Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: 'Venezia: Food & Dreams'

Venezia: Food & Dreams. Tessa Kiros. Andrews McMeel Publishing. $34.99 (288p) ISBN: 978-0-7407-8516-0

Venezia: Food & Dreams is a love letter to Venice. Reading it and cooking from it is a bit like looking at a Caravaggio painting. The dreamlike colors of the photos, the lovely setting of Venice, the simple yet forthright recipes. This book is written, photographed and designed in a dreamlike fashion; one that is so often associated with Venice. Tessa Kiros knows her subject well. In addition to the wonderful recipes, Kiros sprinkles in her thoughts, and comments; her experiences in the city in the form of poetic moments. Many of the photos are of the city itself and its citizens, or of the colorful buildings, or of Carnival; not only of food and recipes. This book is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have come across in a long time. And the food and recipes, as I came to find out, are as delicious as the book is beautiful.

Kiros divides the book into sections that mirror an Italian menu: Antipasti, Zuppa/Pasta/Gnocchi, Risotto, Secondi, Contorni, and Dolci -- with additional sections on Essential Recipes and Cicchetti, small bites unique to Venice. As she unfolds the sections she weaves in her thoughts and comments about Venice, about a dish, a little history, or a moment in time. In one she describes trying to stand up in a gondola like the Venetians do; feet apart to steady yourself so you won't fall down. She mentions that a sure sign of a tourist is one who sits versus stands. Standing up allows more people to ride. I loved reading this. I laughed when I saw in the front of the book in the Essential Recipes section that the first entry is Polenta with recipes for both 'fast' (using instant) and 'slow' preparations. I like that it's the first thing you see and that she offers both ways of cooking the dish. It's a nice starting point. From there it's a slow, leisurely roller coaster ride through an Italian menu via the dishes of Venice. As Venice is known for its seafood many of the recipes have fish and seafood in them. Sardines, scampi, octopus, baccala, anchovies, clams, scallops, branzino, crab, calamari, appear in every other recipe. Dishes like Spaghetti al Nero de Seppie, (Spagehtti with Squid Ink) to a simple, ubiquitous Mista de Pesce (Mixed Grilled Fish). Other interludes involve her trying to get the locals to divulge their recipes; she writes that while Venetians offer up directions at the drop of a cappello, getting them to give up secrets to their cooking is not so easy.

Over a recent weekend I cooked several recipes from the book: Polpette di carne (Meatballs), Bigoili in salsa (Healthy pasta with anchovies & onions), Brasato con amarone di valpolicella (Braised beef with amarone), Radicchio al limone (Radicchio in lemon), Fast Polenta. I can say that they all worked beautifully and were huge hits with my dinner guests. At one meal we ate the braised beef, the raddichio and the polenta: the oohs and ahhs didn't stop until the last morsel was consumed. It was truly, restaurant outings included, the best thing I've made and eaten in a very long time. I chose the beef dish as I wanted to buy meat from a new local butcher McCall's Meat & Fish Co. located in the Loz Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. The piece of chuck that butcher Nathan McCall sold me was perfection. Combined with the amazing recipe it was an incredible thing! A dish I will make again, and again, and one I highly recommend. And it couldn't have been easier to prepare. The radicchio (sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper then simmered in lemon juice for ten minutes) was a beautiful combination of bitter plant, tart lemon juice, olive oil and saltiness: so simple yet so satisfying. The next night for Sunday dinner I made the meatballs and the pasta. The pasta dish was wonderful; a slight hint of the sea due to the anchovies, the cooked-down-to-sweetness onions a perfect compliment. This dish would be great for a light meal, add a green salad = perfetto! The meatball dish was the only one I had any trouble with but I think it may have had more to do with operator error than a flaw in the recipe. For some reason (my guesses: too much oil, not hot enough, meatballs not cold enough, pan too crowded, ratio of beef to potato wrong) I couldn't get the meatballs to stay together when I cooked them. I would have liked the recipe to offer a tad more guidance during the cooking process. That's my only critique. We still ate them, they were still very good.

