By James Briscione—Director of Culinary Development

An invitation to speak at a TED event has always been a secret dream of mine. No fame or fortune comes with being a speaker at these local conferences, but to receive an email, out of the blue, to present at TEDxWarsaw was one of those moments that made my heart skip a beat. It felt like getting an invite to sit at the cool kids table, because someone, somewhere, thought that I had an “idea worth spreading.”

In particular, when that idea is something you have been crafting, developing and refining for years, that invitation can be the ultimate validation. Of course, as soon as I accepted, the panic and nerves set in. I had one shot—15 minutes—to explain something that took me the better part of four years to figure out. On top of that, I would be halfway across the world, presenting to hundreds of people from different backgrounds and industries. Intimidating, to say the least.

Culinary Arts Instructor James Briscione - Warsaw - City - Institute of Culinary Education

Before I even begin to dive into my talk, I want to share some experiences about where I spoke, because Warsaw is probably more interesting in and of itself than any of the talks presented at TED. Beautiful, fascinating, confusing—it’s a city whose history is as incredible as it is sad. The gorgeous Old Town is tourist central, with small cobblestone streets and tightly-packed buildings. It is reminiscent of other towns I’ve visited in Italy that date back hundreds of years. The difference between this Old Town and those Italian villages is that Warsaw was almost entirely rebuilt in the 1950s. World War II devastated the city, leaving 95% of the buildings—homes, churches, businesses—completely leveled. The reconstruction realistically imitates the former architecture, and today only cracks in the plaster facades give a hint to the old bones that lie beneath. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll see hulking concrete relics of the Communist era, as well as modern European streets with bustling coffee shops and restaurants.

Pierogies - Culinary Arts - James Briscione - Warsaw - Polish Food

Speaking of restaurants, you knew we were going to get to the food eventually, right? Like many of you, my initial thoughts were, “So, Polish food…how many pierogies can you actually eat?” It turns out, I can eat a lot of pierogies! But there is more amazing food happening in Warsaw. I was fortunate to have an awesome host, Gosia Minta, a well-known Warsaw-based blogger and cookbook author who helped me explore the thriving food scene. Like any great cuisine, the food in Warsaw is enhanced thanks to pristine local ingredients and creative chefs putting their twists on traditional dishes.

James Briscione - Fine Dining - Warsaw - Alewino - Restaurants - Culinary Arts

In particular, a memorable meal at alewino surpassed all my expectations: from a warm mousse of smoked eel and farm eggs to foie gras with ramps, morels and buckwheat. It wasn’t just the best meal I had in Warsaw, it was one the best meals I’ve had anywhere recently.

Warsaw - Polish Cuisine - Breakfast - James Briscione - Culinary Arts

Beyond this fine dining experience, there were many other charming spots to mix with the locals over coffee or enjoy a breakfast of traditional bread. But as much as I would have loved to be in Warsaw for an extensive foodie tour alone, there was much work to do. I had my culinary perspective to share—like why a chicken and mushroom burger spread with strawberry ketchup makes perfect sense—and how it may even help solve some the biggest issues that face our current food supply.

Want to know more? Watch my TEDx Talk below!

Want to study the science of flavor and more with Chef James? Learn more about ICE’s School of Culinary Arts.

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Blame it on Joe Beef: ever since Chefs Frédéric Morin and David McMillan opened this popular temple of elegant excess in 2005, American magazines and food blogs can’t get enough of the indulgent dishes from the capital of poutine. But while Montreal’s savory dishes get most of the hype, the city has no lack of impressive outposts for sweets. ICE Chef Instructor Victoria Burghi reports back from her recent trip to the “city of saints.”

By Victoria Burghi, Chef-Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

As a pastry chef, I’ve always enjoyed exploring the food scene of a new city—in particular, learning about new styles of sweets. So I was thrilled to visit Montreal this summer and to learn about the city’s wide range of traditional, modern, unique and audacious sweets.

Rhubarb Cannolo - Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

Rhubarb Cannolo – Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

My culinary tour of Montreal began on a Saturday night, at Toqué, one of the city’s most distinguished restaurants. After touring the impressive, highly organized kitchens, our gracious server introduced us to its chef and co-owner Normand Laprise, who greeted us from within an immaculate walk-in refrigerator with a hand shake and a big smile.

After an exceptionally interesting dinner in the hands of Chef Laprise, I only had room for one dessert; but it was a spectacular way to end the meal. Toqué’s rhubarb cannolo consisted of a very thin and crispy tube-shaped tuile filled with cassis chantilly cream and brunoise of strawberries. The filled shell was wrapped in gently poached rhubarb strips, so tender that they fell apart the minute you cracked the shell. This already stunning plate was garnished with mildy sweetened rhubarb purée and a blackcurrant leaf syrup. A creamy, perfectly quenelled juniper ice cream accompanied the dessert.

