chefs

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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.

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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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The most magical chef lives in a magical valley and creates magical food. His name is Erez Komarovsky. He lives in a valley in Israel snug up to the Lebanese border and works his fires so well you can believe he is the Sorcerer of Food. My good friends Doron and Marianne made sure that on my trip to Israel I was able to meet with this wondrous chef. His home is nestled on a hill. As you walk down the winding path there are whimsical sculptures, wild bushes and cultivated flowers. Jumbled beautifully just as though nature dictated it so.

As you come upon the house there is a wood burning stove right by the front door. The smells smack you in the face. A small vintage mobile oven owned by Erez’s grandmother sits proudly nearby (he still sometimes uses it).

And then you walk into the house with views that go for miles and smells that make you giddy. We were greeted with fabulous unlabeled, unreleased champagnes (they were actually made by Yarden). They were left on the lees and had such depth, fine bubbles and elegance. I felt I was drinking a grand cru! I was in heaven.

Then the parade of food came out. Erez is well known all over the world for being an excellent bread baker. His food is natural. And distinctive. It is Erez. His hummus is made from black beans, not chickpeas. His roasted radishes, blackened by the fire were jewels glistening with the freshest olive oil. With his hands he mushed lamb tartar…he also diced it and asked…which do you like better? Definitely, the mushed. He smiled and said, ‘of course.’

Sorry I can’t tell you where this Israeli Brigadoon is, but savor the photos! I really love what I do…..

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Chris Cosentino and staff

I heard him before I saw him. I was trying to find how to get into Incanto in San Francisco to interview Chef Chris Cosentino for my radio program Chef’s Story, which airs on Heritage Radio Network. The restaurant’s door was locked and there was not an obvious side door. I spied someone smoking and thought, that must be a restaurant worker…and lo and behold it was. And the door right near them had a staircase going into the basement. Halfway down the stairs I heard the booming voice. “that’s it…slice it slowly..that’s it.” I couldn’t believe at five in the evening, a star chef like Chris was actually in the kitchen prepping with his staff.

He gave me a big hello but asked if I could wait, he had to get his staff through family meal. I was happy to wait. And it was an education. Chris Cosentino’s passion just explodes in his kitchen. It is so raw and honest, all you can do is smile. I heard him talk about the night’s menu to the waitstaff. He had them tasting. He was as good a teacher as I have ever seen. And I was lusting for their food.

Incanto and Chris are known for offal, in fact Chris even has his own website Offal Good, where you can learn more about Chris and offal. At Incanto, you can get pulverized tuna heart, crudo cow stomach muscle, lamb’s liver. Chris refuses to throw away any part of an animal, it’s the whole animal philosophy….and he butchers them all himself.

Incanto is in a class of its own. Cosentino is a gift…and his philosophy is infectious. You got to love him. (That’s Chris in glasses leaning against the wall).

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Maxime Bilet

I had dinner at Atera in New York City with Chef Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernest Cuisine. There aren’t any words to describe Chef Matthew Lightner’s magical creations so I will let the photos do the talking.

What an evening!

Maxime's favorite- Sepia in Chicken Bouillon

Peekytoe Crab Ravioli

Cured Wild Salmon

Kyoto Carrot, Cayenne

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

Kitchen action

Pig Fat

Bone Marrow in Hearts of Palm

Puffed Beef Tendon

Faux Egg made of egg!

Savory Cannoli

Beeswax Covered Turnip

L: Caviar Sandwiches, R: The scene at Atera

L: Chicken Liver Cookies, R: Flaxseed Cookies

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