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Dinner for a Saint

A Waldorf Story by Jim Haughney

It was my number one goal in my young career…to work at the Waldorf=Astoria. I joined as Saucier, under Executive Chef Arno Schmidt, when the Empire Room was still two shows nightly. Soon after I was appointed Chef of the Peacock Alley Restaurant and the Marco Polo Club. On many occasions, with so many banquets, I would be scheduled by Executive Sous Chef Kurt Ermann as lead chef for a banquet event in the very busy Fall Season.

I was then transferred to Catering sales under Director of Catering John Flynn. One of my early roles was consulting with the team on menu planning while learning to market and sell.

The Waldorf was the home of many dinners held by the Archdiocese of NYC. From the Al Smith Dinner to the Knights of Malta. Terrance Cardinal Cooke oversaw the diocese in the 70s and early 80s.

A special visit was announced. General Manager Gene Scanlan reached out and asked if I would like to put my Whites back on and cook a very special dinner that would be set at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. I immediately said yes. He did not have to say who it was for.

We trucked supplies and table settings to the Bronx. The table top included a candelabra and setting plates from the original Waldorf. Dinner was simple…. a sautéed brook trout to start, Roast Tenderloin with truffle sauce for the entree. The special guest, dressed in white, dined alone served by John Flynn Director of Catering. The Cardinals dined in the Library as they all prepared for what came next: mass at Yankee Stadium.

I remained in the kitchen anxious as I was so close. I thought I would not get to see. Cardinal Cooke came to get me from the kitchen, and I joined our team…. the doors opened and Pope John Paul II came out and paused to speak to each of us. He gave each a gift, myself a rosary, and then I was on my knees with the privilege to kiss the Pontiff’s ring.

In my eight years, like many of us, we served heads of state, captains of industry, stars, celebrities, and Presidents. But nothing was even close to this moment serving His Holiness, now “Saint” John Paul II at the “Greatest of Them All.”