Articles in Restaurant
Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.
Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.
The stories are listed in reverse order.
Top contributors’ stories of 2012
12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …
11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …
10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …
9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …
8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …
6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …
4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …
2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe. And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …
1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …
Top Soapboxes of 2012
5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith: In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …
4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …
3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …
2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …
1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….
* * *
And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!
Photo illustration, clockwise from top left:
Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain
Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood
Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian
Máximo Bistrot Local opened its doors at the beginning of 2012, and quickly became the hottest place in Mexico City. It’s an unpretentious European-style bistro in the once opulent Colonia Roma neighborhood, which is in the midst of a redevelopment boom. Cool and chic Máximo replaces a dowdy medical supply store; once a trash-strewn corner with little foot traffic is now a well-known gastronomic destination. You can find the best brandade de morue this side of the Seine here. Or a classic ceviche. While Mexico-born chef and owner Eduardo García likes rustic French cooking, his feet are firmly planted on native ground, and he often includes typical Mexican ingredients such as chilies, hot and mild; cuitlacoche, the rich corn fungus known as “Mexican truffle”; or country herbs like epazote in his dishes.
The chef formerly worked under Enrique Olvera of Pujol, the esteemed local palace of experimental gastronomy, and also toiled in Manhattan’s star-strewn Le Bernardín where seafood reigns.
García represents the new generation of Mexican cooks who, while well aware of what’s going on in Spain, California and New York, have come back home, incorporating these ideas into their native cuisine.
Eduardo García puts ‘local’ in Máximo Bistrot Local
The chef has brought expert gastronomic skills to his own place, opened on a shoestring and run with his wife, the affable Gabriela, who acts as host. Máximo Bistrot Local’s publicity claims that materia prima is local and organic, if possible. The chef visits the city’s spectacular markets daily, choosing what looks best, then adroitly improvising a new menu each day. The food coming out of his kitchen is worthy of hyperbole.
How is what you cook related to classic Mexican cuisine?
Our menu is based not only on Mexican cuisine, but also on local ingredients — hence the name “bistro local.” But I like to include a few “authentic” dishes. The relationship between my cuisine and Mexican cooking is all about ingredients, methods and philosophy. I think my growing up in Mexico and having trained here infuses everything I do. For example, I often take advantage of the huge variety of chilies used in our cooking, and the specifically Mexican ways of preparing them, such as toasting and grinding.
And to classic European cooking?
I wouldn’t say “classic European” but French and rustic Italian. Again, the methods are a big part of the relationship. I take what I consider to be the best techniques from the aforementioned European traditions.
What are the advantages of running a restaurant in Mexico City?
In the city, purveyors are more focused than in other parts of Mexico. We’re in the middle of the country and everything is available here; I can get seafood from either coast hours after it is caught.
MEXICO CITY LINKS
Tips from Nicholas Gilman
Also guests here are more open to experimenting with food than they might be in the provinces — Mexicans tend to be conventional when it comes to food.
What’s coming up on your menu?
I’m planning a trip to visit small restaurants in Europe to get more inspiration for my menu. I’m more interested in experiencing local, time-honored cooking than the avant-garde stuff.
What is you latest ingredient obsession?
Fresh seafood from Ensenada. There are extraordinary ingredients there. Percebes, for example, are barnacles not well-known outside of Spain, where they cost a fortune. Here they are accessible and I’ve been experimenting with them: I included them in a ceviche recently.
What is your favorite restaurant/chef in town?
I don’t hang out much with the “top” chefs or at fancy restaurants. My favorite place is Fonda Las Margaritas in Colonia Del Valle [a quiet residential neighborhood south of the center]. It’s where I like to eat on my day off. It’s a simple old-fashioned neighborhood fonda that does really authentic no-frills Mexican food.
And out of town?
Casa Oaxaca, in Oaxaca City. My friend, Chef Alejandro Ruíz, is doing incredible things with local market foods there. I always look forward to seeing what he’s up to.
Where do you see the restaurant scene headed here in Mexico City?
The culinary scene here is expanding, as are people’s palates. I think that Mexico City is becoming one of the top destinations for food. New restaurants as well as old established ones are using more fresh and local products. And that’s a real good thing.
