Monthly Archives: January 2013

Cassoulet Cookoff at Jimmy’s No. 43

Cassoulet signCassoulet Cook-off

How do you Cassoulet?  Yesterday, at Jimmy’s No. 43, nine cooks and chefs got together to display their interpretations of this classic French dish at a benefit to raise money for the Greenmarket’s youth programs.  The public was invited to taste their creations and to vote for the best-tasting result.  Jimmy Carbone had reached out to me to see if I’d be willing to judge the dishes, a task which I happily accepted.  On a grey, winter Sunday afternoon in the city, what could be more comforting than a helping of a hearty casserole and a pint of craft beer?

The Cassoulet Cook-off Ballot

Along with my fellow judges Jackie Gordon from The Diva That Ate New York, Margaret Chen from Savory Sweet Living, Nancy Matsumoto, and Amy Zavatto of Edible Manhattan, we ate our way around the different offerings, made notes, took photos, and compared opinions on what is and isn’t cassoulet.  Then, we put our heads together and picked what we thought were the best of the ones that we ate.  Matt Timms of The Takedowns announced our results to the crowd.  Here’s what the day looked like, plate by plate:

Jimmy’s No. 43: David – Black Bean Cassoulet

This didn’t really strike me as much of a cassoulet as a black bean casserole.  When David introduced his dish, he said that he wanted to highlight beans that are indigenous to North America, making this a more native spin on the recipe.  It was still a tasty offering and the crunchy topping was a nice complement.

Jimmy’s No. 43: Yojersey – Pinto Bean-Mozzarella Cassoulet

Again, this was also a non-traditional rendition of cassoulet.  This version when even further in the direction of classic casserole territory by using pinto beans, having a slightly sweet sauce dotted with burger bun bits and topped with chunks of melted mozzarella.  The combination was definitely an interesting one.

Jimmy’s No. 43: Michael – Cassoulet

Sticking a bit truer to what everyone thinks of as a classic cassoulet, Michael from Jimmy’s team produced this deep, rich dish.  The flavors were all there, although I wished for a just a little bit more seasoning.  It would also have been better if the dish had been served a bit warmer, but that is always one of the challenges of these food events.

Out East Foodie: Laura Luciano – Cassoulet

Starting the process of making her dish two weeks out with putting together a duck confit, Laura Luciano stuck pretty closely to the classic definition of cassoulet.  She also made a garlic confit and use the bones from the duck to make a duck stock.  The crunchy topping that she added to each plate she handed out added an extra burst of herbs to give every bite a fresh pop of flavor to the creamy, meaty dish.

Iberian Beer United: Jessica Aguillo – Iberian-style Cassoulet

Using butter beans and Iberian products, Jessica Aguillo contributed a Spanish twist to this French classic.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a plate of this entry, as it was completely wiped out by the time I got to her table.  I heard from several of my fellow judges that the dish had a wonderful flavor to it.

Mighty Quinn’s: Hugh Mangum – BBQ & Burnt Ends

As a cassoulet, this wasn’t it.  As pretty delicious, nicely spiced barbecue beans with smoky, chewy burnt ends, this was a great dish.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to having it again the next time I’m on line waiting for one of their equally enticing brisket sandwiches.

Rich Pinto Catering: Rich Pinto – Vegetarian Cassoulet

I know, you’re thinking, “What?  This cannot be considered a cassoulet in any way, shape, or form!”  Hang on there for a second.  This dish captured all the aromas, fragrances, depth, and warmth of this French classic, just without having any meat.  The roasted carrots and parsnips added that earthy dimension that sausages normally fill.  The fact that Rich had finished it off with some Ronnybrook Farm butter at the end, as he mentioned to a few of us, didn’t hurt it a bit either.

Patricia Clark Catering: Patricia Clark – Cassoulet

Presenting a more Italian spin on this French dish, Patricia Clark used cannellini beans and Great Northern beans in her version of cassoulet.  She also started her preparations in advance by roasting and making a confit of duck legs as well as making a duck stock.  She added a dash of Amaro, an Italian liqueur, to her creation, and I spotted some tomatoes used in it, too, giving this dish a more Mediterranean feel.

Matthew Knoff: Cassoulet

Matthew Knoff filled in for the slot listed for Ian Kapitan of Alobar, who couldn’t make it when a member of his staff called in ill.  His dish, he explained, was a based upon the one from a Julia Child recipe, with the addition of goat meat for extra heartiness.  He also used a couple of different kinds of sausage (Toulouse and garlic) and lamb shoulder as well.

 Jimmy Carbone thanking everyone for being there

The event raised over $2,000.00 to go to the Learn It, Grow It, Eat It initiative run by the Greenmarket.  We heard that this would let them hire 15 teenagers from the South Bronx to work with the program.  It was wonderful to hang out at Jimmy’s No. 43 for the afternoon, eating and drinking all in the company of fellow food folks and some good friends.  Jimmy’s had been hit really hard by Hurricane Sandy with flooding and having to close down for a week due to having no power so it was also terrific to see how Jimmy and his team had been able to come back to host this event.

The overall winner of the day for the 2013 Cassoulet Cook0ff was Laura Luciano of Out East Foodie.  As Matt put it, it’s like synergy when the People’s Choice winner and the Judge’s Pick for winner mesh.  Hands-down we all though that her dish capture the spirit, flavor, and essence of a classic French cassoulet.  Michael of Jimmy’s No. 43 captured second place, and Matthew Knoff came in third.

