Categories
Chefs Lifestyle

In and Out of Love With Food

Chef Michael Schulson—TV personality and head of a restaurant empire based in Philadelphia—started healing his damaged relationship with food during the pandemic.

And it helped him lose 35 pounds in less than three months.

It sounds delightful and delicious tasting food for high-end restaurants all day. But, Schulson said, “I don’t think I even like food anymore.”

“Yesterday, I think I tasted 12 to 13 dishes—and that’s before 3 p.m. That’s enough food for someone to eat for a day and a half.” He tried the same octopus dish three times to adjust the taste. “Who would want to eat an octopus dish three times in a row?”

“I love food, but the concept of how we have to eat on a day-to-day basis is the problem,” Schulson said. “I want to be able to choose what I eat.”

The pandemic was hard on the restaurant business, and Schulson did what he could to ease the impact on his employees. But the silver lining was a chance to clear his plate, literally and figuratively.

(Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

New Regimen

Schulson started fasting until 2 p.m. and after 8 p.m. each day. He finally got to choose what he was eating, and often enjoyed light meals of fish. He cut back on carbs, salt, and oil.

He started running everyday and exercising in his home gym, but he said “The exercise piece is kind of secondary. … It’s all about eating properly.”

His main advice to anyone looking to start a weight-loss journey is: “Cut back on portion size. First start with portion size. … You can assume if you’re in America, your portion sizes are slightly bigger than they should be.”

Yoga was also part of his new regimen. It got him to slow down and think about things.

He realized, “Anger and toxicity can only be included in your life if you choose it.” You can’t change the people who are toxic in your life, he said, so it’s best to distance yourself from them.

“When you realize where the main piece of anger or toxicity comes from, once that’s removed, the smallest piece of anger and toxicity really sticks out like a sore thumb,” he said.

“It’s almost like I found an emptiness within me. When you don’t have to deal with certain things anymore, you just have all this energy and time to deal with positivity. It feels like an emptiness, but it’s liberating.”

Schulson has reflected more upon what he enjoys and what’s important to him.

He seeks authenticity. When he’s sick of fancy food, he goes to “a dive,” he said. “Because it feels authentic and genuine and it’s not what I’m getting every single day.”

Though his relationship with food has been somewhat strained, he loves the design and operations side of the restaurant business—managing all the “widgets,” as he calls them (such as financing or the cost of goods).

Authentic Design

He studied architectural engineering in his youth, but dropped out because the classes were more about beam weights and building codes than design. He got a job at a pizza joint instead. That was almost 50 years ago and it took a lot of time and effort to work his way to the top.

Harp & Crown. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

Young hopefuls in the restaurant business seem to expect to open several restaurants at the beginning of their careers, he said. He pointed out that he spent a decade as a line cook, another decade as a sous chef, then started with a single restaurant.

Double Knot. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

He’s glad he got to come back to his interest in design. Authenticity is important to him in the design of his restaurants.

“I like to make people feel a transformative experience. Meaning, if they walk into a restaurant in New York, they feel like they could be in Japan or London or Italy,” Schulson said.

Alpen Rose. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

His attention to detail is great. He gave the example of a restaurant he’s working on right now, an Italian pizzeria called Prunella. Construction was almost finished when he walked in recently and spotted a column that didn’t look right. “It doesn’t make me feel spectacular,” he said, so he had it changed.

“I don’t want any one location or spot within the restaurant to feel like we missed it or we ran out of money.”

He’s careful to be true to the concept. If it’s a 1920s style, you won’t include a decor piece from the 1980s, he said. You might include a modernized version of something from the ‘20s, but you have to be well aware of your art history to achieve authenticity.

“Do what you love,” he said. He was only earning several dollars per hour right up into his 40s, but he stuck with his passion. His two sons, aged 11 and 14, are also interested in the business and the elder has spent much time with him learning the ropes.

