From artisan cheeses and wood oven baked breads, handmade ecclesiastical beeswax candles, weaving on a century old loom, bathing at another secluded beach to leisurely sipping tsipouro while enjoying meze on the waterfront, Lispi is for seekers of tradition and tranquility.
Lipsi is an island lover’s dream and a journey back to tradition.
please read my July article for the Hellenic News of America
Among the five course festival menu Chef Luis Noriega created for Coco Tropical, the Angus short ribs marinated in a fragrant mixture of sautéed dried peppers, herbs and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and slow braised was something I never tasted north of the Rio Grande.
Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco, European capitals to Chef/Professor at leading Mexico culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Guia in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. Recently Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical for the 22nd Festival Gourmet International.
Unlike many culinary festivals, Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta stretches over eleven days with dozens of events among one-time theme dinners and brunches, wine and tequila tastings to daytime cooking classes and lunches with guest chefs throughout the city. Additional participating restaurants offered nightly festival menus created by their sponsored guest chefs.
More than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied. The name of one popular American icon of Tex-Mex food was often cited. The breadth of the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International ranged from Pakistani to Austrian fusion menus.
Yet the festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever evolving New World cuisine.
Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Restaurant Coco Tropical on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon for years and is a founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. This is not the first time Chef Noriega has teamed with his old friend.
Wearing gloves, remove the veins from the chilies and as many of the seeds you wish – they contain much heat – and sauté in a hot cast iron pan with one tablespoon oil for 5+ minutes. Add the onions and saute 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook additional 2 minutes.
Remove pan from the heat and add one cup boiling water – slowly or else it’ll splatter on you. Add the leaves, if available, and soak for 20 minutes.
In a dry small hot cast iron pan quickly toast the ground spices and orange zest stirring constantly for a minutes or until fragrant. Remove from heat.
In a blender add the vinegar, chilies, soaking water, toasted spices and dry herbs. Blend until liquefied. Transfer to a small saucepan and, over medium-low heat, simmer until reduced to a sauce.
In a very hot cast iron pan brushed with just a touch of olive oil sear the Angus beef on both sides for two minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and brush both sides liberally with the chili sauce.
Line a baking dish large enough for the beef with the banana leaves or parchment paper and fold the leaves over encasing the short ribs.
Cover and bake in a pre-heated 240° Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours.
During the last hour gently simmer the diced sweet potatoes with the orange juice, sugar and 1 cup cold water in a sauce pan for 30 to 40 minutes until fork tender. Mash along with the sour cream. Serve with slices of beef.
The dish was superbly paired with a Spanish petit verdot imported by Va de Vinos. This new import company is quickly adding to Mexico’s reputation for embracing fine wines. The deep berries of the petit verdot melded with the rich natural sauce of the braised beef.
Keep in mind, this was a major international festival, but Puerto Vallarta’s culinary scene is smoking every day.
When you go:
Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.
Among Florida’s Roaring Twenties grand hotels it seems Al Capone slept in many, including Casa Marina. The mid-1920s Prohibition era was profitable for Florida including Jacksonville Beach. The beachfront Mediterranean Revival club-like Casa Marina, complete with a sprinkler system, opened in 1925 to a high living bi-coastal clientele.
Ninety years later on the deck of the Penthouse Lounge & Martini Bar overlooking the Atlantic’s pounding surf Casa Marina serves a premium Tequila Margareta – without the slushy ice – that I’m confident infamous Al would approve.
Read what intrigued even the big Al to Jacksonville Beach…
Blessed with Florida’s agricultural and ocean abundance at their doorstep, restaurants in St. Petersburg don’t have to search far for quality ingredients.
A relaxed Gulf of Mexico life style and plenty of Florida sunshine draw residents and tourists to a plethora of cafes, fine dining, bars and beach side venues serving traditional fried fish platters to truffled wild mushroom risotto. With an emphasis on independent ownership St. Petersburg chefs have the freedom to experiment or just create the best grilled grouper sandwich on the beach. Here’s a dozen to try in the St. Petersburg area…
Only a few restaurants in Quito still serve cuy (roasted guinea pig) anymore, and it has become an exotic food. Although still common in remote village cuisines, even in urban Ecuador the sides would include potatoes, corn and grains in a variety of forms.
