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.

 

 

Posted on February 6, 2015 by & filed under travel.

There’s been a trend of reviving historic 1920s L.A. buildings, turning them into hotels, bars, and restaurants that nod to the past but have a decidedly modern feel. To me, that never gets old. The Hotel Normandie, developed in 1926 by famed Los Angeles architects Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen, is no exception. They’ve been rolling out their renovation— which includes the addition of Le Comptior,  Cassell’s, and a lovely bar called The Normandie Club — throughout the past year, and I’ve been covering it along the way for various outlets. Here are three reasons why I’m excited about what’s shakin’ over at this Koreatown property.

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1. The ridiculously good tuna melts and burgers at Cassell’s.  Chef Christian Page poaches the tuna belly to perfection, and the burgers are up to snuff with any of the other “bests” in L.A. And did I mention the pies? You can read more about it and see my full photo gallery of all the great pie-n-burg porn in my piece for LAist here.

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2. The stunning art-deco era lobby and simple but cozy rooms.  In the lobby a crystal chandelier casts a soft glow on the checkerboard floor, Persian rugs, double-height fireplace and baby grand piano. This is definitely a place you can hang out for a while. You can read my full hotel review for Jetsetter here. 

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3. The fantastic bar program and mellow vibes at The Normandie Club. This new, bare bones hotel bar has a great neighborhood feel, and features exotic spirits, like my new personal fave, a Bolivian brandy produced by Steven Soderbergh. (Trust me, this stuff is great. You can read about how the bartenders use it to make the most outrageous daiquiri here.)

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A dish from Noma’s Tokyo pop-up photographed by Satoshi Nagare

My, my, my, how time flies! I can hardly believe February is already here. I launched my Dining Agenda Column for Departures last month, and it seems like SO much is happening in the world of food in 2015 in just the first two months.

A few highlights from this edition include: Nordic chef Rene Redzepi, four-time topper of San Pellegrino 50 Best List, has temporarily relocated his Copenhagen restaurant Noma to the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo; the Michelin Guide releasing their rankings for France, taking Alain Ducasse’s reopened Plaza Athénée down to two stars from the previous three; and Blue Bottle finally opening their first international outpost in Tokyo.

There’s plenty more to check out in my column, which gives you the absolutely essential restaurant openings and announcements around the world, plus this month’s most delicious, not-to-miss events. Please read on right this way.

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