London Opening: Oblix at The Shard

Ever since the minders at the Eiffel Tower sorted that there was serious dosh to be made feeding its swarms of oohing and aahing visitors, architecture and food have been making goo goo eyes at each other. And from its inauguration in summer 2012, Renzo Piano’s The Shard, in fact, has been as loved and hated by Londoners as was Gustave Eiffel’s shocking metal construction by 19th Century Parisians. But as the tallest building in Western Europe, the views are obviously rather gasp-inducing. And so while its first culinary venture, the sleek, dramatic new Oblix restaurant and lounge, could probably get away with serving sauteed cardboard, it genuinely does rise to the level of its surroundings.

The latest undertaking by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney (whose Zuma is beloved of Kate, Gwyneth, Beyonce…), it boasts a chef, Fabien Beaufour, who has done time at French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park. But haute it is not. Serving classic American grill, you can dig into market salads, clam chowder, lambchops, wood-fired pizza, pork belly, assorted rotisserie fare…even New York-style cheesecake–which in London might just seem exotic. But who’s looking at the food?? Slotted into the 32nd floor of the striking 72-story concrete, glass and steel tower, and looking directly down on London Bridge, patrons can also gawk at the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and possibly even spot Pete Doherty stumbling out of a Soho boozer. 

[Related: The Shard: How to Plan a High-Class Date around London’s Highest Building; BlackBook London Guide; Listing for Oblix at the Shard; More by Ken Scrudato; Follow Ken on Twitter]

Eating My Way Through Napa Valley Food Trends

I think about wine all the time. I drink wine all the time. I bathed in wine at one point. I’m drinking a glass now, and there are eight more bottles I picked up in Napa Valley last week, where I celebrated my 35th birthday. I was so obsessed with vineyard-hopping, wine tastings, and sucking the living grapes out of that valley that I almost forgot about the awesome food which, ironically, turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

As a world famous wine-growing region, Napa Valley is an easy destination. You eat and drink and crash in luxury hotels. You can drive along the Silverado Trail flanked by gorgeous country landscapes and rolling hills and stop at virtually any winery of your choice. It’s perhaps the foodie destination of the west coast. In fact, Napa seems to be more about the food than the wine these days, thanks to new trends in kitchens that, well, get better with age but are still real damn good in the now.

My first stop was at the new-ish Ram’s Gate (pictured), which is technically in Sonoma and arguably the most cosmopolitan winery in the valleys (you pass Ram’s Gate to get to Napa). It’s the type of place young professionals would do happy hour if it existed in San Francisco, or where a techie would take a first date to impress (and declare bragging rights). An interesting note is that there’s no distribution: to enjoy their wines you have to drop by the winery or become a member to order wine directly. The food did to me what zinfandel does for hardcore zinfanatics, thanks to executive chef Taylor Behnam. The Spanish octopus and crispy arancini are delicious, and don’t get me started on the almonds, complete with smoked brown sugar, paprika, fennel pollen, and sea salt. Ram’s Gate will be offering Sunday dinners in the vineyard soon, perfect for that sublime sunset.

If you need a reason to stay at The Inn On First in Downtown Napa, make it the food. Opened by a gay couple in 2007, this 10-room B&B housed in a 1905 building is crazy chic … for a B&B. While there’s nothing new here, Jim got a culinary degree in 1994 so he’s in the kitchen All. The. Time. And guests are jumping aboard this hidden-gem train. In fact, they stay overnight specifically for his satiating breakfasts. Jim dishes out 120 made-to-order recipes (most B&Bs have 6 to 10). Expect homemade potato chips, risotto tater tots, and even hot dog omelets with pepperjack cheese and green onions. Snacks are served throughout the day, and when I return—which I will—you can bet I’ll empty out the cookie jar again. The homemade chocolate-chunk cookies are insanely addictive.

The new Goose & Gander (formerly Martini House) is fronted by Kelly McKown, known for hearty New American dishes, but I put food temporarily on the back burner for the cocktails by master mixologist Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails. At the basement bar, expect the usual when it comes to the craft cocktail movement (hand-carved ice, fresh herbs, science, and higher price points) and make sure you have a designated driver. The cocktails here pack a punch.

