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The 8th Annual Oyamel Tequila and Mezcal Festival Kick Off

By Whisk and Quill Guest Writer, Cary Pollak
March 3, 2015

Jose AndresOyamel Cocina Mexicana restaurant is celebrating its Tequila and Mezcal Festival now through March 15th.  The annual event, billed as a “Toast to the Heritage of Mexican Spirits” features specialty cocktails and dishes from around Mexico.

Complimentary tequila and mezcal tastings will be available in the newly expanded Butterfly Bar Tuesday, March 3rd – Thursday, March 5th, Monday, March 9th through Thursday, March 12th from 4 – 6 pm.  Food and drink specials will be available from March 2nd – March 15th and company representatives will be on hand to explain what makes their brands unique.

Although most dishes and drinks in the festival are laced with some variety of chili pepper, professional fire-eaters need not apply.  On the contrary, the chefs and drinkmasters have been careful to assure their beautifully balanced flavors shine through while allowing just enough heat to add a certain piquancy to finished cocktail.  The wide variety of chili peppers incorporated into the recipes makes this festival a tasty tutorial on the complexities of Mexican culinary preparation.

Freshly made guacamole, salsa and chips.

Freshly made guacamole, salsa and chips.

Cocktails concocted by Beverage Manager and ‘Mezcalier’, Jasmine Chae, will warm your spirits.  And the hint of chili spice swirled into each drink cheers the palate.  ‘Media Naranja’ is prepared with Fidencia Clasico mescal, sour orange, habanero, egg white and bitters.  Mezcal also is employed in ‘Paloma de Oaxaca’, mixed with grapefruit-jalapeno soda.  Adding sweet vermouth and guajillo chili to Tequila Anejo creates ‘La Capital’.  Or try ‘Pica Pepino’, a refreshing blend of Tequila Blanco, cucumber, serrano pepper and lemon.

The Media Naranja is colored with a splash of bitters on top.

The Media Naranja is colored with a splash of bitters on top.

As is typical of the festivals and special events put on by Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup, Executive Chef Colin King and the culinary team at Oyamel have created outstanding dishes to complement the lyrical libations.  The variety of types of chilies and their uses in the hands of these experts is impressive.

Executive Chef Colin King with Cary Pollak

Executive Chef Colin King with Cary Pollak

Birria de Cabra, is Oyamel’s version of the Mexican goat dish ‘birria’ made with chilies and other spices.  Aguachile Costeno Amarillo is a ceviche style dish featuring Hawaiian ono sliced and served over jicama, red onion, avocado, radish, and cilantro with a spicy sauce of chile costeno amarillo and a puree of Mexican papaya.  Panuchos de Pavo con Salsa Chilmole features the habanero chili with tender shreds of braised turkey leg served over a bean-stuffed and fried tortilla, topped with sour orange, habanero and tomato salsa along with pickled onions and avocado.

Oyamel is in the Penn Quarter at 401 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC , 20004.  For more information or to make reservations go to www.Oyamel.com.

Photo credit – Cary Pollak

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – March 2, 2015

Jordan Wright
March 2, 2015 

Kim Crawford Winery Debuts Small Batch Wines in America 

My favorite way to taste wines is over a long and languorous meal.  Not only does it afford the necessary time to let the wines breathe, but allows time enough for me to ponder their potential and assess their potability.  To that end Matt Deller, Kim Crawford’s international Brand Ambassador, suggested a dinner at Lost Society in DC.  Matt would be my guide to the micro-cuvées from New Zealand’s world-class Kim Crawford wines and I would be his willing guinea pig.  A role that when it involves food or wine, I accept graciously.

