Monday, February 11, 2019. Sunny and cold, yesterday in New York. Temps in the mid-30s and dropping to the high 20s by evening. More of that harsh winter cold in the forecasts this week.
In the Mood. This is possibly the quietest time of the year in New York on the social calendar. The weather keeps people close to home more often, and many who have the opportunity, get away to warmer climes or snowier ones.
However, the social merry-go-round never really stops. For example, this past Friday night at a private club here, Alex Hitz hosted a birthday dinner for himself, marking a “special” (although not really) number which is considered “old” when you’re very young; “young” when you’re very old, and unremarkable if it’s your age: 50. Alex gave such a dinner for himself two decades ago, marking that very special age (at the time) of 30.
This year’s celebration, which was called for 8 p.m. – for cocktails – was a black tie seated occasion for 130. Alex has a large and varied list of friends who came from Europe, the South, the West Coast, and of course the Big Town. There is something to be said for “black tie” (when worn traditionally) for certain occasions. First of all, the women dress up for it, and that is a pleasure to the eye. And the men, in uniforms of black and white and bow tie complement (and compliment) the glamorous garb of the women. Men who improvise on the idea with different colors, etc., don’t get it and destroy the illusion.
I once asked the late John Galliher who was a connoisseur of 20th century formal style, why black tie was so effective traditionally. His answer (common sense) “because all the men, tall, short, wide, thin, young, old look good in it.”
It was through John that I first met Alex 25 years ago when he first came to New York to live. John was unusually impressed with Alex’s style and told me about him before we met. Alex is a native of Atlanta. As a young man new in New York, I could see he was obviously well off, and well connected among The People To Know. What was not apparent was that he’s highly entrepreneurial in his professional life. It makes sense, in retrospect, because New York is a magnet for the entrepreneurial spirit in us. The past two decades since Alex’ first birthday celebration have been the witness to that.
Over the years since then, he also spends a lot of his time in Los Angeles where he built a house high above Sunset Plaza overlooking the city, and where he entertains an eclectic Hollywood guest list for his dinners – prepared by the host. These environments include a very active social life. Friday night’s dinner reflected that. But the dinner we were attending was the result of that aforementioned entrepreneurial spirit. We were his guests and witness to his largesse of gourmet talents.
Growing up in Atlanta, the boy was brought up on Southern cooking and spent a lot of time with the family’s cook Dorothy Williams. From the sound of it, Dorothy was the guardian angel in the story, and he credits her to this day for teaching him about cooking. Today of course, he’s known as a “celebrity chef, cookbook author – “My Beverly Hills Kitchen” as well as a luxury gourmet food product line of the same name. Now completing a second book on Southern cooking, his services and style are sought after both nationally and internationally.
Cocktails began at 8. People were still arriving at 8:30. It was one of those gatherings where many people knew many people in the room (but not everybody which is what makes it interesting). And many hadn’t seen each other in a long while. So the pleasure of greeting was enhanced by the comfortable atmosphere and anticipation of the dinner. Waiters and waitresses passed with trays of white wine, sparkling water and champagne. Others followed with bottles of champagne to freshen.
A little after 9, guests began making their way to the dining room. Although slowly, because people were enjoying the company. Once seated – probably around 9:30 or even later, we were served the dinner. A simple menu, as you can see – but with variations of flavoring that made it not only delicious beautifully nutritious.
What also impressed me was the quality of each serving. Dinners (or luncheons) for large groups become assembly line. No matter the quality of the menu, there is an institutional aspect to it. At this dinner, and I don’t doubt it was the birthday boy’s supervision, each dinner look as if were created for you personally. There were items I tend to avoid although I didn’t bother on Friday. It was thorough.
There was no “Happy Birthday” singing but after dinner, we returned to the reception room where we had cocktails where the center was set with two or three large round tables covered with cakes and pies and mousses. It was like … too much! … but then I had two good slices of the coconut cake and I could have eaten more but decided to control myself.
I didn’t see much of Alex, in a crowd of 80, but I could see that the birthday was the pleasure he derives from his talent, his business and his life. It was a pleasure for us guests too!
Happy Birthday, indeed.