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Interview with Elisabeth de Kergolay of Babeth’s Feast

Jordan Wright
December 6, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Elisabeth de Kergorlay

Elisabeth de Kergorlay

Elisabeth de Kergolay has led a charmed life with nannies, chateaus and pied-a-terres, though that’s never stopped the beautiful young countess from using her entrepreneurial spirit to bring fresh ideas to America.  Take for example her early investment in Le Pain Quotidien, the rustic chic French bakery café she invested in with Belgian chef and founder Alain Coumont in 1990.  Since then the well-known communal table eatery with four locations in the DC area, has skyrocketed to 200 outlets in 17 countries.  She clearly knows a great idea when she sees it.

Recently de Kergolay launched a frozen food emporium in New York City that is poised to recreate the same success she has enjoyed through her earlier business foray.  Fashioned after the popular Paris store Picard, Babeth’s Feast opened on the Upper East Side in early August.  The groundbreaking store offers high-end frozen foods and cooking demonstrations.  Where has this clever idea been?

After learning about her venture at the opening of Daniel Boulud’s new DC outpost DBGB, Whisk and Quill was highly intrigued to learn more about this novel concept.  

Jordan Wright – What is your past experience with food?

Elisabeth de Kergolay – I grew up around food, and being around Daniel when I was young was a great experience.

Tell me about your inspiration for Babeth’s Feast?  How long has it been in the planning stages?

It was based on the concept of Picard from France.  Arriving in New York in 2008, I like many other French people wondered, ‘Where’s the frozen food store?  Where’s the Picard?’  When I realized there wasn’t one, I thought it had been tried and failed.  But actually it had never been tried!  So I thought about it a lot and spoke to quite a few people and decided to go ahead.  I knew there was a niche for this, though it took several years to achieve.  We had to do absolutely everything from the ground up – – creating and positioning the brand, selecting the products and designing the packaging.

The idea was to have a full range of products.  We like to think of ourselves as a frozen grocery store where you can get anything you want for every meal of day.  We have 400 products divided up into 10 different food categories.  For sourcing and creating the recipes we have our chef, Susie Cover, who develops the recipes.  Initially we made a list of what we liked of French-inspired foods then adapted them slightly to suit American tastes.  We make over half of our products.  Some are made by Susie, and some by private label, others are manufacturers’ brands made by companies who are specialists in their field.  Of course we want our own products to be predominant in the future, but for the moment the remaining products are manufacturers’ brands.  For that we select small companies who are specialists in their field.

Has Daniel been involved with Babeth’s Feast?

Daniel wrote a recipe for our cabbage soup using our fantastic lobster tails – – something new we had brought in for the holidays.  We work with a lobster manufacturer in Maine to assure the most impeccable quality.  In the future I want to explore having other chefs create dishes for us.

Are all the foods prepared?

Mostly, but some are unprepared cuts of meat and sausage and things that we source locally from the Hudson Valley.  Also all our fish are raised sustainably.  For uncooked products we help the customer with recipes.

Who creates the recipes?  

Susie does.  We brainstorm together to come up with different dishes and then she comes up with a recipe.  Most of the original ones we did were traditional French, but we have moved on to curries and other things.  We taste new dishes with our store team and our board to decide which we like.  For the best local products, Susie also visits the food shows.  For example, our ice creams are from Maine and New York, our meat-based products are prepared in Connecticut, and we produce our soups and quiches in New York.

Are they made in the sous vide style? 

Ours are flash frozen, but some of the products we carry are made sous vide.

How are they readied for the table by the consumer?

Usually we have three options – bake, microwave or pan-warmed as with our velouté soups.  Of course if it’s a gratin, it needs to be baked.

Do you sell any fruits, herbs, lemons or salad fixings to complement the dishes?

We have a selection of frozen herbs that have been very successful from the day we opened, like chopped onion, garlic and shallot, as well as sauces and spreads.  And we have a pantry category as well.  We carry crackers for the spreads, jams for our breads and sauces for our meats.  Some of the jams are ours and some are French brands that are not yet known in the US.

Do you find customers buy your products to take to their weekend homes for entertaining?