Kim Crawford wines at Lost Society

Kim Crawford wines at Lost Society

The up-one-flight-of-stairs restaurant along the 14th Street corridor apologizes in menu notes for not being the stuffy setting of your father’s expectations. Nevertheless it considers itself “a true steakhouse”.  There are also remarks preemptively excusing their penchant for indiscriminate tardiness in seating guests, even pre-apologizing for the noise level and the proximity of the tables.  They do however aspire to adopt the cozy informality of at-home dining in the hopes of achieving what they refer to as, “the injection of a dynamic, animated experience”.  Forewarned is forearmed.  So don’t expect to conduct a hasty pre-theatre supper, an intimate conversation, or even a swift business meeting.  Just sit back, relax and plan on being “in the Lost Way” as they prefer to describe the experience.

Blessedly none of these annoying lapses in comfort and courtesy came to pass at dinner.  During our three hours of sipping, dining and ruminating we had some terrific food and exceptional wines from the newly launched Kim Crawford “Small Parcel” Reserve Collection.

To set the tone I ask you to put yourself in the beautiful countryside of New Zealand.  Then conjure up the magical setting of the North Island, home to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”.  Now leap across the water and beyond the southern tip of that region to the northernmost end of the South Island.  There you will discover the breathtaking mountains and deeply carved valleys of the Marlborough region – – the backdrop and unique terroir for these five wines.

We began with FIZZ.  Akin to champagne and made in the same tradition, it is a charming sparkler made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay grapes.  It signals lemon, grapefruit, apple and white peach with a yeasty hint of brioche and caught my favor with its delicate effervescence.

(l-r) Fizz, Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris, Wild Grace Chardonnay, Spitfire Sauvigon Blanc, Rise and Shine Pinot Noir

(l-r) Fizz, Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris, Wild Grace Chardonnay, Spitfire Sauvigon Blanc, Rise and Shine Pinot Noir

We moved on to ‘Favorite Homestead’, a Pinot Gris from the Awatere Valley, that was particularly lovely.  Its flavor profile develops from cooling Antarctic winds, silt loam soil and the Acacia wood barrels that are pressed into service in one fifth of the fermenting process.  As such it climaxes in ripe honeysuckle, cinnamon, apple and pear notes.

Another charmer is the ‘Rise and Shine’ Pinot Noir made from grapes grown beside Lake Dunstan in Central Otago’s cool climate and low rainfall region.  We sampled the 2012 vintage, which showed itself a tad youthful.  A couple of years cellared would reveal its full range of blackberry, cherry, oak and spice flavors.

Crab stuffed lobster at Lost Society

Crab stuffed lobster at Lost Society

Delicious dishes accompanied each of the wines which included the minerally “Wild Grace” Chardonnay, the “Spitfire” Sauvignon Blanc, and the “Rise and Shine” Pinot Noir.  Once seated Lost Society doesn’t rush you and we took our time feasting on Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Stuffed Lobster with Blue Crab, Bone-in Ribeye with Mushroom Cream, Fried Caesar Parmesan Brussels sprouts and Pan Roasted Mushrooms.  Dessert, if we had any, is a blur.  I’m sure you understand.

Recently Constellation New Zealand, the producers of Kim Crawford and Nobilo wines spoke about their excitement for the 2013 harvest, believing it will be a memorable vintage and calling it the “Vintage of a Lifetime”.

New Zealand’s Chief Winemaker, Darryl Woolley noted, “the 2013 Marlborough growing season has been exemplary.”  In addition to earning the distinction for being New Zealand’s driest growing season in about 70 years, the 2013 vintage has also benefited from the sunniest first three months of the year since 1930, rivaled in observed history only by the 1978 season.”

Speaking of the Hawkes Bay vineyards Woolley said, “We’ve had a perfect mix of warm, but not hot, days and cool nights. Rain fell at the right part of the growing cycle and, more importantly, did not fall during the critical period leading up to harvest.  This resulted in a medium sized crop of exceptionally high quality grapes.”  In-the-know wine experts around the world have also taken notice.

