Posts from April 2010

Culinary Tourism Has Seat at the Table, EAT Vancouver 2010, May 28-30

Whether it's within our country's border, visiting the next-door neighbors or traveling to another part of the world, for a growing number of people culinary and wine tourism are the main draws.

With that in mind EAT! Vancouver was smart to include a World Culinary Tourism Expo now in its 3rd year to their roster of activities.

I'm not sure I would call that trend  'traveling through your palate' as one can do that by visiting restaurants run by chefs like our Fusion friend, Peter Gordon.

EAT! Vancouver 2010 also brings the Grow Your Own Grub movement into the fold with EAT! Garden showcasing the Harvest Green Project by Romses Architects.

Harvest Green Project makes Edible Gardens part of the master plan.


EAT! Garden will also offer budding locavores tools and information on how to get started.

EAT! Vancouver 2010 opens its doors on May 28 and runs for 3 days.

Maybe I will make it to the 2011 edition.

(* Harvest Green illustration via archiCentral)

Shanghai Expo 2010 Homestay Program, Live with the Locals

Patti Waldmeir shares her experience staying with the locals in Stay with Grandma Chen (FT, April 30).

During Shanghai Expo 2010 which opens on May 1st, 2010, a few hundred families were selected to offer the equivalent of a bed and breakfast or and hostal with the Shanghai Expo 2010 Homestay program.

It gives visitors a chance to learn about Chinese culture, local spots and share their home and their meals.

Patti Waldmeir closes her piece with a note of her visit at the Hualian supermarket (in Linfen):

"It was there that we saw perhaps the most traditionally Shanghainese sight of the entire trip: ladies shopping in pajamas, a charming local habit that the government is trying to stamp out in time for Expo – all in the name of civilization."

Will visitors get in trouble if they adopt that tradition?

Loire Valley in the Slow Lane, Cycling the Loire from the Atlantic to Sancerre

Some like to explore peaks and valleys and hike from one side of the Pyrenees to the other.

Others like to stick to a flatter terrain.

Like to hop on a bike and travel in the slow lane, Loire A Velo (Cycling the Loire) offers an 800 KM bike trail from St Brevin-les-Pins on the Atlantic all the way past Sancerre.


Along the way, the Loire A Velo bike trail crosses cities like Nantes, Angers, Saumur, Tours, Blois and Orleans.


The region has a rich cultural Heritage including its Chateaux.

Between the cities, the pace will slow while you cross the countryside.

Whether it's Muscadet near Nantes, some great reds around Chinon of the delicious whites of Sancerre  and many sparkling options as well, wine lovers will have a myriad choices including a number of small organic wine producers.

The bike trail will ultimately reach Burgundy.

Most likely if you travel from abroad you will not have taken your bike with you.

Not to worry, Detours de Loire rents them and has set a number of pick up and drop off locations along the trail.

They also share suggestions on inineraries and tourist information.

They are not the only option, check the complete list of rental locations with other providers.

Loire A Velo is one of the 12 routes in Eurovelo6 network started in 1994 and reaching all the way to the Black Sea.

Pink Floyd Fans, Get Your Bids in for Off the Wall Auction by Storm Thorgerson

There will be Pink Floyd related pieces but that won't be all.

Sweet Rachel at the Idea Generation Gallery in London shared this little scoop with me.

The Right but Wrong exhibit showcasing the designs and album cover art of Storm Thorgerson has been so successful that Storm decided that rather than put everything back in boxes on May 2 when the show closes its door, he would give fans and collectors alike to place bids on some if not all of what's on display. 


You could for example fetch the original Interstellar balls or even the unique Dark Side of the Moon stained glass window currently on display in the gallery. 


Here's how it works (I quote):

Bids can be placed silently from midday Thursday 28th April until the close of the 'Off the Wall' Auction at 8.30pm on Wednesday 5th of May.

Winners will be announced live by Storm at the end of the evening and you can take away your piece with you on the night, ready framed 'off the wall'.

You can bid by calling the gallery at +44(0)20 7749 6850

Best of luck!

Don't Miss Your Chance to Win Copy of 'Seasonal Spanish Food' by Jose Pizarro

I put the bait on the line and no fish has bitten yet for the Jose Pizarro Cookbook contest.

You don't want to miss a chance to win a copy of his Seasonal Spanish Food Tome, do you?

