|Danielle Konya at Vegan Treats|
You've seen them wrapped in cellophane, their names scrawled with the specials on menu chalkboards, "We have vegan desserts!" From the Royal Tavern on Passyunk Ave. to Milkboy Cafe in Ardmore, Danielle Konya's Vegan Treats have been "making people happy for 10 years."
Danielle's Vegan Treats retail bakery opened last year in Bethlehem, inspiring veggies from afar to make the trek just to bow down before the woman and her doughnuts. We caught up with the mistress of cruelty-free cake for a chat about eating your way toward justice.
Meal Ticket: How did you get your Vegan Treats into Philadelphia restaurants like the Royal Tavern?
MT: What are the biggest challenges of vegan baking? How do you adapt to baking without classic texture-builders, like eggs and butter?
DK: The second question is easy. I've never had to adapt to baking without eggs or butter because to be honest, I wouldn't even know how. I have never in my life baked a non-vegan cake. It's a classic question for the vegan cook or baker. How does it work? There are some very good, and getting even better replacements for just about everything in the animal product world. It's just a matter of playing the chemist and figuring out the right combinations. But if you've tried the treats, there's no difference.
The challenges have surpassed trying to make the products taste the exact same as their counter part in the non-vegan realm. I feel like the past 10 years I have been really mastering that. My main goal was always trying to produce the best product possible in appearance and taste, but now it's the challenge of the message. In addition to always dedicating myself to produce every counterpart in the dessert world from complicated truffles to fluffy doughnuts to creamy cheesecakes and wedding cakes, I want people to understand why. Why eating vegan equates to saving rain forests, and ultimately over 100 lives per year. That people start with treats, and move to researching why they're eating what they're eating and what a huge impact it makes.
It began as treats, but it moved into something much bigger, infusing my life's goal with an easy introduction: sweets!
|Photo l Mike Panic|
|A variety of vegan cheesecakes|
MT: Are there many vegans in the Bethlehem area? It seems that your customers are more than willing to travel to your bakery and fill up an ice-chest of Peanut Butter Bombes!
DK: Many vegans everywhere, and growing!
I am fortunate to have very dedicated customers, as well. Yes, I have seen many ice chests. People travel hundreds of miles (and even thousands) to come to the bakery. People have camped out, freaked out, gotten on their knees bowing ... it's incredible. The uniqueness and quality of my treats draw people in. I'm proud to own a company that possesses so much energy and captivates a national audience all through dessert. It's a labor of love that continues to exceed my expectations every single day.
MT: What is your dream for your business?
DK: My dream is to change the way people think about their food choices one slice of cake at a time. Opening people's eyes to the dramatic impact eating a vegan diet makes on wildlife, rain forest, other living beings. The whole reason why I am doing what I am doing, trying to expand, always challenging myself to push the company to higher levels is all for the animals. Just last night I was driving home from NYC and it was almost 2 a.m. and I passed a cattle truck on the highway. I tried to look away but of course couldn't. Packed in by the dozens, scared, confused ... I looked down at the temperature gauge and it was a chilling 31 degrees. I felt sick that in 2009 we are still a human race blind to the other species of animals that inhabit this planet and what a disgrace we have been in respecting these life forms. It is my goal to make a small difference in the fight for animal injustice.
|Photo l Mike Panic|
|The famous Peanut Butter Bombes|
Vegan Treats, 1444 Linden St., Bethlehem 610-861-7660, vegantreats.com; email@example.com
The blog Philly Vegan Life has a fairly complete list of cafï¿½s and restaurants that sell Vegan Treats. See it HERE.
When I got the word that chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav (247 St. James Place, 215-625-8800, zahavrestaurant.com) was hooking up with master spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz of NYCï¿½s La Boï¿½te ï¿½ Epices, it was like hearing that Batman had hooked up with Spider-man; that Bowie had linked up with Eno; that De Niro had hooked up with Pacino. OK, forget that last one. I hated Righteous Kill.
Anyway. The two old pals are doing a Night of Spice Dinner tonight, Thu., March 12. (Two seats are left for 9:30 p.m. ï¿½ act fast!) Sercarz, who will be in attendance, will drop science on La Boite a Epicesï¿½s mad-glad secret spice blends. The five-course menu will showcase five different blends.
