Judged By What?

I’m astonished by the number of people who bristle when you challenge them. Even if you challenge them on observable behavior (i.e. not letting others complete their sentences, or pecking at their “Crackberry” during a critical presentation, or being habitually late armed with a newly varnished excuse each time), they act as if you’ve launched an existential attack on the very basis of their being or worth.

Here is an anomaly. We believe we know what we’re capable of. So rather than being judged on what we do, we expect people to give us a break on the basis of what we’re capable of. The average person will not oblige. Life is short, they’ll extrapolate from their present experience of you. That’s the impetus to get the job done today, to get your act together now, to do what you say and finish what you start. Despite that, you will have blinkers and issues — we all do. Great leaders will see past the mists of your limitations and the storm clouds in your emotional weather systems and glimpse your larger abilities and perhaps even your positive intent. They will then challenge you to step up to the first and better exemplify the second. They will customize how they engage you, reinforce you and enroll you accordingly. When you experience such a leader or team…hallelujah! But if you need such a leader or team to come through…your life will be one of perennial disappointment and vexation.

Most of us judge others on the impact they have on us. Whether they intended it or not seems not to matter. “It hurt!” And if you didn’t know it would hurt me…well you should have! Or so is the implication inherent in our bruised outrage. On the other hand if we have a negative impact on someone else, and we know it’s not what we intended, we feel a sense of injustice if the other person judges us on impact rather than intent. Of course they often don’t know our intent, but damn it, they should! Or again, so is the implication as we nurse our bitterness. Always become a student of impact, and explore intent. Defer reactions until you’re on the other side of that exploration.

So, should we be judged by actions or by potential? Should we be judged by impact or intent? Both.

We must drive our actions and build confidence in ourselves and others by reaching for our potential, “failing forward” if we must.

We must be sensitive to impact and taper communication to the receiver, rather than exalting the sender (us). At the same time, we must drive the real intent forward if it really matters. We can’t let volatility of impact have us withdraw…that’s just a form of manipulation. Similarly we must make ourselves easy to engage…less prickles and more hospitality for collaboration.

Let’s ask to be judged by who we are today, and coached towards who we can become. Let’s own our impact, but share our intent. Let’s share impact on us, and be open to understanding the best intent of the other person. As we do, we improve our accountability and our capacity, both for performance and building productive relationships with others.

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The Price of Civility

Today as I arrived at our office in New York for a 9 a.m. meeting,  a number of us entered the elevator. This elevator requires that you have a building pass which you have to electronically swipe to be able to push the floor you want.

A well dressed gentleman with silver hair entered, and without a glance at the other four of us, plopped his briefcase down to keep the elevator door from closing. This presumably so he could pull out his pass. Well, he pulled out his wallet and put it up against the electronic sensor. It didn’t work and he vainly tried to push his floor. He repeated this exercise twice, thrice, four times, as everyone else got increasingly annoyed. Another elevator arrived across the way. All of the rest of us dashed into it, leaving the adage of insanity being the emphatic repetition of what doesn’t work, to continue to be demonstrated behind us.

“What was he doing?” asked an incredulous woman, once we were safely on our way. I explained what it seemed he was attempting. It seemed obvious that he could have, and should have done one or more of the following:

*Apologize to everyone else and ask for their forebearance.

*Pull his card out of his wallet and see if a direct engagement with the electronic sensor would work.

*Step out and ask the lobby attendant who was nearby for help.

I audibly bemoaned the absence of civility. As we were moving up various floors, one of my fellow passengers said, “You know after 9/11 there was an upsurge of civility and awareness of other people, and it’s started to slide back down again unfortunately.”

I agreed, commenting that it would be a shame if it took a cataclysm or a horrific act to “shock” us into having manners. Surely we can do better.

Now perhaps I’m generalizing from an isolated incident. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Obliviousness does seem rampant. As professionals, as neighbors, as citizens…it would be nice if we could transcend self-absorption enough to see if we can help each other along the way. The price of civility isn’t high — but its impact is often profound.