According to Mr. Woolley, consumers can expect flavorful, delicious white wines from the 2013 vintage. “The Sauvignon Blanc displays the complete range of ripe flavor components and zingy acidity without a hint of unripe green, vegetal notes.” In addition to the classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling “were all picked at the optimum date and are very varietal expressive with ripe, well balanced acidity.”  With the Pinot Noir harvest concluded in late April in the Marlborough and Central Otago regions, he remarked, “The Pinot Noir has an excellent field balance, with soft, ripe acidity and tannins. We are especially looking to great things from the stunning Pinot Noir harvested from our Central Otago growers.”

“The reality is, we only got serious about growing Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough 30 to 40 years ago, so that’s as far back as we can go in comparing vintages. That said, we’re feeling confident that the 2013 vintage will easily be one of the best, if not the very best, of the past 20 to 30 years.”

Kim Crawford and Nobilo drinkers can look forward to these extraordinary 2013 vintage wines.  To keep track visit ExperienceKimCrawford.com.

Here are some local retail stores where you can purchase Kim Crawford Wines.

Marbi – 1730 Rhode Island Ave., NW Washington, DC 20036; Whole Foods Market – 1440 P St. NW, Washington, DC, 20005; Barrel House -1341 14th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20005; Sav On Liquors – 1414 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005; The Wine Specialist – 1133 20th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036; Trader Joe’s – 1914 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 – Barmy Wine & Liquor – 1912 L St. NW, Washington DC 20036; Harris Teeter – 600 N Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA, 22203.

How to Go to the Dogs Tastefully

February 5, 2015
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill

This year’s Washington Humane Society’s annual Sugar & Champagne Affair was a fabulous event for dogs and dog lovers. Once again guests and their beloved canines filled the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center with all manner of things sweet, sparkly and even savory. After all, we must have a balanced diet. For the 14th straight year many of our area’s preeminent chefs showed off their talents to benefit the Society and pay tribute to their Field Services team who last year responded to over 18,000 calls to help animals in need.

Guests gather in the atrium

Guests gather in the atrium

This delicious event that puts the “fun” back in fundraiser, was conceived by Ellen Kassoff Gray. Ellen, who serves as chairwoman of the host committee, co-hosted the posh event along with husband and uber chef Todd Gray. Together the DC power couple own Equinox Restaurant, while Todd doubles his chef duties as Culinary Director of the Salamander Resort & Spa in the tony horse country of Middleburg, VA.

As always many of the attendees were of the adorable canine sort. Pooches of all stripes, some dressed to the nines and others au naturel, strutted their stuff to the delight of the guests.

Liz Sara, Founder of Best Marketing, LLC with Crystal) // Kristine Saja’s, Quinn, adopted from the Washington Humane Society and pretty in pink

Liz Sara, Founder of Best Marketing, LLC with Crystal) // Kristine Saja’s, Quinn, adopted from the Washington Humane Society and pretty in pink

The main event was a reception in the atrium featuring scrumptious desserts. Event sponsors TCMA, Volkswagen, Equinox, Salamander Hotels & Resorts, The Sugar Association, Olde Towne Pet Resort, Social Light and Chef’s Roll were supported by media sponsors Zohar Rom’s Portfolio, The Virginia Maryland Dog, NOVADog Magazine, Travelzoo, Bisnow, Yelp and The Hill.

Tidbits and libations from dozens of restaurants, bars and bakeries came from The Source by Wolfgang PuckPoste Modern Brasserie, Plume, Baklava Couture, Shake Shack, Sticky Fingers Bakery, Society Fair, The Hamilton, Bastille, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Lilly Magilly’s Cupcakery, Occidental, Bearnaise, Co Co. Sala, The Dairy Godmother, Dolci Gelati, Brasserie Beck and a host of other well-known spots. A VIP room offered savory tastings and craft cocktails. New this year was the “Exclusive Experience” a chance for a limited number of guests to learn how to make desserts, create specialty cocktails and watch unusual demonstrations such as how to make “dip-n-dots” using liquid nitrogen.

