The Gentlemen Who Saved The Four Seasons

Though it is not always obvious, people of substance and scruples have inhabited the restaurant business since the beginning of time, but they can be hard to find. I was lucky enough to meet and be guided by a number of them throughout my career as a wine representative. One of these restaurant titans was peppering me with questions about my background and exactly why I was there, on this chilly October day in 1977. I had just started my job a month earlier, but I  knew enough about New York City restaurants to realize that I was rubbing elbows with royalty.  It was 10:00 a.m  and I entered the 52nd St. lobby entrance, strolled past the Miro paintings that adorned the walls, climbed the staircase and found myself being ushered into an empty  walnut paneled Grill Room, the very spot that had been dubbed “the most powerful dining room in New York” by business and society writers of the time.

“The Four Seasons, Summer” by Miro

The undulating gold chain drapery, that moved with the flow of air, was so bright and sparkling as to be distracting and quite intimidating, but the man I was there to meet walked toward me, shook my hand warmly, and put me at ease. When I introduced myself, he proclaimed proudly and with a smile,  “you are Hungarian, like me”. This was the first time that anyone mentioned Hungary as my family’ s homeland, but he explained that rather than being from Ukraine, my last name was the word for a type of bread, a ‘pogacha’. This came as a complete surprise to me, since my grandparents and uncle, who emigrated from Ukraine in 1905, never mentioned Hungary as the birthplace of our family and to that point, I had never heard the word pogacha. But I trusted the fellow with whom I was speaking. His name was Paul Kovi, the co- owner of The Four Seasons Restaurant. He had bought the place from the prolific Restaurant Associates, a company for which he had previously worked. Joe Baum, who worked his way up the ranks of Restaurant Associates, had created The Four Seasons in 1959 and by 1973, the company felt that the once popular watering hole had lost its luster and decided to unload it Paul Kovi and business partner Tom Margittai, both former employees of ‘RA’, took it over and restored its image and it’s bottom line.

Paul Kovi and Tom Margittai

The restaurant’s signature ‘New American Cuisine’ that changed with the seasons, remained the order of the day, but Kovi took the approach to new culinary heights by hiring Swiss chef Seppi Renggli who quickly received praise from the legendary restaurant and food critic Craig Claiborne of The New York Times, assuring a successful revitalization. Generally positive reviews by Claiborne, Mimi Sheraton and influential business publications, along with aggressive marketing by Kovi and Margittai, expanded the customer base well beyond the out-of-town tourist trade, attracting a heavy hitting business and celebrity clientele that led to the coining of the term” Power Lunch”. It was not unusual to see Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sandy Weill (CEO of Citigroup), Martha Stewart, Truman Capote and David Rockefeller, and it was here that I first met fashion designer Bill Blass. This was an era when classic, once fashionable French restaurants were beginning to close. These fine dining establishments had attracted a high-profile clientele. Among them were Le Pavillon, Cafe Chauveron, and Voisin. As fate would have it, Voisin was located at street level of the Montana Apartment Buildings, at 375 Park Avenue. The restaurant was forced to move when the land was sold and the building demolished for construction of the Ludwig Mies van de Rohe/ Philip Johnson designed Seagram Building, a no-frills modern “International  style” office building that became home to The Four Seasons Restaurant.

Joe Baum with James Beard. Photo: Dan Wynn
Subsequent meetings, luncheons and dinners with Mr. Kovi provided me with information about his life before The Four Seasons. In his younger days, he was a member of the Hungarian National Soccer team and a professional player in Italy. After meeting with Tom Margittai on a number of occasions, I learned about his dramatic escape from the Nazis during World War II, when he was living with his parents in Budapest, a relatively good place to be for Jews. His parents were able to pay for tickets on what has become known as the ‘Kastner Train’, providing 1,700 Jews with safe passage from Hungary to Switzerland. While traveling through northern Germany the train made what must have been a harrowing stop, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, before continuing on its way.
In 1950, Tom arrived in New York and took a job as a dishwasher at The Waldorf- Astoria Hotel. From there, he worked his way up within the hotel industry, until he arrived at the exclusive Sherry-Netherland Hotel, where he ended up hiring Paul Kovi for a position in the banquet department. Eventually, they were both hired by Restaurant Associates, where they learned how to create and manage restaurants like the theatrical ‘Forum Of The Twelve Caesars’, where flambee dishes were standard fare and toga-like outfits standard dress for waiters.
The Four Seasons Flambe’
As restaurateurs, Kovi and Margittai were among the very best, but more importantly for me, they provided insights into the restaurant business and were supportive of my work. They did not dismiss me ( a young inexperienced kid) out- of- hand as many others did in those days, but encouraged my efforts and taught me how to interact with other restaurateurs and helped me to make new contacts, introducing me to fellow Hungarian George Lang at Cafe des Artistes. Above all, they inspired me to persevere and lifted my spirits at a time when many people in the industry discouraged my efforts. For that I am eternally grateful.
Thank you, Paul Kovi and Tom Margittai
  • Jeffrey Pogash for The Cocktail Guru

