The food I ate in Montreal

The stop signs in Montreal read, “ARRET”. Really! Of course, it obviously means “STOP” because the bright red octagon is a dead give away. That is the purpose for a universal red octagon as a stop sign. unfortunately, sometimes blonde moments take over ( not to insult any blondes) and in a flash of excitement, you concentrate solely on the words inside that octagon and completely ignore the actual meaning of its red color……..which is to stop. Now! Before you run the stop….too late! And that was my first traffic violation in Quebec.

6 months ago I never even thought I would ever step foot in Canadian territory because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the idea of perpetual blizzard conditions and Paul Bunyan. And yet, as I completed my Internship at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, rumors about the delicious food scene in Montreal started to make their way to me. Several of the cooks had been to the legendary Aud Pied De Cochon and had come back fascinated by Martin Picard’s monstrous yet delicately prepared meat offerings. With all the talk about the city’s perfectly flaky croissants , artfully prepared charcuterie, and beer, I just had to make my way up there.

The eating adventure actually began with a beer tasting tour through the 2013 Mondial de la bière. This is an annual beer festival which showcases beers from around the world. Craft beers from Brazil, Belgium, France, and the US were available for sampling. We even took part in a beer and cheese pairing class. We signed up for the class in an act of impulse upon hearing the phrase “free cheese”. Never did we imagine that it would be completely in French.

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Later that evening we made our way to the hip and sprawling neighborhood of Le Plateau where we found countless cafes with outdoor terrace seating and a vibrant nightlife. But there was only one thing in my mind; Aud Pied de Cochon.

The epic portions here are no joke. We shared a starter of bison tongue in a decadent yet smooth tarragon and mustard sauce sprinkled with finely diced mirepoixe. A melange of craft-fully fabricated house sausage, boudin noir ( blood sausage), and pork belly over a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy came in as our second course. Finally, we could not over look the veal liver with bacon sauce. It was explosive in flavor. There was definitely no room for dessert. As we headed out we though we had seen it all, and yet, as we were walking out the door, I saw a server carrying a behemoth of a platter with a lobster INSIDE a roasted pig head. This is certainly an experience in excess and abundance. For me, a once in a lifetime experience that I am lucky to have experienced. Will I come back? Not really. Although Martin Picard is elevating the art of charcuterie to a worldly level, and for the quality of his food he is celebrated internationally, there are many others in this city who offer noteworthy charcuterie. Determined to find other talented chefs we headed over to a food mecca located in the eastern part of the city, the Marche Jean-Talon, a permanent market that supplies the eastern most side of the city with an ever flowing supply of fresh meats, local cheese, and seasonal produce.

Jean Talon Market is one of 4 major permanent market spaces in Montreal and a goldmine of cultural experience for us. The first thing we procured here was the coveted Canadian Maple syrup. No trip to Canada will ever be complete without indulging in its rich buttery taste and aroma. We also tasted several honey samples. Buckwheat and wild flower honey were the winners. As we made our way through stalls upon stalls of fresh Quebec strawberries and wild mushrooms, we got inspired to create a DIY lunch picnic. Our epic picnic experience began with a visit to a humble stand with an old refrigerated display case. In it were succulent rows of cured meats, sausages, pates, and terrines. The guys at les cochons tout ronds made wonderful recommendations and we bought provisions of Figatelli sausage and pork Rillete. Next, we headed out in looking for the obvious accompaniment to our charcuterie; cheese. Not just any cheese, but one that embodied the unique cheese making traditions and flavors of Quebec. We did not know precisely what it was that we were searching for, but when we spotted an old black board with the words Tomme du Marechal playfully written in fancy cursive, how much cuter can the situation get……When it comes to cheese, I am daring, adventurous, and adopting of the never-a-dull-moment philosophy. I want my cheese to leave an everlasting impression in my memory. We didn’t know what Tomme Du Marechal was all about, until the “fromagier” ( I learned some French) shoved a wedge into our anxious little fingers in an effort to make us stop asking questions in English. All we had to do was nod our heads in eager excitement and hand him some bills and soon enough we were in possession of the greatest culinary treasure i’ve held in a while. To this day, how this cheese is made eludes me, yet all that I know and matters is that the nutty, hay-like taste was perfectly creamy and went down well with some walnut bread which we later found in a random bakery next to the market.

