Review: “Night of Decadence & Gourmet Indulgence” at French Cheese Board Aug. 24

Cover Photo: French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

A bit 50 Shades of Grey perhaps, but with a better plot © WhereNYC

A bit 50 Shades of Grey perhaps, but with a better plot © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: Blindfolded and completely helpless can actually be a sensual experience, especially when it involves creamy cheese, sinfully silky chocolate and a little naughty imagination. The sixteen invited guests sat at table in the back of The French Cheese Board and took the lid off a very special mystery box challenge.

Our hosts Antonie and Hubert toast before the fun begins.

Santé! Our hosts chocolate connoisseur Anthony and Hubert of the French Cheese Board. ©WhereNYC

Review: Cheese and Chocolate: Two things that I never thought I’d pair together, and I hate myself for typing this, but they actually can work. But my seatmate, chocolate enthusiast Clay Gordon of The Chocolate Life, felt little guilt, and like everyone else, was enjoying the experience.

Blindfolded guests savored cheese and chocolate pairings ©WhereNYC

Blindfolded guests savored cheese and chocolate pairings ©WhereNYC

“If you try something new rather than go with something you know works, you sometimes discover a combination that’s delicious.” Well said Clay, and the pairings we had were nothing short of creative.

Of course with our blindfolds, we weren’t allowed any peeking. All I could hear was whispering in French from our hosts, taking care not to divulge the contents of our box. Whether we started with cheese and then chocolate or the other way round, it didn’t matter. They could work simultaneously.

What's in the box? Round 1 of our tasting experience © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

What’s in the box? Round 1 of our tasting experience © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Various combinations presented in four rounds bordered on being bizarre with bold flavors of triple crème and dark bitter chocolate, for example, but all of them were really delicious. Hubert and Anthony seemed to be walking that tightrope between perfection and overkill with each round. I really enjoyed the slightly bitter dark chocolate orange with the slightly tangy, sour chèvre, or goat cheese, but the big shocker was salty cheddar-like Cantal with sweet milk chocolate. The nuttiness of the Cantal mixed beautifully with the sweet creaminess of the chocolate. I lifted my blindfold in disbelief. Did I just eat it all? I took a swig of sparkling cider, surmising my empty box.

The event was nicely done, but although we learned about cheese and chocolates they selected, we never knew how or why they came up with the pairing ideas, or the idea of serving sparkling cider. Was it the result of careful planning with a little inventiveness or the result of a drunken 3am fridge binge? Who knows, but just when you thought you knew everything, the French Cheese Board has surprised us once again.

For upcoming events, visit French Cheese Board.


Review: Himalayan Heritage Meet Up with Tsering Wangmo Dhompa the Rubin Museum Wed Aug 17, 2016

Cover Photo © WhereNYC

Bottom Line: Writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa sat down with Tashi Chodron of the Rubin Museum for a discussion on her  book, Coming Home to Tibet,  which is both a homage to her late mother and a connection between life, death, heritage and future.

Writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa with Tashi Chodron of the Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

Writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa with Tashi Chodron of the Rubin Museum draped in white scarves © WhereNYC

Review: Connections and identity: the two themes that kept appearing throughout the Tashi Chodron’s introduction and Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s discussion of her book Coming Home to Tibet. We listened to Ms. Chodron guide us through the artifacts displayed before us in the shrine room on the fourth floor.

There were Tibetan paintings, but it was the story of two taras, white and green, that seemed to relate to Ms. Dhompa’s personal story. The green tara, the mother of all children, the protector seated in relaxed pose, intrigued me. Perhaps our mothers have a certain divinity, I wondered. But we are also connected to them, and the stories they tell give us our identity.

Several other events were going on at The Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

Several other events were going on at The Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

During her book talk, Ms. Dhompa said her mother longed to return to Tibet and often spoke to her about how amazing everything was in the homeland.  Like many Tibetans who escaped the Chinese invasion or grew up as refugees in India or Nepal, it was their parents’ storytelling that helped them keep connected to their Tibetan identity. Ms. Dhompa seemed also to be inspired by it.