Adieu, Sirio…

“Wet behind the ears” is an understatement in describing my experience in the wine and spirits industry back in 1977, but I was excited to undertake the task of promoting/selling the wines of Alsace, a lesser known and somewhat maligned category of wine at the time. I was advised to focus on the restaurant industry, for it was there, I was told, that influential customers will learn to understand and appreciate the qualities of a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Knowing this, I created a plan that would take me to every “Grand” restaurant in New York City, from ‘Windows On The World’ in lower Manhattan to about 90th St., from the Hudson to the East River. Naturally, the newly established, upscale Le Cirque in the Mayfair Hotel on East 61 st. was going to be one of my very first calls and a cold call at that. I figured that if I just walked into a restaurant I would have the element of surprise and could strike up a conversation with a waiter or Maitre d’ who would then escort me into the office of the wine buyer. Some of my visits that week resulted in verbal abuse, others in rejection of the physical kind, as in being grabbed by the collar and thrown out the front door.

It was about 10:00 a.m.  Hesitantly, while quaking in my boots, I approached the imposing doorway covered by the iconic white and black Le Cirque awning. As I opened the heavy glass doors, I spied a most elegantly dressed tall, thin man with an intimidating chiseled face standing behind the Maitre d’ stand. He reminded me of a wooden statue, but smiled politely (probably because I was dressed in a suit and tie and might have been perceived as a potential customer), and introduced himself as Sirio Maccione, the owner. In a quivering voice, I told him that I was there to talk about the wines of Alsace, after which he invited me to sit down and offered me a coffee. I am sure he could see that I was totally intimidated, so he put me at ease by sharing his enthusiasm for the wines I represented and we had a pleasant fifteen minute chat. As a twenty-five year old novice wine promoter, I was flattered that this soon to be legendary restaurateur, formerly of the iconic Delmonico’s and The Colony, treated me with a kindness, gentleness and elegance that I had not experienced from the rest of the industry. His knowledge of wine was impressive in that I could have a real conversation with him about Alsace, the wines, the people and the region. Mr. Maccione was from Tuscany, he knew his wines and he knew that many of the world’s greatest chefs were from Alsace, so he had a deep appreciation and understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.

 

Attempting to get into his good graces after our cordial chat, I asked Mr. Maccione if he had a table available for lunch. Without missing a beat. and with his usual charm and elegance, he escorted me to a two top.That was my very first meal at Le Cirque, but it was not to be my last. Sitting alone within the dining room of this bastion of high society and haute cuisine, I was basking in the glory of this newly established celebrity haunt, which succeeded because Sirio himself had a coterie of loyal celebrities and dignitaries from the famed Colony Club, long before Le Cirque served its first meal. Wherever Sirio went, the faithful would follow.  As I recall, I shared the dining room that afternoon with Henry Kissinger and a group of his cohorts. After lunch, I was introduced to Chef Jean Vergnes, the first of Le Cirque’s famous chefs and like Sirio, an alumnus of the Colony Club.

Over the next nine years, my meetings with Sirio continued, but not as frequently as during that first year, since the focus of my work turned nationwide. But the relationship continued and I followed as Le Cirque moved from The Mayfair to the glitzy New York Palace Hotel in 1997, where it was renamed Le Cirque 2000, and then again when it moved from the Palace and opened in the Bloomberg Tower condominium complex in 2006.

