George Washington: Statesman, General, Distiller

November 3, 2011

George Washington is still entertaining in fine style at his Mount Vernon home with the release of his original recipe un-aged rye whiskey, now being sold for the first time since 1814. A limited number (only 471) of the bottles, priced at $85, were available this month and I was thrilled to be number 30 in the queue. There was also a commemorative boxed set containing an engraved shot glass and mini bottle of the aged variety, a tempting bracer for a brisk autumn fox hunt.

A magnificent morning greeted eager tasters who toured the distillery and gristmill along the banks of Doe Creek, where the rye whiskey is being made and bottled by hand, just as it was done two centuries ago, according to original records uncovered at the estate.

Virginia state Senator Toddy Puller, whose efforts cannot be understated in sponsoring Virginia’s new distilled spirits tasting law, which allowed Mount Vernon a special designation to sell the whiskey, was presented with the first bottle by Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s Associate Director for Preservation, and Dr. Peter Kressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), who proudly told of his association’s commitment in leading industry funding for the $2.1 million archeological excavation and reconstruction.

James Rees, president of the influential Mount Vernon Ladies Association, spoke of Washington the innovator and entrepreneur. “This was the largest and most successful distillery in the United States, marketing to the West Indies, England and Portugal,” he said.

Master Distiller David Pickerell, formerly of Maker’s Mark Bourbon and now distilling his own WhistlePig Farm rye whiskey in Vermont, described the whiskey this way, “Its nose is slightly floral, earthy and grainy, with a taste that is surprisingly sweet and mellow with a berry taste.” He added, “The whole process was exhausting. Everything was made by hand and we did it in two weeks!”

The estate currently has around 50 gallons laid back of the two-year-old whiskey aging in oak barrels. It won’t be available until next spring. But according to Pogue, the demand for the un-aged variety has been so high they are trying to have a new batch ready at the same time.

Local mixologist Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve and PX in Alexandria was so inspired he created a new recipe just for the occasion:

I Cannot Tell a Lie
1 ounce George Washington rye whiskey
1 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur
2 ounces cherry vanilla juice (recipe follows)
Dash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters

Cherry Vanilla Juice
Mix together 1 quart of pitted cherries and 1 scooped out vanilla bean. Pass through a food mill.
To serve:
Stir all the ingredients together and serve in a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry. Courtesy of Todd Thrasher,

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Michelin Three-Star Mixologist Shakes It Up, Old School

On a balmy evening last week guests gathered around Michelin three-star mixologist Brian Van Flandern for a lesson in margarita-making. On the white crocodile skin-topped bar, Van Flandern laid out all the necessary accoutrements for professional bartending: jiggers, shakers, strainers, ice scoops, crystal pitchers of fresh-squeezed lime juice and freshly-cut lime wedges, including his preferred Don Julio Tequila and light agave syrup. Large silver bowls of ice were ready for eager guests who lined up to measure, ice down, shake, pour and garnish the perfect classic margarita in preparation for their own summer parties.

The natty and knowledgeable consultant Van Flandern, who creates cocktails for the iconic Bemelmans Bar at New York’s posh Carlyle Hotel, Thomas Keller at Per Se, Michel Richard at Citronelle, and Chef Mario Batali, had arrived at the chic Palisades home of Lani Hay, president and CEO of LMT, Inc., for a private dinner and launch of his book “Vintage Cocktails.”

Publishers Prosper and Martine Assouline, whose elegant imprint of luxury books and works of art are found in boutiques in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, were on hand to celebrate the moment with a dinner menu that was designed around a progression of dishes paired with classic cocktails from the book.


“Acid, alcohol and sugar,” Van Flandern instructed his mixologists-in-training. “It’s all about the balance,” he advised while the sloshing and clacking sounds of a battery of Boston shakers filled the room. Everyone had their own Hawthorne strainer to hold back the ice for the straight-up margaritas. A quick tasting was recommended to perfect the balance, and then it was down the hatch.

In an interview, Van Flandern, who grew up in nearby Chevy Chase, described a few of his techniques and ingredients for some of his spectacular cocktails. A purist to the bone, he crafts his exquisite “Tonic and Gin,” designed for New York’s Per Se, using ground CHINCHONA bark from the Amazon rainforest. He also makes his own maraschino-style cherries, using dehydrated Bing cherries reconstituted in hot water.

“They taste just like cherry pie!” he says. He counsels me, “Be sure to save the liquid, add sugar and reduce to make a simple syrup for infusing spirits.”

I wondered where the word “cocktail” originated and why some cocktails are referred to as “vintage” or “classic.” He explained that “at one point in history a certain cocktail gained global popularity and becomes a classic or is destined to become one because of all the publicity it has garnered.”

The term “mixologist” has been usually regarded as pretentious and taboo in the industry, but since a renaissance of the cocktail, he assures me bartenders are embracing the coinage.

“2004 was the 200th anniversary of when the word “cocktail” first appeared in print. And now great bartenders around the world are looking to chefs for direction and focusing on balancing acid to sugar. They are using fresh ingredients, hosting spirits education, and researching the histories of the specific distillation techniques. Even the TERROIR and culture behind where different spirits are made are taken into consideration in developing flavor profiles to create delicious and original cocktails.” A trend likely to continue.

While working with Chef Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York City, Van Flandern lowered the ethanol content of the spirits and paired his cocktails with dinner courses, creating food-friendly cocktails and earning a four-star rating from noted New York Times food writer and wine critic Frank Bruni.


Since I misspent some of my salad days at the Bemelmans Bar in the Café Carlyle, where Van Flandern reigns, I asked him to share some original cocktails he has created for the iconic watering hole.

“Sex in the City” Cocktail — On the cover of “Vintage Cocktails” is a photograph of a pretty pink sugar-frosted rim cocktail he calls “The Bradshaw,” named after Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex in the City.” Little known is that real life actress Sarah-Jessica Parker and her husband, Matthew Broderick, had their first date here. To mark the occasion, the drink was designed for her using Don Julio Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and the pink-colored, passion fruit-infused X-Rated Vodka. The recipe is just in time for “Sex in the City 2” and should be served at all the private screenings around town.

