Melanie Bikowski ~ An Interview with the Artist

Jordan Wright
December 16, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Melanie Bikowski

Alexandria artist Melanie Bikowski is a mom first – at least that’s how she’d prefer you to think of her.  Mother to two-year old Cayce, she is relatively new to the art world, yet in a few short years she has developed quite a following for her colorful acrylics.  Originally from Hampton Roads in Southeastern Virginia, Bikowski grew up in Norfolk, moving to Alexandria five years ago.  After getting dual bachelors’ degrees in Psychology and Creative Writing, she continues to seek her major in psychology at Old Dominion University.  Her thesis is on ‘Mom’s Art’, a term that’s been used to describe the work of Canadian artist Ruth Oosterman, who also found inspiration collaborating with her toddler.  Bikowski explains, “A lot of my work is bright, amorphous, abstract modern art and I wanted to incorporate my mom life into my work.”  In the spirit of honoring a child’s drawings that most parents merely tack onto the refrigerator, Bikowski says, “I feel like that’s the reality of our home décor.  Other people live in your home and they leave their work there too.”

Abstract works with daughter Cayce

While pregnant with Cayce, Bikowski had begun to have dreams of painting canvasses with her daughter.  “We’ve been doing pure creation together while building our relationship.  She has now become my muse.”  Defining her paintings as spur-of-the-moment, intuitive, emotional art, she believes if an artist “flows the best of their emotions are at their highest.”  She feels her daughter’s limitless sense of wonderment, childlike experimentation and freedom of expression inspire her, leading her to incorporate Cayce’s coloring pieces, drawings and stickers into her paintings.  The toddler’s current fantasy playworld is heavily influenced by the Powerpuff Girls and My Little Pony.

“When I moved here my biggest dream was to be an artist.  People were telling me that doesn’t exist,” Bikowski says.  One day, while at her first job in Alexandria at the Robinson Terminal, fate drew her to the nearby Torpedo Factory where she found a gallery filled with dozens of artists.  “I was stoked to see what was going on there and went every weekday after that.  Watching the artists and hearing how excited they were – that just really saved me,” she says.

Green Painting- "Home" Mel Bikowski 2016- Promotional Painting for Sensorium at Del Ray Artisans

“Home” Melanie Bikowski 2016

In January of 2014 her mother convinced her to take a course in abstract art at Alexandria’s famed The Art League with instructor, Beverly Ryan.  Through Ryan, whom she considers her mentor, she took on an art challenge to complete one painting a day for a year.  That massive effort turned into 466 paintings, of which she sold over 100.  Over 80 of her paintings have Cayce’s work in them.  During the same period, she discovered the Del Ray Artisans Gallery on Mount Vernon Avenue.  Now celebrating its 25th year promoting art and artists in Alexandria, the gallery hosts monthly members’ shows open to the public.  There she found a welcoming art scene with members helping each other find alternative submission opportunities.

That led her to collaborate on a show earlier this year with local artist, Lotus Heartsong, at the The Village Gallery in Old Town Fairfax.  Featured in the Washington Post’s Going Out Guide, the women were thrilled to welcome over 300 people to their opening.  As a result of the show’s huge success, she received a residency at Olly Olly, an alternative art space and gallery in Fairfax where she shares working space with four other artists and is able to show at their exhibitions.

“A Call for Courage” Melanie Bikowski 2017

This January Bikowski will co-curate Sensorium with fellow DRA member Betsy Mead.  The exhibit is described as the using the part of the brain that, “evokes emotional feelings of sympathy, appreciation or gratitude, or something that is moving, heartbreaking or tender”, and honors “how artists interpret the impact of our human journey through evoking the five senses.”  The show’s cover art is Bikowski’s evocative painting, “Home”.

Sensorium runs from January 5th – 28th 2018 at the Colasanto Center, 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301.  Gallery hours are Thursdays 12-6pm, Fridays 12-9pm, Saturdays 12-9pm, and Sundays 12-6pm. The gallery is free and handicap accessible.  For more information on the show visit The Del Ray Artisans Gallery.  To learn more about Melanie Bikowski visit her website.