Giant shrimp do not belong in the central Andes of Ecuador, but they do on the long Pacific coast. Modern transportation provides the means today to easily market foods within geographic regions.
Quinoa, potatoes and corn are but three of a copious number of food stuffs indigenous to the Central Andes. Spanish conquest in the 16th century spread both these and many other agricultural products worldwide and introduced pigs and beef to South America. Today highways allow Ecuador’s Amazon River and Pacific Ocean fish and seafood to be served fresh in Quito at 9,000 feet elevation.
In a recent trip to Quito I explored seven restaurants that firmly base their menus on traditional cuisine yet take a liberal hand their reinterpretation for the 21st century plate.
From the rustic refinement of La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Lodge to the local spunk of Rubio’s citywide Fresh Mexican Grill, there’s a locally owned venue in any price bracket for all residents to patronize in this southern California urban county, and they seem to happily do so often.
Sea, cliffs, beach and mountain vistas abound, the climate begs for outdoor dining and the region’s relative affluence blend to create menus of imagination and freshness – California Modern.
Come read about eleven restaurants and a market that exemplify the best San Diego, La Jolla and Southern California offers…
Harrisburg the capital of Pennsylvania and Rehoboth Beach in far southern Delaware may be 165 miles apart, but they share similar European colonial origins, the Susquehanna/Chesapeake Bay river basin and legendary farmlands.
From plein air painters feasting on the raw natural beauty of beaches and marshland to cutting edge jewelry design, southern Delaware has nurtured the arts for the past century. As the motto of the Art League of Rehoboth says, Art Grows Here.™
Before there was state government, before there was coal, iron, steel and chocolate, farm and tavern table were always next-door. The ingredients to make a creamy mushroom risotto, charcuterie, or a Polish vegetarian chili are still from the earth surrounding the Harrisburg/Hershey region.
A spotlight on eight venues offering culinary creativity…
Nearing the Hilo Farmers Market, the scents and sights are a kaleidoscope of sensations. Food stalls, produce vendors, flower sellers, clothing, crafts, jewelry and a even a seamstress radiate out onto the surrounding sidewalks.
It’s best if you do not suffer from a fear of heights while standing in front of the towering window walls inside Les Bourgeois’ Blufftop Bistro. The panoramic vista of lush countryside hundreds of feet above the Missouri River could distract you from Executive Chef Arron Wells superb cuisine.
Millie Rambis warned me that, “They usually don’t let anyone from the outside into the judging tent, but since you’re from the outside maybe they’ll make an exception.” I was writing about the competition at the invitation of the Columbia, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Bureau, but “from the outside” sounded ominous.
An Inside Outsider: An Exclusive at the Roots, Blues and BBQ Festival
The Kansas City BBQ Society does not allow observers inside judging tents until one Philadelphia chef and writer was given an exclusive scoop.
Millie Rambis warned me that, “They usually don’t let anyone from the outside into the judging tent, but since you’re from the outside maybe they’ll make an exception.” The very affable Millie, an event planner at Columbia’s main music venues, the Blue Note and Mo Jo’s, both owned by Festival impresario Richard King, has worked for the past year as BBQ Competition Coordinator and served as my liaison for two days of interviews and observations. From the “outside” sounded ominous, yet I guess it worked.
Fifth Annual Columbia, MO, BBQ Competition
Since midnight, surrounding the white tent that will house more than 70 certified judges, 60 teams have been diligently concentrating on preparations for the Fifth Annual Barbecue competition which is an integral component of Columbia, MO’s Roots, Blues and BBQ Festival – warming cookers with their own combinations of woods and charcoal, trimming briskets, brining chicken, applying rubs to pork shoulders and getting very little sleep.
Judge Ron Pinchott from Milwaukee tells me that, “Teams can consist of everyone from a basic laborer to a CEO. BBQ bridges all areas and genres. The competition circuit starts in February and goes to November all around the country. Some teams make their living at it.”
Bill Watkins was Columbia’s city manager, as well as being a certified BBQ judge, when the Festival was first conceived five years ago. He was an enthusiastic supporter and instrumental in city participation. “The original organizers wanted a unique event. They not only wanted to bring in the best blues music, but they wanted other things to attract people and BBQ is this All American event.” Attendance each year averages 60,000 nationwide.