And what are your life plans?
I’ve been offered jobs here and abroad, book deals, even a TV show! I’ve turned them all down. Because I just don’t have time to do anything but cook, and make sure everything in my place is the best it can be.
I’ve seen some of my contemporaries fall prey to the “star chef” phenomena — and their restaurants suffer for this. You can’t be a star and maintain a great kitchen unless it is established and you are able to train younger chefs to be as good as you. I know I’m not there yet. We’re doing amazingly well, are always full and now have sidewalk rights so a few more tables. But it’s very hard work, six days a week, exhausting. I hope I can keep it up.
If it’s true that we are what we eat, then did my feasting on poulet rôti in Paris last summer render me more French or more chicken? Based on the sheer volume of roast chicken consumed, I would have to say “more chicken.”
Part 1: Do labels equal liberty for France's best birds?
Part 2: A chicken-tasting tour of Paris.
Back home in Berkeley, Calif., there is so much really good traditional roast chicken available in restaurants and takeout shops — with French names like Poulet, Café Rouge, Bistro Liaison and Nizza la Bella (“Beautiful Nice”) — that I’m not sure whether my Paris binge was an homage to the gallocentric traditions in France that helped shape my passion for the humble roast, or merely a transatlantic extension of a preexisting culinary condition.
Granted, our farm-raised (poulet fermier) chicken production in the Bay Area (and the U.S. generally) does not yet measure up to France’s Label Rouge poultry program (See French Chicken, Part 1). And we are about 15 years behind European standards for animal welfare, according to advocates I’ve talked to.
But if Paris beats Berkeley in the overall quality of its poultry, not so in the roasting. Parisians seem to be taking their well-bred birds for granted these days, at least in their bistro kitchens if not in their homes and outdoor markets.
A tale of two birdies
At celebrity chef Guy Savoy’s L’Atelier Maître Albert in Paris’ 5th Arrondissement, the handsome wall-sized rotisserie had two enticing birds (from the les Landes region) twirling away on their spit, just waiting for me, right? Wrong.
About 25 minutes after ordering the 22-euro (about $28) Volaille fermière rôtie, my two small so-so-tasting chicken pieces, a small leg and quarter breast, arrived nestled against a typical mound of buttery bistro purée.
Those love birds, still spinning as I left, were apparently all show and no go.
So where had my chicken pieces come from, the stork?
French chicken loves garlic
Equally disappointing was the Provençal-style roast chicken with thyme and whole cloves of garlic touted at La Bastide Odéon in the 6th Arrondisement. The traditional Provençal combination of chicken and garlic was popularized in the U.S. by folks like James Beard with their variations on the classic poulet aux quarante gousse d’ail (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic).
Either Beard was dreaming, or there was a garlic harvest blight in France last summer because my skinless chunks of white meat and a small leg were served with just one clove of garlic! It hadn’t even caramelized into that soft, sweetly nutty puddle of garlic heaven one expects. And what was with the skinless breast meat? Poulet rôti sacrilege!
The best chicken in the world?
Of the many poulet rôtis I gobbled down in Paris bistros, the only real standout was the 85-euro (about $108) whole chicken for two at Chez L’Ami Louis in the 3rd Arrondissement. This is the notoriously high-end, old-school bistro that food critics love to hate — including A.A. Gill who labeled it “the worst restaurant in the world” in his rather hilarious 2010 Vanity Fair thrashing of the place.
Inducement enough for me to go! I’m a bit of a rubbernecking ambulance chaser when it comes to hatchet-job restaurant reviews — I like to see (and taste) the damage for myself. On occasion, like this one, I even write rebuttals.
Not only was L’Ami Louis’ bird (a black-legged Label Rouge “noir” bird from the Challans region) moist and flavorful and its delicate skin crisp, but the bird was graciously served (Gill found the servers at L’Ami Louis “sullen”) in two brilliant courses — white meat first, then dark — both accompanied by ladles of perfect jus. If anything at L’Ami Louis was sullen, it was the limp mound of pommes frites served with the chicken.
