The Date: Feb. 4, 2007
The Venue: Blue Smoke
The Bar: Open bar of beer, wine and Grey Goose cocktails, shilled by waitresses who acted as though they were getting paid by the bottle
The Crowd: An upstairs/downstairs of ticket-buying consumers (mostly upstairs) and advertisers, Gourmet employees, chefs, New York Giants (downstairs) and at least one football-ignorant Freeloader
Not naturally inclined to spend several hours in front a TV watching men in tight, shiny outfits and the occasional gut overhang pile on top of each other in the never-ending quest for possession of a pigskin, Freeloader needed something more than the promise of a larger-than-life TV screen to coax us out into the cold for a Super Bowl party.
Gourmet's fifth-annual Big Game Bash, with its heavy emphasis on all the fanfare (if not the fans) that surround the biggest American sporting event of the year, offered just the enticements we needed: an all-you-can-eat buffet at Blue Smoke, an all-you-can-drink bar, cooking and drink-mixing sideshows to offer entertainment between commercial breaks and, yes, a giant TV. It was, as editorial director Tom Wallace put it, "a football-inspired feeding frenzy." The event was proof positive that even wealthy gourmands are salt-of-the-earth people -- if not in a potato-chips-in-their-sofa kind of way, then in a we're-not-afraid-to-eat-ribs-with-our-hands kind of way.
Pre-game was nonstop service of pinky-sized finger foods: veggie sliders, deviled eggs, crostini with foie gras or mini-mozzarella slices with lentils. This is where Gourmet's "light" influence ended and Blue Smoke's love for all things heart-clogging began. Andouille sausages and cheese fries were readily available.
Kickoff came with a buffet of Blue Smoke's more famous fare: Kansas City spareribs, Texas salt-and-pepper beef ribs, creamed spinach, mac and cheese, baked pit beans with bacon and toasted corn bread. During the first quarter, Gourmet's wine and spirits consultant, Michael Green -- decked out in a Jets jersey and green beads (reflecting the alliance of most attendees) -- hosted a mixology competition. The second, third and fourth quarters were all about the gridiron cook-offs between Kenny Callaghan (Blue Smoke), Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto), Michael Schulson (Buddakan), Joey Campanaro (The Little Owl) and Michael Psilakis (Onera and Dona).
Fortunately for the judges, New York Giants Barry Cofield and Justin Tuck, the winners were chosen based on the quality of their food, not on their flare with a saucepan. That meant the judges could just chow down and watch the game, which Freeloader is guessing they may have had a wee bit of interest in.
Any guilt Freeloader felt about focusing on the food and caring less for the cause was wiped away when Gourmet's VP-publisher, Giulio Capua, implied a similar lack of football enthusiasm. "It's a great chance to celebrate and eat good food," he said. Hey, any excuse for ribs and beer is a good excuse in Freeloader's book.
And for the record, yes, the commercials received just as much cheering and jeering as the actual game.