SoWe Food & Wine Recap

As you know, we’ve been talking about the SoWe (Southern Westchester) Food & Wine Festival quite a bit recently. Last weekend, we finally got to experience it– and our stomachs are still thanking us for such a delicious few days.

On Friday, we started our busy weekend with the Celebrity Chef Battle, which kicked off the festivities for the second annual SoWe festival. The battle featured Chefs Graham Elliot and Franklin Becker competing against Rocco DiSpirito and Dave DiBari.

The chefs delighted the crowd with their cooking skills and playful banter with the judges and audience as they were given secret ingredients to incorporate into their dishes. At the end, it was called a draw as the judges could not decide which meal was most deserving. What a tough choice to make!

After the Chef Battle, we went inside the showroom of Pepe Infinity in White Plains for a reception that featured food, drinks and dessert from some of the area’s best spots. Check out pictures from the event below!

Friday evening was just a preview of what was in store for us on Saturday.

The weather on Saturday was perfect for visiting Harbor Island in Mamaroneck, NY for the Grand Culinary Village. When we looked at the map and saw a wine and beer village, Mrs. Green’s Healthy Eating Pavilion and a Grand Tasting Village, we knew we were in a for a decadent day!

As you can see below, we enjoyed tasting, eating and learning from a variety of chefs including Jacques Torres and Graham Elliot. We’re still thinking about Motto Sparkling Matcha Tea and the pizza from Luzzo’s!

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In its first year, SoWe was one day in one town. This year it was three days in three towns. We hope it continues to grow! Will we see you there next year?

Madres Knows Best

This season of Great Food Truck Race has been filled with the usual passion from the contestants, curveballs from Tyler Florence and of course, great food from all the trucks. We recently spoke to Javier of Madres Food Truck to learn more about him and his experience in the show.

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Team Madres! Picture courtesy of http://www.foodnetwork.com

FP: We love the concept of Madres Food Truck. How did the concept evolve? 

JC: The inspiration behind Madres is my mother (Luisa) and grandmother (Vilda) and the recipes that have been passed down to me. These recipes are what I grew up on and still to this day my mom cooks them for me. I want people to feel what I feel when I eat my mom’s food, I want them to feel at home. That is why I had to have my mom by my side during this crazy adventure. Madres is ultimately in honor of my first culinary teachers.

FP: Tell us about your experience on the Great Food Truck Race. What was it like to compete with the other food trucks?

JC: Being on TGFTR was AMAZING! I went from watching a marathon of the show one Saturday and then being told we got casted within the blink of an eye. It all went so fast. As fast as casting happened we were suddenly meeting the other seven teams. The first thing that we were told was “this is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done!” And it was! Picking the right menu, finding parking, finding a place to shop, the crazy lines of people, not having people, cameras in your face, the teams spirits and worrying about the competition was high stress. Let’s not forget how crazy-intense and emotional eliminations can be.

FP: Looking back would have you done anything different?

JC: I think if we could do something different it would have to be our out-reach communication.  We could have reached out more to people and that could have turned into more sales. You live and learn, right?

FP: What will you remember most about the experience?

JC: What we will take from our experience on the show is the knowledge of running a food truck and the friendships we made. We have friends all across the country. This experience is something only the 24 of us really got to experience.

FP: Which city was your favorite?

JC: Although it was our last city, OKC was our favorite.

FP: Besides Madres Food Truck, what is currently keeping you busy? Any projects in the works? What are some of your non Madres Food Truck related interests?

JC: Currently I am a development chef creating and making meals based on a ketogenic diet for cancer patients. On my spare time I work on recipes for Madres and for a line of salsas I want to pitch. When I’m not in the kitchen you can find us hanging as a family and eating at different places.

FP: What are some of your favorite meals to prepare when you are home?

JC: When we are at home my mom and I love to cook italian, Chinese and American comfort foods.

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

JC: When we are out…it’s a free for all! My wife Seno loves to eat seafood and heads to her hometown of Ensenada, Baja California to eat her heart out. My mom has her favorite spot Marino’s in Belflower, CA where you can find her on “date nights” with my dad. I can always go for a good michelada from either Los Compadres or TNT (Tacos and Tortas) here in Norwalk. As a family we like to travel 2 hours south to Mexico and have tacos at Tacos El Paisano in Tijuana.

