The Weekend List 02/27/2012

I have had an interesting week and I have spent it reading all kinds of food writing. The great thing about the realm of writing about food is that it follows its own rules. It can be edgy, funny, narrative, and wrapped up into one killer piece.

-I am a uber fan of Lucky Peach, the brain child of chef David Chang. It’s more than a magazine, it’s a dairy, a novel, a notebook, a song, it’s all these things and more. There isn’t a set label to describe it and I have the feeling Chang wanted it that way. And speaking of rules, Jeff Gordinier writes in The New York Times that although the “strict” rules for creating a magazine are still very relevant, being a literary rebel works, too.

You’re supposed to put a sexy person on the cover of a magazine. You’re supposed to lure readers in with a tempting (yet delicately neurosis-inducing) display of hyperbolic phrases about getting a killer beach body in five minutes and embarking on a dream vacation to Costa Rica and making cocktails that rival the ambrosial nectars of the Greek gods.

I highly recommend picking up the third issue. It’s so worth it.

-As you have probably discovered already, I am a cookbook freak. So you can guess my excitement when I found Eater’s Spring 2012 cookbook preview. The added thrill? April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories. Why this particular book you ask? It’s a funny story. Last winter, I picked up The New Yorker’s food issue and found one of my favorite pieces of food writing: a profile of April Bloomfield, the chef at NYC’s The Spotted Pig. Since then, I have been a huge fan of Bloomfield, rooting for her that same year when she was nominated for  the 2011 James Beard Awards. On April 24, you can find me at the nearest bookstore. Other notables:

* Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Nobu Matsuhisa

*Pierre Hermé Pastries by Pierre Hermé

*The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table: Authentic Recipes and Local Lore from Tuscany to Sicily by Matthew Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino.

-The 2012 James Beard semifinalists have been announced! David Chang, momofuku ssäm Bar, in NYC for Outstanding Chef; Kevin Gillespie, woodfire Grill,  in Atlanta (Top Chef, people!) for Rising Start Chef of the Year. The Best Chef: NYC category is a powerhouse: April Bloomfield, Marco Canora, Scott Conant, Wylie Dufresne and Anita Lo.

-Have you liked The Italian Fork on Facebook?

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Food Reads: “In a War Zone, Finding Solace in Food”

Once in a while, an article speaks to me. It’s not the images, it’s not the famous byline. Rather, it’s the story that captures me and doesn’t let go. I don’t complain since I want to be taken and transported in a different dimension.

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Tonight, I found that article. I was doing my nightly news routine, checking my favorite sites (once a news junkie, always a news junkie) and stumbled upon Alissa Rubin’s moving tale of finding comfort in food while on assignment in Afghanistan. Recalling T.S. Eliot, Rubin survives with more than just dry soups and flavorless, pre-packaged so-called food, but learns the way of the land. Although daunting, the unfamiliar becomes the norm.

There was so much I did not understand that first winter about how important it is to carry reminders of home when you go to hostile places. The hardest part was never the bombs, it was the lack of the familiar, a sense of the predictable, of even the most mundane pleasure. War zones are stripped down. Usually there are no choices — about what to eat, or much else. The food is mostly cold and functional. The kind you can shove into a pocket or throw under a car seat: protein bars, raisins, a box of potato chips. These are calories, not cuisine.

One more passage…one that touched my heart.

The Parmesan had personal resonance: it was a reminder of the year I lived in Italy and decided to become a foreign correspondent and learned to cook by living in a community of working-class women from Campania. They grew rosemary and sage on their windowsills; as I grated my Parmesan in my Kabul kitchen, I would smell rosemary although none grew there.

Oh, and for the record, she has my dream job.

GQ’s Best Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Brookville Restaurant

It’s not every day that a chef from a small town in Central Virginia makes the same list of super chefs of the caliber of Thomas Keller. Brookville Restaurant‘s Harrison Keevil made a grilled cheese sandwich so good, that it landed him on a national spread of GQ Magazine.