Sercarz is a both procurer of rare spices and a creator of new blends ï¿½ 30 of them at present, with new ones coming all the time. He uses spices from around the world, mixing them into new forms for chefs/home cooks to allow them to play around of their own accord. ï¿½I have an inspiration when I create each spice, but have no specific purpose in my mind,ï¿½ says Sercarz. ï¿½I want chefs to come up with their own recipes and their own inspirations, whether itï¿½s for savory or for sweet.ï¿½
The expert aims to quell the fears of cooks who might not know enough about the range of spices and their delicate differences. ï¿½I think people are afraid of spices," he says. "There isnï¿½t enough knowledge regarding that. But itï¿½s a fantastic world, and Iï¿½ve taken it upon myself to promote that world, to give spices the proper glory they once had centuries ago.ï¿½ Itï¿½s rewarding for him to see how 10 different people approach one spice with 10 different ideas.
In terms of tonightï¿½s meal, Sercarz says he didn't share too many of his own opinions with Solomonov. ï¿½Michael and I come from similar backgrounds," says Sercarz. "Weï¿½re both inspired by the same elements. It was natural for us to work together. But these are his recipes and dishes, [and] Iï¿½m more than happy to be part of [it].ï¿½
Hereï¿½s the lineup of spice blends/dishes for tonight's dinner:
- Tangier No. 23 for duck rillettes and barbecue heart
- Amber No. 2 for Spanish mackerel confit, beets and labaneh
- Coquelicot No. 24 for Tasmanian sea trout, pumpernickel and mustard
- Sri Lanka No. 14 for wild boar, chestnuts and cranberries
- Yemen No. 10 for persimmon cake, raisin ice cream and almond milk.
The spice man breaks it all down after the jump.
Meal Ticket: What is Sercarzï¿½s Tangier No. 23?
Lior Lev Sercarz: Itï¿½s a blend inspired by Moroccan cuisine. What characterizes that is the mix between sweet notes and savory ones ï¿½ cinnamon and rose petals blending with elements of cumin, cardamom and different styles of peppers.
MT: Sri Lanka No. 14?
LLS: The idea behind it is the soft stick cinnamon. Itï¿½s not known to a lot of people. Most people know the Chinese kind. This is a much more fragrant kind, sweet, and floral even. The combination is very bright. The sweet and the anise flavors really come together. It can reflect northern African and Middle Eastern cooking, with some notes of the Far East.
CP: Youï¿½ve got two fish dishes here ï¿½ Spanish mackerel and Tasmanian sea trout. What are the differences?
LLS: Amber No. 2 has a lot of smoky notes ï¿½ thereï¿½s actual chilies in it, [and] a little brown sugar. The sweet and the smoky make for a very warm spice. Coquelicot No. 24 has a crunchy component ï¿½ poppy seeds, lemon, celery. You can sense the element of texture within it.
CP: And the Yemen No. 10 for persimmon cake, raisin ice cream and almond milk?
LLS: Thereï¿½s cinnamon ï¿½ the Chinese kind ï¿½ and ginger in it. Itï¿½s citrusy and fragrant. Goes well with dairy.
CP: Canï¿½t wait.
LLS: Neither can I.
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
Unless you’ve been hiding in an AA meeting for the past year, you know that absinthe is now legal — wormwood and all. Six major brands are on the shelves in the U.S., including one from Marilyn Manson (called “Mansinthe”) and another from a company right here in Philly. Located in a cozy warehouse in the Northeast, Philadelphia Distilling calls its green liquor “Vieux Carre” and sells it in 13 states. (Including here in Pennsylvania! Can you believe our liquor laws didn’t prevent that?) I caught up with Robert Cassell (pictured), the company’s master distiller.
Meal Ticket: You announced that Vieux Carre would be released before the holidays. Did people end up buying their moms and dads absinthe for Christmas?
Robert Cassell: It actually hit the shelves on the first or second week of January. And yeah, it was really popular. A few stores sold out in the first couple of days.
MT: Where in Philly can you pick it up?
RC: All the premium selection stores have it. Outside of that, they have it at the liquor store on Columbus Boulevard and on 12th and Chestnut streets.
MT: Does your absinthe include wormwood?
RC: Yes, it includes the illustrious wormwood.
MT: You know I had to ask that question.
