Passion Points: Food/Wine
Q&A with Lee Schrager
The culinary elite storm midtown Manhattan during the New York City Wine & Food Festival, which hosts a weekend of events at storied institutions like the International Culinary Center and adored classics like Commerce. Founder and director of the festival and it’s South Beach equivalent, Lee Schrager spoke to Indagare about the 2013 celebration, food fads and his own eating habits. Read more about the festival and buy tickets here.
What is new to the festival this year that you’re most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to hosting our new and returning signature events at Piers 92 & 94 – our culinary compound. New events at Pier 94 include Jets + Chefs: The Ultimate Tailgate hosted by Joe Namath & Mario Batali and Ronzoni presents La Sagra Sunday Slices sponsored by Time Out New York hosted by Anne Burrell & Adam Richman. Also looking forward to seeing all of the incredible talent we have lined up for our Bank of America Dinner Series – including Matt Abergel coming in from Hong Kong, Alex Atala from Brazil, and Yotam Ottolenghi from the U.K.
Both cities are unique and premier culinary destinations – New York City in the fall is beautiful and many of the greatest chefs in the world call it home. Who wouldn’t want to be in Miami in February – with the sun, sand and ocean, and renowned talent.
What are your favorite spots in New York and Miami for big nights out? For quick breaks? For weekend brunches? For cocktails?
I really like SoHo House (in both cities) for a cocktail. There are so many great spots in both cities to dine, but some of my picks for New York City include Salumeria Rosi, Costata, and the Four Seasons Restaurant, and MC Kitchen, Mandolin and Buena Vista Deli in Miami.
You travel frequently and not just on the U.S.’s eastern coast. What have been your favorite recent discoveries, culinary or otherwise?
I recently returned from Italy where I was fortunate to experience the talents of the world’s greatest butcher at Dario Cecchini in Ronzano. A few months ago I enjoyed the incredible street food culture of Thailand.
What current food fads do you foresee sticking around for a while? Which do you hope to see retire?
It would be nice to see the cronut retire, but I think dessert/sweets trends in general will be around for a while.
Do you cook? If so, what would you say is your signature dish?
I’m a huge fan of Christopher Idone’s cookbooks – so anything from them. Also – Pat LaFrieda steaks on the grill, my mother’s matzo ball soup and Michelle Bernstein’s chocolate bread pudding.
What’s the best thing you’ve had to eat in the past week? To drink?
Any future plans to expand the Wine & Food Festival to a third city?
I think I have another city left in me – possibly on the West Coast.
Interview with Alain Ducasse
Monaco-based, New York-enamored Alain Ducasse has been delighting his soufflé, paté and millefeuille-addicted clientele at Midtown Manhattan institution Benoit since the bistro’s opening in 2008. Following in the footsteps of its Parisian namesake, Benoit is already a classic thanks in no small part to Ducasse and his culinary wisdom. His New York City musts? The venerable pastrami on rye at Katz’s Delicatessen and a sugary slice from Lloyd’s Carrot Cake.
The prodigiously acclaimed Ducasse, who first visited New York as a young chef in 1976, has been returning to the five boroughs for inspiration ever since. His latest coffee table-worthy tome, J’aime New York, is a lovingly curated personal tribute to the eateries, food festivals and farms that have stolen his heart, from multi-Michelin-starred laboratories of molecular gastronomy to hole-in-the-wall delis. It is a beautifully photographed resource both for visitors and New Yorkers determined to be travelers in their own city – a guidebook to New York’s delirium-inducing cuisine by one of its savviest and most affectionate connoisseurs.
Chef Ducasse spoke to Indagare about a few of his favorite ways to savor the city’s endless culinary diversity.
What is the first place you go to refuel upon arrival in NYC?
Zibetto (1385 6th Avenue, no phone) in Midtown. I love it not only for the quality of the expertly made Italian-style coffee, but also because of its tight quarters; you can stop in at any time of day for a solo espresso and not feel quite so alone.
Which New York neighborhoods do you find most compelling for food-lovers?
I am definitely intrigued by everything that’s happening with the restaurant scene in Brooklyn. With J’aime New York’s e-book, you can search based on location, so you might happen upon Roberta’s (261 Moore Street, 718-417-1118) in Bushwick, Totonno’s (1524 Neptune Avenue, 718-372-8606) in Coney Island, Four & Twenty Blackbirds (439 3rd Avenue, 718-499-2917) in Gowanus or Franny’s (348 Flatbush Avenue, 718-230-0221) in Park Slope, just to name a few.
Did you make any exciting discoveries while researching J’aime New York?
I always discover something exciting at the Brooklyn Flea’s Smorgasburg (www.smorgasburg.com), which features the city’s newest artisanal foods. Part of its appeal is that there are weekly newcomers. One week you might have a lobster roll, and maybe the next it’s homemade watermelon soda or preserves to take away.
Where in New York should Francophile epicures be eating right now?
Since the book was finished, there has been a resurgence of French bistros in New York, opened by young chef-entrepreneurs who trained in good French kitchens and are adapting what they know to bring a new accent to French bistro fare in the city. Calliope (84 East 4th Street, 212-260-8484) comes to mind, and of course there’s Lafayette (380 Lafayette Street, 212-533-3000).
What are some of your favorite NYC dining rituals?
