La Bella Vita

Whether it’s cooking for ourselves at home (or rather, Kristina cooking and Allen getting ready for dish duty…) or out enjoying a great meal, we know that for the final product to be delicious, the initial ingredients need to be of high quality. Good cuts of meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, pure oils and spices, it all makes a difference! We recently had the opportunity to try three olive oils from Bella D’Oliva, a company that imports oils directly from Italy and prides itself on building strong relationships with local Italian farmers.

We couldn’t stop ourselves from buying a crusty loaf of bread and dipping it in Adornare right away! It was rich alone as well as with a little salt and Oregano. Next, we opened up Indulgere and used it with roasted fingerling potatoes and homemade pesto. Yum! Up next will be Aumentare. What are your favorite ways to use olive oil? Please send us your tips- we’d love to give them a try!

After trying the olive oils, we were curious to know more about the company so we got in touch with Lisa-Ann Marchesi (Twitter: @LAMarchesi) of Bella D’Olivia to learn more about her passion for olive oil as well as the health benefits of the product.

FP: How did you get started in the olive oil business?

LM: In 2011, my fiancée ‘s friend opened an art gallery and were attending the opening. His friend, along with my fiancée chose a life of sobriety and no longer drink alcohol. We wanted to bring a gift to the opening, but knew a fine bottle of wine or champagne was not appropriate. We came across a store in town that resembled a fine wine store…but to our surprise it was OLIVE OIL! Olive oils from all over the world!  We tasted a number of them and purchased a “fine” bottle of olive oil and brought it with us as a gift. At that moment, I fell in love with the idea of giving the “gift of health” and so my journey began. I spent the next several months researching olive oil! I went over to Italy and traveled through 4 different regions to find pure extra virgin olive.  I personally met with my producer, walked the groves and experienced the harvest of my oils first hand by making it with them to make sure that my customer is receiving high quality and pure extra virgin olive oil.  There is a minimal quantity made, so orders of cases are taken before the harvest even begins!

It was something that I grew up with in my Sicilian home. You see my grandmother, Anna, lived with us for a great deal of my childhood. I spent all of my time in the kitchen with her cooking and baking!  On Sundays, the entire family (aunts, cousins, uncles) would come for pasta! Oldies station on the a.m. with Sinatra and Dean Martin playing and it was a time when life was a simple as “meatball!  My grandmother passed away from breast cancer in 1996.  Her spirit is with me in my kitchen and my passion for cooking and playing Sinatra on Sundays comes from her.  She called me “Lee”.

FP: We love those little olive oil shops!

We know there are many benefits to using olive oil. What do you consider to be the most important benefits?

LM: One of the most important benefits to using olive oil to me is the purity. I found that there is so much mislabeling and misuse of the term extra virgin.  The reason why it is so important that it is pure are for the health benefits in addition to taste!  PURE extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols.  Polyphenols are antioxidants that fight the free radicals that cause cancer and many other diseases. It has been proven that using pure extra virgin olive oil will also reduce your risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. My grandmother died from breast cancer. My grandmother’s sisters had breast cancer; my mother is a breast cancer survivor.  Nine years ago, I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. I carry the gene for breast and ovarian cancer. Angelina Jolie brought awareness to this recently with her radical mastectomy. I had complete hysterectomy in May 2014 and I am fortunate that my breast tumors are benign. Health is the most benefit.  The oils are PURE that we take a teaspoon of it a day, as you would a vitamin, for the extra dose of antioxidant!

FP: It’s true that if you’d don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. We wish you continued good health.

What are your favorite ways to use your products?