While Goose tempts oenophiles from their vino bubble, Solage Calistoga’s SolBar is doing the same thing but with Asian food, as opposed to Napa’s Italian and American. In addition to the regular dining menu (American soul food with a twist), the resort just recently launched the Lounge menu, which you can order any time of the day, even at your fancy dinner, and it’s worth a peking, thanks to Michelin-starred Brandon Sharp and his team. Expect creative (and delicious) Asian dishes like Cantonese double-boiled chicken and ginger soup with shitake wontons, chili oil, and fresh herbs, or the slow-roasted pork ribs with Szechuan peppercorn glaze and marinated savoy cabbage. The culinary team even managed to pair wine with Chinese food. Holla. Get it while it’s hot, as this menu is seasonal.

Speaking of menus, how much do they stress you the eff out? Every restaurant should have a tasting course. Or you can just make a beeline to The Restaurant at Meadowood, known for modern American cuisine and perhaps one of the most celebrated restaurants in the valley (next to Morimoto and The French Laundry, of course). Here, the culinary team is now doing that whole thing where you tell your waiter what you feel like eating and they whip up a bespoke dinner. Call me crazy, but this no-menu concept is better than a buffet and, believe me, tastes nothing like one.

[Related: BlackBook Guide to San Francisco and Napa Valley. Download the free BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android. Subscribe to BlackBook Happenings, a free weekly email newsletter with the latest and greatest openings and events in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.]

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?

Paris’ Best Amateur Cooking Schools for the Hungry Tourist

Now that French Cuisine has been declared a World Cultural Heritage Listing by UNESCO, how could you dream of planning a trip to Paris and not penciling in time for an amateur cooking class? (Trust us: They’re not all like the onion-chopping nightmare in Julie & Julia.) Here’s a sampling of a few of the city’s top kitchen destinations to consider on you next journey to the City of Light — and Food.

Ecole Ritz Escoffier – 15 Place Vendôme, 75001 If you have a lunch hour to spend at a cooking school in Paris, Ecole Ritz Escoffier is your gig. First of all, it’s effortlessly easy to find, at 15 Place Vendôme. It’s posh, it’s excellent and the classes are given in both English and French.

Ecole Ritz Escoffier kitchens are located in the basement of Ritz Paris Vendôme Hotel, right next to the hotel’s working kitchens where they create all of the meals for the entire hotel. It is also, as legend goes, the inspiration for the kitchens seen in the celebrated Pixar film, Ratatouille.

But in spite of all the international outreach and friendliness (the school is also partnered with the Tokyo School, Vantana) it remains very much an iconic bastion of French Culinary Tradition. Executive Head Chef is the larger-than-life Michel Roth, the ninth Executive Chef the hotel has known in its 110 years of existence. His teaching team at the Escoffier Ecole is both accomplished and easygoing.

My class was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon from 1:00 – 2:00 pm. On the menu was: Suprême de volaille, lard fumé, patates douces aux noisettes (Poultry breast, smoked bacon and sweet potatoes with hazelnuts). Our instructor, Chef Adeline Robert, had spent time working in NY and in San Francisco so she would give the instructions in French and then once more in English. On this day, I happened to be the only English-speaking student in the class of 10. The others were all French and three of them were celebrating their birthdays, having received the cooking lesson as a birthday gift. Lucky for the rest of us, because after the meal – with which a fine bottle of Sancerre was served – the Ritz Staff brought 2 bottles of champagne and a plate of divine cream and raspberry-filled puffs which we all shared.

The hour-long class whizzed by. The Chef-instructor wasn’t shy about laying down the basics, including the proper way to hold a knife. I learned yet again a thing or two: hold the knife enclosed in your full palm, not with your index finger “guiding” the back of the blade. This allows for greater control of the slicing. I also learned a couple things about Auguste Escoffier: The French regard him as the “King of Chefs and Chef of Kings.” He was France’s reigning pre-eminent chef in the early part of the 20th century and his cookbook is the “Bible,” of French cuisine.

