The cutthroat competition between New York’s celebrity chefs sometimes spills out of the kitchen. On Saturday, Oct. 23, the F-bombs were flying as the boisterous duo of Mario Batali (Babbo, Esca, Lupa, Otto) and fellow chef and writer Anthony Bourdain (Les Halles, Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour) took to the stage in the Condé Nast building’s fourth-floor auditorium to fricassee their foes at the “Bad Boys in the Kitchen” panel at Gourmet magazine’s Gourmet Institute weekend.
A collective groan went up from the audience when moderator Nanette Maxim (Gourmet senior features editor) raised the topic of Rocco DiSpirito’s overcooked reality show, The Restaurant. “I was actually on that show,” said Mr. Bourdain, who looks like he should play a cop on Law & Order. “I had one line and it was, ‘This utterly blows.’ Eric Ripert [of Le Bernardin] dragged me there, and the whole time I felt complicit in some horrible and ugly crime. That show was like watching a slow-motion prostate exam.”
Mr. Batali added, “It was like watching a train crash with someone I knew in the caboose.”
Mr. DiSpirito (who was in the building less than a day later for a food demonstration called “The Italian American Experience and Family Recipes”) was not the only one on the receiving end of Batali and Bourdain’s ginsu tongues.
Mr. Bourdain also railed against the ritual of languishing seven-hour dinners. “I had a 10-course meal at Alain Ducasse recently and it felt like a year at Guantánamo Bay. Except a lot more expensive.”
They pair had kind words for each other, however. When the subject turned to Mr. Batali’s cooking show, Molto Mario, Mr. Bourdain proclaimed, “It’s the best stand-up cooking show on TV.” In the audience, Lisa Loeb—who has a cooking show with alleged ex-boyfriend Dweezil Zappa—didn’t flinch.
Mr. Bourdain continued, “Cooking shows are like pornography: You’re watching others do something that you’re not likely to actually do yourself.”
“I relish the porn-star component of myself,” Mr. Batali deadpanned. He also relishes meat, which he was quite unapologetic about when someone brought up the vegan lifestyle. “I’m proud to be at the top of the food chain,” he said. “If you’re slower and stupider than me, well, pass the salt.”
Restaurateur Charlie Trotter, whose unnamed seafood restaurant has yet to open in the Time Warner Center due to several postponements, endured the final blow of the food fight. “He has his waiters wear double-sided tape on their shoes so they’ll tidy up the carpet as they work,” Mr. Bourdain revealed. “And the guy cooks like he’s never been fucked properly in his life.”
The next day, Sirio Maccioni (Le Cirque), Drew Nieporent (Myriad Restaurant Group) and Julian Niccolini (the Four Seasons) put on their Sunday best and gathered to discuss “The Art of Hospitality.” Little of the discussion pertained to good manners, and a large part of it was dedicated to Mr. Maccioni’s railings against the city unions, which he blames for having to close his restaurant at the end of the year. (Though Mr. Maccioni knows the new location, he won’t disclose its whereabouts to the public until Dec. 31.)
After the event ended, however, The Transom grabbed Mr. Niccolini and asked him about his most hospitable customers: Paula Zahn, Ralph Lauren and Bono (“He’s great fun!”) were among those mentioned. And the least hospitable? “We hosted the 25th-anniversary party for Rolling Stone magazine, and even though the bar was closed, that famous drummer wanted to have more drinks. What’s his name? … Keith Richards! Yes! Oh, he jumped over the bar and started serving drinks, and I had to go back there, and he wouldn’t give up the alcohol. So I had to kick him out of there—I had no choice.” And according to Mr. Niccolini, he’s never been back since.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
It was safe to say that everyone who showed up at the 20th-anniversary party for Jay McInerney’s novel Bright Lights, Big City on Oct. 25 was guilty. Guilty of excess. Guilty of very late nights. Guilty of badly overdoing it. Guilty of activities described in that novel. Just guilty.
But that was then. Everyone’s got serious jobs now. Gotta be responsible. Professional. Can’t stay up all night. Gotta be careful with the brain cells. Must get up in the morning, crack of dawn, get on the treadmill, the Internet, gotta deal, important meetings today.
So they started to arrive early at Odeon, at 6 p.m. As 80’s music played softly (Pretenders, Talking Heads), in walked Morgan Entrekin, Sonny Mehta, Gary Fisketjon, Candace Bushnell, Nicole Miller, Mary Boone, Bill Buford, Dick Snyder, Anita Sarko, Ken Auletta, Tatum O’Neal, Binky Urban, Stanley Crouch, Adam Moss, Terry McDonnell, Chuck Pfeifer, Taki and other scarred survivors of that glorious decade.
Waitresses offered them trays of hors d’oeuvres, white wine, cosmopolitans. It was a private party, so cigarette smoking was permitted. As for drugs, The Transom—who was staking out the legendary bathrooms for a while—can only report one incident of a gorgeous, skinny blonde descending those steps in the back for a good, head-clearing snort.
Steven Bender, a 25-year-old aspiring novelist, said he used to be called “Bright Lights, Big City Boy” when he worked on Wall Street back in 2000. “’Cause I was out running around until 4 in the morning,” he explained. “Drinking, smoking, doing drugs.”
Mr. Bender gave a taste of those days.
“All right, here we go,” he said: “Thursday night, get home from work, pick up the dry cleaning, order cocaine, shower. Quickly change, didn’t want to be wearing business casual, meet friend in midtown, I don’t know why, happy hour. Do a few too many bumps, take a couple Xanax to edge out a little bit, you know, the normal. Dinner at Pastis, more like drinks. Trying to think where I went after that—somehow, next thing it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, Bungalow 8’s closed. We’re at an after-hours, some loft in Tribeca. So I go, ‘O.K., cool, I’m close to work, there’s a Brooks Brothers open at 7, I’ll buy a new shirt.’ No big deal. So do all that, then I think I’m taking two Advil because I know the hangover’s coming. Advil turned out to be two hits of Ecstasy. And it’s 6:45 and I’m logging onto my Bloomberg. Numbers are flying all over the room. Paranoia. My lips are white. Bright lights, bigger city.”
Chuck Pfeiffer, the actor, and Taki, the writer, strolled in wearing pinstriped suits and posed for the cameras. Taki recalled reading Bright Lights, Big City while doing hard time in England for cocaine possession.
“I came here,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, “it was the year of creeping socialism—we’d share, everyone would share. And then people would take advantage of it.”
“I wrote at the time that the toilet bowls were redundant,” said Taki. “And why not put a shelf there, put glass on it?”
“There was more substance to having fun back then,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, who’s been sober for the past 13 years. “It’s not tame at all, it’s just very impersonal. They’re all poseurs.”
“And people are thuggish—people were not thuggish then,” said Taki.
Lewis Lapham, who is now the editor of Harper’s Magazine, recalled a big night in the 1950’s when he lost count of the number of drinks he’d guzzled.
“There was still a genuine, avant-garde, literary jazz culture in New York,” he said. “And the evening started out in an apartment just off Washington Square occupied by W.H. Auden. I was young—I was 19. And I listened to Auden talk about the Age of Anxiety and the fate of the 20th century. I then took a cab, which cost a dollar and 50 cents, to go to the White Horse Tavern, where I watched Dylan Thomas drink himself to death. I’m not a major player in any of this, but this is my idea of the perfect New York evening.”
The novelist Dirk Wittenborn had a good story he was somewhat reluctant to tell.
“So John Belushi and I, after Lorne Michaels’ wedding—by mistake I snorted mescaline and we came here,” he said, as his gorgeous wife Kirsten tried to stop him from saying any more. “And John insisted he had a secret way to get into Odeon, but it was called ‘breaking in,’ and he began to cook. I wasn’t feeling well—I was very chagrined. I’d taken the wrong drug! I kept seeing an Indian.”
And what’s Dirk Wittenborn like now?
“I’m more interested in Teletubbies and taking my daughter to school.”
“The latest I’ve ever stayed up?” said Candace Bushnell. “Well, to truly put it in perspective, you have to read a lot of classic novels and you have to understand that people have been staying up until 8 a.m., 10 a.m. or, you know, noon occasionally for the last 300 years.”
