Yardbird: The renaissance of the american bird in Miami, Fl.

I just love these kind of places that really look like the pictures in the magazines and Yardbird is one of those.  The interior design is contemporary with cozy southern details and the food is just amazing and, I dare to say, better than the photos.

I’m an admirer of the new american cuisine based in soul food tradition that is enhanced with european blinks or latino sparks. Currently a bunch of new restaurants with this philosophy are on the way of opening from LA to South Beach and I’m sure they are a great inspiration to any foodie or chef.

The main character in this cuisine is honesty and simplicity which are executed as golden fried crusts, excellent charcuterie, charcoal or slow cooking methods, the use of seasonal and organic ingredients and the result is: identity and great way of american cooking not luxurious, not complicated, but conforting.

The first course I had was the fried chicken with homemade buttermilk biscuit, I loved the way this little sandwich invites you to interact with food; it surely is an ice breaker in any date and the pepper jelly will be the main topic because of it’s particular spice/sweet balance.  An american classic with a complete mastering of the fried  chicken technique.

The Homemade Charcuterie board made honor to the artesanal concept with a woody-smoked-baroque design that redefines the classic prosciutto/jamón serrano and pancetta/bacon with a great selection of toasted bread slices and crackers.

Finally I ordered the Swine Steak Frites which was a nice combination of ingredients starting with the swine skirt (the meat underneath the ribs), fried swine ears and fries made of coarsely ground corn flour.  C ombined with the slaw, the contrast between sweet and semi bitter flavors was at  it’s best.

If you add to this formula a great interior design, great branding, excellent service and a good selection of non commercial beers you will end up with an all time favourite joint.

This place is in South Beach in Miami Fl. and for sure is in my list of 10 must-go places in this hot city.

Aa.

Café Central in Vienna, Austria

I was tipped about Cafe Central by my Dad, it was worth the visit and for sure one of the best places in Vienna, Austria.

A light and almost familiar mood with all you can expect from a classic Austrian Konditorei starting with amazing classic interiors,  nice waitresses -patient enough to rookie german speakers- with brilliant guidance in case of  the very common “I want every single cake confusion” and lots of local people.

Cafe Central is not just a Konditorei, it’s a nice restaurant also. I was there just to get a coffee and a piece of cake but I ended up ordering an entire meal -from appetizer to dessert-, all of this after just a couple of hours of having breakfast!

But the one thing I remember the most is the counter!, filled with so different cakes and viennoaseries. I literally stood in front of it for several minutes just contemplating the cakes assortment, the wonderful colors and the deep feeling I had because I was in the country where the long tradition of patisserie and baking had it’s origins.

Austrian patisserie is not about how perfect it looks, with immaculate finishing in the slices, textures, glaçes or layers, it’s about an honest desire of beautiful handmade baking but yet it really has an impressive look; did you get the paradox?

Aa.

Opéra gâteaux, pocket guide to the 7 layers of joy.

This is a quick reference of an Opéra gâteaux.  I must say that our formula is in a frenetic/obsessive evolution because of the constant changes that we like to make in order to improve (always improve) the final pleasure of eating it.

When baking an Opéra gateaux first you should think what you want to achieve because using different kinds of chocolate and coffee beans will alter the final result.

You want it very strong and bitter almost with tobacco notes?, go to your coffee supplier and choose the most toasted and fresh coffee beans and/or use chocolate with more than 66% of cocoa butter and pay special attention to the coffee soaker.

You need a more gentle cake?, take advantage of the italian buttercream layers -make it very milky-, chose another kind of coffee beans and a less bitter chocolate. Use vanilla extract, this way you get a sweeter taste without adding sugar.

Don’t forget about the biscuit, this is the central column for the flavor balance because here you can choose to make it plain with almonds (biscuit joconde) or chocolate sponge and it will hold the coffee soaker.

Remember it’s not about adding more or less sugar, its about making the principal ingredients be as alive as you can.

Aa.

Jalisco style bread, as rustic as you can get.

No fancy ovens, no packaging design, no cupcakes, no Valrhona chocolate!, this is “Pan Segura Bakery” with “Legitimate Jalisco Style”, that means: Rustic as hell.

