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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Pairings

Tasty (Mis)Adventures in Vegetarian Red Wine Pairings

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Our May story on Bonny Doon and the brilliant chef behind their new Tasting Room, Charlie Parker, inspired me to try pairing vegetarian dishes with big red wines at home. If only I had the professional finesse of Bonny Doon. Earlier this week Ray Isle gave me half a case of big reds from the F&W tasting room for the experiment, which I was about to take on the subway when it started to pour. Since I had to hold an umbrella with one hand, I could only grab two of the six bottles with the other: a 2007 Praxis Lagrein and a 2006 Masi Campofiorin. Then, once I was at home I discovered the Campofiorin was corked.

I made my stuffed red bell peppers anyway, filling them with cooked red quinoa and feta cheese, and simmering them in a tomato sauce spiked with a pinch of chile flakes. Finally I tried them with the Lagrein. They tasted just how you'd imagine stuffed bell peppers would, if they'd been garnished with blueberry jam. I had much better luck with the 2009 Hofer Grüner Veltliner in my refrigerator: the faint floral notes married well with the juicy bell peppers, while the white pepper and zippy acidity lightened the rich stuffing. But there is nothing big nor is there anything red about Grüner-Veltliner, though it may be one of the most vegetable-friendly white wines out there. So I'm going to take a page out of Randall Grahm's book and try again.

Meanwhile, enjoy these brilliant vegetarian pairings from Charlie Parker:

Savoy Cabbage and Sunchoke Pizzas with a Dolcetto

Smoky Ribollita with a Sangiovese

Roasted Turnips and their Greens, with a Syrah

Restaurants

Chefs Cooking and Training for a Cause

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Jen Biesty

© Kimpton
Jen Biesty of Scala's Bistro.


Kimpton Hotels recently brought some of its most talented female chefs to New York City to cook at the Dress for Success gala, an amazing event that raised more than $1.1 million for the incredible charity.

I had a chance to hang with two of the chefs: Keira Moritz, the driven Southerner in charge of Pacci Ristorante at Atlanta’s Hotel Palomar, and Jen Biesty, the Top Chef Season 4 alum now heading the kitchen at Scala’s Bistro, at  San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake hotel. I  was impressed not only by their insane work ethic in the kitchen, but also by their endless energy outside of the restaurant. Moritz signs up for a marathon every time she moves to a new city (she had previously been at Puccini & Pinetti in San Francisco and was most recently at Panzano in Denver). While most chefs get off work and head out for late-night eats with industry friends, Moritz heads to a 24-hour gym to log miles on the treadmill. This year she'll be training for the Atlanta Marathon in November and raising money for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Biesty opts to train on two wheels and in morning workouts for the AIDS LifeCycle ride. The seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes place in June, and Biesty is currently raising money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Click here to help her reach her $5,000 fund-raising goal and support a great cause.

Restaurants

Ode to Food-Obsessed Servers

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Telepan

© Telepan
NYC's Telepan restaurant.

 

I’m always game to have a chef cook for me when I’m at a restaurant. But when it comes to putting my trust in the server to help navigate my meal, I become wary. There is no greater disappointment than being let down after ordering what you've been assured beyond reason is the restaurant’s not-to-be-missed dish instead of your gut order. So I’m truly impressed when my server can not only orchestrate the perfect order, but also do so with contagious enthusiasm. The other night, I was at the great Upper West Side restaurant Telepan. The dining room caters to a sophisticated uptown crowd and isn’t the type of setting where you expect your server to describe a dish as “stupid-silly good comfort food,” but ours did just that. How could I not order the “Southern-style” croque madame after that kind of outburst? Our server, Jeffrey Greene, has known chef Bill Telepan since Telepan's days as a sous chef at Gotham Bar & Grill and he has been at Telepan nearly since it’s opening. Greene had a story to share for practically every dish we asked about ("Chef dislikes saffron, so he uses an herb oil in its place for the spring paella"). And his every suggestion was spot-on, including the dubious-sounding pea pancakes, which he described as "the essence of Spring," served with wild mushrooms, pea agnolotti and spring vegetables (it turned out to be my favorite dish of the night). So I'm giving a quick shout-out to food-obssessive servers like Jeffrey, who help make a good dining experience great by sharing their passion for their chef's food.

Chefs

Inside the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards

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© Cook It Raw/Per Anders Jorgensen
René Redzepi (left), chef of the World's Best Restaurant, Noma.

I get so caught up in F&W’s 10 Best New Chefs in America that I forget about the rest of the world. Luckily, our phenomenal contributor Anya von Bremzen (author of The New Spanish Table) doesn’t. In F&W’s May issue, von Bremzen chronicled food congresses like Madrid Fusión and elite chefs like René Redzepi of Noma who are the stars of those congresses. (This year, she noted, the trend was neo-naturalism.) And now the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards have just been announced, and almost all the chefs von Bremzen featured are on the list. Guess what was the #1 restaurant: Noma. Here are AVB’s thoughts on the 50 Best Restaurant list.

