PPX – AESTUS by KEVIN O’CONNOR

Santa Monica Meets France at aestus
Dynamic Culinary Duo Team up for New Venture
By Kristen Oliveri

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When Spago alum Kevin O’Connor realized that there was a great hole in the Santa Monica food scene, he began looking for a location to hang a shingle on his first restaurant venture. It became abundantly clear to him that the ultra-West side of Santa Monica was seriously lacking restaurants of substance. Fast forward to present day where O’Connor is currently operating aestus a California restaurant with French and Italian accents that focuses on seasonal, sustainable, creative and simplistic cuisine.

If there would be one word that O’Connor would use to describe his restaurant, it is simply “terroir.” “The concept of terroir carries the assumption that the land or site from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique character or quality specific to that growing region, area or site,” he began. “The concept of terroir is not exclusive to the wine program at aestus. Our culinary point of view is the same. We remove the notion of style and process in order to celebrate the raw and natural ingredients of every plate so our guests can experience food with definition and balance.”

With that philosophy in mind, the cocktail program followed suit. The restaurant avoids all temptation to interpret and fuse various spirits, which otherwise is all the rage in other restaurants. Instead, the program honors the classic cocktails as originally conceived and source spirits from artisanal producers who use natural ingredients with minimal processing.

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While still paying homage to the cocktail renaissance (don’t miss an opportunity for a tipple at the bar), the restaurant is devoted to its wine program, after all that is what O’Connor knows best. The idea for aestus was born after O’Connor spoke with his partners at his LIOCO Wine Company who were looking to create a companion brand to the winery and capitalize on Californians’ love of wine.

Given that California is now the largest wine market in the US, the imports are “flowing like water”, explained O’Connor. “People don’t just want what their parents or grandparents drank. They are curious and willing to try anything from Gruner Veltliner grown in Santa Barbara to Refosco from Friuli, Italy.”

O’Connor has also appointed a rockstar chef hailing from the Vendee region of France to be at the helm of his kitchen. Alex Ageneau started his culinary career at the tender age of 15 as an apprentice charcutier in France. Since then he’s worked under celebrated chefs including Pierre Gagnaire of Sketch in London, Joachim Splichal of Patina in Los Angeles and David Feau at the Langham Hotel’s The Royce.

The menu changes as frequently as Ageneau makes it to the farmers market in town. His main goal of the kitchen is to create dishes that are light, clean, bright and most importantly, approachable. “I think the menu screams California but there is also an evident French sensibility to it. We also use a lot of vegetables, fruits and grains,” said Ageneau.

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Most of the fruits and vegetables served in dishes like roasted carrots with apricots, vadouvan curry and whipped goat cheese is sourced from local farmers. For their meats, they use grass fed beef from Strauss and the lamb comes straight from Colorado. “We only use top ingredients, which are the foundation of our cuisine,” he explained.

As for what’s next for the restaurant that is quickly becoming a local hotspot, the culinary duo of O’Connor and Ageneau are hoping to expand their daily specials and monthly themed dinners throughout the seasons with special wine offerings for all.

“Kevin and I love to collaborate on food and wine pairings,” confessed Ageneau. “That’s when you get the whole aestus experience.”

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PPX – CHEF JONATON GOMEZ-LUNA TORRES

The Next Food Revolution Begins In Riviera Maya
By Kristen Oliveri

All Photos Courtesy Karisma Hotels

Azul Sensatori

Mexico is poised to be the country that starts the next food revolution. So believes award-winning Chef Jonatan Gomez-Luna Torres; and he is simply unafraid to say it, “Mexico is the new wave of culinary innovation. Chefs want to come here because we have over 400 years of history. America doesn’t have the culinary history that Mexico has.”