Art News – Focus on Renowned Local Photographer Nina Tisara

Jordan Wright
Special to The Alexandria Times
June 6, 2017 

Nature-inspired mosaic by Nina Tisara - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Nature-inspired mosaic by Nina Tisara – Photo credit Jordan Wright

When interviewed for her 2015 Living Legends of Alexandria profile, Artist-Photographer Nina Tisara quipped, “I had a life before Living Legends and I expect to have a life after.”  As founder of the organization that selects and celebrates annually the inspiring accomplishments and contributions of our finest citizens, Tisara will retire from her ten-year commitment leading the organization to pursue her art.

Her photography journey began in the 70’s at Air Force official photo library job when she took first photography class writing picture captions. While attending NOVA night classes in photography to reward herself for earning George Mason BA degree in economics in the mid-80’s and working full-time for a national association, she got hooked, and started part-time freelance photojournalist journey.  More study followed and her work began to get noticed.  Eventually the single mother of four went pro with portrait and wedding commissions, moving her business from Fairlington in 1990 to the townhouse on King Street where Tisara Photography continues to thrive under her son, Steven Halperson.

Currently Tisara has two very different shows in our area. Both are worthy of study. Her powerful black and white photographs of worshippers of all faiths allow us a window to the faithful in intimate and revealing moments of worship. In her nature-related mosaics show she interprets her own photographs in a more classic form – revealing the intricate details of nature through tiny pieces of tile.

Gospel Song, Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church - Photo credit - Nina Tisara

Gospel Song, Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church – Photo credit – Nina Tisara

The show at Convergence, Witnessing Worship – Connecting Through the Lens of Faith, brings together for the first time two of Tisara’s photo documentary studies of worship in Alexandria – Converging Paths (1984-85) and United in the Spirit (1995).  The exhibition invites Alexandrians to share photographs of current worship online.

Convergence believes Tisara’s work fits their universal philosophy. “The ambitious spiritual/cultural objective of this undertaking was the creation of a space where viewers were comfortable in considering the idea that agreement is not a requirement for relationship but an invitation to each of us to expand our capacity for generous listening and observation,” said Reverend Lisa Smith of Covergence.

The closing reception for Witnessing Worship is Friday, June 16, 7-9pm at Convergence, 1801 N. Quaker Lane. For details about the online project contact DabABH@ourconvergence.org.  The reception is free and open to the public.

Nina Tisara talks with fellow artist Marian Van Landingham at the opening reception at Huntley Meadows Visitors Center - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Nina Tisara talks with fellow artist Marian Van Landingham at the opening reception at Huntley Meadows Visitors Center – Photo credit Jordan Wright

In 2005 when photography went predominantly digital, Tisara laid her camera aside and started creating mosaic designs studying under Gene Sterud, a retired archeologist. “The medium provides the opportunity to combine my early training in painting and sculpture and my later work in photography. I often use the double-reverse process taught by Gene which, like sculpting in clay, allows the image the freedom to evolve,” she explains.   Each piece is signed with a tiny silver gecko.  “Geckos represent transition and transformation, death and rebirth, and letting go of old things for new,” she adds.

Alexandria residents Judy and Carl Lohmann admire details of Tisara's mosaics - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Alexandria residents Judy and Carl Lohmann admire details of Tisara’s mosaics – Photo credit Jordan Wright

Currently on exhibit at Huntley Meadow Park Visitors Center through August 31st, we see her work inspired by her photographs of a particular stand of trees at the park where she had envisioned “dancers” in the twisted grapevines that gird these trees.  Some of the mosaics are hung alongside the photographs that inspired them.  Tisara has been visiting the park and observing and photographing nature there since 2000 and first exhibit in 2003.

