James Beard Award, Georges Duboeuf Award and
Gourmand World Cookbook Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE's Web Log
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you:
I came to live out loud."
—Critic and novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902)
"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer.”
Wednesday, February 21, 2007 — Restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow is mad as hell and not going to take it any more. On the heels of some tough reviews of his brand-new Kobe Club (which received zero stars from The New York Times, despite critic Frank Bruni's admission that the kobe beef itself was "perfectly prepared"), Chodorow takes out a full-page ad on page F9 in today's Times to voice his frustration to Dining In/Dining Out editor Pete Wells and Times readers.
He brings up a number of issues, but the one that caught our attention was the lack of food, wine and dining expertise of certain critics, one of whose wife admitted to Chodorow's wife that they did not regularly dine out in restaurants either before or after his tenure.
"Your readers would not expect your drama critic to have no background in drama or your archtecture critic to not be an architect," Chodorow writes. "For a publication that prides itself on integrity, I feel your readers should be better informed to this VERY IMPORTANT fact, so that they can give your reviews the weight, or lack thereof, they deserve."
We wrote an entire book exploring this subject (DINING OUT, published in 1998), so we won't delve into it in detail here, other than to share some of chef-restaurateur Mark Miller's thoughts from DINING OUT on the state of restaurant criticism a decade ago:
"I gave a speech in New York a few years ago to an audience of food writers and critics, and I said, 'The reason we don't have good criticism is because we don't have good critics.' A food critic is a person who, by experience, knowledge, intuition, or sensibility, has a greater ability to discern the quality of an experience. Given that definition, most food critics today aren't qualified. They don't necessarity have a higher sensibility or a better palate. They don't necessarily understand the history, the psychology and the social setting of food or the dining experience.
...Art reviews try to make the audience aware of the artist's intent. That is where restaurant critics really fail. They do not allow chefs, as artists, to create and communicate a philosophy, either through their work or through their words, and they themselves don't understand what the chefs are doing because in many cases they've never talked to them. Instead, they put chefs on a marketplace platform as merchants who are selling services as opposed to somebody else's. By doing that, they basically break down the meaningfulness of their work because it's not seen in the larger context of its entirety, which is important.
...We're not going to have great cooking in the future if we limit [restaurants and restaurant criticism] to these things.
...We don't have food criticism. We don't take food seriously, and we don't write about it seriously. Not yet."
"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
A BESTSELLER IS BORN: A RE-CAP
It isn't every day that you witness the birth of the next bestseller.
Remember Chef Jeff Henderson, the former cocaine dealer turned executive chef we first wrote about a couple of years ago? Well, over the next few weeks or months, you won't be able to miss him — or his new book COOKED.
Let's backtrack — to our March/April 2005 e-Newsletter:
FLAVOR DEVELOPMENT IN NEW ORLEANS: Cicero observed, "What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the person who instructs the rising generation?" With that in mind, we enthusiastically accepted an invitation to deliver the keynote presentation on the topic of flavor development to a ballroom full of culinary instructors from across the country at the annual conference of FENI (Food Educators Network International) in New Orleans.
After our 50-minute talk at FENI touching on everything from the Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century to contemporary molecular gastronomy and citing restaurants ranging from Spain's El Bulli to Chicago's Moto, we were asked to sign copies of our books outside the ballroom. During the signing, we were approached by a tall African-American chef who asked if he could have his photo taken with us. He told us that our first book BECOMING A CHEF had changed his life. When Andrew asked where he learned to cook, he shared that he'd learned while he was incarcerated. It turned out that this chef Jeffrey Henderson was a fellow speaker at the conference. So, instead of hitting the streets of New Orleans in search of beignets and chicory coffee as we'd planned, we decided to stay to hear his talk.
* FROM COCAINE DEALER TO EXECUTIVE CHEF: Jeff told the mesmerizing story of how he was formerly one of the biggest drug dealers in Los Angeles before being sent to prison for 8 years. Prior to prison, the only thing he had ever cooked was crack. However, while inside, he was assigned to one of the lowest jobs of all: cleaning pots in the kitchen. He started to hang out with the chef, who taught him how to cook. Meanwhile, someone sent him a copy of our book BECOMING A CHEF, which he said was the first book he'd ever read cover to cover and inspired him to want to become a professional chef.
Since that time, Jeffrey Henderson has come a long way from his life of dealing drugs: Today, he is the Executive Chef of the Belaggio Hotel's Cafe Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Chef Jeff is as focused on creating a better future as he is on atoning for his past: He thinks kitchen work is the perfect job for ex-cons, as it doesn't require working with the public or handling money, and he hires former prisoners to work with him giving them the chance to start over, as his first chef "on the outside" had given him. He said he spent so much time destroying communities that he feels it's his responsibility to help rebuild them so, he also goes back to the inner city to speak with young people, "nobly instructing" them to not make the same mistakes he made.
