Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Books

Bedside wine reading: 'A Carafe of Red' from Gerald Asher

Carafe coverDown with bronchitis last month, I languished on the sofa, catching up on some reading I never seemed to have time for before. From the top of the pile I picked up “A Carafe of Red” by Gerald Asher (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012, $21.95 paperback). It’s a collection of pieces Asher wrote mostly in the early '90s for Gourmet magazine, back in the day when magazines had the space and the will to publish long-form writing on wine.

I like that he hasn’t rewritten the pieces. They read as they were published, with an update at the end. I opened and read at random and was at Asher’s side when, as a young man in the British wine trade, he arrives — after midnight — in Jerez de la Frontera. “To my northern amazement, groups of men were still drinking and talking at tables in front of the bars and cafés of Calle Larga as if they intended to remain all night, while streams of people, young and old, crowded the narrow sidewalk.” The next morning he reported to a sherry house where he became fascinated with the intricacies of making sherry. No one else has explained flor better. He manages to fit in a bullfighting bit too, and how and when to drink a fino or an oloroso. Good stuff. 

In other chapters he relishes visits to Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, recounts the revival of Priorato, instructs us in grape clones, and celebrates California’s own Zinfandel. 

A wonderful prose stylist, Asher found in wine that “the more I read, the more I traveled, and the more questions I asked, the further I was pulled into the realms of history and economics, politics, literature, food, community, and all else that affects the way we live. Wine, I found, draws on everything and leads everywhere.” Amen.

Forget scores. His wide-ranging, astute appreciation is where it’s at.

“A Carafe of Red” offers a window into what this wine writer — and yes, connoisseur, in the best sense — holds dear. And I do envy him his adventures on the wine roads.


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-- S. Irene Virbila


Cover of “A Carafe of Red”; courtesy of University of California Press.

Bored by conventional wine writing? Read this

Melrose coverMy summer binge reading has been the brilliant Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, all four of them, plus, the newly publish fifth, “At Last.” They’re harrowing and hilarious, and the prose is breathtaking. 

Bored by conventional wine writing? Read this passage from the second of the novels, “Bad News.” In New York to see to his father’s remains, the young, drug-addled main character, Patrick Melrose, slips into a high-end restaurant for dinner alone, and orders a Corton Charlemagne. (Keep in mind that he has had a privileged, albeit brutal, upbringing.)

“The first taste made him break into a grin of recognition, like a man who has sighted his lover at the end of a crowded platform. Raising the glass again, he took a large gulp of the pale yellow wine, held it in his mouth for a few seconds, and then let it slide down his throat. Yes, it worked, it still worked. Some things never let him down.

"He closed his eyes and the taste rippled over him like an hallucination. Cheaper wine would have buried him in fruit, but the grapes he imagined now were mercifully artificial, like earrings of swollen yellow pearls. He pictured the long sinewy shoots of the vine, dragging him down into the heavy reddish soil. Traces of iron and stone and earth and rain flashed across his palate and tantalized him like shooting stars. Sensations long wrapped in a bottle now unfurled like a stolen canvas.

"Some things never let him down. It made him want to cry.”

Good, eh?


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Image: Scan of  "The Patrick Melrose Novels" cover. Credit: Picador Paperback


Chef Marcus Samuelsson talks about art, ethnicity

Marcus SamuelssonAt chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Red Rooster Harlem, diners can see art by the L.A. native Sanford Biggers. The men are friends and clearly feel an appreciation for each other’s art, which they discussed at the Hammer Museum in one of its series that pairs creative thinkers from various disciplines.

They became friends in the mid-1990s in New York, where they acknowledged they hit the party scene “pretty hard.” Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, was chef at the Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit on the East Side of Manhattan.

Both men, Samuelsson said, share a love of art and of the craftsmanship involved in making it –- whether it's his food or Biggers’ sculptures. Samuelsson said he learned “pretty early on” that he had to leave Sweden to find the education he needed; he cooked in Japan, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe as well as New York.