And if Mexico is the next big thing, so is Chef Gomez-Luna Torres. Just 32 years old he’ll be leading that charge from his role at the helm of critically acclaimed restaurant Le Chique in Riviera Maya. Already noted by many critics as running one of the best restaurants in all of the country the Mexico-City born chef graduated from the Ambrosia Culinary Center and spent years working in some of the best restaurants in the world, including a short stint in a three-star Michelin restaurant in Valencia to gigs at El Bulli in Spain and Noma in Copenhagen. Altogether an undeniable all-star resume.

In 2008, he teamed up with Food and Beverage manager Jeroen Hanlo at Karisma Hotels & Resorts (www.karismahotels.com) to open Le Chique in its Azul Sensatori Hotel property located in the Riviera Maya. While many food and wine snobs might dismiss a restaurant located in an all-inclusive hotel, Chef Jonatan has shattered those preconceived notions by receiving award after award for his work; for instance, the coveted Five Diamond Award bestowed by AAA.

Azul Sensatori

Many locals now opt to spend a weekend at the hotel simply to dine at Le Chique (www.lechiquerestaurant.com), says Gomez-Luna Torres. As part of a guest’s all-inclusive culinary package, they can make a reservation at the restaurant and feast on a special menu with many of the restaurant’s popular dishes presented in a passed, family style setting. To experience the entire degustation menu, hotel guests can upgrade for the full monty. (Eater beware: even if you’re a guest you should book weeks ahead of your vacation to ensure a table) Outside reservations are also available by calling the restaurant directly or booking on OpenTable (www.opentable.com).

While many of Chef’s followers would characterize the cuisine at Le Chique as “molecular”, Gomez-Luna Torres certainly doesn’t. In fact, he quite dislikes the term “molecular” itself. Rather, he believes his cuisine to be innovative, thought provoking and, most importantly, delicious.

The roots of the cuisine are all grounded in Mexican culture—or perhaps it is best characterized as a recharged interpretation of the food of his youth—as taught to him by his grandmother. The 24 to 25 course menu showcases the fusing of regional cuisine, local food and international flavors, all crafted to heighten the customer’s experience from start to finish.

“Everything has a story and a reason for why things are a certain way,” he noted. “At Le Chique, there are some items that make references to grandma’s dishes using different techniques. The key is to maintain a balance between that technique, with tradition, presentation, research and flavor.”

Food

He spends a significant amount of time traveling throughout the country, looking to work with local purveyors and learn more about the cuisine he loves so much. Within Mexican culinary culture, he has a deep appreciation for basic dishes such as adobos, molés, black bean soups and anything with pork belly confit, he confessed. All of his key, all-star ingredients like chocolate, water, truffles and foie gras, come exclusively from Mexican purveyors.

The menu at Le Chique might not appear to serve those traditional dishes, but the concept and the flavors are ever-present. He often melds his past cooking experiences, making subtle nods to his time at Noma. His restaurant has both a juice and water menu, which are quite popular with guests abstaining from alcohol. The juice menu he is particularly proud of. On any given day, juices such as fermented plum, banana with vanilla, pineapple mint or jicama with blood orange will be featured on the menu.

One of the more interesting food and beverage trends Chef Gomez-Luna has spotted recently is the resurgence of the popularity of mezcal in his restaurant and countless others throughout Mexico. Once a spirit that was made in an uncle’s backyard, similar to moonshine, mezcal today has progressed to being a leading spirit that will complete a dining experience. “Due to its growing popularity and demand, mezcal is now consumed almost as much as tequila. As the mezcal trend is still young, it is in the development process,” he says. “Personally, it is one of the drinks that I enjoy the most and always look forward to.”

While the chef enjoys bucking food trends and creating dishes unlike any others, what he loves about being a chef is the freedom. “I’ve never felt so free as I do in a kitchen. I love creating a story and telling our philosophy of how we see, appreciate and cook Mexican cuisine,” he says. “I am a Mexican chef and I plan to make my own history.”

Food

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For two of the chef’s most dynamic recipes, read on. These will not disappoint.

