favorite dishes of 2017…

•January 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Lacquered Quail

I took the lessons I learned in 2016 and applied them to 2017.

Staying close to familiar quarters, I continued to bet on sure winners.  They did not disappoint.

And, although many of my travel destinations in 2017 were not chosen with great food in mind, I found some great food anyway.

Let me tell you about some of my favorites.

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travel: an education… (2017)

•January 23, 2018 • 5 Comments

Lotus.

It has been over a dozen years since I started recording and reporting here.  Yet, despite my dwindling updates, I have not lost enthusiasm or eagerness for it. What little time I manage to devote to writing my blog remains exciting and important to me, because above all, it represents an incredible education.

Since leaving the law firm at the top of 2011, and more significantly, leaving my anonymity behind shortly thereafter, I began writing from a different perspective.  With an explosion of blogs and food media that began flooding the internet restaurant-related minutiae, the need for detailed reports like mine diminished. So, I broadened the scope of this blog to do more of what I love doing: connecting the many reference points I had gathered over the years, and championing those who are producing something of quality and substance.

Sadly, I can’t say I’ve been very regular about it. For the past few years, I’ve deferred much of my reflecting and sharing to the end the year, when I scramble to collect my thoughts and preserve some of what I have been too busy to file in the preceding 12 months.* And this task has only become more challenging as my calendar has grown more and more crowded each year.

Of course this is a good thing.  It means those blurred lines that I described in 2013 have sharpened.  Blissfully shrugging off the ambiguities (and the one-dimensional pigeon hole) of “food blogging,” I have moved into a truer and more fulfilling role as a photographer.  Documenting the world with a camera has been an essential part of my life now for more than two decades.  Before I had an adequate grasp of writing, or an understanding of the restaurant industry, I was framing the world around me through a lens. Now, in my adult life, I am blessed to be able to do this professionally.

2017 took me to far corners of our globe.  Logging over 120,00 miles, I visited 8 countries on 4 continents, as well as cities across the United States.  Much of it was to photograph restaurants, food, and chefs, both professionally and for personal pleasure.  But much of it was for other things that interest me – art, history, and culture.  When I’m not eating or writing about food, these are the things that occupy my time and thoughts.

So, before I turn to anthologizing my year in eating, as I have done for a decade or more, I’d like to share a bit of where I went, what I experienced, and what I learned last year.  Of course, if you’re not interested in these things, I invite you to skip to the bottom of this post, where I log all of the restaurants I visited in 2017.

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rumination 34: simplify…

•January 21, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Chefs: I challenge you to remove one (and for some of you, three) items from each dish.

Simplify.

12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas: kostow… (2017)

•January 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A Meadowood Miracle

It always seems to end before it begins.

For five years now, I’ve had the pleasure of recording and reporting from one of the most magical corners of the culinary world during one of the most magical seasons of the year.  It is an annual gathering of extraordinary talent and goodwill that has also become one of the most anticipated culinary events among spectators, and one of the most coveted invitations among chefs.

The many personal observations and sentiments about the Twelve Days of Christmas that I’ve shared along the way, especially those that I recorded at the end of 2014, still apply today.  I know they are inadequate, partly because the scope and wonder of it all defy words, but mostly because improving upon them exceeds my talent as a writer. So, dispensing with unnecessary flourishes, I bring forward all past marvel and deep-felt thanks to my colleagues, friends, and family at The Restaurant at Meadowood.  Your goals are admirable, your mission noble, and your standards ever higher.

Today, as we arrive at the Epiphany, the true end to the Twelve Days of Christmas, I draw close another very special set of a dozen days.  This year’s twelfth night marks my 60th and hosting chef Christopher Kostow’s 108th dinner of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: couillon… (2017)

•January 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

7th Course:

Alexandre Couillon lives on a small island off the west coast of France called Noirmoutier.  For decades, there was only one road on and off the island called the Passage du Gois.  But it’s only passable at low tide, when the seawater recedes enough to expose the two-lane road to traffic.  I know this, because, when I arrived at its shores earlier this year in October, an electronic sign at the entrance to the passage was flashing a warning. Although I could see the road stretching, unobstructed, toward the island in the distance, the tide was coming in.  And according to locals, the water floods the low-lying flats between the island and the mainland so quickly that many have died trying to cheat it.  Depending on who I asked, at high tide, the road is covered by three to four meters of water, which is hard to believe when you see the area at low tide, as I did on my way off the island.  Fully receded, the sea is not visible from the road at all.  Locals and visitors alike park alongside the Passage du Gois, and fan out over the vast expanse to collect cockles, mussels, and clams.