I’ve eaten at Brookville before and I can honestly say that it is one of the best new restaurants in town. Sure, the decor is simple, yet sophisticated, but it’s the attention to details that makes Brookville stand out from the rest. Local produce and meats, frequent menu changes and a hint of molecular gastronomy are the right combination.

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Picture: the first layer is The French Evolution by uber chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. The second is the brain child of Brookville’s chef Harrison Keevil and is called Southern Comfort and the bottom one is The Crispy Caprese from Artisanal in NYC.

From GQ:

The French Evolution
Chef Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Yountville, California, and Per Se, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices brioche
2 oz. Gruyère, thinly sliced
Southern Comfort
Chef Harrison Keevil, Brookville Restaurant, Charlottesville, Virginia
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices rustic bread
3 thick slices high-quality pre-cooked bacon
3 thin slices Granny Smith apple
2 Tbsp. Duke’s mayonnaise (optional)
2 oz. Swiss cheese or Gouda, thinly sliced
The Crispy Caprese
Chef Terrance Brennan, Artisanal, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices pagnotta (Italian country bread)
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Several sprigs fresh basil
3 oz. fresh burrata or mozzarella
Brookville made it on my list of most decadent desserts in Charlottesville (something I wrote for my paper’s Food and Drink Annual – scroll down to the very end of the page). I had the really hard task of going around town tasting desserts and deciding what made my nose tickle. Brookville’s Maple bacon waffles with grilled peaches were right at the top. Do yourself a favor, go try it.

The Weekend List 11/27/11

The week of Thanksgiving is always a strange one, working wise. But this year, we had the incredible treat of being guests at Emily’s parent’s house for turkey day. Amazing. Lots of family, lots of love and of course, lots of food and two words: glow sticks.

–An intriguing article by Thomas Madrecki in The Atlantic about working for six weeks in the kitchen of the world’s best restaurant, NOMA. Located in Copenhagen, Denmark, NOMA voted voted the best two years in a row. In our recent trip to Copenhagen, not being able to dine at NOMA is my only regret. Excuse to go back? I particularly like this passage:

At Noma and at other top restaurants, anything but striving for complete and total perfection is a disgrace. And to be frank, it is still a disgrace even outside of those top kitchens. The lesson here is just as simple as having a sense of urgency: Don’t bother doing anything but your best. Don’t half-ass anything. It’s either perfect — or it’s not.

Led by chef Rene Pedzepi, NOMA perfects Nordic gourmet cuisine while keeping the traditional cooking methods of the region. A reviewer from Scotland had this to say about the restaurant. “I could very quickly run out of superlatives attempting to describe our meal experience at Noma! For me, it was quite simply the best meal I have ever eaten.” Not too shabby.

Buttz BBQ in Charlottesville. I knew the restaurant existed and I knew about its reputation around town—and was the runner-up of C-VILLE Weekly’s BBQ contest, but I never actually took the time to go to The Corner district and try it out. Big mistake. The pulled pork platted was the best I’ve ever had: the right amount of juiciness and spice with a nice and lasting smoky flavor. I am not lover of super spicy foods, so I went with their Texas BBQ sauce, a sweet addition to my already delicious pork. After reading the owners’ explanation of their product, I like them even more.

We aren’t pros… just guys that love BBQ.  We are not your traditional Memphis, Texas, North Carolina or Kansas City BBQ.  In fact, we’ve combined the best of all regions into OUR BBQ.

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–Currently on my nightstand: Tender at the bone by Ruth Reichl. I giddily enjoyed Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires – the trials and tribulations of a food critic, so I didn’t think twice about picking this up. It’s so fascinating to read of Reichl’s difficult relationship with her mother (The Queen of Mold),  her early encounter with French gourmet cuisine via a classmate in Montreal, Canada and her escapades (which somehow end up being  always food related)  as a summer camp counselor in the French countryside. Can’t wait to read on.