Huntley Meadows is located at 3701 Lockheed Boulevard, in nearby Fairfax County. For Visitor Center hours, see http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/huntley-meadows-park/

Interview with Culinary Icon Jeremiah Tower Upon the Release of the Brilliant Biopic “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent”

Jordan Wright
April 28, 2017 

With the release of Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, a film produced by his old friend Anthony Bourdain for Zero Point Zero Productions and distributed in the US by The Orchard, Tower can finally claim his due as the creator of California cuisine as the first celebrity chef in America.  It’s an appellation he richly deserves.  As a result of his early efforts sourcing local ingredients and California wines, he engendered the movement which became known as American regional cuisine.  After Tower’s meteoric rise in the 70’s at Chez Panisse, where he partnered with Alice Waters’ in the famed Berkeley hot spot, he held Executive Chef positions at a number of successful restaurants, ultimately opening his widely acclaimed Stars restaurant, a glittering French-inspired brasserie frequented by celebrities, socialites and city politicians.

His first book New American Classics won the James Beard Foundation Award in 1986 for Best American Regional Cookbook and, after opening a string of Stars outposts worldwide, in 1996 he won the Beard Award for Best Chef in America.  In 1989 San Francisco’s massive earthquake destroyed his beloved Stars.  Soon after the elegant spot was shuttered, Tower went into hiding.

In 2002 he published Jeremiah Tower Cooks: 250 Recipes from an American Master and one year later America’s Best Chefs Cook with Jeremiah Tower and a wonderful memoir entitled California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution.  His latest effort, published last year, is the flippantly titled and indelibly humorous, Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother.

After years of living around the world and off the grid, “I have to stay away from human beings, because apparently I am not one”, he surprisingly resurfaced to helm the spectacular rise and fall of Tavern on the Green, the swank Central Park watering hole owned by two neophyte restauranteurs. “Running a restaurant is difficult enough without people getting in your way,” he contends.

Lovingly directed by Lydia Tenaglia, beautifully edited by Eric Lasby, and tenderly scored by Giulio Carmassi with Morgan Fallon’s evocative photography, the film commences with scenes of Tower as a young boy, neglected by his alcoholic mother and abusive father and feasting alone in five-star hotels and ocean liners while they cavorted with café society.  It was in these splendid temples to gastronomy where he poured over hand-written menus and supped solo on lobster and caviar – his passion for haute cuisine engendered by the kitchen staff who “adopted” the impressionable child allowing him to roam freely in their vast kitchens.

One of the most fascinating and creative American chefs, Tower lends his personal diaries and family films to this emotionally alluring biopic.  Cameo appearances by Bourdain, Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, “He defined what a modern American restaurant could be.”, Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman and Martha Stewart, give us an insider’s view to his influence and legacy.

I spoke with Tower by phone and he surprised me with his puckish charm and self-deprecating humor.  A man at peace with himself, I thought – a man who had accomplished much.

Are you excited for the release of “The Last Magnificent”?

Jeremiah Tower – Oh yes!  It was very strange for me to watch it.  Lydia Tenali, the Director, did a great job.

Are you pleased with the result? 

It was very odd.  Actors see themselves in a role when they watch their films, but it was different watching yourself on film.  I was surprised I did it.  I’ve never really done anything like that before.  Looking at yourself on the big screen and having people talk about you is odd.

Does the movie augur your return to the culinary scene?

No.  I did that for 35 years.  I’m now getting my physical and mental health together.  I went to the beach.  Though I might, you know, if I had a beach bar in Thailand where I would cook whatever the fishermen brought up from their boats.

I read your book California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution in 2003 and noted what a raw deal you got in terms of recognition for your culinary direction at Chez Panisse.  Does it feel like some divine retribution to finally have the respect you’re due for creating and promoting California cuisine? 

I give thanks to Anthony Bourdain who produced the film.  He had the same reaction as you.  It pushed his justice button.  He wanted to tell the story.  He’s a wonderful guy.  He’s an outrageous guy.  Did you know my book has been revised and reissued?  It’s now called Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America” and it’s just been released along with the movie.

Your influence was also enormous in terms of promoting local farms across the country.  Was that your familiarity with the French way of buying locally that inspired you?

It’s hard for people to understand that everything you can buy in Whole Foods today you couldn’t buy then.  So I reached out to local farmers and fishermen to find the ingredients – eels, cheese, mushrooms foraged from the Berkeley hills.  They would just show up at the kitchen door with whatever they had and I’d work with that.  The whole foraging thing started for me at Chez Panisse.  Also with the California regional dinner we held where I mentioned the Monterey Bay prawns and trout from Big Sur on the menu.

