Before writing this BIO, I don’t think I was fully aware of the through-lines in my life that lead me to become a whole foods chef, blogger, and internet radio show host talking about the quality and sources of our food, because everything had become so second nature to me. But once I started to write, it actually became quite easy for me to see these through-lines.
Besides being raised by a conscientious mother who instilled in me a great passion and caring for healthy food, I was also strongly influenced by my father who had a deep love for the diversity of New York City, and for talking about far away places (that is how they occurred to me when I was younger – simply far away places) he had never been, but often hoped to go. In looking back, it is no surprise that I pursued a career path that would take me to these far away places, while using New York City as my home, and my lifelong springboard. These far away places, also known as other countries, had a very strong influence on my culinary sensibilities, as has New York City.
My first, substantive culinary experience took place while I was still in college, attending a studio arts study abroad program at Sarah Lawrence’s Lacoste, France campus. Lacoste is a beautiful, medieval town nestled into the side and top of one of the mountains of the Luberon range in provence. It overlooks a patchwork valley of vineyards and apple orchards. On the plateau above the town, are fields of lavender and limestone quarries (where we sculpted), and the infamous Chateau of the Marquis De Sade. (my pieces below: limestone sculpture and champluvier – Lacoste)
Three of us had an early morning routine of hiking down the mountain to pick apples that had fallen to the ground (never off the tree) and co-mingle with one of the local farmers and his family. Eventually, they became like our surrogate family of sorts, inviting us in for tea and cookies while dogs and chickens wandered the grounds outside. It was amazingly communal and defied the gossip about the french being cold and distant. They once helped me shoe away a neighbor’s dog that was chasing me while jogging. It was a doberman.
Our daily cuisine was prepared by Chef Amoretti, the town’s mayor. His wife helped with the cooking and cleaning when she wasn’t busy smoking eucalyptus cigarettes. I’ll always remember our dinners, because we each had to use one bowl for all three courses; the potage du jour, the entree, and the dessert. The potage and entree were served with the bowl upright, and when we were through with our entree, we would use bread to absorb any extra sauce, then we’d flip the bowl over to use the base for holding the dessert. Amoretti would tutor us in the kitchen on the many, traditional dishes he prepared for us daily. It wasn’t easy to understand his heavy dialectical, provencal french – and he did not speak a lick of english. One of the most memorable dishes was of course, Le Grand Aioli. On weekends we would take trips all over the south of France (Arles to see Van Gogh’s home; the Matisse Chapel in Vence; the cave paintings in Lascaux, etc.) and would often visit the market in Avignon. Everything we ate and drank (milk, juice, the vin du pay) was sourced locally, and all of our meals were made from scratch from local ingredients. In looking back, I am still in awe of what an amazing experience this was, and yearn to return to explore more of the culinary uniqueness of this area of France.
Five years after graduation from college, I joined Anne Klein to oversee their licensing and branding in Japan. I learned about the art and elegance of Japanese cuisine, which to this day seems unsurpassed, in my view. Among many things Japanese at the time, I was mesmerized by kaiseki which as Wikipedia says, is comparable to haute cuisine in the west, yet, I was also extremely fond of the camaraderie of dining family-style at an Izakaya or Yakitori-ya. The Japanese have a profound love for mingling over good food and drink, much like the Europeans. Many people think of sushi as being the defining element of Japanese cuisine, and while sushi chefs are beyond compare, from a 360 view of Japanese cuisine, nothing could be further from the truth. From okonomiyaki to kaiseki, to yakitori and everything in between – there is an unending variety of food to explore and enjoy in Japan, not to mention great sake. Mo ippon, kudasai! Possibly my fondest culinary memory of my times in Japan, is my first visit to Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish and wholesale seafood market in the world. I watched the wholesale tuna auction, and strolled by aisle after aisle of vendors both inside and outside the market, seeing seafood I had never seen before, nor since. If you plan to visit Tokyo, this is a must see.
