In England. Where’s the beef? At Barbacoa.

In general you don’t often see England on a list of food destinations. There is a certain stereotype connected with the British and their food. It is not that they don’t have some great chefs hailing from the British Isles — Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Graham Kerr and Heston Blumenthal, to name a few — It is just that one doesn’t readily match the British with a particularly enticing dish in one’s mind. So when we left for England on our final “stage” of our year, I didn’t have have that glow of anticipation that I’ve had on our other trips.

Then I looked at our itinerary and saw that we would have lunch at Barbacoa (www.barbecoa.com), a restaurant of Jaime Oliver’s. That was interesting. Jaime has made quite a name for himself with his work around school lunch programs and his food revolution. He is, of course, a celebrity chef with a large following. His TV shows and his campaigns are all about encouraging people to cook for themselves which will lead to a better tasting and healthier diet.

At Barbacoa Jaime has joined forces with Adam Perry Lang, a United States chef who has worked with Mario Batali at CarneVino restaurant in Las Vegas (http://carnevino.com/) and has his own restaurant in New York City called Daisy May’s BBQ (http://www.adamperrylang.com/). Adam is an expert in meat.

The restaurant, which looks over St. Paul’s Cathedral, is on the second floor of a downtown shopping mall. The restaurant is supplied by their own butcher shop downstairs that also sells meat, poultry and game.

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Photos by Chelsea Lepore

The tie between the butcher shop and the restaurant is no surprise considering Adam’s keen interest in all things meat. He described in excited detail how he visits all of the farms where their meat comes from to understand how the meat is raised and to make sure that it is done in a sustainable fashion. He also regularly visits the abattoirs where the meat he buys is processed. He essentially supervises the slaughter and preparation of the carcasses that will be delivered to the Barbacoa butcher shop. He wants to assure that the meat is of the highest quality and is handled properly throughout the path from farm to table and this was evident as we enjoyed a good sized hamburger that had the taste of well aged beef.

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What he said fit into what we had seen on our visit up to that point as we had visited three large organic farms. One, a biodynamic farm as well, had their own abattoir. We saw first hand how organic crops and animals could be raised well and how animals could be processed in a humane way. We were invited into the abattoir to watch the processing of cows as it occured. They had nothing to hide and they didn’t prohibit photography. The work environment and the handling of the animals looked much different than the view we often see and hear about…much better.

Adam went on to say that it is not just getting the best quality meat that concerns him. He also has a young daughter and he wants to make sure that the world for her will not be put at risk by unsustainable farming practices. This is where Adam’s narrative began to break apart a bit in my mind. He followed this with a response to a question asking how he sources his vegetables and does he pay the same kind of attention to where they come from and how they are grown? His response…”I don’t really care much about vegetables. Someone else takes care of them.” He said that it is not his job to try and educate people about how they should be eating. The restaurant’s purpose is to provide people the food that they want in the best possible way. The people that come to Barbacoa expect to get large portions of high quality meat cooked perfectly and that is what he delivers. Hummm…

You see, if you care about sustainability and creating a food system that will meet the needs of the future and provide a healthy way of eating for your daughters and sons, you have to think a little less about meat and a little more about vegetables. There are many people that worry about the expected world population of 9 billion that will soon be upon us. They are wondering how we can feed all of those people. We currently produce enough food calories to feed 1 1/2 times the present world population (or 10 billion people) and yet there are almost 1 billion people going hungry. In order to feed more people we don’t need to produce more food. We need to use less food in non-food activity, like producing ethanol. And we need to use less food in feeding animals instead of people. The feed conversion ratio (the amount of feed it takes to produce 1 kg of meat) for cattle is somewhere between 8:1 and 50:1 depending on how you calculate it. That means it takes at least 8 kg of feed to get 1 kg of meat. If we ate less meat (note that I’m not saying no meat) there would be more food available for all. But the per capita consumption of meat around the world is increasing .

I thought that surely this attitude was not in line with Jaime Oliver’s philosophy regarding food. After all he is very publically speaking out on eating in a healthier fashion and is working to decrease obesity and diabetes in children. He must have contradictory views on what this restaurant seemed to be embodying versus his healthy food movement. I went to his website expecting to find an expression that was different than what his restaurant, Barbacoa, represents in London. I visited Jaime’s web page and under Food Philosophy found the following:

“My philosophy to food and healthy eating has always been about enjoying everything in a balanced, and sane way. Food is one of life’s greatest joys yet we’ve reached this really sad point where we’re turning food into the enemy, and something to be afraid of. I believe that when you use good ingredients to make pasta dishes, salads, stews, burgers, grilled vegetables, fruit salads, and even outrageous cakes, they all have a place in our diets. We just need to rediscover our common sense: if you want to curl up and eat macaroni and cheese every once in a while – that’s alright! Just have a sensible portion next to a fresh salad, and don’t eat a big old helping of chocolate cake afterwards.

