Articles in People
What is art? And where do the culinary arts fit into the spectrum of what is referred to as “art?”
These are questions I asked myself at a recent show of Ferran Adrià’s drawings, sculptures, photographs and videos, titled “Notes on Creativity,” on exhibit at The Drawing Center in Manhattan. Adrià, the world-renowned chef of the now-closed El Bulli in Spain and the master of molecular gastronomy, is mentor to many of the most forward-thinking chefs working today. He has also been the subject of several documentaries, including “El Bulli Cooking in Progress.”
From "Notes on Creativity":
"The type of person who carries a pencil around is the type of person who's open to change. Someone who walks around with a pen isn’t; he's the opposite. I always have a pencil with me, to the point where it forms a part of me." -- Ferran Adrià
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In a New York Times review of the art exhibit, Roberta Smith writes, “If his cooking is close to art, then Mr. Adrià is close enough to being an artist to merit the exuberant, engrossing overview of the graphic side of this work at The Drawing Center.”
Adrià’s food is inventive, outside the box and beautiful. Although I never had the chance to eat at El Bulli (it closed in 2011), I was curious to see his recent show. The press release from The Drawing Center describes it this way: “This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on the visualization and drawing practices of master chef Ferran Adrià. The exhibition emphasizes the role of drawing in Adrià’s quest to understand creativity. His complex body of work positions the medium as both a philosophical tool — used to organize and convey knowledge, meaning, and signification — as well as a physical object — used to synthesize over twenty years of innovation in the kitchen.”
Does Adrià’s translate to art?
I meandered through the three rooms containing Adrià’s work, including notebooks, drawings (some of which were created in conjunction with Marta Mendez Blaya) and photographs of chefs working at El Bulli. I couldn’t help thinking that the wall of colorful drawings looked a lot like the kindergarten classroom at my daughter’s old school. Oversized words were boldly colored and in childlike print: “Milk. Crème. Beware. Cheese. Yogurt,” read one drawing, like a warning to a lactose-intolerant child. Some drawings had a primal appeal, like the one with stick figures seated around a large oval table with the word “PARTY” printed at the bottom. My favorite drawings involved gardens and vegetables, primitive, colorful sketches of radishes, carrots and other root vegetables coming out of the ground. There is a sense of playfulness and harmony in these drawings that lets you know the sheer joy Adrià must feel when he’s in the presence of truly fresh, seasonal food.
As a cookbook author, food writer and recipe developer, I, too, have notebooks filled with drawings and diagrams of how I arrange or plate recipes I’m working on. Are they museum worthy? Certainly not. In the same way, my journals, for the most part, are not meant for anyone’s eyes but my own. So I have to ask: Is this art because Adrià is world-renowned? Is it art the way Picasso’s doodles are art?
At first, I wasn’t clear. I felt cynical even. But as I took my time and looked at the work without judgment, I began to understand that this is a show about process. It provides a glimpse into the mind of a mad (and I use this word with the utmost respect) scribbling of a genius chef who thinks about every aspect of what goes on a plate and into a diner’s mouth. His almost maniacal attention to detail, the rethinking of every possibility of flavor, is revealed in this show.
For instance, a large table contains an exhibit of 247 colorful, plasticine molds that look like fossils or papier-mâché rocks, designed to show the chefs who worked with Adrià exactly how a dish should be shaped and sized. “In cooking, dimension and proportion are very important, and the more sophisticated the style of the cuisine, the more decisive these can become … For a time the kitchen resorted to photographs,” Adrià writes. “But these did not completely solve the problem, because the proportions of each element continued to be difficult to determine.”
The working boards of Ferran Adrià
In another room, an entire wall displays oversized “working boards.” Adrià explains the idea behind these boards: “The process of creating a dish is meticulous but very simple; first jot down an idea, then develop it; if it works, develop it further.” One board, titled “How to Create a Dish,” is a crude pencil drawing of ravioli with various shapes and filling and plating ideas. Ideas are expressed on paper before they go to the kitchen, showing where food will be placed on a plate — oval shapes next to rectangles, triangles surrounded by tiny circles.
These working boards are fascinating for anyone who cooks and thinks about the colors, textures, shapes and flavors of food. And it is a great contrast to the modern world of looking at plates of food on Instagram and Facebook.
In the end, after gazing and considering Adrià drawings, working boards, journals and photographs, I left with more questions than answers. And then I realized: Isn’t that the real definition of art?
