It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast with its eye on New Orleans 10 years ago August 29th. At the time we were planning a major dining and wine event for following February the following year which sadly was cancelled. The aftermath left many of our restaurant friends recovering for months, and people were still living scattered here and there.
Flash forward to 2015: New Orleans is back on its game and its restaurants are better than ever as noted in this New York Timesarticle. Media outlets around the country are focusing their eyes on “The Storm’s 10th Anniversary,” but we never lost sight of New Orleans and neither did its staunchest supporters, its restaurateurs. One of the first restaurants granted a license to reopen was Ralph Brennan’s Redfish Grill.
Ralph Brennan is a third generation member of a family whose name, Brennan, is synonymous with New Orleans cuisine. The flagship French Quarter restaurant, Brennan’s, founded by his grandfather was Ralph’s playground where he worked as a prep cook during high school summer vacations. After earning his MBA and working as a CPA for Price Waterhouse for eight years, Ralph returned to the family business.
Today, The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group includes the recently renovated (2014) Brennan’s, Red Fish Grill, Ralph’s on the Park, cafe b in Metarie and cafe NOMA within the New Orleans Museum of Art, well as restaurants in Disneyland. he is a co-owner of Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s in Houston. And he’s acquired the venerable 200-year-old Napoleon House in the French Quarter, best known for its Pimm’s Cups and Muffulettas as well as a mighty fine Sazerac.
In 2006-2007 David and I spent a blissful pre-wedding-New Years-Birthday-“Bucket List” trip traveling through Botswana and South Africa. It was my first time visiting the African continent, but not the last. In 2012 we went to Morocco to cross “dancing under the stars in the Sahara Desert” off my bucket list.
Our travel bucket list is continually being rearranged and we’re forever dreaming of trips to destinations where the culture, the language, the food and the people are uniquely different and special. One of the places we dream of visiting in Africa is Senegal. Situated on the western coast of Africa, Senegal is a multicultural country with culinary influences from all over the world. When David and I flew to Johannesburg we made a 4 hour pit stop at the airport in Dakar to fix a hydraulic flap control on the plane. Sadly we couldn’t leave the plane, though they did open the doors so we could stand in the doorway and breathe in the rich West African air.
Senegal, and most of West Africa fascinates me. Much of the United States is tied to that part of Africa for both savory and unsavory reasons. The unsavory was the slave trade when families were uprooted and lives were stolen and human beings sold. The savory are the rich cultural and culinary traditions that the people from Africa brought with them that are embedded in many of the dishes we eat today.
If you have tuned into our iHeart Radio show, The Connected Table LIVE!, you know that we love New Orleans. Maybe it’s the sweet southern air. Maybe it’s the moist hot humidity. Maybe it’s the iconic food and drink culture. Maybe it’s spirit of the city that conveys “Pleasure is Good.” We consider New Orleans our spiritual- and spirited- home.
It there is one name in New Orleans dining that stands heads above others it is “Brennan.” There are several branches of the Brennan family tree running different restaurant operations. Two of our favorite ladies of the Brennan family are Lally Brennan and first cousin Ti Adelaide Martin, who together oversee Commander’ s Palace, Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar at the Loews hotel and Sobou at the W Hotel in the French Quarter, as well as Brennan’s in Houston. Visiting with them is like seeing family.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 10 years ago this September, our hearts ached for all our New Orleans friends and family. Lally gamely led David and me through the debris left at Commander’s Palace, and we all envisioned a stronger more defiant city and a sparkling rebuild of the restaurant.
On March 17, 2007, we were married in Commander’s Palace’s dazzling courtyard. When it was time to promote my first book, Getting Things Off My Chest, Ti and Lally hosted my party at Café Adelaide. Giving back and generously supporting the city, the industry and friends is part of the Brennan family DNA.
Being a successful restaurateur is never easy. Being the son of a legendary restaurateur sounds like it might be easier but not always. This is especially true when your name is Frank Pellegrino Jr. and your dad, Frank, Sr., runs New York City’s toughest table-to-book in town, Rao’s (pronounced RAY-ohs). We’ve never snagged a table at Rao’s NYC, which is on our dining bucket list. I think tables end up in the wills of its regulars.
It takes (meat) balls to follow in the footsteps of Frank Sr., and Frank Pellegrino Jr. (“Frankie” to Rao’s regulars) has done just that overseeing Rao’s Caesars Palace, Las Vegas (opened 2006) and Rao’s Hollywood (opened Fall 2013). The tables are easier to book, and the Southern Italian fare served with a large helping of hospitality is just as satisfying. That’s why Rao’s has a loyal following everywhere.
Frank Jr. earned his chops working at Rao’s NYC at night while running an advertising business by day. His Mad Men career took him to many restaurants and prepped him well to step out on his own in 2000 with his first restaurant, Baldoria, located in Times Square. It opened with great fanfare; I remember the party.
Vegas came calling, and Frank followed with the first Rao’s. Today, with the two Rao’s restaurants and a book, Rao’s on the Grill, Frank Jr. has accomplished something his Pops never did at the “original”- make a dinner table at Rao’s accessible for the rest of us folks. Mangia!
He credits cooking with his mother and grandmother for fueling his career in food and the Culinary Institute of America for giving him his formal education. Alon was working as an intern at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas when he met Octavio Mantilla, a co-owner of Besh Restaurant Group. Octavia recruited him to New Orleans, and Chef /Restaurateur John Besh took him under his wing. Alon credits John as the most influential non-familial influence in his culinary life.
Located in the historic Roosevelt Hotel Domenica is recognized for its straightforward family-style Italian cooking. The name “Domenica” means “Sunday” in Italian, a day when families in Italy gather for a festive meal overflowing with good food and wine. Alon spent a year cooking and traveling in Italy to learn from both home and professional kitchens. Uptown, Shaya’s Restaurant serves Alon’s take on Modern Israeli cuisine while utilizing local and seasonal Louisiana ingredients. He went back to Israel in 2014 to immerse himself in the culture and cuisine of his homeland.
I dined at Shaya’s in May. The words “fertile crescent” came to mind. The dishes I tasted conjured a caravan of flavors from a region of the world I long to visit again some day. Fortunately, we have restaurants like Shaya’s that just require a quick trip to OpenTable to snag a coveted table.
It’s been a few good years for Alon: 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Southeast Chef, 2014 Hottest Restaurant (Gayot), 2012 Chef of the Year (New Orleans Magazine).
Chef Alon Shaya visited with Melanie and David July 8 on The Connected Table LIVE. You can listen to show anytime on iHeart.com and the iHeartApp. Or cut and paste here:
He’s been called “the godfather of Nuevo Latino cooking” by media and food industry cognoscenti. His dishes pack a “pow” in flavor, texture and color.
I first became familiar with Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s muy sabroso culinary style when he was still in his tender twenties cooking “upscale Cuban” food at his restaurant YUCA (an acronym for “Young Cuban Americans”) in Miami. The James Beard Foundation Awards took notice early on and nominated him twice for Rising Star Chef of the Year; he won the award in 1996.
Doug exploded into the competitive New York City restaurant scene with Patria, where he honed his Nuevo Latino style. The New York Times awarded Patria three stars, and other restaurant developers came calling on Doug.
More restaurants followed: Chicama, a Peruvian restaurant and Pipa, Spanish tapas, both in NYC’s Union Square neighborhood; and Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia with restaurateur Stephen Starr. Today, Doug continues to run Alma de Cuba.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Doug was raised in Miami and starting cooking in his early teens, landing his first job at age 14 as a summer apprentice at the Four Ambassadors Hotel in Miami. Now, with his restaurants, a successful catering company and four books, DRod (as he refers to himself) is still at the top of his game.
We’re excited about his culinary trips to Cuba. With U.S.-Cuban relations opening back up and the tourism industry in Cuba looking at a renaissance, you may want to book a trip with DRod soon!
David and I are big fans of the Hawaiian island Maui, We are longtime Starwood Vacation Property owners at the Westin Kaanapali, and we try to visit at least once a year. While many people who visit Maui hang out on the beach or enjoy the multitude of water sports, we like to venture upcountry around the slopes of Haleakula and beyond to visit the local farms, hike and explore the cowboy town of Makawao.
A trip to upcountry often includes a visit to Beverly and Joe Gannon’s Hali’imaile General Store for lunch or a drink at the bar (voted the best Mai Tai on the island). It is a “must stop” on Maui’s culinary trail. Just a 15 minute drive to Maui’s airport, we try to make an early dinner at Hali’imaile General Store before boarding the late night flight home.
So how did a nice Jewish girl from Dallas, Texas, and a former road manager for Liza Minelli, Joey Heatherton and Ben Vereen end up cooking “eclectic American cuisine with Asian overtones” in a former pineapple plantation country store in upcountry Maui? And what does the word “Hali’imaile” mean?
TAO: the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tao)
Tao (pronounced “dao”) means literally “the path” or “the way.” It is a universal principle that underlies everything from the creation of galaxies to the interaction of human beings. The workings of Tao are vast and often beyond human logic. In order to understand Tao, reasoning alone will not suffice. One must also apply intuition.
What’s it like to oversee the kitchens at the highest grossing independent restaurant in America? We’ll ask Ralph Scamardella, Executive Chef and Partner for The TAO Group. Ralph joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! May 20th 2pm ET on W4CY and iHeart Radio.
After three decades cooking in kitchens at some of the most esteemed restaurants on the world, Chef Scamardella divides his time between his home base in New York and Las Vegas where he oversees all daily menu and kitchen operations. His is a culinary vision that pairs old and new inspired by travels in Southeast Asia combined with classical French training and nostalgic Italian roots (His father grew up in Naples, Italy.)
Hot restaurants. Even hotter cities New York-Las Vegas-Sydney. According to the unofficial 2014 RB rankings (fromRestaurant Business magazine), TAO Asian Bistro in Las Vegas was the highest-grossing independent restaurant in America with $64.6 million in sales in 2013. LAVO Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas ranked 5th, and TAO New York at 7th.
OK, what are we talking about? 20 restaurants and nightclubs. To name a few: LAVO Italian Restaurants, TAO Uptown, TAO Downtown, Dream Downtown and Arlington Club (all NYC); LAVO at The Palazzo, TAO and TAO Beach at The Venetian, Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan (all in Las Vegas). Beautifully designed restaurants and bars populated with beautifully accentuated people.
We want to know: How do you keep the crowds coming, from moguls to rock stars to hip hoppers to brides-to-be? Consumers are fickle, and the nightclub crowd even more so. What’s the secret of The TAO Group? How does it find harmony with new generations of restaurant and club goers? How do you keep your concepts fresh?
And we want to know how in the crazy world of restaurants and nightclubs how Chef Ralph Scamardella finds his TAO (a life of harmony).- posted by Melanie Young
Tune in Wednesdays for The Connected Table LIVE on www.W4CY.com and any time on demand at iHeart.com (under Shows & Personalities). Each week Melanie Young and David Ransom bring you the dynamic people in food, wine, spirits and hospitality.
A short train ride just about two hours north of Manhattan lies a verdant world of rolling hills dotted with apple orchards, horse farms, vineyards, hiking trails, mom and pop storefronts selling locally made items and even an old-fashioned roadside drive-in movie theater. Tucked away among towering tree-lined drives are historic mansions with names like Roosevelt and Vanderbilt, as well stately homes of lesser known captains of the industry who retreat to Dutchess County to relax or ride to the hounds.
We recently took a day trip to Dutchess County to attend the 13th annual Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival www.hudsonvalleywinefest.com where we had the chance to taste wines produced from all over New York Stat and try artisinal foods, craft beers, a few spirits and dishes from area restaurant and food trucks.
You could spend a perfect day hopping the rails to immerse in the Dutchess County lifestyle but we recommend staying overnight. Why rush? Isn’t that why you left the city?
With so many options and places to visit, both Dutchess Country Tourism and Metro North offer brochures, suggested itineraries and special packages (“Gasless Getaways”).
Here is a sample of what we recommend:
Eat: The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park has four dining options: American Bounty, Apple Pie Bakery, Caterina de Medici and The Bocuse Restaurant. For a taste of history with your meal try The Tavern at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck and Stissing House Restaurant & Tavern in Pine Plains. Farm-to-table fare is everywhere as are casual gastro-pubs and small cafes run by CIA graduates. One of the best ways to experience the region’s dining bounty is during Hudson Valley Restaurant Week where many establishments offer prix- fixe lunches and dinners. (November and March).
Take home: Crown maple syrup from Madava Farms (Dover Plains), Krause’s and Oliver Kita Fine Chocolates (both in Rhinebeck), Bumble & Hive for a selection of honeys (Rhinebeck) and for the ultimate tea experience, Harney & Sons Store and Tea Lounge in Millerton. Adams Fairacre Farms, with locations in Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls, feature many locally made products as well as other fine foods, but nothing beats buying straight from the farm stand. Many farmers markets are open on Saturday mornings through December but check ahead since schedules vary by location.
Drink: Many vineyards offer tasting rooms, but some hours are seasonal so it’s best to call in advance. Recommendations: Cascade Mountain Winery in Armenia, Millbrook and Oak Summit Vineyards in Millbrook; and Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Corners. Information: www.DutchessWineTrail.com.
New York State distilleries and breweries are popping up all over the Hudson Valley (and elsewhere) thanks to new legislation passed in recent years. Millbrook Distillery in Millbrook (now open) and Dutch’s Spirits in Pine Plains (opening soon) are two to visit. In Beacon, which is a stop on Metro North, try The Hop Craft Beer & Artisinal Fare located on a delightful street lines with curio shops and more.
Stay: Bed and breakfasts and country inns abound. Some of our favorites are in the picturesque and walkable town of Rhinebeck, including: the historic Belvedere Mansion and Beekman Arms Tavern & Inn. Red Hook, another small pretty town, has a number of bed and breakfasts as do Beacon and Rhinecliff, both near the train.
Explore: October is prime leaf peeping season and the heart of the harvest with weekly events and festivals. Winter offers deals on hotels and dining, festive holiday bazaars, Christmas tree farms and a serene beauty.