Tag Archives: Tre Piani

‘More’ Everything: More News about Agricola; More is the Name of a New Cafe; More Italian Food & Drink Than Ever at Tre Piani

Agricola Changes Chefs & May Spawn a New Restaurant or Two

Seems like just yesterday that I profiled Crawford Koeniger, the young chef who stepped into Josh Thomsen’s shoes when that opening chef departed the Witherspoon Street eatery for Florida. Now comes word from Agricola’s owner, Jim Nawn, that Koeniger, too, is gone. Nawn is searching for a new executive chef, whom he hopes to have in place by the new year. “Meantime,” he says, “Agricola is in the hands of my sous-chef team who have been with me from the outset.”

But wait! There’s, um, more. In the November issue of The Princeton Echo, my “Food for Thought” column included this tidbit regarding Nawn and his Fenwick Hospitality Group:

Agricola, university to develop ‘Dinky’ station eateries

Last January, Princeton University and the Terra Momo Restaurant Group disclosed that they had discontinued previously announced plans for that group, owned by brothers Carlo and Raoul Momo, to run a restaurant and café in the old “Dinky” train station buildings. Now word on the street is that an announcement is forthcoming detailing an agreement between the University and Jim Nawn, owner of Agricola on Witherspoon Street and Great Road Farm in Skillman. The two buildings involved are part of the University’s $330 million arts and transit project.

Meanwhile, Further Down Witherspoon Street…

…friends Mark Han & Sean Luan recently opened their bright, casual More Cafe. Just steps away from Small World Coffee, Holsome Tea, and Infini-T Cafe, you’d think there wouldn’t be room for one, um, more. But you’d be wrong, as I explain here in that same November “Food for Thought” column.

Benefit Gala at Tre Piani Features More Italian Food than You Can Shake a Stick at

I love that phrase “…shake a stick at” in part because its etymology is unknown. What the heck could have spawned it?

But I digress…only to digress further. Having lived in Princeton for decades, and the Princeton area for even more decades, I thought I was aware of all the wonderful service organizations in town.

Senior Care Ministry program 002So when I received an invitation to “A Taste of Italy,” a gala celebrating 30 years of community service by the Senior Care Ministry of Princeton I was taken aback. How could it be that this group – which pioneered the ‘aging in place’ movement and whose mission is to help people remain safely in the comfort of their own homes as long as possible – had escaped my attention up til now?

Turns out that the “Taste of Italy” gala/fundraiser was their first public event ever. Whew. As board member Catherine Vanderpool told the group of 90-plus people who had paid $125 to attend the gala, “the ministry depends on the kindness of volunteers. It’s a grassroots effort that was born out of a need perceived by a nun, Sister Mary Ancilla of the Sisters of Mercy, and assisted by the Princeton Knights of Columbus.” (Sister Mary, btw, wasn’t able to attend. This year she is celebrating the 75th anniversary (!) of entering into her commitment to the Church & Sisters of Mercy.)

Tre Piani owner/chef Jim Weaver went all out for the occasion, covering the entire Italian peninsula’s pantheon of food and drink. The evening began with antipasti and passed hors d’oeuvres, including this duck gallantine:

Courtesy of Jim Weaver, Tre Piani

Courtesy of Jim Weaver, Tre Piani

For the main meal, the Tre Piani staff had set up three stations of food and wine, each devoted to a region of Italy. Here are sample food & wine listings:

Northern Italy food selectionCentral & Southern WinesSince my grandparents hailed from Sicily I gravitated to the Central-South, and was introduced to Anthilia, a distinctive Sicilian white wine from Donnafugata.  To go with these wines, the Central/Southern menu comprised: mozzarella misto (Campania), mussels with blue cheese (Puglia), orrecchiette with brocoli rabe (Basilicata), involtini of swordfish stuffed with pignoli & raisins (Sicily), eggplant caponata (Sicily), and stromboli misti (Calabria).

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Senior Care Ministry, which provides supportive services such as transportation to health services, food shopping, and, as Vanderpool told the group “sometimes just a friendly visit to say hello,” free of charge to the homebound and elderly throughout the greater Princeton area. Better yet, if you’d like to establish a service like this in your town, contact them through their website.

Lunch @ Le Cheri (w/recipe); Girl Scouts’ Herb Giveaway; Avanti in Pennington Changes Hands

Lunch @ Le Cheri: How Sweet It Is

I don’t get into Philadelphia nearly as often as the exciting dining scene there warrants, but I made sure to find time to dine at Le Cheri, the second restaurant from Pierre and Charlotte Calmels. Five years ago I fell in love with Bibou, their tiny byob French bistro on South Eighth. (Bibou’s Sunday pre fixe dinner, 4 courses for $45 , is the best deal around.)

Philadelphia Art Alliance, Wikipedia

Philadelphia Art Alliance, Wikipedia

So when the Calmelses opened Le Cheri on Rittenhouse Square in the Philadelphia Art Alliance building – the neat Italianate period piece above – I had to give it a go. Lucky for me, what had been forecast to be a rainy afternoon turned out gloriously sunny, so my little group opted to dine out in the garden in back. Charming, no?

Le Cheri patio garden

Le Cheri patio garden

The weather, season, and setting seemed to cry out for glasses of rose, and the Jean Paul Brun Rose d’Folie ($11) turned out to be as delicious as it is beautiful:

wine glassesThe ambiance also dictated my choice of starter: creamy (but not overly rich) watercress soup with a centerpiece of a few small, tender mussels mixed with julienne duck breast and dots of cayenne oil around the edges.

watercress soupBut I would have been just as satisfied with my friends’ choices: pretty scalloped ravioli filled with mushrooms and napped with rich sauce ivoire…

ravioli…and chilled poached rabbit terrine with Cumberland sauce. (Cumberland sauce is a chunky concoction customarily served with game, similar in style to cranberry sauce. Red currant jelly, orange and lemon rind, and Port are some of its components.) Like the sauce ivoire and much that would follow, this dish is straight out of Escoffier, only made with Pierre Calmels’ light touch and modern sensibility.

rabbit terrineMain dishes are equally beguiling, with each component of every preparation interesting, carefully selected, cooked to perfection, and presented beautifully. To wit:

Seared scallops, lavender oatmeal panisse, sugar snap peas, honeydew melon & mustard seed vinaigrette

Seared scallops, lavender oatmeal panisse, sugar snap peas, honeydew melon & mustard seed vinaigrette

Veal medallions, fingerlings, asparagus, lemon veal jus

Veal medallions, fingerlings, asparagus, lemon veal jus

Chef Georges Perrier crab cake, endive & haricots verts salad, whole grain mustard sauce

Chef Georges Perrier crab cake, endive & haricots verts salad, whole grain mustard sauce

If there’s a weak spot here, it’s dessert. I found the chocolate terrine too rich (tart raspberry sorbet that accompanied it notwithstanding), and the white peach Melba (below), while pretty, was the only classic among an entire meal of classics that seems dated.

