Cacao Crackdown: The New York Chocolate Show

MHowardcouture PourCroquer

My recent trip to Belgium unleashed my inner chocoholic, so when I got tipped off about the 13th Annual New York Chocolate Show, you can be sure that I was first in line to storm the barricades in search of what would melt my heart. Here were my favorites:

NibMor
Nibmor
Heather Kenzie and Jennifer Love met while taking classes at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Possessing a drive-off-the-cliff spirit in line with Thelma and Louise (without the actual cliff), the two developed and launched a line of all-natural organic chocolate bars. There were lots of vendors touting the whole “organic, raw, eat-me-I’m-good-for-you” thing, but in my book, theirs took top honors for that perfect combination of bittersweet and mouthfeel. Or maybe that was my last relationship.

kallari

Kallari
Amazon organic cacao producers and artists combined forces to form the Kallari Association, a self-governed coalition created to support sustainable income for the Kichwa people. The 850-plus families now produce, market and sell fair-trade chocolate from one of the most stunning locales on earth while preserving their rain forests and land. The community retains 100 percent of wholesale profits to support education, health, and community viability initiatives.

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Wings of Death

wingsofdeath

When my cohorts at ES asked me to develop a deadly but delicious Halloween recipe, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try out my brand new bottle of Bacon Hot Sauce. Because if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What makes any dish better—bacon or hot sauce?” clearly you know the answer is both.

Although there’s no actual bacon in the hot sauce, it has an interesting smokehouse-style kick. In the spirit of Halloween, I used the hot sauce for a ghoulish creation that may knock a few years off your life in one sitting.

Wings of Death
Chicken wings wrapped in spicy capicola and slathered in bacon hot sauce

2 dozen chicken wings, patted dry

1 bottle of bacon hot sauce (5 oz.)

1 stick of unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

salt & pepper

24 thin slices of hot capicola

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Crash and Burn

spirits

I was recently fortunate enough to land an invitation to one of the largest distributor wine-tasting events in Manhattan. These freebie drink fests allow wine and spirit makers the ability to peddle their wares in front of restaurateurs, buyers, and a few select people who manage to weasel their way in. That would be me. I guess on paper I’m a good fit: trained chef, food and travel writer, face-that-can’t lie taste tester. But I don’t spit.

This has nothing to do with that fact than when tasting a 144-page portfolio I don’t want to spit. I pay no attention to the polished spittoon or the carafes of water intended to rinse my glass. I’m holding on to every drop. So for this momentous occasion, I gave myself three parameters:

  1. Red only (which I broke almost immediately).
  2. Choose wines based solely on their label design.
  3. Make sure to taste the expensive stuff, regardless of two previous rules.

So I could make some grandiose statements about the relative merits of all the different wines I tasted, but instead we’ll do this the ES way. I’ll just share my complete notes from the event.  They’re scattered at best—muddled descriptions easily influenced by knee-jerk reactions to those pouring and an over-consumption of pigs in a blanket and spinach dip. But I stand by them.

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Grind-Lick-Snort: A Belgian Chocolate Tour

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While New York City is cinching and tucking its way through another Fashion Week, I’m reveling in my inner addict with leftovers from a recent trip to Belgium. Antwerp is considered by many to be northern Europe’s fashion capital, but I spent the majority of my time seeking out the definitive expression of the cacao bean. What first began as a concentrated study of flavor, texture and technique quickly melted into a bacchanalian whirlwind of pralines and bon bons. Chocolate is a big business in Belgium and each of the following artisans make their mark with unique interpretations from classic to camp:

Del Rey’s quaint shop was my first discovery upon arriving in Antwerp. Founded in the late 1940’s, the outpost specialize in pralines. The details of my tasting are blurry, as I ate my entire purchase before returning to my hotel. The store recently added ice cream cakes and other confections to their line-up, and while it’s certainly a far cry from the Baskin-Robbins freezer-burned cakes from my youth, there’s something to be said for a chocolatier sticking to chocolate.

choc7

La Maison des Chocolatiers is one of Belgium’s newest chocolate shops, uniting ten master chocolate-makers in a modern boutique that resides on the Grand Place in the heart of Brussels. They’re onto something good, having picked up the international award at the “Janus 2010 du Commerce,” which is more about retail design than chocolate-making, but hey, who doesn’t like a pretty box? Also noteworthy are the shop’s recreational discovery workshops and Belgian Academy of Handmade Chocolate launching in 2011.

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Texas Tuesdays, Part III: Farm to Stomach

photos: Matthew Wexler

photos: Matthew Wexler

Roo de Loo’s final installment on the Austin food scene...

After several days of indulging on barbecue, breakfast tacos and margaritas, I thought I’d take a brief respite and check out Austin’s burgeoning urban farm scene before hitting the town for one final culinary rodeo.