Back to class…The best thing about this chicken dish is that now I can re-create it for guests when I want to throw a dinner party at home. As a handout we were given the recipes and a Ritz pencil with which to take notes. Chef Robert gave us a few tricks to remember. 1) Always brown your meat before you cook it in the oven. When you brown it, the less you mess with it the better. In other words, place your chicken breast wrapped in bacon in the hot, oiled skillet and let it sit there and brown. Don’t touch it. Then after about 5 minutes, flip it over and allow it to brown on the other side. This is the browning that both seals in the juices and flavors and provides a nice crisped outer layer. Only then do you pop the meat into the oven, in this case for 12 minutes. This technique is especially true for scallops. 2) If you want to brown onions without coloration, start with a cold pan. Add a pinch of salt, this helps to absorb the water trapped in the vegetable. If you are adding garlic, crush the garlic with the skin on and throw it into the pan. The skin prevents the garlic from burning and the flavors readily permeate into the onions and the juice.

The room at the Ritz where you enjoy your meal is just off to the side of the Patisserie Kitchen and is a little dining room decorated with a pretty tablecloth and a full bookcase of all the best cookbooks in the world. On prominent display was Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook. I asked Chef Robert if she had ever eaten there and she said, yes, it was magnificent! She added, however, that when she worked in NY – for two years – she didn’t have any time up until the very last day to make it to Per Se. The lunch conversation then veered toward a discussion of the long hours Chefs maintain and meandered onto what it takes to become a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or MOF for short.

Ecole Ritz Escoffier also offers professional courses. You can sign up for a three month class that meets four times a week, all day long. The patisserie courses are separate from the cooking courses and you must choose which specialty you will pursue. The kitchens were recently refurbished with all Molteni equipment which is a professional grade of kitchen stovetops and other heavy appliances. You can’t ask for a better setting. You are, you must remember, cooking underneath the Pl. Vendôme in Paris! And if the Ritz is somewhere you choose to stay, you’ll want to note that in their Prestige Suites, they offer fully-equipped Poggenpohl kitchens, the first luxury hotel in Paris to do so. The Ritz Paris was also the first luxury hotel in the world to be equipped with electricity on each floor and with a telephone and bathroom in each guest room. They’ve come a long way, baby! image

Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse – 64, rue de Ranelagh, 75016 It might be best to save Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse for last. If not, you risk being spoiled for everything else. The friendliness of the school and its kitchens, the warmth of the staff who greet you upon your arrival, these are all ingredients you might not expect from the Cooking School of one of the world’s most famous chefs. A quick walk from Metro La Muette in the16th Arrondissement, 64 rue de Ranelagh is a mixed-use building that has a preschool-kindergarten in its courtyard – children’s toys are what first greet your sight-line upon arrival.

This sense of play – though the two schools have no affiliation! – is what awaits you in the kitchens of the Alain Ducasse Paris Cooking School. Opened just about a year ago, it is already a hit and its Thursday evening wine tasting courses are the really tough ones to get into. French companies have discovered how bonding a shared cooking experience can be among employees, so the Miele-equipped kitchens are often booked by private companies looking to offer their employees “team building experiences.”

I reserved the “Poissons et Crustaces” class for a Saturday morning, figuring that this is not the obvious choice for a cooking class and that I was sure to learn a thing or two about fish and shrimp. Class began at 9 a.m. sharp and lasted until 1:00 with the noon hour reserved for “degustation” or the enjoying of the meal you have just cooked. The meal, I might add, was served with a couple bottles of Crozes-Hermitage wine.

The affability of the 6’6” French chef was infectious. The class was cosy, shared with a mother and daughter, an older woman, a man who sold photovoltaic panels and myself. The Chef, Franck Loquet, speaks perfect American but chose to speak French throughout the class – thank goodness! – except for the occasional translation when he saw I wasn’t familiar with a specific word. He also welcomed questions throughout the class.

The joy of learning and working alongside someone who is fully confident in their competence is that there is easy effortlessness. Chef Loquet exhibited this in quantity: he had the techniques down, was excellent at demonstrating and teaching, and wasn’t afraid to add some creative flair as well. The kitchens are large and elegantly appointed with all state-of-the-art Miele equipment, which, Chef pointed out, can be used and had at home. In other words, you are not learning on equipment that is reserved for professionals, so everything you use and learn on at the Alain Ducasse Cooking School is similar to what you might have at home.

