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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Inside the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards


© 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


Barbara Lynch's Meat CSA



© 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.


Michel Nischan on Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution"


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!


Laurent Gras: World’s Fittest Chef


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


Dinner at New Delhi's Varq



© 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.


Tasting Tour of Varanasi


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.


Chef's Pork-Off


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.


UNICEF Tap Project


This week isn’t just another thrilling week in NCAA March Madness: It’s also World Water Week and marks the return of the fourth annual UNICEF Tap Project, an initiative that invites customers at thousands of U.S. restaurants to donate $1 or more for the tap water they get for free.

“Participation in the UNICEF Tap Project is an easy way for restaurants to help save the lives of children around the world,” says Tom Colicchio, chef-owner of Craft restaurants—all of which are participating in the Tap Project. (As my colleague Kate Krader reported, he’s also a superhero activist in the effort to end childhood hunger.)

According to UNICEF, 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water, and waterborne illnesses are the second-highest cause of preventable childhood deaths. For every $1 donation, UNICEF can provide one child access to safe, clean water for 40 days.

For a list of restaurants in your city that are participating in the UNICEF Tap Project, visit


Springtime for Chefs


© Con Poulos
Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb

Tomorrow is the first official day of spring and Tom Colicchio is all a-Twitter about ramps. “It’s spring in NY bring on the ramps,” he Tweeted yesterday. He’s not the only chef excited about spring ingredients: At a recent benefit event for C-CAP, Shaun Hergatt from SHO Shaun Hergatt told me that he can't wait to cook with spring peas and is planning to serve them with sous-vide lamb; Craig Koketsu of the seasonally-driven restaurant Park Avenue Spring is impatiently anticipating rhubarb.

Here are a few recipes for ramps, spring peas and rhubarb to help kick off the season. Plus, check out these 100+ recipes in F&W’s Guide to Fresh Spring Produce:

White Cheese Pizza with Ramps
Spring Peas with Mint
Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb (Pictured)


New Projects from Berlin’s Star Mixologist


Bar Amano

© Hotel Amano
Mario Grünfelder created the cocktail list for the bar at Hotel Amano.


For the last few days (and very late nights), I found myself restaurant-and-bar-hopping around Berlin with Mario Grünfelder, the star mixologist of the city’s coolest bar, Tausend. F&W’s European correspondent, Gisela Williams, had been telling me about a number of ambitious projects the Swiss-born spirits genius been working on. He already co-owns Tausend, along with W Imbiss and the superhip Café 103 (which he says will be transforming into something even cooler very soon). Mario is good buddies with the brilliant, semi-maniacal chef Christian Lohse, so we met for lunch at Lohse’s Michelin-starred seafood-centric Fischers Fritz to talk about potential collaborations, which included talk of a 24-hour bar-hopping bus.

Later, Mario invited us to Cantina, the new restaurant in a room behind the bar at Tausend. The former chef of Berlin’s popular Shiro I Shiro is turning out casual Latin-Asian dishes like Peruvian tiradito, tuna tataki wrapped in foie and Momofuku-rivaling pork buns. Over a second round of the stellar pork buns, Mario shared his newest passion, making his own spirits, including an unbelievably smooth wheat-based vodka he’s named Greenfield and Harter 73 (Greenfield being an Americanized version of his last name; 73 referring to his date of birth; and Harter the last name of Tausend co-owner Til Harter). I’m hoping we’ll see bottles stateside soon.

When Tausend gets too crowded late at night, Mario heads to his newest bar project at the chic, affordable new Hotel Amano in the Mitte neighborhood. The low-lit lounge serves late-night snacks and Mario’s cocktails, like the Grischenko (Xoriguer gin, cordial lime juice and Limettensaft bitters) until 4 a.m. The prolific spirits obsessive is now off to Barcelona. Maybe he’ll be opening his first project outside of Germany soon.

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