This Week’s NY Happenings: Free Tastings at Boqueria, Filipino Fiesta At Bowery, Rub-A-Grub

TONIGHT (Monday): High On The Hog
The world’s greatest ham comes from the Pata Negra pigs that gorge on acorns in Spanish forests. If you’ve never tried Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, stop by Boqueria Flatiron tonight, where the tastings are free. (A sherry pairing is not a bad idea.) 

Complimentary tastings of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota start tonight, May 20th, and run through Wednesday, May 22nd, at Boqueria (53 W. 19th St., Flatiron). To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.
 
TUESDAY: Flip Out 
The rooftop of The Bowery Hotel goes tropical with a night of Filipino delights. Favorites like Jeepney and Zengo are on the bites, paired up with PKNY mixologist Enzo Lim’s cocktails.
 
Filipino Fiesta: A Culinary Tour of the Philippines starts at 6:30pm on Tuesday, May 21st, at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, East Village). Tickets are $75. To learn more about the hotel, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.
 
SUNDAY: Aye, There’s The Rub-A-Grub
Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine teams up with Sound Liberation Front for a reprise of last year’s Rub-A-Grub backyard bash. Rebel With a Culinary Cause chef Justin Warner will be laying out three rounds of food and drink, beginning with bottomless Bloody Marys, and finishing with barbecue. Ali Shaheed Muhammad of the band A Tribe Called Quest highlights the DJ array. Around 10pm, the scene shifts to One Last Shag for the after-party, but no worries—you can sleep in Monday. 
 
Rub-A-Grub starts at 2pm on Sunday, May 26th, at Do or Dine (1108 Bedford Ave., Bed-Stuy). Advance tickets are $15, or $25 for VIP entry. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.
 
Know every inch of this city by checking out inside-info on shops, bars, and restaurants at BlackBook’s NY City Guides

Food Network’s Alton Brown on Brooklyn’s Do or Dine and Upcoming TV Projects

Alton Brown, a Food Network personality who has done just about every show out there, is now taking a turn with the network’s latest cooking extravagance, The Next Iron Chef: Redemption. In a quick, 15-minute interview, I talked to the oft-described “nerd” or “geek” of the food television world about the new show (which airs November 4), what he wants to see, his work with Justin Warner of Do or Dine, and why Welch’s makes the best grape juice. Nothing about this man is dull; I just wish I could have gotten 15 minutes more.

I have to say, I am excited about your work with Food Network Star winner Justin Warner. What’s it like to work with him?
We are finally really getting to work on his show. Food Network was great and didn’t rush us into being foolish. I can tell you what the working title is; it’s Justin’s Excellent Adventure. It should get produced around the end of year, maybe in February or March, and it’s going to be prime time on the Food Network. At first, it will be an hour special that may or may not be a series. [Justin] is special and I know it. I don’t want to mess it up. It’s one of those things about being a mentor, screwing up yourself is okay, but screwing up someone else is something different.

What do you think about his restaurant Do or Dine?
I don’t have a lot of business in Bed-Stuy, so when I am there I go all out. As for Do or Dine, I love it. Everything about it appeals to me.

What cooking show would you like to see on the Food Network, or any other channel for that matter?
I have tried out a lot of genres. One of my goals in the last few years was to make every genre of show on Food Network. That’s why I got in on the Next Food Network Star; it’s different from Iron Chef, which is, well, basically a sporting event. Good Eats is a scripted, one-camera sort of thing. I have tried every hat.

As someone who has hosted, judged, and been on so many shows, what are you hoping to gain from The Next Iron Chef: Redemption?
Well, there is redemption for one thing. Redemption is an interesting thing. Here we have a bunch people who have already been in the competitions, so they know what they are getting into. Some got close enough to detect wisps of victory in the air, and others barely were on it. Everyone has something to prove and they are obsessed in a way. There is nothing as interesting to observe as an obsessed character. Then, there is thought of redemption. Proving you can do something that you had failed to do before.

Do you think you are a good fit?
Good fit? I don’t know. I have no idea—that is up to the viewers. [The Food Network] keeps asking me to do it, so I try no t to look that one in the eye. You start asking those questions…eh, you just go do it. But, I know enough about food and cooking, and if you are going to have a competition show about food, there are worst people to have in there. I know a lot and I have been around for every Iron Chef episode.