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

JC: So this one is a bit or a lot embarrassing…when I hear the ice-cream truck I run out and get a bag of flaming hot Cheetos and drench them in lime juice, add a dash of salt and some tapatio. The end result is me looking like a 5 year old with a red mouth and red fingers. Another GP is a corn on a stick with mayo, cheese, butter and chile from the “elote man” that walks down the street with a little horn. Last but not least…is a double-double from In-N-Out, extra lettuce to keep it healthy!

FP: Will the people in Norwalk (or another city) see a Madres Food Truck cruising the streets in the near future?

JC: I am going to work my butt off to get a food truck going so I can continue sharing my family recipes with everyone. The race may be over but the journey has just started for Madres! Once I get the Madres truck going I want to have a huge block party and invite everyone! I would also love to continue the journey and head to other states and show some Madres love. I want to get that line of salsas going and even write a cookbook with my mom. You haven’t seen the last of Madres…stay tuned!

FP: We look forward to seeing a Madres Food Truck in the near future. Thank you for your time and we wish you the best of luck!

Ayala Defines Delicious

When we visit Harlem, one of our favorite NYC neighborhoods, we have trouble deciding where to eat because there are so many hidden (and not so hidden gems!). From Red Rooster to Patsy’s to Amy Ruth’s, there’s something for every palate. Evelyn’s Kitchen, on 1st Ave. close to Kristina’s former apartment, has quickly become a favorite of ours for their homestyle cooking, decadent desserts and friendly vibe. We’ve had the opportunity to meet Owner and Executive Chef Ayala Donchin a few times and recently got her insight on what’s behind Evelyn’s Kitchen.

 

 

Ayala Donchin, Executive Chef and Owner of Evelyn's Kitchen.

Ayala Donchin, Owner and Executive Chef of Evelyn’s Kitchen.

FP: How did you get your start with cooking?  

AD: Cooking and baking have always been a passion. I used to read cookbooks for fun when I was in grade school. My parents, Rina and Manny, saw this passion and encouraged creativity. I clearly remember my mom refusing to buy me an easy bake oven…she said just use the real oven, that’s how you will learn.

Food was always part of family gatherings. We ate as a family every evening and had Sunday dinner with Evelyn’s family every week as well. I got a job with a catering company when I was 12, and then waitressed my way through college, always working at great restaurants and learning both front and back of the house.

FP: We LOVE visiting Evelyn’s Kitchen. How did the concept of the cafe come about?

AD: Mostly from my real enjoyment of entertaining. I wanted to create a place that was about great food and family. We have a sign perched up high at the cafe that says ‘Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often’ and that is really at the heart of what we created. I loved the idea of a family table and when I first moved into our East Harlem location and wasn’t open to the public (we were only doing catering and wholesale at that time) my friends would come and help me out with orders. I’d feed them and they’d roll cookie dough and pack boxes. We had such a good time that we wanted to extend that experience to others. By that point, I’d already fallen in love with our East Harlem community and felt strongly that our first retail location should open in the neighborhood that had been so supportive of our growing business and very protective of our team.

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FP: We’re glad that you decided to open up the cafe. We know East Harlem is happy too!

In addition to the cafe, you keep busy with catering, craft services, wholesale baking and other food services. What are some of the biggest differences between running the storefront and outside ventures?

AD: While there are definite differences in operations for our various business divisions, the one thing that connects all areas of the business is an emphasis on personalized service and excellence. We have an amazing team with 16 full time employees who ensure that there is a consistent “EK” experience, whether you are at the Cafe or enjoying EK at a catering event. We care about our clients and I think that comes through in everything we do.

FP: The times we’ve had dinner at Evelyn’s, we always feel like we’re eating inside your home! 

What are some of your favorite things to cook for family and friends?  

AD: Anything that makes them say mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!   Most of my long time favorites are on our menu at the Cafe. :)

FP: We could eat everything on the menu!

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

AD: I love Silvana, on 116th…amazing Mediterranean food. Love the vibe at Park 112 and Melba’s of course because I love Melba. She’s been a wonderful mentor and a friend. Seafood is my favorite and The Boil on the Lower East is the absolute best for their food and service.  Mermaid Inn for their $1 oysters at Happy Hour.  Lastly, Macao in TriBeca has been my go to late night dining spot for about 5 years.

FP: All these places sound delicious…we’ll add them to our ever growing list!

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

AD: Pralines from Southern Candy Makers in New Orleans, Ample Hills Ice Cream in Brooklyn, The Parma Mussels and Truffle Fries at Flex Mussels, Haribo Gummy Bears, Peppermint Patties and my beach day must  have: Pringles!

FP: We agree with you…gummy bears from Haribo are a must! 