What was it like to cook for Julia Child so many years ago?

Julia was wonderful to be around because she had such great energy and knowledge.  But, you know, she couldn’t cook.  Neither could Craig Claiborne.  Pierre Franey did all the cooking.  I did cook for her at her apartment in Santa Barbara.  The first time was at her home in the South of France and I went with Richard Olney who was an amazing author on French food.   As soon as we arrived Julia said, “Start cooking.”  So we prepared the meal.

The movie is unsparingly honest about your misfortunes – the devastating earthquake at Stars in San Francisco, the vagaries of taking over a kitchen with partners that knew less than nothing about food and service, and even the AIDS crisis affecting your relationships with the gay community.  Do you feel as though you’ve had a run of bad luck or were these misfortunes just products of the times?

As for the controversial AIDS lawsuit [Tower was sued for discrimination by one of his waiters who had AIDS at the same time he was privately financially supporting other members of his staff who had AIDS], I had a letter from the attorney saying if you countersue, “I will hang you.”  The case was thrown out of court twice for insufficient evidence but the third time they brought it, I was found guilty.

I read somewhere that “the measure of your life are the chances you take”.  I’ve always pushed everything off to the edge.  A friend of mine, a restaurant owner in New York, told me, “It’s easy to run a successful restaurant, it takes a genius to run an empty one.”  When we closed Stars, it cost me millions and millions of dollars.

I thought the editing was superb, the interspersing of family films and the young actor who portrayed you as a boy depicting the events that influenced your future life as a chef.  Is there anything you would have liked to have said that wasn’t represented in the film?

I mean, they had to cut 20 minutes out of the final cut, and they didn’t explain that after I sold Stars for a lot of money I took off for the George V in Paris.  If that was a fall, I’d like to do it all over again.

You’ve always been the pioneer – out in front on the food scene.

When you’re out in front your neck is on the chopping block and then the guillotine comes down.

The movie portrays you as a person who enjoys his solitude.  After so many years of hobnobbing with celebrities, socialites and great chefs, are you happier being on your own or have you just had enough of the chichi scene after you reached the pinnacle of success only to have it snatched out from under you?

When you work very hard and achieve a lot of public noise, one needs to find a balance.  I’ve chosen the solitude of a beach in a great Mayan city.

How would you prepare iguana?

I haven’t but I’ve seen that done in the jungle and, you know, you clean it, put it on a spit and eat it.  It tastes like a reptilian chicken.

This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.

St. Patrick’s Day and Oatmeal ~ Celebrating Ireland’s Amazing Exports ~ Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s

Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s
March 14, 2017
Jordan Wright 

Not all of us will be guzzling Guinness or Harp while wearing shamrock beads and green Pilgrim hats on St. Patrick’s Day.  I leave that to those cookie-baking elves.  As fanciers of Irish beer, Kerrygold butter and Irish cheddar (how did we ever live without these?), there are other ways to celebrate the Auld Sod.  Recently Flahavan’s Oatmeal hit the US market.  Their non-GMO and gluten-free products are now readily available in our area and around the country. The company, based in Ireland, boasts a seven-generation provenance.  Surprisingly, this is the pre-eminent oatmeal in Ireland, and rated Ireland’s favorite food brand.  I loved hearing that it is also Ireland’s oldest family-owned company.  Another little-known fact is that Quaker Oats and John McCann’s – the so-called “Irish oatmeal” we see in our supermarkets – are completely unknown there.  Oddly enough McCann’s is processed and packaged in the US.  So if you want real Irish oatmeal, I urge you seek this product out.

Yesterday I spoke with CEO John Flavahan by phone who rang me from Waterford County, Ireland where the company is based.  Due to the blizzard, his flight to the US was cancelled and unfortunately we would not have the opportunity to meet in person.  Still I was ready to learn more about his company and hoped to seek clarification of the sometimes-confusing types of oatmeal.  John’s Irish lilt was a joy to hear as he lovingly spoke of his ancestors and the history of their centuries-old mill.  He is especially proud of the mill’s award-winning approach to sustainable production and renewable sources.  Our conversation below is followed by fantastic several recipes to try at home. 

