Taste of the World

A volunteer recreates Pearl S. Buck

A volunteer recreates Pearl S. Buck

Our Celebrity Chef Panel

Our Celebrity Chef Panel

It was the perfect weather for a gala occasion. On Friday, May 17 Pearl S. Buck International in conjunction with Local Living Magazine and Open Aire Affairs, hosted the ninth annual Taste of the World at Green Hills Farm near Perkasie. The evening included dinner prepared by fourteen of our regions most talented chefs each competing for this year’s new “Top Taste” award. The winners were chosen by four distinguished judges each providing a unique perspective. The event was hosted by NBC 10’s Tim Furlong.

The evening began with a VIP meet and greet with our celebrity chef panel. Guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres while conversing freely along with Mr. Furlong, Chef Joseph Poon, Chef Maria Liberati, Chef Barry Sexton and Local Living’s own Kimberly Cambra. Chairman of the Board of Directors David Yoder offered a heartfelt thank-you to all the sponsors and volunteers and reminded everyone of the difference Pearl S. Buck International makes in the lives of children all over the world.

Chairman Yoder expressed a heartfelt thanks to sponsors.

Chairman Yoder expressed a heartfelt thanks to sponsors.

Mr. Yoder, of all people, would know. On Christmas Eve, 1948, as a infant, he was welcomed into the home of the Nobel Prize winning author as the first of more than 7000 children from 28 countries who have been successfully placed in loving families by Ms. Buck’s foundation. Ms. Buck knew that if she hadn’t provided a home for David he would have never found one. At that time, Chinese and mixed-race children were not considered for adoption by child placement agencies. In 1949, just after David’s adoption, Ms. Buck founded Welcome House and continued protecting and defending children right up until her passing in 1973. Since then Welcome House remains the adoption arm of three organizations under the umbrella of Pearl S. Buck International. The second, Opportunity House, is a child sponsorship program allowing donors to reach out to children facing poverty and discrimination all over the world. The Pearl S. Buck House provides care and maintenance to the author’s house as well as the 63-acre Green Hills Farm recognized as a National Landmark by the Department of the Interior.

The Top Taste Medal

The Top Taste Medal

Participating chefs were asked to prepare a tapas style dish to be judged by the celebrity chef panel. The panel chose the evenings Top Taste award. Guests voted for their fan favorites in dinner, dessert and beverage. The celebrity panel awarded nearby Tabora Farm and Orchard as the top taste while Fan Favorite honors went to Joey G’s Gourmet Deli and Catering of Newtown and Pasqualina’s Italian Market and Deli in Blooming Glen. The special desert prize went to The Lucky Cupcake in Pipersville. The beverage prize was awarded to The Pearl S. Buck Volunteer Association.

A Perfect Evening for a Gala Event

A Perfect Evening for a Gala Event

Item for Bid at the Silent Auction

Item for Bid at the Silent Auction

A basket woven from wood gathered at the Pearl S. Buck gravesite after Hurricane Sandy

A basket woven from wood gathered at the Pearl S. Buck gravesite after Hurricane Sandy

A silent auction included a variety of valuable items donated by businesses and individuals in support of the event. A live auction, sponsored by Comcast, featured similarly donated items like an antique Reginaphone 72rpm Phonograph with antique records, a trip to Jamaica, a handmade basket consisting of wood gathered from Pearl S. Buck’s gravesite after hurricane Sandy and a behind-the-scenes tour of our nation’s Capital by none other than Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. Congressman Fitzpatrick was on hand to describe the experience himself which is sure to be a once in a lifetime for one very lucky bidder.

Flag to be presented to the highest bidder in addition to a behind the scenes tour of The Capital by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick

Flag to be presented to the highest bidder in addition to a behind the scenes tour of The Capital by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick

United States Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick with Pearl S. Buck International President and CEO Janet L. Mintzer

United States Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick with Pearl S. Buck International President and CEO Janet L. Mintzer

Proceeds from the event will provide much needed funding for the many programs supported by the three organizations operated under Pearl S. Buck International. In particular, work is underway on a massive project to restore the Pearl S. Buck House on the grounds of Green Hill Farm. The house was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1980; however, the years have caused the house to fall into some disrepair. While work has been underway for some time now, as of the night of the event the organization still needed $424,815 of the over $2.8 million required to finish the work on the house which remains a national treasure and hosts hundreds of visitors each year.

Celebrity Emcee Tim Furlong

Celebrity Emcee Tim Furlong

Pearl S. Buck International is respected worldwide for it’s ethical treatment of children in the process of care and adoption. In 2008 Welcome House received Hague Accreditation from the Hague Convention of International Adoption. The organization is also listed as “Top-Rated” by Charity Watch, an organization committed to scrutinizing the legitimacy of charitable organizations nationwide.