Yesterday at Whole Foods, in the queue waiting for an open register, someone took a place that was rightfully that of the neighboring line. An elegant lady tried to intervene but was rebuffed by these rude and “rushed” people. She turned to those next to her and said, “No problem, when my turn comes, you take it, as they were in my line.” I smiled and thanked her on their behalf . She said, “It’s the least I could do.” It wasn’t.  But I wish we could all remember to behave as if it were.

Try it in work, in business dealings, in transactions and interactions. Work will flow better, relationships will be more robust, loyalty will flourish. And you’ll do your part in cultivating a world we’ll all more readily enjoy living in.

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The Intimacy of a Special Collection!

I’ve long been a fan of the restaurant Del Posto. It is stunningly elegant, formal and yet cozy, and the cuisine shines. It is haute Italian, of multi-Michelin star quality (and when they lose a Michelin star, I suspect a wayward night for the inspectors, not the kitchen), and yet with exotic imagination and whimsy.

My wife and I dined at the very bespoke “Chef’s table.” One such table a night, maximum — no more than four. The Chefs personally preside, and deliver each dish, drawn from the best of the season. The dishes are not plucked from the current menu, but are a window to the chef’s imagination and the kitchen’s capabilities.

This is grand cuisine served intimately. Porcelain from Richard Ginori of Florence, copper from Alessi, silver from Sambonet and crystal from Movia of Slovenia. Gorgeous, stunning, at times eye-brow arching and at other times, simply breathtaking.

Warm Tuscan bread arrives, drizzled with the best vintage olive oil. Luscious champagne accompanies it.

A Bagna Cauda is next, a succulent paste made with anchovy, garlic and olive oil, accompanied by a lovely Pigato “U Baccan” by Riccardo Bruna 2008, wonderful minerality to accompany the paste and the variety of vegetables, pastries and cheese to dip into it.

A masterpiece follows! The balance of the anchovy garlic paste serves as a foundation for soft scrambled eggs with caviar and shavings of pumpernickel. Extraordinary! Luscious, and a riot of flavors on the palate. This is matched by an “Alteni di Brassica” Sauvignon Gaja 2007…rendered more exotic because it also has a lovely touch of Chardonnay.

Wonderful wild Black Bass arrives with Moroccan spices, drizzled with clam juice and uplifted by fennel — both sashimi and fish at once. The accompanying Cerasuolo di Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2007 is Italy’s finest Rose — complex and yet palate-puckering.

The intervening salad is more than filler by far. Head cheese and tuna with a lovely rose Champagne. A medley of colors and flavors, on the palate and for the eye.


The Chef switches gear and out comes a procession of extraordinary pasta. It begins with the Anellini with Black Truffle and Reggiano, rich and almost decadently flavorful. It is matched by a lovely, refreshing Chardonnay.

Another masterpiece! A 100 layer Lasagna that simply redefines Lasagna, moist pasta, rich flavorful ragu, interlaced together in a perfect symphony of tastes and textures. The Aglianico del Vulture “Caselle” 2004 has great depth, if not complexity and so picks up the richness beautifully.


The final in this portion of this exquisite collection is Polenta with duck eggs and frozen shaved foie gras. The richness of this exquisite combination virtually jumps up from the sheer mention of these ingredients. The Montefalco “Collepiano” 1999 has dark fruit, good balance, and a wonderful finish.

For the final savory, Veal in ash arrives, abundant with juice , soft, rich, lovely. The Barolo “Sarmassa” Bergadano 2001 is spicy and elegant — a fitting companion!

Simple salt baked pineapple, though sliced and served with magisterial flourish from a handsome tray, comes to refresh and revive the palate.

An exquisite dessert caps an unforgettable experience. An Eggplant Crostata, lightly glazed with chocolate and paired lusciously with sheep’s milk ricotta…moist, flaky, evocative, layering the palate with texture and flavor. The Recioto della Valpolicella 2000 demonstrates the sheer velvety finesse of this delectable dessert wine.