We also awarded two “non-cassoulet, cassoulet” prizes, as our judges’ discretion allowed.  One to Rich Pinto for his vegetarian entry, and one to Jessica Aguillo for her Iberian spin on this dish.  Truthfully, though, we were all victors yesterday in getting to eat delicious food and to support a great local cause.  A big “thank you” to Jimmy for inviting me to attend and to judge this event.  For a calendar of other food and beer tastings taking place at this venue, please see their website.

Buon appetito!

International Culinary Center – Classic Culinary Arts Level 4 Buffet

Sauerkraut in a bowlSo much sauerkraut for a family-sized choucroute

I think I’m still having a hard time believing that I’m already more than halfway through with my culinary studies. April 2013, which seemed like such a long way away when I started the programme in August of last year, will be here in just a few short months.  Facebook followers will have being watching my progress through the food photos I’ve been posting.  From the Culinary Techniques course this past summer to the dishes that we made in each of the levels.  In the level prior to the one I started this week, we were responsible for making the dinner each evening to feed the students and staff at the school, aka Family Meal. We were also in charge of planning out and producing the food for a Buffet one evening of the course.

Half a Pig

When we began this level a couple of months ago, one of the tasks we knew was before us was to maximize the use of half of a pig.  This exercise is a combination of butchery, charcuterie, resourcefulness, and budgeting.  The results would be put on display for our fellow culinary students and some of the school’s instructors to sample for their evening meal.  Our night for buffet was the Friday just before everyone headed out for the holiday break.  (As our class is a small group, we had just the one big buffet. Other classes are organized differently with two buffets during the course of the level.)

Making Gravlax

We ended up with quite a spread, which several chefs said was really impressive, given the smaller size of our team.  There were the traditional pâtés and terrines. We took a whole salmon and turned some of it into gravlax and some into salmon rillettes.  We also had mustards and chutneys as well as steamed mussels, smoked pork belly, and a ham carved to order.

Aspic display for buffetAspic tray with vegetables and herbs

One of our chefs walked us through making a fancy aspic tray which we used to display the head cheese that had been made from our pig.  It was an interesting experience, not just from the production point of view, but to see it all finally come together and to watch the reactions of our guests to all the food we’d worked so hard to put together for them to enjoy.

Buon appetito!

2013 Food Blogger Conferences

Carrots - StyledFood Styling Workshop – Eat, Write, Retreat 2012

A few weeks ago, I seemed to have the same conversation over and over again with fellow food bloggers about what conferences to attend in 2013.   I added a Food & Drink Conferences page to my website a little while back in an attempt to try to keep track of all the various ones going on throughout the year.  Each time I go to update it, I find more and more interesting-sounding meetings, ones that, were money and time no object, I’d happily try to get to.  In 2012, I sort of maxed out on my conference budget, as there were many gatherings based in New York City.  I tried to go to many of the ones held there to save on hotels and travel.

2012 IACP Conference Program

What conferences do I have on my list for 2013?  My answer to my blogging friends is the same one that I’ll list here: just a couple of them. I’m still in culinary school through April, so it isn’t really possible for me to afford to go to many of them this year, unlike in past years.  The timing doesn’t work for a few of them, like this year’s IACP conference, which is being held in San Francisco a week before I have to take my final exams.  I’m trying to reassure myself that I’m missing out on that one for a bigger cause.

2012 Cookbook Conference tote bag

One of the conferences I really enjoyed last year that is on the list for this one is the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference.  In addition to panels and speakers featuring cookbook authors, PR folks, and publishers, there were also hours of conversations about digital publishing opportunities, recipe websites, apps, and e-books.  This seemed to be to be a wonderful, comprehensive look at where we get our information on finding recipes to use as well as on how we as bloggers and writers can look for publishing opportunities.   This year, I’ve been invited to be a panelist where I’ll be speaking with Jane Kelly of Eat Your Books (a terrific resource for keeping track of and making use of those cookbooks in your collection).

Program from Big Summer Potluck 2012

But, really, why should you go to conferences, spend all that money, take time away from your friends and family, and be cooped up in some hotel or other for several days?  Here’s some of my thoughts on the take-aways:

– Pick up helpful hints for your website
– Add new skills to portfolio (social media, web design, photography)
– Brainstorm ideas with other bloggers
– Discover some terrific new blogs to follow
– Network and meet other fantastic folks who share your same interests in and passion about food
– Make new friends and connect with those folks IRL (in real life) whom you only know through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Google+
– Learn about this ever-evolving industry and how to capture opportunities to grow your blog and your brand
– Get re-energized about why it is you blog anyway
– Have fun, eat great food, and explore a new city (or get better-acquainted with one you already know)
– Come home with some really great swag

TechMunch photoTechMUNCH NYC -> food+technology

These are just a few of the many reasons that I’ve enjoyed the conferences I’ve attended in the past.  Check out the list I’ve started for the Food & Drink Conferences I’ve found so far taking place in 2013.  Some of these have already started accepting registration (often at early-bird pricing).  As more conferences are announced throughout the year, I’ll continue to update this list and will start to add the ones for 2014 to this page as they come up as well, too.  Hope you have a terrific time at whichever ones you decide to attend!

Buon appetito!