December 6, 2013
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
Held at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show has seen an annual increase in attendance since Denise Medved first introduced the event in 2001. Featuring a vast selection of products related to both the food and entertainment industries, the show’s success has recently allowed Medved and her Tiny Kitchen, Inc. production company to expand into the Houston and Dallas markets.
Throughout the two-day run attendees enjoy face time with more than 200 local and national vendors, attend “Tasting and Entertaining” workshops, talk to cookbook authors at book signing stations, wander through countless aisles to sample tasty tidbits from some of the finest local restaurants at the “Grand Tasting Pavilion”, shop for gifts at the “Holiday Bazaar” and watch cooking demos on the “Food Lion Cooking Stage”. This year some of the country’s leading chefs gave demonstrations featuring recipes from the National Beef Cook-off Recipe Contest. All these activities were included in the day’s admission charge. Additional ticketed events showcase live culinary performances by celebrity chefs.
A local luminary who has previously demonstrated at the show is Francois Dionot whose L‘Academie de Cuisine has distinguished itself over the past thirty years as the premier training ground in our area for avocational and professional chefs. Listening to the celebrated chef’s stories about his experiences at well-known restaurants in Europe and the U.S. and about developing the distinguished cooking school, was worth the trip.
The ever-charming Hugh Acheson, whose easy and friendly manner seemed almost incongruent with the entrepreneurial and culinary skills that have brought him to the top of his profession, was one of the chef demonstrators. Acheson is Chef/Co-owner of the former Five & Ten and The National restaurants in Athens, GA, along with Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta. He is also an occasional judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and holds the honor of being nominated six times for a James Beard Foundation Award. In the past he won “Best Chef Southeast” for his work at Five & Ten. He is the author of the James Beard Foundation Award winning cookbook, “A New Turn in The South”. At this year’s show he dazzled the audience with his version of Frogmore Stew.
Joe Yonan, Food and Travel editor at the Washington Post, was also on board. Yonan, who has led his paper’s food writers to two awards by the James Beard Foundation for the nation’s best food section, put his professional chef’s diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and journalism degree from the University of Texas to good use by demonstrating a Kale and Mango Nicoise Salad recipe from his recent cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook. He showed us how to massage raw kale leaves so as to soften them for a salad. He pointed out that this technique avoids other harsh methods of softening, such as drenching them in oil and acidic liquids until they wilt.
Whether you run into Chef Luigi Diotaiuti at a cooking demo or at his acclaimed DuPont Circle restaurant, Al Tiramisu, you know you will be in for good food and good fun. The affable Italian teamed up with food historian, culinary anthropologist, cookbook author and television personality, Amy Riolo, to make pistachio nut baklava. Off stage onlookers were so close they were asked to participate. We all helped to pile on layers of phyllo dough and watched as the chef drenched the dessert in lemon-infused sugar syrup.
Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, the husband and wife team who star on the cooking show, Extra Virgin, on The Cooking Channel, were also at the show. Debi is an American actress who counts the iconic movie Goodfellas among her credits, and Gabriele is a musician from Tuscany. They are both consummate entertainers who love to cook. Together with their young daughter, Giulia, they put on a lively demonstration of Tuscan cooking, preparing seared grouper over Israeli couscous. At one point things got a bit racy when Debi admitted that they argue when they cook. Gabriele agreed that they resolve their disagreements by drinking wine … or by “making kids”. Realizing that the discussion was getting off topic, seven-year old Giulia drew laughs from the audience by asking, “You guys know I’m here, don’t you?”
The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show is great family fun for those who enjoy learning more about food and entertaining. There are culinary delights of all types from chatting with vendors and sampling their wares, to meeting cookbook authors, to enjoying cooking demonstrations by notable American-based chefs. Plan on visiting this exciting open-to-the-public show when it returns in the fall of 2014.
Chef Diotaiuti and his partner Amy Riolo are planning a culinary tour beginning in Istanbul and continuing to Athens and the Greek Isles next October 2014. They have graciously consented to share their recipe for Pistachio Baklava with Whisk and Quill’s readers.
Baklava is enjoyed throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle East thanks to the influence of the expansive Ottoman Empire that ruled much of the region for centuries. This version is most popular in Turkey. During our upcoming culinary cruise from Istanbul to Athens, we’ll experience hands-on phyllo making at Istanbul’s most legendary confectionary shop.
Pistachio Baklava/Fistik Baklava
Recipe by Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti.
Makes approximately 24 pieces
For the syrup:
3 cups granulated sugar
2 large strips of lemon peel
Juice of 1 small lemon
For the baklava
1 (1 pound) box phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions
1 cup clarified butter
1 pound shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
¼ cup granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter a 13×9-inch baking pan.
- Make the syrup by combining sugar, 3 cups water, peel, and juice in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Discontinue stirring and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside to cool.
- To assemble the baklava, remove phyllo dough from package. Trim it with a sharp knife to fit the pan you are using, if necessary. Wrap excess dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Cover bottom of baking pan with 1 sheet of phyllo dough. Brush clarified butter evenly over the top. Stack another sheet over the top. Brush with more clarified butter. Continue stacking and brushing with butter until half of the phyllo dough is used.
- Combine pistachios with sugar in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine.
- Sprinkle ground pistachio mixture evenly across the top, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish. Continue layering remaining phyllo dough and brushing with clarified butter. Brush top layer with clarified butter.
- Position the pan as if it were a rectangle. With a long, sharp knife, cut phyllo into 6 strips vertical strips across the wide side of the pan(three-quarters of the way down).
- Cut 4 equally spaced vertical lines over the strips (three quarters of the way down) to create 24 squares. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes total, or until golden. Rotate pan every 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
- Remove from oven and drizzle with one ladleful of syrup at a time – allowing syrup to absorb in between ladlefuls. Once baklava has a glistening top and has absorbed syrup, discontinue adding more. Reserve additional syrup for a garnish if serving baklava at a later date. Syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Once cooled, sprinkle tops of baklava pieces with a few ground pistachios. Baklava can be covered and stored at room temperature for a day, or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Always drizzle with additional syrup before serving.
To find out more about Amy and Luigi’s upcoming tour visit – http://www.yourcruisesource.com/two_chefs_culinary_cruise_-_istanbul_to_athens_greek_isles_cruise.htm.
Photo credits: Cary Pollak