Chef Grant Gordon, rising culinary star in Houston, dies at 28

grant gordon chef houstonImage via Houston Press.

Today, the Houston restaurant community mourns the loss of one of its most promising and beloved stars, Grant Gordon, who died on Monday night.

A Houston native, Gordon, age twenty-eight, rose to prominence as the chef at Tony’s, one of the city’s leading fine-dining destinations, where the kitchen earned a top rating from the Houston Chronicle in 2011.

In 2012, he was a James Beard Rising Star Chef semi-finalist and one of Forbes 30 Under 30.

In 2014 he was selected by the U.S. State Department as a culinary ambassador and earlier this month, he and his business partners had announced plans for an ambitious new restaurant to be opened in 2015.

Click here for the Houston Chronicle notice of his passing and here for Culture Map’s profile. As both mastheads reported, the cause of death has not been determined.

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Parzen girls update & an extravagantly delicious gumbo

the producersAbove: our girls love going to restaurants and Georgia P always wants to read the menu. On Saturday morning we took them to Kenny & Ziggy’s deli for white fish, salmon, eggs, and bagels. It’s such a great restaurant and as a former New Yorker and now Houstonian, I can tell you that it’s just as good (and as pricey) as any you’ll find in the city.

We’ve had a really lovely weekend here in Houston, with weather that reminds us all of the California where I grew up (and where they’re experiencing unseasonally high temperatures).

My mom came in from La Jolla for a four-day stay to visit Georgia P (above) and Lila Jane (below).

As any parent will tell you, raising babies and toddlers is never an easy task and our girls — like anybody’s kids — can be a handful. But they always have a smile, hug, and kiss for us and all it takes is a coo or an “I love you” to make the sleeplessness and headaches vanish…
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Del Posto a night at the opera

del posto octopus new yorkAbove: Charred Octopus with Umbrian garbanzo, celery hearts, and 25-year Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.

Paolo, Adam, Zachary, and I had an epic night Tuesday at Del Posto in Manhattan.

From Jewish boy stomach to A.J. Liebling, to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the conversation was as wild as the food and wine.

I posted images and notes (including our celebrity sighting) today over at the Boulder Wine Merchant blog

Thanks again, Paolo!

NY Times mea culpa & Nossiter’s new film “Natural Resistance” debuts

new york times olive oil cartoon

Above: a screen shot of Nicholas Blechman’s half-hearted mea culpa. I’ve copied and pasted the text below.

I’m still feeling sick over Nicholas Blechman’s sensationalist, fear-mongering olive oil cartoon, published recently by the New York Times. And I’m feeling even worse about his half-hearted mea culpa, which now appears at the very end of the cartoon (image above, complete text below).

As my friend and colleague Pete Danko pointed out yesterday on the Facebook, the retraction was longer than the original piece!

Why, on earth, did the editors of the Times op-ed page invite someone like Blechman to write about olive oil? He’s a supremely talented and wildly successful illustrator and editor, no doubt about it. But I can’t find any credential that points to his would-be authority on gastronomy.

The bottom line, as one reader pointed out, is that if a bottle of olive oil costs so little that it seems too good to be true, it probably is…

Just have a look at olive oil authority Tom Mueller’s post on a flight of olive oils he tasted from the Trader Joe’s selection.

There is plenty of adulterated olive oil out there. But high-quality bona fide olive oil is also widely available to us here in the U.S. (San Giuliano from Alghero, Sardinia is our house olive oil; it costs about $14 at our local gourmet market for a 750 ml bottle).

In other news…

nossiter film natural resistance

Jonathan Nossiter’s new film, Natural Resistance, will debut this weekend at the Berlin Film Festival.

It chronicles the bureaucratic and political obstacles and challenges faced by four Italian grape growers and winemakers — La Stoppa (Colli Piacentini), La Distesa (Castelli di Jesi), Pacina (Chianti), and Cascina degli Ulivi (Alessandria) — as they pursue their dream of growing grapes without chemicals and making wines without additives.

In bocca al lupo, Jonathan! Or better yet, in culo alla balena!

