Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Chocolate Week

American Chocolate Week
March 21 through March 25

Seriously?  Isn’t every week chocolate week?

No need to ask any chocolate lover twice for a reason to indulge and celebrate the food of the gods.
Bring on the heavenly, storied, melt-in-your mouth confection.
Aphrodisiac or health food? Who cares! 

A Cliff Notes dip into the history of chocolate reminds us chocolate is truly a Native American treat.
The Mayans of Central American cultivated the seeds of the cacao tree.  The warring Aztecs conquered tribes and demanded restoration and payment in cocoa.  Aztecs believed wisdom and power came from eating cocoa “fruit” and that the tree was stolen from paradise.
The Native Americans, by and large, drank their chocolate thick and unsweetened.
It was bitter by our standards.
But the early Spanish explorers saw the value of the cacao: it was used as monetary exchange and currency among the peoples and nations of American cultures.
It was also shockingly, temptingly, delicious.  Heaven and stars in the mouth.

Once the exotic, American chocolate discovery landed in the royal circles and upper crust European gentry of Europe, they couldn’t resist having their cooking staff add sugar to sweeten the chocolate.

Fast forward more than a few centuries and head Downtown to Kee Chocolatier on Thompson and Spring Street in New York’s SoHo or Midtown (inside HSBC) and the center of the universe is yet again where chocolate reigns supreme. 
No less authorities than The New York Times hailed Kee’s as “Hands down, the best chocolates in New York. Maybe the World.” And Martha Stewart reported: “One taste and you’ll be over the moon.”  Zagats perennially votes Kee the best chocolatier in New York.

Proprietor and chocolatier goddess, Kee Ling Tong, presides over her chocolate kingdom, albeit small at 350 square feet, she is not unlike the early Aztecs with regard to a dedication to purity.
The shop is simple and unadorned. No pretense.
There are just two glass cases.
One is filled like a Cartier jewel box, tiered with the variety of balled and intricate-shaped bon bons; nestled in carefully stacked Collections.

The other is a flat-topped case showcasing the petite, colorful macaroons, with chocolate-dipped fruit such as apple and orange and lemon peels, along with macadamia nuts dipped in chocolate.

Subtly, this makes the focus on the chocolates all the more pronounced.
One might think they stepped into a place of transition.  And in a matter of speaking, that is not so off the mark. 
The chocolates are so in demand, the contents of the cases are replenished at least a dozen times a day.
Constant change.  Always fresh.

And the concept of transition and change is also a metaphor for the alchemy Kee orchestrates phasing the chocolate from a pure block to the one of a kind, exquisite chocolate recipes she creates.

Kee inserts her handmade, locally-sourced fillings. After cooling, she hand breaks the molds in order to retain the thin, pure shell that "snaps" when one bites into the chocolate bon bon. 

Then the team rolls the outer flavors and herbs:  

While enjoying a successful Wall Street career at JP Morgan and Bear Stearns, this native New Yorker was stubbornly determined to follow her passion.
She enrolled in professional training at The French Culinary Institute. 
She claims she wasn’t exactly the best student at thinning and making chocolate.  Hard to believe!  Maybe because she was going to make chocolate in a new, special way all along…

In 2002, upon graduation, she found the space at 80 Thompson Street. “It drew me in” she says. 
It served as both retail and production space until she got the space across the hall three years ago where the production is now.
Kee doesn’t have far to go for work. She lives upstairs. 
“I can roll out of bed and work my 12-14 hour days.” She jokes.  

Here she is with her sales associate: Josie.

Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, Kee found her calling.
“I like making tiny, pretty, intricate things,” she says, in case staring at the exquisite, mesmerizing confections reflecting through the glass left any doubt.
Key to her distinctive art are a few elements:
  • All the chocolates are hand made daily at her shop: she mixes the chocolates, makes the molds. She adds no sugar to the chocolate
  • All the filling recipes are her own creation, (“I never looked at a recipe and I don’t share,” she said.  She uses top-quality, local ingredients – herbs and fruits – from Chinatown and NY Greenmarkets.
  • The “crack” or “snap” one senses biting into the ultra thin shell is critical
  • Good, pure chocolate has its own shine (and not an oil-based sheen)
  • Clean finish; no after taste
Kee has 48 flavors in her eclectic chocolate portfolio, with about 35 in the case at any one time.  Four are white chocolate, including Green Tea, Almond, and Pistachio.  
Gleefully, one can select from bon bons filled honey, jasmine, ginger and saffron; coated with chile, white and dark sesame; a dark chocolate ganache; Black Rose with dark chocolate truffle with black tea infused with rose petals; Blended Peppercorn with four different peppercorns with dark chocolate ganache; Elderflower – dark chocolate ganache with elderflower and Coconut with dark chocolate truffles coated with toasted coconut.