??????????My friend who opted for one of the cheeses instead of a sweet came away a winner with this ramekin of runny, creamy, wonderfully pungent epoisses at the perfect stage of ripeness and served with slices of excellent baguette:

epoisses and cappuccinoFrench press coffee, espresso, and cappuccino are impeccable at Le Cheri. For lunch, menu prices range from $8 to 13 for starters, $21 to $27 for mains, and $7 to $9 for desserts and cheese.

"Galette 1523" @ Le Cheri

“Galette 1523” @ Le Cheri

Now for the promised recipe. The crab cake is listed on the menu as “Galette 1523.” That number refers to the street address of the old Le Bec Fin, and is a faithful replication of the one made famous by Calmels’ mentor, Georges Perrier. Ethereal custard-like texture sets it apart – a cross between quiche and souffle – and plays up the crab’s delicate flavor.Here’s a link to the original recipe.

Girl Scouts Giving Away Fresh Herbs (and Growing Tips)

Apparently it’s not just a one-night stand between chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani and local Girl Scouts.
Wait – that doesn’t sound right. Let me start again.

scouts at tre piani 013Last year I reported here on a sweet event in which Weaver, the founder of Slow Food Central NJ, invited a Girl Scout troop from Flemington into his kitchen to cook up a farmers-market-to-table meal as part of their badge-earning journey. Now, on Friday, June 27 between 11 am and 2 pm – during the Princeton Forrestal Village farmers market held on the plaza outside Tre Piani – another Girl Scout troop, this one from Plainsboro, will share their knowledge of fresh herbs, as well as herbs themselves, with the public. Here’s the deal, straight from farmers market manager Nirit Yadin:

garden 2009 007

My own herb garden

“Come learn to grow herbs in your own kitchen and reap the benefits of herbs in fresh food. Then get a free pot of herbs to take home. The program is presented by Girl Scout Troop 70694. The girls are working on a Sow What Journey which is all about connecting people to their food. Come, educate yourself and support the troop!’

 

 

 

Breaking News: Changing of the Guard at Pennington’s Avanti

Michael Moriello

Michael Moriello

Michael Moriello, chef and owner of La Mezzaluna, the popular Italian byob on Witherspoon Street in Princeton, has acquired Avanti, the equally popular Italian byob in downtown Pennington. Moriello, who came to the US 9 years ago from Naples, has bought out Vincenzo Severino, a Sicilian native who established Avanti almost 20 years ago on W. Delaware Avenue.

Avanti in Pennington

Avanti in Pennington

Moriello isn’t planning major changes to the menu at Avanti, which offers classic fare like linguine with red or white clam sauce and pasta Bolognese inside a charming carriage house. One change: the restaurant is now serving lunch on Sundays (in addition to dinner).

La Mezzaluna, Princeton

La Mezzaluna, Princeton

At La Mezzaluna, Moriello offers refined Italian dishes like seafood risotto and hazelnut-crusted rack of lamb. He just completed a major renovation of that restaurant’s modern minimalist decor.

Meet Max Hansen; Catch 3 Central NJ Dining Deals

The Star-Studded Story Behind One Bucks County Chef-Caterer-Shopkeeper-Best-Selling Cookbook Author

Late last year when I attended Customer Appreciation Day at the new Max Hansen Carversville Grocery I was so impressed that I not only blogged about it here, but knew I wanted to dig deeper. His life story doesn’t disappoint! To name just a few of the key players: Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Carly Simon. I tell all in the January 15, 2014 issue of U.S. 1.

btw: The US 1 cover story by Dan Aubrey on his firsthand experience dealing with the Christie administration makes for timely, powerful reading.
Update: On January 28, 2014, the NY Times picked up Dan’s story, as a “portrait of a smear.” Here’s the link.

January Dining Deals in the Princeton Area: Get ’em While They’re Hot

1. Outback Steakhouse (Have I lost my bloomin’ onion mind?)

Regular visitors to this site know I have a soft spot for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Which explains why I’m suggesting you eat at Outback Steakhouse. One time, one location, one day only. The generous folks at the Outback on Route 1 in Mercer Mall are donating 50% (up to $5,000) of their sales tomorrow, January 20, 2014, to the Mercer County chapter of BBBS. That’s for lunch or dinner, from 11 am to 1o pm.

Tomorrow also happens to be MLK Day, as well as the restaurant’s opening day. The restaurant isn’t listed yet on either the Outback or Mercer Mall homepages. Here’s the phone number: 609.799.3039.

2. Calling All Brunello Lovers

Montalcino (Wikipedia)

Montalcino (Wikipedia)

I consider $80 for a 4-course dinner by Eno Terra chef Chris Albrecht paired with Lisini wines of Montalcino a steal. The dinner, at which proprietor Carlo Lisini will preside, takes place on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 starting at 6:30 pm at the Kingston restaurant. Featured wines include 3 Rosso’s and the 2007 Brunello. Tax & gratuity not included in the price. Reservations: 609.497.1777.

3. $5 AYCE Mussels at Tre Bar

How did I miss this one? I love mussels and every Monday night at Tre Bar, the eatery attached to Tre Piani in Forrestal Village on Route 1 near Princeton, they’re apparently all you can eat for $5. (Plus, wines by the glass are half price from 4 to 6:30 pm.) I hope to report back with a firsthand experience soon.

Update: Turns out that I hadn’t missed the word on this offer; it was just implemented on January 20th. Which is when I and my buddy Faith Bahadurian, who blogs at NJSpice went. We were among the first to try the mussels. They’re in a terrific marinara, come with lots of excellent country Italian bread and, yes, they’re AYCE for $5.

Chefs’ 1st & Best Food Memories; 2 Reviews: Montclair & Bernardsville

Happy New Year and, if you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, Happy Snow Day!  A good occasion for cozy reading by the cyber fireside – especially the following recollections by luminaries of the Princeton food scene about their earliest food influences.

