The most magical chef lives in a magical valley and creates magical food. His name is Erez Komarovsky. He lives in a valley in Israel snug up to the Lebanese border and works his fires so well you can believe he is the Sorcerer of Food. My good friends Doron and Marianne made sure that on my trip to Israel I was able to meet with this wondrous chef. His home is nestled on a hill. As you walk down the winding path there are whimsical sculptures, wild bushes and cultivated flowers. Jumbled beautifully just as though nature dictated it so.

As you come upon the house there is a wood burning stove right by the front door. The smells smack you in the face. A small vintage mobile oven owned by Erez’s grandmother sits proudly nearby (he still sometimes uses it).

And then you walk into the house with views that go for miles and smells that make you giddy. We were greeted with fabulous unlabeled, unreleased champagnes (they were actually made by Yarden). They were left on the lees and had such depth, fine bubbles and elegance. I felt I was drinking a grand cru! I was in heaven.

Then the parade of food came out. Erez is well known all over the world for being an excellent bread baker. His food is natural. And distinctive. It is Erez. His hummus is made from black beans, not chickpeas. His roasted radishes, blackened by the fire were jewels glistening with the freshest olive oil. With his hands he mushed lamb tartar…he also diced it and asked…which do you like better? Definitely, the mushed. He smiled and said, ‘of course.’

Sorry I can’t tell you where this Israeli Brigadoon is, but savor the photos! I really love what I do…..

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Recently I have been to Madrid, Oporto, Geneva, Milan, Rome, Israel. You would think most of  those places would have decent airport food. That’s what I was looking for, just decent food, some “hold me over” sustenance. And quite frankly in those places, well, that’s only what I found. And then there’s Istanbul, Turkey where I was only passing through- but this time I wasn’t looking for food to sustain me, I wasn’t hungry at all.  Yet like any good foodie I was lured to the food court’s by the siren song. And it was a food court with the usual Burger King, Popeye’s and ….a not so usual ‘Turkcuisine.’

OMG! The bakery got me started. Look at those pastries! And Turkish ice cream! And then I found the Turkish fast food court. I was almost hysterical when I saw the assortment of foods. Darn! I knew I had a delicious dinner on the docket in Tel Aviv that evening, knew I wasn’t hungry enough to eat right then, but it was a “know no bounds” moment. I wound up spending $40 on a most delicious lunch that I had no room for! (Does that make me a human equivalent of a foie gras goose?)

They make the “pizza” dough right at the station where you get your cheese pie. It is the Turkish equivalent of a tarte flambé from Alsace. The cheese was slightly tangy and was a perfect texture for melting on flatbread. The assorted appetizers display had everyone in line grumbling at me because I just couldn’t fit all of it on one plate and didn’t want to have to choose. I dithered and then crammed as much as I could on my small plate.

We got to the main food station and the young chef in charge (who has to be the son of Seinfeld’s soup Nazi) kept the line moving fast demanding to know your order. You almost felt like you were going to get a pass/fail grade by the time you ordered. The chefs by the way, were real chefs, spotlessly dressed, very professional and proud of their food. These are chefs at a cafeteria line at the airport, next to the Popeye’s and Burger King. Lord, be praised!

The dried beans with meat in a tomato sauce were among the best I have ever eaten. The stuffed Dolmas…well yes, I have eaten better but it didn’t keep me from wolfing them down. Next on the line, I spot a samovar, a tip off that desserts are next. Baklava heaven! I took one pistachio and one walnut. I am on a sugar high as I write this. Maybe it’s not the sugar. This is an airport after all. If you can pass through Istanbul en route to some exotic land, heed this advice…save your appetite! (By the way Turkish Airlines has my vote for best airline food.)

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Almost always I would describe David Bouley as an “outside the box” thinker but now he has truly gone so far outside that he is inside the box! What am I talking about? Well, his new restaurant/studio location, Bouley Botanical in TriBeCa once again breaks the mold on how you perceive the concept restaurant. It is a white rectangle room inside a giant garden box. The floor to ceiling windows are full of copper growing boxes!

Copper Growing Boxes

David is constantly challenging himself to think about food. He was the first chef in New York to put the provenance of ingredients on his menu. No one will forget his coining the phrase “day boat” cod, lobster, scallops. His home state of Connecticut and French grandparent’s gardens gave him a cornucopia of delicious, natural and fresh ingredients He spent many hours with the farmers and fishermen. He figured out how to get their products to New York City. Now he has gone one step further. He has brought the farm to NYC. He has built his kitchen to be a lab, and his basement a commissary. He also found Renee Giroux.

Renee Giroux, David Bouley, Bouley Botanical

Renee Giroux is the talented farmer of Gilbertie’s, a three-acre covered farm in Easton, Connecticut. Her thing is soil. Her soils are alive with all the beneficial insects, nematodes and other nutritious elements that make a delicious leaf. Her understanding is more than biodynamic, it is holistic and is pushing the envelope on natural growing techniques. She and David are creating a container farm lab at Botanical. The air itself in the space is a gift to your lungs. You sense the well being the minute you walk in.

David Bouley in the kitchen

When you think of growing vegetables or greens it is easy to think of soil elements and water. But have you thought of wind? The constant breezes in nature play their part in building the muscle of strong stems. Thus, while you dine at Botanical, at regular intervals a breeze comes out of nowhere! It brushes your cheek like a little pick me up. The various boxes surrounding you are doing their happy dance. Happy dance? Just think, if you have to give up your life to be an ingredient, wouldn’t you want it to be for the genius of David Bouley?

