Question In Venice: What Would You Cook When You’re Looking To Score?

“I’m on a boat!” I kept singing to myself. “Everybody look at me because I’m sailing on a boat.” I was referencing the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Andy Samberg and T-Pain sail the seas making this one simple proclamation. But this was no ordinary sea and I was on no ordinary boat.

I was on a yacht owned by the Missoni family sailing around the Venice lagoon. I wasn’t, though, sipping champagne flutes with a bunch of well-fed, blue blazer and gold button-clad Italian gazillionaires. I was on the judges’ boat at the San Pellegrino Cooking Cup. I won’t go into all the details except to say it’s perhaps one of the most bizarre cooking competitions, ever. Mostly because it takes place on a boat while that boat is racing. I wasn’t sure what food-loving billionaire was smoking when he concocted this idea but I liked it.

One benefit in covering the Cup – besides eating well, of course – was that it allowed me to see parts of Venice I might not normally have seen.For example, I stayed in Giudecca, a neighborhood away from the main arteries of the city and a refuge from the perpetual tourist crush. There were so few tourists there (except for at my hotel, of course) that, at times, the area felt almost desolate. The only problem was that staying there, one is dependent on water taxis and the vaporetti. On the morning of the cooking competition, I accompanied the chef contestants to the Rialto marketplace, a wonderful outdoor market where fishmongers and farmers called out their goods in their very distinctive Venetian accents. There were huge live crabs (threatening to crawl away), squid big enough to feed a palazzo, plus-sized creatures from the sea, cheese, meat and, of course, plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. I’d been to Venice a small handful of times in the past but I never encountered this market, which is smack in the center of this city. For a town that’s increasingly losing its “real” life, the Rialto market is about the liveliest of live places in Venice. And these people, these real Venetians, and I were standing in the space and doing business where their ancestors have bought and sold things since the 11th century.

I also got to spend time in the 10th-century monastery of San Giorgio on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, near Giudecca. It was here where the closing ceremonies took place. I strolled around the arcaded walkways, this time a champagne flute in my hand.

And while I did all this, I had a video camera with me (okay, it was my iPod) and when I encountered the chefs in the competition or the judges (who are some of the most renowned chefs in the world, by the way), I asked them all one question:

What would you cook if you were looking to score?

As you’ll see I had to re-phrase the question slightly differently to account for language proficiency and so on. But the answers were varied and intriguing. And, if anything, hunger inducing.

Learn Tuscan Cooking At Historic Wine Estate And Boutique Hotel

chiantiThere’s certainly no shortage of cooking schools and classes to be found in Italy, but the type, quality and locale vary wildly. If you’re looking for something focused on the good stuff – like eating – within a stunning venue, Castello Banfi Il Borgo is likely to make you as happy as a pig in … lardo.

This stunning historic estate, comprised of 7,100 acres of vineyards and olive groves, is located near Montalcino, one hour south of Siena. It was created from restored 17th- and 18th century structures adjacent to a medieval fortress known as Poggio alle Mura, and is owned by the Mariani family, well known for their Brunello di Montacino wine.

The seasonal, contemporary Tuscan menus used in the classes are taught by the property’s English-speaking sous chefs, who are from the region. Classes are offered exclusively to guests of Il Borgo March through November, based upon availability (advance reservations required). Two hundred and twenty euros will get you a demo, hands-on class, and four-course lunch paired with estate wines.

Other activities offered through Il Borgo include foraging for porcini mushrooms and chestnuts in fall, driving the hills of Chianti in a Ferrari or Maserati (but of course), hot air balloon rides, shopping excursions, and more. Even if you decide to just kick it in one of the 14 Frederico Forquet of Cetona-designed rooms, you’ll be able to indulge with bath amenities made from estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. That puts the “ahh” in Montalcino.

Overview of Siena, Italy

Video: How To Cook A Sheep’s Head


One of the great pleasures of travel is the food. Of course, sometimes the food can be a bit strange. A new web series called “Africa on a Plate” takes you across the continent in search of unusual delicacies that aren’t so unusual in the local area. In the first episode, host Lentswe Bhengu shows us how they cook a sheep’s head in South Africa.

This video is part one of two. You can see the second half of this episode here, where Lentswe samples some home brew and eats a sheep’s head.

I must admit I was a bit put off at first, but as this episode progressed I could almost smell the rich meat being cooked to perfection. With a bit of seasoning I could eat this. Well, maybe not the eyes, but certainly the tongue and cheek.

For more “Africa on a Plate,” check out their YouTube Channel. They’re a brand new startup asking for funds on their Indiegogo site. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Best of luck to you guys!

This isn’t your usual how to cook show. Sit back and enjoy!

Video: Lunch In A Village In Burkina Faso


It’s lunchtime in Taga, a village in Burkina Faso, West Africa. A guy is milking the cows and the women are working over the stove. Kids are running around making noise and getting in the way. It’s just like lunch at my house – well, not quite.