I turned around and took the bridge, which was constructed a few decades ago.

I loved my very short stay in Noirmoutier, where I was welcomed warmly by the Couillons.  Despite my misgivings about Couillon’s cooking based on his plating style and some of the chefs and restaurants that frequently appear in the same paragraphs and lists as he does (yes, how superficial of me), he impressed me.  His food was not only beautiful and meaningful (especially so if you have the time to explore the island before dinner, as I did), owing to excellent produce and technique, it was immensely delicious.  So I was thrilled to find his name on the eleventh night of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days: on the tenth day of christmas: zonfrillo… (2017)

•January 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Line-up.

 –

“Give back more than you take.”  Those are the words that Jock Zonfrillo inscribed on the dry-erase board in the kitchen, which every guest chef at the Twelve Days of Christmas is invited to sign at the end of their dinner.

Every year, there is usually one chef who pleasantly surprises me.  This year, it was a 41 year-old Scotsman from Australia.  Before this year, I had never heard of Zonfrillo. And needless to say, I have never been to his restaurant Orana in Adelaide, Australia.

But after spending a few days with him in the kitchen at The Restaurant at Meadowood, and hearing about his motivations and goals as a chef, I was moved to learn more about his philosophy of caring for and creating an Australian cuisine.  I’ll skip the details of his life, because I think you should read them for yourself (suffice it to say, he has lived a lot more life in about the same amount of time as I).  I would also encourage you to read about his foundation, which is also named Orana, an aboriginal word for “welcome.”  It is crucial to understanding why he opened his restaurant.

Orana’s mission is to “revolutionise Australian food culture through combining the preservation of indigenous knowledge and practice with contemporary methods and innovation.”  If the foundation is concerned with preservation and knowledge, then his restaurant seems to be where the innovation happens.  An abbreviated version of this message is what he brought to the kitchen at the The Restaurant at Meadowood on the tenth night of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

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12 days: on the ninth day of christmas: werner… (2017)

•January 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

1st Course: Otono Rock Cod Ceviche

Conveying a sense of place has become a motif among restaurants and chefs.  And what makes so many destination restaurants unique is actually being there. Local ingredients, landscapes, weather, traditions, history, politics, religion, and language all converge to form culture, culinary and otherwise.

So how do you bring all of that to another place?  Increasingly, that has become a challenge to chefs, who are drilling ever-deeper into their own cultures while traveling abroad more than ever before.  And while this cross-pollination is important, knowing is very different from understanding, or more significantly, experiencing.

Most of the chefs who arrive at The Restaurant at Meadowood for the Twelve Days of Christmas know that what they do at home cannot be adequately transplanted afield. But, for the foreign chefs especially, if replication isn’t possible, approximation is.  In the spirit of collaboration, where indigenous products and context fail, technique prevails.  If flavors, colors, and senses can’t be experienced firsthand, at least methods can be explained and applied to proxy ingredients. And, to varying degrees guest chefs have relied on this alternative avenue for bringing a bit of their homeland to Napa.

As someone who has had the opportunity of traveling to many of the guest chefs’ restaurants over the years, it has been highly educational to witness how they adopt and adapt, how they creatively open a window to their own place from a faraway setting.  Manish Mehrotra presented a compelling example of this on the second night, in part because Indian culture is so foreign to my own.  So too, the last three guest chefs this year represented culinary corners that remain relatively unfamiliar to me (and to the great majority of the guests who attended their dinners), and so were presented these same challenges of cultural and culinary transference.

The first of these was Eric Werner, who cooked on the ninth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

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