eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Category: STARTERS

Meet In Your Kitchen | Love, Rome & Gnocchi

Imagine your friends throw an opulent dinner party in the pulsing heart of Rome on a Saturday night und you take over their kitchen hours before the guests arrive with a film team of four to peek over your hosts’ shoulders into their pots and pans. Sofie Wochner and Domenico Cortese dealt with our little invasion with remarkable patience. They even welcomed us with big smiles on their faces and a plate full of fresh buttery Danish cinnamon buns in their hands.

The passionate couple is a confident team in the kitchen, they complement each other and combine two worlds that are geographically and culturally far apart, but somehow match smoothly. Sofie is a Danish baker and pastry chef with the impulsive temper of an Italian Signorina, self-taught Chef Domenico comes from Calabria, from the southern tip of Italy, but totally lacks the Mediterranean drama that one would expect. His voice is calm and his movements are concentrated, he’s quiet and focused when he works in the kitchen. He says he was born in the wrong country, he feels much closer to the northern European mentality, whereas his woman only feels as free and inspired as she wants to be when she’s in her adopted city, in Rome.

A city kitchen is often a space of improvisation and elaborate compromises, the smallest but also the most charming room of an apartment. It’s the place where everybody meets at a party, making use of every square inch, squeezed and snuggled in, the happy crowd talks, eats, and drinks until dawn. Our hosts’ kitchen is just such a magical place, but it’s also a room where the two chefs manage to create the most wonderful dishes for private gatherings, catering, and highly anticipated supper clubs. When it’s time to open the doors for their Eatery In Rome pop-up restaurant in their flat’s dining room, the kitchen turns into a busy laboratory functioning like clockwork. Loaves of bread and cakes baking in batches in the single oven, pillowy gnocchi rolled and shaped on the wooden board at the window, and bell peppers roasting in the flames of the old gas cooker. The room is bright, facing the pretty balcony, Domenico’s beautiful little herb garden where basil, thyme, and rosemary grow happily under Rome’s ever shining sun – all waiting to be used in the masters’ glorious recipes, like their Stuffed Gnocchi with Mozzarella di Bufala, Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Peppers (you can find the recipe below). The potato gnocchi melt in your mouth like fluffy clouds, the creamy filling makes it smooth and fits perfectly to the candy-like tomatoes and smoky peppers. It’s a delicious stunner, a colorful homage to the beauty of Italian cuisine.

In the past few months, the busy duo made their dream come true and started working on their new baby: Marigold. If you would like to support Sofie and Domenico and help them funding their new restaurant and micro bakery in the Roman neighborhood Ostiense, click here.

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Mozzarella di Buffala stuffed Gnocchi with Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

By Domenico Cortese & Sofie Wochner – Marigold, Rome

You can find the German recipe here.

Prepare the confit tomatoes and roasted bell pepper a day in advance.

Serves 4  

Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

1 large red bell pepper
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 medium bunch of parsley, leaves only, chopped
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
About 150ml / 2/3 cup olive oil

You can either grill peppers in the flames of a gas cooker (that’s what Domenico does) or grill or roast them in the oven (on the highest temperature, turning them every few minutes until partly black), which is the safer method.

Place the pepper on the gas flame of your cooker set on medium heat. Turn the pepper every now and then, mind that the skin turns dark and forms blisters evenly on all sides. Transfer the hot pepper to a bowl and cover with cling film, let it sit for 15 minutes. Use a small, sharp knife to peel the pepper, cut it in half, and scrape out and discard any seeds and fibers. Cut into strips and transfer to a bowl. Add the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper and cover with the olive oil. Cover the bowl and let it sit for at least a few hours, or over night.

Confit Tomatoes

8 tomatoes, preferably Piccadilly tomatoes
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
3 medium sprigs fresh savory
4 medium sprigs fresh thyme
10 medium sprigs fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Clean and score the skin of the tomatoes. Blanch them for 20 seconds in the boiling water, then transfer to the ice water. Use a small, sharp knife to gently pull off the skin without cutting them. Transfer to a small baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and cover with cling film. Let them rest in the fridge overnight.

Take the tomatoes out of the fridge about 1 hour before roasting them. Preheat the oven to 130°C / 275°F.

Spread the herbs and garlic on top of the tomatoes and cover them completely with olive oil. Roast for about 4 hours or until they are soft.

Gnocchi

For the filling

150g / 5 ounces mozzarella di buffala
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
3 sprigs fresh basil, leaves only, plus a handful leaves for serving
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

For the gnocchi

500g / 18 ounces floury potatoes
1 small egg
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
100g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, type 00

For the filling, purée the mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

For the gnocchi, boil the potatoes in unsalted water for about 30-40 minutes or until soft. Drain and let them rest for 10 minutes. Peel the potatoes and press them through a potato ricer onto a large chopping board or kitchen counter, form a little dome. Add the egg, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and, using your hands and a dough scraper, mix everything together. Add the flour in batches and mix quickly until the gnocchi mixture is combined. Add more flour, if it’s too sticky; mind not to over mix it.

Form the gnocchi while the mixture is still warm: Cut off a handful of dough, keep the remaining dough covered with a tea towel, and roll it into a 2.5cm / 1 inch-thick roll. Cut into 1cm / 0.5 inch-thick slices. Using 2 fingers, make a dent in the middle of each slice. Add a tablespoon of the filling and close the gnocchi by rolling it in your hands. Transfer the gnocchi to a baking sheet dusted with flour. When all the gnocchi are filled, cook them immediately in salted water (it should taste like the sea) for about 3-4 minutes or until they raise to the surface; or freeze them, but don’t keep them in the fridge.

Using a slotted ladle, transfer the gnocchi to the plates. Arrange the confit tomatoes and roasted peppers on top, drizzle with the oil used to roast the tomatoes, and sprinkle with fresh basil.

Buon Appetito!

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Sofie Yes, I’m Danish and I moved to Rome four years ago to live with Domenico. Straight away, we started our little pop up restaurant in our home here in Rome. I make the bread and the pastry. So we divide the work between the two of us.

And you’re the chef, Domenico?

Domenico Si! Our work is completely separate. I’m not so good with pastry because I don’t like to follow the recipe, but I like the freestyle more.

Sofie You’re a creative soul.

Domenico I’m a chef and I don’t know how to work with recipes. I need to be creative and use my inspiration – from my work at the American Academy as well as from my Italian background. Now I have arrived at a place in my life where I have really found my own style.

When did you arrive here in Rome? 

Domenico It was in January 2000. Before that, I spent 5 years of my life in Holland and I then decided to come back to Rome – especially because part of my family is here.

Where are you from originally?

Domenico I’m originally from Tropea, a small town in Calabria, where I grew up until I was 18.

Sofie, what made you leave Denmark?

Sofie I’ve always been extremely adventurous and I always felt that maybe Denmark, or maybe Copenhagen, was a little bit too small. That the mentality is – without sounding arrogant – but it’s a bit closed and I’m kind of a loud person (laughing)! So I felt coming to Italy, I kind of came home in a way. Here, there is space to be who you are. You don’t need to fit into a little box. But I still love Denmark and Copenhagen and where I grew up. I go back quite often but I really feel at home in Rome.

Domenico Lucky me!

How do you bring your two worlds together, the Danish and the Italian mentality?

Sofie In many ways I’m more Italian than Domenico is. And he’s more Danish than I am in the sense that Domenico is very precise and he’s always on time. Yes, you’re quite organized and structured.

Domenico Honestly, maybe too much sometimes!

Sofie You’re too Danish sometimes (laughing)! In many ways, I’m very attracted to the southern part of Europe because you’re allowed to express your passion and your feelings in a way that comes very natural to me. I feel welcome and I feel very much at ease here. For us, I think we meet in the middle. Of course, it’s not always easy…

Domenico No, not really!

Sofie …being from two different cultures. A relationship is always hard work but in many ways we also find a way to balance it out by being attracted by each other’s cultures. Domenico could easily live in Denmark if that happened one day but I prefer to live here!

Can you tell us a little bit about your supper clubs?

Sofie Yes, it started 3 1/2 years ago now. It came a little bit by coincidence. We both had this dream about opening a restaurant. And you don’t do that overnight. So we thought maybe we could just start at home. How many tables can we fit into the living room?

Domenico Yes, let’s try and see how it will work. Which kind of guests can we get?

Sofie So it started a bit like that and from the beginning it’s been quite successful. It really gave us the possibility to try out our own style…

Domenico … to show to our guests what we can do.

Sofie Domenico, you could really try to work on your own style and I think you discovered more and more about who you are through your cooking here than you’ve done anywhere else. And it’s fun! It’s fun to play around with so many things and we are still using the best, seasonal, and local produce. We don’t necessarily cook amitriciana – we try to use the products in a new way, but still keeping the roots in the simplicity of the Italian kitchen…

Domenico …the basis is the Italian cuisine but of course we kind of try to change a little bit or invent something new.

Sofie It’s a feast! In our pop-up restaurant at home we have 12 people sitting at a long table, so you’re eating with people you don’t know but who you get to know very quickly. It’s one big dinner party with people you don’t know which is very unusual here. And every dinner and every evening is completely different to the others, but there’s always a good energy.

Domenico Yes, I can hear it from the kitchen!

Sofie People are chatting away…

Domenico …and laughing! It’s nice!

Did you ever have a funny experience?