Kee offers four seasonal fillings, two in the spring: pineapple lychee and mango green and two for the winter: honey kumquat and yuzu.

According to Kee, her best seller is the crème brulee.  It sells out early too.

She just added a new flavor: Lotus Flower, a gift from a friend who had traveled to Vietnam.  Kee waved her magic wonder wand and next thing you know – a new exotic Kee chocolate creation.

Kee makes 22 flavors of the glamorous macaroons including key lime, shiso, green tea with jasmine, rosewater lychee, kaffir lime and truffle oil. 

Looking ahead, she is considering making pate te fois, or jelly-coated fruit with sugar.  Another eye candy treat for sure!

In fact, it’s hopeless. Just a taste, renders one under the spell of Kee’s magical chocolate spell.

Kee tempers all her chocolate, makes her molds and “eyeballs” the ingredient measurements for the fillings. There are no exact or precise renderings. It’s all Kee’s artisanal culinary talent. 
At the same time, she says it’s all “A learning process” -- from the making of the chocolate to the business management.  

Kee is a hands-on, artisanal chocolatier, dedicated to the highest quality hand made chocolate who is front and center for her customers, (“How are the twins?” she asks of a customer”) to her staff, Josie and international clients, (“I’ll do my best” she confirms to a London caller.)

There is no finer example of American Chocolate, than Kee Chocolatier

to see a full listing of the divine, exquisite specialties.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New York Chefs and Restaurants Named to James Beard Foundation’s 2011 Chef and Restaurant Awards Finalist Nominees

Finalists in the James Beard Foundation's 2011 Nominees Announced

This Year’s Theme is: The Ultimate Melting Pot

The Award Show and Gala Announcing Winning Chefs and Restaurants:  Monday, May 9th, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY. 

Cookbook, Media & Journalism Awards Award Show: Friday, May 6th, Espace Restaurant, New York, NY

New York City hosts the James Beard Foundation Awards 2011 Gala.  
There could not be a more divine and appropriate event theme.  
Few would disagree that New York City is arguably the penultimate Melting Pot – of people and cuisine. 
We all know Gotham is an unparalleled cauldron of class that can serve up the most exciting and delicious culinary compass.

Following is a list of the Big Apple’s James Beard top finalists in the restaurant and chef categories; with the Cookbook, Media and Journalism Award finalists list after that. 

The lists of the NYC hosts for both gala events will help New Yorker’s better help the home team navigate the award shows.

So, break out the champagne.  Cheers and kudos to our New York Homegrown finalists. 

Best New Restaurant NY Finalists: 

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen (NYC)
Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Torrisi Italian Specialties (NYC)

Outstanding Pastry Chef Award NY Finalists:

A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries, or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence. Candidates must have been pastry chefs or bakers for at least the past 5 years.

Angela Pinkerton,
Eleven Madison Park

(Should have included Claudia Fleming, North Fork Table and Inn)

Outstanding Restaurant Award Finalists:

A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere, and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 10 or more consecutive years.

Blue Hill (NYC)
Blue Hill is a remarkable restaurant and Dan Barber is an unsurpassed leader and standard-bearer, influencing our national food agenda and inspiring a new generation of chefs.  Dan is the poster child for homegrown, field to table, exciting food.  Chef Dan Barber is a featured chef in my upcoming book: Homegrown New York City.  I couldn’t be more thriled. I am honored to know him…

Eleven Madison Park (NYC)  Love this restaurant!

Oversight Award: Not naming a New York finalist to the Outstanding Chef Award category.  Really??!!

Outstanding Restaurateur Award
A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years. Candidates must not have been nominated for a James Beard Foundation chef award in the past 10 years.

Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg, Blue Ribbon Restaurants

Phil Suarez
ABC Kitchen, Co., Gigino Trattoria, Gigino Wagner Park, Jean Georges, JoJo, J&G Steakhouse, Market, The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges, Mercer Kitchen, Perry St, Pipa, Prime Steakhouse, Spice Market, and wd~50 
Various Cities

Outstanding Service Award
A restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least the past 5 years.
La Grenouille
 Owners: Charles Masson and Gisèle Masson
Per Se 
Chef/Owner: Thomas Keller

Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award
A winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide. Candidates must have been in the profession for at least 5 years.
Paul Grieco
, Hearth
NYC – LOVE this restaurant.  Hearth and Chef Marco will be featured in my Homegrown NYC book
Outstanding Wine Service Award
A restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, a knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 5 years.
The Modern
Wine Director: Belinda Chang
Rising Star Chef of the Year Award
A chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.
Christina Tosi
, Momofuku, Milk Bar
Best Chefs in America
Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Each candidate may be employed by any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for at least the past 5 years. The 3 most recent years must have been spent in the region where the chef is presently working.
Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)
Michael Anthony,
 Gramercy Tavern – The best and last word in master chefs is Michael Anthony.  Michael is the supreme culinary artist – elegant in his demeanor, management, recipe development, execution, and devotion to local, fresh food. And a pillar of the food community – devoting time and expertise to food programs in local schools.  And yes, I could go on.  Chef Michael is a featured chef in upcoming Homegrown New York City book.
April Bloomfield,
 The Spotted Pig.  LOVE this restaurant.  Hope April is featured chef in upcoming Homegrown NYC book.
Wylie Dufresne
, wd~50
Gabrielle Hamilton
, Prune
Michael White
, Marea
Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT)
Gerry Hayden, The North Fork Table & Inn,
Southold, NY:  Chef Gerry Hayden is a dedicated, passionate field to table, creative culinary genius who is a key player in making the North Fork of Long Island a food destination.  His wife Claudia Fleming, pastry chef at North Fork Table & Inn is Chef Gerry’s accomplished and powerful partner.  Her book, The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern – is a must have for anyone who is in any way serious or just plain gobsmacked about sweet confections. 

Speaking of cookbooks, the James Beard Award Winner Profile Nominees for Cookbook, Media and Journalism Awards include favorites:
General Cooking
The Essential New York Times Cook Book: Classic Recipes for a New Century
by Amanda Hesser
(W.W. Norton & Company) – LOVE this cookbook tome. Amanda and food52 and their real-time help and daily fun, food frolicking is just too good to miss. (see earlier blogs for more complete review)

Writing and Literature
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
by Paul Greenberg
(The Penguin Press):  LOVE this book. A must-read.   

Television Program, In Studio or Fixed Location
Top Chef: Season 7
 Host: Padma Lakshmi
 Network: Bravo
Producers: Tom Colicchio, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, and Dave Serwatka
Barry Estabrook
The New York Times Magazine
“The Catch”- See the Four Fish
Brian Halweil
Edible Manhattan
“Joan Gussow, Teacher of Teachers” – Brian Halweil, Editor of Edible East End and Edible Manhattan, and a Project Director, 2011 State of the World, Innovations that Nourish the Planet and Senior Fellow, Worldwatch Institute Board of Directors is the genius, Green Revolution advocate who is more than helping to create awareness and lead the way to ending hunger; promoting sustainability; and implementing a true field and fin to table movement.  Brian also wrote the Foreword to the upcoming Homegrown Long Island cookbook.

And one cannot say enough about the inspirational, organic food leader, Joan Gussow. Her new book is Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables.  Read what Michael Pollan says about Joan J 

For a full list of the James Beard Award Finalist Nominees, go to:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

State of the World 2011 Innovations that Nourish The Planet

Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011 Shows Agriculture Innovation
Is Key to Reducing Poverty, Stabilizing Climate

Report provides a roadmap for food security and agricultural investment, revealing
15 high- and low-tech solutions that are helping to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa 


New York, 2011—Worldwatch Institute released its report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which spotlights successful agricultural innovations and unearths major successes in preventing food waste, building resilience to climate change, and strengthening farming in cities. You can buy the book too:

