Why the Rum Brand Created by Van Halen’s Frontman Is Taking Off​

Why the Rum Brand Created by Van Halen's Frontman Is Taking Off

July 26, 2019

The sensory overload you experience in the sugarcane fields of upcountry Maui is about as quintessentially Hawaiian as you can get. From the red dirt road, the seemingly infinite expanse of green leaves undulates across the southwest flank of Mount Haleakala like a green ocean with each tropical breeze. Step out of your idling vehicle, and the woosh of the wind rushing past thousands of stringy fronds envelops your ears, a din that is pleasant in its monotony. Get closer, nip off a piece of stalk, and pop it in your mouth; after a few seconds, the meat—the heart—is so sweet it’s almost tangy, rivaling the juiciest peach you’ve ever had in your life. Believe it or not, this sugarcane field is the studio for Sammy Hagar’s next big hit.

Yes, that Sammy Hagar. The red-haired rocker who became famous for shrieking about his inability to drive 55. The guy who stepped in as lead singer to front Van Halen back in 1985. The same party animal who launched his own tequila label—Cabo Wabo—and within 15 years sold it for almost $100 million. These days, Hagar is all about rum. Not just any rum, mind you—white rum. 

For sipping. Like fine wine. The product, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, was launched in November 2011 and has been flying off shelves since early the following year. At $22 per bottle, Sammy’s rum compares favorably with other premium white rums, a position that Steve Kauffman, president of the operation, mostly attributes to the quality of the ingredients and the challenges of running a distillery in Hawaii. But according to Hagar, his rum gives the word spirits a new meaning. “We’ve put together an all-natural product that transports you to Maui every time you taste it,” he says. “Above all else, that’s what makes this rum unique.” 

In many ways, Hagar has worked with spirits for most of his professional life. From the early days as front man for Montrose through the VOA record (the one with “55”) and the Van Halen years, the Red Rocker has made party music—the kind of tracks that go best with a litany of mixed drinks. Even in recent years, when listening to tunes from his current band, Chickenfoot, you want to belly up to a bar and order another round. “He’s selling a lifestyle,” says Kauffman, who worked with Hagar on Cabo Wabo and now serves as president of Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. “It’s something a lot of people relate to.” For this reason, Hagar’s move in the early 1990s to purchase a cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, seemed perfectly logical. Later that decade when he launched his own tequila, that made sense as well. Hagar embraced his role as tequila entrepreneur, investing in top-quality materials from the Jalisco region of Mexico and marketing the product whenever he could. Some might even argue that the marketing went a little overboard: He toured with stages built to resemble cantinas and tattooed the Cabo Wabo logo on his arm. 

In 2007, Hagar sold 80 percent of the tequila to Italian spirits company Gruppo Campari for $80 million (a later deal for the remaining 20 percent eventually pushed the total to almost $100 million). But after completing the deal in 2010, he realized that he missed the spirits business and started looking to dive back in. He was vacationing on Maui at the time—crashing with his wife and kids at their home on the island, when a friend suggested that he try Pau Maui Vodka, which was made in an old pineapple processing facility outside the cowboy town of Makawao on the island. The friend introduced Hagar to the distiller, a Colorado Springs, Colo. native named Mark Nigbur. In addition to looking like long lost twins—both have long, scraggly hair—the two men hit it off instantly. “I tasted the vodka, I loved it, and then I asked him, ‘You’re sitting here, surrounded by sugarcane, so why aren’t you making rum?’” Hagar remembers. Nigbur answered: “You want me to make you some rum?” A partnership was born. 

The duo got to work immediately, collaborating together for months and producing about 50 different flavor profiles. By the summer of 2011 they found the one they liked, and by the end of the year, Hagar unveiled Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum at his Beach Bar & Grill restaurant in Maui. Legend has it that making rum on the islands dates back roughly 200 years to the time of King Kamehameha I, who formally established the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810. Sugarcane had grown across the South Pacific for centuries; the stalks thrive in the volcanic soils and relentless tropical sun. In the early 1800s, after a sea captain reportedly introduced Kamehameha to the process through which Hawaiians could distill this crop into rum, the monarch was hooked. 

According to news reports, a historical survey commissioned by two spirits entrepreneurs within the last decade showed that the high chief had stills erected around the islands and supplying a steady production of rum until Kamehameha died in 1819. Since then, at least on Maui, efforts to mass-produce the spirit have been a tough slog. (Seagram’s, for instance, built a distillery at Puunene, between Kahului and Wailea, in the 1960s, but it did not succeed.) Until now, rum production had focused on craft distilleries, and in the last 10 years, a number of small batch producers have come and gone. But Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum offers something completely different. It has bold flavors, an earthy tone, and maybe even a hint of terroir, a word more commonly associated with wine or Scotch to describe its region of origin. A number of factors create these distinctions. No. 1 on the list: ingredients. Nigbur, who is technically a master distiller, says almost everything that goes into Hagar’s new product comes from Hawaii. The water is filtered rainwater from local freshwater streams. The cane is some of the oldest and most complex sugar anywhere on Earth. “Sugarcane grows on Maui for two years,” Nigbur says. “I’m not sure any other place leaves their cane in the ground that long.” 

Then comes Nigbur’s unique distillation process. Unlike most stills, which are copper and heated at the bottom, Nigbur’s proprietary vessels are made of stainless steel, and have their heating elements built into the sides of the tanks. Because of this unusual design, heat comes into direct contact with the rum, causing a hint of carmelization, or “crème brulée-ification,” as Nigbur calls it, over the course of the distillation process. At this point, Nigbur runs it through a special carbon filter he designed to remove impurities but leave the flavor.