If you would like to learn more and donate to Pearl S. Buck International, click here.

To see all my photos from this event click here.

Also, please be sure to subscribe to my blog and get all kinds of interesting information about eating locally in the Delaware Valley by clicking here.

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Nice Cans…

I was honored to be in attendance at the ninth annual Perl S. Buck International “Taste of The World” event at the Pearl S. Buck House near Dublin. It was a great event. I wasn’t keeping count but I know that it did quite a bit of good for the foundation. Since I was there in my official capacity of photographer I can’t share anything just yet. This was such a great experience I am sure I will be talking about it somewhere or another in the coming weeks and as soon as I can I will share the photos with you. Until then I will be sharing anything else that I find relating to the event on my Facebook. Also be sure to “like” Local Living Magazine’s Facebook page to receive updates on the event as well.

The Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers’ Festival

Sly Fox Odyssey Imperial IPA

Sly Fox Odyssey Imperial IPA

This weekend I visited the Brandywine Craft Brewers’ Festival in Media. The latest assignment for “Foodie Town”, my series of articles in Local Living Magazine, is Media so when I found out about this I decided to check it out. It’s timely that I should visit a craft beer festival after learning a little about organics and locally grown or locally prepared food. If you remember from my last blog, I talked Leni Calabrese of Perfect Day Coffee, a local coffee roaster in Frenchtown, NJ. Leni mentioned how Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee brewer, made everyone “coffee snobs.” The whole thing started in Seattle right at the time grundge was taking off and there was this collection of rock bands from there that wore knit caps and flannel or a cardigan. It was a legacy of rebellion. The cardigan was to hide the needle tracks on their arms while they were performing. At the time the drug of choice among the young, rock elite was heroin. The rock life in Seattle was tough so they were always drinking coffee to stay awake. And apparently Seattle had really great coffee. The whole idea of Starbucks coffee died when they started to mass produce them. Leni pointed out how crucial it is to roast and grind the beans pretty close to the time you drink their coffee. I don’t think there’s much roasting going on at your local Starbucks. And while Starbucks is still a cut above the gas station, what Leni and other local brewers provide is not only a step up from Starbucks but also unique and personal to the roaster. The personality is rendered through the roaster’s own technique and blending.

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Iron Hill Media Brewmaster Bob Barrar serves up something special

We find a similar chronology in beer. In the early nineties beers that were not made by one of the oligarchy of major beer manufacturers were termed “micro-brews”. At the time real beer snobs still would not drink a micro because the general consensus among them was that there are no good American beers. I also think that then beer was judged not only on taste but on purity and a fidelity with it’s advertised brewing method. Some of these beers did offer something unique, like Honey Brown, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The former was probably the first pale ale I had ever tried. But most micros were in it for the same reason the big boys were in it: to move units. While todays crafts are no less interested in pushing out as much as they can, the business model in the nineties was to create a flavor everyone could agree on. And based on that, from this “early craft period” we see the rise of two particularly popular brands, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Yuengling Lager.

Now the clear winner of the “Beer Everyone Can Agree On” category is Yuengling who consistently outsells any other American-owned lager. In fact here in PA we just call it “lager.” But winning that contest isn’t really much of a compliment by today’s standards.

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Flying Fish

That’s because creating the Boston Beer company ended up more than just another commercial enterprise for one Jim Koch who, instead of creating just another lager, began to offer seasonal brews which were obviously made in smaller batches.  The name Sam Adams became synonymous with “high quality beer” and inspired an entire generation of brewers while helping expose some that had been around for a while.

The Brandywine Beer Festival is hosted by the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Media and takes place on State Street which is blocked off for the occasion. The event coincides with American Craft Beer Week. I’m familiar with almost all the beers here which I think says more about how stable these family-owned businesses are rather than how knowledgeable I am in

No kegs. Beer at the Sly Fox booth is served from cans.

It really helps to have a good-looking staff that knows what they’re talking about

beers. All these brewers have been in business for a while and I have had ample opportunity to not only try them but know my favorites. Today is more of an investigation for me, so I’m drinking very little. I pass on all my old favorites and I look into some places I’ve never heard of before.

12 cans of Sly Fox beers

12 ounce cans of Sly Fox beers

I’ve established that craft beer is not about universal agreement. The name of the game is to create something special. Further, many of the decisions a brewer makes about his or her beer goes beyond the brewing. Take Sly Fox. I tried both their Route 113 IPA and the Odyssey Imperial IPA both of which seemed to achieve their respective goals. The rep at the booth admitted the Odyssey was somewhat stronger, including some interesting flavor characteristics.It was good and I would like to try a whole bottle. Oh yeah. About that “something special.” Most of Sly Fox craft brewed beers come in cans. That’s right, aluminum cans. They love it when you ask them why. I agree with all of it; there’s nothing wrong with cans. For one, I think I saw an episode of Modern Marvels where they explained how these days aluminum cans are coated on the inside to keep the product from absorbing that metal taste. I’ve only experienced this taste problem with cans when I was drinking really crappy beer. Second, some restaurants do not sell much good beer. Much of the beer they sell is tapped. If you order a beer in a bottle that was stored in a refrigerator with a glass door and florescent lighting it’s going to be skunked.

