Review: “Obama in Black and White” Political Party with Keli Goff at the Greene Space Sept. 12, 2016

Cover image: From left to right: CNN anchor Don Lemon, writer Daryl Davis, Republican strategist Ron Christie, writer and political correspondent Jonathan Alter with WNYC moderator Keli Goff. © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: In the world of talking points, spin cycles and political punditry, the Political Party with WNYC host Keli Goff offers a refreshingly poignant discussion on contentious issues facing ordinary Americans.

The panel shares a light-hearted moment at Greene Space WNYC © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

The panel shares a light-hearted moment at Greene Space WNYC © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

Review: It’s hard to imagine that eight years ago, a senator and a man of Kenyan and American heritage, completely reshaped the electoral map, defeating Sen. John McCain in a blowout. And after nearly a decade, Obama’s final months in the Oval Office are now coming to an end, but what will be his legacy on race relations and how will this affect the next administration?

It’s an impossible question to answer within a small chunk of time, but WNYC’s Keli Goff asked the panel whether race relations have improved during Obama’s two terms. These days it’s difficult to say anything positive with the numerous videos of police shootings of unarmed black citizens and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was refreshing to see a panel of diverse political opinions and life experiences engage in a rare thoughtful conversation, happily devoid of the Sunday Morning talk show bullet points.

The Greene Space events are often informal and welcoming. © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

The Greene Space events are often informal and welcoming. © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

“The Racial Divide” – Jonathan Alter 

While most on the panel agreed that the daily lives of Americans have less racial divisions than before, Obama’s presidency has continually exposed the deep-rooted racially-motivated anger and xenophobia.

From the so-called birther movement, which  falsely claimed that Obama was Kenyan and therefore ineligible to be President, exposed a hatred that continues to plague America. “Like rubbing salt into a wound,” according to Jonathan Alter, the rightwing press, notably Fox News, seized on it, fueling the movement in order to improve its ratings. And with Donald Trump as the GOP’s presidential nominee “fringe politics,” from those on the far right, have moved into the heart of mainstream discussions, particularly visible on social media platforms.

Jonathan Alter gives his take at the Greene Space © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

Jonathan Alter gives his take at the Greene Space © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

For those “once part of a club” see their world disappearing, and Obama, according to Mr. Alter, represents an unfamiliar and “changing America,” to certain white Americans who have taken on a defensive posture, or an “us against them” position. The Tea Party is also a product of that “hate”, often evoking ideas of the “K.K.K. in 1954,” added fellow panelist, blues musician and author of Klan-destine Relations, Daryl Davis.

“Living in a bubble” – Ron Christie

While the panel discussed a great many topics about Obama’s presidency and race relations, the poignant theme of the evening was how the conversation on race has digressed. “More people are talking at each other rather than to each other,” according to CNN anchor Don Lemon. Conservative political strategist, Ron Christie, who is also African-American, believes that too many are “living in a bubble” or mold, where either you are for or against.

The DNC Watch Party with WNYC's Keli Goff also featured informed, intelligent conversation. © The Greene Space

The DNC Watch Party with WNYC’s Keli Goff also featured informed, intelligent conversation. © The Greene Space

Although there was plenty of harsh words for Fox News and the right, Mr. Alter like many on the panel, were equally scathing of the PCU-style political correctness that “shuts down debate” on college campuses like at Wesleyan University, where protesters threatened to boycott the school newspaper for an editorial criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Simply casting someone as racist because they don’t agree has greatly damaged the debate and made people afraid to have a frank discussion. “It becomes a list of dirty laundry of things to say in their community but not to others,” Mr. Lemon said.

Both Ron Christie and Keli Goff had their share of personal, sometimes racist and misogynistic attacks from both Trump and Bernie-or-Bust supporters for their criticisms of the two candidates. This kind of intimidation has worked to silence rather than encourage debate.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” – Daryl Davis

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis in a new documentary: Race & America is a new documentary by director Matt Ornstein. © NBC News

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis in a new documentary: Race & America is a new documentary by director Matt Ornstein. © NBC News

Perhaps Obama’s legacy should be about engagement rather than division. At times, according to Mr. Christie, it came at cost, when he negotiated with Republicans first before members of his own party during the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act. It is through engagement, however, that people can find common ground. Mr. Davis, also black American, went down south to write a book on the K.K.K. and ended up striking friendships with Klan members. At first, it wasn’t easy showing to their homes. “Some just shut the door; others fought and I fought back, but most let me into their homes,” he said. “It is the first five minutes that you begin to find common ground,” he added, but his “reaching out” actually bore unlikely friendships with many of these white supremacists, convincing them to eventually leave the Klan.