LM: Steak! Drizzle a little on your steak when it is done and it will bring out the flavor! I also use it on steamed vegetables and raw vegetables! I love to put it on radishes, broccoli, carrots, greens and I dip it in the oil instead of dressing. My family loves it drizzled over pasta with garlic and popcorn! Yes popcorn with sea salt! AFTER it’s been popped!  Also, breakfast smoothie! Banana, strawberry and blueberry yogurt smoothie, put a drop in it for the extra boost! My son drinks it straight from the bottle! It has a natural peppery finish and the flavor is unique to most who have not experienced PURE extra virgin olive without additives.  I also infuse it with fresh herbs like basil, rosemary and also with garlic.

FP: We make smoothies almost every morning; we’ll have to add a bit of olive oil!A question, though: why are Extra Virgin olive oils often so bitter?

LM: Extra Virgin olive oils contain the flavors of the olive fruit. (Tasting a raw olive is one of those experiences you would hope never to repeat.) Bitterness, along with pungency and vegetal/fruit flavors are considered positive attributes in EVO olive oils, particularly when they are well balanced. Depending on many factors, such as the olive variety and ripeness, milling technique, and the age of the oil, the bitterness and pungency can be quite intense. Sometimes professional tasters jokingly classify EVO oils as ‘one-cough, two-cough or three-cough’ oils. Fortunately, these strong olive oils make wonderful condiments. Once you get used to them, you’ll find them more and more attractive. These strong flavors are evidence of a healthy amount of antioxidants in the oil. When an oil does not have these strong flavors it is almost devoid of any antioxidants. These strong flavors are very good for your health!

FP:  Good to know!

In addition to your website, where can we find your products?

LM: The oils are kept in a temperature controlled warehouse; keeping it out of the light and in a cool place will maintain the oils’ integrity, health components and taste. I want my customers experience the taste of the oil just the way I did when I was there making it during the harvest. Preserving so they have the freshest oils is key. The website is where to find it (www.belladolivausa.com). Some small gourmet shops may carry it, but the website orders are shipped direct from the temperature controlled warehouse.

FP: When you’re not cooking with olive oil at home, where are some of your favorite places to eat in NJ, NY or other places you’ve visited?

LM: Macelleria in the meatpacking district of NYC! Love the steaks and they love my oils!

Scarpetta – in the meatpacking district of NYC! LOVE CHEF CONANT AND HIS HOMEMADE PASTA! To die for!

Fresco by Scotto – uptown NYC – love their Potato and zucchini chips! MUST HAVE

Rubirosa on Mulberry for Pizza!

Bocca Di Bacco in Hell’s Kitchen for some delicous carbonara!

Rosa Mexicana – Union Square NYC – BEST GUAC and MARGARITAS!!!

I can eat an entire loaf of Italian bread from Biagio’s Italian Gourmet Specialties and Bakery in Stirling, NJ!

FP: Great list of places…we’ll add them to our ever growing list!

We ask everyone this question: What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. :)

LM: Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and has to be Breyers! Butterfingers…just because you can’t have just one!! Also, I’m addicted to pasta! Any way you can make it!

I make a personal “famous” dish…I call it “balls of fury!”  I landed a spot on ABC’s The Taste Season 2 Auditions with them, but unfortunately did not make a team!  But I can tell you that my Balls of Fury are arancini rice balls with my special blend of cheeses with hot Italian sausage!  Deep Fried and will melt your mouth! And maybe set it on fire! But make sure you cool it off with my fresh marinara sauce.

FP: Sounds delicious! Lisa-Ann, thank you so much for sharing your passion with us! We loved trying your olive oils and wish you much continued success!

Made By Meg

Our followers on Twitter know two things two things for certain about us on Tuesday evenings: 1) we’re watching Chopped and 2) we’re live-tweeting during the show. In addition to interacting with fellow viewers, we also enjoy tweeting with the contestants and getting to know them as individuals, win or lose. Recently, we caught up with Meg Hall, one of the show’s recent contestants.

Chef Meg Hall

Chef Meg Hall

FP: How did you get your start with cooking? 

