Saturday, May 24, 2008

CHICAGO RESTAURANT SHOW



The National Restaurant Association is the host of the largest hospitality and food service show in the world. This year's show in Chicago had the most amazing collection of food, beverage, china, processing equipment, machinery, and anything else you can possibly name in the food industry. I walked through three of the halls and found myself pretty tired by the end of the day. Although I can't verify that I walked 15 miles, my aching legs told me that it was probably close to that. Anyway, the hike through the food show allowed me to see a vast landscape of new products and equipment. The best part, of course, was running into several old friends. If you happen to be in the industry, this is an annual show that is not to be missed.

A few blogs back I mentioned ENO - a great wine, cheese, and chocolate tasting restaurant. I did not want to pass up an opportunity to go again. Like my first visit to ENO, the second dining experience was memorable. I also had a chance to check out Sepia Restaurant located at 123 N. Jefferson Street. Sepia prides themselves on preparing food that melds rustic sensibility with a contemporary flair. All of the little details, from the design, the service, and the food, make you feel like an honored guest. If you're in the Windy City, make sure you make reservations for a dinner at Sepia.



Friday, May 23, 2008

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

Photograph by Mike Alexander

Savannah has been the movie set to films like Glory, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Forces of Nature, The General’s Daughter, and the Legend of Bagger Vance. After spending a few days here, I completely understand why - I’ve forgotten how truly beautiful this town is. Locals call the color scheme of Savannah “Haint Blue”; the blue-green palette represents water. The Savannah College of Art and Design enhances the city by setting an artistic tone. There are lots of artistic people, lots of great art, parks, walks, architecture and restaurants.

I stayed in Savannah’s historic district at a sensational hotel and spa called Mansion On Forsyth Park. The ambiance lends itself to being more of an art gallery than a hotel. The Mansion on Forsyth also offers culinary classes at their cooking school, 700 Kitchen Cooking School, under the direction of Darin Sehnert. If you’re looking for a culinary getaway you can cook, dine, and bed-down at the Mansion.

Photograph by Joanna Shere

Another dining experience took me to Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons. Food Network has done a lot in terms of pushing her notoriety which explains why there was a 40-50 person line out the door. They managed to squeeze me in because I only needed a single seat. I have to confess, I think I was expecting to be (at least) pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, I walked away feeling disappointed about Lady & Sons’ service, ambiance, cleanliness, and the prices.

If you’re looking to shake the tourists, take a look down the street and you can find a local hang-out called the Velvet Elvis. It’s a funky lively bar where the locals go to grab a beer and listen to great music.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

BENEFITS, BIKERS, & BEER

Photograph by Ricardo Washington

48 non-stop hours of benefits, bikers, and beer. It almost sounds like the name of a B movie, but it's just a little summary of a recent trip. It was definitely one of the most intense schedules of my business adventures. It began with the Pittsburg Wine Festival and dinner benefit for the
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the Magee Women's Research Institute and Foundation. The efforts of everyone involved in this were substantial; roughly 4 million dollars was raised for this event. Besides the live auction, wine tasting, and seminars, the festival included a series of private home dinners prepared by five different chefs in various landmark homes in the Pittsburgh area.

I cooked in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Michael and Jane Rice. They are the third generation family owners of Utz Quality Foods - a company that produces more than one million pounds of potato chips in one week. The Rice home is palatial at 35,000 square feet; it is complete with a stunning sculpture garden and a ballroom that seats 200 people.

One of the other chefs for this event was my friend, and co-author of White House Chef, Andrew Friedman. This was a unique opportunity for Andrew because it was his first time cooking for a paying audience. Andrew confessed he had the jitters but his nerves were later eased by the fact that his dinner was a success. After completing our dinner services, the chefs and their crews took a chance to unwind at a local brewery in Hershey called Parkside; it was the perfect mix of free flowing conversation and beer.

The next morning I was off to Pittsburgh for a dinner to benefit the University of Pittsburg Medical Center at the Elias Home. La Creme Catering company assisted me with the food and they executed the dinner menu perfectly. I knew the next day would arrive in a hurry so I called the night early and took an overnight limo to D.C.

Although some may idealize how nice it is to ride in a limo, trying to get some sound sleep in one is a completely different story. I got home around 3am - showered and shaved and was out the door a just few hours later so I could be at the Marriott Wardman Tower by 6:00am. My talk and demo started at 7am. As soon as the demo finished, I was back on the road again - this time to Oxford, Ohio to pick up my son from school.

My drive led me through Newark, Ohio where I found a great country biker bar called Jacktown Tavern. I felt a little out of place, considering I wasn't wearing a John Deere cap, sporting any tatoos, or riding a Harley, but I still managed to take a break and play some pool. Losing the game wasn't such a bad thing either, particularly when you take in the local line-up.

Friday, May 9, 2008

ST. JOSEPH'S CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Many people think about hospitals in terms of strictly taking care of sick people. Actually, hospital staff have to care for their patients with a much broader perspective. St. Joseph's does this in two ways: they treat the whole child and they also treat the family. They have implemented a team approach to healing a sick or injured child. This kind of approach to health care is very expensive. Not only do they need funds for treating and healing children, they also need funds to help families stay close to the hospital. St. Joseph provides an amazing service to the children regardless of their families' financial situations. When you meet the children face to face, you can sense the difference this hospital is making in their lives. This is why I was happy to accept their invitation to emcee a recent fundraiser.

The fundraising party was a food faire and wine tasting event that hosted over 40 restaurants, caterers, and hotels from the New Jersey-New York area. Several of the doctors got in on the act by cooking up their own food as well. The staff also served my signature red curried sweet potato soup.

Adding to the festivities was Robbie Furmon's unique sculptures made out of balloons. Robbie is an exceptional creative individual, who at age 8, decided to become a balloon artist.
The featured balloon sculpture that Robbie chose to make for the party was a chef and a fruit and vegetable still life. His creations cover the gamut from dragons to animals to people.

PHOTOGRAPH BY KIYOMI