I love this book. There are so many recipes I still want to try. Dishes I've eaten on my travels in Italy, or at restaurants here in the U.S. but have never made at home. I've never made anything with squid ink, I'd like to try Maiale al latte (Pork in milk) because I've heard of it before and it intrigues me, and I've never made a salt cod preparation at home either. So one day soon, back in the kitchen with Venezia: Food & Dreams, and more Venetian cooking, eating and dreaming.

Buon appetito!

Brasato con amarone di valpolicella

Radicchio al limone

Upcoming Trips: Napa Valley - 2/27-3/1 - Cochon 555 ~ 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers ~ 2010 US Tour. Big Sur - 3/5-/38 ~ Dinner at Big Sur Bakery.

Upcoming Posts: An Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Offal (Not Awful) & Nose To Tail Eating

My great-great grandmother Martha Cloud's husband, Sam Miller, circa 1941, Modoc County, California

'Offal is a culinary term used to refer to the entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of organs other than muscles or bones. People in some cultures shy away from offal as food, while others use it as everyday food, or even in delicacies that command a high price.' -- from Wikipedia. 'Nose to Tail Eating,' a term seemingly coined by British chef and restaurateur, Fergus Anderson, involves food preparation using the entire animal (or plant) from nose to tail. Chef Anderson, author of the book, 'The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating,' owns St. John, a restaurant in London where according to 'he serves up the inner organs of beasts and fowls in big exhilarating dishes that combine high sophistication with peasant roughness.'

I think I'm a pretty good eater; I don't shy away from too many things. But like most of us I have my likes and dislikes; more likes than dislikes. I abhor any kind of dried fruit; I simply don't eat it. And I don't like cooked apples so not a big apple pie eater. My dislike of dried fruit disallows a goodly number of cereals, granolas, trail mix, and some baked goods and desserts. I've learned to check first to avoid the interminable picking out of unwelcome items. The reason I don't like dried fruit is textural. I hate that it sticks to my teeth -- end of story. I can't get beyond that. I can't exactly explain my issue with cooked apples just that they're oddly, uhm, slimy. I hate apple sauce. Again, it's a textural thing; how it feels in my mouth affects how it tastes. Offal can and does fall into the textural issues category but I've still eaten my fair share of it. I wouldn't say I'm an avid consumer of it however. Living in and traveling often to France I've had many French offal preparations, liver and kidneys, among others that I've enjoyed. I do like sweetbreads, and blood sausage a lot and will order them in restaurants. However if there are offal dishes on a restaurant menu invariably I'll choose a non-offal dish. Recently I've noticed that there seems to be a much keener interest in offal here in the U.S. -- at least in restaurants, in food journalism and in foodie circles. It's almost as if offal is replacing pork this year as the favorite food item? This offal uptick has me wondering why I don't eat it as often as I eat other animal protein, and I've decided there are a few reasons.

The first is related to the dried fruit issue: textural. A lot of offal is gelatinous, sinewy, and chewy in ways a well-prepared steak is not. Depending on what gland or organ is being cooked the feel of the food is different too: liver, kidneys, tongue, brains, tripe and so on. It has a different texture, and often a different smell, than cuts of beef, pork, lamb or chicken. These differences have always given me pause. And then there's the cultural issue. I wasn't raised eating the stuff. It wasn't a part of my diet growing up in the '60s and '70s. It was a part of the diet of my relatives, a generation before my mother. My great-grandparents, my grandfather and great-uncle ate it. They had a ranch; they raised their own chickens and sheep. My great uncle hunted, butchered and prepared deer. My mother tells the story of watching my great-grandfather chop the heads off of chickens and how they ran around headless until they died. That was normal to them. I've never seen an animal killed let alone butchered. We bought our chicken already cut up, wrapped in plastic in a styrofoam tray. If we did buy a whole chicken the giblets were wrapped in a small sealed paper bag which was easy to just throw away. Fast food did not help my palate adjust to eating offal either. Just think of the textures in fast food: 'soft' comes to mind first; with flavors that are 'bland,' 'salty' and 'sweet.' We ate a lot of fast food when I was a kid and while it probably contained offal we didn't know it. My mother did cook us a fair amount of liver and we hated it; it wasn't until I left home and lived in France that I first understood that offal could be tasty and interesting. I ate my first blood sausage at a French friend's house: broiled blood sausage, couscous, a green salad and cheese. It was a revelation to me. I ate a few other offal dishes the year I lived there. After France when I was first back home in Sonoma County, a friend and I went to a 'fancy' restaurant and we both ordered sweetbreads, and they were delicious. Besides the liver I ate as a child and the dishes I ate in France those sweetbreads are the first offal food memory I have. I've eaten sweetbreads over and over ever since.