MH: I started cooking in grade school but it was merely an obsession with making chocolate chip cookies. I have probably made a thousand batches by now – still working to perfect that! My real passion for cooking came about when my parents left town for the holidays and the rest of the family needed someone to cook the big meal. At 13 years old, I stepped up to cook and it was glorious! Not the food, per se, but the experience. I was hooked on cooking after that!

FP: Your clients are sure glad you stepped up to the plate at 13 years old!

How did the concept of Made by Meg come about?

MH: Made by Meg started as a very small idea while I was in cooking school. I externed at a Michelin Star restaurant in Los Angeles, Ortolan, then worked as a writer’s assistant to a cookbook author. I finally quit all those positions when a catering event conflicted with work in 2008. I haven’t looked back since!  Plus, I come from 5 generations of entrepreneurs and it was sort of expected that I start my own business at some point!

FP: Sounds like you were meant to be in business for yourself!

Tell us about your experience on Chopped from casting to being in front of the bright lights.

MH: The Chopped experience was extremely exciting and nerve racking. The casting team got in touch with me and I did a Skype interview, then found out I would be on the show. They have a huge back office team that was in touch from paperwork to travel to answering questions to sending the rules. It was awesome to be a part of show that was so organized.

The weeks and days leading up to the filming, I had friends and clients come in with “mystery” baskets and challenge me in my own kitchen. The practice rounds resulted in gorgeous plates and delicious flavors. I never had a problem with time until I was taping – arg!

FP: We can only imagine cooking under a time constraint. When Ted Allen counts down, we get so anxious, and we’re only watching! 

What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself? 

MH: I love to grill at home and experiment with different marinades. The grill is such a honest, straight forward cooking technique that I find relaxing. I also love making a quick stir fry for a healthy dinner. I like to play, “what’s in the fridge” and make a delicious meal out of leftovers.

FP: Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and why.

MH: Grant Achatz – I have less than 5 perfect meals in my entire life and one of them was at Alinea in Chicago (which is one of Grant’s restaurants). His style is very playful and is steeped in complex technique.  I’d love to learn from him!

Jamie Oliver – I’m a huge advocate of fixing the food system and getting people to eat healthier. Jamie has been such an important spokesperson in that effort and I really enjoy his recipes. Plus, his accent and way of instructing people is so approachable!

Julia Childs – I loved her role in developing the foodie culture today and her take on the classics. What a tremendous woman and leader – plus I think we’d have a lot of fun together!

FP: Great list of chefs indeed! 

When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in LA or other cities you’ve visited.

MH: I don’t believe in good meals or great meals. I’m just happy to be fed and very rarely complement restaurants. This is a tough list to put together, but all these restaurants have earned my respect and business.

Alinea

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614

After 3+ decades on this planet, this is my favorite restaurant of all time. I am a huge fan of any restaurant that commits 1,000% to their concept, their passion and their food. Alinea is just that.  Every day when service starts in Chicago, I think wistfully about what the diners have in store for them that night. The menu changes constantly and I can’t tell you my favorite. They were all my favorite. There are going to be tastes you aren’t familiar with or even like, but something about it works. It’s one of those places you can trust to make everything absolutely delicious and presented with incredible flair. I was floored with the look of the kitchen, the presentation, the friendly (!!) staff and most of all, the food. I will never travel to Chicago again without making a reservation at Alinea, as long as they serve.

MB Post

1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Chef David LeFevre single handedly changed and elevated the dining scene in the South Bay (Los Angeles) by opening this restaurant. I met David years before having a pint in a local pub. He’s devilishly clever, witty and pokes fun at every turn. That shows in every facet of MB Post. Being a native of Manhattan Beach and a chef, I am thrilled to have MB Post as a part of our community.  The beverage program is exemplary and the wine list has very few misses. Each dish is balanced and composed with care. One of my favorites is the Albondigas. If you’re so lucky or have tremendous patience, wait for a table at his spot next door, Fishing with Dynamite. Another culinary revelation that plays on David’s talent for seafood preparation.