When Jeff credited BECOMING A CHEF with changing his life during his speech, Karen couldn't hold back her tears. By the end of his amazing story, many others in the audience couldn't, either and Jeff received one of the most rousing standing ovations we have ever seen.
More than 100,000 copies of our book BECOMING A CHEF have been sold (dozens of them to Jeff and members of his staff, he told us). However, we would be proud to have written this book even if only a single copy was sold and ended up in Jeff's hands to have the positive effect that it has had. Our heartfelt congratulations to our new friend Chef Jeff Henderson on his very long journey to the kitchen.
In our May 2005 e-Newsletter, we provided an update:
* FROM COCAINE DEALER TO EXECUTIVE CHEF PART II: Readers of our March/April e-newsletter told us they were awed by the story of chef Jeff Henderson who was inspired by our book BECOMING A CHEF to leave behind a life of cocaine dealing to work his way up to the position of executive chef of the Bellagio Hotel's Café Bellagio in Las Vegas. After reading it himself, Jeff wrote:
Dear Andrew and Karen,
I was so moved by meeting you two at the FENI Summit. Your first edition of BECOMING A CHEF truly inspired me even more to become a high-end chef. I truly appreciate the piece you wrote about me in your newsletter. Thank you so much. A literary agent in New York read your newsletter as well and contacted me about a possible deal. I was blown away. Thanks again. I will be in New York to prepare for [a dinner at the James Beard House] with a team of chefs from the Bellagio in November, and I would love for you two to come. Please let's stay in touch.
God bless you guys,
Chef Jeff (Henderson) / Las Vegas
And a year later, in our May 2006 e-Newsletter, there was still more news to report:
IN OUR MARCH/APRIL 2005 e-Newsletter, we wrote of meeting Chef Jeff Henderson when we all addressed the Food Educators Network International (FENI) conference in New Orleans the prior month. Less than a year later on February 6, 2006, Jeff emailed us: "I wanted to thank you two again for your inspirational book BECOMING A CHEF that I read while incarcerated and for the opportunity to share a few words with you at the FENI Summit in New Orleans in 2005. After you wrote about me in your newsletter last year, [literary] agent Michael Psaltis...read your testimony. He contacted me in my kitchen at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas about representing me for a possible book deal. After several conversations, we put together a proposal and pitched it to some of the largest publishing houses in New York, and my God, almost everyone we sent proposals to responded with interest. The rights to my life story were sold to William Morrow/Harper Collins for a substantial six figures...I've been truly blessed by God and so many in the food world who have inspired me through their books and cuisine. Thank you, Andrew and Karen, for coming into my life through your work." Our congratulations again to Chef Jeff Henderson on his long journey to the kitchen...and now authorship!
Fast forward to today, February 21, 2007: Chef Jeff is scheduled to make an appearance on "Oprah" this afternoon (a conflicting piece of info now says "March 1st," so we're working to confirm) to discuss his brand-new book COOKED: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras -- which is so new we haven't even seen it yet.
Jeff recently emailed us that in the days and weeks to come, he is also due to appear on "Good Morning America" and "All Things Considered," and in the pages of People and USA Today.
We certainly look forward to seeing COOKED, not to mention how Chef Jeff Henderson will use his national media platform to further his mission of inspiring the next generation to avoid the mistakes he made and to create a brighter future.
We wish him well.
Chef Jeff Henderson has a new Web site: www.chefjeffcooked.com
Our Valentine's Day platter of ice cider with cheeses & pate
Thursday, February 15, 2007 — We won't get into why Regis Philbin apparently mentioned Andrew's name on TV's "Live with Regis and Kelly" today...or at least not yet. After all, yesterday we promised readers of our e-newsletter the low-down on which pairings of ice cider and cheese we liked best.
Saving ourselves from the hassle of fighting the snow and/or crowds during a Valentine's Day dinner out, instead we celebrated at home last night with a bottle of NEIGE ice cider and a platter of cheeses and pate.
The #1 best match with the ice cider (which tastes like a delicious cross between an ice wine and Calvados, which is also made from apples) was our Le Chatelain Camembert, which we enjoyed perfectly ripe and at room temperature.
A not-too-distant second was our Keen's Farm Farmhouse Cheddar, a cow's milk cheese from England that was so delicious it will have you swearing off orange-colored processed versions in the future.
We considered both to be +2 pairings (our highest rating). The pate and mild goat cheese we also tried were fine on their own, but their pairing with NEIGE didn't elevate them at all (a 0 rating).
We purchased all of last night's cheeses at Murray's at Grand Central Terminal Market.