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Furor in Italy, Mueller disavows himself of NY Times olive oil cartoon

best italian olive oil

Above: ribollita, “twice-cooked” Tuscan bread soup drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Italy’s community of wine and food writers, Italian olive oil producers, and Italian politicians are still reeling in the wake of Nicholas Blechman’s sensationalist cartoon, “Extra-Virgin Suicide: the Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil,” published by the New York Times on January 24, 2014.

In an editorial published today, the editors of Il Parlamentare, a weekly magazine that covers politics in Italy, write: “This is how the New York Times ‘makes fun of Italy.'”

The cartoon erroneously reported that up to 69 percent of Italian olive oil is adulterated. And although the cartoon was later amended, it also incorrectly reported that oil from other countries could be legally labeled as “Italian” despite the provenance (see below).

[Today, the final panel of the cartoon reports that "an earlier version of this graphic contained several errors," including those cited here.]

The cartoon was purportedly based on data gathered by journalist Tom Mueller, who authors the blog Truth in Olive Oil. He is also the author of a Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (Norton, 2013).

On January 29, Mueller appeared before the Italian parliament’s Chamber of Deputies (akin to our House of Representative) to answer questions about his research. During his appearance, he disavowed himself of the cartoon, which made explicit reference to his work.

“There is no connection to me,” said Mueller of the cartoon, “nor is it my work.” It is made up of “humorous images that incorporate fact but also — and above all — include glaring errors. They reflect a biased approach that ignores quality and focuses only on fraud.”

According to the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera coverage of his appearance before the chamber, he expects the Times to publish a retraction.

On January 31, Italian blogger Olga Mascolo published an interview with Mueller on the popular food blog Dissapore.

The following is an excerpted translation of the interview (to my knowledge, Mueller has only made these comments in Italian and they have not been published in an English-language forum; translation mine).

*****

“There are two principal errors” in the cartoon. “The first is approximation. I wrote 200 pages on this subject documenting the problem of olive oil adulteration. But I also brought attention to those who are doing good work… The overwhelming majority does good work. There are just a few rotten apples who make life difficult for everyone.”

“In regard to the New York Times, it’s a cartoon, fifteen panels that give the impression that all of Italian olive oil is evil. But that’s not the case. The fact that such an authoritative newspaper has reported this makes it all the worse. This is not Home Simpson making silly declarations.”

“In particular, there is a vignette that claims that 69 percent of Italian olive oil is adulterated. That’s not the case. The figure is based on a California study that shows that, at most, the oil is not extra-virgin. But that doesn’t mean that it is adulterated.”

Sources: Dissapore; DiVini (Corriere della Sera).

*****

The following line in the New York Times cartoon was amended in a subsequent version:

“Bottles are labeled ‘Extra-Virgin’ and brand with the globally respected ‘Made In Italy.’ (Oddly this is legal, even if the oil does not come from Italy.)”

The current caption reads as follows:

“Bottles are labeled ‘Extra-Virgin’ and brand with the globally respected ‘Made In Italy.’ (Oddly this is legal, even if the oil does not come from Italy — although the source countries are supposed to be listed on the label.)”

Source: Intravino.

#BestMeals2013: Dispensa Pani e Vini (Franciacorta)

The Dispensa in Franciacorta is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. This spring, I took Tracie P and Georgia P (and Lila Jane in Tracie P’s belly) to eat there not once but twice…

italian grissini

Above: Grissini — bread sticks — are one of Italy’s great gifts to humankind. I’m not talking about the hydrogenated oil-charged grissini that come in a plastic wrapper. I’m talking about the ones that chefs like the amazing Vittorio Fusari bake in-house. Georgia P couldn’t get enough!

Franciacorta Chef Vittorio Fusari and his Dispensa Pani e Vini have become a happy Parzen family obsession. Last week I wrote about the first of two meals we had there earlier this year.

Vittorio’s ability to match brilliant technique and precision with his uncanny knack for sourcing wholesome materia prima have fascinated and thrilled me. Bringing Tracie P and Georgia P to lunch there was one of the highlights of our family trip to Italy in the spring.

Here’s what we ate on the second day.