A bakery in the heart of Mexico City’s downtown that bakes only the traditional bread from Mexico’s Jalisco state, with so tiny an entrance that it almost feels like a Harry Potter movie shop that will be closed at the chant of a spell as soon as you get in; this bakery is so narrow that the whole shop is really an aisle!, what I loved the most about this bakery -and the real inspiration to write this post- is that this place takes the word rustic to another level.

When I think about a boulangerie with rustic bread it comes to my mind the pain au levain, german rye loafs, baguettes de tradition français, wooden ovens and packaging design that really supports the concept. Now Pan Segura will also come to my mind because of the old and dusty façade with a hand painted announce, the bizarre space and oldie furnishings but above of all, the bread.

The main characteristic of the bread is the dominant brown color, a monochromatic palette that really is the essence of this beautiful bakery.

Sometimes it’s not all about achieving a perfectly shaped bread with the best golden crust, it’s about keeping traditions and baking just exactly as your mentor was taught back home.

Sometimes clichés are just fine.

I just had one piece of a lesson last weekend that made me think about the constant search of the perfect moment with food, involving the artisan hand behind it, the best ingredients available (organic or carefully selected) and the perfect place.

But does it necessarily have to involve the best quality, the best chef or the most honest or spontaneous preparations?, not always! Now I realized that food is about those silly things that makes you happy. Maybe you need to remember the old days with your girlfriend by drinking a powder chai latte that takes you back to those “chatty” coffee shop afternoons or opening and smelling a box of Fruit Loops that makes you feel like when you were 5!

This past weekend I was at the beach with the sea in front of me and my girlfriend by my side, so we did what we had to do: ask for a couple of mexican Corona beers and fulfill the very popular cliché of drinking this very cold beer at the beach! – just as seen on TV!-  Obviously I am aware of the quality of the product, with a faint resemble of what a beer is supposed to be, but did I enjoy it?… …hell yeah!

Sorry beer connoisseurs but I did have a nice time because: sometimes clichés are just fine.

Aa.

Infusing love, spring fruits rum.

A couple of months ago we had a “food design event” which involved alcohol on the mix and after realizing that we had 3 ltrs. of rum left that were unused and that the spring season was giving us fruits of amazing quality, my friend Manu and I decided to infuse the alcohol for later use.

We don’t have the final results yet but I can tell you that we are very exited!, only by seeing the different colors in the bottles and the aromas in the air when opening’em is like having an entire Pantone catalog to design with… … you really can smell the colors!

After a first taste I can say that I’m always amazed when you turn any kind of food into a non common but delicious ingredient only by using the real stuff in this case fresh fruit and not cheap essences –. Try to remember the colors and the smell of lemon, cherry and peach, if its not enough add mexican vanilla pods to the mix and imagine it.

We first infuse for a couple of days the vanilla in the rum until it was yellowish and then in different bottles we add the fruit (previously washed and sanitized) only to let them to infuse in the alcohol inside the fridge for about 2 weeks.

Still we don’t know what will be the end of the different mixes: gelato or sorbets?,mousses?,mexican raspados?, straight mega shots?, ganaches?, gelées?!, but of one thing I’m sure… it’s going to be great.

Now it’s time to go to your local market, ask for the best fruits of the season and use all those bottles with little remains of rum, vodka or any alcoholic beverage that you had abandoned in your home and turn them into unique shot-sized samples of this sunny spring days!

Aa.

Grill equals flavor.

Recently we were trying to make a quick fix to a simple chicken salad of a coffee shop and the very thing that I was trying to get in the heads of all the cooks was that when cooking: color equals flavor.

This is very simple to explain because when you cook anything above the boiling point of water, you will be starting to get what in chemistry is called “The Maillard Reaction”.

A simple and quick way to explain this reaction is to watch closely any kind of food that has residual sugars and amino acids like meat, onions or bread. When exposed to high temperatures -around 154ºC- this phenomenon presents and leads to the creation of about 200 different components!… …this explains the enhanced flavor.

Think of an oriental bun cooked under steam and a french baguette with a nice golden crust, which one has a more complex taste? Not that one is better than the other but one of them will have a deeper and more complex flavor thanks to the Maillard Reaction.

