By Chef/Instructor Ted Siegel

Recently my wife Cheryl and I had the good fortune to spend a few days in La Belle Province (Quebec) and visit one of our favorite culinary destinations: the beautiful city of Montreal.

We arrived, exhausted, late on a Sunday night at a time when most restaurants are closed. We knew that we could rely on one excellent spot to be open, so we made the fifteen minute walk from our hotel to dine at one of the most popular bistros in the city—Restaurant L’Express, open until 3 a.m. seven days a week. L’Express has a reputation for serving consistently solid, traditional French bistro fare. Though the menu does not change often, there are nightly off-the-menu specials. Upon placing your order, the server brings a canning jar of cornichons and a crock of Dijon mustard, both left on the table as condiments throughout the meal. We started with one of their famous dishes, octopus and lentil salad: thin slices of perfectly poached octopus dressed with lemon and olive oil arranged in a ring mold around an earthy lentil salad, deftly seasoned with a shallot vinaigrette. Once the mold is removed, the presentation is similar to a savory charlotte. We also ordered pork rillettes, which were impeccably prepared with the right ratio of shredded lean pork and fat, my only critique being that they would have been better served at room temperature rather than chilled.

Montreal_octopus

Octopus and Lentil Salad

Given my love for organ meats, I always order offal if it’s on a menu. Cheryl and I shared an order of crisp veal sweetbreads with chanterelle mushrooms, garden peas and pea tendrils under a cloud of Parmesan foam. Continuing in the “offal” mode, I had rosy slices of quickly seared and sautéed calf’s liver in a light tarragon pan sauce reduction. Cheryl had a creditable hanger steak with pommes frites. Perhaps we should have stopped after the entrees but decided to indulge in an order of ouefs al neige—a giant quenelle of French meringue gently poached in sweetened milk, the milk then bound with egg yolks, flavored with vanilla beans and turned into a silky crème anglaise, garnished with toasted almonds and threads of spun sugar. After a dinner like that, we needed that walk back to our hotel room.

The following day, after taking a riverboat tour of the St. Lawrence River around the island of Montreal, we had lunch at one of our favorite ethnic restaurants in North America: Stash Café, which specializes in homestyle Polish cooking. The tripe soup, pierogies (of any kind) and the perfectly executed pork schnitzel are well worth the visit.

While researching the Montreal dining scene before our trip, one newcomer intrigued me: Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vin, a restaurant of 40-50 seats serving a contemporary French-Canadian menu of small tasting plates and an extensive list of charcuterie and house-cured meats. It’s a neighborhood establishment where the service transcends warm, friendly and gracious. However, it was the food that left us speechless. We loved our first meal there so much that we cancelled a dinner reservation at another restaurant and returned three nights later. It is hard to find superlatives adequate enough to do justice to the chef and his execution of a very labor-intensive menu. The kitchen opens directly into the dining room and there are only three people working on the line including Chef Ségué Lepage. I highly recommend virtually every dish, as we sampled almost the entire menu during our two visits—easily the best two meals we’ve had in 2016 (and quite possibly in 2015 as well). Though all dishes were memorable, here are my favorites: house-cured porchetta di testa served with goat cheese fritters and ribbons of pickled zucchini; lobster tart on a savory sablé with tomato confit, tarragon crème fraîche, roquette and gently stewed white onions; tataki of seared veal loin with a purée of sage, Marsala wine reduction, fried sweetbreads and marinated radish salad; and wild blue pleurote mushrooms from Ontario with crab mayonnaise, landjäger sausage, wild garlic and dill. Go to Le Comptoir and you will not be disappointed!

Montreal_charcuturie

No trip to Montreal would be complete without paying visits to Joe Beef and Au Pied Cochon. Fred Morin, owner and chef of Joe Beef, and Martin Picard, mastermind of Au Pied de Cochon, have in common both their connection to famed Québécois chef Normand Laprise—the “godfather” of modern French-Canadian cuisine—and their decadent, over-the-top approach to cuisine, gastronomy and life in general—an approach which I fully subscribe to and worship.