Whisk and Quill – As the oldest mill in Ireland, your mill is a veritable anthology of the history of milling in Ireland.  How excited are you to introduce your oatmeal to America? 

Flahavan’s is the oldest grain mill that is still working in Ireland. Given my family’s long history in milling, I have a great personal interest in history and have enjoyed tracing back the history of the company to 1785. This is when my great, great, great grandfather took over the mill, and it is quite likely that the mill was operating before that. There are records in the 1656 Civil Survey showing that there were two mills in the village of Kilmacthomas, and we believe that the Flahavan’s mill could be one of those mills.

In my quest to know more, I discovered old letters from America dating back to the 1850s and 1860s from a family member (Matthew Kelly) in Chicopee Falls, MA, USA to my great grandfather, Thomas Flahavan. One of these references the political climate among the States following the election of a new US president: Abraham Lincoln, when he described with the ultimate understatement that “The South don’t like him” Matthew went on to describe the taking of Fort Sumter which was the first act of the Civil War and mentioned the rebels attacking towards Washington.

So you can see how our family has been engaged with the USA throughout our history.

We often hear stories of Irish people travelling back to the States with Flahavan’s packed into their suitcases or asking family at home to send care packages over to them in the US. Equally many American visitors to Ireland have discovered our creamy oats while visiting Ireland and contact us to find out if they can purchase our products in the States.

Today, I see great synergy between our values of wholesome, delicious wholegrain goodness and the growing foodie / health trends that America is currently valuing, perhaps more today than ever. 

Can you describe the difference between instant, steel-cut or pinhead oats, rolled oats, quick oats, and old fashioned? 

  • Steel Cut Oats are produced at one production stage back from the rolled oats. They are produced using the whole roasted groat, cut with a steel blade just two or three times to preserve a nuttier, richer texture. Steel cut would have the lowest GI.
  • Quick-to-Cook Steel Cut Oats are the same as Steel Cut Oats, but cut into smaller pieces to enable quicker cooking.
  • Rolled Oats are the Steel Cut Oats, steamed and rolled into the flat flakes with which you might be most familiar. This process also enables a quicker cooking time of just 3 minutes.

Pinhead oats are effectively the same as steel cut oats.  They are known as Pinhead oats in Ireland and as Steel Cut Oats in the US.  We do not sell “instant oats” in the US. Our rolled and quick to cook options are so wholesome, unsweetened, quick and simple to make that we believe they suit the busy but health-conscious lifestyles of American consumers well. 

What’s the difference between Scottish oats and Irish oats? 

One key difference – between not just Irish and Scottish oats, but oats from Ireland’s South East and elsewhere – is the unique microclimate of the South East of Ireland.  We use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to the exceptionally long, damp, mild growing seasons which allow for more complex flavor development.

What do you do with the bran part of the oat? 

Our oatmeal is sold as a whole grain without the bran removed.  However, we can actually separate out the bran to produce a product called oatbran, which we sell in small quantities in Ireland.  It is most commonly used in baking wholesome Irish brown bread but can also be used as a porridge. 

What are “oatlets”? 

“Oatlets” is not a term that is relevant to the US market.  In the Irish market we brand the equivalent of the Rolled Oatmeal US product as “Progress Oatlets”.  This is an historical term that dates back to 1935 when Flahavan’s were the first mill in Ireland to begin rolling the steel cut/pinhead oatmeal into flakes in order to reduce cooking times and make the product more relevant to modern living trends.  This was seen as very progressive at the time, hence the phrase “Progress Oatlets” was coined.  We have registered it as a trademark.  In the US, these rolled oats are simply called Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal.

Most Americans are familiar with Quaker Oats and John McCann’s.  Tell us why Flahavan’s is a better choice. 

