2003 Power Punks

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What we said in 2003:

Gastro-pub Girl comes to town; backed by Ken Friedman, Mario Batali-and maybe Bono-a British chef is ready to change the way New York thinks of the words 'Spotted Pig.'

Red-striped watch cap pulled low over her eyes, 29-year-old April Bloomfield was moving fast through the frosty air of lower Sixth Avenue when I asked her if her new job had given her a sense of power.

"That's a strange question," said the Birmingham, England, native from the midst of her shiny green parka. "Nobody ever asked me that question."

A few weeks from now, Ms. Bloomfield will have an answer. She will understand the instant power-and pressure-that comes with the two-fisted distinction of being both the latest chef anointed by Babbo's Mario Batali, and the culinary architect of a potential new dining concept in the city. Three months ago, Ms. Bloomfield left her job as a sous-chef at the celebrated River Café in London and moved to New York-a city she'd never even visited prior to her interview-to take the helm of the Spotted Pig, on the site of the old Le Zoo at 314 West 11th Street.

The Pig is not a restaurant, said its owner Ken Friedman, a former concert promoter and band manager who has worked with the Smiths and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. Rather, it is a "gastro-pub"-one of those wonderfully utilitarian British terms for a dark-wooded bar that serves fine food. In Ms. Bloomfield's recipe book, that means a range of simple and hearty Italian and British dishes culled from 12 years of working in some of London's finer kitchens.

Ms. Bloomfield said the menu will include "smoked haddock chowder, roast meats, good pastas, a nice ragout": food that could be just the ticket for a city fatigued by the kind of culinary overachievement exemplified by another British chef, Paul Liebrandt, who served-on one plate!-a dish that involved scallops, squab, sea urchin and chocolate crisp at the late Papillon. Not that Ms. Bloomfield will be able to escape the media blitz. New York's food press loves nothing more than a new buzzword to bubble and squeak over, and soon they'll be dissecting whether the Spotted Pig-which will seat approximately 50 when it's finished-is New York's first gastro-pub, or a gastro-pub at all. In the meantime, the gossip columnists have begun speculating about its investors: New York magazine recently reported that U2 lead singer Bono, a friend of Mr. Friedman's, is an owner, which Mr. Friedman isn't confirming or denying.

"I'd rather have Bono as a customer than an investor," he told The Observer.

As for Mr. Batali, he hand-picked Ms. Bloomfield and will probably have a small percentage of the place (as will Ms. Bloomfield), but he described himself as a "consultant" to Mr. Friedman, who will run the front of the house. Still, the involvement of Mr. Batali, one of New York's first rock-star chefs, as well as the hint of at least one actual rock star, will be enough to insure that Ms. Bloomfield will be up to her tongs in hype when the restaurant opens in January. But if she can bull through that initial onslaught and plant the culinary flag for the gastro-pub in New York, then the city's next British invasion may very well involve chefs instead of tabloid and magazine editors. That, and we may all find ourselves developing a taste for Spotted Dick.

Mr. Batali sounded confident that Ms. Bloomfield could stand the heat in her kitchen. He chose her, he said, because "she's a straight-shooter," because "she has worked in great places," because she came recommended by another Brit (famed "Naked Chef" and River Café alumnus Jamie Oliver), and because during a whirlwind interview-cum-food-tour of New York eateries in April that included dumplings at Joe's Shanghai, lobster roll at Union Square Café and head cheese at Mr. Batali's pizzeria Otto, "she understood everything that was wrong with the food we ate and everything that was right about it."

Mr. Batali said that Ms. Bloomfield got the Spotted Pig gig without having to cook for him.

"Didn't need to," he said. "She's a hilarious ball-buster," Mr. Batali said. "And in ways that you don't even hear until you walk away and you realize, 'She just busted my balls!' That's what I like about her best," he added. "Sense of humor has a lot to do with being successful in the kitchen."