Tiffany and Co. Cocktail — For his design of “the official cocktail” for Tiffany and Co., he mixed Alize Blue, fresh lime juice, pear vodka, a drizzle of cane sugar syrup and Moscato d’Asti. When presented, it was served in a champagne flute and tied with a white silk ribbon around the base.

Dolce and Gabbana Cocktail — For the launch of their “Light Blue” perfume, he mixed Ciroc Vodka with Granny Smith apple cider and citrus peels, adding cedar wood from a distillation he created using the shavings from a cedar wood clothes hanger.

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‘The Good Stuff Cookbook’

Last Monday morning I watched Spike Mendelsohn on ABC’s “Good Morning America” from the luxury of my bed. He was doing a food demo on the sidewalks of New York with fellow Greek George Stephanopoulos. Spike’s a down-to-earth real deal guy who, no matter how famous he has become, will still shake your hand, look you in the eye and flip your burger. Then he’ll stick around to make sure you liked it.

Five days earlier I spoke with him at The Good Stuff Eatery, his restaurant on Capitol Hill, along with a small group from the press gathered for the launch of his latest project, “The Good Stuff Cookbook.” Surrounded by baskets of his farmhouse bacon cheeseburgers, crunchy tender “Village Fries,” and tall frosty toasted marshmallow milkshakes, he is humbled as usual by the attention lavished on him. I’ve always been impressed with Spike, his work ethic and his accessibility. He is naturally giving and open. I’ve watched him jump from behind a searing grill on “Spike’d Sundays” at the Capitol Skyline Hotel pool on the hottest day of summer to hand off a burger and fries to a passing guest. He wants to please everyone.

His new books were stacked for signing on a small table when a word bubble floated aimlessly over my head: “Can a cookbook with hamburger recipes really captivate jaded foodies in a fresh and creative way?” The answer would hang in the air until I returned home.

He begins as most authors do, with acknowledgement of agents’ guidance and chefs’ inspiration. But it is his warm descriptions of family and the integral part they have played in his career that tell of Spike, the man. “The restaurant is the epitome of family,” he avows. His sincerity is palpable.

There is a tender tribute to sister and co-author, Micheline, to whom he writes “To say I could never have done this book without you, is like calling the sky blue.” His grandfather — “Papou, whose love was like an heirloom passed down” — and grandmother, Zas, who started his love of food and people since the day he first washed dishes in the family’s restaurants, are showered with his adoration and respect. They taught him well. He has become a man who believes in inclusion, a generous ambassador of his food knowledge and philosophy. Nobody is surprised at this.

If you’ve ever eaten at his lines-out-the-door Good Stuff Eatery you know that he has reached people by serving honest, homey, un-pretentious food — albeit with an original twist. There are no fewer than eleven different takes on mayonnaise in the book, from chipotle to pomegranate and my personal favorite, Old Bay.

From long-time New Yorker pal and grill partner Brian, he gets Big B’s Baked Beans. Uncle D’s Chili and Cheddar Burger is a thankful nod to Great Uncle Denny. On the lighter side there are grilled watermelon, yuzu and feta salad with fried goat cheese and dried cranberry and almond wedge salad, where the Greek influence shines brightly.

The restaurant’s recipe for their popular “Village Fries,” speckled with fresh chopped rosemary and thyme, is given here, along with the “Michelle Burger,” featuring ground turkey mixed with mango chutney, green apples and chipotle chiles served on a multi-grain bun. The “Prez Obama Burger” pays tribute with a juicy beef burger, applewood-smoked bacon and crumbled blue cheese topped with horseradish mayonnaise and red onion marmalade. The Obamas LOVE this place!

Southerners will relish his take on fried chicken in his recipe for the fried chicken burger with smoked bacon, gingered honey mustard and sauteed collard greens. It’s a Sunday-go-to-meeting supper on a bun.

There are plenty of useful tips throughout the book. There are two pages of photos and directions on cutting perfect onion petals, one of his signature items. It’s his delicious rendition of onion rings that keeps the batter tight to the onion, while the onion petal itself retains its integrity, still meltingly tender and fully cooked. I’ve always wondered how this was done.

Rivetingly lush photographs by Joel Shymanski capture the intimacy of the moment between the arrival of the hot, smoking, gooey, oozing, herbed, slathered dish and the split second before you pop it in your expectant and salivating mouth. The images taken are so close up, you might want to eat the page before you read the recipe.

Many of the dessert recipes are perfect for on-the-go entertaining. Cherry-apricot jam blondies and Vietnamese coffee brownies speak directly to the popular “pick-up sweets” geared towards picnics and grill-outs. Imagine cardamom and caramel popcorn on the lawn at Wolf Trap. Yes, it’s trendy, but oh-so-cute.

I’m saving the best for last when I tell you that recipes for Mendelsohn’s scrumptious milkshakes, floats and malts served in the restaurant are revealed to the reader. That’s right — 22 glorious pages of creamy, mouth-watering ice cream treats to freeze your brain. Hallelujah! This stuff is so good it should be illegal. Sign a waiver to yourself before you try it at home. “Plan a party,” Spike entreats his readers. There’s plenty of the “Good Stuff” to go around.

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Good Stuff Sauce (makes about 2 cups)
2 cups homemade basic mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Add the mayonnaise, ketchup, molasses, vinegar and salt to a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

From “The Good Stuff Cookbook,” John Wiley & Sons.
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Purely Puro

On June 24, bracing spirits and sublime hors d’oeuvres enlivened a steamy night at Georgetown’s Puro Café. Stunning Euro stylistas in tiny shorts teetered on four-inch heels while mixing with chic Georgetowners for the opening of the new all-white trellised patio. It was easy to keep our cool under a draped pavilion replete with comfy lounges and twinkling lights while sipping “Copper Fox Bayou Cooler,” created and served by Alembic’s chief mixologist, Jon Arroyo. The soothing summer punch recipe, given to me by Arroyo, consists of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky, agave sweetened iced tea, fresh lemon juice, Grand Marnier, Peychaud’s bitters and Angostura bitters. A few julep cups of this elixir and the blazing heat becomes a fleeting memory.