I learned: How to filet a mackerel, Check. How to de-vein jumbo shrimp, Check. I learned, most importantly, that one of the very basic elements of a Top French Chef’s technique is that they throw nothing away. Everything is used. Case in point: After we removed the heads and the carcasses of the jumbo shrimp, he tossed all of it into a hot pan sizzling with cooking grade olive oil, added some spices and sauteed it all up until the skins and heads and all had turned that bright shrimp pink. He then added several ladles-full of home made “Fond Blanc de Volaille” (chicken stock) and let it simmer for a good hour. [We later used this shrimp carcass broth – strained through a fine-mesh chinois – to coax the risotto-pasta to cooked tenderness.]

Meanwhile, he kept us busy shaving lacy tendrils of fennel with a grater for the salad, finely chopping the blanched skins of lemons and oranges for the citrus-zest garnish and frying up the de-boned pieces of mackerel. Interestingly, this chef noted that even when you use organic lemons and oranges for the zest, after the fruit is picked, often they add a polish to it so that it’s more appealing to the consumer. So his technique was to soak the skins in cold water, then blanch once, rinse in cold water and blanch again. Only then were we allowed to trim and finely cut the orange and lemon skins into zest for the sauce.

Takeaway: So many culinary nuggets! And also a new discovery: Vinaigre Xeres, a Spanish vinegar that is deliciously aromatic.

Yes, Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse is more expensive than most of the others. But it is an experience you will be able to share with hearth and home and they give you a personalized Certificate of Completion of Course, signed by Alain Ducasse himself, at the end of your morning class. image

La Cornue, Ateliers des Saveurs – Galerie La Cornue, 18, rue Mabillon, 75006 Just this side St. Germaine des Pres and right in front of St. Sulpice is La Cornue’s cooking school, Ateliers des Saveurs. If you are the type of person who pastes posters of these exquisite oven/stove tops over your bed so that you fall asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing through your head, this is your dream-come-true-cooking school.

Yes, you get to use the absolutely beautiful La Cornue stove tops and ovens during your two-hour-long midday class or three-hour evening course. The attendant La Cornue representative will even show off the newest color: Ice Blue, a sort of slate grey-blue that is designed to match with any décor. But I digress…

Arrive promptly at noon for your class to get the full experience. The Ateliers des Saveurs is deliciously easy to find and the glass front is open to the street-level entrance. Classes are designed for up to 9 people which absolutely affords the chance to talk to the chef, interact with the other participants and fundamentally immerse in the aromas and sizzles of the cooking meats, the boiling sauces, the fragrant spices.

During a recent class – they’re scheduled about two weeks apart – the menu featured: Magret de canard aux poivres, sauce bigarade; Mousseline de Saint-Jacques, sauce cressonnette; and New York Cheese Cake. The “sauce bigarade” for he plump, juicy and lovely duck was a sauce made from fresh oranges and grapefruit and zest of lemon. The Chef, Stephane Bossard, made a point of instructing that it’s best to use organic lemons and oranges when doing a zest. If otherwise, scrub the skins thoroughly to remove any residual pesticides before grating the skins.

The last-minute substitution on the menu was: the vegetable, “topinanbourg” which was used instead of the mousseline de st. Jacques. In fashion now in France is the resurgence of these “old vegetables.” Both I and the other American present had never seen this vegetable before. The older French woman and the older German lady in the class both knew the vegetable and remembered it from war time. During WWII, when potatoes were expensive and hard to come by, French people bought “topinanbourg,” instead. The two young French girls explained to me that it is currently very “a la mode” to resuscitate the use of these traditional, and nearly forgotten, vegetables.

Topinanbourg looked something like a turnip. Chef Bossard emphasized adding thin slices of lemon to the water you boil the vegetable in. Once they are soft, sort of the consistency of boiled potatoes, you mash them up with a blender – by hand might require some effort. If they are slightly watery, you can add breadcrumbs to thicken the consistency. The taste is silky and satisfying and they look like a dollop of mashed potatoes on your plate.

The New York Cheese Cake, made with French St. Moret cheese – the French version of Philadelphia cream cheese was, well, nearly as good as cheesecake you get in NYC. This is a great class for observing as there was not much opportunity for hands-on participation. image

L’atelier des Sens, Bastille – 10 rue du Bourg l’Abbe, 75003 Located a 5-minute walk from the Pl. Bastille is the comfortable, funky yet professional kitchens of L’atelier des Sens. Classes average at about 10 people but can accommodate up to 12. They have two professional kitchens in their enclosed courtyard Atelier and often classes are conducted side-by-side.