Categories
Chefs Food Lifestyle

“Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights”

Lizzie Kamenetzky’s favorite holidays are those from her childhood years when she and her parents would travel to the Swiss Alps for ski trips. Staying in a small chalet in the village of La Fouly—home to just over 200 people—is where Kamenetzky experienced some of her dearest memories. Located on the border between Italy and France, La Fouly is one of the tiniest villages in the Alps, yet boasts some of the most culturally diverse cuisines on offer—a mixture of Italian, French, and Swiss. Her childhood ski trips allowed Kamenetzky to experience a range of different foods which greatly influenced her future passion for cooking.

As a young child, she remembers baking brioche bread with her mom for Christmas—an annual tradition in their family. She recalls a strong memory of herself punching down the dough and dotting it with sticky butter in the kitchen of their small farm in Kent, England. This experience sparked her love of cooking. Later, she went to university and would often prepare a range of delectable dishes for her friends on campus.

Fireside Comfort Food

“Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights” by Lizzie Kamenetzky. Published by Ryland Peters & Small. (Courtesy of Ryland Peters & Small)

Kamenetzky carefully curated a collection of some of her favorite dishes in her latest cookbook: “Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights.” The cookbook includes recipes for hearty soups like celeriac and parsnip velouté, rich, cheesy casseroles like tartiflette, and warm drinks like spiced apple cider—the perfect combination to warm up any red-cheeked skier in the Alps. But these recipes are also meant for anyone looking for something comforting and delicious this winter. Another favorite is the osso bucco with risotto—a dish both she and her father equally admire. “Especially if you add to that a lovely braise of veal, it’s just as delicious,” Kamenetzky said.

Her most treasured recipe is Käsespätzle and it was taught to her by her Jewish-Austrian grandmother-in-law who left her homeland of Austria when she was very young. Despite that, she always kept a strong affinity towards her heritage. “She just loved cooking and that’s sort of how we really bonded,” explained Kamenetzky. Her grandmother-in-law knew recipes handed down from her mother and even kept an old notebook with past recipes. Many of the dishes featured in Kamenetzky’s book carry a heavy Tyrolean influence inspired by her, particularly ones like the Germknödel—sweet steamed dumplings served with jam traditionally made from tiny mountain berries. “She tried several of the dishes and gave me the seal of approval and definitely told me when they weren’t right,” Kamenetzky chuckled. She is also proud to have her very own späetzle maker, made in the 1950s and donated from her grandmother-in-law—a gem in her collection of cooking tools.

Käsespätzle—An Austrian version of macaroni cheese that translates as ‘little cheese sparrows’. (Courtesy of Ryland Peters & Small)

During her research process, Kamenetzky utilized her friends and family’s distinct knowledge of hearty, alpine food. She also traveled to the Swiss Alps to shoot some photos for the book, as well as to prepare the recipes, adapting the traditional ingredients more readily available there, particularly the crozets—small, square-shaped buckwheat pasta. The pasta used to make Diot—a pork and cabbage sausage from the Savoie region of the French Alps is commonly served with a side of crozet pasta covered in Comté cheese and heavy cream.

Cherished Memories

The village of La Fouly in the Swiss Alps where Kamenetzky and her family regularly frequented. (Courtesy of Lizzie Kamenetzky)

As a young child, Kamenetzky’s favorite memory was returning to their chalet in La Fouly after a long day of skiing on the slopes. Her cheeks flushed from the cold, she would notice a lovely supper waiting for her next to a cozy fire. “I think that’s the perfect moment when you feel like you’ve really earned your supper,” she said. When discussing memorable dishes, Kamenetzky said she had many such favorites but the ones that have really stuck with her include fondue, raclette, and Morteau sausage served with creamy lentils.

Lizzie skiing in La Fouly as a young child. (Courtesy of Lizzie Kamenetzky)

The snowy, mountainous terrain of the Swiss Alps is home to many diverse species of wildlife; ranging from fiery red deer, golden eagles, snowy hares, and brown bears, to alpine marmots. As a young girl, Kamenetzky enjoyed going out on the deep snowy slopes to watch the red-black squirrels and white rabbits as the sound of church bells rang out from across the mountains. She even experienced a few avalanches. “One time, the whole other side of the village where we normally stayed was almost wiped out by a huge avalanche that came down,” said Kamenetzky. Often they would hear the rumbles and feel the ground starting to shake, which the children found exciting.