“To be an artist of any kind you have to be nimble, you have to be flexible,” said Biggers, whose work has been shown at the Tate in London, the Whitney in New York and many other places. His work includes installations, video and performance; he also is a professor at Columbia University.

The pair spoke to a full auditorium on Sunday, and afterward Samuelsson signed copies of his new memoir, “Yes, Chef.”

The men also talked about the effect of being young black men in worlds where many of their clients or customers are white. Samuelsson –- dressed in hip royal blue slacks rolled up to the shin and a pork pie hat -- joked that once his colleagues understood “I wasn’t dangerous, I wasn’t going to rob them,” his ethnicity wasn’t a factor. He was yelled at like any young cook in a high-end kitchen.

Biggers noted that artists of color have been prominent for some time. His work often involves African American themes. A huge lotus flower, for example, looks lacey and lovely from afar; up close, it’s clear that each petal is a diagram of a slave ship showing how people were packed into small spaces.

“In cooking, everyone knew black people cooked and served, they just didn’t have the title of chef,” Samuelsson observed. In many kitchens where he worked there were few women and no people of color as chefs.

“Black people had to work really hard to get out of the kitchen,” Samuelsson noted. “Now they have to work really hard to get back in.”

The staff at Rooster is diverse, including half female, and he said: “Most women are just better at cooking,” although the physical frenzy of line cooks “fits the young guys.”

Men and women approach cooking differently, he said. For men, it’s “I can get this tomato to look like a carrot and then like a sea urchin. When all you want on a Sunday was for a tomato to look like a tomato.”

Biggers praised Samuelsson’s influence on the Harlem neighborhood where Red Rooster opened, noting that he has helped to make the neighborhood more vital, more appealing for residents, workers and visitors.

Biggers and Samuelsson joked about their reaction to critics.

“I like to buy them a lot of drinks,” Biggers said.

“Oh. Same,” Samuelsson said.


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-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Marcus Samuelsson  Credit: Associated Press

Cookbook Watch: 'Ripe' by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Paulette Phlipot

RIPE_optCelery pretty much equals boring, right? It conjures up images of stringy diet food or rabbit fare, and it's not exactly photogenic. Or is it?

If you flip to page 173 of the new cookbook, "Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables," you'll find a stop-you-in-your-tracks photo of celery that might best be described as a lovely, flower-tipped bouquet. Accompanying that is a suggested dish that probably isn't on anyone's diet plan: a braised celery gratin rich with butter, wine and Gruyere.

That's mission accomplished for the cookbook's authors, food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule and food photographer Paulette Phlipot, who set out to reset the nation's mindset about fruits and vegetables.

This is not a cookbook aimed at foodies -- although foodies will certainly find much to enjoy in its pages. Instead, Rule and Phlipot envisioned their audience as the very people who wrinkle up their noses at the thought of eating anything green and blanch at the thought of a meat-free meal.

"If I were eating broccoli or string beans boiled until they were gray, I would hate them too," said Rule, a Silicon Valley food writer and author of the popular food blog 5 Second Rule. "When people tell me they hate vegetables I ask them: 'How are you cooking them?'"

More often than not, she's met with blank stares. That's because they're not cooking their own vegetables, and have no idea where to start.

Enter "Ripe."

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Vegetable love via Vilmorin, founded in 1743

"Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden"

I can still picture the fat paperback on my bookshelf: “The Vegetable Garden” by Vilmorin-Andrieux (Ten Speed Press, 1981 and now out of print), originally published in the 19th century. I loved the detailed text and the old-fashioned illustrations commissioned by the French seed company founded by the French royal botanist in 1743. Vilmorin is still in business and today is the fourth-largest seed company in the world. In Paris you can find the seeds at Vilmorin-Andrieux on quai de la Mégisserie.

