Remember Veteran's Day
THE FAT (WITH THE CHEF OF THE CENTURY)
NEW YORK CORNER: Bar Stuzzichini by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: From Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay to Emeritus Pinot Noir by John Mariani
CHEWING THE FAT (WITH THE CHEF OF THE CENTURY)
An Interview with Master Chef Joël Robuchon
By John A. Curtas
When the "Chef Of The 20th Century" (as proclaimed by Gault-Millau in 1996) is in town and at the stoves of his eponymous restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, gourmands from within and without Las Vegas come running to see what he and Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic are cooking up. Unlike many “celebrity” chefs, Robuchon doesn’t arrive with a phalanx of public relations flacks in tow, and indeed, he spends most of his time in the kitchen when he’s here. Getting him out of there isn’t so easy--unlike many of his American and French colleagues--a fact diners packing both his restaurants, Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, seem to appreciate.
Writer John A. Curtas, Alexandre
Gaudelet, VP of Food & Beverage at
the MGM Grand, and Joël Robuchon
His flagship was fully booked for the week he was in town in September, despite the $365 prix fixe, and à la carte pricing at a minimum of $170 for three courses (although with an amuse here and a mignardise there, your course count will always be much higher). Bon Appetit Magazine had also just named Pastry Chef, Kamel Guechida, Pastry Chef Of The Year (Oct. 2007), so the time seemed ripe for picking the brain of the master.
JC: So how has your cuisine evolved since your days at Jamin (his three-star restaurant in Paris, which he retired from several years ago)?
Robuchon: To the extent my food has always been grounded in respect for both the product and flavor of the product, it hasn’t really.
JC: Is it harder to get people to appreciate your food in Las Vegas than it is in Paris?
JC: What was your biggest fear about opening a restaurant in Las Vegas?
Robuchon: My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find the same quality produce, and seafood that I could get in Paris here in the middle of the American desert. But American beef is better than it is in France, and we’ve had no difficulty getting the same produce and fish here; in fact some of yours are even better. So we have the same products here, and now we’re getting the same customers!
JC: Has your experience in Las Vegas influenced your cooking in any way?
Robuchon: Definitely. I never would have thought of putting a mini-hamburger (topped with foie gras of course), with [truffle-dusted] french fries on the menu until I came to America. Now it’s become one of our most popular dishes on the menus at every L’Atelier. [Robuchon also runs L'Ateliers in Paris, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, and London.]
JC: Besides, obviously, France, what country has most influenced your cooking?
Robuchon: Japan has influenced me quite a bit, I go there four times a year. Its cuisine impresses me with its emphasis on flavor and combinations of flavors in foods. To me Japanese food is more about the flavor and Chinese food is more about texture.
JC: What’s your opinion of molecular gastronomy and its practitioners?
Robuchon: There is too much emphasis on texture and not enough flavor in that type of cooking. Much of it consists of adding chemicals, emulsifiers, and other things to natural foods that good gastronomy works hard to take out.
JC: But I noticed a foam or two in some of your dishes, and even an avant-garde take on risotto using soybeans instead of rice. Why did you do that?
Robuchon: (grinning) We don’t use chemical additives for our foams or emulsifiers. Veal trotters were used for our emulsifier in the soybean risotto, to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient.
JC: What do you see as the future of haute cuisine?
Robuchon: Michelin 3-Star dining will always be around, but there’s a lot less room for it in the world than there used to be. The challenge today is to make the table exceptional in a more casual setting--much like we try to do at L’Atelier. The hardest thing to do is to make a simple meal well.
JC: But if French cuisine is about the intensification and extraction of flavors – in other words, doing things the hard way to maximize flavor-- does that mean French cuisine and technique is dying out?
Robuchon: Far from it. What seems simple, such as the combining of basic flavors, becomes more complex when it comes to getting things right. A good example would be a simple Caprese salad. It seems easy, but is really very difficult if you want to make it correctly.
JC: Do you ever worry about diluting your brand by continuing to open more restaurants? And how is it that you continue to do so after getting so famously burned-out back in the mid-nineties in Paris?
Robuchon: At my age (61, looking at least 10 years younger), everything I do I do to please myself and because I enjoy it.
JC: And where are you opening next?
Robuchon: Tel Aviv, next year, in their historical district. I have many friends in Israel and we are very excited.
Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. The translation of this interview from French was by Alexandre Gaudelet, VP of Food & Beverage at the MGM Grand.
by John Mariani
Bar Stuzzichini, in the Flatiron District, focuses on its namesake appetizers, as well it should, because there's plenty to love here among the categories of Crostini, Formaggi, Verdure, Pesce, Fritti, and Salumi. The best way to approach this bounty is to order the "Stuzzichini Misti," a choice of five items, $24 for two people, $46 for four, and those are very good deals indeed. You can choose whatever you like, and since the appetizers run $3-$12, you'll eat well and cheaply.
I loved the stuffed eggplant and the deliciously addictive chickpea fritters, as well as the lightly smoky scamorza cheese to eat with good country bread, and the juicy, flavorful polpette meatballs. Among the salumi, you may choose among sweet cacciatorini sausage, spicy soppressate, Prosciutto di Parma, or pizza rustica.
Depending on how hungry you are you might want to order just one more course, or share a pasta and a main course, and with nothing over $22 on the menu, you can afford to be a little profligate. Chef Paul DeBari, whose ancestors came from
Of the pasta dishes we tried, one was outstanding--the rigatoni with oxtail ragù--the other somewhat flavorless, because the promised pistachios and lemon combined with tagliolini in a creamy, Alfredo-like sauce didn't come through.
Maybe they were saving all the lemon for the best of our main courses--a fabulously crispy lemon-laced chicken. Also very good was braised rabbit
Carolyn Renny, who currently works on the "Martha Stewart Show," does some yummy pastries, also available at the bar late at night when you may need a sugar rush and a good, strong espresso.
The 100+ winelist is appropriately all Italian, with a focus on the wines of the South, from Abruzzo to
The long dining area and front bar has an authentically rustic atmosphere, with expanses of polished mahogany, big wagon wheel-like chandeliers, photographs of
That said, if you can somehow manage to get a table a little out of the noise corridor, you will be as close to a true sense of the kind of metropolitan cafés, bacari, enotecas, and trattorias that enliven the spirit of the Italian South, with plenty of good wine and laughter to go along wit it.
Bar Stuzzichini is open for lunch and dinner daily, for brunch on Sat. & Sun.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
BRICE CUTRER JONES DEBUTS THE WINES OF EMERITUS
by John Mariani
Emeritus William Wesley Vineyards of the Sonoma Coast
At the Air Force Academy Brice Cutrer Jones learned about “duty, honor, and country”; as a fighter pilot in Vietnam he learned about leadership; at Harvard Business School he learned to “question every assumption”; and when he founded Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards in 1973 in the Russian River Valley as a tax shelter he found out “that I was going to be broke for a very long time.”
Seventeen years, to be exact, and that was just to break even. “When I went back to visit Harvard,” says Jones, 67, “they gave me the `Long Suffering Award,’ and the guy who gave it to me was Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of Blackstone.”
When success did come, Sonoma-Cutrer had earned respect as one of the finest chardonnays produced in
“Going public was ruinous,” Brice told me over lunch in
By then, however, Jones (left) had bought 105 acres of apple orchard north of Sebastopol, which he’d even offered to Brown-Forman, which declined, so he and six other Sonoma-Cutrer management people invested in the land and started planting pinot noir, not chardonnay, even though Brown-Forman had waived Jones’s non-compete agreement. Eventually 30 employees of Sonoma-Cutrer left to join Jones.
“Fifteen years ago I said western
The result is Emeritus Vineyards, which produces just 5,500 cases. With winemaker Don Blackburn, who previously worked at David Bruce Winery, Elliston, Bernardus and Byington wineries, Emeritus makes two pinots from two estates, the Russian River Valley ($32), sold in nine states, and the William Wesley ($50), available only through the winery’s website: www.emeritusvineyards.com. The 2005 vintage, which I tasted with Jones, is currently available.
Blackburn utilizes clonal selection and dry farming to help the grapes achieve full ripeness without excessive sugars and extracted flavors. Grapes are hand picked at night (right), so they are cool when they arrive at the winery. He too can sound quite
Not that he’s wrong. After drinking both the wines with Chef Marco Moreira’s fine lunch of chilled corn soup with a green tomato marmalade and lemon-scented chicken with a confit of sweet onions, pancetta ham, and fava bean puree, I certainly felt lulled into a sense of well being.
The wines are indeed elegant, very velvety, big but not cloyingly extracted. The alcohol is not nearly as high as some
Jones, meanwhile, is working as hard as ever, using the slow post-harvest season to travel and drum up business. Ninety, he thinks, is probably a good age to consider retirement. So if you call him and get his answering machine, he may greet you with a weather report from Sonoma Coast, fill you in on the current vintage—“light but the best in memory”—and say that he’s “on the road, burning shoe leather, with my hat in my hand, doing what I did 25 years ago.”
John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.
YOU LIKE SPICY OR VERY
YOU LIKE SPICY OR VERY
The London Fire Brigade
closed off roads in
THOSE DIESEL SMELLS ALWAYS BUILD A POWERFUL APPETITE IN US!
"Some melancholy within me finds
* On Nov. 14 at Valentino in
* On Nov. 15 Sam's Chowder House in
* On Nov. 15 in
* On Nov. 16 in D.C., Taberna del Alabardero's Sommelier David Bueno partners with Spanish wine importer Aurelio Cabestrero, to present a unique 6-course Wine Tasting Dinner. $125 pp. Call 202-429-2200. Visit www.alabardero.com
* On Nov. 17 Chef Jody Adams of
* The Heritage Suites at the Steenberg Hotel & Winery, near the center of
* On Nov. 19 The Center for Wine, Food & Culture presents "
* Red Carnation Hotels is offering the 'It's a Wonderful Life' festive package at their three London properties, The Milestone, The Egerton House and "41,” available between Nov. 23 and Jan. 6, incl.: 2-night accommodations; Deluxe tree ornament plus a DVD of "It's A Wonderful Life"; English breakfast daily; Tea for two with Christmas cake; Bottle each of red and white wine; Lunch or dinner for two and a visit by Santa if children are staying with a guest on Christmas Day. For rates call 877-955-1515. www.redcarnation.com/christmas_hotel_london.
NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with two excellent travel sites:
* For the third consecutive year, Chef Sal Marino prepares the classic Italian dish, bollito misto, for guests, Wednesday nights at Il Grano in
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:
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MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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