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Feeding Body & Soul in London at Refettorio Felix

From inspiring restaurant meals to inspiring chefs! Simon & I are delighted to welcome our first ever guest blogger –  my good friend Amanda who recently met and worked with two of the World’s greatest Chefs  – Massimo Bottura & Alain Ducasse.

Massimo & Amanda

 

Massimo is an Italian restaurateur and the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy which has been listed in the top 5 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards since 2010, & currently number 2 in 2017.  Massimo has been an advocate of social justice ever since he was involved with supporting the Parmesan makers following the terrible earthquake in May 2012 in the Emilia- Romana region & his home town of Modena, Italy that damaged thousands of wheels of the famous cheese. He devised a ‘Risotto cacao e pepe’  – ‘cheese & pepper’,  based on the traditional Roman pasta dish utilising the Parmigiano Reggiano that was damaged. This inspired Massimo to create ‘Food for Soul’, a non profit organisation that fights against food waste in support of social inclusion & well-being. The first project launched in Milan during the Expo of 2015, with follow up projects in Modena & Bologna in Italy and in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil  during the Olympics of 2016. ‘Bringing dignity back to the table’ is what Massimo aims to do with Refettorio Felix, a project that opened on 5 June 2017 as part of London Food Month.  Each day for 6 weeks he invited celebrity chefs in to cook a 3 course meal for the group of homeless and disadvantaged Londoners who regularly visit St Cuthbert’s, a drop-in centre in Earls Court, West London. I went to volunteer on Day 2, acting as a ‘welcomer’ and waitress, and was totally inspired by the whole experience! I knew Massimo had been cooking on the opening day, but didn’t know who was in charge of the (quite small) kitchen on Day 2.

The Dream Team!

It turned out that Alain Ducasse was there with his team of chefs cooking that day, leaving Massimo free to host. This was definitely the dream team with 6 Michelin stars between them.

Alain Ducasse at the Pass

The food was stunning, the atmosphere warm and welcoming and the diners were very appreciative. Admittedly some would have liked more potatoes and bigger portions, but others literally licked their plates clean! It was a delight to see them enjoying the food so much, a privilege to serve them and chat to them as they ate. So what was on the menu that day?

Courgette soup with cherries, chives & edible flowers

The starter was courgette soup with a garnish of diced cherries, chives and edible flowers, followed by aubergine slices stuffed with chicken with seasonal Mediterranean vegetables, and the grand finale was a stunning vibrant pink orange watermelon sorbet garnished with a red pepper and strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

Aubergines slices with chicken & Mediterranean Veg

The food was plated beautifully and the flavours were fresh, summery and sophisticated. We “staff” were served the same meal once the diners had gone and it was absolutely divine!

Watermelon sorbet with red pepper & strawberry sauce

Massimo aims to promote a sense of community, whilst tackling issues of food waste and poverty. Most of the food used was provided by the Felix Project- a charity that collects surplus food from retailers, wholesalers and restaurants in London and delivers it free of charge to projects like this. They are providing the kitchens with produce including fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy, herbs and drinks on a daily basis. The kitchens demonstrated how surplus food can be transformed into something beautiful to look at and nutritious to eat. What a great collaboration….and what’s even better is that it is designed to last beyond the initial 6 weeks and so permanently go some way to “bringing dignity back to the table”. To date over 16,000 meals have been served with 210 guest chefs, 600 volunteers and 25 tons of food surplus utilised creating delicious, nutritious meals. I hope to re-visit later in the 6 weeks, and then after the launch period is over to help again and to add my little bit of support to what is a ground-breaking project and one that is making a lot of people very happy.

For more information please check out http://www.foodforsoul.it/

Bravo Massimo!

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Industrial Arts – NY Craft Brewing at its Best

While my co-blogger Lindsey was in town last week, I thought it might be fun to show her just how awesome it is to live in NY, during the great renaissance of US craft brewing

I managed to persuade my good friend, Brendon O’Brien at DeCiccos to introduce us to one of his favorite local brewers, Jeff O’Neil, the founder and owner of Industrial Arts Brewing Company, whose product, Brendon, rates very highly

This way to Brewery - Copy

This way to the Brewery!

