NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

2015 James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Announced

These Garden State culinary luminaries are nominees this year – including in two national categories:

For Outstanding Chef (in the U.S.): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

For Outstanding Baker (in the U.S.): Marie Jackson, The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

For Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Both Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton and Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood

Congrats & best wishes to them all!
Finalists will be announced on March 24 and the winners named on May 4.
Here’s the complete 2015 list of semifinalists in all categories.

Heads Up Martha Stewart Fans


She’ll be signing copies of her latest book, Clean Slate, on Thursday, February 26 at the Costco in Bridgewater. Ms. S. will be there at 2 pm but only for one hour, so good luck! For event info phone 732.584.1003.

Homemade Fish Curry from the Island of Mauritius (via Northern VA)

Do I hear you saying, “from where?” I explain the where, why, who, what and how below. (This post is excerpted from my In the Kitchen column in the 2/6/15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

Of the many important things in life that we have little or no control over, our children’s choice of mate has to rank right up there. So my husband Bill and I counted ourselves among the fortunate in this regard when our elder daughter, Alice, married Chris Le last year. He is all anyone could hope for in a son-in-law. But the bonus for me, a food writer, is that Chris hails from a food-obsessed family with an interesting and unusual cultural background.

Alice & Chris Le

Alice & Chris Le

Chris’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam after the war. In Northern Virginia he met his future wife, Marie-Ange So Ting Fong, who was born and raised on the island of Mauritius, which is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Situated off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is the only place on earth where the dodo lived. In 2010, the New York Times lauded the island’s “perfect year-round climate, talcum-soft sands, [and] crystalline waters.” This tropical paradise is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Languages spoken there include Mauritian Creole, French, and English, as well as several Asian tongues.

Chris and his two brothers were raised on dishes that span the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mauritian repertoire. While his father, Thanh, likes to grill and barbecue, the bulk of the cooking is done by his mother, Marie-Ange, and her mother, Josephine So Ting Fong, who lives with the family part of the year. This past Christmas Eve the Les graciously invited me and Bill to join their extended family for what turned out to be a veritable feast.

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

I lost count after 15 dishes had hit the table, among them dumplings, egg rolls, Vietnamese grilled beef skewers, noodle dishes, abalone, and pickled eggs. All were terrific, but there was one dish that I couldn’t stop eating: Mauritian fish curry. This turns out to be a deceptively straightforward combination of fried fish with onions, a couple of spices, and a splash of vinegar. It’s a curry in the broader Southeast Asian sense of something having been cooked in spices, which may or may not include curry.

Mauritian Fish Curry

Mauritian Fish Curry

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to google recipes for Mauritian fish curry. But the images and recipes that popped up were quite different from what I had enjoyed. The apparently more common version turns out to be a “wet” curry, with the fried fish bathed in sauce, often tomato based. The Les’ is a “dry” curry, its moisture derived mainly from the oil that the fish is fried in. So I asked Ms. Le and her mother for their recipe, which they kindly supplied. (As is typical in recipes handed down in families, no one had ever measured ingredients, let alone recorded it on paper.) The only constants among theirs and the other recipes are onions, garlic, and fish (usually white-fleshed) fried in vegetable or seed oil. Many include – besides the aforementioned tomatoes – fresh ginger, cilantro, and thyme. Some use curry leaves or curry powder, as well as cumin or garam masala.

The Le family recipe contains none of these. Instead, spoonfuls of saffron and mustard seed provide color and flavor. Ms. Le cautions, “I would suggest that you test the recipe and adjust the amounts according to your taste.” She also suggests using your personal favorite fish. For her, that’s thick fillets of boneless tilapia, although her mother prefers tilapia (or other fish) with bones intact, and her husband favors salmon.

The recipe below is straight from the Le family, with one deviation. Marie-Ange Le and her mother allow the uncooked fish, sprinkled heavily with salt, to sit at room temperature for four hours. (Other Mauritian recipes stipulate one hour.) This helps the fish to crisp up nicely and not fall apart in the pan. But food safety experts advise never to let raw seafood sit out at room temperature, so you can skip that step and either coat the fillets lightly with flour just before frying or simply follow your normal routine for frying fish fillets. The results won’t be the same, but still good.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

By the way: There’s another Tanner family wedding approaching. In October our other child, Elizabeth, will marry Ryan Ritterson. Bill and I can hardly believe that we’ve lucked out here, too. Ryan, like Chris, is all we could ask for to ensure our daughter’s happiness. His ancestry, though, is far less exotic. He’s from solid Midwestern stock. I promise not to hold that against him.

Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds thick fish fillets, such as tilapia or salmon, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying, such as peanut, soybean, or canola (not olive oil)
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon powdered saffron, or 12 strands (1 gram) saffron, crumbled
1-1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 white onions cut in quarters (or eighths, if large) and the slices pulled apart

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish. Salt the fish on both sides, to taste, and deep-fry the fish in oil as you normally do. Remove the fish and set aside, reserving the oil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the saffron with a little warm water.
  3. Heat one cup of the reserved oil and stir-fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the saffron mixture, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Combine and turn off the heat.
  4. Immediately add the mustard seed, then the fried fish and gently combine. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook only until the mixture is just heated through. (Make sure that you do not overheat the mixture at the end, or the mustard seed will turn bitter.)
  5. If the fish curry is too dry, add more of the reserved frying oil.

Catching Up: Speed Reviews

You Know Speed Dating? Here are 9 Speed Reviews

In the closing months of 2014 I had several dining experiences that I never got a chance to write up, including at 2 new Princeton eateries. At this point you’ve likely heard and read about the major new places, such as Jockey Hollow. Nonetheless, allow me to weigh in with these quick hits:

Crab, red onion, & aioli on cornbread squares, Jockey Hollow

Crab, red onion, & aioli on cornbread squares, Jockey Hollow Preview Dinner

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen Morristown’s Vail Mansion is the gorgeous Italianate-meets-the-21st century setting for acclaimed restaurateur Chris Cannon’s return to the dining scene. I was a huge fan of one of his first NYC restaurants, L’Impero, and the press dinner I attended at Jockey Hollow last fall was of the same caliber. I am skeptical of press dinners because they can exceed what paying customers will get to experience, so was delighted to read the raves about the food and drink in this New York Times review of February 7, 2015.

SweetGrass Last October chef/owner Sarah Gresko took over the space in Hopewell that had been Bell & Whistle, and the NY Times rewarded her with this glowing report. She kept the attractive setting featuring natural stones and woods, but brought her modern sensibility of Southern fare. I really enjoy her shrimp & grits (with a hush puppy and pickled okra) and textbook-perfect creme brulee, but I wish the menu displayed a little more excitement and that the prices were a tad gentler. Also, am I the only one who finds the room beautiful but cold (visually and temperature-wise)?

Sweet Grass Shrimp & Grits

Sweet Grass Shrimp & Grits

Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue I loved the barbecue when Mighty Quinn’s was at the Stockton Farm Market, touting it to everyone I encountered. I was devastated when it up and moved to NY, then delighted when it opened an outpost in Clifton. So imagine my shock when I and the five discriminating diners I dragged here were disappointed with everything we ordered, which encompassed pretty much the entire menu. This place is still garnering rave reviews, which baffles me.

Under the Moon Cafe This Bordentown restaurant isn’t new, but I hadn’t visited it since it moved several doors down to a larger space (in 2011) and expanded its Argentinean menu. OMG. The best empanadas ever, plus arborio rice balls stuffed with manchego, patatas bravas, albondigas in tomato sauce, etc. Every dish a winner.

Under the Moon, Bordentown

Under the Moon, Bordentown

La Costenita This authentic Mexican market, takeout shop, and casual eatery has flourished because of the from-scratch, homestyle cooking mandated by its cheerful owner, Alicia Arango, who hails from Oaxaca. Her tacos, tamales, flautas, and other specialties are special enough to have overcome a location in a set-back strip mall in Hillsborough and having debuted during the lowest point of the recent economic downturn. Pictured below, from front to back, are sopes (including one with beef tongue) on homemade tortillas, plantanos, and tacos.