Sofie We had a very, very romantic experience! We had two guests, they both came here before, and then one evening, they were here at the same time – they didn’t know each other – and they started to chat over the table. So they met and they got together and then they came back with their parents and they’re in a serious relationship. And they keep coming back! I think they’ve been here like four times! So they kind of grew with us. It was a really cute thing and they are such lovely people.

And then one day they will bring their children!

Sofie Exactly (laughing)!

Do you think that the people who come to Rome, the tourists, have a very clear idea of what they expect to eat when they come to this city?

Sofie Yes. I think it’s fair enough because you come to the most ancient city in the world, so of course it’s not vibrant, modern, things are not changing every half year with a new trend. Of course you know what you’re getting. Unfortunately, because there are so many tourists passing through Rome the quality of even these key dishes in the city is just not good enough. They don’t respect people enough here, and they’re not being proud enough about what they do. I think that’s disturbs us sometimes. Who doesn’t love a creamy cacio e pepe? Or a carbonara? But you don’t need to put cream in there! There shouldn’t be cream in there. They don’t expect that the people coming here to visit can actually taste what they eat. That’s a bit of a shame because Rome also doesn’t have the best reputation. In Paris, there has been this small revolution and I think slowly I can see it happening here too. The younger generations are observing that there is something to be done here, that we’re losing something if we don’t respect our traditions more. Even though the traditions are very strong, it’s not expressed in the actual plate in front of you.

Domenico, what is your greatest kitchen hack?

Domenico  For the gnocchi, you need to have really good, starchy potatoes. You can choose between two kinds of potatoes, but the trick to make really good gnocchi is to have starchy potatoes!

What about you, Sofie?

Sofie Being a Dane, I have to mention Danish butter because I actually use Danish butter here. Italian butter doesn’t have the right structure. It’s really important when you do pastry that you use the right kind of butter. It doesn’t necessarily need to be organic either. Often, organic butter tends to hold too much water which means your pastry or your cake can become wet in a way – it doesn’t get the right structure. I can only use French butter or Danish butter in my pastry. So, I believe the basic key is to use really, really good butter. And lots of it (laughing)!

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Domenico My mom. I have a lot of memories as a child, but I remember I really liked the minestrone. She used to strain everything but it was so good.

Sofie I’m very, very fond of the way Chad Robertson from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco bakes his bread. I even went there to see them bake. But for him to bake a loaf of bread for me, take it out of the oven and serve it to me with Danish butter (laughing), I think I would be in heaven!

Mille grazie, Sofie and Domenico!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Sheep, Peace & Tuscan Pecorino at Podere Il Casale

The light was warm and golden as we drove down the rocky alley to Podere Il Casale. It was late in the afternoon, later than expected, but that’s what happens when you enjoy Tuscany. The sun was so low that it almost touched the Tuscan hills that seem to embrace the secluded farm tucked in between Pienza and Montepulciano. I came to visit the celebrated Swiss cheese maker Ulisse Braendli, to see his sheep and goat herds, and try his Pecorino, but I found so much more. There is a silent peace laying over this farm like a blanket, it calms your mind as soon as you walk past the old terracotta-colored farmhouse. As you stand on the terrace, a breathtaking viewing platform, under fragrant pine trees protecting you like an umbrella, as you see the landscape laid out majestically in front of your eyes, soaked in dimmed shades of green and ocher, you can only smile and thank life for such unbelievable beauty.

All the people and places I visited in Tuscany for my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling had one thing in common, they all give themselves into the hands of nature with great trust and respect. No matter what obstacles they have to fight, what problems they have to solve, they know that nature gives and takes and that there’s a balance. It’s not an easy life, but that’s also not what Ulisse was looking for when he and his partner Sandra left their home country and started a new adventure in Italy almost 30 years ago. Life is tough on this piece of land that they bought, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. They started with 3 sheep and now there are 200 of them, living an enviably good life under the Tuscan sky.

Ulisse loves Tuscany for being real, traditional, and romantically old-fashioned. Electricity only came to Podere Il Casale in 1980, before, it was a very simple, basic life. The farm is the perfect setting for his vision, to “help” nature create beautiful raw milk cheese. All the cheese, vegetables, and olive oil from the farm are organic, but that’s not an option, that’s the standard in his philosophy: “Conventional farming is strange, organic farming is normal. Wasting less of our food than the 40% that actually end up in the bin, is one of the solutions to open the doors for organic, local, and seasonal food for the broader population.” His mother planted the seed for his critically creative mind, she taught him to be open and experiment. “I blame the 60s,” says the cheese maker with a smile on his face.

The cheese at Podere Il Casale is made with just three ingredients: raw milk, rennet, and salt. Every kind of milk is different, depending on the four seasons, the weather, the soil, and the food that the sheep find on the fields. “Great food makes great milk and that makes great cheese – and every season makes a different cheese.” That’s the whole humble secret behind a Pecorino that so many people praise as one of Tuscany’s best. When the animals are outside, when they eat good food and there’s space, you have less problems with diseases, you don’t need chemicals, you can keep it under control with homeopathic methods. The animals eat barley, oats, and beans when they are in the barn, their “power food”, and hay and grass on the fields. Raw milk cheese has a strong connection to the place where it comes from, to the animals and the climate. To taste Ulisse’s sheep and goat milk cheese, young and ripe, pure and refined with white truffle or saffron, was one of the purest pleasures during my trip in Italy. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the farm’s praised restaurant, but eating that wonderful cheese and enjoying the views of Pienza at sunset definitely made up for it.

When Ulisse stood amongst his sheep, playing with his two rowdy snow-white Maremma sheepdogs, the last rays of the low sun in our faces, I asked him what he loves the most about his life and he said: “To be free here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient.”

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Homemade Quark (fresh cheese)

By Ulisse Braendli – Podere Il Casale

Makes 1 pound

1.8l / 7.5 cups farm fresh milk, preferably still warm (don’t use ultra pasteurized milk!)
Cheese starter culture (amount according to the package instructions)
Liquid rennet

In a large saucepan, slowly warm up the milk until it’s about 25°C / 77°F, then stir in the cheese starter culture and take the pan off the heat. After 1 hour, add a tiny (!) drop of the rennet, cover the pot, and let it rest at room temperature for about 24 hours. The cheese is done, when the curd pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Transfer the milk mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Keep the milk mixture in the strainer at room temperature for 12-24 hours to drain the whey from the cheese, or until it reaches the desired texture; the whey should be clear. Whisk until smooth and transfer to a glass container, cover, and keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

 

What made you leave Switzerland?

I decided to start a new experience and when you start a new experience, why not change the place? It was more a about the concept. What is also better here is a shorter winter…

And you don’t like winter?

No, I like winter – it’s better for relaxing but here, winter means you have to go in the forest to cut wood. It’s one thing if you have to heat for two months, but if you have to heat for six months, it’s much more work! But it’s better here – you can make olive oil which is a great product. After the butter experience, the olive oil experience is better. It’s great. Tuscany is a nice place – it’s very real, and has an old style. In Switzerland it’s difficult. It’s just another experience. Perhaps next time I wouldn’t choose Italy.

So you never had a close connection to Tuscany? You just looked at the world and said, “Tuscany!”

No, first it was Piedmont because it’s a bit cheaper! But it’s foggy, there are too many Swiss, and the people are really a bit weird (laughing). I would not say that Tuscans are really open, but they are a little bit better! The further south you go, the better the Italians – in my opinion!

When did you arrive in Tuscany?

In 1991.

How did you find this piece of land?

By chance. We were here for the first time. We had a good relationship to the farmer. He gave us time to find the money, he helped us a lot. It was very simple.

Was it a smooth transition? Did you have a chance to grow into it?

Yes, a bit. Obviously, he had helped us more for the network and less for the cultivation. You have to imagine that these farmers are never really learning, they are just doing what they do because that’s how it’s always been done. Their father did it this way, their grandfather did it this way. It was very simple here. There was no tourism here in this valley. Pienza was sleepy so we really had a bit of this old-style life. Imagine, the farm got electricity in 1980. So, before, life was really simple. Basic. Crop-sharing families in the 60s meant that there were 20 people in four rooms. The farmers didn’t read or write – they didn’t go to school. That’s also Tuscany.

How much did you know about farming when you came here?

Nothing. I grew some vegetables at home (laughing).

Did you have a balcony (laughing)?

No, ground and soil but very small! But my mother always taught me about seasonal food, local food. I’m speaking of the 60s! She taught me about taste, that it’s not convenient to eat something that is not good, to experiment, to not always eat the same thing…

Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up?

No, no. When I decide something, I go.

What do you love most about your life here?

To be free here on the farm. Not to be free with the society, but here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient. I do what I like to do. When I do what I like to do, I can convince people. If I have to do things that I don’t like to do, I’m not convincing. I think that’s normal! That’s why evolution or new things are really based on ideas that come from inside.

The cheese that you produce, is it organic?

Sure. Organic in our case is not really a must or even optional. It’s normal. Because who likes to eat chemicals that are used for normal farming? I would say that normal farming is strange. Organic is normal. Just to explain this better, it’s a question of when you want to be convinced of your product, you have to know what you use. The cheese is made with three products: milk, rennet, and salt. Anything more – that might be normal for processed food – is useless. So that’s why real food is organic food – not because organic is really important but because organic is kind of a brand that is about not needing more than what is necessary.

Do you believe that organic is the future?

I think more local should be the future. Local and seasonal. Organic is already too industrial in certain cases.

Do you think that local, seasonal, and organic works for cities?

Sure.

