Articles in Chefs
Once upon a time there was a legendary restaurant called Café des Artistes on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The place was housed in the storied Hotel des Artistes at Central Park, built in 1917 as a residence for artists. Illustrator Howard Christy Chandler painted the walls with larger-than-life murals of naked nymphs and satyrs frolicking about.
In 1975 it passed into the hands of George Lang, a Hungarian-born violinist who was a child prodigy and Holocaust survivor, refugee, world traveler, intellectual, raconteur, entrepreneur, gastronome, cookbook author, bon vivant and friend of the New York famous. His clientele was a new generation of “artistes” and glitterati, from world-renowned performers who came by after their gigs at nearby Lincoln Center to Hollywood stars to brightly shining culinary luminaries of the day.
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The establishment’s allure continued, despite the darkening murals and, sometimes, less-than-stellar food. But the menu wasn’t the point. One went there the way one visits shrines of one kind or another, no matter the weather. It was a place, as one regular, New York Arts editor and publisher Michael Miller put it, to “observe celebrities in the wild.” Then in 2009, when George and Jenifer Lang decided to close it, the place went dark.
Today, the restaurant at 1 West 67 St. glows again, transformed into The Leopard des Artistes, and the dazzling murals and delectable food sparkle. The cavorting nudes are still there, restored to their original blush since the new owners, restaurateurs Gianfranco Sorrentino and his wife, Paula Bolla Sorrentino of Il Gattopardo and Mozzarella e Vino, brought art restorers in to do a serious cleaning. But an interior face-lift is hardly the most remarkable thing about the transformation. Gone is the continental-style bistro that Jenifer Lang once likened to an English Ordinary, meaning a cozy and informal eatery serving familiar food. Where once the reputation of the house was built upon its rarified New York color and romance, now it rests upon its world-class, quintessentially Italian menu.
For one having frequented Café des Artistes in the 1980s when the Langs were at the helm, eating at the revived Leopard at des Artistes recently was to experience a kind of vertigo. While the patina of the old place is still intact, the menu consists of dizzyingly sumptuous Italian cooking. It’s no wonder. The Sorrentinos recently hired Michele Brogioni, an Umbrian-born, Italian-trained chef with 20 years’ experience who won a Michelin star during his stint at the Relais & Chateaux Il Falconiere in Cortona, arguably one of the best restaurants in Tuscany. He brings a classical if polished Italian style to the menu. “The food is always seasonal,” Brogioni said. “It’s really a trip around Italy from north to south.”
Of course, any good chef will rely on fresh local ingredients at the height of their season, and Brogioni is no exception — produce from nearby farms and other locally sourced ingredients were among the raw materials. It’s what to do with those ingredients, and practicing restraint in the process that makes a great chef.
Genius and magic
If the genius of true Italian cooking overall is the propensity to use raw ingredients lavishly hand-in-hand with an understanding of the art of leaving well enough alone, Brogioni is a master. Our dinner included bufala ricotta-stuffed baked squash flowers presented on a tomato couli; bucatini with fresh sardines typical of Sicily; and tortellini filled with an aromatic mixture of veal, beef and pork topped with butter and mascarpone, set on a tomato reduction. Lamb loin chops over pureed and fried baby artichokes were so delicious they are hard to forget, as is the titillating selection of wines we sampled from the restaurant’s extensive offerings. If that wasn’t enough, a 2006 Sagrantino passito from Montefalco was thrown in — a delicious dessert wine from Brogioni’s native region that I bring back from Umbria whenever I go there because it is so hard to find here.
The goodness and artistry of the food all made for magic, combined with the fetching nudes prancing over our heads and the meticulous attention of expert sommelier Alessandro Giardiello and the wait staff. There are many superb restaurants in New York City, but this one casts a spell.