A red squirrel perched on a snowy window-sill. (Courtesy of Lizzie Kamenetzky)

Family and friends have always played a particularly important role in her life. After one of her mother’s oldest friends married a Frenchman, Kamenetzky’s family began visiting them often when she was young, during their regular trips to the Swiss Alps. The two families became very close and the children spent many happy times playing together. The father of the family, Blaise, “was just one of the most vivacious life-loving people,” she said. He taught her that anyone could get down any slope and this belief is something that she continues to cherish to this day, especially since he passed away.

Cooking Bold Flavors

When cooking for herself, Kamenetzky most enjoys making Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern-inspired dishes. “Cumin is one of my favorite spices. I also love dishes with chickpeas and lots of spice and warmth,” she said. When deciding on what to prepare for supper, she naturally gravitates towards “something that’s maybe a bit Italian or Greek with those lovely flavors of oregano, cumin, and chili would be my regular sort of cooking,” said Kamenetzky. Rather than favoring quick meals, she prefers dishes that require more time, such as slow braises, slow roasts, “things that require a lot of patient love,” Kamenetzky explained. She added that they don’t necessarily have to be complicated or hands-on. “For me, it’s like a kind of meditation to create something that takes a bit of time and a bit of patience so it’s something that I definitely enjoy doing.” She believes it’s one of the reasons she loves baking bread so much, especially sourdough. She views winter food in the same way, as the longer the dish is cooked, the richer the flavor becomes.

Lizzie dusting some powdered sugar over her cookies. (Courtesy of Lizzie Kamenetzky)

Aside from cooking comforting winter recipes, Kamenetzky enjoys spending time outside. She said, despite the lack of adequate daylight in the winter months, she actually likes it when the evening starts to draw in. “I love that feeling of having been outside and in the cold fresh air and then coming into somewhere warm and settling down to cook something delicious.” According to her, it is very important to get as much time as possible in the fresh air, particularly in the winter. “The sunlight in the UK is just so short that I think you have to make the most of it,” she said. Whether that means having to put on your warmest coat or step into a pair of tall winter boots—it’s really important to get out there and brave the elements for the sake of your mental and physical well-being, according to Kamenetzky. Spending more time with family during this time is equally as important. In the summer, it’s easy to host barbecues and family get-togethers—picnics, a trip to the beach, or sit in people’s gardens drinking rosé, she commented. “In winter, it’s more difficult—it almost feels like you have to try a bit harder to want to do things,” making it even more important to spend more time with family and friends for the sake of happiness and mental health.

Kamenetzky’s book, “Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights” is currently available for purchase in Kindle format or as a hardcover from Amazon or Bookshop.org.

 

Categories
Chefs Lifestyle

Bold Moves

A man that has revolutionized the culinary industry, Todd English has introduced new ways to interact with food from fusing entertainment and his upscale dishes to transporting viewers across the world on any of his travel food series. “It is truly the democratic way to interact in the world. Humans depend on food. Food defines us,” says the internationally-acclaimed chef. English’s ascent to culinary stardom began when he won his first award in 1991 as the Rising Star of the Year, from the James Beard Foundation. Today, English has built his iconic brand into an empire.

He was born in Amarillo, Texas, then grew up in Georgia. As a young athlete, English played baseball and soccer, won numerous awards, and was recruited to multiple Division 1 schools to play both sports. He went on to play baseball in college, but his career as a collegiate athlete eventually ended due to injury. “Being an athlete and growing up in a tough setting has always helped me in the kitchen: to endure long grueling hours, the heat, and the pressure to perform at a high level. I love it.” Soon after his injury, he began cooking and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to pursue his career as a chef. English fell in love with the profession and never looked back.