But Ms. Bloomfield just looked like a fair-haired, pink-skinned club kid in her tight black T-shirt, dark jeans and white-with-black stripes K-Swiss athletic shoes as she sat in the Sucelt Coffee Shop on West 14th Street at lunchtime on Dec. 4. She was continuing her crash course in New York cuisine, and Mr. Friedman had brought her to the cramped eatery for a taste of Latino fast food. While Mr. Friedman pointed out the various victuals behind the counter, Ms. Bloomfield's blue-gray eyes took in the scene.

"Why don't we get a little bit snacky?" she said finally, and while Mr. Friedman ordered up a Venezuelan tamale, Cuban sandwich and assortment of empanadas, she talked about the path to the Spotted Pig. The youngest of three daughters, Ms. Bloomfield originally wanted to join the local police force, but her sisters were cooks and she ended up following them, with two years at Birmingham's College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies.

The school's restaurant, she remembered, "had a tandoori oven and woks, and just smelling the spices and stuff-that's what did it for me. I didn't look back." In 1991, Ms. Bloomfield eventually followed one of her sisters to London as a commis chef with Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place in Notting Hill, known as Princess Diana's favorite restaurant. Two years later, she went to work for Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum and, briefly, Roscoff in Northern Ireland before returning to Mr. Leigh's kitchen.

From there, she went to work for chef Adam Robinson at the Brackenbury in Hammersmith, where she learned the gastro-pub style: "hearty, good, honest food." "Finishing-off school" was four years at London's River Café, built on simple, revolutionary ideas for regional Italian cuisine. Ms. Bloomfield had read a passage in one of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse cookbooks in which the earth mother of California cuisine "wrote about not stunning the palate into unconsciousness. And I thought, 'That's great.' It just seemed like a natural progression for me to go and see."

While Mr. Friedman struggled with finding a location, Ms. Bloomfield spent part of her summer at Chez Panisse. In the din of the Sucelt, Mr. Friedman placed a Cuban sandwich, wrapped in white paper, on her plate. "These are the best thing for a hangover after a night of clubbing in Miami," he said. She took a bite. "I like the pickle on here," she said. "It kind of cuts through the cheese."

Ms. Bloomfield wrapped the other half to go, then wrapped herself in her green parka. It was time to walk to the next stop on the tour, BB, a hole-in-the-wall on West Third Street, for Philly cheese steaks, and then to Pearl Oyster Bar, where Ms. Bloomfield told me that for her haddock chowder, she made homemade crackers. Around Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street, I asked Ms. Bloomfield, "Are you aware that New York makes rock stars out of its chefs?" Ms. Bloomfield laughed.

"Uh, somebody called Mario Batali told me that," she said. "You know, my food's going to come first," she continued as we rounded the corner of West Third Street. "That's the most important thing. And there's no compromises."

If Ms. Bloomfield has her way, for instance, fresh tomatoes won't be served at the Spotted Pig unless they're in season here in New York.

"It's a shame to serve tomatoes that aren't perfect," she said.

"Speaking of rock stars, can I tell you a funny story?" Mr. Friedman said.

In late November, just a few days after taking over the lease to the Spotted Pig's space, Mr. Friedman and Ms. Bloomfield held a charity wine auction there. Ms. Bloomfield and her small staff cooked prawns in tempura with a spicy coriander mayonnaise, prawns with tartar sauce, chickpea bruschetta with grilled red chili and deep-fried anchovies wrapped in sage. That night, Bono was present. Mr. Friedman said that U2's front man declared the prawns the best he'd ever had and asked to meet the chef.

According to Mr. Friedman, he told Ms. Bloomfield: "'Bono wants to meet you.' She said, 'Not now, I'm cooking.'" Mr. Friedman explained the situation to Bono.

