Tag Archives: Celebrity Chef

AOL Presents Now Eat This: Italy, Cooking with Rocco Dispirito!

Rocco Books
All Photos By Gail

When you hear the name Rocco Dispirito, you may at first think, “What a hottie” — amiright? But also, Rocco is a skilled and charismatic Celebrity Chef who has hosted and starred in many TV shows (Rocco’s Dinner Party, how fun was that?) as well as being a restaurateur and author of many best-selling books on food and cooking. Rocco Dispirito!

Rocco Dispirito
How Cute Is This Guy?

If you have been following his career for as many years as I have, you may recall that Rocco, while consistently adorable, was not always as lean and trim and he is now. He got into shape by learning to cook in the same manner as his Italian ancestors: and not just by incorporating fresh, local ingredients and creating preparation techniques which reduce the use of traditional fats and carbs, but also by adopting a more leisurely-paced approach when it comes to the experience of social eating.

Tuna Crudo
Tuna Crudo, One of Rocco’s Low Calorie Yet Gourmet Specialities

Rocco’s latest New York Times best-seller, Now Eat This! Italian, takes on all of your favorite Italian food recipes by reducing them calorically while keeping the very fresh and authentic flavor. In fact, most of these dishes come in at 350 calories and under without sacrificing deliciousness.

AOL Sign

In the book’s accompanying video series, which debuted on AOL.com earlier this month, DiSpirito travels to various regions in Italy to learn from the foremost Italian food experts, real Italian Moms! The show is a lot of fun and also lets you see the beauty of the Italian countryside.

International Culinary Center Test Kitchen

Last evening, AOL hosted a hands-on cooking event with Rocco at The International Culinary Center for a select number of lucky bloggers and contest winners, where we all had the chance to cook a meal with Rocco and then sit down together to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Rocco lead the class with his step-by-step recipes and stories behind each dish and he was very patient with those of us who are challenged even by slicing a tomato (raises hand). It was a great time and I learned that making lovely homemade Italian food does not have to be intimidating at all.

Here’s what was on the menu:
Caprese Salad
Caprese Salad

Pasta with Clams
Pasta with Clams

Roasted Chicken
Roasted Chicken with Zucchini

Rocco Making Dessert

Rocco was kind enough to make the evening’s dessert – a fresh Strawberry Italian Ice – for us tableside so we could enjoy our after dinner drinks. This quick and simple frozen dessert is basically just fresh berries (I suppose any fruit could be swapped out if Strawberries are not your thing), ice and the same thickening agent used in the faux olive oil salad dressing. Sweet and refereshing!

Strawberry Granita
Strawberry Italian Ice

After Dinner Proseco

Rocco Signed Book

Because Rocco is so awesome, he took the time to pose for photos with every single person at the event and also gave each of us a personally signed copy of his book, so that we could cook his recipes at home. The first episode in the Now Eat This: Italy! series, in which Rocco makes Caprese salad after visiting the actual cheese makers, can be enjoyed at This Link. Thanks again to Rocco and AOL for a very fun evening!

The Voltaggio Brothers Take On: Thanksgiving For the Cooking Channel!

Bryan & Michael Voltaggio (All Photos Except This One By Anne Raso)

Handsome and talented brothers sporting as many tattoos as members of Motley Crue, Chefs Michael and Bryan Voltaggio first gained national recognition as contestants on Bravo TV’s Top Chef: Las Vegas – my personal favorite season of Top Chef to date. Out of four very charismatic finalists, the competition ended with Michael taking home the title of Top Chef and Bryan finishing a close second to his brother. Sibling rivalry, not kidding! While I confess that I was a total Bryan fan – cheering for him to pull off a victory – it cannot be denied that Michael was a deserving champion. Because let’s face it, these guys can cook.

Already accomplished chefs and noted restaurateurs before appearing on Top Chef, the Brothers Voltaggio are now bona fide culinary Rock Stars, having just released a massive, coffee-table-sized recipe book, Volt Ink, and entering into a partnership with Williams Sonoma to promote their products. The Volts are also set to debut their first TV special, Voltaggios Take On: Thanksgiving, premiering November 6, 2011 at 8:00 PM on the Cooking Channel.

