Neevher Evhah Tuch Da Qweeene
My Early Days of Food and Beverage
We in the restaurant business, for the most part, didn’t just fall into this craziness. It was in our bones and movements from an early age. Here is another “movement” from mine.
In the summer of 1983, I was in Hudson, OH, at a family reunion. I’m watching 60 Minutes on a Sunday night, and I see a story about Malcolm Forbes and his yacht, The Highlander. Recognizing the yellow neckerchief of the chef’s assistant on the show as that of a fellow Culinary Institute of America student, I immediately typed a letter to Mr. Forbes himself (heck, why not) asking if there was an internship position starting in September, when mine began. Two weeks later, I’m on 5th Avenue being interviewed by the ole boy himself, and a month after that, at 20 years old, I’m on the boat – docked up in Chelsea Pier in NYC, yellow neckerchief and all.
Malcolm Forbes was a baller and a really nice guy. Extreme hot air balloonist, avid Sturgis-attending biker, epic collector of army men and Fabergé eggs, raconteur and industry leader. Malcolm was a man of many passions, and one of his biggest, was throwing a party. We would host Henry Kissinger for dinner on a Saturday night, and then have 150 of his hippie-biker Far Hills Motorcycle Club members on board the next morning for a spin around Lady Liberty and some turkey sandwiches and cold Budweisers while watching the Giants game.
The Yacht Highlander was a Dutch Feadship: grand and stylish. Helicopter pad on top, two Italian speedboats left and right – it made a striking statement when we pulled into the dock, with men in kilts playing bagpipes – a nod to Forbes’ Scottish legacy. Immediately after my arrival, the chef on board was fired for continually drinking……..before breakfast. They told me it would be very temporary, until they hired a new chef. So, two weeks in and woefully unprepared, I am the chef of this floating Casablanca, with a big fall and winter party and event calendar on the books ahead.
The boat served one purpose and represented one thing: MONEY. The “Capitalist Tool”, it was called. Lots of ways to impress folks with money in this life, but none more so than having 130 people comfortably seated for dinner on your yacht while you trolled the East and Hudson Rivers dining on lobster and lamb. The highbrow guest list for these events bounced from The Reagans to Prince Charles, The Rolling Stones to Gloria Vanderbilt and countless political and Wall Street titans. Andy Warhol hung out on the boat a few late nights with Malcolm’s son, Kip, the latter adopting the saying, “What happens on the boat, stays on the boat,” long before Vegas spent money saying it repeatedly. One of these late nights, I told Mr. Warhol that, “I was from Colorado and I thought his Campbell’s Soup picture was super cool.” He made a dismissive gesture with one hand and said something under his breath which was either, “I’m so honored you have embraced the impressionist nature of my work.” Or, “Right now, get away from me you hillbilly-simpleton, you are ruining my air.” I’m going for door number 2 please, Monty…
The magazine also used the boat as a marketing tool two nights a week. Hammered young ad execs and equally blossomed potential clients, digging into 1 Kilo tins of caviar and chugging champagne like the chubby kid at the cotton candy booth, slovenly shoving beluga and cocaine in their face holes like they were in a contest.
One stand out moment that will be with me forever came as a result of me trying to have good manners. First Lady Imelda Marcos was a guest on the boat for a few days while visiting NYC. The boat was a floating oasis of privacy which had a “not to be bothered” result in a town that never sleeps, so she had her privacy. She came on board and Mr. Forbes was there to greet her. I could hear her being led downstairs to the galley, and quite honestly, I had no time for this. 128 other folks who didn’t hoard shoes were walking down that pier as well. I could hear the entourage getting close to the kitchen as her tour continued and at that moment I wheeled around as he’s saying in his beyond-deep and booming voice, “Meet our chef Dave Quer…” and I did it. Without knowing Philippine culture, without considering whether it would be a curtsy or a bow, I committed a huge and certainly unbeknownst to me Phili-Faux-Pas – and shook her hand. You would have thought that I was screaming Swedish folk songs with no pants on. Time stood still. Mr. Forbes shot me a sideways glance that made me glad I wasn’t his son. Mrs. Marcos’ security detail was instantly confused, but to me, she seemed delighted. She probably hadn’t shaken a random guy’s hand since her teens.
Later that night, I got what would these days be considered a write-up from HR, which consisted of Captain Alex Pfotenhauer, a thrice sunk German U-boat Commander, sitting me down over his third double vodka tonic after all of the guests had left the boat. While I was doing a shot and a beer with the rest of the 9-man crew, Captain Alex said, in front of all of us, “Dahvid, yew neevher evhah, tuch da qweeene. Vhat is wvrong wit yew!”
So, besides the many, many experiences I took away from my six-month journey on The Yacht Highlander, I most certainly will always remember, that – you neevher evhah tuch the qweeene (or first lady, as it was).
Happy late summer ever-budy. Greatest season of all with the promise of ripe tree fruit, more delicious tomatoes and brimming full gardens ahead.