Sunday, February 20, 2011

If You Love French Chefs...

Miami will get a big taste of France this week as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival celebrates its 10th Anniversary (Feb 24 to 27) and a slew of French chefs show up to strut their culinary stuff.

For one long weekend each February, sixty to eighty of world’s most-popular chefs drop what they’re doing to transform southern Miami Beach into the world’s largest and liveliest kitchen, providing four days of nonstop food-and-wine-drenched decadence for those lucky enough to land a ticket.

An equal number of winemakers will be on hand, pouring the crème de la crème of both old and newer vintages.

If you’re curious about current food-and-wine trends, want to see what top chefs are putting on their plates today, looking for a great party or just hungry to get away from nasty winter weather, there’s no better place to be in late February.

Or maybe you want to support the next generation of culinarians, wine experts and hoteliers-in-training? This is a pretty pleasant way to do it as every penny of festival profits benefits culinary and wine education at Florida International University. To date $11 million has been raised.

The festival also allows FIU students to work side-by-side with top chefs and wine experts, getting valuable experience which leads to great jobs. Many return as volunteers after graduation.

Maybe you’re a young chef, job-hunting or looking to move up. Maybe you’ve got a cookbook in you just waiting to bust out—if you could only meet an agent to get the ball rolling. Maybe you dream of being on TV, like Bobby, Rachael, Emeril, Paula and Jamie, all of whom will be at SoBe. Indeed for four days straight, celebrity chefs are everywhere on South Beach: cooking, eating, helping out their friends, eyeing the competition, swimming, sunning and schmoozing up a storm.

SoBe long ago eclipsed other events of its type in terms of A-list attendance, industry relevance, food and wine quality and fun factor. “Anyone who’s important is there, having the time of their life,” Wolfgang Puck says.

I’ve been to a million food-and-wine events. Not only is SoBe the largest and most successful, it’s far and away the most fun. "When it comes to SoBe, I can't find anything to complain about," Tony Bourdain told me. "And I complain about everything."

The festival is an enormous undertaking that requires 18 months of planning to pull off. This year, 50,000 people will attend at least one of 50 different events, ranging from sandy-feet casual to supremely refined.

And this year as in years past, the French flag will be flying high.

Alain Ducasse, who earned his first Michelin three-star review in 1990 at age 33, will be honored at a glittering Saturday night Tribute Dinner—and seven of his favorite chefs will do the cooking. Six hundred people paid $500 each to attend the sold-out event.

Born on a farm in Southwestern France, Ducasse was 12 when he famously proclaimed “Grand-mere, these beans are overcooked!” and 16 when he began his culinary career. He’s considered a master of Provencal cooking, which he has elevated through his cooking schools, cookbooks, restaurants, food products and more. Today Ducasse has more than 20 restaurants in eight countries, including three Michelin three-stars: Monaco, Paris and London.

Ducasse was one of the SoBe festival’s earliest supporters and festival founder/director Lee Schrager credits him with helping to nudge the then-tiny event into the national spotlight. It was Ducasse’s participation, Schrager says, that encouraged other big-name chefs to sign on, to agree to leave their busy kitchens behind and come down to cook for a great cause.  

Following SoBe tradition, Mr. Ducasse chose the chefs who will cook his Tribute Dinner. (If I were a chef and Alain asked me to cook his Tribute Dinner, I’d be pretty proud, eh?) The chefs he chose? Laurent Gras (soon to open a restaurant in NYC), Alex Stratta (Stratta at the Wynn, Las Vegas), Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter's, Chicago), Frédéric Robert (former exec pastry chef, Wynn Las Vegas) and Frédéric Delaire (exec chef, Loews Miami Beach Hotel).

Doing the hors d’oeuvres for the reception are three chefs currently working for Ducasse: Phillipe Bertineau (Benoit Bistro, NYC), Didier Elena (Adour Alain Ducasse at the St Regis, NYC) and Sebastien Rondier (Mix on the Beach, Vieques, Puerto Rico).