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Twin Lakes’ stout

Twin Lakes Brewing Company is located in Greenville, Delaware. Their Pale Ale is refreshing and is also available in cans. It seems that cans make it easier for small brewers to gain distribution because they’re cheaper to ship. Twin Lakes is a small brewery with a big lineup, including a Stout, Pilsner, a wheat beer, and an Oktoberfest. Now that it’s in cans, this Pale Ale has legs and the brand will begin to disseminate throughout the region.

Twin Lakes Brewing Company

Twin Lakes Brewing Company

Twin Lakes is proud of their local origin and are happy to say so. But, for argument’s sake, what constitutes local? On one hand, by offering cans, Twin Lakes and Sly Fox have expanded their market within this geographic region. Originally the beer was only available on tap. Of course, among brewers, there’s stiff competition for taps especially when half of them are wasted on typical American macro-brews. Hence, Twin Lakes’ emphasis on buying local. Bartenders are more likely to recommend a beer from just down the road. Cans make it possible for those who have had the opportunity to try the beer to now take it home. But cans also make it possible to distribute farther away. What difference does it make if the beer was made nearby? With coffee, it’s important to  roast the beans close to home. But with beer does it really matter to buy local in terms of quality?  Of course not. There’s plenty of great beer coming from all over: the west coast, Europe, Mexico. But the idea that it’s local means something to those who are local. And the idea that it’s a craft brew means something to those far away.

As of this writing, craft brews represent about seven percent of the market share of all beers in the US. Imagine what that percentage will be if the general distribution method turns to cans.

Making Friends at Ottsville Farmer’s Market


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The farmer’s market season is officially here with many local markets open either the first or second weekend in May. I decided to kick things off in Ottsville this year because, for one thing, they’re open from four to eight on Friday night which I think is rather convenient. There’s only so many things you can do on Saturday morning so this market has chosen not to compete. It makes for a great start to your evening.

Fiddlehead Ferns at Mostly Mushrooms

Fiddlehead Ferns at Mostly Mushrooms

Ottsville’s market features a unique variety of high quality farmer’s market items. Where else are you going to find grass-fed yak meat? Clearly a farmer’s market item, yet unique. Most of the items are family-grown food products like Chris and Patty Darrah’s “Mostly Mushrooms”. As the name implies there were several varieties of mushrooms as well as these crazy looking fiddlehead ferns and other unique plants.

Preparing leeks

Preparing leeks

The Ottsville Farmer’s Market is located on route 611 on the grounds of Linden Hill Gardens, a retail garden center with a beautiful variety of well-cared-for garden amenities. It’s great just to have a look around this ever changing collection. The owner of the gardens, Jerry Fritz, entertained the market by grilling fish and leeks over an open fire. He gave me some leeks to try which are salty but also zesty like scallions.

Roasting leaks

Roasting leeks

I have launched an investigation into issues relating to the topic of food such as food supply and land use. This blog represents mainly the anecdotal results of these investigations. It’s meaningful to talk to real people who are so directly involved with our food because they’ve made the choice to be involved. For example, I often wonder why kids are still interested in farming. This might sound rather glib, but it’s a legitimate concern when so much of our attention is spent learning about celebrity and so much time is spent dealing with new technology. It hardly seems exciting to live out in the country tending a farm.

I was impressed by the commitment of 22 year old Amanda Midkiff who, as manager of Roots to River Farm, will need to wait almost three more years before her land is certified organic. That’s how long you have to wait before a conventional farm, one that uses pesticides and genetically modified plants, can be declared organic by the USDA. The paperwork process is lengthy and expensive. Amanda and the farm’s owner Malaika Spencer must keep copious notes to not only verify the farm’s successful conversion but create an accurate business plan to sustain and grow the investment. Roots to River sells produce and herbs at Ottsville as well as Doylestown and Plumsteadville. The farm also operates a community supported agriculture program which allows consumers to buy membership in the farm in exchange for a share of the harvest.

