The Starwood Hotel company transformed the Ritz-Carlton into a St. Regis, their equivalent. I knew after working there a month I would not stay. They just didn’t embody the genuine care and comfort of guests and that family atmosphere that I had grown to love at the Ritz. I started looking elsewhere. My search for an new employer brought me to a caviar and gourmet foods importer right in Philadelphia by the name of Assouline and Ting, Inc. The owner was a very handsome short statured French man named Joel Assounline. Joel was friendly, excitable, full of never ending energy, and so likable. His wife, Vibeke, who I believe was Scandanavian, was very active in the family business. She was also an accomplished architect in her own right who also rented the artist studios on the upper floors of the warehouse where I worked. It was my first experience working directly with a family where not one, not three, but several languages were used in business. According to Joel, the “Mr. Ting” in the name had been bought out years ago and Joel kept the name in the title because it sounded good. Joel owed several shops by the name of Caviar Assouline as well as his warehouse business catering to high end restaurants across the east coast. There was also a mail order business from the Internet which I helped manage.
Although international in terms of business and sales, Assouline and Ting still continued to have a "mom and pop" feel to it. I enjoyed working there immensely but left after I was offered the purchasing position at the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel which opened up next to City Hall in Philadelphia. It was a position I could not refuse and Joel was sad to see me go, but understood. I was very sad to leave Assouline and Ting and owed an immense amount of gratitude to Joel Assouline as he taught me everything I came to know at that point about the high end gourmet food industry. I honestly don’t think I would have been hired as a purchaser of the Ritz-Carlton if it weren’t for what I learned under his tutelage.
I also learned about why caviar isn’t served in metal bowls, and served with horn, ivory, and glass spoons. The metal imparts a distastefull metallic flavor from oxidation. I learned that it can be consumed with mini-toasts, on blinis with sour cream, on bliss potatoes, with onions, salmon, creme fraiche and other various accroutrements. But I learned there is nothing wrong with taking a small horn spoon and just digging in, savoring the flavor of the bursting eggs between the tongue and the roof of your mouth. Lastly, I learned from Joel and Boris that you don’t DOUBLE DIP! I think I was cursed in Russian and French at the same time. I reminded Boris that as he stated, I was just a kid who didn’t know any better. He let out a hearty laugh and the called me something dirty in Russian with Joel guffawing, saying in English, "Good one Boris. Hey Marco ... he got you good!" I responded rolling my eyes, "Uh ... OK, whatever, remember I don't know what you are saying to me! Just give me more caviar!"
I think Joel, Boris, and I consumed around $500.00 worth of caviar that afternoon. It is something I will not soon forget. I miss those days working with Joel Assouline. He was so knowlegable about "the business." He was fun to work with as well. Alot of what I learned has since faded to the back of my memories but there is two lessons I won't soon forget. NEVER use a metal spoon when eating caviar and NEVER double dip!