SOBE Wine and Food: The best of the worst

The anteroom to the "Best of the Best"

I wake up surprisingly early considering when I collapsed in bed the night before.   Ted takes pity on me and offers to pick up the coladas (cuban coffee) at Davids.

Lunch arrives quickly and Ted gets us together with his friend John, his wife and their 8 month old son for lunch at Smith and Wollenskys.  This is a steak house your grandparents would take you to.  This is the recent outpost of the NYC classic started in 1977 and advertised along with all the other classic steakhouses found in every in flight magazine.  In Miami it is located in the newly re-worked south point park on “government cut” across from Fisher island.

We have a classic steak house lunch and later stroll in the park on the most gorgeous day of my trip.  The parking lot looks like a fine automobile sales lot.

I reconnect with Julie and make plans to meet at the newly remodeled Fontainbleau for the “Best of the Best” event.  The event features a multitude of the nation’s top chef and winemakers.  The anteroom is focused on fine champagne and their food counterparts.  The main room is a very large banquet hall set up with a multitude of booths.  At every one of these events it’s impossible to hit every booth so you have to be selective and try to feed and drink based on recognized names or by long lines.

We talk to Stephan Pyles, Terrance Brennan, Alfred Portale and Larry Stone of Rubicon.  All the dishes I sample are outstanding, with one very recurrent theme: the use of cheap cuts of meat braised for a long time.  This is why I dub this post “the best of the worst.”  It takes an accomplished chef to cook tough cuts of meat properly and utilize them in a dish.  This is no longer a trend among chefs, it’s clearly the norm.  Some of the chefs are using meat found higher on the animal but most of the time I was pin balling from dishes featuring oxtail, cheek, shortrib and the ubiquitous pork belly.  All delicious and the wines at this event rose to the occasion.

A view inside the new banquet hall at the Fontainbleau

To not miss out on the simultaneous event occurring on the beach, we head to the Bubble Q.   This is the event that seems to be on everyone’s list.   It is held in the same tent as the Burger Bash the night before.  However they had completely changed the set up to accommodate the event.   When we get there it is already packed and the thumping techno, hip hop and techno re-worked classic rock overtake any opportunity for conversation.  Clearly not the focus of the event.  People (a seemingly older demographic) are here to celebrate by drinking champagne, eating upscale grilled foods and dancing to their favorite tunes.  It is another all star line up of chefs from around the US with Emeril leading the pack.

I’m satiated from the previous event and more in the mood for a mellow environment, so the event is lost on me.

The Miami feminine contingency is still very competitive and in their more advanced years the work is more maintenance and remodeling.  One young lady sticks out in my memory. I would describe her as classy sleazy or the female equivalent of a mullet.  Perfect low cut party gown with matching shoes with one arm tattooed to a full sleeve.

The Perrier Jouet champagne fairy

The big focus of entertainment, beside the DJ with a sax player and drummer playing along with the music, is a young lady in a leotard that they pull up on a rope to fill the crowd’s champagne glasses with Perrier Jouet the sponsors of the event.

We end the evening at the Sagamore just behind the Bubble Q tent.   Two women are in the water in mermaid outfits dancing to the music and basically being mermaids.  I’m exhausted and decide on an early night.


SOBE Wine and Food: Feeling the heat in a cold wave

The mandatory daily Cuban colada at David's each morning

Drinking Cuban coffees first thing in the morning has been our ritual since I arrived.  I love these coladas.  Super concentrated coffee with a heavy hand on sweetness to counteract the bitter.  They have just enough caffeine to jump start your morning.  Of course we get there in Ted’s Carrera and we usually run into the enforced 15 mph school zone which are highly monitored with police.  There is construction taking place on all the roads so it can be slow moving.

Our transportation

Ted has been fighting sickness since I arrived. Ted sick is still a force to be reckoned with.  His 60% is my 100%  rate of energy.

I meet up with Julie Mautner at the Dorchester for a gathering of a chef friend of hers named John Gray.  He owns several restaurants on the Riviera Maya.  We then head over to the Delano and go to a book signing of Tony Ayoub who has written a mixology book . The Delano is a gorgeous property and their infinity pool has been replicated by many of the newer hotels on the beach.

The infinity pool at the Delano

After the book signing we head to the Burger Bash.  It is being held in a huge tent with open sides (thank goodness with the amount of grills aflame) From a distance it looks like a scene from close encounters of the third kind.