Bryan V Signs a Copy of Volt Ink for a Fan

The Voltaggios were in NYC last evening to host a book signing at the Williams Sonoma store in Columbus Circle, which was followed by a private party to celebrate the book, the Cooking Channel special, and the Voltaggio’s staggering degree of awesomeness in general. While sampling selections featured in the special’s holiday menu (bites of roast turkey, sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon, chestnut dressing and a delectable pumpkin cheesecake garnished with fresh orange that was just insane) partiers were treated to a brief preview of the special, which is lots of fun and entertaining as well as educational. Voltaggios Take On: Thanksgiving finds chefs Bryan and Michael putting their unique twist on classic recipes that reveal their secrets for creating an impressively delicious meal. Packed with survival tips to get you through America’s toughest culinary challenge, this hour-long special is sure to inspire. Voltaggios Take On: Thanksgiving is the ultimate modern twist on our favorite holiday feast. I will be watching it for sure!

Michael V and Gail

It was great to get the chance to meet both Michael and Bryan at the party and to speak with them briefly. They are both super friendly, and they genuinely seem to really love their fans. Thanks to Williams Sonoma for throwing such a fun bash and also for the gift bag which contained a T Shirt emblazoned with the words “Food Person” (yes) and a potato ricer, the tool with which the Volts make their famous creamy mashed potatoes. Be sure to tune in to Voltaggios Take On: Thanksgiving, on Sunday, November 6th at 8:00 PM on the Cooking Channel (check your local listings for broadcast information) to see the potato ricer in action!

Donatella Offers Gourmet Pizza and Fine Italian Dining in Chelsea!

From The Golden Oven Comes What Could Be NYC’s Best Pizza  (All Photos By Anne Raso – Click on Any Image to Enlarge)

Italian food is a cuisine for which New York City is deservedly famous. From the upper west side to Little Italy, there is certainly no shortage of Italian dining establishments to frequent. But if you’re looking for one restaurant offering an updated take on tradition that can also satisfy the diverse cravings of every member of your party – whether it be for pizza, pasta, meat or fish you might want to check out Donatella, located right in the heart of Chelsea, because this place is really something special.  Proprietor Donatella Arpaia (formerly of David Burke & Donatella fame) has created a down-to-earth yet classy culinary experience where the wood-fired pizzas are joined by more-formal fare, all served in a modern, well-lit and highly inviting space.

The menu at Donatella is pleasantly varied without becoming overwhelming. You can exquisitely customize your meal by choosing what piques your interest from a broad selection of courses ranging from Bruschette ($4, $10, or a trio for $12), Meats & Cheeses ($8-10), Salads ($10–13), Fried Appetizers ($8, $9 and $12), Antipasti ($12, $13 and $15) plus Pizzas ($10 – $21), Pasta ($15 – 18), Meat  or Fish ($25/MP), Sides ($4, $7) and Desserts ($9). No matter how you choose to build your feast, you will not leave hungry!

Having brought along our heartiest appetites, we started our evening with the Chopped Vegetable Salad (above, $13.00) – generously portioned for sharing – featuring a selection of seasonal vegetables  such as crisp red cabbage, slivers of endive, crunchy snap peas, carrots, cauliflower (parboiled to a tender crispness) red and golden beets and halved cherry tomatoes in a light but slightly creamy  vinaigrette dressing. We also enjoyed the Mesclun Salad with Candied Walnuts and Pecorino ($10).

Next up was the super tasty Arancini ($9): a trio of deep-fried rice balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, sausage and peas – crispy on the outside with no trace of greasiness, and so tempting we wolfed it down before it even had the chance to pose for a photograph!

 Pizza Polpette  – So Good!

You only need to get one look at the gilt-tiled, wood burning pizza oven which dominates the open kitchen at the rear  of the restaurant to understand that Donatella’s specialty is their pizza: cooked at 700 degrees to create a pizza baked in the authentic Neapolitan tradition. Our selection for the evening was the Pizza Polpette ($17), topped with caciocavallo cheese (a southern Italian cheese similar to provolone), fresh basil, tomato and Donatella’s famous veal meatballs. After only several bites, my dining companion and I both agreed that this thin crust pie was arguably the most delicious pizza we had ever eaten. As promised, the crust was slightly charred and chewy-crisp and the meatballs were light, succulent and mouthwatering. If you chose to forgo meatballs on your pizza in favor of another topping, I’d suggest ordering the Antipasti of Polpette Di Vitello ($18) because you really should not leave without having tried them. They are so good!

For our pasta course, it was no contest to decide on the day’s special: Homemade Cavatelli in a pea pesto sauce (no basil!) with tiny chunks of crispy, thick-cut pancetta, sweet peas, and Parmesan cheese. Pea pesto was definitely something new for me and I enjoyed its lighter, creamier texture  (easy on the olive oil) while the pancetta added a delightful saltiness to the dish. The cavatelli is served al dente, so if you prefer your pasta softer, mention that when placing your order.

