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May 01, 2013
By Erin Schumaker | Food

Willie Jane Restaurant Opens in L.A.
Nico Marques

While fried chicken and grits aren’t the first foods that come to mind when one thinks of California cuisine, Brad Johnson, owner of the month-old restaurant Willie Jane, said the decision to start a farm-to-table Southern eatery in Los Angeles was an easy one. “The first venue that I opened in L.A. was a nightclub called the Roxbury, on Sunset Boulevard,” says Johnson. “And one of the most popular items on our menu was fried chicken.”

The restaurant is Johnson’s second venture with chef Govind Armstrong and is named after Johnson’s aunt, who turned 100 years old last month and is his oldest living relative. Many dishes on Armstong’s menu are inspired by Willie Jane’s family recipes, albeit updated for West Coast diners. California quail is paired with cornmeal dumplings and collard greens and rainbow trout is served with peanut-and-black-eyed-pea hummus and Brussels-sprout coleslaw.

Johnson isn’t exaggerating when he says the restaurant is farm-to-table. He is planting a 4,000-square-foot vegetable and herb garden in a vacant lot behind the property, meaning fresh vegetables will have a very short trip from the plot to your plate. But most of all, Johnson wants to retain the authenticity that Southerners are known for. “We want to be warm and welcoming so that people feel the embrace of a cool L.A. neighborhood,” he says. “But not too cool—we’re still in the hospitality business.” 1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 310-392-2425; williejane.com.

April 17, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Food

The Relais & Châteaux Dîner des Grands Chefs
Courtesy of Relais & Châteaux

Relais & Châteaux launched its World Culinary Tour three years ago, taking its Dîner des Grands Chefs to Versailles in 2011 and to New York in 2012. This year’s installment, on April 22, descends upon London, with “The World’s Kitchen by the Thames” theme giving a nod to all (delicious) things British. Held at Old Billingsgate, formerly the largest fish market in the world, the dinner showcases the handiwork of 45 chefs, grouped into teams of three, who will prepare 15 menus as guests watch.

“London is at the heart of the rebirth of British cuisine,” says Jaume Tàpies, international president of Relais & Châteaux. “An exciting mélange of cultures, the presence of some top culinary talent and the availability of excellent local, traceable and sustainable produce have all contributed to this transformation.”

Those contributions will be prominently on display. Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones of Oxfordshire’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons lead the U.K. team. North America’s talent includes Michael White of Marea in New York, Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and Barbara Lynch of Menton in Boston (the only female Grands Chef on the continent).

The ingredients are treasures, offering a survey of the United Kingdom’s culinary sourcing prowess. Seafood covers lobster hailing from Cornwall and Jersey, cock crab from Devonshire, diver-caught Scottish scallops and Cornish oysters. A wide variety of vegetables (bobby beans, purple sprouting broccoli, samphire, sea purslane) accompany specialties like Aberdeen Angus beef and estate-reared poultry.

While guests at the table are certainly lucky, the event is out to spread the wealth: A silent auction will benefit Action Against Hunger, a charitable organization dedicated to eradicating childhood hunger. Tickets, $850; 1 Old Billingsgate Walk; dinerdesgrandchefs.com.

March 06, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Food

A Culinary University at Caesars Palace
Courtesy of Food University

Learning how to cook from a TV show is one thing. Learning how to cook straight from a star-chef source is quite another. Food University at Caesars Palace (March 27–29)—an intensive, three-day culinary school of sorts in Las Vegas—gives just that opportunity to everyday chefs who are eager to learn more.

“This is going to be the next-level food experience,” says Robin Leach, a cofounder of Food Network and one of the University’s organizers. “We felt the time had come for a food event to actually provide meaningful culinary information and education executed in a fun way so the audience can take it away and use it in their daily lives.”

The nine cooking classes and various seminars feature a host of chefs and culinary experts, including Claudine Pépin (daughter of Jacques), Christina Wilson (the season-10 winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen) and Colman Andrews (of the Daily Meal). François Payard will lead a course on chocolate, Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes fame will teach cake decorating, and Frank Pellegrino of Rao’s will show the ins and outs of classic Italian fare.

Participants will also enjoy field trips to a handful of Las Vegas eateries and receive all the utensils, tools and cookware needed for 72 hours of chef duty as well as a special rate on accommodations at Caesars Palace. Proceeds benefit Keep Memory Alive, an organization that researches brain-disorder cures, which sweetens this experience even more. March 27–29; $1,995; 3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; 866-840-8822; FoodUniversityLasVegas.com.