Standing Room

144 N Catalina Ave
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

A far cry from fine dining, this little burger stand is tucked in the back of a liquor store in Redondo Beach. The burgers are OUTSTANDING and the fries are mandatory. The idea that you can serve gourmet burgers out of a ridiculously small kitchen and no indoor seating, is goddamn beautiful. These guys can get a bit of a ‘tude, but it’s only because they’re pumping out 100’s of orders a day.  They have made such a name for themselves that they are opening a second location in Hermosa Beach with seating. Way to take a small concept and make something of it. Proud to call these guys neighbors.

FP: Your list is making us hungry and ready to pack our bags!

What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name :)

MH: My guilty pleasures – so many!!!  I LOVE stinky, oozy cheese. I have absurd cravings for French Macarons, Frozen Yogurt, Foie Gras, and Pork Belly. I absolutely love sushi – good sushi.  If it’s terrible or even slightly off, I’ll pay my tab and leave without taking another bite.

FP: We love sushi, too– good sushi, that is!

What are some of your non-cooking related hobbies or interests? What do you like to do on your days off?

MH: I love to garden, but I seem to be terrible at it. We are currently working on (not killing) an herb garden at my restaurant. I love to read and play with my French Bulldog, Sugar. After rushing around at events or at my shop, being still and relaxing is so welcoming!

FP: Herb gardens can be harder than they look! Thank you, Meg for your time. We wish you continued success!

For more information on Chef Meg Hall, visit her website, http://www.meghall.com/.

Friday Night at The Ritz

Last Friday, we ended a long work week with dinner with friends at the Lobby Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, NY. Back in May, we attended ArtsBash and met Chef Kennardo Holder, Executive Chef at The Ritz-Carlton. We tasted his delicious veggie burger at the event and also learned more about him in our interview so it was fitting to stop by The Ritz-Carlton to taste more of his cooking.

It was Friday, so of course we started off with drinks. Kristina enjoyed Prosecco and, per our friend Keisha, the Ritz-Carlton Martini was perfect!

Martini and wine to start!

Martini and Prosecco to start!

Next we ate some delicious appetizers. The crab cake was prepared with just the right amount of kick and the mozzarella with pesto was light and refreshing.

It was hard to choose from all the great choices on the menu but we decided to order the Petit filet with polenta and the Sea Bass, which was highly recommended by Chef Kennardo. After eating it, we can see why! The fish was cooked just right, soft and juicy. The creaminess of the polenta complimented the filet perfectly.

The small sample of the Kobe burger was so good that our fried Tay decided to order the bigger portion for dinner.

Kobe burger

Kobe burger

We’re all sure glad we left room for dessert after Pastry Chef Jackie Wong bought her treats!

photo 3

Cheesecake and dark chocolate tart

We couldn’t have enjoyed our dinner more; the food was delicious and the service was outstanding. It was great to see Chef Kennardo again and it was such a pleasure to meet his team. If you’re ever in White Plains and are looking for a cozy, upscale meal, make sure to visit the Lobby Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton. You will not be disppointed!

Lobby Lounge at the Ritz Carlton
3 Renaissance Square  
White Plains, NY 10601

Deli Part Duex

Delicatessen NYC on Prince Street in SoHo is quickly becoming our favorite place to catch a bite after work. Recently, we dined there with one pair of friends who recently moved back to NYC from Atlanta and another set of friends who were visiting from Germany. With so many different taste buds, we decided Delicatessen was the perfect place to eat!

We enjoy catching up with our friend and Executive Sous Chef Tony Kang each time we visit Deli. With so many delicious options to choose from, we lean on him to recommend the best bites. For our second visit, we had to order a few favorites like the meatballs and the tuna tartare as well as sample some new dishes.

Curious about our first visit to Deli? Read about it here!

Delicatessen NYC
54 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012

 

 

Southern Hospitality

Over the July 4th weekend, we were able to cross Savannah, GA off of our list of places to visit. The quaint city and popular tourist location fulfilled our desire for walking, sightseeing and of course, food! In addition, we were treated to genuine southern hospitality at our AirBnB location.