From Disney World to Lahore, Pakistan: What Food Experiences Made Big Impressions on Future Foodies

(Adapted from my column in the December 16, 2013 issue of the Princeton Packet)

Each year my final In the Kitchen column is a compilation of answers to a question I pose to a different group of Princeton-area chefs and restaurateurs. The theme is always personal and often lighthearted, such as “My Craziest New Years Eve Ever.” (I just may have to reprise that 2005 gem next year.) This time around I asked two veterans of and two newcomers to the dining scene for their first and/or best food memories.

Newcomers are Ben Nerenhausen, chef at the critically acclaimed Mistral, which opened in May, and Lisa Shao. Shao has owned Hamilton’s Szechuan House for three years, but just weeks ago debuted Peony Pavilion, her Japanese and Asian fusion restaurant on Farber Road (in the space where Sunny Garden reigned for years). The vets are Jim Weaver and Jessica Durrie. Weaver’s restaurant, Tre Piani, celebrated its 15th year at Forrestal Village earlier this year, while Durrie’s Small World Coffee kicked off its 20th anniversary celebration in December. Below, in their own words, are this quartet’s reflections.

Mistral-Logo

Ben Nerenhausen, Mistral, Princeton: While I’m not sure if it’s my best childhood memory, I sure know it’s one of my most memorable.  It happened while we were living in Lahore, Pakistan. I must have been around eight or nine years old at the time, and we had some local friends of ours who invited us out to one of their favorite places for lunch.

We arrived in the neighborhood, which was in one of the poorer areas of town and parked our car. We met our friends who told us from here we would continue on foot. They proceeded to guide us through the maze of side streets and back alley ways, all of which seemed to get smaller, shorter, and dirtier. We finally arrived at our destination. My family and I looked around quizzically. “Where’s the door?” my father asked.  Our friends pointed to a dark staircase that disappeared through an archway. “It’s upstairs” they replied. So our journey continued… After about three rickety flights we finally arrived.

There were no lights. There was no electricity. The soda placed in my hand was warm. Around us were maybe four or five dusky tables set with silverware, napkins, and bowls. In the corner of the room bubbled an enormous vat which smelled of fragrant spices and chilies. We sat down, and immediately warm naan and chapati were laid on the table. The “chef” – or at least the guy standing over the cauldron – began ladling the contents into our bowls. “What was it?” I thought. In my bowl was what appeared to be a boiled hoof surrounded by a bright red broth, thick with gelatin. “Goat” our friends announced emphatically.

Now, over the years I have come to love goat; it’s one of my favorite meats to work with. But for my eight-year-old self, the hoof sticking out of that bowl was a bit of a shock. I picked at the meat. The jelly and collagen stretched and melted away. A wave of panic and disappointment washed over me. I was hungry! I hadn’t eaten breakfast! In my desperation, my eyes fell on the broth. “Aha! There’s no sticky, melty goo in there,” I thought. I cautiously dipped a piece of bread into the savory jus and took a bite. It was amazing! The flavors from all that cooking, the richness of the broth, the complexity of flavors!  I was ravenous, and I quickly sopped up all of the broth in my bowl. To this day I have a fond nostalgia for the flavors and food of this part of the world, and experiences like this one have helped to shape me into the chef I am today. A little more adventurous, a little more appreciative, and a lot more happy.

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Lisa Shao, Peony Pavilion, West Windsor & Szechuan House, Hamilton: One of my fondest childhood memories of food is a home-cooked dish that my mother used to make for me. It was simple goodness, was satisfying, and always cheered me up. It was fresh farm eggs scrambled with ripe, juicy red tomatoes, a splash of soy sauce and topped with bits of green onions that looked like confetti.

All the ingredients came from local farms in Szechuan Province – an agricultural-rich region – and purchased that day from the market by my mother. I loved the sound of my mom cracking and scrambling the eggs, their mouth-watering fragrance, and finally the beautiful colors presented to me on my plate.

This is my first recollection of when my passion for art, culture, and food began to blossom. Music and dance followed soon thereafter and whenever I heard music I would start to dance, at home or in front of crowds. I still dance today and I also serve my son my favorite dish from my childhood days. I have found that owning restaurants has enabled me to express my love for the arts in a much broader sense to many more people every day. (It is why I have included over 200 photos of the famous 16th century Chinese opera into the interior design of Peony Pavilion.) Being surrounded by and sharing great food, art, and music makes me very happy.

locavore_adventuresJim Weaver, Tre Piani, Forrestal Village: My childhood food experiences were pretty vanilla, but we did get a few fun things from time to time. My earliest memories are of cooking with my grandmothers and learning how to make such masterpieces as scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk!

I can say I was ruined for life when it came to a couple of items that I did enjoy very much, but I was more like eight or ten years of age. In my town one of my best friends had apple, pear, and peach trees. Eating those crisp, tart apples off the tree was amazing. Come to think of it, when I was even younger we were at Disney World and my father walked me into an orange grove and picked a couple of the fruits. They were like eating candy! Today, I cannot enjoy most of the fruit that you find at the supermarkets or out of season. (If you read the chapter on tomatoes in my book, Locavore Adventures, you’ll learn that fruits have been engineered purposefully to not have the “bite” like they were meant to have because most people prefer bland! UGGGGGGH!!!)

My other experiences were eating super-fresh seafood on Cape Cod where we spent summers. Fishing in either freshwater ponds for bullhead catfish or pickerel, cleaning them in the backyard, and frying them up with cornmeal at my grandfathers side was always a treat. We also went clamming and then enjoyed them within an hour of harvest. Saltwater fishing was also typical and we used to catch ridiculous amounts of wild striped bass – some over 60 pounds each!  Incredible fish, still illegal to buy or sell in NJ due to dated laws and the [lobbying of] recreational fishermen. I was privy to Wellfleet oysters long before they were in vogue and today when it comes to oysters – which I adore and would eat raw long before I could summon the courage to eat a tomato – I cannot eat them unless they are super fresh. Even a few days out of the water and my palate can taste it. Ruined for life!!

Small World Coffee Cafes

Small World Coffee Cafes

Jessica Durrie, Small World Coffee, Princeton: My Dad’s job [he worked for General Motors] took us to Italy in 1969 when I was three-and-a-half years old. We moved into an old farmhouse outside of Rome with eleven acres of vineyards, orchards, vegetable gardens, rabbits and chickens. It was all taken care of by an old farmer, Carlos. During the summer those trees and vines were bursting with fruit. We ran free on this property, and had a big bell to ring so we would know when to come home for meals. I remember the smells of the fields, especially the wild fennel.