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Other farm market findings:

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The picnic was a delightful success. The fresh Canadian breeze swayed the trees back and forth as we laid on the grass, full bellied and all, gazing up at the blue sky……not a care in the world…..

Where is home?

I finally had the chance to breathe after returning to Florida from my vacation to my hometown, El Paso.  It was wonderful to see the family and old friends, but upon my return to Orlando, a troubling question danced around my mind….. was I returning home? Had I just not left my actual home to come back to the city I am currently living in? Where is my home by the way? What is Home?

Home: as defined by Merriam-Webster is a place of residence, a domicile. Which will then make my home to be Florida. Yet, as I scroll down, I see another definition: a place of origin, which would make far west Texas my home. So which is it?

Before exploring the question of where home is to me, I had to go back and look at myself. What I have become is a chef, passionate about food and empowered to teach those around me about the importance of a local food movement and supporting farmers who provide the freshest ingredients. I believe in the Food Revolution.  While to some it may seem like a far fetched idealistic fantasy, I stand by my firm belief that proper food education can cure many of the ailments that we suffer as a society, from staggering obesity numbers to contaminated water sources polluted by CAFOs and other corporations that have turned food into a for-profit commodity.  Access to healthy food is a basic human right.

In Orlando, urban gardens in schools and local communities have popped up like wild mushrooms during a rainy tropical season. Edible magazine issues stand proudly stand on the front entrances to many locally owned cafes and health food stores.  There are now more farm markets than fingers on both of my hands. These markets, like the wild mushrooms, pop up in vacant lots, university campuses, and public parks. The people of Florida are demanding fresh, local food; chefs, farmers, and local organizers are delivering.

This issue resonated in my head even more as I embarked in the Saturday ritual to buy fresh produce. I did not have trouble finding a farm market, the trouble was trying to decide which one to go to because I seemed to be flooded with choices. During my visit in El Paso, I cooked  A LOT! My family wanted me to make pizzas, curries, pastas, salads, everything imaginable. Finding the freshest ingredients to make all that food was not so easy. Of curse, El Paso enjoys the culinary delights of Mexican cuisine. Mini markets are present in almost every neighborhood. They offer chiles, tomatillos, avocados, beans, and other staple Mexican foods. However, the most worrying trend I saw in my beloved border city was the presence of the Wal-Mart. Remember those wild mushrooms? The infamous corporate giant is making its way into every area of El Paso, offering its usual serving of market saturation that causes the closure of locally owned grocery stores. What was even more surprising to me was the permanent promotion that Wal-Mart offers its shoppers. They match the weekly specials of ANY other grocery store when the shopper brings in the weekly special flyer!!!!!  And people ( my family included) shop here with so much ease, oblivious to the damage that they are causing other small businesses. This is what was so dissapointing about my trip back home. It seems that I have very strong convictions about food to the point that being in a community that does not value food the way I do is depressing to me.

All of this analyzing brought me to the next question… What do I do about this? Do I stay in a place where I am happily living among those who think just like me? Or do I explore ways to make my HOMEtown a more educated place when it comes to food?  Using my platform as a chef and enlisting the help of other chefs in El Paso who might be as passionate as I am on this subject, the latter seems like a great way to help the community. However, with some of the highest grossing chain restaurants in the nation, I doubt the community wants any help.  And so I remain undecided as to where home is.

Eating San Francisco : The Ferry Station Farmer’s Market

Like a 5 year old eager to meet Mickey Mouse for the first time during the ritualistic childhood visit to Disneyland, the day for me to wander the halls of the famous Ferry Station farmer’s market in San Francisco could not come soon enough. I was counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds for the moment when the looming ferry station tower would become visible and below it, lined up in perfectly straight lines, the white clouds of tents flowing along the building, all of them protecting their fall harvest of edible goods.

It was a sunny day, that Tuesday, which I hear is rare in San Francisco. However, the food gods must have been on my side because the perfect breeze led us out of the Embarcadero Bart station and guided us down Mission St., straight into a small art vendor market. A brief but alarming sensation came over me as I searched for the food stands in vain. Had we arrived too late? Where was the famous almond brittle that everybody was raving about in Yelp? We approached an art vendor and learned that the actually market was located across the street.

