All things food
All things food
I know very little about the Bronx. Actually, I’ve never been outside Manhattan to any of the surrounding boroughs, with the exception of getting to and from LaGuardia airport and a couple of trips to Brooklyn. I only knew three things about the Bronx: (1) it had a zoo, (2) the Yankees play there, and (3) J. Lo is from the Bronx.
From what I’ve gathered from media over the years, I pictured the Bronx as home to the blue-collared working class. Tell me I’m not that far off…?
The thing about the working class is they are a no-bullsh*t type of people, which means their food is usually unpretentious, inexpensive, and flavorful.
Eating was, however, the secondary reason as to why I came to the Bronx in June. Danielle, founder of Global Pop-Up, asked me to visit the Lavelle School for the Blind to inspire the kids with a little talk and cooking demo. I’ve been so fortunate to be placed in such a position—to be able to inspire others towards unbound heights—so I accepted the invitation since I was in NYC already for the AFB 2014 HKAAs.
Even though I was in New York City this June for the AFB 2014 Helen Keller Achievement Awards, I made sure I set aside time for some good eaten’ since NYC is such a gastronomical destination. Because MasterChef season 4 winner Luca Manfé’s cookbook, My Italian Kitchen had just published, I also made it a point to meet up with Luca to get my copy signed and for a little MC reunion.
Luca set up an evening of cocktails and pizzas at Zio Ristorante, a bumpin’ Italian restaurant from his friend, also named Luca. (Who would’ve thought?) There I met Christine Silverstein and Elizabeth Cauvel from MasterChef season 5 (which was currently airing at the time). That’s right, three generations of MasterChef contestants getting together to eat and drink. I was also ecstatic to meet up with some familiar faces from crew: Perry, Trask, and JP, who were like my guardians during my sequestered time away at MC3. (Perry and Trask even refer to themselves as my MC3 “mom and dad”—they’ve seen all of us contestants at our best and our worst.)
I was in Denver this summer at a fundraising gala for Phamaly Theatre Company, a theatre group giving those with various disabilities opportunities to take the stage. As a writer and graduate of University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, I am naturally a supporter of the arts and jumped at the chance to support the performing and musical arts for a group of people With special needs.
As a person with a disability, I have firsthand experience on what sort of a toll it takes on the self-esteem. Phamaly provides a way for those with disabilities to take center stage, helping raise self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-expression.
But enough about my soapbox for the day. Let’s move on to what I ate in Denver!
If you think the title of this second half of my Stockholm series sounds crazy, it’s because the food kind of was.
Per a recommendation from my liaison with the Ikea Supper Club campaign, we ate at Oaxen Slip which, my dining companions told me, had a beautiful waterfront view. We were seated in an enclosed patio with an actual boat suspended from the ceiling. The server said the smoked herring appetizer was a must-try, and this dish turned out to be my favorite. I also had a healthy helping of snaps, which was no easy feat in my esophagus.
Oh, for the love of food…
Last month, I’d gone to Stockholm to serve as guest chef at Ikea Sweden’s Supper Club. After an event in Milwaukee, followed by a butt-crack-of-dawn ride to the airport to catch an early flight to Houston, a 5-hour layover in Houston, then 16 hours of travel time to Stockholm, I stepped off the plane, dropped bags at the hotel, and headed straight to Frantzén, one of two 2-Michelin star restaurants in Sweden.
I must say, I believe I enjoy 2-star restaurants more than 3-starred ones. I chalk it up to my affinity for accessible food and dining experiences. When I say “accessible,” I mean dishes that can be relatable by all; sometimes, an experience is so formal, I’m too stressed about proper table manners to truly enjoy the experience. And eating, being a favorite pastime, should be nothing but relaxing. A part of it stems from my not being able to see; and thus, presentation of plates is not as impressive to me, nor is the often complicated methods of eating them—give me a single bowl and a single spoon, and I’ll happily scoop stuff into my mouth.
Frantzén, I was told, was small and simple in design. Unadorned linens, plain white walls, no fancy chandeliers or buttresses. Just a bar with an open kitchen, and a few tables gathered within the unassuming space.