"He looked at me like, 'O.K., I haven't heard that in a while-but all right.'" A little later, Mr. Friedman asked Ms. Bloomfield a second time. This time, he said, "she wasn't really doing anything, just standing having a glass of wine." Ms. Bloomfield was still recalcitrant. "What am I going to say to him?" she asked. "You know: 'Oh, the shrimp's really good' … 'Oh, thank you, Bono!'"

I asked Ms. Bloomfield if she ever did meet the rocker. She shook her head and laughed the tart laugh of a ball-buster who knew how to cut through the cheese.

-Frank DiGiacomo

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What We Said in 2003:

First Daughter at McKinsey; Versace; straight hair; Chappaqua? Where's that?

The lot of the modern Presidential offspring is a hard one. What with the constant media scrutiny and the oppressive parental shadow, it's no surprise that the current crop is heavy on the shrill family feuding, boozing and Playboy pictorials.

So it's all the more impressive that 23-year-old Chelsea Clinton, now a resident of-where else?-Chelsea, appears to be not just a functional citizen but someone with a potential for accomplishment that equals both her super-achieving parents.' But she has explored one area in which neither of them has succeeded: the private sector.

At this very moment, odds are Ms. Clinton is toiling away in the East 52nd Street office of McKinsey and Co., where she has been working 80-hour weeks as a consultant since she moved to New York after finishing her master's in international relations at Oxford (like her father, of course, who was there as a Rhodes scholar). While most entry-level consultants are encouraged to wait a few years to pick a focus-the firm consults on every topic from consumer goods to corporate finance-Ms. Clinton has reportedly already chosen her field.

She has staked her claim on-mamma mia!-health care. Refined and no-nonsense and straight-haired these days (thanks, reportedly, to Frédéric Fekkai), Chelsea's taking home a $120,000 salary from the top-tier, London-based McKinsey and Co. And although with her health-care focus she may now appear to be headed down a path on which her mother famously blew a gasket in Washington in 1993, at the outset, the young Ms. Clinton appeared to be following more in her father's footsteps. Her senior honors thesis at Stanford-a 167-page tome about the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement, complete with an interview with President Clinton-was a precursor to her graduate work in international relations.

As her father's official escort on Presidential trips to Africa and India and her mother's confidante on the 2000 campaign trail, she got world-class training for advising others or, perhaps, for her own foray into political office. But since her father left office and her mother settled into her own, the young Ms. Clinton has carved out a life that is looking increasingly like something of her own making. She spent the summer of 2002 in Geneva, interning at the World Health Organization, and accompanied her father to the World Economic Forum discussion on global health issues the following January. In England, she shed her gawky, adolescent look, dolled herself up in designer styles and became something of a regular in the British tabloids: famously photographed at a Versace couture show in Paris, flanked by Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, appearing at an Elton John fête, frolicking at Oscar de la Renta's Dominican villa, Punto Cara.

She embarked on a rather prosaic romance with a Rhodes Scholar and entertainment-equipment heir, Ian Klaus, who looks like a naughty cherub and (it has not gone unnoticed) bears some resemblance to her dad. Ms. Clinton and Mr. Klaus, 21 and 22, respectively, at the time, were the scandal of London for-congratulations!-drinking and dancing and smooching in public. Her schedule became so harried that she hired a personal assistant to arrange her appearances.

Since she arrived in New York last spring, the tabloids have been hot on her trail, but they haven't had much to work with. There was one October Daily News report of a heated lover's quarrel outside PM Lounge between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Klaus, but that's about as racy as things get where the former First Daughter is concerned. The next week, she was spotted taking her grandmother out to lunch in Little Rock, with Mr. Klaus in tow.

Ms. Clinton picked up the check.

-Ronda Kaysen

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What We Said in 2003:

The Times' li'l culture czarina; what an audition! what mentors! but where are pieces on Eugene O'Neill?

A year ago, there was a consensus inside and outside The New York Times that Sunday Arts and Leisure was in a major funk-the section was a bore, digestive rather than energetic, let alone contentious. A search began for a new editor.