The takeaway point of the evening is not to shut out debate and disagreement. It shouldn’t be a battle, simplified as “black and white.” Once we engage and listen to one another we begin to see commonalities and less division, according to Mr. Davis. A theme that also characterizes the Political Party series at Greene Space that take down barriers and foster meaningful exchanges between unlikely friends.

Don’t miss actor Ethan Hawke and WNYC’s Rebecca Carroll talk on race this Friday, Sept. 30th.

Review: Cheese and Japanese Tea Pairing Event at the French Cheese Board, Sept 24, 2016

Cover image: © WhereNYC

Brie Fermier paired well with Gyokuro © WhereNYC

Brie Fermier paired well with Gyokuro © WhereNYC

Bottom Line: Rather than just an attempt to be different, the French Cheese Board’s pairing collaboration with Japanese tea purveyor Nippon Cha of Bayside and Japanese craft dealer Takenobu was the product of careful thought and with a little je ne sais quoi.

Cheese and Japanese Tea Pairing © Kaori Mahajan for WHereNYC

Cheese and Japanese Tea Pairing © Kaori Mahajan for WHereNYC

Review: “Here goes,” I muttered to myself as I bit into a morsel of brie and chased it down with a gulp of green tea.  I tried to imagine what could be worse than what I was about to taste. Far from the combo of orange juice and Crest toothpaste that I had imagined, my eyes opened in disbelief. It was actually very pleasant. Anything but an unorthodox pairing of pure insani-tea, matching French cheese with Japanese tea really works.

“You’ve got to remember that like wine, tea also has tannic acid which can cut through the fattiness of cheese and compliment it without overpowering, ” according to freelance food consultant and sommelier Richard Eng, who helped organize the event. It has a bitter-like quality that works like a perfect foil against the creamy texture and salty notes of cheese. When considering similar combinations, it is no surprise that caffeine and dairy can pair in harmony. Indians often brew Darjeeling, the champagne of teas, with milk, and serve it with traditional sweets like Chum-chums, made of milk. Even Westerners enjoy a coffee while lingering over an end-of-meal cheeseboard.

Japanese tea ceremony accompanied by Cantal © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Japanese tea ceremony accompanied by Cantal © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Both strong cheeses and Japanese foods are far more versatile than some may think. Recently, we have begun to enjoy more pairings of Japanese and Western cuisines. According to John Gaunter of Sake World, Japanese sake and certain hard cheeses pair well. Similarly, Japanese tea can also take on strong flavors, adding a certain refreshing alternative to wine that contrasts the creamy notes of French cheese.

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The Japanese tea and French cheese pairing took our taste buds to new heights. © WhereNYC

At the back table, our hosts served cheese and a tasting flight of Japanese teas arranged on a pairing diagram. While all the tea and cheese combinations at this event were good, they were three pairings that really stood out. The Gyokuro and Brie Fermier has a lovely fresh, characteristic that balanced nicely. The slightly bitter, roasted brown rice mix genmaicha, a personal favorite, surprised me as I combined it with the salty nuttiness of Abondance from the Rhône Alps. Finally, the showstopper was the pairing of Bleu d’Auvergne and Satsuma Koucha, a fermented black tea. Strange as it may sound, it was probably the best combination that I had tried.

Takenobu showcased some beautiful Japanese crafts.

Takenobu showcased some beautiful Japanese crafts. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Guests at the French Cheese Board also participated in a mini Japanese tea ceremony with cheese pairing. The level of attention to detail, featured at the ceremony table was extraordinary. With delicate, precise motions, tea  master Yoshitsugu Nagano, offered guests perfectly cubed morsels of cantal using bamboo serving tweezers. Each stylized movement was carefully choreographed from cleaning the tea utensils to measuring matcha with a traditional spoon, or chashaku.

As he handed us a bowl of tea, we bowed and accepted with two hands, gently turning the bowl twice. Behind our seated tea host, Yoshitsugu had arranged small shrine-like décor invoking themes of autumn. A bowl of arranged with dango, a kind of mochi, and a thin stem of dried wheat sat next to text in Japanese from an ancient Chinese philosophy. Although I could not see what it said, Yoshitsugu explained that it was part of his own interpretation of changing seasons. A small detail but told an amazing story.

