Oysters at Zuni Cafe – March 2006
Judy Rodgers, the chef/owner of one of San Francisco’s most beloved and most iconic restaurants died this past week from cancer. She was one of the major driving forces behind the development and popularization of what has come to be known as “California Cuisine.” Though I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I have eaten at her wonderful restaurant. Somehow, though, I missed having her signature roast chicken. She was just a little bit older than me, which like the death of Charlie Trotter, hits too close to home. In case you haven’t read them, here are two particularly beautiful obituaries, one by Russ Parsons for the L.A. Times and the other by Eric Asimov for The New York Times. They tell her story much better than I can.
The whole world also lost one of the most remarkable individuals to have ever walked the planet – Nelson Mandela. I stood inside his cell on Robbin Island near Cape Town. For him to be the leader that he was defies belief. RIP to a truly great man.
The legendary Lucio Blasquez of Madrid’s Casa Lucio with Gerry Dawes at Casa Lucio.
Are you a chef, cook or serious food enthusiast? Have you ever been to Spain? Have you ever eaten in Spain with an insider’s perspective? Would you like to? This may be your chance. There are just a few openings left on the upcoming tour, “Chef’s Taste of Spain” led by the inimitable Gerry Dawes from January 12-19, 2014. Continue reading
While by no means exclusive to the West Coast, cool jazz is the style of jazz most closely associated with it, especially the sounds of Dave Brubeck, Chico Hamilton and Gerry Mulligan amongst others. Cool is a more laid back, subtle and melodious style of jazz compared to the be-bop roots it sprung from. Bebop itself came out of the blues, which was a representation of hardship and suffering. Cool jazz, coming of age in the plenty post war California was more about fluidity, optimism and feeling good. Chef Justin Cogley’s food at Aubergine, an intimate restaurant nestled in the lovely oasis that is L’Auberge Carmel in the northern California beach town of Carmel, represents the culinary equivalent of cool. His food is also laid back, subtle and built on beautiful taste melodies. it’s a cuisine that is fluid, optimistic and definitely about feeling good. Visually, Cogley’s food avoids violent be-bop like splashes of vibrant color in favor of the sensual understatement of muted earth tones. Dinner at Aubergine is the culinary equivalent of chilling at a small California jazz club listening to some of the idiom’s best players lay down one cool riff after another.¹ Continue reading
Tagged Aaron Koseba, abalone, Aubergine, California, California Jazz, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Charlie Trotter's, Chuck Arendt, ChuckEats, Cool Jazz, Japanese cheesecake, Justin Cogley, L'Auberge Carmel, Lesley Kao, Marin Nadalin, Miyazaki beef, Monterey Peninsula, Nathaniel Muñoz, Ron Mendoza, West Coast jazz
Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Friends and family have congregated and dispersed and many turkeys, cranberries and pies have been eaten. With a feast like Thanksgiving, one of the great traditions is the post-prandial stupor. The amino acid tryptophan, found in large quantity in turkey, has been implicated in popular lore as causing sleepiness, but as this blogpost¹ argues, it is but a small part of the process. Snopes agrees. While there is some basis for believing that Tryptophan is the culprit, the reality is that it is the entire meal itself. While it was nice to have a well-defined target, truth is, like most things in life, much more complicated and at the same time simpler. We don’t often overeat in such a relatively short time to the extent that we do at Thanksgiving. Turkey or not, if we and when we do, we tend to have a similar response. What makes Thanksgiving special in this regard and turkey such a tempting target is that it happens to so many people at the same time.
¹Thanks to my friend Trevor Williams for the reference
Thanksgiving Dinner 2012
Family, Friends, Food and (for many) Football. Thanksgiving remains the purest of holidays as it is one that brings people together to remember, to respect and, of course, to share a meal. It is a day of introspection and conviviality, a day to give thanks for all one’s blessings and a day to remember those who don’t share those same blessings. For me, it has become a day, in particular, to remember my parents. My mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day twenty-one years ago and my father within a week of the holiday seventeen years ago. Nine years ago, my mother-in-law passed away two days before. My father-in-law left us earlier this year, not on Thanksgiving, but he is remembered here as well. These passings could make the holiday a maudlin one for my family and if it was any holiday other than Thanksgiving, it probably would be. With Thanksgiving, however, it makes me look at all that our family has had to be thankful for, especially the people who put us in a position to have much to be thankful for. We remember and we celebrate. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
One of the problems for me with writing about restaurants is that it is difficult to return to places that I’ve been and enjoyed when it seems that there is always something new and exciting that I have not yet experienced nor written about. Nevertheless, I do go back to old favorites when I can, but I do not necessarily write about them unless there is something compelling about the experience that will add to the discussion of the restaurant and the chef. Such was the case with Atera, Chef Matthew Lightner’s modern fine dining restaurant located in lower Manhattan. My first meal, had shortly after the restaurant opened, was excellent. I wrote at the time,
Chef Lightner’s influences, Andoni Luis Aduriz and Rene Redzepi, are readily apparent in his work. He learned a lot from them and is not afraid to use what he learned, but that doesn’t mean that he is simply copying them. Lightner is not quite as “technoemotional” as Aduriz nor as regionally identified as Redzepi. Rather, his work is a continuation of a school of cooking that goes back to at least Michel Bras. Lightner has been a very astute pupil and has incorporated what he has learned into his style, a style that I expect will continue to evolve the longer he is in NYC.
