Levi’s Farm to Table Exhibit

I just returned from a photography exhibit titled “Farm to Table” at the Levi’s (yes, the jeans) Photo Workshop (13 Wooster in SoHo) featuring Chef April Bloomfield of the Breslin, the Spotted Pig, and John Dory. [Don’t miss the affiliated video at the end of this post]

Upon entering, my first reaction was “what does this have to do with Levi’s? And what does it have to do with food?”, my next was that it seemed incomplete and maybe we had arrived on the wrong day… Or the curator called in sick that week.

The exhibit consisted of two small areas of two very large white walls, one displaying less than a dozen blurry out-of-focus photos of what I learned later was a berry farm. One photo was recognizably Bloomfield, the others either had only a blurred silhouette of a hooded-raincoat-wearing figure or only blurred farm shots. No tags, labels, photo credits, or anyway to know who was in the photo if you were not already familiar with the chef.

The other wall was far more engaging and lively. Trouble was, it wasn’t even Chef Bloomfield, but Chefs David Chang & Christine Tosi of Momofuku. Still, only about a dozen shots and one illustration of a series of line drawings of a woman masturbating – not sure what it had to do with the chefs, or the farm to table movement. I can’t say it surprised me though. I’m familiar with Chang’s appreciation for the shock value of something along the lines of out-of-place pornography. It made me smile.

So, back to the food… there wasn’t any. What there was was a bar in the back serving Coca-Cola products in plastic cups by a pair of obliviously dancing banquet servers. Again, I wondered about this “Farm to Table” concept.

A couple pictures of a nondescript blurred out farm, no food, no tables for that matter, and a bar full of big-money commercial high-fructose corn syrup laden non-alcoholic beverages. Break out the Ritz crackers and Cheez Wiz and it could have been a Mormon wedding in a suburb of St. George, Utah.

If you are interested in the real “meat” of the collaboration between April Bloomfield, photographer Marcelo Gomez, farmer Franca Tantillo of Berried Treasures in upstate NY, and Levi’s watch the video below or see the event website (click here). It’s the real thing.

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Tea and Cheese Tasting, Part II

Six exceptional teas, six exceptional cheeses, three passionate experts on the two subjects – the recipe for a fascinating evening. Thank you to In Pursuit of Tea, Saxelby Cheesemongers, and Chef Melanie Franks for sharing your knowledge and skill, and for introducing me to some new favorite flavor pairings.

Cheese plate

When pairing any foods and beverages, there are basic principles that apply. Acidity balances acidity, salt and acidity balance each other, salt enhances subtle back notes, salty and sweet love each other, tannins (in tea as in wine) whisk away animal fat (including dairy) leaving a clean palate and enhancing subtle  back notes as well.

I am now more convinced than ever that tea is more versatile than wine when enjoying cheese. Tea has the complex aromas and flavors of wine, only more subtle. Many teas also have the tannins and fermented characteristics of wine as well. What tea doesn’t have is the high acid of wine or, of course, the alcohol (which is significant, especially when considering new world wines).

Here are a few favorites from the evening’s pairings:

1. Japanese Sencha with Ardith Mae Chevre: the tea had a seaweed forest aroma and seemed to have a touch of salinity. The cheese was tart/tangy and bright. Together the cheese developed more sweet-cream flavors and the tea’s greenness provided a pleasant accent.

2. Dong Ding (oolong) “Twelve Trees” with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm: The aroma of the tea reminded me of a lilac bush in full bloom – floral and woody, a hint of smokiness from charcoal roasting of the leaves. The forward tannins also probably helped it along. This tea was, hands-down, my favorite and it paired with several cheeses beautifully. First, the cheddar – nutty, salty, yummy crystals of flavor (pure umami). Together, the lilac aromas popped and my mouth watered from the fruitiness of the cheese. The touch of smokiness accentuated a bacon-like aroma (the cheese is rubbed with lard as it ages). Other cheeses that went well with this tea: Goat Tomme (an earthy-foresty natural rind raw milk cheese from Twig Farm in VT) and Humble Pie (washed rind oozy-soft cheese from Woodcock Farm in VT).

3. Pu’erh (5 year aged black leaves-not pressed) with Vaquero Blue: Pu’erhs are a tough sell, even with some tea enthusiasts. Their very distinct barnyard aromas can be off-putting. I prefer to think of them as the old world Pinot Noirs of the tea world. This one was horse-y with the smell of rich hay and campfire smoke. The cheese had an equally barnyard-y aroma, firmer texture than I expected, and a savory saltiness. Together they were heavenly – hay, roasted nuts, and a pleasant gaminess. Wine could have never had the same effect with a cheese this full-bodied. The Pu’erh was also lovely with the Goat Tomme.