Montreal Joe Beef

Joe Beef

Joe Beef promotes itself as a seafood-centric restaurant but it’s really about meat as well. The portions are large, so go with an empty stomach. Prepare to be well fed in a relaxed atmosphere by an approachable staff. The must-tries on the current menu are the appetizer of crispy calf’s head fritters served with sauce gribiche; salade gourmandea large, thick round of country-style terrine topped with a salad of apples and haricots verts and served with a tranche of grilled peasant bread slathered with an unctuous foie gras parfait; roast quail stuffed with lobster sausage in a light jus of the roasting juices; and the lobster spaghetti, which is why anybody goes to Joe Beef in the first place. Chunks of lobster seared in the shell, then stewed with bacon, cream, Parmesan and fresh herbs, and served atop house-made fresh spaghetti with the texture of satin. We also had a perfectly roasted halibut filet with smoked tomato butter. At this point, we moved on to dessert, but should not have, as they were somewhat of a disappointment. Regardless, Joe Beef is a restaurant that deserves at least one if not numerous visits.

Montreal_Joe Beef

Stuffed Pig’s Foot

Finally, there is Au Pied de Cochon, which is consistently rated as one of the top restaurants in North America. We’ve dined there in the past and feel like a trip to Montreal would be incomplete without a visit to Martin Picard’s “temple” of all things duck, foie gras and pork. Be warned: the portions defy any notion of restraint and are not for the “squeamish”—which is a good thing for me!

On our most recent visit we began with three off-the-menu specials: perfectly fried zucchini blossoms with a caper aioli, a totally hedonistic foie gras pizza with prosciutto and cheese curds, baked in a wood-burning oven with just the right amount of char to the crust, and a disappointing yellowfin tuna belly glazed with soy and maple that sounded great on paper but was horribly overcooked. For our entrees, Cheryl and I had their two most iconic menu items: “Duck in a Can” and the Stuffed Pig’s Foot “APC”. The former is a magret de canard (also known as Moulard duck breast), duck leg confit and foie gras preserved in a tin can with cabbage and vegetables, presented and opened out of the can at the table. The latter is a braised pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras and gratinéed with bread crumbs, served on a bed of a silken potato purée whipped with cheese curds, a variation of the famous aligote from the Auvergne region of France, and a sauce prepared from the braising jus. The pig’s foot was big enough to serve two to four people. It was an “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” moment!

Also not to be missed: the two central food markets in the city, Atwater market in “Little Burgundy” and Jean-Talon market in “Litte Italy.” You can sample the best produce, cheeses, meats, seafood and prepared foods that this lush and fertile agricultural region has to offer. At the Jean-Talon market, be sure to visit the tiny but well-stocked culinary bookstore, Librairie Gourmande, most notably for their selection of cookbooks from top Québécois chefs. We enjoyed a surprisingly great lunch at La Crêperie du Marché in the Jean-Talon market, which specializes in the famous galettes de sarrasin—traditional savory buckwheat crêpes of Brittany, France. We savored a crêpe layered with béchamel sauce, Gruyère cheese and mushrooms as well as one with ham, cheese, spinach and a fried sunny side-up egg.

I’ll be going to Quebec City soon, so keep an eye out for my next (hungry) chef’s tour.

Chef Ted’s Montreal Hit List

Restaurant L’Express
3927 Rue Saint-Denis
http://restaurantlexpress.com

Stash Café
200 Rue St. Paul O
http://restaurantstashcafe.ca

Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins
4807 Boul St-Laurent
http://comptoircharcuteriesetvins.ca

Joe Beef
2491 Rue Notre-Dame O
http://www.joebeef.ca

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Duluth Est
http://aupieddecochon.ca/?lang=en

Atwater Market
138 Atwater Avenue
http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en/marches/atwater-market/

Jean-Talon Market
7070 Henri-Julien Avenue
http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en/marches/jean-talon-market/

Want to study culinary arts with Chef Ted? Check out ICE’s culinary arts career program. 

