Tag Archives: restaurants

Food Paths Tinos energizes an island

The whole idea of Food Paths Tinos, Giorgos says, was “to keep the chain of knowledge alive from one generation to another.”

at Tinos Saturday market

Soft spoken, young, relaxed, model handsome Giorgos Amoiralis quietly explains how an idea morphs into a phenomenon. We’re at lunch at Bourou Restaurant in Chora on Tinos Island in the northern Cyclades. The brilliant October sun gleams off the Aegean illuminating both the fine cuisine and the mesmerizing conversation.

More than once, I admit, my eyes misted over during lunch. Food Paths’ mission is not saving lives; it’s saving a heritage. Over the past six years as I’ve traveled Greece during its on-going economic problems and, yes, the brain drain of highly educated young people, I’ve experienced a resilience from the first visit. Today many Greek youth are looking back to what made their great grandparents thrive and survive.

(right) Giorgos Amoiralis, EXO Catering & Tinos Food Paths with author

They are looking at the 5,000-year-old heritage of Greece and bringing it into the 21st century, from learning the age-old skill of marble crafts, vineyards reviving thought-to-be extinct grape varieties to actively seeking new commercial opportunities for the unique agricultural products of the varied regions that comprise Greece.

Food Paths Tinos is a gastronomic event to get producers, farmers and restaurants to communicate and create “a huge table where all food traditions are brought together to make things better.” They don’t come to sell, but to become friends. (Old Greek saying: “Food is an excuse to get together with friends.”)

Bourou Restaurant

Started in 2014, it already attracts bloggers, food critics and chefs from around Greece. It has grown from a small gathering of food professionals to an island event. Food tastings, cooking demonstrations and the chance for the community to interact with professionals committed to Food Paths Tinos has helped increase demand for local products encouraging more young entrepreneurs to look at the land and what it provides for their future. Held in the second week of May, Food Paths Tinos has grown since 2014 from a volunteer staff of 50 to 150 to manage what has virtually become a festival.

Yet it was Giorgos’ understated passion for what he and a few friends set in motion that he recognizes transcends the original intention. What has held Greece together for millenniums has been the power of family and community. The violence, disruptions and social changes of the 20th century did much to undermine that foundation. Even on islands where everyone knows about everyone,  isolation develops; knowing about everyone isn’t the same as knowing everyone.

Bourou Restaurant

Tinos Island farmers, cheese makers, cured meat producers and preserved local foods in shops have all experienced increasing demand. Yet Food Paths, Giorgos (owner of EXO Catering) and the other lunch guests said, has energized the community of Tinos. Not only have professionals in the field become friends, rather than simply associates, but the commonality of food has created new friendships and an understanding of the importance of maintaining local Greek food traditions among islanders.

During my four days on Tinos I experienced the islander’s pride in their local foods, especially among the restaurants. Tasoula Kouli and Antonis Zotali of Bourou Restaurant hosted lunch in Hora and it was a virtual menu of Tinos Island.

Antonis Zotali, author & Tasoula Kouli of Bourou Restaurant

Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes and capers: Malathouni is a cow’s milk cheese. The curds are separated from the whey before packing into cloth-lined baskets for a day. The cheese is then removed and hung in cloth to dry for 20 days.

Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena: Louza sausage is a specialty of the northern Cyclades. It’s cured with salt and then red wine. After curing it’s sprinkled with pepper, allspice, fennel, cloves and savory and finally pressed into wide intestine and hung to dry in the air 20 to 25 days. It’s served cut into very thin slices.

Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes & capers and Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena

 Bourou Restaurant’s Tinian Earth salad: Aged Malathouni (more than 20 days) tomatoes, white and black-eyed beans, lettuce, rocket, chickpeas and lentils.

Stuffed Eggplant salad: Bourou has taken a traditional eggplant spread, where the ingredients would have been pureed, and deconstructed it as a salad. Per salad, half an eggplant with skin is pan fried until soft. The eggplant is scooped out reserving the skin “cup.” Chopped tomatoes, onion, dill, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, olives and olive oil are tossed with the cooked eggplant and served in the eggplant skin cup.

Earth Salad & Stuffed Eggplant
Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes

Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes: The lamb is marinated overnight in orange and lemon juice, thyme, mustard, garlic and olive oil. It’s then braised and slow roasted in a ceramic pot with the potatoes at low heat.