Burger Bash tent

The line is huge to get in, but with our guest passes we go right to the front.   It is easy to move around initially and the first burger I taste is from the Morimoto booth and it becomes the standard to compare all the others.  After a while though it becomes pretty congested and the burgers less accessible.  I try some of the big names.  Daniel Boulud’s famous foie gras and braised short rib burger is very nice but still doesn’t quite measure up to Morimoto.  I also try David Burke’s burger.  I am remotely connected to several of the these top chefs through some of my more successful students and it’s great to hear these star chefs praise my former students.

Rachel Ray who is hosting the event tastes each of the burgers in sequence surrounded by seven body guards.  This seems a little over the top and is maybe in place for show, but you can’t escape her entourage.

A view inside the tent

They announce the people’s choice award at the end of the bash and it is between Bobby Flay and Michael Symon.  Micheal Symon takes it.   On the way out of  the tent I am introduced to Bobby Flay as casually as you would introduce anyone.

Julie heads back to her hotel and I make my way to the next venue, which is the Patron party at the W Hotel.  This is a pool side party and the theme is the great Patron debate (crushed ice or frozen, salt no salt on rim).  There are tasting booths everywhere with the same concept played out (tuna carpaccio vs tuna tartare) etc.  Participants of the party are encouraged to text their comments on a huge TV screen with a ticker tape view.

Ted urged me to take a sweater and it quickly becomes a necessity and the envy of many of the party goers who are dressed in Miami high fashion.  Sex sells and this is an open marketplace.   Patron has hired a about ten dancers scantily clad to take turns dancing in front of the huge TV screen.  They are in naughty librarian outfits and have clearly gone to advanced stripping school.  They have all the techno moves.  The rest of the Miami feminine contingency is competing for who can get away with the least clothing and pushing that dress line to the maximum.  Add to that the amount of silicone and body improvements and it turns out to be quite a fashion show.

Towards the end of the party I meet an interesting couple and we decide to continue on to the hotel nightclub.  We run through the hotel and bump into two French men.  I start to chat to them in French. I turns out to be Sacha Lichine and Patrick Léon.

Sacha Lichine is from the famous Bordeaux family (also owner of the famous Rosé Chateau d’Esclan) and Patrick is the former wine maker for Mouton Rothschild and was in the movie Mondo Vino.  Two living legends in the world of French wine.  Later waiting in line to get into the club I run into Thomas Trois Gros the grandson of the famous Trois Gros brothers.  He runs two restaurants in Rio.   These are the types of people I want to run into.  Those body guards can have Rachel Ray.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

SOBE Wine and Food: foreplay

The view towards the beach from my friend's apartment

The view towards downtown Miami

I got into Miami yesterday afternoon for the SOBE Wine and Food festival.  My old high school friend Ted picked me up.   He drove us to his apartment in his daughter’s Hello Kitty Audi TT.  His other car a turbo S Carrera couldn’t accommodate my luggage.  We had dinner with his daughter Charlotte (who I hadn’t seen since she was 3).  She is now 16.  We ate at Georges in the Grove.  A small French restaurant in Coconut Grove.  It was nice to be with Ted again and see how much his daughter had grown.

Today, we went to pick up my festival credentials at the Loews Miami.  Driving with Ted is always an experience.  Miami is filled with police and slow speed zones.  This is not conducive to the acceleration capabilities of the 500hp Carrera, but Ted uses every opportunity to accelerate the vehicle within the range of what is allowable in the zone.  He is a very good driver but the sensation is very slow 1st gear to very fast 3rd gear to very slow 1st gear.  Throw into the mix a mind numbingly loud stereo pumping the latest techno music and you can get a feel for the experience.  It always amuses me.

We get to the Loews and I try to find the hospitality suite.  Nobody seems to know where it is.   I walk into Emeril’s restaurant and who is there but Emeril himself going over the plan for the following day.  They don’t know where the suite is so I return to the hotel and find the concierge.  They direct me to the suite.  They can’t find my credentials right away so they tell me to return in a few hours.

So Ted and I head to the fashion district to eat at Michael’s Genuine.  This is a restaurant I have heard a little about (it was featured in Art Culinaire recently) and it turns out to be one of Ted’s favorites.   We eat at the bar as the restaurant is full and the patio looks iffy as potential for rain is imminent.

