Travel

You are currently browsing the archive for the Travel category.

A number of years ago I invited a bunch of  top chefs up to my place in Fourchu, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (and what chefs…Dan Barber, Jonathan Waxman, Cesare Casella, Candy Argondizza, David Pasternak, Nils Noren, Floyd Cardoz and Anne Burrell). Fourchu is my family’s home village and I wanted the chefs to go gaga over the local lobster.  Our village is way out on the southeastern tip of the island…maybe 750 miles from the east coast shoreline.  The lobsters are muscularly and mineral  flavored, ocean tasting, and sublime.  The chef trip was famously written up in a fine Departures article by Peter Kaminsky. The chefs were impressed with the lobster but it was a midnight run to a returning crab boat with fisherman Gordon MacDonald that really had them fired up.

Snow crab from the northeast is an exquisite delicacy that few people get to taste fresh. The snow crab is harvested far out in the ocean with overnight trips are the norm and come from the depths of pristine water. The problem is getting the crabs back before they turn black from the bends from being caught at the deep bottom of the ocean. Triage is usually done by immediately freezing the crab on its arrival on shore. Frozen crab is very delicious but nothing can beat fresh.


Cape Breton has breathtaking scenery and world class fishing. If you live in a lobster or crab village like  Fourchu as I do in the summers, you can meet the crab boat and have the sea water boiling back home. Meeting the boat is as much a social event as shopper’s delight. One buys the crab for $2 a pound at the dock and catches up on gossip and then quickly gets on with the ritual. That means 1) chipping the head off  the crab 2) pulling the hard center shell off 3) breaking it into two halves 4) cleaning out all the yellow gunk. 5) running home and putting it into the boiling water or the freezer for after the season closes.

No butter, no sauce just explosive crab taste. Sensational!  Try it frozen if you find it in your local fish shops or take a trip up to Cape Breton.  Both are absolutely worth the effort.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I never thought much about canned tomatoes. I love ‘putting up’ tomatoes from my garden but I don’t ponder too deeply about the commercial kind. That is, until I was invited last September to the Mutti factory outside of Parma. As many of you might recall, I spent seven months living in Italy last year serving as President of the U.S. Pavilion at EXPO Milano 2015. While the EXPO itself was thrilling and educational, I was most deeply impressed by the Italians that I met and had the privilege to work with.  Many Italian food companies and wineries are family owned and operated.  Their pride is not only in the product but in protecting the family name and their  devotion to the legacy of being the generational custodians of their land and quality of their product.

As any aficionado of Italian food can tell you,  the brilliance of the cuisine has as much to do with the beauty of the product as it does with the skill of the chef. In Italy the cuisine is highly seasonal. They eat raw tomatoes in the summer and fall and the balance of the year they rely  on canned tomatoes. Thus, as you can imagine,  Italians take their canned tomatoes seriously.  The number one selling brand of canned tomato in Italy and France today  is Mutti.  After visiting the factory, I now know why. I was invited by Juan Pablo Carnevale, Mutti’s export manager to visit the factory during harvest and boy, I will never take a canned tomato for granted again.

We  first had lunch at  a marvelous restaurant  Mulino di Casa Sforza in Basilicanova (outside of Parma). We shared a heavenly pasta and drank a local and most delicious Lambrusco.   It was over this lunch that Juan Pablo set the historical background for my tour. Did I realize that Napoleon’s wife brought the tomato to northern Italy? No. When Napoleon was captured in 1814 and exiled to Elba, he negotiated for his wife Marie Louise, the Hapsburg daughter of  Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,  to exile to the  Duchy of Parma.  She was a benevolent and a much loved Duchess.  Her French court  brought sophistication to Parma.  The summer palace patterned itself  after Versailles.  The theater  in Parma rivaled any in the world. (The ground floor was capable of being sealed off and filled with water for staging maritime battles!). From a culinary point of view, Marie Louise did a reverse of Caterina de Medici and introduced the Italians to a much loved French ornamental  fruit,  the tomato.  The environs of Parma proved fertile  soil to produce luscious tomatoes.  In the latter part of the 19th century the Italian universities and their superior scientific programs invented revolutionary preserving technologies which were applied to the popular  products of Parma (ham, cheese, tomatoes). With the full support of the banking and commercial community the canned tomato industry was born.

Mutti was one of the first companies to can tomatoes.  The reason for their success today is that each generation constantly  upgraded quality controls and best practices in preserving. Today I saw the latest technologies applied.  Their assembly lines rigorously test each incoming truck for disease and proper acidity levels.  The production line culls green and unripe tomatoes lest bitterness enter the flavor profile.  The harvest must be done quickly and efficiently to capture the freshness and ripeness of the fruit.  A high tech scanner measures  each processed batch for acidity and sweetness levels to maintain consistent  flavor profiles.  The blind tastes test bore out the superiority of the product.  A sweet ending to a fascinating tour.


On leaving the production ground one is struck by a 15-foot standing toothpaste tube in the garden.  Actually it is a blown up Mutti tomato paste tube. The Mutti heir after WW II innovated that packaging.  He marveled at toothpaste tubes and realized they did not allow oxygen into the product.  One could open the tube and use over a longer period of time without oxidizing and ruining the paste.  What a great innovation!  But he also realized that Italian women were slow to change their habits, especially with such an essential ingredient in  making tomato  sauce.  So, he cleverly  observed  that in post war Europe  most families were too poor to buy ready made clothing.  Most women sewed. The cap of the tube was very ‘thimble’ like.  And so, he engineered the cap to have two functions.  When the paste was finished, the cap served as a thimble!  At least the women would buy one tube just  for that and give his product a try.   One try and today it is the number one selling product.

Quality, innovation and passion, all in canned tomatoes.  I wish we had Mutti here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

« Older entries