42 Degrees Catering, which does special events around town and for Puro Café’s private parties, created heavenly savory and sweet delicacies for the evening’s guests. Here’s what Chef Frederik de Pue prepared for the guests. I wouldn’t want you to miss a bite!

Menu of Savory Treats

Carpaccio of foie gras with a remoulade of celery root and coffee liquor dressing; Hearts of palm vol-au-vent with little cilantro pesto jellies; Grilled baby octopus rolled into in a phyllo cigar with tapenade of kalamatas and pine nuts; Seared sea scallops with a minty ginger miso mustard sauce; Muscovy duck breast in a spicy mango cube with balsamic vinegar and Thai basil; Crisp Arctic char with steamed leeks with apple cider coulis and parsley chips; Maryland jumbo lump crab tempura with black truf?e soy sauce and chervil salad; Confit of rockfish filet with Creole salsa, Peruvian aji pepper and watercress cream; Queso blanco tequenos topped with avocado cream and scallions; Black pepper chicken spring rolls with rice vinegar dressing; Beef tenderloin marinated with chardonnay and soy sauce.

Sampler of Sweet Treats

Single-origin Venezuelan chocolate; Saigon caramel mousse; Chocolate caramel mousse with vanilla sponge cocoa liqueur; Mango cilantro bavarois; Goat cheese with dark chocolate mousse and fresh raspberry; Cherry wrapped in single-origin Tanzanian dark chocolate.

Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Tempura with Black Truffle Soy Sauce and Chervil Salad

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat
2 cups tempura flour
1 teaspoon curcuma (turmeric)
1/4 bunch chervil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons truffle juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Frying oil

Mix mayonnaise, truffle oil and soy sauce with a pinch of ground black pepper. Depending on saltiness of soy sauce you might need to add little more salt. Add one tablespoon of chopped chervil to bring color to the sauce.

Place whole pieces of crabmeat gently on a paper towel to dry the crab, so the batter will stick.

In a separate bowl, mix tempura flour and curcuma with a little water to create a thick, smooth batter. Add several ice cubes to the mixture — the ice will cool down the batter and will create a nice crispy tempura.

Preheat frying oil to 320 degrees. Place spoonful-sized pieces of crab into the batter and then into the oil. Give them enough time to form a nice crispy exterior. Once they’re golden, remove and place on a paper towel. Serve immediately with dipping sauce on the side.

Visit Puro Café at
For private parties, visit
For cocktail catering, visit

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Man on a Mission

Setting the stage for extinction: every twenty minutes a distinct species of plant or animal becomes extinct.

There is an aura surrounding Jeff Corwin. It is the peaceful intent of a man who has witnessed fierce struggle, mortal threats, man’s inhumanity, heart-pounding danger and crushing heartbreak and emerged to dedicate his life to saving the planet’s rare and endangered species. This is not your son or daughter’s jocular Animal Planet guide tiptoeing through the friendly jungles with weird and eclectic animals, nor the boyish rake abandoning all sensibility to get just a bit too close to an unpredictable viper. This is a man committed through thought, word and deed to altering the predicted fate of our planet’s endangered animals. In my encounter with Corwin I could read the intensity and conviction on his face as he spoke of his up-close-and-personal encounters with the cheetahs and white rhinos whose days appear numbered.

“100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species” is Corwin’s paean to the animals. He has found a powerful voice after 15 years of television as an Emmy-award winning producer and host of over a dozen television series for Discovery, Disney, the Food Network, NBC, CNN and the Travel Channel. To supplement the book’s release is a two-hour television special, the second installment in MSNBC’s epic “Future Earth” series, set to launch this week on Nov. 22.

In honor of sustainability the book launch at the Occidental Grill showcased a number of wines that foster sustainable and environmentally responsible practices: Naked by Snoqualmie vineyards, Saint Michelle and Yealands of New Zealand, to which noted D.C. Chef Robert Wiedmaier gave a nod for their sauvignon blanc. Wild-caught Coho salmon, wild Georgia white shrimp from Prime Seafood, and heritage beef and turkey from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA became luscious hors d’oeuvres in the creative hands of Chefs Rodney Scruggs and Robert Townsend.

I had an opportunity to speak with Jim Chambers, manager and owner of Prime Seafood of Kensington, MD, who as a marine biologist spent 20 years with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). While on the board of the Marine Stewardship Council he was instrumental in setting up the standards for the industry. Jim is the only wholesaler in our area selling exclusively sustainably raised seafood to select local restaurants. Poste, 701, Proof, Johnny’s Half Shell, Corduroy, Firefly, Restaurant Nora, Cashion’s Eat Place and the Occidental Grill and Seafood are some of his D.C. clientele.

From April through December he sells wreckfish — similar in flavor and texture to grouper — made sustainable through controlled fishing. Only four boats are licensed to capture these fish off the coast of Charleston, SC in deep water at the base of a “wrecked” submarine wall.

Chambers really enjoys way the fish is being prepared sous-vide at Blue Duck Tavern. “They cook it low and slow in a vacuum-sealed pouch and finish it off with a quick browning. It’s so delicious…tender and succulent,” he said.

Science Magazine recently reported that, if we keep destroying habitat, the world’s fisheries will collapse by 2048. “With unrestrained overfishing we are racing pell-mell towards the destruction of our seas. We now catch the top predators, bottom predators and everything in between with massive fishing trawlers equipped with huge drag nets and sophisticated electronics such as sonar and GPS,” Chambers warned. “We are fast working our way through what is left.”

We talked about the interdependency of the species…how the little fish sustain the bigger fish and how bottom-dragging nets take out 100 percent of the herring, leaving the predator tuna without sustenance and faced with extinction, along with their tiny friends.

