Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Escoffier was a Hustler" - Anthony Bourdain

written by Jason Greenberg

Listening to Anthony Bourdain speak is like running through a field of land mines. Okay maybe just a field of sound bites. He rattles off one-liners in such quick succession that you’re sure he had to have prepared them beforehand. Part journalist (he prefers storyteller), part chef, part writer and part comedian, he
has become not only the face of The Travel Channel, but also one of the most recognizable personalities in the food industry.

Bourdain was in town recently to take part in a Times Talks interview session—an event in conjunction with the Food Network’s NYC Wine and Food Festival. His interviewer was none other than former New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni. Most of the questions and conversation centered on Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations. But one should always expect Bourdain to veer onto other food-related topics. His opinions on certain celebrity chefs are widely known, but lately he has been critical of beloved chef Alice Waters too. “She scares me,” he said, adding his own strikingly visual description of Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu.” The crowd certainly got a kick out of that. Although some, including Bruni, were slightly taken aback. Bourdain took issue with Waters’ appearance on 60 Minutes and her constant preaching on the nation’s eating habits. “The message is good, she’s just the wrong person to deliver it,” he said.

Bourdain did admit that sometimes he goes too far and occasionally regrets the blatant honesty he is known for. He recalled a time that he made disparaging comments about Chef Jamie Oliver. He later found out that Oliver had suffered from dyslexia as a child, and that Kitchen Confidential had been one of the first books he'd ever read—that he had been a hero of sorts to him. Bourdain has since apologized and the two had a beer.

The topic of the Food Network also frequently comes up in conversation with Bourdain. “It’s a Food Network world, I just live in it,” he told Bruni. Does he believe that a chef’s personality and on-air presence can be determining factors in the success of their restaurants or their career in general? Yes and no. There are some chefs, such as Eric Ripert, whom he believes should never have to give another interview because his food speaks for itself. Bourdain does, however, admit that there is a bit of hustling that is inevitable, even historical in the food world. “Escoffier was a hustler,” he said. “With the book deals and restaurants.”

After Bruni was done with his questions, it was the audience’s turn. Unfortunately, most of the questions were more chances to praise Bourdain than actual questions. But a few led to Bourdain to share more of his philosophies and insights. A few asked about the obesity epidemic to which he responded, “All I can say is stop eating at the king, the
Colonel and the clown.”
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spicy, Flaky and Smoky: Aleppo Pepper

written by Mei Chin

I am not a spice lover by nature. My parents don’t stomach hot food terribly well, but it was somewhere in the late 90s when my mother introduced red pepper flakes to our larder. But even from the beginning, it was never enough. Discovery, circa 1997? I love hot pepper enough to make the pizza guy’s eyes bulge out when I order a slice.

But that kind of heat (the red pepper flake kind) is a straight shot, a one-two punch. Aleppo pepper, a fruity, sultry pepper from Syria, is not that kind of pepper. Aleppo pepper is the dried, ground skin of peppers of the same name, is mixed with with olive oil and a little salt, and then set to ferment in the sun. It’s spicy and flaky and smoky all at once; the heat starts out mild, but then blooms in the throat, revealing fruitiness and smoke. Aleppo pepper is also clever at hiding itself in dishes where you don’t expect heat, only to reveal itself after the second, or third bite. It is completely delicious, and utterly addicting.

Rated at a 3-4 on the Scoville heat scale, Aleppo isn’t the hottest pepper around, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a pepper for when subtlety is called for, rather than a hammer over the head. It would even be good, sprinkled with abandon, on top of a pizza slice. Don’t think I haven’t tried it.

Photo: The Nibble
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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh Hello Apple Pie and Cheddar Brisee

Written and Photographed by Rebekah Peppler

Let’s get this right out in the open. I’m from Wisconsin. Born and raised on brats, beer and cheddar cheese, I can hold my own at a -20˚F Packer game, possess intricate know-how in order to navigate the rowdy aisles of a Brewer’s game without spilling any choice beverages and can boast of growing up witha foam cheese-head and chunk of authentic Lambeau turf in the downstairs freezer.
So, when it came time for the first apple pie of the year and I found myself back in my home state, I wanted to honor it in only the best of ways. What are the best of ways for a Wisconsinite? With cheese, cheddar cheese.

Cheddar has long been the classic foil to apples, traditionally served on the side of apple pie, its sweet-savory combination balances perfectly on the tongue. But when leaving it up to the diner proves too cumbersome, cut out the middleman and bake it directly into the crust. It makes this timeless combination even easier, plus there’s the added bonus of a warm home inundated with the robust aroma of toasted cheddar cheese and sweet apple compote.

And if you can, get your hands on a vigorously sharp Wisconsin cheddar and make me – and my home state – proud.

Apple Pie Tartlettes with Cheddar Brisee
Serves 6

For the Cheddar Brisee
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt
I/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 – 4 Tbsp ice cold water
¾ cup sharp Wisconsin cheddar

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and cut in butter until lentil sized pieces form.
2. Add water and mix just till the dough comes together.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.
4. When well chilled, roll out and line six 4” tartlette shells.

For the Apple Compote

6 medium apples (I used a mixture of Paula Red and Zestar)
½ cup vanilla sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
generous pinch of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup water, plus more if needed

1. Core and chop apples into ½ inch pieces. Toss in fresh lemon juice. (I leave the skin on to impart a gorgeous ruby color and enhance texture).
2. Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover with a parchment round, turn down the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender and compote is thickened.
3. Line a sheet pan with plastic wrap allowing excess to hang over side; spread compote onto sheet pan and cover gently with excess wrap. Allow compote to cool completely.

To Assemble and Bake
1. Preheat over to 400˚F.
2. Prick the chilled tart shell with a fork, fill with cooled compote.
3. Bake 10-15 minutes until crust is browned.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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