,,,So when I talk about having a ‘healthy’ approach to food, and eating better I’m talking about achieving that sense of balance: lots of the good stuff, loads of variety, and the odd indulgence every now and then.” (emphasis mine)

Perhaps this restaurant is intended not for regular visits, but for “the odd indulgence every now and then” of overly-large portions of meat. The restaurant is a business and successful businesses try hard to provide the best customer experience. One should not expect Barbacoa to do any less. However, if Chef Lang is truly concerned about his daughter’s food future and health, he should care a little more about vegetables.

Ciao!

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Birthday in Puglia

Some of you have asked, “So what did you do on your birthday in Italy?” Well, actually nobody asked that but it serves as a good lead in to a very late posting. My birthday fell on the day our class went to Puglia for our first regional stage.

 

Puglia forms the “heel” of the “boot” that makes up Italy. I knew very little about it before going there but found it to be a fascinating place. Some quick facts about Puglia include that it produces about 40% of the olive oil in Italy (and Italy is the number 2, after Spain, producer in the world). It also produces a lot of wine. It is famous for orecchiette pasta which is often eaten with turnip tops. It used to be that the olive oil produced in Puglia was used primarily for lamps. It was not considered to be of a grade good enough for eating. When oil burning lamps became less popular, with the advent of electric light, the olive oil that was good enough was blended with olive oil from other places and the rest sent to refineries where it was processed into plain olive oil. Now the region has focused on olive oil production with newer methods and they are producing some top grade extra virgin olive oils. They still are not well known due to their past reputation for poor quality oil production.

 

Likewise they produce a lot of wine. Their vineyards are located on hot, flat plains and for years the high volume of wine they produced was shipped to others for distilling or mixing with other wines. Now they are developing better wine making methods and turning out some excellent wines based primarily on the Negroamaro, Primitivo (probably the same grape as Zinfandel), Nero di Trola, and Chardonnay grapes. They have attracted the attention of outside wine makers who have been buying Puglian vineyards and wineries.

 

The region of Puglia that we visited is most notable for the fields of large, old, twisted olive trees that are seen everywhere. We also were in the region where the distinctive Trulli architecture is seen. Trulli are conical roofed buildings that are homes as well as barns and sheds. We visited the town of Alberobello (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberobello) where much of the town is made up of Trulli.

 

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Our first day in Puglia was rainy and cold so we cut short our afternoon to get ready for dinner…my birthday dinner… We ate at the Fornello Antico Borgo (http://www.rosticceria-lanticoborgo.it/) which, you can tell by reading their website, specializes in roasted meat. We also had a wine maker there from Feudi San Marzano Winery to present the wines we were served to compliment our meal. We had a nice antipasta of cured meat and cheese, a tripe soup, some braised donkey and, of course roasted meats of various types. That was followed by a dessert platter and I got birthday cakes with candles. I took bites of my cakes before I thought of photographing them so what you see is what was left. The wine maker also gave me a nice bottle of Primitivo.

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Much of our trip was arranged by the President of Slow Food Puglia (and a radiologist), Michele Bruno, who is on the left in this photo with the wine maker.

 

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Our class isn’t really known for being scholarly and sedate and this dinner was no exception. I don’t know if it was the giddiness of being in Puglia or being in the presence of a pretty old birthday boy or if Chris was simply looking to score a bottle of good Puglian wine (which she did). But she somehow ended up…well, the picture says it all.

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It was a great birthday and it was only our first day in Puglia.

 

Ciao!

Homework — Field trip to La Morra

It was a long weekend as there wasn’t school on Monday because of…well, I don’t know, Mother’s Day? June is taking Italian lessons and her instructor had recommended some places to see around Bra, one of which is the town of La Morra. La Morra is a very small town that has some old stuff to look at, but not much because most has been lost to time and battles. It has two principal draws: 1) the view from the town across the wine area surrounding it is stunning, and 2) wine. It is located in the midst of the growing area for Barberas, Barberescos, Docettos, and Barolos. June wanted to visit so she went to the tourist office in Bra to see if they had any information on the town. They did. The brochure that grabbed my attention was “La Morra — Visite alle Cantine.” From April through June La Morra is having wine visits and tastings at the various wineries surrounding the town over the weekends. On Saturday there were schedule to be 6 wineries to tour. To get there is a little problematic if, like us, you don’t have a car. The train doesn’t go there. There is a bus from Bra to La Morra but its Saturday schedule was a mystery to the tourist office. So we took a cab which wasn’t that expensive.

