People love stories of the underdog, fighting against misfortune and the often cruel hand of fate. Alan Geaam must have pondered about his life as he walked the streets of Paris as a19 year old dishwasher, and dreamt of one day having his own restaurant as he slept in the glow of the Parisian moonlight.
At a recent event at A Tout France, at the French Embassy in New York, Chef Alan Geaam told the story of how France gave him the opportunity to become a Michelin star chef with his own series of restaurants. Earlier in his life, he gained valuable experience while doing his national service in the Lebanese military rising to the title of personal chef for the colonel of his regiment.
At the event, we asked Chef Geaam what he felt was his definition of luxury. He replied, “Luxury for me is a soft baguette or some French bread dipped in olive oil and some vegetables.” For some, this seems simple, but in the mind of a chef, even the simplest of ingredients can be luxurious.
Avant Garde is defined as "the advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods." If one could look with a retrospective eye at the career of Laurie Anderson, one would place her image directly beneath that definition. With a career that began in the late 60s, Anderson has straddled the media outlets of music, video, electronics, art, poetry, and performance.
Born in 1947, this Illinois native graduated Barnard College magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in art history, and earned an MFA in Sculpture at Columbia University in 1972. She has an impressive and successful recording background, worked as an art critic for Art Forum, and even illustrated children's books. She has worked with the likes of Philip Glass, John Cage, William Boroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. In 1980, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute.
After an endless string of artistic successes, which includes honors and awards, guest appearances, artistic collaborations, and her usual cutting edge and innovative artistic expression, Anderson earned a second honorary doctorate of arts from Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, in 2013. In 2008, Laurie Anderson married fellow musician, Lou Reed, who passed away in 2013.
On October 10, 2017, Laurie Anderson was given yet one more honor: The Insignia of Officer of The Order of Arts and Letters from the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy. After Anderson received the ornate pin (which she wore with pride), we spoke with her about her work, and, or of course, her definition of luxury.
"Well, it all starts with a chair," she said, retaining that mischievous grin, "then there's ten books on each side of me, then there's a fireplace, and some cheese..." Her response mirrored her belief that one of the goals of art is to be free to express it. We believe the same can be said of luxury.
"You can’t come from Alabama and not be a foodie."
On Election Day in 2004, George W. Bush received 62 million votes to win presidential re-election. On May 24th, 2006, Taylor Hicks received 63.4 million votes to be crowned Season 5 American Idol champion. To this day, the accomplishment of the latter is the one I recall more fondly.
Taylor Hicks, then only 29 years old, had already been performing music for over a decade, releasing two independent albums, and performing at musical venues mostly in the Southern US. He shared the stage with the likes of James Brown, Tom Petty and Jackson Brown. Mainly self-taught, Taylor plays harmonica and guitar, and of course uses his vocal gifts to create a tone as deep and rich as the earthy sheen on a well-worn saddle.
Then came American Idol. Despite the strong competition of finalist Kathrine McPhee, (not to mention some other highly talented contestants that year) Taylor managed to attract a strong cohort of the public who enjoyed a mix of country, blues, rock, and soul. His renditions of Take Me Home, Country Roads, Trouble, and You are So Beautiful impressed the judges and the voters alike.
After several guest appearances on TV, headlining at Caesars, and gracing the Broadway stage in Grease, Taylor has a new venture that combines culture, travel, personal connections, and something we all love – FOOD. A restauranteur himself, Taylor is hosting a culinary travel series called State Plate, broadcast on INSP, in which he samples signature cuisine from each of these Unites States (spoken in Taylor’s Alabama accent). His journey to Maryland featured their famous crab cakes, and in Texas he sampled a bowl of chili (with cornbread, I’m sure). By the end of the second season, the goal is to check off 36 states from the bucket list of deliciousness.
But just as we at extremeluxurygetaways.com believe in storytelling over standard content, so Taylor dives headfirst into each of his state plates (not literally) as much a historian as a chef, pairing the cuisine to the culture and to that state’s natural resources.
State Plate has come to NY; the episode airs on Friday, September 1 at 8:00PM ET. We had the opportunity to interview Taylor concerning his motivation for the show, his love of food, and, of course, his take on luxury.
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ExtremeLuxuryGetaways: How did you first get interested in the culinary arts and the food culture?
Taylor Hicks: Well, I think everybody who is born in Alabama is part of a culinary culture. You can’t come from Alabama and not be a foodie. It’s built around family and friends, but also being a restauranteur and with the travel I have done through my music career, which I have been doing since I was 17, [food] has been part of my lifestyle…it’s been a labor of love to a certain degree, and it’s been a blessing as well.
ELG: What do you see as the relationship between your music background and your culinary background? What is your conduit from one to the other?
TH: I think art is art. It’s in the eye of the beholder, or rather in the eye of the taste buds, so to speak. It’s across the board…a great meal is like a hit song – there’s a lot of moving parts, and you have to put a lot of love and time into it, there’s sweat equity and emotional connection in both…and that’s why I love both of them.
ELG: By the end of the second season of State Plate, you will have covered about thirty six states. How many have you done up to now?
TH: I think we’re up to 26, and we’re moving through them pretty quickly. I’m just blessed to get to travel still as much as I do, and with this show, getting to see the culture of American, and not just the culture in general, but the food culture of each particular state. You know, there are different regions of food for us here in America. We try to expose what each state loves, and what iconic food comes from each state. This is the reason why I think State Plate is such a great show…because I think it clearly defines the food that comes from each state.
ELG: Do you have a favorite state so far that you have featured on the show?
TH: Maine has been one of my favorites, and being from Alabama we just hadn’t gotten up to Maine all that much. I loved it because we went during lobster season when we could get out on the boat..and then obviously just the blueberries…I guess just the state in general is really earthy and really all about its arts whether it be music or food…it was one of those states that we hit right at the right time with the perfect combination of food and music.
ELG: On a slightly different note, when you first auditioned for American Idol, Simon Cowell doubted you. Have you found with this venture (State Plate) that you’ve undertaken that there were any similarly doubters, and how do you address that?
TH: Yeah…I think it just comes with the business. You know, you’re always going to have people doubt what you do, whether you’re in show business or in culinary arts, you always going have some speculation whether it’s going to be a hit. Being the host of a food and travel show, it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, and you know, opportunity creates luck, and it’s something you have to be aware of. I have been in show business now upwards of over a decade, believe it or not, and every time you just hope things work out, and for this particular venture, State Plate, it hit.
ELG: How do you define luxury?
TH: I think another word for happiness is luxury. Wherever your “happy place” is, that defines your own luxury.
Video credit: Today In Nashville Published on Nov 17, 2016
As I was rumbling into Manhattan on the E train en route to meet Frank Stella, the world famous minimalist painter, sculptor and printmaker, I had the usual network of concerns and stresses rolling around my head, making it hard to focus on my task. This is one of the pitfalls of writing: one minute you are pinned under the weight of writer’s block, and another you float helplessly in a nebulous void.
Likewise, minimalist art blurs the lines between the physical and the emotional, and Frank Stella is one of the artists whose work best exemplifies this movement. This does not suggest that either is unimportant. Stella, speaking at his NYC exhibition entitled Experiment and Change, stated, “You have to have confidence in the structure, to trust in it.”
Stella’s interest in surfaces and structures has led him to explore the digital and technological applications of art. For instance, he has created sculptures that have been replicated through 3D printing, and to which he describes (ala Plato) as a model that comes from a model. These pieces reflect what Stella described as his industrial drive in the creation of his art. It also supports the minimalist standard of erasing the strict demarcations between media: in this case man-made sculpture and computer automation.
I asked Frank Stella that since minimalism puts such a focus on space and time, what challenge he faces at exhibitions like this one where all the images are projected on a bare white wall. Expecting a more explicit answer, I was satisfied when Stella, a humble and outwardly uncomplicated man, answered, the images on the screen lack real “pop.”
The morning continued with co-presenter, and event curator, Bonnie Clearwater, discussing Stella’s work as well as sharing stories of their long friendship. Ms. Clearwater is the NSU Art Director, as well as the author of several books on contemporary art. Her meticulous analysis juxtaposed Stella’s casual humility. When Ms. Clearwater discussed, in the most complimentary manner, how Stella’s work is historically important, the artist simply smiled and nodded as if he knew it but would never say it himself. Speaking in the most accessible way, Stella explained how art, in general, derives from our own experiences and within the time we are given. “Always draw upon the past for the art we create now.”
As the discussion continued, I realized that I was no longer contemplating the stresses that followed me through the turnstiles of the subway. This gallery with its geometricity and artistic buzz had allowed me to disappear into my role as a journalist for a time. Not surprisingly, when asked, as we tend to do on this luxury lifestyle site, how do you define personal luxury, Frank Stella, whose work and fame stretches across the globe, answered simply, “Luxury for me is having time to focus.”
- Michael Alpiner
As luxury travel writers, visiting hotels around the world, we are often met with the question, “Did you know that The Beatles stayed here?” As recently as yesterday, we met up with Mark Ricci, Hilton Hotel’s Director of Corporate Relations for the North East US and Canada, who told us that The Beatles made Hilton their home during the famous Ed Sullivan Show performance, and that, in 1971, during a stay with Yoko Ono, he penned the lyrics for “Imagine” on Hilton Hotel stationery.
As New Yorkers, we’re keenly aware of the ways in which The Beatles—and especially John Lennon (himself a New Yorker in the last years of his life) are woven into our everyday lives—and our lives of luxury.
So it was not surprising when we got a lovely congratulatory note on our new website from an old friend, May Pang.
