Posted on April 24, 2015 by & filed under design, travel.

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L.A. has always been a destination for starry-eyed Hollywood fans, but the city has been making name for itself outside of Awards Season, with an incredible local food scene, top-notch shopping, and hotels to match. I’m pretty darn proud of my native city! Thankfully, there’s been a cadre of design-forward properties opening in L.A. as of late, with more coming down the pike, meaning that you have plenty of opps to stay in outside-the-box spaces.

Mama Shelter will be opening their first American outpost this summer in Hollywood, and the historic Hotel Figueroa is in the process of receiving an L.A.-style face lift.

For a peek at what I’m digging now, you can check ‘em it out here.

Posted on April 7, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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Holy mole, you guys! How the heck did it get to be April already? This is insane. As I sit here there are April showers pouring down outside my window, but from the looks of things, there are plenty of flowers on the horizon. And by flowers I mean a bevy of blossoming new restaurants and exciting food events.

I rounded up the world’s biggest food news for Departures in my monthly Dining Agenda column, which you can check out here. Some of my most anticipated openings are the super rad new magic show Upstairs at The Nomad called The Magician starring Dan White, and the stunning new SoHo House Istanbul, which includes two rooftop pools overlooking The Bosphorus. I’ll be heading to the show Upstairs later this month, and fingers crossed on trip to Turkey — still one of my bucket list destinations! (Do you blame me? Those markets tho!)

Posted on March 25, 2015 by & filed under eat, inspire, travel.

Photo by Felicia Freisma

That’s me in culinary school circa 2010 (Photo courtesy of Felicia Friesema)

Ever since I was a wee one, I’ve been totally intrigued with the concept of cooking. Perhaps I was watching too much PBS TV for someone that young, or maybe it was just the fact that my mom used to have me help her make dinner every night perched on a step stool so I could reach the stove. Whatever it was, culinary school was always one of those things I was compelled to do. So my senior year of college at UC Santa Cruz, I started looking into it.

And man, was it expensive.

The idea of going into debt immediately after getting my degree was off-putting, so I held off and waited for (what seemed like) a logical time to go to culinary school: when I had a full time job working as an editor for an alt weekly at the LA Times. (Can you sense the snark here? Well, you should.) Let me tell you, it was NOT easy. I know plenty of people out there do night school, and my hats go off, because it was exhausting. Being elbow deep in dishes at 11 p.m. and getting snapped at by a French chef is not exactly my idea of fun after a full day’s work, but I learned a lot. And I always want to keep learning.

That’s one of the reasons I love traveling. Every time I hit the road, I try to glean some sort of inspiration from the cooks I encounter. Whether it’s watching someone grill street meat in Southeast Asia or shuck oysters in Baja, there are tons of techniques to be learned. And even better if I can take some classes along the way.

Which is what brought me to this cool little round-up for Departures. There are so many great cooking class options for travelers these days, especially on-site at properties. I’ve picked out a few for every type of learner — from aspiring homesteaders to competitive cooks. You can read all about it here. 

And remember: Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And never, ever stop learning.

Posted on March 19, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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Adventurous epicures like myself have an insatiable appetite to learn more about where food comes from, and that curiosity stretches way beyond farm visits and market tours. The Simmons family — including my uncle, an expert hunter — has historically been drawn to the sport of hunting, and one of my goals this year is to learn more about it. That’s what sparked this round-up that I did for Departures on some of the coolest hunting and fishing experiences around the globe. From fishing the same river from A River Runs Through It in stunning Big Sky Country to hunting wild boar in Tuscany, it’s all here, and I hope that I can do even more it this coming year.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what is that I caught while fly fishing in Montana, it’s a super rare bull trout, which apparently some fly fisherman search their whole lives for. Like I said, I guess it’s in my genes! My guide was completely shocked I caught one on my first time fly fishing, and so was his pooch. (You can tell he approves by the smooches.)

You can read my full story for Departures here.

Posted on March 17, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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You guys, did I mention how absolutely positively ecstatic I am to finally be going to Japan in May? Cuz I AM! Seriously, it’s been at the tip-top of my Bucket List destinations as far back as I can remember. Ever since Michael and I booked our tickets last month, I’ve been going bonkers with cooking and researching all sorts of Japanese eats, which is where this next recipe comes into play.

