Mesamérica 2014 – More Perspectives on Food in Mexico – Day Two

BU4A3426It is difficult in any field to be the first presenter of the day, but when the presentation takes place at a major international culinary congress it is even more so. Chefs, culinary media and aficionados who attend also like to experience what the local region has to offer and even for those from the area, it is not everyday that they get to have fun with a wide array of international peers. In short, it is party time. Credit must be given, though, to the organizers of Mesamérica, who programmed the start of the day at a relatively reasonable 10:30Am. Even with that, though, people straggled in and the coffee machines were in high demand. Continue reading

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The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party 2014 – Some Personal Highlights

Big Apple BBQ Block Party 2014I look forward to attending the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in NYC’s Madison Square Park on Madison Avenue every year and have attended all but one (missed it because of a conflict with my son’s college graduation) over the past 9 years. While all have been special in their own ways, none have provided better weather than the one this weekend. Saturday was simply spectacular and was the perfect frame for some wonderfully smokey and delicious pork, beef and more. Continue reading

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Mesamérica 2014 – More Perspectives on Food in Mexico – Day One

BU4A4027Mexico City is many things. It is one of the largest cities in the world. It is sprawling, shaky from earthquakes, smoggy, grimy, crowded, intimidating, full of energy, vibrant, friendly, delicious and one of my favorite cities in the world. It, for the past three years, has also been the home of Mesamérica, the culinary gathering bringing chefs and others from within and without the country to explore the past, present and future of food in Mexico as well as other elements that go hand in hand with the culinary universe. Continue reading

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Salads, Shanks (and More) at The Shack

Table for two at The Shack

Table for two at The Shack

It’s called “The Shack” for a reason.  It’s a small restaurant, simple in décor and casual in attitude, but the food in Chef/owner Ian Boden’s cozy restaurant both embraces the name and belies it. We braved a torrential downpour across the foggy Blue Ridge Mountains to come from Charlottesville, a half hour drive away to dine  on a Thursday evening after just having driven from upstate New York. Continue reading

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Travel Nightmares From AeroMexico – Airway Robbery

Anyone who might read this blog on a regular basis knows that I like to focus on the positive. I tend to write about what I really, really like. Typically, I don’t write negative reviews. There are exceptions, though, and they tend to occur in those (fortunately) rare instances that leave me seething. Boarding my Aeromexico flight at Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City to return home from a wonderful Mesamerica Congress, provided just such a moment. Continue reading

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Chocolate Musings

BU4A2496Tastes change. Perhaps it is more accurate to state, however, that tastes evolve over time. Some times that evolution comes full circle. Such has been the case for me when it comes to chocolate. I LOVE chocolate! I have always loved chocolate, especially dark chocolate. About ten years ago, or so, inspired by a visit to the then novel Barcelona chocolate shop, Cacao Sampaka, I became quite enamored of blended chocolate bars, the more exotic the better. Since that time, thanks to companies like Vosges and Chuao, amongst others, the market for these kinds of chocolate bars have grown. Over the ensuing years I have tried and enjoyed many of them. Some of these blends really are quite interesting and delicious, but over the past couple of years, with the exception of some truly beautiful, creative and delicious products at Francisco Migoya’s Hudson Chocolates, I have found myself shying away from them and gravitating back towards simpler preparations of either pure, dark chocolate, or dark chocolate abetted by straight forward flavors such as with the Theo line (which are widely available and a great value) amongst others. This is not to say that the chocolate concoction bars aren’t good, don’t have a place or that I don’t like them. It is simply an observation about how my own personal preferences have evolved over time and at this point in time, I prefer to savor the distinct variety of flavors found in the wide world of chocolate, which has as much terroir (or producer variation) to keep things interesting as wine or coffee. BTW, my tastes with these products has evolved with time too. I’m sure that happens with everyone. How have your tastes evolved?

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Pursuing Porcine Perfection – Ibérico de Bellota- Part 4: Jamónes, Embutidos y Carnes

Master cortador Clemente Gomez teaching my son, L.J. Sconzo how to properly cut Jamón Ibérico de Bellota at the Los Pedroches booth at Madrid Fusión 2014

Master cortador Clemente Gomez teaching my son, L.J. Sconzo how to properly cut Jamón Ibérico de Bellota at the Los Pedroches booth at Madrid Fusión 2014

There is a very good reason that pork products made from acorn fed Ibérico pigs have attained the lofty reputation that they have – they are just so damn delicious! It’s true, even from lesser producers, jamónes Ibéricos and embutidos Ibéricos are nothing short of delicious. With the best producers, however, these products are absolutely other-worldly. Such was the case with the products that we were fortunate enough to eat and taste on our exquisite visit to the lands of the cerdo Ibérico.
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Pursuing Porcine Perfection – Ibérico de Bellota- Part 3 – The Cure

BU4A7845Most connoisseurs know it to be one of the finest food products of any kind in the world, let alone the greatest of hams. Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, as it is known, comes from southwestern Spain, primarily from the regions of Extremadura and Andalucia, but with  a number of great jamónes made in Castilla y León, using Ibérico pigs raised in Andalucia. This winter, my son, L.J. Sconzo and I joined our good friend and Spanish culinary expert, Gerry Dawes, on a tour of these regions to see, sample and fully experience as much as we could about  this fantastic product. In previous posts, I highlighted the special diet of these special pigs in the oaken dehesas of southwestern Spain and then the process by which they are slaughtered and butchered. Here, I will relay the process of how these extraordinary hams and embutidos are made. Continue reading

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Pursuing Porcine Perfection – Ibérico de Bellota- Part 2 – La Matanza

BU4A8705For the Ibérico pigs spending their last days on the idyllic dehesa during the montanesa, their time would ultimately come to an end and they would move onto the next phase of their being – the transition of their special corpulent and muscular bodies into food. This final process necessarily begins with their deaths. The Spanish call it La Matanza. We did not actually get to witness a matanza during our journey – we got to the Lazo production facility in the northern Andalucia denomination of Jabugo not long after that days slaughter was finished, but with enough time to witness most of the processing of the fresh meat. Please be warned, that the process will be described and the subsequent animal butchery shown in a graphic fashion. For those who do not care for meat, or who only wish to believe that it just comes from stores in packages covered by clear plastic wrappers, please do not proceed beyond this point. For those who are truly curious about where their food comes from and how it gets to the plate, please continue, for the meat of the Puro Iberico pig is amongst the most prized in the world and rightfully so. I know of no other meat that I consider more delicious than the meat from this pig, whether fresh or cured. Continue reading

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Pursuing Porcine Perfection – Ibérico de Bellota- Part 1 – La Dehesa

BU4A0175While deliciousness can be found throughout the animal kingdom, no animal provokes more passion than the pig. There are many wonderful breeds of pigs, but sitting proudly at the pinnacle of porcine perfection is the Spanish black-footed Cerdo Ibérico, especially the 100% Puro Ibérico. These pigs reach their zenith in the southwest of Spain when allowed to feast on acorns. They do so for at least two months per year during a process known as the montanera, when they are released to graze freely through idyllic oaken pastures known as dehesas that are loaded with the fattening nuts. These acorns impart a distinctive nutty taste to the meat and most importantly to the fat, elevating an already wonderful breed of pig to the stuff of legend.

BU4A0064 Continue reading

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