Renowned chefs Barbara Lynch (right) and Lydia Shire (left) join Melanie Dunea Thursday at the Harvard Book Store to discuss Dunea's new book.
“We’re late because we were making pizzas,” explained Melanie Dunea, as she hustled into the Harvard Book Store on Wednesday evening. Dunea, together with Boston-based chefs Barbara Lynch and Lydia Shire, was quickly excused by the audience with murmurs of approval and scattered applause. After all, they had gathered to hear about food.
Dunea was there to discuss her latest project, “My Last Supper: The Next Course: 50 More Great Chefs and Their Final Meals,” in which she called upon 50 renowned chefs to share their desired last meals on earth.
Dunea readily concedes that the project is not her immediate area of expertise. She is a celebrity photographer by trade, whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair and Time Magazine. Portraiture, she said, is how she “makes her bread and butter.”
On Wednesday evening, however, she graced Massachusetts Avenue to celebrate the bread and butter itself. Her new book is her second collection of chefs’ final feasts. In this bravo act, the chefs’ responses range from predictably mouth-watering, to poignant, to amusing.
One of Dunea’s favorites came courtesy of David Chang, proprietor of the group of Momofuku restaurants in New York and other cities. “I asked him,” Dunea remembered, “‘What would you drink?’ And he said, ‘Just get me drunk. I would drink Bud Light in the bottle. Just get me drunk.’”
Lydia Shire, a Boston-area chef, shared that she would want to dine on “beef and butter: a great combination,” but that she understood Chang’s decidedly “low-cuisine” request. “It’s the last meal. You want to live it up.”
On her left, Barbara Lynch disagreed. “I hate that,” Lynch said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that that would be his answer. I’m sorry.”
When asked what she would enjoy for her last meal, Lynch rattled off a laundry-list of treats: “Foie gras, sweetbreads, squab, caviar, New England lobster. And vanilla ice cream. I’m a Brigham’s vanilla girl,” she asserted, naming the cherished local treat. “That’ll probably never change.”
An ultimate repast is not composed only of its menu, which Dunea accounted for in choosing the six questions she put to each epicurean. When avant-garde Spanish chef, Albert Adria, was asked with whom he’d like to dine, he responded, “Clowns and beautiful girls. Of course, all of them really drunk.”
Part of what Dunea finds so appealing about the project is the way that the same questions elicit such radically different responses.
Tara M. Metal, who represented the bookstore in hosting the event, echoed Dunea’s sentiments.
“I like how much each chef’s personality comes out in this relatively short interview,” Metal said.
As people waited in line to get their copies signed, they munched on foie gras and fruit salad. Kay Hurley said that she has indulged at a few of the restaurants represented in the book.
A love for “the history of food and the taste of food,” routinely brings her to events like this one, she said. “I think food tells us a lot about our culture and about people.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.
CORRECTION: NOV. 21, 2011
The Nov. 17 article "Chefs Dish on Desired Last Meal in Book" incorrectly stated that Lydia Shire is the owner of the restaurant Locke-Ober. Though she once owned the restaurant, she has since left Locke-Ober.