Jean Paul Veziano, a top baker who once worked with Ducasse, is coming from Antibes to do the breads. And Marc Ehrler, who hails from Antibes but now lives in Houston, is bringing buckets of luxurious butters—truffle, yuzu, brown, sea salt—from National Dairy Brands, where he’s now the corporate chef.

French actress and model Carole Bouquet will be the evening’s emcee. Bouquet has appeared in more than 40 films--she’s best known to Americans as Bond girl Melina Havelock in the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only--and was the face of Chanel in the 1990s. Bouquet is also a winemaker: she has a home in Pantelleria, a small island between Sicily and Tunisia, where she produces a sweet white wine called Sangue d’Oro. 

The 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel is both the venue for the Ducasse Tribute Dinner and the host hotel for the festival. Overseeing the hotel’s vast kitchens is French chef Frédéric Delaire, a native of Agen. I rang Delaire up just now to ask him how his festival prep was going and found him triple-checking his market list for the week ahead. For the Ducasse dinner alone he’s ordered 60 whole turbot (about $6,000 wholesale), three pounds of Perigord truffles ($3,000) and 400 lamb loins ($6,400) plus scores of other luxe ingredients.

But the chefs producing the Ducasse Tribute Dinner are hardly the only ambassadors of French cuisine who will be out and about at SoBe this year. Since it launched in 2001, the festival has always had a strong French accent, thanks to elite chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert and Claude Troisgros, who have become mainstays on the talent roster.

Other well-known French chefs who have participated over the years include Michel Roux, Jean-Marie Auboine, Jean-Francois Bruel, Jean-Philippe Delmas, Tony Esnault, Pierre Hermé, Hubert Keller, Pascal Oudin, François Payard, Marc Poidevin, Michel Richard and Guy Savoy.

All sorts of heavyweights in French gastronomy, such as Jean-Luc Naret (former director of the Michelin Guide) and Ariane Daguin (of D’Artagnan) have also been involved.

Scores of top French winemakers come to SoBe to pour and the wines are always superb. Festival host Southern Wine & Spirits is the largest importer/distributor in the country and there’s no one in the wine-world they don’t know. The Wine Spectator is a major sponsor which lends both expertise and cachet. 

This year, another sold-out dinner, this one called The Brilliance of France, will be held at the legendary Biltmore Hotel. The menu follows the “imperial route” taken every summer by Napoleon’s Spanish-born wife, the Empress Eugenie de Montijo, and will feature dishes from three of her favorite gastronomic destinations: Biarritz, Bordeaux and Eugenie-les-Bains. Chefs for the evening are Pascal Nibaudeau (who has one Michelin star at Le Pressoir d’Argent in the Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux), Biltmore executive chef Philippe Ruiz (a Frenchman who has worked in numerous Michelin-starred kitchens) and yet another Michelin-starred chef: Jean-Marie Gautier from Le Villa Eugenie in the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz. (Alain Ducasse was married at the Hotel du Palais, by the way, and Gautier prepared the dinner.)  

The wines for the Brilliance of France dinner include Champagne Pommery,  Château Suduiraut’s 'S’ de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc 2007, Château Petit-Village Pomerol 2007, Château Pichon-Longueville Baron Grand Cru Classé (Pauillac) 2003 and Château Suduiraut Grand Cru Classé Sauternes 2001.

At yet another elegant event called Best of the Best, in the ballroom of the Fountainebleau,  40-plus superstar chefs will each be cooking and serving a signature dish. Every dish will be paired with a wine, rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator. I quickly scanned of the list and saw Nicolas Feuillatte, Pol Roger, Pommery, Krug, Mumm, Hugel et Fils, Laurent-Perrier, Duboeuf, Latour, Leflaive, Jolivet, Jaboulet…many top French domaines.

If Champagne is your thing…one of the festival’s most popular events is a glorious beach barbecue called the BubbleQ. Twenty-five or so chefs will be grilling at stations around an enormous open-air tent and event manager Michael Moran is chilling 2,400 bottles of Perrier-Jouët for the four-hour party.

This year, Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart are co-hosting a dessert party called Let Them Eat Cake. Eleven top pastry chefs will fly in to create elegant, over-the-top desserts, served up with Moët. Jacques Torres is in charge of the piece de resistance: a 10-foot-tall birthday cake composed of…well let’s just say a lot of chocolate. It’s coming down from New York in a Fed Ex special-care truck. And knowing Jacques, it will be extravagant, dramatic and insanely delicious, the perfect way to wish Bonne Anniversaire to this spirited and very-special celebration.

Tickets to a few SoBe events are still available. For more info, visit the SoBe website here

To read about The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, November 2010), with 100 food and drink recipes from festival chefs, go here.

To buy the cookbook, go hereTo enter to win a copy, go here.

Bid on tons of great items in the SoBe online auction here.

Photo of Alain Ducasse by Mikael Vojinovic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

LIFE Magazine Looks at Provence

If you loved LIFE like millions of others did, then might ease your withdrawal. The magazine was a mainstay of American culture, an icon in the world of photojournalism, the first all-photographic American news magazine. LIFE dominated the market for more than 40 years, from its launch as a weekly by Time founder Henry Luce in 1936; as an intermittent "special" until 1978 and as a monthly from 1978 to 2000. Today on the site I happened on a beautiful photo essay about Provence, a series of 36 mostly black-and-white photos taken as early as 1900. To see the gallery, click "Next" in the image above or better yet, click here to see the images full size. You might also enjoy the series of vintage photos on Europe's "Wine Line" or on French design icons or this one, called Classic Cannes.

Pictured: A Grasse perfume-factory worker on a bed of roses, May 26, 1955. Photo by George W. Hales/Getty Images

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Van Gogh 2.0

Inspired by tilt-shift photography, which plays with depth of field and makes real world scenes appear like miniature modelsart student Serena Malyon simulated the effect with Photoshop, transforming a number of well-known Van Gogh paintings. You can see more of her images and learn how she made them here. To see other striking tilt-shift photos by various artists, click here.

Pictured: Van Gogh's "Prisoners Exercising," after and before. The original was painted in St. Remy in 1890.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Deals on Meals in Provence

Now more than ever, we want good value for money when eating out. In response, Michelin this week released the fifth edition of the Bonnes Petites Tables Guide for 2011. This is the “Bib Gourmand” book of lower-priced restaurants, where you can get a three-course meal for less than 35€ in Paris and 29€ outside the Paris area (33€ on weekends.) 

The 2011 Guide includes 601 restaurants total, the most ever in its history, including 117 new listings. Michelin says the large number of restaurants offering great food at fair prices is “a sign of the times and an indicator of new culinary trends.” The Bib Gourmand label was first introduced in 1997.

The Bonnes Petites Tables du Guide Michelin France 2011 lists restaurants by region, with cities appearing in alphabetical order within each region. Each description presents the style of cooking, typical dishes, décor and other practical information.

All the restaurants will also be included in the Michelin Guide France 2011 (the Guide Rouge), identified with the Bib Gourmand icon, when it comes out later this year.

In other Michelin news, the company is organizing a special springtime promo in France called Printemps du Guide Michelin. From March 21 to June 21, more than 900 restaurants will offer special deals for readers upon presentation of a special pass, inserted in the Guide Rouge. The offers include specially priced menus, gourmet workshops, plus discounts on fixed-price menus and à la carte dishes. The list of participating restaurants and their offers will be posted on a dedicated website as of Monday February 28. A new feature this year: you can get a free one-month pass online, valid March 21 to April 21.

Meanwhile, the Bonnes Petites Tables 2011 guide is available in French only…in all the usual bookstores and online from Amazon.

But because I live to please you, dear reader, I’ve asked the nice folks at Michelin to pull out and list for us all the restaurants in the Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA) region. You can see that list below. The “N” after the name indicates that the restaurant is new to the guide this year. Bon App!

Les Alpes de Haute-Provence (Department 04)
Castellane/La Garde: Auberge du Teillon
Chateau-Arnoux-St. Auban: La Magnanerie (N)
Manosque: Sens et Saveurs (N)
Puimichel: Chez Jules (N)
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: La Treille Muscate
Sainte-Croix-de-Verdon: L'Olivier

Les Hautes-Alpes (Department 05)
Briancon/Puy-St-Pierre: La Maison de Cathe
Puy-Saint-Vincent: La Pendine
Saint-Crepin: Les Tables de Gasp
Saint-Disdier: La Neyrette
Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur: Les Chenets
Serre-Chevalier/Le Monetier-les-Bains: La Table de Chazal

Les Alpes Maritimes (Department 06)
Antibes: Oscar's
Beuil: L'Escapade
Cannes/Le Cannet: Bistrot des Anges (N)
La Colle-sur-Loup: Le Blanc Manger
Gilette/Vescous: La Capeline
Mandelieu/La Napoule: Les Bartavelles
Mandelieu/La Napoule: Le Bistrot L'Etage (N)
Menton/Monti: Pierrot-Pierrette
Nice: Au Rendez-vous des Amis
Nice: Les Pecheurs
La Roquette-sur-Siagne: La Terrasse
La Turbie: Cafe de la Fontaine
Vence: Le Vieux Couvent

Les Bouches-du-Rhone (Department 13)
Aubagne: Les Aromes (N)
Eygalieres: Sous Les Micocouliers
Martigues Le Bouchon a la Mer (N)
St. Remy/Maillane: L'Oustalet Maianen (N)
St. Remy/Verquieres: Le Croque Chou (N)

Le Var (Department 83)
Bandol: L'Esperance (N)
Draguignan: Lou Galoubet (N)
Draguignan/Flayosc: L'Oustaou
Fayence: La Table d'Yves
Frejus: L'Amandier
Gassin: Auberge la Verdoyante
Grimaud: La Bretonniere (N)
Le Luc: Le Gourmandin
Ramatuelle: L'Ecurie du Castellas (N)
Rians: La Roquette
Le Rayol-Canadel-Sur-Mer: Le Relais des Maures (N)
Saint Raphael/Valescure: Le Jardin de Sebastien
Seillans: Le Relais (N)

Le Vaucluse (Department 84)
Avignon: L'Essentiel
Carpentras/Beaumes-de-Venise: Dolium
Casseneuve: Le Sanglier Paresseux
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: L'Oustau de L'Isle
La Motte D'Aigues: Du Lac (N)
Pernes-les-Fontaines: Au Fil du Temps (N)
Robion: L'Escanson
Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes: Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises
Uchaux: Cote Sud
Uchaux: Le Temps de Vivre
Vacqueyras: L'Eloge
Vaison-La-Romaine/Roaix: Bistro Preface (N)
Vaison-La-Romaine: Le Brin d'Olivier
Villars: La Table de Pablo

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Welcome To Our Newest Advertiser

Ben Collison and his wife, Alice, moved to France in 2003. Originally from Preston in Northwest England, they now live in Cotignac, in the Var region of Provence. They have two children: William (age 3) and Eva (11 months). Ben launched his design business in 2003 and has grown it into one of the leading English-speaking web and graphic design agencies in the South of France. Pure Design International also offers web optimization, logo design and corporate identity, marketing, advertising and print (large format, car wrapping, business cards, posters, luxury stationery, etc.) “If it’s printable, we can do it,” he says.

Ben charges €30 per hour or, for web design and development, a flat fee.  For large projects, he prefers to meet in person, therefore his clients tend to come mostly from the area between Monaco and Marseille. But he’s happy to work via phone and email too. Recent clients include Sunseeker France , Luxury & Family Property, Home-Hunts, Domaine de la Pertuisane, Fine Wine Works  and Michael Zander Architects.  And you can see more of his work on the Pure Design site….click here.

Ben’s a big believer, of course, in the power of a professional presentation…particular in these competitive times. “It’s so important to have a brand, business card or website you’re proud of,” he says. “It’s worth investing a few extra euros to have something that displays creativity and attention to detail…something that looks and feels good or provides a great user experience. The impression you leave with people really counts.”

Pure Design International
Tel: 09 70 44 62 97
Mob: 06 18 74 03 32