Over the years, some of my students have asked me to recount stories from my “glory days” when I traveled the world on behalf of a TV news network. I always resisted, because I never liked it when the old-timers would do that at the bar after a hard day of reporting — as if all we had to live for were those epic, sometimes historic moments that the rest of the world could only envy. Plus the name dropping could be insufferable. But here’s a good one…a story that came full circle last night. And I get to name drop!
In 1996, I was in San Diego to cover the yawn-inducing Republican Party Convention (Bob Dole had already been anointed as Presidential candidate). Things were so slow that NBC was trolling around for a good feature. Anchor Tom Brokaw’s producer suggested that he find a reclusive Japanese-American family that (a) had spent WWII in an American internment camp; (b) grew amazing fruits and vegetables that they sold at modest roadside stand, to culinary luminaries such as Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck; (c) had been featured in a New Yorker profile. I actually had to drive out to the farm with a colleague of mine to convince them to appear on camera because they refused to do so over the phone (the value of face-to-face persuasion). In return, I got to eat some amazing produce, and was invited to dine at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant a few weeks later. Puck was interviewed for the story (not by me), and I managed to dine with his executive chef that night at Spago, at the chef’s table because of my special relationship with his vegetable purveyor. It was a gourmet experience that I never forgot.
Last night, I had another once-in-a-lifetime dining moment as a guest of brilliant, cheerfully mad billionaire scientist Nathan Myhrvold, who was featuring recipes from his $600, 2400 page Modernist Cuisine cookbook (“The Art & Science of Cooking”) to an invite-only list of 16 guests. At my table? The staff of French Laundry (one of the best restaurants in America, located in Napa), my wife, and yup, Wolfgang Puck. Of course, I had to tell Puck about my Spago experience — he was extremely personable, and even remembered the story Brokaw had done. Meanwhile, a TV crew from the PBS show Nova was filming the entire meal.
I know, I know, how on earth did I get invited? Thanks to another influential meal a few years ago in Seattle, when a handful of the city’s top communications executives convened to welcome a new hire at Microsoft. That’s where I met Shelby Barnes, Myhrvold’s PR and Marketing VP (who also orchestrated the sale of 46,000 copies of the world’s longest and most expensive cookbook — self-published). I’m always selling my graduate program in digital media, and happen to have a few brochures on hand that evening. I gave one to Shelby — she applied to the program within weeks. She was at last night’s dinner as well, and will graduate in two weeks from the MCDM — a full circle within a larger full circle. And Shelby gave me access to her boss for my Media Space TV show last year, and had him keynote this year’s Pacific Science Center Foundations of Science Breakfast.
So we were Shelby’s guests as we were treated to a phenomenal evening of 30 separate courses from a tasting menu, held in Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures laboratory. The moral to this story, if there is one? Create content, connect to celebrities, and get to indulge in over-the-top culinary delights (or as one of my more astute students commented, it pays to make genuine connections with real people). Here are images from last night’s dinner, I’m not going to even try to explain in words what we ate, and how it tasted (scans of the menu and drinks list below):