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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Chefs

London's New Princi Bakery

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Princi

© Princi
Princi bakery and cafe in London.

 

I’m a compulsive researcher when I travel, so about two weeks before I flew to London I e-mailed my plugged-in chef, design and wine friends there to find out where I absolutely had to eat. Princi was at the top of everyone’s list. This chic Milanese bakery chain from prolific restaurateur Alan Yau and baker Rocco Princi (often called the Armani of bread) recently opened its first international branch on Wardour Street. Princi is like the Italian version of Belgium's Le Pain Quotidien, with a minimalist-chic interior designed by Claudio Silvestrin (the creative mind behind the design of Georgio Armani stores and the Museum of contemporary art in Turin). Like LPQ, the focus in on insanely delicious baked goods, like buttery brioches and slightly chewy, olive-studded breadsticks. Thick squares of focaccia-style pizzas, such as zucchini with parmesan and egg, get warmed up in the wood-fired oven. There's also a full bar. I'm a firm believer that a city can never have too many fantastic bakeries, so I'm hoping Princi starts to pop up around the world, just like LPQ has.

Farms

Day 2: Pigs & Produce at Thackeray Farms

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Sean Brock's happy pigs

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Sean Brock's happy pigs

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.

Our first stop after brunch was meeting Sean Brock at Thackeray Farms, which is about thirty minutes from downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island.

Sean Thackeray originally grew flowers on his land but in the past few years has been planting a wide array of produce, and is currently transitioning to become a fully organic operation. Sean Brock grew his own produce on this land for a while, and still buys extensively from Thackeray. Walking the crop rows we stopped to sample everything from peppery French radishes to sweet turnips to lemony arugula, and I was reminded how much better things taste when you pull them out of the ground with your own two hands.

In addition to his crops, Thackeray also raises pigs. When we found Sean Thackeray, he was hard at work building a wooden chute that he would use to keep his pigs from panicking when he loads them into a truck. At the time of our visit, rooting around in a sprawling pasture were three big, fat, happy Yorkshires owned by Sean Brock, along with seven little Berkshire piglets of Thackeray's.

Restaurants

Day 2: Brunch at The Hominy Grill

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Robert Stehling's Braised Oxtail Ragout

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Robert Stehling's Braised Oxtail Ragout

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.

Back in Charleston that morning we made a beeline for a local favorite of mine, The Hominy Grill. The Hominy specializes in Southern classics like fried green tomatoes, she-crab soup, and--as its name would suggest--really, really good grits. Everything is prepared from scratch and as many of the ingredients as possible are local. Shrimp and grits is probably The Hominy's signature dish, but Ted Lee's personal strategy is to order from the specials board, which is where Chef Robert Stehling really has his fun. I followed Ted's advice and ordered from the chalkboard a braised oxtail ragout over cheese grits, topped with a poached egg. I was not disappointed.

Restaurants

Day 2: Waking up on Kiawah

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© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Morning on Kiawah Island

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.

Rather than get a hotel in downtown Charleston our first night, we drove 40 minutes east to stay at one of the guest cottages on Kiawah Island. I started coming to Kiawah ten years ago, when I become the consulting chef at The Kiawah Island Club's flagship restaurant, Voysey's, and I make it down to visit whenever I can. Usually I spend my time fishing or playing golf, but on this trip there wouldn't be time for either. One Kiawah ritual I did get to do: I woke up early, took my coffee out onto the dock behind the cottage, and watched as the sun came up over the water. God, I love that place.

Farms

Day 1: Dinner at McCrady's

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Outside McCrady's in Charleston, SC

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Outside McCrady's in Charleston, SC

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 I asked Glenn what chefs in the area were doing southern food the old-fashioned way, he named Sean Brock at McCrady's in Charleston.

Since Charleston was our next stop, we took Glenn up on his suggestion and invited Matt and Ted Lee to join us. The Lee Brothers have written extensively for this magazine, know just about everything there is to know about Charleston, and were kind enough to offer to show us around their stomping grounds.

