Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Doing Good in a BIG Way: Operation BBQ Relief

Once in a while you trip over something that's just leads you down a path with each new detail revealing a greater treasure. Once in a while you come across something that makes you pause, like taking in a beautiful vista but when this happens with people it seems to me that most folks just keep on going, they don't stop and pause to admire the beauty of the human spirit. 

So as the lone pescatarian at the Troy Pig Out, I went on a little adventure deciding to chat up the some of the pitmasters to see if I could find out what this world of competition BBQ was all about. Not being shy and a total chatty Kathy, I wandered into the somewhat quiet area where they were camped out with their enormous smokers. This is where I met Sean Keever from Big Guns BBQ who quite simply is an awesome guy. We chatted for a bit and then he sent me over to visit Shaune & Bill Gillespie and Alan Burke at Smokin Hoggz BBQ, who had actually won the Jack Daniels BBQ competition.Well the real reason he sent me, in the interest of full disclosure, is that they had squirreled away in their freezer a peach infused bourbon....umm yeah, side note that stuff was ridiculous amazing, throw that in an Arnold Palmer and have a happy day! But I digress...

A big glass of peach bourbon in a 90 degree trailer, with a couple of really nice people lead to the discovery of this organization that just speaks to my heart, the heart of this blog and I truly hope to yours as well. I keep talking about chefs that are doing good for the community and why it makes such sense. Whether you're a chef or a home cook, when you cook for people you're sharing your heart and giving of your spirit. To me it's one of the most generous of professions because you're always just trying to make people feel good. 

Alan Burke, in the course of conversation, mentions to me Operation BBQ Relief. He tells me how they have this organization that helps people affected by natural disasters and how it's a natural fit because they don't need electricity to BBQ, just charcoal or wood. He looks at me with his heart on his sleeve and tells me that they just want to give a nice hot meal, something that gives them a little bit of home, to people that have just lost everything they have to  give them a little bit of comfort. Alan tells me that they are ready to mobilize at a moment's notice, that these folks that are linemen, state workers, just regular people just drop everything to take time off, gather supplies and go. When they get there they set up, they cook and they provide meals to anyone who needs it. 

When I heard this I thought it was great, inspiring, selfless; but then I did my research and my heart stopped. The humility in which this was presented to me can not be underscored enough. These people fed 120, 000 people in less than 2 weeks in Joplin after the tornado. They have deployed from all over the country in response to 12 natural disasters since May 2011. Sitting with a friend who was reciepient of their generosity after Hurricane Sandy, he tells me how remarkable they were, ho selfless, how kind. 

Doesn't it make you stop and think of the impact of a few people with big hearts, how they can offer comfort to hundreds of thousands of people. So I don't about you all, but I'm not going to keep walking. I'm not going to say oh that's nice and keep on going. I'm going to lend my support in the best way I can, by spreading the word. Please click on the links below to donate to Operation BBQ Relief. 

From the Operation BBQ Relief Website:
"During 2012, Operation BBQ Relief cooked almost 182,000 meals in 11 states and spent 52 days cooking. Since the first disaster that we cooked for in Joplin, MO, Operation BBQ Relief volunteers have served 470,900 meals to victims and first responders."

They have a wish list on Amazon: CLICK HERE

Video from Joplin:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Brewery Ommegang and Saveur Magazine are bringing the critically acclaimed Hop Chef competition to Albany on July 12 at 5:30pm at the Hilton Albany. An outstanding line-up of Capitol Region chefs will each create one dish showcasing their imaginative beer and food pairing skills. The dishes, all paired with Ommegang ales, will be served to a panel of judges, and to all attendees, to taste and score. As it all goes down, great beer will partner with great food to help out a great cause -- A portion of proceeds from Hop Chef Albany will benefit Salt Recovery.

Tickets are $55 and canbe purchased through this link :

Will Brown
Mazzone Hospitality
Mark D. Graham
Max London's 
Yono Purnomo- Yono's
dp an American Brasserie
Dimitrios Menangias
City Beer Hall
Brady Dillion -
Merry Monk Saratoga
Ian O' Leary - The Ginger Man

Ali Benamanti - Henry St. Taproom
Photos of Chefs Mark, Yono, Ian, Will and Dimitrios courtesy of Jason Spiro Photography. 

I have a pair of tickets to giveaway to this fabulous event. Entries will close at 4pm tomorrow and the selection of the winner is entirely up to me based on how amazing your answer is to the following question:

If you were competing in HOP CHEF what you make, with what Ommegang Beer and why?

Good luck!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Gauntlet Thrown & Answered

A few weeks ago it was pouring rain for what seemed to be the 100th day in a row, I was sad and needing to get out of the office. So what to do.. Well I threw down the gauntlet on Facebook to my chef friends asking who could blow my mind with an epic food experience. While I waited to see who would answer the challenge, I started to think of the chefs I knew that wouldn't disappoint. It got into my head to go visit Chef Courtney Withey over at Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady. She's so seriously talented and so often overlooked in our local culinary scene, which I totally don't understand by the way. I've eaten at Aperitivo Bistro a few times and each time something special has happened from the divine tasting menu last year, or the night that Chef Courtney whipped up some gnudi for our little group, or her Rising Star tasting review a couple of years ago. So my course was set and off I went through the monsoon, hoping for the best. 

I like to order omakase with Chefs that I know and respect. There's something about it I just like It just feels like you get a better sense of the Chef, you can see how they feel about food, when they cook with passion, and when the things that excite them. I hope that it's something fun for them to, to perhaps play a little rather than making the same dishes they do day in and out. Some people know this about me and I love that Courtney told me not to look at the menu she was going to do a tasting....

First Course was a stracciatella with shitakes, spinach, vine ripened tomatoes, farm fresh eggs and parmeasan served in a veritable boat that I thought there was no way I could ever finish. The tomato broth with hints of basil and garlic were both delicate and poignant, playing off one another beautifully.  It was both heart warming and comforting on that rainy day. In the sense that food nurtures, that dish was made with nothing but love. 

Then there were the Zucchini Fritters with Cherry Tomato Jam, Herb Whipped Ricotta, Chive Oil and Balsamic. The fritter was perfectly crispy, the ricotta was a soft as the jam was sweetly astringent, and the balsamic and chive oils just put it over the top. Chef Courtney took something so simple and elevated it, if not reinvented it. It was simply sensational. 

And then it happened, the food moment..... the epic moment that I had been looking for. I really didn't think it would happen either, they are so rare for me when something truly rocks my world, and have never happened when I went looking for it. But my friends this dish was remarkable, it was pure genius.

Homemade Gnocchi over Lemon Basil Whipped Ricotta, Grilled Asparagus, Crispy Shitakes, Yellow Pepper Coulis and Chive Oil. First off let me address the crispy shitakes....earthy, crispy, salty mind-blowing awesomeness. Put those next to the nuttiness of the asparagus, the gnocchi that were crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle while being light as air, add in the brightness of the coulis and then silky smooth ricotta. This dish was perfection....

Little did I know there was another course behind that one. The Farmer's Market Pasta with Squash, Zucchini, Red Peppers, Baby Corn,  Shitake Mushrooms, house made bread crumbs and Burratta is something on the regular menu although normally with pappardelle. It was so fresh, tasting like spring time but also hearty for the dreary day. Really well done. 

I had gone in search of something special, looking to something to make me feel better not that they knew that aspect of it. Peter, Emily and the staff at Aperitivo were so wonderful with such great understanding of hospitality , much more like gracious hosts welcoming me to their home.   I left content, happy and inspired. That's good stuff. 

And then I guess there's something to throwing down a gauntlet...Chef Courtney not only stood up to the challenge, she answered it with 4 courses uniquely crafted and beautifully executed. Thank you Chef, this one I will remember always!