La Costenita, Hillsborough

La Costenita, Hillsborough

Washington Crossing Inn Fans of the erstwhile Za in Pennington take note: chef Mark Valenza is plying his trade at this lovely historic property just across the river in Bucks County. He’s bringing some spark to the tradition-bound menu with signatures like Navajo fry bread and Tsukiji tuna & shrimp with bok choy & fermented black beans.

Navajo Fry Bread, Washington Crossing Inn

Navajo Fry Bread, Washington Crossing Inn

Mamoun’s Falafel, Princeton Given its wide and devoted following in NYC and elsewhere in NJ, I waited with bated breath for this one to open on my home turf. You know what? The falafel IS really good. Everything else? Meh.

30 Burgers, Princeton As much as I like to support Jersey-based businesses, I have little positive to say about this place, a branch of the smallish 25 Burgers chain with locations throughout the state. I’m happy to see it succeed, but my notes about its bacon cheeseburger include “flat, foodservice-grade pattie” (for the record, they use 100% Angus beef) and “gummy, salty orange-yellow cheese.”

Mistral There’s nothing really new or changed at this Princeton sibling to Elements – if you don’t count the gorgeous, recently enclosed patio or that it now has has a liquor license – but I include it because (a) I want to end on a positive note and (b) chef Ben Nerenhausen’s eclectic small plates just get better with every visit. The menu changes frequently, but let me share two wows from this past fall: Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms roasted in chicken fat with prunes, cockscomb jus, polenta and shaved black truffle; and roasted duck ramen with duck confit, autumn pumpkin, and scallions.

Whew! Speed reviewing is exhausting. As is speed dating, or so I imagine.

Couples in the Kitchen, part ii; Local TV Cooking Show Debuts; Hopewell Restaurant Week; Slow Food Market

Love in (and out of) the Kitchen

Food biz  couples in the Princeton area who live, love and work together in their restaurants and shops recently shared with me the highs and lows, the ins and outs of their personal and professional lives. In this December 2014 post, I featured an engaged couple just starting on this life journey (Lauren Sobogal and Frank Caponi) and seasoned veterans with a popular restaurant and a toddler (Rory and Aaron Philipson of Blue Bottle Cafe).

Karen Child

Karen Child

Below, excerpted from my 1/16/15 “In the Kitchen” column in the Princeton Packet, is the final installment. This time the spotlight’s on two married couples: Jennifer & Rudie Smit of Olssen’s Fine Foods, the Palmer Square cheese shop, and Karen & Bo Child, who’s previous enterprise was the Lawrenceville Bakery.

Rudie chose to be the correspondent for the Smits and Karen for the Childs.
First up, Rudie.

Q: What are the best, most rewarding aspects of working so closely together every day?

Rudie: “Here are a few things that Jen and I brainstormed about working together in our store. For a correct understanding it should be noted that our staff and children are connected to that too as they all have to put up with all the “married-couple-with-kids” shenanigans. Our staff calls this the “Smit-swirl:” a state in the shop where our kids run around, Jen and I give contradictory instructions to the staff, new ideas are fired and mayhem abounds. Fortunately, this is usually limited to ten minutes, after which calm returns, the children find something to occupy themselves with, and Jen and I start working with our staff and our customers. Jen is the visionary in our working and home relationship and I typically execute. Whatever divides us, our passion for the store and what we sell really unites.

Q.: What are some unavoidable conflicts and how do you handle the stress and how do you keep the romantic spark alive?

“Between the paperwork and long hours, Jen and I sneak out for a nice quick lunch or make a delivery together. The busy nature of owning your own business still does not mean that you cannot have off-time together. We try to have a date night or a civilized lunch.  We try our best to avoid talking about the shop and instead talk about the things that brought us together originally.

“Early in owning the shop, a smart person told us to divide responsibilities and while there is often overlap, we have found that we always go back to “hold on, that is yours” – we might talk about a new cheese (which is my main responsibility) but I lead the introduction of the cheese.

Next up are Karen and Bo Child. Karen, a pastry chef, and Bo, a musician, are currently planning their next endeavor, which will combine both of their specialties. Here’s Karen’s report from the trenches.