We arose having feasted, having been awash in genuine hospitality of an increasingly rare kind, enjoying grand surroundings but exceptional intimacy — our own cocoon of elegance and enjoyment.

“Del Posto” means “of the place”. Well this meal was of another time,  and with great artistry and culinary wit, that time was brought triumphantly and unforgettably back to life at “this place” today!

GRAND TASTING COLLEZIONE

Pane

FILONE Hot Pot with Vittorio Cassini 2010 served with Champagne Duval Leroy 1996

Primo Assaggi

PINZIMONIO in Bagna Caoda served with Pigato “U Baccan” Riccardo Bruna 2008

Smooth Scrambled EGGS served with Sauvignon “Alteni di Brassica” Gaja 2007

INSALATA CAPRESE with Testina di Tonno served with Champagne Rose, Alfred Gratien NV

Pesce

Fonduta con ANELLINI with Black Truffle and Vacca Rossa served with Chardonnay Isole e Olena 2008

100 Layer LASAGNA served with Aglianico del Vulture “Caselle” D’Angelo 2004

BIGOLI con L’Anatra and Goose Liver served with Sagrantino di Montefalco “Collepiano” Arnaldo Caprai 1999

Carne

VEAL in ash with Grass and Corn served with Barolo “Sarmassa” Bergadano 2001

Intermezzo

Salt baked PINEAPPLE

Dolce

EGGPLANT Crostata with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Stracciatella served with Recioto della Valpolicella Lorenzo Begali 2000


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When Carpeting Doesn’t Work…

I love Changi Airport. Justifiably rated as the world’s best airport. Why? Because it’s designed to facilitate travel, not as an ego-testament to a designer. It’s not jaw-dropping…but then distances aren’t back-breaking either. Your luggage is there by the time you clear immigration, which usually takes less than 10 minutes. In fact, you can count on being in a taxi within 30 minutes of landing. Wonderful!

Most airports are designed to look good in glossy magazines and fail miserably in terms of facilitating travel or enhancing the actual traveler’s experience. It’s a confusion between “means” and “ends”. As a Consultant, I am constantly exhorting customers to ask of every tactic they debate, “What is this really meant to achieve?” Ensure the “Ends” make sense and are aligned on, then and only then, debate tactics. As the old saw reminds us, “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Alas, even Changi in its revamped Singapore Airlines Terminal has fallen afoul of this confusion. To enhance the aesthetics of the terminal they’ve put in plush carpeting. That’s lovely, except for the fact that most travelers have some form of bag with wheels. Those wheels don’t perform well on thick, plush carpet. But they glide effortlessly on uncarpeted floors for which they were designed. So as you emerge, dragging your wheeled bag across the fine grains of a totally gratuitous and effort-exacerbating carpet, you curse whichever interior designer sold the decision makers on the misguided conclusion that carpeting would add finesse and aplomb to the glistening new Terminal. The “means” frustrate the “ends’, of efficient client passage and movement.

A good question to ask often is, where have we provided “unnecessary carpeting” for which we congratulate ourselves, but which adds nothing to client success, customer value or any enhancement of the experience people come to us for? The shiny brochures, bespoke offices, bells and whistles, scripted phone greetings, industry certifications and more land with a thud if at key “perception points” we misfire and frustrate those who deal with us. Then these gewgaws are irritating, nothing else.

As I write, people around the world have had travel plans disrupted as volcanic detritus is spewed into the skies from Iceland, and due to unusually clement weather, is settling in over much of mainland Europe (rather than being blown away). Weddings are being missed, family reunions ruined, key medical treatments and business engagements rendered impossible, people stranded and more. Many service providers are dealing with distraught and helpless people. How they handle them, at least hopefully with a modicum of humanity and empathy, will make all the difference to how these providers are perceived when the cloud finally moves on or is dissipated. The “carpeting” won’t count. But responding with imagination to mitigate what can be mitigated, and with clarity, grace and compassion otherwise — as much as strained resources permit — will bolster or decimate loyalty. When people are vulnerable, they are also most open.