Ottsville Farmers Market-0008The National Organic Program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure the integrity of organic products produced and sold here. The USDA issue certification to farmers who have demonstrated that they practice farming within standards above and beyond those practiced on conventional farms such as those operated by or under arrangement  with large “factory farm” food corporations. Most organic farms are small businesses providing specialty food to discriminating customers. Fields without Fences, a joint effort of Johann Rinkens and Lindsay Napolitano, claims even higher standards than those minimally required to be Certified Organic. “We use no pesticides and we use permanently raised beds to keep from tilling the soil.” Raised beds allow the farmer even greater control of the quality of soil, often enriched with compost, while preventing soil depletion and other ecological issues related to reusing the same plot for successive seasons. Fields Without Fences’ products make their way to you via a high-quality food distributer called Zone 7. Zone 7 specifically caters to chefs looking for high-quality food

Organic Radishes

Organic Radishes

products without searching through all the farms themselves. I asked Johann to whom do they typically sell their produce? He replied to upscale restaurants. I then asked, “so the restaurants care about organics?” He said no, not really. it’s just a simple fact that organic farms produce higher quality food products with more consistent and better tasting results. The healthy commercial relationship between organic farmers and great chefs is not based necessarily on a common concern for the soil, sustainability, or the environment in general; rather, chefs who are discriminating about the quality of the food they prepare, chefs who design recipes that call for only the finest products can trust organic farmers to deliver the variety and quality required to create the finest dishes. The integrity in culinary excellence begins, literally, from the ground up and proves how things are always better when folks take care and pride in how they choose to spend their life.

I spent some time talking to Leni Calabrese, owner of Perfect Day Coffee,  who provided me with an eye-opening ten minute education on the meaning of Fair Trade in the sale of coffee and the benefit of buying coffee from a local roaster. Fair Trade is a certification earned by importers of coffee which guarantees farmers a fixed

Perfect Day Coffee by Leni Calabrese

Perfect Day Coffee by Leni Calabrese

percentage of the price. Farmers who are well paid for the use of their land and labor are less likely to plant narcotics and other harmful crops. Leni sells mostly Fair Trade; however, some exporters are known to have a decent reputation. Leni knows these things and buys his coffee directly from them. When the coffee comes to Leni it’s raw, still green. He roasts it and, if you want, grinds it for whatever kind of coffee pot you use. Coffee tastes better when it’s roasted and ground just before brewing. “Starbucks taught us to be coffee snobs” says Leni, “then people realized that even their coffee’s not that good.” So Leni represents a return the local coffee roaster who can provide coffee that is not only fresh, unique and of a higher quality but also a fair product to all who work to get it to market.

Candles by Sweet Elysium

Candles by Sweet Elysium

I ran into my friend and sound engineer Gabriel Antonini who was there to support his wife and daughter’s candle making venture called Sweet Elysium. Elysium is the ancient, idyllic vision of heaven. Originating in Homeric myth, the Elysium Fields were described as eternally pleasant in climate as in mood. I’m not a candle person but I did enjoy the clean smell of these candles which were made with genuinely fragrant plants like lavender. Mother, Maureen and daughter, Grace, hand craft the candles and search for unique glass vessels for each design. I gave one to my mother, (who is a candle person) and she was thrilled.

The Ottsville Farmer’s market is open every Friday from four to eight. It is located at Linden Hill Gardens, 8230 Easton Road, Route 611, Ottsville, PA. The market’s facebook page is well-maintained and a great way to keep up to date on special events and new vendors.

Treasures of Linden Hill Gardens

What is Community? Malvern Part 2

Foodie Town LogoJust last month I spent quite a bit of time poking about the Malvern area looking for some great eating places for Local Living Magazine readers to check out. It’s fascinating to meet new people and learn about their talents, especially those working every day to keep their dream of owning a local family-owned business alive.

You can check out my article in Local Living Magazine about four terrific places to grab a bite in Malvern here.

What is a Community?

Learning a strict definition of community is not something we typically learn in school; rather, by going to school we become a part of a community.  A community is what exists just outside of our family. So, these community relationships are almost as important as family. The sum total of all of the relationships and interactions within a particular group is a community. We most typically associate a community with a geographic area; although this may not necessarily be the case. The relationships within a community are loose, fluid and random yet distinct patterns exist. Consider your relationship with the people you work with at your bank, or the person who prepares your taxes, the person who cuts your hair, the realtor who sold your house. While they may not feel like the deep emotional bond you have with your parents, your spouse and/ or your children; you sometimes do very important, life changing things with fellow members of your community.  Your greatest professional achievements are only possible with them. Otherwise, you’d be living in a cave with your family.

The theme of my weblog is food and photography. My project is to write and photograph the work and play of people in the Delaware Valley. At the center of this project is food because that’s where people will gather. Food, as a art and as a business is at once both work and play. Work for those kitchen and wait staffs, managers and entrepreneurs who bring the food in front of the customer. The customer, who is now at his or her leisure, feels comfort in the service received. I assume two things: first, that everyone wants to live their life to fullest possible and achieve the greatest satisfaction from both work and play. I know I do. And second, I assume that in order to live a full life you must get involved with the real people in your community.  Here I will share with you my discoveries as a personal guide about all that our region has to offer someone looking to do these two things. My purpose is simple: to remind anyone that  the best way to support those closest to you is to allow them to support you. And the best support comes from those who are close by.