Though Nigbur oversees the day-to-day distillation process in Makawao, Hagar remains intimately involved. When he’s visiting his home in Maui, he heads to the distillery, sampling the rum at various stages, and offering Nigbur tasting notes and other operational suggestions. Nothing escapes Hagar’s touch, including labels and store displays. Kauffman, the company president, says this hands-on approach is how Hagar lives his life. “One thing I’ve learned about Sammy is this: The guy throws himself completely into everything he does,” he says. “It’s true for his music. It was true for the tequila. And it’s true now with the rum.” That Hagar cares about every detail hasn’t escaped the spirits industry’s notice. According to Paul Clarke, a spirits expert and contributing editor at Imbibe, Hagar’s involvement with Cabo Wabo solidified him as a top brand ambassador—a guy whose name alone usually clinches a sale. “Most of the time, when celebrities put their name on product, it has no bearing whatsoever on quality and, in fact, usually implies a shoddy grab-the-cash-and-run sort of deal,” says Clarke, who is based in Seattle. “But [Hagar], with his tequila, totally nailed it the first time, and I think that’s made people trust him and his brands.” Not that the product has needed much of a marketing boost. 

In less than one year since the bottles hit shelves, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum has collected a number of top industry accolades, including a gold medal at the 2013 Los Angeles International Spirits Competition in May. Earlier this year, the rum also received a score of 94 (out of 100) from The Tasting Panel; the highest score the publication has ever awarded to white rum. The rum also plays a part in Hagar’s efforts to give back to the Maui community. Through the Hagar Family Foundation he’s given more than $1 million to local charities.

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With production on Maui humming along (at last check it was at 1,000 cases per month) and distribution of the flagship product in all 50 states, Hagar and his team already have set their sights on expanding the brand and making the operation more accessible to the general public. First up is a new rum that captures a different essence of Hawaii: macadamia nuts. Nigbur takes the base rum, infuses it with Hawaiian macadamias, and then adds a organic red dye. The result is a rum that works best as a floater on the top of a Mai Tai. That—and the fact that Hagar fans call themselves “Redheads”—is how the product got its name: Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum Red Head Topper. “There are so many flavors on Maui that you really can’t find anywhere else,” says Nigbur. “When you consider how easy it is to infuse rum with some of these flavors, there are literally dozens of things we can do down the road.” Hagar admits there are other products in the pipeline, including barrel-aged rums akin to reposado and añejo iterations of tequila. When pressed for specifics, he demurs. Instead, he prefers to croon about plans for a new tasting room at the facility near Makawao.

Currently, when visitors want a closer look at the inner workings of Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, due to state liquor laws all they can get is a scheduled tour. By the end of this year, however, the company will roll out a public-facing education center that offers a history of the area, a step-by-step look at how the rum is made, and an up-close-and personal experience with the cane fields just outside the front door. After receiving approval from local authorities, the new facility also will include a tasting bar where visitors can sample some of the rum first-hand. “It’s hard not to get excited about this stuff on Maui,” says Hagar. “Everywhere you look, the cane is around you. It’s part of the experience. We’re using the best sugarcane in the world. You can taste it every time you make a drink.”

Sammy’s Maui Hideaways

Mama’s Fish House: “The ambiance and the view at this restaurant [in Paia] are just unbeatable. The place is right on the beach, so after dinner you can walk out and look at the waves. The food isn’t the greatest, but it’s not terrible, either. There’s lots of fresh fish. I’m a big fan of wahoo, so when they have it, I get that. I just get it grilled; I don’t want anything on it. I also like the Beef Polynesian—it’s basically steak served in a papaya. On the islands, you can’t do any better than that.” 

Hana: “This town is so special, there’s just nothing like it on Earth anymore. It’s rustic. It’s untouched. Everybody talks about the Hana Highway, but the drive around the backside of the island to get there is amazing, too. Do the loop and you’ll see 1,000 of the greatest views Hawaii has to offer.” 

Makena Landing Beach Park: “Locals love the beaches near Wailea, but most of them go to Big Beach and Little Beach in Makena. We prefer this one, just beyond the Fairmont Kea Lani. There’s a nice shelter for picnics, and it’s family-friendly—hardly ever crowded.”

Makawao Rodeo: “If you’re a horse person, don’t miss the Makawao Rodeo, which they hold [in Makawao, an upcountry village,] July 4 every year. It has cowboys and horses and all that, but they also have a parade with traditional costumes and all sorts of booths with food like deep-fried Twinkies.”

Why Tequila Is Your New Favorite Spirit

Why Tequila Is Your New Favorite Spirit

July 24, 2019

A vintage jukebox stands against the wall in La Capilla, the oldest bar in the magical city of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, the birthplace of tequila and a city named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006. An American tourist drops his coins and makes his selection—a classic by famed mariachi singer Javier Solis. Above the strains of Solis’s recording of “Sombras Nada Mas,” Don Javier Delgado Corona, the white-haired proprietor of La Capilla, smiles broadly as he prepares a fresh batch of his signature cocktail, the Batanga, which he first concocted in the early 1960s.

The corner bar is modest, decorated mostly with black-and-white photos of famous celebrities, paintings of beautiful women, mismatched bar stools and a careful selection of tequilas from the region, most from tequileros (tequila producers) and their families whom Don Javier has known personally for decades. Meanwhile, on a drizzly February afternoon in the heart of downtown Santa Monica, Calif., Marco Antonio Ramos Monterrubio, the dapper and energetic manager of Mercado tequila bar, and head mixologist Gilbert Marquez discuss their next tequila acquisitions for a new cocktail menu.

Arranged fresh-cut flowers and flatware are already placed on long, wooden, communal tables, where strangers—sitting elbow-to-elbow on bustling evenings—become quick friends over a few rounds. Mercado, recently voted Best New Restaurant of 2013 by Los Angeles Magazine, has rapidly become a go-to destination to try the latest in tequila trends and cocktails. While on the surface its atmosphere is far removed from that of cantinas like La Capilla, its tequila philosophy is strikingly similar at its core in terms of tradition and quality.

