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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Photo: NYIOOC

Once again the ICC hosted the NY International Olive Oil competition. In my opening remarks, I observed that after last year’s conference I felt ashamed. Ashamed I knew so little about an ingredient that I am so in love with, passionate about and spend a fortune on. As an educator I feel I need to be part of the solution to change the common ignorance about tasting an exquisite olive oil. The statistics are a bit startling. Only .2 of 1% of olive oil is extra virgin. It is mostly made by artisans who harvest by hand, crush and bottle. In the villages where this is done the oil already needs to sell for 8 Euros a bottle. By the time it crosses the Atlantic, properly handled and put on a grocery shelf, the price is at least $20!

L: Curtis Cord, President-NYIOOC; Steve Jenkins-Fairway; Liz Tagami, President-Tagami International; Photos: NYIOCC

John Akeson, Deoleo; attendees; Photos: NYIOOC

And no two oils are alike. Similar to wine. The difference between a mediocre and a great olive oil is night and day. The flavor profile, the slight peppery burn, the mellowness allows a personality that is not afforded to many products. Freshness is so key that some people argue that you should only eat Northern hemisphere oil in the summer (since it is harvested and ground in December) or the Southern hemisphere in the winter (for the obvious correlation).

Photos: NYIOOC

Photo: NYIOOC

Photos: NYIOOC

Have you taken your olive oil as seriously as your wine? You should. The education is similar. I say to people who want to study wine that the best teacher is pulling corks, and think about the wine as you drink it. The same holds true for the olive oil taster. Unscrew those tops! Buy the expensive bottles. Don’t cook with them but drizzle the liquid gold on bread, raw vegetables, grilled fish and vegetables and be ready to smile. Fat is what gives you the feeling of satisfaction in your mouth. Nothing does that better than olive oil. It is the nectar of the gods. Greeks and Romans obviously had refined palates!

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