Aside from The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, what else can we look forward to from you?
I am doing two projects I am gassed about. One is producing Justin’s show, it will be an on the roads of food sort of thing. The other is Foods That Made America, a five-hour series on the foods that allowed America to become the country that it is. Basically it’s historic story telling as we talk about the top five things about how they changed American food. I don’t think food history has been done well. So I am going to talk a shot at it. 

Where did you get the idea to use Post-It notes on your twitter?
I started doing that during Food Network Star, but I don’t remember why. I stared sticking them on TV or computer screens when I was trying to taunt Giada De Laurentiis or Bobby Flay. I would stick Post-Its by their pictures just for fun. As for Twitter, I don’t like the 140 characters impute, so I stared with the Post-Its. I have gone thorough lots of Post-Its.

Ha, do they sponsor your habit yet?
No! They got their own Twitter account that would analog tweet like I did. They even used my name! That annoyed me, so I went off Post-Its and did index cards for a few weeks. But, I missed the Post-Its so I went back. I still just buy them at the drug store like everyone else. Only Welch’s sponsors me, though they don’t pay me to tweet about them. I end up tweeting them just because I have so much juice from them. So I end up tweeting things I make with it, like this cocktail I made with gin, tonic, and grape juice. I have loved it [Welch’s grape juice] all my life. I jumped at the chance to work with them.

It’s kind of sweet…
They don’t add sugar. That is an urban legend. All they do is use real juice. They got eight hours to pick, skin, and seed. Then it gets low pasteurized so it doesn’t ferment.

Wow, I had no idea. That brings me to another stereotype, the food nerd. I have heard you referred to as that. What do you think?
Food nerd? Well yeah, I would be one of those. I would count. If not the king of the food nerds, at least high royalty. I have earned that. People who get into food on the science angle are nerdy. We are different, quirky, and not like everybody else.

Get Down With 2013’s Michelin-Rated Restaurants

This week restaurants around the city celebrated the release of the 2013 Michelin Guide. One of the best features about this prestigious tome is their “good cuisine at reasonable price,” Bib Gourmand section. For the Bib Gourmand, they consider restaurant that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Here, they don’t offer stars, but getting mentioned in the guide is enough for many eateries. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about our mention in the Michelin guide,” said Speedy Romeo chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich. “I really see the guide as an honest measure for a restaurant rating, so, it means a lot to me to gain their respect.”

Aside from Speedy Romeo, highlighted this year include Gran Electrica, Pok Pok, and Battersby, which was also voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite magazine. It also appears to be the golden time for Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine. Not only did chef and co-owner Justin Warner winFood Network Star a couple months ago, but the restaurant has their second notable mention in the Michelin Guide.

In Manhattan, notice went to August, Il Buco Aimentari & Vineria, and Danny Meyer’s Untitled. There were also quite a few Asian places in the guide including Family Recipe, Jin Ramen, Yunnan Kitchen, and Uncle Zhou in Queens. With the one-star awards, the Asian trend continued with Café China, Hakkasan, and Jungsik at the top of the list.

On the higher end of things, three Michelin stars went, unsurprisingly, to eateries including Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and La Bernardin. There was one astounding twist; out of seven venues, one award went to a non-Manhattan restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. See folks, Brooklyn is rising. Just wait until it’s all outer boroughs and ramen joints.

Four Ways to Eat and Party Your Way Through Labor Day Weekend

Is it truly that time again? For you summer-loving folk out there yes, unfortunately Labor Day weekend is upon us and the end of the season is nigh. But, just because the good times must end, doesn’t mean you can’t go out with a bang, starting tomorrow at Pig Island, an all-out pork fest invading Governor’s Island. This epic event features 80 locally sourced hogs cooked up by 25 chefs including Pork Slope’s Dale Talde, King Phojanakong of Umi Nom and Kuma Inn, Sam Barbieri of Waterfront Ale House, and Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s NO. 43. Beer from Sixpoint Brewery will be flowing, as well as New York Wines. For $85 you get all this, plus live music and a trip on the ferry.

