Review: The Third Annual Charcuterie Masters at the Flushing Town Hall

Cover image: Il Porcellino Coppa cured ham © WhereNYC

As someone who recently started eating meat after being vegan for the past six and a half years, it’s easy to say that the craft of charcuterie was relatively foreign to me. Meat has always, for a lack of a better word, scared me. I still can’t bring myself to touch raw meat and more often than not, I will let my partner take over the cooking in that case. Aside from aesthetics, the meat industriously has often left me questioning: what am I consuming and where is it coming from?

New York’s own Le District serving savory samples. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

My knowledge of charcuterie and palate has expanded immensely. I tried liverwurst and even blood pudding for the first time, as well as witnessed first hand (from a live demonstration with Chef Rodrigo Duarte) the importance and care that goes into butchering the animal.

˝Despite having consumed more artisanal meat in the span of four hours than I have in my entire life (and enjoyed every smoky and seasoned minute of it) this retired vegan has a new appreciation for not only the consumption of meat, but also more importantly, the handling.

Chef Durant giving a demo on the infamous Flushing Town Hall stage. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.



Some of the countries best in charcuterie were seen last Saturday [February 24, 2018]

at the historic Flushing Town Hall in Queens. Home to some of Jazz’s greatest legends, like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong [just to name a few], the event had an immediately welcoming atmosphere that felt oddly nostalgic despite the fact that this was a place and a world I didn’t know much about.

Too delicious to wait for a photo. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“The hallmark of [Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts] (FCCA)’s current programming is a cross-cultural focus: works that fuse or bridge different cultures, as well as larger programs that bring together presentations of art forms from different parts of the world…”

˝With a fitting space to compliment the event, like the cheese and wine to the evening’s main course, 60 different charcuterie products were selected out of 98 applicants from all over the US and Canada. From Peter McChesney’s espresso salumi, to Will Horowitz’s fermented and seasoned radishes dipped in a mushroom sauce, there wasn’t a corner of the room that wasn’t filled with creativity and care.

Chef Horowitz’s fermented radishes. ©Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

“We want to recognize everybody who entered…we realize that there was a lot of work, money and time that went into all of these products. And it’s obvious that all of the contestants care about the subject matter. That means we care about you too,” said judge Chef Brian Polcyn, co-author of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.

Guests sampled the contestant’s charcuterie and participated in a People Choice Award, with the overwhelming task, of selecting their favorite table. Doug Kelles aka “The Bacon Guru” was the crowd pleaser and the Grand Champion of Charcuterie Masters was Bill Miner, Chef and owner of ll Porcellino salumi. His wagyu beef bresaola alongside the thinly sliced coppa, proved the attentive skill required to “wear the crown.”

The winning table giving out samples. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

“I’m completely blown away. This is a dream. We’ve only been in business for two-and-a-half years, so we’re really brand new at doing this. It’s humbling to be among the best of the best in the country,” Miner said.

With plans to open a wholesale facility next month and sell nationwide by the summer, Chef Miner bases their success off of hard work and “using the best quality animal for the best quality finished product.”

Regardless of my dietary preferences in both the past and the present, the statement resonated with an underlying principle: transparency; a word that felt universal between the participants and judges.

Brooklyn Cider House serving patrons. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“Charcuterie is a very important part of modern American cooking; it’s not a modern craft…Our costumers want to know where their food comes from… it’s a craft that needs to be cracked, it’s a craft that needs to be developed, it’s a craft that is learned. And it’s a pleasure to see how thing have changed,” said Chef Polcyn before awarding the winners in front of an enthusiastic and wildly supportive crowd.

Eager crowd sampling the charcuterie before the announcement of the winners. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“It’s a nice community,” Miner said,” It’s not a bunch of egos. Everyone’s [here] to help each other.”

Whether you were there for the Black Label Donuts made from banana, pecans, miso and bacon (lots and lots of bacon); the Brooklyn Cider House’s simplistically perfect “apple only” cider, or just the appreciation of well cured meats, it was hard to leave without feeling apart of the camaraderie. I certainly don’t plan on showcasing my “talents” any time soon, but will say I do feel a little more at ease with the idea of approaching meat in my kitchen. I might even season it myself next time.

Guest enjoying a Black Label Donut.  © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

For more information on upcoming foodie events, visit:

Review: Walking in a Sake Wonderland: A Year at a Japanese Brewery

Cover image:  Sake tasting at the Japan Society © Meg

Tired of working in the corporate world?   Then, why not work for that drink that you love so much?