Absolutely.  I think the customer has yet to get used to the idea of having things in advance for special occasions as well as for regular use for whenever you need them.  For me, although I still like cooking, perhaps I won’t make a side dish.  I might make some fish or meat that I’ve purchased elsewhere to complement some of the side dishes that I keep in my freezer. It’s a whole way of mastering the use of frozen food.  It answers many needs.

Do you ship to customers who might not have access to high quality foods?

We ship nationwide by FedEx.  It’s packed in dry ice. And we deliver around Manhattan too.

What are the most popular items?

So far mostly the main courses like Coq au Vin, Veal Blanquette, Chicken Provençal and Chicken Tarragon.  Also side dishes like Susie’s gratins and her favorite savory crumbles.  She’s made three this season – one with Brussels Sprouts, one using tomatoes and another with butternut squash.

Coq au Vin Fig and Caramelized Onion Puffs Tomato Crumble

What surprised you the most since you’ve opened?

I think really the time and the interest that people spend in the store looking before buying. When I shopped at Picard in France I was single and going out all the time, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking.

People are learning that we have a tasting area where we sample all day long.  It was something that was indispensable to the success of the store.  Because when they try they “get it”, and it’s so satisfactory for us.  We know there’s a certain stigma attached to frozen food because the offerings haven’t been great.  In France people choose to go to the frozen food store.  It’s not considered a last resort.

I looked at your online calendar and your upcoming cooking demonstrations sounded exciting.  I was especially captivated by the one called “Comfort Food” featuring Cauliflower Blue Cheese Velouté, Lamb Shanks, Sweet Potato Écrassé, and the Banana Apple Crumble.   Are you also teaching your clients to cook at home as well as purchasing the products?

We show them how to pull it all together.  When we give a demonstration we’ll use a few different products to create a meal.  We want to keep it simple.  We also show people how to plate the foods and show them tricks as how to serve it in their own dishes.

What other helpful tricks do you use? 

We use a color code for each category of product.  The idea behind this was to see exactly what the product is when it’s in the freezer.  Like the breakfast products are coded yellow.  That way you can see immediately what you have without having to rummage around.

Babeth’s Feast is at 1422 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10028.  For more information visit www.BabethsFeast.com

Mini parfaits

Mini parfaits

Turning Up the Heat with Richard Sandoval with a Nod to Shakira

Jordan Wright
December 2, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

 

World-renowned chef and international restaurateur Richard Sandoval has penned his latest cookbook, New Latin Flavors – Hot Dishes, Cool Drinks (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) just in time to spice up the holiday season.  Most of you will be familiar with his DC Latin/Asian fusion restaurants Zengo, Masa 14, El Centro D. F., but also Ambar with its flavor-forward Balkan dishes, La Sandia in Tyson’s Corner, or the chic, sleek Toro Toro, a churrascaria that opened downtown this April.  With thirty-eight successful restaurants worldwide from Dubai to Paris and New York to Mexico, Sandoval’s empire is a testimonial to his delicious contemporary Latin cooking.

Richard Sandoval serving up churrasco at Toro Toro - Photo credit  Jordan Wrigh

Richard Sandoval serving up churrasco at Toro Toro – Photo credit Jordan Wright

In his fifth cookbook Sandoval has given us a collection of 125 inspired recipes that draw from the rich culinary traditions of Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina.  Gorgeous photographs from Saveur photographer Penny De Los Santos grace the pages and highlight the mouth-watering recipes.  For the first time Sandoval has tailored a cookbook expressly for the home cook spanning his repertoire of quesadillas, ceviches, arepas and enchiladas plus delicious Latin-inspired cocktails.  Think tequila, mescal, cachaça, rum and pisco.  Do you feel a party coming on?

Whisk and Quill caught up with Sandoval after he had dodged a blizzard in Denver to get to his DC book launch.

Whisk and Quill – What direction do you think food is going in today? 

Sandoval – I think after the recession people’s ways of eating have changed dramatically.  The last ten years it went very forward with all these molecular restaurants.  I wanted to go retro.  You know, back to our roots, back to comfort food and local ingredients, to make people feel comfortable again.