“Well, here’s a perfect example of what couples do when they work together. My husband Bo is an English major and subsequently the writer in the family so I asked him to write something for your article and he thought I had written and sent you something….and , so the story goes…

“It’s tough being in business together, I won’t kid you. I think the most important thing that needs to be done is to establish who does what in the business and actually have some written job descriptions down so you and your spouse can be accountable for certain duties. However, even with these descriptions, there are going to be snafus where either one may not actually do what’s part of the job description – which ultimately means that one person might have to carry the ball and wear two hats at any given time. I think this happens routinely in any corporate environment as well, so it’s nothing new. The goal is to avoid the pitfalls and see them before they actually become a problem.

“The following are some examples of what you can expect as a couple working in the food industry. As much as you want to hire employees that you can trust, we learned the hard way that it was best to have one of us at the shop during open retail hours. This made having time off together difficult to achieve.

“And then there were the holidays. With both of us in the business and holidays being big retail days for us, we couldn’t spend time with our respective extended families like we would have liked. And snow days. You look outside and see a ton of snow and a veritable winter wonderland and you just want to stay in your pajamas, by the fire. But no, someone has to go to the shop – regardless of whether or not you’re going to open for business during a winter state-of-emergency. If the decision was made to NOT open, then someone STILL has to go in and, in the case of owning a bakery, attend to raw product that’s been sitting in the proofer. And try as we might, sometimes we each broke the promise to not bring shop business home with us. Sometimes shop-related arguments carried over into our home life. We vowed never to let that happen again.

“However, on a more positive note, there were many wonderful times when we worked together. We each instinctively knew what each one was capable of doing. You go into the partnership knowing what each others’ strengths are and when you allow each person to do what they know best, the machine hums. We had wonderful evenings at our shop, especially during the last couple of months in business when we had a lot of music and food that was put together very spontaneously. Bo acted as host and MC and talked and played music with folks who brought their instruments and I was in the kitchen with a friend preparing food that we were offering our guests. The lights were off due to the storm, candles were lit which added a soft ambiance and, although the storm left its mark financially on us, we put our concerns aside for the evening and hung out, singing and dancing (me too!) until it was time to make our way home, steering clear of trees that had fallen during the storm. It was one of the most memorable evenings we had at the bakery during our 10 years in business. We miss those times the most.”

My thanks to all these folks – Jennifer & Rudie, Karen & Bo, Rory & Aaron, and Lauren and Frank for sharing.

“Cook for the Health of It” Debuts on PrincetonTV

Dorothy Mullen, "Cook for the Health of It"

Dorothy Mullen, “Cook for the Health of It”

The first episode of this show with host Dorothy Mullen, who’s well known in the Princeton area for her Suppers Programs, features a guest who has had debilitating rheumatoid since the age of 16. Together, they discuss the healing powers of whole foods while making split pea and kale soup. New, 30 minute episodes will appear monthly on the local Princeton channel, and can be screened at www.princetontv.org.

Hopewell’s First Ever Restaurant Week

SweetGrass shrimp & grits w/hush puppy, pickled okra, Creole sauce

SweetGrass shrimp & grits w/hush puppy, pickled okra, Creole sauce

From February 22 through 28, twenty-one of Hopewell’s best eateries will offer special menus and pricing. They include established favorites – e.g., Blue Bottle, Brick Farm Market, Brothers Moon, Nomad Pizza – newbies you may have been meaning to check out (Sweet Grass, e.g.), or oldies you’ve been meaning to check out, like Peasant Grill or Paint the Roses Tea Room (which also serves Chilean food). Check it out here.

Reminder: Slow Food Northern NJ’s Winter Farm Market is Sunday, February 1

It’s a chance to stock up before the coming snowstorm on edibles from your favorite farmers and food artisans and, as I wrote in this previous post, meet some new ones. Note: a couple of the vendors I mentioned – Arturo’s and Jose Porter Farm – won’t be able to make it, but 20 others will.

My Lunch @ Seasons 52

Permit me to list all the reasons that until last week I ignored Seasons 52, the restaurant that opened in Market Fair late in 2014.