Somehow that Ten Speed Press book went missing when I moved a few years ago and I "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden" haven’t seen it since.

Cut to last week when I walked into the little Taschen store at the original Farmers Market and found that the German publisher has released "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden," a portfolio of 46 Vilmorin vegetable prints in glorious color, each 13-by-19 inches and suitable for framing. (A smaller bound copy is in the works.)

If you have a blank wall in your kitchen or dining room, look for some inexpensive black frames and cover the wall with the framed prints. Better than wallpaper, and no sticky mess doing it. Or, pick out your favorites, have them framed, and save the rest of the prints for gifts. 

Think of it that way, and the price becomes a sort of bargain.

Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden (Taschen, $99.99), available at bookstores and at Taschen, Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 931-1168; and at 354 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 274-4300.

"The Vegetable Garden" by Vilmorin-Andrieux is out of print, but it's possible to turn up used copies. I also just discovered it can be downloaded for free at Google Books, which has editions from both 1885 and 1905. Get it, if only to read the potato chapter.


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Dear Mr. Gold: Dinner without a face 

Vodka goes vintage: Karlsson's Batch 2008 Gammel Svensk Röd

-- S. Irene Virbila

Illustrations from "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden." Credit: Taschen, Berlin

The afterlife of Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli

Sorcerers apprenticeEl Bulli may have closed last July, but the Spanish restaurant continues to be a gastronomic juggernaut.

Now out in paperback: the meticulously detailed and fascinating book, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen of Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli" by Lisa Abend, Madrid-based Time magazine correspondent ($16, Simon & Schuster. Also available as an e-book for Nook and Kindle, $9.99).

Former Saveur editor Colman Andrews’ biography, “Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food," is also now in paperback (Gotham, New York, $16).

And the 2011 documentary, “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” by German filmmaker Gereon Wetzel has just been released on DVD ($29.95), and is already streaming on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon instant video.

You can also watch Ferran Adrià teach “Spherification” on iTunes U as part of the Harvard School of Engineering and Science class “Science + Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter.” And, incredibly, it's free.



Harvard's Science + Cooking lectures: Now playing on iTunes U

Make bollito misto

5 questions for Tim Carey

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photos: Scanned cover of "Sorcerer's Apprentices", courtesy Simon & Schuster. 


Bakespace and Cookbook Cafe out to 'democratize' the cookbook world

Cookbook_cafe_Hey you -- you look like a cookbook author.

Babette Pepaj, the L.A. entrepreneur who founded Bakespace, has created a D.I.Y. cookbook platform that turns everyone -- yes, including you -- into a cookbook author. The platform allows users to create both a searchable and interactive e-book and an iPad app that works across a variety of devices, no charge. The cookbooks are then made available at an online shop at Bakespace, called Cookbook Cafe, or on iTunes.

Pepaj says Cookbook Cafe aims to "democratize" the cookbook publishing landscape which, let's face it, leaves most of the food world on the outside looking in. (Unless you are a celebrity chef, a food blogger with a million followers, or the winner of Fox's "MasterChef," your chances of landing a cookbook deal are slim.)

"But everyone has at least one good recipe in them," says Pepaj. "This is a way to share that recipe with everyone, and get paid for it."

Cookbook Cafe only moved out of testing stage earlier this month, but it is already making a splash. It's a finalist at the International Assn. of Culinary Professionals Awards taking place on Monday in New York. It was nominated in the "Most Intriguing Use of Technology" category.

There is no charge for creating the cookbook, or making it available through iTunes via the Cookbook Cafe's storefront. "The only charge is if you make a sale," Pepaj said. However, Pepaj envisions that many of the cookbooks will be given away by charities looking to raise awareness about their cause, or food bloggers culling together their favorite recipes in a bid to build an online audience.

“We're finding that people have great ideas, but they can't get discovered. To even just get 'found,' to get past your friends and family, is really hard to do," she said. "With Cookbook Cafe, people can not only discover, they can get discovered."