Bon Appetit magazine cookie spread. It’s so unbelievably amazing. This particular page is of Peppermint meringues and cardamon crescents, but the spread includes Cherry pistachio nougat, chocolate macaroons with orange ganache, almond-oat lace cookies, butterscotch blondie bars, lemony slice-and-bakes, and chewy ginger cookies. I have plenty to choose from for this year’s Cookie Exchange!

The Weekend List 11/20/11

What a week! And Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This year, Francesco and I will be spending la festa del ringraziamento (Thanksgiving in Italian) with our good friends Emily, Rick and Emily’ family in Northern Virginia. I am very excited to try an authentic American Thanksgiving dinner. For my part, I’ve decided to delve into dessert –Torta Caprese, which has nothing to do with Caprese salad, although they originate from the same region, Campania (Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast…). The Torta Caprese is a decadent chocolate cake punctuated by hints of roasted almonds.

–The annual winter library sale is one of my favorite activities in Charlottesville. The city’s public library puts thousands and thousands of used and library books for sale. It was really no surprised that I went directly to the cookbook section. Who wouldn’t? After a couple of hours of perusing dusty and event ancient books, I settled with Julia Child by Laura Shapiro, a biography of the amazing Julia, and a cookbook of the cuisine of Emilia Romagna, the home of the original and still best Parmigiano Reggiano. First recipe that caught my eye? Parmesan Cheese Ice Cream. I kid you not. Mind=blown.

–Tons of reading was done this week….because there was a lot of reading to do! The New Yorker Food Issue (more on this in a later post) came out, the second issue of David Chang’s Lucky Peach (look out for a post soon) and my usual bedtime reading schedule. After listening to this Fresh Air interview on NPR with journalist Barry Eastabrook about his latest work, Tomatoland, I was intrigued. Tomatoland is Eastabrook’s detailed and shocking investigation of the complete destruction of America’s tomato agriculture and the abuse of its workers.

“Worker were ‘sold’ to crew bosses to pay off bogus debts, beaten if they didn’t feel like working or were too sick or weak to work, held in chains, pistol whipped, locked at night into shacks in chain-link enclosures patrolled by arm guards.”

Makes you think twice about buying tomatoes, doesn’t it? I’m only half way through the book and I believe this quote won’t be the only one that makes my arm hair stand up.

— The Associated Press reported that the Locally Grown business is a much more lucrative business model then previously thought…to the tune of $4.8 billion in 2008 and an estimated $7 billion this year. It’s a good thing that Charlottesville has a bustling farmers market, one that was voted 14th best in the nation. I am all for locally grown, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all have a vegetable garden in our backyards? Food for thought.

Happy Sunday everybody!

The Weekend List 11/12/11

I’ve decided that this weekend is going to be pure relax. After the week I’ve had, all I need is time to actually think. Tuesday was election day in Charlottesville and as a reporter for a weekly newspaper, my day—and the week leading up to voting day—was consumed by all things political. Not that I mind. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy following the day-to-day of local government and I have to admit, I loved live tweeting (is that how you write it???) from the polls—140 characters of pure spontaneity, and you can read my work twitter feed here. That said, here is the list.

–As you may know, I am an obsessive fan of Top Chef. I’ve followed the show since its first season when Harold took the prize home. Two weeks ago, the highly anticipated Top Chef Texas finally hit the airwaves with a slightly new format (on-the-spot eliminations…and the Bubble Room!) and two new judges: Emeril (bam!) and Hugh Acheson of Top Chef Masters fame. What I love most about this show is the competitiveness of each contestant, their quirkiness and loud mouths…and let’s be honest, head judge Tom Colicchio. He is not kidding around, especially this season.