  1. It’s a chain restaurant, with 44 locations across the country.
  2. Its parent company is Darden, whose brands include Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.
  3. It’s located in a mall – albeit a smallish, upscalish one.
  4. It boasts that no menu item is more than 475 calories. Diet mall food? Puh-leez.
  5. It boasts 52 wines by the glass. I mean, come on – quantity over quality?
  6. Its menu is all over the place. What one kitchen could produce excellent versions of banh mi, shrimp scampi, black bean tacos, Korean lettuce wraps, and venison stew?

Allow me to say, mea culpa.

1 of 2 private dining rooms, Seasons 52 Princeton

1 of 2 private dining rooms, Seasons 52 Princeton

I first became familiar with the brand from my work on the Zagat NJ guides, when the first Seasons 52 in the state, in the Cherry Hill mall, began garnering excellent scores. (Since then, one has opened in Menlo Park mall, and another is coming to Bridgewater Commons.) But even that wasn’t enough to turn my head.

What did was the deluge of unsolicited, unfailingly positive reports from Princeton-area folks that began pouring in. Everyone, from the most discriminating foodie to the least adventurous and pickiest of eaters, raved. One restaurant critic (I’m looking at you, Faith Bahadurian) even booked it for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. In no time, snagging one of its 284 seats (with another 36 outside come spring) became difficult, both for lunch and dinner.

So when the folks at Seasons 52 offered to have me and a guest for lunch – and knowing that I wouldn’t be officially reviewing it – I accepted. Clearly (or you wouldn’t be reading this), I came away impressed, just like everyone else. Before I get into specifics, let me just offer this rebuttal to the above:

  1. It’s a chain, yes, but the most common comment on Yelp! is, “This doesn’t feel like a chain.”
  2. Darden is also parent to another well respected brand, Capital Grille, which Seasons 52 resembles in décor and ambiance – but with kinder, gentler price points.
  3. A mall location means there’s always free and convenient parking.
  4. Dishes are smartly conceived to minimize calorie-laden carbs. Flatbreads, for example have a lavash-like base rather than a focaccia base.
  5. Those 52 wines by the glass (which also change seasonally) are chosen by George Miliotes, one of fewer than 250 certified Master Sommeliers worldwide. And they’re only part of an impressive international list of 100 wines on the menu.
  6. While I wasn’t able to sample the breadth of the menu in one lunch, I was impressed by 100% of what I and my guest shared.

Now on to the specifics:

Artichoke flatbread, Seasons 52 Princeton

Artichoke flatbread, Seasons 52 Princeton

We started with the artichoke and goat cheese (Laura Chenel) flatbread ($9.95) with spinach, balsamic onions, and red peppers. As you can see, it’s big enough to share. The toppings were fresh and flavorful and the crisp, lavash-like base kept the dish light.

Sea scallops, Seasons 52 Princeton

Sea scallops, Seasons 52 Princeton

My guest still hasn’t stopped raving about the caramelized grilled sea scallops ($21.50/lunch; $22.50/dinner). These 6 (sometimes 7) big boys – beautifully grilled to bring out their inherent sweetness – are brushed with lemon butter; sit on a spread of loose, creamy leek risotto; and are accompanied by cubes of tender butternut squash and excellent asparagus. Interestingly, the menu lists broccolini, not asparagus (Seasons 52 restaurants nationwide serve the same menu), but the restaurant’s executive chef, James Petersen, told us that each chef has leeway to switch out ingredients. (A full profile of Petersen will appear in a later post.)

Executive Chef James Petersen, Seasons 52 Princeton

Executive Chef James Petersen, Seasons 52 Princeton

My entree choice, venison, is typically only on the dinner menu, but Chef Petersen put it on a special “winter pairing menu” at lunch that day. (That’s another call that Seasons 52 chefs – who are also partners – get to make.)

Venison chop & ragout, Seasons 52 Princeton

Venison chop & ragout, Seasons 52 Princeton

It’s a New Zealand venison chop plus venison ragout, with sweet potato mash, roasted peppers, and asparagus ($27). The chop (larger than it appears above) is juicy, well-seasoned, and was cooked rare, as ordered, but the star of the plate is the ragout, which has the depth of  boeuf bourguignon while preserving the venison’s gaminess. It’s worth twice 475 calories! The dish paired beautifully with my wine choice: Casillero del Diablo carmenere ($8.50/glass; $34/bottle), one of two carmeneres on the menu. (Pretty impressive that a chain restaurant would have two, no?)