Do you believe that there is enough food if it is produced organically and locally?

Definitely, because if you are buying food with a certain concept in mind you waste less. We still waste 40% of food. That’s why all this talk recently of “saving the world with genetically modified crops,” that’s all blah blah blah.

Emiko Davies, who introduced me to you, told me that you make the best cheese in Tuscany.

Wow!! (Laughing)

What makes your cheese so special?

Our cheese is raw milk cheese. That means our cheese is connected to the animals – the sheep or the goats. What they eat is transferred into the cheese through the raw milk process, because of the bacteria. You have to know that a rainy day milk is different to a sunny day milk. Spring milk with beautiful clover and grass is amazing milk, but also winter milk is amazing because it’s colder. Summer milk is a bit boring, but it’s still great.

Why is it boring?

There is no food! Look (indicating around him), the fields are all brown! Basically, I always tell people we don’t produce cheese. We just help the great milk to become cheese. The rest is done by the bacteria. The chaos of the bacteria gives the cheese its character. The rest is hygiene, how healthy the animals are…that’s our job. So we create the fundament for a great cheese. But the rest is done by the animals, bacteria, and the environment.

I read on your website that you found truffles on your land and for a long time you didn’t even know you had truffles here! How did that happen?

Because the truffle hunter came and said, “You have white truffles in a really small corner of the forest. Could I have an exclusive deal?” I said, “Sure, I didn’t even know that there were truffles here!” Now, we do truffle hunting with him. He has all the dogs and the knowledge, because you don’t find truffles without it.

You could make a truffle cheese, or are you not interested in these kind of mixtures?

We do a truffle cheese, but a very small, limited edition because the truffle has a very fragile aroma. If you don’t use chemical aroma you really have to use a lot of truffle and that means a lot of money!

Expensive cheese!

Yes, it’s not extremely expensive but it’s not a normal cheese. A few people, for example Russians, they go crazy for truffles. When they see truffle cheese they buy it. But we are here in Italy, not in Russia.

You said that you have a closer relationship to some sheep – do you have a favorite sheep at the moment?

(Laughing) Great! But no, that would be politically incorrect!

If you had one, would you be able to find it?

I have a few that I know very well. There is for example one – now it’s difficult to find her (looking around) – her name is Castagna because she always ate chestnuts. There was a time when we had a period of chestnuts here – not chestnuts in the forest but chestnuts for feeding the pigs. We always gave her chestnuts and she would always follow you if you had chestnuts. But she’s very old – she’s about 8 or 9 years old.

Really? And she is one of them here?

Yes, but she has a bit of a different relationship to humans because she obviously remembers all these chestnuts!

Thank you, Ulisse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Emiko Davies & Marco Lami’s Dolce Vita in Florence

Italy is a luscious feast, its abundant beauty captures all your senses. As soon as I cross the border into the boot, I don’t even know where to start feeding my cravings, which food I should try first, which wine I should pick to fill my glass. You can’t help it, you fall in love with this country, over and over again, every day. And when you leave, you don’t know how you should ever put anything else into your mouth than the most perfect Truffle Carbonara from that tiny Trattoria in Orvieto, or the dark Chianti from that dreamy Fattoria enjoying spectacular views over San Gimignano. The kitchens and tables are always filled with the most wonderful treats waiting to be shared, the people have their own pace and a smile for you at any time, the past is treasured yet critically considered and wisely woven into the present.

We arrived in Florence on a cloudy day, the Tuscan hills spread out softly like open arms welcoming us to the next stop of our culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling. Before you even enter the region’s capital, before the man-made Renaissance buildings, sculptures, and gardens take your breath away, it’s nature’s creations, the landscapes that you’ll save in your head and never forget. It’s a stunning scene, seemingly peaceful in warm, earthy colors, but like a romantic painting, you can feel that there’s always the potential for more, a hint of drama in the air. Bright blue skies brushed with pastel-pink strokes are the background for cypress trees swaying silently in the warm wind, the darkest clouds part suddenly and let the sun break through to light up this glorious kingdom.

The farmers markets offer the most colorful produce. Fruits and vegetables grow happily under the Italian sun, and they are proudly celebrated in the country’s various regional cuisines. Italian cooking follows one philosophy: use only the best products, don’t distract from their quality, and be guided by sensible simplicity. Especially in the countryside, you can feel a lot of respect for nature and the will to go back to a more natural and sustainable way of growing produce and raising animals. The younger generation takes a look into the past to learn from the precious heritage of their ancestors. Traditional recipes are being modified yet never erased from the menu, they have always been an important part of the culture, they are memories of the childhood of every Italian and special treats for the rest of the world.

Somewhere in the soft hills behind Florence, between olive groves and cypress trees growing tall into the sky, you can find a heavy iron gate framed by a washed out yellow wall. If you walk though this gate, you’ll see a group of old houses, a former farm, overgrown with ivy, the roofs covered in terracotta tiles, and the wooden shutters painted as green as the lush trees and bushes along the gateway. It’s a little paradise in the heart of Tuscany, it’s the home of Emiko Davies and her husband Marco Lami.

Emiko Davies is the renowned author of two celebrated cookbooksFlorentine: The True Cuisine of Florence and AcquacottaRecipes and Stories from Tuscany’s Secret Silver Coast – and she’s also the voice behind her popular food blog of the same name. She lived in many countries, half Japanese, half Australian, and the daughter of a diplomat, she’s seen the world, but when she met Marco, she lost her heart to this man and his home country. Emiko loves food and cooking, she has a background in art history and fine arts, so Italy, and especially Tuscany’s traditional cuisine is a vast field for her to explore. She’s fascinated by all the regions and landscapes, towns and villages, treasuring their own recipes. The style is Italian, always, but the interpretation is distinct. Everything is done for a reason in Italian recipes: the way an ingredient is used, the season and region that it is used in shapes every recipe. And its origin often lies in the past.

Emiko’s eyes sparkle when she talks about historical cookbooks, about exhibitions at the Renaissance Palazzo Pitti in Florence showing still life paintings of solitary fruits at the Medici gardens. She finds inspiration for her creations at every corner, at the markets, in conversations with the farmers who share their family kitchen secrets with her. She often finds that many formulas, certain combinations and preparations, haven’t changed since medieval times. The food that’s been cooked in Tuscan kitchens for centuries still finds its way onto today’s tables, the stories behind these recipes are still shared when the families sit together.

The cookbook author is lucky, she found her perfect match. Her husband Marco is the sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, he approaches wine with the same love, passion, and precision, with the same curiosity that his wife feels for food. He loves to dig into Italy’s red and white classics and discover new tastes, the hidden gems from his country. To be able to chat about his finds and choices together with his guests and share the mutual love for good wine and food at the table is the greatest gift in his eyes. The story behind a wine maker, the philosophy, gets as much attention from him as the taste. “Ideally, you can taste the idea behind a wine.”

Emiko and Marco, both experience food and wine with all their senses, but they also involve their intellect to discover new fields to learn from, to find new stories and flavors to stimulate their creativity. It’s a passion vividly lived in their household and lovingly passed to the next generation. Their little daughter is already a skilled cupcake and cookie baker, watching what happens in her parents’ kitchen with a curious eye. When we met, the young girl shared some of her baking secrets with me, just like her mother who prepared the fluffiest “naked ravioli” for us – Florentine spinach and ricotta gnudi.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi

By Emiko Davies, from “Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence”

(published by Hardie Grant, 2016)

 Serves 4

350g / 3/4 pound firm ricotta, well-drained
300g / 2/3 pound cooked, chopped, well-drained spinach (if making from scratch, you need about 1 kg / 2 1/4 pounds fresh leaves)
2 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt, plus more for the water
A pinch of ground nutmeg
About 50g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain flour
50g / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
20 sage leaves
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Handful finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Mix the ricotta, finely chopped spinach, eggs, pinch of salt and nutmeg together in a mixing bowl. You should have a thick, compact mixture.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.

With hands, roll walnut-sized spoonfuls of the gnudi mixture in your hands, and then in the flour until well-coated. Place on a lightly-floured board until they are all ready.

Prepare a large pot of water (salted with a spoonful of salt) and bring to a simmer. Carefully drop the gnudi into the water and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until they begin to float to the surface.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce by melting the butter in a wide pan over medium heat with the sage leaves. When butter is melted and before it begins to brown, add about 2-3 spoonfuls of the gnudi water and swirl the pan to create a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

When gnudi are ready, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place in the sauce. Turn heat to low and swirl to coat the gnudi gently with the sauce. Serve immediately with the cheese.

Emiko, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Australia, but have been living in Florence since about 2005. I live in Stettignano, which is a little neighbourhood, hilltop town just outside of Florence and here from home I cook and write cookbooks and look after this wriggly one (her daughter, Mariú). I also write a lot of articles for other publications as well.

And you, Marco?

I’m originally from San Miniato, which is just outside Florence. I work with wine. I work as a sommelier in Michelin star restaurants and I help Emiko, or I try to help her as much as possible with cooking and looking after Mariú.

Why did you choose to dive into the cuisine of the Maremma region for your second book, Emiko?