I hate to admit this but I think I'm a picky offal eater. I am not, I have come to realize, the type of 'I'll-eat-anything-put-before-me' eater that Anthony Bourdain is. I have foodie friends who are very adventurous who will eat almost anything. I admire heartily the enthusiasm of Bourdain and my food-obsessed friends. I fully appreciate the nose-to-tail movement as it is economically sound and environmentally conscious. It easily fits into the '100 miles' philosophy: when possible use all of whatever we take from nature. I have eaten pigs feet; they were good, I enjoyed them. I will eat them, and other offal and nose-to-tail dishes again. Many cultures use offal and nose-to-tail ingredients in their cuisines. What better hangover cure is there than menudo? I'll keep trying new things, new dishes, domestic and foreign. My point here is that if I'd lived during my great-grandparents,' and grandparents' time my palate and diet would have been more acculturated to eating the whole animal. More than likely I would have been involved in the slaughtering and butchering of the animals. For economical reasons we would have used the entire animal. Sadly, I grew up in the industrialized grocery store, frozen everything, fast food era. That's not to say that I won't eventually become more adventurous, and I do know plenty of people who grew up the way I did who are 'eat anything' eaters, but for me right now: I am a picky-less-adventurous-offal-eater that's willing to grow. I have friends who will lead the way. You know who you are!

Upcoming Trips: Napa Valley - 2/27-3/1 - Cochon 555 ~ 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers ~ 2010 US Tour. Big Sur - 3/5-/38 ~ Dinner at Big Sur Bakery.

Upcoming Posts: An Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

*The Local Report - Forage

3.0 miles, about 9 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

Foraging? There seems to be a new movement afoot in the food and restaurant worlds. Or is it simply an expansion upon sustainable and local eating? Gather what is closest to you versus buying ingredients that come from thousands of miles away. Eat fresh, seasonal, locally produced goods rather than the stuff that sits in ships and trucks for weeks on end. And when possible forage what you can yourself. Go to your local outdoor spaces: fields, mountains, streams and pick the edibles you find there. Harvest your backyard fruit and vegetables, and donate them. There is a mini-movement happening, or at the very least foraging is gaining a more public face. There are more and more Chefs that forage themselves, or rely on foragers to bring them ingredients; organizations that encourage picking public fruit are appearing. Among restaurants Chez Panisse is the most famous for foraging. They have long had a policy of accepting goods at the restaurant's back door from people who forage in the surrounding area, or grow produce in their backyards. The local person who brings them mushrooms, or backyard strawberries, or edible greens from local mountains that all end up on that day's menu. On a recent trip to San Francisco we ate at S.P.Q.R. and we had raviolis with locally foraged nettles in them. The chef, Matthew Accarrino, forages his own edibles across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin headlands. When he was at Craft in Los Angeles, he worked with forager, Kerry Clasby, to learn the art of foraging. Fallen Fruit is an amazing group that promotes gathering public fruit. Fruit from trees that are in public areas or that hang over sidewalks. The group says this about themselves: "Using fruit as our lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community." They sponsor Public Fruit Jams, bring your homegrown fruit and participate in communal jam making; Community Fruit Tree Plantings; and most recently they've started EAT LACMA in conjunction with LACMA -- "a year-long investigation into food, art, culture and politics." Food as a protest movement? I'll join up.

