Category Archives: Locavore and farm-to-table

Californian’s Cooking School in Tuscany

Cooking school in Tuscany geared to Americans seeking culinary authenticity

The other day I wrote about my persnickety issues with Brio Tuscan Grille, an Ohio-based restaurant chain that promotes an image of Tuscany but is Tuscan mostly in name. Like many other Italian-style restaurants in this country, Brio serves food whose roots may be pan-Italian and whose dishes  toned down suit to middle American tastes. The food is better than, say, Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill, but still, it doesn’t speak to the increasing number of Americans who desire authenticity.

 Travelers to Italy who want to wake up their taste buds  with the real thing can sign up for a day or a week at Il Campo/Cucina in Radicondoli, Italy, a walled medieval village just west of Sienna with fewer than 700 residents. It doesn’t take long to feel at home.

Radicondoli with vineyards just beyond the village walls. (Marlane Miriello photos)

Campo is the Italian word for field, and cucina is kitchen. Founder Marlane Miriello describes the school as “culinary immersion richly seasoned with local culture, customs and kitchen wisdom.” Classes include hands-on cookingwith local instructors whose recipes and skills are handed down from generation to generation, plus opportunities to visit village homes, gardens, vineyards and farms to learn heirloom recipes and family trades, and locals serve as instructors.

Making pasta from scratch comes naturally to locals and is a learned skill for visitors.

Classes may include such varied culinary experiences as lunch with a shepherd, dining with a count, learning how to make cheese from fresh sheep’s milk,cooking with a Michelin one-star chef or making pasta with a local farm wife. Il Campo/Cucina reveals the value of living in a community where everyone knows everyone else and relies on one another.

Sisterhood in the kitchen as visitors learns cooking secrets from a local woman whose recipes and skills have been passed down through generations.

Miriello, once a California stay-at-home mom and freelance writer, discovered Radicondoli. Her own journey to establishing a cooking school in Tuscany was rooted in memories of her Italian grandmother’s homemade noodles, light-as-air tiramisu and other specialties. A trip to Tuscany in 2009 was transformational for her — and the beneficiaries are anyone who longs to  to follow in her footsteps. With the  (slowly) rising profile of Slow Food as part of the growing movement toward healthier eating, organic produce and local food sourcing, Marlane’s own journey reflects changing attitudes about what we eat, where it comes from and how it is prepared.

Classes are offered in spring and fall. The cost is ($3,450 per person, double occupancy, $400 single room supplement), all-inclusive except air and airport transfer. Anyone booking before January 31 gets a $500 discount. It’s a pricy week, to be sure, but then again, even local cooking classes at Colorado cooking schools can cost anywhere from $50 or more for just a couple of hours.  Click here for images from last season’s classes.  

Il Campo/Cucina, 826 Orange Avenue, P.O. Box 541, Coronado, CA 92118; 858- 375-5757 or info@ilcampoitalia.com

‘Rehearsal Dinners’ Now for Skokan Encore at Beard House

Chef Eric Skokan returns to the James Beard House next week & serves menu at Black Cat now                                                  

The farm-to-table movement is major in the restaurant business, and Eric Skokan was a pioneer in bringing food from his Black Cat Farm to the tables at his Black Cat Restaurant. He will be cooking at New York’s prestigious James Beard House on Wednesday, January 19.  If you’re in New York, you can see if there’s still space for Skokan’s Colorado Ranch and Farm Dinner. The cost is $170 ($130 for James Beard Foundation members) — or if you are around Boulder, you can savor the canapes followed by a six-course menu at the restaurant this weekend for $149 with paired wines, $99 without wine. I did yesterday evening, and it was fabulous — a word I don’t use lightly.  

This is Skokan’s encore at the Beard House. They invited him back right after his first dinner there in October 2009, but with a thriving restaurant (busiest times:  summer tourist season, First Bite Boulder in November, the Christmas holidays, Valentine’s Day) and a 70-acre farm (fields, greenhouse and farm animals) to take care of from spring thaw to autumn freeze, January was about the only time he could sneak away.  For his previous menu, he was able to utilize the abundance from the Colorado fall harvest.

“My menu hit the ball out of the park,” he says with justifiable pride. January presents seasonal challenges that I hope New York foodies, with their own brand of provinicialism, can truly appreciate. If they do, it will be culinary equivalent of hitting a home run with the bases loaded in the seventh game of the World Series. 

 The farm-to-table approach packs a powerful flavor dividend. Everything tasted robust: sweet heritage carrots selected for their adptation to the root cellar, foie gras/prune and blood sausage/fruit tart that combined into similar flavors and even similar textures and arugula that had a more dense flavor and texture than the warm-weather variety. I gave the ham-hued smokd goose E’s for excellence as evidenced by E’s for excellent –and for ” smokee,” “savoree” and “umamee.” 