One of my favorite activities was collecting pinecones and picking out the seeds, which I would crack with a rock so that I could extract the delicious kernel, a pignole. I’m sure my older siblings showed me how to do this! I also remember the local neighborhood store where we could buy bread smeared with slices of gianduja. I remember afternoons at our babysitter’s house, where the smell of cooking in the kitchen was a constant: tomato sauce, pesto, homemade pasta, pine nut brittle.

As much as all of these memories are so strong and wonderful, I also have to say that when we would go back to the States for “home leave,” my siblings and I would rush to the 7-Eleven, near our beach rental at Stinson Beach in California, and binge on American candy and a Slurpee!

Reviews: Escape in Montclair & Bistro Seven.Three in Bernardsville

Sometimes a restaurant critic just gets lucky. These two are winners.

Escape, Bryan Gregg’s modern takes on Southern food, opened in Montclair earlier this year. Here’s my review, from the December issue of New Jersey Monthly.

That same issue includes my review of Bistro Seven.Three, the latest Mediterranean restaurant from a team of seasoned Bernardsville restaurateurs.

Edible Jersey Holiday 2013; NJ’s Own Black Forest; Noteworthy Food Events

The newest edition of Edible Jersey – holiday 2013 – is out. In it you’ll find my story about the 3 generations of the Aichem family behind the venerable Black Forest Inn in Stanhope (on the border of Morris and Sussex counties). In the kitchen alone, 4 of the Aichem men work side by side – and 3 of them are named Heinrich! Included are recipes for ham in bread dough and red cabbage with apples.

Edible Jersey Holiday 2013 004

The digital edition is online (click here). Flip to page 35 for my story. You can find copies of this free magazine at farmers markets, Whole Foods markets, restaurants, and specialty food shops throughout the state. For the exhaustive list click here. (A word to the wise: in my neck of the woods, copies of Edible Jersey disappear faster than you can say Schwarzwald.)

Speaking of the Black Forest Inn…

I decided to stay for lunch after interviewing the Aichems. I haven’t been to Germany in decades, but the refined German cuisine at this old-school restaurant brought me back there in the best possible way. When it comes to food, “refined” and “German” aren’t always joined at the hip, but they are here.

I didn’t have my camera, so below is the only photo I could dig up of something I actually ate during that glorious meal: maultaschen, the German version of ravioli ($7.75 as a starter; $13.75 as entrée).

Inside these tender pasta wrappers – which are neither too thick nor thin – is a layer of silky, subtle ground veal and spinach that conjures a fine terrine. As you can see, the envelopes are ladled with jus (caraway, and darned flavorful) and strewn with thin strands of fried onions.

I had begun with a fillet of house smoked trout ($9.75), which was expertly boned and delicately smoked. Classic accompaniments include creamy horseradish sauce, capers, and minute strands of red onion. Completing the plate were these beauties: fresh mache, carrot shavings, one endive leaf filled with chow-chow, a cornichon, and a tiny pickled onion. Clearly, presentation counts for something here.

I also indulged in cucumber dill salad ($4.75) – a simple-sounding dish that isn’t so simple to get right. Here it was perfection, its paper-thin slices of crunchy, in-season cukes tossed in a tamed-down white vinegar dressing with handfuls of fresh snipped dill thrown in.

My final treat was a big slice of something I normally have an aversion to: Black Forest cake ($5.75). This one’s a specialty of Heinrich, the grandson of founder Heinrich (dubbed “Heinz” in the kitchen to avoid confusion), and it’s a revelation. For one thing, it has a thin, buttery, pie-dough bottom crust. Above that, three layers of midnight-black but light-textured chocolate cake. In between are marinated whole cherries (fat, winey, and not too sweet) and dollops of chocolate mousse. The whole thing is covered with supremely fresh whipped cream that’s plastered with thin-sliced almonds. Wowee.

Black Forest Inn exteriorSure, you can get wursts and pretzels and kraut and beers at the Black Forest Inn. And its throwback gemutlichkeit setting isn’t unique. What is hard to come by is the increasingly rare treat of encountering classic haute-German fare.
Black Forest Inn on Urbanspoon

Tis the Season to Dine Well and Do Good

holly sprig clipartLike you, I’m inundated every holiday season with invitations to food and wine events that benefit good causes. With our calendars bulging with seasonal chores, events, and obligations, it’s as hard to choose among them as it is to find the time to attend. Here are some worthy candidates for spending your precious holiday capital:

Thursday, 11/21, Princeton: The 3rd annual Fall Collaborative Feast at elements restaurant. Two things in particular recommend it: it’s turning the spotlight onto those unsung heroes of restaurant kitchens everywhere – the sous chefs – and raising money for D&R Greenway Land Trust. The sous (the plural can’t be souses, that just doesn’t seem right) come from leading NJ restaurants, among them the Ryland Inn, 90 Acres, and elements itself. Details here.

Thursday, 12/5, Red Bank: The culinary coalition Red Bank Flavour is hosting their 2nd annual Holiday Flavour at the Molly Pitcher Inn. 20+ local restaurants are participating in this event, which benefits 3 local nonprofits and includes a chance to win a special multi-course tasting dinner for 2 curated by Tom Colicchio at his Colicchio & Sons restaurant. Details here.

Anytime, Newark: For both of the above events, a portion of the proceeds will go to very worthwhile organizations. But if you want 100% of your largesse to directly benefit those most in need, I urge you to donate to Bring Home Dinner, a simple, successful, hyper-local collaboration each November that aids the families of Newark’s Camden Street School, where more than 90% fall below the poverty line, and where nearly 50% of the children are special needs. Funds raised in November provide each family with $50 worth of local supermarket gift cards to feed their family for the week. For details and to donate, click here.

And Finally: Help for Making it through the Season

Saturday, 11/30: For the 3rd year, American Express is sponsoring Small Business Saturday across the nation. Check your local papers and social media for special deals and events in your area. In Princeton, for example, Catch a Rising Star comedy club is sponsoring an afternoon of holiday shopping, visiting with Santa, and watching a magic show at Forrestal Village. For those who stay for dinner, Tre Piani restaurant is offering one free kid’s meal with the purchase of each adult meal. Details here.

Sunday, 12/8: Slow Food Central NJ’s 9th season (!) of winter farmers markets kicks off at Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, from 10 am to 2 pm. A full list of vendors will be posted soon at www.slowfoodcentralnj.org.