For the artichoke puree: cook the artichokes and then cut away the leaves until there is only the heart. Boil three times as much weight potatoes and carrots as artichokes. Drain the vegetables reserving a ½ cup cooking liquid. Puree all three with olive oil and a little cooking liquid if necessary. The combination of savory lamb and potatoes with sweet artichokes was a tasty match.

French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce.

Dessert was rich, creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce. The contrasting sweet/sour flavors were terrific.

Lunch at Bourou Restaurant coupled by inspiring conversation with Giorgos Amoiralis boosts my optimism even more that the future of Greece is in encouraging its youth to plow their roots back into the economy. In 2014  Food Paths Tinos started as a way for farmers and restaurant owners to get together. In four short years it energized Tinos Island community pride. Just imagine how such passion could stimulate a nation.

When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.

Disclosure: The author was a guest of the businesses mentioned in this article through the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Special thanks to Adriana Flores Bórquez for being my guide. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.

Read more at: Tinos Island and its traditional food abundance

view of Tinos from Bourou Restaurant

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Flegra Hotels lives the ideal of Greek hospitality

Five years ago a (very) young smiling Yannis Laspas first greeted me in the lobby of the Flegra Palace Hotel. Yannis and his sister Lena were already managing the family owned Flegra Palace that their parents had opened in 1989. In these past five years I’ve had the pleasure of being greeted by Yannis at his hotels (plural) twice more.

Not content with totally renovating the Flegra Palace Hotel, Yannis and his sister Lena have built a select hospitality empire in Pefkoahori on the Halkidiki peninsula of Kassandra – the flagship Flegra Palace Hotel, the waterfront Flegra Beach Hotel, and the new Apanemia Apartment Hotel, which opened in 2017.

Commercial fishing boat in Pefkoahori

Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, natural hot mineral spas, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually. The fishing town of Pefkoahori has become one of Kassandra’s most popular summer tourist destinations.

During the summer season, this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island. A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.

Pefkoahori, Kassandra, Greece

The Flegra Hotels are ideally situated to maximize a beach vacation as well as to explore natural beauty and local antiquities. The Flegra Palace’s rooms surround an opulent pool that is the hotel’s focal point and includes the Soleil Bar with its dramatic glass floor jutting over the water. In the warm Greek evening the entire scene is lit by a computer controlled LED system that cycles through soft colors. The light plays on olive and palm trees, flowering plants as well as fountains and a waterfall. Dozens of candles flicker on the tables of the Soleil bar and the Flegra Palace’s two restaurants – the poolside Ambrosia and the main building’s glass walled Titanes room.

sample of dishes from Titanes (Flegra Palace) buffet

The open air Ambrosia restaurant offers superb a la carte dining for lunch and dinner. Titanes is both a buffet and an al la carte dining room. Guests at the Flagra Palace can opt for a rate that includes the buffet. Classic Greek, Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes are prepared with the freshest local meats, seafood, fish and produce. Executive Chef for the Flegra Palace and Flegra Beach’s Yalla restaurant, Michael Voulgaris, is pushing the envelope for a family oriented tourist destination.

 In cooperation with Visit Greece’s promotion of pan-Hellenic regional foods the Flegra Palace offers special rotating themed dinners as part of the buffet as well as regional breakfast dishes. The dinners themed menus range from foods of the Byzantine Empire, ancient Thrace, Asia Minor to Macedonia, Greek fish and Chef Michael Voulgaris own creation, recipes based on the philosophy of Aristotle.

Chef Voulgaris used Aristotle’s five foundations for life – air, fire, water, either and earth.

Air: A cold soup, slight bitter appropriate for ancient times, with wine, wine vinegar and rose petals.

Fire: A seafood dish of barley and vegetables served at room temperature. Nice flavors and raisins sweeten the dish. Olives and raw onion add counterpoint.

Water: Bitter greens steamed in sea and fresh water with apricots and feta cheese. The apricots add that touch of sweetness ancients loved so much to balance bitterness and the feta adds salt. Served at room temperature.

Either: A dessert soup of fruits with honey and molasses in wine served at room temperature. Once more contrasting bitter and sweet since quince is one of the fruits along with berries. One of the more complex of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints.

Earth: It was the most radical of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints. A beautiful cold soup of wine, rose petals and herbs.

Aristotle dinner at Flegra Palace

It was a risk taking meal, and diners were taking the plunge. Yet for an all-inclusive buffet, even the regular selections are imaginative and well above the average hotel in quality.