La Morra is a beautiful little town sitting on a hill.

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The taxi dropped us off at the tourist office which is next to one of the scenic overlooks. The tourist office was very helpful but we found that there were only two wineries within walking distance that were open that day. The others would have been quite a walk and were better by car. She also gave us a few restaurant suggestions as it was time for pranzo and everything is closed for that until around 2:30. I chose the restaurant the furthest away (we are talking a VERY small town here) and so we made our way to Il Laghetto ( http://www.illaghettolamorra.it/ ) which was a small place by a pond with great outdoor seating. We had a delightful meal there. I couldn’t resist the snails from Cherasco as we had so recently learned so much about them. They were deep fried in a lightly seasoned thin crust and served with fried onion rings. They were really very good.

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We followed the map to the first winery and found the address but it appeared to be closed. We knocked on the door and telephoned the number with no response. As we were walking away a man offered his assistance and we told him we wanted to visit the winery but it was closed. He said just to ring the bell. We decided that with knocking and telephoning that we had done enough. He pointed down a narrow alley and said that winery was open and gave us instructions including, “ring the bell.”

The winery was Enzo Boglietti ( http://www.enzoboglietti.com/ ) and after ringing the bell we were admitted by a man who didn’t speak English. We managed to let him know we’d like to try the wines and he pointed to a table and said we could try anything opened. There were about 15 wines opened. This is when I remembered two things that we had learned in wine tasting class. Taste and smell as much as you can because that is how you learn. And it is a strong recommendation that we spit and not swallow when tasting if we want to learn/remember anything about the wines. He began to pour and we began to taste. It actually was a little bit of work remembering all that I was to look for and recording my perceptions. I tasted  Dolcetto D’Alba DOC 2010 “Tiglineri”, Barbera D’Alba DOC 2010, Barbera D’Alba DOC 2009 “Roscaleto”, Langhe DOC Nebbiolo 2009, Langhe DOC BUIO 2009 (80% Nebbiolo + 20% Barbera), Barolo DOCG “Fossate” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Case Nere” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Arione” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Brunate” 2007 and Barolo DOCG “Riserva” 2004 (a very good year). I spit all but the last. I could not bring myself to spit a 2004 Barolo DOCG Riserva. It was an amazing experience tasting the differences in all of those wines and I was already appreciating what I had learned at school about what to look for. Here’s our host and a photo of a Swiss couple that come to the area about every 2 years and take home about 30 boxes of wine. They enjoy the Enzo Boglietti wines. We bought three bottles to take home with us.

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We walked by the second winery without stopping because of the other thing the woman in the tourist office told us. The other part of the weekend of wine tasting occurs at the Cantina Comunale di La Morra, a central tasting room and enoteca which today was having a tasting of Barberas. She told us that for the price of a glass of wine there were about 20 Barberas one could taste. We grabbed a coffee and headed up the hill as it was getting close to closing time.

As we were walking we came to one of the businesses she recommended visiting. Mulino Sobrino ( http://www.ilmulinosobrino.it/ita/index.asp ) is a grain mill that uses only organic grain and has an old grind stone. She said that they make very good products and recommended their corn meal for pollenta. We stopped and had a look around. The woman there said that it is more interesting when they are grinding which would be on Wednesday of next week but she showed us the original grinding stone which is over 100 years old as well as the new grinders they use.

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We bought some oatmeal with several other grains mixed in and some corn meal and continued on to the Cantina Comunale.

At Cantina Comunale, as we were told, we could pay 5 euro for a glass and taste as many of the Barberas that they had there, all from the area surrounding La Morra and there were, indeed, about 20 of them.

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I needed to learn some of the differences that exist among Barberas so I ended up tasting five. At that point, although I was really amazed how different the same grape from the same region could taste from vineyard to vineyard and wine maker to wine maker, I felt it was time to stop. My taste memory was fatiguing.

I took some pictures of the view from the overlook and although the haze of morning had faded it was still hazy. Here are some shots.

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If you have a weekend free before the end of June and you want to sharpen your wine tasting skills in a delightful town visit La Morra. I’ll join you. I need more practice. …homework, you know!

Ciao!