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Know Your Tequila Styles 

Unaged tequila usually bottled straight from the still. Flavors and scents range from floral and spices to fruits and herbs. Baked and raw agave flavors, along with a hint of smoke, are a plus. 

Reposadao: Typically aged between two and 11 months. Flavors and scents include whiskey, oak, toasted almonds, nuts, vanilla and honey. 
Anejo: Must be aged in wooden barrels between one and three years. Flavors and scents are never-ending: nuts, whiskey, oak, Cognac, bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee and slight agave.  
Extra Anejo: These gems are aged for three or more years and/or blended. Flavors and scents are dessert-like: rich vanilla, dark chocolate, raisins, dried cherries, sherry, coffee, plus smoke, leather and tobacco.

Demand on the Rise

There are 1,300 brands of tequila in production worldwide, of which more than 1,000 are exported to the United States. In 2011 alone, 12 million cases of tequila were sold in the States. Americans, it seems, can’t get enough of Mexico’s native spirit. One of the keys to tequila’s recent popularity has been the distillers’ ability to offer a tequila for every budget and occasion. According to the latest statistics from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the largest growth has been in the High End Premium and Super Premium segments of the market, both of which are composed of 100 percent blue agave tequilas, as opposed to mixto tequilas made from a combination of at least 51 percent blue weber agave and 49 percent “other sugars.” While the mixto market still pays the bills for most of the mass-produced brands, it’s the 100 percent agave tequilas that discerning drinkers love.

Evolving Tastes

“Jose Cuervo was founded in 1795, and Mexico’s independence was in 1810. That’s how far back tequila goes,” explains Monterrubio. “Jose Cuervo, the man, was a good man. It’s not his fault that you met him during your college years with a really bad product.” Thankfully, choking down tequila shots with lime and salt is a thing of the past. Pure agave tequilas have enjoyed an astonishing renaissance in the past decade as American consumers have become much more interested in and savvy about the product. They’re seeking education through tequila tastings at restaurants such as Mercado— which pairs tequilas with its specialty menu items—and by attending popular tequila events around the country. It also helps that the art and science of mixology has evolved beyond a few standard tequila cocktails thanks to creative bartenders who are reshaping the spirits industry in the U.S. “When people start to learn about tequila, they have to go through cocktails first,” explains Marquez. “They first order a margarita and then start easing their way into tequila.”

Tequila Trends

Quenching America’s substantial thirst is an ongoing challenge for the tequila industry, since the spirit is arguably the most highly regulated in the world. Global demand from countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China is also on the rise. Major producers like Casa Herradura, Sauza and Jose Cuervo have adopted more modern techniques and equipment within industry guidelines to make the tequila making process more efficient and to help keep up with the demand. 

A diffuser, for instance, is a machine used to chop raw agave much more thoroughly than a traditional shredder would after the plants have been harvested and shaved of their spiky leaves, called pencas. Many large producers also bake the agave in giant autoclaves rather than in traditional stone ovens, and they over-distill the post-fermented juice more than the lawfully required two times in order to achieve a smoother-tasting product. These steps may lead to more efficient and profitable production methods, but the resulting tequila is often stripped of much of its character. And while it may be tempting for smaller brands to employ such time-saving methods to keep pace with growing demand, the quality of the product is paramount, says Ken Austin, founder and chairman of Avión Spirits. The company launched its Avión Tequilas three years ago and has enjoyed rapid growth ever since. “The key is, as you get bigger, you have to stay true to the principles that made you successful in the first place,” Austin says. “We will never shortcut our brand or our customers.”

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The New Old School

The influx of more 100 percent agave tequila brands has bolstered the small- to medium-sized producers. These newer brands tend to be small-batched, micro-distilled, handcrafted and are more representative of old-school tequila in terms of style and production methods. And, as Don Javier at La Capilla knows, the age-old art of relationship building between tequila producers and their clientele still helps the best products rise to the top. Mercado’s Monterrubio, for example, is certified as a catador, or tequila taster, from the Mexican Tequila Academy, one of only two such schools in existence. He knows his tequilas and maintains a personal connection with the brand owners he decides to carry at Mercado. 

For Monterrubio, there are three main considerations when he’s evaluating a tequila: It has to taste good first and foremost, and it should also be handmade and of very high quality. He also appreciates if the brand has some history behind it—say if the same family has been making this same tequila for hundreds of years—or, in the case of new makers, if they’re innovating within tradition. Whether you visit a historic tequila bar like La Capilla or frequent a modern gem like Mercado, your experience is guaranteed to be memorable thanks to tequila’s proven versatility and the creativity and quality of the burgeoning handcrafted category.

Straight from the Source

Tequila has an appellation of origin like Champagne or Cognac. One hundred percent agave tequila must be grown, distilled and bottled in the Mexican states of Narayit, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato and Jalisco. Blue weber agave, tequila’s primary material, is a plant related to the lily family and may take up to six to eight years to mature. Jalisco, where the majority of tequila is produced, has both highlands and lowlands just like Scotland, where whiskey (Scotch) is produced. There are several different microclimates in between, but as a general rule highlands blue agave produces sweeter and smoother-tasting tequilas, with definite floral and citrus notes, while lowlands blue agave produces robust and spicy tequilas with more earthy tones. 

Mescal, tequila’s cousin, is produced from several types of maguey (agave), most notably espadín, tobalá and arroquense. These, too, may take up to eight years to mature. Like tequila, mescal is also protected by an appellation of origin and must be grown, distilled and bottled in the Mexican states of Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Due to its production process, in which the harvested core of the maguey is roasted underground in fire pits for several hours, mescal acquires a very distinct smoky flavor and aroma. 

Four Brands at the Forefront of Small-Batch

Tequila Fortaleza:brand owned by fifthgeneration tequilero Guillermo Erickson Sauza, still produces its tequila at the last remaining distillery owned by the celebrated Sauza family. A working museum, it uses a tahona, or stone-mill wheel, to crush the agave before it’s fermented and distilled, imparting a distinctive flavor that is unmistakable. 
Tapatio: has been a favored brand in Mexico for years and launched in the U.S. in 2012. Manufactured at La Alteña distillery, considered one of the most important tequila factories in the industry, the brand is known for its fearless approach. So daring, in fact, that a 110-proof version will be available soon. 
Tequila Ocho: Owned by the UK’s official tequila ambassador, American Tom (Tomás) Estes, is one of only a handful of brands that insist on using single-estate agave. It’s fermented, distilled and bottled as a vintage with the name of the estate from which the agave was harvested on the label. 
Alquimia: is a member of an elite group of certified organic tequilas. Owner Dr. Adolfo Murillo harvests blue agave from his family farm using sustainable organic growing protocols. 

Explore Napa Valley’s Wine Excellence

Napa-Valley-Hero

Explore Napa Valley's Wine Excellence

July 24, 2019

Few images of wine country are as iconic as the white water tower and solitary silver oak rising from the vineyard floor. The image has graced the label of every Cabernet Sauvignon bottle from Napa Valley’s fabled Silver Oak Cellars winery since its inaugural vintage, and is representative of the winery’s singular focus. “Do one thing, and do it well,” says CEO and President David Duncan of Silver Oak’s guiding philosophy. Silver Oak produces only two wines: Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley. Both are aged for about two years exclusively in American oak, and both enjoy cult status among connoisseurs and collectors, which is no small feat in a region that produces some of the world’s most elegant and sought-after Cabernet Sauvignons.

While Silver Oak has built its considerable reputation on producing Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively, its younger sister winery, Twomey, is more experimental and specializes in modern interpretations of Old World wine across a variety of styles, starting with Pomerol style Merlot with a New World sensibility. “It’s a perfect complement for the ethos of Silver Oak,” says David, whose father, Ray Duncan, founded Silver Oak in the early 1970s. Silver Oak releases its wines four and a half years after harvest, and although these wines are ready to drink, they’re also capable of aging another 15 years.

This steadfast schedule doesn’t allow time to adjust to current winemaking trends, and its unwavering approach has created the legend that is Silver Oak. “‘Trust’ is a favorite word we hear from customers,” David says. “Instead of trying to change according to critics’ palates, we keep putting out wine that is drinkable.”  

Twomey shares that dedication to releasing drinkable wines that also pair well with food, but produces a variety of styles that allow Twomey to utilize and fine-tune winemaking techniques that are best suited to each specific varietal. In addition to Merlot, Twomey also produces appellation and estate Pinot Noirs and an estate Sauvignon Blanc. “My brother, Tim, is a Burgundy lover, so he is a big influence with our Pinot Noir, and the women in the family all like white wine, so we added Sauvignon Blanc to the lineup,” David says. It’s fair to say that, as different as they are, both wineries are still very much in the same family. 

Raymond Twomey Duncan, an entrepreneur from Denver, co-founded Silver Oak winery with Christian Brothers enologist Justin Meyer in 1972. Their singular goal was to produce a world-class Cabernet; it’s what David refers to as his father’s “Cab is king” mentality. Producing just one wine was seen as renegade and risky, which is something of a Duncan family hallmark. Additionally, Meyer insisted on holding the wines to age until they were ready to drink—at the time an unorthodox practice in California—believing that the tannins needed time to mellow and driven by the desire to make an approachable wine that’s drinkable on release.  

By the mid-’80s, the highly allocated wine was in such fierce demand that hundreds of customers would line up outside the winery and spend the night before the annual release date. Duncan jokes, “They’re still lining up, but we don’t let people spend the night anymore.” “Silver Oak is a phenomenal success story,” says Ian Blackburn, founder of Learn About Wine in Los Angeles. “It’s a paramount brand that has been unwavering in its approach to the market. They did it their way— making Cabernet in what has now become a Cabernet state. Many Napa wineries started lining up their release dates around Silver Oak’s. It’s as if Silver Oak had the crystal ball.” Indeed it’s a legacy that seems almost charmed.

“I got a call from my dad,” says David Duncan, who was then heading up Duncan Oil in Denver. Within hours, David and his wife, Kary, who was serving as assistant chief of medicine at the University of Colorado, made the decision to pack up their life in Denver and make the move to Napa Valley. But David’s move to Napa wasn’t the only change for the Duncan family, which was finally expanding its sights beyond Cabernet Sauvignon. The previous year, in 1999, Ray Duncan had bought the Soda Canyon Ranch, mainly for the Cabernet, but “our winemaker, Daniel [Baron], got very excited about the French clones of Merlot in the vineyard,” says David Duncan. “So we decided to make a single-vineyard Merlot. Because Silver Oak was to remain strictly focused on Cabernet, the Duncans named the new Merlot winery Twomey, Ray’s mother’s maiden name.

 The partnership between Duncan and Meyer still existed at Silver Oak; however, Twomey was founded as a Duncan family venture. “With Twomey, the Duncans decided to plant a stick in the ground with Merlot,” says Blackburn. “That’s a powerful move from a label that is synonymous with Cabernet.” Like his father, David is a renegade—perhaps something he picked up during all those summers working on a cattle ranch in Colorado as a teenager. When he wants something, he goes after it. His commitment to making world-class Merlot at Twomey continues with the recent appointment of winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet of Château Pétrus fame as a consultant to Twomey’s winemaking team. If you want to make the best Merlot in the New World, you hire the guy making the best Merlot in the world.  

