A Day at the James Beard House

Blog, Dining, Epicurean Events, Finger Lakes, The Inns // Alex Schloop // 5 June 2016

Dear friends of the Finger Lakes,

Each year, a select few chefs are invited to cook at the iconic James Beard House in New York City, an exceptional recognition in the culinary world. Recently Patrick Higgins, our executive chef at the Aurora Inn, was one of the honored few. Following the Beard Foundation’s stringent rules, Patrick and his five sous chefs arrived before eight in the morning and spent an intense day preparing a five-course meal for seventy guests, featuring food we serve at the Aurora Inn paired with Finger Lakes wines…of course!

Upon his return, Patrick wrote me an email about his experience. I want to share it with you as it gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a very exciting day. More importantly, it captures the unabashed passion and pride that Patrick and the entire team at the Inns of Aurora invest in their work every day.

Please come and enjoy one of Patrick’s superb meals on the veranda of the Aurora Inn overlooking Cayuga Lake at sunset. Then spend a night or two at one of our four beautifully restored historic inns. See for yourself the passion and pride that is our hallmark.

— Pleasant Rowland
Founder, the Inns of Aurora

Dear Pleasant —

I thought you might like to hear some details of our experience in NYC for the James Beard House dinner. It was a spectacular day that I will not soon forget. So here it goes!

7:45 a.m. — We arrive at the Beard House. I ring the doorbell and the morning kitchen manager Sameil answers the door with a huge smile and says “I already brewed you some coffee.” Those words are music to my ears as I had not had my morning cup yet. We tour through the kitchen on the bottom level of the house. When I see the kitchen I am immediately thankful that Eric and Jayden were cooking with me because I am too tall for a few parts of the kitchen. Luckily I only hit my head once throughout the day and there are bumpers in those precarious spots.
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8:00 a.m. – We are given the opportunity to explore the house a bit. I feel like I am in a culinary mecca or hall of fame. The pictures on the wall and the unchanged décor from the days of James Beard living in the house made me smile. When I got to the top floor library, I saw Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The copy in front of me looked exactly like my father’s which is in my book collection. An overwhelming feeling came over me and a tear to my eye. It was almost as though I felt my father was in the room with me. Actually many parts of the day I felt this way. My father loved to cook and if he could have seen me in this place COOKING he probably would have fainted from excitement.

8:45 a.m. – Our food arrives. We unload and organize. The equipment is turned on and everyone gets on task. Meryl and Erin go on what is apparently a wild goose chase for a couple of food items. Who knew that in NYC you would have such a hard time finding English peas and Camembert cheese?

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Noon – Poor Eric finally finishes cleaning lobsters for our second course. This was no small task as we needed the lobsters uncooked before taking them out of the shell. Hunger sets in for everyone. Meryl and Erin are kind enough to bring us some lunch. After lunch I check our timing and we are humming right along and accomplishing our tasks at a good pace.

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1:00 p.m. – Matt looks out into the front room and goes “Whoa! I just saw that guy on Food Network.” That guy (whose name is escaping me) is a championship pit master from Georgia. He walks through the kitchen and says hello. After speaking with him a bit, I could see that this poor guy had the same overwhelming feeling I had at my arrival. Shortly after he left I was greeted by a marketing rep from a specialty produce company who gave me a box of samples with my name on it for me to work into the dinner. She also took some photos of me with the products. I am not going to lie, I kinda felt like a rock star!

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2:00 p.m. – We keep plugging along. Prep is looking good.

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4:00 p.m. – The service staff arrives and Sameil leaves for the day. Albert, the p.m. kitchen manager, arrives. Alex, the captain, comes to me and asks if I could sign the menu. Of course I did so. Then he asks the rest of the team to do so as well. Again I am overtaken with this unbelievable feeling. WE JUST BECAME PART OF THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE! WE ARE PART OF THE STORY!!! Just when I thought it could not get any better, Alex says “I also need you to sign the chef coat.” WHAT!? My name is forever in print with today’s culinary greats and cookbook authors! In case you can’t tell, I am still in disbelief!

5:00 p.m. – Prep is done. We clean up and organize ourselves once again and recount all of our food to make sure we have it all together. Then we sit down and discuss service and who will be doing what. The cameras go on and pre-shift begins. I explain the menu to the service staff and answer questions.

6:45 p.m. – Guests start to arrive & walk through the kitchen. Oddly enough, none of this made me nervous. I was in the zone.

7:00 p.m. – The first passed appetizers leave the kitchen. In about 10 minutes half of the prepared amount are gone. The barbecue pork sticky buns are the talk of the crowd. And keeping up with foie gras cannoli was near impossible.

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8:00 p.m. – First course starts to go out. Halfway through I realize that one of my chefs had not noticed that the direction the plates were facing changed from one area to the next. I correct him and we quickly fix the plates that were different. By 8:15, we had served 70 people their first course. The kitchen manager then says we start serving next course in 12 minutes. (Yes, really 12 minutes!)

We started plating soon after. By 8:30, the second course was served. This pace continued throughout the meal. Really it was incredible to be a part of. At 9:45 the last plate is served.

10:00 p.m. – The team and I go into the dining room. We are greeted with a loud applause. The Q&A portion of the night begins. I fielded all of the questions about the food. Meryl took on the wine portion, and Trina talked about her great pastries. The folks who joined us for dinner that evening were blown away by what we had done. Proud does not even begin to explain how I felt.

Soon after I went back to the kitchen. The servers come up and tell me that that was the loudest they can ever remember a group clapping. Well, now my ego and head just blew up two sizes! (just kidding)

11:00 p.m. – Cleanup is done. Sue comes into the kitchen and congratulates us on our performance. We toast and you could just feel the vibrancy in the room. WE KILLED IT! So there it is! That was our day.

Thank you, Pleasant, for giving me and my team the opportunity to do this dinner. It will never leave my memory. It was truly a special day that will not be easy to top. One of the best parts for me was that my wife Heidi was there to see it. I still have not come down from the emotional high that this experience has given me. I LOVE MY JOB!

— Patrick Higgins
Executive Chef, Aurora Inn Dining Room

Menu Hors d’Oeuvre Hudson Valley Foie Gras Cannoli with Finger

To view the dinner menu from our evening at the James Beard House, click here.