I’m a native Sacramentan who lived half of my twenties in New York. Part of that time was spent interning and later working for the James Beard Foundation, which exists to champion American chefs and cuisine and are best known for their annual awards ceremony. Several nights a week, a chef is invited to cook a multi-course dinner at the foundation headquarters based in the home of James Beard, the cookbook author and first television food personality who passed away in 1985. When I learned that Mulvaney’s B & L was invited to cook at the James Beard House in Manhattan on March 13th, I knew I had to be there, especially since I already was hoping to make a trip there this spring. After boarding the plane to NYC last Wednesday morning, I quickly discovered that I was not the only Sacramento resident making a 3000-mile trek for the dinner; in the first five minutes I learned that my seatmate was a friend of Patrick Mulvaney’s.
Thursday evening at 7pm, I walked through the doors of the Beard House, a brick row house on a somewhat quiet street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Upon entering, I took a few steps down to the cozy, inviting entry room where I checked in with the host and got my seat assignment. On the way to the dining room I walked through the kitchen where some of the B & L staff and Beard House volunteers were busily plating hors d’oeuvres, which included foie gras on toast, still legal in New York state. Guests partook of wine and hor d’oeuvres in a crowded sunroom that opens out to a nice garden, open in nice weather but not on a chilly March evening.
Dinner began at 8pm after Bobbin Mulvaney, Patrick’s wife and business partner, gave an introduction to the sold-out party of 80 guests. My table of five was made up of current and former Sacramento residents. To my surprise, two of my tablemates were people I was already acquainted with back home. That definitely broke the ice and the whole dinner was really festive. Five of the courses were paired with California wines, starting with Monterey Abalone with fava beans, which included beans from the Edible Sac High garden. The courses to follow included more ingredients from our region, including spring pea ravioli and Tamanishiki rice from Montna Farms, formed into a sushi-style square served along the meltingly-tender seared pork belly and hatch chili sauce. The fish course was sturgeon from Passmore Ranch, followed by lamb chops from Dixon. The dinner concluded with Strawberry Jubilee, a folded crepe topped with a sweet and delicate strawberry sauce. While the strawberries came from Sacramento, the Red Breast Irish Whiskey accompanying it was a nod to Patrick’s ancestral homeland, especially timely with the dinner being four days shy of Saint Patrick’s Day.
After the dinner and spirited applause by the guests, Patrick spoke and thanked everyone for coming. He took some questions from the diners and shared that 30 guests came in from Sacramento. He also acknowledged the table of New York-based NBA employees that spent time at Mulvaney’s last year when the Kings negotiations were happening in Sacramento.
At the end of the night, a good time was had by all. I chatted a bit with some servers and kitchen staff that I remembered from my time there 10 years ago, got my coat and headed out into the cold to an after-party with Patrick and a friendly guy named Manny, who now lives in Hoboken but spent a few years in Sac and was a Mulvaney’s regular. At the after-party, I asked Patrick about his thoughts on the Beard House experience:
What did you want to showcase about Sacramento tonight?
We wanted to showcase the promise of spring, and for us that’s the first favas and peas and vegetables coming into the valley and bring them to New York on a day when, quite frankly, it is 10 degrees and really very cold.
How did you think tonight’s dinner went?
I think it was really well-received. We were really excited. We had great support from Sacramento with all those folks flying out and friends from back East who live here that came down to join us so it definitely was a friendly court but I think the dinner was great and the people at the James Beard House were tremendous to work with.
What was your favorite part of the night?
Being finished! [Laughs] I could relax and have a drink. No, I think it was all really cool. It was fun to see the look on people’s faces when they are there because they support you and are happy for you. That support is what really made my night.
Do you hope to work with the Beard Foundation in the future?
I think we certainly will be working with them again. There are things that they do, that they are involved with in advocacy and in other places that we probably will be working with them in the future again.