The Egg That Wanted To Be A Panucho

Ingredients for The Egg

150ml beans soup
2.5 gelatin sheets previously hydrated
5g Gluconolactate
4 egg yolks
Egg mold

Directions

Melt the gelatin with the soup and add the gluconolactate, once it is dissolved pour the jelly beans into the mold; Carefully add the egg and let it curdle completely a few minutes; refrigerate until gelatin has curdled perfectly.

Once the jelly is curd, unmold and dip the eggs in the alginate bath for 25 min., rotate every 5 min. for uniform cooking.

Once the egg has finished its process in the alginate bath, rinse thoroughly in water and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cook the eggs at 85°C with a thermocirculator for 6 min.

For the solution of algin

1L of water
15g of alginate
10 drops of water soluble dye White

For the beans soup
100g Black beans
100g onion threaded
10g sliced serrano chile

Directions

Cook the beans in water until soft, mix in a blender with a little cooking broth, to a consistency of light cream, strain and reserve. In a skillet, sauté onion and chile, until very soft, add the bean soup and season with salt, drain and set aside.

For the avocado cream

250g of avocado
25 ml of water
10 ml of lemon juice
.05 g de Salt

Grind all ingredients in blender to acquire a smooth, “creamy”, consistency and set aside.

For pickled red onion

1 small piece of onion
2 pieces of lime
3g of salt

Cut the onion into quarters, slice the onion using a slicer, for very thin strips; Blanch the onion strips, keep the onions in a container, add the lemon juice and salt, keep refrigerated.

For the tomato sauce and habanero chile

100g chopped onion brunoise
1 piece of tomato chopped in brunoise
1/2 piece of roasted habanero Chili, seeded

Sauté onion in oil followed by tomatoes, cook until slightly caramelized, add the chile and smash into the sauce, season and set aside.

To assemble:

100 g avocado cream
50 g marinated red onion with lemon juice
150 ml of tomato and habanero sauce
100 g fried tortillas into strips
Coriander Sprouts
Coriander Flower
Wild coriander

With the help of a bottle, draw a circle with the avocado cream in the plate, then put the strips of pickled onion on top of the avocado and cover. Then place the julienned onion tortilla over, building a nest. Afterwards, put hot tomato sauce with habanero in the center of the nest, then place the egg previously cooked 6 minutes at 85 ° C , over the tomato sauce. Finish with coriander sprouts and coriander flower.

-AND-

Hamachi Aguachile + Green Apple + sea sprouts

5kg de Hamachi (yellowtail)

For the aguachile

30g of coriander
38g of White onion
12g of salt
350g of cucumber
95ml of lemon juice
1.5g of sodium citrate
3g of serrano chili

Grind all the ingredients, when liquefied, strain to drain excess fluid. Keep both parts of aguachile

For the Aguachile Juice

250ml of aguachile (juice)
1g de xanthan gum

Grind the xanthan gum in the broth using immersion blender until desired texture. Preserve.

For the Green Apple

1pz cut into sheets

Remove the center of the green apple using a corer and cut into wedges.
Using a slicer, cut the apple with measure no. 6 and reserve in cold water.

For the Avocado

2pz of firm avocado to make rugs

Peel the avocado and using a slingshot peeler, prepare thin films; using a round mold cutting mats 1cm in diameter. Hold on a plate with vitafilm. (Do not cut with an advance of more than 15 min)

For the cucumber
1pz cut into sheets

For the tostadas
10pz of corn tortillas (cut with a ring of 10cm diameter)

For Foam Green Apple

4 pcs of apple (for juicing)
1 sheet of gelatin
5Lt Liquid Nitrogen

Cut and core apples, extract the juice and strain. Separate some of the juice and melt the gelatin, previously hydrated, add a siphon cream 1/2 liter capacity. Place two cartridges cream and stir, pour the foam in liquid nitrogen until frozen completely and grind using a Thermomix or a processor with stainless steel vessel. Keep in a metal bowl on a nitrogen bath.