All the geeky stuff aside, the very point of writing this post is to make you notice that a very nice tool to have in your kitchen is a grill. No matter if you want to cook meat, vegetables or anything else, you will get a flavorful meal. What a grill does is that it lets the temperature rise above the boiling point because all the liquids are drained and set aside from the food, leading to the Maillard Reaction.

In the case of a simple piece of chicken breast, or better yet, duck for a casual salad, the use of the grill and a previous marinade will lead to a very healthy and nice moment. Try marinating with olive oil, fine slices of italian garlic, salt, pepper, mustard seeds and some herbs like fennel, thyme and rosemary; a simplest but classic mix that won’t fail.

At the very first moment when the chicken touches the grill, you will get a nice fire and the best smoke you can get!

Aa.


Marocchino (coffee) an italian rockstar.

Can you imagine a better marriage for coffee than chocolate?

It really works in every possible way, think of an italian tiramisú or a french ópera gateaux.  Coffee and chocolate are bitter by nature and they work so well because by making a careful selection both ingredients will complete to each other.

I imagine coffee as a very complex monochromatic range of flavor and by adding chocolate you can expand its range into a more colorful taste.  You will be able to, porpousely, enhance the floral,herbal, wooden, tobacco or the spicy notes of any preparation that you choose and you will have  the perfect pretext to make a tasting of them!

These marocchino that I had in an Illy coffee shop had all what I said before.  A perfect balance of coffee and chocolate with a bitter attack stopped only by the very subtle milky notes, an omnipresent spirit of tobacco perfumed with caramel and strong explosions  due to the “coffee & chocolate” fine crumbs on top of the milk foam.

What I like the most of these marocchino was the execution of the styling!, because of the very casual artelatte of the heart shaped figure and of course the perfect use of the fine crumb that carries the real spirit of this classic italian beverage.

In case you wonder about the little golden egg, it was an italian gianduja!…  …yeah!, a hazelnut extra that made me so happy.

Aa.

Żubrówka, the perfect rye vodka for any foodie.

A few years ago a dear friend of mine came back from studying abroad, in Kraków, and showed me this superb vodka that she found in all her crazy parties.

It was quite revealing the flavor when I first tasted it, I did’t knew that a Vodka could have that kind of complexity with so diverse notes of wood, sweet vanilla, herbs and coconut with spices that remain impregnated in your mouth -among others yet to be decifrated by my tonge!-.

Zubrowka comes from the distillation of rye grains and its enhanced with bison grass, this one is the reason of the characteristic sweet notes and the color of the distillate.

I think that this vodka is the perfect way to start the design of a drink, desserts, petite fours or anything that comes to mind. Personally I have tasted it in a friend’s italian sweet arborio rice with coconut vanilla pod and mexican ataulfo mango, as a chocolate ganache with Barry Callebaut’s Alto El Sol chocolate, in a layered chocolate and rice cake and as a straight mega shot!, impregnated with diverse spices. The later is a must in your tricks bag an the main inspiration of this post.

Boosting Zubrowka!

Manu, a dear friend, came these week with a new bottle of Zubrowka and after thinking what to do with it he decided to infuse it with spices à la masala chai but without the black tea leafs because he didn’t want the bitter notes in the drink. So after infusing for a couple of days with cardamom, star anise, red pepper, vanilla pod, lavender flowers and cloves he ended up with an ultra boosted Zubrowka! for his birthday party.

Having infused distillates or liquors is a useful tool for any crazy invention and remember Zubrowka has a history that goes back to the XIV century, so when you drink or cook with it remember all the tradition behind it.

Aa.

Hofpfisterei Bakery -Since 1331- in München, Germany.

I always have loved food but the day I experienced La Boulangerie Français was the definitive moment to become a foodie.  The first time I made a dough I realized that through food, you could recall places, memories and feelings, so I’m kind of obsessed about anything related to bread.

In München, Germany, I saw this advertising campaign for Hofpfisterei, a brand of bakeries that offers freshly baked bread.  I must say that in all Germany the culture and love for bread is as big as the love for good beer, so probably I found more bakeries compared to Paris!, arguably the point of reference of bread culture.