Mini indulgences, Seasons 52 Princeton

Mini indulgences, Seasons 52 Princeton

In keeping within the calorie limit, Seasons 52 has finessed dessert into “Signature Mini Indulgences.” Guests choose from among 7 choices, each the size of a double shot glass and costing a mere $2.75. This happens to be exactly the amount of dessert I require. I preferred my guest’s mocha macchiato parfait with caramel sauce to my lemon curd with blueberries, but I would like to try the others, which have flavors of key lime pie, pecan pie, carrot cake, chocolate and peanut butter, double fudge brownies and cannoli with raspberry sauce.

Not to mention returning for those Korean duck lettuce wraps and black bean tacos. Check out the full menu and more at: www.seasons52.com



Review: Christine Nunn’s Picnic on the Square

I can count on one hand the number of restaurants I’ve awarded three-and-a-half stars over the last (gulp) 19 years. Nunn, the award-winning Bergen County chef who’s also the author of The Preppy Chef, got me to do it a few years back with her first restaurant, named simply Picnic, in Westwood. What do I allot her latest, Picnic on the Square in Ridgewood? Check out my review in the February issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover feb15

And while I’m looking backward, I’ve only ever given four-star ratings to two NJ restaurants: Craig Shelton’s Ryland Inn and Nicholas Harary’s Restaurant Nicholas.

Restaurant Empire: Meet the Smiths; New Vendors @ Slow Food Northern NJ’s Winter Farmers Market

The Folks behind Your Favorite Asbury Park Restaurants (Porta, The Annex, Pascal & Sabine) are Taking Over the State

Edible Jersey Winter 2015

Well, nearly. Meet the young visionaries behind the Smith Group, which I profile in the Winter 2015 issue of Edible Jersey(My story starts on page 22.) Other of their A.P. projects include upscale condos and the much acclaimed vegan restaurant, Goldie’s (which since I sat down with them has been converted into the Happiness Luncheonette). Plus they’ve exported the Porta artisan pizza brand to their restaurants in Newark (The Monk Room) and Jersey City (Porta). For 2015 they’re turning their attention to nothing less than a full-scale redevelopment of Burlington City. Whew!

Slow Food Northern NJ’s 7th Annual Winter Farmers Market: Catch up with Your Favorite Producers and Meet a Batch of New Ones

Slow Food Northern NJ

Like the childhood song says, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” On Sunday, February 1st I intend to do both, at this chapter’s indoor market at the historic Woodland 1930 Georgian Revival mansion in Maplewood.

20-plus local growers and food artisans are expected. Familiar (and beloved) names include cheese makers Bobolink and Cherry Grove, but new to me are Pennsylvania’s Flint Hill Farm and Valley Milkhouse.

Bobolink’s fabulous breads and baked good will be available, too, as well as those of Arturo’s Restaurant (whose master bread maker, Dan Richer, I profiled last year in Edible Jersey), and several others. Examples of other new-to-me and interesting-sounding vendors include Josie Porter Biodynamic Farm in Stroudsburg, PA (garlic-infused vinegar is among their offerings), and prepared foods and baked goods from Rogowski Farm/Black Dirt Gourmet, Pine Island NY.

Attention teachers, parents, and school administrators interested in starting a school vegetable garden: you can sign up at this event for materials and fundraising support to help. Proceeds from the winter market will help advance Slow Food Northern NJ’s mission of helping schools start vegetable gardens. Slow Food NNJ has been able to provide 30 grants in the past 6 years.

The winter market will take place on Sunday, February 1 from noon to 4 pm at The Woodland, Maplewood. Entrance fee is a $3 donation to support Slow Food Northern NJ’s school vegetable garden programs (see above). Snow date is February 8. For snow closing info, phone (908)451-0051. For information on the market, visit slowfoodnnj.org.


A special four-course dinner on February 10th, limited to 45 guests, is your chance to meet Dennis Cakebread, whose family winery has been a luminary of the California wine scene for almost four decades. Among the wines he’ll pour that night are hard or impossible to find vintages, paired with a menu created just for the occasion by Agricola’s executive chef, Josh Thomsen.

