Thursday, September 12, 2013

You could “see” it, let alone feel it

The Queensboro Bridge. 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, September 12, 2013. Very, very warm and muggy in New York yesterday. You could “see” it, let alone feel it.

It was Wednesday and so it was Michael’s. It was a typical pandemonium of a room, as Wednesday often are. A real “up” day. I sometimes think people are celebrating the day before Thursday which means TGIF.

I was lunching with Vincent Minuto, who has a company called Hampton Domestics whose ads you may have seen (and maybe clicked on) on the NYSD.
DPC and Vincent Minuto of Hampton Domestics at Michael's.
Vincent and I first met about 20 years ago at a party of the late Judy Green. Judy died 12 years ago just three days after the attack on the World Trade Center. She was a great friend to many, including this writer, and also to Vincent who was her caterer at her fabulous New York parties.

She lived above the town at 555 Park Avenue and she loved giving big parties for two or three hundred. The guest list was the most eclectic you’d ever find in New York, at least on the Upper East Side. Bankers, barkers, rockers, real estate moguls, debutante, actors, artists, singers, socialites and people on the hustle. She loved a big different crowd.

Judy Green, a great friend to many, including this writer, and also to Vincent who was her caterer at her fabulous New York parties.
A guest at Judy Green's happily partaking in one of Vincent's tea sandwiches.
Vincent and Judy made sure the bubbly was never far away.
She was a child of New York, a kind of Marjorie Morningstar who grew up on Central Park West and dined and wined on and all over the town. Joie de vivre, it was; and drama too, like behind the scenes with Broadway baby. But always laughter, lotsa laughter. Her many friends still often think of her and her times whenever they pass that building at 62nd and Park. Her idea of a New York cocktail party was the kind us kids dreamed of when growing up out in the boonies. Fun, glamorous, crazy and delicious.

Vincent was her caterer. His greatest specialty for Judy were his cucumber and water cress sandwiches, or “tea sandwiches.” They’d be spread out with everything else on the dining room table and half the crowd would be hanging around gobbling them up like candy. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it was true and still funny to remember.

Vincent and I would run into each other over the years, here in Manhattan, out in the Hamptons where he’s had a house as long as I’ve known him. He’s a low-key kind of guy, a Sicilian from Brooklyn where his father had a business making sports trophies. His brother still runs it, and his mother who is now 83 still works there. When Vincent was a kid he did a lot of the engraving after school.

Vincent loves his work (and he’s got a lot of it); he loves people. He takes everything as it comes, and as a result it’s a charmed life. No doubt he’d think so too.

He attended the Culinary Institute (although he says “cooking isn’t learned, you’re born with it…” He started out as a kid working in the kitchen at “21” and then for a man named Donald Bruce White.

Donald Bruce White (he was always referred to by his three names) was a Broadway actor who had great success as a juvenile but the career cooled off by the time he was an adult. A man who always liked to cook, he fell into catering (a convenient way to grab meal) and turned it into a very successful business here in New York.

White had a roster of clients that still reads like a Who’s Who. Vincent learned the ropes from White and when the opportunity came up to work for Bob Guccione, the founder/publisher of Penthouse, he took it. He worked for Guccione for 17 years, as cook and managing the household staff of eighteen as well as the staff of 12 in the Rhinebeck house.

Besides his work with Guccione he was always taking catering assignments on the side. That business grew and somehow led to him developing another business – Hampton Domestics – placing people in the domestic service business. It’s not something we hear about when it comes to “employment” matters but it’s a thriving business and Vincent is one of the biggest agents in the city, in the Hamptons, in Palm Beach and elsewhere.
A Judy Green affair.
He credits his (what I call) success to his years in the catering business. There isn’t a name in the Social Register,  or among the Quest 400, not to mention corporate rosters, who don’t have his phone number.

For years he catered Liz Fondaras’ Bastille Day party at her beach house in East Hampton every July, as well as her dinner parties at her Fifth Avenue apartment.

Liz, who died last year in her 90s, always held the buffet lunch at her poolside and her list of guests ranged from local friends to international celebrities and Washington hotshots. The lure for her guests was of course the hostess and her guest list, but to all who knew her it was Vincent’s buffet – which included those famous tea sandwiches – that drew the flocks.
One of Liz Fondaras’ Bastille Day parties at her beach house in East Hampton.
After Guccione, he went to work for Leona Helmsley at her estate in Greenwich. Helmsley, who died several years ago, was a controversial figure (known as the “queen of mean”) for her meteoric personality. Vincent loved her. When they met, he reminded her that they were first introduced at one of Judy Green’s parties. She didn’t remember. He also told her they came from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. That was it; he was hired.

He only stayed on for seven months because he missed the action of the city and the Hamptons. “Mrs. Helmsley was a very lonely woman. She told me that having a lot of money made her life complicated and lonely after her husband died,” Vincent recalled.

According to Vincent, Mrs. Helmsley was a very lonely woman.
"Sinatra loved to cook," said Vincent.
Vincent plays the piano. It started when he was a toddler and his parents gave him a toy piano for Christmas. When he was twelve, he’d save enough money to buy a used Baldwin grand for $750. Big big money in those days and especially for a kid. It’s still in his mother’s living room out in Brooklyn. The Hamptons house has one and every Summer he holds recitals for local kids studying piano. At parties, there’s music and singing always.