We would do well to remember this in normal times. The invitation to serve someone is an invitation for them to rely on us.

Always separate out “means” from “ends”. Get the ends right, then keep course-correcting on the means. And don’t just rush to “carpet” everyone with tangential “solutions” and potentially irrelevant enhancements.

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Communication Matters!

Yesterday we were flying from New York to Jeddah Saudi Arabia — an arduous trip, mellowed by the superb First Class Suites on board Emirates.

We had four hours to “revitalize” at our Dubai “home” of Raffles Hotel Dubai.

We arrived at the airport in Dubai to learn the flight had been delayed from 4:15 pm to 5:35. I asked why no alerts had been sent out, and why this wasn’t updated, as we had checked not long before. They said, “We just heard.” This, by the way, was pried out of someone at the First/Business Lounge. Our Boarding Card had been given to us with the new departure time with nary a comment. Only as we were passing through security did I notice the time anomaly and then inquired, with some concern, as we entered the Lounge.

The new departure time was 5:35. We arrived at the gate just after 5 to see “Boarding” flashing. We went in. Crowds milled, including those heading to Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimage and others, like us, going on business. Apparently, “Last Call” was flashing outside. 40 minutes subsequently elapsed, with no announcements or updates!

People started cursing, getting restless, some had been on a connecting flight and waiting since that morning to get on this flight. Others swore they would fly Saudi Airlines on this sector next time. I had learned in the Lounge the first delay was due to a late departure because of boarding problems in Islamabad — these days certainly a hotbed of security concerns. However, virtually no one else in that teeming crowd had even been told that.

We pushed our way out to accost the gate agent, who was duly hapless and kept saying, “5 minutes, 10 minutes.” This after 40 minutes of no announcements or updates!! People started yelling about missed connections, others said there was no place to sit and they weren’t “dogs”. Not sure about the relevance, as dogs would have found a way to settle on the floor doubtless with less fuss than us humans. Or maybe, that was his point…

No manager was in sight. Apparently, if you’re delayed, due to the long processing times at Saudi immigration, if you miss your slot, you have to await a new landing time clearance from them. That then messed up Dubai Civil Aviation paperwork and the pilots experienced the bureaucratic nightmare from hell, seeking the missing person whose signature was needed on the revised paperwork!

Regardless…passengers in this day and age understand security delays, and will swallow (as we have no choice) stupid “paper” delays. What we saw was mounting anxiety, aggravation and anger at an otherwise superb airline because the absence of communication made people feel irrelevant and marginalized. To have “Last Call” flashing to herd us all in, when clearly the pilots must have known they had no idea how much longer the signature might take, showed a “disconnect” between technical systems and the real aims of the airline…paramount among them, transporting customers yes, but in a way that builds loyalty and hopefully an emotional connection with you. To then have no Managers or anyone visible and present, apologizing or handing out vouchers to a nearby coffee shop, or just expressing empathy, created a real furor.

On board, they were wonderful. I told all this to the Senior Purser who sought us out as we’re premium Gold Card passengers who travel for a living. He was shocked that there had been such evident detachment and apathy.

Communication matters. Whether you’re trying to explain Health Care in a way that connects to people’s lives, or when the “ally” we’re propping up in Afghanistan threatens in a Press Conference to go over to the Taliban, when a service provider deals with an unanticipated problem, or simply when we seek to convey a tough truth to someone we love. “Don’t communicate until you have something to say,” is a pernicious default setting.

That way, companies have lost productivity and passion, countries their will, families their trust, due to people not over communicating in times of crisis and challenge, and paying the ultimate homage to the humanity of others: caring enough to build a bridge from the situation to our willingness to make it better for each other…to truly connect and collaborate accordingly.

This matters…so make it matter for you, your family, your business and your community!