Adding to the pleasingly retro pomp at L’Ami Louis, our server had first brought the whole roasted bird to the table for our inspection before carving, like a proud father showing off his newborn.
I have experienced this kind of poultry love ritual — usually reserved for home-roasted turkeys at Thanksgiving — only once before. Counterintuitively, it was at Wolfgang Puck’s upscale steak house, Cut, in Los Angeles, where the server shows off a small, locally-grown and brined poussin before carving and plating. Was I envious of the person at the next table with their $150 Japanese Wagyu rib eye? Well, just a little, though my $38 chicken was plenty good.
All you need is love, love, love
One of the tastiest, and surely the most love-infused roast chickens I had all summer was at the home of my American friend David Jester and his French wife Evy. Our Label Rouge plein air “jaune” bird (yellow skin and feet) purchased from Boucherie Dumont near Place Monge in the Latin Quarter, was raised in the Ain region in eastern France, where celebrity Bresse chickens come from. After 90 minutes in the oven, the coarse salt-rubbed five-pound bird had deliciously crisp skin and juicy, rosemary-scented meat. Evy served the bird with the pan juices and the caramelized carrots, garlic cloves and lemon rind that had roasted alongside the bird for the last hour in the oven. Heaven.
Evy says that the secret of her chicken’s succulent flesh and crisp skin, learned from her mother, is to start the bird out in a cold oven set at 400 degrees F. An interesting technique to be sure, but I can’t agree. Evy’s real secret, I believe, which I think too many Parisian chefs and restaurateurs have sadly forgotten, is that you must — and I say this at the risk of sounding pathetically Berkeley — love poulet rôti, love making it well and love those you are serving to do gastronomic justice to an honored bird, whether in Paris or Berkeley, or anywhere else.
Top illustration credit: L. John Harris
Chef Austin Kirzner added a cup of butter to the sauté pan and used his tongs to stir the quickly melting butter together with chopped shallots, garlic, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce. He lifted the pan off the burner letting gas flames jump an inch into the air. He looked deeply into the sauce and decided, “Just a touch more butter.”
After suffering the punishment of Katrina, New Orleans is back. Tourists have returned to the city for good times, good food and good music. Walking around the city, you hear music everywhere — on the street, in parks, bars and nightclubs. In the French Quarter, restaurants and bars line every block.
Restaurants are crowded with diners enjoying café au lait and beignets heavily dusted with powdered sugar at Café du Monde, fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House Restaurant, hog jowls, charcuterie and ham at pork-centric Cochon, Oceana‘s Cajun gumbo and Jambalaya and fresh seafood at Red Fish Grill.
I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans. Recently I was able to stay for a long weekend. To help me understand the food scene, Kirzner, executive chef at Red Fish Grill, agreed to give me an overview and a cooking demonstration.
Musicians and cooks
“The first thing to understand about the city,” Kirzner explained — and he should know, he’s a fifth-generation New Orleanian — is “in New Orleans, you’re either a cookor a musician. They’re both held in high esteem like doctors.”
Kirzner tells me that New Orleans cooking takes its influences from around the world and from different parts of the state. In the city you’ll find dishes typical of Louisiana where Cajun cooking predominates. “One pot cooking– red beans, étouffée, gumbos and jambalaya — family-style stuff you’d see in a fish camp or at home.” Every part of the state has its way of making these standards.
What sets New Orleans cuisine apart from the rest of the state is the embrace of its French influence, which he sums up as: “It must have butter. It must have cream. We take it to the extreme.”
There will be heads-on shrimp
The dish he demonstrates is a classic: New Orleans BBQ Shrimp. “You have to understand,” he tells me, “it’s not barbecued. Nobody knows how it came to be called that. Lots of restaurants make a version of the dish. Every one is different.”
Some restaurants serve the dish with the shell on as well as the head and tail. That makes for very messy dining.
For Kirzner, even though some of his customers are put off by the shrimp heads, he insists that’s what gives the sauce its distinctive, sweet richness.
In his version, to make the shrimp more diner-friendly, he leaves on the head and tail but strips the shell off the body.
