When you’re as dedicated of a Foodie as me, Celebrity Chefs are the new Rock Stars — and from Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain to Jonathan Waxman and Rocco Dispirito, I have met many of the best. But no previous personal collision with culinary genius has matched the heights squee-worthiness attained by my recent chance meeting with former Top Chef contestant and all around Fabulous uber Hottie, Fabio Viviani! I love him! Fabio happened to be shilling for Bertoli Olive Oil at last week’s Editor’s Showcase at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and he was just as charming and charismatic in person as he is on TV. Fabio Viviani!
Bertoli Olive Oil Booth Display
Fabio was gracious enough to pose for a photo of us together and, as you can see by my face, this was a moment I will not soon be forgetting. But it wasn’t actually the first time I had seen Fabio out and about while I was on a Food blog related excursion. Two years ago, I was having drinks and snacks Upstairs at The Kimberly Hotel when I noticed a guy sitting at the table directly behind me who had what looked like a Sock Monkey clearly visible in his rear jeans pocket. Yes, I just typed that. A split second after my initial observation, Sock Monkey guy turned his head and I immediately recognized him as Fabio, who is one of my favorite contestants from Top Chef, ever.
I was just emboldened enough by alcohol consumption to have said something pleasantly confrontational to Fabio at that time, but his party was made up exclusively of very attractive women who were all clearly fawning over him, so the timing was a bit off. Minutes later, he was gone and I thought I had missed my chance, so thank you Bertoli Olive Oil and Editors Showcase for providing my a true fan moment with Fabio. And thanks Fabio, for your delicious food and just being you.
There aren’t many topics in the realm of food, cooking and nutrition that are as hot right now as that of organic foods. While some might think that organic food is an adult interest, the truth is that feeding babies and children organically grown food is absolutely vital for the health of a growing young brain and body.
At a fantastic cocktail party and reception hosted by Colicchio and Sons Restaurant (owned by celebrity Chef and Top Chef judge and host, Tom Colicchio) I was introduced to the excellent work of Happy Family Organic Foods and the company’s dynamic founder and CEO Shazi Visram. Visram is perhaps best known for creating HappyBaby, the first premium baby brand to enter the market in five small stores in New York City. Today, it is the leading premium brand of baby and toddler meals in the US – sold in over 13,000 stores and featuring nine different lines of delicious, organic foods focused on the optimal nutrition of infants and children.
To that end, she has created Happy TV, an engaging online webseries that debuted just last week. Visram offers that she “created Happy TV to showcase and share insights from the innovators and thought leaders behind the brands that are making mindful choices to support the health of local communities and the planet.” After the cocktail party, we were invited to participate in the filming of a segment of Happy TV, which was very fun. In a relaxed conversational setting, Shazi and Tom discussed a variety of nutrition-related topics including hunger in America, school lunch programs, cooking with a farm to table approach and the importance of feeding children organic food.
Shazi and Tom answered questions from the intimate audience and Colicchio also spoke about his wife, filmmaker Lori Silverbush’s new documentary, A Place At The Table (formerly entitled Finding North). That is a film I definitely want to see when it shows in New York.
Watch the first episode of Happy TV at This Link and find out more about Happy Family Organic Foods by clicking Here.
I’ve been saying it for years: Celebrity Chefs are the new Rock Stars! It is no secret that I love writing about Food and that Top Chef is my favorite food-centric reality TV show. So, it is always serious fun for me when I get to meet Cheftestants from various seasons of Top Chef as well as the celebrity chef judges that make the show so educational and entertaining. Top Chef!
You can imagine then that it was particularly thrilling to be invited to attend party at Colicchio and Sons Restaurant, owned by Top Chef judge and host, Tom Colicchio, at which I not only got to eat Tom’s delicious food but also got to meet him. The purpose of the event was to promote the excellent workof Happy Family Organic Foods, and I will be writing a separate blog post about that. In the meantime, I needed an excuse to post this photo of Me and Tom taken at the event, because I’ve had a crush on him for about five years, and let me tell those of you who feel similarly that he is even hotter in person than he is on TV. Hotness! Plus, super nice and cool. I am also saving up my cash so I can eat at his restaurant again, because the food was just insane.
It is no secret that eating and watching television are two of my favorite things to do in the world. And considering the fact that one of my favorite shows of all time is Bravo’s Top Chef, it did not take much prodding to get me to purchase tickets to attend former Top Chef contestant Carla Hall’s Pop Up Restaurant/dinner event at David Burke’sIn The Box restaurant at Bloomingdale’s. Tickets to this event were offered, at what most people would consider to be kind of a steep price, through the Living Social website, but the expense proved to be so very worth it. Because Carla’s food is just insane!
