“These are inspired by the McDonald’s McFlurries,” cooed a server as he offered celebrity chef David Burke a cone filled with a blend of strawberries, ice cream and whipped cream. The Observer also politely took a cone, examining it with mild anxiety.
After all, this summer soiree was being catered by Mr. Burke to raise money for the International Rescue Committee and to feature the New Roots campaign, which supports community gardens for refugees in America, so that they can grow, harvest and market food from their native cultures. If McDonald’s was inspiring the food, we were in a pickle.
Mr. Burke quickly corrected the good man: “Of course not.” He attacked his cone with a spoon.
“I felt like Queen Elizabeth earlier, giving a speech from the balcony,” Mr. Burke confided as a faraway smile rippled across his face. He was clearly picturing himself doing the iconic royal wave.
As this was an event to celebrate and support gardening, one might expect that one of the spokesmen would be a keen gardener. Sorry to disappoint: there was not one green thumb in the building, ladies and gentlemen.
“There’s a shrubbery garden in my building,” attempted Mr. Burke. “I’d like to grow apples and peaches.”
Eric Fleet, co-founder of the eco-friendly clothing store Threads for Thought can only claim to own one lonely orchid plant. “I’d love to grow fall apples or have a vineyard,” he told us. Forgetting the refugees for a moment, these busy New Yorkers need a patch of green.
“I’m a mild gardener,” diplomatically declared actress Morena Baccarin, who stars in Showtime’s Homeland alongside Claire Danes. Mild? What does that mean? “I grow succulents,” she replied. You mean cactuses, which can survive years without being watered, we prodded? “Yes. Precisely.”
Karen Begley, director of corporate partnerships at that other salmon-colored newspaper, The Financial Times, joked: “I bribed and pimped to get people to come here tonight.”
The advertising moguls from BBDO, one of the evening’s sponsors, formed a little clique, clutching their rum cocktail. Senior director Jennifer Durante said with a slurp: “David Burke always delivers. Oh god, look at the mess we’re making with the ice cream cones.” McDonald’s inspired or not, the cones were being consumed at alarming rates.
The evening’s prize for the most effortless class must go to Eden Grinshpan, host of the Cooking Channel’s Eden Eats, who swanned about in a flowing beige skirt and lacy black top. She told us about the New Roots gardens: “The idea is for refugees living in the U.S. to recreate their customs through food. Every plot of land belongs to a different culture and each culture has its own gardening techniques.”
With Mr. Burke, we broach the subject of Voltaire, celebrated Enlightenment thinker and enthusiastic grower of cabbages. At the end of his most famous satire, Candide, the title hero, after countless trials and tribulations, after fruitlessly searching for the meaning of life in this irrational, cruel world, settles down on the Ottoman coast, and works on a small farm with his close companions to keep “free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity.” Candide, on the very last page, finally concludes, “Let us cultivate our garden.” Is gardening a solution to the hardships of life, a real moral and philosophical imperative?
“There is something about being close to the soil, helping to feed yourself, returning to your natural role as man,” muses Burke. “There is certainly a joy in working the earth.”
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