Oh, and Regis? We were emailed by the eagle-eyed (or is "bat-eared" also considered to be a compliment?) Executive Director of The Acting Company Gerry Cornez that he'd overheard Andrew mentioned on "Regis and Kelly," and we were thus able to piece together that Regis had apparently read the following item in today's New York Post on the air:
"Burger benefits. About 10 percent of the U.S. population has flipped burgers for McDonald's, according to America Online, which spotlighted 10 of McDonald's 'Most Famous Former Employees' including Shania Twain, Sharon Stone, Jay Leno, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, and food writer Andrew Dornenburg. Fellow McDonald's alum Pink recalled, 'I would open the restaurant because I'd be tripping on acid...and I would say, 'Could I have bathroom duty?' And I would sit in the bathroom and watch the tiles.'"
Richard Johnson, "Page Six," New York Post
We'd have loved to hear it ourselves!*
(*Later in the day, thanks to Andrew's sister Chris and TiVO, we did!)
NEIGE ice cider is at www.appleicewine.com. Serve well chilled either alone as an aperitif, or with foie gras, cheese (esp. Camembert or aged Cheddar), or dessert.
From our emailbox:
"I came back from the University of Michigan ballroom competition about a week ago. I attached some pictures of me and my partner...I have definitely seen the movie 'Mad Hot Ballroom.' In fact, our team captain last year was so inspired by this movie that she started working with an organization called Having a Ball (similar to Dancing Classrooms in NYC) to bring inner-city children from Chicago to our campus on the day of the Northwestern ballroom competition for them to showcase their own dance. We then give them a tour of our campus and tell them a bit college life and such. This year the NU Classic collegiate competition will be on April 28th. Wish you could be here to see!"
Xixi, Northwestern University senior
Karen's mentee Xixi and her partner Brian
Xixi, thanks for writing and sharing the wonderful photos.
We wish you great luck on April 28th!
10-to-16-year-old dancers amazed and inspired last night
Dancing Classrooms instructor Rodney Lopez with a dancer
Dessert at the University Club, following perfect lamb chops
Andrew with our awesome hosts Stephen & Sharon Baum
Sharon's one-of-a-kind evening bag: an eye-popping diamond-
and-emerald-studded Champagne bottle!
Dancing is about connections
to our friends, to our families, to our neighbors. It is one of the most expressive ways we celebrate and communicate our cultures and communities. With Dancing Classrooms, we are able to reach children in existing classroom settings and address fundamental issues of mutual respect and self-esteem — issues that social dance puts into practice. We hope to inspire children through dance to do well, to respect one another, to be proud. This program is about more than dance, it is about teaching children to take a bow.
— Pierre Dulaine & Yvonne Marceau, founding artistic directors of American Ballroom Theater
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 — Happy Valentine's Day! We can't imagine a more heartfelt celebration of the occasion than the inspiring benefit we attended last night for Dancing Classrooms as guests of Board supporters Sharon and Stephen Baum.*
"Mad Hot Ballroom" was one of our very favorite movies of the past year, and the 10-to-16-year-old dancers in the film sprang to life before our eyes yesterday evening during dinner at the University Club.
After their performance, the students were asked to invite a guest to dance with them. One poised dancer made a beeline for dance instructor and NYU alum Rodney Lopez, who shared our table, and Karen captured their broad smiles just before they headed to the dance floor together.
Dancing Classrooms is a project of American Ballroom Theater. "Our mission is to build social awareness, confidence and self-esteem in children through the practice of social dance. Through standards based, in-school residencies, we use the vocabulary of ballroom dance to cultivate the positive feelings that are inherent in every child. The maturity necessary to dance together fosters respect, team work, confidence and a sense of joy and accomplishment, that we hope to bring to every child. Ballroom dance is the medium we use to nurture these qualities." Web: www.americanballroomtheater.com
*Those looking to buy or sell multi-million-dollar homes in Manhattan know that Sharon Baum of The Corcoran Group is THE person to help. And those seeking an inspirational business read can look forward to Stephen Baum's new book this fall!