Salamander Resort Public Relations Manager Vanessa Casas serves seared tuna and accompaniments

Salamander Resort Public Relations Manager Vanessa Casas serves seared tuna and accompaniments

 

Sweet Potato and Anise pastries from Slate Wine Bar and Bistro // Marinated shrimp from Richard Sandoval’s new Mango Tree restaurant

Sweet Potato and Anise pastries from Slate Wine Bar and Bistro // Marinated shrimp from Richard Sandoval’s new Mango Tree restaurant

One of the most memorable pastry displays was designed by the kitchen staff of the International Trade Center whose talented crew is known for creating miniature dessert masterpieces. They deserved to take a “bowwow” for their pâte à choux Animal Park that perfectly fit the evening’s theme. Using the versatile, classic French pastry dough, best known to most dessert lovers as the crusty part of the éclair, they fashioned a “Puff Poodle,” “Choux aux Kitty,” “Vanilla Pooch Puff” and lots more pup-themed treats.

Pate a Choux display // Choux aux Kitty pastries

Pate a Choux display // Choux aux Kitty pastries

Be sure to keep a slot open on your calendar for the 2016 Sugar & Champagne Affair. It’s a worthy cause and a rollicking good time for you and your four-legged friends.

Photo credit – Cary Pollak

Chef to Chef with Chris Lusk

Jordan Wright
February 2, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Chef Chris Lusk

Chef Chris Lusk

At forty-one, East Texas native and Johnson & Wales grad, Chris Lusk has seen the ins and outs of a few restaurant kitchens and learned a wide variety of international cuisines.  After an externship in an Irish hotel he cooked Tex-Mex at Stephen PylesStar Canyon in Dallas, Asian cuisine at an unnamed restaurant in Florida, and Italian at Otto Enoteca under Mario Batali.  Later he worked with the iconic Brennan family’s Foodie’s Kitchen in Metairie and more recently at Commander’s Palace and Café Adelaide where he honed his Creole and Southern-style cooking.  He is now Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans.

At DC’s Acadiana in a room filled with shuckers, chefs, industry lobbyists and oyster lovers at the Gulf Oyster Industry Council’s Washington, DC event last month, I met Lusk over a platter of his incredible Crispy Oysters Rockefeller.

Jordan Wright – Can you describe the twist you put on the classic dish?

Chris Lusk – Traditionally it would be served on the half shell with a puree of purslane, chives, capers and other greens, then spiked with absinthe.  Though it’s often spiked with Herbsaint, it really hadn’t been invented yet.  So absinthe is used.  Then it would be finished with breadcrumbs.  My version has a crust made from dehydrated spinach, chives, green onions, breadcrumbs and Parmesan.  Then it’s garnished with more Parmesan and a pesto made of green onions, chives and olive oil then spiked with absinthe.  To prepare the oysters we drained the liquor off and marinated them the pesto then rolled in the breadcrumb mix.  The crust really adheres to it.  Then we flash fry them till oyster begins to plump and it’s still moist inside and crispy on the outside.

What we’re getting at this time of year is a smaller oyster.  They go through phases during the year.  I prefer to use a medium-sized oyster.  At this time of year they are thriving in the cool water and they’re the perfect size and salinity.

You’ve been named one of Esquire magazine’s “Four Breakout Chefs to Watch”, cooked at the James Beard House and won the Louisiana Seafood Cookoff.  What’s next?  

I don’t know.  I have a larger operation and bigger kitchen here with Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans, and have a lot going on right now. They just opened their second restaurant, Seafood R’evolution outside of Jackson, MS in Ridgeland. It’s similar in concept but with more seafood.

Can you tell us about the dessert you prepared which prompted Esquire’s John Mariani’s to award you the “Best Dessert of 2011”?

It was a white chocolate biscuit pudding, a play on a dish my grandmother made when I was growing up.  New Orleans is famous for bread pudding so my spin on it was what I was exposed to as a child where my grandmother used the leftover biscuits from breakfast.  I took that inspiration and added white chocolate and a bit of Barq’s Root Beer Syrup on top, it’s an iconic soft drink that once was made here.  Then I fried some pecans, which are from around here, as a garnish and I serve it with white chocolate ice cream.