Would you agree that some of the best dishes from the past have been ruined by modernization?  Although now I see more chefs returning to the classics but putting their own spin on it.

Absolutely!  That’s always been my approach.  A lot of my Latin cooking started with my grandmother in her kitchen.  I would take dishes, like the mole, and interpret them in my way.  I took the roots of these recipes and kept them the way they were meant to be.  

What are your favorite ingredients? 

I’ve always loved chiles and you’ll always see chiles in my cooking.  But as far as cuisines, in the past three or four years I’ve been doing more Peruvian.  I love it.  And I love Thai food.  I’ll be opening a restaurant in mid-January at the new City Center here in DC.  It’s called Mango Tree.  We brought a chef from Bangkok who worked at one of the other Mango Tree restaurants.  I plan to take the roots of their cuisine, tweaking it a little bit as far as my flavor profile and presentation, but leaving the core as it is, maybe just changing the heat level and the balance.  I’m incredibly excited.  The restaurant already exists in London and Bangkok and Dubai.  It’s classic Thai.  I’ll just be readjusting it to what I do.  

How do you begin to create a fusion dish?  Do you start with a single ingredient or do you use your palate’s imagination? 

I start with a single dish.  The first fusion restaurant I did was Zengo, and Zengo means ‘give and take, back and forth’ in Japanese.  It was two chefs, two cultures.  First I would do a Latin dish.  I hired an Asian chef to work with me and I would give it to him and he would ‘Asianize’ it.  Then he would create an Asian dish and give it to me and I would ‘Latinize’ it.  It’s two chefs collaborating.  It wasn’t just me reinventing Asian, or what I thought it was.  This way it made more sense to me.  

Why is this book important to you? 

When had my first Mexican restaurant twenty years ago, it was doing modern Mexican cuisine – – with more forward thinking.  In this book I went retro with more traditional food and more comfort food.  It’s very accessible to the home cook.  It was very important to me to make sure that when people buy this book, they see it’s about having fun, that it’s not overly complicated where people would look at a recipe and say, ‘Ohmygod, I’ve got to go to Williams Sonoma to get the equipment and will I be able to find the ingredients?’  I wanted to be sure I made it very accessible and very fun.  

Who would you most like to dine with living or dead? 

I’ve always been very intrigued by Nelson Mandela.  How someone can spend so much time in jail and then be able to come out and forgive.  Most people would not be able to let go of what happened to them.  He just kept moving on with his life and changed his country with his strong spirit and by sharing his ideas.

What if I asked you to name a woman? 

Wow!  I’ve always liked Shakira!  She’s a beautiful woman and a great artist and I love her music.

Maybe she could sing to you. 

I don’t think her husband would appreciate that!

We’re fantasizing here. 

Okay, I could cook for her and she could sing to me.

Here are a few recipes to spice up any holiday party.

PONCHE Striped Bass Tiradito Grilled Tostada with Beef Salpicón
  • 1/2 cup (2.0 g) dried hibiscus flowers
  • (jamaica)
  • One 3-inch (7.5-cm) cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (130 g) tamarind pulp, broken
  • into pieces (see Notes)
  • Two 4-inch (10-cm) pieces fresh or
  • frozen sugarcane, peeled and cut into
  • 12 sticks (see Notes; optional)
  • 24 fresh or drained bottled tejocotes
  • (see Notes)
  • 2 ripe guavas, cut into 12 wedges
  • (see Notes)
  • One 375-ml bottle (1. cups) 100%
  • agave tequila, brandy, or light rum
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) orange-flavored liqueur,
  • such as Grand Marnier
  • 12 pitted dried plums

The Mexican warm fruit punch of the holiday season, ponche is sometimes nothing more than spiced syrup with booze. My family recipe is better, and infused with the tropical flavors of hibiscus and tamarind.

Serves 10 to 12

[1] Bring 2. quarts (2.5 L) water to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan over high heat. Remove it from the heat and add the hibiscus flowers and cinnamon stick. Let them stand for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and tamarind and bring them to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often to break up the tamarind, for 5 minutes. Strain the liquid into a large heatproof bowl, pressing hard on the solids; discard the solids.

[2] Return the liquid to the pot. Add the sugarcane, if using, and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook the liquid at a brisk simmer for 5 minutes. Strain it again to remove any tamarind debris.

[3] Return the tea to the pot and add the tejocotes and guavas. Simmer until the guavas are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tequila and liqueur and simmer just until the mixture is hot. Remove it from the heat, add the plums, and let them stand for 5 minutes. (Do not add them earlier or they will get too soft.)

[4] To serve, return the pot to very low heat to keep the ponche warm. Ladle the ponche into mugs, adding the fruits to each serving. Serve it hot. Notes You can substitute 1⁄3 cup (75 ml) tamarind concentrate for the tamarind pulp. If neither is available, use . cup (120 ml) fresh lemon juice. Fresh or frozen sugarcane is available at Latin groceries and large supermarkets, and is often sold peeled. If the thick skin needs to be removed, use a large knife to chop the cane into manageable 4-inch (10-cm) lengths. Stand the pieces on end to cut away the peel. Cut the sugarcane lengthwise into thick sticks.  Tejocote is a small round stone fruit (that is, with a large seed in the center).  It is sold fresh at Mexican groceries around Christmas time, and in jars year-round.Kumquats or crabapples are good substitutes because they are similar in size to tejocotes. You may want to alert your guests that the tejocote seeds can be spit out.  Pineapple guava, about the size of a large lime, is the most widely available variety around Christmastime. If it is not available, substitute about one-quarter of a pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into bite-size pieces.  Goya, the leading Latin food product manufacturer, sells a nonalcoholic ponche in a jar with enough tejocotes, sugarcane sticks, and guavas for this recipe.  Drain and discard the liquid—you really just want the fruit.  Leave the tejocotes intact, but cut the sticks and guavas as needed to yield twelve pieces of each.

with Ponzu, App le & Radish Tiradito de lubina rayada con salsa ponzu, manzana y rábano

  • 1/2  Granny Smith apple, peeled
  • 2 large radishes, trimmed
  • 14 ounces (400 g) skinless striped
  • bass, cut on a diagonal into .-inch
  • (6-mm) slices
  • 1Ž2  cup (120 ml) Ponzu, homemade
  • (page 48) or store-bought, chilled
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • Sriracha, for serving

Tiradito is the South American version of ceviche, and it often has Asian influences, such as the ponzu in this recipe. It is one of the lightest (and quickest) first courses you’ll ever make, yet at the same time, it is one of the most flavorful. There are many good brands for sale, but it is also easy to make your own (page 48), and it is worth the minimal effort for this recipe, where it plays such a big role.

Serves 4
[1] Just before serving, use a V-slicer or mandoline to cut the apple and radishes into julienne. (You can also use a chef’s knife.) Combine them in a small bowl.

[2] For each serving, fan the bass on a chilled
serving plate with a  rim.  Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ponzu around, but not on, the bass.Top each with one-quarter of the apple mixture and the grated lemon zest.  Serve immediately, with the Sriracha on the side.

tostada con salpicón de res
For the Salpicón Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano,
  • crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black
  • pepper
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) olive oil
  • For the Grilled Tortillas:
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • Canola oil, for brushing
  • For the Salpicón:
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and
  • shredded
  • 1/2 seedless (English) cucumber,
  • cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) dice
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into
  • 1/2-inch (12-mm) dice
  • 4 radishes, cut into 1Ž4-inch
  • (6-mm) dice
  • 1/2 cup (90 g) drained nonpareil capers
  • 1/4 cup (5 g) coarsely chopped fresh
  • cilantro
  • 3 cups (645 g) Shredded Beef Filling
  • with Tomatoes and Chilies (page 175),
  • at room temperature
  • 2 ripe Hass avocados, thinly sliced

There are many different versions of salpicón, the hearty salad that is a specialty of both Mexican and Colombian cooks. The constants are shredded meat (or poultry or chopped seafood) and a sharp dressing. I like to serve it on grilled tortillas for a smoky crunch that everyone loves. (The tortillas can also be fried in oil, if you wish.)

Serves 6

[1] Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, lime juice, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil.

[2] Grill the tortillas: Prepare an outdoor grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. For a charcoal grill, let the coals burn until they are covered with white ash and you can hold your hand about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the cooking grate for about 3 seconds. For a gas grill, preheat it on high, then adjust the heat to 450oF (230oC). Or preheat a stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat.

[3] Lightly brush the tortillas on both sides with oil. Place them on the grill and cook, with the lid closed as much as possible, turning them occasionally, until they are crisp and lightly charred, about 2 minutes. Remove them from the grill.

[4] Make the salpicón:
Toss the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, capers, and cilantro with the dressing in a large bowl.

[5] Place a tortilla on each of six dinner plates. Divide the lettuce mixture among them, topped by the beef. Top them with the sliced avocado and serve immediately.

Shredded Beef Filling with Tomatoes & Chilies Ropa vieja con tomates y chiles

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more
  • as needed
  • One 2.-pound (1.2-kg) beef brisket,
  • fat trimmed to 1⁄8 inch (3 mm)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black
  • pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely
  • chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 28-ounce (785-g) can fire-roasted
  • tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • . cup (5 g) finely chopped fresh
  • cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon mesquite-flavored liquid
  • smoke (optional)

Slowly simmered with tomatoes and jalapenos, this braised brisket is called ropa vieja (“old clothes”) because the shredded meat looks like raggedy clothes. There will be about a cup or so of the cooking liquid left over—be sure to save it as a sauce for pasta or polenta. You may even want to serve this as a main course with Mashed Potatoes with Oaxaca Cheese (page 145).

Makes about 4 cups (910 g)

[1] Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to 350oF (175oC).

[2] Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the brisket all over with 1 teaspoon salt and . teaspoon pepper. Place it in the Dutch oven, fat-side down, and cook it, turning after 5 minutes, until it is nicely browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the brisket to a plate.

[3] If needed, add another 1 tablespoon oil to the Dutch oven. Add the onion, jalapenos, and garlic and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring them occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices with the oregano and bring them to a boil. Return the brisket to the Dutch oven and add enough hot water to come about three-quarters up the side of the meat. Bring it to a boil over high heat.

[4] Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the brisket is fork-tender, about 2. hours. Transfer the brisket to a carving board, tent it with aluminum foil, and let it stand for 10 minutes. Set the cooking liquid aside.

[5] Using a sharp knife and your fingers, shred the brisket with the grain. Roughly cut the shredded beef across the grain into bite-size pieces. Transfer it to a bowl. Skim off the fat on the surface of the cooking liquid. Stir in about one-third of the cooking liquid to lightly moisten the shredded beef. Add the cilantro, lime juice, and liquid smoke, if using, and mix it again. Season the beef to taste with salt and pepper. (The beef can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Reheat it before using.)

National Geographic’s Executive Chef Matthew Crudder Talks About His Plans for the Upcoming Farm-to-Table Dinner and Why He Likes to Source Locally

Jordan Wright
November 30, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Matthew Crudder - Executive Chef at National Geographics

Matthew Crudder – Executive Chef at National Geographics

Presiding over National Geographic’s Washington, DC kitchens for over two years, Executive Chef Matthew Crudder draws on his considerable experience.  A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, the 45-year old chef hails from Ann Arbor Michigan, where he briefly attended the University of Michigan before finding his passion for cooking.  His resume reads like a primer for aspiring chefs – – The Four Seasons in Las Vegas and Chicago, the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, the Fairmont in Washington, DC and Sodexo clients, AOL, Gannett, USA Today and Fannie Mae.  “NatGeo”, as it is fondly called, is currently served by Sodexo who launched their “Local Artisan” program at NatGeo’s headquarters.  Crudder had taken a lead role in sustainability throughout his time at Sodexo and eagerly took the lead in this innovative program described as “a locally-sourced sustainable process highlighted by a chef-driven approach to natural cooking”.

On December 4th the Society will host a local, sustainable farm-to-table dinner in its historic Hubbard Hall, the first headquarters of the National Geographic Society, located at 1145 17th St., NW Washington, DC in DC’s Golden Triangle District.

Inspired by the exhibition “FOOD: Our Global Kitchen”, the evening will feature a guided five-course meal with local wine, beer and cider parings.  During dinner Archivist Renee Braden will share the history of National Geographic and discuss its rich relationship with food.  To purchase tickets go to http://events.nationalgeographic.com/special-events/2014/12/04/farm-table-hubbard-hall/

Earlier this week Whisk and Quill took the opportunity to speak with Crudder in advance of NatGeo’s exciting event.

What are your earliest food memories?

Growing up my family kept gardens and I started my involvement at home when I’d hear, “The water is about to boil go and get the corn or go pick the string beans.” Or “If you’d like jam on your toast tomorrow, here’s a bucket.  Go collect the blackberries on down by the road.”  So my grandmother and mother were big influences in terms of really fresh all-American cooking.  I mean in the more traditional sense as opposed to the concession stand or freezer aisle.

What was your first professional experience?

I started off in an Italian kitchen and fried zucchini was my specialty for the first two days of my training.  But the first real dish I learned to prepare from start to finish was osso buco.  And it’s still a dish that I love to prepare.

I like Marcella Hazan’s recipe for osso buco.

Well, actually on many occasions when people say they want to learn to cook, the first thing I do is hand them Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking!

Before I’d even been to cooking school I remember making the first couple of recipes from her book, which gave just four ingredients – – although the results were so much more than that.

Her description of the techniques is what makes her recipes so exceptional.  It really helps you to understand how the process should be looking and smelling so you know what you’re supposed to be doing.  And then there’s that sense of risk that comes with doing the braise!  You put it in the oven and you can’t do any more. You just have to wait.

What style of cooking is your favorite?

I really like what we’re doing now with the “Local Artisan” – – the farm-to-table style program that allows simple cooking techniques and the product itself to showcase the quality of the food.  A bit of salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice with a properly sautéed or roasted item is maybe all you need – – not hiding things under heavy sauces and sugars and things like that.  The food is just so honest and recognizable the flavors really shine through.  And it’s healthier too – – if you’re careful with the oil!

We did a small test for the dinner we’ll be doing next Thursday and we’ve been passing it around the kitchen today to let everybody sample it.  It’s just unadorned goat’s milk ricotta.  There are only four ingredients to making it.  But before we drizzled it with olive oil or added salt and pepper, the response we got, that it was so fresh and creamy and wonderful, was so rewarding.

Can you describe the types of events typical to NatGeo that you create dinners for?

The part of what I love about working for National Geographic is that whatever they’re involved in we’re going to be doing themes based on their event schedules.  Everyday I practice and focus on our cuisine using natural products and techniques and then I get to use these adventures on our special events.

We’ve done a man-on-Mars themed dinner and a Spinosaurus themed dinner as well as different cultural menus.  For South America we focused on the Amazon and Peru for the “Peruvian Gold” exhibit.  There are a lot of opportunities to be creative.  I do research to learn about cuisines I might not know about.  For example, for a group from Durban, South Africa, I got to dig around on the Internet and source some products to make it as authentic as possible, and our guests really got into the spirit of it.

Can you tell me a bit about the plans for the upcoming dinner on December 4th?

The house made goat’s milk ricotta I mentioned will be paired with roasted and pickled beets.  Some of the other elements I want to hold in surprise.  In terms of the event it will be a farm-to-table event.  But here we are in the beginning of December in the Mid-Atlantic and many things are not growing at this time of year.  When we found out about the event we made up some tomato jam at the height of the season for heirloom tomatoes.

I’m not going to serve a local hothouse tomato that doesn’t taste like anything just because it’s local.  And I’m not going to say we can’t have tomatoes because they’re not growing in the field near here now.  That wouldn’t be what was done in a more traditional setting either.  Back then you would have to take the bounty and preserve it in as many ways as you could.  So we have a number of items sprinkled around the menu that are taken from this summer’s bounty which we have prepared and preserved – – whether it was by drying or canning or freezing or pickling – – to hold on to the peak of freshness.