That is essentially what Mr. Timothy Sullivan did. Sullivan, who was given the honor of the title, “Sake Samurai” in Kyoto, Japan in 2007, fell in love with something Japanese in 2005 – in New York City. And it was not anime. It was sake.

The sake that he tasted with his delicious sushi that night was a premium Junmai Ginjo by Hakkaisan. He wanted to find out more about sake but realized that there wasn’t enough information out there.

So he began his own blog,, that same year.

According to Mr. Sullivan, sake is “Japanese culture in a cup.”

Why move to Japan? © Meg for WhereNYC

Mr. Sullivan found his calling. He first started teaching at the Sake School of America while working in the corporate world, and eventually transitioned to a full-time career in the sake industry. As he had more opportunities to travel to Japan to promote Hakkaisan products, he decided to move to Japan and live there for a year. He not only wanted to improve his sake knowledge and his Japanese language skills, but also wanted to “get to know the people behind the sake.” So he received a special Japanese visa, which was specifically for cultural activities usually reserved for foreign artists and athletes, and went on a journey to work at the Hakkaisan sake brewery in Niigata, Japan.

Walking over fire for good health?! © Meg for WhereNYC

As he spoke joyfully, comically and nostalgically about his various cultural experiences in Niigata – including how he walked barefoot over soil that was just dramatically lit on fire at the Hakkaisan Shrine Hinata Festival (to wish for “one year of good health”), he also showed many pictures of himself covered from head to toe, working at the brewery. At Hakkaisan, the workers took each step of the sake making process very seriously. Although they also use machines, they believe that many things can only be done well by hand.

While camping out a year at a sakagura in Japan may seem like a loafer’s paradise, it was anything but a holiday. For Mr. Sullivan, it meant serious work: from polishing and milling the rice to meticulously washing each rice bag with his hands. He explained every step in detail. For example, rice becomes very fragile when they are milled, and if they are cooled right away after milling, rice will crack in half.

During the cold winters in Niigata, when trees have a special guard on them to hold the snow up, the majority of the sake making process takes place.

He also spoke about the Koshiki Taoshi, which is a formal dinner that happens among the workers to celebrate the day they stop steaming rice. For them, it was unique occasion to shed their work suits in favor of jackets and ties.

Needless to say, Mr. Sullivan had an unforgettable experience. The chef at the brewery’s staff cafeteria specially served Mr. Sullivan’s self-proclaimed favorite food, chicken pot pie, for his goodbye party. They even gave him a jar of umeboshi (pickled plums), another of his favorites, along with one of the shovels he had to use, albeit unsuccessfully, to place the rice in each bag.

Despite the weather and walking over hot coals, he never got sick even once in Japan. And while his Japanese still could use some polishing, he learned so much more about the craft of sake brewing.

Sake tastings are always a hit at Japan Society (c) Meg for WhereNYC

In the United States, sake, along with ramen shops, has taken off, becoming one of Japan’s biggest export destinations. In New York, there are several sake bars frequented by connoisseurs and hipsters alike. In Japan, it is another story. Still considered a “parents’ drink”, there are no “hip” sake bars and is almost always served with food. Beer is the most popular drink in Japan.

He gave some interesting tips on enjoying sake. Interestingly, it is easy to pair with food because of its ‘umami’ (savory notes) and the fact that it has 1/3 of the acidity of wine.

Temperature matters when you age sake (e.g. Room temperature will cause the sake to darken its color.) Sake lasts around 2-3 weeks after the bottle is open, as long as it is kept in the refrigerator. The more earthy, robust sakes have a longer taste life.

The three sakes! (c) Meg for WhereNYC


Our post-talk reception included three Hakkaisan sakes:  the Junmai Ginjo (the “sake that changed [Mr. Sullivan’s] life.”), the Honjozo (best selling Hakkaisan sake) and a special 3-year Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo. The latter is stored in a “Yuki Muro” (i.e. snow storage seller) with 1000 tons of snow in it, for 3 years.

I am no “sake samurai,” but appreciate the taste. Personal favorites included  the Junmai Ginjo and the intriguing Snow Aged. For many of us in the audience, it was a rare opportunity to learn about the inner workings of a brewery and the passion and devotion that the people in the industry give to making sake.