For the lemon caviar

25 ml lemon juice
60 ml water
1 gr of citras
2g agar
Salt 2 g
100 ml of oil

Mix all the ingredients in a pot with the exception of agar and bring to heat until it boils. Mix the agar using a balloon whisk, pouring it slowly. Already incorporated, allowing the mixture to a boil for the 2nd time and using a Pasteur pipette, drip into the cold oil well. Once solidified shaped caviar, remove all of the oil with a strainer and reserve.

For the avocado cream

300 gr Avocado
8 grams salt
3 g of citras
30 ml lemon juice

Grind all ingredients in blender to acquire a smooth, “creamy”, consistency and set aside.

To assemble:

Place a strip of marinated hamachi in aguachile. Around it, make dots with avocado cream slices of green apple, sprouts, leaves and edible flowers. Add the juice of aguachile in the center and finish the green apple powder made with liquid nitrogen. Accompany with toast.

PPX – Nicholas Maracz, GM, The Palm Restaurant

Iconic NY Restaurant’s Secrets To Success Uncovered
By Richard Crawford

The Palm Nick Maracz longer shot

For tourist and native alike, New York City offers more choice, diversity and style of cuisine than any other city in the world. It’s a utopia of sensory experience for the millions of diners who visit and frequent the thousands of eating establishments located on every street and avenue. From fine dining to the street cart vendor, choices are abundant, but ask any proprietor of an eatery, bistro, café, diner or restaurant will tell you it is no easy task keeping the lights on and the doors open.

Ultimately there are significantly more failures than successes in the NYC restaurant business. There are countless pitfalls and sometimes even the most minor infringement can be the kiss of death to a restaurant whose very foundation encompasses the heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears of its owner.

When you realize the odds against the success of a restaurant in New York City, it imparts a greater appreciation for some of the more iconic establishments that have weathered everything that the city has thrown at it, and the original Palm Restaurant is a prime example.

Established in 1926 and still operating in its original location at 837 2nd Avenue, New York, The Palm lays claim to a success and longevity that is unprecedented, especially in the playing field of fine dining which typically holds higher standards and expectations. The original Palm is an establishment that is so successful it now boasts 28 other locations throughout the country, as well as an additional couple of international locales.

One of the more fascinating facts about the original Palm is that despite the transient nature of the restaurant industry The Palm has had only seven General Managers since it opened in 1926. That is a pretty impressive 88 year run and it wasn’t until the 1960s that Read the full article here »

PPX – STEPHANIE IZARD

First Phenom at Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival
By Francine Cohen

Of course you wouldn’t be wrong to refer to Chef Stephanie Izard as the fourth winner of Bravo’s Top Chef competition, but really you’d sound like an ignoramous for shirking your restaurant industry history and not fully recounting her provenance; thereby giving her credit where credit is due (while looking really smart yourself for having and sharing this knowledge).

This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Izard in INSIDE F&B and it’s true that this fourth season winner may not have been in front of the camera when this influential television program began, but to her “1st” credit she is the first (and only) woman to have won Top Chef. What else has Izard done first? Well, she helms the restaurant that was the subject of Saveur magazine’s (www.saveur.com) first ever restaurant review and her first James Beard Award (www.jamesbeard.org) nomination for Best New Restaurant came around the same time she was first nominated for Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs list (www.foodandwine.com).

Just being honored by her peers and the media for leading the way isn’t enough for this chef. This year Izard decided to make her first foray to the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival where today, along with Beard Award winning chef Stephen Stryjewski (of New Orleans’ Cochon www.cochonrestaurant.com), Chef Julien Gremaud (Pistache French Bistro, West Palm Beach – www.pistachewpb.com), and Jennifer Reed (of The Sugar Monkey, West Palm Beach – www.thesugarmonkey.com) she’s cooking the Southern Hospitality: Pig & Goat lunch (www.pbfoodwinefest.com/schedule/).

