12 days: on the first day of christmas: lundgaard nielsen… (2017)

•December 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Larded lamb racks on the sear.

At the start of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, I had been to the restaurants of eight of this year’s 12 guest chefs – some of them many times; and, mostly by coincidence, I had been to the restaurants of half of the guests chefs in this year alone.  It is with this invaluable, personal context that I eagerly look forward to spending a fifth December with my Meadowood family in Napa Valley.

This year’s guest chef with whom I have the most contact in recent years is Mark Lundgaard Nielsen. I first ate at his restaurant in 2015, shortly after he became head chef of that ancient and storied cellar in Copenhagen called Kong Hans Kælder. In the two years since, I’ve not only eaten at his restaurant nearly a dozen times (in just about as many trips to Denmark), but have become quite good friends with him.  I’ve gone hunting and camping with him, traveled around the U.S. together, spent Christmas with his family in southern Denmark last year, and attended his son’s baptism in September.  So, I was particularly excited that Nielsen was invited to kick off this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

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travel: up high… (new york; 2017)

•November 29, 2017 • Leave a Comment

New York.

For the first year in over a decade, I didn’t think I was going to make it to New York.  By October, I had resigned to this sad fact when a last-minute business engagement changed my travel plans

Instead of heading home from Paris, I’d have to stretch the contents of my suitcase to last a few more days.  Thankfully, I was staying with a couple of good friends who had a washer-dryer unit, and a spectacular view to boot.  So, I didn’t mind.  I was getting my New York trip after all.

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travel: superpowers and force fields… (paris, 2017)

•November 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Cervelle de Veau

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My first few trips to Paris lap at the borders of my memory. In those nascent corners, images of pigeons and fountains flicker faintly, and the hollow shuffling and shushing in the gilded halls of kings echo, where the austere and grand stare down from the canopies above.

Etched deeper are the emotions: the mystery and awe among the shadowy tombs and effigies of the ancient; and the learned excitement of meeting a soufflé. To this day, I wonder whether I would have been as impressed without adult cues.

And the smells: coffee and cigarettes in the morning, mixed with butter and diesel. The quartet still greets and transports me to those cradle years every time I step out into the streets of Europe.
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winter is coming…

•August 31, 2017 • 1 Comment

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Winter in Napa.

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I know, I know, the producers of Game of Thrones are releasing new seasons more frequently than I’m posting here.

It’s embarrassing.

I have much to record and share.  And I wish I could to be more regular about it. But that’s unlikely in the coming months, given that my travel schedule will find me suspended me at cruising altitude through the end of the year: Thailand, Cambodia, France, South Africa, Zambia, with pit stops all over the U.S. in between.

But as exciting as all of these adventures are, I am happy to say that my final destination in 2017 will, once again, be The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Perhaps the only thing (among the circles in which I turn) that is more highly anticipated than the return of the Iron Throne: The Twelve Days of Christmas are back. And I will have the honor and pleasure of photographing the series for a fifth time.
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le cinq: tragic triptych… (2017)

•April 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Our Mise en Bouche

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The British restaurant critic may be one of the few species that deserved to board Noah’s ark. Equipped with endless wit and flare for hyperbole, they have gifted the world with some of the best food writing I have ever read.*

However, their reports provide little evidence of discriminating taste, and rarely, if ever, a serious analysis of the food they eat.  So they don’t really function as critics – at least not in the way this American thinks of criticism. Rather, most British restaurant writers are highly skilled arsonists, celebrated for their barn-burning pyrotechnics that often reduce their subjects to smoldering ruins.

I’ll admit, the teardowns (for which they are most known) seem cruel. But their targets often seem deserving of public shaming – at least, that’s the way these writers paint the picture.  And their deftly deployed arsenal of sarcasm and bathroom humor usually includes a hearty dose of charming self-deprecation that saves them from an unredeemable ledge.

To mitigate my own guilt for indulging in their bombast, I file most British restaurant writing under the category “humor”.

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rumination 33: clicking for stars …

•March 12, 2017 • 5 Comments

“What is the long-term effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore.”

This was Denzel Washington’s pointed reposte when a sidewalk journalist tried to bait him on the topic of fake news.

Sloppy journalism isn’t a speciality of politics. It plagues every industry. How many times have chefs vented to me in private about some grievance they’ve suffered at the hands of food media: poor fact checking (or no fact checking); jumping the gun on embargoed, time-sensitive information; coercive threats; pay-for-play; biased coverage?

It happens all the time.  And we, collectively, let it happen.

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travel: woo pig sooie… (2017)

•March 4, 2017 • 2 Comments

Walton's 5-10

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In the decades since I last visited my neighboring state to the south, I have heard increasing praise for Arkansas’s upper-left corner.  Home to three Fortune 500 companies – Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt (a trucking company), and, most notably, the Wal-Mart empire – NWA (the local shorthand for Northwest Arkansas) is the fastest growing area of that state.  These companies have attracted workers from all over the quad-state region and beyond, doubling the NWA population between 1990 and 2010.

Due to a ban on the sale of alcohol, many who worked in Benton County (Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, which is located in Benton County) chose to live outside the county and commute from nearby towns like Springdale, or Fayetteville, which is about 30 minutes south.  Able to issue liquor licenses, these towns offered more “amenities.” But, in 2012, after significant lobbying, the alcohol ban was finally lifted.  And that changed everything. No longer in a dry county, Bentonville witnessed a boom in new businesses, especially in the hospitality industry. Restaurants, bars, cafés, hotels, and museums have sprung up within the last half decade, making the once-sleepy town not only the attractive and sensible place locals have always wanted to live, but a shiny new destination for long weekenders as well.       Continue reading ‘travel: woo pig sooie… (2017)’