As a good friend of his said; “Patrick was different to other kids. While his peers spent their allowances on movies and baseball cards, he saved his cash to get hold of cream cheese. By the age of nine he was determined to make the perfect cheesecake.” He was turned on to cooking by his mother’s pork chops and fried chicken, and his visits to the hotel kitchens in which his father worked as chef. “I started puttering in my kitchen,” he says, “in a desire to recreate what I saw in those kitchens.”
He began his professional education as a chef at the Technical College in New York City, not far from his Brooklyn home. Patrick was a successful student and after his training took him abroad, where he took classes in the UK at the Bournemouth Technical College. He also perfected his skills while serving in apprenticeships at a wide range of restaurants. While a first job at the Wheeler’s seafood chain in England taught him what not to do with dover sole, he then mastered the disciplines of haute cuisine in a top position at the three-star Eugenie-les-Bains restaurant in France.
Even abroad, Clark never forgot the roots of his cooking — his mother’s heavily seasoned fried chicken and collard greens, and the creamy New York-style cheesecake that first lured him into the kitchen. With memories of his childhood in mind, Clark has developed his own brand of New American cuisine, taking from a hybrid repertoire of ingredients and flavors that combine the traditions of New York eclecticism, down-home Southern cooking, and Continental technique.
Two of his most popular dishes, tuna with black-eyed pea and artichoke salad, and white chocolate banana cream pie perfectly exemplify this vision of amalgamation. Working at the prestigious Hay-Adams in Washington D.C., located just across the street from the White House, Clark fed sausages and biscuits to heads of state, and corn soup to Poet Laureates. Clark’s unique repertoire of contemporary American cuisineinduced the Clintons to consider him for the position of White House chef, although he declined the nomination, choosing instead to return to his native New York as executive chef of Tavern on the Green (which, its press kit emphasizes, is the highest-grossing restaurant in America).
While Patrick Clark’s cooking has been exciting palates for many years at the Tavern on the Green in NYC. It through a period when it was exciting diners (tourists, mostly) with its illuminated Central Park milieu than with gastronomical excellence. It took plenty of talent, perseverance, and good press for the Tavern to once again attract hungry, discriminating New Yorkers, but with Brooklyn-born Clark in the kitchen, the odds for success were sky-high.
Chef Clark, a true pioneer in the world of American cuisine, passed away on February 11, 1998, at the age of 42. He was an innovator and much-loved chef, who was an inspiration to many, in particular the African American cooks of America. He died of cardiac arrest at Princeton Medical Center in New Jersey, United States. Clark was widely acclaimed for his innovative approach to Southern cuisine and won several accolades during his illustrious career.
Clark started cooking at the young age of nine, taking inspiration from his father, who was also a chef. He perfected his skills over the years and went on to work in restaurants in New York after training in Britain and France. In 1988, Clark opened his own restaurant, Metro, but closed it down after a few years. He then worked in Los Angeles before moving to Washington, where he took up a post at the prestigious Hay-Adams Hotel in 1992.
At the Hay-Adams, Clark caught the attention of the Clintons, who stayed at the hotel during their transition period after the 1992 election. Clark was later invited to help cater meals at the White House, where he added an American touch to the cuisine, a departure from the French-inspired dishes favored by earlier administrations. He was named best chef for the mid-Atlantic region at the James Beard Awards in 1994, which is considered the food world’s equivalent of the Oscars.
In February 1995, Clark joined the team at Tavern on the Green, one of America’s most successful restaurants, with $32 million in revenue in 1996. Clark’s signature dishes, such as roast rack of lamb with pine-nut herb crust, caraway-scented cabbage, and sauteed jumbo lump crab cakes with papaya-basil sauce, graced the menu at Tavern on the Green.
Clark’s passing was a great loss to the culinary world, and he was widely regarded as one of the two major black chefs in America. His cooking was known for being clear, straightforward, and clean, which was a departure from the complicated and elaborate dishes that other chefs were creating at the time. Clark was a major figure in the culinary world, and his passing was mourned by many.
Clark is survived by his wife, Lynette, and five children, ages 6 to 17, all of Plainsboro, New Jersey. In his memory, the United Negro College Fund’s annual culinary fundraiser in New York named him as its chairman. Clark’s legacy lives on in the American culinary landscape, and he will always be remembered as a visionary chef who made a significant contribution to the world of food.
Patrick Clark’s Cheesecake
- 3lbs of cream cheese at room temperature
- 1.5 cups or 12 ounces of sugar
- one pinch salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from 1 fresh vanilla bean
- 3 eggs (large)
- 1 cup of sour cream or whipping cream
- Cracker crumbs and butter for the crust
- In a mixer bowl, place the sugar, cream cheese, salt, and vanilla bean seeds. If you are using vanilla extract, then add it after creaming
- Using the mixer at medium speed, cream the mixture until light. If using vanilla extract, add it at this point
- Add the eggs one at a time, continue mixing for 2 minutes after each egg is added
- Stir in the sour cream or heavy cream until the mixture is well combined
- Coat a spring-form pan with butter. A 10-inch diameter pan with 2 1/2-inch sides will work well.
- Sprinkle the pan with the cracker crumbs
- Pour the batter mixture into the pan
- Bake in a preheated oven for around 70 minutes, or until the cake tests done in the center
- Remove from the oven and place on a cake rack to cool
- Remove the cake from springform pan and refrigerate
- Serve chilled plain, or with your favorite fruit or fruit compote
From Becoming a Chef, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.
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