When the Wall Street Journal asked Hugh Acheson (James Beard award-winner, 'Top Chef' judge, New South chef) where he had eaten a recent memorable meal, Acheson singled out Piccolo in Minneapolis where he had dined about six months ago.
"I had dinner at Piccolo, which serves modern American farm-to-table food. The chef, Doug Flicker, is cooking with a seasonal sensibility that is profound, professional and inspiring. The food was just so fresh and smart, even on a cold, fall day. I had speck-wrapped capon with chanterelles, parsnip chow-chow, cockscomb pain perdu and parsnip milk. Nothing like a castrated chicken to make a meal sublime. And it makes you feel good when you find food of that caliber in a place where you didn't expect it."
Award season has begun in the cookbook world as the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) bestowed its nod to volumes that are particularly noteworthy over the weekend. Among the new designations in the contest this year are awards for classic, historical and e-cookbooks.
The envelope (and categories), please …
Book of the year: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)
American: “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” by Matt Lee & Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter)
Baking/ savory or sweet: “The Art of French Pastry,” by Jacquy Pfeiffer (Random House)
Beverage/ reference/ technical: “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America, Second Edition,” by Andrew F. Smith (Oxford University Press)
Chefs and restaurants: “The A.O.C. Cookbook,” by Suzanne Goin (Random House)
Children, youth and family: “ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family,” by Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster)
Compilations: “The Chelsea Market Cookbook: 100 Recipes From New York’s Premier Indoor Food Hall,” by Michael Phillips with Rick Rodgers (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Culinary history: “Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History,” by Rachel Laudan (University of California Press)
Culinary travel: “The Perfect Meal,” by John Baxter (HarperCollins Publishers)
First book: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)
Food matters: “Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics,” by Marion Nestle (Rodale) and “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health,” by Jo Robinson (Hachette Book Group)
General: “Keepers,” by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion (Rodale)
Health and special diet: “Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom,” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press)
International: “Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way,” by Oretta Zanini De Vita & Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Literary food writing: “One Soufflé at a Time,” by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman (St. Martin’s Press)
Photography: “I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes,” by Daniel Humm & Will Guidara (Francesco Tonelli, photographer) (Ten Speed Press)
Professional kitchens: “Elements of Dessert,” by Francisco Migoya and the Culinary Institute of America (Wiley)
Single subject: “Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook,” by Rick Mast and Michael Mast (Hachette Book Group)
Wine, beer and spirits: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Global design: “Manresa: An Edible Reflection,” by David Kinch & Christine Muhlke (Ten Speed Press)
E-cookbook: “The Journey,” by Katy Sparks, Alex Raij, Maneet Chauhan, Rita Sodi and Kathleen Squires (Alta Editions)
Jane Grigson award: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Design award: “Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden,” by Matt Wilkinson (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)
Judges’ choice: “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart (Workman Publishing Co.) and “ Lark – Cooking Against the Grain,” by John Sundstrom (Community Supported Cookbooks)
Historical cookbook award: “American Cookery,” by Amelia Simmons (1796)
Culinary classics awards:
• “The Art of Mexican Cooking,” by Diana Kennedy (Clarkson Potter, 1989)
• “Invitation to Indian Cookery,” by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 1973)
• “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” (originally “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”), by Betty Crocker (1950)
• “The Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed, 1977)
• “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982)
For details on the digital, journalism and other IACP awards, see the posting in full.
But the big news from Taste is that freelancer Steve Hoffman won the award for Culinary Narrative Writing with his story for the food section, "From the wild: meals from a hunter," that ran on Thanksgiving Day. Find it here.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste
What do you serve when you've got a Vice President at the dinner table? The Bachelor Farmer delivered when Joe Biden stopped by Wednesday night for a fundraising event, after stopping earlier for a press moment at nearby Moose & Sadie's coffee shop.
TBF offered a three-course meal, starting with bibb lettuce and goat's cheese, offering a choice of a main course (roasted haddock or beef short ribs) and finishing with a brown butter lemon cake.
It was a heady day for the staff at TBF, which had received two James Beard Award semifinalist nominations in the morning, one for chef Paul Berglund in the category of Best Chef Midwest and the other for the Marvel Bar, TBF's downstairs lounge, which was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program.
See the full menu below, which was designed by local calligrapher Crystal Kluge, who also designed the Marvel Bar's logo.