Needless to say, my first restaurant encounter in Montreal left me hungry for more. So, for the second day of my trip, I embarked on a rambling walk along Rue St. Denis and Rue Mont-Royal.

The first stop of my Sunday tour was Pomarosa, an artisanal gelateria where I sampled avocado gelato, along with the distinctive, tropical fruit flavors of guanabana and lulo. Guanabana fruit has white flesh with hints of banana, pineapple and strawberry. It is a highly acidic fruit, perfect for smoothies or any other frozen dessert, and it’s absolutely divine. The lulo (“little orange”) ice cream was also enjoyable, since it wasn’t too sweet and offered a unique opportunity to enjoy the rhubarb and lime-like flavor of the fruit.

The next stop was D Liche,a quaint cupcake boutique that offers not only sweets, but also a number of baking and decorating tools for aspiring cupcake bakers. Playing off the popularity of miniature desserts, the shop offers two different sizes, which allowed me to indulge in both their key lime and blueberry flavors.

Photo Credit: Point G

Photo Credit: Point G

As I wandered toward Rue Mont-Royal, the range of pastry opportunities continued to grow. One of the spots that would have fit right in with New York’s portable pastry craze was Boutique Point G, a macaron boutique that offers unusual flavors like lime-basil, chocolate-sesame, crème brulée and maple taffy.

A note about local flavor: one word that you quickly learn in Montreal is “érable,” which means maple. Canada is the number one producer of maple syrup in the world, most of it coming from the province of Quebec. Thus, it’s no surprise that it has become a very popular ingredient, seen in maple candies, fudge, butter, cookies and an infinite amount of other confections.

This ubiquitous maple syrup was particularly celebrated at the most memorable of all my stops: À la Folie patisserie. This super sleek, ultramodern pastry shop has infused maple into three classic French pastries—choux, macarons and tarts—and would attract any passerby like honey to a bee.

Photo Credit: A La Folie

Photo Credit: A La Folie

The miniature maple-flavored choux pastries come adorned with small maple-flavored marshmallows, while another noteworthy flavor included a rose water with candied rose petal and pink fondant. Next to these beauties you will encounter happy rows of traditional french macarons, followed by an oversized invention called the YOLO—a large macaron sandwich filled with flavored mousse and cream, then dipped in chocolate.

But the YOLO is only the first of the shop’s creative inventions. I also discovered the frenesie: a choux-macaron hybrid pastry that resembles a traditional French religieuse, a cream puff base topped with a macaron of the same flavor and color. Even more ambitious, À la Folie’s delire is a work of art: the base is a round pâte sablée crust filled with either a fruit purée or cream. Sitting atop the tart is a glazed mousse dome surrounded by tiny macarons and decorated with large chocolate curls.

Even the tarts defy expecations. Instead of a traditional round tart sliced into wedges, the chef filled triangular pâte sablée tarts with frangipane or pastry cream and then, in most cases, topped the cream with a triangle of crèmeux or a light crème patissiere. The triangles are then glazed and decorated accordingly. My personal favorites were the maple and apricot tart, decorated with a half of a chocolate maple leaf, and the apple dulce de leche, whose paper-thin sheets of Granny Smith apple formed a perfectly glazed triangle on top of the crust. The entire shop was truly magical!

If you visit Montreal, you must stop by these dessert destinations and taste the art behind their perfectly executed pastries.

Interested in culinary travel? Don’t miss our Chef Instructors’ guides to Rome, Paris and Puglia.

 

 

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By Ted Siegel—Chef-Instructor, Culinary Arts

At least once every decade some culinary pundit or self-appointed expert on cuisine and gastronomy makes a grand pronouncement declaring the “death of French cuisine”. This has been an ongoing trend in culinary journalism since as far back as the late 19th century. Whether it was the fall of the classical grande cuisine of Carême, Escoffier and Du Bois or end of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that shook France after from the 1950s to the 1980s, the state of French cuisine has always been ripe for debate.

Fresh seafood at a French market

Fresh seafood at a French market

Yet there seemed to be a significant shift somewhere around 2003, when the New York Times ran a front page story in its Sunday Magazine declaring—once and for all—the death of French cuisine. The piece went on to anoint Spanish chef Ferran Adria as the “pope” of contemporary gastronomy (called molecular or modernist, depending on who you asked).

However, upon a recent trip to Paris, it was apparent that the death notices (as usual) are premature. The wild card in the whole discussion is the profound influence—encoded in the DNA of the French people—of the cuisine bourgeoise: the cooking of French housewives and grandmothers, rooted in the terroir of local ingredients and traditions. In the context of restaurants, this cuisine has transformed itself into a movement labeled bistronomie, a trend that snubs the grande luxe dining palaces with their fine china, sterling silver place settings, starched linens and snooty waiters, maitre’ds, and sommeliers (who act as if the customer is there to serve them, not the other way around). Here the cuisine of grandmère and maman rears its beautiful head—in simple preparations based on a market-driven cuisine with an emphasis on seasonality, solid culinary technique, unpretentious presentations and friendly, relaxed knowledgeable service.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region's terroir.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region’s terroir.