Burrata with heirloom tomatoesi

I believe I see Rachel Ray sitting with a group of ladies and she goes up to hug one of the chefs.  Ted orders the burrata with heirloom tomatoes.  It is an excellent example of imported Italian burrata and the tomatoes are shockingly ripe and juicy.

Crispy pork belly with kimchee

The crispy pork belly was amazing.  Crisp around all the edges with slightly sweet glaze, digging into it further you flake through savory meat bound with succulent pork fat.  All of this combines nicely with the kimchee giving an extra level of texture and acidity.  Ted orders the spicy beef salad and they utilized the kimchee as the base in that dish as well.  I get the wood fired pizza with shrimp and chorizo.

At the end of the meal it starts to rain heavily.  We decide to hunker down to a chocolate and banana panini and some coffee to ride out the storm.  Our attractive bartender (who isn’t beautiful in this town, well maybe the people living in tents under the causeway) was very attentive to our needs throughout the whole experience.

The sun returns and we head back to the Loews to the thumping sounds of techno and high rpms rolling at 15 miles an hour in a school zone.  I get my credentials.  I’m ready.

Why I Cook?

Provencal Tian ready for long slow roasting

Recently on Michael Rhulman’s blog,  he discussed the reason why he cooks and challenged other food bloggers to do the same.  I ponder this often.  What was the original reason I chose to cook?  What was the motivation?  How did this love of cooking evolve to the present day?

I first caught the cooking bug when I was 7 years old living in Morocco.  My older brother had a good friend who’s father loved to cook and would invite us to his house for great meals.  My parents would show so much appreciation and respect for this man’s skill.  I wanted that same level of appreciation and respect.  He cooked from a book called “la Cuisine est un jeu d’enfant” (cooking is child’s play) and I figured I could cook from that book as well.  Under my mother’s watchful eye,  I started to cook from the book.   I wanted to be left alone to cook without supervision.  I had some success and continued to cook other dishes from the book.  I invited my teacher to come eat at our house and my parents would invite their friends.   I also started to make cocktails for these guests from a Playboy bartender’s Guide  (can you imagine if you told people these days that your seven year old was making cocktails for you).

So I would say my main reason for wanting to cook was for appreciation and respect.  We always ate very well.  So it certainly wasn’t out of necessity for survival.  Some have told me their parents were such bad cooks they were forced into action so they could have something edible for dinner.

As I got older, I found cooking was even more powerful.  It could help me hook up with girls.  I also learned to give good massages for the same reason.  I found out you could really touch (figuratively and literally) people with these two skills.

After my time at the University and a couple years attempting to live a 9-5 life.  I decided to go to culinary school.  Now my hobby had to become my profession.  I jumped into that world and decided I wanted to learn as much as possible.  I wanted to become a specialist.  I saw the respect and admiration my Instructors garnered, which further fueled desire to cook.

When I started to cook professionally, I initially became de-motivated.  It was hard stressful work and the people I cooked with had no appreciation or respect for the limited skills I had.   I then decided come hell or high water I would earn their respect.   I would work for the best.  I would go to France.  I would get skills clearly setting me apart from the rest.

Back to the bottom of the heap.  But working in France taught me how much better cooking can be.  The masters garnered respect and appreciation at a level unheard of in the US in the 80’s.  I would tell French people I was working at Georges Blanc and their eyes would light up.   Paul Bocuse, George Blanc, Roger Vergé and Joël Robuchon among many others were national heroes in France.

Came back to the US and realized that regardless of your background and history you still have to prove yourself in a professional kitchen.  What I brought back from France was a profound respect for the process involved with cooking.  Cooking required skill, knowledge, repetition and the use of all your senses.  I became a craftsman.

I stumbled into teaching Culinary School quite by accident and at first I was intent passing on the skills necessary to survive in a professional kitchen: discipline, hard work, organization and ability to withstand abuse.  Then it struck me that what I really wanted to get across to my students is the passion involved in cooking.  Once you have the passion all else falls into place.

People always ask my wife if I do all the cooking at home.  “You must eat really well” they say to her.

When I was working in kitchens and single the last thing I wanted to do on my day off was cook.  Chefs are notorious for empty fridges.  They might have a tombstone in the freezer nestled in with a bottle of Vodka, some slightly moldy salsa with a gallon of milk and 12 pack of beer.