Before having to face all those hungry south Floridians we warmed up Izard with a few questions. See what she has to say about her first Read the full article here »

PPX – DAVID GUAS

Chef David Guas Puts Pedal to the Metal to Take the Simple Pleasures on the Road
By Francine Cohen Photos courtesy of Harley Davidson

Think being in the kitchen in any given Saturday night at the height of service is an intense cooking experience? Take it outside, on the open road, throw in the unpredictability of Mother Nature and you’ll find yourself at the intersection of uncertainty and exhilaration, with the off ramp to sheer pleasure just up ahead.

That’s where James Beard and IACP award nominee David Guas finds himself when he hops on his Harley and heads for the hills. Sure, the weather and cooking conditions may be a little unpredictable, but Guas and his trusty cast iron pan wouldn’t have it any other way.

He says, “I’m a Harley rider, been riding over 15 years, and I find a lot of pleasure in riding the bike I own. Sometimes you just need to get out of these 70 hours a week operations and away from guests; their comments and their needs can be stressful. Of course cooking for them is why I got into the business, but there’s an edge to that sword. It can beat you up. If you let it.”

Guas doesn’t let it. He lets go by leaving that controlled cooking environment behind and letting nature dictate the cooking nuances when he’s preparing a dish outdoors. He shares the priorities that take over after a long ride and says, “At the end of a long ride, whether Read the full article here »

PPX – CHEF ALEX STRATTA

By Vincenza Di Maggio

Photo courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas

“We have an opportunity to do something really special here, and things that are special take time,” says Chef Alex Stratta as he casually raises his hot cup of coffee and motions towards his surroundings.

He’s sitting at a table inside of his latest culinary endeavor, his newly opened New York City restaurant, Bigoli — http://bigolirestaurant.com/. It’s only 2pm and the restaurant has not yet opened for dinner. It’s quiet… peaceful – well, except for the occasional sounds of clinking plates and running water emanating from the kitchen as the staff prepares for the dinner crowd. The chairs still sit on top of the wooden tables. Light floods into the dining room through the enormous skylight above, and the brick oven has just been turned on, the fire slowly warming up the room. The relaxing atmosphere suits him.

He’s right, things that are special do take time. And who would know it better than him? For over 30 years the renowned chef has worked and succeeded in developing an exciting career; the majority of which was spent working in the kitchens of Michelin two-star restaurants. Stratta’s name has become synonymous with “fine dining” and often evokes images of white tablecloths, elegantly folded napkins, mahogany coffered ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and tiny food portions. But with the opening of Bigoli, a casual neighborhood Italian restaurant located in Greenwich Village, he has decided to leave the luxurious dining experience behind. In fact, he’s stepping away from heat of the stove entirely and exploring a different aspect of the culinary industry – restaurant consulting. He says, “After 30 years of experience I’m doing something completely new which is what’s exciting about the restaurant business.”

It’s a business that’s in his blood. Stratta’s roots in the hospitality industry reach back to his great great grandfather who once owned a hotel in Piemonte, a Northern region of Italy bordering France and Switzerland. Generations later, across the Atlantic Ocean, Stratta’s father continued the family tradition by running a hotel company that required Stratta to make frequent trips from New York to Connecticut. As a fifth generation hotelier Stratta says, “I grew up surrounded by good food and good service. It became a part of who I was. I naturally gravitated towards the kitchen.”

Stratta started working his first kitchen job at the age of 15 at Manero’s Steakhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut. He slowly worked his way from dishwasher, to line cook, and 20 years later to executive chef at Mary Elaine’s restaurant at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Years later he was invited by Steve Wynn to the Wynn Las Vegas Resort where he worked as executive chef of his two namesake restaurants, Alex and Stratta. It was in the kitchen of these fine dining restaurants that he really established himself as one of Las Vegas’ most notable chefs.

