Archive for May, 2007

Want to Date a Chef?

May 31, 2007

If I had the dough (pun intended), I would.

“On Monday, June 11th, hot NYC chefs will be auctioned off for “dates” to benefit Friends of the FCI, a nonprofit organization that funds French Culinary Institute student scholarships.

Some of the one-time-only dates on the auction block:

• Train with Wylie Dufresne of wd~50 in his kitchen, then join him for dinner at his favorite late-night hang-out, Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
• Have dinner with Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his favorite New York City sushi restaurant.
• Learn to master your favorite dessert with Melissa Murphy, owner of Sweet Melissa Patisserie, and appear on an episode of her podcast “Simply Baked with Sweet Melissa.” Then join Melissa for lunch at the patisserie.
• Get a private, behind-the-scenes tour of Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Haven followed by a hands-on chocolate class.

Among the other chefs participating in “Date Night” are Johnny Iuzzini, executive pasty chef of Jean Georges; David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssäm Bar; Lee Anne Wong of Bravo’s Top Chef; Jean Francois Bruel of Daniel; Aaron Sanchez of Centrico and Paladar; André Soltner, formerly of Lutèce; Julian Alonzo of Brasserie 8½; Dan Barber of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns; and Cesare Casella of Maremma.”

Bidding starts at 7:30 PM while cocktails and bites are served from 7–11 PM and at Cipriani at 200 Fifth Avenue ($250 per person, purchase tickets by June 6th; 646-254-7521;

Grandmothers ROCK

May 29, 2007

What’s Cooking Grandma is a site about following around grandmothers and getting them to cook awesome food on camera. Almost better than watching reruns of The Golden Girls.

Watch Jackie throw down some scone. You can tell she’s made them a zillion times by the way she sticks her hand in the butter bowl and scoops out a nice fat handful by feel, and also by the fact that she has a bowl of (probably sweet local) butter sitting out in a tub at room temperature. And by the old man hanging around waiting for a fresh batch to come out of the oven. I’d be there too.

Speaking of Grandma’s home-cooking, there’s a fascinating piece in the Times about dabbawallas in India, basically a lunch delivery service that is like FedEx for grandmothers to get lunches to their hard-working sons.

“In India, where many traditions are being rapidly overturned as a result of globalization, the practice of eating a home-cooked meal for lunch lives on.

To achieve that in this sprawling urban amalgamation of an estimated 25 million people, where long commutes by train and bus are routine, Mumbai residents rely on an intricately organized, labor-intensive operation that puts some automated high-tech systems to shame. It manages to deliver tens of thousands of meals to workplaces all over the city with near-clockwork precision.

[…]The service is at once simple and complex. A network of wallas picks up the boxes from customers’ homes or from people who cook lunches to order, then delivers the meals to a local railway station. The boxes are hand-sorted for delivery to different stations in central Mumbai, and then re-sorted and carried to their destinations. After lunch, the service reverses, and the empty boxes are delivered back home.”

I’ll trade you my PB&J for your chapatis and dal and lamb vindaloo! God I wish I had an Indian grandmother so I could get in on this!

NYC Food Film Festival

May 24, 2007

What could be better than eating great food while watching a free outdoor movie in the summer on the water?

The first Annual Food Film Festival is hitting New York City June 14-23rd at Water Taxi Beach. The films are free! Food is for sale. (Food must be purchased in advance through an online ticketing system. Tickets will be ready for purchase May 30th.)

Put it on your calendars! I think I’m most excited about “Asparagus (A Stalk-umentary)”. Hope to see you there!

The Umami Reader, vol.001

May 21, 2007

Noteworthy readings, websites, blogs and eats:

  • Bittman goes to Istria with Lidia Bastianich (note asparagus frittata recipe)
  • TMonkey recommends the wine documentary, Mondovino
  • A community of wine lovers on Cork’d
  • Batali and Bourdain on Adam Platt and bloggers on Grub Street
  • Bruni Showdown: yet another NY restaurateur shamelessly crying over a bad review (boohoohoo). Already the second this year!
  • Excellent NYer profile on diva chef Gordon Ramsey (some really f*%#ed up shit!)

It’s soft shell crab season!!! I like mine at Great NY Noodle Town— when I went this week, they were big, juicy and perfectly crunchy. Delicious! Wherever you might be in the world, the season usually runs from May to September– don’t put it off! What are you waiting for??

Editor’s Note:
This is the first in a series of posts that will be dedicated to fantastic readings and random other mind-numbing references and links on food we find throughout the week (it doesn’t matter how outdated it is- Umami Mart is clearly not about late-breaking news). I’m hoping this will be a bi-weekly entry– please email me when you read anything food-worthy! We’re at

Do Hwa

May 17, 2007

Wow, this is my first time blogging! How exciting.

Anyway, MRoach introduced Aya A. and two JS alums, yours truly and Gayle, to Do Hwa — a great Korean joint in the Village (55 Carmine Street b/t Bedford & 7th Ave S). We did not leave hungry…that is for sure! I specifically took the photos with my cell for Umami Mart!

Above are photos of our Deji Bulgogi (thin slices of pork in a spicy chili pepper marinade)…..soooo good!! It helped that Mel was the best BBQer, making sure the meat was getting cooked equally on both sides! 🙂 You wrap it in the lettuce & shiso leaves (last photo).

To start we had kimchi pancakes and a fried oyster appetizer. We also had two kinds of soups – Mandu D’uk Gook (homemade dumpling soup with rice cakes…which was more like mochi — YUM) and another one, which I think was Dwen Jang Chigae (dark miso soup with vegetables and beef).

The place is very cool – definitely a fun place to go in a group if you do the BBQ….but note: you cannot split the BBQ’s for two for an individual BBQ…must be for two…no ifs ands or buts.

The Manifold Path to Lasagne Enlightenment

May 17, 2007

It all started with this recipe in 101cookbooks, which I love, but whose hype I had never succumbed to until one day last weekend, when I decided to make Aya a bon voyage lasagne (my girl loves her some lasagne) before her trip to Wiener-ville.

It’s a masochistic lasagne, a fact we learned later in the making of it, and perfect for me, as I tend to believe that pain is what makes pleasure possible, heightens it in the right mindset even. Of course, much of the pain I brought onto myself (and poor Aya, who was assisting me in this endeavor) as I ignored with impunity one critical direction, which I will tell you soon enough.

“This isn’t a lasagne path for the faint-hearted. Making a dish of this magnitude takes commitment and patience – and time. Plenty of it.”

See, it wasn’t just a recipe for lasagne. No, dear readers. This was a lasagne path.

It began with a question: How thin can the pasta be for lasagne? Clearly it has to be sturdy enough to hold the sauce and the cheese, but if you think about it, it’s not really holding anything. The truth is, those thick, bulky slabs we are used to in the archetypal lasagne are that thick to save the ordinary cook his sanity. Sure it’s easier when the pasta’s thicker. Easier to boil, easier to handle, fewer layers to build.

But what if you rolled out each sheet of pasta in a pasta machine, thin as a ribbon, as thin as angel hair before its filamentation? Then each bite would be light and fluffy, giving the sauce a chance to shine against the fat white cheeses. Imagine that! A light lasagne!

(Miss Heidi recommended buying the pasta fresh instead of making it yourself, and I agree. I also now would reiterate her point that it be freshly made, since the older it is, the drier and more crumbly and hard it becomes. Cracks will form and grow into massive fissures that will tear many otherwise beautiful pieces to shreds during the boiling and construction phase.)

My mistake? Ignoring this little hint: “I go to the 8 setting, one shy of the very thinnest setting.” See, my pasta machine doesn’t go to 9. It goes to 6, and, well, 5 sounds a long way from 8, so I decided to do one more pass to make it the thinnest it could possibly be. “The sheets should almost be translucent,” she continues. Translucent, yes…even more reason to put it through at the thinnest setting. Right?

Ooh, translucent (and already tearing)

A lavishly buttered dish and the first layer of sauce

Butter the dish, and ye shall be rewarded.
You can’t make too much sauce.
San Marzano tomatoes. Period.

The scene of a terrible battle, where so many were lost

Cut the strips into manageable rectangles roughly 4-inches in length.”
D’oh. Oh well…

The final creation

Trust me. It’s surprisingly light.

At the intersection of Cheese Grove and Tomato Lane.

Fat cutters
Baby arugula with shave parmesan and red onions, Basalmic and olive oil

Wait, are you blogging this?

Oh. Mygod. It’s, like, so surprisingly light!

Celebrating Spring with Crazy Daisy Pyrex

May 17, 2007

When Ryohei (aka Yamahomo) announced that he was moving, the first thing I asked was, “can I buy everything you’re selling from your kitchen?” You see, Ryohei is a master chef who truly has the most comprehensive, exquisite kitchenware of anyone I know. He needed to downsize his possessions since he would be moving from his spacious 2 bedroom in Jersey to an itzy-bitzy bedroom in Chelsea–lucky for me!

First thing he offered me was his set of vintage Pyrex mixing bowls for $35. I didn’t even ask what they looked like– I immediately said HELL YES!

From the very moment I laid eyes on the set of bowls, I was in love. All four are in perfect condition, and are gorgeous. The colors cleverly alternate starting with biggest bowl, a retro pea-green color, with little white flowers that go all the way around the bowl; and white bowls with the same shade green flowers. 2 green and 2 white- so cool!

Nowadays, when you think Pyrex, you think clear glass, simple, straightforward containers and bakeware that you get at Target for $5– extremely functional and nicely designed in their own right. Wiki defines Pyrex as: “a brand name for heat-resistant glass introduced by Corning Glass Works in 1915.”

However, through my extensive research about my new bowls, and about vintage Pyrex in general, I have discovered one thing: Pyrex is highly coveted and extensively collected all around the world. It’s a cult. There is a black hole of website after website of people professing their love for their funky Pyrex patterns, selling Pyrex from the 50s, meticulously chronicling each Pyrex series, documenting and photographing their rare Pyrex collections, etc, etc. These Pyremaniacs are so devoted! I love them!

Ok, about my bowls: I found most of my information through Pyrexlove, an incredibly informative blogsite for Pyremaniacs. This is what I learned about my beloved set of bowls:
– they were first manufactured in the 60s
– the official name for this style set: “440 Series Cinderella Mixing Bowls Set”
– there is an ID# for each bowl, which is:
#441 (1.5 pint), #442 (1.5 quart), #443 (2.5 quart) #444 (4 quart)

Apparently, there is an ongoing dispute about the name of my particular series (Pyrex has cute names for every single one of their designs)- some call it “Spring Blossom Green” while it is also referred to as “Crazy Daisy”. According to a comprehensive investigation on the website “The Pyrex Files: The Patterns Are Out There Somewhere” (how GREAT is that?), the original box states that they are indeed called “Spring Blossom Green”– Pyrex Files speculates that they were redesigned at some point and were unofficially renamed (note the redesign comparison on the site). Pyrexlove also talks about the differences here.

I had been following my same exact set of bowls on eBay over the week to see how much it goes for (the vast assortment of vintage Pyrex on eBay is never ending- it even has its own category!) . One set ended with a final bid of $20.49. Another one ended without as much as one bid, with its starting bid at $24.99. Maybe that was too expensive for the Pyremaniacs? Eh, who knows. I know I paid a little bit more than the market price, but I’m glad I was able to give Ryohei’s set a loving new home. Look at how cute they are nesting inside one another in my garden of tulips and daffodils! Happy Spring! *k*

James Beard Foundation Awards

May 13, 2007

When I was asked to shoot the Beard Awards, I was so excited. Tickets to this black tie affair cost anywhere from $400 to $2,500…and they paid me to come and eat! (as long as I took a few photos). It was quite an event- basically the Oscars of the food world. It was amazing to see so many foodies in one place, eating and talking about food. Does it get any better than that?

This was the first year it was held at Lincoln Center, and I think that made it a much bigger scene. On the red carpet, I was shooting next to The Today Show, who interviewed everyone from Wolfgang Puck to Thomas Keller. They were doing a story on how chefs have become celebrities, and asked everyone how they think this has happened. Most said because of the Food Network, and many mentioned how happy they were that there has been a return to the kitchen- something we haven’t seen since the 1950’s.

Martha Stewart was late and kept us waiting in the press line for over an hour. She finally arrived on the red carpet after announcing this year’s Rising Star Chef, David Chang, of Momofuku Noodle Bar (see above photo).

After 3 hours of awards, all the tuxedos and ball gowns flooded on to the 2 promenade levels of Avery Fischer Hall to eat and drink their hearts out. A few special people proceeded in to the VIP area for a sit down, several course meal (the $2,500 tickets), but most people roamed and chatted. Many of the top restaurants in the country had tables with little amuse bouches to nosh on as you mingled with the likes of Tom Colicchio and Daniel Boulud.

The best thing I tried was an olive oil bon-bon (see photo below), a hard crystallized ball filled with EVOO. It crunched and then popped in your mouth. Very surprising. On the main, the food and the presentation was pretty imaginative- I kept hearing everyone talk about the foie gras cotton candy. Also, it was a warm night, so on the veranda overlooking the Lincoln Center fountain, they served an amazing selection of wine, scotch, vodka and rum.

Overall- a fantastic event. I left drunk and full. I encourage you all to start saving so you can go next year!

To view this year’s winners, click here.

For more of my photos on the James Beard Website click here.

Pictured below: Bobby Flay, Katie Lee Joel (Top Chef), Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Hannah Storm (the evening’s host), Padma Lakshmi (Top Chef), Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. (all photos © Erin Gleeson 2007).

Eating Well in Iraq

May 12, 2007

By Jane Stillwater

When I went to Iraq as an investigative reporter last month, I sort of surprised myself by discovering that the first thing that I investigated was the food. U.S. soldiers weren’t re-enlisting at a fast enough rate at the beginning of this gruesome “war” and when they took a survey of soldiers who didn’t want to re-up, the military discovered that it was because of the lousy food.

So now that is all changed. Even the MREs — Meals Ready to Eat — are practically gourmet. They come in 22 different varieties, including beef enchiladas, jambalaya, chicken tetrazzini, pot roast, vegetarian mushroom omelets, roast beef with gravy and BBQ pork.

And while I was in Iraq, I just couldn’t keep away from the DFAC — the dining facility. It was like the buffet table on a cruise ship. I swear! Plus they also had a
pizza bar, a pasta bar, a potato bar, a salad bar and, most important of all, a dessert bar to die for.

I’m going back to Iraq in June — ostensibly to continue my “I Love Lucy” kind of journalistic reporting on the bloodbath that used to be Baghdad. But secretly, just between you and me, I suspect that I’m really going back for the food!

Editor’s Note:
Jane Stillwater is our first guest correspondent for Umami Mart. To read more about what she is up to in Iraq, visit her blog! She was also on the cover of SF Gate a few months ago, about her endeavors in Iraq.

Burrata + Oysters: The Reckoning

May 12, 2007

tmonkey lost his mind last night.

I came home from work at 10:30. The apartment was sweltering. tmonkey was walking around, sweaty, shirtless with a small knife. He mumbling something about mozzarella cheese. He had been blogging. I knew there would be trouble.

“Do you know how to shuck oysters?” he asked. I told him no. “This is going to be harder than I thought. These Malpeques are tight.”

There was some blood on the wet paper towels. tmonkey blood. Or maybe it was from the tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. Six perfect green-grey oysters nestled atop a bed of ice, taunting us. I took a knife in hand. That was the beginning of the end…

“Bye, valve.”

That’s what tmonkey kept saying as we pried open the shells. I could almost hear the little soft bodies screaming as we slid the cold blade in and forced open their shells. But I didn’t care. I was possessed. After we had readied them for ritual sacrifice, the grey oyster flesh glistening with lemon juice, we turned our attention to the Burrata. (At this point I couldn’t control myself. I was trying to scrape off the little remaining meat off of an empty shell with my teeth. I offered some oyster juice-laced shell to the little hairless Buster, but he was entirely uninterested.)

I had never seen this before. Inside the plastic container, a plastic bag, and yet another plastic bag, tied up with a mint-green ribbon. Milky liquid collected at the bottom of the bags. The cheese was heavy and white. tmonkey carefully unveiled the Burrata mozzarella and placed it on the cutting board. It looked like a creamy tumescent heart from some unknown mythical creature, about to burst. “Get the camera,” he said. His eyes were bulging. He had a clean knife. We wanted to keep a record of this moment. The first shot was completely washed out. I turned off the flash. The knife pierced the heart and slowly made its way down its surface. Almost immediately, a viscous cream began to ooze out. The engorged cheese-heart, fell open easily against the blade. The flesh inside was not smooth and seamless like the outside. It had the look of delicate sauerkraut, shreds of heavenly string, bleeding cream.

When I saw this, I suddenly realized what we had done, and what we were about to do. It was too much. We had gone too far. But there was no turning back.

The spaghetti was boiling. We had time to kill.

tmonkey took an oyster in his hand. With a fork he jabbed into the Burrata. He wound a long shred around the prongs, and twirling it just so, daintily placed it on top of the oyster. I did the same. We looked at each other, and took the shells to our lips.

Words fail to aptly describe this ineffable experience. How can I write about the texture of the oyster as it swirled around my tongue, escaping the clutches of my teeth? Or the salty firm meat of the Burrata, spreading its flavor into the corners of my mouth? The sensations were overwhelming, totally engrossing, and then, it was over, all too quickly. Leaving only echoes of the salt and sea. Guilt at such pleasure. The remaining oysters were dispatched one after another. It was all over in less than 10 minutes.

I cleaned up the debris. The kitchen towel soaked in oyster juice. Lemon seeds. Knives. The dissected cheese-heart. I saw the bowl of empty oyster shells capsizing amidst melting chunks of ice. In a desperate attempt to cling to the experience that was already now just a lingering memory, I put my right foot in the bowl, imagining myself stepping into the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean. I let the oyster juice soak into my skin, shells digging into my toes. Melancholy sets in, when something is over. But somehow I knew this would not be the last time…