Top photo: A wall of Ferran Adrià’s drawings on display as part of the “Notes on Creativity” exhibit. Credit: Kathy Gunst
Exhibition schedule: “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity,” curated by Brett Littmann, begins an international tour after wrapping up at The Drawing Center in February. Dates include: May 4 to July 31, 2014, at Ace Museum in Los Angeles; Sept. 26, 2014, to Jan. 18, 2015, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland; Sept. 17, 2015, to Jan. 3, 2016, at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; March 20 to June 12, 2016, at Marres House for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Once upon a time, Alsace wines were relatively simple to understand. Alsace is virtually the only French appellation that allows the mention of a grape variety on the label, and with a couple of easily identifiable exceptions, the wines tended to be dry. But things seem to have changed in recent years. Am I alone in feeling disappointed that a wine I thought would be dry from the label turns out to be rich with a sweet, even cloying, finish? And then matters are complicated further with all the grands crus names. There are 50 altogether, but I can only ever remember a handful. Happily, a recent visit to Maison Trimbach in Ribeauvillé has served to restore my faith in the region.
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Trimbach makes the full range of Alsace grape varieties, with elegantly leafy Pinot Blanc, some rounded Pinot Gris and some deliciously understated Gewürztraminer — we joked about whether a restrained Gewürztraminer really exists. But it is really with Riesling that the Trimbach style comes into its own, emphasizing the slatey minerality of the grape variety.
A full range of Riesling
Trimbach makes seven qualities of Riesling, beginning with the simple Riesling based on grapes purchased from some 30 growers, picked and pressed by hand. The vinification is very simple, usually entailing a malolactic fermentation and certainly no oak. Freshness and minerality are the key characteristics. The wine has a fresh slatey note, with very good acidity, and a firm dry finish — just as Alsace Riesling should be.
Next up the scale is the Riesling Réserve, a selection of grapes, mainly from Trimbach’s own vineyards around Ribeauvillé. The vinification is the same, but the grapes come from vineyards with a higher limestone content. The result is a wine that has citrus notes and is very mineral, with wonderful freshness and great length. There is a certain austerity on the palate, making for a very pure example of Riesling.
The cuvée of Vieilles Vignes comes from vines that are 35 to 40 years old. They first made this cuvée in 2009, from two foudres of particularly good wine. The flavors are rich and intense, but not sweet. The wine may be a little more gourmand than the Réserve, but the fruit is always balanced with steely acidity, making a wine that is dry and honeyed, with an elegant finish.
The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the flagship wines of Trimbach, whose grapes are grown in marl and limestone soil. We tasted the 2007, which Anne described as a miraculous year — full of scares about the next climatic hazard, but everything turned out well in the end. The nose was rich and honeyed, very intense with an underlying austerity. On the palate, the wine was firm and slatey with very good acidity and razor-sharp clarity. I could almost describe it as the Chablis of Alsace.
The other flagship Riesling is the Clos Ste Hune, from a vineyard the Trimbachs have owned for 200 years. The soil is pure limestone, and the vines are an average of 80 years old. The wine is made the same way as Frédéric Emile, but here you taste the effect of terroir: They are quite different. The Clos Ste Hune is very slatey, very mineral, very powerful, with very good acidity and still very youthful, with wonderful length.
And then we were given a treat: 1985 Clos Ste Hune. The colour was golden, with an elegant nose that was dry and slatey, but with an underlying richness. On the palate, there were lots of nuances, with some very intriguing dry honey and some lovely notes of maturity. It was rich and elegant, but not heavy or sweet, with a lingering finish. A fabulous glass of wine that demonstrated just how beautifully Alsace Riesling ages.
The Vendanges Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles, traditionally sweeter and richer, are only made in the very best years. The 2002 Vendange Tardive Riesling was light golden in color, and on the nose, rich with a maturing nutty nose. On the palate it was very elegant, with very good acidity — there was a little noble rot in 2002, but that is not essential. The palate was beautifully balanced with rich honeyed fruit, combining fresh acidity with some sweetness. It was subtle and nuanced.
Our tasting finished with 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles Frédéric Emile. The grapes were picked in mid-November, with some noble rot. The color was golden and the nose maturing beautifully, as only fine Riesling can. On the palate there were nuances of dry but honeyed, nutty fruit, with some slatey characteristics and a touch of minerality, with a smooth rich finish. It was a powerful example of the heights that Riesling can achieve.
Top photo: Trimbach vineyards in Alsace. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach
If you’re someone who likes to experiment in the kitchen, you know that inspiration can strike in unexpected ways. The latest spark for me was a trip to Mexico, where a Canadian chef persuaded this American to try her hand at making beef jerky. I like to think of the result as my own little gastronomic North American Free Trade Agreement.