What do you like to do on your days off ? What are your non-cooking hobbies?  

AD: For the most part days off are few and far between since I started the business.  Love cookouts and family gatherings, the beach, huge fan of HBO, Showtime and AMC TV series and I can binge watch like nobody’s business. My better half and I have a standing Friday night movie date.

FP: Binge watching TV is a great way to unwind from work for sure!

In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?

AD: Loyal, Determined, Funny.

FP: Thank you Ayala, for your time. We wish you continued success with Evelyn’s Kitchen and your business ventures. Next time we visit the neighborhood, we’ll make sure stop by!

 

Upstate Adventure Part 2

Did you read our Upstate Adventure Part 1? If so, you definitely want to read on!

We wanted to make the most of our trip back home from the Hudson Valley, so we packed a lot into our day. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast with our Airbnb hosts on Sunday morning, we made a quick stop at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market on our way out of town. We loved checking out the local vendors and were sure to pick up some apples for the ride home and week ahead!

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Next, we wandered around the campus of Bard College before getting back in the car and heading to Storm King Art Center. Storm King has been on our list of places to visit and we couldn’t have picked a better day to check it out– though we should have remembered to bring sunscreen! After biking and walking around the grounds, we grabbed a quick drink before getting back in the car.

Of course, we couldn’t go home hungry so we made the Peekskill Brewery our final stop. Some of our good friends highly recommend it, and we can see why! There’s a bar downstairs for drinks and restaurant on the second floor to enjoy both pints and grub. Kristina tried the Zizania and we ordered a number of plates to share. Everything was tasty, but the pickled summer veggies and perogis were both unique and really hit the spot! The brewery is in a great location along the harbor and we hope to check it out again soon. In fact, they’re part of the upcoming Hudson Hop & Harvest Festival, which we’re thinking about checking out on October 4th.

Rhinebeck and the surrounding area is the perfect quick getaway for us. What are some of your favorite weekend road trip destinations? Please share in the comments or email us as foodiepleasure@gmail.com!

Upstate Adventure Part 1

Last weekend, we took a trip upstate to enjoy the Hudson Valley region. Rhinebeck is one of our favorite towns, but we also took time to check out Woodstock, Peekskill and a few other spots. It was such a busy and food-filled weekend that we’re breaking it into two posts. Read on for what we did and ate on Saturday!

The main reason for our trip was to check out the Hudson Valley Wine and Food Festival, which we visited right away after checking into our Airbnb stay. It was a beautiful day for a festival and we enjoyed visiting a number of booths to check out all the offerings. A few of our favorite items included wine from Atwater, the Solidly Spicy Tomato Oil from Cheeky Monkey Foods and the lemon cheesecake from Le French Kiss Bakery.

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After the festival, we drove over to Woodstock to spend some time in the infamous town. We enjoyed visiting a variety of interesting shops and, believe it or not, worked up a bit of an appetite, so we stopped at Jane’s Ice Cream for a milkshake and smoothie. Kristina tried an Almond Joy milkshake while Allen when a little healthier with a Blueberry Smoothie. Both treats hit the spot after a long day of walking!

Milkshake and smoothie break!

Milkshake and smoothie break!

On Saturday evening, we had dinner at Aroi, a Thai restaurant in Rhinebeck. It was delicious, though we were a little surprised when our appetizer arrived at the same time our main course did. Despite that, we’ll definitely consider Aroi next time we visit Rhinebeck. We ordered spring rolls to share; Allen had Crispy Kale with Chicken and Kristina had her usual: Chicken Panang Curry– and prosecco, of course! Allen’s dish was excellent; we’ve both become fans of kale but hadn’t had it prepared this way previously. The curry had quite a bit of spice, which was a great way to warm up on what turned out to be a rainy night.

Later this week, be sure to check back to see how we rounded out our upstate adventure. Here’s a hint: it includes a trip to a farmers market and a brewery! Cheers!

Gearing Up for Greenwich Wine and Food

At the Greenwich Wine & Food Festival last year, we met celebrity chefs including Graham Elliot, Dr. BBQ and Duff Goldman, while trying wine and food from some of the area’s hottest spots. We’re counting down the days (16 to be exact!) until this year’s star-studded event which includes appearances from the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian and Anne Burrell. Who better to learn about this year’s festival from than Suni Unger, CEO of Serendipity Magazine, presenters of the Greenwich Wine & Food Festival?

FP: We’re excited for the 4th Annual Greenwich Wine & Food Festival! How did the idea come about?