Curious about Savannah’s food scene? Here’s a gallery of what we ate. There’s truly something for everyone!

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With all the great meals we ate, we made sure to walk it off with some long walks and sightseeing.

If you’re looking to for a long weekend destination, we can’t recommend Savannah highly enough. With lush parks and squares, charming buildings, delicious eats and plenty of history, it’s sure to keep your interest.

A big thank you to Visit Savannah (@visitSavannah) for providing great suggestion via Twitter throughout our trip. Check out these links to learn more about the places we tried!

The Public Kitchen and Bar

Leopold’s Ice Cream

Wet Willie’s

Green Truck Pub

North Beach Bar & Grill

 

 

Elle’s All That

In our last post, you learned about Chef Stephen Yen of Paige Hospitality Group, who served as one of the judges at Culinary Fight Night, which we attended last month. Get to know another one of the judges, Chef Elle Simone, creator of SheChef, an organization that provides mentoring and guidance for young women in urban settings. Curious to learn more, we reached out to Chef Elle for an interview.

Chef Elle Simone. Picture courtesy of SheChef.

Chef Elle Simone. Picture courtesy of SheChef.

FP: How did you get your start with cooking?

ES: I grew up in a very kitchen savvy family. My grandmother was an outstanding cook and her mother was very talented in cakes and breads. My great-grandmother ran a Kosher kitchen in a Jewish nursing home and would bring home Challah. My great aunts would come to my grandmother’s to prepare holiday meals together. It was those moments that made me aware of the process of cooking and fresh ingredients. We would drive out to the local farms in Michigan (I’m a native Detroiter) and Canada and pick our own apples, berries/cherries and collards for the holiday. We all cook well and I know it was because of the way our ancestors revered food and cooking.

FP: Half of FP (Kristina) is from the mitten state!

We love the concept of SheChef! How did the idea come about?

ES: After working in the kitchen brigade system for so many years, I noticed that women chefs were not being promoted as rapidly (or at all in some establishments) beyond entry-level positions as their male counterparts. I remember being told by my executive chef, while training for a job, that I would never move beyond Garde Manger. I was promoted to Saucier because those words struck me and I wanted to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, every person is not able to move past adversities in that same way so I created SheChef as a vehicle to destroy, on a legislative and social level, gender inequality in the workplace.

SheChef also provides a platform for women chefs to showcase THEIR talents in an intimate setting for an exclusive group of people and mentoring for those trying to find their niche in the culinary industry.

FP: Glad to hear that you’re helping women chefs to follow their passion!

What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself? 

ES: At home is where I do the bulk of my experimenting in the kitchen. I enjoy creating dishes and creating flavor profiles. I tend to collect a lot of samples of salts and sauces from the time I spend at food shows and networking with people who are introducing their products to the culinary world. Overall though, I think I enjoy making classic Italian food, or at least what I imagine it to be since I haven’t visited Italy yet.

FP: We enjoy our share of classic Italian food. We hope to visit Italy someday also!

Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and tell us why.

ES: I would love to cook WITH (because I’ve cooked FOR already) Chef Carla Hall because she cooks well a lot of the foods I grew up on with straightforward but refined recipes. I would also love to cook with Chef Eric Ripert; Classic French technique is so amazing to me. Finally, I would love to cook with my Grandmother one more time but she’s no longer with us so my list will remain at 2.

FP: When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC or other cities you’ve visited.

FP: I LOVE regional cuisine so some of my favorite spots may or may not be found on a “best eats” list even though they should be. One of my favorites is The Purple Yam. I worked on a major cruise line and most of my co-cooks were Filipino. Due to that influence, I’ve come to love authentic Filipino food and The Purple Yam has that! It’s located in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn.

