What exactly do tennis players know about food?
We know they have a thing for sushi. But are they foodies? Do they care about Frank Bruni? Do they cook?
That’s what we wanted to find out last week at the BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis event at the W Hotel in midtown last Thursday night.
The main room was a zoo. Restaurants and chefs from around the city set up camp to cook and to use tennis players–some famous, most of them not–as their assistant chefs for little courses to be delivered to partygoers. Tiny dishes: tiny desserts, tiny soups, tiny sandwiches. Drinks were full-size, with the exception of tiny Belgian beer floats. High tables in the middle of the room—islands of eating—were stacked with discarded tiny square plates. Waitresses were in tennis whites, visors and heels, offering mojitos.
Czech Tomas Berdych, the no. 18 men’s player in the world, was stirring some Jamaican street food at the Round Hill table with Martin Maginley. Mr.Berdych, we can safely say, was actually quite competent—he moved deftly between flipping breadfruit tostone and posing for pictures.
German hunk Tommy Haas, between posing for photos next to leathery ladies with long hair and little dresses, helped out at the Budatai table. He said he hadn’t had a chance to try anything but his own wares—he recommended his lamb meatballs, but called the ceviche “a little fishy.”
The popular dishes of the night were the grilled game-rubbed lamb chops from the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, and Pranna’s scallops with blood orange reduction. It probably didn’t hurt that Aleksandra Wozniak—who opted out of the tennis players’ nametag aprons in favor of a tight red cocktail dress—handed out those seared scallops.
Scallop distribution represented a standard level of tennis-player food involvement. Former Pete Sampras head coach Paul Annacone did a brief stint plating sauces for the pork-cheek ravioli from Bar Blanc Bistro.
The biggest name in the room was Andy Roddick, but we found him to be rather elusive. According to the fans clustered around the bar, he had emerged, mixed a cocktail alongside Desperate Housewife Bethenny Frankel (Noted for her “Skinnygirl” margarita mix) and disappeared through a side door. Guests reported that he “looked like he was playing a tennis match,” and produced cell phone pictures showing him in a cap.
Husband-and-wife players Sam and Jarmila Groth put in a good faith effort—and stuck around longer than Roddick. Jarmila was at the La Luna table, and looked like an obedient daughter playing sous-chef. She sprinkled baby herbs on the Adrian Richardson’s lamb bisteyah and topped them with little Australian flags. Hubby Sam Groth was next door at the Two Crowns table. He left the dirty food work to his wife and chatted affably while towering over the restaurant’s two round, bearded chefs, Chris Rendell and Ryan Butler.
As the evening wore on, the chefs increasingly found themselves abandoned. The players followed Roddick’s lead and slipped free of their culinary obligations.
Alfred Portale of Gotham, for one, had been flying solo the entire time, distributing wee bowls of corn soup without of any tennis assistance. He declined to give the delinquent’s name. But nearby, Fernando Gonzales stood chatting beside the D.J. table. A free-range tennis player! Less tender but more flavorful, we suppose.