How do you do this? How do you provide meaningful support to your community? There are many ways. For example, the citizens of Malvern organize, promote and attend two festivals each year. As I milled through the stands and displays at the Family Blooms Festival on Sunday I took this community into consideration and learned so much about how the people here live.

Malvern Blooms Festival-0015Malvern Blooms Festival-0014 One thing I learned right away is that it’s only matter of time before someone from the region becomes a break-out pop sensation. There were two music schools each providing a full bill of entertainment. This young woman is a student at Beam’s School of Music. She can’t be a day older than sixteen yet she already possesses a lifetime supply of inspiring talent. She can sing and play guitar with a certain confidence that I just wouldn’t expect. On the other side of the festival was The Malvern School of Music. At first I thought Robert Irvine was looking to hang up his chef’s coat; but I was mistaken.  I couldn’t tell if this guitarist was a student or a teacher but he performed with great strength. While it’s easy to see how private music lessons are a great way to make up for the lack of music education in public schools for your kids, what about those of us working with unrealized dreams? You can see how these music academies each support members of the community struggling to realize his and her dreams. Each of these schools are locally owned, non-franchise businesses employing dozens of music professionals from the region.

Malvern Blooms Festival-0017I admit I’m an avid social networker. I have been working on my social network for some time. I’ve been reading, experimenting and have cultivated a growing online presence. I suppose you say I’m an active member of the online community. But guess what. All my hard-core Facebooking, Tweeting, Linking In, Yelping, etcetera, would mean nothing without matching those efforts with good, old-fashioned, visceral interaction. Consider the simplest of vendors at the festival. Flower shops, Malvern Blooms Festival-0012animal boarding and grooming, clothing boutiques, and jewelry makers. Girl Scouts, antiques dealers, bathtub fixers, artists, craftspeople and even photographers.  No amount of “likes” or “search engine SEO” would ever amount to the power of this opportunity to meet the public face to face.

Something about being a small business owner that’s not easy to see was apparent in these Tae Kwon Do demonstrations held at the festival. It’s one thing to be a Tae Kwon Do master; to learn the skills and discipline to perform alone for oneself. It’s another thing to be able to teach that skill to young people who have not yet begun to master discipline in their lives in general, let alone control their body and mind as a martial artist. Yet, on top of all that, these Tae Kwon Do Masters are small business owners who must work tirelessly to find youth interested in such training. Without that constant supply of youth the dream would die. They need their Malvern Blooms Festival-0011community and their community benefits from what they do in the most powerful and direct fashion. The interaction is how community happens.

Malvern Blooms Festival-0016Therefore, the meaning of community is this first meeting between the youth and his Tae Kwon Do Master, a relationship that will last years. Or it’s the inspiration another youth absorbs from the sound of someone of similar age singing and playing a musical instrument with skill and passion. We may idolize performers on television and dream big but these local performances make it all seem so possible because it is, after all, real. Community is a place where your participation is critical rather than just accepted. Community is also finding a good place to get your hair done or a local farm that sells great organic Malvern Blooms Festival-0019apple butter. None of these things will ever happen by simply setting up a Facebook page or an eCommerce site.

Further, many of these businesses are crowded out by corporate branding and mass marketing that seeks to lure you away from that visceral experience of dealing with folks from your own town, face to face, working together. Community, in this sense, is visiting a family restaurant or a local theatre and finding alternatives to chain restaurants. Community is discovering Malvern Family Blooms Festival and it is in this sense that I will discover other ways to get involved and live a fuller, more satisfying life.

Great Weather in Great Valley

Malvern Blooms Festival-002It would have been a beautiful afternoon to be outside doing anything on Sunday afternoon. It was even more delightful to spend it in Malvern at the Family Blooms Festival. I have been in Malvern quite a bit over the past month compiling a short list of great places to eat here so it was very special to see such a cross section of the population all in one place. As Local Living’s New Business Director Mike Shapiro informed me: the Great Valley is a very eclectic community. This festival in Malvern really celebrated this special brand of diversity.

The Contest

Whether you know it or not, when you’re at a festival there’s a heated competition for your attention, especially when it comes to food. My memories of festivals consists of only a limited variety of festival food; burgers, fries, hot dogs, funnel cakes. Nowadays, the food truck craze has really added a new dimension what we would generally consider “food made in the back of a truck.” What I mean is: the food truck boom is more than just a renewed interest in merely converting a truck into a kitchen. The idea is really to emulate a gourmet level of service in a short menu that you can deliver quickly to hundreds of people for several hours… in the back of a truck.

You can only eat so much food in a certain period of time, so it is literally, a little contest to see which food vendors will attract your attention and win your business. So here’s a little run down my foodie experience at the Malvern Festival.

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Menu for Street Food: Philly

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Crab Cakes from Redhound Grille

I wasn’t going to go for the same old thing, so all the burger and hot dog venders were immediately out. I’m a major proponent of creative food trucks and it felt like a waste not to find something more fun. I will add here that it is difficult to pass up some traditional festival food like crab cakes. There were two vendors serving crab cakes very close to one another.  One was from the Redhound Grille in Paoli. The other appeared to be a catering service with a food trailer called Sabatino’s Mobile Pizzeria and Grill. Redhound Grill’s crab cakes were a nice size and I expect to pay eight dollars for a festival crab cake. I was concerned; however that transferring the cakes from the grill to a chafer might cause them to dry out a bit. They were selling so fast that you always get a fresh one. I think they were sold out before three o’clock. But at that rate might be best to let it  hang out on the grill for a second until someone inevitably asks for another one.

There were three food trucks here that I found intriguing. One was called Street Food: Philly. I think I regret not trying this one. I was attempting to be adventurous and I guess this seemed too close to home. I could have tried anything on the menu without worrying about whether or not I was going to like it. Even the “Vietnamese Hoagie” with pickled vegetables and cucumber. Maybe we’ll meet again. I noticed that the order taker stood outside the truck. It’s always better when they do that.

The next was a Mediterranean truck called Lulu’s Cafe on the Go. The idea of a Greek food truck sounded cool but the menu was mainly a scaled down Malvern Blooms Festival-003version of what you would find at any Greek eatery. I was curious and in the mood for a Gyro but I passed initially then later I came back. By the time I returned it was about 3:10 and they were running desperately low on food. I think it’s something people should know about food trucks: they run out of food. It can be annoying sometimes at restaurants when they run out of certain menu items; with food trucks, expect it. It you want something good you’re probably going to have to wait in line. So get in line; send some text messages; answer some emails, check Facebook, tag yourself at the food truck. If there’s a line now they will run out of food. My Franken-gyro consisted of chicken and lamb (as opposed to my choice of chicken or lamb) and no tomatoes but it was good.

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Spicy Pulled Pork Sliders from Ka’ Chi

The winner was Ka’ Chi: Korean With A Twist, a food truck out of West Chester. I tried the Spicy Pulled Pork Malvern Blooms Festival-005Sliders. I knew I would like these and I wanted to find the “twist.” I found it in this Korean Radish which was like a tangy slaw and a cucumber that added a little crunch. I dropped a dab of the house Ka’ Chi sauce on there but I’m sure I was too conservative to taste a difference. They’re proud of these sauces and I wanted to try one without changing the sandwich too much. The pork was tender and flavorful. My only complaint is that I wanted three. The two were seven bucks; how about nine dollars for three? It would give us an opportunity to try more of the homemade sauces.

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Ka’ Chi encourages the use of their homemade sauces.

I have more to share about the Malvern Family Blooms Festival including more photos. For now check out my article about four great Malvern eateries in the latest issue of Local Living. You can find the digital edition here. Also be sure to visit our website.

A Test

A Test

I have witnessed, I believe, more than once, a test performed on children of about six or seven years old. The test is a sort of psychological experiment only much simpler and of no harm to the children, of course. The child is shown a series of cards each with a different corporate logo printed on it. It’s amazing how many most kids can name. I remember in one version of the test the child’s father, who was fearful the child was mirroring her mother’s consumerist lifestyle, mixed in among the printed cards photos of important political figures and other types of logos and symbols. The child, of course, stammered over the NASA logo, a portrait of the president or the British flag even though she could clearly pronounce “Yves Saint Laurent”.

Anyway, that’s all just anecdotal hearsay until you apply the same “test” to yourself. Be honest, how many corporate logos could you identify? Why do you think this information is so easy to learn? I’m not insinuating anything sinister or immoral about logos, symbols, corporations or business in general; in fact, I admire the gracefulness with which corporate logos and brands relay such a broad message. The longer a brand endures the more powerful it’s logo and other symbols seem to become.

Imagine you’ve been driving down a very rural highway out west somewhere and you realize it’s been quite a while since you’ve seen any signs of civilization. Your drive has now become one of those nightmare situations where the minutes feel like hours and every mile feels like fifty. How would you feel if suddenly, in the distance, you notice the bright yellow glow of golden arches? How much differently would you feel if instead of McDonald’s you happened upon a place called Hank’s Steak House?

A Hypothetical Scenario

Here’s a hypothetical scenario that I’m sure many of us have encountered. You are called out of town on business. Maybe you live in Paoli and you’re asked to travel to Baltimore; or maybe you live in Doylestown and you’re asked to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In either case it would be almost impossible to visit these locations without the need to eat something. When you are traveling what do you eat?

Bear with me while I play around with this idea for a bit. It’s one thing to simply ask someone, “what are you eating today?” or, “where are you going to eat.” The scenario I have indicated here removes you from the comfort of familiarity with your surroundings. What if you moved to a new town? You might spend some time cooking at home and spending your evenings unpacking and arranging. Eventually, you’re going to want to explore the area to find your new community’s best places to eat. If you go backward from here and just imagine spending a few months, a couple weeks, a day, a few hours… how will this effect your choices? 

So, if you’re applying this hypothetical scenario to yourself I think you’ll find one common feature of your personal outcome to just about everyone else. If you are staying in a town for a shorter time you are much more likely to dine at a chain-branded corporate-controlled restaurant rather than a family-owned local restaurant. It is only after you have occupied a town for a certain amount of time that you will begin to explore new, unique, and more local establishment. 

The only way you will find yourself in an unfamiliar restaurant is if someone local takes you there (or it happens to be a chain you’ve never tried and another traveler takes you there) and there is a good chance you won’t like it. That’s that danger of trying something new and, especially when you’re traveling, you long for the most reliable and comfortable thing you can find, even if it is a Big Mac.

At Work With The Opinionated Chef

Chef Alyse and The Opinionated Chef Barry Sexton

“I’m going to be there at about two o’clock; but the event itself begins at seven.” Chef Barry Sexton is discussing a birthday party held at Greystone Manor House in Newtown. “The reason I get there so early is because the caterer is always on the hook. I have to make sure that everything is in the right place and if it’s not I need to have time to fix it.” Indeed, when I get there at five, Barry and the sous chef, Alyse are the only ones in the building. Each one is carefully, individually preparing hors d’oeuvres. Barry’s day actually began at four this morning when he started mixing ingredients and packing his van full of everything needed to serve 150 guests at his traveling restaurant.

The fact that his restaurant travels is a concept not lost on The Opinionated Chef. “I tell these guys, the chefs who own their restaurants, what I do is completely different than what you all do. When you leave your restaurant at night you know the next day it’s going to be there; they all know that everything is going to stay right where they left it. With me, I have to remember everything and think of anything. Each catering job is different.” Chef Barry tells hundreds of stories of the things he’s thought to bring to each unique location. Some without kitchens. Some without running water. “I’ll throw a case of bottled water in the truck just in case I get there and they tell me they don’t have good water.”

 

Today’s event is at Greystone Manor House in the lush suburbs of Bucks County. The location is a dream compared to others where The Opinionated Palate has set up shop. Very shortly after I show up, Andrea Vreeswyk, the owner of this fifteenth century colonial mansion, arrives and gives me a tour. The mansion was clearly a farmhouse in revolutionary times; however, it’s most recent incarnation was a restaurant. Andrea’s family, not wanting to continue operating a restaurant, but not wanting to sell the house, closed the restaurant and re-opened as a catering facility.  So parties have the whole place to themselves. There’s a bar, a lounge, a dining room and a spacious and beautiful veranda. Chef Barry has a full kitchen and prep area with which he can ply his trade.

Greystone Manor House

After almost ten years The Opinionated Palate is still going strong. When I asked Barry about the name, he replied, “Everyone has an opinion about food.” “You want things to be just a little different, something unique that stands out to intelligent people who know they want something unique. If I would have named this “Barry’s Catering” there would be no reason to remember that.” I can tell you first hand that the name “The Opinionated Palate” is not the only thing you’ll remember. Each hors d’oeuvre is prepared individually and cooked, baked or fried on location. The little triangles you see here are packed with artichoke, spinach, mushrooms and caramelized onion cheese. There’s tiny cheesesteak sliders; brie mousse with apple chutney and dried cranberry. This is shrimp bruschetta on toast. My favorites are the mini Beef Wellingtons and crispy crab wontons with Chef Barry’s own mango chili dipping sauce. “You can’t just bring something you got at the store. When folks taste this dipping sauce they know it’s something I made. They say ‘he didn’t just go out and buy that, you know he made that himself’” Indeed, the fruitiness of the mango make this sauce something you won’t find in a Asian restaurant close by.

For this party there is a very relaxed pasta station with your choice of alfredo or marinara. Each serving is prepared for each guest. Barry serves beef with chimichurri. We see him here rubbing the beef with salt, pepper and oregano to keep the meat fresh so when it is served it’s tender and perfectly juicy.

Chef Barry with two of his biggest fans

In addition to arriving very early to make sure everything will be ready for his guests, Barry runs a tight ship during the event. At six-o-clock his competent team of servers and bartenders are helping put all the pieces together. Things are constantly kept clean and when each course is done items begin to make their way back to the truck. “The people who own venues, catering facilities like this one, always appreciate when you leave things clean and as you found them,” Barry says while loading more items back in the truck. It’s after eleven and the desserts and coffee station are all that remain aside from the bar. Most of the dishes are already clean. It is important to note that Barry and his staff were very open and receptive to being photographed during all aspects of their work. They felt no need to control or discourage anything they were doing as unflattering. On the contrary, they generally found their proficiency something they hoped others would notice.

The Opinionated Palate certainly is a great name for a caterer. In order for one to have an opinion about anything, you first have to think about it; opinions need to be formed. So much food is made and presented to us without the expectation that you’ll think anything about it. And of course, there always the chance one might form a negative opinion. If you’re not trying, if you don’t “put it out there” that means you simply don’t care. So to have an opinion means you do care. What Chef Barry is saying, at the very least, is that he is going to serve you something you will care about. His guests care very much, and that’s a good thing. After gobbling up hundreds of delicious hors d’oeuvres they continued to come back for more pasta and beef and still made room for mini creme brulees and lava cakes. In my opinion, there is nothing more delicious and professional than an event catered by The Opinionated Palate.

You can view all of my photos of Chef Barry here. You can book Chef Barry and the Opinionated Palate for your next event here. Check all my photo galleries here. Take a look at my portfolio here. To stay up to date on my latest blog posts be sure to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

Scipione v Johnson – My Food Will kick Your Food’s Ass!

Chef Michael Scipione and Chef Geoff Johnson

This image opens the full gallery 

As someone who only recently began to take an interest in the culinary arts I must admit that, upon reflection, I had noticed a trend in the emergence of celebrity chefs over the past several years. The idea of the celebrity chef makes sense because so many of us like to cook and no entertainer can provide something more practical. So cooking shows have developed along with the history of television as the media’s history stretches out over almost sixty years. For example, since the rise of cable television, we now have the Food Network. This latest trend goes beyond even a network entirely devoted to cooking instruction and includes the element of “reality” in the dramatic television definition of the word. The combination of the two seem a natural fit. Food Network’s “Iron Chef” turns culinary art into culinary sport; whereas, Bravo’s “Top Chef” or Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” appears more along the lines of “The Apprentice.” Either way, millions agree, add the pressure of competition  and everything becomes much more interesting.

If it works for television, what about your typical dinner party? That’s the question answered by Chef Geoff Johnson and Chef Michael Scipione on Friday, December 3 in Cape May, NJ. While fine dining restaurants have been hosting dinner parties for centuries, competition adds a dramatic, or at least comedic, twist when you add two chefs, close friends, with distinct styles.

Each are no stranger to performing as celebrity chef. Living in the Philadelphia, South Jersey area, the two are part of larger circle of local chefs who regularly work together, conducting cooking demonstrations at one of their restaurants, at the Philadelphia Food and Wine Festival, The Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival or at any number of private catering events throughout the region and beyond.

Johnson must have developed some flair for dramatic performance while working for Bon Jovi; he now is regularly asked to participate in Food Network segments with the likes of Ted Allen and Guy Fierri. Chef Geoff also appears, along with author Rocky Fino, on the weekly radio show Stripped Down on the LA Talk Radio network. Geoff is part owner and Executive Chef at Copper Fish On Broadway where this event took place.

Just this past April Mike Scipione found himself finishing in the top four on “The NBC 10 Local TV Chef.” Mike, however, has been motiving athletes as a personal trainer and nutritionist for almost thirty years which contributes not only to his competitive nature but also to his unique ability to create healthy and delicious culinary creations. Chef Michael owns Sano Catering out of Philadelphia.

Friday’s event at Chef Johnson’s Copper Fish Restaurant in Cape May included four courses from each chef for a total of eight new and exciting recipes for guests to enjoy. About twenty-five  guests were instructed to try a little of everything; even if it is something that wouldn’t normally suit their taste.

The event, which was titled “Scipione v Johnson – My Food Will Kick Your Food’s Ass,” proved to be a disappointment in that there were no asses kicked.  While two impartial judges took copious notes on each dish, the decision was only slightly in favor of Scipione. As judge Gary Monterosso (a nationally known beer connoisseur) remarked, each chef exhibited a style uniquely his own. The tension between the two competitors served no hard feelings and actually provided the guests with a night full of laughs at each chef’s expense. I realized a some point during the evening that my experience differed so greatly from that of the guests because, as my photos here show, while Mike and Geoff pulled no punches while informing their guests of the superiority of his personal cuisine, back stage, in the kitchen, each worked together along with the rest of the kitchen staff to prepare and make sure each individual serving was perfect.

Often times on reality cooking television the dramatic tension is entertaining to us but intensely emotional and personal to the chefs involved. In this case the guests were entertained by comedic tension but the only thing personal to these chefs what the creation of eight fantastically delicious courses. You can view all the images from this event at my Photoshelter page. Also be sure to check out my portfolio.