Let's see if we wake you up to the challenge with a new question:

Name 3 Spanish items, 1 wine, 1 cheese, 1 sweet treat, all 3 starting with the letter M.

Send your answers to info [at] njconcierges [dot] com by Midnight (Eastern US Time) on May 2, 2010.

This contest is open to readers in the US and Canada.

Since there is only one copy to win. Contest is on a First Come, First Serve basis.


In case you wondered, you will not find the answers in Soul of Tapas Brindisa, Jose Pizarro, Talks to Us About his Road from Extremadura to London our recent interview.

(* our illustration is the wonderful Razor Clams with Chorizo, recipe on page 136 of the book)

Drinking Sake, Eating Tokyo, Tokyofoodcast, Found on Showa Day

After realizing that April 29 is the Showa Day holiday in Japan (part of Golden Week), I decided to take it nice and easy for this week's Tokyo Thursdays and feature a site that lives and breathes Tokyo.

I picked Tokyofoodcast written by a couple: Et-chan and Te-chan.

Why them? I like the clean look of the site, their mix of Chou a la Creme and Dining on shojin ryori in temple, add to that their Pursuit of the Perfect Sake with Sake of the Week and I was hooked.

I chose their picture of Funazushi (involves fish roe, thinly sliced fish and fermented rice if I got it right) as an illustration.


When she's not snapping photos, writing, eating, cooking or tasting sake, Et-chan aka Etsuko Nakamura offers personalized English-Japanese guide services in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

Found my way to Tokyofoodcast via Shizuoka Gourmet, a fellow French expat.

Long distance learning for Tokyo Thursdays # 137

Previously: Vegetarian Kaiseki Restaurant in Spotlight, Sustainable Tokyo, Earth Day 2010

Muguet and Premier Mai, French Tradition Gets a Chocolate Twist

This coming week-end, Muguet (Lily of the Valley) will be sold on many French streets.

It is a tradition on May 1st to wish happiness to those you love with a Brin de Muguet.

Chocolatier Henri Le Roux gives the tradition a Twist by marrying Muguet with Praline and Chocolate.


Want to know more about Muguet on May 1st which also happens to be Labor Day in many places check my Roots, May, Muguet piece.

Foie Gras, Fungi, Pig Heads and Recipes, Cuisinier Gascon Interview with Pascal Aussignac

Concluding a trio of interviews with London based chefs, I recently talked with Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon (co-founded with Vincent Labeyrie), a restaurant dedicated to foods from Southwest France.

In his new book, Cuisinier Gascon (Absolute Press), Pascal takes us on a tour of the region.


Let's press the start button and let you in on our conversation:

Q: Pascal, why Gascon Food, you trace your roots in Toulouse which is not far from Gascony but more like a close cousin?

I was born in Toulouse while my business partner, Vincent comes from the Landes, Dax to be specific so it was natural that we set up Club Gascon to showcase the best of the Southwest. That is what the restaurant's name suggests. Draw a circle from Bordeaux to Toulouse then Biarritz and back to Bordeaux and you get our South.

Q: You serve Cassoulet, is it made with Tarbais Beans and all the classic ingredients or did you add a twist to it?

A cassoulet from Toulouse is made with Tarbais beans and different meats. The main difference between mine and the classic type is that ours is more moist. I am not a big fan of breadcrumbs on top.

Q: Are your homemade chips still cooked with duck fat?

Of course they are, and seasoned with Crazy Salt, a blend of Fleur de Sel and Piment d'Espelette.

Q: Club Gascon opened in 1999, you got your first Michelin star in 2002, where there ups and downs during these 3 years?

We were lucky to be super busy from the get go. The Michelin star didn't bring extra bookings but it added some polish to our professional image. Critics in the early days used to describe us as a bistro. After the star, we graduated to restaurant status.

Q: Is the whole 'concept' of Club Gascon and its various iterations built around the idea of 'comfort food'?

I do not think that we can say that Club Gascon is providing comfort food, rather a creative take on Gascon culture.
That's why we opened a wine bar next door and a bistro-deli around the corner to suit all styles and clienteles.

Q: Heartier dishes like Cassoulet are more like Fall and Winter treats to me, do you tweak the Spring and Summer menu with lighter sauces, ingredients and so forth?

