We hope you enjoyed our 3-part video series on local, organic, and sustainable food in San Diego! Now for something a little different: a cooking segment that shows you how to make one of my favorite dishes, classic Ligurian pesto.
Organic food is what we are meant to be eating. It contains no additives, preservatives, fertilizers, or pesticides—widely associated with various types of cancer. It is not genetically modified—widely believed to cause organ damage and other serious health problems. It has not been sterilized with radiation or ammonia, like most fast food meat. Organic farms are required to constantly test both their products for nutrients as well as their irrigation water (non-organic farms use “sewer water” that can contain biosolids like heavy metals, lawn pesticides, gas, detergents). Convinced yet?
I hate to disappoint those who are seeking a gluttonous New Orleans food tour dripping in butter and hot sauce (okay, there’s a little of that), but this post will be a little different. I made the trip as a guest of Rachel’s Network, an alliance of women that supports female leaders who want to be agents of change for environmental protection. Some highlights: Mayor Mitch Landrieu talked to us about the city’s reliance on the oil industry, a local fisherman steered us through the bayou (which loses the equivalent of a football field of marshland per hour), architects cooperating with Dutch water control experts walked us through the Ninth Ward (devastated by Hurricane Katrina) to see the new “green housing” pioneered by Brad Pitt, and—I didn’t forget you, foodies—we dined with Chef John Besh, who is decidedly an agent of change in his own community.
Per Se, Jean Georges, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns have been visited, and a couple of them left me wishing I’d spent my money elsewhere (though one did indeed take the prize). But now to the fun stuff: Dining at critics’ darlings like Torrisi and the Breslin, eyeing up Veritas’s new chef (will he prove his three stars from the New York Times?), and debating Thai chicken wings at the Las Vegas import Lotus of Siam (you might want to stick to Vegas).
After somewhat disappointing meals at both Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I was ready to throw in the towel and eat hot wings for the rest of the trip since, clearly, the Fancy Category wasn’t cutting it. Little did I know the winner would be, yes, a fancy restaurant—Jean Georges’s flagship on Columbus Circle—but for its decidedly affordable two-course $38 lunch offered Monday through Saturday (dinner is $98 for three courses).
I am lucky to say that I have been to Per Se once before. It was a little over two years ago on the day my brother Oliver got married. Everyone agreed that the five-course lunch was breathtaking. My Japanese sister-in-law, a professional collector of breathtaking meals (who inexplicably remains a size zero), called it “possibly the best I’ve had.” We nodded in agreement. Regretfully, we could not say the same about our most recent trip. Sure, the food was intricately prepared and beautifully presented, but—hang on—the fish was overcooked and the frog’s legs were underseasoned? My brother Matthew, who had chosen the 9-course vegetarian menu, was left deflated as well. There were some amazing high points, like his Salvatore Brooklyn ricotta agnolotti, but then perplexing dishes like a massive hunk of Amarelo da Beira Baixa cheese that he would have had a hard time finishing if it were the only thing he ate. Chef Thomas Keller has created a global reputation that rests on his OCD-like demand for perfection. But this wasn’t it.
Let’s talk logistics. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is in Westchester, 45 minutes north of New York City by train. Unless you have a car, you have to be able to eat your three-hour-plus meal in time to take the last train back to the city at one in the morning. Or pay an exorbitant fee for a taxi to drive you back at that hour. My advice? Either find a way to eat at 5:30pm or plan a lunchtime outing on the weekend when you can take in the sights of the farm and its surroundings (or, on a personal note, have enough light to take photos in the “no flash zone” dining room). The lake and trees looked nice by moonlight, but are much more enjoyable by day, I’m sure.
A few weeks ago, Slow Food USA challenged Americans to make a meal that costs five dollars or less per person—about the cost of eating fast food—to prove that eating pure (not processed) food doesn’t have to be expensive. It also had the corollary effect of proving that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as rice and beans. According to Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel, more than 30,000 people took the challenge, and 5,500 events were held that day. Me? I attended Slow Food Urban San Diego’s event in Little Italy and then devoured Chef Chad White’s $5 stew at Sea Rocket Bistro (recipe below). I also asked some fellow San Diego food bloggers to chime in with the $5 recipes they love, and I hope they will inspire you to cook for family or friends tonight. Nothing brings everyone together like a home-cooked meal, and there’s nothing better than being in control of the good ingredients going into it!