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If you are in the NYC or Boston vicinity and are looking for a great gastronomic weekend, look no further than scenic Litchfield Country, CT and first check out the town of Washington. Not only are there wonderful restaurants, food shops, bookstores and farms but two Relais and Chateaux inns! Winvian-”113 acres of Norman Rockwell meets Alice in Wonderland” and The Mayflower Inn & Spa so lovely and elegant, each have unique and delicious restaurants along with wonderful spas and stellar accommodations. I’m proud to say both have an FCI/ICC chef at the helm. FCI grad, Chris Eddy, Culinary 1998 is Chef at Winvian and Stephen Barck is the acclaimed new chef at The Mayflower!

The Main House at Winvian, photo courtesy of Winvian

Winvian spa, photo courtesy Winvian

The Mayflower Inn & Spa

Oliva, in the town of New Preston is a local’s favorite with a wood burning fireplace and a superb Mediterranean menu. Riad Aamar has lovingly made this a romantic and delicious bistro. New Preston also has one of the best kitchen stores on the planet New Preston Kitchen Goods, a must stop if you’re in town.

Arethusa al tavalo in nearby Bantam is the real deal for Italian food. The owners are also the founders of the celebrated Arethusa Farm. Anthony Yurgaitis and George Malkemus are busy guys; they also happen to be the proprietors of Manolo Blahnik North America. You can find a previous post about Arethusa Farm here. They spend a lot of time in Italy and decided to bring Litchfield County a gift, this little trattoria. You’ll find it next door to their dairy store which sells housemade cheeses and ice cream. Next on the Bantam list, check out Bantam Bread, an exceptional artisanal bakery.

Bantam Bread Co.

Now, let me make your mouth water. I recently interviewed Chef Joel Viehland of the restaurant, Community Table (Ct) along route 202 in Washington. Joel did stages all over he world. It’s fun to see this world influence (NOMA in Denmark somewhere in Spain, as well as his stints with Susan Spicer and Emeril in New Orleans) in the food here, and it’s also fresh, homey and delicious. Just look at these plates!

Red Velvet, Dark Chocolate, Mascarpone, Beet

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Wine Faux Pas

Proper wine stemware from left- Cabernet, Burgundy, Sparkling, White

Can you imagine a woman wearing a $10,000 couture dress but paying no attention to her hair and make-up?   That’s the image I get when I go to someone’s home for dinner and they serve a very expensive wine in totally inappropriate glasses.  In fact, if you saw Woody Allen’s latest movie, Blue Jasmine that swanky dinner party in the over the top apartment was betrayed by the guests drinking out of pretty glasses not meant for wine.  Great wine is not a drink but an experience.

If you splurge for a good wine you should enjoy all the aspects of this well crafted pleasure.  Even if you are not a wine connoisseur you will taste the difference in a well made wine.  And that taste can be diminished by drinking it from a vessel, which compromises the taste.  A pewter mug, a dirty glass, or a detergent lingering odor will all affect the wine.  They impart odors.  So if you are going to spend more than $25 for a bottle of wine, please drink it from a clean, well rinsed glass. And I make it a point of saying glass. Glass is perfect, it is a neutral. It does not impart taste or temperature.

It actually is all common sense.  Why drink a good wine?   The better made the wine; the more pleasure is derived from its flavor, balance and finesse.  In order to fully appreciate these attributes, an appropriate glass is the enabler.  One needs to look at the wine for clues to age, depth and breeding.  The wine itself releases aromas which compose the flavor.  Thus, you need a glass big enough for those ethers to be released and evolve before you taste the wine.  The top should taper so you can catch the aromas. And the glass itself needs to be clear. Cut crystal can distort the color.   Tinted glasses, well you can’t even see the color of the wine itself.  The simpler the better and this glass should have a stem.

Stems are important because holding a glass in your hand can warm the wine above its optimum drinking temperature (60-65 degrees Fahrenheit).  In addition, connoisseurs like to gently swirl their wine before tasting to release the aromas.  With a stemmed glass you can hold it on the table and gently make circles.  It helps to keep the wine from leaping out over the rim.

Wine Stemware: Left- Cabernet, Right- Burgundy

Wine Stemware: Left- Sparkling, Right- White

The best news is that a decent wine glass need not be expensive.  You can go over the top and purchase glasses that sommeliers use or the finest artisans hand craft, or you can pop into WalMart and buy a box of 4 for about $10. Just make sure it has all the above characteristics.It’s better to wear a great dress from Target with good make-up and sleek hair than to try to impress in a megabucks outfit from Chanel with two inches of roots crowning a monotone head of hair!

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I am proud to share with you that The International Culinary Center and the James Beard Foundation along with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy have been selected as presenters for the U.S.A. Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015. The ICC will play a pivotal role and I  have been greatly honored to be appointed as the President of the U.S.A. Pavilion.  The theme of the EXPO is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. Our program, aptly named “American Food 2.0″ will work to represent to the world five core values of American cuisine that the ICC and the James Beard Foundation represent….deliciousness, responsibility, innovation, diversity and entrepreneurism.   Below are a few renderings fo the Pavilion and also of our team at press conference in Milan.

Pavilion Front View James Biber Architects

Pavilion Rear View James Biber Architects

Pavilion Aerial View James Biber Architects

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