U.N. Delegates’ Dining Room is master of ethnic cuisine

U.N. Delegates’ Dining Room is master of ethnic cuisine – Brief Article

Paul King

Nobody does ethnic like Restaurant Associates at the United Nations Delegates, Dining Room.

Of course, although the statement may sound bold, when your customer base is drawn from nearly 190 countries, you can’t afford to try getting away with an occasional Latin-American Festival or Celebrating the Wines of Australia. So Restaurant Associates, the United Nations’ foodservice contractor, goes a long way to make sure its ethnic themes are as authentic as possible.

That intention was in evidence earlier this month, when I attended a Chef’s Table luncheon to kick off the two-week-long “April in Portugal.” Nearly 20 food and travel writers attended the event, hosted by RA and the group investments, Trade and Tourism of Portugal.

The chefs, who would spend two weeks working in the U.N. kitchen with RA executive chef Lou Piuggi, were on loan from Pousadas de Portugal, an association of 44 state-owned luxury hotels. The writers go to converse with people from the Portuguese Tourism Office and Pousadas de Portugal. At the same time they sampled such foods as bacalhau a bras, shredded salt cod with potato, onion and egg; ameijoas a bulhao pato, sauteed clams in garlic and olive oil; and torta de laranja, rolled orange-flavored custard.

RA has been offering its ethnic feasts, which are open to the public, for the last three years. Piuggi and general manager Genevieve Stona always bring chefs from the countries or regions being featured, and ingredients often are imported from those countries as well. The event has provided quite an education for chef Piuggi.

“The main thing I have learned through these events is tolerance,” he said, “tolerance and patience. I don’t speak a foreign language, and very few of the chefs who come in speak any English. So there are a lot of hand signals being used.”

The programs also give Piuggi and his staff the chance to hobnob occasionally with icons of the restaurant industry. Last month, for example, Hungary was featured, with specific emphasis on Gundel, the Budapest restaurant owned by George Lang.

Piuggi said it takes about two months to put together one of these themed events, which run from two weeks to a month in the Delegates’ Dining Room.

“I think of these events as inviting people into my home,” he explained. “I get together with the chefs about two months in advance. And I get as many menus as I can so that I can plan my shopping list to get whatever food and utensils I need to transform my kitchen into a Portuguese kitchen or a Hungarian kitchen or whatever the country happens to be.

“I try not to later the menus too much,” he added. “However, I also have to remember that 40 percent of my customer base is Muslim, and so I have to be sensitive about dishes that contain pork, for example.”

RA’s ethnic events literally have spanned the globe, both geographically and historically. Upcoming events include the cuisines of Morocco, Indonesia and Persia, which is better known as Iran.

Of all the events he has done, Piuggi declared that Peru has been the most interesting and challenging. “The Peruvians use a lot of unusual peppers and different varieties of corn,” he explained. “In particular, there is one large-kernel corn, used by the Peruvian indians.”

Another factor that made Peru interesting is its lack of restaurant presence in New York City.

“Morocco is a country that we think of as having an exotic cuisine, but there are several Moroccan restaurants in the city, so there is exposure to those foods,” Piuggi said. “When we did our Peru theme, there was one Peruvian restaurant in the city.”

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