Category Archives: Food
Reviews and food from Europe and beyond.
As COVID-19 has prompted the Metropolitan Musuem to close its doors to its thousands of visitors on a slow day and stream daily content, we have a chance to look back at another time. It is a throwback to the past splendors of the Met and its 2018 Versailles exhibit captured in a Tribeca Film Festival offering. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, streamed online for press, fans and supporters. Tribeca Film Festival curtailed many of its events. However, they screened films in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which is perhaps worse than the French Revolution that felled the last of the French Kings (Louis XVI) and left the Palace of Versailles a shell of itself until later restoration.
Though I am a neophyte foodie, I had never heard of world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbooks include Jerusalem, Plenty). Nor had I the time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during its “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/visitors-to-versailles.
The Metropolitan Museum enjoys featuring live events which bring important works to life. They attempt to ground them in the present by combining exhibits with other contemporary forms of expression. “Visitors to Versailles” was one such glorious presentation taking place in the Summer of 2018.
Though I missed attending the Versailles exhibit and particularly “The Feast of Versailles,” presented by Ottolenghi and his pastry chef collaborators, “all’s well that end’s well.” Laura Gabbert the documentarian known for city of Gold, No Impact Man and Sunset Story decided to do a quick and dirty film about Yotam Ottolenghi’s commission to create the “Feast of Versailles” giving us an inside look behind the scenes at how the “feast” portion of the exhibit came into being.
From start to finish, Gabbert chronicles the philosopher-foodie Ottolenghi at his home and his restaurant. We witness clips of him with restaurant colleagues tasting and refining desserts. We immediately get a sense of Ottolenghi’s expertise, congeniality and collaborative skills to perfect dishes to will please his clientele.
The filmmaker features brief interview clips o Ottolenghi describing how he works and how he responded to the Met’s commission of his culinary artistry. Then she the chronicles the chef’s visit to New York City from his home base in London and reviews meetings with Met Museum experts who assist him in his research of the culture, opulence and luxury of Versailles as the seat of world culture for over 100 years during the reign of the Sun Kings. Importantly, the Met experts discuss the types of foods that the king and his patrons enjoyed, gleaned from the records and from oil paintings of that time.
As Ottolenghi visits Versailles, Gabbart includes panoramic views of the glorious gardens and various salons and rooms including the “hall of mirrors” which she films as Ottolenghi comments. This section perhaps could have been added to; there is never enough photography of the incredible palace. However, film clips include the drawings, renderings and other works capturing the style of the palace dating back three hundred-fifty years.
From his readings, his discussions with the experts and his Versailles visit, Ottolenghi decides to review online a myriad of pastry chefs to assess whom he might best collaborate with who will convey his vision. It’s an important selection process. They will help him elucidate the ethos of Versailles though a contemporary lens. After visiting their websites and scrutinizing their “wares” online, he hones in on five visionary dessert chefs: Dinara Kasko, Janice Wong, Bompas & Parr, Ghaya Oliveira, and Dominique Ansel. All of these chefs are as diverse from each other as is the east from the west.
Ottolenghi’s research of French history and epicurean tradition, meetings, planning and contacts which have taken months are everything. Then Gabbert slows down her time frame and follows the pressure on the five chefs as they arrive at the Met to set up their displays and work their magic two days before the culinary event the “Feast of Versailles.”
These unique and renowned pastry chefs (creator of the “Cronut” Dominique Ansel, among others) have been guided with a light hand by Ottolenghi who has envisioned the evening as an emulation of French decadence that manifests spinning reflections into our own age. Months before the event, each pâtissier works to create a unique dessert inspired by the conceptualization of Versailles’ over-the-top dramatic grandeur. Chocolate sun kings to elaborate jellies, tarts to swans and topiaries — Gabbert reveals the artistry of the dessert chef and the challenges they confront fashioning their presentations in a formidable setting like the Met which is not outfitted as a culinary institute, indeed, far from it.
As the tension rises, the worst possible scenarios occur. The electrical circuit doesn’t work and it is a trial for the electricians to come up with a solution so that the “tornado” effect delivered by the special machine will spin with gusto. In another instance, the cake batter is not the right consistency because the ingredients in the US are different. The pastry chef tries numerous times with the help of an American expert who insists another ingredient should be added. The director wisely leaves the chef unmoored from her art, questioning how to correct the batter. Will she find a solution the day of the Feast?
