Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook Secures Pub Date

I have a date with a warehouse.

Well, in fact, my book does!  

My editor, Melinda, wrote yesterday to say the book “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook is printing the end of March and is scheduled to be in the warehouse here, April 25.

That is music to my ears.

And it’s pretty much spot-on, timing-wise for heralding the spring and summer homegrown edible gardening and farming, and dining season!

To pre-order my book "The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook" at B&N, Amazon:

I also got to “E-Meet” Brenda who is the publisher’s pro and my contact for ordering the book.  It’s my understanding that Brenda will be working with me and the restaurants and farm stands and gift shops to make the book available to homegrown fans and enthusiasts. 

And Melinda wrote last week that they have assigned a public relations expert to work with me locally to get the word out about the book and the amazing master chefs and the farmers who inspire them.

We tightened up the mailing list this week for the growers and farmers and added a few web sites for those artisanal growers who are just putting up a web site.

I am now trying to add the book jacket and the pre-order link to the signature on my email accounts and to my blog.  But boy, is technology wrestling with me. Oooohhh.

But hey, I’ve come through the rings of fire to get to this point so this pesky posting is like a walk in the park.

Culinary Cubs

I am very much looking forward to producing a fascinating cohort of passionate foodies and cooks to test out and try the recipes from the book, prior to publication. 

I am naming my special cooking group, the Culinary Cubs :)   
If you are a foodie and want to be part of the experience, do let me know. 
My plan is to share a recipe or two every week with the Culinary Cubs. 
Everyone will make the dish(es) and then write and or blog about the recipe preparation and the finished dish. 

I’ll publish the unedited feedback here on the Master Chefs blog and will also share a monthly update on my Food & Drink column.

It will be fun and informative! 
And oh-so-delicious. 

It’s getting exciting now.


Friday, February 24, 2012

wd~50 Restaurant serves Magic

Yes, yes, wd~50 is a restaurant located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Yes, there are all the standard clues of an established, star-studded, Michelin-sparkly culinary castle: a welcoming hostess, a bar, and happy diners fronting a semi-open kitchen in the back.
So you will be forgiven for thinking this will be “just” a fantastic, outstanding, Gotham dining experience.

But the galaxy is upturned once the food is served. 
It is nothing less than alchemy that delights, enchants, and surprises. 
It is at times, frothy, silky, and architectural in ways that whisper, “Impossible.” 

This is why one dines at top-tier restaurants.

To be honest, I've never been a fan of what can be commonly referred to as “tortured” food that is deconstructed, emulsified and whipped -- as advanced by Ferran Adria at El Bulli and Grant Achatz at Alinea. 
wd~50’s Chef Wylie Dufresne is revered in that very Molecular Gastronomy constellation.   

While there’s no getting away from the fact that in the macro sense, I firmly believe science is a revered holy grail.  And for all the world I worship at the alter that says food is considered an art unto itself. 
Farm to Table and Fin to Table could be tattooed on my mixing muscle. 

And yet…. There was that undeniable seduction at wd~50 wooing the dining table. 
It was like falling for the bad boy.

The table of natural and some vegan food enthusiasts: Leila Dylla and her Southhampton cousin Nicole: in from out of town to help open the new yoga studio around the corner, “Stanton Street Yoga” ( were undeniably over the moon about each and every dish, working up from the foreplay of appetizers to the final throes of romantic titillation brought on by the out-of-this-world culmination from dessert-heaven or some other celestial land: the desserts.

The meal was a tour de force.

There is an undeniable frisson where wd~50 ‘s menu is accessorized with lots of adjectives before the ingredients, such as “compressed mango” and “aerated foie” and “liquid churro.” 
It is another world that is nonetheless filled with fresh and local food fare that plays well in the sandbox with the kitchen wall of jarred and bottled items that are used in a cooking genre referred to as chef Wylie’s “melting pot of techniques.” 

