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Entries in Schmoozing with famous people (52)

Saturday
Oct102009

O.M.G.

Watching Frank Bruni interview (my hero) Anthony Bourdain...doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday
Oct082009

Updated: New York Culinary Experience, day 2: "Seasonal Greenmarket Plates" with Alexandra Guarnaschelli; lunch Q&A series with Dan Barber; "Classic American Desserts" with Melissa Murphy

Click *here* for all pictures from this event   

Day 2: Sunday, 10/4
10am-12:15pm: “Seasonal Greenmarket Plates” with Alexandra Guarnaschelli

I was thrilled to begin my Sunday morning with Food Network star and executive chef of NYC’s Butter restaurant, Alex Guarnaschelli.  “I fell in love with you on ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate.’  You are so funny,” I gushed, realizing that my creepy compliment just came out like word vomit.  You know that gross feeling you get after one too many cocktails?  You’re lying in bed and the room is spinning out of control.  And before you know it, you’re dramatically hugging the porcelain god, as if you were bidding adieu to your long-distance boyfriend.  Word vomit is “alcohol vomit’s” first cousin: it happens when you’re so excited about someone or something, that an uncontrollable gush of awkward compliments/opinions, etc. come shooting out of your mouth.  “Hahaha, thank you,” Chef Alex chuckled, “That is definitely one show where the Food Network can call me up at any given time and I’m thrilled to participate.”  I couldn’t believe it; maybe I hadn’t geeked her out, after all.  Aside from Chef’s sense of humor, I knew there was a reason that I adored this woman so much.

Both the kitchen and the amount of participants appeared to be bigger than yesterday’s (class with Marcus Samuelsson). Since I was covering this class for my website, I played more of an observant role, taking lots of notes and pictures rather than cooking

Why are you so obsessed with Chef Alex?
Alex Guarnaschelli was someone that I was drawn to from the moment she opened her mouth.  "Sunday is my day off, but here I am!  Clearly, I must enjoy working on my day off, since my new television show on the Food Network is called "Alex's Day Off!"  She’s funny as hell, down to earth and doesn’t put herself on the “I’m a famous chef and you’re not” pedestal.  I swear, I felt like I’ve known her for years!  During Sunday’s class, Alex used descriptions such as “ginormous” and “ghetto fabulous,” before proceeding to tell the class that “leeks aren’t sexy,” and “in order to pick the best vegetables at the market, you’ve got to fondle them!  Who gives a good god damn if people look at you funny?  Enough said.

What did you learn?
How cool is this?  Lee Anne Wong, a contestant from season 1 of “Top Chef,” formally introduced Chef Alex to the class.  Of the 2+ hours scheduled for our course, Chef spent half of the time speaking, which didn’t bother me one bit!  Ms. Guarnaschelli is certainly a person that I could bare listening to for hours on end.  Here are some points that I took particular interest in/learned from:
  • For the best-tasting vegetables, make sure to purchase them whole (we’re talkin’ stems-on and roots in tact)…not pre-cut, chopped, etc.
  • Store artichokes and herbs (not together) in a vase of water, just as you would do for fresh flowers.
  • For Alex, buying “organic” isn’t as important as knowing both the farm and farmer that raised the fruit/vegetable.  A personal favorite worth mentioning?  Chef swears by Stokes Farm in Old Tappan, New Jersey.
  • Alex’s favorite days to shop farmer’s markets in NYC are Wednesday’s and Saturday’s.  To keep abreast of schedules/happenings at markets across the city, follow this link: www.cenyc.org.
  • Never toast nuts in a saucepan, rather, utilize the oven’s 360-degrees’ worth of heat.
  • Unlike pasta, vegetables should not be cooked al-dente.
  • Always taste the seasoned water you plan to use before boiling your vegetables.  Add salt!
  • Chef Alex swears by “Le Blanc” nut oils.  Click *here* for more info about the brand.
 How many recipes was the class assigned to cook?
There were four recipes.  Forgive me, but I don’t have their given names.  
  • Grilled shrimp with walnut pesto and pan-roasted fennel bulbs
  • Chicken liver crostini (no picture)
  • Leeks vinaigrette
  • Swiss chard & leek gratin (no picture)
 How was the class divided?
Twenty-four students were divided in to six groups of four.  Here’s the part that shocked me: every group was assigned to make one of each recipe…in one hour!!  Needless to say, the class ran over time a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that most groups accomplished the tedious 4-recipe task!

So, how was the food?

While I didn’t lay a finger on the chicken liver (not a fan) and wasn’t able to taste the gratin (it wasn’t ready when I had to scoot out for lunch), I was lucky enough to sample the shrimp and the leeks vinaigrette.  As you can see in the pictures below, this was truly a feast for all of the senses.  My biggest, and most delightful, surprise came from the roasted fennel bulbs!  I was expecting to be overwhelmed by a perfumey, licorice aftertaste; but to my delight, the bulbs were mild, buttery and soft with a similar consistency to a sautéed onion.
