I’ll definitely be playing with this new knowledge through out the holidays!

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Chef’s Night Off: Tea and Cheese Tasting

I’m headed to a new tea shop, In Pursuit of Tea (33 Crosby Street between Grand and Broome in SoHo, NYC), this evening to indulge in a bit of delicious education.

Tea eggs

From a different tea tasting

My friend Melanie, a tea specialist and chef, is working with Sebastian Beckwith from Pursuit of Tea and Benoit Breal from Saxelby Cheese to conduct a tea and cheese pairing.
Teas ranging from whites to pu-erhs will be paired with local seasonal cheeses.

I’ve participated in a tea pairing Melanie conducted in the past and was blown away by how beautifully tea and cheese go together – better than wine in some cases (blasphemous, I know!). I’ll let you know how tonight goes.

Coincidentally, Serious Eats just ran a piece  today about the new shop and Melanie’s involvement – she is supplying them with tea-centric baked goods including a Macha Loaf that is exceptionally moist and delicious.

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Morning Coffee

Cup o' JoeNo wandering or writing gets done without coffee. If I’m going to get back on track after my technical difficulties on Friday night I need a bit of fuel.

Despite the ongoing trend of specialized lattes, high-tech espresso, and myriad of other complicated (and expensive) coffee drinks, I still prefer the old-school NYC diner coffee – the kind that comes in the blue and white Greek-motif paper cups. Preferably with a glazed donut! Perfect for wandering.

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WordPress for iPhone is the WORST

I just wrote over 750 words about tonight’s event and WordPress dumped it in the middle of saving. Sorry – not going to rewrite now. And removing this app from my phone immediately! When will I learn?

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Friends in the Spotlight

Tonight is this chef’s night off… would have skipped writing if it weren’t for my promise. Instead, I’m going to give a couple of my friends, old and (relatively) new, the well-deserved spotlight.

First, Chef Pascal Beric (one of our instructors at French Culinary Institute)  he is the master butcher and charcutier I mentioned yesterday. I had the honor of joining him in the kitchen at last night’s JBF Gala Auction. It was wonderfully exhausting and exciting to work side by side with such a humble and passionate chef. The charcuterie course was beautiful and thrilled not only the guests, but the constellation of Michelin stars we shared the kitchen with – Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy were particularly charming and gracious in a manner that only French men can pull off! I didn’t have time to take any decent photos, so I’m (im)patiently waiting for a friend to send his… will post as soon as they are in.

The other friend I would like to mention this evening is Amanda Cramer, the wine maker at Niner Wine in Paso Robles. She was my housemate way-back-when in Napa when she was assistant winemaker at Paradigm. As I was scanning the blogs, I found this post about her on Squid Ink: the LA Weekly blogs, complete with gorgeous pictures. Friendship aside, Amanda has integrity and a mind of her own – her wines demonstrate this by putting the true character of both the varietal and the terroir at the forefront without compromise.  In her words, “I think wines picked ripe, but not too ripe, are more accessible…. I like to say my wines are not stick-a-fork-in-it-and-call-it-diner wines. I want them to go well with dinner, not be dinner.” (quoted from the Squid Ink post linked above). The Niner Syrah, Merlot, Barbera and Sangiovese are my current favorites, but I haven’t opened the Fog Catcher or Cabernet yet… I’m sure I’ll love them too!

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Culinary Liaisons: Culinaires

I won’t be writing much today, but I do have a very good excuse. Tonight is the James Beard Foundation’s annual Gala Dinner and Auction at the Four Seasons Restaurant, NYC.

From a previous event

I will be joining Chef Pascal Beric (master butcher and charcutier) and a few other chefs and students from FCI in serving the charcuterie course. We will be joining some living legends in the kitchen tonight: Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and François Payard. I’m more than a little nervous (although I won’t be doing any cooking).

Chef Pascal’s Charcuterie Menu:

Saucisson Sec (dry cured sausage)

Lonzo (Corsican-style salted dried pork loin)

Smoked Garlic Sausage

Fresh Ham

Country Pate

Smoked Andouille de Campagne

 Condiments: housemade pickled vegetables & mustard

Housemade Breads: Baguette, bordelaise, et al

Will try to post photos later or tomorrow.

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