Chef John DeLucie has been serving celebrities at Graydon Carter‘s exclusive Waverly Inn since November 2006. Lately, he’s been soaking up the spotlight himself.
“Someone, somehow told Hugh Jackman that I was doing the food for Graydon’s Vanity Fair Oscar Party,” Mr. DeLucie told the Daily Transom. “So I walk over to his table and Hugh Jackman says, ‘Hey, I hear we both have Oscar gigs.'”
The affable chef was dumbfounded. “Is there a bigger star than Hugh Jackman right now?”
On Thursday evening, May 14, the 47-year-old Long Island native, dressed comfortably in jeans, a blue blazer, and gray hoodie, lounged on a semi-circular yellow sofa, under an imposing Christophe Pillet-designed chandelier of hand-blown glass raindrops, signing copies of his new book, The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, Ambition, and posing for photos with a bevy of beautiful young models, at French designer Catherine Malandrino‘s posh boutique at 652 Hudson Street.
“This is the genius of Ecco,” he said, referring to the Harper Collins imprint that published his memoir, “and their special events marketing division. They do parties in non-conventional places.”
Throughout the evening, a fashionable crowd mingled around the Patron table, lining up for margaritas, martinis and a mixed vodka drink called the “grape ape,” while regular customers continued to shop and push their way past partiers into the fitting rooms.
“I’ve been a friend of John’s and a fan of his cuisine,” explained the shop’s proprietor and occasional Project Runway guest judge, Ms. Malandrino. “I was one of the first guests at the Waverly…I think I’ve become addicted.” (She’s apparently a big fan of the grilled fish–particularly the non-decapitated version. “I like the visual of the head on it,” she said. “It’s very French.”)
Earlier in the day, Mr. DeLucie appeared on NBC’s Today show, giving weatherman Al Roker a tutorial on how to make a frittata. Mr. Roker asked him to explain the Waverly’s popularity. Mr. DeLucie offered two reasons–the food is good, and the proprietor, Mr. Carter, is famous.
The Daily Transom wanted to know: is the food at Waverly really that good?
New York Times critic Frank Bruni awarded the flashy venue only a single star.
“I think the food is very accessible,” Mr. DeLucie said. “You go there, the menu says roast chicken and you get a great roast chicken. It delivers on its promise. I think that’s why it’s so popular.”
Much of the initial buzz about the Waverly surrounded its cost-prohibitive macaroni and cheese with truffles, advertised at an astounding $55 a pop.
Mr. DeLucie pointed out that’s actually just the base price, depending on the cost of its highly sought-after seasonal ingredient. “When the truffles are $3,000, it goes up to $95,” he noted. (Right now is the cheapest time to order, he added.)
“What people don’t realize is, if you go to Da Silvano and order pasta with butter and truffles on top, it’s $125,” Mr. DeLucie said. “So, it’s a bargain at the Waverly!”
Mr. DeLucie has been working on his book for almost five years, beginning when he was a cook at La Bottega at the Maritime Hotel. (Maritime owners Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode are also Mr. Carter’s partners in the Waverly.) “It wasn’t a Waverly book on its inception–it became a Waverly book,” he said, laughing.
“I was very committed to making the book funny,” Mr. DeLucie noted. No easy task. “Which is why I needed expertise,” he said. So he turned to longtime pal and writer Ken Carlton. “He’s a good friend of mine–much funnier than me,” Mr. DeLucie said. “I would toil over my Apple at Morandi every day and he would structure it for me. And we’d fight. I would say, ‘It’s an and!’ And he’d say, ‘No, man, it’s an or!'”
Mr. DeLucie intended the book to be “aspirational,” he said. “Because I was a corporate drone. I was a headhunter for the insurance industries. Awful! I did it for four years until I was 30. Eventually I said, ‘I can’t do this one more day. I can’t put on a suit and I can’t shave one more day.’ And I had this Italian background. I was cooking at home as a hobby. I decided I’d take this little class at the New School. And I found out I have the aptitude for cooking. I got my first job at Dean & Deluca, slicing prosciutto. So I hope someone will read it and say, ‘You know, there’s something I want to do and if this idiot can do it, I can too.'”
For the moment, Mr. DeLucie said he was happy to be out of the kitchen and in “full book tour mode,” noting, “I can drink tonight, although my Diet Coke is mocking me right now.”