Main photo: Wood nymphs painted by American illustrator Howard Chandler Christy glow through the windows at the legendary former Café des Artistes, built in 1917, and now The Leopard at des Artistes. Copyright 2015, Nathan Hoyt/Forktales
As the 72nd Venice Film Festival opens in September, a platoon of celebrities are gracing the city. Would you fancy a drink with stars such as Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Robert Pattinson, famous actresses such as Bérénice Bejo, Jennifer Jason Leigh or the legendary director Brian De Palma? How about a glass of Krug Grand Cuvée with Johnny Depp? That could happen after the premiere of “Black Mass,” the true story of the infamous murderer and mob boss Whitey Bulger.
Where? At the exclusive PG’s Restaurant, the culinary sanctuary belonging to the Design Hotel Palazzina G. It’s Philip Stark’s celebrity-filled — and nearly impossible to find — hotel in Venice.
To get there, reach San Samuele Piazza, then head out on an adventure to a small calle. Your destination is Ramo Grassi 3248, but you won’t find a name or a sign — just look for the bull. He’s fiercely looking at you from above an anonymous door. That’s the entrance.
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The aim of the festival is to raise awareness and promote the various aspects of international cinema as art, entertainment and industry. In the past edition of the festival, 7,300 journalists and critics were accredited. This year more than 100 new films are expected to be screened. There will also be retrospectives and tributes to major figures to pay tribute to and help further an understanding of the history of cinema.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity or critic to experience the creativity of PG’s 28-year-old chef Matteo Panfilio, who was born in the province of Alessandria, where he studied, was nurtured and inspired by his family’s great love for cooking. In 2006, upon completing his studies, he left for London, where he had the opportunity to work with starred chefs such as Alberico Penati, Tristan Mason and Tristan Welch. Back to Alessandria, he opened his own restaurant La Locanda dei Narcisi. Matteo arrived at the PG’s in October 2014.
His style is inspired and guided by great Italian, French and Japanese cuisines, with meticulously prepared dishes and low-temperature, slow cooking methods.
Fish and sweets
Fish reigns here. There is capesante (scallops with beetroot jelly, cream of licorice and coffee powder) baccalà (creamed salt cod, caramelized red onions and polenta chips) Champagne risotto (with sea urchins and prawns tartare) tuna fillet (with pistachio crust, goat cheese and a merlot reduction).
These are just some of the offerings on the young chef’s menu, and that doesn’t even include what Matteo is really passionate about: sweet delights like babà (wild berries, Champagne sabayon) or sorbetto all’albicocca (creamy saffron, anisette and white peach sorbet).
Two ways to learn
Panfilio loves to share his passion by offering two unforgettable cooking lessons: “Eat & Learn” and “Culinary Experience.”
During “Eat & Learn,” Matteo will reveal secrets and provide explanations, putting on a real show of creativity in which you will plunge into the art of Italian cooking by learning and preparing outstanding dishes.
The cooking demonstration and dinner last approximately 2 hours. It costs €100 (approximately $113) and includes a gift: a special book from the chef. (The classes must be paid in euros.)
To market with the chef
If you choose the “Culinary Experience,” you will venture with Matteo in a three-hour morning tour through the aromas of the Mercato di Rialto, the market that has always been the commercial heart of Venice. In its two buildings overlooking the Grand Canal, the Campo de la Pescaria (fish) and the Erberia (fruits and vegetables), you can find the best bargains in action seeing the skilled tradesmen.
Before returning, you will stop at one (or two…) traditional osteria (wine bars) for a typically Venetian ritual: a glass (or two … ) of wine and some traditional small appetizers called cecchetti. In the evening, you are expected at the beautiful 7-meter long kitchen counter for a 3-hour cooking lesson. There you will prepare, under Matteo’s guidance, a four-course tasting dinner using the ingredients bought at the market. The cost is €480 (approximately $546) for two people, €200 (approximately $227) for each additional person.
PG’s Restaurant is definitely a straordinaria life experience.
A culinary sanctuary
Main photo: The “Eat & Learn” experience with Chef Matteo Panfilio. Credit: Copyright 2014 Claudio Sabatino
Puréed vegetable soups make an excellent entrée for a delicious meal consisting entirely of a soup and salad.
