Review: “Master the Ultimate Dinner Party”with Gail Monaghan at the French Cheese Board Jan 19, 2017

Gail Monaghan at the French Cheese Board © Gary Duff

It’s all in the Timing © Gary Duff

“We entertain a lot but don’t have that skill,” food author and culinary expert Gail Monaghan said at the French Cheese Board in SoHo. It is true. Few things will fill me with more dread than hosting a dinner party, which often means tons of work and minimal satisfaction.

Gail’s latest book, It’s all in the the Timing: Plan, Cook and Serve Great Meals with Confidence is an ultimate home cook companion, giving both recipes and prep advice and making a dinner party an enjoyable, relaxing affair. 

Gail is no stranger to the culinary world. A graduate of the International Culinary Center, she has made a career as a prolific writer, contributing to the Wall Street Journal, and private cooking class instructor. With one James Beard award under her belt, she has also collaborated with the likes of Mario Batali. But for Gail, there is a difference between the professional and home kitchen.

Cheese heaven on a slate at the French Cheese Board © WhereNYC

We often forget how difficult it is to entertain at home. “People have other responsibilities such as kids, jobs and housework,” she said while admitting the her culinary training had not completely prepared her for the home service. Somewhere between the professional kitchen and cooking at home, she spotted a gap in the market for a guide that could marry the two.

Gail Monaghan © Gary Duff

In Gail’s book, the fundamental rule is that entertaining should be a pleasure. Let’s face it; “if you’re frantic, your guests can’t relax!”  It’s all in the Timing showcases recipes from the very simple to complex, while providing a timetable to help the host plan ahead. While many cookbooks contain easy-to-do recipes, Ms. Monaghan’s book focuses on the big picture, that is putting together a menu of dishes that compliment each other.

The spread included some of Gail Monaghan’s recipes. © Gary Duff

“Creating a menu is like a jigsaw puzzle,” Gail explained. First, decide on the menu, read your recipes and plan ahead.  In her book, one chapter titled, “Assets” features recipes for pie crusts, pastry dough, ice cream and vinaigrettes, which can be done well in advance and keep for days.   Knowing your ingredients, which can change in taste and cooking time depending on their origin and season, can also help you anticipate any potential obstacles. Ms. Monaghan’s book also has dishes that can be served at room temperature, while others like duck, but not chicken, can be easily reheated without drying out. Prepared salads, marinated in advance, can also relieve the host of the dismal prospect of having to do everything to order the day of.

Events at the French Cheese Board  are often exciting and fun © WhereNYC

It’s all in the Timing is a useful home kitchen instructional manual that can make any dinner party doable and fun. Without being too fussy or over-complicated, the book helps by breaking the steps down into simple components. Organized by holiday theme or special occasion, the dishes compliment each other. Each with a “Begin Prep” section, easy-to-read charts help the reader determine what elements to prepare in advance by hours or even days.

Her private cooking classes and demos also follow a similar philosophy of cutting down stress, according to a few of her students attending the event. But these days, thanks in part to celebrity chefs, cooking shows and foodie articles, public interest in cooking has grown, with more students willing to take on more complex dishes, according to Ms. Monaghan. “They want to do it all,” she said.

French Cheese Board © WhereNYC

Above all whether fancy or rustic, she said, the cook should feel comfortable with the menu and the dishes chosen. She warns to never try something unfamiliar or seemingly too complicated. In the end, “you want to relax and just have fun.”

For information on upcoming cooking classes, please visit gailmonaghan.com.

Review: “To Eat or Not to Eat” Talk and Reception at the French Consulate Jan. 18, 2017

Cover image: Nancy Easton, Susan Edgerley, David Bouley and Pamela Koch © Consulat de France à New York

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Chef David Bouley said referring to complacency many in America have when confronted with an impending food crisis. “(Like fixing a car),”You need to open the hood and see what’s going on!”

Full House © Consulat de France à New York

Sustainability may be a buzz word in the food industry; however, is really that important? Food can be grown in abundance, according to former NY Times Dining editor and moderator Susan Edgerley. A native of Kansas, the breadbasket of America, Ms. Edgerley said the state produces nearly 328 million bushels a year, about 20% of the country’s wheat production. Statistically, an annual yield could feed the world’s population for two weeks, but she countered that quality, distribution and access are problematic, often resulting in food waste. “We need to feed the world,” she said, “And we can do it in different ways.”

Lt-Rt. Susan Edgerley, David Bouley and Pamela Koch © WhereNYC

The discussion focused on two areas: education and nutrition, and the combination of both can lead to sustainable menu choices. Seemingly simple, the save our-food-campaign, however, is an uphill battle. As per Ms. Edgerley and fellow panelist Professor Pamela Koch at Columbia University, over a third of the U.S. adult population is obese, adding to the already astronomic cost in healthcare. In the recent presidential campaign, The New York Times questioned why so many candidates talked very little about nutrition. Likewise Mr. Bouley said the government needs support to local farmers with better subsidies. Meanwhile Americans continue to buy cheap and plentiful while throwing away tons. The level of food waste “is shocking.” he added, “We have become conditioned on a weak source of food.”