RC: Of course. All my friends did. The one that usually comes after that is, "Duuude, am I going to trip my balls off?"
|No, this won't make you trip balls.|
MT: Well, I’m glad you asked it so I don’t have to.
RC: There's a huge folklore around absinthe. But no, unless it's laced, it’s not going to make you hallucinate. It’s like when people say "gin makes me angry" — if that’s happening, it’s because you’re an angry person, not because of the gin.
MT: What distinguishes your absinthe from others?
RC: In terms of the recipe and the proportion of ingredients, it’s very classic. We get most of our ingredients from Switzerland and the Alps, so it tastes a lot like something you’d get in Europe.
MT: You’re the only East Coast company currently making absinthe, right?
RC: We’re the first [East Coast] company to make it in over 100 years. When we heard whispers in the industry about it being legalized, we said, “Well, that’s cool. How often can you be a pioneer and make something for the first time in 100 years?”
MT: Does your absinthe taste like licorice — like Jägermeister?
RC: I try not to make it have over-the-top licorice notes like Jägermeister. It has more of an herbal flavor, and it's not thick or viscous. And it’s a much higher proof — 120.
MT: What does “Vieux Carre” mean?
RC: The name is in tribute to the only real nexus of absinthe culture in the United States. It refers to the French Quarter in New Orleans, which was the epicenter of absinthe life before it was banned.
MT: There’s one last thing that I’m curious about. You were a brewer before becoming a distiller. What’s the relationship like between the two? Is there animosity between you?
RC: No way. If anything, the brewers are the guys I can vent to about production issues. We complain about milling and mashing problems. There’s not a lot of people who can relate with that.
South Philly’s Marc Vetri is mine and your favorite Italian chef. He’s won James Beard Chef awards. His fazzoletti with duck ragu is the item I’d be buried with if they allowed food in coffins. His Vetri and Osteria are among the finest Italian restaurants in this half of the United States. He hasn’t gone corporate or multi-restaurant mad, despite top-dollar offers. And he won’t say much about the rumor I dropped in a November Icepack mentioning that a Kimpton/Falcon Hotel at the Robert Morris building at 17th and Arch would house a Vetri restaurant on its ground floor. What he is up-and-adamant about is his Il Viaggio di Vetri: A Culinary Journey.
This coffee-table-size tome doesn’t just drop a tasty dime on around 120 of his most fantastic dishes. In the book, he also Vetri talks about his love of culinary exploration, as well as his desire to credit all the master chefs he worked with and apprenticed under, in both America and in the Bergamo region of the old country.
Vetri’s doing a free reading and book signing at the Free Library's Central Branch (1901 Vine St.) tonight, Tue., Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. I caught up with him beforehand.
Meal Ticket: The book is very generous to the chefs you worked with in Italy in the '90s. That's refreshing, really. In this flash-in-the-celebrity-chef-pan planet, your lack of self-credit and understatement is rare. How do you think that works to your advantage? Do you think that's what makes Il Viaggio di Vetri stand out among the gazillion other Italian recipe volumes?
Marc Vetri: I really don't look at things like that. I just kind of do what I feel. So, when you ask how will it help me? ... I can't not credit people who have made such an impact on my life. I've made a lot of decisions at this restaurant that people would assume would actually work against me ... no PR firm, for starters. It just works for me, [but] maybe not so much for someone else, since PR is such a big aspect of the industry. As for the book, I just wanted to tell a story and share some recipes. The fact that people find my story interesting still boggles my mind. Of course it's interesting to me ... I went through it. But to others? I never really thought about it. I do think that people are touched by stories, It draws them to things, makes them reminisce about heir own lives and feel good. I think that's what people like at Vetri. It wraps you up like a warm blanket the moment you walk in. It's a feeling you have when you go to a friend's house for dinner. People need to be touched in this way.
MT: The gentlemen you worked with in Italy — have they read the book, and do you know what they think?
V: I went over there in October to present the book to them. They were so emotional. I brought each of them big photos of some shots in the book. The boss, who is the leader of the pack, called me the next day. We were in the mountains hiking up to this restaurant where we had a really rustic lunch with Marco — from the book — [Vetri/Osteria co-owner] Jeff Benjamin and Brad [Spence, chef at Vetri]. He just had to tell me how overwhelmed he was, and that I couldn't possibly understand what this meant to him. He said that he rarely sheds tear for anything, but he was so overcome that he noticed himself wiping tears from his eyes. Then, while Marco and I were finishing coming down the mountain, we were talking about it a bit. For me, it was like paying these people back for what they gave to me. For them, it was the most amazing gift, [but] for me it did not even scratch the surface of the debt that I owe them.
