Saturday, November 24, 2007

DENIM AND DIAMONDS

Eric Asimov, in a recent New York Times article about Portland wrote, "This is a golden age of dining and drinking in a city that 15 years ago was about as cutting edge as a tomato in January. Every little neighborhood in this city of funky neighborhoods now seems to be exploding with restaurants, food shops and markets, all benefiting from a critical mass of passion, skill and experience, and all constructed according to the gospel of locally grown ingredients."

Mr. Asimov's words rang true at a recent dinner gala and auction called Denim and Diamonds. This charity event was put on by the Agri-Business Counsel of Oregon, a volunteer organization dedicated to "preserving and enhancing Oregon's agriculture". The ABC (Ag-Business Counsel) invited me to come as a guest chef and design a White House style menu using some of the finest local wines and ingredients Oregon has to offer. Proceeds for this event go directly to a program called "Keeping Agriculture Viable". The dinner turned out to be a fabulous feast with all the right ingredients in place:

First Course

Oregon Dungeness Crab
with Sweet Potato Soup

Entrée
Painted Hills Smoked Beef Tenderloin
with Apple Cider Glaze
Fall Vegetables
Oregon Potato Leek Puree
with Wild Mushroom and Truffle Sauce

Third Course
Cheese Tart
with Grilled Oregon Pears and Fall Greens
Hazelnut Dressing

Dessert
Peach and Cherry Cobbler
with Honey Lavender Ice Cream


Denim and Diamonds sponsors were given tickets to join me on a exclusive VIP winery tour of three fantastic Oregon vineyards. We started with lunch and a tour at the Willamette Valley Vineyard - the first winery in the world to have cork stoppers certified by the Rainforest Alliance; the FSC certified corks are harvested from responsibly managed forestlands. After lunch we then proceeded to go to the Evergreen Vineyards in McMinville, also home of the Evergreen Aviation Museum and Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose aircraft. We ended our wine tour at Cana’s Feast Winery. The Northwest Palate describes some of Cana's wines as the "Most distinguished of all Italian varietals tested from the Northwest".

Finally - many thanks to Tod Wright and his crew from Jakes Catering for preparing the food for Denim and Diamonds. Check out www.jakesgrill.com. They did a wonderful job for this event.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A MOMENT IN MIDDLE AMERICA

There is a cold gray sky hovering over Milwaukee today. I have a nice warm bowl of chili in my hands. This is no ordinary bowl of chili however - there is spaghetti at the bottom of the bowl and a meaty chili layered on top. Alongside my chili sit two little ceramic bowls filled with onions and oyster crackers, allowing me to add them in as I wish.

You can find this "Cincinnati style" chili at Real Chili, a restaurant that opened in 1931. Real Chili has maintained an old fashioned sensibility – all of the counters are made of formica and the chairs match the counters. There are three “flavors” of chili you can order here – mild, medium and hot. In this case, the larger amount of meat you order is what determines the degree of heat (up the meat, increase the heat). This local restaurant has been a legend in Milwaukee for 75 years.

As I sit here eating my chili, I am also warmed inside by what I see going on outside of the restaurant. A Veteran’s Day parade is passing through the center of town and ending at the lakefront. School bands and American Legion Groups have passed by, and the International Guard has flown over for the locals who gathered together in honor of our veterans.

I'm in Milwaukee today because I am doing a dinner event for about 200 people. Interestingly enough, the Milwaukee area, and more specifically Wisconsin has been a large source of event bookings and business for me - something very unexpected. The dinner is at the University Club which I have worked at a number of times. Chef Doug Pallo and his staff always do a fantastic job.

Tonight's dinner is a fundraiser for Vince Lombardi Charitable Funds. This group raises funds for research against cancer and to help those who are fighting cancer. Doing this event is particularly important to me; my mother passed away because of cancer. Fundraisers such as this are just one way in which I can add to a glimmer of hope desperately needed for those fighting this terrible disease.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

I recently visited Concordia College to observe their dining facility as a model for a high volume dining room for one of my clients. During this trip, I stopped by the Hotel Donaldson, a small, fun and funky place in the middle of Fargo, ND. They have amazing food and a great selection of wines, a cigar bar and even tubs in certain rooms that get filled from the ceiling. Even more interesting was an elongated garland of 800 bras hooked together. "Bras on Broadway" is a fund raising event for the American Cancer Society in which they collect bras from local women. $3500 was raised for breast cancer research. Donors gave $5 for each bra to support the cause. More information about the Donaldson Hotel in Fargo can be found here.

After Fargo I traveled to Plymouth Meeting, PA to participate in a different kind of fundraiser for the Silver Springs - Martin Luther School. Established in 1859 to provide services to orphaned children, Silver Springs works with young folks that are really truly in need of some help and gives them a chance to make a better life for themselves. The folks At Silver Springs are committed to providing a healing environment for children who suffer from past traumas or significant behavioral and/or mental health problems. Please take a look at their Web site to see the depth and reach of their programs.

The dinner for Silver Springs was highly successful. It didn't take much to warm this crowd up. They were warm and very lively. Lots and laughter ensued from the dinner talk; I really enjoyed being with them. I stayed after the talk for about an hour or two to sign books, and to share stories. Chef Joe, Pontillo and his crew at the Marriott did an exceptional job with both the reception and the dinner. Nothing but compliments and a big thank you for this crew.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

THE PRESIDIO AND BEYOND

The Presidio in San Francisco is a truly special place to visit. Under the ownership of the National Park Service much of the beautiful natural habitats and wildlife of the area have been restored. Along with open spaces of parkland, The Presidio offers an incredible spectrum of residential leasing opportunities. Greg and Lisa Wendt are two very fortunate souls who have the privilege of living on one of the highest hills in The Presidio. Their 180-degree panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, the Palace of Fine Arts, Alcatraz, and the City skyline is worth the trip to San Francisco alone.

I did a private dinner for the Wendts at their home with the help of Chef Jeff Inahara and his Savoir-Faire staff. Jeff's rollicking sense of humor did little to reveal that he is actually educated as a molecular geneticist. His commitment to accuracy and good food, however, told all. I had a great time with Jeff and his crew (Scott, Calvin & Laura); information on Savoir-Faire can be found here: savoirfairedining.com

The next morning I went to one of San Francisco's finest artisan bakeries, Tartine, which sits on the corner of 18th and Guerrero Street in the Mission District. Lacking any sort of visibly distinct signage, Tartine is an amazing place that literally bakes in "real time". If you are in the City, make a trip to Tartine Bakery - take a pocket full of money, save the diet for another day and order everything your heart desires. You'll recognize this little corner cafe-bakery by the long line spilling out the door. Check it out at tartinebakery.com

After San Francisco, I headed up to the Sacramento area with my dear friend Kiyomi for a book signing at Quarry Pond in Granite Bay. From there we took a quick jaunt to Roxanne O'Brien's beginning culinary class at American River College where I participated in a Q & A session and a cheese tasting. Lots of White House and career path questions ensued. Having the opportunity to guide young cooks is equally inspiring for me. This was a great group to spend time with before driving back to San Francisco and catching the red eye home.

A HAT TRICK PLUS ONE

The last leg of October included the most hectic run of my new business. I did four consecutive events in four days that required traveling to Washington DC, Denver, Spokane, Coeur d'Alene (Northern Idaho), Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Charleston, and Kiawah Island (South Carolina). From Kiawah Island I went back to Charleston and then Atlanta. After Atlanta I made my way out to San Francisco, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and finally returned to Washington D.C. 100 hours after my original departure.

Highlights of this whirlwind tour included doing a lunch-talk for CoBank at the picturesque Lake Shore venue of the Coeur D'alene Resort in Idaho. The Coeur D'alene is affectionately regarded as "The Playground of the Northwest". Take a look at their website - cdaresort.com.

From Coeur D'Alene I headed off to The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The Sanctuary has the distinction of a AAA five star diamond rating, and was voted the No. 1 U.S. Golf Resort by Travel and Leisure magazine, and the No. 1 Tennis Resort by TennisResortsOnline.com. I definitely can vouch for the fact that the staff in the kitchen was exceptional. They really outdid themselves with their versions of my recipes. You can check out the ten miles of Kiawah Island ocean beach and golf resort at kiawahresort.com.

Photography by Kiyomi