Tuesday, August 19, 2008

C.E.O. Women International Cook-Off at La Cocina in the Mission

C.E.O. Women, a non-profit whose name stands for Creating Economic Opportunities for Women, sponsored its first International Iron Chef Cook-Off at La Cocina in San Francisco's Mission District.  If you are unfamiliar with this non-profit, C.E.O. Women's mission is to help create economic opportunities for low-income immigrant and refugee women by educating them in English, Communications and Entrepreneurship.  The cook-off was a part of C.E.O. Women's program called Shine Your Brilliance, which celebrates the strengths and talents of these women and this particular event was held in support of women wanting to start their own businesses in the food industry, such as catering, restaurants and the like.  The four cook-off chefs featured were graduates of C.E.O Women  from these countries - Ethiopia, Japan, Mexico and Peru.

Yours truly was one of the judging panelists, representing, SF Food Maven & SF Bay Style along with three others - Caleb Zigas, La Cocina's Program Director, Donnalyn Murphy, Director of Educational Services at Golden Gate Restaurant Association and Thy Tran, Founder of the Wandering Spoon and the Asian Culinary Forum.  Chef Thomas Weibull of Plouf on Belden and the former Les Amis was the Master of Ceremonies and what a spendid job he did.

The first Chef contestant was Aster Andyhun of Ethiopia, who has been working with C.E.O. Women to start her own food catering business and plans to open her own Ethiopian restaurant and market, called Bole mini d'Afrique.  Her signature dish was Linton Sew, which is a popular everyday dish in her country.  Linton Sew is a mixture of yellow lentils, olive oil, ginger, garbanzo beans and garlic and it was spread on traditional Ethiopian bread, called Injera and served with a side of collard greens.  Injera is a spongy, sour flatbread that is also used as a utensil.  The spicy flavors of the Linton Sew went very well with the Injera and the side of collard greens added extra flavor and texture to make for a healthy and tasty vegetarian dish.

The next contestant was Dilsa Lugo from Cuernavaca , Mexico.  Her dish was Rajas con Crema (literally 'slices with cream'), which is a dish her mother taught her to make growing up.  The 'slices' in this dish were Poblano peppers, which added a little heat and were a nice smoky contrast to the cream sauce.  It was served with a flavorful roasted chicken and a side of cilantro & red cabbage chiffonade, which added beautiful color and contrast in flavor and texture.  Dilsa runs her own catering company called Los Cilantros, which she opened using the entrepreneurial skills that she learned at C.E.O. Women and with the help of a Venture Fund grant from them as well.

The third contestant was Rosario Cabrera, also known as Charo by friends and family.  Charo was born in Chiclayo, Peru along the northern Peruvian coastline and she immigrated with her husband in 1996.  Her signature dish was called Jalea, which is an example of 'plato criollo', or local dish.  Jalea is a mix of deep fried shrimp, lobster, shellfish and yucca, and it is served with onion, lemon and chili sauce, known as aji.  Charo is working on the design and name of her catering business and hopes to make the Jalea a signature dish.

And last, but certainly not least, we had Meiko Raymer from Japan.  Meiko has lived in Panama and New Zealand as well and her cuisine is said to reflect her diverse experiences.  She made a Soba Salad, which is traditionally served cold or in a soy-based soup.  Her recipe includes watercress, cucumbers, green onions and pine nuts and it is mixed with a miso-based peanut dressing.  The unexpected combination of flavors made for a light and refreshing dish.  This dish will be the signature dish of her upcoming catering business called Hana Special Occasions.

According to C.E.O. Women, this was not a competition for just one person, but a means to showcase and celebrate these women's talents.  The four women are graduates of C.E.O. Women and this summer cook-off was an excellent way to get valuable feedback from everyday people and experts in the food industry.  There was no individual winner, because in the end they were all winners for all of their hard work and endeavors in starting their own food businesses.  And if their flavorful, well-executed signatures dishes are anything to go by, each of them are sure to be a success in whatever they aspire to do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Meal at Bix - In Honor of Heirloom Tomato Week...

Speaking of heirloom tomatoes, and also in keeping with this week's theme, I had the most extraordinary experience with the Summer Tomato Cart at Bix that I just had to share with you.  It truly blew me away...

I had been wanting to try Bix for quite some time now on several recommendations from trusted Foodie friends and various write-ups by fellow food writers.  The Menu alone is rather extensive, featuring many different Dishes prepared with seasonal items, which is sure to suit anyone's palate.  Not to mention, the warm, stylish Deco-esque decor along with the nightly live jazz, serves as a perfect backdrop to make your dining experience even more special.  The restaurant is both elegant and lively, and reminiscent of the glamour of the glorious Jazz Era of the 30's and 40's.  Tucked in an alley in San Francisco's Financial District, Bix describes itself as a world class supperclub and I am inclined to agree.

So in case you haven't been out in the dining scene lately, the latest trend literally 'going around' in restaurants these days is the Heirloom Tomato Cart.  We've seen cheese carts at places like Gary Danko and prime rib carts at the House of Prime Rib, but the current fad is this Tomato Cart.  To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first, but as I sat down to dine at Bix, I was compelled to try it and see what the excitement was all about.

As my dining companion and I sat down for dinner and we were given a nice little surprise to accompany the Veuve Clicquot that we were drinking.  The server presented us with one of Bix's signature dishes, that went perfectly with the Veuve - the Potato Pillows with Creme Fraiche and American Sturgeon Caviar.  I could not have described it better, because Potato Pillows they certainly were.  Light and fluffy little bundles topped with just the right amount of Creme Fraiche and Caviar that together with Champagne, make quite the convivial cameraderie.  A perfect start...

Our next foray was into the world of Roasted Bone Marrow.  I like to think of Marrow as 'Meat Butter'.  I know that may sound a little strange, if not outright bizarre for those that have never tried it.  I know that it is not for everyone, but for yours truly, carnivorous Raptor and Food Maven that I am, it is just as heavenly as a perfectly pan-seared Foie Gras that just melts in your mouth.  I had read that their Marrow was exceptional, and I will tell you that it certainly lived up to that expectation.  On the menu it was called Marrow Bones “St. John” and it was served with a Parsley, Caper and Shallot Salad and slices of Grilled Durum Bread.  A great second course, and at this point, I have to say that I was not expecting it to get better.  But better it surely became...

We then decided to try Bix's Summer Tomato Cart which was brought over to our table and prepared tableside.  As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit skeptical.  I mean, only San Francisco would even attempt to showcase Heirloom Tomatoes as if they were fine, aged Cheese... 
But to my astonishment, once I tasted these perfectly ripe Heirloom Tomatoes and paired with the deliciously, creamy House-Pulled Mozzarella and Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Basil, I was made to believe.  The Tomatoes were so perfectly ripe and delicious that I had one of my SF Food Maven 'experiences'...  I just never knew that Tomatoes could even taste that good!
All I can say is, 'Amen!'...

And now on to the Entrees...
Classic Dishes, Reinterpreted and Refined. 

My companion opted for the Fish of the day special, which was Pan-Seared Scallops on top of Tuscan Black Bean Puree and Padron Peppers (alliteration unintended) and finished with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  It was accompanied by a trio of Mariquita Farms cauliflower sauteed with Pancetta.  A beautiful Dish...

I went for the American Kobe “Bavette” Steak with Pommes Puree, Roasted Cipollini Onions and Natural Jus which was pure 'Meat Buttery' perfection. 
The Meal at Bix was one of the best meals that I have had in quite some time where the Service was refined, the Food exceptional and consistently good throughout the entire meal and the Atmosphere enchanting...
Cannot wait to go back...

Happy Heirloom Tomato Week!

Yes, you heard right, and if you're a real Foodie living in SF, then you probably already know about it.
If you haven't then, here it goes...

Tis the season of Heirloom Tomatoes and a collective of SF chefs and restaurants have joined forces to offer the Bay Area an unprecedented esculent endeavor called San Francisco Chefs. Food. Wine.  This is a year long event planned by a community of San Francisco chefs and restaurants, which is kicking off three seasonal promotions in the city within the next year.  The first event is Heirloom Tomato Week, which will be kicking off this Thursday, August 14th and running through August 24th and is in support of local tomota farmers.  The promotion features over 50 notable and popular Bay Area restaurants that have banded together to showcase local grown heirloom tomatoes in either tasting menus or signature dishes.  Some of the participating restaurants are Antica Trattoria, Bix, Fleur De Lys, Grand Cafe, La Folie, Piperade and Poleng Lounge.  You can make reservations for participating restaurants on OpenTable.com and if you use a Visa Signature Card, you will get a free commemorative book of heirloom tomato recipes, stories and all things tomato.

The next promotional events to follow will be a Dungeness Crab Week in January '09 and a Strawberry Week in April '09.  The year in celebration of seasonal food will then culminate with the event mentioned above called, San Francisco Chefs. Food. Wine.  A Weekend Affair. which will take place next year with a grand Tasting Tent at Union Square and will also include surrounding restaurants and venues holding additional events from August 7th through the 9th of 2009.

Sounds like a delicious line up if you ask me, so mark your calendars...  I've got it all in my calender already, you can count on that!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Haute Couture Meets Haute Cuisine at the Prada Flagship Grand Opening

July 22, 2008
This Tuesday, Prada celebrated the grand opening of its new San Francisco flagship store at
201 Post Street, with a spectacular gala event catered by none other than award-winning Chef Thomas Keller of
French Laundry & Per Se acclaim.
The Italian luxury fashion house that is Prada had been planning to open a flagship store or Epicenter as they like to call it, in the City by the Bay for well over 10 years now. And according to Joanne Ramey of Women’s Wear Daily, the original plan was to open a 10-story steel-sheathed Prada Epicenter which was to be designed by the influential Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas (designer of the Los Angeles Prada Epicenter) across the street from what is now the new flagship space. This was to rival the ones in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo, but over the course of the decade, this plan fell through for various reasons, strategic and economic. The current Post Street space housing the new flagship was acquired 6 years prior to its opening and was left uninhabited in spite of the high rent market of San Francisco to allow for flexibility for the opening. This location on the corner of Grant Avenue and Post Street is extremely ideal considering it is in the midst of other luxury high fashion houses such as Armani, Dior and Versace.

And so this brings us back to the much anticipated day of the opening. The event began promptly at 6pm with a crowd of people – city elite, fashion divas and gastronomes alike, standing in line outside of the building within a black velvet-roped, black carpeted sidewalk that was even flanked by a line of men dressed in all black standing guard side-by-side on the corner of Post & Grant. It was quite a spectacle as you can imagine, with droves of tourists, business folk and city dwellers passing by and wondering what the commotion was all about.

Upon entering the store from the Grant Street entrance, one walks onto pristine white carpet flanked by black and white marble flooring, and is struck by the sophisticated interiors. It is meant to be a modern take on the original store in Milan which opened back in 1913. The walls are swathed in signature Prada pale green linen providing a perfect backdrop to showcase the gleaming black & mirrored wall casings and oversized steamer trunks displaying the glamorous Prada collection of handbags, shoes, accessories and clothing.

Alison Speer and her steadfast PR team are at the entrance greeting guests, as the flashes of photographers and the hip sounds of DJ Jeffrey Tonneson from Brooklyn, New York pervades the room. Walking around, the store is teeming with smartly clad servers laying in wait with silver trays of white wine & champagne (note: no red wine, although there was a rose) and white serving dishes of savory hors d’oeuvres prepared by chefs from Thomas Keller’s entourage. These delicious gems ran the gamut from Keller’s signature salmon cornets to delectable cheese-filled gougeres (cheese puffs), mini spoonfuls of caviar and rich, creamy foie gras mousse. The menu also included Liberty Farms smoked duck poised atop gleaming silver forks as well as miniature summer heirloom tomato salads served in little ceramic spoons. One worth mentioning, and indicative of Keller’s whimsical take on food, was TK’s take on the classic ‘BLT’ which was prepared with Korobuta pork, pureed garden lettuce and black truffle. If food could be considered ‘haute’, Thomas Keller is the one to pull it off.

Prada’s new flagship is in a prime location that lies amongst fellow couture houses in the heart of San Francisco’s fashion hub - Union Square. The building in itself is stylish and unique with ten lofty storefront windows along a shiny black exterior and three entrances on Grant Avenue, Post Street and Maiden Lane – a veritable showcase for Prada designs. This Prada fashion house is their 11th US location and is sure to put San Francisco even more so on the map in the world of luxury high fashion.

The event proved to be an extravaganza where couture and cuisine collided, with San Francisco’s fashion-clad elite showing up by the masses, including the likes of former Mayor Willie Brown and current Mayor Gavin Newsome, to see and be seen. It was quite the spectacular affair with very chic people intermingling and eating very chic fare.

To see the original article I wrote on SFBayStyle click here.