April 5, 2017
I’ve never had the pleasure of encountering this incredible multi-volume Chinese Food Encyclopedia until today. And after I did, after I’d looked through the whole Sichuan volume page-by-page, I had no option but to walk outside, head a few blocks south, and into the first decent Chinese restaurant I encountered. What did I order when I got there? Mapo tofu and rice, of course. Here’s the dish from Grandma Cheng’s, in 1984:
Though the whole encyclopedia was printed in Japan, this volume was written entirely by Sichuan writers. Each of the recipes comes from one of the best restaurants inthe province. This is Grandma Cheng’s, the institution credited for popularizing the dish:
And here’s the charming recipe:
The factory where all of their tofu is made:
And the most astonishing knife skills I’ve seen in some time:
March 7, 2017
The dinner honoring Daniel Boulud at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival was a dream of a feast. Held in a private penthouse overlooking the harbor, each dish was paired with astonishing wines, starting with magnums of Krug Grande Cuvee.
The first course, by Jean-Francois Bruel, current Executive Chef at Restaurant Daniel, was even more delicious than it looks in the picture above. Not easy; it would be hard to come up with a prettier plate. Slices of citrus-marinated scallop, caviar, crisp notes of radish, a hint of wasabi… Tiny kisshu oysters were hiding somewhere, along with crunchy little bits rumored to be Budda’s hand. The scallops were served with a very amiable Trimbach Riesling, 2009 Clos Sainte Hume that made them very happy.
Kavin Kaysen (of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour in Minneapolis) concocted this little confection – a mere couple of bites – of gently cooked langoustine topped with crunchy popped rice on a puddle of charred eggplant and another of red curry. So delicious! With it we drank a 2012 Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche poured out of magnums.
Andrew Carmellini has too many restaurants to list here. Should we go with The Dutch or Locanda Verde? His complex French-inflected lasagna layered gossamer sheets of pasta, delicate as flower petals, with sliced truffles and Parmesan cream. It all went whispering into the mouth before the flavors exploded. The 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin Coeur du Roy from Domaine Dugat-Py was an ideal companion.
Normand Laprise came down from Canada to cook for the event. He proudly served this rare magret of duck, the steely flavor edged with the bittersweet taste of sea buckthorn. To drink? A big bold 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins from Henri Bonneau.
Clearly the wine was getting to me. By the time the fifth course rolled around – Wagyu beef with charred onions, salsify and trumpet mushrooms – we’d been at the table for hours, dozens of speeches had been made, and I neglected to take its picture. But the dish, by Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony, was a triumph. So was the 2005 Colgin IX Estate, a stately American claret.
And then dessert, this elegant little waltz of cakes, creams, confits and mousselines by Remy Funfrock of the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island served with – are you ready? – 1996 Yquem.
And so to bed. Well, almost. A final speech by Mickey Bakst, who conceived the entire affair. (Mickey himself is so beloved in the restaurant world he’s known as “America’s Maitre d’.”) A few more words from Daniel himself, perhaps the most gracious man on the planet. Each time someone rose to honor him, Daniel gave it right back, honoring the honorer. The final gift? At the door each guest was presented with Daniel’s latest book, signed with a deeply personal note.
February 25, 2017
Following in the steps of the Rijksmuseum and the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art flung its doors open to the internet last month. Anyone, anywhere, can now access nearly 450,000 digitized works for free non-commercial use. (And more than a million pieces still await digitization.) I can’t think of a single rabbit hole I’d rather fall into.
Scrolling around, looking for food, I came upon some truly ancient dishes. This loaf of bread came out of the oven 3,500 years ago, and went straight into the tomb of Hatnefer and Ramose to provide sustenance in the afterlife:
A royal child named Amenemhat got something a little heartier: embalmed pigeon. This wooden fowl sarcophagus, which was found next to Amenemhat in his tomb near Thebes, is approximately the same age as the bread:
Then there’s this remarkable fellow: a fully embalmed goose.
Finally, this dark dense morsel found in Hatnefer’s tomb. What is it, you ask? Nothing less than our old friend fruitcake! Thousands of years ago it was already known for its staying power.
February 8, 2017
Gwendolyn Brooks would never have called herself a food writer. The Pulitzer-prize winner was one of the most decorated poets in American history. She published 75 poems before the age of 16, and was Poet Laureate of Illinois for 32 years.
She wrote only one novel, but it contains one of the most arresting descriptions of cooking that I know.
Brooks was part of the great migration; when she was six weeks old her parents packed up their Kansas life and moved the family north to Chicago. Having escaped Jim Crow she became part of the Chicago Black Renaissance, getting to know great writers like Langston Hughes. Brooks returned the favor, mentoring many young poets. Among her many students were poets Sonia Sanchez, Don L. Lee and Nikki Giovanni (not to mention members of the street gang, the Blackstone Rangers).
January 13, 2017
This was dinner last night; it might be the strangest recipe I’ve ever attempted. You stuff the bananas, and then eat them, peel and all. Trust me – it’s delicious.
The recipe is from this book:
And this is what chick pea flour looks like: