Richmond for the Holidays

Jordan Wright
December 5, 2017
Photo credit Jordan Wright

The holidays are a time for making memories with loved ones.  Agreed?  But if thoughts of capturing your seasonally-imbued memories feature a well-worn sofa and boxed wine, then read no further.  This adventure requires you trot out your childlike sense of wonderment.

In a city that has emerged as a world class destination with cutting-edge cuisine, art exhibitions often seen nowhere else in America and a five-star luxury hotel, Richmond provides everything a couple or family could ever dream of.  Okay, no skiing.  And that’s what the holidays are all about isn’t it?  Making wishes come true.

The magnificent stained glass skylight in the Palm Court lobby

The magnificent stained glass skylight in the Palm Court lobby

I admit, I get a thrill of anticipation each time I check into The Jefferson Hotel – a turn of the 20th century American classic in the tradition of the country’s grandest hotels.  The more familiar I am with its pleasures the more I feel the need to revisit, if only to assure myself that all is well with the world.

Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson amid Tiffany windows in the Palm Court lobby

Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson amid Tiffany windows in the Palm Court lobby

On this trip, I planned to experience the recent room renovations.  The improvements at this 2017 recipient of the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Award are not mere window dressing, they are both elegant and technologically clever with television screens built invisibly into the vanity mirrors.

New marble bathrooms at The Jefferson Hotel - Courtesy photo

Marble, marble and more marble abounds on bathroom countertops, soaking tubs, and the spacious walk-in showers.

Grand Premier Room - Courtesy photo

Luxuriate on poufy comforters and down pillows adorning beautifully tailored designer bedding.  Recently the hotel’s 262 guest rooms were rebuilt into 181 spacious new rooms, including 15 suites with entry foyers and spacious dressing areas.  Our suite had a kitchen with marble countertop plus a large mahogany dining table and spacious living area with a view of the city.

JEFFERSON SUITE LIVING ROOM

Jefferson Suite Living Room - Courtesy photo

Perfect for inviting guests in for cocktails before dinner, or entertaining six for dinner in your private suite.  And though room service is 24-hours a day, you’ll want to get out and about.

 Jefferson Hotel Holiday Tree ~ Photo credit - "The Jefferson Hotel".

Jefferson Hotel Holiday Tree - Courtesy Photo

But first we stare in wonder at the Christmas decorations.  Hundreds of poinsettias, yards of garland and ribbon, thousands of twinkling lights and dozens of toy soldiers adorn the Palm Court Lobby and the surrounding areas.  A gingerbread display made from hundreds of pounds of gingerbread, royal icing and candies dazzles even the grownups.  At midday, musical ensembles play familiar carols in the Rotunda and the festive ambiance is utterly magical.

Courtesy photo

Pro tip: If you’re planning on being here on a Sunday, book ahead for the lavish ‘Champagne Brunch’, and do not miss the spoonbread.  The hotel’s signature breakfast concoction with deep Southern roots, is as light and fluffy as a cloud.  Ask for the recipe.  No, beg!  I did.

Oh, and be sure to swing by Blooms at The Jefferson, the flower and gift shop on the lower level.  I always find great hostess gifts and, of course, petits bibelots pour moi.

The hotel is currently offering a Holidays at The Jefferson Package for those wishing to celebrate the season with an overnight stay.  It includes a newly constructed Grand Premier Room, complimentary valet parking, and rates from $275 per room, per night.

Sally Bell’s Kitchen

Sally Bell’s Kitchen

There is so much to do in town that after dropping off our luggage with the bellman, we head for lunch at the iconic Sally Bell’s Kitchen, a luncheonette directly across from the Science Museum of Virginia where you can tour special holiday exhibits including Ralphie’s, A Christmas Story, and “Fruitcake Science”.

At Sally Bell’s find throwback lunch fare like pimento cheese, corned beef spread, Smithfield ham on a roll, tomato aspic (this must be a Southern thing) and more, plus thirteen different flavors of cupcakes (caramel!) and five different kinds of pies (lemon chess!) with which you can fortify yourself for the day ahead.

Black History Museum of Virginia is housed in the former Leigh Street Armory

Cross the street to visit the Science Museum or opt for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center featuring art exhibitions and artifacts commemorating the accomplishments of African Americans in Virginia.

Black History Museum of Virginia

Black History Museum of Virginia

Recently relocated to a beautifully renovated location (at the Leigh Street Armory), it is an interactive and modern museum.  For hours of operation visit website.

A must see is the Lewis Ginter Gardens spectacular Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights from 5 till 10pm.   This annual holiday tradition glows with more than half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, a fire pit with s’mores and hot chocolate, nightly family activities and more.  For tickets and information visit website.

A restaurant I’d been hearing a lot about is L’Opossum, where chef and proprietor David Shannon has been creating masterfully complex dishes in an eclectically decorated, nondescript corner spot on China Street.  I promise you’ve never seen anything like it with its Flintstones throw pillows and 50’s satellite chandeliers in a cozy, candlelit, appealingly garish room that feels like Gay Paree meets your granddad’s rec room. But don’t cast a gimlet eye on the quirky décor or the 1940’s illustration of a chic pirate on the menu – Shannon has a curatorial eye for mid-century modern – this is serious cuisine and it’s the essence of the new Richmond.

Charred and chilled Chinese five-spice slices of venison - Chasing Dragons Above the Clouds of Yuzu with Lotus Chips (Left) - Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Fernet-Branca soaked Apricots, Butternut Squash Puree, Cherry-brandied Apples and Brown Butter Toasted Pecans (Right)

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fab craft cocktails made with top shelf liquor and house made ingredients.  Expect the unexpected.  The ‘Hooty Hoo’ is a White Russian served with Yoo-Hoo, Black Lava salt and Xocolatl bitters.  The ‘Honey Badger’ is a blend of Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine, muddled jalapeno and orange, Ginjo Sake and St. Germain.  Go on with your bad self.  Have one of each.

Les Escargots a la Ham Biscuit with Sweet Garlic Beurre Blanc (Left) Old Thymey Chicken Fricassee - Port and Chardonnay Drenched Breast and Thigh Topped with Lemon Spaetzle, Escarole and Lardons in a Mustard Jus (Right)

Les Escargots a la Ham Biscuit with Sweet Garlic Beurre Blanc (Left) Old Thymey Chicken Fricassee - Port and Chardonnay Drenched Breast and Thigh Topped with Lemon Spaetzle, Escarole and Lardons in a Mustard Jus (Right)

Shannon, who was a semi-finalist for ‘Best Chef Mid-Atlantic’ by the James Beard Foundation, likes luxe ingredients – caviar, foie gras, brandied figs, absinthe mists, escargots and flambéd desserts.

La Petit Mort au Chocolat en Flambe avec une compote de la cerises noir (Left) - The Rainbow Spoonicorn - "A mythical saffron and citrus confection with hand churned blackberryice cream. "A defiant lack of inhibitions and sprinkles" (Right)

Expect a dining experience that would wow even the most sophisticated palate.  Reservations are a must in this tiny, romantic spot.

Citizen restaurant

Citizen restaurant

On day two we rose early and headed downtown for breakfast at the industrial-cute, Citizen.  Laser-focused on the Southern thing, we order bowls of stone ground Byrd Mill grits topped with swirls of melted butter, sour dough toast with pear butter, Benton’s bacon, lentils with feta (too healthy?) and steaming hot cappuccinos.

Citizen’s bar and open kitchen

Citizen’s bar and open kitchen

This lively spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu that trends hip, healthy and international.

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Art, one of the nation’s premier museums, is currently featuring ‘The Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China’.  The exhibition showcases ten majestic terracotta figures, including a cavalry horse and 130 works that tell the story of China’s birth.

The Sculpture Garden at VMFA

The Sculpture Garden at VMFA

You’ll also see arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry, and ceramics from the First Emperor’s mausoleum complex.  If that isn’t thrilling enough, there’s the reinstallation of the museum’s breathtaking Fabergé Collection.  For timed tickets to The Terracotta Army exhibit visit website.

The Urban Farmhouse Market & Kitchen

The Urban Farmhouse Market & Kitchen

You can linger at lunch at Amuse or the more casual café, or head over to Scott’s Addition to The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, a nifty, rustic place that features local artists and farm-to-table.  It’s a friendly, low-key hangout with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling retractable windows and, naturally, a farmhouse vibe.  The daily selection of gourmet sandwiches and salads, smoothies, espresso drinks, fresh pressed juices and fair-trade teas are listed on the chalkboard menu.  Browse the antique wooden cupboards for local foodstuffs to take home.

Scott’s Addition is the trendy neighborhood for millennials, with its reconverted warehouse loft apartments, hipster eateries, coffee brewers, and craft beer breweries like The Veil Brewing Company, Strangeways Brewing, Isley Brewing Company, Väsen Brewing Company, Ardent Craft Ales and more.  It’s the holy grail for brewhounds and those who like their aging done with apples.  Blue Bee Cider has moved to the hood and is now firmly ensconced in a 19th century reconverted stables.

Blue Bee Ciders

Blue Bee Ciders

While in the neighborhood, scour Class and Trash for cool retro collectibles, farmhouse tables, architectural elements and garden ornaments.

The tasting room at Buskey Hard Cider ~ Buskey Founder/Owner William Correll (Left)

The tasting room at Buskey Hard Cider ~ Buskey Founder/Owner William Correll (Right)

Stop by for a tour and tasting at Buskey Hard Cider.  You’ll probably meet Founder/Owner, William Correll, whose usually on site to explain the aging process – some ciders in steel barrels, some in old whiskey barrels from the Virginia Distillery Company.

Stocking up at The Veil Brewing Company

Stocking up at The Veil Brewing Company

Nearby is The Veil Brewing Company. When we arrived, just before the 4pm opening, there was a line around the block.  We were so shocked we thought they must have been having an early bird bargain sale.  No such luck.

This über popular brewery has a comfy lounge area and a very efficient pick up area for take away and growler refill.  You’ve probably heard of their ‘Double Espresso Hornswaggler’, an espresso chocolate milk stout that shouts “school’s out!”.

Back at the hotel we took a relaxing dip in the indoor pool before dressing for dinner at Lemaire.  There’s no way to prepare you for Lemaire, except to describe it as the height of destination dining.  The hotel’s lavish dining room fairly sparkles with grandeur.  The capacious room is resplendent with crystal chandeliers, heavy silk draperies and exquisitely carved period architecture.

Pearl Oysters, with champagne mignonette ~ Chilled Cucumber Soup with Georgia Olive Oil, Poached Shrimp and Preserved Lemon

Pearl Oysters, with champagne mignonette ~ Chilled Cucumber Soup with Georgia Olive Oil, Poached Shrimp and Preserved Lemon

Place yourself in the expert hands of sommelier Shawn O’Keefe who will gently guide you toward the perfect pairings for Executive Chef Patrick Willis’ seasonal haute cuisine.

Fresh Strawberry and Beet Salad with Wildflower Honey Chèvre, Orange, Ginger and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ~ Pan Roasted Swordfish with Carolina Gold Rice, Grilled Alliums, Roasted Fennel, Pine Nuts, Red Veined Sorrel and Strawberry-Rhubarb Gastrique

Fresh Strawberry and Beet Salad with Wildflower Honey Chèvre, Orange, Ginger and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ~ Pan Roasted Swordfish with Carolina Gold Rice, Grilled Alliums, Roasted Fennel, Pine Nuts, Red Veined Sorrel and Strawberry-Rhubarb Gastrique

Whether your preference leans toward seafood or meat, vegetarian fare or poultry, everything is sumptuously prepared and exquisitely plated.  Desserts are as pretty as they are delectable and you’ll want to linger over a postprandial port or brandy till the cows come home.

Slow Braised Spring Lamb Shank with Mascarpone Cheese Grits, Baby Carrots, English Peas and Trumpet Mushrooms and Port Jus ~ Meyer Lemon Tart with Toasted Meringue and Raspberries

After a quick breakfast of muffins and coffee at the hotel’s bistro, TJ’s, shopping was on our minds and there are plenty of specialty clothing boutiques in Carytown.  Bygones, the vintage clothing store for men and women, comes to mind.  But my personal favorite is Helen Campbell’s La Petite Boutique on MacArthur Avenue.

La Petite Boutique

La Petite Boutique

Helen has an eye for distinctive and feminine statement clothing in luxe fabrics, often with embroidery or intricate pleating.  She also carries fabulous hats and accessories to complete a stunning ensemble you’ll see nowhere else.

National Harbor Issues Forecast for Weekend of Snow

Jordan Wright
August 30, 2017
Photo credit - Jordan Wright

Guests enjoy the "cool" vibe

Guests enjoy the "cool" vibe

The unlikely event of snow in August will fall every twenty minutes at National Harbor’s super chill Harbor Dome Summer Snow Globe this weekend.  The huge transparent geodesic dome with a sweeping view of the harbor features DJs on Friday and Saturday and a 90’s cover band on Sunday.  Signature cocktails are from ‘Mixtress’ Gina Chersevani of Buffalo and Bergen the throwback spot in Union Market known for its adult milkshakes.

A live band will perform Sunday night only

A live band will perform Sunday night only

Gina has concocted some fun and sassy drinks to get the party started.  Summer Snow Globe Julep made with Maker’s Mark, mint and lime; Harbor Breeze with Effen Raspberry, pineapple, orange and lime; Tropical Ice with Mountain Dew White Label, Effen Vodka, grapefruit, pineapple and ginger syrup; and Elf on Vacation with Effen Green Apple, Mountain Dew Green Label and lemon.  Winter Snow Cones are made with shaved ice.  Try Snowy Melon with Effen Blood Orange and cinnamon; Big Wheel Snow Cone with Effen Black Cherry, fresh orange syrup and lime; or Kentucky Snow with Maker’s Mark, sparkling wine, ginger, lime and mint.  There’s also wine and beer.

Crab cake hors d'oeuvres

We went last weekend for press night and stood under gleaming crystal chandeliers watching guests slurp on pastel colored shaved ice drinks and munch on hors d’oeuvres while marveling in the dustings of snow.  And yes!  It’s really snow.  Not your Hollywood picture show ivory flakes or prom night confetti.  Though the space is advertised as being 64 degrees (we thought we’d freeze) it’s perfectly comfortable for a sleeveless dress or light jacket.

The Capital Wheel at sunset

The Capital Wheel at sunset

This is the last weekend to enjoy this unique experience.  Just head to National Harbor and down towards the water.  You can’t miss it.  It’s beside the merry-go-round and the beautiful Capital Wheel. Be sure to time your visit for the sunset over the Potomac.

Esther Wei tries to catch the falling snow.

Esther Wei tries to catch the falling snow.

At the intersection of Waterfront Street and National Plaza, National Harbor, MD 20745 - Friday from 5pm till midnight, Saturday from 2pm till midnight and Sunday 2pm till 6pm.

Beer $6 – wine $8 and cocktails are $10 and adult snow cone cocktails are $12.

Eric E. Richardson (left) with friend Clarence J. Fluker enjoy the scene.

Eric E. Richardson (left) with friend Clarence J. Fluker enjoy the scene.

www.NationalHarbor.com

How I Learned to Love the Art of Sous-Vide Under the Tutelage of Its Inventor

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2017
Photo credit - Jordan Wright
 

In a non-descript two-story building in Sterling, VA, in a suburb better known for defense contractors and software developers, is a company that has trained more three-star Michelin chefs than any cooking school in the world.  Here at Cuisine Solutions Inc. through their learning division CREA (Culinary Research and Education Academy), I recently participated in a workshop on sous-vide given by Dr. Bruno Goussault, the very scientist who developed the revolutionary technology.

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

There are two divisions under one large corporate umbrella.  Cuisine Solutions sells prepared sous-vide foods to Costco, as well as airlines, cruise ships, the military and major hotel chains worldwide.  And CREA, with locations in France and Sterling, trains chefs in the sous-vide technique with seminars, on-site training and online video courses.  The company opened its $30 million dollar, 163,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant in Sterling in 2013.