MT: You've stayed in Philly without moving to AC or NYC. I like your rooted-ness. Where does that come from?
V: It just feels right here. Not to say I wouldn't go somewhere else — [but] Philly just feels comfortable, with all of its quirks. It's just home.
MT: Think you'd have stayed here if Philadelphia had not truly blossomed as a restaurant town?
V: I think so. There [are] always people who want to eat good food and have a great experience, even if it wasn't such a restaurant town. I don't think Kennett Square [home to Talula's Table] is much of restaurant town, but there are still people who want and need good food, and good places to create community. That's the most important thing: community.
MT: Ever dance with the red gravy devil? Certainly the food at Vetri is never about that — so how, in your mind, can it be done right?
V: I was raised on that stuff. I love it. I love going to D'Angelo's on 20th Street and getting ziti with meatballs and broccoli rabe. When it's done right, there is nothing better. I just choose to cook a different kind of food in a different kind of atmosphere. I would never diss good old fashioned macaroni and gravy.
MT: So what's in your fridge? And what, since this a practical cookbook, is the best, most versatile ingredient one should have to create a Vetri-like meal?
V: I have two kids, so this is not a good question — soy milk, cereal, chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, oatmeal, grain bars and lots of goldfish. One ingredient — good olive oil.
MT: I love how elegant simplicity is the key to your food. How can people learn that? How should new chefs avoid overcomplicating things?
V: Chefs get caught up the food world, I can't have a conversation with a young cook without hearing [terms like] "protein station," "fish programs" and "oui, chef." How about "meat station," "What are you using for fish now?" and "OK Marc"? [When] people are wrapped up in the formality of cooking, they lose all the passion, flavor, heart and soul of food. If you really want to appreciate something, you need to go to the root. Go to a slaughterhouse, watch an animal be killed and watch the process of what happens to all of its parts. Then, when you are making something with a piece of meat, you can understand where it comes from, have respect for the animal and the process and make something beautiful with it. This goes for fish, vegetables, meat, poultry ... two and three ingredients on a plate, cooked perfectly and balanced to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. That's it. No big secret.
|Kristin pulls espresso shots as Marshall looks on.|
Ask Marshall Green how he feels about being the public face of the restaurant he owns with his fiancé/partner Kristin Mulvenna, and the self-effacing chef, 27, virtually cringes. "I am not comfortable with the 'chef as celebrity' idea," he says, looking very serious. "I think it's ridiculous. I try to be as humble as I can be. I don't like the spotlight, and that's why I cook. I wish Kristin got more publicity — I seem to overshadow her. She is so important to the existence of this place. It literally would not exist without her."
Ask Mulvenna the same question, and the response is, shall we say, more vehement. "It really pisses me off," says the curly-haired, energetic 28-year-old, with real force. "I put in just as many, if not more, hours. Though Marshall is so talented, if I didn't do all the things I do, it wouldn't work at all. The thing that bothers me the most is that no one thinks I'm an owner — just Marshall's little wife!" She mimes a person putting an arm around her; in a mocking voice: "Oh, you're Mrs. Marshall! We loooooove his food!" She softens a little. "I understand why people are interested in him — the chef draws people to the restaurant. But we do it all together."
Café Estelle has only been open 15 months, but in that time, it's earned rave reviews — from CP's Trey Popp to a two-bell rating from the Inquirer's Craig LaBan — and hordes of devoted diners. The out-of-the way location at 444 N. Fourth Street (between Spring Garden and Callowhill) was an initial challenge — little pedestrian traffic meant the café had to work harder to gain notice. But Green's philosophy of making everything in-house — bread, pastry, jam, bacon, mozzarella, brisket and root beer, among others — helped differentiate Estelle from other local bruncheries. Sourcing fair-trade, locally roasted coffee, recycled and biodegradable takeout packaging, and paying staff a fair and livable wage are all Kristin's department (she will list the rest for you if you ask). Both owners are a constant presence in the restaurant; Marshall behind the line or kneading dough in the bakery, Kristin always on the floor, smiling and serving right alongside her staff.