“This award is about current critical opinion. Noma’s #1 reflects a turn away from molecular, toward new naturalism. Definitely, it’s a new direction and a new era. Ferran Adria, obviously everyone knows he’s closing El Bulli, so the vote makes sense [he slipped to #2 this year]. I think the food poisoning news hurt Heston Blumenthal [his Fat Duck fell one spot to #3]. The Roca brothers are big current media darlings; their food is super-technical yet accessible [their El Cellar de Can Roca, up one spot to #4]. And France! Le Chateaubriand went up 29 spots! [to #11], while three-star L’Astrance is down 5 [to #16]. So critical opinion is swaying towards bistronomie.”

Here’s what I’ll say in my defense. Of the seven U.S. chefs on the Top 50 List, six of them are F&W Best New Chefs. Hooray for:  

BNC '02 Grant Achatz of #7 Alinea in Chicago
BNC '88 Daniel Boulud of #8 Daniel in New York City
BNC '88 too! Thomas Keller of #10 Per Se in New York City and and #32 French Laundry in Yountville, California
BNC '06 David Chang of #26 Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York City
BNC '01 Wylie Dufresne of #45 wd-50 in New York City
BNC '05 Daniel Humm of #50 Eleven Madison Park in New York City

Restaurants

Barbara Lynch's Meat CSA

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butcher

© The Butcher Shop
The Butcher Shop chef de cuisine Robert Grant.

 

Boston chef Barbara Lynch has paired the current butcher obsession with the growing CSA trend and is now running a very cool new meat CSA from her awesome South End restaurant, the Butcher Shop. CSA members can buy a pig or even a share of a flock of lambs. The first weekend of each month, Lynch's talented butchers break down an animal, say a 90-pound pig or a lamb from Vermont Family Farms, during a butchering demo, and participants go home with various cuts. Terrines, sausages, racks of lamb and ready-to-cook cuts are packaged and available for pick up by members the next two weekends of each month. Prices change month the month, but full shares cost around $190; half shares are around $95.

Chefs

Michel Nischan on Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution"

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Tonight* is the finale of Jamie Oliver’s "Food Revolution," and it’s been fascinating to see how challenging it is to change the American food system. I recently chatted with Michel Nischan about the show. He's the chef at Dressing Room, the late Paul Newman’s restaurant in Connecticut, and founder of Wholesome Wave, an organization that helps bring local foods to underserved neighborhoods. He said that while he loves Jamie, he thinks that Jamie's goal of getting schools to make fresh food from scratch every day is unrealistic. “If what he is doing triples the school lunch budget, it’s not sustainable. Schools have even deeper problems than food, and they all require more funds.”

Nischan’s proposed solution lies somewhere in between the current situation—in which schools get highly processed foods from big centralized companies—and Jamie’s ideal. He says that right now, there is a dearth of mid-size food-processing centers, which could turn local ingredients into preservative-free sauces, soups and other foods for school cafeterias. (It’s actually quite like the shortage of slaughterhouses, which has been a setback for the burgeoning local meat industry.) Nischan’s solution would benefit small farmers, who could sell their “field seconds”—the perfectly edible fruits and vegetables that don’t look good enough to take to market. (“You don’t need a pristine heirloom tomato to make a good sauce,” he says.) It would also be great for schools because they could buy better food within their budget that would come to them in an easy-to-prepare format. And of course, it would be a boon for the students, who would eat healthier, most likely tastier food.

 

*CORRECTION: This Friday, April 23, is the finale of Jamie's show. Can't wait!

Chefs

Laurent Gras: World’s Fittest Chef

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Laurent Gras. Body fat 2 (t-w-o) percent.

You wouldn’t expect to find any chefs on a list entitled "The Fittest Guys in the World for 2010" from Men's Fitness magazine (although a lot of them would do really well on the corollary list of least-fit guys). The names run towards athletes like the Real Madrid soccer star Christiano Ronaldo and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Jr., and actors like Sam Worthington. But there is one chef: Laurent Gras of the super-fantastic Chicago restaurant, L20. Gras says he balances his 90-hour weeks in the kitchen by cycling at least one 100-miler on his day off. Here’s what else Men’s Fitness reports: “To maintain his 2-percent body fat (that’s right: T-W-O), Gras heads to the gym five days a week for 30 minutes of jumping rope, an hour of spinning and some lower-body resistance training.” W-O-W. (My only reference for 2 percent involves milk.) For anyone who wants to at least eat like Gras, some of his terrific healthy recipes are at foodandwine.com.

Menus

Dinner at New Delhi's Varq

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jalebi

© Taj Hotels
Varq's haute take on jalebis.