We’ll be featuring key ingredients in every dish that have been locally sourced.  We have a direct relationship with farmer/owner Greg Keckler of Orchard County Produce in Gardeners, PA who comes here nine months out of the year on Tuesdays.  He supplies subscriptions for a CSA we have in the building and holds a farmers market in our courtyard.  His quinces, apples, root vegetables, Swiss chard and kale will be incorporated into the menu.

Will there be other local providers involved in the dinner? 

I work very closely with my meat and fish providers to select products that will be readily available locally.  The beef we’ll use is Certified Angus Beef but it’s differentiated from other Certified Angus Beef by the fact that the product comes from a “single stream” from a particular small group of farms in Pennsylvania, so the animals are born and raised there.  The people that raise the animals also grow the feed for the animals and they’re processed and shipped locally.  That’s different from the standard way most Angus cattle are raised.  Their entire life span, as well as what they’ve been fed, is all along the line of sight of the ranchers that handle them.  So that’s very exciting.

We also will feature some wonderful seafood from the Chesapeake region.  And we are working with J. Q. Dickinson Salt-Works from the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia using their wonderful salt.  The fact that something so basic can be a hand made product, I think is really special.

We’re not going to say, oh, that product is one county away, so we can’t use it.  What we try to share with our guests is the evolution and story of how the food supply evolves and ebbs and flows through the course of the year.

One of the things that we’ve done here is to compare food miles, something I’ve shared on National Geographic Live.  We don’t really track it, but we did compare how many miles food travels – – showing how near or far products have to travel when they are purchased from standard sources.  So if you are basing it on the availability of food, the radical difference in terms of the miles traveled by the food is a factor of, not tens, but hundreds of miles and we’re very aware of that.

Peach Brandy Debuts at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery

Jordan Wright
November 25, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Peach Brandy launch - Photo credit DISCUS

Peach Brandy launch – Photo credit DISCUS

Eight hundred eagerly-anticipated bottles of George Washington’s limited edition Peach Brandy Eau de Vie (translation: “water of life”) went onto the shelves of the Mount Vernon Estate gift shop just in time for Christmas.  Produced at the restored distillery this huge undertaking dwarfed Washington’s eight gallons in sales recorded back in 1798, reflecting a more than two-century price increase from $1.00 a gallon to a considerably adjusted $150.00 per 375ml bottle.

It’s an elegant pour, meant to be sipped, and one Washington didn’t expect to be chug-a-lugged.  Not exactly a teetotaler himself, he wrote a letter to an employee, whom he both chastised and cautioned for drinking excessively.

When it first opened in 1798, the distillery was run by a canny Scotsman, James Anderson, and his son John.  James had convinced Washington to produce whiskey later introducing the eau de vie, which are made today according to the early recipes.  Producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in its heyday, it became the largest distillery in America, providing two distinct grades of whiskey, which became available throughout the country, including in Alexandria’s many taverns.

Thanks to the efforts of archaeologists who discovered the foundations in 1997 and working off a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the distillery was restored in March of 2007 after being destroyed by fire in 1814.  Following ten years of research and construction, the distillery now produces one hundred gallons of rye whiskey in small batches twice a year.  Brandy is made every other year.

Both are made the old-fashioned way using 18th century distilling techniques.  Workers hand-cut up to 51 cords of wood per month to stoke the direct wood fires beneath the still, and giant wooden paddles are used to stir the mash, which then is transferred to a series of hogsheads.  “Manning the paddles is like steering a cement canoe down the river,” says Mount Vernon’s Master Distiller Steven Bashore.

Mount Vernon Master Distiller Steven Bashore - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Mount Vernon Master Distiller Steven Bashore – Photo credit Jordan Wright

To achieve 300 gallons of whiskey, 8,000 pounds of rye, corn and malted barley from grains are sourced from Virginia farms.  Locally grown Virginia peaches become the base for the Peach Brandy Eau de Vie that George and Martha served at the mansion.  Ledger entries from 1798 show sales of eight gallons to the public. But by 1799 with production in full swing, the First Couple were graciously serving 60 gallons of the precious peach elixir to their many guests.