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Unhappy with Happy Sheets

Course evaluations are usually dumb, counter-productive and distorting.  Conference evaluations are largely the same.

They are actually NOT “evaluations,” that is the problem. They are “happy sheets”.

Moreover, what you want from participants and attendees is not “evaluation” of the Conference or training session primarily (though secondarily, that can be relevant and interesting). What you want is evaluation of the applicability of what they experienced, the “return on energy” once they seek to convert ideas into action.

If you charge Trainers and Conference organizers with getting rave ratings from people, you incentivize them to taper what they do to “popularity”. But what if organizational value comes from making people uncomfortable, from challenging them? Then the “evaluation” should be related to whether this discomfort was constructively provided, led to a helpful change in behavior, or created positive momentum in a direction sought. People may hate having to be challenged, and the organization may love the results.

If a key strategy has to be understood, then lack of social time may be indeed a Conference deficit objectively, and yet consciously be taken on, because of how mission-critical getting everyone’s engagement around the strategy is at that juncture. Though everyone may understand that, they are unlikely to give high scores to the statement “We had enough time to relax, socialize and enjoy our surroundings.”

We can while prioritizing landing the strategy, consider if slightly  more time can be taken, or a more neutral location selected (if truly we cannot enjoy where we are, why bother?).  And that’s why I say these observations are secondarily relevant.

But the primary issue is to discern and advance whatever the real aims are. Now if another Conference was created primarily to build relationships and bridges across disparate global teams, then the critique of inadequate time for bonding, engagement, team-building and more, becomes more damning.

The point:  there should never be a one size fits all “checklist”. But we should be checking on achievement against our highest priority aims.

I also have found that if people are being chased for evaluations, they are never “in” the experience, but are constantly second-guessing it, often from the default settings of their own preferences, paradigms or at times, even prejudices. There is a time to engage and experience and get the most out of an  experience. Then, there should be time to reflect, to consider and to recommend. These are different faculties and should be utilized distinctively as such…each at appropriate junctures. And the questions we ask, should reflect what we are really after, not a generic set of standardized aspects.

Relative to learning experiences, evaluations should consider pre-session engagement by bosses and preparation of attendees, the actual experience, action-planning and tracking with bosses or other mentors in the aftermath, results achieved, and therefore an evaluation of the total process, including the briefing given to the learning provider, and the customization done if relevant.

“Presentation skills” of providers are a certainly relevant and valuable but hardly the most critical aspect we should be evaluating. That’s wonderful icing. But did the right cake get baked?

Presenters can wow and enchant, and provide little of take-forward value. Or people can be charged up, ready to go, and bosses can be disinterested in their experience or its applicability….thereby blunting the cutting edge of any learning.

The learning experience should be construed as a multi-faceted partnership between boss, participant, experts or coaches, and the organization-at-large. Otherwise there is scant ROI, and we are just tossing money overboard in the hope that some stimulus will “stick”.

So forget happy sheets. Get people to engage first, evaluate second. When they evaluate, evaluate actual outcomes of value to the organization primarily, and the entire process that is to deliver them. Secondarily, check out what people thought of acoustics, food, visuals used, even presentation skills. A total “hit” in terms of being wowed by the presenter, hotel, visuals, can deliver a total dud in terms of learning value.

No reason not to have both we can argue…but get the split of attention right based on what is really essential. Let’s sweat the real stuff first…and the “surround sound” next. First value, then sizzle!

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Making Conferences Matter

I’m writing from Penang, Malaysia, after a Global Conference for a global personal care powerhouse. We helped design it, organize it, facilitate it, and to coach key leaders in engaging their people.

It was in direct contrast to typical Conferences which truly are elaborate time wasters. There are numerous problems with conventional Conferences.

1) They waste budget that could go into genuine development efforts.

2) They allow mechanical and uninspired bosses to tick a box to demonstrate they’ve done something “to bring our people together”.  Even though often they’ve confirmed grounds for apathy and cynicism and additionally served to entrench cliques who tend to flock together, hang out together and fortify each others pet prejudices.

