Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fashion Dish...

New York fashion week happened in mid-February, and we were there to feed the hungry masses backstage. BLU AUBERGINE catered the tent show for YIGAL AZROUEL, a very talented Israeli designer who's become a fashion media darling. It was an early call time for models and stylists backstage -- and even earlier for us: 7:30 a.m. Those of you who know me, and chefs in general, know we don't do so well with early morning anything. But we managed, all in the name of homemade coconut muffins and banana-pecan bread, mini wild blueberry muffins and pumpkin-cranberry bread. We had homemade veggie frittata diamonds and mini bagels with butters, jams, and smoked salmon-scallion whipped cream cheese. And we had fresh fruit, fruit, and more fruit. And of course, we couldn't resist adding a platter of my famous deep chocolate brownies. Evil temptation for models watching their figures? Perhaps. But hey, the stylists and makeup artists need some kind of reward for their hard work.

Our reward? We got a few. By the time the show was over, everything had been happily consumed, with a lonely mini-muffin remaining. This is the catering equivalent of a plate licked clean: good news. Our other reward? The runway show itself. Yigal's Fall '10 collection was gorgeous as expected, with buttery leathers and smart, architectural cuts. I find it impossible to resist a sparkly something, so his works designed for Swarovski were some of my favorite statement pieces. Crystal AND distressed leather in one fabulous dress? Sign. Me. Up. It was difficult to discern what was most delicious at the Yigal show: the food backstage, the clothing, or the gorgeous designer himself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Taste of Nostalgia

It's been freezing in New York in recent weeks. I've been doing a lot more cooking at home for meals than I normally do: a conscious effort both to reboot the creative juices and to save money on personal food costs. I came across some fresh, plump bay scallops the other day, and had to buy them. My Mom used to make a bay scallop dish when I was growing up, a simple yet utterly satisfying gratin, of sorts. I wanted to recreate that -- and I could practically taste it in my mouth, and see my young Mom, hair curled behind her ears, sprawled out on the kitchen floor to man the broiler while the ramekins of tiny scallops browned. I served this, as my Mom sometimes did, with a blend of wild rice and whole grain brown rice. A nod to the hippie '70's when I first ate the dish? That, and I threw in some dried cranberries and toasted almonds for good 21st century "superfoods" measure. With the addition of some baby arugula tossed with my favorite olive oil from Umbria and a splash of balsamic, I had a great meal. Nostalgic. Homey. Delicious.

Mom's Broiled Scallops:
A serving is a ramekin full, so it depends on the size of the bay scallops and the ramekin itself. A shallow,wider ramekin is best. Wipe the inside of the ramekin(s) with softened butter. Place the scallops in to cover the bottom in one layer. Sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of white wine. Dot scallops with butter, sprinkle with salt, and top with plenty of seasoned bread crumbs. Broil for 4 minutes or so, until the top has a nice brown crust on it. You might want a little bread on the side to sop up the liquid. It's pretty irresistible.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What the Future Holds

I attended a food panel/discussion last week hosted by Culintro dubbed "The Future of Food Journalism." It's an interesting topic for those of us who work in the food industry, as well as for those who are avid readers of food journalism, enjoy restaurant reviews, and share in the food blogosphere.

These are trying times for journalism in general, since print newspapers and magazines continue to fold. I think most writers and readers share the sentiment that these print media are something special that we don't want to go away. The loss of Gourmet was a tremendous blow to both the publishing and food industries -- I'd been a subscriber since long before I became a chef, and for me, there's still a gaping hole in food journalism that has yet to be filled since Gourmet sent out its last issue in November '09.

So the general consensus? Blogs and new media aren't going anywhere -- their immediacy is what makes them unique, as does the egalitarian nature of sites like Yelp! But it cuts both ways, because this makes everyone a food critic. And really, we know that everyone can't be a food critic -- at least not reliable ones, not like seasoned (pun intended) journalists and culinary professionals.

But speaking from the perspective of those who write, the point was brought up that while once journalists were paid for their writing, now blogs and online content -- which pay very little and often nothing at all -- expect professional writers to do it gratis. This means that "serious" journalists are looking elsewhere to write, and the "experts" writing online are those getting marketing benefits in return. Ergo, those writing for blogs have something to push -- wares or a brand, but regardless, an agenda -- and so there are fewer career journalists able to get the (presumably) unbiased word out there.

Other highlights of the evening:
- Francis Lam describing the allure of the physicality of magazines. And I fully agree: I like holding what I'm reading, the feel of the pages, the heft of the paper.
- The point made by the panel that one of the big problems of our society today is that increasingly, people don't want to talk with people who don't agree with them. Bravo! Sadly, Americans are more segmented than they've been in many years: politically, philosophically, financially...and this applies to us even on a gustatory level. The more we mix, listen, and understand, the better we'll be. Blue state - red state, green chile red chile. An open discourse is key.
- Gabriella Gershenson's comment about the advantage food bloggers have over print journalists: immediacy. Journalists have to file their stories and see them printed, at best, the next morning. Bloggers can in one minute post "Boom: Keith McNally just wiped his ass!" That had me cracking up for quite some time.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


The blank page. Or worse, the blank blog. What does one write when one can write anything she wishes (within reason)? It will have something to do with food, of course. Preferably good food. Preferably Italian, because that's like home to me -- come tornare a casa, as they say. And what do I love, really love, as much as, say, chocolate? The answer is simple: eggplant.

Not what you expected? I know, I know. People seem to love it or hate it. I fall with a loud thud into the first category. I think eggplant is a glorious food: a berry as it so happens, a member of the nightshade family, and a great canvas for a tremendous range of flavorful "paint," if you will. My dedication to the eggplant is evident in my use of its french-anglo name as my company's moniker ("aubergine"). And my love of cooking with and eating of the eggplant is evident to all who know me ("What kind of eggplant dish are you preparing tonight?" many friends and relatives have asked me, tongues planted firmly in cheeks). So it's true. Sometimes I go overboard with the eggplant. The Italians call it melanzana -- derived from mela insana, or "crazy apple," which was the effect early Italians were sure it had on those who consumed it. So, call me crazy for the eggplant. I am still trying to successfully marry my two favorite foods: eggplant and chocolate. In the meantime, while I'm working on that alchemical miracle, here's a recipe for a very simple, but wonderful, Italian sauteed eggplant dish.

The sliced melanzana can be eaten as is, or used as a base for an eggplant parm; a stacked millefoglie with sliced mozzarella, tomato, and basil; or in involtini, stuffed with fresh ricotta and a basil chiffonade and rolled -- a great little appetizer with some chilled white wine. Like I said, a great canvas...


(2-4 people)

1-2 Medium-sized eggplants
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
Parsley, chopped, to taste
(red pepper flakes optional)
(red wine vinegar, optional)

-Slice eggplants across into rounds about 1/8-inch thick.
-Layer in colander in sink and generously salt each layer. Leave to drain for an hour or so.
-Pat dry eggplant slices.
-Heat olive oil to cover bottom of a saute pan over medium heat. Add whole garlic clove and cook, swirling clove around in oil, for 1 minute. Remove.
-Add 1 layer of eggplant slices and cook, turning once, until nicely browned around edges.
-Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Continue with remaining eggplant slices, adding oil to pan when necessary.
-When all eggplant is cooked, layer in a dish, sprinkle with salt to taste, parsley, and red pepper flakes if you like. Sprinkle with red wine vinegar if desired.