We were treated that night to locally caught stone crab and triggerfish, as well as a house-made charcuterie selection starring Sean Brock's own Yorkshire pigs. Anson Mills grains appeared in two courses during our dinner: Farro and Sea Island Red Peas were served with a rich block of pork belly, and Carolina Gold Rice accompanied swiss chard and lamb with vadouvan. I found Sean Brock's cooking to be a mixture of the traditional and the modern, applying progressive, contemporary techniques and presentations to time-honored southern ingredients and flavors.

Sean prides himself on buying as much as possible from small farmers and fisherman in the Charleston area, and even grows some of his own food at his farm in McClellanville. After our meal at McCrady's we were all eager to meet Sean's growers, so he offered to take us to a friend's farm the next day.

Farms

Day 1: Our Afternoon at Anson Mills

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With Emile DeFelice and his country ham

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
With Emile DeFelice (and his
country ham)

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.

In true eco-friendly fashion, Anson Mills' headquarters is located in a reclaimed warehouse behind a carwash, and our only real indication that we had found the right place was the small pile of discarded grain composting near the building. Once inside we found waiting for us not only Glenn Roberts, but his business partner Catherine Horton-Schopfer, southern food historian Dr. David Shields, and farmers Ben Dubard and Emile DeFelice.

What we learned that afternoon about traditional Southern foodways, native grains, and the short history of Anson Mills could easily fill its own feature article, but I'll do my best to hit the high points here.

Glenn opened Anson Mills about a decade ago to solve a problem: many of the grains that were staples of the southern pantry before the Civil War were no longer being grown, and would go extinct (and part of the regional cuisine along with them) unless someone resuscitated them. So, Glenn took it upon himself to grow, harvest and mill rare varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically.

Take, for example, Carolina Gold Rice. David Shields, a man who has forgotten more about Southern food history than most other people know, gave us an impromptu seminar on the "Carolina rice kitchen," an antebellum cuisine in the Charleston region that was based entirely around a breed of rice called Carolina Gold. It was the most valuable (and possibly tastiest) rice in the world in the first half of the 19th Century, but had all but disappeared by the time of the Depression.

It's one of the grains that Glenn now grows and sells. He works with thirty organic farmers in six states, and grows a wide variety of native heirloom grains plus French oats, Italian farro, and Japanese buckwheat.

In fact, as we discovered later that day, they were all sitting in big white chest freezers in the next room waiting to be milled-to-order. Glenn walked us through a dozen different grains, telling their stories and encouraging us to run our fingers through them, taste them, and smell them.

Glenn's newest project is another near extinct breed of corn called Perla Bianca, an ear of which Ben Dubbard managed to wrangle from an old farmer during a trip to Italy last fall. Now, using that ear for seed stock, Glenn is working tirelessly to cultivate it in South Carolina. Some of the first locally grown Perla Bianca kernels made it back to the Anson Mills office just a few days before our visit, and Glenn milled some into polenta — one whiff of the freshly milled corn and it's obvious why Glenn's fighting for it. Its floral, milky scent and sweet taste are unlike anything I've known.

As for Emile — I knew I was going to like Emile when he burst into the Anson Mills sales office with a case of PBR under one arm and a country ham under the other. Emile owns Caw Caw Creek Farm, where he raises heirloom pastured pigs using traditional agricultural methods, free from hormones and antibiotics and fed on a nutritious mix of organic Anson Mills grain byproducts and wild grasses, peas, and peanuts. When it comes time for the pigs to be harvested, they are slaughtered humanely. As with Glenn, what Emile is doing is a remarkable contrast to how most of our food is being produced across America. The hard work and hard thought that they put into their farming is all in the name of doing the right thing, ethically and environmentally.

Leaving Anson Mills with a country ham from Emile and a bag of Perla Bianca polenta from Glenn, the wheels were already spinning about how I could use them in a Tom: Tuesday Dinner menu...

Travel

London's Most Fashionable Tea

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pret

© The Berkeley
Haute-cookies at the Berkeley hotel in London.