The game-changing dining love affair began with a Mardi Gras martini – the last imbibing of the nightly cocktail hour drink – until Lent is over…
I lament the fact I ever started doing penance by giving up martinis for Lent but I do appreciate them so and now I'd feel weak if I didn't muster the courage to continue to deny myself this treat.

The cocktail list on the wine menu at the restaurant included a formal New Orleans-styled cocktail and lots of other creations. 
The wine list at wd~50 is extensive too, but most are pricey.  The Italian red Papa Celso we enjoyed was robust and just right.

In contrast to the pages of wine choices, the food menu, labeled “To Eat” is simple, spare and straightforward – not unlike the décor, which looks rather midcentury with Caribbean Sea azure blue walls and a fireplace in one corner and seating that is both neat tables and booths.

With five to eight offerings to choose from within the three categories on the menu, it would seem easy enough to select what to eat.
But it is not easy. The menu items are complex and unique and curious.  And so much more fun to read and talk about…

Menu items have no monikers (like Organic Spicy Chicken, or Lobster Roll).
This menu defies common categorization.  Savory is mixed with sweet.

Off on a culinary adventure, tablemates are set to buzzing.  “What is the aerated foie?” (with pickled beet, mashad plum brioche)
Or, “Eggs Benedict for an appetizer?  What do you think?”
Even the Peekytoe crab roll, salt ‘n vinegar chips, celery mayonnaise, while appearing to touch a familiar chord, sparks gastro talk.

Andrew, the friendly and confident waiter-as-sherpa helped when asked, peppering the table talk with his favorite foods from the menu. 
Once we mastered the “Appetizers,” he suggested we order everything at the same time so it was back to the magnificent “Mains.” 

Sesame Flat Bread!
After more gastro-talking, and marveling at the thin-as-gossamer, glistening, sesame crisp flat bread sensations, it is soon settled. 

Not knowing how the listed ingredients might ever marry up – the ingredients are like the United Nations of the kitchen (the bubble in your head will be forgiven for asking, “Did the chef really mean for these things to go together?”),
the selections were: Mediterranean bass, artichokes, white chocolate-green olive and Forbidden Rice  -- that item alone, in turn, led to some exotic wink, wink-talk while ordering but was, in fact, according to Andrew, a favorite of the Chinese emperors.  
Apocryphal or not, legend has it those guys didn’t like to share.  Worse than the “Soup Nazi – they kept it all to themselves: ergo the Forbidden element.
The skate, sunflower seed, sunchoke and giardiniera and corned duck, rye crisp, purple mustard, and horseradish cream and scallops completed the palette of inspired selections.

In between time was the amuse bouche of fresh fennel fronds cut into diminutive cubes and puree, cured black bay tamarind, and walnut olive that was by turns somehow both light and salty, textury and citrusy.
Sesame Fennel Fronds

There was also a circus happy chef creation of compressed mango mousse and a caramel, a Lady Luck sake lees or sake kasu, (rice mash paste left at the end of sake-making.  (See video explanation and demonstration here produced by Gourmet Magazine:
and a cashew caramel nicotine lemon sauce. It was rich and refreshing all at the same time. The bottom was less than tasty though, but the others liked the texture even though it seemed a tad tough or stringy and superfluous given the overall out-of-the-park flavor of the dish and its marmalade like mango consistency.  

Mango Photo courtesy of Leila Dylla

The corned duck was a playful mix of pink meat, micro celery on rye crisps, horseradish cream and garlic pickled in horseradish.

Duck is finger food swirled on a toast point 

The foie gras was aerated into dessert-looking puffs accompanied by crispy brioche and a pureed plum “sauce.”  The foie puff clouds were light and salty. It is magically surreal and heavenly tasting! 
Aerated foie!  

Peekytoe Crab & world's teeniest chips!
The peekytoe crab was juicy and light – their version of a lobster roll. 
Jiminy Cricket must’ve made the potato chips.  They are darling and should win the Guinness Book of world records for the teeniest chips anywhere. They brought smiles all round – when not oohing and ahhing about the crab taste.  