The chef’s past is as colorful and exciting as his new business ventures. In the ‘80s, English was able to craft his talent at CIA. “I knew back then I wanted to do this for the rest of my life—the energy, the ever-changing nature of the business—once I worked at La Côte Basque with Jean-Jacques Rachou, I loved it,” said English. He has opened over 50 remarkable restaurants, an artisanal bread bakery, and even a cupcake shop with his daughter—Curly Cakes. He is a proud family man and prioritizes his role as a father. “In the past, Andy Cohen from Bravo courted the family for an exceptionally long time to do a reality show. It could have changed our lives, but I did not want to sacrifice my family. My three children are everything to me,” explained English. The chef and busy father of three is constantly on the go and making new moves.

Todd English. (Mozes Ban)

Tireless

From TV accolades to theater on Broadway, Todd English holds an impressive list of accomplishments. English is a four-time James Beard Award winner and was named to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America. English was also the first ever Iron Chef USA, honored with the title when the Iron Chef network brought the show from Japan over to the United States. He has hosted multiple food travel series himself, such as “Cooking With Todd English”, “Playing With Fire”, and the Emmy-nominated “Food Trip.” English has appeared on every major national talk show on television, he is a culinary icon that is hard to miss. As his brand skyrocketed, he began to produce his very own Todd English brand ceramic cookware for the Home Shopping Network.

“I enjoy cooking on a daily basis. My life revolves around food,” said English. “Be it the rustic style pizzas that my friends love, to a Spanish potato ‘tortilla’ with caviar and burrata inspired by my artist friend Domigo Zapata, to a delicate entrée with French flair. Wine is another pleasure I take my time to enjoy. The culinary experiences you can have from a local spot can be truly exciting. It’s what keeps it challenging and interesting. I’m a world connoisseur that wants to enjoy the world in a vibrant and ever-flowing way.”

Taking inspiration from his travels and experiences, he has opened more than 50 restaurants internationally, all instantly recognizable as his own due to their beautiful interiors and entertaining experience. He has successfully opened world-class restaurants in Tokyo, Manila, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. English was one of the first chefs to establish signature restaurants on cruise ships, such as on the Cunard line Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth 2. In 1989, English opened his first restaurant, Olives in Boston, which was highly acclaimed soon after opening. By 1994, he had won the award for Best Chefs in America and in 2001, his commercial success was immortalized in print by being named one of the Most Beautiful People in People Magazine. While flattered, his reaction was humble, “I was in disbelief. I thought I was being pranked!” The chef opened the Todd English Food Hall in The Plaza Hotel in New York City, Dubai, and Manila. Simultaneously, English expanded with another location of his first-ever restaurant Olives in Abu Dhabi at the Ritz Carlton. In Florida, English opened “Todd English’s Blue Zoo” at Disney Orlando and has plans to expand in Miami and Palm Beach.

His new venture, the English Hotel in Vegas, is an example of elegance and edginess, and it’s an exact translation of English’s life. “It’s all the things I love about staying in hotels. We are planning to open five more hotels in the world. The one currently opened in Vegas is a testament of the changes the city has experienced in the last few years. It’s all about experience and it is in the Arts District near Downtown Vegas and the Strip”. The newly built four-story property at 921 S Main Street at Coolidge Avenue will open early 2022.

English partnered with The Marriott Tribute Portfolio hotel owned by Weina Zhang and Anna Olin’s Z Life Co. The new building hosts 74 rooms and 11 suites that open directly to the bright light of the pool area. The Pepper Club, a Japanese/Mediterranean restaurant, will have a spicy, jazzy, lounge-y vibe. Art will fill the hotel, and English has even considered using his own 1964 Rolls-Royce as the hotel’s shuttle.

Today, English continues to transform the traditional dining experience. English is taking Miami and Las Vegas by storm with exciting things for the upcoming year. Drawing inspiration from the psychedelic dystopian festival Burning Man, English’s latest project, AREA15, is a fairytale come to life featuring one-of-a-kind immersive art installations and dining experiences in the desert of Las Vegas. “The Beast” is an interactive food experience where diners can let go of their inhibitions and, “feast like a beast.” He’s also opened another Olives, at the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas in March of 2021 and a “Todd English Pub & Market” at the Abu Dhabi Airport.

