On Tuesday evening I had the great honor of attending Chuck Williams’s (the founder of Williams-Sonoma) 90th birthday party at the expansive new Williams-Sonoma store on Union Square. I’ve worked with Chuck over the past 3 1/2 years on many of the Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, and hence the invitation, along with a number of my co-workers. In attendance were his friends, colleagues, and a whole bevy of who’s who in the culinary world. Mayor Gavin Newsom even stopped by later in the evening.
As we entered the store, we were immediately offered sparkling glasses of kir royale and crisp white wine. I had heard prior to arriving that Paula LeDuc was handling the catering and I was excited to finally have an opportunity to sample her wares. On either side of the first floor entry, tables were laden with cheeses and fresh and dried fruits. Waiters whisked through the crowd carrying platters of hors d’oeuvres, such as crisp cones of ahi tuna topped with wasabi roe, little crepe purses stuffed with shredded short ribs and creme fraiche, and fennel crisps topped with fromage blanc and pomegranate seeds. I was in heaven.
Chuck showed up shortly after the festivities began, looking dapper as usual. He was in excellent spirits and thrilled by the turnout. A rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” was sung by a surprise choir that appeared on the stairwell behind Chuck. A towering birthday croquembouche, built from little puffs of choux filled with cream, each delicately encased in a thin layer of crisp caramel, was disassembled and offered to all.
When the crowd again dispersed, we made our way up to the top floor of the store to begin sampling food from the “stations.” At the top was a panini station where they were cranking out fresh sizzling ham and cheese panini on pan de mie and herbed foccacia, served alongside a creamy and very decadent potato-leek soup with truffle oil. Moving to the next floor down we hit the rack of lamb station. Tender chops, served with cones of crisp taro chips, were offered with two sauces: a hot, sweet mustard and a cilantro pesto.
But my favorite spread was back on the first floor, where a Moroccan theme was drawing in the crowd. Delicately spiced veal and pea tagine and creamy melt-in-your-mouth chicken with kabocha squash was served with fluffy herbed couscous and raisins, toasted Spanish almonds, and a tangy cherry tomato jam. I could have lived on this food forever. (I wish I had pictures to show you the gorgeous presentation. Now I understand why Paula LeDuc has the outstanding reputation that it has built over the years.)
Completely sated, we made our way through the glamorous, cheerful crowd. Chuck seemed in high spirits as did all of those around him. And it seemed a remarkable and fitting way to celebrate his birthday. Happy birthday Chuck!