Thursday, August 28, 2008

TEXAS TWO STOP

Downtown Skyline from Tranquility Park - Photo Courtesy of visithouston.com

It is fitting that this summer would end with a double dose of Texas - call it my Texas two stop. I made it to the metropolis of Houston and then up to the panhandle of Texas to the modest town of Lubbock. In Houston, I took part in the Brillant Lecture Series - a strategic program designed to inspire the local community with some very fascinating people. Quite honestly, I am humbled and a little blown away that I was asked to participate in this lecture series. Other speakers in the current series include: Sir Sidney Poitier, Queen Noor of Jordan, Dame Julie Andrews, Diana Ross, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Carl Rove. The Hotel Granduca where the event took place put on a great show in conjunction with the Chandon Winery from California. The chefs created a tremendous array of canapes in the White House style. I had a wonderful time and the people of Houston could not have been better. I can't wait to get back. To see a slideshow of this event click here.
Houston - Don, Stephanie & Bill

My next stop was Lubbock. Lubbock was about as close in likeness to Houston as the 574 miles between the two cities. In this town, I experienced a real taste of Texas hospitality. The mayor was kind enough to send me a certificate making me an honorary citizen of Lubbock. It was a great way to end the White House style dinner I did for the guests of the Lubbock Club.



Afterwards I found myself in a sportsbar surrounded by guys wearing either ball caps or cowboy hats. The guys talked about NASCAR while Eminem played in the background and the large screen tv broadcasted the Olympics. The feature this night was the U.S. vs. China for the Gold Medal in Beach Volleyball. Two teams of women dressed in small Nike bikinis faced off on imported sand in an open stadium that allowed rain to pour down on them. None of these things in themselves seem strange or unusual - cowboys, nascar, Eminem, or Olympic Beach Volleyball. Mix them all together, however, into a single moment and throw in a scooner of beer and then things seem really strange.
Oversized Novelty Pistol BBQ Lubbock, TX- Photo by brykmantra -flickr.com


Although the Lubbock bar moment was an oddity, it didn't take away from what I know to be true about this town. It will never be as big as Houston, but it is growing in the amount of businesses, housing, and population. With this in mind, Lubbock can still boast about its agricultural roots in terms of being one of the largest contiguous cotton growing regions in the world. Over the next several years it will be very interesting to see how the "Hub-City" (its nickname) transforms.






Cotton Module Bale Lubbock, TX- Photo by David Kozlowski -dallasphotoworks.com


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

LAS VEGAS



Touchdown into McCarren Airport. Upon landing I discover that this is not your typical airport terminal. Everything seemed normal as I passed by the regular waiting room style chairs, observed passengers as they morphed into sprinters as they trying to catch their flights, and security checkpoints enforcing the limits of 3 oz travel bottles. Past that point of recognition things quickly began to change. Just beyond the glowing arrival-departure board there is another set of curious lights reflecting off of the pupils of several excited tourists. These are the first unofficial "Welcome to Las Vegas!" signs. The lights come directly from the McCarren Airport's informal greeting committee - a flashing row of money hungry slot machines.

Photograph by Evil Jungle Prince at Flickr.com
For many, this greeting is the first induction to the seductive side of Las Vegas. The promise of a 'jackpot' emphasizes why the city has been immortalized through most mediums of entertainment - books, films, television shows and music. Las Vegas is an unabashedly bold city that incorporates a unique fusion of “high” and “low” culture; it mixes fantasy with imitations of reality and reality itself. Even the Visitor’s Bureau gets in on the act by encouraging guests to visit the city incognito by offering to provide you with your own prerecorded 1-800 number, printable business cards, a Web Site, and a story to back you up in; This is their “Create Your Identity” campaign.

I came to the Mandalay Bay Hotel to represent Hershey at the World Education Congress (WEC) hosted by Meeting Planners International (MPI) Convention. This WEC was the largest gathering of meeting and event professionals in the history of the MPI. I enjoyed this leg of the trip. As with many of the "high roller" luxury places to stay, the Mandalay Bay ranks with some of the finest. I had a meal at Michael Mina's Stripsteak located within the Mandalay Bay. Chef Mina’s dishes are as creative as the atmosphere and the staff is extremely knowledgeable. Mina is just one of the many chefs bringing creative fine dining to Vegas. If there is a chef out there on the world doing great food, most likely she or he will eventually end up in Las Vegas.

For my money Las Vegas is the strangest town in the world. I felt like the shopping goes on forever and there was much more glitter than apparent substance. I passed by people who seemed to be the highest of the rollers and others apparently on their last dime. Las Vegas encapsulates the best and the worst of what America is.

Photograph by Sean Sweeney

Thursday, August 7, 2008

EXPERIENCE 2008!