Like any so-called revolution, politics and economics are among the underlying forces that have dictated this change in French cuisine, gastronomy and food culture. With the volatility of the “euro” and the global economic crisis, it is now more cost-prohibitive than ever for a business owner to sustain luxury operations in the long-term. It has become economic suicide to maintain a brigade of forty to fifty chefs, cooks and other staff (in the back of the house alone), uphold a large inventory of grand cru wines, and support the various other elements of leasing or owning a space that would fit the traditional Michelin definition of three stars.

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Complementing this transformation in the kitchen is a social and literary movement, one that has rallied in particular behind France’s modern response to the long-reigning Michelin Dining Guides. Founded in 2000 by Alexandre Cammas, Le Fooding springs from a curious mix of anti-corporate left wing politics and social libertarianism, and it poses a direct challenge to the moribund culture of Michelin and its dominance over French cuisine for more than 100 years. The first Le Fooding guidebook was published in 2006, and the movement has since jumped the Atlantic, holding annual events in New York City—incidentally, taking place this weekend in the Rockaways.

It’s particularly fitting that Le Fooding should also celebrate NYC’s dining culture, as many of the restaurants that my wife Cheryl and I visited in Paris would fit in very comfortably (thank you) in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side, Williamsburg or Long Island City. Below are some of the best examples of this “new/old” cooking that we discovered—fusing la cuisine bourgeoise with chef-level consistency and innovation.

IMG_0372_2

Sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks

L’ASSIETTE—Rue du Chateau in the 14th arr.

Chef/owner David Rathgeber’s cuisine is deeply rooted in culture of his homeland of the Landes region of Southwest France, but his technique was honed for ten years under the renowned Chef Alain Ducasse. On the night we dined at this restored 1930’s boucherie, we savored his house-cured country ham with homemade farm bread and beurre demi-sel, foie gras terrine with a conserve of figs, and rillettes of suckling pig and foie gras. There was warm, poached asparagus with an incredibly silky sauce mousseline; sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks; stuffed calves head, sauce ravigote and what could only be described as the most ethereal sea salt crème caramel one could possibly taste.

CASA OLYMPE—Rue St. George’s in the 9th arr.

Olympe Versini is an icon among female chefs in Paris, receiving her first Michelin stars when she was only in her twenties. She is considered to be “the godmother” of this new trend in French dining, as when she opened Casa Olympe in 1993, she asked the Michelin inspectors to stay away and not review the restaurant. Her food is profoundly influenced by her Corsican ancestry and the Mediterranean basin.

If available, try her blood sausage croustillants on mesclun greens; warm salad of seared scallops, house-cured foie gras, avocados and mâche; daurade roasted on the bone with tomatoes, lemon, potatoes, herbs and olive oil; perfectly roasted squab with Asian spices and Thai red rice-coconut milk pilaf.

IMG_0915

Smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with reduction of braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée

LE COMPTOIR DE RELAIS—Place d’Odeon in the 6th arr.

Chef Yves Camdeborde has been the leader and vanguard of bistronomie for the past 20 years in Paris. He worked for many years with his mentor Christian Constant at the Hotel de Crillon, where they elevated the cuisine of the Restaurant les Ambassadeurs to two Michelin stars. His extensive menu is available at lunch, but be forewarned—no reservations are accepted and the restaurant fills up by 12:30 pm. It is virtually impossible to get reservations at dinner, when the menu becomes a prix fixe of fifteen courses.

Dishes that I can highly suggest are the unusual warm terrine of boudin noir with a refreshing salad of celery root, apples and sucrine lettuce; salade gourmande of salt-cured foie gras, green beans, artichokes and potatoes; smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with a reduction of the braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée; pan-fried stuffed pigs feet and a warm individual apple tarte with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel.

LES COCOTTES—Rue St. Dominique in the 7th arr.

Christian Constant, mentioned above, left the Hotel de Crillon years ago to establish his own restaurant group, which includes Les Cocottes. The restaurant is known for its casual counter seating, large menu of wines by the glass and hot menu items—all of which are served in deep cast iron cocottes produced in Alsace.

Our starters included Spanish jamón ibérico simply served with pickled piquillo peppers; an outstanding ravioli of langoustine with artichoke purée and shellfish coulis (that resembled a shellfish cappuccino more than a classic sauce); impeccably seared scallops on parmesan polenta with a light reduction of jus d’opulent roti; and wood pigeon roasted with a ragoût of spring onions, honey mushrooms and chestnuts, simply sauced with a reduction of the roasting juices.

One quick note about the wines we drank: one does not have to break the bank to drink reasonably well in Paris. Stick to the regional wines with A.O.C. certification and you can enjoy excellent wines for less than thirty Euros a bottle.

Craving more culinary travel stories? Check out Chef Ted’s guide to Rome

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