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Along with Goussault’s many years of experience as a scientist and founder of Centre de Recherche et d’Edudes pour Alimentation in Paris as well as recipient of the “Ordre National du Merite” from the President of France, officers in the company have equally extensive pedigrees.  Stanislas Vilgrain, Chairman and CEO, rose to the top of his career earning the medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic in 2015 after years as a top officer at Vie de France Corporation; Chief Strategy Officer Gerard Bertholon is a Maître Cuisinier de France, one of the world’s highest honors, and trained as a chef under the great Alain Chapel;  Felipe Hasselmann, Cuisine Solutions president, brought his powerful international business development experience from L’Oreal Paris, Coca Cola and Frito Lay; and Bruno Bertin, VP of Culinary Innovation who himself has worked with the legendary Pierre Troisgros, Louis Outhier and Daniel Boulud, as Sous Chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York.

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

Not only did I watch, learn and participate, but I also spent most of the day tasting the results, beginning with a breakfast prepared by a cadre of chefs schooled in the art of sous-vide.  Exquisitely decorated plates were served starting with an egg white and red pepper sous-vide egg bite (these were specially created for Starbucks); bacon and Gruyere egg bite; coconut and chia seed oatmeal parfait; compressed fruit and dragon fruit granite; egg and rosti with sous-vide hollandaise and 72-hour short rib and potato hash served in a miniature cast iron pan.

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

After breakfast our class moved onto nibbles of “sous-shi” – a trompe l’oeil preparation that looked and even tasted like sushi but was entirely vegetarian; a Moroccan dish of octopus, raisins, capers, compressed melon, pomegranate seeds and radishes; Arctic char brandade with ramp aioli; and a sous-vide pig face which offered up meltingly tender cheek meat.  Well fortified, we left the dining area for a large classroom, which is really a laboratory.

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Under the avuncular tutelage of the 75-year old Goussault, “father of sous-vide” and the company’s Founder and Chief Scientist, I slowly shed the neophyte’s notion that sous-vide is a cheater’s technique or a culinary sleight of hand.  There is just as much time and effort put into sous-vide preparation as there is with conventional methods.  In many cases, a lot more goes into achieving the perfection that it guarantees to the chef.  Moreover, I learned that many of the world’s greatest chefs were taught by Goussault – chefs such as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber, Charlie Trotter, Anne-Sophie Pic and the late Michel Richard, who have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

During this one-day workshop I became a rabid convert, sometimes tasting conventionally prepared product beside sous-vide prepared foods.  I learned how preparing literally tens of thousands of dishes for major events using this method (Cuisine Solutions has catered huge events, like The Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, for tens of thousands of guests.), offers high quality, consistency, precision and food safety while preventing product loss and spoilage.  Meats are cooked uniformly and fruits and vegetables retain the intense signature of the ingredient.  This was heady stuff for someone not particularly science-minded.

A cadre of chefs create our meals

A cadre of chefs create our meals

Dr. Goussault, who invented the two-minute rice while working in food science for the United Nations in Africa, invented sous-vide in the early 1970’s and continued to tweak and promote it with Joël Robuchon in Paris with the establishment of CREA.  Armed with probes and monitors Dr. Goussault travels the globe throughout the year training chefs in his methods.  He has been compared to Escoffier as a pioneer in the world of gastronomy, and you can take that to the bank!  Some of our local chefs who have trained with him at this facility are from Le Diplomate, Mintwood Place, Green Pig Bistro, The Red Hen, Central Michel Richard, Convivial, Fiola and The Dabney, to name but a few.

Glazing the vegetarian "Sous-shi"

Glazing the vegetarian "Sous-shi"

After discussions on vacuum sealing, water circulators, the precise temperatures for the scale of doneness, and becoming familiar with the various types of machinery involved in this technique, it was time for lunch – Beef sirloin “jar salad’ with ponzu and baby greens; Amazon cod with soy beurre blanc and fiddlehead ferns; braised pork belly over Beluga lentils with shitake broth and wild foraged mushrooms; braised beef cheeks over celery root puree with truffle, triple sauce and pickled ramps.  As each dish was sampled it became clearer to me that food prepared sous-vide results in the superior dishes found in the world’s finest restaurants.  Each ingredient retains its singular identity, and that is a mind-blowing experience.