 

By Chef-Instructor Ted Siegel

With the imminent closing of The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City next month, I have been reflecting on the profound influence this restaurant has had on the North American dining scene and restaurant industry since its opening in 1959. The Four Seasons Restaurant was heralded as the first modern American restaurant (post World War II) to promote North American regional ingredients and seasonally driven menus—a quality that is lauded in today’s food culture. Historically, however, another great New York City restaurant that opened in 1823 was the so-called “Godfather” of this trend—Delmonico’s.

Chef Charles Ranhofer cookbook The EpicureanBy the middle of the 19th century, Delmonico’s was considered to be the greatest restaurant in the United States. To put it in perspective: the way we think of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry today is the way Americans spoke of Delmonico’s back then. The key date in Delmonico’s history was 1862, when a great French chef from Alsace named Charles Ranhofer took over Delmonico’s kitchen. His devotion to regional North American ingredients introduced Americans to ingredients that were not commonly served at that time. He used black sea bass from Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island; soft shell blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay area; shad and its roe from the Hudson River Valley; locally caught sturgeon; alligator pears (that is, avocados from Florida) and samp, a hominy-like dish based on hulled corn kernels from the southwest that Chef Charles served with wild teal duck. Some of his most iconic preparations, such as Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska (which he called “Alaska, Florida”) have become staples on many American menus—including some of the earliest menus of The Four Seasons Restaurant. All of these dishes and thousands more were memorialized in his book The Epicurean, published in 1894, five years before his passing.

Jeremiah Tower, former executive chef of the prominent Berkley, CA, restaurant Chez Panisse, speaks quite poignantly in his cookbook, New American Classics, about how The Epicurean inspired him to transform the Chez Panisse menus to reflect Northern California’s indigenous ingredients and produce. In fact, he mentions that the very first Northern California regional dinner menu he prepared at Chez Panisse in 1973 paid homage to Chef Charles’ influence by adapting Delmonico’s green corn and crayfish soup on that evening’s menu.

Looking at the early menus conceived by James Beard and Albert Stöckli, executive chef of The Four Seasons Restaurant, the influence of The Epicurean is evident. Hence, no discussion of North American regional cuisine, including the recent farm-to-table and locavore trends in menu concept and execution, is complete without a discussion of the impact of Charles Ranhofer, Delmonico’s and The Epicurean.

If you want to delve deeper into cookbooks inspired by The Epicurean, here are some recommended reads:

The Four Seasons Cookbook (1971 ed.) by James Beard and Charlotte Adams

The Four Seasons: The Ultimate Book of Food, Wine and Elegant Dining (1980) by Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi

The Four Seasons Spa Cuisine (1986) by Seppi Renggli

New American Classics (1987) by Jeremiah Tower

Interested in studying with Chef Ted? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Arts program.

 

By Jessica McCain—Student, School of Culinary Arts

Most of us spend our childhoods answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The fact is, we all become adults some day and have to do something…but what we want to do and what we end up doing isn’t always the same thing.

All of your life experiences push you in a certain direction: they influence the choices you make, define who you are and what you choose as a career. But why just choose a career when you can choose your passion? It took me 25 years to figure out the difference between the two, and now here I am, a student at ICE.

Jess_McCain_Culinary_Arts_edited-4_600x400

However conclusive and easy that sounds, it wasn’t an easy journey. I didn’t just wake up one day with everything falling into place. If we go back seven years ago, you find me at age 18—the youngest of four in a hardworking military family. I did what any normal kid would do: went to college, just like the rest of my siblings. The only difference? I hated it! I was so concerned about what I thought my parents wanted that I ended up a first-year nursing student with an overloaded nineteen-hour course schedule, as a new sorority pledge, an ROTC cadet and an intramural sports enthusiast.

If this overachieving, trying-to-please everyone else style of decision-making sounds like you, you’re not alone. By the time I was halfway through my degree, I knew something had to change. So I decided to change my major to psychology. So what if it added another year? I didn’t love it, but it was still a degree…right? I’d be 23 with a degree!