Thru 12/31: If you find yourself needing a restorative lunch after a day of holiday shopping in the New Brunswick area, you can’t do better than taking advantage of the 20% discount on lunch (as well as on selected beers and wines by the glass) at the Frog & the Peach. If you doubt me, check out their amazing lunch menu.

Crawfish Boil @ GFS; Recipes Galore: 3 Gluten-free from Wildflour; 2 Very Different Panzanellas from 2 Very Different Chefs

Grounds For Sculpture‘s Southern Chef is Cooking up a Mess o’ Crawfish

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton has started to offer more populist (in a good way) activities – artistic, cultural, performing, and culinary. If you haven’t been there in a while you should check out the complete calendar of activities here.

Louisiana crawfish

Louisiana crawfish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, I’m always most tuned into the culinary end of things, so I am particularly excited about the Bayou Crawfish Boil being mounted by executive chef Shane Cash – a distant relation of Johnny Cash – on Friday, July 12. There are 2 seatings, at 6 & 8:15 pm, on the terrace outside Rat’s Restaurant. Fresh Louisiana crawfish, BBQ, shrimp ‘n grits, gumbo, & lots more. Plus beers and moonshine cocktails and music by Sidewalk Zydeco. Food: $59. For info & reservations, click here.

Gluten-free Recipes from Wildflour in Lawrenceville

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

I posted about Marilyn Besner’s new cafe/bakery here a few weeks ago. More about it is in my story in the July 5th edition of The Princeton Packet, as well as the following recipes from Marilyn and her baker Matt Andresen for coconut macaroons, quinoa tabbouleh, and a delicious green smoothie.

 

WILDFLOUR’S COCONUT MACAROONS

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon potato starch
12 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl set over boiling water, use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites, sugar, and potato starch until whites are stiff. Remove from heat, stir in the coconut and a pinch of salt.
  2. Drop small mounds onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 12 to15 minutes, until peaks turn brown.
    Makes 30 cookies.

WILDFLOUR’S QUINOA TABOULLEH

3 cups quinoa
1 bunch scallions
1 English cucumber or Persian cucumber
1 bunch parsley
For the dressing:
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sumac (see note)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Rinse quinoa well and place in large saucepan with 8 cups water.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat to simmer, and simmer until circles start to separate from the seed and the quinoa is tender (10 to15 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile chop the scallions, cucumber, and parsley. Make the dressing: whisk together all ingredients.
  3. Drain the quinoa and let it come to room temperature. Mix with the vegetables and toss with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    Serves 8 to 12.

Note: Sumac is a dark-red, dried and ground spice with a tart, lemony flavor. It can be found at Middle Eastern markets and at Savory Spice shop in Princeton.

WILDFLOUR’S GREEN SMOOTHIE

For the green juice:
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
2 apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 cucumber, unpeeled and cut into chunks
1 lime, peeled
1/2 banana
1/4 avocado
1 date
1/4 cup almond milk
Ice (about 1 cup)
Honey or agave syrup

  1. Place green juice ingredients in a juicer or heavy-duty blender and process until smooth. Set aside or refrigerate.
  2. Place the banana, avocado, date, almond milk, and ice in a blender. Pour in 1/2 cup green juice and blend. Sweeten to taste with honey or agave.
    Makes 1 12-ounce smoothie.

Just in time for Jersey Tomato Season: 2 Outstanding Panzanellas

Back in 2004, chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani won the NJ Seafood Challenge with his Seafood Panzanella, adding Jersey seafood to the traditional Italian tomato-bread-olive oil salad.  It’s as good now as it was then. Here’s the recipe (and photo, below) immortalized on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

Another ingenious take on panzanella recently came into my inbox by way of North Jersey chef Jesse Jones. Replacing Italian bread with cornbread and using apple cider vinaigrette is pure genius in my book. Here’s the recipe:

Chef Jesse Jones

Chef Jesse Jones

CHEF JESSE’S SOUTHERN INSPIRED PANZANELLA

For the cornbread:
1-1/3 cup pastry flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup corn flour
2/3 cup sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the salad:
Prepared cornbread (above)
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/2- inch thick
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 pound baby kale, washed and dried
3 tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped, if large
Salt & pepper to taste
For the apple cider vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon, finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil

  1. Make the cornbread: Grease or butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. In another bowl combine buttermilk, butter, and lightly beaten egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix just to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Make the salad: Cut the cooled cornbread into 1-inch pieces, spread on a cookie sheet and toast in 350-degree oven until golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. (Note: works especially well if cornbread is made a day or two in advance.)
  3. Assemble: Make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, baby kale, and capers. Add the toasted cornbread cubes, season with salt and pepper, pour in the vinaigrette, and fold gently, being careful not to break up the cornbread too much. Serve on a nice white platter.
    Serves 6 to 8.

Where Rush Holt Dines in DC; Frank Bruni, Gabrielle Hamilton & Others Coming to Princeton; Girl Scouts Cook “Slow” @ Tre Piani

When I read the NY Times story “A Lunchroom Called Capitol Hill,” I couldn’t help but wonder about the dining preferences of my own representative, Rush Holt. (You may have encountered the bumper sticker for him that reads My congressman IS a rocket scientist!)

English: Official photo of Rep Rush Holt

English: Official photo of Rep Rush Holt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I contacted his office for a bit of what passes with me as investigative journalism. Here’s his reply:

“If by favorite you mean where I eat most often, it would be my desk.  Eating out, it would be the Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania SE.”

Well played, Congressman. Not only does this indicate how hard Holt works on our behalf, but also the restaurant to which he refers is Hunan Dynasty, an inexpensive, standard-issue, neighborhood Chinese joint. His constituency can rest assured that he’s working hard on our behalf, not wasting our tax dollars at effete watering holes, and does not participate in the one-upmanship described in the Times piece.

By the way, that story included a secret that my DC-dwelling daughter passed along to me a while ago: the best cafeteria food on the National Mall is to be had at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Acclaimed Food Memoirists and Chefs to Discuss “Food, Writing, Intimacy” at Princeton University

On Tuesday, March 26 the latest in a series of talks labeled Critical Encounters will feature Frank Bruni of the New York Times (“Born Round“), Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in NYC (“Blood, Bones, and Butter“), Anita Lo of Annisa in NYC (“Cooking without Borders“), Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra in Kingston, and Professor Leonard Barkan of Princeton (“Satyr Square“).