Green spent time in the kitchen of Django under original owners Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy, the husband-and-wife team who now run the acclaimed Talula's Table. Like Sikora and Olexy, Green and Mulvenna have had to learn to balance home life with work life. "We spend 24 hours a day together," says Kristin. "It's hard to figure out where business stops and life begins. If I'm pissed at him at work, it carries over. Marshall is better at separating the two. He grew up in a family business, [so] it's second nature." She pauses, and breaks into one of her signature mischievous grins. "He does go out back and throw things, though. There's broken dishes by the dumpster occasionally."
Both owners give credit to their team, emphasizing that great restaurants are always the product of a dynamic relationship between the front and back of the house. "I wouldn't do this if I wasn't on the line, cooking," Marshall says. "I'm not the type to step back, even though I have a very capable staff. I need to be involved every step of the way." Kristin is well-aware of the friction between kitchen and servers that can doom a restaurant, even one where the food is excellent. "The front of house is the face of your food," she says. "And you will fall to pieces without your dishwasher."
Credit where credit is due belongs to both of these ambitious young restaurateurs, who wrote the menu and built their own place, together.
Café Estelle, 444 N. Fourth St., 215-925-5080, cafeestelle.com
|Junior Merino and his Alma Blanca|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Junior Merino doesn't drink much. And before he became The Liquid Chef, he often wondered what made liquor so special. Nine years ago, when Junior was beverage manager at New York's Roth's Westside Steakhouse, flavored vodkas were exploding in popularity. Though the trend added dozens of new mixed drinks to bartenders' repertoires, Merino was disappointed in the bottled liquors. "They didn't taste fresh," he says. "Cocktails were really good in America before Prohibition, because all the ingredients were fresh."
With his knowledge increasing as he took on the role of sommelier, Junior found himself wondering what aspects of wine make people enjoy it so much alongside food. "Chefs never recommend cocktails paired with their food," he says. "The high alcohol burns the tastebuds and people cannot perceive all of the elements in the food." It was then he began developing cocktails designed to be paired with food, that would enhance, instead of dull, the flavors chefs work so hard to create.
The Liquid Chef was born. Junior's idea was to mix cocktails that would imitate the qualities of wine. "Wine has residual sugar, and acidity," he says. It has complex, subtle flavors." Merino's cocktails aimed to add flavor elements back into liquor drinks, controlling the proportions to dim the burn of straight alcohol while making subtle flavors more pronounced. "We add a little bit of acidity to the cocktail, with citrus juice, or champagne or ice wine," he says. "Since wine has sugar left, we add sweetness, with sweet liqueurs or fruits."
I recently observed Merino as he assembled one of his new cocktails, developed for Tequilas Restaurant and Bar (1602 Locust St.) in Center City. The Alma Blanca, or white soul, starts with a handful of sweet corn kernels muddled with dried leaves of herb saint, which Merino described as a cross between mint and basil. A splash of aloe vera syrup, a dash of pineapple, a squeeze lemon juice, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and habanero-infused Siembra Azul blanco tequila all went into the tin for a hearty shake. The double-strained potion was then poured, over three one-inch Kold Draft ice cubes (critical to keeping the cocktail chilly but not watery), into a glass rimmed with homemade hibiscus salt.
The resulting pale butter-colored drink tasted of fresh sweet corn, with a balancing acidity from the lemon juice and ginger, all riding a wave of tingly habanero-spiced tequila.Merino 's new cocktail menu at the restaurant will feature five drinks made from Siembra Azul, the distillery operated by Tequilas owner David Suro-Piñera.
|Cooked agave from Siembra Azul|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Suro-Piñera grew up cheek-to-jowl with agave fields and tequila distilleries in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Siembra Azul (blue harvest) uses mature 12-year-old agave, cooked at low temperatures for a much longer time than competitors. "Other distilleries, they cook the agave for two, three hours at a high temperature," says Suro-Piñera. "We cook it three days. It keeps all of the flavors in the agave for extraction nice and complex." The tequila don let me taste a piece of cooked agave from a basket he had displayed on the bar of his restaurant. I slowly chewed the sticky, fibrous strands, which gave off a complex, sweet liquid with hints of flowers and sugarcane.
