As I’m pulling together this Dumas Project especially the Dinner portion, I’ve been having serendipitous goodfun meeting people who merit a seat at Alexandre’s table. People who embody the spirit of Alexandre and his muses. Here are just a few…
Aside from the name association, Alexander Smalls is a double take of Alexandre Dumas’ gourmet passions and generous hospitality. He’s a chef, restaurateur, and author of Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes from My Southern Revival.
Alexander’s also a former opera singer, and has a Grammy and Tony Award for his recording of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Houston Grand Opera. Alexander knows the good life. Most important, he’s an impeccable and gracious host.
You can see Alexander Smalls at The Cecil, an Afro-Asian American brasserie. You can say The Cecil’s cuisine is inspired by Alexander’s low country culinary upbringing and travels to the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. After dinner you can see Alexander at the historic Minton’s jazz club where Bebop was born. Everyone who was anyone in Jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonius Monk, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis – played Minton’s. Minton’s menu features Alexander’s signature “Southern Revival Cooking.” Patrons enter from the “speakeasy” like door around the corner from The Cecil. Alexander created both venues with New York businessman and former Time-Warner chairman/CEO Richard Parsons.
I didn’t plan to celebrate my birthday in New York this year. But dinner at The Cecil and meeting Alexander for the first time, and getting the grand tour – I’m so glad it turned out that way.
Update: Esquire Magazine’s Josh Ozersky names The Cecil the Best New Restaurant in America.
Yes, its food was the most thrillingly unique we tasted this year, primed and loaded with the flavors of the African diaspora—that trail of taste that moved from West Africa to India, the Caribbean to America to China, and then back again.
Janet Cam knows wine. Ask Janet. She’ll find you the best bottle for the least francs, or the most obscure and rare bottle for a king’s ransom. Janet knows quality in all things.
(above) This is Janet’s hand over the Dumas salad we prepared for our Favorite Chef’s group Dumas lunch. That’s a ring she designed. Janet also paired the perfect wines for the gathering. Janet was co-proprietor of LePavillon (the first nouvelle cuisine restaurant in America) restaurant winner of The Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, and the Managing Director of the legendary Lutèce. Janet provides consulting services to restaurant and hospitality businesses. She’s a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. No question, Dumas would insist Janet be seated next to him at the dinner table. And Janet would receive the first serving of the famous salad.
STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON
If you know the plays of August Wilson, then you know the work of Stephen McKinley Henderson, a quiet giant of the theater. Like Alexander Smalls, Stephen is another Dumas double-take on the theater side. Stephen introduced me to two thematic works about Alexandre Dumas – a book he enjoyed as a youth titled The King of Paris by Guy Endore (who also authored The Werewolf of Paris that became the Hollywood cult classic “The Curse of the Werewolf”). The second resource Stephen gave me was a play titled Les Trois Dumas by Charles Smith featuring the General Alexandre, his author/playwright/swashbuckling son Alexandre, and the encouragable Alexandre “fils.”
Earlier this year, Stephen was on Broadway with Denzel Washington in a Tony award winning revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Right after tha gig Stephen jumped into a leading role in an off-Broadway play “Between Riverside and Crazy” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Like Dumas, he’s keeping a busy creative schedule.
MATTHEW R. WILSON - Actor, Director, Scholar, Fight Director
Need I say more? Matthew and I’ve only talked by phone thanks to an introduction by Constellation Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Matthew choreographs and trains fighters for numerous professional theater productions. Matthew’s theater thing is Commedia dell’Arte. At the time we talked he told me he was planning another stage production of “The Three Musketeers.”
Matthew’s also a founder of Tooth & Claw Combat Arts that offers lectures and workshops. What a great way to end a dinner party.
GARRET FLEMING - Chef, The Barrel
When it comes to food, Garret’s game for anything including game. I can see him and Dumas in the kitchen with their best culinary game faces on. Garret has an affinity for history, food, and the pig – or in Dumas’ words, “The king of the unclean beasts." Garret’s chef at The Barrel on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Bourbon is their specialty. Did I mention Alexandre Dumas didn’t drink hard liquor? But he never turned away good food. The fish pie could definitely be on his Wednesday night supper menu.