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James Beard book award nominees announced; chefs shortlisted

The James Beard Foundation announced its 2012 book award nominations in 11 categories.The James Beard Foundation announced its 2012 book award nominations in 11 categories. The culinary organization's numerous awards cover a lot of ground, including "outstanding restaurant design" and "best restaurant graphics." Los Angeles design firm Air Conditioned's Clive Piercy was nominated for the latter for his work at Farmshop in Santa Monica. Journalism award nominees include L.A. writers and editors Lesley Bargar Suter of Los Angeles magazine and Jonathan Gold, now at the Los Angeles Times, for his restaurant reviews at L.A. Weekly.  

On the short list for best chef-Pacific are Michael Chiarello, Bottega, Yountville, Calif.; Chris Cosentino, Incanto, San Francisco; Christopher Kostow, the Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.; Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles; and Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francisco. Dahlia Nervaez of Osteria Mozza in L.A. is shortlisted for outstanding pastry chef. Meanwhile, Nancy Silverton of Mozza is up for outstanding chef. Winners are to be announced in May. 

And here's the full list of book nominees: 

American cooking: "A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen" by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter); "American Flavor" by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman (Ecco); "Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country" by Suvir Saran with Raquel Pelzel and Charlie Burd (Chronicle Books).

Baking and dessert: "Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes" by Lisa Yockelson (John Wiley & Sons); "Cooking with Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques" edited by Frédéric Bau (Flammarion); "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan).

Beverage: "An Ideal Wine: One Generation's Pursuit of Perfection -- and Profit -- in California" by David Darlington (Harper); "Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, & Formulas" by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press); "The Oxford Companion to Beer" edited by Garrett Oliver (Oxford University Press).

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Here's who's cooking at the Festival of Books

Josiah Citrin of MelisseGuess who's going to be cooking at the 2012 Los Angeles Festival of Books in April. How's this for a lineup? Michael Voltaggio, Gail Simmons, Josiah Citrin, Chris Cosentino, Alice Medrich, Debbie Lee and Anne Burrell. Oh and Nancy Silverton is stopping by for a chat.

Voltaggio is the chef/owner of Los Angeles' Ink (recently named best new restaurant in the US by GQ magazine) and InkSack and was the winner of "Top Chef" Season 6.

Simmons is one of the judges for the series, works for Food & Wine magazine, and is the author of the memoir "Talking With My Mouth Full."

Citrin is the chef-owner of Santa Monica's landmark French restaurant Melisse.

Cosentino is the executive chef of Pigg at Umamicatessen in Los Angeles and Incanto in San Francisco.

Medrich is the chocolate queen of San Francisco (she founded Cocolat) and author of many cookbooks.

Lee is the chef/owner of Ahn-Joo, one of L.A.’s most popular food trucks, and has appeared on many television shows.

Burrell is a regular on television cooking shows, including "Iron Chef," "Next Iron Chef," "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" and "Worst Cooks in America." She recently published "Cook Like a Rock Star."

This year's Festival of Books will be held April 21 and 22 on the USC Campus.There is no admission charge, and events on the cooking stage are free. Exact days and times are after the jump.

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An inside look at the world of olive oil

OlivesThe making, buying and selling of olive oil is invariably described as, ahem, a slippery business. That's not the half of it, it turns out. If you're curious about just how slippery, Tom Mueller's "Extra Virginity" offers a smart, well-written crash course. As Food editor Russ Parsons writes in this week's Book Review:

Mueller, a New Yorker writer who lives among olive groves in Liguria, is clearly besotted with great oil. That is a typical reaction from those who have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to the real thing. Great olive oil is beyond mere ingredient. Like great wine, it seems to have a life of its own.

Of course, there's a lot of not-so-great olive oil around too that is very definitely a mere ingredient; olive oil is one of the most widely used cooking fats in the world. And therein lies the rub.


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.