Following Anne Klein, I joined Polo Ralph Lauren, overseeing their womenswear product development in Italy, and line openings in Milan and Paris. Although most of the product development trips would start and end in Bologna, we would often take 2-3 day trips to factories in Emillia-Romangna, Umbria, Tuscany, and Abruzzo. On one such trip we stayed at a villa in Umbria, with a terraced in-ground swimming pool overlooking the area below. Needless to say, none of us really wanted to leave the villa to go to work. At the villa, as was common in Italy, our meals were prepared from all local, fresh products and ingredients: olive oil; prosciutto; cheese; wine. The bread and pasta were always homemade, and the vegetables, from the garden. I also remember a time on our way to a factory, we stopped at the Italian version of a truck stop, for lunch. My colleagues were their usual apologist selves (I say this fondly), saying the food would be sub-par, and to please forgive them (and inherently the country at large, for having such terrible food at truck stops). The tables were covered with white linen, and we dined on homemade bread, pasta, and mozzarella, served with local olive oil, tomatoes, basil, and wine. This was a truck stop meal in Italy. It’s equivalent at Il Cantinori in New York City at the time, would cost well over $100 per person. I know, because I loved Il Cantinori and when I needed my “fix” of authentic, Italian food, I would go there.
I also remember the time we drove from Bologna up to Venice for a dinner of squid ink pasta at Harry’s (famous for giving you temporary black teeth, which was extremely attractive), but my most memorable meal took place in the summer of 1990, on a quiet hill above Bologna, when we dined outside in perfect weather at sun set, on dishes of: carciofi all pagna; risotto ai funghi porcini; fresh bread; local olive oil, and a frizzante wine. Simple + Fresh + Elegant = Divine. That’s Italy.
Although Bologna is regaled as Italy’s city of restaurants, one of my favorite places to dine after a long day of work (which was often) was the pizzeria near my hotel and the Piazza Maggiore. I just liked how simple and easy it was to stroll up to the antipasto bar and tell the server what vegetables to put on my plate, and I enjoyed the fact that families and local people hung out there. I think my colleagues would have preferred to use the expense account dining at some of Bologna’s finer restaurants, but I was happy with the pizzeria (oops), much to their dismay! What I wouldn’t do now, to steal back a night or two at one of those places, but, hey, it’s a good excuse to go back.
I also had the good fortune of traveling to Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong often enough to enjoy many of the indigenous dishes of each city/country. I fell in love with kimchi and now make my own, using the traditional, lacto-fermentation method.
Over these thirty years though, New York City has always been my home base. I love so many things about this city, they are too numerous to list. In my mentions above, you can see that the through-line has been about food that is fresh, local, and homemade. In New York, where chefs have access to some of the best ingredients in the world, the options are many. I am extremely fond of places like, Ten Bells and the Union Square Cafe, but am also fond of all of New York’s boutique-y, cottage-industry-style places that exist because of someone’s passion for say, homemade kombucha, or sausages. I also love our food trucks and farmer’s markets. I love finding things like homemade mole poblano sauce at an unknown bodega on Lexington and 98th Street. I love the raw honey guy at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, who let’s the bees fly all over him, and the pasteur raised beef farmer, who sells me bags of bones for making homemade stock. The list is endless, thanks to New York, and the people of this wonderful, crazy, diverse city.
For a few years after 9/11, I left NYC for Vermont, to regroup and be with family. I worked at Simon Pearce restaurant, where I met and became friends with then chef, Robert Newton, who now owns Seersucker and Smith Canteen in Brooklyn, and with Sergio Hernandez, now the owner of Brooklyn Larder, and Vanya Filipovic, the sommelier at Joe Beef in Montreal. Through people like Rob, Sergio, Vanya, and so many others I have met along the way, I continue to enjoy the beauty of food (and wine), made with love, and tradition. I have the utmost respect for people who prepare food (and wine), from their heart.
My lifelong passion for food lead me to a chefs’ certification at The Natural Gourmet Institute in 2010. Since then, I founded this blog, The Eco Chef, and The Eco Chef Radio on Blog Talk Radio. Through The Eco Chef, I explore what is happening, at large with regard to food, whether it be about sustainability, micro-farming, lacto-fermentation, or GMOs (and the list goes on). I believe in providing information so that people can make informed choices about their well-being and food. We live in a challenging and interesting time. I do not mind sifting through the cacophony of information out there related to food, to help deliver it in a ‘digestible’ manner. I am honored if my posts, interviews, or articles can help even one person to better know and understand what’s happening with their food sources.
In addition to the blog and radio show, I am now offering Health and Well-Being Coaching on a one-to-one or group basis, to help people, as needed. If you are interested in this coaching, or have questions, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and in the subject, please write: Coaching. I believe we all have a reason to be of service to one another. My passion is to help people through sharing what I’ve learned.