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SCENE : Hungry Times

May 02, 1996|LAURIE OCHOA

On the one hand, business couldn't have been better for New York and Philadelphia restaurants this past week. Chefs, cookbook authors, journalists, caterers, cooking teachers and other food-obsessed souls from around the country descended first upon the City of Brotherly Love for three foodie events: the annual Book & the Cook week of dinners and book signings in Philadelphia restaurants, the meeting of the International Assn. of Culinary Professionals and the presenting of the IACP's Julia Child Cookbook Awards. Then it was on to the Big Apple for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards for chefs, restaurateurs, cookbook authors and journalists. The black-tie gala for chefs and cookbook authors, filmed as if it were the Oscars by the TV Food Network (the one-hour special airs at various times throughout next week), has become the food world's biggest social event.

On the other hand, how does a restaurateur handle so many VIP clients at once? Just hours before the Beard awards Monday night, it seemed as if every chef in the country went out to lunch in New York. Consider Le Bernardin. There were chefs Jean-Louis Palladin and Roberto Donna with several of their colleagues from Washington wandering in and out of a private room where Eric Ripert had prepared a special meal. From Boston, in the main dining room, there were Biba's Lydia Shire at one table and Olive's Todd English, with his wife and 3-week-old baby, at another. From Los Angeles, Campanile's Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton ate at yet another table. And there were a couple of big-name restaurant critics in the room for good measure, as well as several other chef stars. Owner Maguy Le Coze, in a slim-waisted suit and tie, glided effortlessly around the room, it semmed, as if it were any ordinary weekday lunch, trying to make everyone feel special.

Inevitably, mistakes happened. At Gramercy Park Tavern, a famous Italian cookbook author was spotted eating alone and unrecognized. A forgivable error in a week when chefs in Philadelphia and New York were overwhelmed with requests for special dinners and wine tastings. And famous eaters can be demanding customers and picky eaters. Overheard at one restaurant as a table full of VIP eaters sat down for a meal: "You know, I'm not really hungry. I'll just have an appetizer." The only worse thing would be if no one was eating at all.

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