“Much of my style of winemaking is based on [Berrouet’s] aesthetic,” says Baron. “In fact, I often credit my time with him [at Pétrus and Dominus] as one of the inspirations that led to Twomey Cellars. JeanClaude knows how to combine subtlety, intensity and balance in a wine, and his joy of living comes through in every glass.” Today, Silver Oak’s landmark wooden water tower and headquarters in Oakville—constructed from hand-quarried limestone reclaimed from a 19th-century cooperage—stand in stark contrast to Twomey’s sleek tasting room in nearby Healdsburg; the different styles make an apt metaphor for the two wineries’ distinct identities. As different as the two wineries may appear, however, they’re united by the family’s singular vision and unwavering pursuit of excellence. “Our model is focus,” David says. And whether it’s Silver Oak’s dedication to perfecting a single varietal based on 40 years of experience or Twomey’s more varied and experimental approach, their shared vision remains clear. 

3 Must-Try Iconic Dishes from Around the World

3 Must-Try Iconic Dishes from Around the World

July 23, 2019

One of the most exciting parts of traveling is trying the local cuisines. The availability of herbs, spices, proteins and grains varies greatly from country to country, so local dishes are an ode to tradition in every way. If you find yourself in the following parts of the world, be sure to try these three iconic dishes.

Bouillabaisse in Marseille, France 

How to make the authentic bouillabaisse is always a subject of lively discussion among French experts,” wrote Julia Child in The French Chef Cookbook. “Each always insists that his own is the only correct version.” In fact, the ingredients and methods used for preparing, plating, serving and eating this iconic seafood stew are so passionately debated that in 1980, 11 restaurants in Marseille signed an official Charter of Bouillabaisse dictating what kind of fish could be used to make a truly authentic rendition. 

What began as a humble fisherman’s stew has been elevated to one of the great dishes of the world. Traditional bouillabaisse includes a variety of Mediterranean fish such as breams, gurnards, mullets, sea eels, weavers, wrasses and rockfish, some of which are to eat and others to disintegrate into the broth. Typically, fish are served on a platter and the broth—a rich mixture of tomato, garlic, saffron, olive oil and potato—in a tureen lined with toasted bread. Broth is then spooned from the tureen into large soup plates or bowls and topped with the fish. Diners use large spoons and forks until just the remnants are left, which can be scooped up with crusty baguettes slathered with rouille—a thick chili-spiked sauce made with breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil. But not all bouillabaisse is created equal, and there are plenty of restaurants peddling subpar versions to tourists. 

This is a dish on which it pays to spend more, which considering how much fresh seafood is involved, should cost upwards of €40. While bouillabaisse remains one of the most beloved dishes of the Mediterranean, several Marseille chefs are putting a fresh spin on the classic. Apparently the statute of limitations on the charter has run out. At Le Pétit Nice, Gérald Passédat serves a deconstructed version called “Bouille Abaisse” that dramatically arrives as a tower of dishes, while at Une Table au Sud the dish is reimagined as a frothy milk shake with delicate layers of mousse, fish and potatoes.

Where to Find It

-Calypso Restaurant: Bouillabaisse is prepared and served according to the traditional methods established in the official Charter of Bouillabaisse. The separate components—fish, broth and toasted bread—are plated tableside.
-L’epuisette: The Michelin-starred chef Guillaume Sorrieu serves a modern interpretation of “Fisherman’s Bouillabaisse” that is as memorable as the view. 
-Chez FonFon: Grab a window seat at this old-school favorite, perched along the picturesque port of Vallon des Auffes, overlooking the fishing boats that supply the daily catch. 
-Le Petit Nice: This opulent presentation of the region’s most beloved dish from Provence’s only three-star Michelin chef is enjoyed as part of a bouillabaisse tasting menu.  
-Le Miramar: It’s a good idea to order your bouillabaisse in advance when booking your table at this renowned restaurant in the heart of the Old Port. 
-Une Table Au Sud: At this modern one-star Michelin restaurant, chef Lionel Lévy serves a clever and nuanced take on bouillabaisse.

Fried Chicken in America’s Deep South

There might be nothing more American than apple pie, except perhaps fried chicken. Brought to the U.S. by Scottish immigrants and cooked in kitchens by African slaves in the Deep South, fried chicken started as a Southern staple but quickly became a national treasure. At its golden crispy best, fried chicken can trigger an emotional response. “Fried chicken is one of those things that people have certain reference points from their childhood,” says Jeff Cerciello, chef-owner of Farmshop in Brentwood, Calif. “Mine was the KFC that my parents got once a week for dinner. I grew up in the time of fast food restaurants. But tasting fried chicken in the Deep South, you really appreciate what fried chicken is. You learn an appreciation for these humble, simple foods.”

Fried Chicken

National institutions like The Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill, and Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles in Los Angeles have been setting the standard for decades with their crispy, salty, authentic fried chicken. There are few foods more pure in their perfection, so it’s little surprise that the dish has been exalted at some of the top tables around the country. At Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Napa Valley, where Cerciello first experimented with fried chicken, Keller soaks the chicken in a lemony brine before coating it in a buttermilk batter and deep-frying it. At Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Brooklyn, N.Y., cayenne and black pepper find their way into the batter, while jalapeño adds kick to the marinade at Max’s Wine Dive in Austin, Texas. 

“Starting with organic chicken is paramount,” says Cerciello. “We brine ours for 12 hours and then air dry it for a day to help dry out the skin, and then there’s the breading procedure, where the creativity comes in. We play with flour mixtures of whatever it is we are serving the chicken with. This time of year it’s citrus, maybe fennel seed in the batter; sometimes we’ll do dishes with eastern Mediterranean spices, sumac and thyme; sometimes we’ll do a lot of rosemary, a lot of herbs. But we try not to overthink it.” 

