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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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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?

Farms

Day 6: Dinner at Vetri

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Dinner at Vetri

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Dinner at Vetri

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.

Although I've been friends with Marc for years, this was my first time eating at his acclaimed restaurant Vetri. It was well worth the wait, and I came away thinking that his impossibly thin, buttery pastas and tender baby goat could hold their own against any I've had.

As has been the trend during this trip, our menu featured several of the items we saw earlier in the day at Culton Organics and Samuels & Son. Line caught fluke became an amuse of fluke crudo with Culton Organics' Spitzenberg apples and lemon. Swordfish was mixed in with paccheri pasta and tomatoes, basil leaves, and fries cut from Culton Organics eggplant.

Tom Culton's cauliflower was transformed into a flan, served with house cured guanciale and quail egg. His squash became the filling for agnolotti with amaretto cookies and sage. A side of his Brussels sprouts, charred and served with shaved truffled pecorino cheese, accompanied our baby goat course. Tom's cardoons made it into a deconstructed Bagna Cauda, served in a warm bath of anchovy sauce with baby vegetables and salt cured egg yolk.

Restaurants

Best First Meal in Buenos Aires

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© Ross Todd
Some of the sides at La Cabrera

 

On the advice of my stellar colleague Kristin Donnelly at F&W, we had our first dinner in Buenos Aires at Standard, and it was the perfect introduction to the country. Cheesy, flaky empanadas and braised beef croquetas started off our meal, but the clear winner of the night was a dish better suited to breakfast than dinner: gran revuelta gramajo, a mix of house-made sausage, jamón, cheese and eggs, topped with ultra-thin fried potato strings. (It even beat out the “12-hours ribs,” which looked like something out of The Flintstones.) But my favorite Argentinean meal was a lunch at La Cabrera, where we shared cheese cooked on the grill (dangerous) and bacon-wrapped steak and pork (lethal). The best part was the amazing array of sides, from mustard-seed-spiked mashed potatoes and sweet poached pears to creamy lentils. 

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.

Travel

Buenos Aires's Best Lunch Bargain

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© Ross Todd

 

Buenos Aires's San Telmo market bustles on Sundays with shoppers scouting vintage finds. After wandering the stalls, my friends and I were led by our noses to the corner of México and Defensa, where locals were queuing up for lunch at grills set up in the gated parking lot. We ordered some massive choripanes (sausage sandwiches) and vacipanes (steak sandwiches). I was a little nervous about the sausage—it had clearly been hanging from a tree branch, unrefrigerated, all day—but in the end, its subtle spiciness helped it win out over the chimichurri-covered steak. If only I could get a similar lunch in midtown New York for $2.50!

Restaurants

Day 5: Dinner at Jaleo

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Dinner at Jaleo

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Dinner at Jaleo

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.

Since we were planning to stay in DC for the night, Jose Andres encouraged us to have dinner at one of his restaurants. Although minibar at Café Atlantico is the talk of the town in Washington right now, I was in the mood for paella so we opted for Jose's bar and tapas joint, Jaleo.

Jaleo has been open for years and yet it's always festive and buzzing. Two highlights of our meal were a delicious arroz negro paella and lomo iberico, a salt-roasted pork tenderloin. Jose joined us for the second half of the meal, and it was great to have a chance to catch up with a good friend I don't see often enough.

Farms

Day 5: Touring DC Central Kitchen

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Knife Skills 101 with one of DC Central Kitchen's youngest volunteers

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Knife Skills 101 with one of DC
Central Kitchen's youngest volunteers

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.

The main event on day five was a trip to DC Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization whose mission is to combat hunger and poverty. I've heard a lot about it over the years from my friend Jose Andres, who currently sits on DCCK's board of directors, and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity for a visit.

As someone who has spent the lion's share of the past thirty years cooking food for fortunate people, hunger issues have always held a special importance to me. Lately they have taken on a new prominence in my life, since my wife and I set out to make a film called "Hungry In America," about this nation's hunger crisis.

DC Central Kitchen is part of the solution, producing and distributing 4,500 healthy meals per day to shelters and other social services programs. They recover over a ton of food daily from restaurants, schools, hotels, and farmers markets, but what they can't get donated they buy from area farmers. At this point, 75% of their raw ingredients are locally grown — something most people can't say about their own home cooked meals.

But that's just the beginning. DC Central Kitchen also generates almost half of its $5.2 million annual budget for its programs from a for-profit catering division, Fresh Start Catering. And the organization goes one step further with a 12-week culinary job training program, addressing the roots of hunger by helping unemployed, homeless, and previously incarcerated adults get back in the workforce. Many of the organization's own 73 employees are graduates of the program.

We took a tour of DCCK's 10,000 square foot kitchen with Jose Andres, founder Michael Curtin, and Chief Development Officer Brian McNair. Salaried employees were busy prepping meals alongside a handful of young kids who had come in from local schools as part of an after school program. They were slicing tomatoes and squash, learning a valuable new skill while doing something for the community.

DCCK is a unique and fascinating model for addressing hunger issues, and one that I hope spreads to New York soon.

Cocktails

Buenos Aires Cocktails

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Albert's Rocket at Home Hotel
 I eat meat pretty sparingly, so my trip to Buenos Aires helped me fill my beef quota well into 2010. I was craving vegetables only two days into the trip, but luckily, I found an inventive way to get them: cocktails. The Home Hotel, funded by U2 producer Flood and Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour back in 2005, has vintage wallpaper, an enchanting back garden and a fantastic bar. The Scarlett the Tart, made with beet juice, was a deep fuchsia, but my favorite drink was Albert's Rocket, made with tequila, egg whites, simple syrup, lime, olive oil and arugula. With the greens strained out, only a hint of the arugula's pepperiness remained, giving the frothy drink a great kick.

Farms

Day 5: Foraging For Mushrooms with MAW

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With mushroom guru Ray LaSala

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
With mushroom guru Ray LaSala

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.

On our way up from the Chesapeake Bay to Washington DC, we were relieved to see rain give way to clear skies. A few days earlier we had cold-called Ray LaSala, the president of the Mycological Association of Washington DC (or MAW, to those on the know), asking if he would take us out foraging for mushrooms when we were in the area. We were now on our way to meet Ray at a regional park south of DC and spend a couple of hours scanning the forest floor for fungi.

I love mushrooms. Since day one my menus at Craft and Craftsteak have included not just one but several different seasonal varieties of roasted mushroom as side dishes, from Hen of the Woods to Chanterelles to Trompette Royals and Bluefoots, to name just a few.

When we met Ray and his three fellow MAW members, all were concerned that we might not have much luck foraging at this time of year. As it turned out, they were right; the only edible fungi that we were able to find that day were a few honey mushrooms. Regardless, we were all glad to stretch our legs and work off at least a little bit of the previous night's dinner. Another bonus was the chance discovery of my first wild paw paw tree, which bears a fruit that tastes a lot like a banana and but grows right in the Mid-Atlantic.

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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.

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