The second book was basically inspired by 6 months where we lived in Porto Ercole, which is a little fishing village essentially, it’s quite small on Monte Argentario. It’s on the very, very, southern part of Tuscany, on the coast. It just struck me how different that part of Tuscany is from Florence and from the parts of Tuscany that are better known to most people. So I wanted to write about the cuisine there partly because it was so interesting being on the coast and having a cuisine that’s inspired by the seafood, as well as the mountains from that area. It’s really rugged and wild, and a mountainous area. And partly because it’s not very well known. So I wanted to tell the stories of this place that people don’t think of really as Tuscany. When most people think of Tuscany, they think of these rolling hills and olive groves and cypress trees around Florence, the Chianti or Siena, but I don’t think they think of the seaside, islands, and mountains, really.

How important is the connection between the recipes and the region where they come from?

In Italy, I think that every recipe is so connected to a place, either the landscape or the actual region. Even within Tuscany. This is something I wanted to show through the two cookbooks that I’ve written, even within one region the recipes can change from town to town. As many towns as there are in a region, you have that many recipes in many cases. With Aquacotta, talking about the Maremma, that was really evident. Even with towns that are only a 15 minute drive away from each other have their own versions of an aquacotta, for example, which is a soup. Florence itself, has dishes that you only find in the city of Florence. So not only are they Tuscan, they’re actually Florentine. Even a ten-minute drive outside of Florence, there are some dishes that you just won’t see anywhere else outside of that invisible boundary. That’s true for all of Italy – it’s the same! – which is why I really like to write about a place that I get to know by living here or even visiting. I find it just endlessly fascinating how a landscape, or the town culture or a city culture – but even smaller than a city, like what they call in Italian a paesina, a little town – changes from one place to the next.

So first it’s a place and then the recipes? 

Yes, although sometimes it’s the recipe first and I ask “why is the recipe just like that? Is it always just like that?” And then you get to know that landscape and “Oh! It’s because the landscape is this way, or there are certain things that grow there, or certain things that have always grown there, or there are certain things that you only see in a particular season.” Everything has a reason, I find, with Italian recipes. There’s always a reason why there’s that particular combination of ingredients in a recipe and it’s usually to do with the landscape.

So, what’s next?

I have a book that I’m starting to work on, which will be family recipes. There will be a little bit of Tuscany, but also a little bit of some other regions based on Marco’s family history. So we’re going to the south of Italy, and also going to the north of Italy, and then meeting back in the center.

How do you develop and approach new recipes for your books?

It depends on how I come across it to begin with. But the way I usually approach a recipe, it’s often inspired by the market or the season, or visiting a place that I’ve just been to where I’ve tasted something and I want to recreate that recipe. Or if it’s the market, it’s because I’ve seen something really wonderful at the market and I really want to do a recipe. Then I really have to delve into finding out what is really the most traditional version of that recipe and why is it that traditional. So I often go into the history of that dish, I look at historical cookbooks – I love reading historical cookbooks! – so I’ll look at those, maybe talk to people. If it’s at a market, often people at the market know something. Or if it’s not from this region, then I try and talk to somebody who is from that region. So for example, I’ve got sitting in my fridge at the moment a recipe for quince. I found these beautiful quinces at the market and I just couldn’t resist – they looked so beautiful! – I just bought a whole kilo of them and then I thought later, what am I going to do with them? I wanted to try a recipe from Mantova (Mantua) and I just happened to be at the market with a friend of mine who is from there. She told me her aunt’s recipe for Mostarda Montovana, which is a really spicy fruit compote that you eat with cheese. That recipe is one that dates back to about the 13th century and there are many different ways to do it but I was looking at the very traditional ways. It’s amazing because it hasn’t really changed much since then. The recipe that my friend, Anna, gave me is more or less the same recipe that is recorded in cookbooks from centuries ago!

Does it happen very often that you find recipes that haven’t really changed much over the past few centuries?

Yes, a lot! Particularly a lot of Tuscan recipes are like that with no changes over centuries. They’re the same and that is also something that I find really fascinating because I come from a country which is so young and doesn’t have that deep rooted food culture. It’s really a mishmash of things brought from all over the world, in one place. So I’m always fascinated by these old, old recipes that haven’t changed for several hundred years.

Where do you find inspiration for your creative work?

The inspiration for my work really comes from a lot of things. The market, yes, and the season. As soon as it starts getting a little bit chilly, I suddenly start wanting to make soups and stews and baking things, for example. But I also get a lot of inspiration from historical books and cookbooks. I have an art history background and a fine art background so I also love looking at still-life paintings. In Florence, at the Petit Palace, for example, there’s a collection of paintings of still life. One of the Medici dukes had an artist paint all the different varieties of fruit that they had in their garden. So there are these paintings of just figs, and there are maybe forty or fifty different types of figs, each one painted singularly, and the same with apples, paintings of just apples, all the apples they had. And all the lemon trees – they had quite a big citrus collection…

So when you don’t know what to cook, you go to the museum?

Yes! I find it amazing when you see these things and it’s hard to find a lot of those old varieties of fruit, but now they are starting to come back. Well, somebody’s decided to care about it and has started growing these heirloom varieties and you can start to see them sometimes at the market. So whenever I see something kind of unusual and it looks like something from a Renaissance painting then I go “What is that thing?! I really want to cook with it! What can I do with it?” There’s a little old lady that sells fruit and vegetables in Piazza Santo Spirito and she has these heirloom apples that are about the size of an apricot…

…which you know from the paintings…

Yes! I did actually find them in a painting. She said they’re called Francesca apples and they’re from Florence and I saw them in one of these paintings… It’s amazing!

Marco, what makes Italian wine so special?

That’s a big question! So the special thing about Italian wines is – actually it could be a bit of a double-edged sword – is how complicated it is. A lot of wines in the world, new wine regions, even old wine regions, are quite simple to understand. Italian wines, what makes them different, is quite similar to the food. Every region has its own grapes and each grape is treated in a different way to make different types of wines. There are a lot of different wines to be discovered. So there are a few famous wines, a few famous names, but what is actually interesting is what’s hidden under those famous names in each of the 20 regions.

Do you have a favorite wine region?

No, I don’t have a favorite region. I don’t even have a favorite wine! As soon as a wine sparkles my curiosity, or makes me think a little bit it becomes a favorite. I think the good thing right now is that a lot of tradition is meeting with a lot of innovation, and as a general rule, things are getting simpler. There are a lot of wine regions that aren’t really famous that are now coming out with amazing stuff at good prices, which is also important for wine. For example, some parts of Sicily, like Etna especially. It’s for me, right now, one of the best regions in Italy.

What do you love most about your job?

I love talking to people who know more about wine and food than me, so learning! And the idea that wine and food are going back to an idea of simplicity and good stuff.

Is it just about the taste or is the philosophy also important to you?

It’s not just about the taste. The philosophy is sometimes more important, for me at least – knowing the context of something. If you consider wine like food, you cannot just concentrate on the taste. It’s like saying, this tomato is delicious but we had to chop down bushes, etc. to make it. The philosophy behind it is important, the idea of the produce is very important. I think what makes the difference between a good wine and a bad wine is actually what’s behind it. I mean, it’s almost strange for me to isolate the taste. Sometimes something can taste very good, but it’s kind of soulless. If there’s an idea behind it, it almost sounds very romantic, but it’s almost like you can actually taste the idea behind the wine. So sometimes the idea is more important than the actual taste… if you can talk about an objective taste!

Emiko, can you please tell us about the pasta with broccoli please, it’s such asweet story… the famous pasta!

(Laughing) Pasta with broccoli was a very improvised dish, but it was the first thing that I cooked for Marco when we were very early on in our dating phase, very early on. I really didn’t have anything in my fridge! At the time, I was living in this tiny, tiny apartment – the fridge was basically a mini-bar so to begin with I never had much in there anyway. Marco happened to be over and he happened to mention that he was hungry and I said, “Well, do you like broccoli?” and he said, “yes” which I found out later is….

(Marco)…a total lie!

It’s not his favorite food! If you couldn’t tell by the favorite things I like him to cook, he’s really into… he’s a protein man, less of an only vegetables man. But it was the only thing I had in my fridge so I made pasta with broccoli, a bit of garlic, some Parmesan cheese…

And did you like it, Marco?

I loved it.

(Emiko, laughing) He said, “I’m going to marry you!” when he took a bite of it.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be, Emiko?

It would maybe be my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who passed away about 10 years ago. I would just ask her to make me a normal dish that she would make on any normal day. Something that I have lots of memories of. When I was eating her food I was a lot younger – I wouldn’t have recorded everything like I do now when I’m eating with somebody, where I mentally note everything about the dish! I would definitely have another one of her dishes.

And you, Marco?

It would definitely be my grandmother and one simple dish that I’ve been trying to make as well as she used to but it never works out really. It’s the simplest thing. A piece of meat, crumbed with Parmesan, cooked in butter and white wine. For some reason, it just doesn’t come out as nice. And the best part is actually not the meat itself because it’s just a piece of meat, but it’s the sauce that you could probably finish off a whole loaf of bread in it.

Thank you, Emiko and Marco!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Chez Boulan’s Oysters at Stunning Cap Ferret

Cap Ferret is a dream in pastel blue and pink. The beach seems endless, the sky sinking silently into the waves that hit the shore like a rock, angry thunderous foam vanishing meekly on the golden sand. It’s a place you never want to leave again, just walk forever, barefoot and happy, and the sun in your face.

I came to this headland touching the Atlantic in the Aquitaine region in France to eat oysters. It was a simple mission, I expected good, pure and honest tasting oysters, fresh like a sip of the sea, but I wasn’t prepared for so much beauty! In the summer months, the seaside villages turn into a crazy beehive, we skipped that and were welcomed by tranquil bliss. Two landscapes dominate the cap, the open sea and vast beaches on the west, and the lagoon on the east, the Bassin d’Arcachon changing its face constantly due to the tides. This is the lap where mother nature lets the best oysters in the world grow slowly over 4 to 5 years, nurtured and rinsed by clear French waters.