Importantly, the “Feast” is a living paean to the court of the monarchy which daily was a staged scene that gave audience to artists, writers, reporters, foreign tourists and subjects who witnessed the rich splendor of the King’s residence, his dominance over his officials and his power as head of state. French cuisine then and now had a great impact on French society which continues into our modern day with cultivars like Julia Child, Eric Ripert, Dominique Ansel and more. One cannot examine a cookbook and not see French words used for process and product: i.e. saute, flambe, mousse, omelet, etc.
One theme that Gabbert explores is this idea that there is little privacy in the world of the Sun Kings who exposed themselves, perhaps too much, for it led to their downfall in the extremes of poverty and wealth. Today, Social Media is used to eliminate our privacy, but the uber wealthy manage to stay away from the public spotlight, where the Sun Kings sought it. The reputed richest in the world are not necessarily so; old wealth that dominates for centuries is unknown and uninvestigated, for good reason.
Another theme that the director alludes to briefly, which should have been elucidated at length, is the idea of excess, crass opulence and decadence. The director includes one shot of Donald Trump’s gold room and makes the analogy that such excess caves in on itself as did the French Monarchy. On a superficial level the “equivalence” seems to make sense. She needed to extrapolate about the parallels and reveal that past their superficiality, there is no parallel. The Sun Kings were far from frivolous and unlearned. Their culture developed over a century and the accoutrements they surrounded themselves with were priceless. The same does not abide for the dim comparative currently in the White House and the occupants’ crass nouveau riche sensibilities.
What may abide in this romp through Versailles and the lovely feast of extravagant and clever desserts is the theme that the draining wealth and riches it takes to sustain the luxurious materialism chokes off everything. Eventually, the debts pile up and the enemies threaten. Soon the borrowing becomes so great one is entailed with quid pro quos, not a way to remain autonomous. And then the revolution comes when there is not enough food to go around. The film is an interesting view of the days of glory during a time when new elites strive for similitude but fall so short, they don’t recognize their foibles and pretensions.
But Gabbert manages to tie the times vaguely together with the elaborate desserts and concepts of the grand master of the “Feast of Versailles,” Ottolenghi. And she infers gently that the sustainability of such excess is as mortal as its keepers. We recognize the fragility of excess more than ever in this COVID-19 global pandemic.
If you are a red wine drinker and like to try fine wines that have a robust flavor, then Sagrantino wines will list among your favorites. The Sagrantino grapes are small, finicky powerhouses, but despite their needing much care to properly cultivate in their indigenous Italian region, California, Australia and other areas of the world are jumping on the Sagrantino bandwagon. As they try their hand at producing the bold red wine which originated in Montefalco in the province of Umbria, Italy centuries ago, they will tease out its richness and unique characteristics.
Montefalco Sagrantino is a wine that is appropriate in every season. It is distinctive, flavorful, and vibrant and has an interesting finish on the palate. It pairs well with wintry fare of stews, roasts, short ribs, as well as summery grilled meats and chops. It is lovely with rustic and hearty vegetable and pasta-dish combinations. It also goes well with appetizers like cheeses and salumi and is a highly drinkable accompaniment to foods that are sweet or salted.
This is Sagrantino month at Eataly NYC and Eataly Chicago. Eataly is the extravaganza presenting the best of Italy in its restaurants, market and wine shop on 5th Avenue housed under one roof in an amazing and fun way. All month Eataly is offering Montefalco Sagrantino classes in its teaching school, La Scuola. It’s wine shop is hosting Montefalco Sagrantino tastings for free. Additionally, in its hugely popular La Piazza restaurant, one can pair up a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino with the cheese plates or salumi for a delicious treat or lunch.
Five Monetfalco Sagrantino producers are being offered at the Friday tastings. I had the opportunity to try each at an event at Eataly’s La Scuola during which various producers were present. Rebecca Mills discussed the wines, the food pairings and the producers Marco Caprai of Arnaldo Caprai Vineyards and Filippo Antonelli from Antonelli San Marco filled in with salient facts about their wines.
Alicia Walter chef from Eataly in New York City, created the dishes which paired beautifully with the wines. They were the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wines, 2007-2009 vintages from the five different producers in the Montefalco region of Umbria now being featured at Eataly in March.