Our conversation then turned to the darker side of farm-raised fisheries. A recent study compared the contaminant load of farm-raised, Chilean and Scottish salmon sold in US supermarkets. All of them rated poorly.

“Fish are fed with other fish containing PCBs, DDT, and other organic toxic compounds. In fact only one meal per month of farm-raised salmon, often misleadingly labeled organic, poses a substantial cancer threat to the consumer. They receive growth hormones to make them grow faster while being constantly doused with chemicals to keep the disease level manageably low,” he related.

“You’re creating a sewer in the water where they are being raised. And the parasites, like sea lice, that live on the outside of the nets are getting to the salmon in the net pens where they are being fed dyes to achieve the proper color,” Chambers told me.

This is the tragic underbelly of the fishing industry and a real eye-opener. “It takes about four pounds of juvenile species of wild fish to make one pound of farm-raised salmon. It’s totally unsustainable.”

Chambers takes heart with the appointment of NOAA’s new administrator, Jane Lubchenco, who is also in charge of the NMFS. As one of the most highly cited ecologists in the world, Lubchenco is considered a world expert on marine eco-systems.

Chambers suggests that, “Consumers and chefs in particular can become the solution by what they choose to eat and serve.” With the Blue Ocean Institute’s “Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood,” which will be my new seafood-buying bible, he hopes that those who enjoy fish will make better and more informed choices.

Get more information on the Future Earth series at

Jordan Wright can be reached at

Q&A with Michael Harr

Chef Michael Harr’s return to the D.C. area has landed him at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center to helm both the Old Hickory Steakhouse and Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine. Thrilled to have a chef with such star quality, the hotel takes a decidedly different turn in offering diners a more innovative and chef-driven dining opportunity.

Locals know the Gaithersburg-raised Harr from turns at the Watergate’s Jean-Louis, where the cooking bug bit him, Butterfield 9, the greatly adored and sadly missed D.C. restaurant where he made his mark with his beautifully created and unique offerings, and at the former five-diamond Maestro Restaurant, where he worked alongside famed chef Fabio Trabocchi.

Harr has held stages in France at a number of prestigious restaurants, working with other noted chefs Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy. In Las Vegas he was sous chef to Jacques Vanstaden at the famed London Club, and later worked in Montreal, New York and Miami as executive chef at Zodiac.

Old Hickory, which I reviewed last year, is a sophisticated steakhouse. It has an après-dinner cigar deck, their very own artisanal cheese cave and one of the most beautiful dining rooms ever designed — a stunning Charleston-inspired setting with gorgeous views of the Potomac River.

Moon Bay, also reviewed here last year, feels like a coastal retreat, with a babbling brook flowing beside its deck. It, too, overlooks the Potomac. Surrounded by a lush tropical forest, it features creative seafood dishes. Harr’s French-trained background is an impressive new direction for these two top-drawer destinations.

In an exclusive first-time interview with The Georgetowner, Harr shares his vision for his latest adventure.

As an iconoclastic chef with classical traditions, how will your style translate to accommodate two distinctly different restaurants: Old Hickory Steakhouse and Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine?

As a culinary professional, it is important to appreciate many aspects of cuisine and the use of products available to us with every season. In this case, we have seafood and meats as the main focus. This amazing opportunity will allow me to focus on foods that I am passionate about, such as local East Coast seafood, as well as sourcing seafood items that wouldn’t normally be found on a general seafood restaurant menu.

For Moonbay, I envision it as being an adventurous outlet with the freshest of seafood as its main focus. My objective with the food is sustainably sourced, seasonality and driving personality — and keeping it simple and approachable.

For Old Hickory, I plan to incorporate classic approaches as well as “new-age” items with a modern twist. We hope to share our concepts to a clientele that can be adventurous and enjoy creativity within a steakhouse setting. Old Hickory is a gorgeous restaurant with an outstanding service. I’ve dined in many steakhouses and Old Hickory stands out as an attractive destination that sets itself apart from the rest.

I would like to introduce seasonally inspired food items with creative choices for our composed plates. We are a steakhouse so our focus will be to offer great quality steak dishes, but I’m looking forward to incorporating some very interesting twists like “Chocolate Elk” (a dish that became my signature and gained notoriety at one of my previous restaurants), among others. My vision for Old Hickory is to make it one of the Capitol region’s newly appointed destination restaurants that everyone must experience.

How will you interpret your training in haute cuisine for the both restaurants?

I have a very ambitious approach to our cuisine at the Gaylord National, with important goals to accomplish along with our executive leadership. My initial focus will be to bring the best local ingredients to our clients while enhancing overall food quality.

We currently have corporate contracts and, once they are approved for local sourcing, I will be able to develop a seasonal program that allows me to design creative and fun menus with local products. I believe “haute” is about quality, passion and foundation. In this way I am able to be successful in my mission to create the best for the clientele.

What menu changes and local sourcing do you have in mind? When will the menu reflect these changes?

I believe that all menus should be seasonal. Local sourcing can be significant with the amount of business that we produce. If we support the local farmers, we demonstrate our support for agriculture, renewable resources and local community.

In regards to menu changes, that’s a good question. We have to consider that we are in a corporate environment, so there are many processes that must be followed. We will gradually implement the changes as we provide comprehensive training to our staff.

Will you be using only sustainable seafood and from what sources?

Yes, I would like to obtain sustainable resources as much as possible. As a local D.C. chef, I have many sources that I have used throughout the years. I will continue to use my vendors to source amazing seafood products.

Who have you brought with you to execute your vision?

We are currently evaluating our organizational structure, and we will strategically allocate our talent to improve operations.

D.C. residents can get to National Harbor by taking the Metro (blue line) to King Street, where a Gaylord Hotel shuttle at the entrance to the station runs every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. direct to National Harbor, $5 each way.

Ferry service from the Georgetown dock and Old Town Alexandria to National Harbor resumes in March. For more information visit: or and click on “Transportation.”