Wrong answer. Another year in, I had the same drowning feeling and still no degree.

College didn’t work out, so I started making other changes. I spent four years in reality television, worked endless miscellaneous jobs and even moved across the country to California. By then, I had finally had enough. Working for so long in fields that I hated (and that offered no room for professional growth) inspired me to finally give in to the one passion that had always stuck with me: cooking.

Jess_McCain_Culinary_Arts_edited-2_600x400

ICE was all the way back in New York City, but I knew I had to give it a chance. Once I toured the school and met with the admissions team, I could just feel that I was finally in my lane. Still, the process was far from easy. Coordinating on a three-hour time difference, trying to wade through FAFSA paperwork and find an apartment within a short period of time was no joke! However, unlike some of the other culinary schools I had visited, at ICE I could tell I wasn’t just a number in a system. No, Mr. Jock Grundy, my admissions counselor, made sure I felt that I mattered, and he was always there to help with every step—from my first questions to my first day of school.

Fast forward three weeks later and I, Jessica McCain, was all moved into my new apartment in New York City. I suited up in my crisp white uniform with my name stitched on the chest and had my own set of knives gleaming back at me in my new classroom—kitchen six—with Chef Ted.

Culinary Arts | Jess McCain | Institute of Culinary Education| Sauces | Cauliflower | Roasting

Day one was so exciting, and unlike normal school, we dove right into the fundamentals of becoming a chef—and I felt my passion more intensely than ever. I was no longer waiting to meet my future. A month into the program, I don’t even feel like the same person. I’m no longer nervous to hold my knives­—they’re like an extension of myself, and I feel like I’m beginning to find myself at ICE.

My dad always told me, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I say if you’re lucky enough to find your passion in life, pursue it and let it set your soul on fire.

Ready to start your culinary journey? Click here to receive free information about ICE programs.

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

By Chef Ted Siegel, ICE Culinary Arts Instructor

In 2005 the New York Times published an article by Frank Bruni (then restaurant critic and editor of the “Dining In/Dining Out” section) about Roman cuisine. The article’s overall message was: “nothing new is going on in Roman cuisine!”.  After a recent trip to Rome my wife, Cheryl, I am happy to report that this is still true.

This might be a slight overgeneralization; there are a handful of Roman restaurants doing “modernist cuisine-molecular gastronomic” spins on traditional Roman cooking. However, most Romans find the modernist trend oxymoronic, referring to this type of cooking as “all smoke and no roast!”.

Fortunately, Roman cooking and the culinary traditions of Lazio (best described as a rustic and pastoral cuisine based on meat and vegetables) has not changed too much since Etruscan sheep herders occupied the banks and mud flats of the Tiber river, as far back as 800-750 B.C. Hallelujah for that!

photo 2

Seafood risotto

During our trip to Rome, Cheryl and I thoroughly immersed ourselves in its cuisine, enjoying the glories of traditional “cucina alla Romana. Below is an recount of some of our more noteworthy meals, as well as a list of restaurants that one should not miss if traveling to the “Eternal City”:

HOSTERIA da FORTUNATO (12 Via Pellegrino): A very tiny neighborhood trattoria serving traditional Roman home cooking that is popular with locals. If you go, you will likely see a group of women sitting at a corner table hand-rolling, cutting and shaping all the sublime house made pastas.

Their iconic Roman fritti misti of vegetables and meatballs in a delicate batter is a must-have dish. As for the pasta, try any number of the variations of strangolapreti (“priest stranglers”), a very traditional hand rolled pasta dumpling that is particular to the central Italian regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. The story of how this pasta got its name goes back to the middle ages. Roman catholic prelates would gorge themselves on this simple pasta made water and durham flour until they choked, hence the name.