- Perticaia, Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2009
- Scacciadiavoli, Sagrantino Di montefalco DOCG 2008
- Antonelli, San Marco Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
- Arnaldo Caprai, Collepiano Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
- Tenuta Castelbuono, Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
The DOCG designation for each means that the wines must adhere to the highest production standards. The wines are produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes grown in Montefalco. The regulations include the specific months in the barrel, an October harvest, and the agriculture of the vines (number of vines per hectare).
You will be able to purchase these producers wines at Eataly NYC and at other fine wine shops in NYC, Chicago, San Francesco and Los Angelos. Their websites are above and you can place orders there. Better yet, travel to Umbria, visit these producers’ wineries. They will be happy to offer tastings and tours of their vineyards. However, if you aren’t planning a trip in the near future, drop in to sample the Montefalco Sagrantino at Eataly NYC or Chicago this month. As you open up your palate to these unique wines, you will note their different personalities, and you will probably walk away with a bottle of pure Montefalco Umbria. You will be glad you did.
December is a great month to celebrate wines from the Veneto region of Italy. December we celebrate the holidays, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It is a time when we enjoy great food with family and friends and are looking for exceptional wines to pair with fish or are looking for sparkling wines to ring in the New Year without the gross hangoveR the next day.
I tasted some exceptional wines during a luncheon at Eataly’s La Scuola Grande. There the chef using Lidia’s, Mario Batali’s and Eataly’s recipes made delicious cuisine that paired seamlessly with the drinkable wines from the Veneto that were featured:
MONTELVINI Tullia Prosecco di Treviso Brut DOC, NV
CESARI Mara Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC, 2011 (a red wine)
The Veneto is the primary region for wine production in Italy. The variety of wines produced there is surprising. The Veneto produces whites and reds, sparkling wines to meditation wines. There are also niche-labels from small producers that are in demand and luxurious. Veneto wines are in demand globally. The region expots 75% of its DOC wines. The wines featured were so drinkable that I would enjoy them with appetizers, with cheese and with the full range and complement of meats including chicken and other fowl and certainly fish. They go down smoothly and are a great value. For NEW YEAR’S EVE, a Prosecco is such a tremendous value over champagne. My cousin recommended it for years and knowing little about great wines, I was a snob and drank champagne. Have you seen the prices of good champagne lately? Too rich for my blood. An expensive Prosecco is the greater value. A great and delicious wine, a great value. Why not?
Lidia Bastianich’s Fritto Misto (Mixed Fried Seafood & Vegetables)
As Lidia suggests, “The point of a fritto misto is to enjoy the flavors and textures of a variety of fish. You can vary the roster of fish according to what is fresh in the market and increase of decrease the amount according to the number of guests you’re cooking for.” Also, the vegetables are now in season and can be swapped out for other vegetables that are fresh and in season. The Fritto Misto was delicious with the featured Proseccos.
Mario Batali’s Risotto al Radicchio
(Risotto with Radicchio & Red Wine)
You can find this in Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali, 1998.
If you love the best of Italian Prosecco DOC and DOCG, Soave and even delicious lesser known red and white wines from the Veneto, you will appreciate Move The Passion, which begins this evening in New York City.
Move the Passion is a wine tasting event where you will be able to walk or be driven around to various areas of New York City to sample and discover the best wines from the Veneto which is Italy’s top wine producing region. The U.Vi.Ve. is the consortium of the Veneto wine producers to ensure the highest standards of Veneto wines, including their quality and uniformity. They have organized for the entire month of December a celebration of their finest wines highlighted throughout the city with various events.
Move the Passion is such an event. It offers wine lovers the unique opportunity to discover amazing Italian wines at 7 wonderful wine locations in New York City. The walking Veneto Wine tour will take place on December 3rd from 6 to 10 pm and will take in the following venues:
Arclinea: 21 East 26th Street
Astor Center: 399 Lafayette St.
Giovanni Rana Restaurant: 75 9th Ave.
Maslow 6: 211 West Broadway
Revel Restaurant: 10 Little West 12th St.
Urbani Truffles: 10, West end Avenue (between 59th and 60th)
Risotteria Melotti: 309 E 5th St.
