You cannot live on the Upper West Side and not indulge in a Gray’s Papaya hot dog. I realized that I had not eaten a Gray’s since the mid seventies. I needed to check out if this corner icon was still worthy of the hype. For years I walked by the corner of 72nd and Broadway and was more impressed with the aesthetic of the witty puns, the diversity of the crowd and the ‘orange’ motif that brightened up a dreary winter landscape than lured to eat a signature frank.

But there I went and got the hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut. Now, I must tell you I am an expert on hot dogs. I once blind tasted and judged 13 different hot dogs with Mickey Mantle (certainly one of the highlights of my life) for the New York Times. Not only did I pick the winner but knew what it was-a Hebrew National all-beef frankfurter. That day we didn’t have a Gray’s in the running. If we had, it would have won.

Gray’s hot dog was fabulous. The meat and casing were tender and did not feel like chomping into saran wrap. The seasoning was pitch perfect. Yummy. I never described a hot dog as yummy before. And I was blown away by the sauerkraut. It was finely chopped and had a hint of sweetness. Sometimes after eating a frank you feel a little bloated. Not with this honey. I felt totally sated. Light. And kept me full until dinner time. Can’t wait to go back.

There was one less than stellar moment. I had realized that I gobbled my hot dog before I could take a picture of it. I waited around until they made another for a customer. A double order with kraut was put on the counter to be rung up. As a polite New Yorker-perhaps too polite-I asked the person who ordered it if I could snap a picture of it before she scooped it up. She took a second, looked me in the eye (she was alone, in her 50s and casually dressed) and said bluntly, “no”.  I guess I looked startled and pulled my phone back. She then said, “In New Yawk, I’ve seen a lot of weird things.” I replied, “I am a born New Yorker and I’ve never seen a violating incident in snapping a picture of a hot dog!”  She got angrier and I realized she probably hadn’t purchased the button I just had at Gray’s. Although a self selecting group. I am proud to be a  ‘Polite New Yorker’ and I give that woman a Bronx cheer.

PS.  I went back! Couldn’t resist.

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ICC was proud to collaborate with NY Cakes and present a VIP cocktail party complete with flaming Dragon Cakes…and participate in the very first NYC Cake Show at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Check out the fun we had last weekend!

So many of these wonderful cakes held the spirit of New York City. And two very special cakes were a touching, special tribute.

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I saw the future in Newark, New Jersey. It was green. Really green. No GMOS, no pesticides and it was delicious. Aero Farms is a high-tech farm that has been working for a few years now. It not only is growing beyond it’s million pounds of greens, but is inspiring the community. In fact it has donated a small farm apparatus to the local charter school Phillips Academy. The academy has an amazing school kitchen program and a roof top garden. I was pleasantly surprised to meet one of ICC’s graduates there, Robert Wallauer, who is their chef and Food Service Director.  The program itself is run by Ecospaces Education, lead by the dynamic Program Director Frank Mentesana. It is no wonder that Michelle Obama chose the school last month to visit!

Robert Wallauer and Frank Mentesana

Now what really makes these greens exciting is that with lighting and patented growing medium technologies Aero Farm is making tenderer and exquisitely delicious greens. I for one, never hopped on the kale bandwagon but the baby kale I tasted in Newark was so tender, with a flavor that screamed out for a touch of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil that I instantly became a fan. The micro watercress as crunchy, refreshing and I popped like candy.

For us gardeners to hear that seeds germinate and grow in a matter of days, not weeks is nothing short of miraculous. Now, you might say you are committed to the earth and soil grown greens. As a lifelong gardener, I would have said that too until I think now of the plight of the world.

We have 8 million people living in NYC alone. We want them to eat fresh produce every day. In an ideal nutritious world that is 58 million servings a week. The land around NYC is developed and the few open spaces are too expensive for farming. If we are serious about fresh produce we need to look to the underdeveloped suburbs around our cities.
Aero Farms is leading the way. And I am fully on board that bandwagon!

A big shout out to Mark Oshima and the Aero Farm team for inviting me to Newark. They are changing the world.

Marc Oshima

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Dumpster Dive Salad

He’s done it again. Dan Barber never ceases to thrill, challenge and inspire me as a diner. This time he really topped himself. As you may know, Dan is one of the most responsibly sustainable chefs in the world. He is always questioning how we can be more responsible stewards of the earth. This new iteration has a simple formula: Make a meal out of scraps. And so he did.

Coppa

Broken Razor Clams and pig's ear vinaigrette

Now, some were his scraps, but most were purchased from the food vendors that Dan works with for his normal menus. He did not want free scraps but wanted to teach the vendors that scraps have value. He has pushed the needle so far again.

Veggie Pulp Burger, Spent Grains Bread

Skate Wings, Monkfsh Wings

Beef Tallow Candle

Leftover Brown Rice and Broccoli

Discarded Greens with Aged Beef Rib Broth

Cocoa Husk Sorbet, Chocolate with Almond Pulp

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When the Elvis of the food world, Jacques Pepin turns 80, there is reason for chefs, cookbook authors, media personalities and press to celebrate. And they do.

Happy Birthday Jacques!

In Washington D.C. at this year’s IACP (the International Association of Cooking Professionals) conference, there was a huge celebration for Jacques with the ‘tout le monde’ of the food world. Everyone made a cake which then would be auctioned for the IACP culinary trust. The ICC made an exquisite and elegant cake but the piece de resistance for the night was the creation of our Dean Jacques Torres made  with his team and our pastry department’s Chef Jansen Chen and students. They created a lifesize stove of 400 pounds of chocolate festooned with books, pots and pictures. Also, all made of chocolate. Setting off at 7 am from ICC to New York, the huge stove arrived in DC by noon. The cracks and crevices suffered because the pockscarred roads, were smoothed out to such a degree, no one know of the rough ride.

Scenes from the stove

Viewing the stove, ICC's Jansen Chan and Jacques Torres

Daniel Boulud, Jose Andres, Dorothy Hamilton, Jacques Torres

Sherry Yard with Dorothy Hamilton

The impressive and huge sculpture was only overshadowed by the chefs who attended: Jose Andres, Daniel Boulud, Sherry Yard, Bill Yosses, Michel Richard and many more. The gayity and celebration of the evening was not dampened by the fact that Jacques Pepin could not attend. He had suffered a minor stroke a few days earlier and had to Skype in. He was thrilled and touched. (And is doing very well I am glad to report.)

Daniel Boulud, Jose Andres, Dorothy Hamilton, Jacques Torres

Patrick O'Connell's Lobster in a Pot

Of the 80 cakes some of the most astonishing were Patrick O’Connell’s Lobster in a Pot, the Coast Guard’s complete with official seal, and D’Artagnan’s cake of Foie Gras and berry jam.

ICC's Chocolate Mousse Gateaux and D'Artagnan's Fois Gras Cake

Bill Yosses, Michel Richard, Hasty and Jacques Torres

Bill Yosses, the former White House pastry chef (and now teaching at the ICC starting in September) was the cake doctor. Since many of these cakes travelled even thousands of miles (Spago) there was a cake hospital on site. Every cake was a beauty by the time the auction took place.

I never saw so much love infused in buttercream!

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A gorgeous winter day and I am beaming. To be on a farm with happy pigs, clucking hens and hoop houses growing greens, one hardly notices the freezing temperatures outside. Welcome to the Rodale Institute’s farm in Mennonite country, Pennsylvania.

Hoop Houses

Rodale, Inc., the company, publishes many note worthy magazines from Prevention to Men’s Health. My friend James Oseland, formerly editor in chief of Saveur, is now the editor in chief of Rodale’s newest venture, Organic Life. James invited me down to the farm and I insisted on a winter’s day.  This is a farm that produces year round. Anybody can grow veggies in the summer!

Maria Rodale and James Oseland

My first treat was to meet Maria Rodale herself. She is passionate, articulate and incredibly knowledgeable about the state of the organic movement today. As she should be. Her grandfather J.I. Rodale almost single handedly popularized organics in America. He founded the Rodale Institute in 1947. This non-profit organization has carried out serious research and education on organic farming and since its founding, a Rodale family member has been at the helm. Maria is third generation and has a strong voice on the subject. Her book, Organic Manifesto, is highly readable and enlightening. The Institute todays sits on 333 pristine acres and conducts Farming Systems Trials in conjunction with the USDA and leading universities.

Veggie Tower

Among their key findings which they are happy to share with you show that:

  • Organic yields match or surpass conventional yields
  • Organic yields outperform conventional yields in years of drought
  • Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient

Rodale’s philosophy is simple: healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people. Only two hours drive from NYC, it really is an experience. It’s open to the public, plan a visit but maybe you would prefer to go in the summer. That’s okay too.

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