Surprisingly easy to cook in 5 to 10 minutes, the dish should be prepared just before serving. Letting it sit around won’t do anybody any good.
In the restaurant, he flavors the shrimp with Creole seasoning. To illustrate how New Orleans cooking borrows freely from other cuisines, for the cooking demonstration, he used freshly chopped rosemary.
New Orleans Heads-On BBQ Shrimp
With fish and shellfish coming from the Gulf, New Orleans takes pride in the quality of the seafood served at its restaurants.
If you live in an area with fresh shrimp, definitely use them. Frozen shrimp will be OK, but you owe it to yourself to use heads-on shrimp at least once and that may require a trip to an Asian market where they are readily available.
A very large sauté pan is needed so the shrimp don’t sit on top of one another. That creates the best char and caramelization.
Kirzner’s note: This dish is prepared only two servings at a time because increasing the number of shrimp beyond 12 would require increasing the dish’s amount of sauce. Reducing the larger amount of sauce would require more cooking time, resulting in over-cooked shrimp.
12 to 14 raw colossal shrimp, bodies peeled, with heads and tails left on
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped, fresh rosemary (or use the same amount of Creole seasoning)
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh shallots, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ tablespoons freshly ground coarse black pepper
1 to 3 tablespoons light lager beer, like New Orleans Abita beer (water can be substituted)
½ lemon, seeded
¼ pound butter, cold and unsalted (preferably Plugrá or other European-style butter), cut into ½-inch cubes
1. Season the shrimp with kosher salt. Set aside.
2. In a heavy 10-inch stainless-steel sauté pan on high heat, char the rosemary, garlic and shallots.
3. Add the half-peeled, salted shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and 1 tablespoon beer (or water)
4. Squeeze the juice from the lemon over the shrimp.
5. Over high heat, cook the shrimp while gently stirring and occasionally turning the shrimp.
6. After about 2 minutes of cooking, the shrimp should start turning pink on both sides, indicating they are nearly half cooked. If the shrimp are the colossal size, add additional 2 tablespoons beer (or water) to the pan; otherwise, don’t add additional liquid. Remove the shrimp.
7. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue cooking as you gradually add the cold pieces of butter to the pan.
8. Swirl the butter pieces until they are incorporated into the pan juices, the sauce turns light brown and creamy as it simmers. Add back the shrimp and coat with the sauce, turning frequently until the shrimp are just cooked through. This will take about 2 minutes total if the shrimp are extra-large, and about 3 minutes total if they’re colossal. Do not overcook the shrimp.
9. Remove the shrimp to a serving platter. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and carry to the table.
Serving suggestion: Pour the shrimp and sauce into a heated pasta bowl. Serve the shrimp and sauce immediately either with grits, rice or alongside slices of warm, crusty French bread for sopping up the sauce. Chef Kirzner prefers Leidenheimer French Bread.
Red Fish Grill executive chef Austin Kirzner with a dish of his BBQ Shrimp with cheesy grits. Credit: David Latt
Colonia Roma was Mexico City’s first “modern” neighborhood, designed on the Haussmann ideal of mixed-class housing. Now the center of the Mexican capital’s restaurant renaissance, La Roma emerged at the turn of the 20th century with tree-lined boulevards of single-family homes and elegant mansions, reflecting the popular French Belle Époque style. The fashionable residences were equipped with running water, city sewer, electric and even telephone lines.
MEXICO CITY LINKS
Tips from Nicholas Gilman
Until the 1940s, La Roma was the place to live for famous artists, politicians and even bullfighters. Noir movie star Andrea Palma occupied a large mansion. William S. Burroughs famously shot his wife there in a game of William Tell gone awry; the muralist David Siqueiros and legendary reclusive painter Leonora Carrington worked there.
The cooking going on in these homes would have been a fine-tuned blend of traditional Mexican and French-Spanish, a typical repast might have started with a vichyssoise followed by a filet of sole in caper sauce topped by Mexican manchamanteles served with homemade tortillas.
The fall and rise of Roma
After World War II, the wealthy moved west to Polanco and Lomas, and La Roma began its slow decline. The 1985 earthquake hit this area hard.