It was an afternoon to remember, and once again, the French Cheese Board has taken our palettes to new, delicious territory.

Don’t miss FCB’s upcoming Clandestine Blue Soirée on Sept. 27.

Review: Fall Open House FIAF French Classes Sept. 17, 2016

Cover image: French Trivia Party at FIAF © Bjorn Hanson

Bottom Line: A refreshingly chilled out family-friendly Saturday at FIAF, where guests attended free sample French classes and enjoyed a trivia battle with wine and cheese.

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Children’s storytime à la française © Charlotte Sivrière

Review: With an ambience sometimes resembling a commando raid on Black Friday, every year, FIAF hosts its annual Tuesday Open House and Ciné Salon. Wildly popular to the point of zealotry, crowds pour in over each other, invading every corner of the French Institute in search of free booze and cheese and leaving little room to breathe. This year, however, FIAF offered two free events in the same week!

Annual Tuesday Open House at the FIAF, 2015 © WhereNYC

Annual Tuesday Open House at the FIAF, 2015 © WhereNYC

In addition to its usual Tuesday bash on September 13th, FIAF also hosted a much more relaxed, family-friendly alternative on Saturday, showcasing its language classes for children and adults, library tours, and playing a fun game of trivia while mingling over a glass of wine and cheese plate. Perks included a 10% discount for those choosing to register for fall classes.

Structured, yet cheerful, Saturday’s free event featured a set of three interactive, 30-minute mini-classes for kids ages 2-13 and “Storytime” in the library, where they listened to children’s stories in French.

For adults, FIAF offered essential travel themed French classes for beginning, intermediate and advance levels. Grownup subjects included practical topics in French such as: asking for directions, shopping, and dining out to more cutesy, daring themes of how to flirt with potential bed-friends in a bar.

The FIAF Bastille Day is also an annual must-attend treat (c) Brittany Buongiorno

The FIAF Bastille Day is also an annual must-attend treat (c) Brittany Buongiorno

Following the free classes, library tours and scavenger hunt, grownups headed down to the Tinker Auditorium for an open wine bar and cheese mingle while testing their knowledge of Francophone trivia. With a chance to win an expensive bottle of wine, each team played for the kill in the best of five rounds. Randomly pairing the up guests proved to be the perfect icebreaker to chat new people. In the end, everyone won. Regardless of those unlucky in defeat still enjoyed free wine, cheese, pastries and charcuterie without having to deal with the mob of Tuesday’s Open House.

FIAF events are great for meeting new faces and enjoying French wine ©WhereNYC

FIAF events are great for meeting new faces and enjoying French wine ©WhereNYC

If you missed either open house events, you can still catch the action at First Tuesdays every month for free sample classes and FIAF members’ wine-filled meet-and-greets.

Review: Jasper Hill Farm Cheese Talk at the Barnyard Collective Sept. 15, 2016

Cover image: Jasper Hill Cheeses: from clockwise from left: Harbison, Bayley Hazen Blue and Willoughby ©WhereNYC

Bottom Line:  Is making cheese an art, science or craft? Or is it a little of both? Mateo Kehler of Cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont, one of the East Coast’s best rising cheese producers, gave a talk to cheese-lovers, mongers, industry experts and food biologists at the Barnyard Collective.

Barnyard periodically host cheese-related events. © WhereNYC

Barnyard periodically host cheese-related events. © WhereNYC

Review: It began as the impossible dream. Mateo, a self-described “dirty hippy sleeping in the bushes,” and his brother, Andy, bought 15 heifers and began producing milk to make cheese. Their creation Cellars of Jasper Hill, one of America’s best local cheese producers, has grown to over 234 acres, where the Kehler brothers make over 11 different cheeses.

Although many may not have heard of Jasper Hill Farm, their cheeses are available at high end cheese shops like Murray’s Cheese in West Village and Grand Central Station, and various locations of Whole Foods Market and Citarella. While the competition from the East Coast, let alone France and the rest of Europe is fierce, the brothers’ commitment to making quality cheese borders on zealotry with incredibly delicious results.