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Even after such a lavish lunch we continued to sample sous-vide filet of beef, fried chicken, carrots and other delights comparing them alongside traditionally prepared product.  The meats were seared and finished on a flat top grill, the chicken crisped up in a fryer.  The results were remarkable.  In the matter of the chicken, you could just die right there.  It was ultra-crispy while still juicy.  Carrots tasted as though they were picked fresh from the garden and apples like they had just been plucked off a tree.

Platter of citrus madeleines

Platter of citrus madeleines

Cramming ten meals into one day wasn’t for the faint of heart, or I should say, stomach.  At this point I am wishing I had a cow’s four stomachs and a week to digest everything.  But I persist, because this is what I do.  And were we done?

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

No siree!  Desserts were served – chocolate moelleux brightened with raspberry coulis and baskets of citrus madeleines and macarons.

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

After all this, I’m fairly sure I will never attempt to replicate these dishes at home – equipment costs can be out of sight for home cooks and small restaurants, though many do experiment with the concept of sealing and immersion.

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

I certainly came away with a greater appreciation and keener understanding of what sous-vide means and how lucky I am to have been born when it was invented.

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

Here are some pearls of wisdom from Goussault.

* Water is the best fluid to transfer the heat.  When you cook in water you’ll have a beautiful jus.

* Take lemon to the market when you buy fish and squeeze it over the raw fish to determine if it’s fresh.  If it turns opaque, it’s NOT fresh.

* The Maillard reaction has to do with the perception of the color of the meat.  What do you say in a London fog? All the cats are grey!

* Red meat has a thin layer of albumen.  White meat has a thicker layer.

* Vegetables cooked separately retain the integrity of the dish. Cooking vegetables to 85 degrees to respect the pectin will give you the top taste in the world.

* Brine your fish for 10 minutes before cooking.  Fifty grams of salt per one quart of water.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Jordan Wright
March 26, 2017 

In director Roger Sherman’s latest documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Menemsha Films) we learn there’s a lot more to Israel’s culinary culture than just milk and honey.  Our guide is the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov who leads us on a journey throughout Israel from an obscure mountaintop restaurant and a city-centric restaurant where Palestinian cooks work the line beside Jewish cooks to seaside cafés, where dozens of varieties of fish are found in vast outdoor markets, to discover the “true” Israeli cuisine through its people.

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Best known for his two Philadelphia restaurants, Zahav and its sister restaurant, Abe Fisher, where he expresses his passion for modern Jewish cooking, the young Israeli chef shows us it’s about more than hummus or falafel and deeper than kugel or chopped liver.  The film gets at the root of a culture and its history through its cooks – both amateur and professional – revealing the complexity of a country whose traditions and customs have deep roots, many which descend from outside its borders.

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

We learn that Israel’s cuisine is informed by dozens of other countries and traditions over centuries of immigration – Jewish, Turkish, Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Indian, Bulgarian, Christian, Syrian, Lebanese – in a mosaic of 150 different cuisines.  The documentary is a love story of sorts – one of the self-determination of immigrants, the rejection of the old ways by Jewish newcomers and the culinary influence of those who reached its shores with their grandmother’s recipes.  It is told primarily by chefs and local journalists – and it’s as much a tribute as it is a learning curve.  We learn that “Food is not political,” and “Food makes peace.”  May it be so.

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov takes us into the hills to Rama’s Kitchen, a French-inspired restaurant that forages for sumac to flavor its dishes and sources all its ingredients locally, before traveling north to listen to chef Uri Geremias of Uri Buri in his restaurant by the sea.  And there’s a tender segment in the simple home kitchen of a woman preparing the sacred Sabbath meal for her extended family.  Noted Jewish-American chef and cookbook author, Joan Nathan, weighs in with her extensive knowledge about the changes in Jewish society where 80% of its citizens are non-religious.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

To understand the inspiration for many of these chefs as well as Israel’s home cooks, Ezra Kedem of Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem clarifies, “I cook my memories.” From Moshe Dayan’s hybridization of the cherry tomato to the sophisticated irrigation system of stepped dams that water fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves, their gifts to our kitchens are endless.

Running time two hours.

The film will be released in the Washington, DC area this Friday, April 21st at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. For more information please visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/bethesda-row-cinema/film-info/in-search-of-israeli-cuisine

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.