Adding the grains to the make the mash - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Adding the grains to the make the mash – Photo credit Jordan Wright

To recreate this “new” product two of America’s leading brandy distillers were brought in, Ted Huber of Starlight Distillery in Indiana who procured five 55-gallon drums of very fine peach juice, and Thomas McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling in New York.  Both men assisted Bashore in the production and bottling of the historic brandy, which has been described as having tasting notes of candied peaches and peach cobbler with a hint of cinnamon and which I can personally attest to.

Dedicated in 2007 by Britain’s Prince Andrew, the reconstructed distillery featuring the distilling process “from seed to still” is open to the public 365 days of the year.  Located at 5513 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309, the distillery is three miles south of Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  For hours of operation go to www.MountVernon.org

To get you in the holiday spirit, or spirits as the case may be, here is a recipe for Martha Washington’s Rum Punch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martha Washington’s Rum Punch

Makes 6 -10 servings

  • 3 oz. of White Rum
  • 3 oz. of Dark Rum
  • 3 oz. of Orange Curaçao
 [or Peach Brandy Eau de Vie]
  • 4 oz. of Simple Syrup
 [equal parts sugar to water, warmed till sugar is dissolved]
  • 4 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 4 oz. of Fresh Orange Juice
  • 3 Lemons quartered
  • 1 Orange quartered
  • ½ Tsp. Grated nutmeg
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks (broken)
  • 6 Cloves
  • 12 oz. Boiling water

In a container, mash the orange, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg.  Add the syrup, lemon, and orange juices.  Pour the boiling water over the mixture in the container and let cool for a few minutes.

When cool, add the White Rum, Dark Rum, and Orange Curaçao [You may substitute for Peach Brandy].  Strain well into a pitcher or punch bowl (to remove all of the spice marinade) and serve over ice in goblets and decorate with wheels of lemon and orange.

Dust with a little nutmeg and cinnamon and enjoy a sip of American history.

Five Guys Named Moe Bring Razzle Dazzle to Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 24, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley

When asked to produce a musical for the first time in his career, award winning Director and playwright, Robert O’Hara, decided on a fresh approach to the musical revue.  Showcasing songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan’s “new” Jazz sound; music written expressly for the show; and other notably sassy songs from the era, O’Hara chose to update it by channeling the success of the “boy band”.  Now Five Guys Named Moe presents a new dynamic to the ever-popular show with crack dance routines, a crop of snappy singers and a razzle-dazzle pace that gets the audience dancing in their seats – and onstage too.

The revue is backgrounded by the story of Nomax, a young man whose gal has left him high and dry.  For comfort Nomax turns to his old Zenith radio and a bottle of hooch.  In his lonely stupor the broadcasts come to life and he finds himself in the company of five jammin’ and jivin’ entertainers dressed in sharkskin suits and brocade jackets ready to take him to the “Saturday Night Fish Fry”.

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

Lit by neon-colored twin staircases that rise above the stage-level live orchestra, the “Moes” try to cheer up the hapless fellow with song and dance routines strung together from the hit tunes of the 1940’s era.  They take him to the Funky Butt Club where there’s a whole lot of shimmyin’, shakin’ and tappin’ goin’ on.  Where the guys trade licks in a whirlwind of dance styles from Maurice Hines to In Sync to Gene Kelly, with a few Magic Mike moves thrown in for good measure.

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

The super talented cast consists of Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe, Kevin McAllister as Nomax and Paris Nix as Eat Moe.  And there is no way to single anyone performer out for praise.  Believe me, I tried.  In harmony their rich voices blend together seamlessly, yet in solos, each one has its own distinctive style throughout the 25 numbers.  Henry shows off a boogie-woogie rhythm in “Caldonia”; Parker-Namdar and Porchia backed by the group tear the place down with their funky chicken in “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”; Parker-Namdar on “Reet, Petite and Gone”; Clinton Roane tells Nomax “I’m a chubby chaser!” in “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That”; and Nix shows off a soulful blues vibe in “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”. And they all shine bright backed by the smokin’ hot 6-piece orchestra led by Darryl G. Ivey.

Climb aboard the “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” with this “sepia symphonette”.  Through December 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.