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Notes from a Food Diva: Roger Martin

Carol Brock recalls the Douglaston-based restaurant consultant who named Windows on the World.

The photo on your right was taken in 1968. It’s a shot of restaurant consultant Roger Martin taking his daughter, Stacey, and son, John, to visit Restaurant Associates’ Charley O’s in Manhattan.

Martin, who was director of public relations for Restaurant Associates, came up with the absolutely fabulous, incredibly appropriate name for Windows on the World, the restaurant that was located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. He was the director of public relations for Restaurant Associates.

Perhaps, my most vivid Martin memory involved Nouveau Beaujolais. Each year, the moment the new crop wine touched down in New York City by air, an overwhelming luncheon was held at the Four Seasons. It involved 16 tasting courses and a sampling of the vineyard’s vintages from the previous year.

I was seated poolside at the Four Seasons for the Nouveau Beaujolais Tasting. Roger did a deep knee bend beside the table. He told me of his responsibility - seeing that there would be enough glasses (an astronomical number) and enough plates to carry it off. I bit.  And my story on the event ran in the Daily News. 

I also wrote about Roger’s “chef” barbecues when living in Manhattan at Beaux Arts. He loved to skewer chunks of swordfish interspersed with fresh sage leaves and brush them with a marinade of olive oil and lemon before grilling them over charcoals. This was likely inspired by a dish served at a restaurant Roger owned on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. I can taste it yet. 

Roger loved to cook. Joan, his wife, told me of the cooking lessons he gave in their home on the corner of Hollywood and West Drive in Douglaston.

But whenever Roger cooked, Joan disappeared. She remembers vividly one Thanksgiving dinner. Roger had a new recipe for the bird. It would cut down on cooking time and was going to taste marvelous. Turkey was not served that year. It was a catastrophe. It had collapsed and tasted terrible.

Roger's forte was public relations. And, of course, he wrote very, very well. I loved the story of his first job that appeared in Saveur around 2000. He was a hatcheck boy at the famed 21 Club on 52nd Street, which had iron statues of jockeys on each outside step. 

The gist of the story was that the maitre d’ called him “boy.” “Boy” this and “boy” that, year after year. It was so brilliantly written. I chuckled from the first word to the last and I am not a chuckler.

Here are the results of my browsing: a recipe for the famed 21 Club Hamburger.

John Greeley, the chef at the 21 Club, grinds beef chuck and beef round with a couple of tablespoons of duck fat to make this tasty burger. Store-bought ground beef is a fine substitute.

2 lbs. ground beef
1⁄4 cup minced yellow onion
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1⁄4 tsp. ground coriander
1⁄4 tsp. ground fennel seed
1⁄8 tsp. cayenne
1 egg, lightly beaten
2–3 tbsp. melted duck fat, at room temperature (optional)
Kosher salt, to taste
4 hamburger buns, toasted

1. In a large bowl, gently mix the beef, onions, thyme, pepper, rosemary, coriander, fennel, cayenne, egg, and fat. Season with salt. Divide the meat into four portions; shape them into 1"-thick patties. Wrap patties in plastic wrap; refrigerate until cold. This will help to firm them up as they're moister than most burgers owing to the addition of the duck fat and the egg.

2. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium-high (or heat a tablespoon of canola oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat). Cook burgers, flipping once, until cooked to desired doneness, about 12 minutes total for medium rare. Serve on buns.

More about beef. When Roger retired, he did consulting for , which has locations in Manhattan and Bayside, and invited me to sample their Kobe beef and Uncle Jack’s steak sauce. The sauce had just been introduced at gourmet markets and could be purchased gift packed in a wooden chest.

On occasion when Roger came to visit his grand children in Douglaston, we’d talk about happenings in the food world around the Douglaston Club pool.

Roger Martin died in 2003. He had taken 9/11 very hard. He knew so many of the people personally who were lost at Windows on the World. And naming it had been his greatest coup.

Joan now lives in East Hampton, with her daughter Stacey. John, the Martins’ son, is here in Douglaston.

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