My first stop was Springdale Farm, located just a few miles from downtown Austin. Created by landscape horticulturist Glenn Foore and his wife, Paula, the couple’s farm is just under 5 acres of land surrounded by modest homes and more than a few cars that have seen better days. There was a torrential downpour the afternoon I visited, but Glenn and Paula welcomed me with open arms and umbrellas as they stood under a leaky muslin farm stand. We chatted a bit about sustainability and the locavore scene. Glenn’s eagerness to further engage the community is apparent through Springdale’s participation in urban farm tours, on-site dinners and their own Community Supported Agriculture program.

Next stop was Boggy Creek Farm—the vision of Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, who have been growing commercially since 1991. They are USDA-certified organic, which doesn’t come easy. Carol, with a wide toothy grin and sunspots from long days in the field, reminded me of a modern-day Aunt Eller, proclaiming, “We’re all about the soil, but we don’t know everything!” She enthusiastically bantered about the challenges of the small farmer as I wandered the grounds, stumbling across fresh strawberries, spring onions and some plucky chickens who found their way under my feet.

Although I hadn’t done anything more than chat up some locals and sneak a mouthful of red leaf lettuce right from the ground, I was craving a coffee break as if I had been harvesting all morning. I dashed off to nearby Progress Coffee, a hip coffeehouse located in a converted warehouse on Austin’s near east side. Progress Coffee is “fair trade, organic, shade-grown and custom-roasted by hand in small batches.” It’s so peaced-out, I think may have seen the Dali Lama at the barista making my double latté.

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Texas Tuesdays, Part II: Who You Callin’ Trailer Trash?

photos: Matthew Wexler

Photos: Matthew Wexler

I like to sit down at a proper table when I eat. And after closing the door on fifteen years in the restaurant industry, I like to be served. Sometimes I feel the phantom pain in my side when I see a defeated waiter struggling to get through a shift—but for the most part, I’m just happy it’s not me. So the thought of traipsing through sweltering downtown Austin like my ancestors crossing the Egyptian desert with matzoh in their pants made me wary. I imagined when I set off on a food trailer crawl that I might be disappointed with greasy funnel cakes and toxic yellow lemonade. And where would I pee? What I stumbled upon is an entire subculture of dedicated food artisans leaving their tire tracks all over town.

photos: Matthew Wexler

photos: Matthew Wexler

Chasing Chi’Lantro

One of the newest additions to the food trailer scene is Chi’Lantro, a name derived from two cultural staples: kimchi and cilantro. The fusion of Korean and Mexican food had me all a Twitter, which is a good thing because it’s the only way you can track this trailer down. With locations that vary like the changing winds, I have to credit a friend’s i-phone for my spicy pork taco with Korean soy vinaigrette salad and salsa roja. I can’t get too attached though, as this newcomer is already revamping their menu along with their ever-changing locale.

Holding the Torch

Torchy’s Tacos is a benchmark of Austin’s food trailer scene. They are “living the taco dream” by serving up an array of tortilla-stuffed concoctions—from classic breakfast tacos to more daring fare like The Brushfire, filled with Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños and diablo sauce. Founder and Executive Chef Michael Rypka mortgaged his house and maxed out a couple of credits cards in pursuit of the perfect taco. And it’s paid off. The homemade salsas were a knockout, and I have to give the guy a hats off for continuing to locally source the majority of their products and meats.

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Texas Tuesdays, Part I: The Carnivore’s Dilemma

 

photo: Matthew Wexler

A light lunch at The County Line, one of Austin's famous barbecue restaurants. Photo: Matthew Wexler

I had one thing on my mind during my recent trip to Austin, Texas—and it wasn’t where to purchase a pair of Wranglers or how to two-step my way into the arms of a stranger (although those options presented themselves repeatedly).

Meat.

How much and how many varieties could I eat? The answer: plenty. Let’s talk about a few of the best.

Where Do I Draw the Line?

When my companions ordered “The Cadillac” at the famous County Line Bar-B-Q, I knew I’d be in trouble. The family-size platters include sausage, chicken, marbled 2nd cut brisket, original lean brisket, beef ribs and pork ribs—along with homemade bread and side dishes. The pork ribs were my favorite: smoky and sweet and falling of the bone. Just like me by the end of the meal. When County Line old-timer Dee Dee (with a purple bow in her hair that rivaled one of those Fred Flintstone beef ribs and an equally impressive smile across her face) arrived with a wedge of bread pudding and bourbon sauce, I nearly rolled out of my chair and right into hill country. But I’m a savory kind of guy, so I left dessert to the ladies and was still dipping handfuls of brisket into the County Line’s signature hot & spicy sauce as the rest of the group waddled to the parking lot.

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