The skate entrée was served like strudel – a beautiful presentation, topped only by the artful bass laid languidly on the plate like a sunning fashion diva.  
Both were textured with flavorful sauces.
The artichoke buttons accompanying the skate were meaty and tasty.

The desserts were the final act in this new-found, capricious affair.
They brought down the house. And the diners to their knees.

Pastry chef Malcolm Livingston II plays second fiddle to no one. 
His pedigree is Per Se and Le Cirque and was chef Alex Stupak’s pastry sous chef at wd~50. (This reporter’s May ’11 review of Stupak’s Empellon
However, his creations are uniquely Malcolm’s. He owns this denouement.
The in-your-face presentations and out-of-this-world flavors and ingredients using spices and savory items are at once startling, provocative and sensual and seem to belie chef Malcolm’s reserved countenance. 

Warm Spice Cake!
The warm spice cake, coconut tamarind, coriander and pineapple hinted of a French toast kind of long-lost relation – it was elegant, subtle, with ying and yang temperatures  -- and is crazy good.  

The soft meringue, passionfruit, banana and star anise combination was silky and yet proud on the tongue with the fruit caressing the aftertastes.
Passionfruit dessert Photo courtesy: Leila Dylla

Passionfruit treasure revealed

The chocolate, beet, long pepper and ricotta was the Carmen Miranda of the night. 
She came to the table fiery red –- a full frontal come-hither flirt demanding to be noticed. 
How could anyone miss the splash of Pollack-like red beet “paint” splayed gored and bleeding around the plate and the ricotta nubs drenched in the heat of its passion punctuated by chocolate mousse?

Artful Food Explosion

If I smoked, I would’ve needed a cigarette!

We were spent.  But not before some frothy, foamy cappuccino to bring us back round to earth.

OK, so manipulating the food maybe too strong an objection to this type of food preparation. 
The fact is, it is not contrived for contrarian’s sake.  Rather it is an artful expression.  And bottom line? The food is excellent, delicious, and exciting. 
The ingredients are locally sourced from Greenmarkets, too.
Hmmm, maybe a dedicated culinary enthusiast can have it all…

If food like this can make even experienced cooks and foodies clap their hands with pure, unabashed joy and delight – then this is the reason to experience dining out:  at wd~50.

A quick tour of the kitchen by the gracious manager, Timothy Mustard demonstrated chef Wylie’s commitment to creativity. 
OK, must do quick aside here. 
This reporter loves the idea that three are those who seem drawn to professions where their names are currency—to whit, besides Mustard and the condiment connection are Todd Forrest at the New York Botanical Garden, who was the curator of the Forest (now is Vice President of Horticulture), Blossom at NYBG, Jeff Bright from NYC lighting company… Michael Pollan said he collects these “name magnets” where people are inextricably linked to their craft.  And when you think about it, the name pollan and gardens (hint: pollinators and pollen) are not too far off the mark.

Back to the accommodating, hospitable and elegant Mr. Mustard. He knows his stuff – about the restaurant’s mission, history and food talent. He possesses great stories and is keen to share them.

He told the group the open kitchen at wd~50 was designed by chef Wylie, to allow each cook to work in their own station.  Every cook has his or her own space for oven and prep work.  Chef Wylie also designed the kitchen’s infiltration system. 
That is thoughtful and smart and forward thinking. 
This is a chef who clearly respects his cooking team.

Good luck at the Miami Food & Wine Festival, Chef Wylie - where he was on the night of this exciting dinner experience.


wd~50 Restaurant is located at:
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10022

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vegan Divas Launches Dessert Line & Gluten-Free Tide Raises All Taste Buds

All hopeless romantics yearn to believe that when love is in the air all things are possible.