Plenty of cheese and mingling at the Barnyard's Fonduel © WhereNYC

Plenty of cheese and mingling at the Barnyard’s Fonduel © WhereNYC

On each of our tables, we were issued with three generous wedges of: Bayley Hazen Blue, a raw milk, Stilton-esque blue cheese delight and one of my favorites. Next was Willoughby, a beautiful, buttery washed rind cheese, similar to Virginia’s Grayson, but a little milder in character. Finally, a perfect room temperature creamy Harbison, wrapped in strips of spruce bark.

For these two brothers, Jasper Hill is not a casual hobby of two grown men dabbling in cheese-making. It is a complete money-making operation. And for good reason. Their farm soaks up close to $30,000 day, leaving little room for error. Mateo, who had studied cheesemaking in the U.K. and France, decided that “total control” was the only way Jasper Hill could be a success. While some milk farmers have turned to making cheeses or even ice cream as a value-added or side product, Mateo and Andy are on a different mission. Their farm is not to produce milk but to make perfect cheeses.

Cheese, honey and wine with Bee Raw Honey at the Barnyard Collective © WhereNYC

Cheese, honey and wine with Bee Raw Honey at the Barnyard Collective © WhereNYC

“Cheesemaking is a craft rather than art or just science,” Mateo told the audience, but the latter plays a major part in producing the best quality milk for making cheeses. The Kehler brothers have become scientific experts in their craft. There are a few tricks of science that every cheesemaker should know, according to Mateo. Milk doesn’t last long because it’s not meant to be outside the body. And balancing the microbiology and knowing what kinds of microbes are needed will determine the final product. For example, “fewer enzymes (as in the case of hard cheeses) mean a longer shelf life.”

Mateo Kehler talking about the science of cheesemaking © WhereNYC

Mateo Kehler talking about the science of cheesemaking © WhereNYC

Contrary to what many of us had thought in the audience, cows don’t actually digest grass. They, instead, ferment, digesting the microbes that surround the blades of grass. Grass alone isn’t sufficient for cows to produce lactic acids; they need more fuel from grains and corn. According to Mateo, it is “a balance of energy and proteins” and a stable metabolism to produce the milk. Cows also need around 500 minutes a day for rumination, meaning lying about and lazily chewing cud. At Jasper Hill, the cows forage freely rather than stay in a stockade. It requires exhaustive daily testing on the cows’ diet and whether they are free of infections.

Since Jasper Hill is GMO-free, it also limits what Mateo can feed his heifers. To rectify this, they have begun weaning their cows off of grains and pushing them to forage different kinds of hay, grass and other options. And while many cheese makers also obtain cheesemaking cultures from large chemical companies such as Dupont, Jasper Hill is one of the few establishments that has its own lab and biologist. It is so rare that French winemakers have taken notice, trekking across the pond to visit Cellars at Jasper Hill.

Heaven on a slate © WhereNYC

Heaven on a slate © WhereNYC

Some of Jasper Hill’s cheeses use raw rather than pasteurized milk, which has attracted unwanted attention from the FDA, who according to Mateo, has discouraged the operation entirely. In fact, according to the French Cheese Board, Cantal is one of the few raw milk cheeses that FDA allows in the country.

For those in the audience sipping Sixpoint lagers and sampling the amazing cheeses, it was clear that Mateo and Andy have done wonders with their operation. Rather than depending on outside companies that might compromise the quality of their products, the brothers have taken on the cause themselves. And with an uncertain future, food scarcity and climate change, the Kehler brothers have become among America’s top pioneers of sustainable cheesemaking.

Review: “Gifu, The Heartland of Japan” at the Japan Society Sept. 8, 2016

Graeme Howard © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Graeme Howard © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Cover image: Live Jikabuki peformance © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Jikabuki performers strike a pose for Gifu © WhereNYC

Jikabuki performers strike a pose for Gifu © WhereNYC

Bottom Line: Any traveler fortunate to visit Japan must include Gifu on the itinerary. Although too often overlooked by outsiders, the Japanese have a certain affinity for its arts and crafts, fine foods and breathtaking views. At the Japan Society, armed with hidagyu beef, sake and jikabuki performers the Gifu Office of Tourism put on a spectacular show.