Pronounced “Swag-a-tell”

Unwisely, we had left no room in our tummies for dessert, but that does not mean we didn’t engorge ourselves further with two of the menu’s sweet selections. My dining companion had spotted one of her favorite Italian pastry dishes, which she identified as Sfogliatelle Riccia, at a neighboring table and insisted we order one to share. To our great delight the Sfog, as she called it, arrived warm from the oven. This classic Italian dessert consists of multiple layers of flakey pastry stuffed with fresh, orange-infused ricotta cheese filling. It was unlike anything I’ve tasted and absolutely delicious. Highly  recommended!

The Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait: a layered dessert consisting of bittersweet Valrhona chocolate pudding resting atop fresh raspberries in gelee, then topped with a mascarpone cream and thin layer of  burnt sugar, similar to that found on a crème brulee, was very rich but not overly sweet.

Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait

While Donatella is a great “Date Spot” and a fun place for just catching up over dinner with a friend, I’d recommend you try to go with a group of three or more so you can order many different dishes and then share, because here the rule seems to be “If Some is Good, More is Better!”

Donatella is Located at 184 Eighth Ave. (Between 19th & 20th Streets), New York, NY. Phone (212) 493-5150 for Reservations!

NYC’s Lair Lounge Mixes Nightlife Vibe with Gourmet Eats

When dining out in NYC with a group of more than, say, two people, it can be challenging to find a venue that meets the expectations of both those seeking delicious food and those more interested in experiencing a hot, “night life” scene. Lair Restaurant and Lounge, which opened in Nolita last October, aims to bring together the best of both worlds. Featuring Asian-Fusion cuisine billed as ‘Modern Dimsum’ and potent, eclectic cocktails, all served amid a cozy-yet-cutting edge décor that’s part urban safari and part goth, Lair is a glittering jewel nestled in this up-and-coming trendy neighborhood.

A near-perfect hybrid of restaurant and bar, Lair’s limited menu serves a satisfying selection of light snacks and heartier appetizer ‘small plates’ created by talented Chef Chris Cheung (Nobu, Monkey Bar), who has also figured out a way to ‘keep it Kosher.’ After being seated by our very friendly hostess on plush banquettes surrounding a good sized, low table, we ordered a round of cocktails including the house made red and white sangrias, the much-hyped-by-our-server Mr. Hot Pants and the Mamma Mule Feel Good. Mr. Hot Pants’ “weird” blend of Herradura reposado, mescal, campari, passionfruit and Thai chili pepper agave, while dubbed “interesting,” was frankly too unpleasant tasting for any of us to take more than a sip. On the other hand, both sangrias were bright and fruity and the Mamma Mule (Absolut Vodka, cinnamon five spice syrup, apricot & ginger beer) combined a nice kick with a refreshingly accessible yet exotic blend of flavors.

Please enjoy these pictures of and commentary on the food we ordered:

All Photos By Anne Raso

As a starter for the table, we were encouraged to try the Chinese Chips With Housemade Duck Sauce ($4), which mixes taro chips with fried wonton skins. Nice!

The Chicken ‘Pillows’ with Crispy Chicken Skin ($12) was one of my favorites. The tender chicken meatballs were perfectly accented by the salty, crispy chicken skin “chips” that accompanied it. Decadent for sure, but so worth indulging in.

Being a devoted follower of Top Chef, I’d been curious to try Lair’s take on Roasted Bone Marrow, served here topped with X/O Marmalade alongside crispy Scallion Pancakes ($9). Don’t let the words “Bone Marrow” make you squeamish, it’s just like a buttery tasting spread. The Scallion pancakes were excellent.

Those counting their calories might like to try the Mango ‘Noodles’ Salad with Rock Shrimp and Chili Lime ($7). This salad of julienne mango and raw vegetables was very fresh and light-tasting but needed a bit of additional seasoning (even salt would have helped) to perk up the bland, broth-like dressing.

Warm Coconut Bao Bread with 5 Spice Local Honey Hoisin Butter ($5), a signature creation of Chef Cheung, was sweet enough for dessert but not so sweet that it didn’t also compliment our more savory dishes. I would definitely recommend you order this for your table.

Also succulent and satisfying were the (pictured top to bottom)  Dry Aged Black Angus Beef Dumplings ($10) and the Chicken & Foie Gras San Jin Dumplings ($10). Another vegetarian-friendly selection, Eggplant & Mushroom Shumai ($7) was enjoyed by the non-meat eaters at our table.

For dessert we indulged in the Shanghai Walnut Crusted Marshmallows ($7), a ring of lightly toasted marshmallows resting on a pillow of fresh whipped cream, lightly drizzled with caramel sauce and chopped nuts – absolutely delicious and a perfect finale to our fabulous meal.