It was especially fun to be joined for this spectacular culinary evening by my good friend Diane (a.k.a.”Diaaahhne!”), as she is also a fellow Top Chef fan and especially a fan of Carla’s. Following are photos and brief descriptions of the food we ate, which you will notice get progressively blurrier as the evening wears on, due to the unique cocktail pairings that accompanied each course, of which I was drinking many. Enjoy!
Mini Arancini with Mushroom in a Spicy Remoulade
This tiny rice ball packed a lot of flavor, being perfectly crispy fried, and stuffed with tender rice and a plump mushroom morsel, all nestled on a tiny puddle of spicy remoulade. When we ate this thing, Diane and I agreed that it was the best food we had yet eaten in our lives. Little did we know that we would feel similarly about each piece of food we put in our mouths that evening.
Mac & Cheese with Butter Sauce and Crispy Bacon
Carla’s unique take on what she calls “inside out” Mac and Cheese comes off like a cheese stuffed tortellini made of most tender pasta you can imagine. The buttery, savory sauce was further enhanced by crumbles of crispy, salty bacon. I used a spoon to get every drop of the sauce. It was pure heaven. Best thing you ever ate, times two.
The Cocktail pairing for this course was called “15 Ingredient Sangria,” with a medley of 15 ingredients that I believe mostly included fruit and also seltzer to make the sangria effervescent.
Hot Chicken Bite with Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Up next was Carla’s Southern specialty, Hot Chicken Bite, which rivaled my grandmother’s fried chicken for its insanely delicious, super-crispy fried skin. People who have not experienced super-crispy fried chicken skin have really not tasted one of the most delicious things that you can lay upon your tongue. This perfectly succulent fried chicken thigh was set on a tiny square of white bread, because that is how they serve it in the south, and was accented by a spicy hot Tabasco-like pepper sauce for that extra kick. The accompaniment/garnish of chopped fresh tomato and cucumber salad helped to cool the fire. Finger lickin’ good, as they say
Accompanying the spicy chicken was a sweet and refreshing Strawberry Margarita with House-Infused Strawberry Tequila. I’m not super crazy about the taste of tequila, but this is fantastic.
Meat + Three: Carla’s homemade Meatloaf with Collard Greens, Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Corn
You can see that the photos are now in somewhat-less-than perfectly sharp focus, because at this juncture I have had three cocktails within a relatively short period of time. Not to mention, but you can see I am about you, the fact that by now the energy level in the room has kicked up a few notches and people are getting a little crazy over this delicious food. There was a lot of clinking of glasses going on and rampant moaning about how, OMG, this was the best food anyone had ever tasted and how surely we could now be at peace with death after having eaten such a fantastic meal.
Cocktail: Bocelli Sangiovese
Nothing goes with red meat quite like red wine. And you know how I feel about red wine.
Banana Pudding with Pecan Shortbread and Bruléed Bananas
You should not be too surprised to hear that I had great difficulty even spooning a few mouths-full of Carla’s delightful banana pudding into my gaping maw after stuffing my face with all of her mind-blowing gourmet dishes and drinking myself into a stupor. I did my best.
Cocktail: Lavender Cooler with House Lavender Syrup, Aloe Juice and Prosecco
Man, what a nice cocktail!
Carla’s Apron Says “Will Cook for Shoes”
I forgot to mention that at the start of each course, Carla came out from the kitchen and talked to us about the next dish we would be eating, its inspiration or origin, and how the ingredients worked together to make it super special. Later, as the evening was winding up Carla made sure to stop at every table and talk to each person, to pose for photos and just to be her amazingly cool and talented self. This Pop Up dining event was Carla Hall’s second session of these dinners that she’s held at David Burke, so be on the lookout for her to show up doing something like this again in the future. I do my best to enjoy my life, and to treat myself to nice things when the opportunity arrives to do so. Like I said, it was a pricey evening, but it was one that was worth every penny and an experience I’ll never forget. Carla Hall!
Now that we are just a couple of short weeks away from kicking off a spectacular New Year, full of art, music, pink things, bacon and free food, I would like to ask you, Dear Readers, how was your year? I hope it was awesome. As you can see from this Rad Blog you are now reading, I got to do some fun things in 2011, including going on my most fun vacation in many years when my sister and I took a 7 day Caribbean cruise, with three days in New Orleans on the front end. Holy cow, was that ever fun! Such adventuring! Such fine dining! Such ridiculous humidity! I’m still sweating.
