Tag Archives: salt

IACP 2010 Conference in Portland

Nong's chicken

Chicken skin is extra!It’s always such an adventure at IACP, but this year’s conference in Portland seemed more adventurous than ever. Whether it was the frenetic energy of a food-crazy city—or the fact that 900 food-obsessed people had descended on it—this year’s conference was the most manic I’ve ever experienced. Manic, but inspiring, fun and wholly memorable.

It makes coming home a bit of a let-down. Let’s face it, as a writer (and especially as one who works from home), I spend a lot of time by myself. I type brilliant little things into a computer and they disappear into the ether, and that’s about it. I celebrate when I have a conference call and someone says that they liked my piece. I do happy dances when I get published. But, for the most part, it’s me, at my desk, staring out the window, making pots of tea.

And then something like IACP conference comes along, and once a year I am thrust into a group of people who get it. They understand the agonizing frustration of not being able to get words onto paper (well, proverbial paper—screen, more like), the unending guilt of procrastinating and the internal struggle between writer and editor. And the food geekery? The fact that I can wax poetic about dumplings or go off into a dream state thinking about sandwiches…well, that’s not weird at IACP. It’s totally par for the course.

I come back from conference each year simultaneously refreshed and inspired, and exhausted. The exhaustion is to be expected after a week of eating and drinking, without much sleeping. The refreshment and inspiration comes from being with people who get it, who have done it, and who keep me going on this crazy food path that leads to weird places. And I look forward to seeing them every year to get guidance for my next steps down this wacky road. One of these people is Cheryl Sternman Rule, who wrote a wonderful blog post and captured some of the lovely people at the conference. She even managed to make me look good, despite my complete and utter lack of sleep all week.

Lest you think I’ve gone all soft on you, here are some of my favourite moments of the conference.

Salt and chocolate

chocolate barRadishes with salt and butterThe best possible way to kick off a week of elegant gluttony: a meet and greet of the most gastronomic proportions. Thin sushi slices laid on Himalayan salt blocks so that one surface is almost cooked; one shockingly salty surface that melds into the buttery richness of tuna. Oysters with mignonette. A craft cocktail bar. A chocolate bar. Fresh radishes with creamery butter and different salts. Bowls of popcorn, with different salts. Wood-fired pizza with mushrooms, arugula, cheese. Fabulous people, coming and going late into the night.

Chicken, cocktails and hipsters

chamomile sourThe IACP host city opening reception was spectacular. Restaurants like Paley’s Place served pillowy soft gnocchi with fresh crab, while the premiere food cart in town served signature Hainanese chicken on oily rice. Around the corner, Pix Patisserie served teeny tiny mousse cakes in front of a tower of croquembouche. Still further, Nel Centro‘s swiss chard tart with raisins in pate brisee collapsed in my mouth like buttery dust. Taylor Shellfish brought 100 pounds of Kumamoto oysters, freshly roused from their beds. And sprinkled in between, local wineries and breweries. And a cocktail bar manned by cute hipster boys in plaid shirts and tight pants.

And of course, the  absinthe salon that smelled of licorice, sin and secrets.

Vegan soul food

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m no vegan. I was curious about this session, led by food writer Bryant Terry. I expected militant veganism, maybe a manifesto about the evils of meat. What I got was a truly beautiful presentation that included history, personal story, a tribute to grandparents, rap, music, social and political commentary and the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted. I mentioned this session to a friend who had also attended, and he teared up at the memory of it. One moment in particular, when Bryant sang a song that his grandmother used to sing in the kitchen, brought the entire room to a standstill. No one breathed. And then he paused, opened his eyes and continued his story. It was, to be honest, one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in a long time.

Midnight supper

I was lucky enough to get invited to a secret midnight supper, held in a space that will become Caffe Vita‘s foray into wood-fired pizza. In the interim, the room was set for us with communal tables and candles and promised us the culinary talents of Michael Hebb, Naomi Pomeroy, Mark Fuller and Jason French. As the night continued, food kept coming. Each dish was more delicious than the last: grilled asparagus, pizza, clams, chicken livers and—the highlight of the night—lemon and parsley crusted pork belly on greens. All of it washed down with red wine drunk out of tumblers, while listening to the fabulous local band Y La Bamba, talking food and wine with beautiful people. Termed a “meeting of Seattle and Portland,” this Vancouver girl felt very lucky to be part of the magic.

Edit: Check out the lovely Maggie’s photos of that magical evening. Just looking at them sends shivers down my spine.

Butchery and charcuterie

It’s not every Saturday morning that I’m greeted with an entire pig, gutted and splayed out on two cutting boards. And it’s certainly not every Saturday morning that I get to watch two expert butchers break down half a pig each. Adam Sappington showed us an American approach, breaking the pig down into neat square and chops for his Whole Hog dinners. Each part was neatly stacked on top of itself, forming an almost Lego-like deconstructed pig. Dominique Chapolard, a pig farmer and butcher from France, showed us his approach: seam butchery.

**IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH, VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP HERE. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.**

Seam butchery is, quite honestly, beautiful. We watched as Dominique took a knife and separated the entire rib and backbone section from the meat. The silence in the room was only broken by sharp intakes of breath as we realized what he was doing. Then he deftly removed the inner bones from the ham, pausing only long enough to remove the skin in one piece, and then cutting each muscle group free. He laid all the pieces out on the board like some kind of Damien Hirst exhibit and explained that he would take the pieces to market and French consumers would request particular cuts from him. It really highlighted the connection between animal and meat; muscle and bone, rather than pork chops and bacon. That may sound graphic and violent, but it was respectful and dignified. It was stunning.

Charcuterie and butcheryThe conversation then touched on the difficulties of becoming a butcher in North America, how the North American and European farming systems are drastically different, the lack of female butchers (though there were two in the room that morning!) and how a holistic approach to food starts with the animal, includes the entire food system, and finally ends up with the consumer. It was a conversation focused on meat—and specifically, on pigs—but could have been applied to any number of food issues that are currently being debated.Charcuterie

We concluded with a selection of charcuterie from Dominique, Adam and Olympic Provisions, plus Pudding River wine. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

Read more about that morning’s events from the oh-so-well-coiffed Michael Ruhlman. I’d also be totally remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the wonderful Kate Hill.

Guilty pleasure: fun chocolate for grownups

Everyone needs a guilty pleasure. Most people’s guilty pleasure is chocolate. So what’s a chocolate connoisseur to do? If your everyday pleasure is chocolate, how can it possibly get any guiltier?

I know some chocolate snobs who swear by milk chocolate with almonds. There’s something comforting about the crunchiness. Milk chocolate with hazelnuts, too. The fact that it’s milk chocolate is pretty telling; it’s a break from the analytical chocolate tasting that we usually do.

Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about a complete departure from good taste. I’m still not eating anything with waxy fillers or oils masquerading as cocoa butter. But take a decent foundation chocolate, one without too many distinct flavours, and throw some fun stuff in it? Yesssss. Here are three wacky bars that are high on my list for the fun factor.

Theo Chocolate Bread & Chocolate

I loved the Theo Chocolate Bread & Chocolate bar two years ago when I first tried it, and it’s still one of my favourites. You could call it a deconstructed pain au chocolat, or you could just eat the damn thing.

If I were to make this at home, I would buy a baguette and leave it on the counter for a week until every last bit of moisture was gone. Then, I would bash it to pieces, collect the bread crumbs and coat them with melted, unsalted butter. Then, I would take the buttered bread bits and add them to tempered dark chocolate.

Seeing as how I am not about to clean up the mess that the bread bashing would cause, I’m happy to let Theo Chocolate do the work and put it in a cute little wrapper with cats on it.

The crunchiness is like no other; it has a very distinct crispness to it that perfectly complements the melting chocolate. And the buttery finish is completely unexpected, lending a surprising savouriness to the experience. (And psst, the chocolate is certified organic and fair trade.)

Komforte Chockolate French Toast

I bought the Komforte Chockolates French Toast bar because of the label. I love it. As it turns out, the chocolate bar inside is pretty kick-ass, too.

As soon as I opened the foil wrapper, a cloud of syrupy vanilla wafted toward me. The bar itself is milk chocolate with chunks of crispy French toast inside. The French toast is the texture of very thin croutons, and the first taste provides a heady mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. A second later, there’s a decidedly confident saltiness at the back of the palate. The finish is all salt. The milk chocolate is the perfect sweetness and is, really, just a vehicle for crunchy, spiced, salty French toast. The entire experience is highly addictive.

Komforte also makes a Ramen Noodle bar and a Tortilla Lime Salt bar. The Ramen Noodle bar sounds cool but was rather disappointing. I didn’t buy the Tortilla Lime Chip bar, but you’d better believe I will the next opportunity that I get.

Chuao Chocolatier Firecracker Bar

This bar from Chuao Chocolatier boasts chipotle, salt and popping candy, which you might remember as Pop Rocks.

As a kid, I loved Pop Rocks, but they made me uncomfortable. The entire experience of buying and eating Pop Rocks gave me weird tummy rumblings. In retrospect, I think it was the anticipation of the popping: one part nervousness, one part excitement, and one part brain thinking that exploding candy is really quite bizarre.

Well, not much has changed. The first few pieces of this chocolate made me really uncomfortable. That familiar tummy rumbling was back. I put the bar down, only to be inexplicably drawn to it. I tried again. This time, less rumbly. And the third time, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough.

It’s not all about the popping candy, though. The salt draws out the cocoa notes in the chocolate, and the chipotle provides a sweet smokiness up front, followed by a slow burn on the finish. The slow burn is just distracting enough to fill the gap in time between finishing one piece and putting the next one in your mouth.

It’s really sad when you realize you’ve eaten the entire bar in one sitting, though. Not out of some guilty complex that you’ve eaten an entire chocolate bar, but the simple fact that there isn’t any more.

Unless you’re me, and you bought three of them. Mwahaha.

The Meadow: finishing salt | chocolates | wine | flowers

The Meadow

This is Clyde's debut appearance in this blog. In 2006, I made him out of felt, some rags, and two buttons. He's always up to no good, but is a great travel companion.

From the outside, The Meadow is rather unassuming. Set back from the street, nestled between a comic book store and a place that sells fancy dog accessories, you might almost miss it. Thank goodness for the bright yellow sign alerting observant passersby to the loveliness that beckons. That, and the enormous, nearly cult-like reverence that Portlanders have for this place.

Once you step inside the doors of the surprisingly small shop, you’re greeted by the fragrance of fresh flowers. It’s a bit of a shock, especially given that when I visited, the temperature outside was about -10 Celsius (28 Fahrenheit). Apparently, the joke in the shop is that nearly everyone walks in and exclaims, “Ohhhhh, it smells so nice in here!”

Now, I didn’t just wander into The Meadow by accident. It was, actually, the entire reason for my trip to Portland. I met Mark, one of the owners, at a conference in early 2009, and we had been talking about this trip since then. With only three weeks left in the year, it was time. That’s a bit of context for you, and also full disclosure. If you’re a loyal reader, you’ll know that I write about things I like, and not things that I’ve been paid to like. If I had gone down and hated the place, I wouldn’t be writing about it.

(And if you’re not a loyal reader yet, there’s no time like the present to get started. Sit back, have some tea, and read. Leave me a comment and say hi. It makes me feel all fuzzy inside.)

As beautiful as the flowers were, I followed my gaze to what was behind the flowers: a towering Wall Of Chocolate. Two floor-to-ceiling shelves of chocolate, full of old favourites and new things to be discovered. My jaw dropped. I’m pretty sure that I squealed. I gravitated to the shiny new things, caressing the packaging, reading the labels, asking a question and not finishing it before eagerly jumping to the next new thing. And then I would pause in front of something familiar just long enough to catch my breath before I moved onto another new thing.

A kid in a candy store, I was. But this was no ordinary candy store. I ripped my gaze from the Wall of Chocolate to see the most impressive salt collection I’ve ever seen, and shelves of French wine and champagne.

I know this all sounds so stupidly gushy and insincere. It was just brilliant, she cooed. Simply mahhhhvelous. But it really was. As I learned over the course of my stay in Portland, the folks at The Meadow have impeccable taste and they’re not afraid to show it.

There’s a kind of store that I always gravitate to. It’s decidedly girly, usually in a heritage building with lots of exposed wood and distressed hardwood floors. It sells a seemingly random assortment of things, from pillows to cards, candles to soap, kitschy fridge magnets to children’s toys. The one thread that holds all these items together is that someone with great taste chose these items specifically. Somehow, by touching the pillows and smelling the candles, you’re gleaning just a little bit of that taste and elegance.

The Meadow is exactly like that. Except instead of pillows, there’s chocolate. Instead of candles, there’s salt. And wine. And flowers.

The Meadow
3731 N. Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
503-288-4633

Robin Chocolates chocolate caramel fleur de sel

Every Christmas, I make edible gifts. Last year, I made chocolate caramels that were to die for. I ended up making a second batch because I ate so many quality control samples. Little did I know, they’re fun to make and fun to eat, but such a bitch to wrap in cellophane. Wrap, wrap, crinkle, crinkle. Shoot me now.

Well, Robin Chocolates took the smart route and put their chocolate caramel inside a molded chocolate. Chocolate caramel, as opposed to straight caramel, tends to be a less oozy and messy. The chocolate provides a bit of structure to the whole thing, and while it really does depend on the actual recipe, it’s generally a firm caramel.

There are little flakes of fleur de sel on top of the chocolate, which is a crunchy, salty surprise. The chocolate for the shell is slightly darker than the other pieces I tried, and that bitterness plays well off the sweet (but not cloying) caramel.

I do think the caramel’s a little bit, well, oily. It doesn’t taste extra buttery, so I don’t think it’s excess butter. I almost wonder if it’s an alternative sugar, like glucose, or some other invert sugar. Caramel’s a little bit temperamental, and if you’re not careful you can get a big mess of over-crystallized sugar (picture rock candy, but without the stick). Sometimes candy makers will dope their caramel with some other kind of sweetener to minimize the chance of over-crystallization.

It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a bit distracting. I think I’ll stick to my own chocolate caramel, with a bit of fleur de sel sprinkled on top.

You can buy Robin Chocolates here. Their online store isn’t up yet. If you ask very nicely they might ship stuff to you, but only if you live in the continental US.

Robin Chocolates

It seems like years ago that I was wandering around Boulder, Colorado. It was, in fact, a mere month ago that I came across a cute little shop called Oliv You & Me, which carries all sorts of gourmet goodies. I ogled the olive oil, viewed the vinegar, and…wait, is that chocolate?

They had a selection of Robin Chocolates, a small company out of nearby Longmont, CO. While I would have liked the opportunity to pick and choose, I settled for a pre-packed box of four confections. It contained one each of pomegranate, mint chocolate chip, chocolate caramel fleur de sel, and a raspberry heart.

They’re really pretty, but I got over that “too pretty to eat” thing years ago. Good thing, too. Otherwise, what would I talk about for the next four days?

The Kitchen Cafe doesn’t disappoint

Before the name Chef Hugh Matheson mean anything to me (he won the 2009 IACP award for community service), I met several people who spoke reverently and enthusiastically about The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder. Well before it was trendy to do so, The Kitchen Cafe supported local farmers and producers, serving organic and seasonal food wherever possible.

There’s a proper restaurant downstairs, and a more casual, loungey atmosphere at The Kitchen [Upstairs]. Well, I headed [Upstairs] in search of tasty food and the promise of happy hour. From 5:30-6:30 pm each day, they feature a three-course prix fixe for $26 ($34 with wine pairings). Now, that’s not a cheap dinner, but it’s incredible value for amazing food and wine in a beautiful room.

First course was a rustic bruschetta with basil pesto (thick, rich and unctuous), mozzarella (clean, fresh and delicate), red onion (sweated and sweet), and radishes (crisp, without their customary bite) on top of toasty bread. Garnished with olive oil and parsley, this appetizer was really well-composed. All the flavours worked well together, and – more importantly – complemented each other. This was paired with a 2007 Ochoa Viura-Chardonnay from Spain (nice and light, with notes of roasted pineapple and mango).

Next up was a dish of seared scallops, sauteed romaine, roasted potatoes, and anchovy dressing. The dressing was to die for: rich, creamy and salty. The scallops were sweet and seared, the romaine kept its texture and sweetness, and the potatoes were perfectly cooked. It was an exercise in the perfect bite: the acidity and tartness of the dressing, met by the sweetness and crunch of romaine, mellowing to the sweetness and texture of the scallop, all on top of a solid foundation of potato that actually tasted like potato. It was paired with a 2001 Tempranillo from Ramirez de la Piscina that was a bit too tannic on its own, but mellowed out nicely with the food.

Dessert was a Knickerbocker Glory, which was so insanely delicious but simple. In fact, I’m going to steal it and say I invented it. You can too: here’s how. Start with a large, bulbous glass – a Chimay glass, if you want to be exact about things. Put in a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, creamy and fragrant with real vanilla. Top it with softly whipped chantilly cream and crumbled meringue bits. Add a few sliced strawberries, some berry syrup, and a drizzle of Chambord. Serve with a spoon and watch people swoon with delight as they eat a very grown-up ice cream sundae.

Even better, serve it with R&R Naughty Sticky dessert wine, all coy with its honey and toasted almond flavours. Naughty and sticky, indeed.

And because no meal is complete without chocolate, Rick the bartender let me try a homemade chocolate bar: 72% dark chocolate with walnuts and sea salt. This was not a demure salted chocolate. The salt was front and centre. But then it stepped aside to let the walnuts – all nutty, tender and crumbly – shine. And then the 72% dark chocolate brought its bittersweetness to the table.

I have my doubts as to whether Rick really wanted my “professional opinion,” because he knew that it was delicious. But hey, I’m happy to oblige.

The Kitchen Cafe and The Kitchen [Upstairs]
1039 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO
303-544-5973
The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Chocolate + salt = the perfect flavour profile?

I was speaking with someone this morning about my earlier post about ChocolaTas’ salted chocolate. She told me that while she has no willpower when it comes to plain old chocolate, no matter how high-end or bitter it is. She can’t have just one piece. But, for some reason, when it comes to salted chocolate, she can have just one.

I think it might be because salt provides the one flavour that chocolate doesn’t have. In having a salted chocolate, all your tastebuds are satisfied. Without the salt, you’re tempted to keep eating in an attempt to reach the goal of ultimate satisfaction.

She likened it to being happy with one really great glass of wine, but having an urge to have a second glass of plonk.

Worth thinking about, anyway.