Executive Chef Michael Voulgaris, Flegra Hotels

To offer the Certified Greek Regional Breakfast a restaurant has to guarantee that 65-75% of the dishes are made from local ingredients and products and prepared using traditional recipes from designated regions of the country. Many of the selections are sweet and savory pastries of differing shapes with fillings including nuts, spinach, fruits and cheeses.

Certified Greek Regional Breakfast, Flegra Palace Hotel

Not content with simply new hotels and three vibrant restaurants, Yannis has embraced the cocktail revolution, which has swept North America the past decade. The new menu and trained mixologist of the Soleil Bar now offer among other drinks a Gin Basil Smash with aromatic fresh basil, simple syrup and lime juice. A Nigorni with gin, compari and sweet vermouth has a rich color and a great bitter/sweet balance. Sparkling Tarragon Lemonade is a summer cooler with the unique touch of a star anise garnish. Naturally they can stir a classic “Prohibition Era” Martini.

craft cocktails at Flegra Palace Hotel

The 29 individually decorated rooms of the Flegra Beach Hotel, at the quiet end of Pefkoahori beach, each come with kitchenettes. The sleek, modern understated silver gray color scheme, accented in teal and black, is mirrored in the public spaces but with splashes of red and window walls looking onto the pine tree shaded beach and Aegean Sea.

Yalla Restaurant & Beach Bar, Flegra Beach Hotel

Flagra Beach’s Yalla Restaurant and Beach Bar also benefits from Chef Voulgaris’ imagination and passion for fresh seafood. A salad of bitter rocket and sweet cherry tomatoes with balsamic continues his fascination with bitter/sweet contrasts. A medley of seafood with pasta and saffron scented sauce was photo perfect. Both food and drinks can be served under the extensive number of shade umbrellas on the beach.

Apanemia Apartment Hotel (Flegra Hotels)

The Apanemia Apartment Hotel is the newest addition to the Flegra Hotels collection. Although not on the beach, it’s convenient to the center of Pefkoahori and has its own parking – very desirable in old Greek villages. Each apartment is equipped with a well-designed compact kitchen. The balconies over look Pefkoahori or interior gardens. The wifi reception is excellent; laundry service is available and most of all it’s nestled just far enough from beach activities to be very quiet.

The Halkidiki peninsulas are not as well known to North Americans as the more famous Greek islands, but that is changing through imaginative marketing by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization and  forward thinking young entrepreneurs such as Yannis and Lena. Based on the relaxed, comfortable, affordable and delicious hospitality offered by the Flegra Hotels, 2018 ought to be your year to explore timeless antiquity, tranquil beaches, lively night life and imaginative cuisine from the pan-Hellenic world in this less discovered corner of one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – Greece.

When you go:

The Flegra Hotels 2018 season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Flegra Hotels.

Certified Greek Regional Breakfast with Greek coffee, Flegra Palace)

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Sumptuous seafood at Ο Ντίνος, Tinos Island, Greece

Gianakis Bay gleamed in the afternoon sun as my guide from the Municipality of Tinos Island, Adriana Flores Bórquez, and I entered the bay front Ο Ντίνος Restaurant. As so often in Greece you may find the spelling in the Latinized Greek alphabet, O Ntinos, or in English, The Dinos. No matter the spelling, Ο Ντίνος could not be in a more advantageous location for one of Tinos Island’s leading seafood and fish tavernas.

(left) author, (right) Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris

Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris had prepared a special menu for Adriana and I on this weekday afternoon since this was off-season when most restaurants are closed, although Ο Ντίνος was open on weekends. The attractive stone and wood building with a wide open terrace hugs the bay.

Kavavia is a traditional Tinos fish soup with an aromatic broth and lots of gavors – small fish – and a variety of other fish, rice, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The fish and vegetables are removed and arranged on a hot platter. The broth is served separately with the platter of fish and vegetables shared by the table.

Regosalata

Regosalata is a herring spread made from pureed potatoes, grilled herring, carrots, onion and a touch of tarama. Grilling the herring imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the spread.

A salad of louza, cheese, sundried tomatoes, lettuce, balsamic and cashew nuts was a study in flavors and textures: aged louza, a prosciutto-like cured ham that’s native of the neighboring island of Mykonos, concentrated tomato being sun dried and chruchy, rich chashew’s made this a luxury salad.

salad of louza,

For an additional texture, the sun dried tomatoes can be dipped in a batter (consistency of pancake batter) made with ouzo, tsipouro or raki, water, salt and flour then fry in oil until coating is crispy. These can also be served as their own meze.