Photograph by Kiyomi
EcoChic is the green-envy catch phrase of the year. It incorporates the hottest trend in catering and event planning. For instance, wedding planners are now learning how to throw green weddings. This entails buying local and organic flowers and produce, hosting smaller guest parties, using recyclable invitations and favors, hiring drivers with hybrid limos and keeping the bridal ceremony close to home.


Photograph by Jon Adams
Professionals in this field recognize how vital it is to pay attention to the current consumer demand. The National Association of Catering Executives designed their conference EXPERIENCE 2008! - The Future of Catering and Event Design, to reflect current trends in the industry. The conference was held at the Loew's Hotel Philadelphia. EXPERIENCE 2008! showed NACE members how to equip themselves with the kind of cutting edge that will leave their clients with a positive impression of their event. It was exciting to be the opening keynote speaker at EXPERIENCE 2008.

Wrapped around the NACE event were a few media moments: two television spots (Fox and NBC) and one radio show. As busy as this trip was, I set aside time to find a great place to eat and relax. I discovered a wonderful restaurant that made me feel like I was hitting the the 1959 Havana Surf with all its glamour, music, great food, and exotic drinks. Take a look at Alma De Cuba's menu; a small sampling will show you 5 different kinds of ceviche, rum cured smoked marlin, Peruvian seafood chowder and black truffle and malanga gnocchi. Restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Douglas Rodriguez have crafted a remarkably bold Cuban adventure. If you find yourself in Philly, make sure you get yourself a table at Alma De Cuba.
Photograph by Adam Comerford (comerford.cc)


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

THE PRESIDENTIAL COOKIE ELECT

McCain's Oatmeal & Butterscotch Cookies, O'Bama's Citrus Shortbread & Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies
Photography by: James Baigrie. Food styling: Sara Neumeier. Prop styling: Loren Simons.
Thank You to Meridith Publishing

Is it possible that the outcome of a presidential race could be predicted by the likes of a cookie? The readers of Family Circle seem to indicate that there might be some truth to this theory. Hard to believe but, true - the Family Circle audience has been able to predict the U.S. presidential winner according to a cookie bake-off the magazine holds every four years.

• 1992 Barbara Bush (Chocolate Chip Oatmeal) vs. Hillary Clinton (Chocolate Chip Oatmeal)
• 1996 Hillary Clinton (Reprisal) vs. Elizabeth Dole (Pecan Roll Cookies)
• 2000 Laura Bush (Cowboy Cookies) vs. Tipper Gore (Ginger Snaps)
• 2004 Laura Bush (Oatmeal-Chocolate Chunk Cookes) vs. Teresa Heinz Kerry (Pumpkin Spice Cookies)

This year I was invited by Fuji TV, Japan's largest TV Network (over 100 million viewers), to help test the cookie election theory on their show called Inside America. I got up at 3:00am and went over to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to do the filming for this segment.

Cindy McCain's Butterschotch
& Oatmeal Cookies


The producer of the show wanted to put the election theory to the test. I made four recipes: Michelle O'Bama's Citrus Shortbread Cookies, Sydney McCain's Oatmeal and Butterscotch Cookies, Bill Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies (who was still on the original list at the contest start), and my addition of Chelsea Clinton's favorite chocolate chip cookies. Kaoru Utada (the producer) and her camera man took the cookies to the streets of Manhantan for a blind taste test.
Michelle O'Bama's Citrus Shortbread

I can't give you the final scoop on who the winner is, but one interesting side note is that the test audience showed a preference to their own political candidate. This segment will air today exclusively in Japan.

Here is Better Homes & Garden's Coverage on the Presidential Cookie:

I WOULD HAVE NEVER EXPECTED

When I applied for the open position of White House Executive Chef in 1994, I was hopeful and optimistic, but quite frankly I never thought that getting the job was a sure thing. The job title alone made the position seem daunting and unattainable. Thankfully, because of the efforts of my wife Jean (sending my resume) and my internal drive to persevere, I was able to secure the job. That singular once in a lifetime job opportunity now affords me the ability to meet dozens of fascinating people, address large audiences, and travel across the beautiful United States as The American Chef.

The name, The American Chef, is not only the name of my business, but it is now an authentic U.S. registered trademark. The initial nervousness and fear I experienced when I started The American Chef is now a feeling of awe, particularly in light of the current state of my business.

The other momentous event that's happened for The American Chef is that my book White House Chef, has been translated in Japanese. It can now be found in the cooking section in Japanese bookstores. Both of these events give cause for a small celebration. My appreciation and gratefulness goes out to all of you for encouraging me in these endeavors. Domo arigatou gozaimasu!