32 via dei birrai

There is so much great beer being made in Italy right now. We loved the richness of aroma and flavor in the Oppale by 32 Via dei Birrai.

raw salmon italy

The salmon wasn’t cured. It was served raw, expertly sliced and dressed with a gentle drizzle of olive oil. So simply yet ethereally satisfying.

pasta asparagus

Vittorio made these penne with green beans especially for Georgia P. Mommy and daddy couldn’t help stealing a bite.

risotto asparagi asparagus

Vittorio’s risotto agli asparagi was a masterpiece. This dish left me speechless.

italian chicken salad

Poached chicken salad. That’s a lightly breaded, fried egg in the middle. It’s yolk was perfectly runny.

italian hamburger

The Bresciani (ethnonym for natives of Brescia, Lombardy, the province that claims Franciacorta) love beef. This was Vittorio’s take on the hamburger. All the bread is baked in-house at the Dispensa.

manzo olio brescia lombardy

Manzo all’olio — literally “beef cooked in oil” — is a classic dish of Bresciana cuisine. Slowly braised beef usually served with polenta and/or potatoes.

giovanni arcari eugenio signoroni

If I’m in Franciacorta, you’ll usually find me in the company of my bromance Giovanni Arcari (left), winemaker extraordinaire and grand personage of Italian wine. He met us for lunch and we bumped into Eugenio Signoroni, editor of the Slow Food beer and osteria guides. That’s the kind of place the Dispensa is. You always run into food and wine professionals and personalities there.

happy italian baby

What a joy to watch our sweet baby girl enjoy her meals at the Dispensa. Our family life is centered around eating well (and by “well,” I mean deliciously and wholesomely) and there is no chef I know who devotes more attention and passion to the wholesomeness of what he serves his guests.

Thank you, Vittorio! The Parzen family is your unabashedly and eternally devoted and grateful fan!

McChianina? You have to be kidding me! #MakesMeHeave

gran chianina

Above: The new “Gran Chianina” burger at McDonald’s Italy (image via McDonalds.it).

“When will we stop selling off our enogastronomic heritage?” asks my friend and blogging colleague Andrea Gori in a post for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino today.

Andrea, a native Florentine and one of Italy’s leading sommeliers and wine bloggers, is referring to McItaly’s launch of the “Gran Chianina,” a hamburger purportedly made with Chianina beef, the famous Tuscan breed that gave the world the bistecca fiorentina.

Italians are obsessed with hamburgers this year (see this post, one of many devoted to their hamburger mania). I’ve had some great hamburgers with my bromance Giovanni Arcari in Brescia. And my friend Wayne Young, Joe Bastianich’s special ops man, tells me that young Italians love the hamburger at Joe’s new restaurant in Cividale del Friuli.

But McChianina? It touches a raw nerve on both sides of the Atlantic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chianina cattle, here’s the Wiki entry.

Evidently, McItaly (yes, that’s what it’s called!) is also launching a line of Piedmontese beef burgers.

While the first Italian McDonald’s opened its doors in German-speaking Bolzano in 1985 (according to the Wiki), it was the launch of the McDonald’s at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome that inspired the creation of what would become the Slow Food movement.

This legacy has made McDonald’s the symbol of enogastronomic colonization in Italy, a bitter pill to swallow for a country united only by culinary pride and football.

Here’s a video capture of the Gran Chianina spot from Andrea’s YouTube. It’s enough to make you want to heave…

I can only imagine how offensive this is to Andrea. Not only is he one of Italy’s leading wine personalities, he’s also the wine director for his family’s legacy restaurant, Trattoria da Burde, in Florence. It was the model for the Gambero Rosso (Red Lobster) restaurant in Collodi’s Pinocchio.

@QUIAustin‎ @PQui @JuneRodil donate proceeds from Filipino dishes for Philippines relief

dinuguan pork blood

Above: Dinuguan, pork offal and pork blood braised until melt-in-your-mouth, a classic Filipino dish as prepared by Chef Paul Qui in Austin at Qui.

I just traded emails with our good friend June Rodil who writes from Argentina that her family back in the Philippines is doing fine despite the challenges of cleaning up in the wake of the recent typhoon there.

Tracie P and I were glad to hear that. We’ve been checking in with all of our Filipino friends here in Texas. Some of them still haven’t had word yet from their families. (June, a leading Austin wine professional and the wine director at Qui, happens to be on a wine trip in Argentina.)