Where to Find It

-Birch & Barley: Chef Kyle Bailey goes haute serving Belgian waffles with his fried chicken in this classic brunch favorite.
-FarmshopChef Jeff Cerciello’s Sunday night fried chicken dinners are among the hottest gets in a town where every calorie counts.  
-Max’s Wine Dive: Fried chicken gets the Tex Mex treatment by soaking the pieces in a jalapeño buttermilk marinade before deep-frying to crispy perfection and serving with a glass of bubbly.  
-Pies ‘N’ Thighs: This Williamsburg spot is a favorite for its fried chicken seasoned with black pepper, cayenne and paprika.
-Restaurant Eugene: Esquire magazine voted Eugene’s fried chicken the best in the country. Chef Linton Hopkins serves it on Sunday nights with seasonal side dishes.

copenhagen denmark

Ebelskivers in Copenhagen, Denmark

Ebelskivers may be one of the few Danish foods that Americans can name thanks to the intriguing dimpled pans that beckon from the pages of the WilliamsSonoma catalog. In Denmark, they are traditionally served around Christmas with gløgg, Scandinavian mulled wine. The name ebelskiver, which translates to apple slice, refers to this simple, traditional Danish pancake ball that is often baked with apple inside. Sweet or savory, other popular fillings include jam, cheese, ham and even smoked fish. While purists would perish the thought of indulging in these ubiquitous holiday treats anytime outside of December, ebelskivers are having a moment, popping up year-round in surprisingly sophisticated incarnations including on the menu of the world’s best restaurant (as named by Restaurant magazine) Noma in Copenhagen.

“I always knew [ebelskivers] as those weird doughnuts you got in Solvang; the pans as the oddest item in the Williams-Sonoma catalog,” says Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize–winning restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. “But the ebelskivers at Noma were pretty swell: round, savory cakes, fresh from the pan, served with half a smoked fish sticking out from either side—it looked as if the herring extended all the way through.” Noma Executive Chef René Redzepi has also been known to serve a sea salt bone marrow version. Also giving ebelskivers the New Nordic treatment is Chef Thomas Herman, who, as the chef at Hotel Nimb until February, served eel-filled ebelskivers in a bisque of Jerusalem artichoke.

Where to Find It

-Acme: Acme is a modern bistro helmed by Chef Mads Refslund, who blends New Nordic cuisine with New American seasonal fare.
-Domku Bar & Café: Kera Carpenter has been serving ebelskivers year-round at her popular neighborhood cafe since she opened in 2005.
-Henry Public: At this Brooklyn saloon, ebelskivers are called Wilkinsons— after consulting chef (and former “Top Chef” culinary producer) Shannon Wilkinson—and are served with a rumcaramel dipping sauce.
-Malerklemmen: Restaurant Serving ebelskivers year-round, this charming, thatched-roof restaurant is about 20 miles from Copenhagen.
-Noma: At what is considered the best restaurant in the world, René Redzepi serves a haute rendition speared with a smoked fish.  

Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello’s Hot New Restaurant In Spain

Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello's Hot New Restaurant In Spain

July 15, 2019

During recent travels to Barcelona, award-winning Italian-American chef Michael Chiarello fell madly in love with Spain’s cuisine and culture. This spring, his infatuation takes the shape of a new San Francisco restaurant and a renewed affair with his first love: the kitchen.

During recent travels to Barcelona, award-winning Italian-American chef Michael Chiarello fell madly in love with Spain’s cuisine and culture. This spring, his infatuation takes the shape of a new San Francisco restaurant and a renewed affair with his first love: the kitchen.

There are those who make their mark doing one thing really well, and then there is Chef Michael Chiarello. An Emmy-Award winning television host, celebrated chef, restaurateur, author, vintner and purveyor of artisanal foods, Chiarello is one of the culinary world’s most respected and accomplished impresarios. The longtime Napa Valley resident is known for combining his Italian roots with a wine country lifestyle. This spring he opens Coqueta, a Spanish restaurant on the San Francisco waterfront, and releases Live Fire, his new book about cooking with an open flame. We recently caught up with Chiarello, 51, to talk about his unexpected love affair with Spain, farming the old-fashioned way and playing with fire.

We think of Michael Chiarello, and we think Italy. But your new restaurant, Coqueta, is Spanish. Why Spain? Good question. My eldest daughter is married and lives in Barcelona, which is one of the great cities of the world. I started making trips to visit her, and then I started traveling once or twice a year to Spain to scout and develop products for NapaStyle, my online store and catalog. I went where the artisans were, and I began to fall in love with the food. It’s so unlike Japanese or even French, which I was trained in. The food made sense; it translates well to what I’ve been doing.

Have you forsaken Italy for Spain? The ingredients in both cuisines are similar. It’s more of a dialect shift than anything else. I named the new restaurant Coqueta, which means “an infatuation.” It’s all the excitement you have when you are discovering something new. I’m 51. Spain is my midlife crisis—my Porsche 911.

Will this be a lasting love affair or just a fling? There’s an interesting correlation between three places that I adore. There’s Florence and the Chianti region. Then there’s San Francisco with Napa Valley and Sonoma in its backyard. Then there’s Barcelona, which is a seaside city like San Francisco surrounded by wine regions making cava. There is something about an exquisite city surrounded by vineyards— and a lifestyle that is similar.

Speaking of wine, you make your own. Do you make your wine to go with your food, or vice versa? How I farm is how I cook. I’ve been an organic farmer since 1997 on 20 acres of vineyard in St. Helena, where we live. We create the wine to go with the style of food we serve. We have some 100-year-old vineyards— some Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. We make a crazy white wine, Chiara Bianco, from an Italian grape called Ribolla Gialla. I can make a wine that goes with my restaurants and food, and so we can dream up interesting blends and combinations and varietals. Our wine is literally farm-to-table, which has become such a cliché. “Farm-to-table” isn’t new. It’s a centuries-old approach. It’s how they’ve always done it in the Old World. The closer you are to farming, the closer you are to better food.

We’re talking from an undisclosed TV set in Los Angeles. Anything we can share? Not yet. I’m looking for the perfect show. Keep your eyes peeled.