Merino's ethos calls for nothing but the best and freshest ingredients to create cocktails worthy of great food. Eying that basket heaped with agave cooked yesterday in Jalisco, it's no wonder Siembra Azul makes a fine base for his efforts.
The Liquid Chef's new cocktail menu is available now at Tequilas Restaurant and Bar, 1602 Locust St., 215-546-0181, tequilasphilly.com. Junior will be mixing drinks in person at Tequilas on Thu., Jan 15, Fri., Jan. 16 and Sat., Jan. 23.
Don Russell writes a weekly beer column for the Daily News as Joe Sixpack, an inveterate beer drinker and promoter of craft brewing and culture. His latest book, Wishing you a Merry Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews (Universe), explores the world of celebration beers and the history of drinking strong, spiced ales around the holidays.
Meal Ticket: Why should a non-beer drinker pick up your Christmas beer book?
Don Russell: I hope that non-beer drinkers could pick up this book — especially wine drinkers. There are a number of beers that I can point you to that wine drinkers will really enjoy. Troegs Mad Elf tastes more like wine than any other beer; its fruity, complex character is something any wine drinker can taste that and think it's the most marvelous stuff out there. Samiclaus is so different — it's like drinking a brandy, almost.
The variety of Christmas beers is what I love. They are multi-dimensional in terms of character. I am also a big softie ... I love Christmas. There is a lot in the book about the traditions of Christmas, even a whole chapter on Santa Claus!
MT: Though you state in your book that "Christmas beer" is not a certain style, many of these brews contain mace, allspice, grains of paradise and the like. What is the connection?
DR: Not all of them have spice, but a large number do. There are two parts to that tradition: Beer was often spiced with many different ingredients, because it was a long while before brewers settled on hops as the main bittering agent in beer, in the 1500s. Before that, brewers used anything they could get their hands on to bitter and preserve their beers.
The second part is the Christmas tradition of wassailing, which began in the 1600s and continued on into the 20th century. Wassail is a strong British ale spiced with sugar and nutmeg, served out of a bowl to people who went door to door visiting, bringing their own cups. The tradition of caroling comes from wassailing, and the style of wassail is the root of these spiced beers. There are also different offshoots — Norwegian beers made with spruce instead of hops, for example. That is what is going on with Anchor "Our Special Ale," which they flavor with spruce or some other evergreen, changing the recipe every year. That is really the prototypical American Christmas beer.
MT: What is your number one favorite holiday beer?
DR: My personal favorites are listed as the top 50 beers [in the book]. I'd be the first to say it could change from year to year, because recipes change and my taste changes. I just consider these to be the best. The best-known beers are very popular for a reason. Troegs Mad Elf is number one, and a good section of the country won't be able to get that beer, but I put regional beers like that in because the nature of Christmas beer is collectability — beer people make a special effort to get these beers. If you are living on the West Coast, you should make an effort to get this really special beer. People who travel abroad at Christmas should try and pick up beers not available in the U.S. I used to buy a case of Affligem Noel and lay down half of them for the next year. Corsendonk Christmas has supplanted that for me — I really enjoy that one quite a bit. It's expensive, so but so complex and richly full of flavor.
MT: Where are the best places to acquire holiday beers in our region?
DR: The motivation of this book was to lay out for people the variety of Christmas beers, and use it like a hunting guide. Most of these beers are available in the Philadelphia area — we are lucky to have the selection. [Ed: See below for Russell's list of non-Foodery spots to pick up unusual or limited Christmas edition beers.] When you go to other states, you get a different selection, because they have some beers that aren't registered in PA.
Heads up for holiday brews:
Capone's. Capone's is not big, but the variety is almost up there with the Foodery, and they have some beer you can't get at the Foodery. This is attached to an Italian restaurant on Germantown Ave., and is listed as Norristown, but is really in West Norriton Township. (224 W. Germantown Pike, Norristown, Pa., 610-279-4748)
State Line Liquors. Very convenient to 95 South, just off the Elkton exit in Maryland, and very good with the Belgians. (1610 Elkton Rd., Elkton, Md., 800-446-9463)
Monster Beverage. In Glassboro, N.J. Exceptional choices. (1299 Delsea Drive, Glassboro, N.J., 856-881-0458)
Total Wine. Nothing like the Foodery, but a good selection. (699 Naamans Road, Claymont, Del., 302-792-1322)
|Author Kim Sunée|
Abandoned by her mother in a Korean market at the age of 3, Kim Sunée was discovered by police officers three days later, who found her clutching a fistful of cracker crumbs. Adopted by an American family and raised in New Orleans, Sunée later lived in Provence and Paris, where she learned classical French cooking technique and respect for the fine ingredients that were literally in arm's reach.