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

The event, conceived and organized by Professor Anne Cheng of Princeton, is free and open to the public. It takes place at 4:30 pm in McCormick Hall 101 on the university campus.

Girl Scouts Cook Up a ‘Slow’ Meal for Farmers, Friends & Family at Tre Piani Restaurant

I don’t know who was braver, the 6 teenage Scouts who wielded 12-inch chef knives and skirted the huge blue flames of the restaurant’s professional stoves or owner/chef Jim Weaver who invited the girls to cook a meal at his Forrestal Village restaurant. It was all part of an advanced Scouting project, Sow What?, that focuses on sustainability, farming, and nutrition.

The girls shopped for local ingredients at the Slow Food Winter Farmers Market that took place at the restaurant earlier in the day and then, with Chef Jim, devised a menu. Here’s what they cooked up:

scouts at tre piani 009

Salad of baby lettuces, Tre Piani’s own fresh mozzarella, local hothouse tomatoes, and croutons made with bread from Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, one of the day’s many vendors.

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Penne Bolognese made with local grass-fed beef and sausage, mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, and fresh ricotta from Fulper Farms.

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The girls had made ahead of time and brought with them avocado chocolate mousse – a recipe of Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis.

Shoppers at the annual Winter Slow Food Farmers Market held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village last month may have noticed an unusual sight: a group of six teenage girls in t-shirts and jeans bouncing from table to table, debating which meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, and other comestibles to select – and then gathering up enough to feed a small army. Well, at least the 25 people they were having over for dinner that night. At the restaurant.

The girls – Hannah Barrett, Olivia Killian, Gabrielle Longchamp, Julia McDonald, Olivia Rios, and Emily Schalk – are all members of Girl Scout Troop 80925 in Flemington, and their Tre Piani experience was but one leg in a group journey called Sow What? In Girl Scout lingo, a “journey” is a group of activities and accomplishments for older Scouts that, along with accumulating badges, culminates in a Gold Award – the equivalent of Eagle Scout for boys.

Cathy Schalk, one of the troop leaders and mother to Emily, explained that the Sow What? journey “encompasses sustainable farming, Slow Food, and the nutritional importance of food to our health.” The girls began working on the project last summer: visiting area farms and meeting with agriculture specialists and leaders of the Slow Food movement, including Jim Weaver who founded and heads up the Central New Jersey chapter.

“They contacted me last summer,” recalls Weaver, chef/owner of Tre Piani. “They said they were touring farms, doing the whole Jersey Fresh thing. They came to the restaurant and I did a little tasting and talk with them.” To thank him, the girls decided they would cook a dinner for the chef, in February. “But it occurred to me,” Weaver says, “that we could piggyback on the farmers market held here each February. I thought, why don’t we shop, cook, and sit down and eat together instead.”

That’s how the scouts – five sophomores and one freshman at Hunterdon Central Regional High, several of whom have known each other since second grade – came to be shopping at the Slow Food market and, afterwards, donning aprons and wielding twelve-inch chef’s knives in the restaurant’s kitchen. “The girls shopped pretty much by themselves and decided on the menu,” said Weaver, as he had them busily chopping onions and carrots. When these were sautéing, along with garlic, over huge blue flames in massive sauté pans, he sprinkled in dried chili flakes, telling the girls, “A little pepperoncini adds another element/dimension. It helps excite your palate a little bit.”

As the scouts worked, their adult troop leaders talked about the effect the Sow What? journey has had on the girls and their families. Cathy Shalk said, “At home, I now think twice when I go to serve an ‘emergency’ dinner on paper plates.” Michele Levasseur, Gabrielle’s mother, laughed and added, “After they read all the nutrition info about fast food, like McDonald’s, they’re now telling me what to eat!” But, she added, “because of this project, my daughter and I regularly ride bikes through the community. We see local farms and we stop and talk to the farmers.”

Some of these farmers were among the 25 friends and family members the troop had invited to share their Tre Piani dinner, among them a soils expert from Rutgers University and a Flemington school nurse who had founded a school garden. After everyone had tasted the pasta, Jim Weaver proclaimed, “This dish just may have to go on the menu here at Tre Piani. We’ll call it ‘Pasta 80925.’ The only thing is, customers will expect Girl Scout cookies afterwards!”

Later, many of the girls agreed that cooking had been their favorite part of the day. Gabrielle Longchamp said of the overall experience, “It went more smoothly in the kitchen than I had anticipated.” Olivia Rios admitted that she was “scared to death” of the cooking, but managed to enjoyed it. “But I also liked choosing the ingredients, too,” she added.

The recipe below includes in parentheses the vendors at the Slow Food Farmers Market who provided ingredients for the Girl Scout’s feast.

 TROUP 80925 BOLOGNESE SAUCE
(developed with Jim Weaver, Tre Piani)

2 pounds fresh wild mushroom mix (such as Davidson’s or Shibumi Farms)
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 onions, peeled and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chili pepper flakes
1 package (about 1 pound) pork sausage (such as Beech Tree Farm), removed from casing, if any
2 pounds ground beef (such as WoodsEdge Wool Farm)
2 cans (28 ounces each) plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups beef stock, or 1 cup stock and 1 cup red wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pint fresh ricotta (such as Fulper Family Farms)
2 pounds dried pasta, such as penne

1. Clean the mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel. (Do not rinse: mushrooms soak up water like a sponge.) Chop mushrooms. Saute over high heat in small batches with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a little salt. The liquid released from the mushrooms should have enough room in the pan to evaporate and let the mushrooms develop a golden-brown color. Set aside.

2. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion and some salt, and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Then add carrots, garlic, chili flakes, and a little salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.

3. Add the sausage and ground beef. Cook, breaking down the lumps with a fork, until the meat is cooked through. Add tomatoes, olive oil, and stock. Add salt and pepper to taste (not too much; the sauce will reduce and intensify). Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or, better yet, an hour.
4. Add sauteed mushrooms and stir until heated through. Serve or refrigerate. The sauce tastes even better the next day. If you make it ahead of time reheat over low heat while the pasta is cooking. Just before serving take the sauce off the heat and mix in the ricotta.
5. When ready to serve, cook the pasta according to package instructions then mix with the Bolognese sauce.
Serves 8 to 12.

scouts at tre piani 013

The Sorry State of Food TV; 2 NJ Slow Food Events; Craig Shelton’s New Gig; NJ & Beard Awards; Mistral Preview

This essay by Andy Greenwald on the state of Food TV is the best I’ve encountered. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with everything Greenwald writes – I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I was gratified in particular by this sentence about Emeril Lagasse‘s role as a Top Chef judge:

“Stripped of his catchphrases and his band, Emeril has revealed himself to be kind, patient and insightful, able to articulate the nuances of food we’ll never taste with expert, understated flair.”