Wanting an authentic French recipe, I visited chef Jacques Fiorentino in the West Hollywood kitchen of his restaurant L’Assiette Steak Frites where he demonstrated his easy-to-prepare sorrel soup.
Sorrel brings dark, leafy goodness
Sorrel is not spinach. The leaves are similar, but the flavor is completely different. Richly flavored with citrus notes, sorrel’s dark green pointed leaves are a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Unlike many leafy greens, sorrel is a perennial. One spring we were given a small plant in a 3-inch pot. During the first year the plant doubled in size. By pinching off the floral buds and harvesting the young leaves, the plant flourished and we enjoyed sorrel soup on a regular basis. After several years it grew so vigorously that it all but took over the garden.
A riff on soupe à l’oseille, a French classic
Calling his restaurant Steak Frites, Fiorentino announced to the world that his restaurant was solidly in the French bistro tradition. The dark wood interior and precise menu puts a spotlight on favorites that would be found in neighborhood restaurants throughout France.
Like Proust and his madeleines, Fiorentino uses a few carefully chosen dishes to evoke his childhood in Paris. For him that means grilled steak, double-cooked french fries (frites), foie gras and sorrel soup with deep herbal accents. As a nod to contemporary preferences he added salmon and, for vegetarians, portobello mushrooms with frites.
Wash. Sauté. Simmer. Blend. Season.
Depending on the chicken flavoring used, you will need more or less salt. Homemade chicken stock has the least salt and is preferred. Packaged stock, chicken concentrate and bouillon cubes have considerably higher salt contents.
Good quality concentrated chicken stock and bouillon cubes can be purchased in restaurant supply stores and supermarkets. Since the sodium content varies considerably, delay adding salt to the soup until all ingredients have been blended, then taste and season.
A vegetarian version can be created by substituting vegetable for chicken stock. As with chicken stock, homemade vegetable stock is preferable to bouillon cubes and will have a lower salt content.
In the restaurant, Fiorentino uses potato flakes for flavor and convenience. If you would prefer to use potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted water until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Allow to cool, peel, cut into quarter-sized pieces, add to the soup and blend.
L’Assiette Sorrel Soup
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 small red onion, washed, peeled, roughly chopped
1/2 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1 medium-sized potato, Yukon Gold preferred, washed
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred) or 1½ cups water and 3 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon
8 ounces whole milk
4 ounces cream
1/4 pound fresh sorrel, washed, leaves only
Sea salt to taste
Pinch freshly ground white pepper, finely ground
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1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add butter, melt and allow to lightly foam. Add chopped onion and celery, stir well and sauté until the onion is lightly translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add thyme and marjoram, stir well to combine flavors.
2. Boil a pot of salted water, cook whole potato, covered, for 20 minutes or until a pairing knife enters easily. Set aside to cool.
3. Add liquid, either chicken stock or water, stir well and continue simmering for a minute or two. Pour in milk and cream, stir well and bring flame up to medium so the liquids simmer five minutes to combine the flavors, being careful not to boil.
4. Add whole sorrel leaves. Stir into the soup. Reduce flame so the soup simmers. Stir frequently and cook 25 to 30 minutes to combine flavors. If water was used instead of chicken stock, add chicken bouillon or base, stir well. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.
5. Blend the soup using either an immersion or a general purpose blender, about 5 minutes. Peel the cooked potato, dice and add to the soup. Blend until smooth.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper.
Serve hot with fresh bread and, if desired, a tossed green salad.
Main photo: Sorrel soup with crème fraîche prepared by chef Jacques Fiorentino at L’Assiette Steak Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
Los Angeles’ restaurant scene is on fire with exciting new spots scattered across the basin. In this chef-driven movement, folks such as Nancy Silverton, Neal Fraser, Michael Cimarusti, David Lentz and Josef Centeno are cementing their status as LA’s culinary trendsetters. You can’t go wrong at any of their restaurants.
True to the city’s Hollywood-centric culture, dining rooms here are graceful, relaxed and torn-jean-friendly environments. The city’s food covers the culinary map, embracing Latin, Asian, European and American traditions. LA is a city that refuses to be pigeonholed.
