Firstly, let me apologize for such a lull in blog posts. As President of the Friends of USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano 2015, I have had my hands full. The Pavilion is so exciting that I just have share the developments. For those of you who might not be familiar with EXPO Milano 2015, there will be a World’s Fair (EXPO) in Milan from May 2015 through October 31 2015. Six months of wonder.

USA Pavilion rendering James Biber Architects

The theme is “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life.” Over 140 countries will participate. We have all been challenged with the daunting task of how we will responsibly feed the planet when our population explodes to 9 billion people. If we continue to produce, consume and waste food at our present rate, we will not only not have enough food but won’t have enough energy to produce the food. Climate change and dwindling natural resources like fresh water also will add to the dilemma. Each participating country will take a stab at demonstrating how to meet and solve these challenges.

The USA Pavilion theme, American Food 2.0 will highlight some of our greatest thinkers on the subject. ICC’s grad Dan Barber will speak to his Third Plate, and Dean Cesare Casella will be cooking at the JBF House Milano. Architect Jim Biber of Biber Architects has designed  a beautiful and transformative building: it is a true vertical farm. Thinc, the exhibits firm that designed and programmed the 9/11 Museum, will be designing our exhibits.

Harvesting the vertical farm, rendering James Biber Architects

The USA Pavilion will be three floors. The roof will serve as a bar/garden and communal meeting place. The middle floor is a boardwalk, boardwalks have historically been an avenues of food and community, and fun too! We were able to purchase the actual Coney Island boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy. That floor will have exciting stations speaking to the pressing issues, highlighting various points of view on how to solve them and introduce American personalities and institutions that will play key roles in solving the problems. The ground floor will be a visual delight of the great American foodscape from barbecue to immigrant food to Thanksgiving dinner.

Whew! If you are at all interested in food and the future, you must plan on visiting. This World’s Fair will be a benchmark in the history of EXPOs and will rival the best. We at ICC are proud and honored to be a part of it. Please visit USA Pavilion:American Food 2.0 website for information, social media and updates.

Roof Deck rendering James Biber Architects

A warm human touch will be the 120 student ambassadors who will serve as guides and docents. They will be bi-lingual and speak a polyglot of languages. These students are being recruited from colleges all over the country and trained by the University of Southern California.

We will also have a space across from our Pavilion that will contain food trucks. We will be showcasing American food in its diversity and deliciousness. Everything from lobster rolls to fried clams. Hamburgers to tacos. We want to bring the great bounty of American regionalism to our Pavilion and introduce the 25-30 million EXPO visitors to the real deliciousness of American cuisine.

Outside the walls of the Pavilion and the EXPO itself, we will infuse a bit of the States in the city of Milan itself. The Mayor of Milan, Guiliano Pisapia  graciously visited the ICC and is excited to welcome us to his city to showcase our top chefs and to liven the piazzas around the city with American outdoor eating events. Tailgating anyone? Also in the city we will hold TED-like talks (Beard Chats) and panel discussions to hear from a myriad of experts on the various ways we can overcome the big issues. Last but not least, we will run a James Beard House in central Milan and showcase the best and brightest chefs from the USA.

Scenes from December Milan and site visit, with Amb Reeker and, at the site with Mitchell Davis

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Dan Barber of Blue Hill NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my radio show, Chef’s Story. It wasn’t the usual interview where I ask all about his childhood, background, influences etc. I dove right into thorny topics with him. Dan as you might know has written a seminal book, The Third Plate. It is unapologetic. It cautions, enlightens and instructs us on the dynamic and evolutionary trajectory our food system is on. It is as frightening and exciting as a Transformer movie.

Dan Barber, The Third Plate, photo of Dan: Mark Ostow, photos courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

One aspect of our talk really struck me and I want to share it with you. Vegetables are not benign to the earth. They need a lot of water, fertilizing and human labor. They take a lot of land. Dan is not an opponent of vegetables, but he is first and foremost a responsible guardian of the earth. He believes we can all live sustainably, if we live an educated, humbled and moderate life. We should understand not just the nutrients and calories in our food but what I will coin here, its earth factor (EF). What does it take from our earth to produce a tomato, a pound of beef, an acre of GMO corn?

Dan used the term ‘the tomato is the hummer of the vegetable/fruit world.’ It uses a massive amount of water: 13 gallons per tomato. So can we be righteous eating a tomato from drought stricken California? Over eating a marbled 16 ounce T- bone steak? Should we avoid both as excessive EF? Interesting.

I do think socially conscious people want to know what they are eating. And they have a right to know. But next to the ingredients and nutrition labeling, don’t we need and want to know the EF factor too? I would.

