The Big Apple Has the Right Ingredients

An insider's look at the Manhattan dining scene

CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (760,000 sf of exhibition space and in   the midst of an expansion; Javits Center North, with 80,000 sf of exhibition space, has been completed); Madison Square Garden Expo Center (61,000 sf)

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Bravo’s Top Chef mixes a cash prize, bragging rights, and competitive cooks, and this season, it’s back in New York. The Primetime Emmy Award-winning show, which has also garnered the prestigious James Beard Award, is as dramatic as television’s cooking competitions get.

Contestants have enlivened airplane food, hawked their own versions of upscale street food, and have had to create holiday stuffing without using any utensils. The success of the show can be partly attributed to the fact that people’s interest in food and chefs is now at an all-time high.

Tom Colicchio, chef-owner of Craft restaurant group, is Top Chef’s head judge. His newest venture is Riverpark, located at New York City’s Alexandria Center, which also houses Apella Event Space. Colicchio is available to speak to groups for between $30,000 and $50,000. With such a wealth of cooking talent, there are many New York chefs who will speak to groups for much less.

“Cooking and food appeal to both men and women,” says Karen Shackman of Shackman Associates, a 20-year-old New York-based destination management and special event services company. “One of the ways guests can explore New York is with a culinary tasting around the city. We arrange for groups to enjoy dim sum in Chinatown, mozzarella and prosciutto in Little Italy, or bagels and bialys on the Lower East Side—maybe even with a side of pastrami or corned beef. Each customized tour gives guests a glimpse into how diverse New York is and what a tapestry of cultures our city has developed from,” says Shackman. “Another popular walking tour takes in the sweet side of New York by visiting chocolatiers, cupcakeries, and bakeries. We’ve also organized beer- and pizza-tasting tours, sampling beers from local micro-breweries and a variety of the pizza types available.”

Market Watch
Not to be missed are the city’s farmers markets, like the world-famous Union Square Greenmarket that began with just a few farmers in 1976 and has grown exponentially over the past 35 years. In peak season, 140 farmers, fishermen, and bakers sell their goods there each week.

Chelsea Market, which dates back to the 1890s when it housed the National Biscuit Company, is today a bustling arcade of food stores, restaurants, and bakeries—a gourmand’s delight. The Food Network headquartered upstairs is where Iron Chef, another popular cooking show—this one based on the Japanese cult sensation—is filmed. Chelsea Market offers a multitude of event and meeting space.

Another food and wine market is Eataly, which features areas for shopping, learning, and eating, courtesy of three of New York’s beloved Italian-American restaurateurs, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. The space features multiple restaurants, including a fine-dining Italian steakhouse called Manzo, a Neapolitan pizzeria, and a year-round rooftop beer garden and microbrewery, as well as a cooking school. 

Where the Action Is
If front-row seats to the action behind the stoves of New York’s top restaurants appeal to your groups, several restaurants in New York offer kitchen tables. They include Park Avenue, a restaurant that is completely transformed to coincide with the season, where 10 guests can watch the action from the Kitchen Table; other private spaces can host up to 90. Daniel Boulud’s Daniel offers a chef’s table, as do Aldea (up to 6), Barbuto (up to 14), Il Buco (up to 20), and Remi (up to 16).

Shackman took this concept one step further for a recent group by arranging for them to spend the morning at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, about an hour and a half from Manhattan. After a cooking class, the group enjoyed lunch in one of the five student-staffed restaurants at the CIA, where aspiring chefs prepare and serve meals under the watchful eyes of seasoned chef-instructors. 

Although not as iconic as the CIA, there are many other first-rate cooking schools in New York that cater to groups. The International Culinary Center recently expanded its event space and on- and-off-premise catering services. The new event space provides additional state-of-the-art kitchens and other facilities allowing clients to host unique events including demos with internationally-renowned chefs; interactive classes with world-class faculty; as well as cocktail receptions, wine tastings, and private dinners.  

The city offers an unparalleled range of venues and culinary choices for groups. Whether it’s a small casual affair you’d like to plan or a huge gala bash, New York has options that no other city has. Cultural destinations like Lincoln Center’s restaurants can host sophisticated events. There is 65, a cafe in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall, and the stylish Arpeggio Food & Wine in Avery Fisher Hall. The seventh floor of the Museum of Arts and Design, which opened in 2008 in Columbus Circle, can host receptions for 140 and offers stunning views of Central Park. 

Also available for private functions is the elegant Morgan Dining Room in the beautifully renovated Morgan Library & Museum. Many of the city’s museums now feature restaurants; among the newest is The Wright in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.