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.


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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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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