Experimental Cocktail Club (191 Chrystie Street, www.experimentalcocktailclubny.com) for a drink before dinner at Carbone. The occasional brunch at Schiller’s Liquor Bar (131 Rivington Street, 212-260-4555) is also a must!
Vibe: High-minded meets down-home
At a glance: This fabled farmstead retreat lures laureled chefs and enlightened bons vivants, many of whom return year after year to partake in a certain wholesome hedonism with deep southern roots.
For many a pilgrim to Blackberry Farm, the journey to Walland, Tennessee is improbably simple. A nonstop flight to Knoxville and a few curves down a country road will find you settled in a hilltop rocking chair opposite a gorgeous tumble of rural Appalachia, drinking in rich, fragrant mountain air between swills of an herbaceous cocktail. Whether it’s the perfect stillness, the distant bleating of sheep or the bluegrass melody that spills gently into the hallway when you open your bedroom door, you may wonder if you’ve been transported not merely to another state, but another century – a bygone age of agrarian symbiosis and unanimity. However, by the end of your stay in these ancient foothills, you may be persuaded that Blackberry Farm is not just the relic of an irretrievable past, but a blueprint for a more humane future – and an intoxicating declaration that our relationship with the land can be reclaimed.
Perhaps even more than its legendary cuisine, what differentiates Blackberry Farm from other destination resorts is the cast of culinary artisans it employs, and there is no better way to spend an afternoon on the farm than in the company of the gardener, the cheese maker or the beekeeper. Shannon Walker, Blackberry’s soft-spoken preservationist, is a veteran who has helmed both the honeyhouse and the creamery. He now presides over the preservation kitchen, which, he volunteered, is “where art and science intersect.” The former photographer’s workspace indeed resembles a laboratory stacked with mason jars of pumpkin pear butter, honey-pickled turnips and smoked onion jam, not to mention spiced watermelon moonshine. Just down a gravel road, where part of the dairy has temporarily been repurposed as a makeshift brewery, the farm’s first brew-master can be seen cultivating its first hand-crafted ales with all the precision and sobriety of a first-year medical student.
There is a marvelous scrappiness among the farmstead’s artisans and a sense that no experiment is too quixotic. In 2008, it was speculated that hazelnut groves in Blackberry’s own kitchen garden could be the site of a future black truffle orchard, and proprietor Sam Beall began breeding and training a whole kennel-full of Lagotto Romagnolo truffle-sniffing retrievers in anticipation.
Despite the short walk to the dairy, the larder and the garden shed, “roughing it” is utterly beside the point of the five-star farm-stay. Country drives are undertaken in Lexus convertibles, and free time is more likely to be filled with private whiskey tastings than canning or composting. With the opening of a new 12,000-square-foot spa, slated to feature a hot yoga studio and a saltwater adults-only pool, life on the farm will only be getting more luxe. The new building’s design, however, will be in keeping with the bucolic setting and the air of homespun elegance that the entire property imparts. While most of us wouldn’t associate farmsteading with jacket-required dining or a 166,000-bottle wine cellar, nightly dinners in the 18th-century gambrel-roofed barn – stunning and storybook red – are anything but stuffy. The dining room is abuzz with festive, familial warmth, and the sublime cuisine, which tastes, naturally, of the earth, is distinguished by its integrity if not exactly by rusticity.
For guests who are anxious to get a little further off the grid than the saltwater swimming pool, the resort’s backyard is a softly billowing woodland wilderness traced with miles of ridgeline hiking trails and obscure tributaries. Avid sportsmen can avail themselves of mounted foxhunting, a shooting academy and an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing program, while cycling and canoeing are perfect for those who are just hoping to work up an appetite for dinner. Anglers and mountaineers troubled by the prospect of an entire day away from Blackberry’s heroic kitchens can take heart: all day-trippers are mercifully provisioned with a lunchbox the contents of which no kindergartener would recognize (I came across a pair of golfers who swore their chicken salad sandwiches had brought them to tears in the middle of their round).
There is hardly an unappealing time of year to visit Blackberry Farm, given the mild southern climate and the pageantry of the ever-shifting Smoky Mountain seasons (there are at least eight, not four, profiled in Sam Beall’s latest cookbook). Depending on whether your stay coincides with come-grass time, planting time, harvest time or puttin’-up time, you will taste, smell and feel the tenderness of early spring or the exuberance of midsummer. Whereas my April visit was measured out in ramps, rhubarb and redbud blossoms, there are guests who book months in advance to share in late-July tomato glory or the romance of autumn (arguments in favor of Thanksgiving are, of course, most compelling). Regardless of the time of year, you will see the lovely mists that hover and eddy wherever the terrain yawns or folds, eat like a farmer-king, and wonder if, in another life, you might have been a shepherd or a baker or a forager of wild morels.
As the farm fades from view and pristine pastures vanish in a nostalgic haze, the homeward bound seek solace in artfully curated take-away boxes containing house-made chips, deviled eggs and spoon-worthy pimento cheese. By the last bite, most are thinking only of how and when they will return to Walland, Tennessee.
- The possibility of wild paw-paws, persimmons or huckleberries at breakfast
- Meeting the truffle puppies
- S’mores, stargazing and sundowners around the twilight bonfire
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