Jeffrey and Jocelyne Pogash, “M. et Mme. Alsace”

In 1986, Sirio and I collaborated on the Statue of Liberty’s 100 th Anniversary Celebration during which we placed Chef Marc Haeberlin from the great Alsace restaurant L’Auberge de L ‘Ill at Le Cirque for a one week stint as guest chef. This was a celebration not only of The Statue, but of the Alsatian who sculpted it, Auguste Bartholdi, and helped to raise awareness of the wines and the great cuisine of the region. Once again, he was gracious and appreciative that he was asked to participate in this city-wide culinary extravaganza, that brought the greatest Alsace chefs together with the great chefs of New York.

My last conversation with Sirio was in 2010 when I organized a Dom Perignon, Krug and Veuve Clicquot champagne white truffle dinner in the Le Cirque kitchens at One Beacon Court on East 58th St.  The kindness and warmth that I remembered from those very early days were still there, as was Sirio’ s larger-than-life stature. He was not as vigorous as he had been, but his strong presence and control were obvious.  As I was leaving the restaurant that evening, I reminded him of the encouragement he gave to a young wine promoter in 1977, helping to launch him on a career that had spanned thirty-four years. It was a fitting adieu.

 

The Cocktail Guru Goes Virtual

Amidst the crisis that we are all facing, Jonathan Pogash, founder/ owner of The Cocktail Guru, Inc has announced two on-line programs that will continue the work that he has been doing for the past ten years.

Jonathan has begun leading a series of short live on-line mixology tutorials, with a focus on positive news from around the world and creative cocktail recipes using at home ingredients. The tutorials, now called “Some Good Booze,” launched on March 14th, and continues every day at 5pm EST on FB Live, as well as posted to The Cocktail Guru Instagram and YouTube channels. The idea, inspired by actor John Krasinski’s launch of his YouTube show, “Some Good News”, will follow in ‘The Office” star’s footsteps: “stories that have made you feel good this week or the things that just made you smile.” Of course, Jonathan will throw in a dash or two of cocktail and spirit-related inspiration to round things out.

In addition, a separate Virtual Team Building/Virtual Happy Hour program is being offered to corporations and organizations, so that The Cocktail Guru can continue with its comprehensive nationwide team building that it created seven years ago. Some of the nation’s largest companies, including Facebook and Google, have enlisted the help of The Cocktail Guru team to bring their employees together for an educational and fun-filled activity that encourages cooperation between colleagues.

For more information about our Virtual Team Building/Virtual Happy Hour program, please contact us.

Visit The Cocktail Guru on Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube.

Recipes from EW Live on SiriusXM – 8/13/19

Bachelor in Paradise

1 1/2 oz Barsol Pisco

3/4 oz honey chili syrup (1:1 honey and warm water + small hot pepper – infused overnight)

1 oz watermelon juice

Top with Q ginger ale

Method: Shake first three ingredients very well with ice and strain over ice into rocks glass. Top off with the ginger ale and toggle.

Garnish: fresh mint leaf

 

“Creamsicle Cocktail Duo”

National Creamsicle Day is tomorrow!

1) Clarified Creamsicle –

In a mason jar, add:

1 oz Van Gogh Citroen Vodka  1 oz Van Gogh vanilla vodka

2 oz orange juice

1 oz simple syrup

1/2 oz orange curaçao

Combine ingredients, then add 2 oz whole milk to “milk wash”

(Which will “clarify” the drink)

Refrigerate for 12 hours

Remove from fridge and fine strain through cheese cloth

Serve cold over ice.

 

2) Beer-sicle –

1 oz Van Gogh vanilla  vodka (Infused with 1 cinnamon tea bag for 10 mins)

1 tbsp blood orange (or regular orange)sorbet

1 tbsp vanilla ice cream or soft serve soft serve

Shake well with ice and strain into martini glass. Top off with cold New England style IPA beer

Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg

Cocktail Recipes (and Link) from Weekend Today Show

WEEKEND TODAY SHOW 8/11

LATIN-AMERICAN THEMED COCKTAILS
Segment Link: HERE

Chili Chilcano

1 1/2 oz. Barsol Quebranta Pisco
1 tsp. Perfect Puree of Napa Valley ginger puree
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. honey-chili syrup
Top w/ Q Ginger Ale
METHOD: Shake first four ingredients very well with ice and strain over ice into highball glass. Top off with Q Ginger Ale and toggle.
GARNISH: lime wheel and fresh mint sprig
Mari-groni
1 oz. Caorunn Gin
1 oz. marigold and basil infused Luxardo Bitter Bianco
1 oz. Sandeman white port
METHOD: Stir ingredients very well with ice and strain over ice into rocks glass.
GARNISH: long orange peel and marigold flower
Colombian Night Out
1 1/2 oz. Dictador 12 yr old rum
1 1/2 oz. Van Gogh double espresso vodka
1/2 oz. dulce de leche
METHOD: Shake very well with ice and strain into martini glass.
GARNISH: hibiscus salt rim on glass

Deliciously Decadent Evening of Chocolate & Cocktails

The Big Chocolate Show is upon us – and we are producing our 7th annual “Deliciously Decadent Evening of Chocolate & Cocktails” – as part of it!