In January, I traveled to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to attend a five-day culinary event at the El Dorado Royale resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Sponsored by a Canadian beef association, the recurring series features a different Canuck toque each month, and January’s presenter was chef Louis Charest, who is at the helm of two restaurants in Ottawa, Canada — Big Easy’s Seafood & Steakhouse and Rosie’s Southern Kitchen. In addition to sharing tips and techniques for buying and cooking beef, Charest also prepared a slew of beef-centered dishes for us to taste, including a rich short-rib ravioli that he served up with a strip of jerky on the side. While the ravioli were delicious, it was the concentrated flavor of that small garnish that was a revelation.
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Although I enjoy a good burger, steak or bolognese sauce from time to time, I don’t eat a great deal of beef, but I do remain a fan of well-made charcuterie. Long tarred by its image as truck-stop mystery grub, beef jerky rarely gets invited to the high-end cured-meat party, but sampling Charest’s version made me realize the good kind can more than hold its own with other salted and dried gourmet products like salumi. One of the best ways to ensure quality — and avoid consuming unpronounceable preservatives or the byproducts of an Upton Sinclair–esque meat-processing facility — is to make your own at home.
Although the name is believed to derive from the Incan word for dried meat, jerky was also a popular staple for Native Americans and, later, the early colonists. Back in the days before refrigeration, the technique helped preserve meat for long periods of time, and the end result was sustenance that was easy for trappers and settlers to transport on long journeys.
As anyone who’s ever eaten the stuff can attest, jerky is not the most attractive food, but what it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in taste. The possible seasoning combinations are nearly infinite, but the basic building blocks are salt and air-drying, which serve to draw out the meat’s moisture, thereby preventing spoilage. Not surprisingly, the resulting food is fairly high in sodium, but unless you’re on a salt-restricted diet, this shouldn’t pose a major problem. The best jerky has a very concentrated flavor, and it’s not meant for gorging. A little goes a long way.
Let your tastes guide your beef jerky marinade
Standing in one of the resort’s working kitchens, Charest talked me through his jerky recipe. It features many of the seasonings he employs at his two New Orleans-inspired restaurants, where he draws from Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole culinary traditions as well as their French and Canadian influences. His final jerky spice blend includes elements like cayenne-celery salt, paprika and ground seaweed, but he was adamant that home cooks should feel free to deviate from this recipe and others. “Don’t be afraid to swap out one ingredient for another,” he says. “If you don’t have or like a certain spice, replace it with something else. Go with the flavors you enjoy.”
In this spirit, I set about adapting his recipe to match my own palate, while still relying on his overall technique. In Mexico, he used meat from the shoulder clod, but if you can’t find that particular cut, a blade or flank steak works just as well. Like moisture, fat also promotes spoilage, so it’s important to use lean meat and take the time to trim it thoroughly.
In addition to using generous amounts of salt, you’ll also want to slice the meat as thinly as possible, to facilitate the drying process. In my research, I came across several recipes that recommended freezing the meat for an hour or so to firm it up, making it easier to cut, but you can also follow Charest’s approach of pounding your slices with the flat edge of a chef’s knife or meat tenderizer.
For the marinade, any permutation of soy sauce, alcohol (such as bourbon, mirin, tequila, etc.), teriyaki sauce, vinegar or citrus will do nicely, but if you opt for a base that’s salted, like soy sauce, remember to adjust the overall salt content to fit your taste. (I used low-sodium tamari, because that’s what I keep at home, so I made sure to include enough extra salt.) It’s also a good idea to add a sweet element, like sugar or honey, for balance. And taste the mixture before adding the raw meat, to ensure you like the flavor.
Quality beef is not the world’s cheapest ingredient, which is why my recipe calls for a relatively small amount of meat. The idea is to experiment with different spice combinations first until you hit upon one you really like; once you do, simply scale up the ingredient quantities.
As its earliest proponents knew, beef jerky is an eminently adaptable recipe, so let your imagination — and taste buds — be your guide.
Smoked Paprika and Lime Beef Jerky
If you don’t have a dehydrator, your oven will do fine. Set it as close to 170 F as possible. Because you want the beef to dry out without burning, it’s also helpful to leave the oven door cracked open a bit and check on the meat periodically. Cooking times will vary according to oven and room temperature, ambient humidity and the thickness of your meat slices. Just be sure to leave the beef in the oven until it has dried completely.
4 to 4½ tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
½ pound thinly sliced fat-trimmed beef
1. Combine lime juice, tamari, rice vinegar and sherry vinegar in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and cayenne powder, and stir well to combine the marinade.