At the time, Jodi Kantor was in her fourth year as an editor at the online magazine Slate. She had gotten Times columnist Frank Rich, a friend of Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley, to contribute. Mr. Rich liked dealing with her, and they struck up a correspondence. In the fall of 2002, she not-so-innocently offered to share her thoughts about how Arts and Leisure could be improved. Mr. Rich said O.K., and so she fired off a lengthy e-mail to the newly appointed culture editor, Steven Erlanger, who was impressed.

The first sentence: "The New York Times is serving its readers spinach for dessert."

Then–executive editor Howell Raines gave his approval to hire Ms. Kantor in January, one of his last moves before the Jayson Blair scandal and the post-Blair anti-youth backlash. The sneers could be seen all over town.

Here's a little spot for you to imagine them. Ms. Kantor was 27 years old, and was known at The Times mainly for writing a few book reviews and Dining section pieces on topics like falafels and the difficulty of selecting her wedding menu, while Slate was no one's idea of the forefront of cultural journalism. Besides, conventional wisdom had it that no editor, least of all the out-of-nowhere Ms. Kantor, could put the spurs to the sluggish behemoth that was the Arts and Leisure section.

Yet now, just nine months later, say what you want about how compelling the section still isn't-Arts and Leisure is practically unrecognizable. Ms. Kantor charged into The New York Times, that temple of self-regard, den of thwarted-ambition lifers and, without the authority to fire anyone or hire anyone new but a deputy, made a staff of seven editors all at least a decade older than she is give their product an extreme makeover.

"Sure, I was terrified," Ms. Kantor said."But that's yourword,not mine. The word I would use is 'daunted.'" The perky, bespectacled 28-year-old was having a quick dinner near The Times' West 43rd Street headquarters on a Monday night. She was about to go on vacation in Hawaii, and had to get back to the office where, she said, she would be staying until 2 a.m.

Ms. Kantor admitted to feeling "very happy" and "supercharged."

"It's an all-you-can-eat cultural experience!" she said of her new position. "There are not enough hours in the day to consume as much culture as I want to or shall consume for this job. You just have to force yourself to go to that screening of Cold Mountain -you know, poor me, having to actually be compensated to screen and think about movies. So it's incredible."

One key to her success may be her ability to ignore her public image and keep her eyes on her own idea of what the prize is. Soon after she arrived on 43rd Street, the word was that her shell-shocked staff was appalled at her slash-and-burn methods. Last July, there was the inevitable Page Six item: Some anonymous staffers complained that Ms. Kantor was "very aloof" and "in over her head," assigning laughable pieces to "old Slate cronies and Web bloggers."

Ms. Kantor didn't flinch. "I'd been warned that getting reamed by Page Six was actually a ritual of coming to work at The Times," she said, finished with her lamb chops. "It's practically in the orientation guidebook. So I'd been waiting around for it to happen to me, and when it finally did, I thought, 'I have been initiated. I have been hazed.' I think I got more congratulatory e-mails the day I was reamed by Page Six than on the day I was hired."

Besides, who cares about gossip columns-or even your own staff-when the cadre of middle-aged men who are your Times superiors sing your praises in three-part harmony?

"I love her intelligence and vivacity," said executive editor Bill Keller, hmmm; "She's warm, quick, engaged and responsible, and she's quickly made her way at The Times," said Steven Erlanger, hmmm; "She's very mature and poised. But it's amazing that she has so much more time to keep growing. You know, it's kind of impressive. She gets it. She just gets it," said Frank Rich, hmmm!

Ms. Kantor said she grew up a "total New York City kid" in four boroughs. She was not only a "huge" reader but an "obsessed" and "addicted" one. She reread A Wrinkle in Time 10 times and devoured the Sweet Valley High series, but The Times was her first love.

"It was the first publication I read," she said. By eighth grade, Ms. Kantor said, she was reading it religiously every day. Her current job may in fact be a textbook case of Times geekiness come full circle: By high school, she was proudly sporting a red Times sweatshirt that fit funnily, the sleeves way too long, "and yet I wore it," she said.

