Chef Gets Top Honors


By Masha Leon

Published January 15, 2009, issue of January 23, 2009.
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“I bit into a piece of bread on Swedish TV and passed out. My system shut down,” said Marcus Samuelsson, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Food Allergy Initiative’s Food Allergy Ball, held December 8, 2008, at the Waldorf-Astoria. Executive chef and co-owner of the Aquavit restaurant, Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and schooled in France before he came to America — “the land of the burger” — where “he became the youngest chef, at 24.” Accompanied by her Ethiopian friend Maia Haile, Samuelsson said, “At the restaurant, we ask a customer if he has allergies.” Gala chair Sharon Mann, FAI’s vice chairman, stressed the urgency “to find a cure” for the more than 12 million allergy sufferers in the United States. “These are not the sort of allergies that give you itchy eyes and a runny nose… they are allergies that, like a terrorists’s tripwire, can kill,” said FAI Chairman Todd Slotkin, who touted current FAI-funded trials at Mount Sinai School of Medicine that use Chinese herbal therapy. The evening’s black-tie guests included Marion and Elie Wiesel, Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Robinson Kennedy. The allergy-sensitive menu, designed by Samuelsson, included an (gluten-free!) exquisite flourless chocolate cake!

“Eleven years ago, food allergy organizations were working on one specific allergy — peanuts,” Slotkin said. “Today we are working on no less than nine potential therapies, with five already in clinical trials.” Noting that to date, FAI has raised more than $5 million for research, Slotkin announced the merger of the FAI with the Food Allergy Project, which “will increase our annual combined fundraising to $8 million. He informed: “National Center for Disease Control shows that the food allergy epidemic continues to grow. Over the last 10 years, food allergies have increased by 18% in children under the age of 18. This means that one in 25 children is affected.” The FAI gala journal featured page after page of sweet, smiling children. On one page were three siblings: Andrew, age 3, “allergic to: barley, dairy, egg, fish, oats, peanut, rice, soy, tree nuts, wheat, most fruits, grains and legumes”; Elizabeth, age 6, “allergic to peanuts” and brother Robert, age 8, “allergic to apple, egg, peanut, pineapple, salmon, sesame, tree nuts.”

FAP founders Denise and David Bunning received the FAI Legacy Award. Their son Brian has multiple allergies — cashews, eggs, milk and pistachios. Son Daniel is allergic to eggs, milk, nuts and beef. The son of corporate dinner chairs Bette and Richard Saltzman is allergic to garlic, beef, sesame, fish, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

Chatting last week with adult pediatric allergist Robert Mittman, head of the Allergy & Asthma Family Care Center, in the Bayside area of Queens, I mentioned the allergy epidemic. He told me that his grandparents, “Adolf and Regina Frankel, lived by the Forverts, which they called ‘the Backwards.’” Mittman acknowledged the PUBLIC’S rising awareness of the extent of the allergy epidemic: “We’ve come a long way from the ’70s, when all that was out there was allergy-obsessed Felix Unger [the character played by Tony Randall on the TV series “The Odd Couple].”


If you missed the Film Forum’s recent run of “Theater of War,” John Walter’s documentary about the Public Theatre’s 2006 staging of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” not to worry. The film will be shown on Long Island at the Great Neck Arts Center (January 15-18) and in upstate New York at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville (February 15-17). Brecht’s anti-war gut-wrencher, translated by Tony Kushner, was one of nine plays Brecht wrote in an attempt to counter the rise of fascism and Nazism. Though the play’s action takes place during the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, it was written as a response to Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland. It stars Meryl Streep (in the title role with), Kevin Kline and a cast of actors trying to transmit the 17th-century horrors of war at a time when war was raging in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Unlike Brecht’s then wife, Helene Weigel, who played “Mother” in the 1949 first postwar mounting of the play in Berlin clad in ragged peasant garb, Streep wears a mishmash military uniform and a visor cap at a rakish angle. Since Streep has been lauded for her ability to master accents, I would have preferred Mitteleuropean (Middle European) overtones, inasmuch as this ever-unresolved war takes place somewhere in Europe.

Film clips from the 1949 production and archival footage are interwoven with commentary from filmmaker Walter and playwright Kushner. There are references to Stalin Peace Prize-winner Brecht’s Communist imprinting, and some edgy excerpts from his appearance in the 1940s before the House Un-American Activities Committee. While trying to nail certain scenes during rehearsals, Streep, who is a joy to watch, mused: “It’s a process, like plumbing in your building. Who wants to see it?” The answer? Anyone who loves thought-provoking, visceral theater.

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