SU: Food and wine have always been passions of mine. When we launched Serendipity magazine in 2010, we purposely set out to develop an extensive Food & Wine section so we’d be able to introduce a partnered festival. At that time I had no idea how much the festival would grow! As you know, people in this part of the country are very passionate about our culinary fare, whether you’re a farmer, restaurant owner, chef, brewer, or foodie. With this, and our community’s strong commitment to supporting each other and our charity, we see more celebrities, participants and guests becoming involved each year.

FP: We’re glad to hear the festival keeps growing!

Though we live in Westchester, we visit Greenwich and Fairfield County often. What about Greenwich attracted you to host a festival there?

SU: The six-acre Roger Sherman Baldwin Park sits beautifully down on the harbor with gorgeous water views. It’s also a great center point between Westchester and Fairfield counties, with easy access to I-95 and Metro North.

FP: The park is indeed a beautiful one!

We’re excited to taste food/sip wine from some of the area’s best. Name some of your favorite places to grab a bite or drink in the area.

SU: I wouldn’t even know where to begin! This area of the country hosts such incredible culinary talent. I would definitely say you should check out our Ambassador Chef and Most Innovative Chef establishments. Their ingenuity and inventiveness make them essential stops at the festival. But with 150+ vendors participating, I find new favorites every year.

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

SU: As a born Texan I am a sucker for great barbecue and southern cuisine; I’m thrilled that Saturday night’s events include BBQ, master grillers, bourbon, and even live music by Alabama.

FP: We definitely enjoy us some BBQ! We’ll be there on Saturday and look forward to the master grillers competition! Thank you, Suni for your time. We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

If you haven’t purchased tickets for this year’s festival, what are you waiting for?! Get your tickets here and we hope to see you there!

Countdown to SoWe

It’s exactly 11 days (Yes, we’re counting!) until we attend the SoWe Food and Wine Festival. Last year’s event was one day in Scarsdale. This year, it has expanded to three days in three different Westchester cities. We reached out to Rich Baumer, who produces SoWe with his wife Stacey, to learn more about the inspiration behind the event and spoke to Emily Giove, SoWe Event Manager, to learn about more about her.

FP: As residents of Westchester, we’re excited for SoWe! How did the event come about?

RB: We (festival producers Rich and Stacey Baumer) produced a benefit concert/auction for a local family whose son had been hurt in an accident and raised money for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. There, we met the folks who run the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce. After the event, the chamber approached us about taking over a small, one-time event they had held a year earlier called Taste of Scarsdale. We flew to Aspen, South Beach, and other large food & wine festivals to research what we wanted to create here in Westchester, and we came back with the idea for SoWe. After last year’s success (one-day event in Scarsdale with 7,000 attendees), we expanded to the current three-day format in White Plains, Mamaroneck, and Scarsdale.

FP: We’re happy to hear about SoWe’s continued growth!

We’re also excited to taste food and sip wine from some of Westchester’s best places. Name some of your favorite places to grab a bite or drink in the area.

EG: Developing SoWe’s new blog, where we’re featuring a different festival participant daily, has afforded me the opportunity to sample dozens of delicious Westchester eateries.

In doing so, definite stand-outs include Madison Kitchen in Larchmont, Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, Char in Greenwich, and 8 North Broadway in Nyack, but the list goes on and on! My favorite pizza in the area is from The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry–they’ll be at the festival as the Cookery’s “Dough Nation” pizza truck!

FP: We’ve read great things about each of the places you mentioned. We’ll have to check them out for ourselves! 

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

EG: I have a considerable number of “guilty/foodie pleasures” that I indulge in far too often. Most involve cheese: pizza and mac n cheese are hands-down my favorites. I would eat pizza every single day if I could, and I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. Ice cream (from Longford’s) and gelato are others I can never have too much of.

FP: We’re all too familiar with everything you just mentioned!

When you’re not handling PR and social media for SoWE, what’s a day off like for you? What are some of your hobbies or interests?

EG: Days off from the food world are few and far between for me at this point!  I’m also working in a part-time capacity for a couple of foodie start-ups and volunteering for Slice Out Hunger, an upcoming annual pizza festival in Manhattan that benefits the Food Bank of NYC.

While food has certainly become the most prominent passion of mine, I also love traveling when possible, playing tennis, and spending time outside. But firstly, I love to cook and read (usually about food).

FP: Rich and Emily, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! We’re looking forward to SoWe. Maybe we can share a bite… or two!