When I got married and started teaching, I was around food all day and would eat what we made.  I would come home satiated and unexcited to cook.  So my wife took on the chore.  Fortunately she is a good cook.

Recently I have been the one feeding the family.   I have a new perspective after 22 years of Professional cooking.

I cook because I love the process of cooking.  Thinking through a dish and learning from it.

I cook because I know I can cook as well or better and for a lot cheaper than most any restaurant we might eat at.

I cook because I am in control of every element of the process.  I am ultimately responsible for the outcome.  If I mess up (it can happen) then I take stock and learn from it.

I cook because it allows me to explore the unknown.  If I cook the cuisine from a country I have never been to, it allows me to take that journey through the food.  It might not be the way the food is actually made in that country but that’s ok.  If I go there eventually, you can bet I will be looking for validation and authenticity.

I cook because it is a creative outlet that allows me to use all my senses and imagination.

I cook because I love to eat good food.  Important to note that good food does not mean it has to be expensive.

I cook because I want my wife and children to eat good healthy food and open them up to the vast world of food.

I cook because I still love to see that look of satisfaction on the face of the people I cook for.  Which really goes back to the main reason I started to cook in the first place.

Why do you cook?  Leave a comment or share your blog post.

Don’t Ha ve a Gao, it’s just the inspiration for the March Deep Plate entry

Ha Gao on Bauscher March Entry Plate

Terrible puns aside,  I have been wanting to make these little shrimp Dim Sum treasures for over 6 years now.  Chinese New Year issuing the year of the Tiger seems an appropriate time.  Ha Gao are made from a wheat starch dough and can sometimes be cut with tapioca flour.

One of my must stops in San Francisco, is Yank Sing, a Dim Sum restaurant.  I don’t even think of the price and just grab whatever catches my eye when they come by with their cart.  I’m sure many locals might recommend cheaper places in Chinatown (I’m all ears) and it seems like Yank Sing has a  feel that is more catered to Westerners.  Regardless, it is amazing and you can tell it is at the height of freshness.  One of my favorites is the shrimp dumpling or Ha Gao.  I love that you can see the cooked shrimp through the thin translucent glutinous wrapping.  It kind of breaks the limitations of a traditional ravioli where you have no idea the surprise that lies inside.  There is a leap of faith in a traditional ravioli.  I have taken that leap with less than satisfactory results at some restaurants and overwhelming deep sustaining blissful delight at others.

During the IACP conference, Andoni Aduriz, presented a dish he described as the thinnest new pea ravioli ever.  The tiny peas were wrapped in a completely thin transparent veil of poaching liquid.  He had created a dish that has the sensation of a ravioli but was completely transparent.

Andoni's pea ravioli

Ferran Adria also has taken this concept even further by creating his Olive Oil Sphere.  Spanish EVOO mixed with a hydrocolloid and then dropped into a calcium rich water bath which allows it to form a membrane as thin as the one around an egg yolk.

My hope was just to replicate the thin transparent wrapper I got at Yank Sing.  Not so easy as I was to find out.

Following the recipe presented on a package can lead to unusable results.

Look at the recipe. The big white log beside the package is what I eventually came up with

If you follow the above recipe you end up with great papier maché mix.  The ratio I came up with to create the above white log is 1 cup of wheat starch to 3/4 cup of boiling liquid.  I would be nice to know if that is the ideal ratio.

I then rolled the tube into a longer tube of 1 1/2″ in diameter and cut the tube into 1 inch thick medallions.  My children thought they were marshmallows.

Individual medallions of dough for the Ha Gao

I then took my Chinese cleaver and pressed those medallions into as thin a wrapper as possible.  I pleated the top edge, filled the cup with my shrimp filling and sealed the two edges.  Easier said than done as the dough can break apart if you are not careful.

Pleated top edge of dumpling and filling

A long time ago a friend and co-worker at CSR,  Chris Clarke,  gave me a stack of small metal dumpling steamers.  I was finally able to put those to use.  I cut out some wax paper to put on the inside and sprayed it with vegetable spray so they didn’t stick.  I have a small French copper sauce pot that the steamer inserts fit into perfectly.  I put in about a cup of water, brought it to a boil and placed my stack on top.  It took about ten minuted for them to cook.  The dough became somewhat translucent (with more practice I could make them thinner) and became firm.