Nancy Easton and Susan Edgerley © WhereNYC

Although daunting, the panel agreed that turning things around requires the right investment in education for the young. Mr. Bouley described his own education with food stemming from his French background and upbringing in Connecticut, where his family grew peaches and made their own honey. “You become aware of the food you eat and how it’s produced.” Even as chef patron of one of his first restaurants, he opted for healthier choices and favored local produce on his menus despite the kitchen brigade’s initial skepticism.

“If you educate children, it makes all the difference,” said Nancy Easton, Executive Director of Wellness in the Schools, an organization committed to teaching youngsters about healthy living. It comes down to great education, nutritious school meals and school gardens. In New York, Ms. Easton said there are roughly 1800 public schools and 500 registered gardens, but how to get students interested in food? And could they distinguish between right and wrong choices?

As Dr. Koch said, “Kids must be excited and part of the process if they are to make healthy choices.” Wellness in the Schools‘ interactive workshops allow students to meet farmers and prepare local produce and recruit culinary school graduates to design healthy and sustainable menus for schools. Mr.Bouley remarked that while school meals in countries like Brazil and Japan required 30% of local ingredients, no such standard exists here.

Reception at the French Consulate © WhereNYC

Local produce, however does not come cheap as many discover in the farmer’s markets. Consumers may hesitate to buy plump local garlic from Orange County and opt for smaller, cheaper cloves from China sold in supermarkets at a third of the cost. For many families, locavorism may be an expensive novelty of high end kitchens.

While Mr. Bouley admits that local produce has a higher cost and lower yield, the quality is better than that of imported food. Although many local producers lack organic certification, they often adhere to similar guidelines. Labor, personal transport and standing in the freezing cold at an outdoor market are factored in the prices. The cost may be higher, but “cheap is expensive” when we think about how much families and school cafeterias waste when throwing away large quantities of uneaten food.

David Bouley chats with guests. © WhereNYC

“Kids don’t want to eat that stuff anyway,” Mr. Bouley said about some of the dishes served for school lunches, made with lower quality ingredients. There is not much of a standard to say what school menus must have. Wellness in the Schools, however, has made menus that have both fresh fruit and veg in order to promote balanced diets. The government still lags behind still classing fruit and veg as “luxury items” in the Farm Bill.

Heaven on a plateau. Wine and canapés at the reception © WhereNYC

Bouley’s advocation of nutritious food borders on gastronomic zealotry. By making the right choices including locally sourced produce, balanced diets are both accessible and sustainable. In comparison to other parts of the world that use little synthetics, the populations are generally healthier. Countries like Japan, according to Mr. Bouley, use fermentation and other techniques that contain live bacteria, which increase the nutritional value in addition to flavor. Finally in a nod to the Japanese philosophy of hara hachi bu, limit portions at mealtimes and finish before you’re full. When people enjoy food that is both delicious and healthy, they waste less.

The talk was inspirational and informative but could have focused more on helping working families get access to fresh, local ingredients. The cocktail reception with sparkling champagne, vol-au-vents, smoked salmon tarts, pumpkin soup and canapés, however, tested my self-discipline, quickly chucking hara hachi bu out the window in favor of another glass of bubbly and salmon caviar on a buttery mini tartelette.

Review: Matjaz Krivic “Silent Spaces” Photo Expo at Tibet House Jan. 11, 2017

A ghostly image of a Tibetan temple in Manasarovar Tso © Matjaz Krivic

Matjaz Krivic at Tibet House © Jaka Vinsek

Review: “When I climb to the top of the mountain (in Tibet), I look around below me and I feel like I’m at home,” acclaimed photographer Matjaz Krivic smiles. He glances around the walls displaying his immense panoramic shots of the breathtaking Tibetan landscape.  “I traveled five times already to Tibet. It’s become like a second home to me.”

 

A native of Slovenia, a small former Yugoslav Republic with a population little over two million, Krivic’s career as a professional photographer began in 1998 and catapulted him across the globe. Driven by his curiosity of other cultures and indigenous peoples, he traveled to some of the world’s most remote places. “I had always been interested in other people’s traditions.” For a quiet but self-described “visual guy,” photography was the perfect medium to communicate his passion for landscapes and multiple perspectives.

For this exhibit at Tibet House, Krivic contributed photos of Tibet from his ongoing project, Earth Temples, which is a photographic collection of religious sites worldwide.

A surreal shot of wild horses and Tibetan landscape © Matjaz Krivic 

While many of the attendees agreed that his multiple shots of Lake Manasarovar in Western Tibet were esthetically pleasing to the eye, some questioned the repetitiveness of the images and whether the pictures lacked “focus.” Perhaps, it would be more helpful to have a bit more informative about the region and why Krivic chose to photograph the lake from so many angles.

Breathtaking in their grandeur, the photos are still simply amazing. Yet, Krivic had little to say about the images. For him, the photos speak for themselves and invite the viewer to take it all in.