The Culinary Cupids flitting about the pastry table at Payard’s in Rio de Janeiro must have sensed a budding, soon-to-be-romantic coupling between Fernanda Capobianco, owner of Payard’s Rio, and François Payard, the Michelin award-winning, four-starred pastry chef was to be their glorious masterpiece.

Miss Capobianco, the stunningly elegant former political public relations expert was not cooperating, however.  
While the talented, handsome prince charming chef François seemed smitten from the first cream puff, Fernanda recalled pointing out that well, she had a boyfriend. 
Pastry builds stamina and endurance, it seems, and after a year or so – or in less time than it takes to learn how to make truly blissful croissants, François won Fernando’s heart. 

The Culinary Cupids were dancing on their croquembouche.

Wedding bells soon followed. 
Culinary Power Couple: Fernanda Copabianco & husband, Master Pastry Chef Francois Payard

Three years ago, Fernanda relocated to New York City, the epicenter of Payard’s culinary brands and, no surprise, before too long, visions of desserts were dancing around her intoxicating head.

But not just any desserts.  Mais non! 
Fernanda is from the land of bossa nova and string bikinis and caipirinha and Giselle.

Moreover, being a vegan herself, she bemoaned the lack of vegan desserts. 
Seriously, it wasn’t all that long ago that getting a vegan savory entree was considered a bit off the grid.

Vegan desserts? 
That was a joke.

Now, dessert lovers can be giggling and smiling. 
All the way through a variety of amazingly delicious vegan confections thanks to Fernanda’s dedication to offer fellow vegans sweets that taste good.

“Plus my father is a diabetic,” said Fernanda during an interview at the premiere tasting of her Vegan Divas product line that has more attributes and accolades than a Girl Scout cookie top seller’s merit badge.

Here’s the benchmark Vegan Divas value-added list that all others will have to measure up to:
* 100% natural
* Vegan
* Low-Calorie
* No Cholesterol
* Organic Ingredients
* High in Fiber
* Kosher
* Parve

Vegan Divas Carrot Cake
See the full product line of good-tasting, delicious desserts at  

Vegan Chocolate Mousse!

The product line launch tasting allowed food enthusiasts to sample outstanding confections, including the heart-shaped Spelt Chocolate Brownie. 
Vegan Divas Fernanda Capobianco & Food Networks "Sweet Genius" Master pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel
Master Pastry Chef Ron Ben-Israel smooching it up for Vegan Divas sweets!
Food Network TV Pastry Chef, Sweet Genius, Ron Ben-Israel, ( - there to support his “Pastry Peeps,” declared the brownies the best he’d ever tasted - bar none, according to Fernanda.  “Forget that they are vegan or gluten free,” he pronounced.  

At the same time, I believe the parenthetical “for a vegan or gluten-free” – or fill in whatever dietary guidelines that enlightened nutritionists have researched and advised people to follow -- misses the point for any recipe or line of food that is focused on dietary measures that lead to a better, healthier life for those who must avoid dairy, eggs, and casein.

Why can’t one have both taste and nutrition?  Why the need to whisper, … “For a vegan recipe, it’s “OK.” Or “Good.”
Truth be told, we are still in the early or beta stages of alternative and different nutritional cuisines.

Vegan Divas has established a benchmark that others would be wise to follow.

Fernanda researched her dessert recipes for more than a year. She established a bakery in Long Island City to accommodate both the vegan and the gluten free dessert making.

She tested and tried recipes using spelt flour, maple syrup, and coconut oil, for example. 
See Dr. Oz for his recommendation to use coconut oil in cooking – the good doctor touted the powerful health benefits of the tropical oil recently – very helpful for diabetics and blood sugar levels. (

I recommend coconut water in cooking and making smoothies.

Many at the tasting delighted in the samples with top honors going to the brownies; the doughnuts: cinnamon sugar, toasted coconut, chocolate iced doughnut; oatmeal raisin cookie with chili powder, and big-time favorites: Gluten-free coconut macaroon and the Decadent Chocolate cake -- Fernando’s favorite.  One taste of the layered dark chocolate and French ganache and one is in mmm, mmm heaven.  