Well, Flahavan’s is still a 100% family owned company with an historic milling tradition and 235 years of experience.  We’ve been sourcing our oats from local family farms within 50 miles of the mill for generations.  Everyone knows Ireland as having a mild damp climate, particularly in the South East and our local oat growers use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to these ideal oat-growing conditions.  The oat grain therefore develops and ripens more slowly which produces a plumper grain filled with more natural starches thus enabling us to produce a distinctive naturally creamy Flahavan’s oatmeal, with a delicious wholegrain texture.

Smaller scale, sustainable production is also at the heart of Flahavan’s 230-year old milling process. Over 60% of our mill energy comes from our own renewable sources.  The millstream was originally channeled along the valley of the River Mahon and was used to power the mill wheel is still used to this day, but we are now using a water turbine installed in 1935 to generate a proportion of our electricity.  We also burn the outer shell (the husk) of the oat to generate the steam used in our cooking process and use our own large scale wind turbine to generate electricity to help power the mill.

Flahavan’s produce, package and ship Irish oats worldwide from here.  It’s also worth noting that Irish oatmeal consumers would not be very familiar with Quaker or John McCann’s.  Flahavan’s is the most popular brand of oatmeal in Ireland, where people eat more oatmeal (60 portions) per capita than in any other country.

Do you process your oats on grinding stones or with steel blades? 

Even though we’re a small company we are still relatively modern and use steel blades to produce our oat flakes.

What will I discover about the taste of your Irish oatmeal vis a vis American oatmeal? 

You’ll find Flahavan’s oats have a more wholesome texture and a naturally creamier taste than oats grown elsewhere, thanks to the unique Irish microclimate and our distinctively small-batch, slow-roasted, sustainable production methods.

What’s your favorite way to eat oatmeal? 

I would sometimes soak the oats overnight for an extra creamy bowl of porridge but I would always use some raisins pre-soaked in apple juice as a topping.

Which of your products is the most popular in Ireland? 

Our most popular product continues to be our Flahavan’s Progress Oatlets, which is the very same product that can be found in our Irish Rolled Oatmeal box in the US. 

What is baobab powder? I see it listed as an ingredient in one of your recipes online.  

Baobab powder is a superfood gaining in popularity in health food circles for its high levels of vitamin C, other vitamins and minerals and a supposed immunity-boosting value.  It comes from the raw fruit of the baobab tree, which grows in Africa and some parts of Australia.

In our recipes, we like to maintain a balance between the enjoyment of traditional oatmeal preparations and innovations that authentically reflect the globalizing popularity of our oats.  For example, Flahavan’s oats have become popular in South Korea as a healthy source of whole grains and so we have enjoyed developing recipes that honor South Korean flavors, such as Turmeric Kimchi Oatmeal with a Fried Egg.

Do you use oat groats to process your oatmeal? 

There is essentially a groat in each individual grain of oat.  We slowly kiln these groats twice, while still in their husks, to optimize their flavor and naturally creamy texture.  We then remove the husks and cut the groats using a steel blade.  To make rolled oats, we then steam and roll the cut pieces into flakes.  We power the steamer using our own renewable energy, which has been generated by burning the discarded husks.

What products are available here in the States? 

Our product range in the US consists of Flahavan’s Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal; Flahavan’s Irish Quick to Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes); and Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal – our rolled oats that cook in just 3 minutes.  In your area, we are in Harris Teeter, some Wegman’s markets and Giant in Landover, MD.  It is also available to order from Mybrands.com and amazon.com 

What else would you like our readers to know. 

We are committed to innovation and sustainability.  Flahavan’s is one of the founding members of the Irish Food Board’s Origin Green Programme, the only sustainability program in the world that operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board.  This independently verified program enables Ireland’s farmers and producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets – reducing environmental impact, serving local communities more effectively and protecting the extraordinarily rich natural resources that our country enjoys.

We are proud to say Flahavan’s has been recognized on numerous occasions by Irish green industry leaders for our sustainable approach to milling, which in February saw Flahavan’s winning 3 awards at the Green Energy Awards 2017 (Green Food & Beverage Award, Sustainable Green Energy Award and Green Medium-Sized Organisation of the Year).

