One might expect the best thing about the experience of Chefs to Dine For would be the incredible food. Chefs to Dine For is the name of Lynne Ryan’s Manhattan fine-dining adventures. You feast in the best restaurants of Manhattan and then meet with the famous chef who created a special menu just for you and your dining partners. That is the initial draw to these exclusive events, and it’s a magnificent experience indeed. But there’s more to the story than that.
Imagine starting the evening with a few before-dinner drinks—and you decide how many count as a few—as you meet other guests and sample the passed hors d’oeuvre. Soon, you find yourself sitting expectantly awaiting the first course.
Always, there will be new flavors in unexpected combinations of foods, textures, and plating presentations. It’s generally a three-course dinner that includes a sumptuous dessert, and the whole meal is paired with wonderful wines. Yes, this is an experience to be treasured—one that you can enjoy every month or two during the fair-weather season. And yet, after you’ve attended a series of these feasts, your perceptions, like mine, may begin to shift. I’ve discovered there’s something even better than the scene I’ve just described. But I had to take a step back from everything before I could see it clearly.
With my busy schedule, I had missed the last few dinners, but I came back to the fold for a Monday night in May gathering at db Bistro Moderne. My return was almost a necessity, given that French Chef Daniel Boulud was to be our hosting chef for the evening. That evening was also when I gained my new perspective. I came into the City from Westchester via a train on the Metro North New Haven Line. The weather made for a pleasant stroll from Grand Central Terminal up to 55 West 44th Street, just a block east of Times Square. As I approached the facade of db Bistro Moderne and attempted to walk on by (I’m always dreadfully early for such events), I ran directly into Lynne with a passel of ladies all around her, and they were headed inside.
Even now, I can see that rendezvous clearly. Lynne immediately stops right there on the sidewalk and proceeds to introduce me to her friends: Jeanna Brannon, up from Atlanta (with her sister Kim); Sue Downey, who was celebrating her birthday that very evening; and Missy Mathis. These were friends from back in Alabama, plus Mar-cee-ah O’Neill was in their company—a regular to these dinners from upstate New York. The warm greeting made me feel welcome even before we entered the restaurant.
Moving into the bistro, I begin to see some of my old friends. I may encounter them nowhere but here—well, perhaps on Facebook or through an occasional email hello—yet they feel almost like dear friends. I see Lorraine Bell, a Canadian who also lives here in the City. On a previous occasion, Lorraine had introduced me to Judy Lauder Cecconi, a cousin from British Columbia, and we’d all had a great dinner together. It was a meal worth remembering, one filled with wonderful conversation over ample glasses of wine. Now I count both as real friends and follow their comings and goings on Facebook. Chefs to Dine For made our friendship possible.
I also see Chef Thomas Kacherski and his wife Becky, owners of Crew, a fine restaurant and bar in Poughkeepsie. They almost always attend or send one of their chefs to these events. Quite a few of the folks dining this evening are from Dutchess County. Also present were Bob and Cherrill Geehan, Adriene Conrad, Joyce Heaton, Lori Decker, Ann Barton, Kristy Grimes, Tresa Veitia and one of Lynne’s sons, Mutala Ibrahim, who had arrived home fresh from Connecticut College. Finally, I see the amiable Men Who Dine, Gennaro Pecchia and Alan Watts, a wonderful duo of sharply dressed men who are true connoisseurs, and who specialize in attending fine dining events.
Of course Lynne’s husband Dr. Tim Ryan, President of the Culinary Institute of America, was also in attendance, as he always is when his busy schedule permits.
New York City dwellers included: August Ceradini; Ted Rothstein and his wife Janice Grace, along with his brother Alan; Victoria Guaglianone, owner of the Tiny Kitchen, along with her husband Victor; Lauren Flacco; Kent Alley; William Cochrane; cookbook author Hillary Davis; Steve Weissman; Jerry DiStefano, from the Fireman Restaurant Group; and the owner of Raoul’s, Karim Raoul.
I’m ready to circulate and make new friends. I meet Randall and Jennifer Goldman, who are visiting from Charleston, South Carolina. He’s CEO of Patrick Properties—a company that buys estates in need of restoration and proceeds to do just that. “Not for flipping the properties, mind you,” he tells me, “but to preserve them for posterity.” The passion shows. Their Hospitality Group hosts corporate events and personal gatherings, up to and including lavish weddings.
I also meet Pamela Fisher, founder of New 2 NY Tours, and her mother, Carol. Pamela’s business takes tourists off the beaten path “… to see the real city behind the scenes,” she tells me. If you’re coming to visit this great city, consider this avenue to see the real streets and avenues, just as the natives see them.
Also present were Randy and Betsy Wolgemuth, along with their friends and neighbors Pat and Brenda Moran, who drove in from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to treat themselves to this festive occasion. Regulars Tracy Pantahos and Tracey Paulsen from Long Island—yes, Tracy and Tracey, and they don’t mind if you call them that; Kathy Colicchio from Princeton, New Jersey; Maureen Powers and daughters Courtney and Kerry from Westchester; and Barbara and John Daly, with their guest, David Chiapetta from Greenwich, Connecticut. It was a full house for our private dining room.
After the dinner concluded, Chef Daniel Boulud paraded the entire kitchen brigade out of the back and marched them to our tables. Daniel Boulud is consistently listed as one of the top chefs in the world, so I was impressed that for this dinner he insisted on giving complete credit to his chefs at that restaurant—one of about a dozen that he owns and runs in New York and beyond.
As the entire crew stood proudly before us, looking like a chorus line decked out in white linens, Chef—in his wonderful, lilting French accent—began introducing each person to us. He started with the executive chef (Brian Loiacono), followed by the executive pastry chef (Miguel Cazares), and then went on down the line, allowing each one a moment in the limelight. We rewarded every beaming face with a huge round of applause, mine as enthusiastic as any.
What I had discovered upon returning after my hiatus—beyond the glorious food and, of course, the chefs who are always so charming—was that what I had missed most was the camaraderie that Chefs to Dine For hostess, and Chef in her own right, Lynne Ryan always manages to infuse into the evenings. Like the perfect wine pairings or the marriage of complementary flavors, Lynne manages to bring together individuals and couples from dissimilar backgrounds to create ensembles that work.
It’s that social aspect that Lynne does so well. She accomplishes her mission by way of introductions during the before-dinner drinks and with her choice of seating assignments at table. I’m Southern myself, so what I’m about to say could perhaps be perceived as slightly biased. Nevertheless, I suspect it’s the fact that Lynne is a Southern belle who hails from Alabama and who has extensive experience in such social settings that makes her a natural. But whether it’s nature or nurture, the way she nurtures her guests certainly feels natural.
The variety of new people I meet and the joy of seeing again people I’ve connected with intellectually at prior dinners, now that’s the real deal. It’s what makes this excellent dining experience truly extraordinary. Lynne sure knows how to put on a party. Oh, and the dessert was to die for. There were two to select from. I picked the malted chocolate bar with salted caramel ganache, buttermilk gelee, and espresso ice cream.
Oh. My. Goodness. You may want to join us next time. Sign up at www.chefstodinefor.com to be invited to the next dinner series, starting in September.
(All photos by Rodney Bedsole Photography)