The theme of a recent Friday evening class was “Grand Cuisine Aphrodisiaque.” That needs no translation. The Chef, Mssr. Fabrice Seigner, was the Head Chef at Le Jules Verne from 1997 until 2007. Where else but in France can you sign up to take a class with a chef who once commanded one of Paris’s most famous restaurants?

And like any true -to-form commander, he had all of us chopping, peeling, stirring, whipping and washing in no time. These courses are hands-on and immersive. Wallflowers need not apply. For once I was the only American participating in something (we seem to be everywhere!) and actually got to practice my French. The entire course was in French, but even with my less-than-perfect Français (that’s an exaggeration!) I had no problem following the cooking instructions.

The menu was inspired by Cupid himself. Our chocolate mousse dessert, topped with cream of passion fruit, had a good dose of Maca as the added ingredient. Maca, as Chef Seigner delightedly explained, is “natural viagra.” It’s tasteless; It comes in powder form; and had I not, myself, witnessed the dosage, I never would have tasted it in my crème de fruits de passion. How does the saying go… A spoonful of honey…?

For our scallops appetizer, he presented a bag of Goji berries to the assembled class: 2 young couples and 5 single ladies of varying ages with one pregnant young woman whose husband had gifted her a 20-hour subscription of L’ateliers des Sens cooking classes. My French classmates had never seen Goji berries! So I explained to them that in California we eat Goji berries with our almond and walnut trail mix. That impressed Chef Seigner. And he wasn’t an easy guy to win points with. It also gave him the opportunity to wax eloquent about the goji’s anti-oxidant properties and to show us a container of Aloe Vera jelly that he was using for a special recipe the next day. He’s “into organic,” he explained.

Besides the food, the great thing about the class is that Chef Seigner took the time to actually teach you how to julienne a snow pea. You learned how to dice a carrot (the orange ones). Which was altogether different from mincing a carrot (the yellow ones). Chopping parsley, he was quick to catch you out if you didn’t maneuver the knife just as he showed you – the proper way, of course. All too often us home enthusiasts never get the chance to learn these basics. Another plus, all the recipes for your reserved class are available for download from their website 48 hours before the class.

Class began at 6:50 and ended at 9:00 p.m. And then we all set the table and sat down to eat. The meal was immense. With the scallops appetizer in a reduction goji berry and ginger sauce tantalizing our senses and then followed by the main course of chicken (Fricassée de Sot l’y Laisse au gingembre confit et petits légumes) we were ready to stretch out for the night right there. And the dessert: the chocolate mousse, made from scratch, layered with that laced passion fruit cream and then all enrobed in a chocolate cup. My takeaway: To julienne is not to dice! image

Alain Cirelli – Événements Culinaires – 24 rue Condorcet, 75009 Even though most tourists and travelers to Paris make the inevitable excursion to the 9th arrondissement, home to the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur, the Funicular of Montmarte and its Butte, I still have never spent much time exploring the quarter, despite its alluring charms.

So hopping off at the Anvers Metro stop one dark, Winter evening, I had to consult my pocket map several times before I found 24 rue Condorcet, the kitchens of Chef Alain Cirelli and Chef Yannick Leclerc. The evening’s theme was “Grand Amour de Menu,” in keeping with February’s St. Valentine calendar. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect: a Bold Lipstick Red kitchen, with state of the art appliances, a waist-level chandelier, at once chic and kitsch, that marked the winding stairway to the coatroom in the basement.

Couples dominated the class of ten with only a few of us stragglers there for professional learning- the other guy was a restaurateur. The atmosphere was genial: Chef Jérôme Thiers, 29 years old, was at home in his kitchen. His at-ease demeanor soon put the class in a relaxed attentive state and after a few potato peelings and appetizer preps, we were a friendly group participating in a culinary class.

Chef Alain Cirelli is known as the Italian French chef. He is well-known for his Italian cuisine and also for being the Chef-Director of three of the Printemps Haussmann – Paris’s luxury department store – dining establishments: Brasserie du Printemps, Deli-cieux and World Bar. His kitchen’s Italian Cuisine nights fill up fast, so best to reserve and book in advance.