Now Los Angeles has a new restaurant that combines foraging and urban harvests: 'Forage.' The restaurant actively encourages backyard farmers and gardeners to bring in their bounty to be used in the food they prepare. Since its recent opening it has been very active on Twitter and Facebook; I've seen a lot of posts about what has been brought in by customers and how it will be used. They even post who brought what in on the specials chalk board that hangs near the cash register. They see this as a collaboration between the restaurant and the customer. To further this interaction they hold 'harvest calls' every Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. Bring in items from your personal harvest; they will taste them and decide with you how they might be used in an upcoming menu. The Forage website also has a running list of produce they are looking for: garlic, onions, shallots, limes and avocados are on the current list. If you have them, bring them in, they will probably use them.

I have eaten at the restaurant several times and it has been very good each time: fresh, clean, bold. No fancy foams or exotic preparations here; honest food, simply prepared. On my first visit I ordered the Combo Plate -- One Small Protein with Two Sides. I chose Chimichurri Rubbed Flank Steak (grilled natural Angus served with nopales tomatillo salsa), Honey Mustard Chickpeas and Greens (sweetly spiced chickpeas with raw mustard greens), and Citrus Beets (citrus marinated beets with goat milk feta and arugula). At lunch today I discovered my current favorite Los Angeles sandwich: P Belly Sandwich (Niman Ranch pork belly on a crusty baguette with cabbage, tomato, fennel pickles and green garlic aioli). The flavors all combined together almost made me swoon. And it was very popular; every other person seemed to order it. For dinner tonight I grabbed one of their roast chickens, Jidori Chicken from Our Rotisserie (here's the description on the menu: "Jidori, translated from Japanese means 'chicken of the earth.' They're raised locally on a family farm, and we gently roast them with herbs and garlic.") I added a side of Maryanne's Broccoli (baby broccoli with chile, shallot, and garlic) and a slice of Chamomile Honey Vanilla Cake. I'll let you know how it all is tomorrow. Owner and chef Jason Kim, most recently sous-chef at Lucques before venturing out on his own, has the necessary cooking experience to pull this off. It has only been open a short while but so far it has really taken off. There are frequently lines out the door. I like it because it's local, sustainable, seasonal and most importantly involves the customer in the harvesting and menu planning of the food they will eat. How cool is that to see your backyard fruit or produce become a delicious dish on Chef Kim's menu? Pretty damned exciting I'd say.

And it's only three miles from home!

3823 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1529

*The Local Report(s): are occasional blog posts on restaurants, and/or businesses that either support the idea of one-hundred miles, and 'living life locally'; or are small, localized businesses in my neighborhood, and/or within one-hundered miles of my residence, that I prefer to support over the larger, national, corporate chains. For other The Local Report(s) please go the Archives section of this blog. Also, I'd love to hear from my readers about businesses that they support in their neighborhoods: write to me at charlesgthompson AT 100miles DOT com, or leave a comment here.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

25th Annual Chefs' Holidays at The Ahwahnee

Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern at her cooking demo at the 'Chefs' Holidays at the Ahwahnee' in Yosemite.

Uhm, let's see: three days of celebrity chefs cooking amazing food at The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite in the middle of winter?! Okay, I'm in. I'll splurge to watch Suzanne Goin of Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern give cooking demos and cook the final meal served in the Ahwahnee's magnificent dining room. Sure I will -- and I did. Last week Robert and I spent three glorious days and nights in Yosemite Valley eating our way through food prepared by four chefs: Suzanne Goin; John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Zazu Restaurant + Farm, Bovolo and Black Pig Meat Co. in Sonoma County; and Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant + Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On a previous trip to Yosemite I'd picked up information on the Chefs' Holidays events and was more than intrigued. And I was reminded of them often as I get regular e-mails from Delaware North, the company that runs all accommodations, concessions and special events at Yosemite. As you can see by the title of this post the Chefs' Holidays have been happening at The Ahwahnee for the last twenty-five years. There are a total of eight sessions that take place during January and February. I chose Session 5 for a reason: two of my current favorite chefs were going to be there. I've already written about my passion for what husband and wife chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes do at their two restaurants Zazu and Bovolo in Sonoma County. They live their loves locally; easily within one hundred miles of where they live and work. Their two restaurants embody the local lifestyle and their food is amazing. When I saw that they would be participating I decided to splurge and attend. The extra added bonus of Suzanne Goin as the headline chef was more than I could ask for. And while I didn't know much about the third chef, Jody Adams, I do now and I am now a fan of hers too.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