So, one sultry summer morning, Lindsey and I took a ride over the Tappanzee Bridge, across the mighty Hudson River into the wilds of Rockland County, NY to pay a visit to the historical Garnerville Arts and Industrial Center in West Haverstraw, NY

After a few minutes wandering about, admiring the setting with it’s tumbled down industrial buildings, canals and weirs, we located Jeff in the Industrial Arts factory complex, full of kegs of his beer interspersed with art workshops

Art in the Factory

Artwork between the old Industrial Buildings

We immediately got down to the important business of discussing beer

Making ourselves comfortable in the hexagonal tiled bar and brewing room at the heart of an old factory building with its cool industrial vibe, shiny pipes and miscellaneous brewing equipment, we started speaking with Jeff about how he ended up founding Industrial Arts Brewing Company  

Beer Menu

Beer Menu @ Industrial Arts Bar

We discovered that Jeff’s personal beer journey actually started on the other side of the US, in the California home of the US craft brewing industry way back in the 1990’s. There, he worked at Gordon, Drakes, and Jupiter Brewing Companies. However a few years back, when his girlfriend got a place at Graduate School in Cornell University, he upped sticks and, luckily for us New Yorkers, moved East. Here, in NY, he became the Head brewer at local stalwarts, Ithaca and Peekskill.

Having ‘sowed his wild hops’ in craft brewing and played with the wild and wacky ingredients and trends over the years, Jeff had the idea of brewing his own beers but with the aim of producing what he describes as brew classics. His approach was to cut out the extremes he had seen in his years of experimentation and to focus on a back to basics purist approach in his own beers

Brew Room View

Cool Industrial vibe in the Brew Room Bar

He obtained backing and a suitable location and founded Industrial Arts in the old Garnerville garment factory, which supplied the Yankees Uniforms during the American Civil War. Here, Jeff set to work putting his purist ideas into practice coming up with some instant classics

Jeff’s brews were initially only available on tap but recently, he has set up a canning operation in an adjoining building, which (of course) we had to check out. Having watched some of the ‘Industrial Art’ in motion in the canning process, we  spent a few chilling minutes in what we guess is one of Rockland County NY’s largest Beer Coolers, we kid you not! The place is a beer drinkers idea of refrigeration nirvana!

Kegs in the Chiller

Kegs in the Monster Chiller at Industrial Arts

We then moseyed back to the Brewery Tap Room in order to check out some of Jeff’s excellent brews. The names chosen for his beer reflect his approach to beer making. We also felt they fitted in nicely with the setting in which they had been brewed

Metric Pils – 4.7% Vol

We started our tasting session by sipping on this thirst quenching pale straw colored perfect rendition of this Bohemian Germanic style brew

A true no nonsense smooth, clean and pure drink perfect for a hot day in NY

It's all Metric to me

Metric, or Ye Olde feet & inches, your choice!

Tools of the Trade – 4.9% Vol

We then quaffed this fascinating brew with it’s delicate fruity, hoppy nose, soft taste and clean fermented character. According to Jeff, it’s his interpretation of a clean and classic American hoppy beer and we loved it!

State of the Art

State of the Art

State of the Art – IPA perfection

We then tried Jeff’s ‘seasonal’ IPA that rotates, chameleon like, every 6 to 12 weeks, or so

This bevvy,  in the form we tried, State of the Art 138 is a great rendition of what a Summer beer should be. Hoppy, rounded, smooth and complex. Fruit candy and Starburst in the taste with a little watermelon too. Absolutely delicious!

Pour me another Jeff!

Check out http://www.industrialartsbrewing.com for more information on  the brews.  Or, for those of you local enough who’d like to try Jeff’s fantastic beer in the draft, just mosey on down to Industrial Art’s Brewery Bar in Garnerville which is open to the Public 5 days a week and for my fellow denizens of Westchester County, our friends at DeCiccos have the canned product in store, see https://www.deciccoandsons.com/ontap/

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns – taste2taste Restaurant Review

We always planned to celebrate our 2nd birthday as food bloggers somewhere special and were really excited to visit Blue Hill at Stonebarns in Pocantico Hills, NY (@bluehillstonebarns) to mark the occasion. Simon lives nearby and we have both visited the farm & cafe several times

Lindsey managed to get us a table for the date and something ‘extra’ after meeting & chatting with one of the chefs, Adam, at WastED London, Chef Dan Barber’s pop up where he and his team transformed Selfridges rooftop into a fantastic venue to highlight how beautiful tasting food can be created from leftovers.