Her memoir, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the the Search for Home (Grand Central Publishing), recalls, in vivid imagery, a young woman's restless journey around the world, seeking self by nourishing others and absorbing their unique food culture. She will be visiting Philadelphia on Sun., Nov. 16 as
part of this year's First Person Festival. A reading from Trail of Crumbs will follow a brunch based on recipes from her book at Fork restaurant in Old City. Sunée (soo-NAY) corresponded with Meal Ticket, answering questions with the same detailed, immediate language that characterizes her book.
Meal Ticket: How does it feel to do readings in front of large groups when your memoir is so intensely personal?
Kim Sunée: Readings are actually enjoyable. It’s the Q&A sessions I sometimes find difficult. Memoir is not autobiography. You can write several in a lifetime. In Trail of Crumbs, I wrote what I thought important to the narrative of this story, the heart of what I was trying to say—that which relates to hunger, love, and the search for a place to call home. But I'm often asked very personal questions about what I did not include.
MT: Since you speak so many languages (Swedish, French, English) and have lived so many places, it would seem you could be at home anywhere. What places and foods do you miss acutely when you have been absent for a while?
KS: It seems when I travel I find new flavors that make me feel "at home." I just got back from San Francisco and had the most amazing egg dish at Boulette's Larder. The eggs were softly scrambled, topped with a frothy cream and Buddha's Hand citrus zest. I talked about it for days. There’s a photo of it on my Web site. When I was in Florence a few months ago, I was focused on the crostini di fegatini and fried squash blossoms at Cammillo Trattoria, so I didn’t miss any other foods. When I lived in France, though, I did find myself longing for a spicy brown jambalaya or a really good fried oyster po-boy — dressed, of course. And now that I no longer live in France, I miss the cheese — especially a ripe Vacherin du Mont D'or.
MT: What advice could you offer readers who may have a similar story to
yours ... or, what is the moral of the story of Trail of Crumbs?
KS: I do believe everyone has a story. In telling mine, I've met so many people who want to open up about their own fascinating experiences. Knowing that we're not so alone in our sorrows and losses has been one of the most rewarding aspects of publishing Trail of Crumbs. For those who want to write their own stories, I think it's important to remember to include only those details which help move the narrative along. Not everything one did or saw or ate or thought is going to be interesting — focus on the heart of what you are trying to say.
I'm not sure there's a "moral" to Trail of Crumbs. I think it's a story of how we search for a sense of self and our place in the world, what we can contribute. And no one can give that sense of self to another — it's truly a unique journey. Hopefully from others, we can glean some knowledge of how to love and live better, fuller lives.
Kim Suneé at Fork Restaurant, Sun., Nov. 19, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., $45, 306 Market St.
Full Name: Gordon Gregory Grubb III (lots of creativity in my family!)
Hometown: I live in Philly now, but I grew up in Fairview Village between Norristown and Collegeville.
How long have you been at Nodding Head: Since July 1, 2003.
Meal Ticket: So how fun is it to wear this fetching cargo-shorts-and-rubber-boots combo every day? I bet the girls love it.
Gordon Grubb: The rubber boots are shockingly popular, and by shockingly, I mean at all. I would say the rubber boot preference occurs in at least 2 percent of women.
MT: What are we brewing here today?
GG: We have a batch of Grog, which is a southern English-style brown ale. It's also our best-selling beer year-round. [Ed: Grog won City Paper's 2007 Beeramid competition. Incidentally, Gordon has to keep Nodding Head co-owner and publican-about-town Fergus "Fergie" Carey supplied with it or he becomes cranky.] Grog is brewed with Maris Otter malt, a base malt that is darker than pilsner malt; a bit of brown malt; a bit of torrefied wheat for head retention; and a little very dark chocolate malt. It has a single bittering addition of hops early in the boil.
MT: How did you learn to brew?
