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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Chefs

2010 Prediction: Star-Chef Food at the Superdome

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john besh

© Restaurant August
New Orleans star chef, John Besh.

My only complaint after an epic three days of eating in New Orleans earlier this month was the letdown when I arrived hungry at the Louisiana Superdome to watch the Saints' Monday Night Football game. In a city known for great food, I was disappointed by less-than-stellar Creole gumbo and the stadium’s signature red beans and rice with sausage. So I was excited to read a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Saints executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, in which she mused about possible food improvements for the stadium, like dishes from her favorite NOLA chefs John Besh and Emeril Lagasse.

When I asked John Besh what he’d prepare if he had an outlet at the Superdome, he told me he’d cook andouille and chicken gumbo and barbecued Gulf shrimp. Said Besh, “We are on top of our game this year, thanks to the New Orleans Saints. Visitors come to New Orleans not only to support their team, but to enjoy the cuisine and culture of this historic city. In every possible venue, from the Superdome to the New Orleans Convention Center, it is important that we welcome guests in our city with what we are so well-known for—food.” 
 

Entertaining

A Little Caviar Splurge

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Kaviari "Kristal"

© Kaviari
Kaviari "Kristal"

A few months ago, wine editor Ray Isle and I enjoyed some amazing caviar at Atelier Robuchon, made all the more intriguing because Joël Robuchon called it his official caviar and said it came from China. We were hoping someday we'd be able to buy tins of it to serve at parties, and now we've just about gotten our wish. Epicure Pantry, supplier to many of New York's finest chefs, just released a version called Kaviari "Kristal," made from the eggs of Schrencki sturgeon farmed in China, and selected and packaged by the Paris-based Kaviari company. Kaviari is guarded about its sources, but assures that these are among the best fish farms in the world. What we do know: The eggs are plump, briny and buttery, with a lovely pop and a clean finish. They'd be great on their own or on a blini; to offset the splurge-level cost ($138 for 50 g/1.75 oz), pair them with a terrific value Champagne.




Menus

Kerry Simon's TV Dinners

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Chicken

© Palm Place Hotel
Kerry Simon takes the fried chicken trend retro with TV dinners.

 

While other star chefs are opening flashy, over-the-top restaurants in Las Vegas, chef Kerry Simon is going the opposite direction and offering TV dinner–inspired comfort foods for room service at Las Vegas's Palms Place hotel. Meals like meatloaf with mac and cheese, peas and carrots, and chocolate cake, and Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes, are delivered in cafeteria-style compartmentalized trays.

Cocktails

36 Hours in New Orleans: Part 1

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Domenica

© Domenica
The dining room at Domenica, John Besh's new restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel.

 

I just made my first trip to New Orleans and after canvassing friends, chefs and cocktail experts plotted an epic eating and drinking itinerary. This is one city where classic spots rival—maybe even one-up—new places. Some highlights:

Saturday afternoon: Shrimp and oyster po’boys (dressed, of course) at Mahony’s, a new favorite of F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh.
 
Late afternoon: Historical cocktail crawl through the French Quarter with stops at Muriels, Old  Absinthe House, the bar at Antoine’s and Pat O’Briens (for the essential Hurricane).

Evening: Dinner at Domenica, John Besh’s stylish new Italian restaurant in the recently renovated Roosevelt Hotel. Besh protégé Alon Shaya oversees the kitchen and is a talent to watch. On the menu: crispy-thin, bubbly-crusted pizzas; a salad of thinly shaved tentacles of octopus carpaccio mixed with citrus and fennel; torn sheets of pasta (stracci) in a thick oxtail gravy with fried chicken livers; slow-roasted goat with chanterelles.
 
Post-dinner: Pre-night-out Sazerac at the Roosevelt’s legendary Sazerac Bar.

Late-night: The Cure is a much-buzzed-about cocktail spot uptown in a renovated 1905 firehouse. Co-owner and head mixologist Neal Bodenheimer opened the place in February and makes everything from the bitters to the cocktail cherries in-house. Bar Tonique lies on the outer edges of the French Quarter on Rampart Street. Bodenheimer also developed the cocktail list for this serious drink spot run by the crew of the Delachaise. It has a quieter vibe than The Cure, but equally excellent artisanal cocktails like the Champagne Cocktail, made with grapefruit bitters.

Super, super late-night: Mimi’s for live music, a night-ending pint of Abita Purple Haze and some tapas-style bar snacks including the "Trust Me”—that night, local braised lamb in gravy.

Chefs

Great Chefs in Kentucky

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I feel lucky living in NYC: Some of the country's best chefs work here, and those that don't often pass through the city. But come next fall, many of those same chefs will be heading elsewhere: Lexington, Kentucky, for the World Equestrian Games. The James Beard Foundation has partnered with the Games and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation to host 16 nights of dinners, where two guest chefs, like F&W Best New Chefs Christopher Lee, Marc Vetri and Nancy Oakes, will cook meals with local Kentucky talent. The dinners will take place in late September and early October, and tickets go on sale in January.