 I took an end seat at the bar (“the better to concentrate, my dear”) and peeked into the kitchen between bites. Bartender Eddie Delisioso (hope I’m spelling his name right) started the gustatory procession with a simple apéritif of Leopold Bros. 3 Pins herbal liqueur “with bubbles” and a twist of smoked lemon peel. Here’s the dinner that followed and that I enjoyed, that you can as well tonight, tomorrow or Sunday, and that the fortunate Beard House diners will on Wednesday evening.  

Canapes: Left, escarole gougere with Windsor Farm cheese. Center, foie gras and junipet-scented prune poached in wine & brandy with juniper boughs. Right, butter & nutmeg-poached rabbit boudine with tiny semolina dumplings. Wine: Audrey et Christian Binner Les Sauveurs, Alsace, 2008.
Delicate Colorado striped bass with heirloom carrots two ways (puree gratin & brunoise or similar cut), slivers of crisp-fried country ham & truffle butter. Wine: Cascina degli Ulivi, Cortese di Gravi, 2008.
Thin stripes of smoked wild goose (intentionally off-center in my attempt at artistry) with heritage hen egg yolk, escarole and shallot confit. Wine: Michel Tete, Beaujolais Villages, 2009.
Farm-raised mulefoot pork & pear confit, black walnut cream and nocino jus (home-made liqueur called nocini). Wine: old-vine pinatot noir from Domaine Bachey-Legros, Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau, 2009.
Black Cat Farm lamb shoulder ragout, roasted in hay, with spaetzle, hay cream, porcini duxelles and winter vegetable confit. Wine: Brovia Barolo, 2005.
Cookie farmer with chocolate/white chocolate hat overlooking carrot cake wrapped in mascarpone, topped with grated sweet carrors and walnut sauce on a path of crumbs. Wine: Bookcliff Vineyard black muscat, 2009.

If and when somone  asks me about the finest meals I’ve ever had, Eric Skokan’s Colorado Ranch and Farm dinner will be right there — and not just becase I had it last night. 

Black Cat on Urbanspoon 

2nd Inseason Opening in Louisville This Weekend

Super-local grocer branches out

When Inseason Local Market opened in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood last January, I simultaneously admired their courage and doubted their wisdom. It opened with a promise to carry only foods sourced from a 250-mile radius. Its locavore slogan is, “If it’s not from here, it’s not in here.” That’s the admirable part butwas  also the part that may me skeptical. After all — 250 miles? In Colorado? In the middle of winter?

But the store’s success proved me wrong, and a second Inseason Local Market is opening in downtown Louisville on Saturday, November 6. The weather is unseasonably warm, but the owners couldn’t have known that November would dawn this way when they signed the lease and set the date. I still admire them, but I no longer question their tactics, and I’m glad to have this market just one town from Boulder.

Like the mother ship in Denver, the second market will offer naturally grown, sustainable and traceable food including ethically raised meat and poultry, dairy products, produce, juices and ciders, breads, sweets, preserves and home and body care products. The new store is at 924 Main Street, Louisville; 303-325-7614.

Local Farmers Market on Top 10 List

Boulder County Farmers’ Market cited as one of the best in the US

The Boulder County Farmers’ Market is one of the city’s real treasures, for cooks seeking the freshest ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and other purveyors and willing to pay top dollar for these find goods. Its food court attracts to those wanting a day away from the stove and also those who can barely boil water. And visitors love it as well.

Bon Appetit recently named Boulder “America’s Foodiest Town,” and now the block-long farmers market has made it onto another national list: livability.com’s slection of  “America’s Best Farmers Markets: 10 Amazing Local Markets.”  Sharp-eyed locals might notice that the Boulder paragraph was accompanied by a closeup of blueberries and raspberries — not peaches, corn, salad greens, peppers or tomatoes like those below, but blueberries and raspberries. What’s that all about? 

John Ellis, vice president of the board of the Boulder County Farmers’ Markets, has concerns beyond which produce is depicted on a website spotlighting the local market. ” Such recognition is great, but the Boulder market is so popular already that it can’t handle much more in the way of customers or vendors,” Ellis told the BCBR.com (the daily E-report by the Boulder County Business Report,   “It’s cool, [but] we’ve maxed out Boulder. We’ve run out of space. We can’t get more vendors in, and there’s no more convenient parking.”

The county farmers market group, which also operates the market in Longmont at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, plans enhance that venue next year with a 40-foot-round tent. There is also talk around town that the Boulder market is looking to go year-round. What a treat that would be!

The BCBR continued, “Santa Fe, New Mexico, topped Livability’s national farmers market list, which focuses on fresh produce, and education on sustainability, recycling and waste reduction. Many of the markets chosen across the country for the list also offer assistance for low-income families, Livability said in a statement. Santa Fe was followed by Kansas City, Missouri; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Ocala, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Burlington, Vermont; Boulder; Greensboro, North Carolina; Santa Cruz, California; Tucson, Arizona; and Gainesville, Florida.”

Sangria and Hors d’Oeuvres at The Fort

Beautiful setting and a fabulous early-evening spread

Yesterday evening was one of those charmed summer nights — clear skies, comfortable temperatures, excellent company in an excellent place. The local chapter of the Les Dames d’Escoffier gathered on the terrace of The Fort, south of downtown Morrison for a sunset gathering.

Along with sangria served in Mason jars came a fine spread of nibbles from their appetizer menu: fabulous barbecued duck quesadillas, crunchy chips with salsa and guac’, peanut butter-stuffed jalapeños, Acapulco shrimp ceviche, escabeche, bison eggs (similar to Scotch eggs but with quail eggs and ground bison meat, bison sausage called “boudies,” and braised bison tongue on toast with caper aioli, one of The Fort’s many heritage dishes that simply aren’t served anyplace else. I’m not sure why we didn’t take food closeups this time, but I’m afraid we didn’t.

The hostess was Holly Arnold Kinney (below in a traditional beaded deerskin dress), The Fort’s owner and a past chair of LDEI’s local chapter. She told the amazing story of the food-safety detective work that went into identifying the Iowa poultry farms that are culpable in the recent salmonella-tainted egg problem that prompted a massive recall and made headlines. I can’t begin to repeat it, but suffice it to say that The Fort played an identifiable role in ferreting out the culprit farms. She also showed us a spiral-bound proof of her forthcoming book, Shinin’ Times at The Fort, a cookbook and family memoir that will be out in November. Even in proof form, it’s a beautify, with photos by Lois Ellen Frank, a gifted food photographer who works and lives on Red Mesa near Santa Fe.

On the way out, we stopped to look at Sissy Bear’s Garden, planted this year in The Fort’s courtyard and used by the chefs to supplement the organic produce that the restaurant buys. You can see from the cut stems that veggies were recently harvested. I wrote about the new garden in a profile I did in edibleFront Range magazine, but I had interviewed Holly and the chefs last winter, so I hadn’t seen it until now. The statue guarding the garden is of Sissy Bear, a Canadian black bear that was an Arnold family pet when Holly was growing up.
Tempted as we had been to stay for dinner, we pulled ourselves away and headed home. We were glad that we did, because as we were heading north on Highway 93, we spotted such a magnificent harvest moon rising over Denver that we pulled over to admire and photograph it.

Fort on Urbanspoon

Locavore Lives at Spago

Chefs muscle out landscapers and plant Herb and veggie gardens at Beaver Creek’s Ritz Carlton

You know that the locavore movement is firmly entrenched in Colorado when lush flower beds at the super-luxe Ritz Carlton, Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek are being replaced by herb and vegetable gardens. But that’s the transformation that has occurred right outside Spago,  the hotel’s big-name restaurant.

Executive chef Mark Ferguson, chef de cuisine Steve Maline and others on their staff selected the plants, put them in the ground, have weeded the bed and nurtured their bounty through the high country’s short summer and are harvesting the bounty. Late afternoon showers are welcome by the gardeners, if not by guests who would enjoy cocktails on the terrace. The elevation also spares the plants from theFront Range’s searing heat. Obviously, The Spago staff can’t grow everything they need, but they grow everything they can and buy as much of the rest as locally as possible.
It goes without saying that the watchwords are “organic” and “natural.” They’ve planted their first bed with Italian and Thai basil, mint, parsley, fava beans, Yukon gold potatoes, Swiss chard and more than I could write down as Ferguson was talking. Instead of floral cascades, big tubs are sprouting tomato cascades. Ferguson and others told me that guests are really responsive to seeing things grow and being tended that will appear on their plates.
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The chefs love being able to use fresh-from-garden herbs and some bevvies and are already planning for next summer. They’re composting vegetable scraps plus mesquite and pine chips and mesquite cinders from the wood oven. And they’re eying the bed on the other side of the patio for next year.

Traverse City’s Burgeoning Food Scene

Locavore movement strong on the shores of Lake Michigan

Many years ago, I spent several days in Traverse City, a prosperous tourist center on the northern section of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I was on a ski assignment, so there was snow on the ground and nothing green other than the conifers and the traffic lights. As I drove northward around the east side of Grand Traverse Bay to Shanty Creek Resort southward toward Crystal Mountain, I passed dormant orchards and acres of frozen farmland. The small towns and wooden homes reminded me of New England, but with only smaller hills in the region.

In the dim reaches of my mind, I seem to remember that the Traverse City-Petoskey belt was once famous for its maraschino cherries, but that goes back even before my winter visit. I don’t recall where I ate or what I ate then, and the words “locavore” and “sustainable” and the phrase “farm to table” had not yet entered the foodie vocabulary.In factm I’m not even sure that “foodie” had been coined. If I had a crystal ball then, however, I could have foreseen that Traverse City could become a culinary destination once people began exploring the country in search of good local food.

My friend Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau, whose job, of course, is to promote what’s new and what’s good in his town, sent me the following illuminating communique indicating that indeed, local chefs and bakers are using good, fresh, locally grown products. Here’s what he wrote:

Almost overnight, it seems, this bustling resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan has acquired an aura as one of the country’s up-and-coming “foodie towns.”

Food writers, chefs and lovers of tasty food have been flocking here to sample the area’s fabled cuisine. For two years in a row, Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns — and this spring Livability.com gave it first-place billing among 200 American cities in its Top 10 list of Surprising Foodie Towns.

Traverse City cuisine is an eclectic, relatively recent movement that borrows freely from other regional styles and relies heavily on imagination, boldness and spunk. But if it has one defining characteristic, that would be a generous use of fresh ingredients from nearby farms, forests, waters and orchards.

From appetizers to dessert, local restaurateurs seem to be on a mission to showcase the best of what the area has to offer. Paul and Amanda Danielson, owners of the fashionable Trattoria Stella restaurant in the Grand Traverse Commons, are leaders in the so-called “slow food” movement, which is all about using fresh local ingredients wherever possible.

Janice Benson, marketing director for Taste the Local Difference, a nonprofit group that serves as a go-between for farmers, restaurants and grocers, says that many chefs now routinely buy from nearby farms and orchards instead of ordering produce that has to be trucked in from hundreds of miles away.

“And this isn’t just folks who look for local strawberries when they’re in season, but who are making a year-round efforts to shop for farm-fresh meat, milk, cheese and other items,” she says. “We have so much wonderful food here that it’s really not hard to do.”

It goes without saying, of course, that many chefs have always relied on the region’s abundance of fresh fruits. Mike and Denise Busley, owners of the Grand Traverse Pie Company, have been featured on the Food Network and earned fans all across the United States, but they know their popular bakery/café wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fresh ingredients they find all around them.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we had to send to Washington for our apples or cherries,” says Mike. “When people come to this area, they want to sample what the locals enjoy, and our job is to deliver that service. Can you imagine what would happen if we didn’t use the best, local, fresh cherries or apples in our pies?”

Equally committed to that idea is Dave Denison (above left), owner/chef at Amical, a downtown Traverse City bistro offering French and Italian rustic cooking. Most of the greens, tomatoes, herbs and fruits featured on Amical’s menu are supplied by area farmers, while many of the fish that play such a prominent role on the menu are taken from the waters between Charlevoix and Petoskey. Local wines, from northern Michigan’s red-hot wine scene are featured prominently, as well.

Down the street, chefs Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee have made fresh local ingredients the mainstay of their tiny restaurant, The Cook’s House, where 90% of the menu is made with local products. The same can be said of other restaurants outside Traverse City, from the Bluebird and the Riverside Inn in Leland, Blu and the Good Harbor Grill in Glen Arbor, Martha’s Leelanau Table and Gusto! Ristorante in Suttons Bay to Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids and The Boathouse and Mission Table at Bower’s Harbor.

Nor is this movement confined strictly to high-end restaurants. Small tavern-style eateries like Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor and the Lil’ Bo in Traverse City have creative chefs who are enthusiastic about fresh local ingredients, while some of the region’s largest kitchens – like those at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and the Great Wolf Lodge – are among the strongest supporters of the local-food movement.

“Certainly, part of it is supporting the local farms and the local economy — but any good chef will tell you, this is what food is really all about,” says Joseph George, executive chef at the Grand Traverse Resort. “It’s about enhancing and bringing out the pure flavors of the food, as natural and unmanipulated as possible, and that’s why using the freshest ingredients is so important.”

 Thanks, Mike, for catching me up. I’ve been wanting to get out of my recent Rocky Mountain rut and was looking for locavore info from elsewhere.