My second favorite place is Old Homestead Steakhouse. I think it’s New York’s oldest steak house and is the place to go for the PERFECTLY cooked steak. It’s kind of pricey so I reserve it for a special occasion.

Finally, a small taco stand inside Chelsea Market called Los Tacos. I can’t even find words that describe the authenticity of these tacos. There are even two Mexican sisters making fresh corn tortillas there! It can’t get any better and you can eat well on a budget.

FP: Like you, we like finding the hidden gems and enjoying good food on a budget!

What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. :)

ES: I have a few guilty pleasures: Baked Alaska, Key Lime Pie, Bread Pudding of any sort, my Granny’s sweet potato pie and FINE DINING! I won’t hesitate to pay a lot of money for the culinary greats to cook for me.

FP: We’ve been craving key lime pie recently! 

Besides being a Chef, what are your non-cooking hobbies/interests?

ES: My hobbies vary depending on the seasons. I love outdoor events like concerts or botanical gardens in the summer. In the spring and fall, I enjoy garage sale-ing and vintage boutiques/ gallery shopping. I especially love to collect vintage cooks tools. I have a vintage whisk tattoo on my left forearm that I designed!

FP: It was great learning more about you! Thank you again for your time and we wish you continued success!

A Paige from Yen’s Book

Last month we attended Culinary Fight Night at Sons of Essex down on the Lower East Side. During the competition, we listened to the input of the judges as they provided their culinary expertise. One judge was Chef Stephen Yen, Corporate Executive Chef of Paige Hospitality Group, which manages popular NYC eateries such as The Ainsworth, its sister restaurant Ainsworth Park, 121 Fulton Street and The Chester in the famous Hotel Gansevoort. We reached out to Chef Yen to learn more about him.

Corporate Executive Chef Stephen Yen

Corporate Executive Chef Stephen Yen

FP: How did you get your start with cooking? 

SY: I started cooking when I was a kid, as helping my family in the kitchen was not only fun but also part of our culture. In the kitchen, stories were shared and memories were created. Growing up in New York and being exposed to different cultures through food is the best way to learn about life. In college, my friends and I were always trying to replicate what we couldn’t afford to buy. My professional career started when I enrolled at The French Culinary Institute.

FP: What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself?

SY: Some of my favorite meals to cook at home are different types of curries. South East Asian curries require making a paste of ginger, shallots, galangal, turmeric, garlic, chilies, and making sure your spices are toasted and ground. Indian curries require different variations of masalas which some blends are very secretive. The aroma from the different spices that come together transforms a small NYC apartment to smell like a “home”, and for a moment you forget you live in a concrete jungle.

FP: We enjoy different types of curries also!

Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and why.

SY: I would like to cook with Rene Redzepi, because of his calm personality and love of pure flavors. I would also love to cook with Ferran Adria because of his out of the box culinary concepts. Lastly, I would also love to cook with my mother, which I have not had the chance to do so in years. The fast paced life of a NYC Chef has of course not allowed me to spend much needed time with the person who has sacrificed so much to make me who I am today.

FP: We can only imagine the busy life of a Chef in NYC!

When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC. 

SY: Favorite places to eat are Nyonya, Imperial Garden, Hill Country, and Hakata Ton Ton.

FP: We’ve heard great things about Hill Country. The others are new to us, which is exciting since we love learning about new places to eat!

What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. :)

SY: Guilty pleasures are Roti Canai, soup dumplings, chili crab, banh mi, Pho, Cuban sandwiches, smoked brisket, and BACON.

FP: All sound like foodie pleasures to us!

Besides being chef, what are your non-cooking hobbies/interests? What do you like doing on your days off?

SY: On my days off I like to sleep and catch up on some reading. Cookbooks, and books on society (Malcolm Gladwell essays, etc). I also love to play golf, I don’t get out there much anymore.

FP: Golf is one tough sport! Thank you again for your time. We wish you continued success and hope to stop by one of your restaurants in the near future!