In summertime business moves out to the Hamptons. His catering clientele run from old Social Register families to hot hedge fund people. Vincent provides the staff, the food and sets it all up. He’s not one to participate in his clients’ parties – as this Diary might be mistakenly conveying. But he sees it all, enjoys what he sees, and thinking of only one thing: making the client happy with what he can deliver. Many of those clients get to know him, just as I did, as a friend because he’s open and kind and quick to laugh.

He talked about the golden days for him in Southampton when both Judy Green and Ann (Mrs. Morton) Downey used to entertain Frank Sinatra. Vincent loved Sinatra. They spoke the same language (different inflection), the boy from Brooklyn, the kid from Bayone. Sinatra had a wicked sense of humor and very quick wit. He loved to cook too and was often in the kitchen kibitzing and checking things out. Laughter abounded.

Nowadays, his best friend out there is Loraine Bracco. “Because she’s totally real.” And then he laughs. “And Joy Behar” who tells him he’s “a gay man in a Mafia don’s body.” More laughter. “I get it,” he explained; “I’m Sicilian.”

I asked him how business was at Hampton Domestics. Not being one to need, let alone afford, domestic staff, I tend to forget anyone might. Very busy in Vincent’s world. He always pays for his quarterly ad in advance (which is always surprising and delightful to receive), because, he told me, his ad in the NYSD has brought him very good luck in business. So he honors that, much to our pleasure.

Our lunch ran into the quiet time at Michael’s when the customers are gone and they’re setting up for the dinner hour.  Vincent’s has so many adventures, met so many people, so many different kinds of people -- many of whom are/were famous and celebrated and even notorious -- that this writer was all ears hearing about the stage he works on and the people he loves, no matter who they are. Or were. Joie de vivre; it’s catching.
Two recent job listings on Hampton Domestics.
Meanwhile Michael’s. The joint was jumping. At the table next to mine, Peter Brown, the international P.R. guru was lunching with New York Post’s distinguished theatre critic Michael Riedel. Next to them it was Joe Armstrong, the Mayah of Michael’s with Dave Zinczenko of Men’s Fitness and ABC  television as a news correspondent. Behind  Brown and Riedel at Table One, ATV Music’s Martin Bandler. Across the way, three of Da Boyz: Michael Kramer, Dr. Gerry Imber and Gerry della Femina; across from them, producer/casting agent Bonnie Timmerman with stage and film producer Fred Zollo; Diane Clehane (our very own Brenda Starr) with Steven Stolman of Scalamandre. Steven, who is assiduously expanding the “brand” of the textiles and fabrics house in to china, flatware, wallpapers, is now writing a book on the long and fascinating life of Scalamandre.

Around the room. Nikki Haskell with Rikki Klieman and Eva Mohr;  Desiree Gruber with Marc Graboff, President of NBC Television; Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew and her author, Jennet Conant; Sam Shuman; Sharon Bush and Bettina Zilkha; Michael Mailer; Glenn Horowitz; Nan Talese; Ryan Kavanaugh with Claire Atkinson of the New York Post; Tony Hoyt and Charla Lawhon; Pauline Brown of LVMH with Hamilton South; David Adler, founder of Bizbash.

Jonathan Alpeyrie.
One of Jonathan's photographs while in Syria.
More: Jim Friedrich of Empirical Media; Sanford & Stein; Jim Casella of Case Interactive; Michael Del Giudice of Millennium Partners; Newell Turner of Hearst; Richard Descherer; Peter Gregory; Ted Hathway;  Jerry Inzerillo; Dan Lufkin; Shelly Palmer; Jake Ottman of Warner Music; Susan Blond; Justin Cauli of Pandora; Tom Prassis of Sony Pictures Classics. Meanwhile, at the bar– the preference for some regulars lunching (they can catch the world walking by) – Kira Semler and Liz Wood (in from DC), and Kim McCarty, wife of the proprietor.

And at the table in the corner, Jack Kliger, President of TV Guide, with a young man who looked like he could have been Kliger’s son. He was dressed very casually in a tee shirt and jeans. My friend/Brenda, Diane Clehane scooped me on this but it’s worth repeating no matter. The young man is the son of a friend of Kliger’s.

His name was Jonathan Alpeyrie. Kliger referred to him as a combat photographer who, on his third trip to Syria, was abducted at gunpoint by masked men at a checkpoint near Damascus. He was held for 81 days, finally freed on the paying of a $450,000 ransom. During captivity he was often chained to his bed, and was almost shot by a guard one night when he went to the bathroom without permission.

Mr. Alpeyrie, who has been in town photographing Fashion Week, told an interviewer in the British Journal of Photography that he owes his freedom to “A Syrian man close to the regime, a member of Parliament and a businessman looking for Douard Elias and Didier Francois (two French journalists who went missing in Syria on June 7th), who stumbled upon me.”

Wednesday lunch at Michael’s.
Paxton Quigley.

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