As residents fled, many old homes became auto repair shops, offices or schools, or were simply left to decay. Other buildings were demolished to make way for mirrored glass behemoths and parking lots.
But Roma has been rising from its ashes in recent years, coming to life with a speed not often seen in Mexico. A renewed appreciation for the architecture and the area’s proximity to the center of the city and to its pricier neighbor Condesa has made Roma appealing to artists and yuppies alike. Their presence has created a market for upscale dining and nightlife options. New restaurants and bars open every week. And some of the most creative cooking, from high to low, can be found in the area.
Always a hotbed for the culturally eclectic, Roma has recently been a crucible for a new generation of Mexican chefs who are well aware of what’s going on in Spain, California and New York, but whose feet stay firmly planted on native turf.
Rosetta is set in a turn-of-the-century French-style mansion that has been lovingly renovated. It is hands down the best Italian restaurant this side of the Rio Grande. Cunning chef Elena Reygadas works with surprising and exotic seasonal material prima from the Mexican countryside such as duraznillo mushrooms (aka chanterelles) or the rarely seen pavón, a homely freshwater fish encased in Acapulco sea salt and herbs. While her menu is classic regional Italian, everything from the period decoration of the space to the adroit combination of familiar and uncommon market ingredients points to a new, global — but very local — sensibility.
Mexico City dining: A Roma venture without capital
Since Máximo Bistrot Local opened its doors on a shoestring at the beginning of 2012, it has become one of the most talked about restaurants in Mexico City.
This low-key, unpretentious corner place replaced a dowdy medical supply store, where wheelchairs and artificial limbs were once sold. It is emblematic of the new, sophisticated-but-casual small restaurants appearing in the area: There’s no place else in the city where rents are low enough, and the clientele savvy enough, to carry off such a venture.
While Mexican-born chef and owner Eduardo García, who worked at New York’s star-strewn Le Bernardin, likes classic French bourgeois cooking, Mexican ingredients typically appear in his dishes with regularity.
A light sole meunière that would make Julia Child happy is pepped up with a drizzle of guajillo chile emulsion. Or a tender slab of octopus only hours away from its Pacific home, is shrewdly paired with sautéed huitlacoche, the subtlety flavored corn fungus sometimes called “Mexican truffle.” The food coming out of García’s kitchen is worthy of hyperbole.
A hip deli
Chef/TV diva and neighborhood resident Monica Patiño owns the New York/Paris-style deli, Delirio. She celebrates the recent surge of artisanal foods with her own brand of products, all hecho en México (made in Mexico). Olives and olive oil from Baja California are green and fruity. A small, but well-chosen stock of national wines is worth sampling — many are unavailable elsewhere. There are European-style raw milk cheeses and preserved meats, all made in central Mexico.
An advocate of “slow” and local foods, Patiño explains that she decided to put her money where her mouth is. “Almost all of what we offer is Mexican-made and organic as well,” she proudly proclaims. Her refreshingly modern sensibility is something new in a culture that until recently looked to the U.S. and Europe for inspiration and denigrated local products as inferior.
A new kind of market
In Mexico, land of vendors, one could misquote Shakespeare: “all the world’s a market.” Happily, old-time markets continue to thrive despite the proliferation of chain supermarkets. Roma’s excellent Mercado Medellín is a fine example of a traditional neighborhood covered market. And in 2011 a new type of mercado was inaugurated: the Mercado el 100. This weekly tianguis (open-air market) recalls Paris’ wildly successful marchés biologiques or New York’s see-and-be-seen Union Square market — all products sold are produced within 100 kilometers, hence the name. The market provides a venue for small local producers of organic and artisanal products to strut their stuff. It all takes place in Roma’s picturesque Plaza Río de Janeiro, in the shadow of a 20th-century copy of Michelangelo’s “David” (sans fig leaf) and attracts people from all walks of life for its fresh-from-the-farm produce.
Old Colonia Roma continues to bubble with creative energy, and new venues seem to open every day. Chef García (of Máximo) predicts that Mexico City will soon be one of the top dining capitals in the world. Perhaps it already is.