Believe me or not, Londoners eat more Cassoulet in the Bistro in summertime than during winter and I have no clue as to why.

Q: You have build a small 'Gascon Empire' over the years? Are there ideas that failed? Do you feel that expansion can come at the expense of quality or should I say consistency?

I would say that we had the opportunity to expand. We opened Club Gascon before the millennium and money was pouring in all over London so in the following couple of years we set up the wine bar and the bistro-deli. The only thing that did not meet our expectations so far is Croque Gascon, our fast Good concept at Westfield Mall. 

Q: Getting back to your book 'Cuisinier' Gascon, whose idea was it to include the 'tete de cochon' (pig head) in the opening pages of the book?

This head was about to be cooked but it looked so nice that I brought it to the studio and Jean Cazals, the book photographer, wanted to shoot it and there it is.


Q: Is 'Cuisinier Gascon' like some people suggested as much a tribute to the region as it is a Cookbook?

Yes. We wanted to create a book combining food and ambiance as much as possible. I think it is an invitation to discover the different flavors of the region. Call it a traveler's companion with recipes.

Q: How much influence can a food photographer like Jean Cazals have on the look of dishes in a culinary book?

A lot. Our publisher, Absolute Press had the idea to pair Jean and I and I have to say it was the best  idea.
We had a great time making the book and with lots of freedom. Photos in the studio were inspired by a 'mise en scene' (staged) quite different than in classic cookbooks and it is the result of our collaboration, our duo.

Q: By that I meant to ask if it was like a band going in the studio  with a producer and having their sound sculpted?

We also had our own art director-design person, Matthew Le Maistre who rounded the team. He fixed
all the little details.

Q: With the Gascon identity, how much importance do you give to showcasing Armagnac and wines from the region and its periphery whether they are Cotes de Buzet, Fronton, Madiran, Pacherenc at your restaurants?

Yes of course, we have some 300 wines from the region on our lists.

Q: Why serve the Ossau-Iraty ( Basque cheese) with Caramelized Clementines with a Pimm's sauce?

It could as well have been served with some Lillet or Red Martini but we are in England and it's much more popular to use Pimm's here. It works perfectly too.
The idea was to start with the most famous cheese from the Southwest and to promote it give it a twist that gets the attention, same thing with the foie gras popcorn.

Q: Cuisinier Gascon has a sizable section dedicated to Foie Gras, were you called on it by animal activists?

Activists have to make a distinction between good practices and bad ones. I blame chefs and suppliers who for financial reasons, cut corners and buy the cheapest foie gras. By doing that they reinforce the mass production. The ideal should be to support farmers who breed, raise animals the right way. They
still exist.

Q: Mushrooms, fungi, figure prominently in your book, why?

Around Cahors, there are a lot of oak trees and the area is famous for truffles and mushrooms, plus I love Fungi.

Q: Do you go mushroom hunting?

Not any more, I am based in London and have no time left to visit the countryside.

Q: When I see Nougat, I think Montelimar, you picture it on page 220 of the book though?

Nougat is a French recipe which is not made just in Montelimar.
This is easy to do at home and kids love it.
This book is made for everyday people not chefs. Simple recipes which you can keep for a while are a good thing.

Q: Which song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers should we play while enjoying your Red Hot Chilli Berries (page 236-237)?

Something spicy in summer...

Q: Traveling back in time, you mention getting your feet wet in the kitchen originally as a way to help your mam' who was raising by  herself at that time, with that experience has food since then been  something that brings family and friends together, the tie that binds?

Cooking is my passion since childhood so I really that you can bring people together for a social moment around a pot au feu served with some red wine, the simpler, the better.

Q: I recently interviewed Peter Gordon. You both started working in the restaurant field in the dining room. You both had mishaps there, can the kitchen for some of us even with its hectic pace be a shelter from the up close and personal experience of dealing with customers?

When I set up Club Gascon, for the first 6 months I used to tour the dining room.
At the time also my English was poor and I had a hard time understanding people. I came to realize that talking customer's ears off was more about boosting your ego than showing your face. You end up asking the same questions over and over and sometimes disturb your customer's meal.
When I came to understand all that, I decided to stop visiting the dining room even when I am in the kitchen during the whole shift. This way if I'm not there no one will notice. People are coming for good food and consistency not the chef's profile.