Not only do I agree with that assessment as a viewer, but it reflects the conclusion I came to when Emeril was a guest on my radio show years ago. We did an entire hour show live from Marketfair mall in Princeton.

Pat & Emeril1

I expected lots of bam! and bluster, and instead I got a thoughtful, soft-spoken, gentle man who answered my questions with insight and modesty. It was only when a young boy in the audience shouted out, “Emeril, say Bam!” that he did – and talked about how great it was to have youngsters interested in cooking.

Slow Food Farmers Market (Central) & Expert Talk on GMOs (North)

Slow Food Central Snail

This Sunday, 2/24/13, will see the final Slow Food Central NJ winter farmers market of the season. This one is being held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village along Route 1 in Princeton, from 11 am to 3 pm. There’ll be live music and you can sit down for food and drink at Tre Bar in between stocking up on meats, breads, mushrooms, cheeses, wines, baked goods, and sweets from these vendors:

Beech Tree Farm….Birds and Bees Farm…Bobolink Dairy and Bake House…Cherry Grove Farm…Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms…Donna and Company…Fulper Dairy Farm…Funni Bonz Barbecue Sauce…Happy Wanderer Bakery…Hopewell Valley Vineyards…Judith’s Desserts…Jammin’ Crepes…Pure Indian Foods Ghee…Rocky Brook Farm…Shibumi Exotic Mushrooms…Valley Shepherd Creamery and Woods Edge Wools Farm.

For information, phone 609.577.5113.

Slow Food SnailThen next Sunday, March 3rd, attend an afternoon meeting of Slow Food Northern NJ at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood that starts at 1 pm with a tasting of local foods and includes talks on school gardens and the impact of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on our lives. Speaker for that will be Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, who will “describe what genetic engineering is, the lack of required safety testing, and why you should be concerned.” Click here for info and to purchase tickets ($8 for members; $10 for the public).

Craig Shelton, Consultant

Craig SheltonNew Jersey’s most well-known chef (check out the interview with him I posted here last December) is now consulting at Mediterra in Princeton. Laurent Chapuis, the proprietor of the Princeton Corkscrew wine shop just a few doors down, was impressed with a recent  lunch overseen by Shelton. If you know Monsieur Chapuis, you know he is one tough customer, so his praise bodes well for this match.

Mediterra’s general manager, Carmine DePasquale, says that Shelton will be at the restaurant four to five days a week, mainly during lunch service, for at least the next three months. He isn’t so much behind the stove tweaking dishes or changing the menu as he is, DePasquale says, “showing us a different hospitality factor, a new way of managing how guests perceive things.” He’s working hand-in-hand with Mediterra chef Terry Strong and his sous chefs, yes, but also servers and the management team as a whole. Shelton, DePasquale says, has set his task as observing, commenting on what’s being done correctly (or not), and addressing issues around hospitality and even marketing. “The beauty of Craig,” DePasquale says, “is that he holds himself up to the Relais and Chateaux guidelines, and it’s always good to strive for that with every single person who walks through our door.”

Congrats to 2013 James Beard Awards Semi-finalists Scott Anderson, Joey Baldino, and Thirty Acres

If you call yourself a New Jersey foodie, you’ve likely heard by now that the Garden State receive three nods on the first round of balloting announced this week. Both Scott Anderson of elements in Princeton and Vetri-alumnus Joey Baldino of Zeppoli (his Sicilian restaurant in Collingswood) are among 2o chefs vying to be one of 5 semi-finalists for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Thirty Acres in Jersey City is one of 29 hopefuls for Best New Restaurant in the USA.

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Five finalists in each category will be announced on March 18, and the ultimate sole winners on May 6.

Sneak Peak of Mistral Menu at elements, Princeton

Mistral-Logo

Speaking of elements, the projected opening of Mistral, the second (and more casual) restaurant by the same team, is now set for April. Those of us who can’t wait for its small plates of interpreted Mediterranean classics can get a smattering at elements between now and then. Prices start at $7 for fennel salad with lemon basil, red onion, and orange and run to $12 for bronzino with potato puree, black olive, and caramelized red onion.

In between are house-cured lomo (Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin) with trumpet royale mushrooms, pimentos, and garlic; pressure-cooked octopus with “papas bravas” (their quotation marks), and caper aioli; and dark meat chicken with yuzu and soy honey glaze.

Interview w/Chris Young of ‘Modernist Cuisine;’ ‘Fresh!’ Pilot; Winter Farmers Market

“Modernist Cuisine” Alumni Create Free Online Culinary School

I recently sat down with Chris Young, the principal co-author with Nathan Myhrvold of the groundbreaking, award-winning Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, when he was in Princeton. Chris YoungHe was here to consult with a major flavor and fragrance company as part of one of his new ventures, Delve Kitchen. But while sipping coffee at Small World on Witherspoon Street, we talked mainly about ChefSteps, the innovative free online culinary school that he and fellow Modernist Cuisine alums Grant Crilly and Ryan Matthew Smith have created.

You can (and should) read my main report about ChefSteps at njmonthly.com. Then follow the link back here for additional fascinating detail, below, on why Young and his collaborators left Nathan Myhrvold and the Modernist Cuisine team behind – he had no involvement, for example, with the follow-up book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, which was published on October 8 – as well as the high-profile geniuses that inspired ChefSteps.

Young on leaving Modernist Cuisine and finding the Gates Foundation and Johnson & Wales:
Modernist Cuisine turned out to be a bigger project than we imagined,” Young says as a bit of an understatement about the six volume, $625 encyclopedia. “The funny thing is that, at the start, Nathan warned me that it probably would not be a fulltime gig.” Myhrvold envisioned a 300-page book describing new cooking technologies like sous vide. “Who knew it would take six years, and thousands of pages? That last year was like the Bataan Death March! For five years that was my life, and they turned out to be even harder than my five years at the Fat Duck,” he says, referring to his work at Heston Blumenthal’s famed restaurant outside of London, where he ran the experimental kitchen. “Then, one year later most people assume you want to write another book. But, to me, I’ve done that. I’ve said almost everything I wanted to say. I needed to step out of the doughnut hole, see what was next.”

