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Kings of Pastry

kings of pastry columbus

Kings of Pastry is showing until October 7th at the Gateway Film Center. I highly recommend seeing it while you can.

It is a quirky, touching, funny and overall captivating documentary about 16 chefs competing in the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France MOF) competition. This is the Olympics of French patisserie, a three day competition that takes place every 4 years and involves years of planning and months of practice and preparation. The documentary closely follows three of the competitors (one of whom is based in Chicago), giving insights into the grueling competition and it’s toll on the competitors. For the winners status, validation and jubilation and for the losers despondency and the question of whether to devote another 4 years of their life to a second attempt. At times the pressure of the event is hard to watch and you will develop a profound appreciation for the fragility of sugar.

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You don’t need to be an avid baker to enjoy this movie. It’s more about craftsmanship, the pursuit of excellence and intense competition. While the arena is pastry rather than athletics, the physical and emotional toll is the same.

Some additional pointers- This is not a movie to watch hungry. The Gateway Film Center has a cafe serving sandwiches and other food which you can take into the theater. They also have 20 beers on tap. Wexner members can watch the movie for $5.

Today’s matinee was accompanied by a reception hosted by Pistacia Vera and watching the documentary renewed my appreciation for the skill and precision that goes into each macaron or slice of gateau. Thanks to Pistacia Vera for such a wonderful spread.

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Three Hungry Woolfs

My parents just left after a lovely week long visit. I am sad to see them leave but luckily they left lots of treats behind including three jars of marmite (2 special editions) which will help to console me. As well as marmite, chocolate and christmas crackers I also have a pile of new books and christmas presents to look forward to.

Except on skype I don’t get to see my parents very often and it was a couple of years since their last visit to Columbus. It is not surprising that I had a long list of restaurants and food places that I wanted to take them. It was a chance to share some of my favorite places, for them to experience first hand some of the places they have read so much about, and an excuse to try somewhere new. The highlight was probably our omakase dinner at Kihachi which felt like a mini vacation in Japan. We also had lovely dinners at Alana’s and the Refectory Bistro (excellent value at $24 for 3 courses) and a cosy drink at Nida’s. Alana does a fantastic job of showcasing Ohio produce in a creative and interesting way. The highlight of the dinner were the sweetbreads that topped the risotto du jour, but I also loved the broccolini dish that I had and golden beets with almond skordalia.

White bean brushetta at Alana's

Lunches out included Rigby’s for their blue plate special and of course there was an obligatory trip to a taco truck (Los Potosinos), followed by dessert from Otro Rollo, fantastic sweet bread fresh from the oven. We also took a trip to the Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs, which we combined with a fascinating trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Westcott House in Springfield (photos).

Somewhere that was new to me was the fifty year old institution that is the Top Steakhouse. It had been on my restaurant wish-list for a while and I thought my parents would enjoy the step back in time with the classic decor and menu. They did and so did I. It really is a taste of another era with steak diane, oysters Rockefeller and shrimp cocktail, accompanied by the background pianist. Unfortunately we were seated in a room that used to be a private bar and it didn’t have quite the same atmosphere. The steaks were delicious although they seemed to be cooked to the chef’s whim regardless of how they had been ordered. Going to The Top is a good excuse to stop in at Wings for a night cap as they have the largest collection of single malt scotches in Columbus. I enjoyed trying the Wild Scotsman black label.

Shopping trips included the North Market (fish, eggs, vegetables and a rosemary tree), Katzinger’s (cheese), Pistacia Vera (cookies and cakes), Jeni’s (Ice cream) and Thurns (pork chops, smoked trout and bacon). We couldn’t resist stopping for coffee and cookies at Pistacia Vera. The almondine and lime ginger cookies were the favorites of the day and the winning Jeni’s flavor – blackstrap praline – I think my father would have packed some to take home if he could.

Cheeses on display at Katzinger's

Our visit to the North Market was well timed: Chef David MacLennan from Latitude 41 was at the Wayward Seed stall cooking up pork belly, pickled beets at rutabaga mash. The recipe for the delicious mash (with turnips, cream and pear) is on the Wayward Seed blog. We bought brussels sprouts from the Rhoades’ and celery root at the Greener Grocer.

My parents were intrigued by the peanut pumpkins (Galeux d’eysine)  having never come across them before. The pale salmon colored skin is covered in protruding warts which look incredibly like peanut shells. Apparently they are great for cooking although I have not tried one.

In between all this eating we also had a lovely time at the Franklin Park Conservatory, admiring the Chihuly, Poinsettias, koi and orchids and walked around the Topiary Garden. Photos on flickr.

As well as a lot of eating out, we also had some delicious dinners at home. From top left: Thurn’s smoked pork chop with celery root puree and an acorn squash baked with bacon and maple syrup (an excellent James Beard recipe); home made bread; english style fish pie (fish and hard boiled eggs in a white sauce topped with mashed potatoes); a salad from my garden with arugula, nasturtiums and mesclun greens. I also shared some of my home canned tomato sauce from the summer. One of my requests for my parents visit was a bread making lesson from my dad. He has been making bread my whole life and I wanted a practical class, my previous attempts not having turned out as well as hoped. Although my father makes bread by feel and not measurements, he gave me some good tips that I think will help.

We also made mincemeat, ready for mince pies and traditional english christmas puddings. These were made to a very old and secret family recipe and this is the first time that I have been entrusted with the recipe. The puddings were steamed for 8+ hours and can then be kept for years as they improve with age. AD is skeptical about aging desserts but I made one for this year and one for next year. The smell of fruit, spice and alcohol as it was simmering away made the house smell warm and festive.

For thanksgiving we were invited to AD’s family for a traditional thanksgiving dinner with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. We also had some of the best mashed potato ever – apparently the secret was baking the potatoes and using lots of cream. One of their traditional family accompaniments was oyster stuffing – a new dish to me – and obviously very popular.

I hope that you were able to spend thanksgiving with family or friends. This was very different to last year’s thanksgiving but both were fun. There are many different ways to feast and to be thankful.

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Pistacia Vera at the Dispatch Kitchen

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I am  a big fan of Pistacia Vera and I was excited to see that Spencer Budros, the head chef and co-owner was teaching a class in the Dispatch Kitchen. Anyone who knows anything about Pistacia Vera’s macarons could have guessed that we would not be learning how to make them in a 2 hour class. Indeed Spencer admitted that even he can’t make them as successfully at home. They require a 5 day process perfected over years as well as some top of the line professional equipment. As Robin Davis pointed out, not everything is better homemade.

We were spared the torture of having to wait until the end for some dessert, with some delicious treats as interludes. To introduce the concept of a multi-faceted dessert we were given a plate of Lake Erie Goat’s cheese with a delicate shortbread cookie, some cherry pate de fruits and a sliver of dried mission fig. It was an interesting combination of textures and flavors and demonstrated that desserts do not have to be over sweet or complex. Spencer talked about the importance of texture and color as well as flavor.

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The next interlude was a luxurious flour-less chocolate torte with layers of flour-less chocolate cake, chocolate ganache and a Chambord black raspberry chocolate mousse. It was made with Valrhona Manjari 64% bittersweet chocolate from Madagascar. This will be made with cassis instead of chambord over the winter.

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What we learned to cook was poached pears in zinfandel with gingerbread spices, fresh tangelo sabayon, toasted brown butter financiers, almond croquant and candied tangelo peel. It sounds like a lot but these five separate items together form a sophisticated dessert that you can make at home. Definitely a recipe to wow dinner party guests.

As Spencer explained each component, they seemed do-able and the keys to success are time and planning. Most of these components require a 24 hours head start as things are left to rest or poach between stages. This is not a dessert you can rustle up in the last couple of hours before a dinner party.

Spencer and his assistant Robyn made the dishes seem straightforward with clear instructions and lots of helpful hints (how to tell when things are done, how to keep the pears submerged etc). We learned that financiers are so called because the shape of the mould is like a gold bar. Spencer also talked about how versatile each of the recipes is and how different flavors can be added to the sabayon and financiers.

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The poached pears were probably the highlight and I definitely want to try making them at home. The spicing was subtle but delicious and the color was stunning. One of the nice things about this dessert was that even if you didn’t want to attempt the whole composition you could definitely make some of the component parts and they could stand alone or served with fruit.

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Sabayons are usually made with wine, but because the pears were poached in red wine Spencer chose a citrus juice to complement the almonds and the wine. This is a dish where nothing is wasted. The egg yolks are used for the sabayon while the egg whites are used in the financier. The tangelo juice is also used in the sabayon while the peel is candied. Voila the finished dish:

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There was a lot going on, but the flavors complemented each other as orchestrated. The moist and fragrant financier, succulent pears, sweet sabayon, crunchy croquant and chewy peel made every bite an explosion of tastes and textures but the only sounds in the room were murmurs of pleasure.

We finished with a couple of Pistacia Vera’s signature dishes, a pistachio macaroon, and some pistachio nougat. Robyn explained the process of making nougat which sounds amazingly sticky and messy and Spencer described the 5 day macaron process. I’m looking forward to trying to make the dessert at home, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit German Village.

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Another great Pistacia Vera event I went to was a tasting at Hills Market in February, pairing desserts with wines and I believe that Hills has another dessert tasting scheduled for October 20th with Pattycake Bakery. yum.

If you are interested in a Dispatch Kitchen cooking class, there are lots of great options, either taught by Robin Davis or by guest chefs from around the city. I highly recommend them.

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Too Many Food Events

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September has been a month jam packed with food events and it shows no sign of abating. I don’t want you to think that I am complaining, I’m not, I’ve been having a great time and lots of wonderful experiences. The title is a homage to the first event I want to mention, a panel of Columbus Food Bloggers at Wild Goose Creative. This post is going to be an overview of a lot of fantastic food events that could all have been posts in their own right, if I wasn’t so busy going to food events that I don’t have enough time to write.

Back to Wild Goose. The Food Bloggers on the panel were Columbus Foodie, Dave from Weber Cam, CMH Gourmand, Rosie from Bitchin’ in the Kitchen, Zach from Columbus Foodcast, myself and Nick from Breakfast with Nick, a selection of the active food bloggers in Columbus. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people came to listen to a group of food bloggers. Each blogger introduced themselves and explained why they started blogging and the focus of their blog. It was interesting to share stories and it didn’t take long before we were sharing recommendations for new places to eat. There were some thought provoking questions including how blogging interplays with traditional media and it was a shame that time prevented a more in-depth discussion of the issue.

Each of us brought some food to share that related to our blog. Marmite seemed the obvious choice as it appears in my Hungrywoolf logo, is British and is one of my favorite foods. I remembered a recipe for Marmite cheese straws from the last issue of BBC Good Food magazine but unfortunately being a voracious recycler, the magazine was already gone. Internet research provided some ideas but of course, I am not sensible enough to do a practice run and thus on the afternoon of the event I was still hoping that they would all turn out alright. I tried hearts, pinwheels and eventually found that twisted sticks worked the best. The recipe was simple: frozen puff pastry, mature cheddar cheese, butter, marmite, a hot oven and a prayer that people would like them.

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I didn’t see too many left on plates, so it seemed that they were well received and I think I may have converted some people to the joy of Marmite.

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Labor Day was spent laboring. Not a food ‘event’ but certainly food related, we spent the day helping to pick and wash pumpkins at AD’s parents Farm. His Father grows over 50 varieties of pumpkins and squash, so I was in squash heaven and came back with a huge bag full. Some of the varieties I wasn’t familiar with and I was excited to discover that one of them, Green-striped Cushaw, is an Ark of Taste Food.

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I hadn’t thought much about squash and pumpkins needing to be washed before they are sold, although it seems obvious now. I grew up in a city, so this was a novel experience for me. My fingers were like prunes all day, but I found washing the squash meditative and enjoyed chatting to the family members who had also been enlisted.

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Back to Columbus and Dine Originals Restaurant Week was in full swing. I attended a Columbus Metropolitan Club Restaurant Week event featuring a panel of Dine Originals restaurant owners and chefs. Restaurants represented were Barcelona, The Refectory, Alana’s, Katzinger’s and Trattoria Roma. The speakers were all effusive about the benefits of being part of the Dine Originals group. Kamal Boulos the owner of The Refectory and the new President of Dine Originals had some great insights into the development of the Columbus restaurant scene. There were a lot of questions from the audience, of which ‘what do you wish you had known when you started out?’ elicited the most interesting and humorous responses.

I didn’t have a chance to experience any of the Restaurant Week dinner menus, but I did have lunch at two of the participating restaurants, Deepwood and Cafe Corner. My Restaurant Week highlight was tea for two at Pistacia Vera. Their Restaurant Week tasting plate made a perfect birthday treat for a friend. As usual it was all divine, but the lemon tart was so perfect that I am in need of an excuse (however transparent) to return.

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Wednesday was the monthly Slow Wine event at the Twisted Vine in Grandview. It is an intimate gathering, always thoughtfully put together and a pleasant way to spend an evening sipping wine and chatting to old friends and new acquaintances. The Twisted Vine offers a couple of wine flights, some complimentary food and wines by the glass or bottle. This month’s food offering was a real treat with a selection of meats, fish and cheese from Thurn’s.

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I think that AD and I have worked our way through almost half of Thurn’s extensive menu. The selection at the Twisted Vine included a few favorites as well as some things we had not tried. The tongue was so tender and buttery that the taste could convert people to offal but my new *favorite* thing is the 5 year old smoked cheddar. I went to buy some the next day but they were sold out. Hmpf.