The complete product line will soon be available from the Vegan Diva website. 
They also do parties and events: 646-499-4843.

Culinary Cupids can get these delicious confections in time for their sweeties now at Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, and the West Side Market. 

Behind every great relationship there is a story.

Vegan Divas is one sweet confection of a love story.  

And they’re just getting started.  

Gluten Free Restaurant

Are you yearning to go out and try a delicious gluten-free restaurant?  
There is no better place to dine than Rubirosa Ristorante Family Style Italian Restaurant.

Located at 235 Mulberry Street between Prince and Spring, this down to Little Italy, home-style eatery.  

My dear childhood friend Mary Kay has recently been diagnosed with ciliacs disease, thank goodness.  
And you know I don't mean that the way it sounds.
Rather, we are so grateful that finally, after far too many years of doctors telling her -- and other women their condition is something else (pick your poisen: stress is usually the most proffered counsel) she was able to isolate what her demons are and then voila -- embrace the remedy.

Initially -- and this could take a book unto itself -- the gluten-free diet seemed so restricting. 
I scurried to Barnes & Noble thinking I'd research some obscure diet cookbooks. 
And while that notion was not too far off the mark only a few years ago, the helpful salesgirl, avec pierced nose and tattoos, pointed me to the best gluten-free cookbooks and added her father was now on board with her dietary guidelines, convinced it was healthier.

OK, but tastier?
That element had a ways to go back then.

My childhood girlfriends have a longstanding tradition to really celebrate twice a year for our birthdays. But given Mary Kay's newfound gluten-free diet, we'd eaten at home the last few times. Not that that is a bad thing. We're all wonderful, good cooks.
But a birthday is a time to go out. Kick up your heels. 

And so, enter Rubirosa Ristorante.  
It was terrific.  Family pulled strings to get us a reservation.  
Mary Kay loved the food. Yeah!  
And as noted earlier, the true test of vegan and gluten-free food is not so much how it is almost like real food, but that it IS real food.  
All three of us loved the food.    

Rubirosa is a family-owned and operated restaurant that knows good ingredients and is dedicated to serving the best tasting food. They saw an opportunity a few years ago to produce delicious gluten-free recipes for a burgeoning population of restaurant goers.  So now the menu is dedicated to terrific food: Gluten-free or ...

Rubirosa owner and hostess

Love a restaurant owner who can mug it up!
You can play a good dining game and aside from dietary constraints for those who cannot have the non gluten-free food - go ahead and try to taste test the two versions: "regular" and gluten-free.  
You will be hard-pressed to ID the vegan or gluten-free.
Bottom line?  
Who cares?  
If it tastes good, and challenges your heretofore conception of "food" relax and enjoy.

And judging by the jam-packed "butts to nuts" crowd of dining enthusiasts in the restaurant on our way out, there are more than enough foodies who enjoy being in such good company.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Homegrown Recipes for a Bridal Shower Menu

It wasn’t that long ago that my mother and I were planning a Bridal Shower.
It was to be a spectacular, love-filled, memory-inducing celebration for our very special, charming southern belle, Lauren Paige, who is my niece and Mother’s first granddaughter.

Naturally, we started the planning with the menu. 
We even planned the afternoon for the menu planning as an event unto itself! 

So I got out all the relevant cookbooks, the cooking magazines, recipe folders and the wine and cheese. 
We needed to keep up our stamina during what we hoped would be a long and delightful afternoon.
We did a splendid job of choosing appetizers, mixing and matching entrees that would be both pretty as food art – and delicious.
I knew I’d do my famous bridal punch with the rose petal wreath encased in ice mold. 
This is a dreamy, special bit of floating florals surrounded by a peachy or pink punch confection.  
It never fails to elicit the oohs and ahhs that something pretty and out of the ordinary does to our senses.

We wrote up the menu. It looked good.