You will be tasting sumptuous wines and fabulous food to go with them including truffles, rice (risotto), home made pasta, panettone, cheese and more.
REGISTRATION IS MANDATORY TO ATTEND THE EVENT.
TO REGISTER: CLICK AND SCROLL TO REGISTRATION.
Was it Jack Kerouac who said, “There is wisdom in wine?” Go for it!
If you’ve traveled to central Italy and visited Umbria, you’ve explored the picturesque medieval villages, and enjoyed the breathtaking mountains and lush valleys of this “Green Heart of Italy,” or “il cuor verde d’Italia.” Umbria is known for its sumptuous cuisine (The wines and oil olive oil are exceptional.) remarkable artisan jewelry and Deruta ceramics. If you love fashionable cashmere knitwear, you know you will be able to purchase some of the most chic outfits in Milano, Italy. Well, Umbria is an important hub of a cashmere knitwear manufacturing district in Italy.
Though traveling to Umbria may be not in your immediate plans, you are fortunate because Umbria has come to the U.S. If you are in New York City the month of November until December 8, you will be able to experience the best of Umbria in various locations around the city like Eataly, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria and Di Paolo’s Fine Foods.In an official proclamation Mayor Bloomberg has declared November “I Love Umbria Month!”For the rest of November until December 8th, the city will be hosting cultural and culinary events in celebration of the best that Umbria has to offer in its wine, ceramics, olive oil, cuisine, jewelry, even music.
Eataly’s restaurants are currently serving traditional Umbrian fare paired with Umbrian wines like the signature Sagrantino. Eataly chefs are hosting cooking classes that focus on typical Umbrian recipes. Their wine store is holding its final wine tastings the next two weeks on Fridays and Saturdays, and there will be tastings in La Piazza.
Additional trade and consumer tasting events have been featured at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in the heart of NoHo. Around the city, participating jewelers are still offering exquisite Umbrian jewelry. In Little Italy, Di Palo’s Fine Foods has hosted olive oil tastings and wine tastings, some of the finest from the region.
The month long festivities were heralded with the first of a number of events, a luncheon: Umbria, “A Land Rich in Time.” Held Wednesday, November 7th at Eataly’s La Scuola Grande, it was hosted by the Centro Estero Umbria(Umbria Trade Agency) and renown chef Lidia Bastianich. The sumptuous luncheon featured dishes typical of the region with Umbrian wine pairings. For the Antipasto, diners lunched on Chef Alex Pilas’ exceptional “Porcini con Crescione, Finocchio & Tartufo,” paired with a white wine of the region.
Eataly’s wine director, Dan Amatuzzi, Marco Caprai of The Caprai estate and Marco Petrini, President of Monini North America, Inc., discussed Umbrian cuisine at length. Amatuzzi and Caprai explained the wine pairings for each dish and emphasized the Sagrantino as the signature Umbrian grape whose wine with its gripping tannins and ability to be aged for years makes it a classic of the region.
Petrini spoke about the olive oil produced as unique to Umbria in its mild, nutty taste profile that marries perfectly with porcini and legumes, ingredients widely used in Umbrian cuisine.
After the antipasto, guests enjoyed the Secondo which was Porchetta con Lenticchie Umbre. The combination of roasted pork resting on a bed of lentils prepared with Umbrian olive oil, nutty, fresh, smooth, and accompanying regional seasonings was a sensational meld of flavors. The dish was perfection and exemplary of the region’s select recipe for culinary delight.
To describe the Dolce course as tasty would be an understatement. The Torta Umbra all’Olio d’Oliva & Gelato was not cloyingly sweet, nor heavy as one might expect as it was made with Umbrian olive oil. The cake was light, airy and extremely flavorful; its gentility coupled well with the dessert wine, Tenuta Rocca di Fabbri, Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito DOCG 2005. The pairing pinged my palate and completed the progression of dishes with an intriguing finish, leaving me with thoughts of returning to such dishes and pairings again and again.
The schedule of the last two weeks follows below.
Week Three: (November 23-30) Focus on Truffles and Legumes
Week Four: (December 1-8) Focus on Cuisine
You will be missing out if you don’t make it to Eataly or one of the other venues during the “I Love Umbria” month’s remaining festivities. It’s not too late to enjoy a glass of Umbrian wine or dine on some superb Umbrian fare. You’ll be glad you did.