October 23, 2010

St. Vincent's Hospital: what can be done?

 The grassroots movement to replace St. Vincent’s Hospital with a similar facility received a boost on October 17 at a rally in front of the hospital site at 7th Avenue and 12th Street. Speakers ranging from an 11-year-old P.S. 41 student whose brother’s life was saved by St. Vincent doctors to Lt. Dan Choi (who stood up to the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy) were on hand to lend their support to the cause.

Among them was Dr. David Kaufman, who served as an attending physician at St. Vs for over 30 years and as director of HIV clinical research. He reminded the assembled crowd that 340 inpatient beds, 22 operating rooms in full-time use, 23 clinics, 18 mental health sites and dozens homeless shelters and outreach programs can’t be shut down in under a month without any fallout. And that’s not even counting the over 60,000 emergency visits that the hospital’s ER logged annually. Dr. Kaufman’s rhetorical question to the powers that be was, “Where have all the patients gone?”
Dr. Kaufmans’s speech brought some much-needed hard numbers to the debate over St. Vincent’s, so WestView will be reprinting it in its November issue. When I spoke to Dr. Kaufman over the telephone, he told me that although he initially thought the cause of The Coalition for a New Village Hospital was a lost one (as apparently do all of our local and state politicians), or at least far-fetched, he’s been encouraged in recent days by the turnout at the rally (an estimated 500 to 1,000 people, depending on whose counting) and by “murmurings” he’s been hearing.

I didn’t feel encouraged after reading an excellent cover story in this week’s New York magazine, St. Vincent’s is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals, in which writer Mark Levine placed St. Vincent’s closure amid a larger picture of New York hospitals as an outmoded economic model. The high cost of doing business in New York City, shrinking Medicaid and Medicare dollars, powerful private insurers who bully smaller hospitals into low reimbursement rates, and on and on...suffice it to say the story paints a depressing picture.

The even bigger problem for the West Village at the moment, however, is state health commissioner Richard Daines, who did not support a take-over bid by Mt. Sinai, and seems to be content to watch a Darwinian state healthcare scenario unfold to the detriment of the poor, the weak and the uninsured. As Dr. Kaufman put it, our best hope may lie in the power of the vote. “November second,” he told me. “The only way it’s going to change is if we get rid of Daines. Presumably a new governor will put someone different [in the health commissioner’s position.]”

Dr. Kaufman’s parting words were on the 17th were, “This is not a done deal. Maybe, just maybe, it is a new beginning. But it will take the relentless pressure and voice of our community. We need you to speak up, speak out, write, email, demonstrate and never give up.”
For a list of things you can do and politicians you can contact, go to the Coalition's Web Site, and scroll down to "Can't make it today? Here's what you can do."

October 12, 2010

The Anti-Michelin Man: Christian Delouvrier shuns stars on Second Avenue

The recent announcement of the 2011 Michelin Guide rankings for New York City arrived with its usual fanfare, setting up some restaurants for superstardom and no doubt dropping a cloud of disappointment (and worse) on others. When two friends and I visited Bernard Loiseau’s newly anointed three-star restaurant La Côte d’Or in Burguny back in 1991 or so, the chef, who was both charming and fanatical, recounted to us his relentless bid for stardom. Every morning when he woke up, he said, as he put on his socks, he would chant to himself “trois etoiles, trois etoiles,” (three stars, three stars). In 2003, Loiseau committed suicide, an act many believed was related to a decline in critical acclaim for his restaurant and rumors that he was about to lose one of his prized Michelin stars.

Where stealth chef Christian Delouvrier works his magic.

Amid this year’s Michelin triumphs and demotions, and in memory of Loiseau, it’s instructive to look at a chef who once fiercely safeguarded his stars before opting for life in a much slower lane. Christian Delouvrier earned four stars from The New York Times at Lespinasse in 1998 and then pulled down three Michelin stars at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. The restaurant was a target of critics from the beginning, however. Although awarded its three Michelin stars from inspectors under Delouvrier’s watch, the Times subtracted its fourth star in 2005, leading to Delouvrier’s departure.

He cooked at a La Goulue in Bal Harbor, Brasserie Ruhlmann in Chicago, and briefly at David Bouley’s Secession. Then suddenly the celebrity chef manqué appeared in the kitchen at La Mangeoire, a 30-year-old Provençal bistro on Second Avenue at 53rd Street.

I happened to talk to Delouvrier recently while reporting a story, and asked how he ended up here, amid cheerful sunflower- and orange-colored bric-a-brac, in a corner of Manhattan far from the power corridors of his previous kitchens. His cooking happens to retain all of its fantastic-ness, by the way, but coming across it here is little like stumbling upon a Caravaggio at the Greenwich Avenue Street Fair.

“That’s a good question,” the gentlemanly chef responded, “and I’m going to tell you what really attracted me here. “In 2008 I was in Bal Harbor, and I decided to come back to New York. One day somebody called me up, he said he needed a consultant. I went there, we talked, and I really got very excited about this. It was the challenge of “taking a restaurant that had been run differently,” and making it his own that drew him. “The challenge is still there,” he said, “We are not yet where we want to be.”

Also alluring was the fact that La Mangeoire was off the radar of blood-sniffing critics. “After being in a four-star restaurant,” the chef explained, “it is very, very soothing to be able to work and do whatever I want, and to bring a restaurant up to the level I would like to see. It’s a work in progress, and I really enjoy that.”

La Mangeoire owner Gérard Donato deserves Salesman of the Decade award for landing this talented chef; we’re looking forward to seeing what the duo creates in the coming months and years.