The report provides a roadmap for increased agricultural investment and more-efficient ways to alleviate global hunger and poverty. Drawing from the world’s leading agricultural experts and from hundreds of innovations that are already working on the ground, the report outlines 15 proven, environmentally sustainable prescriptions.
“The progress showcased through this report will inform governments, policymakers, NGOs, and donors that seek to curb hunger and poverty, providing a clear roadmap for expanding or replicating these successes elsewhere,” said Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin. “We need the world’s influencers of agricultural development to commit to longstanding support for farmers, who make up 80 percent of the population in Africa.”
State of the World 2011 comes at a time when many global hunger and food security initiatives—such as the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)—can benefit from new insight into environmentally sustainable projects that are already working to alleviate hunger and poverty.  
Nearly a half-century after the Green Revolution, a large share of the human family is still chronically hungry. While investment in agricultural development by governments, international lenders, and foundations has escalated in recent years, it is still nowhere near what is needed to help the 925 million people who are undernourished. Since the mid-1980s when agricultural funding was at its height, agriculture's share of global development aid has fallen from over 16 percent to just 4 percent today.
In 2008, $1.7 billion dollars in official development assistance was provided to support agricultural projects in Africa, based on statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—a miniscule amount considering the vital return on investment. Given the current global economic conditions, investments are not likely to increase in the coming year. Much of the more recently pledged funding has yet to be raised, and existing funding is not being targeted efficiently to reach the poor farmers of Africa.  
“The international community has been neglecting entire segments of the food system in its efforts to reduce hunger and poverty,” said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. “The solutions won’t necessarily come from producing more food, but from changing what children eat in schools, how foods are processed and marketed, and what sorts of food businesses we are investing in.”
Serving locally raised crops to school children, for example, has proven to be an effective hunger- and poverty-reducing strategy in many African nations, and has strong parallels to successful farm-to-cafeteria programs in the United States and Europe. Moreover, “roughly 40 percent of the food currently produced worldwide is wasted before it is consumed, creating large opportunities for farmers and households to save both money and resources by reducing this waste,” according to Brian Halweil, Nourishing the Planet co-director.
State of the World 2011 draws from hundreds of case studies and first-person examples to offer solutions to reducing hunger and poverty. These include:  
  • In 2007, some 6,000 women in The Gambia organized into the TRY Women’s Oyster Harvesting producer association, creating a sustainable co-management plan for the local oyster fishery to prevent overharvesting and exploitation. Oysters and fish are an important, low-cost source of protein for the population, but current production levels have led to environmental degradation and to changes in land use over the last 30 years. The government is working with groups like TRY to promote less-destructive methods and to expand credit facilities to low-income producers to stimulate investment in more-sustainable production.
  • In Kibera, Nairobi, the largest slum in Kenya, more than 1,000 women farmers are growing “vertical” gardens in sacks full of dirt poked with holes, feeding their families and communities. These sacks have the potential to feed thousands of city dwellers while also providing a sustainable and easy-to-maintain source of income for urban farmers. With more than 60 percent of Africa’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, such methods may be crucial to creating future food security. Currently, some 33 percent of Africans live in cities, and 14 million more migrate to urban areas each year. Worldwide, some 800 million people engage in urban agriculture, producing 15–20 percent of all food.
  • Pastoralists in South Africa and Kenya are preserving indigenous varieties of livestock that are adapted to the heat and drought of local conditions—traits that will be crucial as climate extremes on the continent worsen. Africa has the world’s largest area of permanent pasture and the largest number of pastoralists, with 15–25 million people dependent on livestock.
  • The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) is using interactive community plays to engage women farmers, community leaders, and policymakers in an open dialogue about gender equity, food security, land tenure, and access to resources. Women in sub-Saharan Africa make up at least 75 percent of agricultural workers and provide 60–80 percent of the labor to produce food for household consumption and sale, so it is crucial that they have opportunities to express their needs in local governance and decision-making. This entertaining and amicable forum makes it easier for them to speak openly.
  • Uganda’s Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) program is integrating indigenous vegetable gardens, nutrition information, and food preparation into school curriculums to teach children how to grow local crop varieties that will help combat food shortages and revitalize the country’s culinary traditions. An estimated 33 percent of African children currently face hunger and malnutrition, which could affect some 42 million children by 2025. School nutrition programs that don’t simply feed children, but also inspire and teach them to become the farmers of the future, are a huge step toward improving food security.
The State of the World 2011 report is accompanied by other informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos, and podcasts, all of which are available at The project’s findings are being disseminated to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential non-governmental environmental and development communities. 