Have to say it was the first time I've seen burping and farting take center stage at any theater.
And hopefully the last.
The sounds, as presented by sock puppets on a large monitor, opened Alton Brown's "Edible Inedible Tour" at the State Theatre last Friday, an event that played to a multi-age full house who was clearly enthusiastic about his long-running "Good Eats" TV show, now in reruns on the Cooking Channel. (The sound effects, repeated during the intermission and at the close of the show, depicted the action of yeast molecules releasing gas.)
Alton Brown was his madcap self, a grand storyteller with a sly sense of humor, during the 2 hour, 45 minute culinary variety show, which celebrated what he said were "things you're not allowed to do on TV -- you can't rant, rave or pontificate or you'll piss off advertisers." (The excess "sound effects" reflected him thumbing his nose at the Food Network, which he said enforced a burp-to-fart ratio on "Good Eats.")
No sponsors, no advertisers means all fun, right? Well, as we say in the news biz, everyone needs an editor. And this show could have used a scalpel at times, starting with the interminable burping and farting. You know the little kid in kindergarten who would do that and get a laugh, and then wouldn't stop doing it? Well....
The show ran 45 minutes longer than expected, in part because Alton got chatty (often commenting snarkily, in good fun, on the cold weather and other Minnesota-related tangents) and, at the end, because he chose a volunteer in the audience who liked being center stage (she talked almost as much as he did).
But the unwieldy length was more than someone not watching the clock: His musical trio (with Alton on both electric and acoustic guitar, then saxophone) really didn't add much to the evening with food songs that were, well, half-baked, worth a smile but not much more. And some of his TV antics didn't hold up on a theater stage (breezing through a science lesson, for example, had to cross more eyes than just mine).
Two cooking "demos" were delightfully quirky, though took far too long to complete. In one he makes carbonated ice cream using a fire extinguisher (the only single-use piece of kitchen equipment that has his approval).
The other was what turned out to be a long-winded demonstration of his Mega-Bake Oven, a variation on the girls-only Easy Bake Oven of his youth. Though the store version uses a single 100-watt bulb, his monstrous variation, presumably built in his garage or so he implied, gathers power from 54,000 watts of stage lights. "You can see this from space," he chortled as the blinding lights were turned on.
From this powerhouse of light, he and a volunteer (the Chatty Kathy aforementioned), cooked a pizza topped with (what else?) lutefisk and pepperoni.
The best part of the show was his rant on "10 Things I'm Pretty Sure That I'm Sure About Food," an eclectic list that apparently changes from time to time, Here's the Minnesota version:
1. Chickens don't have fingers (where he tells the tale of shocking his daughter's friends with chicken feet).
2. The most critical cooking skill is to use salt (from here he goes on to talk about the bakery dough he discarded in an outdoor dumpster on a very hot day, resulting in an oozing Son-of-Blob scenario that needed commercial trucks to remedy).
3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he tells the story of chef Sakai who did just that on "Iron Chef America").
4. The best cook on Earth is your wife, and the sooner you accept it, the happier you'll be (as he relates a story on making the mistake of "correcting" the seasoning in his wife's dish).3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he relates an episode of "Iron Chef America" in which chef Sakai does just that).
5. The best ingredient to learn to cook is eggs. ("It's liquid meat, premeasured, cheap, and even if you mess them up you can eat them. Conquer eggs and the rest of the culinary world follows.")
6. The most important tool in the kitchen is the dinner table. This follows his comments in an earlier interview that, "The most magical thing about food is its ability to connect human beings to one another. That's the real miracle of food." As for the food? "In 12 hours, it's poo."
7. Wash mushrooms.( "That's not dirt they're grown in; it's horse poop.")
8. Buy American. ("We have the best farmers, the best fish, the best laws overseeing food. Odds are you can't do worse than that.")
9. Raisins are always optional. (Who can disagree with that, says this writer?)
10. Never eat a shrimp cocktail in an airport. (Enough said. Though that led to a very long song about what happens when food poisoning hits.)
For more on Alton, see my earlier interview with him in the Star Tribune.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste
At some point during the ten seasons of Top Chef, the annual Restaurant Wars episode became an even bigger deal than the finale. The appeal of the challenge is obvious. Not only does the task force our chefs to step out of their comfortable roles at the midway point of the season to complete the seemingly insurmountable task of building a restaurant from the ground up in a day, but it’s also one that’s rife with the type of explosive drama reality show producers crave. Orders need to be placed! Flatware need to be classy! Padma’s cleavage must be acknowledged the second she walks in the door!