Saturday brings you Mr. Sunday Night, the outdoor dance party by Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin. There, you can stuff your face with tacos by Country Boys and down a ton of beer as you shake your booty from 3 to 9pm. On Monday, you can party down at two hip Brooklyn spots, starting at Roberta’s in Bushwick for their Labor Jams from 2pm to 6pm. DJ Mikhail Z and Joe Cristando will be spinning the beats as the staff whips up tacos and pours copious amounts of beer. Starting at 5pm, the boys of Do or Dine in Bed-Stuy host, Rub-A-Grub. Teaming up with Sound Liberation Front, they will not only feature an array of tasty appetizers and drinks, but music by Rich Medina and Queen Majesty. Let the, um, labor begin. 

Do or Dine’s Justin Warner Wins ‘Food Network Star’

I’m not going to lie: I was rooting for Do or Dine’s Justin Warner the whole time during the run of the eighth season of Food Network Star. As a member of the nerdy Team Alton (Brown), Warner proved the perfect fit, and it was awesome watching him win over the judges, his teammates, and big name chefs like Paula Deen, who, though she choked on his soup, was so delighted by his persona and hair that she continually referred to him as Elvis.

Now, the wine-rapping chef has won. “I am honored and I am excited about turning things upside down,” he said in an interview on the Food Network. On the finale episode last night, they unveiled a large portrait of the winner, and as soon as Warner saw it, his eyes welled up and he covered his face. “I never thought I would be accepted by America,” he said on the show. Given the 4.6 million votes that came in, obviously he has.

Through the season, Warner’s point of view was “rebel with a culinary cause,” which will probably be the name of his show. But for the 27-year-old chef, the concept he illustrated for the judges wasn’t a gimmick; he had already been a culinary radical at his Brooklyn restaurant, Do or Dine. There he has created, along with his partners Luke Jackson, Perry Gargano, and fellow chef George McNeese, a world where steak tartar comes shaped like a cow, fish get fried whole, and nachos are actually dumplings coated in cheese and sour cream. The later, by the way, was the dish Warner demonstrated in front of a live crowd during one of the show’s competitions.

For obvious reasons, Warner can’t filter interviews at the moment, so we couldn’t find out what exactly he is thinking now that he has won. Something tells me he would say something along of the lines of whathe told us when the show first aired: “Being a Food Network Star means I get to make even more people happy. I like people to have a good time, and sometimes I’m good at it.”The first time I met Warner was when Do or Dine opened last summer, and, just as I was surprised the restaurant has become so successful, I was stunned when I found out Warner was going to be on a food show. In the end, both make sense. Do or Dine serves up an unpretentious food adventure eaters have been craving, in an area that has almost nothing beyond cheap Chinese food places; and Warner is always pushing both the restaurant and himself to new levels.

In his first post-winning interview with the Food Network, he said, “I realized I have a strong desire to teach people. I never knew that until I saw the reaction of fans in the audience and on Twitter. I say to myself, ‘Wow! They trust me with that?’ Because a year and a half ago, I didn’t even know how to cook. To now be an authority on these things, at least in some people’s eyes, it’s amazing and I’ll never forget that.”

I don’t expect viewers will quickly forget Warner either. So, until I can toast his victory proper, I say cook on young man, I can’t wait to see what mischief you will be getting into next. Neither can his partners. I got Luke Jackson on the phone and he said he is overjoyed Warner won. “It’s great to see someone you worked with in the trenches so long achieve some notoriety. We are very excited also to see what it means for Do or Dine.”

Bye Bye Foie Gras: Good For Ducks, Bad For Foodies

Last Monday, I gleefully sat down to a rich plate of foie gras French toast at STK downtown. The lady-friendly steakhouse was packed with stylish people gorging on the same dish I had, plus chewing on steaks laden with creamy foie gras and foie gras butter. The scene was affluent and chic, and starting Sunday, July 1, will not be an experience you can have at STK in California. You also can’t have the foie gras terrine at meat-happy Animal in Los Angeles, or the popular foie gras au torchon at The French Laundry in Yountville.

“Like Chicago, I hope we can realize that the few ways we can enjoy ourselves is to sit around the table and enjoy food,” said French Laundry proprietor Thomas Keller to the Daily Meal during the James Beard Awards. “I hope our representatives in Sacramento realize that the enjoyment around the dinner table is sacred.”