Stratta, who has become somewhat of a celebrity, thinks back to the beginning of his career and recalls, “When I was a cook and becoming a chef it wasn’t such an admirable position as it is now. The biggest challenge for me is finding the balance between Read the full article here »

PPX – CHEF CHRIS JAECKLE

Rolling out of Ai Fiori to ride for MS research and relief

You cook and make drinks to please those who enter your bar or restaurant. But what are you doing to help out the rest of the world, like those afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis and other diseases that make sometimes the simplest of life’s pleasures impossible to enjoy?

While you can’t feed them all you can put your money where your mouth is and contribute to a worthy cause. Even if it means letting someone else (in this case Chris Jaeckle) do the heavy lifting.

Jaeckle steps out of the Ai Fiori (www.aifiorinyc.com) kitchen to share his thoughts on getting involved with this annual charity bike ride that takes place this year on October 2nd. He says, “I have participated in this ride several times. My best friend’s mother has been living with MS for years, and it has been my way of showing support for him and his family. I am hoping to raise more than I have in the past, to continue to contribute as well as express the strength of our friendship. I am doing the 100. Anything helps.”

Jaeckle set a goal of raising $500 dollars and is well over that mark; almost double. While it’s not necessary to hop on a bike and ride alongside him, why not share in his effort and contribute? Just a little?

Give:main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/NYNBikeEvents?px=9987692&pg=personal&fr_id=16987

PPX – CHEF KELVIN FERNANDEZ

CHOPPED: August 9th appointment television not to be missed
By Francine Cohen

Just because you didn’t get a reservation for Chef Kelvin Fernandez’s Chopped Tasting Menu and Viewing Party tomorrow night but that doesn’t mean you can’t join in the fun and see this culinary whiz in action.

Vicariously…Catch him on The Food Network’s Chopped tomorrow night, August 9th, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. Or set your DVR; this is a competition you’re not going to want to miss. (www.foodnetwork.com/chopped/my-way)

Within arm’s reach…get yourself to The Strand American Bistro at the Strand Hotel (www.thestrandnyc.com) and check out the on-the-plate moves of this young chef who started out his career at the age of 15 and, in roughly a decade has worked his way up to become an Executive Chef.

From his enrollment in a culinary class in Long Island City High school and then landing his first job working under Michelin star Chef Georges Masraff at the Waters Edge restaurant in Queens, New York, Fernandez has always been compelled to excel in the kitchen.

His dedication at school, and in Masraff’s restaurant, led him to get involved with C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program – a not-for-profit organization that promotes and provides foodserve career opportunities for disadvantaged youth through culinary arts education and employment. (www.ccapinc.org) and that involvement resulted in a $40,000 Scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America.

His CIA training provided a strong foundation that enabled him to succeed in such notable New York City kitchens as Aquavit (www.aquavit.org), Town, Gotham Bar and Grill (www.gothambarandgrill.com) and Café des Artistes. Fernandez notes, “Working under great chefs like Marcus Samulesson and Alfred Portale enabled me to develop the skills I needed to land a job as Executive Sous Chef at Café des Artistes at the young age of 21.”

Youthful passion breeds hard work and commitment for this chef who recently landed the role of Executive Chef. Fernandez says, “I’m excited to truly put my passion to work to create a great dining experience for each and everyone of our guest. And, I always will continue to find time to do charity events, cooking demos at my old high school, and encourage students how important education is.”

Delivering that education message may be just a little easier for this chef who recently presented a cooking demo at Macy’s (www.macys.com) and now will be seen by Food Network’s millions of viewers; even if he is chopped (we can’t reveal the outcome) the Chopped platform and exposure to input from host Ted Allen (www.tedallen.net) and the judges is invaluable.

Fernandez concludes, “Being on Chopped means letting the world see my passion for cooking and how dedicated and motivated I am to making all my dreams come true. I started here as Chef de Cuisine, and Now I’m the Executive Chef at the Strand.”