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It was my fifth trip to Korea (to participate in Seoul Gourmet 2016) and I figured it was time to get up to the DMZ.  The DMZ is the demilitarized zone created in 1953 between North and South Korea. On a hot and sunny Sunday I signed up for a bus tour as  the zone is only an hour north of the capital. As I found out, it’s not a carefree bus tour, you needed to bring a passport and be checked by military personnel on entering the zone. My expectation was to see soldiers on both sides of the line, stare at the buildings and landscape across the border, take pictures with the military guards and put another notch in my tourist belt. What better way to get over jet lag than witness a piece of living history?

It was not until I was on the bus that I realized I did not sign up for the tour to the military sight but to the other places in the DMZ. Wait- there are other places in the DMZ? The DMZ is actually 250 km wide and 4 km deep. It is fascinating, surreal and very gastronomic! For example, in the DMZ you find the relatively modern Gyeongui Railway station that hosts no active trains, and no train customers but has spacious facilities and futile signs for trains to Pyeongyang.

You also discover that historically the DMZ lies in a treasured agricultural valley which in ancient times produced rice and soy beans for Korean royalty. When first declared a no man’s land, farmers were driven from this fertile region. After waiting decades for an end to the conflict (technically the Korean war is not over, there is just a cease fire in place), the South Korean government decided it was not going to let this delicious region go rice-less.  The only village in the DMZ, Unification Village was built specifically for working farmers and soldier families.  It is the only civilian lodging in the zone.  As our guide waxed poetic about this rice, I was hoping the souvenir store would actually sell it. It did, but in 10 and 20 kilo sacks, not exactly souvenir size.  My fellow Korean tourists were buying it by the sackful. In the shop shelves there were other delicacies such as DMZ honey and DMZ chocolate soy beans. Tourist attractions dotted the zone. For example there was  Peace Park with the main attraction of wind. It’s high, grassy knolls lent themselves  for flying kites. Families picnicked by bomb shelters as the kites bobbed and weaved among the barbed wire fences. Jarringly attached to Peace Park was a full blown kiddie amusement park, Imjingak.


Along with the expected DMZ attractions, such as models of fighter jets and a steam locomotive riddled with a thousand bullet holes, there were bumper cars and merry go rounds. At the perimeter colorful ribbons honoring the dead fluttered below the rolls of barbed wired fencing. These vivid colors and the happy park goers were disorienting against a sober backdrop of barbed wire and manned guard houses along the river.

Further on there was  a soybean museum with the story of tofu and three amazing towers of ginseng! I have been to a lot of food museums in my life, but I scratched my head on wondering if people would come to this dangerous part of the world just to understand the soybean.  I realized then how seriously the Koreans take their food and though the DMZ is  known for the present conflict between the north and the south…Korean  food heritage was not about to cede its ground to recent history.


As for the amusement park food itself, it was as unappetizing as Coney Island fare. Different for sure, but equally unappetizing. Some delicacies such as squid and small crustaceans were purely Korean but the faux western fare of  ‘old hot dogs’ and ice cream sticks made me run back to the ginseng towers! If the North Koreans ever come over the line, they are in for a shock!

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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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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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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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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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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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