To my not-so-pleasant surprise, today’s lunch spread, courtesy of Southern Hospitality, was identical to yesterdays.  It reminded me of dinners at grandma’s house: the lady was a good cook when she wanted to be, but 9 times out of 10, she would serve us reheated food from her overstocked freezer.  “Ew,” I would whisper to my mom, “this is the same junk we ate for dinner here last time!”  And by “last time,” I was referring to the prior month.  The freezer burn aftertaste was almost too much to bear, prompting my parents to make religious trips to the Taco Bell drive-thru post-dinner.

Lunch Q&A series: Gillian Duffy interviews Dan Barber


Gillian Duffy’s interview with Dan Barber (a.k.a. the East Coast’s male version of Alice Waters) was brilliant.  As a child, Barber fell in love with the land and the lifestyle at his grandmother’s cattle farm in the Berkshires (Massachusetts), which was quite a world apart from his home in Manhattan's Upper Eastside.  

“You can’t co-op local (food)…the best way to educate people is to have them taste delicious food…a (food) revolution can come through good flavor…my definition of sustainability is buying or participating in a food chain that betters ecology,” explained Barber.  

Despite my undying love for Q'doba cheese dip, I greatly respect and appreciate the farm-to-table/local food systems’ movement.  Others, including Barack and Michelle Obama, who dined at Barber's Blue Hill restaurant on a recent visit to Manhattan, would agree.  This year alone, Dan Barber was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 of the world’s most influential people,” and James Beard’s “Outstanding Chef.”    

"Classic American Desserts" with Melissa Murphy 



What's a more "Classic American Dessert" than apple pie?


The recipe was divided in to three parts: pie dough, peanut butter crumb topping, and apple filling made with homemade caramel.
 



Boiling sugar and water to make homemade caramel.  The finished product was later be folded in to the sliced apples, serving as the pie's filling.




My work-station neighbor, Dara, carefully boiling caramel.


All-butter pie crust eagerly waiting to be drowned with caramel-laden apple slices.



The gorgeous finished product, baked by Chef Melissa Murphy.  *Note the crumbly topping, which was a mix of: chopped peanuts, peanut butter, brown sugar and butter.

While each of the class participants created individual pies, we were told that they (the pies) needed 1.5 hours to bake.  "You all can pick up your pies at 6:30pm," Chef said.  "In the meantime, please feel free to take any leftover ingredients home with you."

Dara and I looked at each other with wide eyes.  "No way in hell am I waiting around for my pie until 6:30pm!  Shoot, it's just 4:45pm right now," I chuckled before filling up containers with my leftover ingredients.




Isn't Chef adorable?  Watch out though, she's no joke in the kitchen!  Our group of three got reprimanded one too many times.




Since I was too impatient to wait 1.5 hours for the pie I made in class to bake, I decide to make an apple tart at home using my remaining pie dough and apple filling.
Tuesday
Oct062009

UPDATED: New York Culinary Experience, day 1: "The New American Table," with Marcus Samuelsson



  





 
Click *here* for all pictures from this event

“Seriously Mom, I felt like a Midwestern tween who just met Miley Cyrus,” I gushed while describing my weekend at the second-annual New York Culinary Experience.  Of course, Mom had no clue that “Achy Breaky” Billy-Ray had a daughter.  “Remember the rush you felt when you saw Michael Jackson in concert for the first time?  Well, that’s probably the best way to sum up my weekend.  It was so surreal to be cooking side-by-side some of the world’s most renowned chefs, many of whom I grew up idolizing.  We’re talking about folks who have their own Food Network television shows, cookbooks and columns in famous culinary magazines!  I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, like, ‘Is this really happening to me right now?’”

Hosted by New York Magazine and the French Culinary Institute, the New York Culinary Experience encompassed two full days of celebrating food in the most intimate and enjoyable way possible: side-by-side with 30 of the world’s most renowned chefs and restaurateurs.  This special weekend included: intimate master cooking classes (limited to 24 participants each), wine tastings, chef Q&A sessions, breakfast and lunch, and private end-of-day receptions.  For more details, including the roster of chefs, click *here.*

Though this hardly does my weekend any justice, here is the consolidated summary I conceived from 36 of the best hours of my life.  Enjoy & stay tuned for "Day 2!"

