Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The "Death" of French Cuisine

Hello Foodies!
Have you heard that French cuisine is dead?

The question has been asked and debated over for around 300 years. It was dying during the reign of Louis XIV. It was gasping for breath during the revolutions of 1789 and 1968. Writers from Elizabeth David to Adam Gopnik have attempted to answer the question. And now, Michael Steinburger's, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine and the End of France is not only asking the question but answering it as well.

Mr. Steinberger, an admitted Francophile, succintly presents a history of French cuisine and why it is the standard by which other cuisine's and ways of eating have been measured. His expertise in finance, economics and politics gives a unique perspective to the newest challenges to French cuisine.

His story is salt and peppered with personal anecdotes of great meals and quests for the ultimate mille feuille. Even as he describes the crisis and ennui that seems to have invaded the kitchens and vineyards you can feel his empathy for France's struggle to survive this latest assault. Through his interviews with top chefs, farmers, wine makers and famous editors, you will feel that you have an insider's view of what's really going on in the country.

But more importantly, for me, Mr. Steinberger demonstrates that in spite of all the economic, financial and political pressures, there are still many passionate people in France who are battling to re-invigorate and retain France's rich culinary heritage.

As Michelin says - il vaut le detour - loosely translated - it's worth the read. Pick it up today.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cardi and Sanape Rise to the Aristocracy of Sicilian Food

Hello Foodies,

Cardi (cardoons)
and sanap
e (mustard greens) are two wild herbs that have been used in preparing traditional dishes in Sicily for generations. Today, some more elaborate versions of these dishes are emerging.

(left) belongs to the family of artichokes. Each plant produces one single, very spiny "artichoke," which is not edible but the plant is.

The seeds of the sanape plant (right) are used to make mustard, but the plant is very tasty as well.

Along the Simeto river near Bronte, the community elders continue to pick wild cardi and sanape like their ancestors have done for centuries. Farmed cardi and sanape also exist, but the taste is not the same.

Recently, acclaimed Sicilian Chef Roberto Spitaleri proposed several
sophisticated recipes, even if still simple to prepare, using these two incredible herbs.

Let's start with cardi. The difficult part is cleaning them and removing the spikes. After that is done, pour a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan and fry some fresh chives, cardi (cut in small pieces), and dried salted cod (cut in small cubes). At the same time, cook some conchiglioni (shell-shaped) pasta. When the pasta is ready, add the fried cod and cardi, grated pecorino and finish with toasted bread crumbs.

Sanape h
as been traditionally eaten boiled with extra virgin olive oil or lightly fried with olive oil and garlic. But it is also excellent with pasta. After washing and boiling, lightly fry it with extra virgin olive oil, a little garlic and small cubes of bottarga (the roe pouch of tuna or grey mullet that has been sun-dried, cured in sea salt). Prepare spaghetti al dente, and when ready, mix the pasta with the sanape, bottarga, fresh ricotta cheese, and finish it with grated bottarga.

Why not p
lan to join Tour de Forks in Sicily to discover cardi and sanape?



Monday, February 01, 2010

Spicy and sweet - St. Martin's gastronomic delights!

Hello Foodies,

Are you stuck in a snowstorm and freezing cold weather? Just imagine this: a
n island beach
restaurant surrounded by a panoramic view of
crystal blue tropical waters. As you
sip an aperitif of Ti’ punch, the French serveur asks if you’ve decided between gourmet pizza, foie gras, truffles, fresh mahi mahi, local vegetables. “And with dinner, would Madame like the Burgundy or Bordeaux? " Where in the world is this exquisite French island paradise far from the snow and ice?

The Caribbean island of Saint Martin!