Photo: Walkway next to Rosetta restaurant in the reborn La Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. Credit: Nicholas Gilman
Chefs should be advocates for the environment. After all, if feeding people is your business, sustainable food is your responsibility.
This call to arms has guided the Chefs Collaborative since the Boston-based nonprofit was founded 19 years ago. And its appeal only grows.
Today, the Collaborative boasts more than 1,000 dues-paying members and a network of 12,000 supporters across the country. Last week, a standing-room-only crowd of 325 young chefs and cooks jammed the Seattle Culinary Academy for the Collective’s annual Sustainable Food Summit, evidence that a new generation is fully engaged in the cause.
As much as anyone, Collaborative executive director Melissa Kogut deserves credit for transforming the organization’s mission into a movement. While it is the chefs who instill the group with purpose, Kogut is in charge of raising the funds that allow cash-strapped kitchen junkies to organize local self-help networks across the country.
“I’m a community organizer at heart,” Kogut says. “This work is more than a job. It’s a cause.”
Kogut has enlisted food purveyors including Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Niman Ranch and the American Lamb Board along with food-service giants such as Sodexo to support Chefs Collaborative. Google was one of dozens of sponsors of the Seattle conference. The funds enabled many of the young chefs to make the journey to Seattle.
On a local level, chefs teach each other practical solutions to common challenges. Which fish are plentiful enough to serve? How do you use a whole pig and reduce waste? Is there a high quality local dairy near my town? A Chefs Collaborative member probably has the answer and is willing to share.
In Seattle, it was clear that these passionate earth-first chefs have been tempered by the challenge of financial survival. The emphasis was on helping their kitchen brethren start down the road toward sustainable practices. No one preached environmental orthodoxy.
Everyone starts by taking “baby steps,” one chef told the group.
Collaborative national board chair Michael Leviton, chef/owner of Boston-area’s Lumière, opened the meeting. “Small pricey restaurants are only going to reach a few people every night. So how are we going to reach the big corporations who serve most of the world?”
The answer, he said, is through building the sustainable community. “We need to shorten the distance between farm to table and scale that up. And we need to do that together.”
By the end of the three-day event, the group had butchered a goat, taste-tested frozen versus fresh beef, and debated the Farm Bill, immigration policy, minimum wage and foie gras bans. No topic was taboo. And every meal was a feast.
Before Kogut joined the Collaborative staff in 2007, she served for 11 years as executive director of NARAL Massachusetts, a statewide organization that advocates for women’s health. In 2006, she received the Abigail Adams Award from the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, which recognizes and honors outstanding women leaders.
Top composite photo:
Melissa Kogut at 2012 Sustainable Food Summit in Seattle. Credit: Screen shots from video courtesy of Rival Marketing
Mexico City is a pescavore’s paradise. This sprawling capital, set atop a central plateau — nowhere near any large body of water — is nonetheless within five or six hours from either coast. The Nuevo Mercado de la Viga, the huge central fish market, provides the populous with a cornucopia of creatures that swim. Mexican cooks work magic with their oceanic bounty in myriad ways: Spanish-style rice dishes, spicy soups and stews, lemony cocteles, and seafood quesadillas.
But it is ceviche, the quintessentially Latin tradition of marinating raw fish in an acidic bath, that is the pride and joy of Mexican chefs. It’s found at marisquerías — seafood restaurants ranging from street stalls to elegant venues, all over the country. Perhaps first imagined in Peru or Ecuador, ceviche usually contains lime juice to macerate the fish, and some combination of tomato, onion, chili, cilantro, and, in the “Acapulco” variety, even ketchup. Marinating time, which can vary from 15 minutes to overnight, is the most disputed element in its preparation.
The search for ceviche
So this landlocked food writer set out to find the best ceviche Mexico City has to offer, a daunting task in a metropolis of over 40,000 eating establishments. Here are the highlights:
– El Caguamo (slang for a liter-size beer bottle) is a humble street stall always packed with hipsters and old-timers chowing down on fried fillets, shrimp cocktails, tostadas and, of course, ceviches, which are served in a parfait glass or on a tostada. They can be made of pescado, jaiba, calamar or pulpo, (fish, crab, squid or octopus), with the addition of chopped tomato, chili, onion and cilantro. Ceviche here is marinated in lime juice and white herbal vinegar, then finished off with a little olive oil and a few slices of avocado — a perfect balance of salty, sour and fishy umami.