Warm Peekytoe Maryland Lump "Crab Cake," Shaved
Cauliflower, Dijon Mustard Emulsion, which
was served with
a +2 pairing of 2003 Muscat Grand Cru at Le Bernardin
Poached Halibut, Sweet and Sour Golden and Red Beets,
Citrus and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Emulsion at Le Bernardin
Wild Alaskan Salmon with Black Truffles and Butter Sauce
Vanilla Yogurt Mousse, Rhubarb-Citrus Compote, Blood
Orange Sorbet and Coulis at Le Bernardin
Yuzu Cream, Caramelized Rice, Grapefruit, Green Tea Ice
Cream, Crisp Meringue at Le Bernardin
Michael Laiskonis's signature hollowed-out egg filled with
layers of flavor: milk chocolate creme brulee, caramel foam,
maple syrup, and grains of Maldon sea salt at Le Bernardin
Soft Chocolate Ganache and Sweet Corn in Three Textures:
Crunchy Corn and Hazelnut Base, Corn Sorbet, Corn Tuile
(and the only corn-inspired dessert we've ever loved)
Spiced Sweet Potato Tart, Red Wine Caramel, Maple Whipped
Cream, Pistachio, Vanilla Salt at Le Bernardin
Le Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis and Andrew
Sunday, February 11, 2007 — Karen considered Le Bernardin's executive pastry chef Michael Laiskonis to be one of America's very best even before she recently learned he improbably hailed from the same Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, which is also the hometown of chef Sharon Hage of Dallas's celebrated York Street restaurant.
Last night we were guests at an unforgettable dinner at Le Bernardin where we both had the opportunity to confirm Laiskonis's talents all over again.
First, we were treated to a tasting menu showing off chef Eric Ripert's kitchen's way with seafood. His Warm Peekytoe-Maryland Lump "Crab Cake" with Shaved Cauliflower and Dijon Mustard Emulsion with a 2003 Alsatian Grand Cru Muscat was our first "WOW" pairing of the evening. Another one quickly followed when the halibut with citrus and beet dish we were served was accompanied by an equally high-acid 2005 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc.
But last night it was the symphony of desserts from Michael Laiskonis' pastry kitchen that provided the crescendo of our excellent dinner. Laiskonis had just flown home from Boston, where he'd participated in Friday night's 22nd annual Anthony Spinazzola scholarship benefit.
We think he's earned a day off today.
Le Bernardin is at 155 W. 51st Street, Manhattan. (212) 554-1515. Web: www.le-bernardin.com
The March 2007 issue of Prevention magazine lists our book
CULINARY ARTISTRY as a kitchen "must-have"
Our sincere thanks to Google executive chef Scott Giambastiani for recommending our book CULINARY ARTISTRY to the 3.5 million readers of Prevention magazine as "the best reference book I've used."
You can find it in Heather Lee's article "Kitchen Aids" on pp. 135 - 138 of the March 2007 issue, or online under "The Top 12 Kitchen Gadgets."
is still alive and well at Shun Lee Palace
(l) Steve and an animated Michael; (r) Andrew and Don
Shun Lee Palace owner Michael Tong was featured in our
book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF
Michael Tong's new Shun Lee Cookbook
Saturday, February 10, 2007 — Happy 40th Anniversary to Shun Lee Palace! And our thanks to our friend and fellow author Michael Gelb (How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci as well as co-author of the forthcoming-in-Fall-2007 Innovate Like Edison) for coming to New York this week and inspiring such a delicious evening last night over dinner at Shun Lee Palace with our friend and fellow New Yorker Steve Wilson and his twin brother Don Wilson (who was visiting from Washington, DC).
Arriving early, we were delighted to have the opportunity to say hello to Shun Lee Palace's gracious owner Michael Tong, and to congratulate him on his long-awaited Shun Lee Cookbook, for which he told us he'd appeared on morning television the day before. The book looks beautiful, and as we thumbed through the restaurant's display copy, we noticed that a food styling credit was given to the talented Corinne Trang. (Both Michael and Corinne were featured in our book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF.) We're happy to see the restaurant's classic dishes — which have delighted New Yorkers for the past four decades — shared with the world as well as captured for posterity.
Over the best Peking duck we've ever had, we celebrated the Pinot Noir grape in three versions: Californian, French and Australian (with the last, a Yabby Lake Pinot Noir, being Karen's favorite).
Shun Lee Palace is at 155 E. 55th Street (bet. Third and Lexington Aves.), Manhattan. (212) 371-8844. Web: www.shunleepalace.com
From our emailbox:
"I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF, which I will make good use of (with credit to you of course) for an ethnic cooking class I have been asked to teach here in Princeton [at the Princeton Adult School] this spring...In the five nights we meet, we will explore Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern/Armenian, Thai, and Chinese (or other Asian, depending on what students want) [cuisines], and this book will be very helpful to me in discussing the key ingredients, flavor palette, cooking techniques, etc. for each cuisine.
My emphasis will be on 'streamlined recipes for busy cooks,' so I will encourage students to keep on hand a small sampling of key spices and ingredients, so they can easily add ethnic flavors to their meals. (I even have dozens of small screw-top vials so they can take spices home.)
So, thank you for this great reference book; it is really helping me organize my lesson plans."