All of this taking place in Yosemite. I love Yosemite in the winter. There's no one there. It's as beautiful as it is any other time of the year. We were very lucky on this trip. We arrived on a Sunday and left on a Wednesday; the Thursday before our trip a huge storm dumped a lot of snow. By the time we arrived on Sunday the storm was over and the roads had been cleared. What was left was stunningly beautiful. A nice amount of pristine snow covered everything making for a true winter wonderland. The outside daytime temperature hovered around thirty-five degrees -- not too cold at all with our layers of sweaters, scarves and winter coats. When we weren't at the Ahwahnee eating we were out exploring this amazing place. This was a trip I could easily do over and over and over...

*Chef Suzanne Goin, Lucques, A.O.C., Tavern in Los Angeles, Californa. Author, 'Sunday Suppers at Lucques'

The event took place over three days and nights. On Sunday night there was a reception to meet the chefs and we did. We chatted with Suzanne, John and Duskie, and Jody while eating hors d'oeuvres and drinking wine. It was a good way to start off the event. All the chefs were very approachable and quite friendly. On Monday at ten o'clock in the morning we met back at the Great Hall of the Ahwahnee for the first cooking demo: Suzanne Goin. Chef Goin prepared 'Pan-Roasted Quail with Pancetta, Baked Ricotta and Sicilian Breadcrumbs' followed by 'Roasted Pear Salad with Endive, Hazelnuts and St. Agur.' Watching her cook I noticed that Chef Goin was very precise in everything she did. She new her next move; her mise en place at hand. I understood; she'd been trained in restaurant kitchens in France. Most chefs I've known exhibit this type of precision. It works, and is necessary, for what they have to do. She was also very giving in how she showed us to prepare the two dishes; answering questions, offering suggestions and making apt comments. Her two dishes were nicely refined, and beautiful to look at. After the demo we tasted the pear salad and it was really delicious. I've always loved endive and blue cheese together; the addition of the roasted pears added another layer of flavor and texture.

Roasted Pear Salad with Endive, Hazelnuts and St. Agur, Chef Suzanne Goin

Pan-Roasted Quail with Pancetta, Baked Ricotta and Sicilian Breadcrumbs, Chef Suzanne Goin

Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes starting their cooking demo at the 'Chefs' Holidays at The Ahwahnee' in Yosemite.

*Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes, Zazu Restaurant & Farm, BOVOLO, Black Pig Meat Co., Sonoma County, California

That afternoon we all met back at the Great Hall at two o'clock for John and Duskie's cooking demonstration. They made 'Hazelnut Crepes with Nutella and Blood Orange Syrup' followed by 'Brussels Sprouts, Local Apple, and Black Pig Bacon Salad.' John and Duskie are a little more country to Suzanne's city. Duskie chose the crepes recipe with Nutella because Nutella is something she likes and because she likes to combine high and low food together. The idea is to use easy to get products with those that are harder to get in the same dish. There's also a nice playfulness to Duskie and John, evident in this dish. One of the main reasons I like these two chefs is because as mentioned above they live locally, and because one of their credos is 'no waste.' They use every part of the animal; any organic waste from the food preparation process is either fed to their pigs or composted for their garden. In their restaurants many of the vegetables for the day's menus are harvested in the garden outside the kitchen's back door just before service. At their farm-home they raise pigs, have chickens for eggs and a garden. It's a full circle lifestyle. During their demo they were relaxed and easy-going; they worked well together but it was also evident that they knew what they were doing. These are seasoned professionals. While the crepes were Duskie's dish, the Brussels sprouts dish offered John his moment to work with his black pig bacon. Bacon that he cures himself along with other salumi that he makes. We tasted the Brussels sprouts after the demo and they were earthy and wonderful; the bacon, apples and sprouts working together perfectly.