You’re known for so many things—your restaurants, cookbooks, television shows, artisanal food products and winery. What is your greatest passion? It all centers around cooking. I’m a chef, first and foremost. I have other inspirations, but food is my passion. My other projects, such as the Consorzio line of specialty foods I created and used at my Napa restaurant Tra Vigne and sold to customers, were part of sharing a unique dining experience that people could take into their own home kitchens. As I spent more and more time designing food products and hard goods for the restaurant, I developed a point of view through the filter of the Napa Valley. And NapaStyle grew out of that.

The artisanal food products and housewares you curate at NapaStyle have such an appealing aesthetic. How would you describe “Napa style”? Napa Valley has a strong European sense; it always has. There are influences from Spain—the Spanish planted some of the first vineyards— from Germany with Schramsberg, and also lots of Italians and lots of French. Geographically Napa lends itself to a more northern Italian sensibility, but it’s less about a specific aesthetic and more about a feeling—a lifestyle.

Is it true you like to play with fire? Yes. My new book, Live Fire, comes out in May. Every restaurant I’ve done has involved some sort of wood fire and using smoke to create dishes. The book explores the techniques of cooking over a live flame—both on the fire and in the fire, but not in the barbecue sense. I use techniques like cooking vegetables in the coals and turning them into a dish, or building a fire and cooking a whole lamb over metal crosses in an Argentinian way. I wanted to explore the social aspects of cooking over fire. There’s nothing more inviting than a cool night and friends gathered cooking and eating around a live fire.

Six Chefs Changing the Restaurant Scene

Six Chefs Changing the Restaurant Scene

July 11, 2019

From  London to Los Angeles, there was a time you knew what to expect when going out for a serious meal: white tablecloths, black ties, high prices… But a revolution is brewing from one culinary capital to the next, with renegade chefs turning the staid dining scene on its head. They’re cooking wild food in wide-open kitchens, mingling with diners, amping up the music. Formality’s out at many of the world’s most influential restaurants—and reservations are too. Here, we profile six trailblazing young chefs who are changing the way we dine. 

The Mad Scientist

Chicago was once exclusively a meat and potatoes town, tired and traditional, powerhouse meals there judged by the size of the steak on your plate. A few years back, though, a handful of brazen young chefs began taking their food way out on a limb, tinkering with new kitchen gadgets—and with powders, gels and chemical compounds—carving out a new niche, as avant-garde in its own way as the Steppenwolf Theatre. Leading the charge among these mad scientist chefs was a baby-faced native of Michigan named Grant Achatz, who opened his flagship, Alinea, in 2005 when he was just 29. With its abstract food and space-age décor you might have been dining on the Holo-deck of the USS Enterprise. The restaurant served 23-course tasting menus that veered from savory to sweet and back again. One dish may have been flash-chilled on an anti-griddle at minus 30 degrees, another served on a pillow inflated with enticing aromas. 

The restaurant, which remains one of the toughest reservations in the Windy City, has earned its chef every possible accolade. Two years into its very good run, Achatz, diagnosed with tongue cancer, lost his ability to taste. He chronicled his recovery and struggle to keep the restaurant going in a memoir, Life, On the Line. Last year, cancer-free, he pushed the envelope further still, launching a new project, Next, that changes its menu and concept every three months (a recent run focused on Sicily). The restaurant, which sells tickets to dinner, may be the country’s most impossible to get into, with tables sold on Craigslist for as much as $3,000 apiece. 

The Vegetable King

In a country where mushy peas, canned beans and frozen French fries pass for vegetables and meat pies and battered fish remain fast-food staples, building a national reputation on fresh, local produce is no easy feat. In recent years, though, Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetable-centric, multicultural cooking has become a sensation not just across London but beyond British borders as well. The Israel-born chef was already a big star by the time he opened his first serious restaurant, Nopi, last year in London’s West End. He’d built a citywide following with his deluxe deli chain (known for its gorgeous salad displays) and his weekly column, “The New Vegetarian,” in the Guardian newspaper. The chef ’s cookbook, Plenty, has become a bestseller in the U.S. as well. 

His is vegetable cookery for carnivores—not vegetarians—putting meat, fish and fowl in supporting roles mostly. The menu at Nopi, which takes a Middle Eastern-style shared plate approach, features exotic flavors from around the world—with tastes of Southeast Asia (banana leaf steamed fish), Italy (romano peppers with almond pesto), India (pea fritters with cardamom yogurt) and Japan (misobutterscotch duck), among other spots on the globe. Ottolenghi, who is all about building bridges, in life and in food, is partner in all of his ventures with a Palestinian, Sami Tamimi. 

The Outlaw

French haute cuisine, once a national treasure, has in recent years become a bit of a public relations embarrassment, the country’s best restaurants eclipsed on the international stage by edgier spots in Denmark, Spain—even the U.S. and England. The creativity’s been stymied, say critics, by the staid standards of the Michelin star system, and by the complacency that comes from being too long on top. Raffish young chef Inaki Aizpitarte doesn’t look much like French food’s salvation, with his scruffy beard and rock-star demeanor. The Basque-born provocateur—a sort of food world Serge Gainsbourg—rose to prominence overnight in 2006 when he launched his first restaurant, Le Chateaubriand, in the still rough-and-tumble Belleville section of Paris

The place, which looks like any old casual bistro, serves a daily changing five-course tasting menu that, at 55 euros, is one of the best deals in town. It’s also one of the hardest to get your hands on. The phone at the restaurant is rarely answered, and drop-ins aren’t particularly encouraged either. The service inside is famously brusque and the food, based entirely on the chef’s personal whims—and his mercurial moods—can vary dramatically from night to night, brilliant one time, a disaster the next. In spite of all that, Aizpitarte is perhaps the most talked about young chef in Paris these days. Though his restaurant has no Michelin stars, it’s widely considered among the most exciting places to eat in the city (ranked 15th on an influential list of the world’s greatest restaurants). His new spot, Le Dauphin—right next door—serves natural wines and cutting-edge tapas in an austere space designed by superstar architect Rem Koolhaas.