—Faith Bahadurian, Princeton, New Jersey
Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and cole slaw
The freshest and best fast food salad we've ever sampled
Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy's motto: "Food Is
Essential To Life; Therefore, Make It Good."
We're not big fast food fans to begin with, so we never thought we'd find another fast food restaurant that would weasel its way into our affections as the cult favorite In-N-Out Burger did after chefs kept recommending it to us while researching our 2001 book CHEF'S NIGHT OUT. But Chick-fil-A has managed to do just that.
First introduced to it a couple of years ago in Tampa (when a snowstorm in the Northeast canceled our flight home and left us stranded there a few extra days), we fell in love with its juicy-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside signature chicken sandwich. Driving home from Washington, DC, late Thursday night, we spied a sign announcing one nearby off I-95 in Maryland. Years after our last one, the sandwich lived up to our fond memories. We were also impressed with the potato flavor of our crunchy waffle fries, and the freshness of both the cole slaw and the single best fast food salad we've ever tasted.
We know the chain has room for growth, as we've never seen one in Manhattan. If we were the type of people who'd run out and buy stock in a company we believed in via our own first-hand experience (as uber-investor Peter Lynch has long advocated), we'd buy this one. But as more frequent food Bloggers than stock purchasers, we're happy to simply recommend checking out Chick-fil-A's impressive chicken sandwich. (Oh, and spring for the extra 25 cents for the whole wheat bun.)
Chick-fil-A is at www.chickfila.com. Want to find the location nearest to you? Click here and enter your ZIP Code. We just hope you find one closer than the 15 miles it indicates we'd have to travel to visit the one in the Paramus Park Shopping Center in New Jersey.
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, exhibits
Brooklyn artist Nina Levy's "Large Head"
Walt Whitman — or a time-traveling Leonard Lopate?
"History with Personality. Generations of remarkable Americans are kept in the company of their fellow citizens at the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery presents the wonderful diversity of individuals who have left — and are leaving — their mark on our country and our culture. Through the visual and performing arts, we celebrate leaders such as George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., artists such as Mary Cassatt and George Gershwin, activists such as Sequoyah and Rosa Parks, and icons of pop culture such as Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe. They all link us to our past, our present, and our future. For anyone fascinated by famous Americans and their stories, the National Portrait Gallery is a must-visit destination."
—National Portrait Gallery
We never would have guessed we'd love the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, as much as we did. But after popping in after lunch across the street at Zaytinya — at the urging of our lunch mates MPAA's Rich Taylor and his wife Kelli — we were smitten.
Sure, you'll find portraits of all the former U.S. Presidents, which we didn't think we'd find as educational and even entertaining as we did and certainly worth the visit alone. But then you'd miss the inspiration of viewing portraits of some of the other most influential people in American history, including suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low, and writer Walt Whitman (a young portrait of whom reminded us both of award-winning WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate).
We were also happy to catch the exhibition of the final weeks of
the "Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2006," which
features the work of 51 artists selected as finalists in the Portrait Gallery's first national portrait competition. The surreal floating sculpture of the gigantic baby's head above (by Brooklyn artist Nina Levy) was a part of it. We enjoyed the entire exhibit, and especially the pieces by artists David Lenz, Nuno de Campos, and Steve DeFrank (who created a nude, smiling portrait of his parents out of Lite-Brite lights).
The National Portrait Gallery is at
at Eighth and F Streets, NW, D.C., above the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metrorail station (Red, Yellow and Green lines), Washington, DC.
(202) 633-1000. Free. Open daily 11:30 am - 7:00 pm, except Christmas Day.
Jose Andres' restaurant Zaytinya at 701 9th Street, NW
The light-filled dining room at Zaytinya in Washington, DC
Head chef Jorge Chicas and sous chef Juan Rivera greet us
Starting off with fresh-baked bread and creamy hummus
At Zaytinya, the idea is to enjoy lots of little plates
Chocolate Visne: Milk chocolate cream with cherry sorbet
and three caramels
Karen, Juan, Demetrius and Andrew at Zaytinya
(Photo credit: Kelli Taylor)
"Our mission is to introduce young inmates to the transformative power of books and creative writing. By mentoring them and connecting them to supportive services throughout their incarceration into reentry, Free Minds inspires these youths to see their potential and achieve new educational and career goals."
—Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, which was founded by former journalist Kelli Taylor
Who I Am!