They were quite good, but I have a way to go to replicate the ones at Yank Sing.  I would probably have to make 20,000 before I could get anywhere close to the speed of a guy I saw on You Tube.

Here is the picture I will submit to Deep Plate for the upcoming March entry.

The Recipe: Yield 24 dumplings

2 Cups of wheat starch (see above brand)

1 1/2 Cup of boiling water

2 tsp. canola oil

1 tsp. salt

Mix all dry ingredients, add oil then pour the boiling water in a little at a time.  Bring together as a dough and knead to get a nice homogeneous dough.  Roll into a log 1 1/2″ in diameter and then cut into 24 x 1″ thick medallions.  Cover them with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.  Use a Chinese cleaver to flatten them or a rolling pin.  Get them as thin as possible, but still workable.  Pleat the top edge to create a pocket, fill with shrimp mix and seal into a crescent shape.


1 lb. peeled and veined shrimp

1 T. finely minced garlic

1 T. finely minced fresh ginger root

3 T. soy sauce

2 T. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. Sambal Oelek

1 bunch of scallions finely chopped

1 T. chopped cilantro

Mix together in a bowl:  soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sambal, sugar, garlic, ginger, green onion and cilantro.  Chop the peeled and veined shrimp into small pieces and mix with the above mix.

Making Dulce de Leche in a pressure cooker

When I went to Uruguay last year I ate at the Bouza vineyard and they serve me a flan with two quenelles of dulce de leche.   I’ve read it is not hard or long to make in a pressure cooker.   So I am giving it a shot and will give you my play by play.

The dish I had at Bouza winery

First of all you use Borden’s Sweetened Condensed milk.  You can use other brands but don’t you just know Borden’s is better because of the picture of Elsie the cow on the front.  This product holds very strong childhood memories of our time living in Algeria. My parents would bring this stuff camping and my brother and I would eat it by the spoonfuls.  We would put it in our coffee and generally scarf the stuff down.  I know that Dulce de Leche also triggers powerful memories for everyone in latin America that grew up on the stuff.

How could you not trust Elsie?

I did a little research on other blogs so that I would have a starting point on my experiment.  They all said to take off the wrapping off the cans. Easy enough.  Then came all the different methods of cooking.  Most called for putting the cans in a pan. Filling it with water to 3/4 of the way up the side of the can  and cooking it covered for up to 3.5 hours.  I stumbled on another recipe which gave me a recipe for the same technique in a pressure cooker.

Now in my new role as a stay at home Dad playing Mr. Mom, I have become very acquainted with my pressure cooker.  I never really used them until last year.  In France people use their Cocotte Minute all the time.  They are great and especially in our mile high city where we are lacking some air pressure.  I purchased a Fagor pressure cooker.  I have been told that Khuns are better, but I saw a few destroyed while working at CSR.

My Fagor

The blog I consulted told me to submerge my label free cans with water.

Covered with a 1/2" of water

I put the lid and cranked it full blast until I saw the pressure indicator pop up.  I turned down the heat to the lowest possible setting and let it cook for 30 minutes.  The blog recommended 20, but I wanted a very caramelized product.  Once my timer went off, I poured cold water on the surface of the pressure cooker until the pressure indicator sank.  I took the cans out and put them in the fridge (you could put them in ice water).  Don’t try to open them hot or you might have a sticky clean up job.

I told my son we would open them the following day and when he got home from school that day he was quick to remind me.

Voila, ready for consumption

It was very firm (cold) and very caramelized.  After the sampling,  I would agree with a slightly shorter cooking time of 20 minutes.  My son and daughter loved it.

Joyeux Saint Valentin

one of the chocolaterie's specialties: le Palets des Papes

I just wrote a brief post for my good friend and fellow blogger Julie Mautner.   Since Valentine’s day is right around the corner, you must all be thinking chocolate and maybe wine (or Champagne).  Go check out the Provence Post and let yourself be transported to a chocolate factory in the middle of the vines of Chateauneuf du Pape whose owner just happens to be my good friend Robert Brunel’s girlfriend Laurence.

Of course in Provence they are also deep into black Truffle season as well.

Fresh omelettes with black Truffles, hand dipped chocolates with marc of Chateauneuf du Pape,  2009 harvest of olive oil,  nougat,  Domaine de la Janasse and long slow braised dishes is probably what they are digging into about right now.  How I miss it all.

Another of their specialities: les picholines