Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dancing on Your Palate

A Food52 Potluck on the Monterey Peninsula
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

The etymology of ‘potluck’ falls into two camps. One camp clings to the literal compound – pot + luck – and credits its first use to Thomas Nash, a 16th century British writer, to mean food cooked for an unexpected or uninvited guest, as in the guest gets “the luck of the pot” or whatever the cook has on hand. Another camp claims that it’s the misspelling of the Native Americans’ potlatch. Potlatch from the Chinook, means "to give away" or "a gift;” traditional potlatch ceremonies, in the Pacific Northwest, involved the redistribution of wealth within a community and were accompanied by singing, dancing, and bartering, as well as feasting. The only thing a potluck and a potlatch have in common: it’s a meal with no particular menu. Each participant brings dishes to share with others.

When I agreed to host a potluck, during the month of December, for the publishers of Food52 to celebrate the launch of their second cookbook, I didn’t take into consideration just how jam-packed my schedule was. To the usual holiday madness, add my little one’s birthday, the annual holiday fund drive for the foundation that I chair, birthday parties for four of our close friends, two of those whose birthday treats I always make, two rounds of Secret Santa, and parties upon parties upon parties. December quickly descends into chaos with sticky notes all over my calendar to remind me where I’m supposed to be next. So, what was I thinking committing to putting together a potluck where guests were invited to bring dishes from Food52’s website?!? Clearly, I wasn’t.

Thankfully, my parents decided that their annual holiday party would be the perfect venue for a Food52 potluck. They invited several friends from their ballroom dancing circle – artists, retired teachers, meteorologists, and more. It was quite a multi-talented group. They dance, they play instruments, they sing, and they cook. All I had to do was put together some foodie schwag bags – from Food52’s sponsors –, cook, show up, take some photos, scribble some notes, and taste the dishes that paraded through the door.

Steve, who owns his own outdoor pizza oven, baked some rosemary focaccia. Based on his vast experience with turning yeast, flour, salt, and warm water into pillowy goodness, I don’t think that he used a Food52 recipe; but if he had, this one might be close.

Yi selected Absurdly Addictive Asparagus, the Best Asparagus Recipe Contest winner posted by kaykay. She reported that the recipe was easy to follow and she really loved the photographs. The resulting dish was delightful. It was, as promised, absurdly addictive and I’ll be making it again soon.

Theo brought Thanksgiving Osso Buco posted by QueenSashy in the Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe Contest. Though this didn’t win that contest, it was a winner in our book. And, it turns out that this was the second time that Theo made the osso buco. His first attempt used chicken while his potluck offering was made with turkey. The chicken rendered the dish too dry, so he swapped poultries. Osso buco is traditionally made with veal shanks. That I knew, but I learned that osso buco also requires that the meat and bones be cut in a particular way; they are cross-cut with the bone in. As soon as Theo lifted the lid off his dish, the aromas of allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg swirled together and made my mouth water.

Other dishes included roasted pork tenderloin, clam chowder, greens with poached pears, wild rice salad, and the two dishes that I made with my current culinary obsession: fennel pollen. I made a fennel-barley soup and a roasted fennel dip [click the names to read the recipes on my kitchen blog, Culinary Adventures with Camilla]. An article I read about fennel pollen dubs it “culinary fairy dust” and I couldn’t agree more. Just a sprinkling takes a dish from delicious to divine.

I was thankful for the opportunity - from Food52 - to get some likeminded people around tables who were willing to explore the collection of recipes...and share their creations.

This gathering of dancing cooks was, as a potluck should be, a communal feast full of laughter and libations.

*Full disclosure: In exchange for hosting this potluck, I am receiving complimentary copies of The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours, beans from Rancho Gordo, and butter from Olli's Handcrafted Cultured Butter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Edible Notables: La Balena

This piece - part of Edible Notables - was printed in Edible Monterey Bay's Winter 2012 issue, hitting news stands on December 1, 2012. Read the entire issue online here.

A California restaurant with a Tuscan heart
 Story by Camilla M. Mann
Photo by Geneva Liimatta

Carmel’s budding community of young, creative and sustainability minded restaurateurs has just expanded with the addition of Anna and Emanuele Bartolini and their La Balena, an informal nod to Northern Italy on Junipero Street between Fifth and Sixth.

The Bartolinis had been tossing around the idea of opening a restaurant for more than a decade. Emanuele’s grandparents, who were originally from Sardinia, had a restaurant in Florence years ago, and after emigrating from Italy to New York, Emanuele started work in the city’s restaurant world before he even knew English. By the time he left New York to move to Carmel, he was working as a senior manager at Del Posto, which is owned jointly by Mario Batali and Lidia and Joseph Bastianich and is one of the most highly regarded Italian restaurants in New York. In Carmel, he was most recently a general manager at Cantinetta Luca and helped open Salumeria Luca.

For Anna, a designer, opening La Balena—and getting to know the local farmers and other purveyors who will become a part of it— feeds a passion for supporting young people who farm and care about food the way that she does.

Anna and Emanuele strive to uphold the idea that food and wine taste better when served near where they are grown and when produced with ethical standards.

La Balena’s menu will be simple, seasonal and sourced from local organic suppliers as much as possible while remaining faithful to true Italian—and particularly Tuscan—cuisine.

The restaurant will have two chefs. Chef Salvatore Panzuto— who obtained a culinary degree from Naples’ Instituto Professionale Alberghiero di Stato—will prepare traditional, rustic food with the spirit of a classic Italian enoteca, or wine bar.

La Balena’s other chef will be Brad Briske, who is best known in the area for his turns as chef at Main Street Garden and Gabriella CafĂ© in Santa Cruz County as well as his farm-to-table meals. Briske, who most recently was hired by Carmel’s Casanova to take over their charcuterie program, will bring to La Balena his deep relationships with local organic farms and his creative style in cooking their bounty. Briske and the Bartolinis first met at Live Earth Farm in October, when Briske cooked a sensational dinner for Edible Monterey Bay’s 1st anniversary.

As this issue of Edible Monterey Bay went to press, the Bartolinis were planning for a late November opening and still working on the restaurant’s interior. But already, the former location of the Carmel Food Co. was showing plenty of character—and was reflecting the style and interests of its owners.

In evidence of the Bartolinis’ intent to run their business in as sustainable a manner as possible, the tables in the main dining room are made from reclaimed tropical hardwoods that were salvaged from trans-Pacific shipping crates. The cushioned wooden bench seating came from the local Habitat for Humanity store; the Bartolinis have refinished and re-upholstered them in two shades of coffee—one in the color of espresso and the other, caffè latte.

Hand-marbled papers, vintage postcards and posters, and some artwork that they collected during their time in Florence and its environs lend an authentic air to the space.

One of the pieces is the whale’s tail seen in the couple’s logo, which is by Florentine artist, Maurizio Bomberini. The restaurant’s name was inspired partly by the work, and partly by Emanuele’s deep passion for whale conservation.

Opening the restaurant and settling in Carmel are something of a homecoming for Anna, who as a child would travel from her home in Georgia to visit her grandmother’s first cousin, a Carmel resident, and could only dream of one day living here.

Camilla Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook based in Monterey.

La Balena • Junipero Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, Carmel • 831.250.6295 • www.labalenacarmel.com.