Live from New York, it’s the public library



Artists, authors, chefs and politicians speak up


The New York Public Library

Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street

Events through December

$10-15; 212-930-0855; nypl.org

This Friday night, a few New Yorkers will have a chance to spend the evening with one of the most sought after men in the world, in one of the most historic edifices in our great city. The man in question is not the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama or Bono, but Spanish chef Ferran Adrià; the building is not the Empire State or Carnegie Hall, but the New York Public Library.

Adrià’s visit is part of the program “Live from the NYPL.” This four-year-old series has featured global superstars from every discipline and walk of life imaginable, from top-tier chefs to world leaders, symphony conductors to Oscar-winning filmmakers, and — since this after all is a library — revered editors, poet laureates, and best-selling authors. Past events have featured Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Salman Rushdie, and a memorable debate between Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton.

As for the claim that this weeks guest of honor, Ferran Adrià, is one of the most sought after men in the world, consider this: every year, more than two million people vie for one of the relatively few reservations at elBulli, the uber-chic restaurant on the Catalonian Costa Brava that Adrià has run for the past 20 years. Known as the “Salvador Dali of the Kitchen,” Adrià opens elBulli only six months every year, using the other half of the year to travel the world in search of new ideas and culinary inspiration. Friday night will likely be the only chance most people will ever sit in the company of the elite chef, as he talks to world-renown food writers Corby Kummer and Harold McGee about his new behind-the-scenes book, “A Day at elBulli,” as well as the importance of the locavore and slow-food movements.

“Live from the NYPL” is curated by Paul Holdengräber, the Director of Public Programs at the library. The library recruited Holdengräber from the L.A. County Museum of Art in 2004 to breathe new life into the institution by creating a vibrant public forum. In selecting guests, the 48-year-old director has tapped not only local talent, but international guests like Adrià.

Born in Houston, Holdengräber moved from country to country with his globetrotting family. “My parents brought me up to be curious about the world, to always continue learning new things,” says Holdengräber in an unidentifiable Euro-mutt accent he claims to be affected.

Holdengräber schedules several events each month during the spring and fall, in what he calls a “nimble” fashion. “I am a shameless opportunist,” says Holdengräber. To wit, he informs me that he has, as of this week, just put together an event for October 28 that deals with the current economic crisis. Within a few days of the news breaking, he booked top economists Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz and finance guru George Soros to come discuss the Wall Street meltdown. “I’m hoping these men can help the public understand what is happening,” says Holdengräber. “And I think having this a week before the election will be perfect timing.”

Other noteworthy upcoming “Live from the NYPL” events, many of which have yet to be made public:

October 27: “Dead from the NYPL,” a twist on the program’s title that will bring prominent obituary writers to the stage to discuss the sometimes awkward craft of writing about the newly deceased.

October 29: A continuation of sorts of the Adrià food conversation with Grant Achatz, Nathan, Myrhvold, and Mark McClusky. This discussion will delight fans of alchemist chefs like downtowner Wylie Dufresne, as it focuses on the new frontier of experimental food design.

October 30: An evening with Dracula — just in time for Halloween — that investigates the truth behind Bram Stoker’s character. Was the famous vampire a real person?

November 10: A week after the election, the program is co-sponsoring a forum with the editors of the New York Review of Books for their 45th anniversary. The topic is “What Happens Next?” and features luminaries such as Joan Didion and Darryl Pinckney. Depending on the outcome of November 4, this conversation could go in different and, for some, potentially scary directions.

November 12: A conversation between Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison and the social satirist Fran Lebowitz, who was just recently added to the lineup.

November 13: A tribute to Carol Shields and her Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Stone Diaries.”

November 14: A tribute to Rust Hills. Richard Ford and others will be there to honor the former fiction editor of Esquire.

December 1: Avraham Burg in conversation with Omer Bartov. Burg is the former speaker of the Knesset and author of the provocative new book “The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise from Its Ashes.” Bartov is one of the leading authorities on genocide and the author of “Hitler’s Army.”

December 5: Zadie Smith returns for the annual tribute to Robert Silvers, co-founder of the New York Review of Books. This year’s theme is sensibility.

December 9: Holdengräber will hold a conversation with Daniel Barenboim, the world-renowned conductor and pianist. Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan, a symphony orchestra, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli musicians under the same roof.

Most of these events take place either at the Celeste Bartos Forum or the South Court Auditorium at the New York Public Library building on Fifth Avenue. The capacity is 450-500 people, a small number given such marquee names. It is not uncommon for these events to sell out—as is the case this week—but that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from going if you’re so inclined. Kim Irwin, the program’s assistant manager, says that the ticket-less can put their names on a waiting list at the box office at 5 p.m. the day of the event. At show time, any unclaimed seats are sold to those on the list.