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South Carolina – A Food Lover’s Dream

A quest for the traditional recipes of the Old South and the emerging epicurean landscape of the New South drew me to tour South Carolina on a nine-day culinary adventure. Along the way were pickled leeks and cherries and beans and beets, and splendid in-house produced charcuterie for rillettes, patés, terrines, sausages, pork belly and bacon —— tender, salty and smoky — to flavor antelope, quail and earthy slow-cooked greens.

I met and dined with chefs whose kitchens were a hive of creativity and experimentation, and whose near-religious devotion to local and sustainable foods was palpable. Leading chefs from Greenville, Latta, Charleston, Pawley’s Island and Beaufort have adapted and reinterpreted Southern flavors, adding French haute cuisine, nouvelle French, American modern, Mediterranean, and Pacific Rim influences to their gastronomic conversation to create a new Southern paradigm.

Below I give you some of the most delectably innovative food we dined on and the historic properties we loved. Follow my dishes, if just vicariously, until you can visit for yourself. I wouldn’t want you to miss a morsel.

Up Country in Greenville

Brunch at High Cotton with Executive Chef Anthony Gray: Elderflower mojitos; shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes, braised beef Benedict, slathered in pimento cheese and Carolina sweet onion gravy; plum cobbler with peach ice cream.

Dinner at Deveraux’s with Executive Chef/Partner Spencer Thomson: Beef tartare with Japanese mustard; bison carpaccio; Hudson Valley foie gras with ice wine cherries, marcona almonds and vanilla sunchoke; sashimi of Japanese snapper with cucumber, cilantro and peanuts; charred beef filet with portabello-potato hash; black grouper with summer succotash, shaved turnip, tomato concassé and truffled corn broth; Peking duck on white corn polenta, with duck sausage; strawberry shortcake in a white chocolate orb.

Dinner at The Lazy Goat with Chef Vicki Moore: Fresh blackberry mojitos; grilled calamari with ahi dolce and pickled pepper salad; fattoush salad; roasted mussels and chorizo; Moroccan braised lamb shank with plantain chips; whole crispy branzino with charmoula and shaved fennel; pan-roasted grouper with lobster, rapini risotto and saffron vanilla sauce; roasted banana pudding; pecan pie with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Latta: Quaint with a Touch of the British

Abingdon Manor, an exquisite former private estate and garden, made us feel we were at home in England. I loved that it’s just a five-mile hop off I-95 to be coddled by owners Michael and Patty Griffin. Patty is an accomplished chef who hosts her own local cable TV show and conducts monthly cooking classes for guests in the Manor’s spacious kitchen.

Dinner with Chef Patty: Shiitake mushrooms with hoisin-chili glaze; dilled carrot soup; home-grown tomato stack; Hypnotiq sorbet; seafood in parchment; poached pear with amaretto cream.

Breakfast with Chef Patty: Italian breakfast BLT; fresh fruits; herbed biscuits.

Pawley’s Island Coastal Charm

The Litchfield Plantation, a quintessential Southern property set on 600 acres, channeled my inner Scarlett O’Hara with balcony views to an avenue of ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

Lunch at Bistro 217 with Chef Adam Kirby: Tomato, crab and jalapeno Soup; pan-sautéed vermillion snapper with lobster sauce; trio of homemade ice creams (mint chocolate chip, strawberry and pistachio).

Dinner at Frank’s with Chef Pierce Culliton: Tomato pie with four cheeses; grilled watermelon salad with balsamic vinegar, goat cheese and arugula; soft shell crab with whole grain mustard sauce; sautéed flounder with shrimp and yellow stone ground grits; blackberry cobbler.

Charleston — Le Grande Bouffe in the Low Country

Wentworth Mansion is one of the nation’s premier historic hotels, built in 1886 as a private home for a local cotton baron. Think elegance, distinction and sumptuous luxury.

Breakfast snacks on the run from Dixie Bakery and Café: Charleston chews; lemon chess bars; sweet potato cornbread.

Nibbles and Sips: At Magnolia’s with Chef Don Drake, pimento cheese, shrimp and grits; at Carolina’s we quaffed sweet tea; at Cypress with Chef de Cuisine Garrett Hutchinson, in-house patés and dry cured charcuterie; at Tristan with Chef Jesse Sutton, house-made mozzarella.

Dinner at McCrady’s with recent James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Brock: Stone crab with orange, coconut and sour mix; seared grouper with courgettes, cucumber and bonito; crawfish, sweetbreads and artichokes; pork pine, morels and green garlic; beef marrow and carrots four ways; banana puddin’; chocolate hazelnut, chewy caramel and malt.

Lunch at S.N.O.B. with Executive Chef Frank Lee: Gazpacho; corn bread; fried chicken livers with cheese corn grits; Southern crab salad with fresh fruits; shrimp and black beans.

Dinner at Circa 1886 with Executive Chef Marc Collins: Vichysoisse with toasted haricot vert; crab cake soufflé with mango purée, pineapple relish and sweet potato frills; foie gras “Cherry Coke float”; nilgai antelope filet with lentil and foie gras stew, crispy leeks and baby carrots; country ham-wrapped angler fish with black-eyed pea “baked beans”, fennel pollen onion ring and apple cheddar slaw; Carolina flounder with crab and shrimp pilau, grapefruit sabayon, candy striped beets and basil lacquer; jelly doughnuts with homemade strawberry and peach jellies, John’s Island honey and peanut butter milkshake; pan-fried vanilla bean angel food cake with fresh berries and honeysuckle ice cream.

Beaufort — The Sea Islands

On our final evening we lodged at the charming Beaufort Inn, a pink and white Victorian home built in 1897 in one of the most beautiful towns in the country.

Dinner at the Saltus Grill with Chef Brian Waters: Bulls Island oysters; seviche of dorado; crispy fried lobster tails with cream corn and pea tendrils; pommes frites with truffle butter; braised pork belly with soy glaze, bok choy salad and pineapple sambal; pecan pie.