2. Slice meat into ⅛- to ¼-inch-thin strips. As you slice around the gaps where you have trimmed fat, you will likely get slices that are no longer uniform in shape. This will not affect the recipe.
3. Place the meat into the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.
4. The next day, preheat your oven to 170 F. (If you have a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)
5. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil to catch the marinade drippings and place a rack atop the sheet. Lay the meat strips on the rack, making sure to leave space among them to allow air to circulate.
6. Place the rack in the oven and leave the door open a bit. (If you choose not to do this, be sure to check the meat occasionally to ensure it does not burn.) Leave the rack in the oven until the meat is completely dry. The time will vary. In my oven, it took 3½ hours.
Top photo: Beef jerky. Credit: Sofia Perez
The driver who took me from Punjab to Kashmir, India, estimated the ride to be around eight hours, 10 if we ran into traffic, which he assured me was inevitable. After spending the past few days wandering through India’s Golden Temple of Amritsar, I was ready to hit the road and didn’t blink at the double-digit journey to Srinagar.
At first I enjoyed the quick stops we made at the dhabas, roadside stands serving hot, homemade meals that are a ubiquitous feature on any road trip in India. As we gained momentum, our speed slowed to a steady but painful crawl up the Himalayan two-lane highways we shared with what seemed like every truck in the nation. The air thinned, and the dhaba stops became more frequent in an effort to break up the monotony. By the fourth egg omelet — a fried egg wrapped around a piece of toast and grilled — my mouth dried up at the sight of them and I declined to get out of the car. We were 14 hours in, and I wanted nothing else but to get there.
It was early November and our anemic car heater didn’t stand a chance against the clutch of an early winter. Then we stopped altogether in a massive traffic jam in the middle of the night on top of a mountain.
The driver, who had not said a word to me in 17 hours, explained that an avalanche had blocked off the road miles ahead and we would need to wait for it to be cleared. Hours passed in the cold, black night with nothing to think about but how much I wished I had not passed up my last opportunity for an egg omelet.
At last we were on our way, climbing and climbing until we finally arrived at my hotel on the edge of Dal Lake, famous for its elaborate houseboats and shikaras, the Kashmiri version of a gondola.
The entrance gate was locked, and no one answered when I rang the bell over and over in what I feared might be a futile attempt to find a bed that night. At last the hotel owner wiped his sleepy eyes as he walked to the gate, then showed me to my room, where I wanted to sleep for days.
Kahwah tea an ancient tradition
A knock on my door late the next morning woke me.
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“I am sorry to bother you ma’am, but would you like some tea?” asked the man who stood before me, wearing a black linen suit buttoned up to his neck.
“I would love some tea. Thank you so much. No sugar, please,” I said to avoid the sugar-bomb chai served everywhere in India.
“Ma’am, if I may invite you to tea at our restaurant? We have a special tea here in Kashmir that will warm and restore you after your long journey.”
I wanted nothing more than to return to my bed, but I couldn’t turn down someone so polite and I reluctantly followed him to the dining room. This was my first opportunity to see Kashmir in the daylight, and even from the vantage point of my hotel, it was glorious. Soaring, snowcapped mountains and the freshest air my lungs had inhaled for ages were already doing a number on my exhaustion; I was now looking forward to the restorative elixir he promised.
“Would you like to join us in the kitchen, ma’am, to learn how this tea is prepared? We read a little about you after you made your booking, curious as to why someone would venture to Kashmir so late in the season. When we saw your interest in food, we suspected you were coming for the saffron harvest. I believe you would enjoy learning about our special kahwah tea. We are very proud of it in Kashmir.”
I was, indeed, there for the saffron festival, and I could not resist his offer. “I would be honored,” I told the man, who later told me his name was Ashish.
Inside the kitchen, several cooks gathered round as the head chef, Kiran, gathered the ingredients he needed. He crushed up cinnamon and cardamom pods, adding them to boiling water that he sprinkled with cloves and threads of saffron. He let it boil for a few moments before spooning green tea into it, the aroma of hospitality filling my nose.
The Kashmiri tradition of kahwah tea is so ancient, its origin was lost long before the conflicts between Kashmir and Pakistan began. Pakistanis drink it too, as do the Afghanis. Some say the Chinese were the first to drink kahwah, but it’s likely that most Kashmiris, whose spirits are infused with the tradition of their beloved tea, would disagree. They greet their mornings and conclude their days with it; finding in it solace from the hardships they have endured.