3) There is not only a huge cost but scant ROI because the real cost is all the untracked commitments made during the Conference. Fuzzy questions (as no one wants to say the Emperor has no clothes) elicit fuzzier answers (as titular “leaders” are loathe to commit to anything without first going to committee to ensure any action has been rendered anodyne).

4) Any “team building” or “bonding” component is artificial, contrived, treated as a graft or an off-ramp, and rarely integrated with the overall flow of activities.

5) The quality of internal presentations is often truly appalling, with Powerpoint overload and acronym avalanches predominating.

6) More time is spent on getting t-shirts and banners right than engagement right. This then begs the question, “How much of what we experienced or achieved could have been done by Webcast?’  The answer had better be that at least 50% of what we did could only have been or certainly best be accomplished in a “high touch” setting, or don’t bother.

The Conference we just concluded was one of the very best I’ve seen.  Here’s why:

1) The leaders have spent time becoming a true team — a team with both unity and diversity in appropriate measure. This was evident and remarked on by numerous delegates.

2) Messages were crystal clear. The split between vision (where we are going) to plans (how we will get there) to capabilities (things we have to build and transcend in order to deliver) to people (tracking an intensive engagement survey and team dialogues as prep) to action planning (real actions we will take in our natural teams right away) to leadership commitments (made clearly, unambiguously and with a time-line by the senior team) was just about right.

3) Different modes of engagement were in evidence. Superb videos to titillate the senses and replete with comments from key stakeholders, the ability for delegates to Tweet comments in real-time, plenary huddles and live Q&A with senior leaders in a “fishbowl” at the front, culturally relevant activities like helping to paint a part of your portrait on a Batik that became ultimately a stunning piece of art with everyone’s “piece” being a part of the whole, a chance to compete in a race around historic Georgetown (the Unesco World Heritage epicenter of Penang) interacting with locals and partaking of local activities and delicacies, innovative venues for dinner in historic mansions and glittering ballrooms and our own outdoor hawker stand, great jazz bands and DJ’s and local dancers, a chance to make music with rhythm experts, a caricaturist who captured key moments with insight and edge, a wonderful recognition ceremony where teams (and not just individuals) were acknowledged for specific achievements and progress, wonderful break-out syndicates where different leaders presented plans and answered questions, daily huddles and rehearsals by the senior team to course correct and calibrate, and the willingness of the global boss to be coached, and to connect as both leader and human being in a closing that was an “opening” and which brought 200+ people to their feet.

4) Each presentation was challenged to be a) specific b) interactive c) relevant d) future-creating  e) succinct  f) delivered by someone who had a real passion for the subject.

5) Facilitators from our side coached and helped capture commitments and will follow through. The mode of follow-through and the time-lines are clear and committed to.

People found it illuminating, fun, entertaining. New relationships were created (the most critical thing you can’t do by Webinar), next steps understood, emotion engaged.

Then the price-tag becomes a true investment, the time and energy provide astronomic returns, and the Conference becomes a true launch pad and catalyst.  Don’t settle for something else — it will inevitably then be something less than what it should be.

A Conference is to bond, provoke, guide, focus and liberate collective potential. If two days or so can do that — and they can when done right — wow!

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Chad Barr Interviews Omar Khan

In this fabulous podcast interview, Chad Barr had the chance to chat with Omar Khan, founder and senior partner of Sensei International and author of several books. We discussed some fascinating topics: What is a global consultant, how do you become a successful one and how do you get started. We also talked about his international company, building and sustaining remarkable relationships, how to succeed in this economy, his blog and the book he co-authored with Dr. Alan Weiss, The Global Consultant.

Click below for podcast to start

and now also on iTunes

Click Here for Chad’s entire podcast series

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On This Night of…32 Stars!

Some events deserve all the gushing accolades they can garner.