The variations on strangolapreti that we found deeply satisfying were caccio e peppe, carciofi e gunaciale (artichokes and  smoked pork cheeks- both basic staples of the Roman kitchen) and alla carbonnara. The house-made sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli in a luscious butter and sage sauce (“burro e salvia”) is also a must-try.

HOSTARIA COSTANZA (63 Piazza del Paradiso): This beautiful restaurant is actually built into the cellar of an ancient Roman amphitheater that dates back to the height of the “glory days” of the Roman Empire. The walls of the restaurant are still the original brick work from this archeological masterpiece.

Our dinner began with a perfectly-executed classic: carciofi alla Romana (large globe artichokes simmered in a broth of white wine, olive oil and herbs). The pastas were also fabulous. Worth a return visit were the tonnarelle con bottarga e seppie (square-cut spaghetti made on-premises served in a sauce of baby calamari indigenous to the Mediterranean and bottarga, which is the salt-cured roe of grey mullet); a simple grilled branzino (Mediterranean sea bass); and finally, trippa alla Romana (tripe braised in tomatoes and mint with pecorino alla Romana, a dish that pays homage to the marcelleria – the butchers of the Roman slaughterhouses whose cuisine has dominated the Roman culinary landscape since ancient times. They cooked with a strong emphasis on offal, because that was all they could afford).

Fortunately for us, we arrived in Rome just as puntarelle – a variety of wild dandelion greens – started appearing in the Roman vegetable markets (puntarelle has a very short season from late winter to early spring). Puntarelle is traditionally served with a dressing of red onions, anchovies, lemon and olive oil. Needless to say, we enjoyed the version we had at Costanza.

photo-1____2-550x581

RISTORANTE La SCALA (58-61 Piazza della ‘Scala): Ristorante la Scala is located in Trastavere, a very quiet, residential neighborhood southeast of Vatican city. We stumbled into La Scala serendipitously after a day of touring the Vatican. We were so fond of this local restaurant that we dined there twice. Weather permitting, sitting outside in the outdoor dining area affords one an authentic experience with a view of the beautiful church of Santa Maria della ‘Scala.

Being in Rome at the height of truffle season gave us an opportunity to indulge in the truffle menu of La Scala: burrata di bufala with black truffles and rughetta (wild arugula); light as air potato gnocchi with scarmorza (smoked mozzarella) and black truffles; fried artichokes with black truffles, fonduta and guanciale; and finally, sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli in an unctuous butter sauce showered with truffles.

Other dishes worth not missing are the tonnarelle pasta with zucchini flowers and cherry tomatoes, as well as the carciofi alla guidea (artichokes simmered and fried in olive oil), one of the truly great dishes born out of Rome’s Jewish “ghetto”, dating back 2500 years. For dessert, try the crema di zabaglione con fragola (sabayon cream with wild strawberries).

HOSTERIA GRAPPOLO d’ORO (80-84 Piazza Cancelleria): This is another favorite where we had two wonderful meals. This restaurant has a clientele of largely local regulars and would fit right in in a New York City neighborhood. While the décor is modern, the cooking is in keeping with traditional Roman gastronomy.

The delicious house antipasti tasting plate features a modern take on a molded panzanella salad, mille-foglia con burrata e alici (a very light pastry layered with buffalo milk burrata and marinaded white anchovies), pan fried oxtail meatballs with salsa verde, a croquette of baccala and potatoes and an eggplant-ricotta polpette.

The orechiette pasta with broccoli and potatoes was not the usual mess of broccoli flowers and potatoes swimming in olive oil. The vegetables had been cooked down to form an incredibly light, yet slightly coarse puree, bound by a light broth emulsified with a little olive oil. The execution of this dish showed the true skill of the kitchen. Further, d’Oro’s rigatoni all’ amatriciana with a copious garnish of crisp guanciale was one of the better versions of this classic Roman pasta preparation we had during our trip (pasta all’ amatriciana, carbonara and caccio e pepe make up the “holy trinity” of Roman pasta preparations).