Come join us at the New Yorker Hotel on Sat 9/29 from 8-10pm for some delicious treats from our amazing chefs and talented mixologists.

Tickets and info here: Decadent Evening Tickets

Visit www.bigchocolateshow.com for more info about the show.

Chefs include:

Iesha Williams – The Salty Heifer
Sean Wilson – CSW Catering
Elisa Lyew – Elisa’s Love Bites
J. Jackson – Mr Foodtastic
Rhonda Kave – Roni-Sue’s Chocolates
Regina McRae – Grandma’s Secrets
Olga Savel – Sowella Chocolates
Alyssa Andrews – Fairytale Brownies (product only – won’t have a rep there)
Mona Changaris – Amore di Mona
Jen King – JoMart Chocolates

Oysters: The Great Equalizer

It is said that Diamond Jim Brady,‎ the wealthy gastronome and frequent guest of New York’s greatest restaurants, began all of his meals with a helping of three to six dozen oysters. Legend has it that he was especially fond of the plump, flavorful Lynnhaven oyster, harvested from its namesake river in Virginia. Diamond Jim was not alone in his love for the majestic mollusk. His fellow New Yorkers gulped oysters like they were going out of style. Rockaways, Blue Points  Saddle Rocks and East Rivers were the most popular and readily available among the local New York species and the citizenry slurped them by the millions. Yes, oysters were truly plentiful in New York and New Jersey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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The Cocktail Guru Welcomes Elayne Duff As Consultant

The Cocktail Guru Welcomes Elayne Duff

As Brand Advocate Consultant

NEW YORK, NY, January 22, 2018 – Jonathan Pogash and The Cocktail Guru team are pleased to announce our newest team member Elayne Duff, who joins The Cocktail Guru as an advising consultant. In that capacity, she will be our “Ambassador Training and Program Development Guru.”

 

Jeffrey Pogash states: “I had the great pleasure of working with Elayne for a number of years when she was Head Mixologist and Ambassador for Diageo’s Wine and Spirits Luxury Portfolio. I witnessed her dedication to product and the tremendous innovation creativity and profound enthusiasm that she brought to her job. In addition, I could not help but be impressed by Elayne’s depth of knowledge in all product categories and the sheer joy that she brought to all of her activities. She is a consummate professional.”

 

Those of us who know Elayne are looking forward to working with her, as her expertise and professionalism will add even greater dimension and depth to our outstanding team of ambassadors, mixologists and consultants that form The Cocktail Guru.

 

About The Cocktail Guru Brand Advocate Program:

We believe Brand Ambassadorship – or as we like to call it, Brand Advocacy – to be an essential and extremely cost effective way to build brands. Working on-premise (and/or off-premise if the case may be) and with a vast network of bartenders and industry professionals who are dialed into influencers at the highest profile accounts, our National team will act as advocates for your brand and go-to experts on the category.

 

About The Cocktail Guru:

Created in 2005 by preeminent bartender Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru has grown to be one of the most highly regarded beverage consulting firms in the U.S. The Cocktail Guru manages all aspects of ambassadorship for beverage brands, creates and executes drinks programs for bars and restaurants, as well as produces and executes special events.

 

CONTACT:

Jeffrey Pogash

973-568-6467

jeffrey@thecocktailguru.com

 

New Year’s Eve Cocktails

Happy New Year!

Our founder, Jonathan Pogash, appeared on a Facebook Live feed with WGBH – Boston’s NPR station – at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.  Edgar B. Herwick III, host of WGBH’s “Curiosity Desk”, answered some most curious queries, and sampled some of Jonathan’s New Year’s Winter cocktails.

Here are the recipes, in no particular order.  Enjoy making them at home!  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email Jonathan at Jonathan@thecocktailguru.com.

Cheers!

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