For us, it’s all about wind, fire and water.  Investing in a wind turbine in December of 2015 reinforced our commitment to a sustainable future.  We also use a special technique of burning the discarded oat husks that fuel the boiler used in the steamrolling process to make rolled oats.  This eliminates the use of diesel fuel.  Also, the mill captures the power of the local River Mahon, just as it has done for over 230 years.  We are a seventh-generation family company.  I am the sixth generation, and my son James and my two daughters, Annie and Ellen, also work in the company. 

Flahavan’s St. Patrick’s Day Oatmeal
with Irish Whiskey, Honey and Cream
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

3¾ cups (900ml) of milk
1 cup (130g) of Flahavan’s Irish “Quick to Cook” Steel Cut Oatmeal
Drizzle of honey
1 tbsp. cream
1 tbsp. Irish Mist Liqueur (or any Irish Whiskey)

Method

  1. Place the oats and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes until cooked.
  3. Place in a bowl and drizzle with honey and cream.
  4. Top with Irish Mist Liqueur.

Recipe by Chef Neven Maguire

Flahavans Overnight Irish Breakfast Shake
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal (rolled oats)
8 oz. almond milk
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Agave syrup or honey to taste
1 small banana, sliced and frozen overnight
Handful of popcorn (optional)

Method 

  1. Mix the Flahavan’s Organic Irish Porridge Oats, almond milk, cocoa powder, cinnamon and agave syrup/honey in a re-sealable bowl and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, add the banana to the oat mixture, then place in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
  3. If the shake is too thick, add more milk for a thinner consistency. If it’s not sweet enough, add more of your preferred sweetener.
  4. Top with popcorn for some extra-special froth.

Matcha Green Tea Oat Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients 

Cake Batter

1 cup coconut flour
2 cups coconut sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ¼ cups warm water
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup Flahavan’s Oatmeal
1 cup almond meal
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon orange blossom extract
4 Tablespoons dried matcha (green tea) powder

Toppings

pomegranate seeds
pistachios
raspberries
powdered sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Combine the warm waters and matcha green tea. Whisk vigorously to froth the tea.
  3. Separately, in a large mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix coconut oil, orange blossom extract, and orange juice together in a separate bowl.
  5. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Beat the cake mixture by hand for 3 minutes. Let batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  7. Grease the inside of a 9-inch cake pan with coconut oil.
  8. Add batter to pan and spread evenly.
  9. Bake the cake for 30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
  10. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack and cool completely for at least an hour.
  11. Dust cake with powdered sugar and fresh berries.

Executive Chef Jerome Grant Fulfills His Dream at the New African American Museum’s Sweet Home Café

Jordan Wright
March 15, 2017
Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Jerome Grant is exactly where he’s supposed to be.  And for that he exudes gratefulness.  As the first Executive Chef of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the young chef had long dreamed of working at the newest museum on the Mall.  In the works for the past hundred years, the museum at finally opened to the public last September.  It seems unfathomable that we ever lived without it.  The building’s unique architecture rises both in tribute and testimonial to African Americans and their indelible contributions upon the fabric of this nation.  For Grant, its opening was timely, completing his own truly American story of his rise to success at the helm of a new icon to African American culinary roots.

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Seven years ago Grant began his Washington area career with Restaurant Associates serving as Sous Chef to Richard Hetzler at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café, the award-winning restaurant ensconced in the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).  Grant was there when Hetzler’s much lauded cookbook, The Mitsitam Café Cookbook, was published.  Here he found a mentor in Hetzler who prepared him for the job of running large scale food operations. When Hetzler moved on, Grant took the helm, developing his own approach to seasonal and regional Native American dishes.

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

In 2013 Restaurant Associates gave Grant a promotion to work at the Castle Café.  He wasn’t particularly looking forward to preparing soups and sandwiches, “I went through the motions”, but he accepted with the guarantee of moving over to Sweet Home Café in 2016.  Last year under the guidance of RA Culinary Supervisor Albert Lukas and Bravo Top Chef finalist, Co-Host of ABC’s The Chew and NMAAHC Culinary Ambassador Carla Hall, Grant began taking the reins in the pristine 10,000-square foot kitchen.