During our madcap tour we managed to also gobble up sweet potato butter on biscuits, tomato pies, and Hoppin’ John salad with country ham at a small private luncheon cooked by Lena Mae Jackson, whose Carolina gold rice pudding with blueberries sent us into a chorus of hallelujahs. We fell hard for fried peanuts and pork barbecue with Mama Jean and blackberry soda and and “Charleston chews” from the Dixie Bakery and Café. To hold our memories close, we slowly made our way back north with Low Country Winery’s blueberry wine, Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon, the Mast Store pecan syrup, Charleston breakfast tea and sacks and sacks of Carolina gold rice and cowpeas.

We hope your travels in the Palmetto State are as delicious and memorable as ours.

For questions or comments on this article contact or visit for more photos, recipes and adventures.
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Dining, Harajuku Style

At long last, after two and a half months of anticipation, several blizzards and a flurry of back and forth emails, I was armed with the event’s protocol. It consisted of guest photo op restrictions and apparel parameters from the hosts of a local super-secret dining club. Five couples had agreed to let me cover one of their monthly themed dinners.

The hosts: Anonymous members of a private supper club.
The location: Somewhere in metropolitan Washington on a hilltop.
The plan: A Japanese Harajuku evening with six courses and countless complex accompaniments.
The inspiration: Recipes sourced from New York’s Momofuku and Chicago’s Alinea restaurants.
The guest list: Serious foodies, gourmands, amateur chefs and wine connoisseurs.
The required dress: Creative outfits from the Harajuku movement.

On the appointed day I rushed to Google it up — isn’t that how we inform ourselves these days? I learned that Harajuku, which loosely translated means Halloween, originated with Japanese teens meeting up on Sunday afternoons in their neighborhood parks where they sport clothing and makeup inspired by specific themes. It begins with the over-the-top Lolita look, replete with baby doll dresses and large bows or barrettes clipped into brightly dyed pink, blue or purple pigtails, Japanese anime character look-alikes, period Victorian garb and colorful punk gear with Goth-inspired hair and makeup. Matchy-matchy is very uncool, and plaids are routinely mixed with stripes and floral patterns.

“Hello Kitty” and “Pokemon” purses and lunch boxes are favored accessories, as are carrying or wearing small “Totoro” stuffed animals or creatures from Japanese animator Takashi Murakami’s line of plush toys. Some styles are straight from high-end designer ateliers, but for the most part it is cobbled together from mismatched thrift shop or boutique finds. It sounds totally anti-fashion, but is actually spectacularly artistic in a bizarre and inventive way. Many current high-fashion runway looks have evolved from this genre.

I hastily pulled together a shocking pink Japanese brocade frock coat over a cream-colored Victorian lace blouse with jabot and paired it all with plaid knee socks over black leggings and a black schoolgirl’s kilt. I left the stuffed dinosaur at home, skipped the Kabuki makeup for a smear of lip gloss, and topped it all off with an assortment of rhinestone hair clips. I felt completely off-kilter but ready to channel my inner Japanese teen.

I arrived at a large restored colonial with a hawk’s eye view of the city where my hosts, their children and an on-duty Papillon greeted me enthusiastically. I planned on coming early to take some food photos and offer assistance to the host, but the preparations were well underway. My host and chef for the evening handed me a welcoming cocktail, an infusion of Asian pears with sho-chu vodka, and invited me on a tour.

The 19th-century high-ceilinged home had two kitchens and a butler’s pantry with 10-foot-high shelves filled with all manner of exotic spices, condiments and a working kitchen’s necessaries. The upstairs kitchen, large and rustic, had a wall of well-used copper pots, another featured a large contemporary oil painting. On the lower level another workspace housed state-of-the-art equipment befitting the molecular gastronomy necessary to achieve our much-anticipated dinner.

There was a Pacojet puree machine, an Excalibur food dehydrator, a Minipack Torre vacuum chamber sealer for shrink-wrapping, and a PolyScience sous vide circulating bath for cooking or chilling. Freezer drawers held silicone molds filled with spherical frozen mousse. It immediately became clear that this was more than just a passing interest for my host, and the “Iron Chef”-style excitement ratcheted up a few more notches.

As guests filtered in and out of the bustling kitchen and drawing room and the conversation turned lively, the children, clad in their own versions of the “look,” wandered off to wherever it is that children go when they are bored with adult conversation. After a few rounds of champagne, we gathered at the long dining table where food and wine began to consume the conversation and we, in turn, them.

The first course presented was a frozen sphere of Maytag blue cheese ice cream surrounded by walnuts in grape syrup, a Port wine gelee, grape foam, walnut milk, celery and celery salt made from stalks dried in the dehydrator — a sort of mad scientist’s Waldorf salad and our host’s nod to Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea Restaurant. It was an inspired, playful and delicious adventure and I ate my way in circles around the plate repeating the yin-yang flavors by turns.

A subsequent course proved to be a sensuous dish of riesling gelee over lychee nuts with pine nut brittle and shaved frozen fois gras — a tribute to Momofuku and the genius of Chef David Chang. The mouth feel of this combination was luxurious: the tiny wriggly cubes of late harvest Riesling jelly, tender globular floral-fragrant lychees, crunchy pine nuts with their sap-like aroma encased in hardened caramel and buttery-smooth Hudson Valley duck foie gras raining down over the whole. I was pleased this evening was a secret, for I had no impetus to reveal its mysteries to outsiders just yet.

Irresistible slabs of crispy pork belly glistened, and in yet another triumph borrowed from Chang, Bo Ssam, a 10-pound braised pork shoulder, its skin rendered bronze and lacquered with ssam. Platters of just-shucked oysters appeared alongside such sauces and condiments as kimchi, chiles, fermented bean curd, pickled mustard seed sauce, scallion and ginger compote, pickled vegetables and fish sauce.

The wines for the evening were carefully selected and exquisite. A Carlisle zinfandel from the Russian River Valley, a double magnum of Poizin Reserve in the skull and crossbones-etched bottle from Armida Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, a fine 2007 Sea Smoke pinot noir from Santa Barbara County and an extraordinary 2007 Saxum from James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Blend (100 points from Robert Parker!). A wine of such splendor and amplitude begged silent contemplation of its marvels, every sip bespeaking its provenance and development. As my imagination concocted its journey, I envisioned its beautiful grapes slowly ripening on the vine and the experienced decisions of its vintner shepherding its path from birth passage to aging process.

