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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Madonna’s Pasta of Choice at Marea


First Thomas Keller called out Marea’s fusilli with baby octopus, bone marrow and tomato: He told Eater that the pasta at NYC's Central Park South restaurant was his “single best dish of 2009.”   Then, the other night, there was Madonna at Marea. I’m not sure that she saw Keller's Eater comment, but she wanted a pasta. (Carbs?! There was an almost audible gasp in the dining room.) She surely would've loved the surf-and-turfy octopus and bone marrow, as Keller does, but Marea’s excellent chef Michael White whipped up something a little lighter for her: spinosini pasta [a very thin spaghetti] with langoustines, clams and sepia.


The $15 Chicken Era


Last week, New York magazine announced the end of the $100 steak (actually it was Tom Colicchio, explaining why Craftsteak is becoming Colicchio & Sons). Since then, I've been looking for a way to characterize the new era and came up with this: the $15 chicken. Of course there’s been phenomenal $12 fried chicken at Egg in Williamsburg for a while now (for a quarter of a bird; $16 for half). But there's been so much talk of fried chicken, let’s discuss some newer options. At Northern Spy Food Co. in the East Village, succulent roasted bobo chicken is $14. Over in the West Village, at Corsino Cantina, the main-course grilled chicken spiedini with artichokes are $14, too. And at Vinegar Hill House in an impossible-to-find location in Brooklyn, the cast-iron chicken is exactly $15‚ and comes to the table in the supercute, eponymous skillet. And no, it's not fried.


Party Lessons for 2010


Chorizo-Filled Dates

© Tina Rupp
Chorizo-Filled Dates

I threw a holiday open house a few weeks ago and learned a few lessons for next year. Hot hors d'oeuvres were a big hit: I'll definitely serve fried wontons and Chorizo-Filled Dates Wrapped in Bacon (above) again—both can be cooked ahead of time and warmed in the oven during the party. I'll only set out food that can be picked up with one hand: When we passed a platter of Smoked Bluefish Pâté already spread on crackers, it disappeared; anything left in a bowl for people to serve themselves tended to linger.
As for non-food lessons, I finally found a solution to the snowy-boots-on-wood-floors problem: a four-foot-square "Waterhog" floor mat from L.L. Bean. The look is utilitarian, but it's a big improvement over the piece of painter's paper my husband has taped down in the past, which made the entryway look like a construction site.


Gail Simmons on Top Chef: Just Desserts


Gail Simmons’s rock-stardom is complete: F&W’s phenomenal special-projects expert—and even more famously, a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef—now has her own show, Top Chef: Just Desserts, where she'll take on a Padma-esque role as host and judge. Here’s Gail, answering a few questions.

Why desserts? “Pastry chefs have a different brain than savory chefs. Which is probably why there have been so few good desserts on Top Chef. And there’s so much talent out there in the dessert world right now.”

How does the first season of Just Desserts look? “The people working on casting say the level of contestants is as good as it was on Season 6, the best TC season ever.”  

Filming starts when/where: “Filming hasn’t started yet.”

Epically great Top Chef desserts: “A few years ago, we did a holiday special right after Season 4. Tiffani, runner-up from Season 1, made an outrageous butterscotch flan that she served in Chinese soup spoons with some kind of fried sage on top. And Bryan’s dessert on the Season 6 finale—dulce de leche cheesecake with fig sorbet and basil—was another good dessert moment.”

Especially bad Top Chef desserts: “There are so many. On Season 2, Ilan made one of the worst things anyone ate in the history of Top Chef: chocolate ganache–coated liver for a Quick Fire Challenge. And on the Season 5 finale, Stefan made a lame chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. It wasn’t epically bad, but it was clichéd and disappointing.”

On whether Tom Colicchio will be a Just Desserts judge: “He’s a consultant on the show. But he’s not a pastry chef. Unless we do a savory challenge (!), Bravo is looking for judges who have more of a pastry spin.”


Pop-Up Safaris in South Africa



© Uncharted Africa
Luxe-safari digs for World Cup viewing.


Yesterday, the New York Times named its 31 must-get-to destinations for 2010. It’s no surprise that South Africa was high on the list with the 2010 FIFA World Cup taking place there this June. Uncharted Africa Safari Co. is taking advantage of the soccer madness and the growing trend of pop-up everything by launching a pop-up safari camp in the Cradle of Humankind from June 10–July 12. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is equidistant from the Johannesburg, Pretoria and Rustenburg soccer stadiums and Uncharted Africa is setting up über-luxe tents outfitted with gorgeous rugs and furniture, Wi-Fi and 46-inch plasma-screen TVs. African barbecue will be served at 24-seat dining tables and the bars will be stocked with some of South Africa’s top wines. Those lucky enough to have tickets to the matches can choose to get to the stadiums via helicopter or limo, while the ticketless can watch the games broadcast on a video wall in a party tent.

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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.

Run with chefs and wine experts in the Celebrity Chef 5K and dance all night at Gail Simmons’ Last Bite Dessert Party during the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.