For this February evening’s cours de cuisine, we had on the menu: Veal Filet Mignon with a honey-gravy reduction sauce and Sweet Potato caramelized Tarte-Tatin. The appetizer was a ginger-braised scallop carpaccio served with savory whipped cream and a balsamic reduction sauce with home-made breadsticks as accent; For dessert we indulged in a made-from-scratch molten-lava cake with passion fruit filling, graced with a lychee-liqueur infused lychee fruit. This wasn’t just an amour de menu but a menu made for culinary seduction. Unfortunately, the recipes were not readily available on their website or even provided as handouts, though Chef Jérôme was continually ever-ready to discuss ingredients, how much to use and where to get them. He made a point of mentioning rue Etienne Marcel in the 2nd arrondissement as the place to go to find professional culinary equipment for the trade, and added that the shops will sell to private individuals, as well.

My takeaways from the class are two things in particular: 1) It is unbelievably easy to make caramel sauce! Just heat a pan really hot, add sugar and wait for it to start to melt until it’s brown. Then shake it around a bit once it becomes the brown liquid so it doesn’t burn. Voila’! Caramel sauce. 2) It is very important to trim even the best cuts of meat. Trim, trim, trim all the fat and gristle. Then take the cooking string and wrap it all up into a neat piece of roast. Brown the meat first in a pan, all sides, even the ends. Then deliver it into the hot oven until it’s cooked to your taste.

The chocolate molten cake made-from-scratch seemed easy enough to do but I’d have to try it a few more times under Chef Jérôme’s tutelage before I’d dare it at home myself.

Denver Dispatch: Frank Bonanno’s Secret Cheese Closet

I spent a whole afternoon in Denver with Frank Bonanno, who you might recognize from the Food Network. Or, if you’re an actual foodie, you’ll know he’s a James Beard nominee who served under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. He talks with his hands and can go on for hours about food, which, to me, is often so esoteric that I find myself nodding at things I totally don’t understand. Anyway, he’s so passionate that he cures his own meats and makes his own cheese. It’s completely illegal, but he had no qualms showing me his secret cheese chamber, a closet in the office above one of his restaurants, Bones.

Sure, he was busted by the health department once, so he had to move all his perishables to a secret stash. Bonanno believes other chefs in Denver dislike him because he’s too opinionated, but he and I both know it’s because he’s successful. In fact, he spearheaded Denver’s culinary scene, bringing ethnicity (from French to Asian) and innovative dishes to the city – often for the first time. Frank just recently opened up his seventh establishment in Denver (Lou’s Food Bar, an “affordable” French-American restaurant inside a former biker bar), and plans on debuting his eighth (an upscale BBQ smokehouse) within the next three months.

Frank gave us the 4-1-1 on Denver dining, clearing up a few misconceptions along the way.

It’s not all about steak and potatoes. Our dining scene is really good, there’s really talented people doing some great things beyond steaks, and there’s a lot of passion in this city about cooking. I think denver has some of the better educated diners in the country. Our clientele is sophisticated. i think we’ve always had a pretty good palette, and we have everything you want that every other big city has.

Believe it or not, there’s fresh seafood in Denver. Some people ask: “Where do you get fish? How could the fish be fresh?” Oh, come on. You’ve never heard of Fed-Ex? All our seafood basically comes from New York. People think fresh seafood here is impossible but it isn’t.

There’s more to drink than Coors Light. I actually do believe our cocktail scene is outdoing New York and San Francisco. It’s a bold statement but every restaurant has a cocktail program.We have so many small batch brewers here, and it’s so widespread. Even our regulars will deviate from a simple drink to try our homemade gin and tonic (we make our own tonic) or Moscow Mule. Denver has come far with the cocktail scene. I can’t think of a restaurant in the top thirty that doesn’t have an extensive cocktail program.

It’s not all American. We have great Mexican food thanks to our huge Mexican community. We have really good ethnic food in Colorado in general. We have awesome pho, too. I would put our Sushi Den against Nobu’s fish any day of the week. It’s unbelievable. They get their fish from the Japanese fish market. And they have a certified sushi chef, which you don’t find a lot in this country.

Forget Rocky Mountain Oysters. Denver is all about artesianal cooking. Restaurants use whole animals, lambs, unpasteurized milk to make cheese. That’s something Denver’s been embracing for years, like farm-to-table, whole animal cooking. There is a ton of talent and great chefs here. We don’t set trends, but people are on par with what’s going on nationally.