What this all means is that it’s time again for the obligatory Year End Top Ten List, so, instead of going with the predictable, rote, yawnfest Top Ten CDs list I’ve decided to do more of a Pop Culture Mixed Bag, if you will. Because that is how I roll. Let’s get started.
Best Album: Manraze, PunkFunkRootsRock. Take guitarist Phil Collen from Def Leppard, team him up with drummer Paul Cook from The Sex Pistols and add Simon Laffy, the bassist from Phil’s former Glam band, Girl (because every power trio needs a bassist), and you’ve got a record that sounds, well, like a raunchier version of Def Leppard! We especially love Phil’sLemmy impersonation on “Over My Dead Body.” Record of The Year! Read my interview with Paul Cook at This Link.
That’s Me in the Back Row: Third in from the Left
Best Game Show: The Kostabi Show, where a panel of three Art critics and/or celebrities compete to title the works of modernist painter Mark Kostabi for cash awards, while a jury votes on which title suits the painting best. I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the jury for a taping this past summer and went home with $6 cash more than I had when I arrived, plus a Kostabi coffee table book signed by Mark. Bonus: free pizza! Kostabi, who is an accomplished pianist, also released a swell modern classical CD, The Spectre of Modernism, this year, which has been in heavy rotation on my iPod for ages now.
Best Beatles Thing: Dave Depper’s Ram Project, an authentically-covered version of Paul McCartney’s second solo album, complete with off-key Linda-esque backing vocals! So good!
Best Rock Book: Nick Kent’s Apathy For The Devil, a memoir of the British rock critic’s life and career in the 1970s. Everyone knows that all of the best music happened the Seventies, so I will admit that, as both a writer and fan, I certainly would have loved to have lived that life myself, save for the messy heroin addiction part.
Best Fashion-Related Museum Exhibit: Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Four words: Crown of Thorns Headdress. The Savage Beauty Exhibit set all kinds of ridiculous attendance records for the Met and was just insane. Insane!
Best Homage to Eighties Alternative Goth: Chris Connelly’s Artificial Madness. David Bowie Meets Killing Joke plus Bauhaus sautéed lightly with Magazine and a little Ministry on the side. Homage!
Best Rock Documentary:Fix, The Ministry Movie. Kids: Don’t Do Drugs. Or do a lot of them. One or the Other.
Best Seventies Southern Rock: The Sheepdogs, Five Easy Pieces EP. Bonus points to the band for their fan-winning appearance on the most recent season of Project Runway!
Reality TV (Competition): Top Chef, because Celebrity Chefs are the new Rock Stars!
Pop Culture as Art: The Suckadelic Art Toy Universe Retrospective and Pop Up Store at Boo Hooray Gallery (NYC). The judges and critics on the second season of Bravo’sWork Of Art didn’t really dig the SuckLord’s artwork too much, but his parodies of Star Wars toys served up with a serious side of snark made for one of the most subversive, hilarious and memorable art shows of the year! Art!
Honorable Mention: Kasabian’s Velociraptor, MGMT Live at the Guggenheim, The Zombies at City Winery, Single Fare Please Swipe Again at Sloan Fine Art, Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, Jeremy Dower’s Canis Mortuus Familiarus at Bold Hype Gallery, American Horror Story, Maurizio Catellan’s All Retrospective at The Guggenheim, Patti Smith at Webster Hall, The Wyld Olde Souls’ Ensoulment, Jeremy Fish Listen & Learn at Joshua Liner Gallery, Robot Chicken, Tosh.0.
East 14th Street is quickly becoming a go-to neighborhood for the seeker of comfort foods. Think about it: the first IHOP in Manhattan proper just opened between Second and Third Avenues a couple of months ago. And now, just a few storefronts further east, in the corner lot once shared by an Arthur Treacher’s-Pizza Hut–Nathan’s triumvirate of fast food, a new restaurant has just opened that specializes in one of our very favorite foods: Meatballs! The Meatball Factory – as it is called – is the creation of Chef Dave Martin. Known for serving up Foodie-esque yet accessible takes on classic American dishes, Martin was among the final three Cheftestants on season one of Bravo’s wildly popular reality cooking competition, Top Chef. Like fellow Top Chef alumni Angelo Sosa’s midtown eatery, Social Eatz, The Meatball Factory aims to elevate your palate for the American food favorites that you already crave.