The next morning, I bolted upright out of bed.
What in the world of all that’s gastronomic could I have been thinking??!

Old habits die hard, is all I can offer.  
I have been producing dinner parties and holiday events like this for years.
Everything from the themed table settings to the floral arrangements to the linens are researched and documented.  
The tablescape compositions always make people happy.  
The work of art even helps start the cocktail conversations. 
As my husband says, “People take pictures of your table settings!” 

But things are different now.
I have just authored a book about chefs and their gardens.
The book is filled with outstanding, amazing and delicious recipes – three or four from each of the nearly 30 featured chefs.
There was no way I couldn’t, wouldn’t feature recipes from my book.

So like the film Groundhog Day – but in a good way – we recreated the day of planning the menu. 
A Do-Over with Personality.  
Now every recipe selection would have a story. 
After all, the book profiles my Master Chefs – and the growers who inspire them...

The ladies at the shower would get a sneak preview of the distinctive cuisine embraced by the well-curated list of chefs in the book, “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.”
I’d experience the thrill of watching the guests eating and commenting on the food from the book.
Now we were really cooking with gas, as they say.

Poring over the recipes in the manuscript, Mother and I soon compiled the menu that would work best for the afternoon bridal shower. 

The Menu:
Cherry Tomato Gazpacho, The Lake House, Chef Matt Connors

Local Peach and Organic Beefsteak Tomato Salad, The Grey Horse Tavern, Chef Meredith Machemer

Grilled Octopus with Panzanella Salad, Mitch & Toni’s, Chef Mitch SuDock

Up-Island Risotto with Summer Corn, Heirloom Tomato, and Basil, Coolfish, Chef Tom Schaudel

Roasted Beets, House-made Ricotta, Baby Carrots and Sally Nadler Bee Sting Honey, Swallow Restaurant, Chef James Tchinnis

Fizzy Strawberry-Basil Lemonade (non alcoholic), Mirabelle Restaurant, Chef Guy Reuge

We added Mother’s homemade bread, my pesto lasagna – with basil from our garden, my deviled eggs with eggs from the local farm, and my husband’s delicious pasta with shrimp -- and arugula from our garden.

The hallmark of the Homegrown Cookbook is seasonal, fresh, and local food ingredients.
So no surprise then, that the fresh-from-the-garden food came from our home herb garden and “farmette” at our country house in the Garden State including the fennel, basil, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, thyme, garlic, onion, oregano, mint, and the roses for the punch and flowers.

The other ingredients – like the homemade pastas, ricotta, Burrata, came from local specialty stores – like the Italian store and the food emporium, Sickles Market, both located in nearby Fair Haven.   The fish was selected from the Lusty Lobster in the Highlands – not more than a few hundred yards from the Bay. 
The cake was always going to come from The Flaky Tart in Atlantic Highlands: THE best pastry chef and a James Beard award winner.

garlic & scallion from my garden
We started prepping some things about a day or two before the party: 
Our Garden's Cherry Tomatoes waiting to sashay to gazpacho

Garden Beets huddling before the quick change to salad
Fennel & garlic on the runway

The exuberant, game-changing menu was a sensory experience.

Bride-to-be admiring the rose petal punch
The rose-petal punch greeted guests at the door.   
Tiered Martha Stewart green glass cake stands were bedecked with tomato and Burrata tea and cucumber tea sandwiches finger food and another punch bowl was snazzy-red welcome of cherry tomato gazpacho, so guests could scoop a punch cup sized taste and walk around.
I like doing light and small apps and finger food that allows mingling before a sit down dinner as well as a buffet…

Every plated and presented dish was accompanied by a place card noting the name of the recipe and the chef who created it. 

I had lots of stories – and love -- to share with the guests when they asked about the flavors and food.

Hostess Gifts were heart-shaped wine openers!

It was a great day for family, food and memories.  

The Hamptons & Long Island Cookbook here on Amazon in pre order!