Ashish led me to an outdoor table that Kiran carefully arranged with a tea cup, saucer, kettle and small bowls of honey and crushed almonds. The kitchen staff gathered around, and I felt foolish drinking on my own. There was enough kahwah to go around, and I asked if everyone could join me.
Additional saucers and cups were collected from the kitchen as Ashish sprinkled almonds into my cup and drizzled them with honey. He poured the tea from high above, a golden line of kindness making its way from his kettle to my cup. The air smelled like cinnamon and the tea warmed my spirit, vanquishing fatigue and filling me with gratitude.
Makes 2 cups
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
2 cardamom pods, crushed
3-inch knob of ginger, crushed
2 cups water
4 threads of saffron
1 tablespoon green tea
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon crushed almonds or walnuts
1. Combine the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes before adding the cloves, saffron and tea.
2. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes more.
3. Remove from the heat and cover to infuse for 10 more minutes. Strain through a sieve.
4. Drizzle honey into cups, sprinkle it with almonds and pour the tea.
Top photo: The ingredients for kahwah and a prepared cup. Credit: Sandeep Patwal
Just as Solomon Northup’s story has moved audiences who’ve seen the Oscar-nominated film “12 Years a Slave,” the narrative of his wife Anne offers a rare window into a meaningful period of culinary history.
Food historians and chefs celebrated this significant period during a recent lecture, tour and dinner at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the New York City estate where Anne worked for the Eliza Jumel during her husband’s bondage.
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In “12 Years a Slave,” we learned that Anne Northup was headed to a cooking job for a few weeks when her husband was kidnapped in 1841. Not until about a month after Solomon went missing did Anne find out her husband was kidnapped. The couple’s local white Northup family first informed her of the abduction.
So, we can only imagine how distraught Anne and the children felt when they decided to move in with Madame Eliza Jumel, the flamboyant second wife of Vice President Aaron Burr. They apparently lived and worked at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem Heights off and on for three years.
Free black woman’s role in food history
Before moving to New York City, the two women met at the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York, a playground for the rich and famous. Anne lived and worked at the historic hotel and, according to several sources, was a “highly regarded chef and kitchen manager,” said Jane Lancaster, Brown University visiting history professor and event lecturer.
“Madame Jumel’s rags-to-riches story — having been born in a mixed-race brothel and raised in a work house — might explain the two women’s relationship,” Lancaster said. “It probably was more of an employee-employer bond than friendship. We are not sure if Madame paid Anne well or if it was barter. Nonetheless, Madame Jumel informally “adopted” Anne’s children as companions for her own, as referenced in madame’s scandalous divorce papers.
“Free blacks were not always paid on the same scale as whites and that might explain why Anne took on so many cooking jobs through her 50-year career. The stereotyped black female cook and washerwoman did exist in the north among jobs for free blacks. But Anne was strictly a cook of some status. Good cooks were seriously valued in those days,” Lancaster said.
A nearly lost food history
During the 1820s, printed menus were rare and few restaurants existed. The hospitality industry was in its infancy. Hotels, inns, lodges and private homes offered simple to elaborate meals.
“Anne Northup was an ambassador of sorts of a very unique America menu, a northern Creole cookery style,” said event curator Tonya Hopkins of The Food Griot.
“Anne was a master chef in the purest form. She was knowledgeable about farming, butchering, harvesting, chemistry, timing, temperatures. You really had to be physically strong, smart and authoritative and have your senses about you to manage a colonial kitchen — a hearth, a cooktop and a staff. Everything was made from scratch — stock, brine, pickles, sauces, corn meal, dried herbs, salad dressing and more.
“She apprenticed from a young age at the Eagle Tavern and worked strictly as a cook and kitchen manager at Eagles Tavern, Cheryl’s Coffee House, United States Hotel and for the rich and not so famous,” Hopkins said as she led a tour of the mansion’s kitchen where Anne cooked.
We rarely discuss northern Creolization of American cuisine, but Anne’s story created an opportunity to consider this history. It served as a reminder that American cuisine was always fusion cooking.
“Northern American food is really the result of a double Creolization. The first Creolization, or mixture, happened in the Caribbean by the fusion of Africans, Asian, European, Spanish and indigenous foodways. The second phase happened in the Northern states with free blacks (infused with Caribbean ancestry), First Nation people, English, Dutch, German, French and others,” said Hopkins, a food historian.
The predecessor of soul food
Anne was a free African-American of mixed heritage, but surprisingly not literate. There were no photos of her. Research revealed her signature was an X mark. Her recipes, sadly, were not recorded. These recipes would predate the oldest known African-American cookbook by Abby Fisher of 1881.
