Jun 28, 2011

2011's "Best Restaurant in the World"

Chef René Redzepi of Noma
The annual S. Pellegrino/Restaurant Magazine list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was released earlier this week. There are many "best of" lists around, but this particular list is one that the culinary "cognoscenti" pay attention to. That's probably because over 800 big names in the restaurant world weigh in on these choices (read more about how selections are made).

Topping the list in the #1 spot for the second year in a row is Denmark’s Noma, where Chef René Redzepi brings the idea of local sourcing to an entirely different level by serving only foods of the Arctic region (the name Noma stands for nordatlantiski mad, or North Atlantic food). S. Pellegrino's official statement about Noma:
Noma is best known for its fanatical approach to foraging but there is much more to this ground-breaking restaurant than the mere picking of Mother Nature's pocket. It's the entire package, from its ingredient ingenuity to flawless execution, that makes it a beacon of excellence and which leads to an emotive, intense, liberating way of eating, unlike any other. Many have copied chef Rene Redzepi's approach, most have failed. For the best in class, Noma really is the number one place to go.
If you'd lke to know more, you can watch a video about Noma at the end of this post.

The U.S. has 6 restaurants in the top 50, and all but one are in New York City. In order they are: Alinea (#6, Chicago), Per Se (#10, NYC), Daniel (#11, NYC), Le Bernardin (#18, NYC), Eleven Madison Park (#24, NYC), and Momofuku Ssam Bar (#40, NYC). In 2010, eight U.S. restaurants made it into the top 50.

Thomas Keller's Napa Valley (Yountville) restaurant, The French Laundry, was #1 on the list in 2003 and 2004, but has fallen over the years to the position it holds this year, #56. However, this year's #10 position, Per Se, is also a Thomas Keller restaurant.

2011 World's Top 50 Restaurants
  1. Noma, Denmark
  2. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
  3. Mugaritz, Spain
  4. Osteria Francescana, Italy
  5. The Fat Duck
  6. Alinea, USA
  7. D.O.M, Brazil
  8. Arzak, Spain
  9. Le Chateaubriand, France
  10. Per Se, USA
  11. Daniel, USA
  12. Les Creations de Narisawa
  13. L’Astrance, France, (3) +33 (0)1 40 50 84 40
  14. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, France
  15. Hof van Cleve, Belgium
  16. Pierre Gagnaire, France
  17. Oud Sluis, Netherlands
  18. Le Bernardin, USA
  19. L’Arpège, France
  20. Nihonryori RyuGin, Japan
  21. Vendôme, Germany
  22. Steirereck, Austria
  23. Schloss Schauenstein Switzerland
  24. Eleven Madison Park, USA
  25. Aqua, Germany
  26. Quay, Australia
  27. Iggy’s Singapore
  28. Combal Zero, Italy
  29. Martín Berasategui, Spain
  30. Bras, France
  31. Biko, Mexico
  32. Le Calandre, Italy
  33. Cracco, Italy
  34. The Ledbury, UK
  35. Chez Dominique, Finland
  36. Le Quartier Français, South Africa
  37. Amber, China
  38. Dal Pescatore, Italy
  39. Il Canto, Italy
  40. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, USA
  41. St John, UK
  42. Astrid Y Gastón, Peru
  43. Hibiscus, UK
  44. Maison Troisgros, France
  45. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, France
  46. De Librije, Netherlands
  47. Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, Switzerland
  48. Varvary, Russia
  49. Pujol, Mexico
  50. Asador Etxebarri, Spain
 Photo courtesy of William Reed Business Media 2011.

Video: René Redzepi and the story of Noma (7 minutes)

Jun 24, 2011

Senator seeks new meat safety legislation

According to a recent issue of Food Safety News, Sentator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has asked Congress to fund the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and pass new meat safety legislation that helps reduce high-risk pathogens:
Gillibrand's bill aims to reduce "all high-risk pathogens" as well as all unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply "that have been proven to cause food-borne illnesses... How many more outbreaks will we allow, and how many more lives will we lose, before we wake up and take real action," said Gillibrand in a statement Tuesday. "We've known the hazards of E. coli for years. It's time we get serious, and keep contaminated food in check before it ever reaches a grocery store shelf or kitchen."

According to Gillibrand's office the bill would require plants that produce the cuts and trimmings that make ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again before all the components are ground together.