You will come to the city for the endless sunny days, beautiful beaches and spectacular shopping. You’ll stay for the food. Be one of the smart folks who appreciates that the future of American food is being served now in Los Angeles. Below is a slideshow of some of the restaurants you must try on your next trip to the Southland.
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Main photo: Terrine’s romantic back patio takes advantage of the Southern California weather. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jesus Banuelos
Just as artists work with paints and canvas or clay, chefs create masterpieces with everything from carrots to crayfish. But whereas painters and sculptors have museums to display their creations, most chefs only have plates; their “displays” are limited to the short stretch during which a diner admires their meal before digging in. Endang Supriatna may have found the perfect solution, however. He’s taken his art to sea.
The hallmark of garde-manger
I met Supriatna as an invited guest on a week-long cruise to Alaska aboard the Carnival Legend. Working with some of the same items that are probably sitting in your kitchen, he turns ordinary edibles into eye-catchers; you could say he has all the ingredients for a dream job. “I am the only culinary artist on board, and I carve vegetables and fruits and create ice carvings from huge blocks of ice. Sometimes I create paintings for special occasions,” Supriatna said in an e-mail interview.
Working magic on melons
For the average home cook, cutting watermelon can be a messy chore. But Supriatna does not see the awkward fruit you and I see. He sees potential.
Supriatna carves two dozen or so watermelons on every week-long cruise. His carvings vary in shape and size, just like his juicy, circular canvases. From salty sea creatures to detailed portraits, the results often decorate the ship’s Lido Restaurant. It’s common to see cruisers struggling to balance a loaded plate in one hand and a camera in another as they attempt to snap photos of the sculpted spheres.
You can see Supriatna at work firsthand during a weekly demonstration at The Golden Fleece Steakhouse. Silently and swiftly, he creates melon magic in less than an hour. There is thought and precision with each graceful cut, but Supriatna has a knack for making his skill look effortless. What might be even more impressive, however, is his ability to create in a wide variety of mediums. Though I saw more watermelons than anything else, every now and then a new showpiece would pop up.
Red onions and radishes cut to create colorful blooms, then perfectly arranged in a prickly pineapple vase: Supriatna’s edible bouquet decorated the buffet area surrounding the chocolate fountain on our last day at sea. You might have mistaken the arrangement for real flowers, especially since it sat somewhat in the shadow of a glistening ice sculpture, which also happened to be Supriatna’s handiwork.
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As an adult, Supriatna has worked hard to develop his craft, but he says he had inspiration to create from an early age.
“My father is an architect, and (he) influenced and motivated me when it comes to carving and art,” Supriatna said. “Besides creating/designing houses, he often does artwork, such as sketches, paintings, drawings and wood carvings. … I’d always watch and try to learn from him.”
From the visual to the culinary arts
In fact, Supriatna pursued an art degree in college. After graduation, he worked in several hotels as an artist. It was there that food became part of the plan. “I became more interested in seeing how the chefs worked to create beautiful and delicious dishes. To me, that’s a form of art,” he said.
So off to culinary school he went. He graduated one of the top three in his class, and in 2000 he set sail with Carnival Cruise Lines as an ice carver, fulfilling his dream of seeing other parts of the world in the process.
“I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see real works of art from some of my favorite maestros, like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali,” Supriatna said.
Cooking at sea and at home
When he’s not wowing cruisers with his carvings, Supriatna also cooks. Responsible for cold-food production and presentation on board the ship, he has nearly a dozen chefs working under his supervision.
His work schedule is demanding. Supriatna typically spends six months at sea before getting two months at home in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with his wife and two sons.
“At home I give command of the kitchen to my wife, but once a week I’ll cook for them. I usually make my special mushroom and shrimp risotto, which they love,” Supriatna said. “And yes, sometimes I’ll still do carvings, but I try to limit it to special events only.”