For the second course, we sampled stinco di maiale (pork shank braised with chestnuts and beer), guancia di bue brasato (beef cheeks braised in red wine and carrots) and abacchio scottadito alla griglia (the Roman classic of grilled baby lamb marinated with herbs, garlic and olive oil—whose title implies that when you pick up the grilled cuts of lamb, you burn your fingers while eating them!).

CENTRALISSMO “WINE BAR” (15-17 Via Santa Maria in Via): This wine bar and restaurant near the Pantheon gets mixed reviews. However, we had an excellent platter of fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella, as well as a memorable plate of fried olives. For the primi we enjoyed a very creditable spaghetti caccio e pepe and bucatini all ‘amatriciana. Given the fact that Centralismo is a wine bar, we drank one of the more unusual wines on our trip: Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine from the Emilia Romagna region.

photo 2____

Potato gnocchi with scamorza (smoked mozzarella) and black truffles

 PIAZZA CAMPO di FIORE

I would be remiss not to mention the Piazza Campo di Fiore, which is one of the truly great food markets in Europe with a wonderful salumeria. Worth visiting is Antica Norcineria Viola. If you are passionate about Italian salume – such as cured hams, salami and anything else that pays homage to pigs – this establishment is a must visit. If you find yourself fortunate enough to wander in there, try the testa, which has a beautifully silky and refined texture.

WINE

The wines we drank were too numerous to mention, but a few were truly memorable:

  • Barolo chinato: A late harvest Barolo made from the Nebbiolo grape in the region of Piedmonte.
  • Merlino: A wine from Trentino-Alto Adige which is produced from the Lagrein grape variety that is grown in the region’s Vigneti delle Dolomiti wine district and is classified as a fortified wine
  • Viscola Querciantica: A wine from the Marchese region in Southern Italy that is pressed from the juice of sour cherries.

GENERAL TIPS

As far as Roman hospitality, we found the service in all the restaurants mentioned above to be warm and welcoming. Most of the Italians we met spoke English as a second language (some more fluent than others) or at least made an attempt to communicate in English.

Be aware that unlike in other places, restaurants in Rome will charge extra for bread, which is automatically brought to the table and is generally of poor quality. (You will not be asked if you want it or not, so don’t be surprised by the surcharge when you get the bill. If you decide not to have bread, inform the wait staff when they bring it to the table.)

Thinking of traveling to Italy? Consider a hands-on cooking experience in the picturesque heart of Umbria, led by ICE Chef-Instructor Gerri Sarnataro. Click here to learn more. 

 

 

 

By Carly DeFilippo, ICE Culinary Arts student

When it comes to skills that separate home cooks from professional chefs, there’s perhaps nothing that draws the line more clearly than butchery. Sure, the average home cook doesn’t have very good knife skills (the #1 chef essential), but they can still manage to dice an onion, even if they’re not using proper technique. But home cooks typically don’t even attempt butchery. They barely think about it. And if it weren’t for the fact that many of them need to carve a cooked turkey on Thanksgiving, the concept of breaking down a whole animal might never even cross their minds.

Lamb Fabrication-034

ICE instructor Ted Seigel teaches students to debone a leg of lamb.

Butchery is a perfect storm of technique and skill. It isn’t something you can intuitively figure out, rather it takes instruction and repetition before you start instinctually understanding where flesh naturally separates from bone and sinew, where the cuts we recognize on the plate are hiding within a giant hunk of raw product.

Fish Fabrication-005

The least intimidating form of “fabrication” (as butchery is known in the culinary world) is probably fish. Sure, they’re slippery, but just in terms of sheer size and complexity, a fish is pretty approachable. That said, fish can be quite expensive, so any missteps in breaking down their flaky flesh are immediately apparent to both you and your chef-instructor. Our class tested our skills on flat fish (which have both eyes on the same side of their head, like flounder) and round fish (which have eyes on either side of their head, like snapper, mackerel or bass).