In her own displacement, Tsering Dhompa said it was her mother’s stories of pre-1959 Tibet that made a sort of imaginary ideal land or phayul as she called it. Her ancestral homeland, she described in her book, was a savage but unforgivingly beautiful wilderness in the Tibetan mountains.

There is an uncommonly harsh beauty to the Tibetan landscape. Its nakedness makes it seem incapable of deception, but under its calm deportment it conceals winds so brutal that yaks are known to die while their jaws are in masticating bliss.

Her mother, a newly-wed to a nomadic chief who fled to India during the invasion, often thought she’d one day return to her phayul and once more see the wildflowers bloom. That moment never came. She tragically died in a road accident on a distant highway in India in 1994. Fifteen years later, her daughter, Ms. Dhompa, made her first journey to Tibet to return her mother’s ashes and finally see the ideal phayul she had often heard about as a child.

Ann Tashi Slater's book talk was also a huge success at the last Himalayan Heritage event © WhereNYC

Ann Tashi Slater’s book talk was also a huge success at the last Himalayan Heritage event © WhereNYC

Tibet was very different from what she had imagined. Somewhere between her mother’s stories and the reality of the country today, the idea of space and time changed. The Tibet her mother left had almost completely vanished. The Tibetans of today now have to contend with the influx of Chinese settlers and mechanized lifestyle. The industrial landscape was far different to the ideal phayul Ms. Dhompa had imagined. Tibetans now live in thick concrete towers, each apartment equipped with a microwave oven, T.V., shower and phone. In spite of these modern conveniences, the Tibetans, according to Ms. Dhompa, have understood that their way of life is rapidly disappearing as more Chinese settle in. She found that further away from the cities and in the harsh wilderness, however, the nomadic Tibetan culture was still very much alive. Although the dialect she grew up speaking with her parents is from this region, she still found it difficult to explain her life in America to her distant relatives. Many of them had never even seen a map of the world let alone Tibet and had difficulty understanding when she described her career or even Western technology. They had little concept of even simple things that we take for granted. “How could I speak of a donut?” she joked when they would only wonder about the reason for the hole in the center.

The sounds of India classical instruments rose from the lobby of the Rubin. © WhereNYC

The sounds of India classical instruments rose from the lobby of the Rubin. © WhereNYC

Ms. Dhompa became a writer by practice and perseverance. It started off as poems to her mother when she was a child in boarding school. “In the process of writing, I began to learn how to write,” she explained to us. “Stories bridge connections.” And it is these links that keep a community’s identity alive, according to her. Perhaps so, but for an individual, writing is not always about the greater good or collective memory. It is also at times very personal and unique.  Ms. Dhompa’s writing style is so vivid, almost poetic. Ms. Dhompa may speak with a quiet, calm voice, but her writing contains powerful images.

When describing the different kinds of Tibetans in her book, she had this to say about the cowboy-like khampa people:

Ask a khampa and he will speak gladly torrential vehemence that stirs in his blood. Ask the people in Lhasa, for they too have heard stories that will ratify the quick temper and brashness of the khampas.

As she read sections of her book, with the sounds of an Indian classical instrument coming from the lobby below us, I was transported to another world, completely alien but strangely familiar and comforting. Although we’ve had different upbringings, I could see similarities between her story and my own life. Both our ancestral lands were taken from our kin. War, invasion and, in my family’s case, partition, have also become part of our identities. Even her account of her mother’s ashes she brought to Tibet reminded me of my own voyage to India , although I can only imagine the extraordinary amount of courage, devotion, and love she must have had in making the difficult journey.

Tsering Wangpo Dhompa © WhereNYC

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa © WhereNYC

I remembered dispersing my father’s ashes in the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, and partially regretting that I didn’t take them back to Sialkot in what’s now Pakistan, my dad’s phayul. Like Ms. Dhompa’s mother, my father had also fled when he was young and spent much of his life longing to return. The stories of life before Partition on the rare chance my dad talked about them, made me think of Northern Punjab as a magical place of unparalleled beauty.

