Restaurants

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I am proud to say that Josh Skenes is a graduate of The French Culinary Institute/ICC. There is no finer moment for a school than when a student becomes a master. The culinary world has discovered Josh these past few years for his unique San Francisco restaurant Saison, which has garnered 3 Michelin stars and number 27 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Other giants in the field recognize his unique talents. Eric Ripert shared with me in a recent interview on Chef’s Story radio that Josh is the most interesting and talented chef of the new generation. He was intrigued with Saison’s sophistication with wooded fire. Tyler Florence told me last month it was the best meal he had all year.

What separates Skenes from the pack of highly talented chefs? His micro- focus, discipline and constant quest to learn more. When I asked him what was important in his cooking he quickly said ‘really knowing the product’. But for Josh knowing the product is extreme skiing. He gave me for an example a shallot, if you use a shallot:

  • What time of year was the shallot harvested?
  • How fresh is it?
  • How was it stored?
  • What type of cut would you use on the shallot?
  • How quickly would you use the shallot after cutting since the oxidation of the shallot will affect the taste?

I was overwhelmed with that answer. I never even thought about anyone giving the humble shallot that much respect. I then delved into a conversation about technique. I asked Josh what was the hardest technique intensive dish he has created. Without hesitation he said ‘Seven Fishes’ (an ultimate ceviche)’! The process-understanding the season to know which fish to choose, who caught the fish and how, how the fish traveled, how quickly it made it to the restaurant, how the fish was stored at the restaurant. The temperature of the fish as you cut it and placed in on the plate with the other fish of perfect temperature. The precise way to cut each fish with the exact knife. How to angle the pieces of the fish on the plate, how quickly the plate was delivered to the table and so on.

Saison doesn’t do the dish anymore. Because he was the only one who could perfectly execute it. The restaurant is only open for dinner. It serves 36 diners but this one dish was too labor intensive from the moment of the intention of fishing for it in the sea to presenting it to one special diner.

Thanks Josh for the insight to a Master’s mind!

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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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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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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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If you are in the NYC or Boston vicinity and are looking for a great gastronomic weekend, look no further than scenic Litchfield Country, CT and first check out the town of Washington. Not only are there wonderful restaurants, food shops, bookstores and farms but two Relais and Chateaux inns! Winvian-”113 acres of Norman Rockwell meets Alice in Wonderland” and The Mayflower Inn & Spa so lovely and elegant, each have unique and delicious restaurants along with wonderful spas and stellar accommodations. I’m proud to say both have an FCI/ICC chef at the helm. FCI grad, Chris Eddy, Culinary 1998 is Chef at Winvian and Stephen Barck is the acclaimed new chef at The Mayflower!

The Main House at Winvian, photo courtesy of Winvian

Winvian spa, photo courtesy Winvian

The Mayflower Inn & Spa

Oliva, in the town of New Preston is a local’s favorite with a wood burning fireplace and a superb Mediterranean menu. Riad Aamar has lovingly made this a romantic and delicious bistro. New Preston also has one of the best kitchen stores on the planet New Preston Kitchen Goods, a must stop if you’re in town.

Arethusa al tavalo in nearby Bantam is the real deal for Italian food. The owners are also the founders of the celebrated Arethusa Farm. Anthony Yurgaitis and George Malkemus are busy guys; they also happen to be the proprietors of Manolo Blahnik North America. You can find a previous post about Arethusa Farm here. They spend a lot of time in Italy and decided to bring Litchfield County a gift, this little trattoria. You’ll find it next door to their dairy store which sells housemade cheeses and ice cream. Next on the Bantam list, check out Bantam Bread, an exceptional artisanal bakery.

Bantam Bread Co.

Now, let me make your mouth water. I recently interviewed Chef Joel Viehland of the restaurant, Community Table (Ct) along route 202 in Washington. Joel did stages all over he world. It’s fun to see this world influence (NOMA in Denmark somewhere in Spain, as well as his stints with Susan Spicer and Emeril in New Orleans) in the food here, and it’s also fresh, homey and delicious. Just look at these plates!

Red Velvet, Dark Chocolate, Mascarpone, Beet

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Cultural Asset, Nyeon-im Kim, Dorothy

So why can’t the U.S. Government have designations like “Intangible Cultural Asset?” I actually met one on my recent trip to Korea. As most foodies have read and some have been lucky enough to taste, Korean cuisine is different, delicious and comforting. One of their most iconic dishes, is bibimbap.

Bibimbap

Jeonju Univesity students

On my recent trip I was invited to speak at Jeonju University which is about 3 hours south of Seoul. Jeonju is the culinary heart of Korea (similar to Lyon in France). The university has a much respected hospitality program and the town is a food mecca. Right before I gave my lecture and met the wonderful and welcoming students, we needed to tuck into lunch. That is when I met the Intangible Cultural Asset and Master of Traditional Korean food, Ms. Nyeon-im Kim. So unassuming and so dynamic, she’s in her seventies and still gets up every morning to oversee her restaurant, Gajok Hwegwan. The restaurant is touted outside with a large sign saying that this where you will find “the intangible cultural asset.” Then you enter a corner stairwell walking up two flights above a CVS type store. There on the second floor landing is an entrance lobby stacked with an array of fermenting bottles. You turn a corner and you think half of Korea is having lunch. The packed restaurant is within arms distance of a room length kitchen.  She oversees about half a dozen cooks lining up the feasts. Waitresses are buzzing back and forth.

Old Fashioned Fermentation

We were greeted in a private room by two professors from Jeonju. J.C. is one of ICC’s culinary graduates. They were so excited to have me taste Ms. Kim’s exceptional cooking. Not only did we eat the outstanding bibimbap but I had an incredible soufflé, that was more eggy than the traditional French version and had a slight fishy, acidic bite. Believe me, it was good.

The souffle

Roasted Rice Soup

When Koreans eat, they put all the plates on the table at once. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but I got to really like it. You just feel like you pulled up a chair to a buffet table and could then concentrate on your conversation with people at your table.My favorite sound in a Korean restaurant? All the laughter. No waiters interrupt the punch lines! I’d also like to share two final photos of meals with friends, one with our wonderful host for the visit, Rose Hyejung Han, the CEO of DreamVille Entertainment, and her colleague Ethan Woo, who was our indispensable liaison.

Front: Rose Hyejung Han, Dorothy Back: Jin-A Cha, Associate Professor, Department of Traditional Food Culture, Jeonju University, Jung Soon Kim, ICC Alumna and Associate Professor of Wester Cuisine, Jeonju University

Our liaison Sung Bong "Ethan"-Woo of DreamVille Entertainment and The ICC's Assistant Dean of Student Affairs/International Student Adviser Leland Scruby

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