Asked about the future of food and dining, English candidly admitted he feels immense pressure. “We have adapted to safety measures and still the largest employer of people in the country is under siege. It is concerning. There are many aspects of the food world that are broken. As a professional chef who has been in the business for a long time, I continue to feel a great responsibility to improve the quality of food and the way it is being provided to the public. However, there are so many lessons to be learned after the pandemic. Something amazing that can come out of this is an incentive to focus on our health through the food we eat, and I look forward to continuing to be involved in communicating this to the world.” Optimistic about the future, English continues to explore beyond his culinary universe.

As English continues his product development ventures in the food and hospitality industry, the renowned chef plans to continue traveling the world and exploring new cuisines. “This year has been amazing. More changes are coming, more challenges and I will do my best to continue to grow the brand. Be it in the luxury market, as well as the avant-garde venues we are seeing emerge around the world,” English confidently stated. As a revolutionary of cooking experiences, Todd English has proven that food is not just about sustenance, but about experience, connection, and, most importantly, the grit and tenacity to be bold.

Rebecca Herrero is the publisher of Art Bodega magazine.

Categories
Chefs Food Lifestyle Trending

A Chef’s Love Letter to Crete

Author and poet Mary Ann Evens, under the pen name George Eliot, once wrote, “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.”

For chef and cookbook author Marianna Leivaditaki, the love she developed for the food of her culture as a child set the stage for who she became as an adult.

Ask Leivaditaki about her childhood in Chania on the Greek island of Crete, and she’ll paint a world of edible gardens and olive groves, of homemade cheese and wine, of running around the beach all day and fishing with whole anchovies as bait in the moonlight. It’s a world where family dinners could stretch to include 30 people, and food was never merely a biological need, but also a social one.

This is the world Leivaditaki shares in her debut cookbook, “Aegean: Recipes from the Mountains to the Sea.”

“Aegean: Recipes from the Mountains to the Sea” by Marianna Leivaditaki (Interlink Books, $35).

Born in Crete, now head chef of the well-known London restaurant Morito, Leivaditaki referred to the cookbook as above all, a journal. “It’s very personal, because it goes back into my growing up years,” she said.

Alongside recipes for fresh Mediterranean dishes that showcase the natural abundance of her home island, Leivaditaki weaves in the stories and traditions from her childhood that secured her love of good food. As a reader, I felt many times like she was right there in the kitchen with me, showing me how to grill a squid or prepare an octopus (in her childhood, they hung it on a clothesline to dry). I wanted to follow her, from her family taverna to the local market, to her dad’s fishing boat and the sea. Leivaditaki, through words and recipes, introduced me to a land I had never seen.

“It’s a gift, to put your stories on paper,” she said. “My family stories are not necessarily unique from [those of] other children growing up in Crete, but these are the experiences that shaped my career path. To me, they are the most pleasurable feelings—of warmth, love, creation.”

Fried anchovies with potatoes, chopped herbs, and lemon mayonnaise. (Elena Heatherwick)

Early Foundations

Leivaditaki’s dad was a fisherman, and her mother ran the family restaurant on the water. From an early age, Leivaditaki and her siblings helped at the restaurant, waiting tables, gutting fish, and peeling vegetables.

Below Leivaditaki’s family flat lived Theia Koula, a family friend who became like an aunt to Leivaditaki. Her home was surrounded by pomegranate trees, olive groves, artichoke plants, beehives, chickens, goats, and rabbits. She and her husband made everything from scratch: cheese, milk, wine.

“She was definitely the one who got me into everything about food,” said Leivaditaki. “Because my parents were really busy, fishing and with the restaurant, I had a lot of time to be downstairs to Theia Koula’s kitchen. I would drink Greek coffee in the morning, with biscuits.”

So many gastronomically interesting things were happening at Theia Koula’s house, and Leivaditaki was brought into it all. After their morning coffee together, they would check on the chickens and take care of other animals on the farm, and harvest vegetables in the field. What stands out the most in Leivaditaki’s memory is the tomatoes.