Gavors

Gavors are small fish similar to herring, sardines or anchovies. They are high in Omega fatty acids and often added to soups, such as the Kavavia, fried or sautéed as in Chef Bambakaris dish topping red onion, cherry tomatoes and capers on Greek fava bean spread.

checkpeas

A dish of chickpeas was slowly cooked with zucchini, onions, parsley and cherry tomatoes. It was reminiscent of Middle Eastern dishes, which is not surprising considering the millenniums old trade routes between the Middle East and Greece.

Like most chefs, several of his dishes are his own recipes, and Antonis Bambakaris shared the basic preparation – although not the actual measurements for the ingredients. An imaginative cook should be able to recreate these three dishes:

Artichoke hearts with capers:

Artichoke hearts with capers
  1. Trim fresh artichokes until you have the cup of the heart.
  2. Place in a bowl or zip-lock bag the hearts, sunflower seed oil, white wine vinegar, juice of at least one large lemon and a generous teaspoon of sea salt. Marinate for at least 3 hours.
  3. Bring a pot with 1 quart of water to a boil and add the hearts and marinade and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool in the broth. The artichoke hearts can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to one year in the broth.
  4. To serve, remove from the broth and arrange on plates. Drizzle with olive oil, capers and parsley.

Caramalized Octopus with honey garnished with cherry tomatoes and carrot puree:

Caramelized Octopus
  1. Simmer the octopus using a ratio of 1 pound octopus (cut in serving pieces) in a boiling stock of 1/3rd cup white vinegar, 2 quarts water, a couple bay leaves and ½ a cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. In a large pan sauté onions until translucent along with slivered green peppers and sliced carrots. Then add seedless golden raisins and a clove of garlic. Sauté for several minutes more. Add some honey (preferably Greek thyme honey) and white wine, and reduce to a glaze consistency.
  3. Drain the octopus but reserve the broth. Add the octopus to the vegetables and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes adding a little broth to maintain a glaze that will coat the octopus.
  4. For the carrot puree: While the above vegetables are being sautéed, bring a pot of cold water to a boil. In proportion to the weight of peeled and sliced carrots, add 1/3rd as much cubed potatoes, 1/3rd as much chopped onions and clove of garlic chopped. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
  5. While vegetables are steaming, in a small sauté pan add balsamic vinegar and grated orange and lemon zest. Reduce the balsamic by half. Add some Tabasco sauce to taste. Keep the sauce warm.
  6. Reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain the vegetables and mash until a smooth consistency adding just enough cooking liquid to achieve that texture.
  7. Have some chopped pistachio nuts and grape tomatoes in reserve.
  8. Assemble by dividing the octopus pieces on serving plates and surround with the carrot puree. Top with a portion of the vegetable glaze, drizzle with reduced balsamic and garnish with pistachio nuts. Arrange a few grape tomatoes around the plate and serve.

Calamari: (whole baby the best, tentacles separated).

Calamari
  1. Sauté the Calamari in oil, garlic, onions, bay leaf and green pepper until the natural liquids evaporate.
  2. Remove the bay leaf.
  3. Add some white wine, dijon mustard, and a bit of sugar to make a nice sauce. Don’t overcook octopus or calamari. Test to see when fork tender.
  4. Serve over steamed wild and/or brown rice.
Banana ice cream

Of course, dessert cannot be forgotten. A fresh homemade banana ice cream topped the lunch. Chef Bambakaris’ wife made the ice cream.

A nine course mid-afternoon lunch is not unusual for Greece, especially when enjoying leisure time in the Cyclades Islands. Tinos Island,  one of the most northerly of the Cyclades, excels in high quality restaurants, cultural sites and fascinating geology. Come for the beauty and serenity of Tinos; be sustained by fine cuisine at Ο Ντίνος while being mesmerized by the sun illuminating the Aegean Sea.

When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.

Disclosure: The author was a guest of Ο Ντίνος  through the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation to Tinos was provided by Golden Blue Star Ferry , on the island by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.