– Colonia Escandón is a solid middle-class neighborhood of single-family homes and small apartment buildings, built in the ’40s and ’50s. Its market has one big attraction, Marisquería Playa Escondida, where foodies make the pilgrimage for a sophisticated array of classic seafood. The young chef concocts a simple ceviche de pescado with strips of fresh snapper artfully seasoned in a strong, lemony vinaigrette. Its closer to the way they do it in Lima, more Peruvian than Mexican. Acerbic and briny, biting and vibrant, it was made muy Mexicanoby the lashings of green chilies that gave it heat.
– Tucked into a corner of an old house in trendy Colonia Roma, La Veracruzana, Fonda de Mariscos has a charming retro décor and sunny patio. It offers a bit of Veracruz, the city on the Caribbean Gulf Coast known for seafood influenced by the Spanish settlers and the African slaves they brought with them. (Huachinango a la Veracruzana, red snapper in tomato/caper sauce, is well known all over Mexico.) This pleasant lunch spot frequented by local artists serves an exemplary, if generic, ceviche de pescado. Sergio, the chef, explains that sea bass is marinated overnight in a light solution of white vinegar, onions and herbs such as oregano and bay leaf. Chopped tomato and chili are added later. Despite the long maceration, the fish tastes fresh and the texture holds its own. The dressing is light and zesty — a winner.
– In the fashionable art deco neighborhood, La Condesa, Mero Toro’s kitchen is in the capable hands of master chef Jair Téllez, formerly of Ensenada on the Pacific Coast. The California-influenced menu is small, unpretentious and creative. Ingredients are chosen strategically, with an eye to freshness, smart combinations and the occasional salute to cultural tradition. Chef Téllez offers a ceviche de jurel con pepino, limón y salicornia: Chunks of rosy yellowtail repose on a pool of tart aromatic dressing. The salicornia, a salt-water loving plant, is strewn about, imparting its briny bite. But the fish is barely macerated, if at all, and the result is more like a sauced sashimi. This preparation strayed far from the ceviche tradition — interesting, but in my mind a bit off the mark.
– Not far away, in the even trendier Colonia Roma, is Máximo Bistrot Local, a newcomer on everyone’s list. Chef Eduardo García worked at Le Bernardin in New York, and at Mexico City’s chichi food temple, Pujol, so he knows something about fish. A Mexican, he loves a traditional ceviche. His version, made with octopus and sea urchin, hits all the marks. The understated salsa tatemada, made with charred chilies, sets off the two distinctive ocean creatures in a thought-provoking whirl of heady aromas, like a Bach fugue. This is a ceviche for the 21st century — thumbs up.
– All of these ceviches, which range from the humbly noble to the gloriously creative, satisfied different parts of the gastronomic brain. There was no best. So I offer my own version, a compromise between the beach and Le Cordon Bleu. Perhaps, as Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz” discovered, the answer was at home all along.
Ceviche de Pescado, Pacific Style
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup lime juice
½ cup tomato, seeds and pulp removed, in a ¼-inch dicer
¼ cup finely chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia), or shallot
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 jalapeño (or to taste) finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
a pinch each of sea salt, pepper and oregano
½ to ¾ pound fish (sea bass, snapper, or another firm white fish), cut in ½-inch cubes
1. Combine all ingredients except fish, in a glass or ceramic bowl; leave for at least 15 minutes for flavors to blend.
2. Add fish and let macerate for one hour. Serve in small bowls or on tostadas, preferably freshly fried (from yesterday’s tortillas). Top with thin slices of avocado.
Top photo: Octopus and sea urchin ceviche at Máximo Bistro. Credit: Nicholas Gilman
An hour west of the thriving culinary mecca of Copenhagen is an 800-year-old castle clinging to the shore of the frigid North Sea. Unlike so many of the country’s castles that have been transformed into museum pieces, the fortified white walls of Dragsholm Slot envelope a thriving industry that includes a hotel and two restaurants.
