Channel Surfing

Channel surfing the other night revealed a Charlie Rose segment in which the talk show personality hosted a round-table discussion with some of the nation's top cooking talent, New York chefs Daniel Boulud, Gray Kunz, Anne Rosenzweig, and Jean-George Vongerichten. In response to a question about employees, all the accomplished chefs agreed on the necessity for extensive training. Boulud wisely described the waitstaff as "my representatives to the public" and stressed the importance of having them understand what the kitchen is doing in order to really sell the food. He also asserted that the best day in his kitchens is when one of his cooks can prepare a dish as well or better than the chef himself, and the other chefs chimed in their agreement. Vongerichten complained about the trend of what he described as "zoo food" and was adamant in his disregard for the fusion of flavor elements from diverse cuisines simply for the sake of new combinations. His companions all laughed derisively about "fusion confusion." They commiserated about decisions to close certain restaurants in the face of skyrocketing N.Y. rentsand discussed the challenge that all chef/owners face in balancing the financial and creative elements in their businesses. When interviewer Rose took his guests to task for the exorbitant mark-up on wines in restaurants, the chefs sighed with resignation and patiently explained that the profit margin on food sales alone would not float any serious restaurant. The culinary stars were honest about the fact that none of their acclaimed restaurants would survive for long without crucial liquor revenues. It seems that even celebrity doesn't exempt one from the basic realities of the restaurant business.

Hearts for Sale

This weekend brings one of the best parties of the year, the Toma Mi Corazón fundraiser at La Peña (227 Congress, 477-6007). The fiesta takes place Sunday, February 7, along the 200 block of Congress, with a preview party at Club Meneo from 4-6pm, a silent auction to bid on the decorated hearts at the former Rackley's Hardware space and Peña Studio Gallery from 6-8pm, and a dance back at Club Meneo after 8pm. A $25 ticket to the preview party buys you an early look at the fantastic decorated hearts, delectable aphrodisiac foods presented by some of Austin's finest chefs, live music, beer and wine, plus attendance to the auction and dance. (For even more info, see the "Arts" feature story in this week's issue.) Call La Peña for tickets.

Hearts on the Road

Need a Valentine's surprise for your sweet babboo? How about an evening of fine food andtheatre at Rose Hill Manor Bed & Breakfast(877-ROSEHILL) near Fredericksburg? On the evenings of February 12, 13, and 14, Friday through Sunday, A.R. Gurney's poignant play Love Letters will be performed at Rose Hill Manor by Rick Hamilton and Fredi Olster after a candlelit four-course dinner prepared by Ernie's Mediterranean Grill of Fredericksburg. Tickets are $60 and seating is limited. Before or after the play, drop by Becker Vineyards (west of Stonewall, off US290 on Jenschke Lane, 830/644-2681). On Saturday and Sunday, February 13 & 14, noon-5pm, the Vineyards will host a Merlot and Chocolates event, at which a free sampling of Becker's 1997 Estate Merlot will be paired with handmade chocolates by chef/owner Frans Hendriks of Bistro Time in San Antonio. What says love like wine and chocolate?

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