Saturday, 10/3
10am-12:15pm: The New American Table with Marcus Samuelsson

After checking in for day-1 of the NY Culinary Experience, I was led to the kitchen where I would spend the next 2+ hours.  Amidst FCI (French Culinary Institute) students nervously chopping vegetables and stirring the contents of steaming cauldrons stood the man himself, Chef Marcus Samuelsson. 
While the FCI’s staff was completing the prep work for our recipes, fellow class participants began trickling in to the kitchen and locating their assigned work stations.
Well, it appears as though most of you are here,” Chef said as he looked around.  “I’m going to spend the next half-hour or so talking about my background, the industry, and the recipes that we’ll be making today.”  I remember glancing down at my watch and reading “9:30am.  I looked over at my neighbor and gasped, “Thank God we arrived early.

Where did Marcus learn how to cook and what’s his style?
Born in Ethiopia but raised in Sweden, Marcus’ maternal grandmother sparked his initial interest in food and cooking. 
He coins his style of cooking as “flavor driven,” and believes that recipes should serve as guides, not bibles.  Using a glass of whiskey-on-the-rocks as an example, Marcus explained the importance of flavor.  “Your first sip tastes strong and has a distinct, pungent smell and bite.  Now, if you took a swig 15-minutes later, would the drink still taste the same?  No, because the ice has had time to melt and dumb-down the alcohol.”  Mr. Samuelsson proceeded to explain that this is the reason he infuses the ice cubes used for his chilled melon soup with ginger.  “As the ice melts, the ginger essence becomes stronger.  This is what I mean by flavor-driven food.”  
 
What are his accolades?
  • At the early age of 24, Marcus became the executive chef of Aquavit restaurant in NYC.
  • The youngest chef to have ever received two highly coveted “three star” ratings by the New York Times (at Aquavit).
  • In 2003, the James Beard Foundation named him “Best Chef in NYC.”
  • Though he didn’t receive the title, Marcus competed on the Food Network’s infamous program, “Iron Chef.”
  • He has authored four cookbooks, including “The New American Table,” which hits shelves on 10/26/09.
Which recipes did the class cook?
  • Fried Yellowtail Poke with Wasabi Rouille 
  • Beef Tenderloin with Potato Apple Salad 
  • Lentil Soup with Pork and Lamb Dumplings
How was the class divided/assigned duties?
The 24 of us were split in to three teams of eight.  Each team was put in charge of one of the three recipes listed above.  Within each group, individuals were assigned specific tasks.
What was your team assigned to cook?
The Beef Tenderloin with Potato Apple Salad!

What was your favorite dish?
Why, the Tenderloin, of course!!

So…what’s Marcus like?  Is he as gorgeous in-person as he is on TV?
Humble, witty, charming, sharp, stylish, patient and personable are all words that describe Mr. Samuelsson.  I was struck by how down to earth he was!  And if you can believe it, he's even more gorgeous in person than he is on TV!
Lunch was served immediately after my cooking class with Marcus Samuelsson.  Was I hungry?  Hardly.  I’d just wolfed down more than a tasting’s-worth of: Fried Yellowtail Poke with Wasabi Rouille, Beef Tenderloin with Potato Apple Salad and Lentil Soup with Pork and Lamb Dumplings.  But when I saw the lunch spread, I thought, “Diet Schmiet.”  When in Rome, right?  Justin Timberlake’s restaurant, Southern Hospitality, had graciously donated lunch for both days of the NY Culinary Experience.  The smorgasbord included shell-on shrimp with 2 dipping sauces, Memphis-style pork ribs (dry rub, no sauce), toasted sliced baguette topped with pulled pork, mushroom sliders and your standard iceberg-lettuce-based salad…only this one was topped with an explosion of golf ball sized chunks of fried chicken breast.  While this was certainly a random assortment of dishes for a culinary event of this caliber, I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t go back for seconds (and thirds) of those plump chicken balls.
And before I knew it, the clock read “12:45pm.” Press, staff and event participants whooshed past me in a hurry, as if the building was ablaze and they were running for their lives.  “What the hell is going on?” I asked my friend, Alex.  “It’s 12:45!  Time for the lunch speaker series with Dorothy Hamilton, (founder of the FCI) and Ken Friedman (restaurateur extraordinaire).  Let’s go!”  I stuffed one more piece of fried chicken in my mouth, gathered my things, and proceeded downstairs to L’Ecole, FCI’s restaurant.  As we tip-toed through a side entrance, Alex and I were shushed by a woman guarding the door.  The space was filled to the brim with folks hanging on every word that came out of Ken Friedman’s mouth.  Sadly, I was only able to catch about 5 minutes of the Q&A series before I had to hop off to my next event. And off like a prom dress I went! 
Friday
Sep192008

Anthony Bourdain sighting, 9/19/08

 

 

Spotted: Anthony Bourdain was filming at Katz's Deli before today's lunch rush. One of my viewer's father was lucky enough to have "been dining at the right place at the right time," and got to chat 1x1 with Mr. Bourdain and score an autographed Katz's Deli menu!

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