What else could one say about the pantheon of greats that came together to pay tribute to D’Artagnan’s (the fine food purveyor who enabled the great Chefs of New York to bring in items like Foie Gras in the 80’s with which to revolutionize our palates?) 25th anniversary?

Ariane Daguin is a lady of commanding presence, ineffable grace and surpassing hospitality. The evening was a testament to the power of relationships. For the “32 Stars” being referenced is the number of New York Times and Michelin Stars amassed by the chefs who were assembled and who collaborated to produce this quite unique evening.

The concept, was straightforward. Reception at Daniel. Aperitif? As it was D’Artagnan and the theme was an invasion of the Gascons, we started with a Gascony classic: Pousse Rapiere. Normally a combination of Armagnac, Grand Marnier and Champagne, this evening it was Armagnac infused with Oranges, a few cloves, a little sugar and then the champagne! Marvelous!

As we roamed, we experienced gorgeous Duck Samosas from Philippe Combet (One Michelin Star), an amazing Foie Gras and Prune Creme Brulee from One Michelin Star Chef Eric Sampietro and more.

The first two courses of this voluptuous meal were served at Daniel. The first a collaboration between Daniel and Two Michelin Star Chef Jean Marie Gautier of Hotel du Palais, Biarritz. Poached Foie Gras of Duck with Red wine and Fig Chutney, served with a sweet Jurancon. Then Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park prepared with Two Star Michelin Chef Jacques Pourcel an amazing Scallop dish with a Truffle vinaigrette.

We then moved into a luxury coach where Armagnac was flowing and arrived at Jean Georges, another 4 New York Star, 3 Michelin Star marvel. Here Jean Georges prepared with Three Star Michelin Chef Michel Bras of Laguiole a quite stunning Pigeon dish, paired beautifully with a 2002 Madiran and a Cahors Malbec 2000.

Across the street to Per Se, where Thomas Keller and Two Michelin Star Chef Helene Darroze prepared Capon two ways…rich, gorgeous, flavorful, with the wine highlight of the evening, Imperials and Magnums of Chateau Lynch Bages 1985.

Finally, back on the bus one more time to arrive at Le Bernardin. Here Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin and Thierry Marx (One Michelin Star) from Cordeillan-Bages prepared two luscious desserts, with which a seductive Tokai and Jurancon “Folie de Janvier” shone.

At Le Bernardin our table included Anthony Bourdain, David Rosengarten (Wine Editor, Saveur), Jean Michel Cazes (owner of Lynch Bages) and others. I was interviewed by the New York Times, and at the instigation of Daniel who proclaimed me “un vraimant gourmand”, I was interviewed on French television.

Le Bernardin was buzzing with camaraderie, mutual respect, affection, joy and enthusiasm. Extraordinary cuisine and superb wine had served not as ends unto themselves, but as true conduits. Like the symposium of old, these inducements had expanded awareness, wit and consciousness.

To Ariane and D’artagnan and to the relationships forged with so many friends who have become not only stars, but mini constellations in the culinary world, all happy to come and wish a dear friend and treasured partner well, felicitations and Happy Anniversary!

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Valentine’s…Eve?

Well we enjoy Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so this year, as Valentine’s Day was falling on Sunday, we opted to have our amorous outing on the “eve”.

Many pooh pooh this holiday calling it commercially contrived, historically dubious (as if our other holidays aren’t?) and more.

It’s irrelevant. It’s a day to focus on love, and you don’t have to succumb to an orgy of candy purchases, to focus on expressing one of our deepest sentiments. And you can be as extravagant, or as imaginative, or as corny as you like. You have license. We are “excused”.  After all, there’s an “official” day to blame!

Well we went back to our favorite spot for Valentine’s and much else, the Italian Wine Merchants, pioneers in Italian wine appreciation in the United States, and one of the primary conduits and channels for extraordinary wine of irreproachable provenance overall.