Did she want to hit the bathroom for a quick bump?
“No. I can’t. Because I’m good! But I think if you don’t stay up really late every couple of years, you’re missing New York.”
The Messenger Arrives
It’s taken over four years and plenty of post-9/11 diplomacy, but Muhammad: The Last Prophet, an animated children’s movie about the life of the founder of Islam, will finally debut in the next few weeks at two theaters in Brooklyn, the United Artists at Court Street and Sheepshead Bay.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulty finding people to distribute the film,” said Muwaffak Alharithy, the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia–based producer behind the movie. “We approached all the major companies—Disney, Universal; we had several screenings in Burbank in 2000 and 2001; but we never got a proper explanation why they didn’t want it.” The goal was for a potential distributor to market the film as a family entertainment with a message, much like DreamWork’s 1998 release, The Prince of Egypt. “I strongly believed that making this film was important to act as a bridge maker,” added Mr. Alharithy, speaking on his cell phone from Jeddah.
Directed by Richard Rich, a former Disney veteran whose previous films include The Fox and the Hound (1981) and The King and I (1999), the one-and-a-half-hour animated feature describes the roots of Islam 1,400 years ago. Scholars in Islamic history from Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, as well as clerics at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, were also consulted to make sure the story was historically accurate. “What the film does is to emphasize the human reality of the prophet,” said Professor John Voll, associate director of the CMCU, who consulted on early drafts of the script. “The political agenda, if any, was to try to correct the notion among Muslims and non-Muslims that what we’re involved in is a clash of civilizations. That’s the product of extremist evangelical rhetoric that’s become the norm right now.”
After spending $12 million on making the film and three years of trying to secure distribution in the U.S., Mr. Alharithy had still not found anyone to touch his finished project—until he got an e-mail from Oussama Jammal, a Chicago-based distributor of children’s educational videos. Mr. Jammal’s Fine Media Group bought the U.S. rights to the film in August 2004, and now the film will be released in 100 theaters across the country on Sunday, Nov. 14, to coincide with the end of Ramadan. But don’t make plans to show up at your local cineplex for a ticket: Mr. Jammal failed to convince large theater chains to exhibit the film. (Loews in particular was, in Mr. Jammal’s words, “evasive and unhelpful.”)
Mr. Jammal knows all too well about being targeted for his religious activities. He’s the president of the Bridgeview mosque in Chicago, which was reportedly under federal scrutiny for alleged financial links to Hamas, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s all bogus,” Mr. Jammal told The Observer. “There’s no investigation going on that we’re aware about. Actually, we’re invited tonight to the F.B.I. director in Chicago, Thomas Kneir’s, retirement dinner. There’s a lot of fishing, but no fish.”
So far, United Artists, Regal Cinemas and some local independent houses have agreed to exhibit the film for one week after Mr. Jammal offered to rent out screen space. “They won’t sell tickets at the door,” he added. Tickets are being sold via his Web site. In New York, Mr. Jammal is hoping to get a Manhattan theater on board soon.
To help him with this and in promoting the film, he’s enlisted the help of indie-film promoters the Dinsdale Group, who specialize in promoting slasher DVD’s (including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Their current release, showing at the Village Cinema on East 11th Street, is The Manson Family. Jay Bliznick, the company’s founder, has planned press screenings for next Monday and Tuesday and hopes that word about the film grows. “In this day and age, what causes fear is ignorance,” said Mr. Bliznick, who was raised Jewish. “That’s why we’re trying to market it to a Muslim and non-Muslim audience.”
It’s an It (Girl)!
