Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bits & Morsels goes Gourmet

Farmhouse cheeses of the world at the Gourmet Institute.

I spent this past weekend at the Sixth Annual Gourmet Institute at the Gourmet headquarters at 4 Times Square. The Gourmet Institute is a three-day event that is filled with tastings and demonstrations by some of the world’s best and most innovative chefs.

The Kickoff event was held Friday, October 17th at The New York Public Library and featured the cuisine from five of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, including: Tabla, Blue Smoke, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.

The first seminar I attended was with Ihsan Gurdal of Formaggio Kitchen. Over the course of an hour we sampled eight different cheeses: goat, sheep, cow and blue cheeses. This was a fascinating seminar and Ihsan showed an intensity about his passion for cheese that was new to me. Cheese lovers are every bit as serious as their fellow wine connoisseurs and are keenly aware of what makes a good cheese, such as how it is aged, stored, and sliced.

Grant Achatz.
Joey Campanaro of the Little Owl and Jimmy Bradley of the Red Cat gave a seminar on planning a cocktail party. They spoke about the importance of food in entertaining and suggested that if you are going to serve drinks, you must serve food as well. Another practical tip: instead of rushing to hire a caterer for a party, start with your favorite restaurant. If there is restaurant that you like and visit often, they will probably be willing to cook in your home.

The most interesting session for me was with Grant Achatz of Alinea restaurant in Chicago. Alinea is one of the top restaurants in the country and Chef Achatz has a modern and innovative way of looking at food. His session was all about techniques for utilizing aroma when you cook. Our sense of smell is integral to how we taste food. To prove the point Grant started off the session with having everyone bite down on a vanilla bean while holding our nose shut. The vanilla bean had no taste at all. However when we bit down on that same vanilla bean with noses uncovered, the taste was fragrant and distinctly vanilla.

Everyone at this session was given an envelope stuffed with props. The envelope contained a vanilla bean, a bag of rosemary, black pepper and garlic, a gingerbread cookie, and a spray bottle labeled Christmas tree. One of the dishes that he presented was tempura pheasant served on a burning oak leaf. The scent of burning oak leaves is unique to Fall and smelling it makes you want to camp out in Central Park.
Chef Grant Achatz (right) and his sous chef prepare pheasant tempura.
After frying the pheasant, Grant blow torched the leaves. It was an awesome site. Three days after the event my jacket still smells of burning leaves. Another dish: Wagyu beef with rosemary. He instructed us to place the rosemary sprig onto the hot rocks which shared the plate with the beef. And to then taste the beef incorporating the fragrance of the herbs.

The final item on the menu was the gingerbread cookie highlighted with Christmas tree spray. The spray was basically a tea made from pine needles and sugar. The spray paired with the cookie invoked memories and images of holiday time in New York.

The final session I attended was given by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his sous chef son, Cedric Vongerichten. Jean-George is such an accomplished chef/restaurateur and it was sort of sweet seeing him work with his son. You can tell by watching them work together that he is proud of his son. One of the dishes that they made paired raw Kanpachi with toasted pecans. It’s an odd combination that worked beautifully. The nuts gave the fish a heartier texture and flavor. One thing that surprised me about all of these highly acclaimed chefs was how lovely and down to earth they were. The Gourmet Institute is a real treat in that you get the chance to watch and learn from the great chefs of our time and ask them anything you want. All of the chefs were thoughtful instructors and it was an inspiration to learn from them.
Aroma demonstration - Pheasant tempura. Dill broth and summer vegetables with lime.
The Modern - Cauliflower panna cotta with Yellowstone River caviar. Artic Char sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon foam, dill, and horseradish.
Ihsan Gurdal - Farmhouse cheeses of the world. Jean-Georges demonstration - Kanpachi sashimi, sherry vinaigrette and toasted pecans.
Aroma demonstration - Wagyu beef and fragrant rosemary on a hot rock. Shaved tuna, chile tapioca, asian pear and lime.
L. to r.: Ruth Reichl and Nancy Cardone; Cedric Vongerichten (Sous chef) with Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Photographs by Shahar Azran, courtesy Gourmet).
Sfoglia. Next time you have an event at the 92nd St Y, I suggest you make a reservation at Sfoglia. Located at 1402 Lexington Avenue, Sfoglia is a real gem of a restaurant. The original Sfoglia is in Nantucket and the New York location was opened in 2006 by Ron Suhanosky and his wife Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky. It’s a charming restaurant with no pretensions whatsoever. There are no tablecloths on the homey tables and they serve wine in water glasses. The only tedious thing about Sfoglia is that it is tiny and reservations need to be made a good six weeks in advance. I don’t usually go for a reservation that far in advance but Sfoglia is worth it.

The food is out of this world good. It’s not fancy food but simple and prepared well with quality ingredients. Almost all of the items at Sfoglia are homemade including the bread that is served warm and the red wine and pepper crackers that accompany the cheese plate, which are superb. Sfoglia means an uncut sheet of pasta in Italian and the pasta at Sfoglia lives up to the name. A hearty pasta to try is the spaghetti with figs, brown butter and hazelnuts. Good thing they offer half size portions of the pasta, which I would suggest ordering because the pasta is quite rich. For dessert they have a tart of the day that they make to order and a cookie plate with all homemade cookies which are perfect with a cappuccino. The chocolate sandwich cookie dusted with salt on top is especially tasty.

Tutto Sfoglia which opens today is located right next to Sfoglia restaurant. The new store sells pasta, sauces, freshly baked bread, cookies, pastries, donuts and other dishes to go. Yesterday I had a sneak peek and from what I saw ... the neighborhood is in for a real treat. [Sfoglia]
Clockwise from top left: Sfoglia Store; Fresh flowers and a selection of olives on every table; Fresh baked bread.
Inside Sfoglia. Dry pasta for sale.
Fresh pasta for sale. Sfoglia owner, Ron Suhanosky.
Cheese plate with homemade red wine crackers. Pasta with brown butter, hazelnuts and figs.
Fig and pear tart. Homemade cookie plate.
Homemade chocolate sandwich cookie.
Homemade Italian pastries. Homemade zeppoles.
Working lunch. Ivanka Trump is endorsing a new line of microwaveable lunches from ConAgra Foods. The lunches, which can be stored in your desk drawer for up to a year, are called Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers. I don’t know how fresh something can be considered if it's been sitting in your desk drawer for that long but I suppose it's worth trying. [A Lunch Trade]

Don’t even mention Dunkin Donuts. Here is a guide to the best fried dough in New York. The list includes the best ricotta donuts and the best donuts from an Asian Bakery. [Serious Eats]

The recession special at Gray’s Papaya is going up from $3.50 to $4.45. The special which gets you two hot dogs and a drink used to be one of the great food bargains in New York. This is bad timing for the price increase. [Gothamist]

It’s almost Halloween and after reading this article you will see there is no more frightening place to work than a restaurant kitchen. A lot of chefs seem to share similar experiences of accidentally burning themselves and/or ... chopping off fingers! [Metromix]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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