“Anne cooked in 1825. What makes her story interesting is how we think of the African American influence on American cuisine. She predates what we call soul food, which is Southern, rooted in slavery. Anne is Northern, free and cooked with ingredients that predate soul food by decades,” Hopkins said.
The program’s menu was an imagined Anne Northup colonial high-end dinner.
The meal featured Indian meal cake, a corn bread and molasses-style cake; pepperpot soup, a Caribbean soup made with oxtail stock, baby turnip greens, allspice, taro and Scotch bonnet pepper; dandelion salad with balsamic and bacon dressing; Madeira homemade ham, which is brined-marinated in Madeira, sugar, salt, cloves, cinnamon, lemon, orange zest and juice; roast chicken with heirloom applesauce gravy; mashed potatoes; and glazed baby turnips. Dessert was jumble, a spice and rose-water cookie. Red and white wines and coffee were also served.
“It was a very humbling and rewarding experience to re-create a meal based on one that would have been prepared by Anne Northrup,” Chef Heather Watkins Jones said.
“Converting the historic recipes to our more modern cooking techniques had its challenging moments,” she added, “but the experience I feel can only make me a better cook and culinary professional.”
Jones said students from the Culinary Institute of America and the Institute of Culinary Education who helped prepare the meal were eager to learn about the period dishes. “Getting the next generation of culinary professionals involved in projects such as this one will ensure that legacies like that of Anne Northup’s will continued to be studied and passed on,” Jones said. Participants said they enjoyed experiencing the history as revealed through the meal.
“The evening combined two of my favorite things: history and eating,” said Elizabeth Mahon of Harlem. “I felt connected to the past, not just learning about Ann but also eating food she might have prepared for the families and establishments that she worked for.”
Top photo: The dining room is set for an Anne Northup-inspired meal at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City. Credit: Courtesy of the Morris-Jumel Mansion
Sometimes, when you taste a wine, it’s so sublime it’s evocative of liquid poetry in a bottle. I came across such an experience on my recent visit to California’s Napa Valley when I discovered Gallica’s lyrical wines.
Before I even tasted the wine, I could tell from winemaker Rosemary Cakebread’s email that I was going to meet an artist. The directions to her house were a graphic, hand-drawn map with winding roads, trees, farmhouses and vineyards.
Winemaker includes an artist’s touch in her work
Under Cakebread’s Gallica label, a minuscule production of 600 cases annually, she handcrafts Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache wines that are elegant and poetic, wines that show restraint and finesse.
“Wine should be seamless,” says the winemaker. “I want the wood to be integrated with wine.” Therefore, these wines can best be described as lyrical and beautifully knit. The artistry in her winemaking is also reflected in the name Gallica, a botanical term for a type of rose used in perfumes.
Cakebread is not new to the valley. She has been crafting wine in Napa for 33 years. However, she claims she got introduced to viticulture by accident. “Stars were in alignment,” she says with a laugh.
During the summer between high school and college, she got a job on the bottling line at Sebastiani Vineyards. “It piqued my interest. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I was curious,” she remembers.
She enrolled at the University of California, Davis, and received a degree in oenology. Her first job was in the laboratory at Inglenook Winery. From there she went to Cakebread Cellars for a short period and met Bruce Cakebread. The two have been married for more than 25 years.
Soon she moved on to Mumm Napa Valley. “I’ve always separated my career from marriage,” says the veteran winemaker.
Cakebread entered the world of sparkling wine and worked at Mumm when it was first established in Napa, operating out of Sterling Winery. In 1997, she took over as winemaker at Spottswoode Winery, a position she held till 2007. She maintained a consulting winemaker position at Spottswoode till 2012.
We met at Cakebread’s farmhouse in St. Helena (just off the Highway 29), which serves as her office. The recently purchased house just happens to be next door to her residence. The house/office comes with a patch of old Petite Sirah vine, which she plans to pull out and replant.
“Cabernet is what I know and love making,” she acknowledges. It’s this passion that led her to create the Gallica label with a 2007 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Yet the winemaker is also drawn to Rhône varietals, so she added Grenache to her portfolio in 2010. Napa Valley is not known for growing Rhône varietals, but Cakebread found a good source in the Shake Ridge Ranch vineyard in Amador County, Calif., in the Sierra Foothills.
We taste the 2011 Grenache, which is blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and a touch of Viognier. This is an exceptionally elegant, well-rounded wine with balanced fruit and soft tannins.
The Rhône red wine production falls under the Suzuri Series, a collection that will feature different blends each vintage. Cakebread chose the name “Suzuri,” which is a stone plate used for calligraphy, because of her love for Japanese art.
Gallica’s Cabernet Sauvignon bottling generally consists of 80% to 85% of this varietal blended with Cabernet Franc — to add an herbaceous quality — and Petit Verdot, which lends notes of fruits and violets. The 2010 Cabernet is superbly balanced and elegant.
There’s no overabundance of fruit here. “That’s what I like to drink,” Cakebread says.
“I tend to pick my fruit earlier. Some people say I pick under-ripe, but late picking adds too much alcohol to the wine,” she explains.
Besides the fruit that comes from the 1-acre vineyard behind the Cakebread residence, she purchases grapes from Oakville Ranch for her Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
“I’ll always make Cabernet — that’s the engine that drives everything.” However, the winemaker will soon be releasing her 2012 and 2013 Syrahs from Pisoni Vineyards in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
How about white wine? I ask.
“Not that I don’t like whites, but it’s a big ocean to swim in,” she muses. She doesn’t want to produce yet another Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
“I am looking for other whites like Chenin Blanc. It’s hard to find old-vine Chenin Blancs, but I’ll keep looking. I’d like to make a Vouvray style,” says the creative winemaker ever in search of a new artistic achievement.
Top photo: Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread in her vineyard. Credit: Mira Honeycutt
On a cold, dark night on an isolated back road, a writer encounters four strangers in the kitchen of an old, drafty farmhouse. Knives flash. Hot oil splashes. Mayhem ensues.
For days I played out this scenario in my mind: The stress! The terror! The bandages required!
You might guess I was hard at work on a piece of crime fiction. Sadly, you’d be mistaken. This is simply what you do if you have a wildly overactive imagination and a Zester Daily contest winner and her three friends coming to your 1801 farmhouse for a seafood cooking class.
In-home seafood cooking class invites jitters
The contest and class were held in support of my first cookbook, “Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013). Named one of the top 10 cookbooks of 2013 by Weight Watchers, the book had propelled me into lecturing, hosting tastings and teaching classes all around the East Coast. Although I’d become fairly adept at these events, I had no experience with inviting strangers into my home to cook and chat about seafood.
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While my imagination switched into overdrive, grand-prize winner Erica Cheslock, a trained pastry chef from Philadelphia, approached the upcoming class with far more aplomb. “I never win anything, so it was a nice surprise to win a copy of ‘Fish Market,’ then the grand prize! It was quite a treat to be invited to Kathy’s home for a class, and I thought it was brave of her to have four people to her home that she never met,” Cheslock says.
Along with Erica and her mom, Lynn Cheslock, and Erica’s friends, Kelli Bowers and Rachael Sutliff, I invited sustainable lifestyle and food blogger Brande Plotnick, who reviewed “Fish Market” on her Tomato Envy site, and her foodie husband, Rob, to attend the class. If the conversation lagged or participation was lean, I could rely on this engaging duo to jump in and keep the evening moving.
Because I don’t own enough chef’s knives or cutting boards for six or even four, I opted to hold a demonstration class. If desired, the students could pitch in and grind spices, sauté shrimp and sear scallops. What they wouldn’t do was fillet, chop or dice a single ingredient. This greatly cut down the risk of bloodshed.
If the group craved a more relaxing evening, I had a backup plan. They could sit around the kitchen island and enjoy a glass of wine and amuse of homemade smoked trout paté while I talked and my husband, Sean, and I cooked.
With conversation and format covered and potential catastrophes averted, the last item on my list of worries was what to discuss. Because Zester readers tend to be quite food savvy, I had to go beyond the usual how-to-cook-fish class. Eventually I decided upon flavor affinities, looking at what ingredients pair especially well with fish and shellfish.
With a topic finally established, I compiled and printed out the flavor affinities for shrimp, scallops and monkfish. These three would be the featured seafood for the night.
Once I’d picked a theme, choosing the recipes was easy. We would make Spice-Peppercorn Shrimp, Vietnamese Scallop Boat Salads, Saffron and Cinnamon-Scented Monkfish Kebabs and raisin- and pine-nut-studded Moroccan Carrots. All came from “Fish Market” and included an array of tastes and textures.
On class night, I set six places at my kitchen island and draped six flavor affinity handouts over each appetizer plate. I then tied on a fish-adorned apron and paced the kitchen floor, waiting for Erica and the others to arrive.
Here’s the thing about an overactive imagination: Nothing ever turns out as horribly as you envision. In my case, hosting four strangers was not only disaster-free but also a delight.
As a graduate of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, Erica already possessed a wealth of culinary knowledge, but she was attentive and gracious. “Cooking fish takes me a bit out of my comfort zone, just as this trip to an unknown location was out of my comfort zone. The class showed me that there are fish types that I had never heard of and ways to prepare them that are flavorful and creative. I left feeling grateful for the experience and for being able to meet Kathy, Sean, Rob and Brande,” Erica said.
The feeling was mutual. Congenial, inquisitive and insightful, Erica, Lynn, Kelli and Rachael were the ideal students and guests. They helped out when asked and noshed and chatted when assistance wasn’t needed.
Thanks to them and the Zester Daily contest, I am confident I could host other cooking classes, with strangers, in my kitchen again. Who knows? Next time I might even keep my imagination off the guest list.
Top photo: Zester Daily contributor Kathy Hunt, right, talks with cooking class participants, from left, Rachael Sutliff, Erica Cheslock, Lynn Cheslock and Brande Plotnick. Credit: Sean Dippold
The idea that foods have aphrodisiac properties is quite old and found in all cultures, but this notion has waned with the rise of modern science.
Arab Muslim culture has had its aphrodisiacal foods, a phenomenon surprising to many people who think of Islam as a prudish religion that bans alcohol and frowns upon the sexual explicit.
However, a millennium ago, the elite in Europe began to change their attitudes toward eating, stimulated by the place of food in Muslim theology as represented in depictions of the Garden of Delights. The sensual pleasures of eating as portrayed in the Garden intrigued Europeans who began to associate luxurious dining with the food of the Arabs. Muslim sensuousness must have appeared attractive as a counterpoint to the ascetic life demanded of Christians. Already by the 12th century the Arabs had a rich poetry concerning wine and sexually explicit literature.
In the Arabic tradition there are “the two good things,” the translation of the Arabic al-atyabān. I always found it interesting that there isn’t a single mention of this idea in Arabic gastronomical thinking in any book on Arab cuisine or, for that matter, in any Mediterranean cookbook. But I alluded to these good things in my book “A Mediterranean Feast.” The two good things are food and sex.
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Food and sex are two of the three “fleshly delights” of this world in a saying attributed to the seventh-century Arab poet Ta’abbata Sharrān. “I have never enjoyed anything as much as these three things: eating flesh, riding on flesh, and rubbing flesh against flesh.” The Arabic literary interactions of food and sex are manifold. Some stories find the women berating their husbands for eating and drinking too much but neglecting them in bed.
A good appetite for food and for love was seen as perfectly compatible. There’s the story of Aishah bint Talha, a granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad’s father-in-law, who says to her husband the morning after the wedding night, “I have never seen anyone like you; you have eaten as much as seven men, prayed as much as seven men, and [had sex] as much as seven men.”
Food and sex inspire writers
Many of these stories, such as the bawdy tale of “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad” in “The Thousand and One Nights,” have a narrative formula that can almost be described as eating, drinking and having sex.
The stories get randier as in the “Slaughterhouse-cleaner and the Noble Lady,” also in “The Thousand and One Nights.” The lady wants revenge on her unfaithful husband and gets it by having an affair with the filthiest man she can find, the guy who cleans the latrines. He says, after their coitus, that he’d like to kiss the lady’s left hand (used for wiping) rather than her right hand (used for eating). This mixture of kitchen humor with scatological humor reflects the fact that the lady first looked for her husband in the outhouse but had found him instead in flagrante delicto in the kitchen, rogering a cook.
But the battle between love and food in Arabic poetry doesn’t always end in a truce. A Hispano-Arab poet, Ibn Mascūd, renounces love for food:
“If you ask me with whom I am in love and why my eyes
Pour forth tears,
I say: a sikbāj*, dishes of jamalī
Bruised white flour is sweeter to me than the saliva of the beloved who is embraced.”
The West has its own aphrodisiacal food traditions, although the dishes might be different.
Lovers turn to chiles, because of their active ingredient capsaicin; bananas, because of their phallus shape; asparagus (same reason); oysters, for their zinc content and their tactile resemblances; vanilla, because it’s a stimulant for the nerves; salmon and walnuts, because of their omega-3 content, which keeps sex-hormone production humming; red wine, because it relaxes and reduces inhibitions; pomegranates, because they increase genital sensitivity; and chocolate.
There, now you should have a good idea of and guide to what you’ll prepare your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.
* Sikbāj dishes, a kind of stew made with vinegar, were of Persian origin and very popular in the 10th century; jamalī is a kind of stew with innards.