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Shirakawa-go © ELLE.vn

Review: A trip to Japan without visiting Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, may seem unthinkable or unforgivable to many Japanophiles, but the Gifu prefecture has always held a special place in the Japanese people’s hearts. Its rustic charm of thatched roofed houses in villages like Shirakawa-go in the picturesque satoyama, reminiscent of a Hobbit Shire, have long drawn Japanese tourists, escaping modern Japan, to its famous onsen spas, beautiful nature parks and peaceful environment, completely devoid of animé, bright lights and Hello Kitty. For the Japanese, Gifu is a sanctuary, where one can connect to a region that “still embraces tradition,” according Gifu Tourism spokesman, Graeme Howard, a Canadian expat who has made Gifu his home. Thanks to the efforts of the local government and the Japanese people, Gifu is finally getting the recognition it richly deserves. As of 2016, UNESCO declared Shirakawa-go a world heritage site, with several more places in Gifu on the waiting list. Then of course, there is Hida-Takayama, a city whose roots can be traced back to thousands of years, which is nestled in the satoyama valley. To call it “Little Kyoto”, would be a gross understatement.

One of the exquiiste ramen bowls on display © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

One of the exquiiste ramen bowls on display © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Although it may not top an outsider’s list of places to visit in Japan, Gifu has long attracted artists like Isamu Noguchi whose Akari lampshade design was inspired by both the traditional mino washi paper and the glowing lanterns of the night Coromant fisherman, similar to their kin who hunt elvers under the Basque moonlight. Long appreciated as a center for crafts, Gifu has had several living national treasures including mino yaki pottery icons: Toyozō Arakawa and Tōkuro Katō  to more recently Takuo Katō who revived an ancient Persian lusterware, a rare type of metal glazed porcelain that had almost vanished in Iran.

A perfect parcel: Salmon and salmon roe in a magnolia leaf © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

A perfect parcel: Salmon and salmon roe in a magnolia leaf
© Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

For those lucky enough to visit Gifu, it is also known for its onsen, or public spa baths that are so pervasive in the region, according to Mr. Howard, that one can even wade their feet in outdoor foot baths before heading to their next meal.

Americans hear the term Kobe beef or wagyu, often falsely advertised on restaurant menus, but many on this side of the Pacific have never heard of Hidagyu, which for over ten years has been voted best beef in Japan. Following the showcase on Gifu culture, guests at the Japan Society each received a plate of local delicacies including: a perfectly-melt-in-your-mouth grilled Hidagyu brochette and slider, mochi rice on a stick smothered in uni walnut miso and beautiful parcel of salmon and salmon roe wrapped in a hoba leaf. As we savored our dishes, we marveled at the exquisite donburi ramen bowls, handcrafted by some of Japan’s leading artists like Tadanori Yokoo and Tabaimo.

Sake cups at the reception © WhereNYC

State-of-the-art sake cups from Kohyo in Gifu, the same sake tastes different according to the glass © WhereNYC

Gifu’s history dates back to the 7th century, but far from a land, where time forgot, it has adapted and intertwined with other communities’ histories in distant continents. In the name of historical preservation of both the Japanese and American civil wars, the societies of Sekigahara and Gettysburg made a campaign to promote peace and understanding for future generations.  One of the most unexpectedly moving stories, however, was Dr. Sylvia W. Smoller’s talk of Ambassador Chiune Sugihara. A seemingly ordinary bureaucrat working at a Japanese consulate in Lithuania took an extraordinary stand and issued some 6000 visas to Jews escaping the nazis. What made a man take such risks to save a community with whom he had little connection, we may never know. His courage to help others, however, was inspiring. In honor of his memory, visitors today in Gifu can see the Sugihara House and learn about the lives of the people he saved.

Heaven on a plate. Hidagyu and other Gifu delicacies © WhereNYC

Heaven on a plate. Hidagyu and other Gifu delicacies © WhereNYC

Following the guest speakers and live performances, we chatted over sake and hidagyu beef in the reception lobby. Although the event had come to a close, the buzz still carried as people posed for pictures with the jikabuki performers and gazed at the ramen bowls. As we exited, each of us received a miniature dish from Kohyo. Whatever happens in the future, Gifu now tops my destination list.

 

 

Review: “From Earth to the Divine” at the Tibet House Sept. 9, 2016

Bottom Line: For the first time, the Tibet House in Chelsea invited the public to the opening a very special exhibition of traditional and modern Mongolian art. Rather than being too conceptual, the artists molded both the old and new in a surprisingly uplifting display of the familiar to the very frightening beauty of Mongolian nomadic culture.