June also let me know that Qui — one of our favorite restaurants in Austin — will be donating proceeds from its Filipino dishes (like the Dinuguan, above) to the Philippine Red Cross (its website is updated regularly with news on the situation there).

It’s tough to get a reservation at Qui during Formula 1 week here in Austin. But once things calm down again next week, I’ll take the girls back for my monthly craving of Dinuguan.

Here’s a link to my post on our recent dinner there.

And here, again, is the link to the Philippines Red Cross.

Please keep our Filipino sisters and brothers in your prayers and thoughts…

The new Texas wine scene is exploding. In fact, there is life beyond “Napa Cab.”

perfectly sliced prosciutto

Above: Prosciutto at the newly opened Camerata wine bar in Houston. FINALLY someone who can slice prosciutto correctly!

“It’s hard to complain these days,” wrote Austin wine collector and restaurateur Steven Dilley the other day in an email.

It seems like yesterday that many of us would moan and gripe about the wines we couldn’t get here in Texas.

But today, it’s as if a new sun has risen over the Lone Star State.

Master Sommelier candidate David Keck’s Camerata in Houston is my new favorite wine destination in the state. It’s a true wine salon where all the local wine hip folks are hanging out (it’s the place where I saw not just one but two copies of Wine Grapes being passed around).

And by day, it’s home to the newly formed Houston Sommelier Association (I wrote about the new group for the Houston Press here).

Super cool joint…

clos roche blanche austin

Above: Clos Roche Blanche by the glass on our friend Mark Sayre’s list at Trio at the Four Seasons in Austin. Hell yeah!

Back here in Austin, Tracie P and I had our first night out since the arrival of Lila Jane (now four weeks old; thanks again nanna and pawpaw!).

After we enjoyed a glass of Clos Roche Blanche at the Four Seasons (a wine that Alice turned me on to many years ago now, enabling my interest in and passion for Natural wine), we headed over to the newly opened Arro, where not just one but two Master Sommeliers — Craig Collins and Devon Broglie — write the list and work the floor.

I knew roughly half of the lots on the all French list but would have gladly tasted/opened anything: when you see such intelligence in a wine list, your trust level makes it easy to be led blindly. And that’s what we did.

saint damien cotes rhone

Above: Slightly chilled Grenache paired with roast chicken and steak frites was just right.

The wine I’m still thinking about this morning was the Saint Damien Côtes du Rhône. But Craig, who was working the floor last night, tasted us on so many great things.

There’s never been such a focused and brilliant list in Austin. It’s a list that makes a statement.

And along with Steven Dilley’s list at Bufalina (which we also loved), Craig and Devon’s program stands apart for its ability to thrill the finely tuned connoisseur and neophyte enthusiast alike.

chef drew andrew curren

Above: Arro’s chef Andrew (Drew) Curren’s roast chicken was spot on last night.

Isn’t that what a wine list should do? Shouldn’t it forge a level of trust that it takes you outside of your comfort zone? That’s what it did for us and I just couldn’t resist a second glass of the Grenache.

When I moved here nearly five years ago to be with Tracie P, it seemed next to impossible to find a wine list that we could really dig into like the lists we’re seeing today.

Nearly every fine dining restaurant was dominated by “Napa Cab” (I still shudder every time someone says “Cab”) and Chardonnay, with the occasional Malbec thrown in the mix.

Mark Sayre at Trio at the Four Seasons in Austin still jokes about how I called him and “interviewed” him about his wine list when I was looking for a special place to take Tracie P for a romantic evening. At the time, Mark’s list and the list at Vino Vino (today, my client) were the only places Tracie P and I would drink wine in Austin. (Mark, a Master Sommelier candidate, is also writing the list at the excellent and überhip Lenoir, which we love as well, btw).

Today, there is just so much more groovy wine available to restaurant buyers and the new wave of Master Sommelier and Society of Wine Educators candidates has upped the performance level considerably (Scott Ota, also of Arro, recently won the “best sommelier in Texas” title at Texsom, the annual Texas sommelier conference).

None of this was even on the horizon when I first got here.

As Devon wrote to me the other day in a tweet, “we’ve come a long way, baby!”

David, Devon, Craig, Mark, Scott, Steven… We’re with you all the way…