With deep regret I had to take my leave for a prior engagement before dessert was served, so I will never know the ending to this evening’s meal. But in a way, like all great meals and all great wines, we stand at the precipice, lured by the siren’s song and the promise to our most fragile selves to relive that evanescent moment when all the gastronomic stars align.

To start your own private supper club:
There are widely varying degrees of group size and culinary skill levels in each supper club. To start your own, you just need to round up friends of like mind for a once-a-month evening, decide on a theme (My hosts’ club did a multi-course fennel dinner the previous month, with fennel cake and fennel ice cream for dessert!) then decide if it’s “pot luck” or if the host couple will prepare the entire meal. Guests can bring wines but need to consult the host as to the proper pairing.

The fun is in the planning and using your imagination. Single ingredients, ethnic cuisine or holidays can drive the theme of your gathering. I recall once coming upon a group of 20 or so Ukrainians picnicking in Fort Hunt Park last summer. Their party was more of a “pot luck” since each guest brought a dish, but it was marvelous in its variety of homemade pickled cucumbers and mushrooms, potted meats, borscht, a grill laden with skewered lamb shashliks, salads, homemade breads and cakes and, of course, large bowls of fresh cherries. The clear liquid of choice to wash it all down was most decidedly not branch water.

For questions or comments on this story contact And if you decide to host your own supper club, let me know how it turned out. Better yet, I’d be delighted to help!
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Catering to Mother Earth

Swiss born and raised, Joêl Thévoz hit Washington in the mid-’80s with a business degree and a briefcase full of fresh ideas. Coming off la vida loca in Costa Rica and Mexico, where his on-the-fly dinners were highly praised by friends and neighbors, he had decided to settle down to a serious culinary career.

With his wife and partner, Nancy Goodman, they launched Main Event Caterers in 1995 on K Street in Georgetown. Ten years later they were to bring their ever-expanding operations into Arlington, VA, where their stunning cuisine and lavish events garner rave reviews and an ever-increasing upscale clientele.

They ran their company like every other top-tier caterer until three years ago. Motivated by Al Gore’s groundbreaking film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” they had an epiphany and took their successful company to higher level — one with a conscience — where green is the new black. It would hail a new dynamic for Main Event Catering and reflect their growing ecological awareness.

Now in the vanguard of a new aesthetic where style meets substance, this sophisticated caterer is a leader in the green revolution, as they continue to be recognized with a growing list of local and national green business awards that reflect their commitment and the caliber of their cuisine. To add to their accomplishments, this year they won the coveted “Caterer of the Year” award from industry giant Catering Magazine.

I spoke with the passionately eco-knowledgeable Thévoz and toured the 20,000 square-foot facility with its gleaming stainless steel demonstration kitchen-in-the-round, 25-foot floor-to-ceiling wine wall and extensive culinary library, featuring a precious archive of leather-bound Gourmet magazines dating from 1946.

How long have you been on the green bandwagon?

We started out being aware of our impact in this world about three years ago. The green movement was just getting started here and, for us, that set the pitchfork in the ground in terms of thinking about what we do and how we do it.

There was one very impactful moment for us. It was a day when we were winding up after an event that used disposables. And at the time I was very proud of using the best quality plastics. I took a look at our truckload worth of waste and plastic garbage from this one event and I was literally sick to my stomach. I thought this stuff is going to last forever. What can we do better?

What did you do to change your company’s way of doing business?

That moment set the tone for a period of discovery. We wondered, “Can we find products that are biodegradable?” It was right about the time when cups made from cornstarch by-product became available. I had seen them used in an airport in England and brought some back with me.

But it was a real challenge to find these things in the U.S. We started digging around and discovered they were making plates from dead palm fronds in India. They are sandwich-pressed using steam into these flat shapes with a bit of curvature to make a plate. Then they are hand-scissored to size.

Finally, we could eliminate all plastics from our catered service, and now we only use biodegradable palm plates, balsa wood cutlery, washable glassware and other biodegradable products for our events using disposables. Also, we use purified water in jugs in place of mini plastic bottles.

How do you recycle?

We bring large recycling cans on site, and all our staff is trained to separate out recyclables like paper, cardboard, tin, glass and plastic. Then it gets brought back here where we take it to the recycling center. It does add to the workload of an event, but we still do it effectively.

We also decided to add solar concentrators to the roof over the individual offices to bring in light and we are now replacing all our metal halide lights with T5 lights that use a minimal amount of electricity and are motion-sensitive. This way they shut off when someone leaves the room. The floors here are bamboo, the ice machines use filtered water and we clean and press all our linens to lessen our carbon footprint.

To be carbon-neutral we buy carbon credits to offset all the energy that is used, as with our trucks going to and from events. Also, we calculated the approximate employee commute for the whole team and buy carbon credits to offset all those greenhouse gases, so that now we are 100 percent carbon-neutral. We’ve been doing that for three years.

What other ways have you found to save energy?

For one thing, we compost our food matter to make high-quality soil that we distribute to our community, and we collect and store all of our used cooking oil, that we donate to a local biodiesel cooperative.

Also, we wanted to subsidize wind power. So we purchase an equivalent amount of electricity from a wind farm. And though it is off-site, it gives us the advantage of being technically wind-powered. It tells the energy company that we are serious and we want to spend our money on clean energy … because unless you prove with dollars that there is a desire to purchase alternative energy, they won’t listen. We’ve seen how it creates momentum when a lot of companies get involved.

Have you figured out how much more it costs to do business in this way?

We have a general idea, and of course the start-up costs were quite high, but it is far outweighed by the amount of business we receive from clients that are like-minded. Companies and individuals who like what we are doing eventually gravitate to us and we feel rewarded.

We live happy and it has paved the way to the next stages in our development. It’s given us the knowledge and the confidence and introduced us to organizations that have things to offer us that are above and beyond anything else that we’ve done so far.