Sure enough, the Alfieri Farms vendor was the first to greet us with a bite size sample of the famously crunchy almond brittle. This particular one was covered in dark chocolate, but they also made a cinnamon and espresso variety. We sampled some of their jalapeno pistachios and took some with us just in case we got hungry during the day. As we made our way down the rows of freshly picked fruits and vegetables, I noticed the bright yellow sunflowers that decorated the fruit stands. Being the end of summer, sunflowers were in season, ready to retire into a deep winter slumber only to return during the spring, when they would again continue their simbiotic relationship with the majestic sun and together dance their way from sunrise to sunset.

After tasting peaches, peas, and even a sourdough bread salad, we entered the Ferry building and encountered restaurants and specialized shops which sold local products such as honey, olive oil, gardening goods, and artisan breads and cheeses. I was in a culinary playground and I did not want to leave. Ofcourse, the growling in my stomach brought me back to reality bringing a much more joyful realization, I had to eat something. Let me just say something, never in my life have I had to make such a dificult choice, what to eat? I was surrounded by food and yet I just couldn’t make up my mind, I wanted everything. However, a quick reminder of our limited funds from my husband helped me make up my mind much faster. I had a hearty ricotta dumpling soup with sourdough croutons from Cowgirl Creamery, located inside the Ferry Building. He had falafel with tabouleh and pita bread. Lunch was devoured on the patio rear of the building, facing the bay, with splendid views of Treasure Island and Bay Bridge. All of this under the watchful eye of a seagull who fiercefully competed with a pigeon for the remaining crumbs of our pita bread. Despited the seagull’s obvious loss, he remained perched upon the wooden posts holding up the pier, in hopes of scoring food later on. Meanwhile, he gladly posed for me as I took a couple shots of his pompous bird posture with my camera for later reminicing.

Knowing that our time was limited in San Francisco, we wandered off into other parts of town in search of more adventures.

I think back to that day and I can still smell the salt in the air as the cool breeze rolled against my face. What inspires me most about the Ferry Station market is the people behind it. These are local farmers who have a vision of what real food should be. They have a passion to share that vision with San Francisco because the city appreciates it. Local, organic food is a priceless gift from our sun and the farmers gather in this architectural gem of a building to bring us closer to that gift. May it continue to be cherished for many generations to come.

 

Ferry Station

 

Fresh Ginger

Herbs

 

Inside Ferry Station

 

Organic Mushroom Sale

 

Radiant Sunflowers

 

Our friend, the seagull

So Fresh in New York!

About a month ago I had the wonderful opportunity of traveling to NYC for the New York Marathon with my husband. After 26.2 miles of amazing sightseeing, we set out to explore the streets of the city with one goal in mind; to eat delicious food.

I believe that food is the door to experiencing a culture. Food can tell you the tales of a group of people simply by the aroma and textures of their cuisine. It is an exhilarating experience to taste something for the very first time and let your imagination run wild about its origin, its discovery, and the people who eat that ingredient.

New York, being the cultural hub that is it, provided the greatest food tasting adventure I have had in a long time. I was able to capture some of the great eats found in NYC.

If you eat in New York, a big slice of cheesy, greasy NYC pizza is a must. If possible, eat on a bus for the ultimate urban experience!

One of the lessons that the big city taught me was to never make dinner plans. One morning, as we got ready for the day, we conjured up a complicated dining plan. We were to explore the popular landmarks that NY has to offer and as the evening came, clumsily maneuver our way through the tangled web of a subway system until we got to our final desitnation, Brasserie Cognac, a French restaurant for which I had a restaurant.com coupon. I had never heard of this place, but for the sake of saving 33% on our meal, we decided it was worth the effort.

Ofcourse, we did not think we would find a cute little farmer’s market in the middle of Union Square. Not only did I try warm apple cider from locally grown apples for the very first time, but we also found some other baked goodies that made us forget all about the Brasserie.

Brussel Sprouts

A rainbow of culinary delight.

Purple potato focaccia with parm

So fresh in the big city

Seasonal

spinach, mozzarella, and marinara focaccia

Mr. Squirrel decided to join us for dinner.

I am now back home in Orlando, Florida. For the most part, I have been catching up with school days that I missed during my trip, but I have been inspired to create many delicious things after having  taste of New York. Let’s see what inspiration my baking class will bring!