Traditional Mongolian dance, beautifully choreographed to the sounds a full-on punk rocky string instrumental. © WhereNYC

Traditional Mongolian dance, beautifully choreographed to the sounds a full-on punk rocky string instrumental. © WhereNYC

Review: Hidden and yet savagely breathtaking, Mongolia, a landlocked country high on a plateau and sandwiched between two regional hegemonies, is often overlooked or even misunderstood by outsiders. Its very own remoteness has made it sanctuary from the bordering military powers. Mongolia is anything but an extension of Russia or China. It is a nation of many languages, heritages and tribes who have managed to preserve their way of existence, not my military might, but through harmony and reclusiveness.

Wild yet beautiful, imposed but natural defines Mongolian art © WhereNYC

Wild yet beautiful, imposed but natural defines Mongolian art © WhereNYC

Mongolia’s nomadic heritage, stemming from the lineage of various tribes and peoples, is about survival in a harsh, unforgiving environment and thriving spirit. In spite of its seemingly isolated position, Mongolian traditional culture and art share common traits with other societies in distant continents. One would be mistaken to dismiss Mongolian culture as primitive, but it is ever-lasting as its people have found ways to carry on free of outside pressure.

The Wild West of Mongolia © Ganbaatar Choimbol.

The Wild West of Mongolia © Ganbaatar Choimbol.

As I looked at the artwork, I remembered a line from Toby Ziegler of the TV program The West Wing, who once argued that “there is a connection between progress of a society and progress in the arts.”  Perhaps, it wasn’t so much about progress with measuring Mongolian art, but bringing out what had been there all along. The artists at the exhibit brought a unique flair putting their own stamp on traditional arts and crafts. Some works resembled the Tsam masks originally used to ward off evil, while others brought familiar Georgia O’Keeffe-esque motifs such as the buffalo skulls and flowers – which also characterize isolation and freedom. Perhaps for many Mongolians who have lived on the plateau know that beauty lies equally in life and death. For  these nomadic tribes, they have learned to treat these two as one of the same. It really is the wild west with a tradition inspired by wanderers and survivors.

Vividly beautiful ©WhereNYC

Vividly beautiful ©WhereNYC

The evening featured more than paintings and sculptures. There were also live performances. Contributing artist Ganhuyag Natsag‘s children performed two traditional dances. His daughter carried a certain elven spritely charm during her dance. Pretty and smiling, she captured light, whereas his son performed a much darker-themed dance resembling a vengeful force of nature that would take anything in its path. As we watched him perform, he fixed the audience with a steady gaze and threw his arms with dramatically pronounced cues to the slightly punk-rocky violin strings, reminiscent of the German string-power band the Inchtabokatables. Finally, Choimbol Ganbattar treated us to a live painting demonstration of a black and white stallion accompanied by a morin khuur, a traditional Mongolian horse-haired string instrument.

Live painting demonstration by Ganbaatar Choimbol © WhereNYC

Live painting demonstration by Ganbaatar Choimbol © WhereNYC

It was a rare opportunity to learn about a culture I had only known from my old National Geographic magazines I read as a child. And seeing a contemporary exhibit that fused both traditional and modern influences in harmony was an unusual treat.

From Earth to the Divine: Contemporary Mongolian Expressionism continues through November 17, 2016. For more information, visit the Tibet House.

Review: Breakfestival at Stuyvesant Cove Park Sept 3-4, 2016

Cover image: Kossar’s bagel heaven © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Lika of Calle Dao showcasing its Sino-Cuban take on eggs benedict © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Lika of Calle Dao showcasing its Sino-Cuban take on eggs benedict © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: Breakfast, a meal that most city dwellers know how to enjoy anytime of day. For two straight days, over ten rotating chefs of local eateries descended upon Stuyvesant Cove Park for a breakfast-themed feast. Happily devoid of muesli and Frosted Flakes, Breakfestival was a celebration of New York’s diversity and passion for good food.

Jimmy's No 43 serving grilled bacon and sausage © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Jimmy’s No 43 serving grilled bacon and sausage © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Review:  Even the looming threat of a possible hurricane (which never came!) couldn’t stop this foodie fest. Long after the guests stuffed themselves silly, the buzz still continued. People happily chatted away over a drink as the sun set. Little else was needed to keep the vibe going.