“I was offered to jump onto a Gates Foundation project having to do with improving the milk supply in sub-Saharan Africa. So Nathan said OK, you have a lot to offer. And I helped re-form the project. Oftentimes these kinds of projects apply a first-world solution to a third-world problem. They’re two very different worlds. The business model I developed is currently being implemented in field trials in Kenya, and I’m very hopeful that it can help break the poverty cycle.”

“Just as I came off that project last fall, I had started one overhauling the curriculum at Johnson & Wales, which I’m still doing. Many culinary schools are interested in incorporating Modernist Cuisine into their curriculum. I liked the Johnson & Wales model, which unlike others, is not to fly me in to teach an expensive class. We all realized that the only way to make this scalable is not to each students, but to train the faculty. So I basically ran a boot camp. I trained half the faculty (and interacted with 1,000 students). So here’s the Johnson & Wales faculty, some of whom had been chefs for thirty years, acting like kids again! It had an impact. But I’m thinking, culinary school training professional chefs is big, but it’s still a subset of an already small world. Most people do not want to become professional chefs and there are many working professional chefs who will never go to culinary school. How to make a broader impact?  I reasoned that rather than another big book, I wanted something more collaborative and engaging – like the way it is when you work in restaurants.”

“Grant Crilly had also left Nathan, and had participated with me in the Johnson & Wales project. Ryan Smith had left, too. He had established a very lucrative photography business. The three of us, we’re friends and in January of this year we found ourselves asking, what do we want to do? From January through March, we were scratching around. We had straightforward consulting contracts, and those provided our only cash flow. We had no wealthy individual behind us.”

Young on the conception of an online culinary school:
Young mentions as a model and inspiration Sebastian Thrun, a professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford and a Google vice president. “Two years ago, Thrun offered his a.i. class at Stanford free online. A couple thousand enrolled within a day! Eventually 125,000 enrolled, and 20 percent completed it all, taking the quizzes and tests. Stanford agreed to give them all a Stanford certificate of completion.” After that, Thun established his free online university, Udacity. “This was a huge influence. We thought that we ought to be able to do the same thing with cooking. You need a way of engaging, like Udacity. You still need step-by-step instructions and photos, but also video. Unlike with a book, if it takes 20 photos to show a step, that’s OK. If it needs a movie, OK, we can do that.”

One that’s free…
Another influence is Gabe Newell, the video game software genius. “We asked ourselves, how do you charge for this?” Newell has said that monetization is the root of all evil. In the video game world the most successful are those that switch to free-to-play, but with added value. Twenty percent of players will spend more on the value-added stuff than if you charged a fee to pay. So, free-to-play equals free-to-learn.” Young mentions the ill-fated attempt of the New York Times to charge for online content. “We figure if we charge, that’s wrong for two reasons: One, it doesn’t work. And two, you’re competing with [the free content on] YouTube. So fine, all the fundamentals are free. Our users will vote, will tell us what is of value to them, what recipes they want to see, what structure works best for them…”

…and someday soon, open-sourced and self-policing
Once the idea of a free online culinary school was validated, Young addressed the problem of keeping its integrity. He spoke about this problem with Matt Mullenweg of the open-sourced WordPress, whom he invited into the Delve Kitchen to help process a whole pig. “He had ideas on incentivizing and self-policing, and how that works.”

The future of ChefSteps
“What feels wonderful is that it’s truly a grassroots effort. It takes a lot of volunteers, a lot of support. A lot of new content is coming!” The team has lined up a number of guest presenters for the winter. “The point is it’s not just what we want to teach. For example, I am lucky to work with an amazing knife forger, who knows a huge amount. You’ll never see him on Food Network, and most likely you’ll never see a book from him. We can provide a platform for people like him, give him a voice. These people have been an unexpected bonus and a profound inspiration. A big part of our job is curating. Eventually, the hope is, if we can get ChefSteps to where, say, Wikipedia is, maybe someday some  phenomenal contributor can teach their own class.”

To read more about Chris Young’s work at Johnson & Wales University, click here.
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Watch the Pilot for Greener NJ’s ‘Fresh!’

Fresh PilotI was lucky enough to sit in on the dinner produced for and seen in this pilot, which features folks from Cherry Grove Farm, Terhune Orchards, Stults Farm, Chia-Sin Farms, the West Windsor Farmers Market, and Tre Piani restaurant. Check out the first episode here.


Slow Food Central New Jersey
’s Eighth Season of “Eat Slow” Winter Farmers Markets Kick off December 15 at Cherry Grove Farm

The Lawrenceville farm’s outdoor event barn will be the place to get the farm’s own famed cheeses as well as locally produced breads, baked goods, fresh produce, jams, wine, mushrooms, and more, from 11am-3pm. “Dress warm,” the organizers advise.

A Green Feast Inaugurates Greener NJ Productions

Now that New Jersey has lost its dedicated PBS station – I know, I know, NJTV has taken the place of NJN, but it’s not quite the same now, is it? – a newcomer hopes to fill the gap, at least in part, with TV and web shows dedicated solely to “the greener side of the Garden State.”

That nonprofit entity is Greener New Jersey Productions, spearheaded by JoAnne Ruscio, formerly of NJN. Last week saw the taping of a half-hour pilot for their upcoming series, Fresh!, which will premier in November. A portion of the show was being taped at the West Windsor Farmers Market, and part of it at a dinner at Tre Piani in Princeton’s Forrestal Village. There, chef/owner Jim Weaver created a feast from the bounty of the market’s vendors, including cheese from Cherry Grove, Asian vegetables from Chia Sin, and fruits and vegetables from Stults Farm and Terhune Orchards.

I was fortunate to sit in on the dinner  – while gingerly ducking the cameras – which was enjoyed by about 50 of Greener NJ’s friends and supporters.  Below are a few photos. I’ll report on the air date of the pilot when it is announced.

Centerpiece created by Kim Clearwater

Among the guests: daughters of WW Farmers Market manager Chris Cirkus

Local salumi was one of the cocktail hour hors d’oeuvre, which also featured Cherry Grove brie with warm Asian pear relish, Stults Farm potato tartare, and Mangalitsa pork  lardo bruschetta

Chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani

A familiar face to Tre Piani regulars: Maitre d’ Giancarlo Squitieri

Colorful salad course of Chia Sin roasted Japanese eggplant, tomato, roasted peppers, pickled cabbage, and cilantro with red beet vinaigrette

The guests a tavola