February 13, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Food

Cochon 555 Gets Cooking
Galdones Photography

It seems that the pig is destined to take top billing in culinary circles for a long time to come. And Cochon 555—a ten-city-tour cooking competition set on spreading the gospel of sustainable production and heritage pigs—is out to prove it, stopping in Atlanta on February 17 before continuing to the likes of the Four Seasons Resort Vail (March 10), Washington, D.C. (April 7) and the House of Blues in Los Angeles (May 5). The journey ends at the Grand Cochon, held at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on June 16.

“Pigs are the most magical animals in the world,” says founder Brady Lowe. “They are a canvas of flavor for chefs, and consumers are learning about the benefits of heritage breeds and how to find them and cook them at home.”

The competition is fierce; judges score on flavor, utilization and presentation. Fifty chefs throughout the tour will create a snout-to-tail feast (butchering included) using heritage pigs such as the Tamworth, Red Wattle and Mulefoot. Guests taste it all (including wines from family wineries), judges weigh in and ten finalists meet in Aspen for the finale.

Lowe has seen just about everything in the competition’s five years. “Pork-eos,” sandwich cookies filled with lard by chef David Varley of the Michael Mina Group, have crossed his path, as has a whole roasted pig stuffed with $10,000 worth of truffles. And while this year’s creations are sure to impress, his main objective is simple. “To get everyone to put heritage pork in their mouth,” he explains. “Once they do, it’s a game changer—it’s like trying chocolate cake for the first time.” Tickets, $125 (general admission) and $200 (VIP); cochon555.com.

December 27, 2012
By Ingrid Skjong | Food

20130102-b-napa-restaurant-week-tres-tacos.jpg

© Dan Mills

Renowned for spectacular weather, Napa Valley is beautiful essentially any time of year. But so-called Cabernet Season—when much of the region’s Cabernets are released and most of the area’s grapes have been harvested—might win first prize. It also happens to be the backdrop for Napa Valley Restaurant Month, which runs through January 31 and showcases the area’s best eateries.

The third annual event falls during a relaxed period in Napa (normally November through early April), when crowds have thinned, reservations are easy to nab and winemakers, done with the harvest, have more time to talk. Wild mustard flowers, crimson clover and other plants dot the vineyards, but tear away from the picturesque scenery to enjoy the special culinary offerings throughout the area.

Participants range from Michelin-starred gems to down-home favorites. Try the special three-course dinner menu at La Toque (1314 McKinstry St., Napa; 707-257-5157; latoque.com), chef Ken Frank’s heaven for truffle lovers; a two-course lunch or three-course dinner at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill & Wine Bar (641 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-0700; cindypawlcynsgrill.com); and the French offerings at Bistro Jeanty (6510 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-0103; bistrojeanty.com), a fixture of the Yountville food landscape. No matter the choice it is bound to be a treat. visitnapavalley.com

November 29, 2012
By Ingrid Skjong | Shopping, Food, Gifts

Gift of the Day: Caviar Russe
Photo courtesy of Caviar Russe

When it comes to caviar this time of year, the more the better—and the Caviar Indulgent Pairings from venerable Caviar Russe are real showstoppers. Packed with foie gras, smoked salmon, malossol caviar, housemade blini, crème fraîche and utensils, the packages are available with three different caviar options: classic osetra ($190), Siberian sturgeon ($170) and American shovelnose ($145). For a step above and beyond, stop by the restaurant for its three-course brunch ($95), which features dishes like hand-cut tagliolini with a farm egg and caviar, or the seven-course tasting menu that highlights six types of the star ingredient, including golden osetra and platinum osetra. At 538 Madison Ave., 2nd fl.; 212-980-5908; caviarrusse.com.

November 02, 2012
By Radha Chadha | Restaurants, Food

Tawlet
Photo by Valero Doval

I had been to Beirut once before but left with unfinished business: I hadn’t eaten at Tawlet, the unusual home-style restaurant that I kept hearing about. So when I was recently nearby, at a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, I made a quick dash to the city, landing, luckily, right in time for lunch.

This isn’t any old restaurant. The food is unbelievably delicious, earthy, hearty—and everything tastes so fresh, you can picture it being plucked from the garden minutes before. But it’s the chefs who truly make this place so special.

Started by social entrepreneurs Kamal Mouzawak and Christine Codsi in late 2009 with an aim toward female empowerment, Tawlet brings women into its kitchen to cook—and there’s a different chef every day. They are ordinary folk, farmers and grandmas from various villages who turn out meals as they would in their homes. It’s a masterstroke—suddenly Lebanon’s divisions along religious-ethnic-regional lines are transformed into a diverse range of unique dishes. On my visit, it was Ossan Tikidjian’s turn, an Armenian woman from Aanjar (in eastern Lebanon) who served a feast of specialties like kibbeh mehche batata (potato-stuffed meat croquettes). I fell for her zouton trakhik (vegetable stew), with its small bulgur dough balls that had the texture of an exotic bean, in a savory sauce of tomatoes and hot pepper. I was happily stuffed but couldn’t resist the divine dessert buffet—do try the persimmons, with juicy flesh bursting from their peels.