2. View of Blue Hill Restaurant from Stone Hill Farm

View of the Restaurant from the fields of Stone Barns

So just weeks later, suited and booted we arrived at Stonebarns to be greeted by Philippe, the General Manager and Irene the Vice President. We were given a personal tour of the farm by Andrew, an agriculture graduate, who has worked for 18 months as the farm coordinator liaising with the chefs to choose the best crops, ready to pick and create the seasonal menu. We tasted some new varieties of squash developed with Michael Mazourek, a horticulturist from Cornell University that will eventually feature on the menu. We had a great introduction into the ethos of the farm and restaurant where crops are grown, taking into consideration the local climate & terrain. Resilient agriculture is the  philosophy used where soil is allowed to recover by crop rotation and food is grown for optimum taste rather than yield. Andrew told us a great story about a wheat variety originating from NY that was taken &  grown in Bologna, Italy and then recently brought back to its origin and replanted  on the farm. We also got to see the bakery, and taste the bread made from said wheat (but more of that later).

3. Our Cocktails before Dinner

Our pre-dinner cocktails

After a fascinating & informative tour, we went into the restaurant for a drink. Simon chose a non-alcoholic garden cocktail of cucumber & celery juices with a  jalapeño infusion and Lindsey had a Bluehill Horchata- mezcal, triple sec, malted grain, almond & beer syrup. It was an interesting taste combo of malty, orange & hoppy flavours with a vegetal lively kick from the mezcal. Our tastebuds refreshed, we were ready for our meal. With great anticipation we then entered the dining room created out of the old milking barn in what was the Rockefeller family’s dairy farm. The restaurant does not have a menu, you let them know any dietary restrictions before hand and then they create a set of personal, seasonal dishes for you that are organised under the general headings of grazing, pecking and rooting.

4.1 Veggies on Stake

Sculpture of veggies from the farm

The first part of the meal was very hands on, literally! They served us a a series of freshly picked vegetables simply prepared and stunningly presented. With mixed greens, including baby zucchini with their flowers still attached, and other tasty leaves presented like an art sculpture

An arbor of edible weeds from the farm & sea

7. Weed Arbor

Arbor of edible weeds

Baby kohlrabi, nasturtium leaves with a preserved peach chutney delicately spiced to dip into.

5. Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi

Vibrant orange pickled habanada peppers slightly crunchy with a little subtle warmth afterwards; charred fava / broadbeans smoked on corn husks gently imbued with their flavor and pretty carrot & rhubarb sushi

13. Veggie Sushi

Veggie Sushi

We then had some new varieties of baby cucumbers charred which added a slight smokiness, served with a fish cream to dip, and the skin presented as a vibrant green soup with soft, melt in the mouth, farmers cheese

One of the highlight dishes served to us then, was the pickled yellow beets finely sliced with chili flakes & pickled shallot rings, served on top of levain seeded spiced crackers. Slightly sweet, sour with a hint of warm spices such as cumin – a vibrant orange delicious taste combo!

14. Orange Beetroot Salad extraordinaire

Orange Beetroot & Levain crackers

Then there were a couple of plates one called: ‘needle in a haystack’ where we had to forage for our food, involving a faux birds nest in which were hidden super thin parmesan grissini and another, where tiny delicate pastry tarts of fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms were buried in a bed of leaves.

8. Birds Nest Grissini

Needles in a Haystack

There was a focus on different varieties of squash that the farm had been developing including ‘Tondo’ that was served in the style of miniature parma ham & melon with waste-fed pork speck for Lindsey and cured sea bass for Simon. We then had an avocado squash served recreating its namesake as a half a pear along with an avocado stone filled with tiny cubes of the squash.

9. Avocado Squash

Avocado Squash

The ethos of not wasting any part of the plant was reflecting in the use of zucchini stems, as mini cannelloni stuffed with zucchini stem bolognese and cured egg.

As we completed the series of ‘grazing’ dishes, one of the front house team, whom Lindsey had met at WastED London appeared at our table and asked us to follow him. We strolled through a corridor and a couple of doors and we emerged in the hallowed heart of Blue Hills, it’s kitchen. There, we were greeted in unison with a chant of “hello chefs” by the entire Blue Hills team. We were absolutely gobsmacked! As a huge surprise, they had laid a table in the corner of the kitchen.