Beatles fans will remember May as John’s companion during his Walls and Bridges days—the subject of his song, “(Surprise, Surprise), Sweet Bird of Paradox” and a music coordinating producer, photographer and memoirist who shared some of John’s most productive days in the mid to late 1970s—working with collaborators like Harry Nilsson, Ringo Star and a tantalizingly close possible but ultimately unrealized reunion with Paul.
We agreed upon El Coyote Mexican Restaurant in Forest Hills for our first “Ambassador of Luxury” interview, which turned out to be more like a simple dinner among old friends. The conversation ranged from May’s days with John to her life today as a photographer, media personality, world traveler (Liverpool is one of May’s favorite destinations besides London) and popular lecturer at Beatles events in the US and abroad.
After margaritas and munchies, we took the long and winding road to discussions of luxury and life with John. Like a proud parent, May showed us images on her cellphone of a smiling and remarkably robust Lennon from her recent book, Instamatic Karma (St. Martin’s Press). “Didn’t he look great here?” May said wistfully as we scrolled through images of the couple spending days at the pool (“John loved the water”) and playing with a young Julian Lennon, John’s son with first wife, Cynthia.
May mentioned that she’d be attending a Moody Blues concert at The Jones Beach Theater (Justin Hayward was best man at her wedding to music producer, Tony Visconti). She also had summer drinks scheduled with old friend, Eddie Money, reminding us just how entwined her life has been with the music and the musicians of our time. Even though May has had a front row seat to some of most legendary music making of our century, she’s remarkably down-to-earth—something John particularly cherished in his time with her. May’s fan base is huge and her social media following is too, so we wanted to ask questions that they would be curious to know at the same time, satisfying our own curiosity about what it was like to live in and out of hotels in the late ‘70s with one of the most famous names in music history.
ELG: You mentioned that "luxury" to you during your time with John wasn't about staying in expensive hotels or dining out, but it was sometimes just about having alone time away from fans and paparazzi. Can you talk a little bit about what "felt" like luxury to you and John back then?
MP: John enjoyed the simple things. He loved to go swimming or just lie in the sun. So when our neighbor asked us to join him and his family on his boat for the day, John jumped at the chance. The water relaxed him. He also liked taking long car rides. We drove from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, NYC to the Hamptons, or just Upstate.
ELG: You've stayed in some of the world's most known hotels both on your own and with Tony [Visconti], John and your music clients. What's your favorite hotel in the world, and why?
MP: That's tough. There are a few in different parts of the world. When I was in Hong Kong, I stayed at The Peninsula. The old world charm was fantastic. John and I loved staying at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel, too.
ELG: Do the images you took of John truly depict the feel and texture of your time back then? If not, how was the reality different from the image you made indelible?
MP: The photos of John that I took were very much John, then. He let me take them of him in our private time. They speak for themselves.
ELG: I remember that you visited China (with your Mom). Can you talk about how "luxurious" or not that felt for you on your first trip?
MP: I went to China with a friend of mine. It was a side trip in between appearances in Japan. I was the only one, at that time in my family, that wasn’t born in China and I needed to connect with my immediate relatives. My mom went years later when she wasn't afraid of the government anymore. I stayed in a luxury hotel called the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. So different when I went to visit relatives in the countryside. I'm sure things have changed since then. I went in the winter of 1983/84 when China was just opening up to the Western World. I would love to go now and visit some of the other cities.
ELG: What is on your bucket list? Are there any places on the list that you and John always wanted to visit together?
MP: There's still many places I'd like to visit in this world...Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, Arctic and Antarctica. Also, places in North America, like Alaska and Canada. John and I wanted to visit Hawaii and also China, but he could not leave the US mainland at the time because of his immigration status. In the song, Meat City on the Mind Games album, he sang, “Well I’m gonna to China to see for myself.”
ELG: You mentioned visiting Liverpool, and being very familiar with it. Can you talk a bit about your feelings traveling there? Did you stay in the Hard Days Night Hotel? Did you feel oddly at home?
MP: I love Liverpool and the people that live there. They always give me a warm welcome, and I have some very close friends there. I stayed at the Hard Days Night Hotel a couple of years ago when my friend Freda Kelly was having a big birthday bash. Freda was the head of the Beatles' Fan Club, and worked for Brian Epstein. There was a documentary called Good Ol' Freda about that time of her life. At the hotel, I got to stay in the room where the painting on the wall depicted John and me with his son Julian. Besides Liverpool, I lived in North London for a while and I had my son there at Portland Hospital.
Having raised my kids, and being a new empty-nester, I want to go back to traveling again. I would love to take a cruise on the Mediterranean coast. Since I'm not a good sleeper normally, a cruise would lull me to sleep like in a car. I did sleep well in the South of France all those years ago. Love the food and wine!
All photos courtesy of May Pang.