Q: Your restaurants specialize in a certain field, do you stray far from it when you eat out or cook at home?

Yes a bit, i cook more Provencal food at home but it still remains French.

Q: Can you name some favorite chefs outside London, then and now?

To name two, Anthony Flynn in Leeds and David Everitt-Matthias in Cheltenham.

Q: Do you have favorite restaurants, pastry shops and food stalls in and around Toulouse?

These few, Michel Sarran restaurant, Le Jardin de la Violette (a shop) and all the street markets in Toulouse and surrounding towns and villages on Thursday mornings.

Q: Who was your major inspiration and/or your mentor?

I will say the chef who trusted me and convinced my parents to let me quit school at 17 for work in the kitchen. His name is Gerard Vie from Les Trois Marches in Versailles.

Q: Would you have been able to get to where you are now in London had you stayed in France?

No sure at all, I left France because banks didn't want to take a risk with me when I was 25 even though they were very impressed by my training. A tried a few times to set up my own place in Paris and was not able to do it so I prefer my present situation in London which is more welcoming in that aspect.

Q: What is the balance of power and responsibilities between you and > your partner Vincent Labeyrie?

Fifty Fifty...The good thing is we complement each other . I am not able to do his job and neither can he do mine. I think that's what a good partnership is. Trust is still key.

Q: To conclude on a nostalgia note, your Prunes in Armagnac remind me of hearing the world Agen with local accent in the train station on my way to the Pyrenees for summer vacations? Are memories sometimes singing in your hear while you create a dish?

There are no specific moments of creation for me, First of all, I am not sure we can say we are creating new dishes. Ferran Adria has created a new language in his approach of food with new products, instruments and a lot of poetry. I just try alone or with my team to reinterpret classic dishes or cook combinations that might sound weird on paper but taste right.

C'est tout pour aujourd'hui

Thanks Pascal

Cuisinier Gascon won the title for Best French Cuisine (UK) at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards for 2009.

Stop Making Noise, April 28 is International Noise Awareness Day

While the UK buzzes from April 26 to April 30 with Noise Action Week the rest of the world joins in for International Noise Awareness Day on April 28, 2010, the 15th Edition.

The Center for Hearing and Communication, a driving force behind the April 28 Event offers suggestions on a few ways to turn down the volume in Controlling Noise is In Your Hands and a Quiet Diet which could include these steps:

Pay attention to the noises you make and respect your neighbor's right to peace and quiet.

Turn down the volume two notches on your radios and personal stereo systems with headphones.

Turn down the volume one notch on your television.

Do NOT honk your horn, except in the case of imminent danger.

Do NOT tip cab drivers who honk their horns illegally.

Avoid noisy sports events, restaurants, rock concerts and nightclubs unless you use hearing protection.

Replace noisy activities with quiet ones such as taking a walk, visits to libraries and museums.

It might sound contradictory but a quintet of musician are celebrating with an International Noise Awareness Day Concert at Mobius in Boston (Massachusetts) on April 28 at 8 PM.


Getting back to Noise Action Week in the UK they showcase a quiet lawnmower by Worx equipped with Mute Technology.

Add to the noise annoys column leaf blowers and barking dogs...

For your ears only!

Noma in Copenhagen Wins Top Spot at 2010 S.Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Awards

The judges spoke and rendered their verdict for S.Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants on April 26 in London.


Chez Rene Redzepi wins top spot (best in the world) with his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.


Following Noma are El Bulli at number 2 and The Fat Duck at Number 3.

So Top 3 is all European.

The best restaurant in North America award goes to Alinea (Chicago) whose chef Grant Achatz collected his prize a day after his birthday, icing on the cake.

Not one French establishment made it in the Top 10 as Lizzy Davies notes in Sacré bleu! French rue absence from world's top 10 restaurants (Guardian, April 28).

She quotes Francois Simon (Le Figaro) as stating:

"Can one declare an excellent crêperie to be better than a delicious couscous restaurant (or a sushi place, a [Vietnamese] pho cafe, a trattoria ...)? How silly to try to carve that in stone," he wrote, adding, in a sideswipe at the list's UK origins: "And yet our friends, who rarely cross their own borders, have just published this idiotic classification."

Should we call for an end to all awards?

(* top illustration taken at the event by Fine Dining Explorer...thanks to Noma for dining room photo by Mads Damgaard).