This advertising campaign is about the product itself and its importance as a cultural element of Bavaria. I particularly love the Rembrandtesque photo of the “Frau mit dem brot” (woman with the bread) and would love to have this as a giant poster in my kitchen.

Hofpfisterei was born in 1331!, and is a proud Bavarian bakery. Imagine that kind of tradition and history in this matter.

Soon I’ll make more posts about german bakeries and how they are a mix of Wien, Paris and of course German elements.

Aa.

Foodie fact:

To see a video of Hofpfisterei click here or go to: http://www.hofpfisterei.de/hpf_imagefilm.php

Crazy foodies in Czech Republic, The Real Meat Society.

Its so nice to see how the love for food is spreading all over the world and with so different approaches. This time it was in Prague, Czech Republic.

I saw this place late at night when, as usual, I was looking for a nice Czech place to eat. I could´t miss the big logo and the way they exhibit the meat.

Right a few steps behind you could see the production area, the design was so contemporary thanks to the use of illustration, the arrangement of the equipment and of course the stereo!, I had no doubt that this was the place of some crazy foodies -I could´t do but to identify myself with these guys-.

You could sense the love, the respect and the quality of what they offer and as a foodie or chef, its so helpful to be around of these guys, not just to learn more about food but to hear someones love towards it .

Its a shame it was so late and The Real Meat Society was already closed but I give you the address: náplavní 5 praha or If you know some czech and want to know more about these guys go to The Real Meat Society website.

Aa.

Foodie fact:

To really understand these theme you should read Harold McGee´s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Chapter 3 Meat. Its awesome and very easy to understand.


Soul Food in your garden.

Spring time is here and the heat keeps rising, to me this is the perfect scenario for a bbq in the garden with friends.  BBQ ribs are a classic of southamerican cuisine and one of the best ways to eat pork.

I would dare to say that there are 4 key aspects for the perfect ribs:

1. Go to the best butchery available and select the best ribs that comes with the most meat between and underneath the bones.

2. Select your spices and season the ribs, let´em rest inside the fridge (overnight).

3. Find the best BBQ sauce: Read the ingredients!,  try to find one with no artificial flavors or colorants added and remember that the bests sauces will have a blend of spices, malt, vinegar, corn syrup, onion, garlic, tamarind and possibly original Worcestershire sauce -if not, you can add it-.

4. Use of two cooking methods: 1) Under pressure (adding herbs like bay laurel, thyme, garlic, salt, lots of pepper and ginger) until the meat is tender and almost rips apart from the bone. This is the moment to apply (with a brush) a thick layer of BBQ sauce, and then … 2) Grill with charcoal up to 220ºC/428ºF.  these step makes sure that the malt and sugars present in the BBQ sauce will caramelize thanks to the Maillard reaction. Remember that the meat is already cooked, the grill just adds flavor, so beware of burning down the ribs.

BBQ ribs are not enough for your hunger?  Try some potatoes with mexican cuaresmeño chiles and coriander.

Enjoy these shiny days and have fun.

Aa.

Dairy products store in Paris.

Once again, a lovely store in Paris. A foodie must-go store if you stay in this city.

In Cremerie Rochechouart  you can find all kind of cheeses, really, all kinds! Butter and milk of the best quality also available.

I found this place while I was looking for a Patisserie; in fact I ended up with a couple of pieces of cheese insted of an òpera gateaux!

I always try to have different dairy products in my fridge, its the best starting point when cooking something, it doesnt’t matter if you are in the mood for pasta, a fresh salad or just a thin slice of cheese on top of an artesanal bread.

Cremerie Rochechouart is an authentic french store that you must go.

You can arrive by subway at the Anvers station.

Aa.

Audio of a Brasserie in Paris.

I only had 1 day to enjoy Paris, one of my favorites cities, again. So I was determined to visit at least 5 of the best boulangeries, eat an ópera gateaux and find the perfect brasserie.  Three modest goals to leave Paris as happy as I could be, at least for now!

After several hours of walking and crossing Paris from side to side by subway, I decided to step out at a random station and walk until I could find a brasserie to eat, I think I was in the surroundings of Montmatre.