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One of the great benefits of a summer vacation is to combine a culinary experience with a ‘primo’ summer spot. I have been longing to take the perfect road trip and find the James Beard award winning chef, Melissa Kelly in Rockland, Maine. Down the road from Bowdoin College and past numerous outdoor shops selling colorful canoes, one comes upon Primo Restaurant perched above Rockland’s harbor nestled in acres of organic vegetable bliss.

Melissa Kelly

And of course, there you will find Melissa Kelly, a native of Long Island, NY and the wunderkind that dreamt all this up.  Retreating to Maine from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn in the Hudson Valley, NY (where she earned her first James Beard Award in 1999), Kelly opened Primo in 2000, on a 4.5 acre farm. And there she defies the short growing season with a truly farm to table restaurant. In fact, we have to give her credit that she was doing the farm to table thing before it was called that or became the standard tag for a country restaurant.

I ate the most delicious salad, perfectly fresh swordfish and a berry-licious dessert. My companions devoured lobsters. After the meal we were allowed back in the kitchen and were given a tour by Chef herself. How impressive. I didn’t realize that not only does she raise her own chickens, but slaughters them too. There are few chefs that know how to slaughter a chicken! Melissa also made us tour her basement…actually it’s her modern day prosciutto curing cellar!  The hams hung side by side. Premiums bits with lesser cuts. Nothing, of course, is wasted.

I think a novel could be written about Melissa. The purity of her spirit, the level of innovation and the pure deliciousness of her food, makes her a heroine for me. It’s worth a trip. So make your vacation mantra: “Rockland Maine next year!”

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At the ICC we have a lot of talented people….and many are our students. Want to have fun for the next few minutes and feel like a 2 minute trip to the Caribbean? Check out this video of our Professional Pastry Arts students creating an aquatic-themed sugar showpiece. You’ll feel transported!

Happy Summer!

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As many of you know, I am obsessed with the Fourchu lobsters. They taste like the sea and are so sweet. The ICC’s restaurant, L’Ecole celebrates them for the mere two months they are available. So you better get to L’Ecole in June and July where these delicious crustaceans are making their yearly Soho visit.

In fact, we kicked off the season with Cape Breton Tourism who brought down two native born chefs, Ardon Moffard and Brooks Hart. They joined forces with none other than Master Chef Floyd Cardoz. Chefs Ardon and Brooks delivered ‘naked lobsters’ cooked to perfection while Chef Cardoz worked his personal magic on the Fourchus. Chef C is a huge fan of these crustaceans and was happy to put his light touch of spices on the unctuous sweet meat.

In addition the former Premier (Governor) of Nova Scotia and now CEO of the Gaelic College, Rodney MacDonald treated us to his fiddle and step dancing. Cape Breton has the highest number of fiddle players per capita in the world. Here are the highlights of the ceildh-party- we had at the ICC this month.

Colin MacDonald (guitar) and Rodney MacDonald (fiddle)

Finally, Cape Breton is definitely travel destination, just look at these accolades from renowned publications and travel sites. And I promise if you ever get a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed!

  • Top Ten Dare to Go, CNN.com 2014
  • Cape Breton Island one of the 20 Must See Places for 2013, National Geographic Traveler, World Edition
  • #1 Island Destination in North America, #3 in the World, Travel & Leisure, 2011
  • Most Romantic Place in Canada, Vacay.ca, 2012
  • Ten Best Island Holiday Destinations in Canada, Where.ca, 2011
  • Cabot Trail named #9 Cycling Destination in the world, Lonely Planet, 2011
  • Louisbourg voted #2 World’s Most Exceptional Castle Towns, msnbc.com, 2011
  • World’s Best Islands, BBC Travel, 2011
  • One of North Ameria’s Most Charming Fall Islands, Fox News, 2011
  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park, #2 Park in North America, National Geographic Traveler, 2006
  • Cape Breton Island one of Seven International Paradises, Fodor’s Online Travel Guide, 2008

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It’s the start of summer, I’m driving and normally fly right by those tempting roadside stands. But this one time I succumbed and pulled over for a soft serve ice cream cone at the Gooseboro Stand on Rte 202 in Connecticut. I had noticed that the building was retro-1960s…I had no idea that the portion sizes would be retro too!

I stood on line and the teenager serving at the counter yelled out ‘chocolate sundae!’ I expected to see a mammoth affair with scoops of ice cream smothered in chocolate sauce and mountains of whipped cream on top. Surprise! It was a modest cup with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, a bit of chocolate sauce and dab of whipped cream and a cherry.

I was shocked. In today’s super-sized world, this looked oddly appealing and just right. I thought, no one is going to get obese eating one of these…even every day. The price was right too…$1.99! Can’t we just go back to 1961? It wasn’t that life was easier then but the portions were just so much more sensible and affordable.

Can the obesity solution be that simple?

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