Cluck Cluck Chicken Meatball (All Food Photos By Anne Raso)
Having lived in a state of Meatballs-on-the-Brain for close to a week while anticipating our visit, we chose two types of meatballs to share: the Cluck Cluck Chicken Meatball, made with Bell & Evans Chicken, Esposito’s Chicken Apple Sausage and White Wine, and the Meatza Meatza (one of two beef-centric meatball varieties on the menu) comprised of Braised Certified Angus Beef Brand Short Ribs, Hangar Steak and Filet, Buffalo, Potato and Parmesan. Both choices were very naturally juicy, and because Dave uses no traditional “binder” (i.e. breadcrumbs) in his meaty mix, you are really going to taste the flavor of the meat.
Meatza Meatza Beef Meatballs
Other meaty concoctions offered include the Turducken (a mix of Turkey, Chicken and Duck, like it sounds), Lambda Lambda Lambda (Lamb, duh), Hog Wild (Pork) and the Vegan’s Dream meatless ball, featuring nine different types of veggies all mashed together with tofu and roasted garlic – yummy. All meatball selections are $8 for a generous 5-meatball portion, while the vegan choice is $9. Meatballs are accompanied by a side of your choice of eight homemade sauces, but for a few bucks more you can trade up to a selection of three different sauces, which seemed like the way to go – because if some is good, more is better! The Cluck Cluck was well complimented by the thick Salsa Verde of Roasted Tomatillos, Green Chilies and Caramelized Sweet Onions flavored with Lime, Fresno Chiles and Agave. We also chose a traditional Fire Roasted Marinara (super garlicky) and the Hells Bells Vodka Sauce made with Absolut Peppar – tasty, and excellent with beef. Kick up the fire in any of these sauces with a splash or two of the house-made Red Pepper Agave sauce found on each table.
Marinara, Hells Bells, Salsa Verde Dipping Sauces
Dave’s World Famous Black Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese
While on Top Chef, Dave takes credit for starting the Truffled Macaroni & Cheese craze with the introduction of his signature dish, a Black Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese ($11), which according to our server is among the most popular items on the menu. Chef Dave, who was quite visible in the front of the house on the night of our visit, joined us table-side while we savored – noodle by noodle – a shared portion of this delicious cheesey-truffly baked goodness, to personally describe his secret method of first cooking the cream base for the sauce until it develops its own “nutty” flavor, then slowly folding in both Fontina and Parmesan cheeses so that ingredients blend perfectly, preventing the sauce from “breaking.” This technique makes for a very creamy sauce and a unique integration of flavors that, when combined with the essence of black truffles, elevates this memorable creation high above “your Mama’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese” status.
Pureed Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic (Tastes Better than it Looks!)
While we certainly would have been quite satisfied with the Meatballs and the Mac, a side of Pureed Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic (with cream, of course, $5) sounded too amazing to pass up, and we were not disappointed! TMF’s menu also features half a dozen varieties of Crispy Crackerbread Pizzas (we hear that the Thai This Pizza featuring the Turducken Meatballs in a Green Curry Peanut Sauce is a favorite), plus Pastas, Sandwiches, Salads and even Poutine (aka Disco Fries, $5 – 10)! For dessert we were easily sold on the TMF Floatillas: traditional soft drink floats made with Dave’s Vanilla Mascarpone Gelato ($6)! On the night of our visit they were out of the Fanta Orange soda that makes up the Creamsicle, so we chose the Purple Cow Floatilla made with Fanta Grape – equally decadent and so huge we could not finish it!
Here is Chef Dave Bringing Us Our Massive Purple Cow Floatillas!
Last but not least, we tipped the scale of pure indulgence by ordering the Pig Sticks: Slices of Nueske’s Wild Cherrywood Bacon served with sides of Dave’s Malted Hot Fudge and Sea Salt Caramel for dipping! Pig Sticks are a dessert that should be enjoyed at least once by anyone who worships Bacon as much as we do here at The Worley Gig! As you can see from the prices listed in this review, The Meatball Factory is easy on your wallet: nothing on the menu is over $15. They also have a nice wine list with all bottles of wine is priced at or under $40. Beer lovers can choose from among 18 varieties on tap and 20 bottles of craft beer. With the welcome addition of The Meatball Factory to this East Village neighborhood, we just might turn 14th Street into a Foodie haven yet!
Pig Sticks: Oink!
UPDATE: I AM SAD TO ANNOUNCE THAT THE MEATBALL FACTORY HAS NOW CLOSED EFFECTIVE APRIL 30, 2012. RIP!
The Meatball Factory is Located at 231 Second Ave. or 251. E. 14th Street – depending on whom you ask – at the Northwest Corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue. Currently Open for Dinner Only, Hours are Monday – Sunday 6:30 PM – 11 PM. Credit Cards Accepted! Phone 212-260-8015 for more Information!
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!