Panoramic ocean views that dreams are made of await you upon arrival on this remote yet easy to reach island in the Caribbean. I was there in less than 3 hours non stop from the eastern US. Stunning and inviting at once, St. Martin is a French and Dutch island, with only 37 square miles, and home to around 100 different nationalities speaking over a dozen languages. It's this fusion of cultures that puts the spicy sweetness in both the people and the excellent cuisine. In this tropical paradise the average temperature is 80 degrees. The French side of St Martin - where I recently spent 5 sun-filled days thanks to Atout France - is known for white sand, secluded beaches, fantastic duty free shopping and of course, the many cafes and restaurants. The colorful architecture of traditional wooden houses, sumptuous villas, and modern state of the art hotels–all of contrasting styles and bright colors - dominate the scene, expressing the pride of the inhabitants and their joie de vivre.

Renowned for its tiny bistros and sophisticated restaurants (often housed in colorful old houses or “cases”), Saint Martin has earned a reputation as the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean. Because the Island offers the blended cuisine of many nations, dining out is often like traveling to a foreign country–the decor, the aromas, the flavors, and even the accent of the staff, provide an
instant change of scene from any mainland.

Marigot, a cosmopolitan town, is the capital of the French side of the island. Boutiques and trendy restaurants stand beside the local market. On Wednesday and Saturday morning, the spices waft through the air as you contemplate the tropical fruits, vegetables and fish arranged artfully in stalls and on carts. It’s like a small version France surrounded by crystal clear waters and tropical weather - a world filled with the artful light of the Caribbean - where charming gingerbread houses and sidewalk bistros and cafes with French pastries beckon.

The little fishing villag
e of Grand Case, on the outskirts of Marigot is considered the dining capital of French St. Martin. It’s known for the cluster of 12 casual, charming and exquisite restaurants – some on the beach offering a beautiful view of the Caribbean, where in the distance you can see the neighboring island of Anguilla. The Sunset CafĂ© in Grand Case is an ideal place to sip punch (a great compliment to French island cuisine) and watch the flash of sun before it sets. Or, stop at Talk of the Town – a “Lolo,” a hole-in-the-wall serving Caribbean style outdoor barbaque ribs and lobster – all accompanied by home-style pans of coleslaw, beans and French fries, mac and cheese and mais oui - bottomless pitchers of rum punch!

In Orient Bay try L’Astrolobe at the Esmeralda Resort - my choice for one of the best dining experiences on the island (and it’s not even on the beach). In a warm and distinguished atmosphere by the pool and serving authentic French cuisine and fresh seafood, the restaurant offers a buffet breakfast in the morning and changes at night into the best of Saint Martin: spicy and sweet casual elegance in the tropic night time air.

For the perfect stay at the perfect place, a discerning traveler will want to spend time at La Semanna, a luxurious seaside resort , set in one of the most exclusive neighborhoo
ds on the island. La Semanna is truly heaven in paradise – but be prepared to pay a high price for it! La Semanna is St. Martin's most luxurious hotel - Caribbean life at its finest: breathtaking views from above the water, white and soft sandy beaches, sparkling blue surf to be enjoyed by day . Indulge in several spa treatments (when I come back this completes my dream). Then, enjoy evening cocktails at sunset at La Samanna Gourmet Restaurant, which features an elegant atmosphere overlooking the amazing beach of Long Bay. One of the most romantic and exclusive settings on the island. Another incredible option is an evening spent in La Cave, the private cellar where you can partake in the ultimate private dining experience: dine at the one table in the cellar, surrounded by bottles of the finest wines from all over the world . Reserve the room for a very special evening of candlelight and romance. The friendly and knowledgeable food and beverage director, Marc FIALIP will make sure you receive the staff's undivided attention to detail.

Still imagining the deep blue sea? Rum punch? French cuisine? Island nightlife and music? Beach time? Let us help you design the perfect culinary getaway to St. Martin and divulge more of our spicy sweet secrets to you. It’s easy to get there and “more than anywhere else” – it’s a sweet and spicy slice of French paradise.

Visit the web site for St. Martin's office of tourism at www.st-martin.org