Her mother got her a blue button that asked, "Have you read your New York Times today?" She affixed it to her backpack. Always, the first section she opened was Arts and Leisure, Ms. Kantor volunteered, eerily echoing a certain dreaded TV commercial.

Asked what her parents do for a living, she replied, "You know what? I have a little pet peeve, if you don't mind. I hate talking about parents and professions and stuff. It's so like New York Times wedding section."

Apostasy!

After graduating from Columbia University magna cum laude in 1996, Ms. Kantor spent a year in Israel and another one working for the Giuliani administration. Early in her first semester at Harvard Law School, she figured out that she didn't want to be a lawyer. A journalist friend of hers had introduced her to an editor at Slate, David Plotz, to whom she began soul-searching e-mails about why she felt trapped on the wrong path. Mr. Plotz took pity and hired her as an editorial assistant at Slate's Washington, D.C., office.

"I never thought I could make it as a journalist," Ms. Kantor said. "I thought it was like being an actor; I thought for every successful journalist, there were two or three thousand talented young wannabes who had just never gotten their chance at success."

Kantor, you're going in there a youngster, but you're coming out a Gelb!

-George Gurley

 

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What We Said in 2003:

Queen of the Queer Eyes; the blond; Bravo!

 

On July 14, five nattily dressed fellows walked down the steps to the Chelsea Hotel's subterranean bar, Serena, where they were being fêted for the premiere of their new show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, on the Bravo cable network.

Clad in black suits with brightly colored shirts peeking through, the nascently famous "Fab Five" posed for the cameras of Access Hollywood , cocking their heads this way and that, caressing each other's shoulders and playfully grabbing each other's rear end.

One gaze seemed particularly intense, one smile particularly fatuous; one high-pitched twang could be heard above all the others-that of Carson Kressley. The blond. Of course.

The five style savants had no idea how much attention they were going to get, but Mr. Kressley, an effete, slightly leathery 34 who favors aquamarine leather jackets and shiny Chinese-dragon-emblazoned silk shirts, has always seemed a little more hot for attention than the rest.

Magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Gettysburg College, where he majored in finance and fine art, Mr. Kressley stood out while working as a stylist at Ralph Lauren because of his frighteningly fluorescent wardrobe. A co-worker heard about tryouts for the show on the radio in a cab, and Mr. Kressley immediately began working the phones.

Less than a year later, his trademark line-"Say what?"-and seemingly permanent let-me-blow-you-right-now expression are hogging all Queer Eye 's air time, leaving poor little cultural guru Jai Rodriguez and the others (what are their names, anyway?) with only bit parts to play. Rumors in the New York Post that Bravo was looking to replace the cast appear to be just that.

Each member has increased his weekly salary from $3,000 to around $8,000, raking in at least $320,000 per 40-episode season. They each have a fifth share in a million-dollar book deal and frequent guest-star spots on NBC.

But for reasons we can't quite fathom, it's Mr. Kressley who's standing out among the five like the proverbial sore thumb (or would that be crooked pinkie?). In November, he landed a biweekly column in Us Weekly, where he gets to interview the likes of Cher and Bette Midler, thus replacing People's Steven Cojocaru as the freakishly coiffed mainstream style arbiter du jour, the lovably limp-wristed furry pet of red-carpet watchers.

And his signature bon mots have become a kind of quickie Bartlett's for the style-deprived: "Boxers are hot-and by boxers I mean guys who box, not the underwear. So get rid of 'em!" "Comfortable is different than confidence. Confidence breeds sexiness."

Hokey…yet somehow encouraging. Very Stuart Smalley.

Not that Mr. Kressley would be caught dead in a cardigan, of course.