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

We also tried our hand at shellfish fabrication, from shucking oysters and cracking open clams to cleaning shrimp and breaking down live lobsters. From a sheer physical standpoint, shucking is a pretty empowering skill, though you need the right tools to do it safely. And while breaking down lobsters may strike some cooks as inhumane, Chef Mike taught us the fastest way to dispatch these tasty creatures, pain-free.

My classmates roast veal bones in preparation for stock.

My classmates roast veal bones in preparation for stock.

After fish, we moved on to America’s most popular meat: chicken. We learned how to truss a whole bird for even cooking, as well as how to quarter a bird and use the remaining carcass for stock. We also learned the anatomy of four-legged creatures through a lesson on rabbit butchery. From there, we learn to break down beef loin into noisettes, chateaubriands, medallions and other traditional steakhouse cuts. We also tenderized veal escalope (cutlets for pan frying) and roasted bones for that ever-important restaurant staple: veal stock.

Rack of lamb chops

Rack of lamb chops

But of all the challenging butchery tasks, breaking down a leg and rack of lamb were easily the most daunting. Lamb is, admittedly, my favorite meat, but removing all the leg bones while keeping the flesh intact was much more complicated than the reverse process of removing protein from bones. And while a lamb chop may seem like an everyday cut of meat, cleaning the unassuming bone “handle” attached to each chop is perhaps the most tedious, time-consuming butchery task of all. Let’s just say I now understand why—at least from a labor perspective—lamb is on the pricier end of proteins on a restaurant menu.

Despite all the challenges thrown our way by fabrication, I think it might end up being one of my favorite parts of culinary school. In a digital world where hands-on activities are disappearing in droves, it’s incredible to learn what goes into the production of the everyday products we take for granted. And on a more superficial level, I feel like I’d be a pretty amazing asset on one of those lost-in-the-wilderness reality shows. No one votes a butcher off the island.

This month, in honor of the holidays, we’ve asked our Culinary Arts and Pastry & Baking Arts instructors to share their favorite festive recipes. We’ve already traveled to Australia with Chef Kathryn Gordon’s mince tartelettes and celebrated American nostalgia with Chef Scott McMillen’s snickerdoodles. Today, we head back abroad with Chef Ted Siegel‘s Alsatian tarte flambée.

Ted Siegel-4One of my favorite, recent memories of Christmas is from the Rhine river cruise my partner Cheryl and I took during the Christmas week of 2010. The cruise began at the Swiss city of Basel and slowly worked its way up the Rhine to Amsterdam. One of our stops was Colmar, a beautiful medieval city in the French region of Alsace, which is known for its savory tartes.

We came upon a “jewel box” of a Christmas market in the center of the old town, by the Dominican church at Place des Dominicaines. The scene was almost idyllic. A deep chill in the air, snow falling and icicles hanging from the old shingled, medieval buildings. The aromas in the air were intoxicating-  the sweet spices of mulled wine, the smoke of the woodburning fireplaces, and the smell of toasting tarte flambées oozing with melty, soft-ripened Muenster cheese, crème fraîche and crackling hunks of slab bacon. Needless to say, we stopped at the first stand to warm ourselves with spiced mulled wine made from Alsatian pinot noir and to sample what was – by far – the most profoundly decadent tarte flambée one could ever hope to eat. The flavor combination of the rich cheese and smoked bacon, the crisp texture and crunch of the baked dough left us breathless. To this day, we have not stopped talking about that moment. It was one of those rare experiences where time stands still and everything is absolutely perfect!

photo

Ingredients

For the Pâte à Pain Ordinaire:

  • 1/3 ounce fresh baker’s yeast
  • 2/3 envelope active dry yeast
  • 10 ounces lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 lb all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Dusting flour (as needed)
  • 1 tsp salt

For the Tarte:

  • 7 oz pâte à pain ordinaire
  • 1 oz canola oil
  • 4 oz cottage cheese
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 2 oz bacon, cut crosswise in 1/4″ strips
  • 4 oz onion, thinly sliced
  • salt, pepper (to taste)
  • 4 oz Alsatian Muenster cheese, sliced thinly and trimmed of the rind
    (Note: Muenster should be 1-4 months old and soft-ripened)