I was very fortunate growing up to be exposed to farming.  Growing up I spent summers with my grandparents who were farmers and I learned about canning and pickling using ingredients from the farm.  My other grandparents were ranchers and raised cattle and hogs so we made sausage and used different cuts of meat.  I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about farming and ranching growing up.

I understand you are continuing your study of both Cajun and Creole cuisines.  Can you talk about the differences between these two venerable cuisines?

Creole is more of the refined version of the French, Italian, German, and even African influences and Cajun reflects the more rustic, spicier and bolder flavors.  Most Cajun is one-pot meals like jambalaya, gumbos, chicken fricasee and etoufées.  What you see in New Orleans are the French dishes indicative of Creole.  The use of Pernod, Herbsaint and absinthe lean more towards the Creole side.  Although a lot of the lines have become blurred now – – and you can see the Creole and Cajun coming together.

Would you say you’re a fan of Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse or Justin Wilson?

That’s a hard question because I’m a fan of all of them for different reasons.  Justin Wilson gave the first glimpse of what Cajun regional cuisine is.  Prudhomme went to the next level with blackened fish, K-Paul’s and Commander’s Palace.  He really put it out there on a larger scale.  Then Emeril took it one step further.  Those three guys have enabled me and my generation and the generation after mine to do what we do in New Orleans.  Those guys are the ones that gave the younger chefs the opportunity to push the boundaries.

What are your favorite cookbooks? 

I have Lafcadio Hearn and many others.  My cookbook collection is all over the place – – Paul Prudhomme, Wilson’s books, Harold McGee and many others have influenced me in my style of cooking, including a lot of ethnic cookbooks that I use in different techniques of frying or pickling – like Japanese for instance.  I learn from everyone including my dishwashers and sous chefs.  You can never become too educated to learn from someone.  Some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had have been staff meals.  The thing about New Orleans is everybody can cook here!

Opened in 1880 Commander’s Palace is one of the great American restaurants of all time.  What did you learn while you were there?

That’s when I really started my education apart from culinary school.  It really opened my eyes to Southern food.  I learned a lot.

What signature dishes are you preparing at Restaurant R’evolution, the French Quarter spot where you are cooking now?

One of the dishes I recently put on was inspired by Vietnamese cuisine.  It’s a Hoisin Glazed Grouper tied in with a blue crab pho broth and served with lightly pickled vegetables and rice noodles.

What new ingredients or techniques are on your radar these days? 

I’m using lot of Asian ingredients like four different types of soy sauce such as Japanese and Filipino for curing eggs and making marinades, also different types of fish sauce and Indian spices.  Sometimes just for myself I make sushi rice with marinated cobia and fresh wasabi.  I’m inspired by the Vietnamese fishermen we have here.

Who was your first inspiration in the kitchen? 

My grandparents were farmers and raised cattle and grandpa made sausage, things that are very popular now, so I was really fortunate as a child.  I lived in a small city but spent summers with my grandparents who had a lot of land.  We’d sit around and shuck corn, pick peas and can together.  We do a lot of that at the restaurant pickles, jams etc.  My grandpa used to clean out Coke bottles and make his own tomato juice and put the caps back on them.  Man, that was the best tomato juice I’ve ever had!

What was the first dish you learned to cook and who did you serve it to?

I learned to make scrambled eggs as a child that I served to my mom and dad.  I’m sure they were pretty rubbery and overcooked, but they were pretty nice about it.

What famous person would you like to prepare dinner for?

Thomas Keller.

Wow! No stress there.

Ha! No stress in that! I’m a big fan!

No Longer the Runaway Chef Peter Chang – To Appear at Sips & Suppers

Jordan Wright
January 14, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Chef Peter Chang

Chef Peter Chang

One of the featured chefs for the Sips & Suppers dinners coming up next week is Peter Chang – an elusive chef known for ditching restaurant kitchens like a discardable cell phone.  At last he has found in another accomplished chef, Gen Lee, the perfect partner to build an empire.  The duo has already opened six successful restaurants around Virginia, with Arlington scheduled to open early February and another outpost in Rockville in March.

I’ve been a lucky duck to sample his cuisine twice in my life – once at a sumptuous banquet when he was the executive chef at DC’s Chinese Embassy in the 90’s, though I wasn’t aware he was the chef that oversaw the dozens of dishes offered at that lavish banquet.  Years later on a hot tip I sought out his cooking at an obscure Chinese restaurant in a strip mall at the corner of Duke and Van Dorn in Alexandria.

Chang doesn’t dumb down his food for American palates.  And it’s not for the faint of heart.  As I recall the dish was the hottest, saltiest and most addictive chili pepper chicken I’d ever experienced.  I have never forgotten it.  By the time I planned on a return visit, he had scampered off for parts unknown leaving a trail of desperate fanatics in his wake.

Chang, who speaks no English, allows Gen Lee to act as his spokesperson.  The two have cooked together for many years.

Whisk and Quill - Do you see everything in a yin/yang balance? 

Gen Lee – Yes.  It’s always going to be like that for us.  In Sichuan Province it is very hot and wet and filled with trees.  People who live there have to eat a lot of spicy food that’s why they use the Sichuan peppers.  

Does Peter cook in one of the VA restaurants now?  

Not on a daily basis.  He cooks for parties and special events, but he also checks on every restaurant on a weekly basis.  He’s very strict about that.  I can’t tell you which restaurant he is cooking in at any given time, but he’s always cooking and he’s always training his cooks to get it right.  We’re happy if its 90% right, because our recipes are very, very difficult.  We don’t use sauce.  For ten years when Peter and I worked as corporate chefs on a riverboat on the Yangtze River, we did the real, real Sichuan there.

How young was Peter when he first started cooking?  

He was in high school.  He always knew he wanted to cook and he went to cooking school at 18.  He always watched his grandma cooking and helped her make lots of vegetarian dishes.  You know, we don’t use much meat, but lots of vegetables mushrooms and such.

Does Peter listen to music when he’s cooking? 

 No, it’s very difficult.  Everything is very quick.  There are 20 different spices – different ones for different dishes – and it all happens fast.

What are some of the restaurants’ signature dishes?

The cumin lamb chops and bamboo fish, and everyone orders the dry-fried eggplant cut like steak fries.

Would you say your dishes are classic Sichuan?

Yes, it’s his specialty.  But, for example, they don’t use lamb chops in China and the difference is the ingredients are better quality here.

Lately American chefs are using Asian ingredients in fusion cuisine and mixing things up.  Where do you see this going?

A lot of chefs try it using French techniques.  They are not using the real Chinese techniques and that worries me.  These chefs are not Chinese.  They are Hispanic or Korean.  There are only a handful of real Chinese chefs here in America.

Chinese food has been losing favor to Thai and Korean in the past decade or so.  Do you hope to bring back Chinese food to its earlier popularity?

Our dream is to bring back the real Chinese food, not just to make money.  In a few years we know we can retire, but it’s not about that.  Right now we have six restaurants.  Already in our Richmond restaurant we are doing 500-600 a day.  It’s like a war zone with like 100 people in line every day.

Will you be opening in the Northern Virginia area soon?

Yes, we will have two more restaurants – – one in Arlington and soon after in Rockville.

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

Dozens of prestigious local, national and world-renowned chefs will prepare the Sips & Suppers dinners on Sunday, January 25th.  A separate evening of chef’s treats and cocktails takes place on Saturday, January 24th.  Expect appearances by Joan Nathan, Jose Andres and Alice Waters.  For further information and to purchase tickets to the fundraiser for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen visit www.sips2015.eventbrite.com and www.suppers2015.eventbrite.com.