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The buzz was amazing at Breakfestival © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Jimmy Carbone at the Colson Bakery booth © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Jimmy Carbone at the Colson Bakery booth © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

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Sunup Green Coffee was a big surprise © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Breakfestival was a collaboration of many passionate individuals, chefs, distributors and writers connected by their love of food and Jimmy Carbone, the ever-cheerful owner of East Village’s locavore shrine: Jimmy’s No. 43. Ubiquitous to the local foodie community, he is everywhere from hosting microbrew events at the Greene Space in SoHo to organizing Cook Out parties all around New York. His uncanny talent of bringing food lovers together really helped make Breakfestival very special.

For this year’s outdoor festival, local food promoters, Extra Crispy teamed up with Joe DiStefano, a native of Queens who has devoted his entire life to exploring every inch of New York’s culinary map. To call him just a food writer seems an understatement. His blog Chopsticks + Marrow is a celebration of New York’s different cuisines that have come to define the city’s character. For this year’s Breakfestival, Joe curated the international cuisine element ensuring that there was a variety of dishes. “Bascially, we wanted to balance various things without having too much of the same.” And his line up contributing chefs certainly was well-chosen from the usual classic Western suspects to more exotic bites from different countries.

Six Point Brewery © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Sixpoint Brewery © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Appearing throughout the Breakfestival, the rotating participants included some traditional morning comfort delights. Colson Pâtisserie in Park Slope and Industry City, Brooklyn, and whose chef pâtissier Yonatan Israël trained under Hubert Colson in Mons, Belgium, tantalized us with perfectly flaky croissants, including my favorite: pain au raisin. Lower Eastside’s Kossar’s bagels and bialys with smoked salmon lox and cream cheese were also a crowd pleaser. Aromas of grilled bacon and sausages wafted away at Jimmy’s No.43 booth.

As an alternative to the savory specialities on offer, Cathy Erway, author of The Food of Taiwan and who is also half-Taiwanese, served a traditional chilled tofu pudding with ginger syrup.

A plate to dive in for. Colson Pâtisserie's Pain au Raisin © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

A plate to dive in for. Colson Pâtisserie’s Pain au Raisin © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Healthy-conscious Indian restaurant Inday, run by Anup Joshi, dished out an interesting but unusual Indian take on a classic Breton crêpe complète, served on a dosa with a refreshing accompaniment of cold tumeric-flavored chai. The Arepa Lady, a favorite of Elmhurst, Queens, offered rustic breakfast style Columbian arepas, and Cuban-Chinese fusion Calle Dao put up its signature Chinese-style eggs benedict with a light oriental flavor.

There was no shortage of beer, cocktails and other beverages to keep our palettes wet. New York local brewery Sixpoint lined up three kinds of beer for patrons to sample.

Arepa Lady from Elmhurst © WhereNYC

Arepa Lady from Elmhurst © WhereNYC

Drambuie showcased its Chameleon Cold Brew, aged scotch whiskey infused with herbs,  in two unique cocktails including a Java Royale. It left a slightly sweet, smoky refreshing cherry flavor on the palette. Appearing in virtually every local food event and expo, tea-based cocktail mixers, The Owl’s Brew introduced their new line of Pink & Black mixed with Sauvignon Blanc. I never thought you could mix tea with with wine, but it really worked.

It wasn’t only beer and booze at Breakfestival. Of the beverages served, Sunup Green Coffee was the big surprise. Founded by Nate Pealer, who tinkered with making drinks out of green coffee beans, created a new thirst quencher.  Lighter in color and taste, it actually has more caffeine than a traditional cup of roasted coffee. It almost had a Snapple-like flavor with a slight hint of bitter coffee in the aftertaste.

© WhereNYC

Scotch whiskey Drambuie and Chameleon Cold brew © WhereNYC

As the stars came out, it was time for us to go. After consuming for than our fair share of food and drink, we waddled to the exit waving our good-byes. As they say, the flavor holds the memory, but the cheerfulness of our hosts and fellow guests, reminded me of what food writer Brillat Savarin once wrote that in life pleasures come and go, but the pleasure of the table, long after a meal is done, will never leave.

 

Review: Chef talk with Éric Ripert and Alex Guarnaschelli at MOFAD Aug 30, 2016

Cover image: Éric Ripert shares a laugh with Alex Guarnaschelli © Andrew Kist for the Museum of Food and Drink

Bottom Line: Author and Food Network personality Alex Guarnaschelli sat down with Chef Éric Ripert at MOFAD for a rare and intimate discussion of his latest book  32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line and the influences that shaped both their careers.