What are some of the newest technologies that you’ll be using?

Lately we find we are becoming a sort of incubator for green solutions.

Not long ago we had a visit from a gentleman based in Florida and began to talk about using geothermal. I mentioned how our dishwasher pushes out gallons of 180 degree water and it just goes down the drain. He told us we could divert it and harness it. Ultimately his company designed a product for us using heat exchange and we’ll be testing it here. The plan is to have it up and running in a few weeks.

In a nutshell, we will be running “grey” water alongside the city water pipes to super-heat municipal water. The fresh and “grey” water don’t mix together. There are membranes between the two of them. But in this way we can take the 65 degree water from the county and introduce it through our ”grey” water cisterns before it goes into the pipes. Eventually it will raise the temperature of our instant hot water for our washing machines two-fold to 130-160 degrees. It will save us a lot on gas usage.

Is that a cost to the city?

No, we handle it all from here. We’ll build a tank and the city water will go right through it.

We’re also looking at placing these huge cisterns beside our buildings to gather and harness the rainwater from our roofs. Imagine! They can collect up to 40,000 gallons per month of water. What we want to do is use those tanks for latent energy.

We subscribe to a train of thought that the future of this world is based upon communities building vertical farming. We have these flat roofs here and we are in the process of designing a rooftop garden with greenhouses to grow all our own vegetables and herbs. We have at least 6,000 square feet of roof space. We want to prove that it can be done and share the plots with the community.

The greenhouse will be hydroponic and aeroponic, which is a system NASA developed that uses an oscillator that is introduced into a water tank. You create a certain vibration and it renders the water into a mist. You can then push that vapor, with pressure, into a system of canals or closed chambers in which the roots of your vegetables thrive without soil. Every intermittent three minutes the pipes are filled and then flushed. It works like a rainforest. The plants grow at 2-3 times the speed.

What about the “terroir” — the taste imparted to the vegetables from the soil and its minerals? Won’t that be missed?

We can introduce that into the water by making a slurry from our compost and extracting the minerals out in liquid form to fortify the water, or we can buy organic feed to add to it.

Our last initiative will be to crush our glass and smelt it in kilns and create recycled glass slabs to use for platters and bowls. We are interested in inviting others, even our competitors, to see how we are doing this. We look to inspire others.

What do you see for the future of catering?

I foresee in the next few decades that we’ll move towards a more vegan and a more raw diet and a more healthful nutritious diet. So we’re making a small push to increase our vegetarian options and training ourselves to be better at cooking those options for our clients that want them, and for the future of our planet too.

For questions or comments contact
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The Jockey Club, Redefined

When I heard they had revamped The Jockey Club, Washington’s bastion of the old guard and sanctuary for the well-heeled, my heart sank. The power dining spot in its heyday, it was a place where gentlemen’s chauffeurs waited, purposeful young men, hoping to impress, brought their dates and fashionable ladies lunched in suits and jewels. It stood alone in cataloguing the comings and goings of elite Washington society. And though the menu rarely changed, there was comfort in the veal paillard avec foie gras and the delicate Dover sole meuniere. No culinary acrobatics here.

On a perfect spring afternoon we drove up to the porte-cochere at The Fairfax at Embassy Row. The original Jockey Club lantern stood beside the black-booted jockey, still sporting his red and white racing silks, and the etched brass plaque were in situ as we strode into the newly decorated dining room. Gone were the red and white-checked tablecloths and the dark-stained wooden booths (how they had held such charm is now inexplicable). In their place is an elegant, understated room flooded with sunlight, soft colors, suede banquettes and equine portraiture.

But the food, my dears, after all, that is why I have come.

Levi Mezick is a young chef whose modern French cuisine has thrown down the gauntlet to every French chef in this city as he displays a new dynamic for Washingtonian gastrophiles. Mezick trained under Edouard Loubet, the Provencal chef whose Domaine de Capelongue restaurant in Luberon sports two Michelin stars. He cut his teeth in the New York kitchens of Daniel Boulud at Daniel and Café Boulud, and later at Thomas Keller’s Per Se. All revel in three Michelin-starred restaurants and all are in the forefront of progressive French cuisine.

We started with a simple butternut squash soup with cinnamon croutons and cranberry coulis, nicely executed though a bit behind the season. But it was the next dish, a snapper carpaccio exquisitely articulated with rings of blood orange segments and red radishes swirling around the thinly-sliced raw fish, that foretold the glories that lay ahead.

We swooned and chirped over a glorious crab salad, a destination dish, mounted atop green apple gelee and celery root remoulade, an old French classic reinvented with a lively balance of creamy and tart. A delicious bread-crusted sea bass on basmati rice showed Indian-Asian influences with trails of coriander, tamarind and kaffir lime oil, highlighted by tender baby bok choy aswirl in an airy coconut foam.

A duo of Pineland Farms local beef — red wine-braised short rib and seared strip loin — struck a lovely chord among sunchokes and pommes dauphine, accented by a rich Bordelaise sauce fragrant with marrow bone, wine and herbs.

Sadly, desserts don’t measure up to Meznick’s triumphs. Pastry Chef Lisa Hood, who was at the Inn at Little Washington and Westend Bistro, will hopefully have more to offer on my next visit. For the present, a serviceable but plebeian chocolate-crusted Key lime cheesecake with raspberry coulis, and a Valrhona chocolate crème brulee with fresh berries will have to suffice.

It was too early in the day to tipple, but rest assured the wine list is breathtaking. Cellaring over 450 labels and vintages, it is certainly one to explore over many occasions. Mostly weighted on the French side, it ranges from Nuits-St. Georges, Pommards and Chambertins to Meursaults and Puligny-Montrachets. Yet there are also stunning brunellos and barolos and nine Chateaux d’Yquem to quibble over.

This “new” Jockey Club is as alluring as a first kiss. Just as impressive as ever, it has returned with a fresh cachet, a winning new chef and a dining room to match the restrained elegance of its cuisine.

For questions or comments, contact
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