The Ο Ντίνος (Dinos Restaurant)  Gianakis Bay, Tinos Island, Ormos Yianaki, 842 00, Greece

Ο Ντίνος

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Eating Andros

Batsi, Andros Island, Greece

On Andros Island in the Cyclades Islands, it’s easy to be distracted by vistas at every turn. With my first glimpse of the glittering harbor of Batsi it was obvious I’d enjoy four days exploring the island’s coastline and dramatic interior.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than lunch at Taverna Lagoudera on Batsi harbor. When you can still taste the natural saltiness of the Aegean Sea on the sea bream you know you’re in heaven (aka Greece).

Andros and its sister island Tinos (the subject of my March Hellenic News article) are affluent escapes with more villas than hotel rooms. Within easy access of Athens through the port of Rafina, the comfortable car-ferries of the Fast Ferry group run year round. Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops thrive on this island

…..read more about them at:

The shifting beauty of autumn on Andros Island

 

 

Grilled Vegetable Stack

 

Please read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

Tranquility in Bansko, Bulgaria

From Bulgaria’s Bansko ski and trekking center, the calm Aegean coastline of Halkidiki and the Cyclades Island of Paros, Ermia Resorts are havens of comfort, design and fine cuisine.

Premier Luxury Mountain Resort

Summer or winter lush forests, mountains of marble and gurgling streams, surround you. In the cocoon that’s the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort, Le Spa will soften the physical exertions of your outdoor activities. At the art-filled Lobby Bar you’ll imbibe such creations as their Maple Whiskey cocktail. While dining in the Amvrosia Restaurant your taste buds will thank you for choosing the Premier’s unique fusion of Greek and Bulgarian cuisine.

Curious? Read more at….

Greek hospitality at Ermia Resorts, Bansko, Bulgaria
Deshka Guesthouse with Yana & guest

Additional recent articles on Greece:

Travel ancient paths in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Macedonian Front 1917: the marble fields of Greece
An agnostic on the Holy Mountain Athos

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

Travel Eastern Macedonia and Thrace

Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is a region still home to the mix of ethnicities and religions that have settled on these lush, mountainous lands.

Xanthi

The lush mountainous terrain of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace make driving difficult. It’s not the well-maintained roads; it’s the distractions. I wanted to constantly pull the car over, get out and take yet another photo of scenes that I know the Greats of the ancient world witnessed. Every few miles another sign pointed to a sanctuary of the pantheon, sacred cave or ancient theater.

Kavala
Please read more ….
Travel ancient paths in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
The Kamares, Kavala, Greece

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

Croatia invaded by golden hordes of tourists

Nowhere in the southern Balkans has a region been so coveted by empires than Croatia with over 1,100 miles of photogenic Adriatic coastline. Although the ethnic Croats were themselves 7th century northern invaders, they could not stop a historical process that would come to an end only in late 20th century. The Romans, Venetians, Hungarians, Austrians, Ottomans, Mussolini’s Italy and Serbs all lusted over this beautiful and strategic land akin to the biblical neighbor’s wife.

Today Croatia is invaded not by empires but by golden hordes of tourists…

Dubrovnik July 2017

Read more on my travels to Croatia in the Hellenic News of America

Croatia: coveted treasure of the Balkans 

 

Pula

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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A hundred days of silence

Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry.  Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.

But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.

Old & new in the Principality of Andorra

Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron.  (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)

on Paros Island, Greece

Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.

French House Party, Carcassonne – a loyal sponsor for 3 trips.

That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.

One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.

Walls of the 9th century Mezquita mosque, Cordoba

By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.

From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.

Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki ­­­– including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.

Mt. Athos as seen from Sithonia, Halkidiki, Greece

Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.

raw oysters, quail egg, sea urchin & golden caviar in Puerto Vallarta

By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.

After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.

sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

 

 

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So you think you know Mexican food?

“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?

If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.

tuna steak from Mexico's northwest coast
tuna steak from Mexico’s northwest coast

So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.

When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 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 names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.

Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical
Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.

Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 500 gr. (16 oz)  fresh tuna steaks
  • to taste                fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     sesame seeds
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     rice vermicelli
  • 50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 10 each              finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
  • 2 each                small ripe avocados
  • 2 each                green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely                                minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot                                 sauce
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream

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 Preparation:

  1. Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
  2. Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
  4. Heat  (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
  5. Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
  6. Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.

Serve with a fine Rivero Gonzalez Scielo Blanco (Chardonnay) from Mexico’s Valle de Parras, Coahuila and enjoy New World cuisine.