I’ll be blogging this week about discoveries from my recent eight-day trip to London. The city was buzzing with pop-up restaurant/design projects, ambitious new hotels and hip new British comfort food joints. One of my favorite finds was at the Berkeley hotel, which just introduced the fall/winter collection of its super-popular Prêt-à-Portea (the menu changes every six months to reflect the new fashion season). This haute-couture-inspired tea service features edible designs inspired by Christian Lacroix, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. Adorable confections include a Roger Vivier chocolate boot cookie, a Mulberry "Bayswater" white-chocolate-and-coconut-truffle "it" bag and a cinnamon Burberry Prorsum trench-coat cookie with a caramel belt and buttons. All are served on Paul Smith china alongside a proper cup of English tea.

Farms

Day 1: Pit Stop at Big T Bar-B-Q

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© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Pit Stop at Big T Bar-B-Que

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 first destination on our trip was a no-brainer: Anson Mills, a three-hour drive from Atlanta in Columbia, South Carolina. Damon and I have been buying their products for years and we were both eager to meet the company's founder, Glenn Roberts, and to see his operation at work.

Heading towards Columbia we got hungry, and called Glenn for lunch suggestions. He recommended a local favorite called Big T Bar-B-Que. In my experience you usually find the real barbeque gems where you least expect them, and Big T was no exception, operating out of a modest storefront in the middle of a strip mall. The brisket and pulled pork sandwich we ordered were prime examples of the mustard-based barbecue that is typical in South Carolina (and Big T also serves a mean fried chicken).

Chefs

Day 1: Departure

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With Chef Damon Wise outside the Mansion on Peachtree in Atlanta

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
With Chef Damon Wise
outside the Mansion on
Peachtree in Atlanta

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.

A few weeks ago, I did something that I've had on my mind for a long time: I took a road trip.

"Road trip" has multiple meanings. It can describe a way to travel from Point A to Point B, or it can mean getting away from it all Kerouac-style on the open road. But this trip wasn't about escaping things, it was about finding them. It was about paying visits to some of the food producers who make my restaurants what they are, and discovering new ones the old-fashioned way. On this trip, the stops were the destination.

My starting point was Atlanta. Craft Atlanta had been tapped to produce the dinner for Porsche's "Ultimate Reveal," an event celebrating the launch of their new 4-door Panamera (Atlanta is not only home to the newest Craft restaurant, but also to Porsche's North American Headquarters), and I flew down to handle the event personally.

When Porsche offered to lend me a spanking new Panamera 4S for an extended "test drive," and it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse (when someone hands you the keys to a Porsche, you do not ask questions). I cleared my schedule for a week, kidnapped our executive chef Damon and my assistant Liz, and set out in the general direction of New York.

Over the coming days I'll be using this blog to relay the highlights of the six-day, 1,200 mile journey that took me from Atlanta to Columbia, on to Charleston, then Chapel Hill, the Chesapeake, Washington DC, rural Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and finally back to New York. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Restaurants

Ilse Crawford's New Coaching Inns

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crown

© Studioilse
The restaurant at the Crown Inn.

 

Superhip Brit designer Ilse Crawford is constantly innovating. Her latest obsession is reinventing the idea of the coaching inn, which offered travelers in the mid-17th century a place to eat and sleep. Last year I stayed at her first such property, the Olde Belle, outside of London in Hurley. And I just spent the weekend at her second, the Crown Inn, about 40 minutes outside London in Amersham. Crawford has modernized the bed-and-breakfast, combining a cozy place to spend the night with an enticing, comfortable restaurant that's perfect for having a cocktail or a superfresh, farm-to-table dinner. Imagine if New York City's Spotted Pig gastropub added rooms upstairs—that's basically the Crown. It features incredible design juxtaposing the modern (flat-screen TVs and funky white-fur throws for the rocking chairs) and the historic (Room 12 has a section of hand-painted wall dating back to the 1500s), with smart touches like Aesop body soaps and Welsh wool blankets. Rosie Sykes and chef Mark Bristow are in charge of the food and make a satisfying breakfast spread for guests that includes homemade breads and sesame-hazelnut granola, chocolate muffins, eggs and hash. The chalkboard dinner menu changes daily, and some regulars convinced me to try the hearty beef-and-ale pie with a pint of local hard cider. I'm hoping Crawford brings the concept to the U.S. next.

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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.