I am light brown
But the common phrase is black
I wear an invisible label
That's been proven to be a fact
Look at that dark-skinned, nappy-headed person
Silent thoughts I hear
Their eyes tell a million stories
But what I see is fear
You don't even know me
But what you observe is I am black
I should be the one that's scared of you
If you take a trip back
My heritage is based on a struggle
But in the eyes of others I am nothing but trouble
— Kenneth, age 17, a participant in Free Minds
We're not exactly sure what we were looking forward to most on Thursday: Returning to Zaytinya, James Beard Award-winning chef Jose Andres' extraordinary
restaurant that was the site of our previous best-ever lunch in Washington, DC; finally sitting down with Kelli Taylor, cofounder of the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, which helps young inmates turn their lives around through the power of the written word (being joined by Kelli's husband Rich Taylor turned out to be an added pleasure); or meeting Demetrius, a past participant in Kelli's Free Minds program whose moving poem "I Bang the Poems" we featured preciously (we're not correcting that typo — we'd meant to type "previously" but "preciously" came out of our keyboard, twice) on our Blog.
Demetrius was offered admission to San Francisco's California Culinary Academy, but wasn't able to finance his attendance. So instead, he sought out and was offered a position in the kitchen of Zaytinya in Washington, DC. On Thursday, during the other best lunch of our lives in Washington, DC, he made us the best version of spanakopita we've ever tasted (which is the egg roll-shaped nosh pictured above). Zaytinya chefs Jorge Chicas and Juan Rivera told us that Demetrius is doing really well in their kitchen, and "always has a smile on his face."
Whatever we were looking forward to most, what will stay with us longest is our gratitude for Kelli Taylor's efforts through Free Minds, the success of which on Thursday we witnessed — and tasted.
Zaytinya is at 701 9th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. (202) 638-0800. Web: www.zaytinya.com
"Aside from learning about food, learning about service and presentation is key for chefs. Jeremiah Tower recalls taking members of his staff to the Crillon in Paris for breakfast — at $60 per person — as a 'seminar' in service excellence. 'Breakfast at the Crillon is a legend. We'd spend two hours analyzing everything about the service at the table, down to how the butter is put on the plate. Once they'd stayed at the Crillon or the Ritz, it all became clear; all my yelling and screaming and demanding suddenly made the point."
—From our book BECOMING A CHEF
The lobby of The Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, which
inspired the coining of the term "lobbyists" (see below)
Another view of The Willard Hotel's storied lobby
The nighttime view from our hotel room window, including
ice skaters (r.) and the Washington Monument (c.)
The daytime view fro our hotel room window
Continental breakfast featuring croissants and banana bread
in our room at The Willard Hotel
"After a long day in the Oval Office, President Ulysses S. Grant escaped the pressures of the presidency with a brandy and a cigar in the Willard lobby. As word spread of Grant's fondness for the Willard lobby, many would-be power brokers approached him on individual causes. Grant called these people 'lobbyists,' thus coining the term."
—The History of the Willard Intercontinental Washington
The famed Willard Hotel is so storied — having previously inspired fellow writers staying there (who have included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman) to pen everything from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Julia Ward Howe) to "I Have a Dream" (Martin Luther King) — that we'd always hoped to have the opportunity to be guests of the hotel one night. We were happy to finally have the chance to visit on Wednesday night of this week.
Ten of the leading hotels in Washington, DC — including the Willard Hotel — have teamed up with
the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corporation to offer a special "Luxe DC" package to encourage wintertime visits to the nation's capital city. From now through March, participating hotels are offering complimentary breakfast and overnight parking as part of their enticement to visit. (And the longer you stay, the more food and beverage or spa credits you'll receive in participating hotels' restaurants and spas.)
Nicknamed "The Residence of Presidents," the Willard Hotel has hosted every American president (either as an overnight guest or at an event) since our 12th President Zachary Taylor. Given its location (just two blocks from the White House), its magnificent lobby, its views (ours included intrepid nighttime ice skaters on the rink in front of the hotel), and even its croissants (the best hotel versions we've ever tasted), spending a night The Willard Hotel just might inspire a chapter (or at least a few good paragraphs) in your own history.
The Willard Hotel is at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. (202) 628-9100. Web: www.washington.intercontinental.com
A display of the Canadian ice wines and ice ciders tasted
Canadian master sommelier John Szabo leading the seminar
A slide show illustrating the ice cider-making process
The ice wines, which varied by sweetness, acid and finish
The tasting room at the aptly named "You'll Fall In Love With
Canadian Wines and Foods" event held yesterday
Wednesday, February 7, 2007 — Our congratulations to Amy's Bread, which was named in an article by Cynthia Kilian in today's New York Post as having the #1 best coffee in New York City. You can read the entire article (which quotes Andrew) here.
While we're on the topic of delicious things to drink, Andrew will chime in on the tasting of Canadian delicacies he attended yesterday — "You'll Fall in Love With Canadian Wines and Foods" — that was hosted by Canada's Consulate General Regine Clement and expertly organized by HG Marketing's Helen Gregory.