The North Market have revamped their Dispatch Kitchen Cooking Classes with Robin Davis, the Dispatch Food Editor now manning the helm. There is a great range of classes taught by Robin herself and other Columbus Chefs. There is even a timely Thanksgiving boot camp designed for people cooking a holiday dinner for the first time. I am particularly tempted by the class with Spencer Boudros of Pistacia Vera on September 30th and I believe that there are spaces left in some of the classes. They make a fun evening out or a great Christmas or birthday gift. I was a volunteer assistant at one of Robin Davis’s classes last week, on making sushi rolls at home. Robin is an informative and sympathetic teacher and it was a lot of fun. I wish I had remembered to take some photos.

Friday night was a fundraiser dinner for 500 people at the Frankin Park Conservatory, part of their weekend long Field to Table Festival. Somehow I had agreed to volunteer, little realizing what that would entail, and never imagining that AD would score an invitation to the dinner. Jealous – moi?! I ended up as a sous chef to Richard Rosendale, preparing salads and plating food for 200 of the guests. Having never worked in a professional kitchen I was somewhat out of my depth, but at the same time right in my element. It was a real adrenalin rush working in a very MacGuyver-ish tent-kitchen.

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It was a stunning event, as befits the $300 a ticket price, with tables set out around the sculpture and the back-drop of the Conservatory illuminations. Guests arrived at the new Community Garden Campus for drinks and hors d’oeuvres which included pizza, lamb kebabs, sliders, an Ohio cheese board and Jeni’s ice cream. If they weren’t already full they walked over towards the Conservatory for a lavish 7 course dinner, including tomato and cucumber salad, ratatouille, roasted chicken, pork ribs, polenta, succotash, roasted pork loin and pork belly and for dessert apple crisp and ice wine sabayon from Pistacia Vera.

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Sunday we were back at Franklin Park to volunteer at the Slow Food table, promoting food that is good, clean and fair and handing out samples of paw paws and ground cherries. I hope that you will have a chance to visit the Community Garden Campus at Franklin Park if you have not already. I know that they are planning a lot of programming. It is beautifully done.

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One of the highlights of the Community Garden Campus is the live fire cooking theatre which includes a fire place, a hearth and the only green roofed pizza oven that I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to get a slice (or two) or Jim Budros’s amazing wood fired pizza topped with spinach and goat cheese. The crust was made using Peter Reinhart’s dough recipe and I can attest to the results. I am sure it helps when you have a 600º wood fired oven!

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As if it wasn’t a busy enough weekend, we had to find time for some taco trucking. Night of 1000 Tacos is coming up this Friday, September 18th and we had to forewarn the trucks, and drive the route so we could produce a turn by turn sheet for cyclists. We will be hitting four trucks in the Cleveland Avenue, Morse Road area and it should be a lot of fun.

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Last night was Taste the Future, the annual culinary showcase of Columbus State Community College. It is a huge event with around 50 Columbus chefs showing off their wares. Some of Columbus’s finest restaurants were there along with a number of hotels and catering companies. The event was held in a large courtyard area over looked by the towering statue of Christopher Columbus. There was music and wine and throngs of people.

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There was a lot of food and it was fun seeing what everyone had to offer. Some of the restaurants did a good job of projecting their identity and giving you a sense of their menu. With so many offerings, things started to blur but there were some interesting trends. Popular ingredients included: mushrooms, truffle oil, scallops and shrimp. There were several variations on chocolate tarts and a number of plays on gazpacho and chilled soups. Two of my favorite dishes fell into this category, a white gazpacho from the Brewers Yard Bistro at Kroger and a local tomato gazpacho with crab and corn salad from Aramark at the Columbus Convention Center. I also really liked the Scallop Pomponnette from The Refectory.

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It was a prefect evening for an outdoor event and great for taking photos. For those wanting more, there are a lot more photos on flickr and with several bloggers and photographers floating around, I am sure there will be a lot more online too.

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And so that brings us up to date. Next on the agenda is the Night of 1000 Tacos, closely followed by the Ohio Paw Paw Festival. I will be heading down to Lake Powell near Athens on Saturday for a celebration of all things paw paw. I am honored to have been invited to judge the paw paw cook off contest and I can’t wait to see what the competitors have come up with.

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For those of you wondering what a paw paw is – it is the largest native fruit in the United States and the official native fruit of Ohio. It is like a cross between a custard apple, mango and banana and surprisingly tropical for something grown in Ohio. I am sure that I will be writing a lot more about Paw Paws next week.

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