Alison and her husband Alex run Damien Boulan’s wonderful Chez Boulan restaurant. It’s a bit like a beach hut, built out of wood, the wind blowing the salty air through the open kitchen, the garden looks almost tropical. There’s a wooden pier above the fading water that seems like the perfect place to sit and enjoy a plate full of fleshy oysters and a glass of white wine – if only I could sit there every day. Damian took over the family business from his father, he’s passionate when it comes to oysters and spends most of his time taking care of them at the banks. They are like babies, you have to look after them. It’s a lot of work that the whole cap seems to be dedicated to, with deep love for their work and the sea.

When Alison told me to pick oysters from the baskets at the entrance of the restaurant for my lunch, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Various shapes and colors, small and large shells, and they all smelled and looked so beautiful. I had an oyster tasting, which I highly recommend to get a feeling for the fine differences – there are no rules, you just follow your taste. The same counts for serving, some prefer this treat from the sea pure or with a squeeze of tangy lemon, or with sour mignonette, French shallot vinaigrette, just a few drops are enough. Alison added a new inspiration to the palate, freshly chopped mint leaves. Whatever you go for, just make sure that the oysters come straight from the sea, freshly cracked open in front of your eyes, like at Chez Boulan.

If you plan a trip to Cap Ferret, stay at the stunning La Maison du Bassin hotel. Each room looks like an old captain’s cabin, the wood is dark and the view is breathtaking. And don’t forget to book a table for dinner, the food and wine are divine. You might order too much wine and champagne from their fantastic menu, but don’t worry, the hearty breakfast with eggs and croissant will make up for it.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Cap Ferret Oysters à la Chez Boulan

Serves 1

For the mignonette

60ml / ¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon shallot, very finely chopped
Ground black pepper

6-12 fresh French oysters (preferably from Cap Ferret)
1 lemon
A few fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

For the mignonette, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and shallot and season to taste with a little pepper.

Arrange the oysters on a large plate and enjoy them pure, with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of mint, or a drizzle of the mignonette – and a glass of chilled white wine!

 

How long has Damian Boulan been in charge of the family business?

For 10 years. He grew up here but after university, he went to Paris to be a journalist. He and his father used to speak about the idea to create a degustation – like this garden. This is the garden where we welcome our guests, but it used to be the garden of the Boulan family.

So, the family lives here?

Yes, the mother still lives on the other side of the cabin. They used to talk about the idea to create something like this. Unfortunately, Damian’s father died and Damian was told to come back to take over the business, to work with oysters, and to continue the family history. When he was told about this project of his father, he created it.

But first he didn’t want to become an oyster farmer?

No, but when you see him working with the oysters, you can see this is a real passion now. It’s his history.

Where are the oysters?

Most of our oysters are behind the Mimbeau – the Mimbeau is the sandbank that you can see – and they are just behind there. You cannot imagine it but behind there are a lot of banks and most of our oysters are there.

Is there a season for oysters? 

We have a saying in France, that you eat oysters during the months with an “R”. So, September, October, November, and so on. The idea that it’s “bad” to eat them in the summertime is because this is the period of the “milk”. That’s why. But you can eat oysters all year long.

What is the milk?

The milk is the way for the oysters to reproduce. During that period, you can see a bag of milk , but not like milk that you can drink. We call it milk because it’s creamy.

(Oysters are protandric and spawn in summer, they look swollen and milky. During their first year, they spawn as males by releasing sperm into the water. As they grow over the next two to three years, they spawn as females by releasing eggs.)

Someone told me that some people specifically like them during this time of the year.

Yes, yes. In summer, we tell people if the oysters are milky or not, because they are very surprised when they realise that this is the period, although it’s totally normal.

How do environmental changes affect the oysters?

I’m not a specialist but as we work very closely with the production, we know that the oysters need more time to grow because of climate change. They used to need 3 years to grow, but now it’s 3 to 4 years. It depends.

Because the water is warmer?

Yes, because of the water, and there is less food for the oysters.

Do you have a kitchen hack that you can share with us?

There are two ways to open an oyster. You have to choose the one you like, but the idea is to keep the oyster “safe” and whole. We (at Chez Boulan) open it from the base of the oyster. We put the knife in here just like this and then, we lift the knife up, and then we cut. The idea is that when you have the second part of the oyster, there is nothing on the second part.

Thank you, Alison!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Roll your own Sushi at Kyoto’s Awomb

Awomb

Kyoto shares a kind of peace with its visitors that immediately takes control over body and mind. It answers all your questions and makes you speechless.

The city has two faces, the busy modern one of concrete, glass, metal, and noise, and then there’s the quiet side, when Japan’s old capital unfolds its true beauty. It’s not superficial, this beauty touched me deeply. You can see it, smell it, and taste it. Natural materials and clear lines create a compelling minimalist aesthetic dominated by dark wood and coal colored roofs shimmering silvery in the misty light. Silent stone gardens, temples, and shrines erase the noise in your head and fill it with serenity.

If this feeling could manifest itself in a restaurant, this would be the wonderful Awomb. The restaurant is in an elegant traditional house, hard to find in a narrow side alley in old Kyoto. You sit on the floor, on Tatami mats made of rice straw, in front of a low wooden table. The room is filled with natural light, golden warm as honey. The subtle sound of the floors creaking and birds hiding in the tall pine tree in front of the window break the gentle melodies of the traditional Koto music playing in the background. It sounds a bit like a harp, melodic yet hard, pure as single water drops.

The food created here is quite a new concept. Owner Ujita Hiroshi brings hand-rolled sushi, which is usually served at home, to the restaurant table to share with friends. A bowl of white rice, a teapot filled with steaming dashi broth, and a black lacquered tray full of little plates filled with stunning delicacies are the center piece of this culinary experience: you come to Awomb to roll your own sushi in one of the prettiest rooms that I’ve seen on my trip. The food itself, each little plate, looks like a piece of art. Seafood and vegetables can be mixed and combined according to your mood and refined with various seasonings, like fresh wasabi, grated ginger, plum sauce, salted vegetables, dried shrimp with mayonnaise, or tasty soy sauce jelly cubes. You can either add the ingredients to the rice bowl and eat it with chopsticks, or you can go for sushi in seaweed – rolled in your hands.

There’s no chance that I’ll ever have such a vast variety of ingredients to choose from in my own kitchen, but it’s so inspiring, I tried totally new combinations. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be shy, just try not to use more than 4 to 5 main flavors and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing results. I got a bit excited and went overboard – the German girl came through – but my first “sushi in a bowl” made with pink grapefruit, salmon, fried sweet potato, square bean, gari (pickled ginger), and finely cut green matcha crepes tasted fantastic. Then I combined purple potato mash, octopus, and Ikura (salmon roe) and rolled it in seaweed, which turned into such a delicious beauty that I have to share this recipe with you.

The quality of each ingredient used at Awomb is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise, Ujita Hiroshi comes from a family that has been in the sushi business for decades. However, the young man didn’t want to follow his parents’ footsteps, he decided to start his own food adventure. His vision, to make hand-rolled sushi a delicious and fun experience for friends outside their homes, is a huge success. Long lines and waiting lists call for a well-planed reservation.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Awomb

 

Awomb

Build Your Own Sushi:

Hand-rolled Sushi and Sushi in a Bowl inspired by Awomb

Serves 2

For the mashed purple potatoes

100g / 3.5 ounces boiled and peeled purple potato, cooled
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon butter
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

For the hand rolled sushi

Dried seaweed, cut into squares
Sushi rice (recipe below)
Octopus, boiled and cut into bite-sized slices
Ikura (salmon roe)

For the sushi in a bowl

Sushi rice (recipe below)
Pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments
Raw salmon, sushi grade, cut into bite size slices
Fried sweet potato
Boiled Edamame beans
Gari (pickled ginger)
Matcha crepe, very finely chopped
(if you make your own crêpes, mix 1 tablespoon of cooking grade matcha powder with 90g / 2/3 cup of plain flour)

Seasonings (optional)

Freshly grated wasabi
Freshly grated ginger
Plum sauce
Soy sauce

For the mashed purple potatoes, purée the potato, heavy cream, and butter in a blender or food processor until smooth and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

For the hand rolled sushi, place 1 tablespoon of sushi rice in the middle of a sheet of dried seaweed. Add 1 teaspoon of the mashed purple potatoes, a slice of octopus, and half a teaspoon of salmon roe. Roll like a cigar, add seasonings to taste, and enjoy.

For the sushi in a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of sushi rice to a small bowl and stir in seasonings to taste (add just a little bit). Add 1 grapefruit segment, 2 slices of salmon, 1 crumbled slice of fried sweet potato, 2 Edamame beans, and a little pickled ginger. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the chopped matcha crêpe and enjoy!

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, heat the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, over low heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while you prepare the sushi. Sushi rice is best served at body temperature.

Awomb

 

Awomb

What inspired you to open a sushi restaurant? 

My parents ran a sushi restaurant that was very traditional but I wanted to do something different, something unique to me. I decided to focus on the idea of customers making their own sushi in an enjoyable way, and I started my own place.

Is that popular in Japan?