Ripert and Guarnascheilli spoke to a sold-out audience © Andew Kist for MOFAD

Ripert and Guarnascheilli spoke to a sold-out audience © Andew Kist for MOFAD

Review: Dangling on a chain around his neck, Éric Ripert wears a talisman, a faded copper medal, given to him by a psychic in France, who according to him, had predicted his entire career. She told him that he would one day be in a top kitchen in a city surrounded by water. London or Paris he had thought, but it was in New York City, where he became executive chef of the three-Michelin starred Le Bernardin, one of the country’s top restaurants along with a successful  T.V. and writing career.

The story of his childhood may have more to do with his career path than psychic power. He had had the best food upbringing that any aspiring chef could have wished for. His grandparents in Italy and Provence introduced him to quality, rustic cuisine. His father’s vegetable garden gave Éric a taste for locally grown and seasonal ingredients. His mother, an elegant woman and passionate about food, devotedly woke up at 5AM every morning to prepare breakfast. Her impeccable sense of style continues to give him inspiration when plating up one of his Michelin-starred dishes.

The evening's talk was the last event of MOFAD's Flavor exhibit. © WhereNYC

The evening’s talk was the last event of MOFAD’s Flavor exhibit. © WhereNYC

Defining moments in chefs’ careers are sometimes dramatic as they tussle in an extremely hostile and dangerous environment.Gordon Ramsay’s daring coup d’état at the two-starred Aubergine in London earned him unprecedented publicity. For Ripert, however, it was a much humbler episode when he began as a commis in a high-end Parisian kitchen. The head of chef asked him to make a hollandaise sauce using 32 yolks. His classical training at catering college failed him that day, and he scrambled the eggs before the chef’s disapproving eyes. In his moment of failure, it taught him to persevere if he were to master his craft. It took him months to finally produce the perfect sauce, while acquiring the nickname “blue shoulders” from the number of punches he got every time he made a mistake. Fellow chef and writer Alex Guarnaschelli also had her story of humiliation. Working under the celebrated Joël Robuchon in Paris, she mistakenly added too much acidity to her beurre blanc turning it into a horrible brown slime. A sympathetic sous-chef tossed it in the bin before the anyone else could see it.

Ripert chats with guests during the reception © Andrew Kist for MOFAD

Ripert chats with guests during the reception © Andrew Kist for MOFAD

While both Guarnaschelli and Ripert are classically trained, their baptism of fire in the kitchen helped to prepare them for the industry. Through training in the best restaurants, Ripert learned to become a serious chef. To this day, he follows a highly disciplined work regimen. No breakfast, no dinner, but only one meal a day. With his sous-chefs, they taste everything and assess. From there, they determine the level of vibrancy and consistency and how capture the right moment when flavors peak. Little misses his attention when meeting with the front of house and kitchen brigade, always with an inspection of the mise en place. For him, it’s about being fair, not nice, and always focused on motivating the boys in the kitchen.

Guests enjoyed beer generously donated by Brooklyn Brewery at MOFAD © WhereNYC

Guests enjoyed beer generously donated by Brooklyn Brewery at MOFAD © WhereNYC

In spite of Ripert’s phenomenal success as a master chef and TV personality. His childhood memories of taste still continue to inspire him. The snap peas, aubergines and tomatoes from his dad’s garden and the aroma of his mother’s delicious warm apple tarts still happily linger in his thoughts. Rather than reinventing the wheel, he has put his own stamp on traditional French favorites like Croque Monsieur but with a luxurious twist of decadent caviar and smoked salmon –  one of Le Bernardin’s signature dishes.

It isn’t always about looking back to find inspiration. Living in the U.S. and his travels to East Asia to countries like Japan and South Korea have further shaped his palette and brought new ideas to his repertoire including: gourmet Vietnamese nems or egg rolls and the addition of Japanese flavors and Korean kimchi spices to newer dishes.

We may never know when Ripert and Guarnaschelli will retire, but both are driven by their upbringing with quality food and working in the some of the toughest environments, ultimately to achieve perfection.

Following the end of the talk at MOFAD, guests queued to chat with the chefs and purchased signed copies of Ripert’s book while enjoying beer and hors d’œuvres.

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