While Keller and many other chefs feel this way, the law, which was passed in 2004 but had aseven-and-a-half-year grace period, aims to stop a practice animal advocates have deemed cruel for a long time—stuffing a feeding tube of fatty food down the throats of geese, ducks, and chickens. With the ban, the production and sale of food stuff resulting from any force feeding of birds that causes their livers to enlarge beyond the normal size, is illegal and comes with a $1,000 fine. That’s right, foie gras just got more expensive.

“That’s a lot of money to flout what is, in essence, a morals clause,” wrote Jonathan Gold in an article for the Los Angeles Times. He continues:

Which raises the question: In a period when New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pushed through a regulation banning supersize soda, California banned the sale of sharks’ fin soup and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether the federal government could force an individual to buy broccoli, can kitchen morality be legislated? Do the ban’s largely vegan supporters see it as a first step toward a larger ban on meat? Does a prohibition on products obtained from over-fattened ducks and geese protect animals or erode liberties — or both?

"It’s not just foie gras,"’ says Josiah Citrin, the chef and owner of Mélisse. "Most people don’t eat [it], so they think it doesn’t have anything to do with them. The problem is, what’s the next step, chicken?"

Lucky for me, I live in New York where places like STK can continue to dish out this luxury item, and eating a foie and jelly doughnut at Do or Dine and gorging on Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrated foie gras ganache at Red Rooster isn’t rebellious, but delicious. Despite how you feel about foie gras, just as Gold said, the real question comes down to morals and whether or not force-feeding a bird is cruel. Daily Meal’s Ali Rosen took this question to a duck farm upstate where farmers graciously let her tromp around and talked all about the process, which you can see below. It may surprise you to learn the difference between the way our throats an livers work vs. a bird’s. Readers, what’s your take on this ban?

Do or Dine’s Justin Warner Does TV

A little over a year ago Justin Warner opened up Do or Dine, a funky restaurant in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn with some former Modern employees that focused on the concept of food and what could be done with flavors, textures, and presentation. Warner and partner George McNeesedreamed up interesting dishes like marshmallow fluff with wasabi on pork, deviled eggs with red wine-soaked octopus, or their famous foie gras and jelly doughnuts. Now, Warner is making his debut on the Food Network as part of Team Alton (Brown) in the show Food Network Star. The first episode aired last Sunday, and, spoiler alert—Warner was not eliminated. I caught up with him to dish the dirt, find out if it’s changed his restaurant, and got a little sneak peek at the rest of the show.

What made you decide to try out for Food Network Star?
As a waiter, I made sure my guests were happy. As a restaurateur, I made sure my guests, my employees, and my partners were happy. Being a Food Network Star means I get to make even more people happy. I like people to have a good time, and sometimes I’m good at it.

Were you surprised you got in?
Extremely. I’m very far from culinary perfect, and I’m also kind of weird looking. I think these imperfections work in my favor, generally, but in Brooklyn, not on national TV.

How do you think it will affect business at Do or Dine?
So far the mail lady and the fish guy have given me high fives.

After the first aired episode aired, has it?
A few congratulatory remarks from customers have been very nice and pleasant. I can’t talk about it, which is hard, but I want there to be as much suspense as possible. I always say suspense is the most important ingredient. The moment when a cloche is removed from a plate is sometimes more important than what’s under it.

Alton’s first assessment of you as a creative chef lacking the skill to execute your ideas is kind of a theme in the history and reviews of your restaurant. What do you think about that statement?
In the case of the restaurant, and hopefully the show, I get by with a little help from my friends. I think a deaf guy invented the phonograph, no?

Can you share the dish you made on the show that you dug the most?
You’ll know it when you see it. No bones about it.

Now that it’s done, would you do it again?
If competitive cooking was my job, I would do it. It’s a very satisfying stress. When it’s over, it feels like you are 50 pounds lighter. It’s kind of addictive actually, but I can’t stand to be away from my girlfriend for more than a day, so maybe not.

Anything we should get excited about on the show?
Martie Duncan.

Can you please perfect the crab cake croutons and serve them at Do or Dine?
Maybe. This dish was a riff on our Maryland Style Jellyfish salad, which we served last summer. But in general, I don’t prefer to dwell on my failures too much. In the words of Swizz Beats, “On to the next one.”