A couple hours of walking later, I crossed the street and  saw a place with no color, old wooden window frames and a very old typography -almost inexistent- that said “Brasserie”.  I saw through the window and the place was illuminated with warm light, with only 6 very old tables with chairs that reminded me an “arts and crafts” workshop, the bar was next to the kitchen -visible to everyone- and full of french people.

So I knew I had found the perfect Brasserie and got myself  in.

A woman came to me and asked if I was going to eat or drink in the bar.  Right after I told her that I was hungry she banged a metal bell, said something that I did not understand and a couple of guys yelled something,  I was kind of embarrassed but determined to endure anything for a great meal.

After sitting she put  the menu over my table -a blackboard with a golden frame- and explained it to me. In order to make this a memorable moment I ordered the confit de canard and some red wine. The place was so stereotypical and authentic that I couldn’t do anything but record what I was hearing so the memory wouldn’t go away with time.

It was the best duck I’ve ever tasted, with a  golden crispy crust and dark traces that revealed the roasting method, the inside was juicy and tender with a middle layer of the characteristic sweet and almost  ethereal fat that makes the duck one of the best kitchen-birds. At the side, vegetables that had been carefully cooked and enhanced with nutty flavored butter.  Of course you can’t properly eat french duck without potatoes. The secret: potatoes of the best quality and several cooking methods.

Because I was the last man eating, the kitchen was clear to step out and eat.  The chef and his staff seated in front of me and ate an entrecôte et purée de pommes de terre.   Its hard to explain why after having my confit de canard I was so jealous!

So the next time you feel like being in a parisienne brasserie, cook something you like and play this audio.

Aa.

Homemade Masala Chai (tea), design your own formula.

masala chai

Yesterday I saw on Facebook a post about how good the Starbucks “chai tea” was, so I went to the nearest Starbucks and bought one. Was it good?, I think not because of the overwhelming sweetness and the use of artificial flavors of caramel and vanilla. In fact in a lot of good places if you ask for a Masala Chai you will end up with a tea that does not resemble the character of the principal spices that it’s supposed to have.

So, why not go to your local spice supplier and design your own Masala Chai.

There are a lot of different mixes of Masala Chai, depending of the region and country, but the most common ingredients are: Black tea leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorn, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cumin, licorice root, coriander, root and fennel seeds.

Now, before you start to looking for recipes and mix ingredients, remember that you should put your personality in the mix, for example: a) I want a Masala Chai designed for a long chat with a friend b) My Masala Chai should be bold, colorful or like a certain person or character. So by first knowing -how you would like to have it- you won’t need anyone’s recipe.

I like the “Masala Chai for a long chat with a friend” statement, so by first knowing this I knew that my mix should not have to be extremely spicy or with a quick bitter attack but should need to have some “sweet” spices that throughout the journey will make a nice company to all the strong notes of the black tea and finally making the point of having a nice and long chat with a friend without ending with an itchy mouth feel.

A great way to avoid getting lost in the process from “concept to kitchen” is to group the spices in three categories:

Citric: Cardamom, ginger and coriander seeds.

Sweet: Star anise, licorice root, dry vanilla pods (remember that vanilla rocks with all! and will add the elegant, nice, sweet and smooth factor), cinnamon, Castilla rose, viola odorata and almond (not an spice but grouped in this category).

Spicy: Nutmeg, cloves, cumin and peppercorns. Try different types of peppercorns, we end up with the pink and the big black one.

Now try to balance the ingredients of each category using a precision scale, writing down the proportions and not forgetting the initial statement of the overall concept.

Finally, balance the citric, the sweet and the spicy with the black tea leaves. Make some infusions and debate when your homemade mix its done.

Enjoy your very own Masala Chai.

Aa.

Foodie facts:

1.Remember that the word “chai” means “tea” and “masala” is referred to this specific mix of ingredients, remember this the next time you ask for one!

2.Learning more about tea:

http://video.about.com/coffeetea/How-to-Brew-a-Cup-of-Tea.htm

http://www.teainfusion.com/types/black-tea.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?Modern-Black-Tea-Infusions&id=6393091

http://www.itoen.com/preparing-tea

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea