“The way I see it,” says Melba Wilson, “Soul food is the foundation of American comfort food.”
She’d know. For Melba, a Harlem native, or as she likes to say “I am Harlem born, bred, and buttered,” owns one of most influential soul food restaurants in New York City’s most exciting dining neighborhood, aptly named Melba’s.
Like many children, she grew up watching her mother and grandomother cook and learned to love food, and soul food, in the process. But, Melba actually went into marketing and sales after school, anything from cosmetics to limo driving, finally entering the restaurant business on a lark when the great Sylvia Woods, Harlem’s Queen of Soul Food and owner of the world famous Sylvia’s, called and asked Melba to spearhead the 25th anniversary of the restaurant.
Melba did such a good job that Sylvia offered her a postion at the restaurant, starting her love affair with the hospitality business and eventually leading to her opening her own place.
Opened in 2005, Melba’s was an almost overnight success, with a family style menu that as Melba likes to say, “blends my Carolina heritage (her family is from South Carolina), with a dash of extra spice, a little urban edge, a taste of the melting pot, and a few ‘dee-lish’ twists.” It’s also been covered regularly in foodie magazines, and Melba even “Beat Bobby Flay” with her fried chicken recipe, now renamed Throwdown Chicken in honor of that accomplishment.
It seemed like the perfect plan: Help out Barossa Valley grape growers unable to sell their fruit in a changing market by making wine from their grapes, sell it off in bulk to those who need wine to sell and go play golf for the rest of the year.
Well, something like that, anyways…
A champion of the little guy, Peter Lehmann, a fifth generation Barossa native who grew
up surrounded by vineyards, was originally a winemaker and buyer for a large British-owned Barossa Valley wine company. In 1979 when told by his superiors not to buy fruit he had contracted for, Peter, knowing it was the only source of income for his suppliers, decided to buy and process the fruit himself under the name of Masterson Barossa Vineyards (aptly named after Sky Masterson, the gambler in Guys and Dolls) – and he did it at his employers winery and with their blessing!
However, when the winery sold the following year, the new owners halted the arrangement, forcing Peter to go out on his own. The result, Peter Lehmann Wines, enabled him to keep his relationships with growers in good standing and also showcase the increasing depth of the region’s growing capabilities, a move and philosophy that eventually earned Peter the title “Baron of the Barossa.”
Thirty-five years later, Peter Lehmann wines, founded in the late 1970s as an act of compassion by its namesake with a group of like-minded wine industry veterans, produces some of the best wines in Australia.
The winery is now owned by the Casella Family Brands of [yellowtail] fame with a winemaking team helmed by Chief Winemaker Ian Hongell, another Barossa native who made his first wine at age 7 in a plastic bucket. Peter Lehmann Wines are now sold worldwide, and count upwards of 30 wines in the portfolio ranging from entry level easy drinkers to top-tier tiny production wines that are continuously heralded as benchmarks of the region’s output.
She’s called “The First Lady of Tequila” and is the first female “Maestra Tequila” certified by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila. And she makes a pretty amazing
tequila called Casa Dragones.
After years building the Cuervo brand globally, Bertha Gonzáles Nieves stepped out in 2009 to create her own style of tequila to rave reviews. Casa Dragones is an ultra premium, 100% Blue Agave, hand -crafted sipping tequila that’s smooth, soft and warm with no bite – the way a good tequila should taste. From the sea blue blue packaging and perfume bottle design to the platinum-hued liquid inside, everything about Casa Dragones speaks luxury. This is a sipping spirit to lift the spirits and savor slowly.
So what is Casa Dragones Tequila? Well, it’s a game changer – and part of a growing category of bottlings that are taking the art of crafting tequila, long thought of as a delicious and complex but somewhat pedestrian spirit, to new levels of refinement and elegance through the use of different techniques in distillation, aging and blending. With Casa Dragones, think Cognac with Tequila flavor, but without the burn, or in this case, the color.
Second, unlike the traditional styles of Tequila – Blanco (or Silver), Reposado, and Anejo – Casa Dragones makes what’s called a Joven Tequila, a blended tequila that is primarily Silver, but with other, more aged lots – in this case a bit of 5 year-old Extra Anejo (the recently added fourth main category) blended-in to add complexity and smoothness. In the case of the Casa Dragones Joven, the color is removed from the Extra Anejo portion to keep the final spirit clear.
With the proliferation of Tequila labels on the market these days, many of which are billed as traditional and with a classic Tequila style. Casa Dragones stands out for being exactly not that. It is not a rough, hot, meaty spirit that feels like it was made in a hand-made still in the barn behind the hacienda, but a soft, smooth, elegant spirit with a lightness and level of refinement that liken it more to the sipping equivalent of drinking silk than wool.
Casa Dragones Co-Founder Bertha Gonzáles Nieves joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! this Wednesday May 4, 2016 for a chat about Casa Dragones, and her views on Tequila and the state of the Tequila industry. Listen in at 2:25pm
There’s probably nobody in the world today with a better handle on the pulse of the whisky industry than Dave Pickerell.
A veteran of the industry, Dave has spent a career moving the craft of making whisky forward through his knowledge and expertise in distilling. First at Makers Mark, where as Master Distiller for 14 years, he was in charge of making sure that the legacy of the Samuels family’s 19 barrel-at-a-time distillation recipe was kept true, and then as head of Oak View Consulting, the company he founded upon his departure from Makers Mark to help bring his distilling expertise to the budding craft spirits industry.
Some of his projects, like Vermont’s Whistle Pig and Hillrock Estate in New York State’s Hudson Valley, are game changers. Others, like Old Smoky Moonshine in Gatlinburg Tennessee, which he also helped start, are more mainstream. However, all are close to his heart, as they’ve, with his input, helped revive an industry that had been lost after the temperance movement essentially shut down regional spirits production just under 100 years ago.
One of this favorite projects may be the re-birth of the Distillery at Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s Virginia homestead. Our first President made whisky on the property during his lifetime there, but the distillery was shut down and dismantled after his death. When the Trust decided to re-create it, they tapped Dave, a West Point grad by the way, to help research and build it again.
At any given time, Dave has about 20 projects in the works worldwide, some he helps start and then moves on from, others, like Whistle Pig and Hillrock, he continuously works with, creating new product lines while acting as Master Distiller. Regardless of his role in any given product he oversees, Dave’s input and knowledge in the whisky business is unmatched.
We welcome Dave to The Connected Table LIVE! On Wednesday April 27 to chat whisky, Whistle Pig, and his incredible achievements at Hillrock Estate, America’s first whisky made from all estate-grown grain.
A lot of people yearn to get into the wine business, where aside from the pretty hard work (winemaking is not romantic, only drinking wine is), a life of good food, good wine, travel, and mostly beautiful surroundings carry the day, pretty much every day. It’s rare, however, to find someone who leaves it. Carta Coffee MerchantsFounderScott Burr is one of those people.
A longtime member of the wine industry, Scott grew up in a agriculturally focused family that had grown grapes and farmed its Northern California land for generations. Always interested in wine and winemaking, Scott eventually got a degree in enology from Fresno State before embarking on a 20+ year career as a consultant in the California wine industry, mostly in Sonoma
Yet, for Scott, something was missing and he yearned for a place he could plant his feet on the ground and get back to what really interested him: farming. It was on trips to Hawaii that he had started to gain interest in coffee, in particular, the coffee grown in Kona, and he eventually bought an abandoned coffee farm. Working with the region’s top consultant, third generation grower and coffee guru George Yasuda, Scott started planting new coffee plants, and Nolyssa Coffee Farm was born.
Carta Coffee Merchants, Scott’s new brand, is a small-production coffee grower/roaster where everything is done the old fashioned way, from hand-tending of the orchards to how the beans are processed and finished. Maybe not the easiest way to do it, but it makes for very good coffee, and along the way Scott has realized his dream to get back to the land in a way that stimulates not just his mind and bloodstream, but also his sense of well-being.
So, what makes Kona coffee one of the world’s most sought after cups? Or, more importantly, what makes someone give up a career in the wine industry to start a coffee farm in Kona on the Island of Hawaii? We visited with Scott at Alyssa Farms on April 20th for a firsthand look and taste. Here's the permanent link to our show. Or, cut and paste this link: http://www.iheart.com/show/209-The-Connected-Table-Live/?episode_id=27500317
South Africa has a winemaking industry that dates back to the 1600s, and the Malan family, whose Simonsig Wine Estate in that country’s renowned Stellenbosch region in the Cape Winelands is one of the most recognized names in the world of wine, helped create it.
Grape growers in South Africa since Jacques Malan first planted vines in 1688. The Malan family has been involved in the wine industry on many levels in the ensuing years, and Simonsig, which takes its name from the region’s Simonsig Mountain range, in whose foothills descendent Frans Malan planted a vineyard in De Hoop in the 1950s, has made a name for not only itself, but for the entire country by consistently making exemplary wines from South Africa’s star grape varietals, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.
While Chenin Blanc, one of the world’s great white varietals, is grown most notably in the Loire valley in France, it seems to have found a second home in Stellenbosch, where wineries have been bringing out beautifully crafted versions for many years. Simonsig’s Chenin Blanc is one of the benchmarks. They also make a barrel fermented Chenin, a rarity for that varietal, but a stunner of a wine that breaks the stereotype that Chenin can’t stand up to extended time in oak.
Another varietal, and one that helped put South Africa on the map, is Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, it is a grape unique to South Africa, and was “invented” there in the 1920s and then forgotten for many years until it was rediscovered and propagated on a commercial level. Loved by some, dismissed by others, Pinotage makes an interesting wine, medium to full bodied, with interesting notes of spice, earthiness, and smoke. Yet, it’s the polarizing character of acetone or paint, which tends to
drive the discussion on it, though to be honest, a well made Pinotage such as the consistently award-winning ones made by Simonsig are beautiful wines and can not only stand the test of competition, but can age and stand the test of time, as well.
Simonsig makes many other wines, as well. Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, and the Bordeaux varietals all grow well in South Africa’s Cape where no vineyards are very far from the moderating influence of the Oceans that surround it. There are also a handful of world class sparking wines made – another Simonsig innovation, as they were the first winery to make what is called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle)
wines back in the 1970s.
For all the wonderful wines being made in South Africa, There still seems to be a bit of a disconnect with the American consumer, maybe due to the location (it’s a 20 hour flight at least). Yet the wines are world class, and only getting better. Simonsig, with its long history in the region and wonderful wines, continues to lead the way.
We welcome Johan Malan to The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 13th to speak about his family’s winemaking legacy and get his take on the wines being made there that are making South Africa one of the most exciting places in the wine world these days.
Think about this fact: every minute, 18 bottles of Sandeman wine are sold. That’s just under 26,000 bottles per day, or somewhere north of 9 million bottles per year.
One of the truly iconic names in the world of wine, the Sandeman family started trading
in Port and Sherry in 1790 and is considered one of the first global wine brands, with exports to 75 countries. Sandeman was one of the first to put its name on its barrels and advertise its wines as coming from the House of Sandeman. It was also one of the first companies, in any industry, to trademark its name, in 1877, making Sandeman the brand, one of the oldest actual brands in the world.
Along the way, Sandeman has created a legacy of ideas on branding and marketing that have cemented its reputation as a leader in an industry that has seen the star of fortified wines tested at times due to globalization of the winemaking world and also the changing palate of the consuming public.
Also a producer of Sherry, Brandy, and Madeira, Sandeman is something of a fortified wine specialist, and while Sandeman does make Vintage Port when vintages are declared (their latest offering is the stunning 2011), its strength lies in the more approachable (and affordable) styles such as Tawnies, Rubies, and aged blends such as its iconic 10 and 20 year old ports.
These days Sandeman is part of the Sogrape Vinhos company, Portugal’s leading family-owned wine company, and 7th Generation family member George Sandeman serves as its Director of Public Relations and family Ambassador.
George Joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 13 to discuss his family’s remarkable legacy in the wine industry, and his vision for the future of fortified wines.
Restaurants come (and go) at a pretty fast clip in New York City, one of the world’s great dining capitals. Some do so without much fanfare, some do so with lots of it. Betony, which opened in 2013 in midtown Manhattan, is one of the latter.
The brainchild of Chef Bryce Shuman and partner Eamon Rockey, who oversees the front of the house, Betony was
an immediate hit with diners and critics alike, receiving three stars from the New York Times, and won the title of Esquire Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year honor its first year, a Michelin star in 2015, and in 2016, a Beard Awards nomination for Best New Restaurant.
Shuman, a North Carolina native who had honed his skills under Wolfgang Puck’s team at Postrio in San Francisco and then under Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park, was also thrust into the realm of NYC’s chef cognoscenti, and was tapped as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs in 2015.
Betony’s cuisine is at once comforting and very sophisticated, a stylistic ode perhaps to Shuman’s six years at Eleven Madison, where Humm’s cuisine bears some of the same characteristics. Yet, Betony’s menu is clearly all Shuman, who seems happy to delve into culinary ingredient esoterica, and take more chances with pairing differing elements in his dishes.
That is not to say that his menu creations are in any way weird or strange, they are far from it, blending flavors into beautifully presented dishes that seem to feed all the senses at once. Yet, through them, one senses a freedom that may not be attainable in a restaurant where 3 Michelin stars were granted, and must be maintained.
And that’s the charm of Betony, and Chef Shuman’s slightly more human view of what sophisticated New York City dining should be.
Bryce Shuman joins The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 6, 2016 to discuss his restaurant, path to the top, and if we’re really lucky, maybe even why he collects Analog Synthesizers in his spare time.
With a six generation legacy of growing grapes and making wine, the Undurraga family has been at the forefront of fine wine production in Chile since the 1880s. Undoubtedly one of that country’s most famous wine making families, they have a number of firsts in their lengthy list of accomplishments, not the least of which was that they were the first Chilean winery to export their wine to the United States, way back in 1903.
When the family sold the winery in 2006, they started a new venture in the Los Lingues zone of Alto Colchagua, Koyle Winery. Run by family members Alfonso Undurraga and his sons Alfonso (Jr), Max, and Cristobol, Vina Koyle, as it is called, takes its name from a Chilean Indian word for the rare local purple flower that grows around the 2700 acres of land in the foothills of the Andes where the winery sits. The Undurraga family also owns vineyards near the coast, and source grapes from both their inland and coastal vineyards to make the wines. All their vineyards are farmed either organically or biodynamically.
Currently Koyle is focusing on the following wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and a small production of Chile’s flagship varietal, Carmenere. Some proprietary blends are also in the portfolio, including AUMA, their top wine, created from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, Malbec and Petite Verdot from the winery’s oldest vineyard plantings – with each grape aged separately for 24 months in French oak before
being blended and aged in a “concrete egg” tank for an additional 9 months before bottling.
A new star on the Chilean wine scene, Vina Koyle only has a few vintages under its belt, but with over a century of experience in making wine, the Undurraga family seems to be on track to create yet another legacy for themselves in the world of Chilean wine.
Alfonso Undurraga (the younger) joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! April 6 at 2:00pm ET to speak about his family’s winemaking legacy, new venture Vina Koyle, and also the state of winemaking in Chile as a whole, as he also serves as Director of that country’s wine trade marketing association, Wines of Chile.
With almost two dozen restaurants scattered throughout the U.S., Bermuda, and across Scandinavia, a handful of cookbooks, and a growing list of media and philanthropic interests, Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s reach in the culinary world crosses multi-cultural boundaries
Born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised in Sweden, from an early age Marcus was taught to appreciate and respect food by parents who were driven to instill those values in their children.
“I feel like I’ve been cooking all my life,” he says. “Growing up, my sisters Anna and Linda and I spent summers in Smögen, on the west coast of Sweden. Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters, and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam. These experiences taught me to love and appreciate fresh and local food.”
Count on one hand the ambassadors of Southern Cuisine, and Award-winning writer, chef, TV personality, and cookbook author Virginia Willis will invariably own one of those five fingers.
Georgia-born and French-trained, Virginia has been the go-to expert for such chefs and lifestyle experts as Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart, and has appeared on numerous TV shows such as Food Network’s Chopped, Fox & Friends, and NBC’s TheToday Show. She’s also cooked with culinary world Grand Dames Julia Child and Nathalie Dupree(who gave Virginia her first job). She’s cooked for President Bill Clinton and, who knows, maybe she’ll cook for the first women president next?
Virgina’s five cookbooks embrace the culinary spirit of the south from “having it ‘ya’ll” to a single subject book on Okra. Her books include “Bon Appétit, Y’all,” “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all,” and her latest, released in 2015, “Lighten Up, Y’all.” as well as the aforementioned book “Okra” and another entitled “Grits.”
She is also the blogger for Down-Home Comfort for Food Network. Named by the Chicago Tribune as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know,” Virginia is also a contributing editor for Southern Living and writes for Eating Well, Fine Cooking, and countless other culinary publications.
Virginia joins us at The Connected Table LIVE! Wednesday December 23, 2:25 pm EST to talk about her life in food and her special take on southern cuisine.
Remember that college mantra “beer makes you smarter?” Memory hint: it was usually uttered by someone with beer goggles on.
We did a little research asking if drinking beer made you smarter. A 2012 study at Oregon State Universityreported that xanthohumol in hops, a main ingredient in beer, has been found to increase brain function in high doses. Here’s the catch: “High doses” equals about 3,520 pints or 2,000 litres of beer. And, the study was conducted on “young animals” and not “young men.” Maybe the folks in Oregon should stick to studying coffee. You can read this article on the subject
Here’s a more intelligent rationale for drinking beer according to this article in OrganicFacts.net:
The health benefits of beer include anticancer properties, a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, increased bone density, the prevention of dementia and coronary disease, aid to the digestive system, and anti-aging properties, as well as treating diabetes, gallstones, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and hypertension. Beer also acts as a serious stress buster and a diuretic.
Okay, that’s more like it. What’s more intelligent is drinking better beer, sustainably produced and organically made. Just ask Gabriel Heymann, founder of Smart Beer, New York State’s first certified organic beer.
An avid beer drinker, farm advocate, and certified yoga instructor, Gabriel felt he wanted a beer he could feel good about drinking, and that wouldn’t compromise his health conscious, environmentally-inclined lifestyle. When he couldn’t find it, he decided to make it.
Made in the Hudson Valley (near us!) from sustainably farmed and sourced ingredients, Smart Beer is made for those who don’t want to compromise their food philosophies to drink a few suds. “I wanted to enjoy both my social life and my healthy, active lifestyle,” Gabriel says, adding. “You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your lifestyle or values in order to celebrate, and that’s what this beer is about.” www.smartbeercompany.com
We welcome Gabriel to The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday December 16, 2pm EST to talk about striking a balance between health and healthy imbibing and Smart Beer, a which he says proves the fact that “we can have it all.”