Instructions

For the Pâte à Pain Ordinaire:

  1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar.
  2. Mound the flour on a work surface, and form a well in the center. Put the salt in the well. Little by little, incorporate the dissolved yeast and sugar into the flour, kneading with your fingers at first, and at the end with your hands, until you have a smooth paste (about 5 to 8 minutes of kneading all together).
  3. Form the dough into a ball. Place the dough into a bowl, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and rise in a warm place for about 1.5 hours.
  4. Lightly flour your hands, and knead the dough again to deflate it (1 to 2 minutes). Form the dough into a ball again. With a knife, cut 2 incisions about 1/2″ deep in the form of a cross into the top of the ball.
  5. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place for another hour or so.

For the Tarte:

  1. Divide the pâte à pain ordinaire into 4 equal parts, and roll the dough into 4 rounds, each 8″ in diameter. The circles of dough will be quite thin.
  2. Oil a pastry sheet, using very little of the oil. Place the dough on the baking sheet. Pinch up a very small edge around the circumference of each circle. Refrigerate.
  3. Place the cottage cheese in a food processor and process until smooth (about 30 seconds). Add the flour, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tbsp of oil and the crème fraîche. Process again until smooth (about 30 seconds more).
  4. In a skillet, sauté the bacon and onion in the remaining oil, until the onion is barely tender.
  5. Remove the dough circles from the refrigerator, and spread the cheese mixture over them, leaving a 1/2″ uncovered section between the mixture and the edges of the tart. Sprinkle the bacon and onions on top, followed by a layer of the Muenster cheese.
  6. Place the baking sheet, with the tarts in a 425°F oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tarts are golden brown.

Hurricane Irene may have been a bust for me, but its impact on the food industry wasn’t. For me, Friday was spent trying to prepare for the worst — from talking with others to try to figure out whether to close and what time to close, to figuring out what will happen on Monday if the power goes down over the weekend. We closely tuned into the news and weather reports to figure out when the storm was going to hit and employees were asked about how the closing of the MTA would affect their ability to get to work. I stayed later than usual at Smith Canteen on Friday in order to prepare for a shorter day on Saturday and got in earlier the next morning. I was in and out in just a few short hours and worried for the next two days about what would happen if the freezer broke. When I polled my other food friends, I learned that some volunteered to stay overnight in hotels in order to make sure the hotel guests were able to order room service during the storm. Many worried about how they would be able to get to work in time for their early morning shift if the subways were still down. I heard stories about how despite the early morning chaos and the great sales in the beginning of the day on Saturday did not make up for the loss in sales for Saturday night dinner and Sunday brunch. The truth is, even though everyone has to eat, the food industry is very much impacted by what goes on outside.

Before the madness of the storm, we met with Chef Ted to get a chef’s perspective on food costs in early August. He broke down beef and fish in order to give us a visual perspective of what types of portions come out of them and we used those portions to calculate food cost. It was fascinating watching him break down parts of beef to get a sense of what comes out of each section, but even more so to see how much gets trimmed away and how to use those trimmings so they’re not a loss. Finally, I understood why a steak is so expensive. More…

Yesterday, 19 high school seniors from across New York City competed at ICE in a competition for scholarships to attend culinary school. The two-hour challenge was part of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a program teaching high school students the skills they need for a career in the culinary industry. ICE President Rick Smilow is on the program’s board of directors.

For the scholarship competition, the students were required to make a chicken dish and a crêpe dessert for a panel of esteemed chefs who carefully judged the students, watching their technique as they cooked and tasting the dishes afterward. The students were judged on their organization, cooking techniques, taste and presentation. The judges included ICE Chef Instructor Ted Siegel, South Gate Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan, Extra Virgin Chef Joey Fortunato and Mandarin Oriental Executive Chef Toni Robertson among others. New York Marriott Downtown Executive Chef Sani Hebaj told the students, “I did taste some restaurant-quality food today.” More…