Adventure And Life Flying Incident

Friday, April 01, 2005

Charlie Palmer, chef and owner, Aureole restaurant, Manhattan

March 29, 2005

FREQUENT FLIER

Adventure Is the Critical Ingredient in Life

By CHARLIE PALMER

On the way to Las Vegas not long ago, the first-class cabin started to fill up with blue smoke. No one was lifting a finger, and it was getting worse. So I walked into the galley and opened the warming oven to see what was the problem. The previously oblivious flight attendant ran after me, half-panicked, and yelled, "Sir, you can’t do that." By then, I had retrieved a piece of burning plastic that had been caught on the heating element.

I am always the last person on the plane. I fly half the days of the month and am not interested in sitting in my seat longer than I have to. As I stood in line recently to board a flight from San Francisco to New York, I spotted a 9-year old boy who looked miserable. I have four boys myself and my heart went out to him. As it turned out, first class was pretty empty, and so I asked the flight attendant if she minded my bringing him up front to sit next to me.

I tried to engage the child in conversation. Nothing was taking until he asked me what I did for a living. It turns out this little child was a food nut, and he rattled off all the foods he loved and hated. He hated artichokes; he loved grilled asparagus. His favorite fish was striped bass and he said it was extremely important to look at the dessert menu first so you can strategize how much room you should leave.

That was it! I could not resist. I invited him to Aureole. He arrived with his grandmother. The staff did it up for them with Champagne and sparkling cider for the kid.

Probably the most unnerving announcement I ever heard came three days after 9/11 on a Delta flight. "I’m Captain Bill and I’m telling you all right now, if you see anything out of the ordinary, or you see anyone near the cockpit, you’re going to tackle them," the voice said. "And keep your seat belts fastened tight, because if anything funny goes on, I’m going to throw this plane around in the sky so fiercely that whoever is standing up, bad or good, they’re going to be bounced around to the point of incapacitation." That got everybody’s attention.

I was traveling with Daniel Boulud to cook an event in Brazil. We were carrying loads of stuff on us – truffles, smoked duck, wild mushrooms, some strong oniony smelling thing – and all had previously been cleared for customs. You could certainly smell us coming.

When we got to the officials in the Brazilian airport, they started to make noises about confiscating our ingredients. Daniel and I were panicked. We did not talk, but there was lots of eye contact. The dinner was the next night and the food was irreplaceable.

My brain was reaching for solutions, and then I took out four $100 bills and dropped them in front of the guard as inconspicuously and as quietly as possible. I did not mind paying $400 to bring the food through but I did not want to end up in some Brazilian jail for life over a bribe. And so I was sweating it.

Somehow the money disappeared and we were escorted, with our ingredients, into our car.

As told to Alice Feiring.

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