Our host, Ms. Chodron, who like Ms. Dhompa, was born in exile in India listened teary-eyed to Ms. Dhompa’s description of a land that she had never seen. The sounds of sniffles from their fellow countrymen, refugees from Tibet, seated around me felt eerily like the scene in Casablanca when the French exiles passionately sing La Marseillaise in defiance to the German soldiers. I tried hard to fight back the tears, but in the end, I gave up. As the event drew to a close, the Tibetans from the audience queued to greet Ms. Dhompa, and one by one, they draped her in beautiful white, silk scarves as a traditional blessing or perhaps just to say “thanks” for writing an amazing story.

The next Himalayan Heritage Meet Up is in September.

Review: French Tuesdays Summer Champagne Cruise August 16, 2016

Cover Photo © Daniel Serrette

Bottom Line:  Even a thunderstorm didn’t rainout the party, as the Champagne Cruise pulled out into New York harbor.


Champagne cruise © Daniel Serrette


Meet and mingle on deck © Daniel Serrette

Review: French Tuesdays is now in its 13th year and with chapters in 13 cities both here and abroad. Yet, it still is the eternal party, a refuge from the mundane weekday work existence. Nothing, of course, lasts forever. But as we get older and move on, the party is and will always be as fresh as ever with new faces and others who come back. FT has hopped among Manhattan’s chicest rooftop lounges and hotels to the raunchiest, why-I-love-France-decadent burlesque shows at the Box theatre, and  to this evening,  a three-storey cruise set sail in New York’s waters. It will never stop, even when we have to. With the city lights dazzling before your eyes, for a moment, you are in a timeless bliss floating on water and chatting with new friends.

French Tuesdays Bastille Day at the Sky Lounge © Daniel Serrette

French Tuesdays Bastille Day at the Sky Lounge © Daniel Serrette

Nothing else matters as you take a sip of champagne and peer back star-like New York skyline. But as the bar finally closed this evening, and the boat drifted back to shore, the somber feeling of impending doom crept back. Tomorrow’s back to the usual: subway, work, sleep – but tonight was different and far more special.

For information on the upcoming French Tuesdays party at the Sky Terrace or membership visit the FT website.















Review: DNC Watch Party with Keli Goff at the Greene Space Jul 28, 2016

From left to right: Jami Floyd, Ron Christie, Lynn Sher, Cheri Jacobus, Mikki Taylor and moderator Keli Goff  ©  Courtesy The Greene Space at WNYC.

Bottom Line: Instead of “watching the Democratic Convention alone in your pajamas while screaming at your T.V.,” the Greene Space Convention Watch Party treated us to wine and a rare, thoughtful discussion about presidential politics .

Review: It goes without saying that this campaign season has been anything but predictable. And in the the midst of constant mudslinging among spin doctors and media pundits, the Greene Space Political Party, however, was a welcomed alternative and happily devoid of talking points. Similarly to the Republican Convention Watch Evening, tonight’s discussion was also broadcasted live on the WNYC Facebook page. Led by moderator Keli Goff, the nearly four-hour event featured several components including a video link up with WNYC correspondent Lee Hill at the DNC in Philadelphia and a one-on-one chat with Brooke Gladstone before the speeches began.

Moderator Keli Goff ©

Moderator Keli Goff ©

Comprised of journalists, authors and political heavy weights, the panel of experts on stage included: stylist to the Obama family and author of Commander in Chic Mikki Taylor, Republican strategist and former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney Ron Christie, former ABC 20/20 journalist and author Lynn Sherr, conservative media pundit Cheri Jacobus, fashion correspondent and author Teri Agins, and host for WNYC All Things Considered Jami Floyd.

Between the convention speeches shown on the big screen, the experts at the Greene Space compared the RNC and DNC, with everyone agreeing that Cleveland was a disaster. The Republicans, according to Mr. Christie, carried negativity to an extreme level. Veteran reporter Ms. Sher, who had witnessed the calamity at 1968 DNC in Chicago when working for the Associated Press, found this year’s convention incredibly controlled in Philadelphia, despite disturbance from Bernie Sanders’ protesters.

I would have liked the panel, however, to comment more on the fervent nationalist sentiment with chants of U.S.A! and waving of giant flags, and the themes of security evoked by the Democrats who somehow managed to take the preserve of the GOP, who traditionally have been perceived as the strong-on-defense and law-and-order party. After watching Kazir Khan’s emotional and scathing attack on Donald Trump and Retired four star General John Allen’s full throated support for Hillary Clinton, it surprised me that the panelists had little to say on this.