Main photo: A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann
Massimo Bottura, considered by many to be Italy’s greatest chef, earned three Michelin stars and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena is ranked second in San Pellegrino’s ” World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2015, the highest ranking ever received for an Italian chef. Bottura’s jewel of a restaurant that seats 28 requires a kitchen staff of 28 to achieve nightly avant-garde culinary magic. Mario Batali dubbed him, “the Jimi Hendrix of Italian chefs” and says his food is “innovative, boundary-breaking and entirely whimsical.”
Below is an excerpt of a conversation with him at his office in Emilia-Romagna on why he loves American cuisine, tips for home cooks and favorite must-try Italian ingredients.
Tradition, with a twist
The Wall Street Journal says, “Bottura possesses both a deep respect for local traditions and a drive to keep blowing them up.” How would you describe your approach?
In the entrance way to Osteria Francescana, there’s a 2,000-year-old jug. It’s broken. I break with the past; I don’t want to get lost in nostalgia. I’m always in search of the future. That’s how I respect our traditions. If you just dust traditions, you’ll lose them. Put them in a museum, and they’ll stagnate, they will die.
‘Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef’
Your latest book, “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” has received international acclaim. The New York Times Book Review wrote that it “demonstrates that food has indeed morphed into an element of high culture.” Now that it’s been published, is there anything you wish you had included? Anything you wish you’d added?
I wrote the book like I cook. I wrote a million things, and then cut them to their essence. It says everything I wanted to say.
Cooking Italian in the United States
The Italian government invited you to represent its cuisine in the USA last year as part of their “Year of Italian Culture” initiative. Tell us about the trip.
Hillary Clinton said one of the things Americans like best is Italian cuisine, so I was honored that Italy asked me to come to the States representing Italian food. It was an incredible trip. I prepared meals around the USA. In NYC for over 60 journalists, in D.C. for the embassy with the ambassador attending, and in Los Angeles, in Bel Air, Sylvester Stallone even helped us in the kitchen!
Sylvester Stallone can cook?!
Yes, absolutely. He didn’t sit with the guests in the dining room, but stayed in the kitchen with us all for the entire meal. He was amazingly helpful, very modest. A real delight.
What did you serve?
We created a menu entitled “Come to Italy With Me,” a sort of trip through Italy by way of our flavors. We started in southern Italy with the island of Pantelleria, then went across Sicily traveling into the Gulf of Naples, crisscrossing Italy and up into the Po Valley and northern Italy.
Advice for home cooks
What was the best American ingredient you discovered while traveling through the States?
Liberty! The liberty of expression. It’s the key ingredient to why American cuisine is so wonderful. In fact, a journalist recently asked me what would be the cuisine of the future and I told him that it would come from America. Americans have an open mind and the resources to push the boundaries of the culinary arts. I’m struck by the great chefs America has inspired, chefs like Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne, who leave me speechless.
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What do you think is America’s secret to this culinary success?
Pride. America takes pride in its creativity and freedom to push boundaries.
You’ve created several savory dishes with unusual ingredients, like coffee.
I like the touch of earthiness that coffee adds. I added a hint of espresso foam to Snails in the Vineyard, a dish I created that celebrates the snail’s daily meal, with the texture of the soil created with coffee, beets and black truffles sitting atop aromatic greens. Again, with snails in my dish Snow Under the Sun, there’s coffee powder to complement with the earthy raw potatoes and porcini gelatin. I even added a drizzle of sweet cappuccino to a risotto dish I made for the young daughter of NY Times food writer Melissa Clark.
Is there an ingredient you’re experimenting with right now?
Not an ingredient but a tool. I’m amusing myself tremendously with the Big Green Egg. It smokes, roasts, bakes and even grills at very high heat. I’m exploring the limits of what I can create with it.
What advice do you have for home cooks?
Go grocery shopping! Buy what’s in season, purchase just what you need for two days. You’ll use it all and waste less. Treat yourself to 30 minutes every two days to get to know your grocer, to establish a relationship with small stores, the fishmonger. If you can, go to farmers markets and meet small artisan makers. After a week or two, these folks will give you the best.
What are your favorite Italian ingredients?