 

We watched in awe as the magic of preparing the dinner service unfolded before our very eyes. It was like watching a well orchestrated ballet but with food as the focus. Everyone busy in their section, moving in harmony with each other. There was a sense of calm as each section was busy preparing the dishes and the individual dishes were called out and checked at the pass by the Head Chef  like a conductor leading his orchestra. Behind us on the shelves were recipe books from around the world, condiments and infusions in bottles all serving as inspiration for the chefs.

15. Our personal Chef's table in the kitchen

Our personal Chef’s table in the kitchen

At the kitchen table they had placed two eggs in their shells. One of the Sous Chefs told us that chickens can eat grain with hot pepper purée, without noticing the spicy component capsaicin that gives chilis’ their heat.

12. Hot egg

Hot egg, or regular? Take your pick

We were then asked to pick an egg, ‘Russian Roulette’ style Once cracked open, one yolk was a vibrant red/ orange color from the hot pepper feed. They then cooked and presented them to us on a slice of malted rye bread with cover crops made into a pesto. Lindsey selected the ‘hot egg’ but in true taste2taste fashion we shared both!

16. Stylish sunny side up

Super stylish way to serve Sunny Side Up

We were escorted out of the kitchen to a chorus of ‘goodbye chefs’ and we thanked the crew and head chef as we returned to the main restaurant. We had a quick look in the bakery. They have their own mill shipped all the way from Austria, which was busy grinding the wheat variety we saw growing in the fields, ready to make bread.

Back in the restaurant, we moved onto the courses requiring cutlery, which the restaurant presented in a cool linen roll. We had slightly different courses due to dietary considerations. During a break in the proceedings, we ventured outside to watch fish, meat and other food smoking on the outdoor smoker as the sun set over the fields of produce in front of us.17. Smoker at Work

On our return to the dining room, we were served some bread using home grown wheat accompanied with ‘single udder’ butters from two different cows named: ‘Gina’ (slightly sweeter in taste) and ‘Orka’ (more tangy and sour), which the waiter said aptly reflected their personalities! We also had freshly picked sugar snap peas and ricotta, along with some warm wheat brioche.

As a palate cleanser we then had the next of our ‘stand out’ dishes of the meal. Small cups of vibrant red cherry consommé topped with an array of tiny edible flowers reflecting the current trend with caramelized toasted nuts. Simply heavenly!

18. Cherry Consomme perfection

Cherry Consomme perfection

Then followed our dishes from the pasture (for Lindsey) & ocean (for Simon). The meat courses were succulent slices of pink duck with a burnished, crispy skin served with broccoli rabe topped with thin slices of apple & jus, and pink lamb loin and sticky rib served with a smoked cherry purée  and charred radicchio

19. Duck, cherries and radicchio

Lamb loin & ribs with smoked cherries & charred radicchio

The fish courses were delicate bass accompanied by the first of the fava beans and halibut with green tomatoes

Onward we moved to the two desserts. The first reflected the heritage of the farm as a dairy farm and consisted of brown butter creme, milk ice cream, milk jam and a fantastic milk crepe, prepared by concentrating the  milk until caramelized and then dehydrating  to form a delicate, slightly salty savory ultra thin ‘cracker/crepe’. This was served with an array of berries such as strawberries infused with elder-flower  and blackberries with basil all in little hexagonal glass dishes

21. Ice cream, milk crisp and Berries

Chilled Butter and milk creams, milk crisp and Berries

The second dessert was a whole section of frame from the farm’s beehives with small sections of wax scraped away to reveal the glistening golden honey within, topped with a selection of cherries and berries to dip. There was also some cherry and dark chocolate bread served with rhubarb jam. Slightly tart, not too sweet, to compliment the amazing honey

22. Honeycomb & Chocolate bread

Honeycomb & Chocolate bread

After 4 hours of dining and countless courses, we finished our spectacular meal. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces as it was an incredible way to celebrate our food blogger journey over the past 2 years. From a bet at a Time Out London Blog course to the kitchen of one of the world’s best 50 restaurants, it has been a fantastic journey!

Thanks to Philippe, Irene, Christine, Andrew, Adam, the front of house, chef’s crew and everyone else that made it a truly awesome experience that we will never forget