All certified by the KC BBQ society
All the judges are certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society having completed a basic course and, when time dictates, refresher classes. Some are Master Judges having scored over 30 contests and participated themselves in competitions. Certification can be achieved as young as 16 years old. Present today were judges from Wisconsin, Oklahoma and throughout Missouri. One was a University of Missouri journalism student who became a judge at 15 – just before the new minimum age requirement went into the rules. He was here with his dad.
It’s not an easy task. Barbecue is as regional and individualistic a preparation method as food can get. In central Missouri sweet tomato based sauces are favored while just a couple hundred miles east in Memphis they prefer spice rubs over sauces. In the deep South mustard based sauces are the norm and in the Carolinas they like a vinegar tang. Even wood preferences change: hickory, pecan, apple, oak, cherry and, in the southwest, mesquite.
Linda Schowalter, certified judge and responsible for the computer inputing and calculation of the scores says, “In the training, we try not to tell them how the scoring’s done, but what to look for. But to be honest, if someone were to turn in a mustard based sauce it probably won’t be scored very high because the judges here aren’t used to that. You talk to the different teams and they’ll use the seasonings of the region they grew up in, but if they travel out of their area they’ll change.” In competition they have “to please the judges.”
The Judging Criteria
Prior to the start of judging a recording summarizing the KC BBQ Society’s rules is played followed by a formal recitation of the Society’s Oath administered this day by Mike McMillan, official representative of the Society and chief supervising judge. Texture, moisture, tenderness and ease of pulling meat off the bone are emphasized.There are reminders that smoked chicken may appear pink near the bone, yet if it pulls away easily it’s properly cooked. Because of this issue I noticed a number of contestants deboning their chicken when I conducted interviews the night before. Thighs were favored because of fat and dark meat content (moisture).
Ron Pinchott’s take is, “Try to be open minded. Sometimes people put too much emphasis on presentation. We always remind ourselves we’re judging the meat, not the garnish and the sauce.” They have to mentally divorce the seasonings from the methodology.
Double Blind Judging
The procedure’s known as double blind judging. Each contestant’s styrofoam box arrives with its team number – no names – which is immediately covered by the supervising judges with a second sticker containing the teams corresponding computer score sheet number. To keep taste buds clean, no judge may smoke during the process and they freshen their palates with saltine crackers and water. No spouses or other household members may sit at the same table. Silence is enforced during judging and judges pledge, among other criteria, to have had no prior contacts with contestants that day.
Tasting the competition
Tasting the entries was not open to the general public because of Department of Health regulations, but since I was an official observer, I was allowed to sample the leftovers along with the volunteer assistants. The smoke flavors were surprisingly understated, almost subtle – not at all like one just walked out of a burning log cabin.
•The chicken, both boneless thighs and legs, were moist, tender and sweet with sauce.
• Ribs were succulent, meaty and fell off their bones. My first sample’s sweetness was complimented by an even smokiness. Yet another sample surprised me with a spicy hot pepper rub that worked well with its deep smoky flavor.
•Pork could be presented sliced, pulled or cubed. All samples were very tender and ranged from sweet to salty to salty/pepper spicy. Generally they were less smoky than ribs.
•The brisket was my personal favorite. Coming from the East Coast I’m used to braising this cut of beef. But here the fat is trimmed, rubbed with spices and/or sauces and smoked for up to 14 hours. The slices are firm – no flaking like braising can cause – the smoke flavor is subtle and the texture is butter soft. Mike McMillan commented, “This spoils even us for BBQ brisket. Most restaurants can’t afford the prep and cooking time.”
And the Winners
Grand Champion: Political Pork ($2500 plus invitation to the American Royal)
Reserve Champion: Blazin’ Blues ($1500 prize)
1st place in each category: $750
•Chicken: Spicewine Ironworks (perfect score)
•Ribs: D2 BBQ
•Pork: Muddy BBQ
•Brisket: TrueQue (perfect score)
•Dessert: Up in Smoke
And my prize was participating as the first “outsider” to get an inside look, and taste, of this hospitable and enjoyable event.