Under Gillibrand's plan, habitual violators have to be listed on a public website and any slaughterhouse or processing establishment that produces or distributes trim with positive E. coli test results for 3 consecutive days, or more than 10 times per year, will be deemed a "habitual violator."   
It's about time someone in Washington is willing to go against the powerful meat lobby to require such regulations. Unsanitary conditions in many U. S. meat plants has resulted in E. coli outbreaks on numerous occasions. Outbreaks of illness and even death have been directly traced back to offending factories, but regulations still don't get put on the books.

To learn more on this subject, read the Culinary Gadabout's October 5, 2009 post, or view a shocking NYT video entitled Tainted Meat: The Sickening of Stephanie Smith (about 10 minutes long).

Jun 17, 2011

A trend against high-alcohol wines?

The Washington Post reported Tuesday on “a very real trend against…rising alcohol levels” which is “changing the way we think about wine and the way wine is made.”

The alcohol trend over the last decade or more has definitely been upwards, particularly with California wines. Twenty years ago the average bottle of wine was 13% alcohol; today levels range between 14-16%.

But complaints about high alcohol have been mounting steadily, and a revolt has begun. One example cited is film director/vintner Francis Ford Coppola, who is scaling back the alcohol level on wines at his Inglenook winery (formerly Niebaum-Coppola).

The Washington Post article cited a few lower-alcohol California wines that merit top marks:
  • Arcadian Syrah 2006, Santa Ynez Valley, $30
  • Alma Rosa Chardonnay 2008, Santa Barbara County, $20
  • Copain Syrah Tous Ensemble 2007, Mendocino County, $25
  • Qupe Syrah 2009, Central Coast, $20
  • Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2009, Santa Barbara County, $24
Read the entire article, Bucking the Trend of High-Alcohol Wines, by Dave McIntyre

Jun 13, 2011

Another first for the Robert Mondavi Winery

Here’s something new from Wine Country, a streamed-round-the-world birthday toast to Robert Mondavi. A same-day Open House at the winery includes live music and a free glass of wine. And there’s more.

Details straight from the press release:

WHAT: Together with the entire staff of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Margrit Mondavi and Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking, will celebrate Robert Mondavi’s birthday on Friday, June 17, 2011, with a special open house and global toast at the winery in Napa Valley, which is open to the public. The occasion honors the vast contribution the late vintner made to the California wine industry. At 2 pm, the winery will join together for a global toast to Mr. Mondavi, streamed world-wide on the winery’s Facebook page via livestream.

All visitors to the winery on June 17 will receive a complimentary glass of Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc. There will be live music from 12:00-5:00pm.

WHO: Margrit Mondavi and Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens, with winery staff, friends, and colleagues.

WHERE: Robert Mondavi Winery, located on the west side of Highway 29, just north of Oakville Cross Road in the heart of Napa Valley. And worldwide via the internet.

WHEN: June 17, 2011 at 2:00pm.

WHY: Robert Mondavi’s pioneering vision placed California wines among the finest in the world and made them an integral part of a gracious lifestyle. On June 17 friends and fans from around the globe will gather to celebrate his passion and vision by raising a glass and sharing the stories that created his legacy.  (Although the toast and celebration is on June 17, Robert Mondavi’s birthday is on June 18.)

In honor of Robert Mondavi, with every new “LIKE” received on The Robert Mondavi Winery Facebook page during June 13th -17th, Robert Mondavi Winery will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to Days of Taste, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about the food we eat. Days of Taste is the community action group of the American Institute of Wine & Food, which was founded by Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

Want to learn more about Robert Mondavi? Read him in his own unvarnished, often surprising, words:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry.

This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success.

Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading. Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business

Jun 10, 2011

Alaskan wild canned salmon is delish, inexpensive & good for ya

The current USDA Dietary Guidelines advise Americans to eat at least 8 ounces weekly of seafood rich in omega-3s to improve heart and brain health (most Americans eat less than half that amount). As you no doubt know, wild salmon is particularly high in the kind of long-chain omega-3s that contain generous amounts of vitamins D, B6, and B12, as well as selenium.

About ninety percent of wild salmon in North America comes from these 5 species found in Alaska:
  • King (Chinook) – King salmon has a high oil content. Kings are prized for being firm, succulent and flavorful.
  • Sockeye (Red) – Known for its distinctive deep red meat color, abundant antioxidants, and full flavor.
  • Coho (Silver) – Low in saturated fat and mild in flavor, Coho has excellent color-retention during the cooking process.
  • Keta (Chum) – Keta salmon have a mild flavor. Due to lower oil content, they should be cooked at lower temperatures.
  • Pink – Commonly used in cans or pouches, Pink salmon is also available as fillets. The low oil content requires careful cooking. Treat pinks as you would a trout.
I love salmon just about any way it's prepared, but especially barbecued. For various reasons, mostly my concerns about the environmental dangers of farmed fish, I only buy wild salmon.

When it comes to salmon steaks and filets, we're talking a big expense. However, I've also been utilizing inexpensive canned wild salmon for years (a 15-oz can at Trader Joe's goes for about $3).

I particularly like making canned salmon burgers. I don't really have a recipe, so the burgers turn out different each time. Basically I just combine salmon with cut up veggies (green onions and a little cooked spinach, for example), perhaps some leftover brown rice or quinoa, maybe a dash of wheat germ or some oatmeal, an egg (or egg substitute), and seasonings. Form patties, and either oven bake or saute in a cast-iron pan lightly moistened with grapeseed or other oil. A tip: allow a solid crust to form before turning, otherwise the burger will fall apart.

The Alaskan seafood industry has an entire subsite devoted to canned salmon, with lots of recipes. Here's the site's recipe for Alaska Salmon Mini-Loaves (photo at top):

Alaska Salmon Mini-Loaves


1 egg OR 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons fat-free milk
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 to 1 teaspoon lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning
1 cup soft multi-grain or whole wheat bread crumbs (about 2 slices of bread)
1 can (14.75 oz.) or 2 cans (7.5 oz. each) traditional pack Alaska salmon
    OR 8 to 10 oz. skinless, boneless salmon (canned or pouched)


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray-coat a shallow baking dish.  Drain and chunk salmon.
In mixing bowl, blend egg, milk, dried onion, dill weed, and seasoning.  Blend in bread crumbs, then salmon.  Divide salmon mixture into 4 pieces.  Shape each piece into a 4 x 2-inch mini-loaf, and place in baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes.
To serve, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of your favorite sauce.

Cook’s tip: Excellent with Béarnaise sauce!
Nutrients per serving: 254 calories, 10g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 36% calories from fat, 119mg cholesterol, 26g protein, 16g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 878mg sodium, 291mg calcium and 1800mg omega-3 fatty acids.

Jun 8, 2011

Food & Sex

A surprising sex symbol
 Some interesting facts about food and sex to liven your dinner conversation:

1. According to a 2010 study, food odors can influence sexual arousal in both men and women. Researchers at Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found that the combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie increased penile blood flow by an average 40% (penile blood flow affects the ability to get and maintain an erection). The next most effective odor was another combination, black licorice and doughnut (31.5%). At the bottom of the heap was cranberry, with only a 2% increase. Read the study results here.

For women, the highest increase in vaginal blood flow (13%) came from the combination of cucumber and the licorice candy Good & Plenty.

2. Many ancient cultures considered the apple to be a feminine symbol, probably because the two halves of a vertically-cut apple resemble female genitalia.

3. In ancient Hawaii, women were forbidden under pain of death from eating the banana, which probably had something to do with its phallic shape. Ironically, despite the banana's suggestive shape, a banana tree is sterile: no fertilization takes place with banana flowers.

4. Some cultural anthropologists believe that kissing may have originated when early human mothers orally passed chewed solid food to their infants during weaning.

5. Some foods are thought to have sexual powers because they resemble human genitals. Casanova was said to offer oysters to his potential partners to whet their sexual appetite. In many cultures, the fig is considered a fertility symbol.

Along those lines, here's a fun cookbook that may interest you:

The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook: From the Amazon review: "If you want to get your lover in the mood, look no farther than your local supermarket. Strawberries, chocolate, asparagus--even coffee--have long been considered stimulants for the romantic appetite. For centuries, folk wisdom held that foods either rare or resembling a sexual organ had tremendous power over the libido. Modern science has since debunked that theory, but there's no denying that a meal lovingly prepared and properly presented with just the right ambience can precipitate the most passionate encounters." About $18. Learn more about or buy The New InterCourses.

Jun 6, 2011

Seafood Fraud: What you need to know

Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, has released a report about seafood fraud, which boils down to misleading consumers about the seafood they're buying in order to increase profits. Aside from ripping off shoppers, seafood fraud can also have negative impacts on marine conservation efforts and human health.

One type of seafood fraud involves substituting one species for another without changing the label. Other types include:
  •  less seafood in the package than indicated on the label;
  • adding too much ice to seafood to increase the weight; and
  • shipping seafood products through different countries to avoid duties and tariffs.
In the U. S., consumers are routinely given little or no information about where their seafood is from. Plus, the information provided on seafood labels is often misleading or fraudulent. Consumers are frequently served the wrong fish – a completely different species than the one they paid for.

Among other findings, the report reveals that, while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only 2% is currently inspected--and less than 0.001% is specifically inspected for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25-70% of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.

 “We can track organic bananas back to packing stations on farms in Central and Latin America, yet consumers are given little to no information about one of the most popular foods in the United States – seafood,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, the organization's chief scientist. “With imports representing the vast majority of the seafood eaten in the United States, it’s more important than ever to know what we are eating and where, when and how it was caught.”

The report, entitled "Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health," can be downloaded as a free PDF. It explains the problems associated with seafood fraud and outlines steps you can take to know where your seafood comes from. Download "Bait and Switch." 

Read the Culinary Gadabout's earlier seafood posts: Seafood Watch , Sustainable Fishing Can Work, and Best/Worst US Supermarkets for Sustainability.

Jun 2, 2011

What's your burger personality?

 A few days ago, while doing some research into winery websites for a client, I ended up on the Sutter Home site. My eye was caught by the winery's "Build a Better Burger Contest"--the 21st year it's run--and I soon stumbled onto a quiz entitled "What's Your Burger Personality?" According to those quiz results, I was a Type-A Burger personality:
You have a strong sense of yourself and are very confident in all you do. Your extroverted personality gives you a wide circle of friends, who admire and respect our taste in everything from fashion to food. If a friend, relative or co-workers need a restaurant tip, you are their go-to person. You are always in-the-know on the newest restaurants to open. When it comes to entertaining, you take great pride in hosting partiest at hotspots and introducing your crowd to the latest food and wine trends. Your burger recipe is "Best of the Best Burger." Your wine pairing is Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Type-A Burger sounded like a younger version of myself--the me I was in days when I really did care about hitting all the latest restaurants, etc. (something that ceased to matter after living in Paris for a year, dining in fabulous joints that had been around for generations--sometimes centuries).

The only question I had fudged was the car question: "If you were a car, what kind would you be?" There were five possible answers (Silver Jaguar convertible, Suburu Outback, Motorcycle, Hybrid, and Volvo wagon). I chose the car I would have done just about anything to drive in my 20s (the Jag) over the car I actually drive now (an Outback) or will buy in the future (a hybrid).

In other words, I saw my car persona as the risk-taking, in-the-fast-lane version of me that I was (and still am on occasion) rather than the person I tend to be now, who just wants to get in a car, start the engine, and have a comfie, safe, reliable ride to wherever I'm going with no surprises thrown in.

That racy choice probably explained why I didn't like the "Best of the Best Burger," with its excessive amounts of mayonnaise, 4 ounces of cream cheese, bacon. and truffle oil mixed into Kobe-style ground beef. The Kobe beef is grand, but as for the rest? Ugh.

I took the test again, with all answers the same except one: this time I chose the Suburu Outback and turned out to be an "Adventure Burger."
You have a great appreciation for cultural differences and embrace them with great gusto. People are drawn to your undying curiosity about life. You seek excitement and are always open to new experiences and food. On more than one occasion, you've been called a risk taker. You are happy to cook a Moroccan dinner for 12 at our place or try the local fare from a far-off land. From Sangria to sake, you regularly tempt your taste buds with flavors of the world. Your burger is Rainforest Zip Line Burger. Your wine pairing is Pinot Grigio.
What a difference a car makes! It's scary how much that Adventure Burger personality sounds like me, not to mention the fact that I've loved my half-dozen or so zip-lining experiences. I love my Subaru Outback, too.

Here's the recipe for my current "burger personality:"

Rainforest Zip Line Burger

  • 3 pounds Ground Chuck
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 serrano chili, finely minced
  • ½ red bell pepper, small dice
  • ½ red onion, small diced
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3/4 cup mayonaise
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoon lime Juice
  • 6 whole wheat burger buns, split and toasted
  1. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
  2. Gently combine the chuck, salt, and pepper. Shape into 6 patties to fit the bun.
  3. Create the salsa by combining the beans, tomatoes, serrano chili, red peppers, onion, vinegar, oil and some salt in a small bowl. Refrigerate.
  4. Combine the mayonnaise, chili powder, cayenne, lime juice and some salt. Refrigerate.
  5. When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover and cook, turning once, until done to preference.
  6. To assemble the burgers, spread equal portions of the chili lime mayonnaise on each bun bottom followed by a burger patty. Top the patty with a scoop of salsa, add the bun tops and serve.
Enter Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger Contest
Find out what your "Burger Personality" is