GG: Learn to brew? In reality, right here [at Nodding Head]. I did take the American Brewer's Course, which is six months online, and then an internship. They throw a lot of science at you. When I started on my first day as assistant brewer at Nodding Head and took a look at all of these valves, I realized I didn't know a fucking thing! Look at all these valves! Andrew Greenwood was the head brewer when I started, and he's a master. [Yards Brewing Co. owner Tom] Kehoe and I call him "Science Boy."
MT: What did you do before you learned to brew?
GG: I was restoring antiques, and that was cool. Met a lot of cool people, traveled to a lot of cool places, made good money. I was working on this huge dining set project ï¿½ table, chairs, sideboard ï¿½ stripping and staining everything with a friend helping. My friend's neighbor came walking in to this stink of stain, and he says, "I smell tumors!" And that was NOT FUNNY ï¿½ these are MY tumors! Meanwhile, I got a homebrew kit for Christmas, and was really enjoying the learning process as much as the beer. Since the American Brewer's Course is online and I could still work while I did it, I figured what the hell.
MT: Of your own beers, what are your favorites?
GG: I'm usually drinking what's new, or our Berlinerweisse or BPA (Bill Payer Ale). When I got here, Curt [Decker, co-owner of Nodding Head] said they were hoping to save the Berlinerweisse style. This year at the Great American Beer Fest (GABF), there were a lot of people doing Berliner. So, success.
MT: What are your favorite beers that you don't make?
GG: I've been drinking Sly Fox Pikeland Pils all summer for the ballgames, so it just tastes like baseball to me. Russian River Blind Pig IPA is great. A lot of the local guys are doing great stuff. It's no accident that I knew a lot of the guys walking across the stage in Denver [at the GABF]. Iron Hill, Troegs ï¿½ the beers that Troegs doesn't get as much attention for, like Rugged Trail Brown Ale, are rock solid and very tasty.
MT: What was it like to win a sliver medal for your saison at GABF?
GG: Well, it's cool, but you don't do it for medals. Of course the first thing I thought was, who beat me!? It was Chris LaPierre [from Iron Hill West Chester]. At least it was one of my friends.
MT: What advice do you have to someone who is considering brewing as a career?
GG: Find someone who needs free help to see if you like it. You're not going to get rich brewing.
|The rows of Red Hill Farm|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
Red Hill Farm in Aston is an environmental initiative of the
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, dedicated to providing
sustainably produced food for the surrounding community. Though I
traveled to Delaware County hoping to see nuns, habits tucked
into overalls, cheerfully tilling, weeding and doing God's work, I was
not disappointed when I met Red Hill's farmer, 26-year old Abygail
A graduate of UMass-Amherst, Wright majored in environmental science and minored in plant and soil science. After graduation, she worked in a variety of farms: conventional, organic, low-impact. Red Hill, a non-profit, is her first managing position. Though the farm is not certified organic, they use organic agriculture techniques: composting, fabric row cover to bar pests, clay spray to deter cucumber beetles. The diminutive 5-acre farm currently grows enough food for 130 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, who invest $700 before each growing season for 22 weeks of a share of Red Hill's production.
|A donation of fresh food to PhilAbundance|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
takes a seat by the Children's Garden, an sandpit play area flanked by
benches, flowering plants and an arbor. From here we take the long
view of the early fall crops — U-pick raspberries and blackberries,
greenhouses filled with dangling tomato vines, rows of baby bok choy
and kale. A small barn crowned with solar panels houses farm equipment
as well as the CSA member pick-up area. Members move along the
colorful bins, filling their bags with their piece of the week's
harvest. Red Hill's CSA program is maxed out at 130, and a waiting
list for the 2009 season has 50 names. Abygail sees small-scale agriculture as a
"Local eating is a growing field," she says. "Food is talked about so much on the news, especially since Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemna ... our members are really happy ... there is just so much demand. I've worked on farms where the waiting list for CSA is 150 people."
Red Hill hosts tours, and Wright says first graders and college students alike marvel at the process of growing food. "The college kids and older people are as surprised as the young kids ... they have never seen how a zucchini grows!" Abygail hopes that more people will return to eating locally, and that children will regard farming as "a cool job."
Supporting your local farmers benefits the environment and the local economy — but will the public at large ever give up their supermarket, one-stop-shopping habits? Cool farmer Abygail doesn't bother with cerebral arguments. "Convincing people to buy local is easy — just invite them over for dinner! The argument is always in the taste."
|Farm truck and greenhouses|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
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