In conducting this research, Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project received unprecedented access to major international research institutions, including those in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system. The team also interacted extensively with farmers and farmers’ unions as well as with the banking and investment communities. 
The Worldwatch Institute and the Nourishing the Planet project are gratefully supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and additional foundations, governments, and institutions including the Rockefeller and Surdna Foundations, the United Nations Foundation, the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Shared Earth Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, the Winslow Foundation, and many more.  

Purchasing information:
State of the World 2011 sells for $19.95 + shipping & handling / £14.99 + P&P.
  • It can be purchased via the Worldwatch website at, by e-mailing, by calling toll-free (+1) 877-539-9946 (in the U.S.) or (+1) 301-747-2340 (from overseas), or by faxing (+1) 301-567-9553 with ISBN number 9780393338805.
  • The book is published outside of the US, Canada and India by Earthscan and can be purchased at or by calling +44(0)12 5630 2699 with ISBN number 9781849713528.
About the Worldwatch Institute:
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than 20 languages. For more information, visit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Homegrown Long Island Book's Next Chapter

You can't make this up.  

If anyone told me that as I was just about to hit the "Send" button for the final, Author's Edits, that I'd get a call that hold on. My editor said she was instructed that management would like to, needs, to add 10-12 more chefs.
We had completed all the edits, approved the photos and were good to go.  
Not so fast, as NBC must've said to Conan.

Of course I will do it.  Gladly. Joyfully.  I relish the opportunity to meet and get to know even more inspiring chefs from Long Island.  
More food experiences? Bring it on!

Maybe I will write a book about writing a book...
With the exception of those who have written a book, I know it's difficult for anyone to get beyond the romance of book writing.
However, it is indeed a business.  And I embrace and understand that element.

My only regret in moving the publishing/release date back six to seven months is that the chefs who worked so hard with me to provide their recipes and plant lists and fact check their profiles -- all while they manage their restaurants and culinary art and their relationships with their farmers and fishermen and artisanal food producers - and their customers -- will have to wait...
But as I wrote to them all to inform them of the new direction, "Publishing, like gardening, is a humbling endeavor."
Humble pie?!

To a chef, they were all supportive and understanding with most offering suggestions for the added chefs. That gracious, expert offer and my own research, yielded a most fabulous list of additional chefs.
As I told my editor, there were about five or six chefs from my original list that didn't make it into the final manuscript because of communications snafus or scheduling.
So I started with them.
Then expanded to new restaurant openings and chef assignments since the time we started the book.
So chef Joe Isidori and chef James Carpenter who may be Long Island master chefs are now in new locales with an energized, field to table menu.
Very exciting!

I have already conducted the interviews with the additional chefs and I am very impressed.
Each and every chef has an inspiring, intriguing story to tell.  Book readers will find their background and style sparks them to make their delicious, mouth-watering, unique recipes.

Who are the new field to table Long Island chefs for the book?

I could ask you to submit your suggestions... But I will tell you. But do feel free to make a suggestion or two.

Drumroll please!

In no particular order, here is the list of master farm to table chefs that will be featured in the Long Island Homegrown Cookbook:

1.Robby Beaver, The Frisky Oyster
2. Kevin Penner, 1770 House
3. Deborah Pittorino, Cuvee Bistro & Bar, Greenporter Hotel
4. Tom Schaudel, Coolfish, A Mano
5. Eric Lomando, Kitchen A Bistro
6. James Tchinnis, Swallow
7. Guy Reuge, Mirabelle
8. Rosa Ross, Scrimshaw
9. Joe Isidori, Southfork Kitchen
10.Gretchen Menser, Fresno
11. James Carpenter, Maidstone 

1.Robby Bea

Maybe Michael Mandleur, Jamesport Manor Inn or Christian Mir, Stone Creek or Elmer Rubio, Chachama Grill as the last chef candidate...

What do you think?

I am very, very excited to work with this outstanding, brilliant roster of chefs.
Clearly, the book will benefit from their inspired culinary craft.
Some already have cookbooks and restaurant books.

For example, Chef Rosa Ross has two books under her toque:
New Wok Cookbook
365 Ways to Cook Chinese

Chef Tom Schaudel has one:

I will post some teasers and news about the interviews. On deadline now!