During that first meal, Chef Lightner’s influences from Andoni Luis Aduriz and Rene Redzepi were clear and they were welcome as there wasn’t anyone else at the time in NYC doing anything quite like it. With this meal, however, Lightner’s influences, while present, were less obvious and his food more distinctively his as he built upon some themes and earlier approaches. That first meal was exciting because it was fresh for NYC and very, very good. This one, however, was even more exciting, because it showed that the voice of a top young chef has grown more clear, refined and personal as well as being even more delicious. Pair that with some of the finest service around, an intimate setting conducive to conviviality (each time we made friends with our neighbors at the u-shaped dining bar overlooking the open kitchen) and a great beverage program and one has a recipe for one of the very best restaurants in the country, let alone NYC. Continue reading
Wild turkeys, like this one pecking outside my house early last spring, have a chance. For the domesticated varieties, not so much. I know, I’m looking forward to mine! Happy Thanksgiving!
The coffee culture in the US is really taking off and by that, I mean a true sophistication with an educated consumer base. The scene in NYC has been burgeoning for some time and my recent trip to San Francisco and the Bay Area was awash with great brews. I am thrilled to report that that culture is growing in the area in which I live too, the Capital Region of New York State. I recently attended a very successful first public event at The Lucas Confectionary in Troy, NY, put together by some of the area’s top coffee professionals, organized under the heading of The Capital Region Coffee Collective. Matthew Loiacono (Uncommon Grounds), Ron Grieco (Tierra Coffee Roasters), Jessica Jenkins and Luen Proft (The Lucas Confectionary) created an educational program that was centered around tasting the differences between the same beans roasted to three different end-points – light, medium and dark. They roasted the beans sourced from Colombia and prepared the different roasts with the same grind in exactly the same way with Chemex carafes and filters. The light roast showed the most fruit nuance, while the dark was heaviest in bitter notes. It was an eye-opening way to understand how the roasts actually translate into flavor. Future events are planned and I for one anticipate them with enthusiasm.
See my Flick’r Photoset for more photos from this event.
Tagged Capital Region Coffee Collective, Chemex, coffee, Jessica Jenkins, Luen Proft, Matthew Loiacono, Ron Grieco, The Lucas Confectionary, Tierra Coffee Roasters, Troy, Uncommon Grounds
Chef Joshua Skenes
Sensuality is oft equated with erotic sexuality and while they tend to go hand in hand, not all sensuality is sexual, or at least not overtly so. Sensuality is a state of pleasure due to stimulation of the corporeal senses. Dining, certainly when at its best, is a sensual experience. If not, what is the point of fine dining? Clearly fine dining exists to provide pleasure to the diner and is therefore meant to be a sensual experience. It is not uncommon for good restaurants to provide sensual pleasure in terms of taste and smell. Many also titillate the visual sense through the use of artistic presentations. Some have tried to bring auditory components into play¹ and many use textural contrasts to highlight the sense of touch. Few, however, combine them all in a package as well as Saison chef Joshua Skenes. The sense of hearing is not directly impacted by the food, but Skenes maintains a musical soundtrack that adds a positive vibe to the room and the experience. Relying on top quality product second to none, Skenes’ presentations are clean, beautiful and look simpler than they are. He allows the inherent flavors to shine and coaxes incredible subtleties that wow not because they pack a huge punch, but because they possess precise definition. Perhaps the greatest sensual quality of his work, however, is the mouthfeel of his dishes. Not content with mere contrasts of soft and crisp, Skenes’ approach to texture approaches genius. His dishes marvel in some instances as a result of a lack of textural distinction between disparate ingredients, while others explore intricate, subtle interplays of texture. I have never previously experienced a meal that so profoundly effected me through this sense. Continue reading
Tagged Barbancourt, Bitor Arguinzoniz, Bonjwing Lee, Chateau du Busca, Chuck Arendt, Etxebarri, Hanyu Noh Whiskey, Hirsch Rye, Japanese whiskeys, John Shields, Joshua Skenes, Koshikari rice, Mark Bright, Paul Ting, Rodney Wages, Saison, Samaroli Evolution 2011, Shawn Gawle
Charlie Trotter on stage at StarChefs ICC 2009 along with his good friends, Norman VanAken and Emeril Lagasse. Clark Wolf moderated, while David Bouley prepared his demo in the background.
I had met him on several occasions, but can’t say that I knew him. I certainly knew who he was, but I doubt that he had any clue as to who I was. We were the same age, though I am slightly older. I had eaten at his restaurant just once and had a delicious meal. Charlie Trotter was an icon, one of the first superstar chefs and one of the most successful of American chefs to this day. Starting in the 1980′s and continuing almost to the day it closed, his restaurant was synonymous with creativity and the best of the best. Known as a tough taskmaster, his restaurant produced many of today’s best American chefs, including a number of personal favorites. Though his direct influence on American gastronomy had waned in recent years, indirectly his influence lives on in those who he trained – people like Matthias Merges, Justin Cogley, John Shields, Karen Urie Shields, Homaro Cantu, Ben Roche, Giuseppe Tentori, Shawn Gawle and more. He died way too young and with many things that he wanted to do left undone. R.I.P. Chef Trotter.
Chef Charlie Trotter being interviewed at StarChefs ICC on September 20th, 2009