I’m partial to the foods of my own region, to the gourmet foods of Emilia-Romagna.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, preferably aged 24 months
- Aceto Balsamico from Modena. Never cook with it, though. It’s best enjoyed poured onto a small ceramic spoon and sipped at the end of a fine meal.
- Culatello of Zibello, the boneless center of prosciutto. It tastes to me like the Po Valley, the fog, the mushrooms that grow there. Culatello encompasses the entirety of the flavors of Emilia-Romagna, the taste of our land.
- Great dried pasta, like the fine pasta from the Gragnano area of Italy, like Giovanni Assante’s Gerardo Di Nola pasta or Monograno Felicetti, of the Trentino region. Buy great pasta and dress it simply, with just quality olive oil, and you have a gourmet meal. What’s important is to start with the best ingredient.
- For the fifth, I suggest a series of flavors of that represent the Mediterranean: Lemon from Sorrento, anchovies from Certara, capers from the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, wild oregano from Puglia and Mozzarella di Buffalo from Campana.
What’s your personal favorite food?
Coffee is my big vice. I don’t like just a shot, but prefer it strong, sweetened with milk foam.
Main photo: Massimo Bottura is considered by many to be Italy’s greatest chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici
Classic meets contemporary at the 56th Biennale di Venezia. This year’s theme is “All the World’s Futures,” and one chef in Venice has taken that inspiration to create a spectacular menu.
The international art exhibition, which runs until Nov. 22, takes place in the Giardini and Arsenale venues and other locations throughout the historic city, making a marvelous encounter between history and avant-garde, where classic meets contemporary art.
In the spirit of this convergence, Chef Luca Veritti created an original menu for the magnificent Met Restaurant at the Metropole Hotel in Venice.
The spectacular menu, called “Tra’Contemporary Cuisine,” combines two philosophies — the traditional Italian and Veneto recipes and a futuristic style through which the same recipes are elaborated and proposed in a creative way.
While different from the current gastronomic trends, the reason for such an original choice lies in the intention of giving value to the regional products — often neglected on behalf of food from faraway countries — elaborated with exotic styles and cuisines.
Hors d’oeuvres the traditional way
A perfect example are the capesante gratinate, a typical hors d’oeuvres in the Veneto tradition, consisting of baked scallops covered with bread crumbs, aromatized with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.
A delicate update
In the contemporary version “à la Oriente,” the capesante are breaded and cooked with coconut rapé and served with a delicate beetroot cream, hints of passion fruit and a wafer of bread flavored with parsley and garlic.
Home cooking from Carnia
Another traditional home-cooking dish from Carnia: Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese from Friuli.
An innovative update
This traditional recipe is transformed into a cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese with a hint of sage. The smoked trout with mountain herbs enriches the dish, which is finished with a morchia sauce — a typical sauce of Friuli prepared with melted butter and cornmeal.
Trendy and traditional
The high quality of the raw materials will be the centerpiece of the Tra’Contemporary Cuisine: The lamb comes from the Alpago; the vegetables from the Venetian island of Sant’Erasmo; and the fish from Rialto market in Venice. Speaking of fish, in Luca’s menu the classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look. The stockfish cooked at a low temperature is accompanied by a rosemary-flavored olive oil foam. A delicate Bronte pistachio sauce and air of Aperol Spritz add a further touch of refinement.
Chocolate gets an update
Couldn’t chocolate get a “futuristic” treatment? Veritti designed a “chocolate revisited,” in which a heart of passion fruit mousse enriches a sphere of plain chocolate sprinkled with white chocolate cream flavored with alchermes. Chocolate with savory caramel and Madagascar bourbon vanilla crumble complete the dish.
Veritti’s experiment could be a great culinary experience for a couple who can share dishes, while indulging in the past and adventuring into the future.
Main photo: Classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look from Chef Luca Verriti. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso
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Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.
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In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican. Utilizing international culinary techniques, but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation: Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments, and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limón — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.
An earlier generation of chefs have paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head chef at New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. Mexico City has become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions being forged every day.
Main photo: An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in “ash vinegar” with cucumber and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sud 777