- Alexandra Wolfe

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What We Said in 2003:

The Princess Wintour: Regal Anna's delightful daughter, fashion regent to Condé Nast's Queen, contributing editor at Teen Vogue

 

Anna Wintour, the queen of the New York City fashion hive, named her daughter Bee-and thus far, the buzz around the Teen Vogue contributing editor and unofficial muse, 16, is almost uniformly positive. Few were willing to discuss the offspring of the most powerful woman in the haute -rag trade on the record, but some words bandied about included "delightful," "well-adjusted," "well-mannered," "good breeding" and "natural intelligence."

"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree," said über -publicist Paul Wilmot, a family friend who's known Bee and brother Charlie, 18, since they were small. "But she's got the DNA and, by osmosis, she's got the exposure and experience."

Maybe it's because Mom is a strong career woman, and because Dad-Ms. Wintour's ex-husband Dr. David Shaffer-is a shrink, but the kid seems to be turning out all right.

"She's very poised and elegant, and carries herself very well," said a fashion journalist huddled under the cozy cloak of anonymity. "She's regal." Apparently the icy demeanor so feared in the Condé Nast elevators melts behind the doors of the family's Sullivan Street townhouse.

"People who know Anna-even those who say she can be cold in business dealings-remark that she's a surprisingly good mother who is very warm with the kids," another industry observer said."The father is great, too. They have two very good parents and they don't seem overspoiled."

Just call her the anti-Hilton sister: You're not going to find young Ms. Shaffer cavorting unchaperoned on tabletops at Bungalow 8 or marching down some random designer's runway in slut couture.

"Anna is very much about having her children with her when it's appropriate," Mr. Wilmot said. "Bee will go to a show occasionally or make an appearance at a cocktail party with her mother, but everything is very normal."

Ms. Shaffer attended her first fashion show at age 2, and these days can often be spotted in the front row beside maman (and in front of Teen Vogue editor Amy Astley), clad in an age-appropriate jeans-and-T-shirt ensemble, perhaps, or a red polka-dotted dress revealing discreet décolletage, her dark, shiny hair long and parted in the middle or swept back in a smooth ponytail.

"Very sleek," said the fashion journalist. "She's very appropriate and stylish. She doesn't dress like Britney Spears; she dresses like an elegant 16-year-old."

Model- cum-artist Ahn Duong painted the comely Ms. Shaffer's portrait and it hung for a time in the Dolce and Gabbana boutique on Madison Avenue.

Ms. Shaffer "has these perfect dreamy eyes," Ms. Duong said. "It's a very powerful stare but also very removed and aloof. It's a face that draws you towards her and at the same time keeps you at a distance." She also said the young woman is "very much into sports."

When Teen Vogue launched last spring, there were the inevitable snickers and raised eyebrows about Bee's masthead placement, but they evaporated pretty quickly.

"Good old-fashioned nepotism-nothing like it! And why not? Murdoch did it!" Mr. Wilmot said. "When it comes down to it, all these young people will have to stand on their own, and my money's on Bee Shaffer. She's Anna and Amy's secret weapon."

Ms. Astley passed up the chance to comment on Ms. Shaffer's job performance this time around, but told The Observer last February: "I really love what Bee has to say."

To Seventh on Sixth's newsletter, The Daily, she portrayed Ms. Shaffer as a humble worker Bee: "Working in [the] closet, packing clothes, unpacking-she'll even fetch coffee if someone needs it." Ms. Wintour likewise refused to comment on her daughter or provide her for an interview-which, frankly, lends Ms. Shaffer a certain distinction in a city full of celebrity offspring angling for the cameras.

"Maybe someone would be hoping for an incendiary, but that's just not Bee," the fashion journalist said. "Bee's totally squeaky-clean," said another industry observer. "She's not tacky. She's not like these Ally Hilfiger girls … she's just not like them."

"Where she goes from here-who knows?" Mr. Wilmot said. "Don't be surprised if she ends up in journalism school, and don't be surprised if she ends up a young editor somewhere." Until then, let Bee be.

-Noelle Hancock

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