With matcha on my mind, I crafted this gorgeous green cocktail for POM Wonderful in honor of St. Paddy’s Day, but to be honest it’s a fantastic sipper that you can enjoy year-round. (As you can tell by the photo, I much prefer some Sugarfish sushi to corned beef and cabbage, but you could do that too if you’d like.)

The idea for a matcha cocktail first came to me while enjoying a similar drink over at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, an awesome vegan Mexican restaurant that serves a boozy boba cocktail made using matcha.

Matcha is a finely milled green tea powder that’s used in Japanese tea ceremonies. It’s traditionally a higher grade tea leaf that’s shade grown and hand-ground, meaning it is a bit more expensive, but oh-so-complex in flavor. It can be consumed as tea, as an addition to smoothies and lattes, and can even be used in baking, as mentioned by Bon Appetit earlier today.

In traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, matcha is typically frothed with a bamboo whisk called a “chasen.” To make things simpler for the home cook, I made my matcha base in a blender. (Apologies to the tea purists out there. Just workin’ with what I’ve got.)

Oh, and in case you’re curious, the styling is done with an awesome eco-friendly line called Coyuchi, who so graciously sent me some of their goodies to play with. How adorable are these chambray napkins? I mean come on!

Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients

 

For matcha:

1 tbsp ceremonial grade matcha powder

1.5 cups coconut milk

 

For cocktail:

1 oz vodka (we used True Organic Vodka for this recipe)

2 oz POM Pomegranate Honey Green Tea

1 oz coconut milk

.5 oz coconut nectar or agave syrup

2 shakes orange bitters

about 1 cup ice cubes

candied ginger for garnish

 

Method

First make your matcha by placing matcha powder and 1.5 cups coconut milk in a blender, then blending on high for 2 minutes. Place the blended matcha in a Mason jar or Tupperware for storage. (You’ll have some leftover depending on how many cocktails you make, so this’ll make for easier cleanup and storage.)

Place the cocktail ingredients in a Boston shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail coupe and garnish with candied ginger. Enjoy!

Posted on by & filed under eat, travel.

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What’s the happs in the food scene right now, you ask? I’ll tell you what: a whole lot! I just love writing my monthly Dining Agenda column for Departures, as it makes me keep a bird’s eye view on the global food scene. (The caveat, of course, is that it makes my wanderlust gets even wilder!)

My March column has all sorts of fun food news from some of my favorite fine dining chefs: good ol’ Heston Blumenthal has adopted a strict photo policy at his restaurants, including Dinner at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel and his Michelin three-star Fat Duck pop-up in Australia; Inaki Aizpitarte, one of France’s most lauded chefs, is slated to open Le Chabanais in London this spring; and fellow Top Chef Masters alum and James Beard Award–nominated chef Mark Peel will open Bombo Foods in Grand Central Market, the hub of alt eating in L.A. (Peel won one of the Knife Fight episodes I judged, too.)

Check out all the food news that’s fit to print in my Dining Agenda for Departures Magazine, right this way.

Posted on March 16, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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If you’re heading to Austin for any part of the massive music, film, and tech conference known as South by Southwest (SXSW), you’re likely going to be doing just as much eating and drinking as you are networking (especially if you hit up SouthBites, the food-centric interactive component of the fest going down from Saturday, March 14 through Saturday, March 21).

There’s a lot to sift through in this amazing Southwestern city, which has made a name for itself as one of America’s finest culinary destinations. From finger-lickin’ Texas BBQ to elegant Japanese farmhouse cuisine and everything in between, here my top eats in Austin for Departures Magazine.

Posted on March 6, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

Truffles are one of the world’s most expensive luxury foods out there, rivaling foie gras and caviar. You might be aware of their high price tags, but did you know that there are truffles that are native to the United States? Or that any dog breed can be trained to hunt them? (My little buddy Bento just might have a new job soon.)

I traveled to Eugene, Oregon for the Oregon Truffle Festival and the first ever Joriad truffle dog competition to learn about the blossoming American truffle industry, and compiled a quick video with 5 fun facts you might not know about these umami-rich mushrooms. Take that to trivia night!

Posted on February 25, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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One of the greatest parts of living in Los Angeles isn’t the weather, the beaches, or even the celeb sightings. It’s about being in a city where you can literally travel through your tastebuds.

My native town is home not only to a vast expanse of international communities and a wide variety of culinary delights that comes with them. And a perfect example of the great diversity our city has to offer is the simple sandwich. There are are endless international iterations for these hand-held meals around town. One could even say that sammies are the language spoken round the world.

I wrote about my favorites— from Venezuelan arepas and Turkish doner kebab to Danish smørrebrød —for LAist, which you can check out right this way. 

Posted on February 15, 2015 by & filed under eat, travel.

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Seeing all the Mardi Gras posts around the interwebs right now, I am flooded with memories of my first trip to New Orleans a few years ago. I had such a blast exploring the food and culture in what’s since become one of my favorite American cities. I had a blast, and hopefully I’ll be able to visit again sometime outside of Mardi Gras. (It was fun, but definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type thing.)

Like any adventure, there are plenty of spots I didn’t get to hit that I wish I could have: Chef Sue Zemanick killed it on one of the episodes of “Knife Fight” I judged last year, and I hope to see what she has cooking over at Gautreau’s sometime soon. I also wasn’t able to lock down a table at the classic NOLA establishment Commander’s Palace due to all the Mardi Gras traffic. I also didn’t get a chance to hang out much in Bywater, which I’ve been intrigued by since one of my writers did a travel piece on the area back when I was editing Brand X.

But I did get to eat a lot of great local dishes. Oh! And if you’re in Los Angeles, you can still get a taste of the Big Easy. There are some great spots around town — in fact, it’s becoming a trend to do NOLA-style bars and restaurants here. Here’s a list of my favorites locally, and below my list of favorite spots in the Big Easy:

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Cochon Restaurant

James Beard Award winner Donald Link served up one of my favorite meals during my trip to NOLA, including incredible gumbo and pork parts of all kinds. (The restaurant is called Cochon, or pig in French, after all.) Link does all the Creole/Cajun classics at his cozy restaurant, like fried gator tail or pan roasted shrimp with cornbread & country ham butter, and the incredible turkey, kale and black eyed pea gumbo pictured above. What’s really wonderful is that all of these Louisiana classics are done using local produce and proteins. They also had fantastic cocktails. It was definitely my splurge meal, but so well-worth it.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

I know, this is culinary blasphemy for some, but fried food just makes me feel icky. The exception to this rule has always been fried chicken. I can’t get enough of the stuff. And I’ve never had better than at Willie Mae’s in NOLA. Seriously you guys, it’s perfection. The breading is just so crackly and salty and delicious, and the meat inside just impossibly juicy and tender. I literally at half a bird to myself. No, I am not ashamed. And you won’t be either — unless you’re in New Orleans and don’t take the journey to Treme for this James Beard Award earning joint. Trust me, it’s not to be missed. Apparently there’s a more central location that just opened in Uptown, too, but I’d say head to the OG to take a peek at the classic.

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Acme Oyster House 

I am a sucker for oysters. It’s actually a problem, actually. I shouldn’t be trusted around those lovely little bivalves alone. Order a dozen and share them with me, and you’re lucky if you get more than one. So naturally this renowned home to Louisiana seafood was a must, and it lived up to the hype. I just love divey old spots with history, and Acme Oyster House — which opened in 1910 — is just that. They do po’boys and fried oysters, but I like mine naked, or with a splash of lemon at most.

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Central Grocery and Cafe Du Monde

I realize that these are sort of “touristy” spots, but again, I am all about the classics when visiting a historic city like New Orleans. Central Grocery is known for creating the muffaletta — a massive, oval-shaped focaccia-like loaf split and stuffed with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone  – perfect for toting around for a picnic. (You can easily split one with your travel buddies, if you have one.) And Cafe Du Monde, I mean, COME ON! Is there any doubt that you have to try their beignets and chicory coffee. They are to die for.

The Spotted Cat

Not only does The Spotted Cat have the most amazing live jazz nightly, but they also had pupusas in the back. Being from SoCal, I really miss Latin American cooking when I’m on the road, so when I saw a woman making fresh, cheese and pepper stuffed El Salvadorian street food out of the back of this club, I was elated. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was the taste of home I was looking for. Plus the vibes on Frenchman Street are amazing.

 

 

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