“Her tomatoes were just insane,” she recalled. “They were the ugliest tomatoes anyone had ever seen—bumpy, misshapen. But you would enter the field and just be hit by [their] sweet smell. She would be really careful which ones to pick—only the ones that were super ripe.”

“The whole square smelled of her tomatoes. I haven’t smelled tomatoes like that in years.”

Then they would go back to the house, sit around Theia Koula’s massive wooden table, and stuff vegetables, make a rabbit stew, or toss together a salad for lunch.

Leivaditaki’s experience with Theia Koula represents so much of what the food culture in Crete is truly about: community.

“Food is not just a biological need,” she said. “This is the time to chat, to spend time with friends and family, to bring up issues—and it all happens around the table. Meal time is all about food—but not as in a human need. It’s about sharing food and spending time together.”

Cretan summer salad. (Elena Heatherwick)

Finding Community Far From Home

As Leivaditaki grew, Crete began to feel small and boring. She needed to get off the island, so she left the beaches of Greece behind for university in Canterbury, England. When she arrived, she was shocked: “first, because I was entirely lonely, and then, because I just couldn’t understand what people ate,” she said.

Her housemates ate a typical college diet of pasta with tomato sauce from a tin. “I didn’t know you could make pasta and put it in a tin, and have it last for two years.”

She noticed that in England, eating together didn’t hold the same weight and importance as it did in Crete. Most of her friends ate alone, in their rooms. Homesick for her culture, Leivaditaki began inviting friends to share meals with her.

She cooked every day, and when she finally moved into her first house after university halls, she created an open door policy, where friends knew they were always welcome for dinner. Slowly, she created a culture amongst her friend group where eating good food together became a part of life. And there was no tinned pasta involved: “England has amazing food; you just have to know where to find it.”

(Elena Heatherwick)

Homecoming

Around this time, Leivaditaki began having doubts about her field of study, forensic psychology. She went traveling to clear her head, touring France and Spain on a bicycle.

While on the road, food, and the cooking of it, became a central theme of her life. At the end of that trip, Leivaditaki looked at the way she’d built her trip around the food. “I thought, this is it. I really need to investigate this more.”

Looking back over her years in England, she realized that cooking food and sharing it with others had become the central theme of her life. Deciding to explore that passion more, she returned to her family restaurant on Crete and took over the kitchen.

In her two years there, Leivaditaki realized how much joy cooking the foods of her childhood provided her. She fell in love with her island again: with its fresh, abundant food from the land and sea. Cooking, not psychology, was what Leivaditaki was made for. Giving people pleasure through food was her life’s passion.

Inspiration From Afar

With this newfound clarity, Leivaditaki returned to England, this time with the intent of working in a restaurant. She wanted to learn how to cook a range of food well. Beginning as a waitress, she worked her way up to become the head chef of Morito, where she continues to honor her heritage and build community through her food. She brings in traditional ingredients and recipes from her upbringing in Crete: grilled rabbit with romesco; cuttlefish, chickpea, and green pepper stew; and organic Cretan sausages.

With “Aegean,” Leivaditaki extends an invitation to readers far from London or Crete. The book is divided into three main sections: sea, land, and mountains, with seasonal recipes such as whole charcoal-grilled fish, summer salad with Cretan goat cheese and barley rusks, and fried rabbit with rosemary and vinegar. A final section, “For After,” includes such treats as semolina cake and loukoumades, traditional Greek doughnuts drenched in honey.

Leivaditaki is passionate about bringing people into the kitchen, encouraging readers to try the recipes for themselves. While some may first appear daunting for home cooks unfamiliar with octopus, mullet, or rabbit, they are so well explained and so deliciously photographed that one could feel brave enough to attempt them. More familiar dishes are in there, too. Reading the recipe for tomato and oregano fritters with whipped feta, I could almost smell Theia Koula’s tomatoes.

“What I’d like this book to be is inspirational,” Leivaditaki said. “You are allowed, as a reader in your own kitchen, to be and to explore.”

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com