Mikki Taylor © Black Enterprise

Mikki Taylor © Black Enterprise

Jami Floyd ©Matthew Septimus

Jami Floyd ©Matthew Septimus

But when discussing the success of Donald Trump, many agreed that certain news publications could have done better reporting on Trump. Whereas New York news agencies understood who he was, Washington reporters, perhaps trying to appear more balanced, did not call him out enough on things he said that weren’t true. It reminded me of Paul Krugman’s recent Op-Ed in the Times, which he warned of allowing false statements to go unchecked in the press.

Different for Girls 

The evening’s most passionate exchange on the panel was on gender roles in both the media and politics and the pressure women face knowing that they are judged according to their appearance.  Women leaders are now looking to maintain their femininity but with a more power look, according to Ms. Goff who talked about the new age of power dressing. The discussion turned to which pant suit Clinton would wear during her speech, which Ms. Sher correctly predicted “all white.”

The Greene Space © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

The Greene Space © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Ms. Floyd said that women have to accept the they’re held to a higher standard in terms of their looks. While it is true that women bear the brunt of having to constantly manage their looks and style, in recent times men in the workplace are also pressured to invest in their appearance to get ahead. Sales for men’s accessories have surged as more males are looking to set themselves apart. Terms like “metrosexual” unfortunately suggest a perception that skews appearance with sexuality. When judging politicians and journalists, we should look more for substance than physical appearance, but I agreed with Ms. Floyd that little else can be done.

Ron Christie ©

Ron Christie ©

The MTV Effect and Social Pressure

The pressure on gender norms may have been a hot topic, but the  panel discussed an uglier side of their profession. As Ms. Sher put it, the smoke-filled rooms in the age of Walter Cronkite have long since passed. Today’s 24-hour news cycle requires cable networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox to repeat information in order to fill in space. Ms. Gladstone complained of seeing the same clips of Susan Sarandon or journalists asking mourning Sanders’ delegates whether they would back Clinton.

Social media such as Facebook or Twitter now allow everyone to become pundits. Ms. Gladstone said media outlets are now under pressure to create clickable pieces. The tweet has replaced the soundbyte, and it’s about “red hots rather than red meats,” where facts stripped down of nuance are spun into clever one-liners. Whether it’s true, she said that people don’t want to hear what they don’t agree with.

The Darker Side of Twitter

The certain anonymity that social media brings also appears to encourage malicious behavior. Many of the panelists themselves have had their fair share of online harassment. Ms. Goff complained of sexist and even borderline racist attacks from some zealous Bernie-or-bust supporters while conservative strategist Ms. Jacobus discovered a bogus Twitter account in her name with actual photos of her family. The likely suspect, surrogates of Trump’s campaign who have been scathing in relentless personal attacks against her.

Cheri Jacobus ©

Cheri Jacobus ©

Mr. Christie, also a Republican, African-American and once part of Ohio governor John Kaisich’s presidential campaign, said he experienced racial abuse from some Trump supporters. But what he finds more worrying is how the debate has digressed into “boxing everyone in” for political purpose, forcing everyone, as Trevor Noah of the Daily Show put it, to be one or the other.

Indeed others like Mr. Christie have felt pressure to fit into political norms. Ms. Jacobus committed the ultimate Republican apostasy and left the GOP after having worked for decades in conservative politics. She said, a combination of GOP threats and Trump’s infamous tweets have damaged her career. While neither Mr. Christie nor Jacobus have warmed to Clinton, they have become increasingly disillusioned by the direction of their party as many other notable GOP figures also decided to skip Cleveland.

History made © WhereNYC

History made © WhereNYC

When Hillary Clinton finally gave her speech accepting the nomination, I noticed all-female panel had become quiet and reflective. Whether they agreed with her politics or had remain unbiased journalists, it finally hit them and most of us in the audience that this is the first time in our history that a major political party has nominated a woman for president of United States. Although there is still a long way to go for genuine equality, the first ceiling finally broke.