The owners’ vision is lofty: uniting a battle-weary country by making opposing factions appreciate one another’s cuisine. As I sat back, contemplating the outstanding meal, I thought, Hey, they might just pull it off.

Tawlet is at sector 79, Naher St. 12; 961-1/448-129; tawlet.com.

October 09, 2012
By Ingrid Skjong | Food

Identità New York Lauds Italian Cuisine
Courtesy of Identità New York

Italy has myriad offerings of which to be proud, but many would argue that its food tops the list. Identità New York aims to prove it. The culinary summit, held October 12 to 14 at the marketplace Eataly, brings together a dozen Italian and American chefs to show off talents and talk food. Displaying techniques and tastes from their respective regions and backgrounds, the chefs from both countries have much to offer one another. “At Identità New York, we are looking for the interaction between chefs and the exchange of cultures, but we never lose sight of our culinary heritage,” says Paolo Marchi, who founded the original Identità Golose (held in Milan) in 2004.

The gathering is a true feast for Italian enthusiasts—a gourmet opportunity not to be missed. Six cooking demonstrations by the chefs, plus two five-course dinners (Friday and Saturday nights) at Eataly’s Birreria, make up the itinerary. New York stalwarts Alain Ducasse, Michael White, Anita Lo and Mario Batali join Italian Michelin-starred chefs like Pino Lavarra of Rossellini’s in Ravello, Antonio Guida of Il Pellicano in Tuscany and Carlo Cracco.

“We chose to bring Identità to New York because the city is the center of attention for the entire culinary world,” says Marchi. “If someone has something important to share, New York is the place to do it. Because there are a thousand things taking place every day it is harder to get noticed here, but when you do you can’t ask for anything better.” October 12–14; demonstration tickets, $125; dinner tickets, $200; 212-539-0204, ext. 304; eatalyny.com.

September 27, 2012
By Erin Schumaker | Hotel, Food

honeybee beer
Photo courtesy of Brown Palace Hotel & Spa

September, when honey production in the U.S. is in full swing, is National Honey Month, and beekeepers and honey aficionados have been celebrating all month long. In addition to fall farmers’ markets and a proliferation of honey-sweetened recipes, there have been honey festivals from New York to Arizona, and even a Honey Summit in Chicago.

Hotels have gotten into the act, too, the most notable being The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado. The Brown started a Bee Royalty Program in 2010 to raise awareness about the world’s declining bee population, and today the hotel’s rooftop colony consists of four hives and more than 200,000 Italian honeybees (which are considered better foragers than the more common Carniolan variety).

With an expected harvest of 180 pounds of honey this year and 200 pounds next year, guests are in for an abundance of sweet treats—from honey-infused bourbon created in collaboration with local Breckenridge Distillery to honey-buttermilk scones served during the Brown’s famous afternoon tea to handcrafted honey-lavender soap. It all exemplifies how luxurious and delicious sustainable living can be.

Visitors can simply enjoy the fresh honey for now, but they may be able to take on a more active role in the future. “Guests are on the receiving end,” says Jeff Dodd, one of the hotel’s beekeepers, who has been with the Brown for three years and a beekeeper for four. “But if people are interested in beekeeping, they can contact me to get started.” Rooms, from $270; 321 17th St.; 800-321-2599; brownpalace.com.

September 12, 2012
By Jamie Wiebe | Travel, Food

Prince Edward Island seafood festival
Photo courtesy of PEI International Shellfish Festival

The fresh fish caught off Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the stuff of legends—after all, the rural island along Canada’s Atlantic coast is called the tuna capital of the world for good reason. Still, when it comes to cuisine, PEI is rarely a Canadian foodie’s first stop. All that is changing. This September brings culinary cachet to PEI’s shores, with two food festivals featuring superstar chefs and highlighting the island’s prodigious seafood offerings.

For the competitive set, nothing beats the PEI International Shellfish Festival on the historic Charlottetown Waterfront. From September 13 through 16, foodies from across Canada are invited to participate in oyster-shucking and chowder-cooking competitions. To kick it all off, Food Network chefs Michael Smith and Mark McEwan will host a dinner on September 13, featuring carved-pork canapés and butter-braised lobster poutine.

For a broader taste of the island’s offerings, the month-long Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (September 7 through 30) brings seven of Canada’s top celebrity chefs to PEI, including Top Chef Canada champion Carl Heinrich and pastry chef Anna Olson, who will bake and serve her famous cupcakes at a picnic in Cavendish Grove in PEI National Park. Visitors can also dig for clams off the coast, taste moonshine at the island’s historic distillery and cook with local flavors at a boot camp hosted by the Culinary Institute of Canada.

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