Alice Sykes, 32, the younger sister of twin Brit girls Plum and Lucy, has borne her first child with fiancé Chris Floyd, 35. Scarlet Sykes Floyd popped out three weeks ahead of “shedool” on Saturday at 4:30 a.m., weighing a mere six pounds and one ounce. “She’s gorgeous,” cooed Mom, pointing to her dainty daughter’s rosebud lips, wide blue eyes and “sticking-up blond hair—she really looks like a little forest animal. She’s very sweet, though.” Ms. Sykes and Mr. Floyd were getting “take-away” in a pizza shop in Roxbury, N.Y., on Friday night during a weekend trip when her
Early the next morning, Ms. Sykes delivered Scarlet, whose name was chosen partly as a play on her father’s nickname, Pink (Floyd—get it?). Brother-in-law Euan Rellie, his toddler son, Heathcliff, and one of Ms. Sykes’ brothers, Tom, zipped up as soon as they heard Ms. Sykes was on her way to the hospital, arriving five minutes after Scarlet had emerged. While Ms. Sykes spent the following night in the hospital, the men had a slumber party at a nearby motel. “It was like Three Men and a Baby,” joked Ms. Sykes, the publicity director for the Hollywould shoe and clothing line, who will marry Mr. Floyd, a photographer, in September. Since Scarlet arrived on the early side, the couple was unprepared. A nurse bought Scarlet her first outfit (no Jacadi here) and took Ms. Sykes’ clothes home to be washed. “I was touched,” she said. “It was like country people. They thought that we were really, really mad, being English and such. They were like, ‘What are you doing?’ They thought we were pretty strange just dropping in and having a baby.”
You had to listen hard to make out Neil Young meowing “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The stereo rocked softly at the Morrison Hotel Gallery on Oct. 21 as several dozen baby-boomers zealously reminisced about the icons of their youth as they gazed at the works of famed rock photographers Jim Marshall and Henry Diltz. Sprinkled in the crowd were a few young Hollywood types, craving that nostalgia for a time before they were born. Mena Suvari, in a Gucci hat and black blazer, whisked through with Scott Caan. She was “interested in a few different Jimi Hendrix photos,” explained gallery employee Jessica Blachley. “But she was overwhelmed by all the people.”
The Stones are the biggest seller for young patrons like Luke and Owen Wilson and Josh Hartnett, said Ms. Blachley. Tonight, Mick’s contemporaries seemed equally adored. “Look how beautiful that is,” said a dark-haired gal in a gold brocade dress. She eyed an intimate portrait of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane nearly locking lips. “I’d kiss either one of them.”
As older attendees waxed nostalgic at the sight of Jimi, Bob and Neil, several seized the opportunity to educate a toddler in tow: “That’s Roger from the Who. That’s Jerry from the Dead.”
Roaming the room, Mr. Diltz palmed a Sony Handicam and Mr. Marshall kept a Leica camera slung over his shoulder while a pair of photographers and a lone videographer documented their every movement. Mr. Diltz, in blond ponytail with hair graying at the sides, round tortoise-shell glasses and black casual suit, radiated what Love Generation–cum–New Age types would refer to as “positive energy.” His counterpart, Mr. Marshall, in a gray and black tweed blazer and khaki pants, was the reality check.
Leaning close to The Transom’s ear, Mr. Diltz whispered, “Jim has a reputation for being irascible …. He doesn’t want any bullshit. He doesn’t like to be fucked with.” Mr. Diltz then qualified clearly: “Jim is my fucking guru.” In 42 years of friendship, this was their first show together, and Mr. Diltz was honored when his proposition was accepted. (“All I had to do was ask!” he said.)
Eager to hear from the guru and consequent student, The Transom asked: What was it like taking pictures in your day?
Mr. Diltz had a few ready anecdotes, told with the ease one develops after decades of relating such legends. Referring to the cover photo on the Doors album for which the gallery takes its name, he said, “The guy behind the hotel’s counter said, ‘You can’t do it.’ We went outside, and I saw him get in the elevator. I said, ‘Quick, run in there!’ We took one roll of film and got outta there. We went down to Skid Row and found a bar called the Hard Rock Café, and that photo was on the back of the album. [Later, the Doors] got a call from England saying”—Mr. Diltz affected a British accent—”‘Would you mind if we used that name? We’re starting a ca-fay here in London.’”
Mr. Marshall was a bit pithier with his remarks. For the steamy close-up of Janis and Grace, he put it bluntly: “It was the last frame on the roll. I said, ‘Let’s do a dykey-dykey shot.’” He chuckled. We smirked.
—Joshua D. Fischer