Not Pictured is the Lobster, Bacon & Avocado Salad in Crispy Wonton Rolls ($12), which along with the Chicken Pillows was my favorite dish of the evening. Also on the menu are Oysters on the Half Shell with Seared Scallop & Truffle Essence ($13), House Salad with Ginger Dressing ($6) and Pickled Root Vegetables with Roasted Peanut ($5) as well as a couple of other desserts.

For those high rollers with money to burn, Lair shifts gears after 11:00 PM with an emphasis on bottle service and exclusive VIP seating. Indeed, Lair Restaurant and Lounge offers a scene for every nearly every taste!

Lair is located at 201 Lafayette Street between Broome and Kenmare (Take the 6 Train to Spring Street and walk Downtown 2 Blocks on Lafayette ) and is open Monday – Wednesday from 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM and Thursday – Saturday from 5:00 PM to 4:00 AM. Phone 212-334-5248 for reservations (recommended).

Top Chef’s Angelo Sosa Presents Social Eatz!

UPDATE: Social Eatz Has Closed For Business as of March 2013

I’m a big fan of Top Chef since I got hip to the show in its second season. I am especially enjoying this season’s “All Stars” competition, featuring favorite Cheftestants from past seasons, and am excited for the finale beginning tonight, and then wrapping up in next Wednesday’s episode (Richard Blais for the win)! Although this has never been a point of contention for me, many fans I’ve talked to like to whine about how impossible it is to fully enjoy the Top Chef viewing experience when you can’t actually taste the food. To me this is like saying you can’t possibly enjoy watching a True Blood if you are not really a vampire, which is just silly. But I guess that is reason to be grateful that most, if not all, Top Chefs also operate their own restaurants. Angelo Sosa may not have quite made it to the finals of Top Chef All Stars, but he currently has the starring role as the Chef and owner of a cool new trendy-casual restaurant called Social Eatz, which opens for business on Thursday March 10th in a midtown east neighborhood of Manhattan.

Social Eatz hosted a Media night on Tuesday evening to stir up some advance buzz, and I was lucky enough to snag an invite as the Plus One of my writer friend Anne (who was also kind enough to take all of the pictures in this post). Anne and I had a blast at Social Eatz, which has a fun vibe, comfortable decor and food that is totally off the charts. If you’ve wondered why Angelo made it to the finals of his season (before losing to Kevin. Who? Exactly) and why it was likely a no brainer for the producers to invite him back for All Stars, wonder no longer. The guy can cook his ass off.

According to its mission statement: Social Eatz reinterprets favorite NYC foods “with flavors from across Asia, including Korea, China, Vietnam, and Japan, with Top Chef All Stars’ Angelo Sosa, a self-proclaimed Asian food fanatic, at the helm. Sosa has designed a menu featuring certified organic vegetables and certified sustainable humane meat and fish ranging in categories from Soup’z, Salad’z, App’z, Sandwich’z, Taco’z, Burger’z and Sweet’z.”

We sampled delicious fare from just about every category, as detailed below:

(All Photos By Anne Raso) Tomato Soup with Thai Chile and Curry Whipped Cream. Effing delicious.

Smoked Rib with Mesquite Tamarind Sauce. Best. Rib. Ever.

“Imperialist” Hot Dog: A grilled Chicken Apple Sausage topped with Pickled Onion & Green Pepper Relish on a Potato Bun with a Side of Sake Cheese Sauce. This was my favorite thing.

Charred Bibimbap Burger with Slow Cooked Egg and Pickled Carrot and Cucumber, Served with Fries. OMG.

Chocolate Brownie with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Toffee Sauce, served with chilled Rice Milk. Thank you chocolate toffee brownie for making me so very, very fat.

We also had some tasty and very potent cocktails. Don’t skip the alcohol on your trip to Social Eatz!

Prices range between $5 for the soup and $12 dollars for the burger, so you can see it is quite affordable and an excellent value for some good eats. Or should I say “Eatz”?

Me with Angelo – He is So Hot!

Social Eatz is Located at 232 East 53rd Street, Between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Manhattan (close to the 6 train). Phone 212-207-3339, Website: www.socialeatz.com. Dress Code is Casual. Reservations are recommended.

Gail Meets Chef Jonathan Waxman!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2011 is to enjoy the company of good friends while dining in fine restaurants as often as possible. No one can accuse me of not sticking to my resolutions, because last night I had an amazing meal at chef Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto Restaurant on Washington Street near the Meatpacking District. My dining companions were my longtime friend Ivy, her charming husband Rick and their adorable daughter Violet, who is the best kid you could ever hope to have, let me tell you. We’re all huge fans of Bravo’s Top Chef, and having enjoyed the most recent season of Top Chef Masters we are also admirers of Waxman’s “keep it simple” philosophy/approach to gourmet cooking. Dining out is always so much more fun, and a much richer experience, when you are accompanied by true foodies like Ivy, Rick and Violet. We had an amazing meal and a really fantastic time catching up.

When we were seated, Violet asked our server if Chef Waxman was in the restaurant that evening. She replied that he had been there earlier that afternoon, but had left to run some errands, though he might be back later. Less than five minutes passed before she returned to our table saying that the chef had come back into the restaurant and would we like to meet him? Of course, we enthusiastically confirmed that we would. Because celebrity chefs are the new Rock Stars. After our meal, Chef Waxman came over to our table, dressed casually in his signature pink polo shirt and khakis and looking very adorable. He spoke to us for several minutes and answered some of our questions about the time he spent as a contestant on Top Chef Masters. He was super cool and friendly and also very, very cute! Jonathan Waxman!

Here are some of foods we enjoyed eating:

Soft polenta with lamb ragu
Bruschetta with chickpeas and fresh mushrooms
Smoked trout salad with frise, black rice and orange (amazing!)

Main Courses:
Barbuto’s signature roast chicken with salsa Verde
Scallops, which were delicious but I’m not sure how they were cooked
Homemade Gnocchi with walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese

Roasted Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, to die for
Crispy fried potatoes with pecorino cheese

Two bottles of amazing red wine, which by the time I was on my third glass I could not tell you what variety it was. (Rick would know.)

Lemon Crema with coconut crisps
Chocolate pudding with whipped creme and biscotti
Two kinds of Gelato: toasted pistachio and maple cinnamon

Barbuto’s menu changes seasonally, so you never know what delicious creations Chef Waxman will be serving up. You can only rest assured that whatever you put in your mouth will blow your mind. Be prepared to throw down some serious cash, but to feel that it was totally worth it.

Barbuto is located at 775 Washington Street New York, NY 10014 @ West 12th Street. Phone 212-924-9700 for Reservations.

Gail Meets Chef Eric Ripert!

“I Am A Dreamy French Sex God, and Also a Great Chef”

Since there are arguably no real Rock Stars anymore, I like to say that the new Rock Stars are Artists, Comedians and Celebrity Chefs. Last night I was out with my friends and fellow Foodies, Mark and Michelle, enjoying a (seriously) once in a lifetime dining experience at Le Bernardin restaurant. I say “once in a lifetime” not because I wouldn’t want to go back there – because the food is insanely, mind-blowingly delicious and the service is the most attentive service you will ever get in any restaurant anywhere – but because it costs a small fortune to eat a meal there.  Somehow though, the folks at Le Bernardin make you feel that paying them hundreds of dollars to eat all kinds of tiny bites of tasty, weird food is totally worth it. One of the reasons people throw down the big bucks to eat at Le Bernadin is Chef and co-owner, Eric Ripert, whose gorgeous face is familiar to fans thanks to his many appearances on Top Chef and his own cable show, Avec Eric. Ripert is not only one of the world’s top chef’s but he is also wildly charming, charismatic and, in the looks department, just about as hot as it gets. Hotness!

We had just finished our amuse bouche (an oyster in truffle foam with something  something, so delicious) when Michelle looked up and spotted  Ripert, who had come out from the kitchen into the dining room, standing just  a few feet from our table. Holy Guacamole! For us, this was as exciting as seeing Mick Fucking Jagger! I was still trying to process the scene when Michelle – who is a goddess – says just loud enough for him to hear, “Excuse me, Chef?” And he fucking came over to our table! It was just insane.  I got all red in the face when he shook my hand and I said something mindless like, “I love seeing you on Top Chef” – like a total fan girl. Retarded. The entire encounter lasted less than a minute, but darn if meeting Chef Eric wasn’t an unexpected treat that made the meal that much more special.

Toward the end of the three-hour gastronomic extravganza, Mark worked his magic on the Table Captain and got us invited into the kitchen. You know: Back Stage at Le Bernardin!  The Kitchen was immaculate and so Zen, it was like a food church or something.  I was impressed. I would also like to give a special shout out to Le Bernardin’s Sommelier, Jared, who has the best job in the universe, talking about wine and being all cute and charming. Sign me up. After endless courses and countless glasses of awesome wine, the check arrived and we all handed over our mortgages and caught a cab downtown. Even if I can never afford to go back, I will never forget meeting Chef Eric and our wonderful dinner at Le Bernardin.