Restaurants

New Orleans Food and Football Weekend

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After a long weekend in New Orleans I'm declaring it the most food- and sports-obsessed city in the country. It felt like half the town was lined up to get po'boys at Mahony's (Prolific NOLA chef and F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh's new favorite po'boy spot) in preparation for the Bayou Classic, the legendary college football game that took place Saturday. But the big game was last night's NFL face-off between the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. I was shocked when my waiter at the legendary Galatoire's covertly undid a few buttons of his dress shirt to reveal a bright red Patriots T-shirt to me while I was there on Sunday eating the famous shrimp remoulade and fried eggplant with hollandaise and powdered sugar (somehow addictively delicious).  Yesterday, a NOLA-based friend informed me that Aaron Burgau, the chef of Patois, had gotten "Who Dat?" (the Saints chant) tattooed on his upper lip in a show of team pride. And chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, is a Saints fan and made a special trip into town for the game. "I have been waiting for this night since I went to the game in the 1960s," says Currence. After the Saints’ crushing victory, Currence found himself in the owners' suites for a post-game Laurent Perrier Champagne toast, then retired to Lüke for boudin noir and 25-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Late night, Currence joined the reverly in the French Quarter and hit up Cooter Brown’s for meat pies and cold beer. "It was late enough that even in New Orleans, the bartenders hated to see us walk through the door," he says. I'm hoping the food-and-football obsession will converge next year and result in the Superdome following the lead of Yankees Stadium and convincing Besh, Burgau and other local talents to create some worthy stadium food.

Farms

Day 6: Homeward Bound

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Late that night after dinner at Vetri, we hit the road towards New York City. I hated to skip over my native New Jersey without even a single stop, but six days was a long time to be away from my wife and newborn son, and I missed them both. It was time to go home.

By way of summing up the experience, it's hard to pick favorites. I learned more than I thought I would on this trip, and was glad I had members of my team with me to share in the experience. We all found fresh inspiration in the people we met along the way, all of them committed in one way or another to good food: whether growing it, catching it, distributing it, or cooking it. I enjoyed the chance to form deeper relationships with Anson Mills and Rappahannock River Oysters, and feel that in Cane Creek Farm, Culton Organics, and Samuels & Son I've discovered new suppliers whose products I'm excited to use in my restaurants.

And so, at the end of this six day journey, there's only one question that remains in the back of my mind. Where should I go next?

Restaurants

Thanksgiving Tasting Tour

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Inspired by a trip to Italy during which she walked and ate herself silly, Moira Campbell (a friend of mine, full disclosure) quit her job in restaurant PR this past summer to form Rum & Blackbird, a company that gives tasting tours in New York. She began taking groups around her Hell's Kitchen neighborhood last month, visiting stops like Xie Xie for seven courses' worth of food. This holiday weekend, the food will be inspired by Thanksgiving, with dishes like turkey empanadas with cranberry salsa from Empanada Mama, sweet-potato bourekas from Gazala Place and cranberry orange biscotti from Biscotti Di Vecchio. Next month she'll start having guest chefs along for the ride, including Alexandra Guarnaschelli and F&W Best New Chef 2001 Anita Lo, who will be on the December 5 tour at 3 p.m.

Chefs

Day 6: Onward to Samuels & Son

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Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey inspecting a tuna head

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey
inspecting a tuna head

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Anyone who has ever spent time in a fish market can attest to them typically being pretty smelly, messy, old-fashioned places. So, I was more than a little bit surprised when we pulled up to Samuels & Son's headquarters. Samuels just moved out of Philadelphia's historic fish market and into a brand new $20 million facility that was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

The new facility was clean, spacious, and brightly lit, with fish of every variety you can think of stacked neatly in boxes row by row. Everything from the cutting rooms to the loading bays was temperature controlled at a constant 34 degrees. With the help of refrigerated trucks, that meant that a fish can be kept super cold (but never frozen) from the moment it gets plucked out of the ocean to the moment it arrives at a restaurant, an innovation which makes a big difference in freshness terms.

Even more state of the art was the facility's ozonated water system. Ozonated water has antibacterial properties, allowing the fish cutters to constantly sanitize both their work surfaces and the fish itself without introducing any chemicals.

The facility is a big step forward in the way that seafood is processed, and I was impressed by how much Samuels & Son was willing to invest in providing their customers with a better product.

Farms

Day 6: A Morning at Culton Organics

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A morning at Culton Organics

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
A morning at Culton Organics

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

When it came time to decide where we should stop north of DC, my first call was to my friend and fellow chef Marc Vetri. Marc has two highly regarded restaurants in Philadelphia, Osteria and Vetri, and I knew that he'd have great suggestions for food producers to visit in the area. Number one on his list was Culton Organics, a family farm in the heart of Lancaster County which supplies fruit and vegetables to his restaurants. Marc loved the place so much that offered to join us if we visited.

So, on the morning of day six we were Pennsylvania-bound. I invited the chefs of my three New York restaurants, James Tracey, Shane McBride, and Lauren Hirschberg, thinking this would be a good opportunity to spend a day together outside the kitchen.

Culton Organics is run by a guy named Tom Culton. Tom took over his family's 55 acre farm when he was 20 and has been working it for the past nine years, only growing as much as he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend can handle. Currently that means just half of his acreage is in fruit and vegetable cultivation, but Tom is not interested in growing his business, insisting that bringing on extra help takes the joy out of farming for him.

We took a walk through Tom's fields, which were amazingly lush considering that he doesn't use pesticides, weed killer, or man-made fertilizer. He doesn't even irrigate. Tom keeps the land fertile using crop rotation, growing a wide variety of produce (from cardoons to artichokes to fraise de bois) on land that has been farmed by his family organically for the past 100 years (yes, you read that correctly, and it is a very rare achievement). Tom also takes frequent research trips to Europe, studying a new crop or farming method in Italy or France in order to apply it to his own farming.

The icing on the cake of our visit to Culton Organics was when Tom invited us back to his 19th century farmhouse for a hearty lunch: pig's stomach stuffed with pork sausage, new potatoes, and celery, accompanied by homemade apple sauce. It was one of the best home-cooked meals I've had in recent memory.

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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.