I may cook the food, but the hubs grows the food. Yup, that’s an aerial view of our urban garden above.
The hubs and I began our garden adventures a few years ago after we’d moved into our current home, which had a small (but garden beckoning) backyard. We started off with herbs in a few planters and then expanded to a raised garden bed made from trapezoidal wooden boards purchased from Costco. The hubs has since graduated to making his own wooden garden beds with cedar planks freshly cut at Home Depot. This year, we currently have three rectangular garden beds and fig, lemon, and lime trees (the latter which will come in handy in the face of this crazy lime shortage). The hubs has moved all of our herbs from their pots into the garden bed, and now we have a good amount of greens to sustain our gastronomic needs.
I don’t like using the term “celebrity” when it comes to describing anything about myself–it makes me shy and feel slightly diva-ish–but “celebrity judge” is the title I’ve been given by the press/media and the two organizations whose competitions I’ll be “celebrity judging” this weekend.
It’s only April, and I’m already slated to judge four culinary competitions this year, all of which will take place in my hometown of Houston. I guess the fact that Gordon Ramsay said, “[Christine] has an extraordinary palate,” lends me some credibility when it comes to knowing good food. Two of the four events are being held this coming weekend, so come join me for some competitive culinary fun.
Here’s another “everything in moderation” (read: not-so-healthy) post for you.
If you’re from the deep south, particularly from Louisiana or the surrounding states, you not only know what crawfish is, you love it. Sure, those little mudbugs give some the heebie-jeebies, but not us from nearby Cajun country.
I can’t recall the first time I’d ever had crawfish straight out of its exoskeleton. I was probably in college or a recent graduate. Once I got over the miniature lobster-looking things, all bright red and steaming with their miniature, cute, harmless claws, and once I’d caught a whiff of the spicy garlic Cajun flavor, I was hooked.
“Brrr…it’s cold outside.” That was the outgoing message my college roommate and I had recorded on our answering machine. Don’t ask why. I think it had something to do with our adoration of Chilly Willy. But today, it is cold outside. It was a freezing 25°F last night in Houston. But who am I to complain? The northern states saw an insane −44°F (according to the hubster). I didn’t even think that was possible outside of the Antarctic.
I am so not a cold weather person. So when it gets down to the 20s, 30s, even 40s outside, my ideal evening is one spent indoors in fuzzy socks in front of the television with a good book. (I like to multi-task, often reading a book in Braille while listening to a sitcom.) And then I like to sidle up to the kitchen counter and slurp down a bowl of noodle soup. That’s the ultimate comfort food on a cold day.
For the past twelve months, one of the questions I get most frequently is, “Christine, when will you be opening your own restaurant?” Or, “Christine, how can we try some of your food?” But for the past eighteen months, my life has been a whirlwind, as you can imagine. First, it was filming the show. Then it was doing press for the show. Then it was speaking at this conference and cooking on that TV show and attending this benefit and that event. Oh, and let’s not forget I had to write a thesis, defend it, and graduate somewhere in there, too. Life’s been quite full, I should say.
While I’ve looked extensively into opening my dream gastropub in Houston, there have just been so many other opportunities still falling into my lap that I couldn’t bear to pass up. I’m the kind of person that, when I start a project, gives it my 110%. So I know that opening an establishment would require my full attention for at least a year or two before it can steadily run on its own. Because I don’t want to miss certain opportunities, I’ve decided to put the gastropub plans on the back burner until everything falls into place.
But I was still very much aware of the fact that everyone’s still asking to try my cooking. And that’s why I’m finally doing my first ever pop-up in my hometown of Houston. I’ve finally gotten a month where I’ll be in town to plan the menu, logistics, and prep for the pop-up. I’m proud to announce in conjunction with MKT BAR (co-owned by a dear friend of mine since middle school, Haig Tcholakian), I will be hosting Pop-up Episode 1: a tribute/farewell to summer. It will be held at MKT BAR in downtown Houston this Saturday, Sep. 14th, from 3 to 6 PM. Please note that it’s on a first come, first serve basis. Alvin Schultz from ”MasterChef” season 2 will be cooking alongside me in the kitchen.