Hand rolled sushi (temakizushi) is popular now but it’s basically something that’s not eaten out. Everyone eats it with their families at home or at house parties. I thought that people would probably enjoy it if they could do something different and eat it at restaurants.

Which ingredients do you serve for the sushi creations?

Please let me tell you about aezushi, it’s sushi that you mix and prepare yourself. Firstly, we have vegetables and fish, we have sashimi – grilled conger eel – and turnip. There are vegetables from Kyoto that we often use, and this is yuba – a delicacy made from soybean milk. Further we have mackerel, which is served pickled in vinegar and Japanese scallop. Then we have shirae, a salad with white sesame, tofu, and white miso. We have aemono, which is vegetable, fish or shellfish dressed with miso, vinegar or sesame. Here is squid and fish roe. When you’re preparing the dish, you mix the seasoning with the other things and then eat it. We have lightly grilled skipjack tuna with deep fried tofu. Pickled ginger. Broccoli. There’s also octopus. Conger eel. Salmon. Pumpkin. Pak Choi and Kyoto taro root.

And we also have the soup. I’ll light the flame, once smoke starts to come out, it’s done. Then you mix it with small boletus mushrooms and eat it.

Thank you, Ujita Hiroshi!

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

Meet In Your Kitchen | Taka’s Japanese-Italian Fusion Cuisine in Kyoto

Taka Kyoto

Eating at Taka‘s restaurant in Kyoto feels like having a Japanese feast celebrated with your exuberant Italian family. The place is tiny, it’s in a narrow old house tucked into a small secluded alley right in the old city’s busy heart. An L-shaped counter separates the celebrated chef from his hungry guests, however, there’s a lot of interaction going on. The kitchen is open so you can follow all of Chef Nishimura Takashi’s steps, how he grinds the fresh wasabi in smooth circles on a shark skin-covered wooden board (the only proper way to grind the green root as I’ve learned). The charming chef looks like a versed dancer. He quickly grabs pots and spices from the shelves behind him and then, in the next second, turns around to briefly cook tender chicken sashimi (see the recipe below) in the flames of his little grill; or local beef, or mackerel until it has a crispy golden crust all around. The restaurant’s menu is a revelation, sea urchin spinach and tempura lotus root sprinkled with matcha salt are simply divine. Sitting at the counter and enjoying Japanese tapas is a feast in its true meaning: You eat, drink, and share delicious treats with old and new friends.

Kyoto born Chef Taka has lived and worked abroad for years, in Australia, Denmark, and in Italy, in Milan, where he also met his wife Akane. Before they opened their gastro pub in Kyoto, Taka worked at Armani’s Nobu Milano restaurant for 10 years, which explains why you can also find wonderful organic Tuscan wines and Mediterranean style dishes on the menu, like the fruitiest eggplant slowly cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce. It’s the combination of these two worlds that makes the couple’s restaurant in Kyoto so exciting, yet at the same time it’s so relaxed. It’s the kind of place where you end up chatting with the guests sitting next to you, exchanging stories and dishes, saying Kanpai (cheers) with a glass of red wine in your hand or ending the night with an extensive sake tasting involving everyone in the room.

Taka and Akane love food and people, the people who visit them, their guests, and the people they work with, their kitchen team, but also the suppliers who deliver fresh produce and products of the best quality to this tiny kitchen in the heart of Kyoto. The couple knows all of them personally, they’ve been working with them for years, most of them coming from the area. Having lived and worked in two food meccas in the world, Italy and Japan, the restaurateurs say that they can only create fantastic food, if the ingredients are perfect, vegetables picked at the peak of their season, the meat coming from animals that were bred and fed with care and respect. Japanese and Italian cooking is similar, both cuisines are very simple and focus on good ingredients, and at Taka, they create a very complete fusion.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Grilled Chicken Sashimi with Wasabi

By Taka Nishimura

Chef Taka uses chicken of outstanding quality, he knows the farmer and he can guarantee the meat’s quality and freshness, which is why he can serve this dish almost raw. However, it is highly recommended to cook chicken until it’s cooked through.

Serves 2

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast tenderloins, sashimi grade
Freshly grated wasabi
Rock salt
4 wooden skewers

Heat the BBQ.

Cut each chicken tenderloin into 6 pieces and thread onto the 4 skewers. Grill lightly until just done.

Spread the chicken with freshly grated (!) wasabi and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Nishimura Takashi. I lived in Italy for a long time, about 15 years. I worked in a world-renowned restaurant called NOBU. And about 2 years ago I moved back to Kyoto, my hometown, to open this small restaurant.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

A cherished memory would have to be, when I was a child, all I watched were shows about food on TV. All I watched were cooking TV shows, and I remember cooking a lot with my siblings when we were small. No one in my family is a cook, I’m the only one who followed a career as a chef. And it was when I was in primary school that I decided to become a chef, it was then that I decided to learn how to cook Japanese cuisine.

Why did you decide to move to Italy and work in Italy as a chef?

Well, I had always made Kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto, I trained in Kyoto Kaiseki for about 15 years. And so then, at that time, Kyoto was amazing, it was a narrow entrance into Japanese cuisine. Now foreigners come here to learn how to cook Kaiseki, but it wasn’t like that at all back then. So I wondered why? Japanese people go to Italy to study Italian cuisine, and to France to study French cuisine. So I thought, why don’t foreigners come to Japan to study Japanese cuisine? I figured that if that was the case than I wanted to go abroad to teach Japanese cuisine, that’s what I felt I wanted to do. And I remember feeling that I’d been a chef for 10 years, I’d learnt a lot in that time and wanted to share my knowledge abroad. So I chose somewhere that had similar food. I first chose Italy because I thought they had a simple way of cooking, and ingredients that had a lot of umami, where Japanese cuisine would be accepted by Italian tastes. And then I worked at NOBU in Italy.

Now, in the last 10 years, things changed. Many chefs come to Kyoto and Osaka, Tokyo, studying the Japanese style.

What changed over the years? 

That was probably because Japanese chefs became more open-minded. I think one reason is that they began to look outside Japan more. Also, famous chefs wanted to learn more about the mentality behind Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and how to make it. Making each course and slowly serving one small plate after another is Japanese Kaiseki’s style. That’s how you draw people to your restaurant. You’re delicate even when you serve the food, there is even a special orientation for each plate.

Every country’s cuisine is wonderful, but in Japan it’s all about the cut. For example, how sashimi is cut, how the vegetables are cut, how the meat is cut. These cuts create an excellent style of cooking, it’s Japanese cooking. It’s “katsuru” which means “cuts”, which is what gives it such a high aesthetic. Even with sashimi the chefs cut them beautifully. It creates a very unique Japanese aesthetic. The kitchen knife cuts amazingly, every day you need to sharpen your knives, and sharpening them is one part of a chef’s training, and I think even foreigners now sense this beauty. That’s what I think. Vegetables cut straight, how they’re beautifully peeled into hexagons, all kinds of shapes, the manual work that goes into it is amazing.

What makes a good knife? What are the important features of a good knife?

Of course how it cuts, the better it cuts the more beautiful the cut is. Also, how it feels when you hold it. You might have the same knife, but their weights can be different. Or there are knives that suit only you, so Japanese chefs will always buy their own knives. There’s also a balance to them. And chefs are using them for a long time, for the entire day, so it needs to not get worn out, it needs to not be a burden for chefs that work for a long time. I think all of these things are considered when knives are made, there’s a long history for this. Japanese knives are very particular. Fish is fish, vegetables are vegetables, meat is meat, and we divide them as such, but I think a knife that can be used for all of these is amazing.

What is special about Kyoto cuisine compared to other parts of this country?

I’d say how we compose the meal. There are a lot of difficult things about it but the best thing is how you can enjoy it as you like. Next is how the plates match. There are a number of Japanese meals where you look at the plates as you eat, and there are lots of regions that can make great plates. There’s also the matter of gathering good ingredients. Of course each region of Japan has its own wonderful ingredients, but among those, you have Kyoto chefs who will search all over the place to find the best ingredients of the season and who will think of their customers’ faces as they make them. That mentality is unbroken, it’s passed down from generation to generation, there’s always been this fantastic culture. That’s why there are so many things that I think are amazing.

In Kyoto, it’s really easy to distinguish between the 4 seasons. So when autumn comes you can use autumn ingredients and incorporate their beauty into the food. Kyoto chefs understand this sensibility.

How close is the relationship between you and your suppliers?

That’s a great question. You can do that really easily in Kyoto. I’ve been working… since I was young, so I’ve been working with suppliers since the beginning. There are fishmongers and vegetable suppliers that I’ve known for over 30 years. People also introduce me to people they know, like butchers. I’ve used a lot of connections, and I try to use Kyoto wholesalers as much as possible, and I want to use them more. I have my restaurant in Kyoto right now. We say “local produce for local consumption”, and it was the same in Italy. There are ingredients specific to regions and I try to incorporate them in my cooking as much as possible. Now I get requests from the Ministry of Agriculture and other chefs help out too. I want to help revitalise the area, so I get introduced to a lot of different people, and I can get hold of good ingredients. That really makes this job easier.

What was your vision for your restaurant?

I wanted a small restaurant where I could be close to customers sitting at the counter, so they’re closer to the chef too. That way everyone can enjoy themselves as they eat, that makes the meal even more delicious. That way people’s circle of friends could grow too. I want to make a restaurant like that and introduce everyone to it. And if I get any foreign customers, I want to help give them a place where they can make wonderful memories of Kyoto. I really wish from the bottom of my heart that I can help them make memories.

