An iconic 1930s room gets an update at The Pierre hotel in Manhattan, with a menu reimagined by a chef from Kerala
NORMALITY is overrated, you say. Champagne at the Tata Presidential Suite, with a view of Central Park from 39 floors up, can do that to you. The bedrooms here go on forever, with gold and silver interiors, decorated with Murano glass and a hand laid Turkish marble floor. A perfect setting for The Pierre’s frequent residents, who range from diplomats to Hollywood, Bollywood and British royalty. Some of them, I learn, book the entire 39th floor at about $30,000 per night. But these are not the only rooms that make you want to play the eccentric diva. For, the hotel frequented by Jacqueline Onassis and Yves St Laurent back in the day, and more recently, Freida Pinto to Rachel McAdams and other Met Ball guests, has an ornate gem of a gathering space, the Rotunda. On the ground floor, this room has been getting its share of well-heeled instagrammers, influencers and Bergdorf Goodman regulars since its relaunch in July. For 86 years, since when The Pierre opened for business, it has played many roles, serving formal afternoon tea, hosting debutante balls and a supper club. Its current avatar sees smart, rosy lighting to showcase the dramatic Renaissance-mural painted by Edward Melcarth back in 1967 and chartreuse velvet banquettes. This is courtesy architect Daniel Romualdez. With the hotel’s executive chef Ashfer Biju and dessert genius, Chef Michael Mignano designing a special menu at the Rotunda, you have good reason to take a seat and people-watch. Look out for Jackie O, who has been cleverly included in the mural. Or celebrities in the flesh, like Priyanka Chopra, Kajol or even Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus at Tata Sons Ltd. But whatever you do, don’t forget to sample the créme brulee, a house favourite, with bits of chocolate in the créme.
What Ashfer says
Kerala-born executive chef Ashfer Biju is a celebrity of sorts at the hotel, what with his TV appearances and the James Beard dinner he hosted back in April. With stints at the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad under his belt, Chef Ashfer now takes inspiration from The Pierre’s archives and the New York Public Library for the menu at his French-American restaurant, Perrine. The original recipes are reimagined in today’s context and guests give his summer dish of ‘‘Slow cooked Halibut with local chard & caper lemon sauce’’ a thumbs up. There is also a Coq au Vin from the 1930s’ opening menu. He weighs in on Indian food in NYC:
Malabar tasting: If I were to single out two food memories, it will be my mom’s cooking and growing up around an abundance of fresh fish in Kerala. One dish that converges both is the Malabar Prawn Curry, which is served at The Pierre. I teach it to my chefs from varied ethnicities and backgrounds in New York, and it is my tribute to my mom.
Serving Indian in NYC: Indian food, for many years, had the stigma of being the cheap, easy, buffet or take out alternative. What we need is a three-pronged attack – where the finesse of cuisine is showcased by high-end fine dining concepts such as Indian Accent or Junoon; new modern concepts must open up to introduce the comfort food side of Indian cuisine, like Babu Ji and Paowalla; and existing restaurants must get real in what they serve. We cannot compromise on authenticity. Korean food has done it very cleverly in NYC and there is no reason why Indian food cannot do it!
When old meets new: From the time when the legendary Chef Escoffier set up the Pierre kitchen in 1930, it has been a trendsetter in cuisine. The Pierre housed one of the first (or probably the first ever) Indian fine dining restaurants in America, The Pierre Grill, which served the best kebabs one could get in this part of the world in the 1950s. We have now come full circle with our current menu.
Finding Comfort: After work, we go for burgers at DBGB (Chef Daniel Boulud’s casual restaurant) or some rustic Italian address in the west side of Manhattan. With family, we enjoy one of the many seafood restaurants in North Fork, Long Island, or frequent Flushing Chinatown in Queens for dim sum.
The writer was invited by The Pierre.