One restaurant is a casual bistro called The Eatery that serves traditional Danish fare, the other is a fine dining establishment overlooking acres of land from which nearly all of the tasting menu’s ingredients are sourced. It’s an idyllic place for chef Claus Henriksen, 31 and the former sous chef of Noma. There he oversees both restaurants and the castle’s robust catering and events division.
Henriksen eschews meat-heavy dishes in order to showcase the intensely flavored vegetables he harvests from his garden each day: Grilled asparagus and garden sorrel with crispy rye bread croutons and garden herbs; glazed lamb brains and new potatoes with onions, pickled tapioca and lovage; and thyme and mint granita with fresh goat cheese meringue strike a perfect balance between protein and produce.
The extraordinary surroundings of electric green hills spilling into rich fields, ancient orchards and hedgerows populated with beehives sustain his frenetic seven-day work week and remind him to slow down and absorb the sublime energy reverberating around him. In this interview with Henriksen, we discover why visitors to Copenhagen who invest the time to journey to Dragsholm are justly rewarded by an experience that not only stimulates their palettes, but ignites their spirits.
What do you like most about working at Dragsholm Slot?
It’s the quietness. If you have free time here you can walk outside and enjoy everything that’s around you. The only thing you can do in the middle of a city is step out your door and drink. If you need ten carrots here, you can go and get ten carrots instead of calling a producer and telling them you need ten carrots.
Where do you think this New Nordic obsession came from?
Until around twelve years ago the only thing Danish chefs desired was to purchase everything from France. It’s the way the chef was brought up. We didn’t understand the meaning and significance of our own surroundings. And then we started to look more internally. When you’re growing, there comes a point when you want to do something different than what you’re parents are doing. That’s what happened to Danish chefs. We wanted to rebel against the status-quo and use Danish products instead of imports. A lot of our chefs went out in the 90s and the beginning of the 2000’s to work abroad. They started to see that in other areas of the world, chefs only used local products and we started to think that we could do the same thing. [Chefs cooking] New Nordic cuisine focus on the ingredients and listen to the environment in order to truly understand it. These principles can be applied anywhere in the world.
I asked a chef many years ago why we were using asparagus and cherries all year long. He said, “I don’t care. It’s in season somewhere in the world.” Twenty years ago that was the philosophy. I think this is what inspired Danish chefs to cook differently. The way we cook now in Scandinavia is fresher and more thoughtful. Twenty years ago everything revolved around a prime piece of meat such as tenderloin, and supporting it were truffles, foie gras, lobster, langoustines. Now we are more focused on flavors. If you spend more time coaxing out the flavor of something simple, you will be rewarded. It’s more challenging to do this, but it’s more fulfilling too.
Is it an exciting time to be a chef in Denmark at the moment?
If you don’t look at it as an exciting time, you might as well quit. You have to appreciate the challenges and the virtues in every season and find virtue in your work each and every day. If your interest wanes, stop and reassess. If you’re happy, then your guest will be happy, because your happiness comes through in your cuisine.
What are the fundamental principles that guide you when cooking?
For me the most important thing is to have a contented guest who understands what I’m doing. If my cuisine sometimes get a little too crazy, I will dial-it back and begin all over again. You have to be willing to do this. I think that one problem in kitchens all over the world is that people are afraid to start over.
The cooking here is very personal. It’s about integrity. It’s about using, producing, showing the produce in its best light ,and then you can always add something for a final flourish. I want it to be balanced. Sometimes people say it’s a little too powerful and that’s true, because it’s filled with flavor. This doesn’t mean that we’re adding a lot of elements, it tastes so intense because the natural flavors are so fresh. We are showing here the best of what the farmers and fishermen are doing. You can do fancy things but if you don’t have the best ingredients, it won’t work. And vice versa. There has to be a balance and this balance must include the best of everything.
Top photo: Claus Henriksen of Dragsholm Slot. Credit: Sandeep Patwal
Slide show credit: Sandeep Patwal