That’s what I love about this video. There are so many similarities – the laughing kids, the idle chatter, taking some time off work in the middle of the day to enjoy family – that I can almost forget the thatched huts and chickens. The greatest thing travel teaches us is how similar people are under all the superficial differences.

One of the bigger differences is the slow pace of life in this village. It’s a tranquil video too – great for inspiring relaxation on your own lunch break. For a different look at life in the same country, check out this video of driving through the capital Ouagadougou.

By the way, anyone out there know what the gray seeds are that the woman is putting in the milk?

‘Food Forward’ PBS Series Debuts With ‘Urban Agriculture Across America’ Episode

cowsIn less than a century, the United States has gone from being a mostly agrarian society to an urbanized one. Most of us live in cities and, despite our growing cultural fascination with food, most Americans have no idea where the ingredients on their plate (or in that wrapper) are actually coming from.

That’s where “Food Forward” comes in. After a three-year effort, the premiere episode of this innovative new PBS series, as first reported by the Huffington Post, is airing nationally throughout April (see schedule after the jump). In “Urban Agriculture Across America,” the “Food Forward” crew travel from the Bay Area to Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City, talking to urban farming innovators such as Abeni Ramsey, a single mother in West Oakland.

Formerly relegated to feeding her family Top Ramen, Ramsey was inspired some years ago by a farm stand she spotted in her neighborhood, operated by West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. As part of City Slickers’ initiative to nourish under-served communities, their staff and volunteers build garden boxes (designed for small-scale, intensive production) in residents’ yards.

Ramsey got her garden box and soon had a backyard full of produce. Next, she got chickens to provide her family with protein in the form of meat and eggs. Today, she’s the farm manager of the East Bay’s urban Dig Deep Farms. Dig Deep sells and delivers produce to local communities through its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program and works in collaboration with Oakland’s acclaimed Flora restaurant.

Says Flora chef Rico Rivera, “We order the produce, she picks it and it’s here the next morning.” Adds Ramsey, “It’s a modern idea that you get all of your food from the store. People have been farming in cities…since there were cities.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user Martin Gommel]rooftop gardenJohn Mooney, chef and rooftop hydroponic farmer at Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan’s West Village, is another interesting subject as is urban beekeeper Andrew Coté, who collects specific blends from hives around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While the idea of keeping bees in the midst of a metropolis may seem an unnecessary objective, or a somewhat precious craft food enterprise, it’s anything but, as Coté points out. “Bees help pollinate the city’s community and rooftop gardens as well as window boxes.” Localized honey also contains pollen that helps allergy sufferers living in these neighborhoods.

Of Detroit, “Food Forward” co-creator/producer Stett Holbrook says, “It blew my mind. It’s a city that has been devastated by industrial collapse and the exodus of half of its population, but the resilience of the residents still there to remake the city – literally from the ground up – was truly inspiring. Urban agriculture is a big part of the renaissance.”

According to its website, the objective of “Food Forward” is to “create a series that looks beyond the world of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions,” and formulaic recipe shows. From my perspective, it also goes beyond the seemingly endless variations on scintillating (not) reality series on baked good empires, riffs on “Homo sapiens vs. Arteriosclerosis” and “Twenty Crappy Things You Can Cook With Canned Goods.”

Instead, “Food Forward” looks at what it calls the “food rebels” across America – farmers, chefs, ranchers, fishermen, food artisans, scientists and educators – who are dedicated to changingurban farm the way we eat and finding more sustainable alternatives to how food is produced and procured.

“Food Forward” succeeds (if the pilot is any indication) in a way that documentaries of this genre haven’t (despite being excellent on all counts: see, “The Future of Food,” “Food, Inc.,” etc.).

It’s mercifully not about food elitism, either. Rather than leaving you depressed, angry or guilty, the show inspires, entertains and sends a message of hope. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, sustainable fishing and meat production and soil science. Some segments are animated, either to better illustrate a point or to engage a wider age demographic.

“Food Forward” is “written, produced and directed by a veteran team of journalists, cinematographers and storytellers that includes: director Greg Roden (PBS, FOX and National Geographic channel’s “Lonely Planet” and the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle); aforementioned creator-producer Holbrook (Food editor for Metro Silicon Valley and The Bohemian in Sonoma County, and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur and Chow.com); Brian Greene (Food Network, Discovery Channel, NBC), and director of photography David Lindstrom (PBS, National Geographic and Discovery channels).

On April 22, the pilot will air on WTTW in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. and WLIW in New York at 2:30 p.m. On April 28, it will air on Washington DC’s WETA at 5:30 p.m. For future episodes, check your local PBS listings, visit the “Food Forward” website or www.PBS.org/foodforward.