You have to assume local chef Sara Johannes wanted more fireworks in her mostly stagnant season of Top Chef, but I can’t imagine she wanted to make the impression she made on tonight’s episode, which unfortunately saw her exit. This was cringe TV at its worst (best?), an hour of television that made me wince on more than one occasion.
Things just didn’t go well for Sara’s team from the start. Based on names alone (Nina, Shirley, Carlos, Justin), the team appeared poised for victory from the beginning, but quickly became derailed over a lack of commitment on their restaurant’s theme. Naming themselves Found, the team’s idea was to center their menu on “Modern America,” an all-encompassing melting pot that would effectively allow each chef to stay within their chosen style of cooking. The other team took a more direct approach with Fin, a seafood restaurant that was unified by both style and flavor profiles. Travis is praised as the best front of the house person in Restaurant Wars history, while Nicholas wins for combining black drum and oxtail. That's hardly the story in this episode, however, but congrats to them both.
I have no idea why Sara decided to be such a martyr in this challenge, but I was practically screaming at my TV when she volunteered to not only take the front of the house position, but to also make a dessert. Restaurant Wars is never an easy challenge. There’s absolutely no need to make it as hard on yourself as possible.
I’ve written before that Sara’s sleepy yet direct approach can come off as slightly condescending, but dealing with Justin (who also volunteered for his role as Found’s executive chef) in a productive way couldn’t have been a walk in the park. Justin showed a petulant side during last episode’s judging panel, and it’s an attitude he’s now made his calling card. From tantrums over Nina buying the wrong plates to his sharp words to Carlos at Whole Foods (apparently they went shopping before solidifying their menu? Why?), Justin was in bad spirits the entire episode, an attitude that surely contributed to the chaos in the kitchen. At one point Sara rightfully points out that they don’t have a big enough coffee maker to serve 120 people and his retort was to say “Can we be positive?” in the least positive way possible.
But Sara’s just as guilty, if not more, for Found’s failures. It’s expected that there will be some backlog in the kitchen and some unwanted waiting time for the VERY IMPORTANT Chase Sapphire Preferred diners, but Found didn’t even seem to have a shell of an ordering system in place. Meals went out in random segments, wrong plates went to the wrong people, and Sara apparently broke a dining taboo by issuing a “verbal fire” for the judge’s appetizers instead of submitting a formal ticket.
The judges were impatient, especially Padma, who was absolutely dismayed by Sara’s very strange choice of not formally introducing or explaining the dishes. She offers no details for three of the dishes, is prompted by Padma to explain one, and then remembers to explain her own, a choice that struck Padma as conceited. Sara was clearly frazzled despite her icy demeanor (and killer blue dress with matching head scarf), but all of this was truly bizarre to behold.
Found had a few good dishes (Shirley’s poached cobia and Nina’s pork tenderloin drew judges’ praise, as usual) but the rest of the restaurant was dragged through the mud. Carlos’ fish wasn’t cut properly, Sara’s nectarine brown butter cake was missing its crucial mascarpone ingredient (the emulsion broke due to the kitchen’s high heat) and Justin revolting-looking rabbit drew an audible laugh from Tom Colicchio.
I didn’t expect Sara to survive this week due to how weird the vibe was at Found, which is why I actually wanted this to be a double elimination. Sara and Justin both let their sides of the restaurant down, while also delivering subpar dishes. Executive chefs often go down with their sinking ships. That wasn’t the case here, but I at least hope Justin’s stock is severely diminished after his display in this week’s challenge. 95% of the viewing public blamed the loss on Sara’s attitude (more of that bossy bitch narrative I can’t for the life of me grasp), but Justin was the one who had a clear lack of faith in his team from the onset and was a bit too eager to blame them for their loss in front of guest judge David Chang.
Unfortunately, Sara wasn’t able to defeat Louis in Bravo.com’s Last Chance Kitchen tonight, which means her Top Chef career is officially over. Sara might have gone home in pretty mortifying fashion, but at least she did it on an episode where she got to show off a Twin Cities area code t-shirt, proudly emblazoned with both “612” and “651.” Minnesota is still proud.
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