–Thanksgiving issues. I always look forward to the monthly arrival of my favorite food magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and the always impressive Real Simple. This month, unsurprisingly, they are all about creating the most perfect Thanksgiving feast. Being Italian and all, I have never really celebrated this particular holiday. Sure, I’ve gone to dinner where turkey was served, but really never tried to do it myself. Of the three, this month’s favorite is Food & Wine mainly because they touched on all some of my favored things: Southern food, Dave Matthews, how to make chicken stock and David Chang.

–Florence Fabricant’s “The lost art of buying from a butcher” piece in the New York Times. My parents used to regularly buy meat from the butcher when my brother and I were youngsters. I still remember entering the shop and being amazed by how knowledgeable was the person behind the counter. My mom or my dad would tell him what they intended on cooking and he would direct them to the best and most appropriate cut of meat. Since moving to the U.S., and Los Angeles to be more specific, I’ve lost that. Charlottesville is home to The Organic Butcher, an amazing resource of good and hearty meat. I guess I’ll be stopping by more often.

Buying some pork or most other meats is not as simple or as cheap as picking out an apple. Do not tweet your friends for advice; consult the butcher.

–All things Anthony Bourdain. After reading both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and seeing his show with chef Eric Ripert, I decided I can’t get enough of him. It’s true what they say…you either love Tony, or you hate him. I definitely fall into the love category: his sarcasm, crass, ego, loud mouth. All of it. I consider it a breath of fresh air. While waiting for his new show, The Layover to premiere in a couple of weeks, here are some interesting Q&A that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

Happy weekend!

Food Reads: My article on healthy school lunches in Charlottesville

Charlottesville City schools to add fresh recipes, work towards centralized kitchen

The movement to bring more from-scratch meals to Charlottesville City Schools is alive and well.

One year after Charlottesville Cooking School owner Martha Stafford designed a black bean and brown rice taco recipe for school lunch menus, the meal is in rotation and recipes for hummus and granola are in the works. To make the process more efficient, the school administration is ready to support the creation of a centralized kitchen for the entire district.

The caveat? The reality of a central kitchen is contingent upon the district’s middle school overhaul, which began last year.
Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administration services, said the administration is still “in the process” of presenting the school board and City Council with a recommendation to renovate Buford Middle and Walker Elementary schools. Once approved and funded, the design process will begin.

Martha Stafford, director of the Charlottesville Cooking School, says a central kitchen for city schools will help ensure “a consistent, flavorful product.” (Image)

“We are excited to move forward with that,” he said. Henderson added that if the project falls through, “then we will begin looking at our own kitchens and making sure to continue cooking good foods.”

Henderson says a central kitchen could help streamline cooking processes and add more fresh recipes to the menus.
“I think with a central kitchen we can do a better job of training staff, a better use of space, a better use of labor, a better use of making sure that when we bring in local produce, we have the appropriate space to do everything,” he said.

Stafford says a central kitchen will also help improve the quality of the food.

“It’s important when introducing new and fresher food that it be a consistent, flavorful product,” said Stafford. A butternut squash soup she created for the wintertime, for instance, didn’t pass taste tests and ultimately did not make its way to school menus.

Behind the movement’s success is City Schools Dietician Alicia Cost—who along with Nutrition Services Coordinator Sandra Vasquez, received the Trailblazer Award from the Local Food Hub and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cost has worked tirelessly to get even more produce and local, grass-fed beef into the schools’ kitchens at a price that satisfies the school system’s budget.

“We are still talking with the Local Food Hub and local beef growers to find an acceptable price point of what we can pay, what they pay and trying to figure out how to fit it into our food cost per meal,” she said.

The current price per meal in city schools ranges from $0.85 to around $1.05, plus labor. Students can purchase lunch for $2 in elementary schools and $2.25 in middle and high schools. Both prices increased 25 cents over last year’s cost to students.

For now, no matter the price tag, the goal remains the same. “We are going to continue engaging students and listening to them react to different recipes and maybe survey them more…and really try to put a healthy twist on everything we introduce to them and try to stretch their taste buds,” said Cost.

First appeared on C-VILLE Weekly’s website. For the original story, click here.