 

For our May travel issue, we polled chefs, sommeliers and food writers around the globe to come up with the 100 best new food and drink experiences on the planet. Varq restaurant in New Delhi made the cut, and it ended up being my most revelatory meal in India.  

Chef Hemant Oberoi, the Taj hotel group's corporate chef and the visionary behind Varq, and his right-hand man at Varq, executive chef Ankit Sharma, have taken India's street foods and traditional regional dishes and modernized them by applying new techniques and introducing new ingredients, like scallops and foie gras--then serving those dishes on Thomas Keller–designed Limoges china in a very glamorous dining room.

Ganderi kebab, minced chicken marinated with spices, gets deep-fried on a sugarcane stick so that it looks like a corn dog and served in a shot glass with amchur chutney in the bottom. Atta raan, perhaps the most theatrical dish on the menu, is a supertender leg of lamb that has been marinated in mace, cardamom and red chile and baked in a saffron-dough shell. I adored his refined take on the street snacks that I'd been dubiously eating the past week. I'd become addicted to jalebi, a sticky, sugar-high-inducing sweet that looks like a mini funnel cake and has the electric orange color of Cheetos. On the street they are fried in enormous cast-iron pans, fished out of sizzling pools of oil and eaten piping hot. At Varq, they are perfectly shaped spirals of warm, crunchy dough, more yellow than orange (the result of less-sugary syrup), decorated with silver leaf and lined up side by side with a pistachio yogurt for dipping.

When I later met up with Oberoi, I asked him why I can't find that kind of Indian restaurant in New York City. He let me in on a little secret: He's planning a stand-alone Varq in NYC for the near future.

Menus

Tasting Tour of Varanasi

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Nadesar Palace

© Taj Hotels.
Nadesar Palace, Varanasi.

 

I became fascinated with Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet and one of the world’s top pilgrimage sites, after reading Geoff Dwyer’s slightly mad book Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The city, off the River Ganges, is a chaos of cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cattle and people bathing on the ghats, while just up the river, a burning body is being sent to rest in the same waters. It was the third stop on the Maharajas Express Celestial India itinerary and after a sunrise boat ride along the ghats, a rickshaw ride through the markets and a shopping binge on the city’s famed Banarasi silk saris, I was desperately ready for an escape from the city’s bedlam.

I found it at the new Nadesar Palace, set on 40 acres of mango orchards and jasmine fields. Originally built by the East India Company to house its officers, then turned into the Maharaja’s palace, it is now a 10-room Taj Hotel with marble bathrooms, four-poster beds draped with Schiaparelli pink netting and original art from the Maharaja’s collections. I spent the afternoon with chef Sanjeev Chopra, who took me on a horse-drawn carriage ride past his organic garden before taking me into the kitchen. Chopra has created a fascinating menu totally focused on local cuisine: He spent months visiting the villages, lanes, elite houses and royal kitchen of Varanasi to learn the ancient royal cooking techniques and find lost recipes. He then asked housewives, royal cooks and maharajs from Dharamshals to visit the Nadesar kitchen to cook and train his team. I ate my way across castes, sampling matar ki puri (green peas stuffed in a deep-fried wheat pancake) from the royal kitchen and the ubiquitous street sweet gulab jamun, cottage cheese dumplings soaked in sugary syrup. It was one of the most satisfying, and definitely the most enlightening, meal of my trip.

Farms

Chef's Pork-Off

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NYC Winner Chef Adam Kaye

© Chris Quinlan
NYC Winner Chef Adam Kaye


 

Cochon 555, the 10-city tour that celebrates farmers and heritage pig breeds, was back in NYC on March 21 for its second annual cooking competition. New York star chefs Marco Canora, Gavin Kaysen, Adam Kaye, Mark Ladner and Corwin Kave competed for the Prince of Pork title, and a chance to cook at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. I was lucky enough to be in the judges’ room, where the Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 and K Vintners Syrah were flowing—including a special magnum from K Vintners, one of only 200 that winemaker Charles Smith (F&W’s Winemaker of 2009) bottles by hand each year and usually keeps for himself. Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns was the winner—I could eat his famous face bacon (a crunchy, lacy disk made from pig cheeks) at every meal! But I had a lot of other favorites as well, like Marco Canora’s arancini stuffed with heart and kidney and confited leg with fennel salad, and Mark Ladner’s gigantic lasagna—20 layers of pasta, shoulder, sausage, testa, belly, liver and kidney topped with spicy tomatoes and cracklings.

Chef Marco Canora's Dishes

© Chris Quinlan
Chef Marco Canora's Dishes

Chef Bobby Hellen, one of my favorites from last year’s competition and a fellow judge this year, hosted a fantastic after-party at Resto. Not to be outdone by the swine crews, Hellen made Belgian waffles topped with pork whip (whipped cream infused with brining liquid) and cooked three whole lambs for the crowd. Next stop for the tour: Boston on March 28. Next stop for me: Weight Watchers.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.