 Thank you, Taka and Akane,  for creating wonderful food and memories!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Meet In Your Kitchen | Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market & the Secret of Sushi Dai

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Traveling is bliss. To leave the known behind and discover new tastes and smells, cities and landscapes is food for our minds, it lets us grow, change, and evolve.

Flying into Tokyo and seeing its cityscape spread out peacefully in front of me in misty pastel colors felt unbearably exciting. It’s a place where I had never been before, a place that everybody told me would change me, and my culinary perspectives. Food plays a central role in Japan’s complex culture, food of high quality is not a random choice, it’s a philosophy, they are tied together, inseparable. I was curious and impatient to put the first bites of the country’s celebrated cuisine into my mouth, but also to wander around and fully experience the next stop of my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling.

Japan is a world of contrasts, connecting the past and the future, silence and noise, gardens and buildings, minimalism and colorful kitsch, it all exists right next to each other, framed by a fascinating culture of multiple layers, it’s not easy to grasp. Its depth is captivating and disorienting, it’s mysterious, and sometimes hard to understand for someone who comes from the outside. I usually visit countries for my Meet in Your Kitchen features that I’m personally connected with, either through former trips or through my own culinary upbringing. So I usually take a lot of experience, information, and understanding for a culture with me, but when you enter a world that you’ve never seen before, you can’t just look at its kitchens. It’s not enough to visit the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo or talk to the cities’ celebrated chefs and enjoy unknown culinary pleasures at their excellent restaurants.

I wanted to see more, I wanted to listen to the stories – or at least some of them – that make this culture so rich and colorful, in and outside the kitchen. I joined a tea ceremony at 6 in the morning when the sun and the birds just woke up. I visited the famous temples in Kyoto, we stayed at one of them (Jorengein) overnight, and I interviewed a temple gardener to gain a better understanding of the gardens and their centuries-old architecture. I got swept away by this overwhelming peace that takes over your mind like a wave, when you sit on the wooden steps in front of the meditative gardens of the Ryoanji or Kenninji Temple. Time seems to stop as you enter the stone gardens, there seems to be an invisible curtain between the world outside and the world inside the temples’ walls.

I felt a bit worried, how would it feel to be in a country where you can’t read any signs, where you can’t really communicate, or even order a taxi or book a table at a restaurant? Would I get lost in translation and miss out on the “real” Japan? I believe the best way to discover a new city is on foot, to walk and keep your eyes open, and not to be shy. Just smile, the easiest form of human communication. That’s what we did on our first evening in Tokyo and within seconds we found one culinary gem after the other.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

The Tsukiji fish market has its own pace, it’s fast, busy, and loud, it’s a universe with its own rules. The craziness starts late at night, at 2am. When Tokyo is still asleep and covered in quiet darkness, fishermen, chefs, and fishmongers stream into the legendary halls to buy and sell, to bid on tuna at the famous auction and ship the daily catch out into the world.

The floor under the filigree metal construction built in 1935 is grey and wet from the ice, daylight cutting sharply through the skylights falls onto men in rubber boots carrying bags and boxes, running diligently, or driving little electronic carts so fast that you have to jump quickly to save your life. It’s a man’s world, running like clockwork. The world’s biggest market for fish and seafood is the heart of the fishing industry. It’s the place where the sea’s treasures are rated and traded, where the best fish in the world is taken straight into the kitchens of the sushi restaurants that set up their businesses in the low buildings around the market. Yet it’s also the place where you can listen to the stories of the people who’ve been working with the sea and its gifts for generations, these people are concerned about the state of this sensitive ecosystem. The number of fish decreased dramatically and shoals that used to pass the coasts seasonally are missing. Due to global warming, summer fish fills the fishing grounds during winter and the fish that used to flourish in the cold season is nowhere to be found. There is such a beautiful and rich variety out in the seas, which we’ve always used in our kitchens, but we have to keep the balance. The fishmongers and chefs that I met all said the same. “Fish and seafood used to be a delicacy, a special treat, if we degrade it to fast food, we’re going to lose this treasure!” says Mr. Yokoyama, the owner of EIKO Suisan Fisherman fish store at Tsukiji.

At Tsukiji, you can admire the whole abundance that nature gives us, hundreds of different kinds of fish and seafood, in all colors and sizes, mussels, crustaceans, octopus, and sazae (turban sea snail). It’s almost mesmerizing to wander through the corridors between the stalls, which makes it hard to pull yourself away from it. Going straight to one of the most celebrated restaurants in the area definitely helps. Sushi Dai is just outside the market, you can easily spot it, as it has the longest waiting list and queue lined up outside the curtains swinging at its door.

Chef and owner, Urushibara Satoshi, has two outstanding qualities. There’s no doubt that he makes some of the best sushi creations in town, he learned from his father, but this man also has highly entertaining qualities. He’s like a conductor and Sushi Dai is his stage. Behind his narrow restaurant’s counter, he attentively cuts the fish and shapes the rice, you can see that he was trained for more than 20 years to become the master that he is today. The movement of his hand and arm looks like a smooth dance, so concentrated yet intuitive. And this man is funny! As he placed one gorgeous creation after the other in front of us, he told us stories with the dramatic voice of an actor, you can see and taste that he truly enjoys what he does.

Every morning at around 3am, he goes to the Tsukiji market to pick the fish for the menu. The relationship between him and his suppliers is close. He knows that a pure minimal treat like sushi depends on the quality of its ingredients. Sushi is what it’s made of, a handful of ingredients. So trust the masterly hands of Urushibara Satoshi and his team of chefs and go for the Omakase menu. Depending on the daily catch and find at the fish market, you can indulge in the freshest tuna, flounder, and horse mackerel, or Ikura (salmon roe) rolled in seaweed. Scallops and clams, prawns and sea urchin, every piece looks like a piece of art, every bite is like tasting the sea.

Thank you Mr. Yokoyama for showing us around at Tsukiji, Urushibara Satoshi for your fantastic sushi and humor, and Makiko for guiding us through your city!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

How to make sushi

I’ll share a recipe for sushi rice with you, but when it comes to the most important ingredient, the fish, I can only recommend to go to your trusted fish monger and ask him which fish he can offer, fish of the best sushi quality. After I ate sushi in Japan, prepared by outstanding sushi masters, I don’t even bother eating it anywhere else anymore. No matter if you go for fatty tuna belly, halibut or fish roe, it has to be of the best quality. Then you just cut it into slices, eat it pure, or lay it on a bite of rice. Heaven.

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let the rice rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry, if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while preparing the sushi. Sushi rice is best at body temperature.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Interview with Urushibara Satoshi, Sushi Dai restaurant, Tokyo

Can you tell us about your work?

I come to work in the morning, go to buy fish, and then I spend the rest of the day serving customers. At 3am I go to buy the fish, and then start making sushi at 4:30 am.

 

How old were you when you started learning to make sushi?

I was 18. So, that’s 27 years ago. I came to the restaurant 25 years ago. I started off making kaiseki ryori in Kyoto. For two years. Then I came back to Tokyo and became a sushi master.

What made you become a sushi master?

As I said, I started off in kaiseki ryori. This is a world where you can’t directly serve a customer until you’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years, and then it’s just serving sashimi or something. I wanted to be talking to the customers. And within the world of Japanese cuisine, it was only as a sushi master that I could serve customers face to face. So, it wasn’t that I became a sushi master because I wanted to, I just had to become a sushi master. And I also just enjoyed it too. That was the first time I really enjoyed my work. I mean, with kaiseki ryori you don’t really get to meet the customers. You’re working behind the scenes, and it’s usually the women who serve the food. The chef has to stay hidden in the shadows. But I didn’t want this. I wanted to chat with the customers while I was serving them.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

In the kitchen? I just used to get scolded (laughs). But ever since I was a child, I really loved cooking. I don’t know if I was any good, but I would imitate and pretend I was chopping things with a knife, for example. When I was in second or third grade, you know how everyone used to try and peel an apple in one long piece? Well, I was always top of the class in that! Also, if you’re going to be a chef, you need more than to be good at cooking. It’s most suited to someone who loves eating. More than being good at the actual cooking, feeling a real passion, and a hunger for food and eating is more important. If you don’t have any interest at all in eating, then there’s no way you’ll improve. No way.

What are the essential features of a good knife for you? What makes a good knife?

First of all there’s the length of the one I use. There are lots of different types of lengths. And it comes down to the weight, the thickness of the steel. At first, this knife used to be this long. But you sharpen it. So, it gradually becomes shorter and shorter. So the length and things like that are not features that last. Because the knife just gets gradually shorter. So, what else? The most important thing is that it can be controlled most effectively. I mean that it cuts exactly as you want it to. After that, the weight… Well, there are different types of people. People who like lightweight knives tend to use the strength of their arm to cut. I like heavier knives, and I use the weight of the knife to cut the fish. So, for me, I prefer a long, heavy knife. But it depends what kind of person you are. Everyone’s different so I can’t give a definitive answer. But that’s what I like.

How old is your knife?

I’m about 3 to 4 years into this one. On average, I would replace it after around 6 years.

How do environmental changes affect the fish that you buy for your restaurant?