At the afternoon tasting of Canadian ice wines led by Canadian master sommelierJohn Szabo and Hearth's Paul Grieco, the runaway hit was actually a "Cidre de Glace," or "ice cider" called NEIGE. With its delicate apple perfume and flavor, moderate sweetness, and high acid, it's a natural for pairing with everything from pork to cheese to an apple dessert. We imagine it would be magical paired with foie gras.
NEIGE is at www.appleicewine.com.
To learn more about Canadian wines and foods, visit www.newyork.gc.ca.
Left: Andrew Dornenburg
Right: Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos
Monday, February 5, 2007 — As an author who's long admired the extraordinary success of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Andrew likes the idea of having something in common with him. As of today, he does. This morning, on the heels of McDonald's "best coffee" win in a recent Consumer Reports magazine taste-off, America Online trumpeted its list of 10 of McDonald's "Most Famous Former Employees" — and Andrew and Jeff were both on it:
"McDonald's Most Famous Former Employees...The first McDonald's franchise opened in Des Plaines, Ill. in April 1955. Over 50 years later, there are more than 30,000 restaurants in 119 countries serving 47 million people daily. By some estimates, up to 10 percent of the American work force first worked at McDonald's. Check out [ten] of Mickey D's most famous alumni in the following photo gallery: Shania Twain, Sharon Stone, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Jay Leno, Pink, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, Olympic athlete Carl Lewis, Macy Gray, Rachel McAdams, and Andrew Dornenburg....Chef and James Beard Award-winning author of culinary books, including THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF, worked at McDonald's in the mid-1970's. He notes: 'Having my first job at McDonald's definitely taught me how to get organized in the kitchen, and to work fast and as part of a team. It taught me the importance of a clean kitchen and good work habits.'"
Want to read the entire article, and page through the photo gallery on America Online? Just click here: Money & Finance Channel
The bar at Tout Va Bien at 311 West 51st Street
Tout Va Bien's fabulous duck rillettes and cornichons
Silky smooth foie gras pate with salad at Tout Va Bien
The wonderfully garlicky, buttery and tender escargot
Tout Va Bien's huge appetizer portion of frogs' legs
Tout Va Bien's steak au poivre
The profiteroles at Tout Va Bien
Tarte Tatin is served with both whipped cream and ice cream
Tout Va Bien's Mike Touchard and Andrew Dornenburg
A sneak peek at the 2007 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais label
Left: Tout Va Bien regular Sean, who rode his bike from
Fort Lauderdale to New York City, and friends
Friday, February 2, 2007 — For the past 24 days, we had been haunted by the mystery of an elusive French restaurant. When we last saw French winemaker Franck Duboeuf at lunch at Restaurant Daniel last month, we asked where he was dining that night and were told, "Tout Va Bien." We hadn't heard of it, so we went home to consult our Zagat Survey — and were surprised to find it wasn't listed.
What was this mysterious restaurant that had won the heart of a Frenchman who could eat anywhere in New York?
Last night, we had the pleasure of finding out.
Tout Va Bien, as its name suggests, is a party. It is an amalgam of people — long-time customers and first-time visitors, all having the time of their lives eating mostly excellent, reasonably-priced renditions of French bistro classics in a rather modest yet infinitely warm and good-spirited environment. It reaffirms why classics are indeed classics — not only for their flavor combinations, but for their technique that shows off ingredients to their best advantage.
Walking through the door of this long-established (since 1948) restaurant on West 51st Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, we immediately knew we were in the right place: There on the counter was a jerobaum of 2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, identical to the one we took home when WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT won the 2006 Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year Award.
A publisher had rented out the front room of the restaurant for the night, so we were seated in back. "What does Franck Duboeuf like to have when he dines here?" we asked Mike, who turned out to be Michael Touchard, son of owner Jean-Pierre Touchard. This simple question forged a beautiful new restaurant relationship. We were assured he went for the classic bistro dishes such as tripe and veal kidneys, as well as the coq au vin. We went for the classic bistro dishes: foie gras pate, escargot, steak au poivre, and yes, the coq au vin. [Except handsome Matthew (who looked like handsome wine guru Jean-Luc Le Du's little brother) didn't hear "foie gras" but "frogs' legs," so some of those showed up, too. They were delicious.]
We've been disappointed before visiting French bistros that were past their prime and simply coasting on their former glory. This is not the case with Tout Va Bien, which puts out dishes that sing: couldn't-have-another-ounce-of-fat-in-them duck rillettes, silky smooth foie gras pate, and deliciously smoky smoked salmon, all served with irresistable crusty rolls. We've never tasted more tender escargot, and the Tarte Tatin was one of the best Andrew has ever had.