Manasarovar © Matjaz Krivic 

The use of space, time and perspective of his works create a bold but minimalist statement. When viewing his shot of Paryang Tso in Tibet, for example, and others in this series, there is a definite uniformity of emptiness, with an almost ghostly glowing beauty of an ethereal crystal surrounded by blackened mountain peaks. In spite of Krivic’s interest in peoples’ cultures, his pictures possibly reveal a hermit-like desire in him to simply escape to somewhere higher and quietly reflect on his surroundings.

Highlights of the collection at Tibet House include: a simple but beautiful snow covered Buddhist Temple at Manasarovar Tso by the lake and a troop of wild horses at Pangong Tso, which seem similar to the theme of a previous Mongolian art exhibit at Tibet House. While there is very little life, the landscapes, lighting both crisp and blended, captured a timeless moment of an unforgivingly beautiful terrain.

A stunning image of Yemen © Matjaz Krivic

Similarly in other places such as the mountains of Yemen, he described jaw-dropping feats of climbing up into the unknown and gazing over 200 meters down. “Yemen is like going back in time,” he said. Towers built mostly by hand on the mountain tops seem almost implausible, but in Yemen, the local people have learned to adapt to the harsh environment. In one of his most iconic shots, buildings built on the peaks are empty, carved in stone and lit with a dying sunset.

Matjaz Krivic © WhereNYC

Krivic plans to go to Bolivia and back to Tibet to photograph the lithium mines for his upcoming project Conflict Minerals, which he hopes will draw attention to the appalling modern-day slavery of mining the world’s precious metals. “When you use a smartphone or laptop, you don’t even know how many people are exploited and forced to work for almost nothing just for these minerals.” The lithium extraction mines are mere dry lake beds. “In Tibet, there are lots of them,” he said. “It is like a modern day slavery.”

Rima Fujita was also featured at Tibet House

Having visited Tibet five times since 1998, he has witnessed changes in daily Tibetan life, partly due to the Chinese government’s campaign to “modernize” the region. “In 1998, I rode around on a bicycle. There were lots of them,” he said. And the sight of foreigner on a bike seemed to bewilder the Chinese border guards who even invited him to have lunch. The gravel paths became paved roads and the car replaced the bicycle.

Previous exhibits at Tibet House include Mongolian art © WhereNYC

For many exiled Tibetans at the reception, his photography had a personal impact. “Westerners and others have an easier time visiting Tibet,” explains one of the guests who was born in a Tibetan refugee camp in India. “We can’t go back because we have to get a letter requesting permission from a family member living in Tibet or by invitation by the Chinese government.” Unsurprisingly, most of the applications are refused by authorities, who favor isolating Tibet from its exiled people. Still many are grateful to artists like Krivic who can bring to life the images of a lost homeland. For one young volunteer who had left her parents in occupied-Tibet, Krivic’s pictures are a kind of lifeline. “Our connection to our parents and homeland is through pictures like these,” she says after a reflective pause. She nods in silence and purses her lips. “I want to go back and see my family, but I can’t.”

Matjaz Krivic’s Silent Spaces exhibit continues through March 1, 2017 at Tibet House.

Review: One Step Beyond with Kenny Dope and Eli Escobar at Natural History Museum Jan 06

Cover Image: One Step Beyond with Kenny Dope ©AMNH/C. Chesek

Review: As more people poured into the AMNH’s Hayden Planetarium, the crowd began to swell near the front of the DJ booth. The buzz from the audience reached full pitch when legendary house music icon DJ Kenny Dope began his set.

One Step Beyond! ©AMNH/R. Mickens

In the world of house music, Kenny Dope is a New York City legend. A native from the Bronx rooted in the dance scene with a career spanning over decades, everyone came to hear him drop some classic house beats. For many who are unfamiliar with the name Kenny Dope might still know his music from the House production team duo Masters At Work with house godfather Louie Vega. Together they have created countless classic house records and remixes such as “St Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Masters at Work Dub)” their take on Michael Jackson’s “Can’t stop till you get enough” and their own original title “Work”. This night, Kenny Dope brought One Step Beyond into a dancing frenzy, while the light show synced up the house beats.

Ladies Night Out ©AMNH/C. Chesek

The show’s other headliner, Eli Escobar, also a New York City native and big in the underground DJ scene, kicked off the evening with classic house tracks creating the perfect mood. Escobar has also worked with many different artists and remixed several pop songs. Thanks to their previous collaboration, both Escobar and Kenny Dope there was flawless  synergy between the two sets, perfectly woven together.

The music coupled beautifully with an incredible light show thanks to Benton Bainbridge from Moving Pictures Gallery, who has been working with One Step Beyond since its inception nearly a decade ago. His lighting team includes final year students at the School of Visual Arts, where Benton teaches “New Forms in Media” at the MFA Computer Art department.

Eli Escobar ©AMNH/C. Chesek

The visuals cascading above the planetarium dance floor were impressive and really added to the whole entertainment. Like many of the previous after-hours DJ shows at the Natural History Museum, the crowd was diverse with younger and older house fans and dance freaks alike. It was an unforgettable and rare treat to see two house legends: Kenny Dope and Eli Escobar perform the perfect set under light shows and galaxy stars of the Hayden Planetarium.

For information on upcoming dance parties at the American Museum of Natural History, visit One Step Beyond.