Taste of the Nation Charity Event Draws New York’s Best Local Chefs, Feeds Kids

Last night the charity Share Our Strength hosted Taste of the Nation, their annual culinary fundraiser as a means to help end childhood hunger. “We are here tonight because there are 16 million American kids who struggle with hunger,” said co-founder Debbie Shore. Since 1988 the foundation has hosted these yearly events in 30 plus cities and raised over $75 million, and frankly, given the number of top named chefs, bartenders, and restaurants that volunteer their time and ingredients, the organization makes donating money easy.

In New York this year, the two-story, four-room space at 82 Mercer was filled with delectable bites including: Old school Lobster Thermidor served by chef Aaron Bashy of The Water Club; the infamous fois gras and jelly doughnuts made by the boys at Do or Dine; a fluke cebiche from La Mar’s smiley chef Victoriano Lopez (plus his translator); and an amazing razor clam and fennel dish from Ai Fiori.

On the high-end-low-end spectrum guest were forced to ingest the comforting pickled beef tongue by the gang at Mile End, slices of a six-food wedge salad sandwich by chef Joe Dobias of JoeDough, and the most amazing savory cotton candy being whipped up by the adorable Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy. Oh the tragedy.

To wash all these treats down Eben Freeman shook up a delectable Melagrana Sour for Osteria Morini, Jeff Bell from the clandestine bar PDT poured a smoked cardamom-infused Mariner cocktail, and Employees Only whipped up a blackberry vodka drink. Hands down the most exciting drink being made came in the form of Booker and Dax’s Hendrick’s Rose, a sweet, fizzy cocktail that smoked.

Amid all the opulence, we can’t forget the real reason Taste of the Nation is held. After all, most people don’t think of American kids going hungry and in a place where many of us throw food away every day, it’s tragic that about one in five children in this country don’t get enough to eat. As the organization continues to fight this cause, they continue to give something to raise a glass of smoking pink bubbles to and I hope to see them again next year.

Food for Wrath: 7 Gustatory Trends that Piss Us Off Royally

Animal rights activists sure get good and angry about foie gras, especially when New York restaurants introduce it their dessert menus. Which is understandable, we suppose, though what gets us fired up isn’t necessarily fatty little goose liver treats. What does piss us off? Aside from the occasional bout of food rage, here are seven trends that rankle.

● All right, we know now that dining out regularly makes you fatter, and that some restaurants offer meals with three day’s worth of suggested calorie intake. And that make us mad. But what about certain other eateries compulsively documenting your muffin’s nutritional value? Don’t deprive us of our guilty pleasures. Goodbye Strabucks frappucino, so long Jamba Juice’s Very Berry. I’ll miss not knowing what’s inside you.

● It used to be that you were either a chocolate or a vanilla ice cream person (and that spoke volumes about your personality in general). Now you can be a wasabi. Or an apricot and bacon. Do you like mint-chocolate chip? Perhaps try lavender with candied ginger chunks – similar texture. We are not all our own special frozen snowflakes, and ice cream should be old-fashioned and simple, goddamn it. Let’s all go the Dairy Queen. We’ll have the tuxedo twist, please, extra American.

● We do not appreciate being wooed with silly gimmicks. We do not want crispy crickets in our margaritas.

● There will always be publicity-hungry chefs who’ll attempt to transform a simple food item into a multi-dollar mutation. Yes, we know and appreciate those ingredients whose rarity and tradition make them precious, but honestly – Beluga caviar does not work with everything. And we most certainly don’t need white truffles and gold leaf on our fries.

● It’s hard to remember exactly when cupcakes took over our palates, our parties, our lives, since it was so very long ago, but I think Sex and the City was involved. Even harder to explain is why they won’t go away. We enjoy frosting as much as the next guy, which is why we find it bizarre that people would so gleefully limit themselves to a pastry where only one side is covered in the creamy stuff – and usually by two inches too much. We’re not exactly saying it’s a conspiracy, but we’re not alone, either.

● Whole pig dinners are messy, Medieval, and surprisingly unsatisfying. And yet, barbaric meat traditions are on the rise, being served inexplicably by dapper dans sporting waxed mustaches rather than dudes in chainmail. If I’m going to be made to rips chunks of meat from a pig that still has a face, I’d better be enjoying some jousting at the same time.

● Licorice. Devil’s root. Nuff said.