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The 23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Footnote:

1 “Let’s Talk to Rick Bayless About Mexican Food.” The National Culinary Review, Vol. 41, Num. 2, American Culinary Federation, February 2017, St. Augustine, FL

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

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You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Oysters au gratin & Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs
Oysters au gratin & Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs

For twenty-two years Puerto Vallarta – a food tourism powerhouse – has hosted the Festival Gourmet International attracting an eclectic and enthusiastic mix of international and Mexican chefs eager to turn the nation’s premium food products into culinary art works. Among many highlights of the 2016 festival were cooking demonstrations, tastings and special festival menus created by guest chefs at A-list Puerto Vallarta restaurants.

Since I have a passion for oysters, two dishes created by Mexican chef Luis Noriega and Japanese-American chef Hiroshi Kawahito were particular favorites. Mexico’s northwest Pacific coast – particularly Puerto Vallarta’s Bay of Banderas and the Gulf of California – produce both excellent oysters and sea urchins.

Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Coco Tropical on the Malecon for years and is a co-founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. Coco Tropical’s guest chef Luis Noriega’s international career has taken him from Acapulco, Europe to owner of Restaurant La Gula in Zihuatanejo. His inspired festival menu for Coco Tropical included grilled oysters over wilted spinach with chipotle hollandaise sauce.

Oysters au gratin with Chipotle ­­Hollandaise Sauce

Ingredients for the oysters:

  • 12 each                   fresh oysters on the half shell
  • 5 tablespoons     unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces                fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 5 tablespoons    dry white wine
  • 1 each                     shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 each                    clove garlic, finely chopped
  • several drops    Worchester sauce
  • pinch                      black pepper
  • pinch                    salt

Ingredients for the Hollandaise Sauce:

  • 4 each                egg yolks
  • 10 ounces        clarified butter
  • 3 ounces           white wine
  • 1 each                chipotle chili liquefied in a blender with a small                                   amount of white wine
  • pinch                   salt

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Preparation:

for the oysters

  1. Shuck oysters but reserve bottom shell. Wash and dry the shells.
  2. Sauté spinach, onion and garlic with 4 tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper and Worchester sauce.
  3. Saute oysters in a seperate pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter for 1 minute. Add the white wine and reduce for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove both pans from the heat but keep warm.

for the Hollandaise Sauce

  1. In a stainless steel bowl set over another pan with hot water beat the egg yolks, white wine and salt with a wire whisk until slightly thickened and creamy.
  2. Slowly add the clarified butter in a thin stream whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth.
  3. Blend in the chili puree.

dsc06430Assemble

  1. Divide the spinach among the 12 reserved shells on a baking dish.
  2. Top each with an oyster.
  3. Cover with Hollandaise Sauce.
  4. If you have a gas torch, gently brown the top or place the oysters under the broiler until lightly browned.
Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc
Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc

Serve immediately with a crisp, dry white wine such as Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was quest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

Chef Kawahito’s recipe for raw oysters with sea urchin and quail eggs is not for the faint of heart. Yet for a true lover of raw food, I enjoyed ever morsel. It’s imperative that the ingredients are as fresh as possible and purchased from shops selling the highest quality ingredients.

Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. If you can’t find fresh sea urchin but want to sample this dish simply double the quantity of salmon caviar, or substitute two tablespoons of golden caviar. Gently wash the quail eggs with warm water and dry before cracking them open.

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Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs

Ingredients:

  • 12 each              fresh oysters on the half shell
  • 2 each                sea urchin tongues thinly slivered
  • 2 tablespoons    salmon caviar
  • 12 each              quail eggs

Preparation:

  1. Shuck the oysters and discard the top shell.
  2. Top each oyster with some sea urchin and ½ teaspoon caviar.
  3. Carefully break a quail egg over each oyster being careful not to break the yolks.
  4. Serve immediately.
Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Saki
Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Sake

I often don’t think of sake as a dinner wine, but Chef Kawahito dispelled that myth pairing the oysters with a glass of chilled Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Sake. It’s mild umami notes and dry finish were perfect.

 

 

 

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The  23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

Other oyster dishes in Puerto Vallarta: (clockwise from top left) raw, grilled with zarandeado sauce, grilled on coals with butter, fresh oysters on ice, raw served on the beach
Other oyster dishes in Puerto Vallarta: (clockwise from top left) raw, grilled with zarandeado sauce, grilled on coals with butter, fresh oysters on ice, raw served on the beach

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

Save

Save

Save

Save