What to drink? Why Georges Duboeuf wines, bien sur — which went beautifully with the food. (We also enjoyed a taste of Calvados with our Tarte Tatin, a celebration of apple-on-apple.) We even got a sneak peek at the 2007 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau label — and heard an amusing story or two about how uber chef-restaurateur Daniel Boulud's staff enjoyed its holiday party here.
After falling in love with Tout Va Bien last night, we're actually glad it's not in the Zagat Survey. In fact, we'd be tempted not to write about it and to keep it all to ourselves if that wouldn't be such a crime — because those who love French bistro classics on their table and casual French-style heart and soul in a staff are sure to love this place, too.
Tout Va Bien is at 311 West 51st Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues) in Manhattan. (212)
265-0190. Web: http://www.autoutvabien.com/info.htm
We had been following the 3rd annual American Sommelier Association "Best Sommelier in America" competition which took place in New York City this week through our recent visits to The Modern, as wine director Stephane Colling was one of the 10 finalists competing.
Yesterday over lunch with dancer-choreographer Jody Oberfelder, she'd mentioned to Karen that she and husband Juergen Riehm were planning to dine at Wallse this month, where its sommelier had just won the title. Jody just forwarded the press release confirming that Wallse sommelier Aldo Sohm took home the title, and that "Three finalists, including Aldo Sohm, Yannick Benjamin of Le Du Wines and Troy Weissmann of Town were chosen to continue to the second day of oral exams, where they competed in a mock dining room to demonstrate their performance excellence in categories such as food and wine pairing, erroneous wine lists, cigar service, table service, decanting and champagne service....Additional semi-finals competitors included Matthew Conway (Cafe Gray), Arnaud Devulder (DB Bistro Moderne), Hristo Zisovski (Jean Georges), Andrew Compeyre (Les Halles Restaurant Group), Stephane Colling (The Modern), Laura Maniec (BR Guest Restaurant Group), and Juan Gomez (The Breakers Palm Beach)."
Our congratulations to Aldo Sohm, and to each of the 10 finalists — especially Stephane Colling and Arnaud Devulder, to whose expertise and charm we can personally attest.
We arrived at Sirius yesterday moments after Yoko Ono
Thursday, February 1, 2007 — We love visiting the studios of Sirius Satellite Radio, because we invariably meet some interesting people — the hosts, the producers, their staff, plus an array of fascinating personalities awaiting their own interviews in the lobby. While we reportedly trailed her by only 2 minutes yesterday afternoon, we just missed getting to meet Yoko Ono in person — but couldn't help but notice that she'd signed in just ahead of us. (At least Karen noticed; Andrew hadn't until Karen showed him the above on our way out!)
Our interview on Martha Stewart Living with host Kerry Nolan, produced by Terry Keaney, was pure pleasure — Kerry's a seasoned pro who used to be heard on NPR's airwaves in her days at WNYC Radio. When we walked into her studio, we commented on the delicious-looking apple pie on display. "Have some!" we were told. "Be careful what you offer — because we'll say yes!" we replied. "Go ahead!" we were encouraged. Indeed, the pie was as delicious as it looked.
We spent 45 delightful minutes talking with Kerry and her callers (including "Lisa from Connecticut," who called in to say that she'd dined at Spigolo Tuesday night as well, and that the restaurant was still abuzz that we'd paid a visit. Kerry directed listeners to our Web site to read about Spigolo (see our January 31st Blog) about WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT. Afterward, Kerry remarked that she'd have to have us back soon for an on-air wine tasting. "Be careful what you offer," we cautioned again....
Listen to host Kerry Nolan on "Living Today," which is produced by Terry Keaney on Martha Stewart Living on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Yesterday, we received an email from Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver:
"We here at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks are very excited to introduce our first annual Cookbook Awards. Take a look at the What's Cooking page on our website to see the ten staff-nominated finalists, all vying to be crowned cookbook of the year, then email your vote to email@example.com Please include the title of the book you are voting for in the subject line of your email.
Votes will be accepted until Wednesday, February 28th and a winner will be announced in early March. A fabulous party featuring the book will follow, but please note that only those who have voted will be invited to attend. If you don't want to miss out, make sure to get your vote in soon."
When we clicked through to find the "10 staff-nominated finalists," here's what we found:
- Apples for Jam
- Cook with Jamie
- The Improvisational Cook
- Jamie's Italy
- Made in Italy
- My Life in France
- Veggie Chic
- What to Drink with What You Eat
Our thanks to the obviously well-read staff at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks for their vote of confidence in WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT!
And if you'd like to weigh in with your own vote, we hope you'll email firstname.lastname@example.org with "WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT" in the subject line before February 28th.
Thanks in advance — and our thanks again to Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks for including WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT in such fine company!
Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks lists the 10 Best Food and Wine Books of 2006 on its Web site here.