We had the lovely space to ourselves. We were surrounded by masterful chefs putting their show kitchen to the best possible use, and were “serenaded” (oenophilically) by Italian Wine Merchant Vice-President and a masterful commentator on the joys of the grape, Chris Deas.

Together he and Chef Kevin Sippel (a true culinary innovator), formerly of Alto , took us “Around the World in Eleven Courses”. Not quite around the world perhaps, but the circumnavigation was quite extensive. This could as easily have been called, “Around the World in Eleven Wines.” But why quibble? Both are implied, both were experienced.

Menu highlights included the palate puckering Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola. One of the last orchestrations of Didier Dagueneau via his masterful Pouilly Fume Silex 2006 enhanced and enchanted this remarkable dish.

Another menu highlight was the crispy sweetbread, manchego and toasted allioli, married exquisitely and tantalizingly with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corullon La Faraona 2006. From one of the best vineyard sites in Bierzo Spain, La Faraona is the gem of Alvaro Palacios’ (of Priorat fame) art in this region. Only 65 cases are produced annually, and other than the Italian Wine Merchants, this exceptional wine isn’t available anywhere else in the United States.

Hot on the heels of this…another winner! Fried Egg, hen egg, cooked slowly for two hours, lightly fried, with Serrano ham and baked sardine! Extraordinary!

The number of amazing wines, from Gaja Sperss 1998 to La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 1995 all could, in a lesser dinner, have been the centerpieces.

But for us the 1977 Bodega Malbec from Mendoza Argentina showed us a style of Malbec we almost can’t experience any more with the unsetttling “globalization” of wine tastes. The two “birth year” wines for my wife and I, the Leoville Las Cases (one of fifteen second growths in Bordeaux and one of our favorites) 1966 (a vintage that seems among the better Bordeaux to be drinking quite beautifully now) and the beyond rare 1966 Chateau Musar from Lebanon (slightly sweet herb-like aromas, elegant, a bit more Burgundian) were luscious, fitting and on their merits, truly memorable.

We went home with a lovely Pinot to accompany artisanal chocolates, a dozen red roses (a “classic” rather than a “cliche”, though many people can’t tell the two apart), and memories we will savor and which will reverberate happily for years to come.

James Thurber once opined, “Love is what you’ve been through with someone.” Most people take that to mean what you’ve survived together. Well, partially that’s so. But it’s as much what you’ve experienced together, exulted in together, and celebrated together! Salute!

AROUND THE WORLD IN ELEVEN COURSES

CHAMPAGNE — FRANCE

Selection of Raw Fish, Oysters and Caviar with Jacques Selosse Champagne Brut Initial NV

LOIRE VALLEY — FRANCE

Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola with Didier Dagnueneau Pouilly Fume Silex 2006

BRDA — SLOVENIA

Grilled Sepia with Sea Urchin with Movia Lunar 2007

BIERZO — SPAIN

Crispy Sweetbread, Tomato, Manchego and Toasted Allioli with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corrullon La Faraona 2006

PIEMONTE — ITALY

Frog Leg Risotto with Veal Reduction and Leeks with Gaja Sperss 1998

RIOJA — SPAIN

Fried Egg, Serrano Ham and Poached Sardine with La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Riserva ‘890’ 1995

TOSCANA — ITALY

Crudo of Veal with Hot Bone Marrow, Pancetta and Pecorino Fondue with Fontodi Flaccianello 1995

MENDOZA — ARGENTINA

Smoked Venison with White Polenta, Chorizo and Porcini Mushrooms with Bodega y Cavas de Weinert Malbec Estrella 1977

BORDEAUX — FRANCE

Foie Gras Tortellini in Black Truffle Consomme with Offal with Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Bordeaux 2nd Growth 1966

BEKAA VALLEY — LEBANON

Rack of Lamb with Controne Bean, Pickled Eggplant and Lamb’s Tongue with Chateau Musar Rouge 1966

ITALY

Chocolate Cake and Bombolini with Antonio Ferrari Solaria Jonica 1959

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