Hazelnut Crepes with Nutella and Blood Orange Syrup, Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes

Brussels Sprouts, Local Apple and Black Pig Bacon Salad, Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes

Chef Jody Adams starts her cooking demonstration at 'Chefs' Holidays at the Ahwahnee' in Yosemite.

*Chef Jody Adams, Rialto, Boston, Massachusetts. Author, 'In The Hands of a Chef: Cooking with Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant'

Our final cooking demonstration was by Chef Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant + Bar in Boston on Tuesday afternoon. Chef Adams also made two dishes: 'Orange Dusted Scallops with Sunchokes, Harissa and Olives,' followed by 'Scallop Ravioli with Pistachios, Pomegranate and Mushrooms.' Chef Adams was such a joy to watch; she was funny, smart and also really knows what she is doing. There was a bit of Julia Child's zaniness to her but she was actually in absolute control. When questions were thrown at her she surprised by breaking down the chemical process in certain cooking scenarios. Both recipes had long ingredient lists and many steps but she made it all seem effortless. She was very open to substituting ingredients; she taught interesting yet useful techniques - like how to cut parchment exactly to the size of your sauté pan. It felt a bit like we were in her home kitchen all around a cooking island pitching in. Chef Adams was unknown to me before this event but she has a new West Coast fan now. If I ever get to Boston I'll be stopping in to Rialto. We tasted the the orange dusted scallops after the demo and they were among my favorite dishes we ate.

Scallop Ravioli with Pistachios, Pomegranate and Mushrooms, Chef Jody Adams

Orange Dusted Scallops with Sunchokes, Harissa and Olives, Chef Jody Adams

The dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park

*Behind the Scenes Kitchen Tour

On Tuesday morning there was an optional tour of the Ahwahnee hotel kitchens. Robert and I were curious to see the behind-the-scenes of such a huge operation. There's the beautiful public side but behind closed doors is where all the action takes place to keep the operation going. Sous-chef Beth Brown took us through the huge kitchens, storerooms and baking areas. I've been in a lot of professional kitchens, and I've seen other hotel kitchens but the size of this one was XXXL. The fact sheet handed out says that the kitchen is 6,500 square feet; the ceiling is 38 feet high at its highest point. The kitchen prepares 1500 meals per day for the dining room not including room service, weddings or special events. The bakeshop produces 400 loaves of bread per day. This is cooking on a massive scale. It was interesting to see what goes on behind-the-scenes in an operation this big.

The line in the Ahwahnee Hotel kitchen.

Bread baked daily in the kitchen of the Ahwahnee Hotel kitchen.

Sous-chef Beth Brown in the Ahwahnee Hotel pastry shop where chocolate truffles for the hotel sweet shop are being made.

*Chefs' Holidays Gala Dinner, Chef Suzanne Goin

The final event of the three day food extravaganza was a gala dinner served in the Ahwahnee Hotel dining room. As Suzanne Goin was the headline chef she created and prepared the menu for the evening: Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges, Roasted Dates, Almonds and Parmesan; Maine Diver Scallops with Green Garlic Soubise, Chanterelles and Meyer Lemon; Alaskan Black Cod with Kabocha Squash, Golden Raisins, Pancetta and Pedro Jimenez; Braised Veal Cheek with Risotto Carbonara, Pea Shoots and Black Truffle Butter; Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Mascarpone and Pistachio Ice Cream. It was all incredible, wonderful, amazing -- nothing more needs be said.

Chef Suzanne Goin and me. She's holding her book: 'Sunday Dinners at Lucques' which she autographed for me.

Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes and me. I interviewed them for an upcoming blog post.

Chef Jody Adams and me.

Snow-covered Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

I love Yosemite but you know that already. Attending this event was truly an experience I won't soon forget. The setting, the chefs, the food, and the company. Will I go again next year? Possibly. I will give it serious consideration. It was that good.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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