse reacted with mock disgust when asked if he was doing this primarily for the paycheck. “I was in the world’s largest kazoo band,” he said firmly. “There are pictures of me dressed like a giant kazoo.” (He confided that in his spare time, he had embarked on a mission to prove that his childhood kazoo band was, in fact, the world’s biggest.)
Guinness has tried to update itself in recent years, modifying its categories and trying to shake dated symbols like the fat-assed twin brothers who rode mopeds and that mysterious man with the creepy, twisting fingernails. Mr. Gideonse mentioned a Massachusetts man who had claimed to own the world’s largest dog, a 280-pound English Mastiff. While the dog would have been a record, Guinness no longer accepts largest-pet records, Mr. Gideonse said–too many people were overfeeding their critters. Similarly, gluttony records were altered after a man who had consumed more than 200 hard-boiled eggs dropped dead of sulfur poisoning. Doctors must now be present for all eating records, Mr. Gideonse said.
A loud cry rose near where Mr. Gideonse was standing. “We are going to make this salad!” a voice shouted.
Mr. Gideonse isn’t required to attend every record-breaking event, though he does try to make it to every one in the New York area. By the end of the summer, Guinness intends to start charging event organizers to have a judge show up. The measure is intended to make sure the claimants are serious and do not waste Guinness’ time, Mr. Gideonse said. (Guinness was also in talks to sell its company, and if that happened, Mr. Gideonse feared he would be out of another job.)
By all appearances, the salad-swirling effort in Brooklyn was an earnest bid. Jamie Van Bramer, the MetroTech Business Improvement District’s publicist, nudged Mr. Gideonse to take a close inspection. “You gotta come watch the moment!” he shouted.
“We have an official judge here!” Mike Weiss, one of the show’s organizers, told the crowd.
Mr. Gideonse was now poring over a chart and calculating the weight of the salad’s ingredients thus far (every time a bucket was poured into the pool, its weight was registered).
“The tension is building,” Mr. Weiss barked. “We have 4,383 pounds of salad!” The MetroTech crew, it appeared, was just 12 pounds short of the record.
Glenn Van Bramer, Jamie’s father, held a plastic bucket of croutons aloft. The students and firemen crowded around him for a photograph. Mr. Gideonse rummaged around for a commemorative plaque to present. A woman came up and asked him for his autograph.
A few moments later, the elder Mr. Van Bramer heaved his bucket of croutons over the side of the pool, creating a little comet trail of bread crumbs extending into the salad. The crowd cheered; Mr. Gideonse took witness statements and handed the plaque to Mr. Weiss and Glenn Van Bramer. It turned out that the MetroTech salad didn’t just break the record; it shattered it, weighing in at 5,460 pounds.
As a line of people waited to eat their creation, Jamie Van Bramer bounded over to Mr. Gideonse, who was getting ready to leave. “It was great meeting you,” he said. “I’ll call you if I ever have anything …”
Mr. Gideonse finished for him: “Really big.” He paused for a moment. “Or really small, or really fast.”
Get Yer Himalaya-Yas Out!
Shail Upadhya, a part-time fashion designer and quite possibly the most eccentric Nepali living in Manhattan, walked into a party at Helmut Lang Parfums on Greene Street dressed in an outlandish outfit of his own creation. Neck to toe in leopard–spotted hat, shirt, pants, shoes et al.–Mr. Upadhya resembled a big cat strutting on its hind legs, preying on white wine and hors d’oeuvres. It was the night of June 5, less than a week after most of the royal family of the kingdom of Nepal had been killed in a bloody burst of gunfire, and Mr. Upadhya, who is in his 60’s, was mourning this tragedy by doing what he does best: making the nighttime scene.
In Nepal, Mr. Upadhya’s family wields considerable political clout. His uncle, Girija Koirala, is the country’s prime minister. Mr. Upadhya’s late father, Kali Upadhya, was once the country’s chief justice and its ambassador to the United Kingdom. The real power, however, is on his mother’s side. Her siblings are, in essence, Nepal’s version of the Kennedys–four out of five of her brothers have been prime minister.
For his part, Mr. Upadhya–who first came to New York in the 1960’s to take a job at the United Nations Secretariat–has kept out of the political fray. His taste in attire, however, frequently stirs a kind of international incident. Mr. Upadhya favors clothing that may be described as haute court jester –bold, funhouse-colored prints and patterns, matched and accessorized to the hilt. At Fashion Week in February–during which Mr. Upadhya wore a different black-and-white spectacle on each of the event’s nine days– The Times dubbed him Bryant Park’s “most daringly dressed man.”
Mr. Upadhya acknowledged that his clothing made some people uncomfortable. “WASP-y men especially resent me,” he said. “The guys with the blue blazers and the club ties, they look at me and I can see them seething. All the girls are coming onto me and, pardon my French, wringing their panties . These guys hate the fact that I’m surrounded by all these beautiful women.”
Lately, Mr. Upadhya said he’s been embracing what he calls his “animal period”–piecing together clothing out of odd mixtures of leopard, tiger and zebra print, some of which he sells to other nocturnal wanderers, most of whom see an ensemble he’s wearing and ask to literally buy the shirt off his back. (“The only thing I tell them they can’t have is my underwear,” he said.)
Mr. Upadhya often invites prospective customers to his home on Beekman Place, just around the corner from the United Nations; the apartment doubles as a showroom for his outlandish creations, which ring the living room hanging from racks and from a carved Indian screen near the front door. There, on a recent day, he pondered his troubled homeland. Mr. Upadhya called reports that King Birendra was assassinated by his suicidal son “hogwash.” He said he suspects plotting by the late king’s brother, Gyanendra, now the king, working in cahoots with the Nepalese mafia. “This was a coup d’état,” he said.
Mr. Upadhya said he became friendly with King Birendra when the latter was still the crown prince, waiting to inherit their homeland’s throne. He has fond memories of the late Nepalese leader. “We took a cruise together from New York on the S.S. France ,” Mr. Upadhya said. “We spent five days on this opulent ocean liner. [He] loved the fact that I loved to party and that all the beautiful women were sitting at my table. He wanted to be wild, but his advisors reined him in. But at least for five days on that boat, he really enjoyed himself.”