Yes, it has had a huge impact. But, I don’t know if it’s the climate, or the flow of the ocean. This year, there’s the kuroshio Japan current, and the fish follow the flow of rivers where there are a lot of plankton. So, they come closer, don’t they. Then, when this Japan current approaches, that’s when we fish. But, this year it’s more erratic, so there are lots of types of fish that don’t come close to Japan as a result. So, I don’t know if it’s the temperature, or related to the flow of rivers. But there are fish we can’t catch. Each year it’s something different: one year might be good for yellowtail and the next year might be bad; or one year is good for saury and the next is bad; or another year might be terrible for sardines. It’s like this every year. For example, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and each year has been different. No two years are the same. At the moment, for example, there is a lack of urchins. This year, the fishermen can’t catch any salmon, and the saury is not so good. There are so many different situations. That’s why you have to adapt each year. You just simply can’t keep making the same sushi for 25 years. The fat distribution is also completely different. I mean, completely. This is what a battle with nature looks like. So, I keep an eye on the weather forecast. And depending on the weather, you have to change the fish you stock. It’s not like we’re working in a factory doing the same thing day in day out. You also have to check whether the fishermen were able to take their boats out. So, yes, of course. I go to the market, and, of course, I buy the fish that is there. But, how can I say? There are some fish that you don’t want to run out of. So, with these, if there’s a typhoon on the way, we can stock up on them before it comes and store them while they’re at their best. There are lots of different approaches.

Do you think we should change the way we consume fish? Like eating less fish?

Yeah, statistically… there are graphs, according to these, there’s been a dramatic decrease in the amount of fish people eat. But, compared with when I was young, ‘conveyor belt’ sushi restaurants are really popular. So I think sushi has become something really familiar for young people. This also has made it feel like something cheap. When we were young, if you didn’t have wads of cash, you couldn’t eat sushi – that’s the image I had. So, it has definitely become something more familiar for the younger generation. So, even in and around my restaurant, we get a lot of university students coming in, even in the morning. That’s something you never would have seen in the past.

How we can deal with the situation?

This is something that we battle year in year out, day in day out. All you can do is do as much as you can. That means keeping going until you get to a stage where you don’t want to make sushi with the fish that is available. I don’t know if this situation will ever come. I don’t know if this day will ever come. But I just want to keep going until it does. But if it does get to a point where I don’t want to work with the fish that is available, then I will quit.

Thank you, Urushibara Satoshi!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Meet In Your Kitchen I Maria Sinskey’s Culinary Take on Napa Valley

Maria Sinskey

The air is hot and dry in Napa, not the slightest movement, it stands still, wrapping the hills and vines in a magical silence.

We first stopped at a lake, Lake Hennessey, on our way to meet the Sinskeys at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The scene was too peaceful and beautiful, as perfect as a postcard, the calm water spread out in front of us. A man sat at the sandy bank staring into the bluest sky reflecting on the water’s surface, I walked through the swaying grass and my film team made jokes about unseen alligators. Later, Maria Sinskey told me that there are rattlesnakes in the area – sometimes it’s good not to know the danger around you and enjoy the moment.

I had seen the wines of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards on the menu of some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, friends praised the quality of their reds and whites, so there were enough reasons to pick this particular wine maker in Napa on my culinary trip through California. But what struck me goes beyond an excellent bottle of wine: it’s the Sinskeys’ philosophy of making honest wine, their work ethics oblige them to take care of their team, who also hold shares of the company and have been with the wine making couple for decades. Maria and Robert create an environment of togetherness, they cherish people, nature and its gifts, they live a good life and share it with the ones around them.

Robert Sinskey was a photographer in advertising, he’s an artist, a philosopher, he never went to a wine school, but maybe that’s the reason why he makes good wine. It was a call from his father 25 years ago that changed his life, Sinskey senior needed help at his wine business, and young Rob fell in love with his new obsession for grapes and what you can do with them. He turned the 200 acres of premium vineyards into an organic, biodynamic ecosystem at a time when this step wasn’t as popular as today, he was a pioneer, inspired by Rudolph Steiner’s 1928 “Agriculture” manifesto. Believing that, if you harvest grapes of outstanding quality, you don’t actually have to do much, you can let nature do its thing and trust. In that respect, the Sinskeys feel closer to the European than the American tradition of wine makers. Rob says “wine should not be a quick study, but rather, sneak up on you, seduce you, and evolve in the glass and in the bottle. The goal is to make pure wines of character that pair well with cuisine.” And now, his wonderful wife Maria comes in.

Maria Sinskey is an acclaimed chef and cookbook author from New York, she’s the cooking soul of the winery. She worked at Michelin starred restaurants in France but when Rob won her heart, she moved to Napa and set up her beautiful open Vineyard Kitchen right in the heart of the winery’s rustic stone building, next to the wine tasting room. It’s not a restaurant, you can only book and enjoy her exquisite culinary compositions along with a tasting experience (a visit and reservation is highly recommended). Maria and Rob follow the same credo: nature is good, trust her, treat her well and you’ll be gifted. Organic fruits and vegetables come from the garden, sheep grazing the vineyards provide wool and meat, beehives pollinate the orchards and bring the most delicious honey to Maria’s kitchen.

You could call it a utopia, you could call the Sinskeys dreamers, but decades of creating fantastic wine and food with and not against nature that people praise all over the world, living and working harmoniously in a community with love and passion, and feeling – as a guest – the spark of happiness and dedication jump over, would prove you wrong.

Maria spoilt us like kids with her elegant, deliciously cozy comfort food. Her duck confit was a revelation and her herb marinated rack of lamb with sun-ripened tomato and herb blossom salad tasted just heavenly, thankfully she shared the recipes with us.

Check for visits: robertsinskey.com

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Sinskey11

 

Maria Sinskey

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

By Maria Sinskey

 

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

Serves 6

Capture the flavor of ripe, just-picked tomatoes at their peak with this simple salad. The sweet tomatoes are gently scented with herb and arugula flowers that provide small bursts of intense flavor. Blossoms can be gathered as herb and arugula plants bolt. If herb blossoms aren’t available use small herb sprigs and leaves instead.

6 ripe garden tomatoes, about 2 pounds, assorted colors and sizes
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (a handful) mixed herb blossoms – dill, arugula, basil, chive

Core and slice the tomatoes into ¼-inch / ½-cm thick slices and fork-size wedges. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt and grind a few grinds of black pepper over. Scatter the blossoms over the top. Serve with simple crisp flatbread if desired.

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

Lamb Jus (to serve with the rack of lamb, can be prepared in advance)

Yield: 2 cups (470ml)

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup (240ml) red wine
4 cups (950ml) lamb stock
1 medium plum tomato, fresh or canned
1 3-inch / 8-cm sprig rosemary
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and bake until garlic is aromatic, soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Reserve.

Heat a 3-quart / 2.8-l saucepan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter starts to brown, add the shallot and cook for about 2 minutes until the shallot is wilted and starting to turn golden.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until wine is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the lamb stock, roasted garlic head, tomato, and rosemary spring. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until stock is reduced by half. Strain the jus into another pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve at room temperature for up to 4 hours otherwise refrigerate.

To serve: Return sauce to a simmer. Check seasoning, then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until emulsified. Serve immediately.

 

Herb Marinated Rack Of Lamb

Serves 8

The herb marinade for the rack really perfumes the meat if it is done a day or two ahead of time. The same marinade can be used for many other cuts as well. It is best to remove as many of the herbs and garlic before roasting as they will burn and create off flavors.

2 lamb racks, 8-9 ribs each
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoon for roasting the meat
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
2 4-inch / 10-cm rosemary sprigs, crushed
6 thyme sprigs, crushed
4 rosemary sprigs for garnish
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Clean the rib bones well by scraping off meat and sinew with a small sharp knife. Cut the racks in half so that each has four ribs. Mix together the olive oil, crushed garlic, crushed rosemary and thyme sprigs in a large bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Grind some coarse black pepper over all. Wrap well and marinate the racks overnight.

The next day prepare the roasted potatoes first, then continue roasting the lamb.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the lamb from the marinade and scrape off as many herbs as possible.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the lamb well with salt; no additional pepper should be necessary, and sear fat side down until golden, about 7 minutes. Turn over so that the fat side is up and roast in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes for medium-medium rare (120°F / 50°C internal temperature). Let the rack rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Prepare the beans while the meat is resting.

To serve, cut each lamb rack half into 2 equal pieces, two bones per chop, and serve on individual plates or a platter with the roasted potatoes, beans, and lamb jus.

 

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Roasted Potatoes

Serves 8

2 pounds yellow potatoes, Yukon Gold or similar
Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Peel the potatoes and cut into ½-inch / 1.25-cm pieces. Reserve in a bowl of cold water to keep from browning.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, season well with salt. Add the potatoes and boil for 7 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes into a colander. Make sure they are very dry.

Place the well-drained potatoes in a large sauté pan and toss them with the olive and butter and additional salt to taste. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the potatoes are golden and crispy on the edges. Keep them warm.

 

Buttered Green Beans

½ pound freshly picked green beans or haricot vert
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Trim the stem off of the beans but leave the slender pointed tips. Reserve.

Ready a medium bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt until the water tastes of the sea. Add the beans and cook until tender about 3-4 minutes. The thinner and fresher the beans the faster they will cook. Remove the beans from the pot with a pair of tongs or skimmer and plunge into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When beans are cool, remove from the ice bath and let rest in a strainer or colander to drain.

To serve: melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add ¼ cup (60ml) water. Bring to a boil to emulsify, season with salt to taste. Add the beans and toss until heated through. Remove with tongs to a serving plate. Serve immediately.

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Watch my interview with Maria in Napa in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Maria!

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

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