Dennis Cakebread & Josh Thomsen Photo by Fred Oufredo

Dennis Cakebread & Josh Thomsen
Photo by Fred Oufredo

I spoke with Thomsen about how he and his friend Cakebread collaborated on the wines and food, and how the dinner came about in the first place. Get all the details here, in my post on the New Jersey Monthly website.

Gifts for Foodies: My Annual List

A baker’s dozen of ideas for what to give those serious cooks, gourmands, and imbibers on your list – as well as young foodies-to-be. Here in the December 17 issue of US 1.

12-17 Cover & Front (1-9).indd

Gary’s Wine Opens in Hillsborough; Finding Love in Restaurant Kitchens; Baumkuchen

Gary Fisch  on Why & How He’s Added a 4th Gary’s Wine & Marketplace to his Stable

Gary Fisch, Gary's Wine & Marketplace

Gary Fisch, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

Fisch, who was named 2014 Retailer of the Year by Market Watch, has planted a flag at the Nelson’s Corner shopping center on Route 206 at Amwell Road. For now it’s a pop-up, while a new 9,000-square-foot space is being readied. I met him there to get the scoop on what he has in mind for the Hillsborough store and his $50 million business. Here’s my story in the December 10 issue of US 1. Oh yes: the interview also includes a wine tasting. Garys 001

Couples who Live, Love, & Work Together in the Food Biz

For my final 2014 “In the Kitchen” column, in the December 12 issue of the Princeton Packet I asked 4 couples who toil in Princeton area eateries to open up on what it takes to keep the spark going when you both live together and work side-by-side in the crazy world of food and dining. Their candid responses far exceeded my expectations. A big thank you goes out to the first 2 couples I spotlight:

Rory & Aaron Philipson of Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell:

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Lauren Sabogal & Frank Caponi, she the owner/chef of Buttons Creperie and he sous chef at Teresa Caffe in Princeton:

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Baumkuchen: It’s new to me!

Baumkuchen (dinewithpat.com)


Are you familiar with this German Christmas tradition, which translates as “tree cake”? The cake is made on a spit (!) and takes its name from the appearance of the resulting layers, which do indeed resemble the concentric rings of a tree:

Baumkuchen interior  (dinewithpat.com)

Baumkuchen interior

I was introduced to the baumkuchen pictured above when a friend from Hamburg hand-carried some over direct from her hometown to share at a recent brunch in Princeton. I was smitten by its appearance, taste, unique preparation, and history. (Apparently it was popular at weddings in Frankfurt and Nuremberg as far back as the 15th century.)

In an incredibly labor-intensive process, the layers are built up one by one, as the baker applies a thin coat of batter with a brush, and lets it bake just enough so that the next layer of batter will adhere to it. Historically, baumkuchen was made on a special rotating, wood-fired spit, as some still are today. Each layer is so so thin that by comparison those of a dobos torte seem positively gargantuan.

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

When the baumkuchen is finished baking, it’s removed from the spit (hence it has a hole in the middle) and is often covered with chocolate couverture, as this one was. The cake tasted like it had almond paste or marzipan in the batter, which is also traditional. The resulting layers were rich and dense, yet still so light that I couldn’t stop eating it.

I came up short on finding a bakery in NJ that sells German-style baumkuchen, although, amazingly, there’s a Japanese iteration (“baum roll”) sold at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater. This reflects just another part of the cake’s fascinating history.

Breaking News: New Chef at Eno Terra

This celebrated Kingston restaurant has been without an executive chef since the departure earlier this year of Chris Albrecht, the opening chef and very public face of the restaurant. Carlo Momo of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group has announced his replacement: Michael Metzner, a native New Jerseyan who has worked for star chefs Nicholas Harary and Dennis Foy, among others.

Michael Metzner Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

Michael Metzner
Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

Metzner, a Johnson & Wales graduate, last worked at Giovanni’s Bistro in Berkeley Heights. Before that restaurant closed earlier this year, it received a rating of Very Good from the NY Times, which cited Metzner’s “polished cooking” and “carefully articulated flavors.”

A fuller biography of the chef can be found at the Giovanni’s website, which is still up and running.