But before all that the chef watched the museum rise slowly out of the dirt and reflected on his own story.  A parallel tale of ancestors making their way to America.  In his case two grandfathers who emigrated from the island of Jamaica and came by boat to Philadelphia.

Shrimp and Anson Mills Grits

Shrimp and Anson Mills Grits

In the beginning Grant worked alongside Lucas to identify the separate regions represented in the café – the Agricultural South, the Creole Coast, the Northern States and the Western Range – each featuring their own historically-influenced dishes.  To her credit Hall was positive and supportive, offering suggestions and critiques while texting encouragement as the menu began to take shape.

Duck, Andouille and Crawfish Gumbo

Duck, Andouille and Crawfish Gumbo

“People came to eat at Mitsitam more than tour the museum,” he told me.  (A 2012 RAMMY Award to the Native American café didn’t hurt.)  “Here we have coincided the café to be part of the whole museum experience.”  (n. b. The NMAAHC now reports that visitors spend an average of six hours touring the property and 25% of visitors dine at the Sweet Home Café.)

Pan Fried Trout with Hazelnut Butter

Pan Fried Trout with Hazelnut Butter

Before the museum opened its doors Foodways Curator, Joanne Hyppolite asked Grant and Hall for donations to the Gallery.  Hall is donating her mother’s cast iron skillet and Grant’s giving his chef’s jacket from opening day.  “It means a lot to me to be here.  I’m a local kid.  I grew up in Fort Washington,” he proudly says. “I believe my position here shows that you can set goals and achieve them,” adding, “Sometimes when I ride my bike here in the morning I get emotional being a part of the history of the culture.  I learned to cook for my grandmother and mother and I never thought I’d do something so historical.  It’s been a dream come true.”

"Son of a Gun Stew"

“Son of a Gun Stew”

From the start Grant and Lucas set a goal of “low and slow”, taking small batch cooking and expanding it to accommodate larger crowds.  The 400-seat cafeteria style restaurant goes through 1,000 lbs. of oxtail every week for its Jamaican Pepper Pot Stew and 200 lbs. of catfish every two days.  An Oklahoma made smoker handles 900 pounds of brisket, pork, chicken and cold smoked haddock.  When it comes to crackling good fried chicken, it’s made three times daily.  And Miss Deon, who heads up cold prep, provides the café’s potato salad recipe.

Smoked Haddock and Corn Fish Cakes

Smoked Haddock and Corn Fish Cakes

You’ll find dishes that evoke the South like Brunswick Stew with chicken and rabbit, Lexington Style BBQ pork, and familiar delicacies like pickled watermelon rind and sweet corn pudding.  The Creole menu is even more expansive with Duck, Andouille & Crawfish Gumbo, Pan-fried Catfish Po’boys, Shrimp & Grits, Candied Yams and Red beans & Rice.  The Northern States menu features Oyster Pan Roast, a dish inspired by Thomas Downing, a New Yorker whose tavern doubled as a stop along the Underground Railway.  From the Western Range are two dishes I’ve become enamored of.  “Son of a Gun” Stew made of braised short ribs and root vegetables and Pan Roasted Rainbow Trout with Hazelnut Brown Butter that I’d swear comes from a cast-iron skillet cooked over a campfire.  Go West, pioneer, if you want the High Mesa Peach and Blackberry Cobbler.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chocolate Pecan Pie

There are exciting new changes on the horizon for the café – an expanded retail operation was successful last Thanksgiving with guests able to purchase whole dinners for takeout.  As of this writing you can take home several in-house baked goods including Sweet Potato Pie, Banana Nut Cakes, Corn Loaf Cakes and cornbread.  I’m particularly partial to the mouthwatering Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Though it’s a challenge to secure a timed ticket, I have been fortunate enough to have eaten at the café three times, trying nearly every main dish and a few of the desserts too.  The dishes are inspiring and rich with the history of African influences on the American culinary culture.  And though I’m certain you will find your personal favorites, mine is the best version of Shrimp and Grits (made with Anson Mills grits), I have ever wrapped my mouth around.  Soon everyone will be able to avail themselves of all these delicious dishes without timed entry tickets.