The Fire Breather

The California food revolution that spread across the country back in the ’80s—banishing butter for olive oil, putting fresh, seasonal produce on everyone’s table—started in the Bay Area. Its legacy lives on in the locavore fervor and clean, simple flavors still found at many of San Francisco’s top restaurants. But an alternative take on California cooking has been gaining momentum in recent years, reflecting the state’s fiery, funky demographic stew. Danny Bowien, an Oklahoma-born Korean-American chef, is the new poster boy for this new melting-pot style of cooking, combining flavors from across the Asian Diaspora with his barbecue-belt sensibility. Mission Chinese Food, the restaurant he’s run with partner Anthony Mynt since 2010, may be the city’s most unlikely sensation. The business, which started as a food truck, donates a portion of its profits to charity.

It operates out of a derelict Chinese joint in the city’s Mission District that still looks exactly as it did before they moved in, although the long nightly lines out front attest to the explosive cooking found within. Bowien touches on Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean tastes, but his real focus here is on the incendiary numb of traditional Szechuan cooking. His auteur take on this spiciest of Chinese regional cuisines is not for the faint-of-heart, with five-alarm dishes, like “mouth-watering” chicken and Kung Pao pastrami. Recently Bowien launched a New York branch of the restaurant that may be even more popular than the San Francisco original.

The Crazy Carnivores

Until recently, the Los Angeles food scene at the high-end was much more about preening than eating. The hottest restaurants catered to starlets watching their fragile figures with light salads, cold soups and poached salmon entrées with sauce on the side. Tandem-chef team Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (they met in culinary school in Ft. Lauderdale) snubbed the status quo when they opened up Animal in 2008. The restaurant, serving gluttonous “dude food” with a focus on off-cuts of meat, became an overnight sensation nonetheless. 

 Angelenos, who’d apparently had just about enough of watching their waistlines, piled into the casual venue (with barely a sign on the door), passing around crispy “buffalo style” pig’s tails, veal brains with vadouvan curry and big lobes of foie gras in a Hawaiian-style Loco Moco with quail egg and Spam (before fattened duck liver was banned in the state). The chefs even slipped bacon into dessert. Son of a Gun, their second venture together, opened just up the street from their first spot at the start of the year. It features a gut-busting take on all things from the sea, including alligator schnitzel and shrimp toast with sriracha mayo. The slightly more decked-out new venue, with kitschy clamshack décor, has been packed since opening night.  

The Rise of Irish Whiskey

The Rise of Irish Whiskey

July 9, 2019

Tonight, the entire bar is painted in shades of Irish whiskey. Mica-shaded lamps cast a golden glow down the length of the copper-tiled bar top. Even the jazz playing on the sound system lends an appropriately sepia-toned speakeasy backdrop. And every glass glints with the amber hue of whiskey.

“Have you ever considered changing the name of the bar to Whiskey Library?” I ask the bartender at Tribeca’s Brandy Library. (Despite the name, whiskey outsells brandy here.) He just smiles indulgently, and pours me another dram of single malt Irish whiskey. Yeah, you heard me, buddy (something about the hardscrabble history of Irish whiskey always inspires a little tough talk)—single malt isn’t only for Scotch. In fact, Irish whiskey offers a number of excellent bottlings to rival whiskey of any provenance. But the irony is that while Ireland is making plenty of great whiskey, very little of it is staying there. Instead, many of Ireland’s high-end whiskeys are being sent to the U.S., the country’s number-one export market for spirits—including New York, a city densely populated with Americans of Irish descent. Which has landed me here in downtown Manhattan, scanning one of the best Irish whiskey lists in New York.

Growing Fast

Over a glass of The Tyrconnell’s 10-year-old single malt—an Irish rose that spends its final months in casks that previously held Madeira, giving the whiskey a pleasingly nutty, faintly peachy flavor—Brandy Library’s Head Spirit Sommelier, Joel Cueller Flores, describes Irish whiskey’s recent ascent. “Irish whiskey has more accessible and approachable flavors” compared to other types of whiskey, he explains. When set next to challenging Scotch and oft-sweet bourbon, golden Irish whiskies are light and fresh, often fruity and grassy, and with a light hand on the peat, if it’s used at all. Yet, they’re still complex enough to hold a drinker’s interest.

No wonder gentle, drinkable Irish whiskey has been building quite a fan base on American shores. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing spirit category in the United States, with an enviable 23.6 percent increase in volume sales in 2011 alone. Much of that popularity can be traced to a single brand, Jameson, which has developed a following among younger drinkers. While Jameson may have blazed that trail, other labels are paving it gold with aged blends that have matured in port or sherry casks, and unique limited-edition bottlings. Only a month earlier, I’d traveled through Ireland—and frankly, I hadn’t noticed most of these brands on the shelves at pubs and bars. In Ireland, the whiskey offerings were fairly limited, and most people seemed to drink beer or wine, not whiskey. How could this possibly be?

“Yeah, they don’t really drink much whiskey in Ireland,” confirms Tim Herlihy, an Ireland native who relocated to New York in November to become a brand ambassador for William Grant’s Tullamore brand (they call him “Tullamore Tim”). Whiskey doesn’t have the same cachet there that it has in the U.S., he explained. But it wasn’t always that way.

History by the Highball

In its early days, Irish whiskey was widely considered superior to all other European whiskies. Queen Elizabeth I was said to favor Irish whiskey; Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, wrote, “Of all the wines, the Irish spirit is the best.” Even Scottish distillers would export their wares to Ireland and have them stamped as Irish before selling them back at home for a higher price.

What made Irish whiskey so wonderful? Most experts point to the use of round-bellied pot stills for imparting character and flavor during the distillation process. The pot still continues to play a significant part in Irish whiskey’s flavor today. But a key turning point came in 1830 when Irishman Aeneas Coffey developed the column still, allowing distillers to produce in a week what would take nine months to make in a traditional pot still. Though it was cheaper and more accessible, the end product paled in comparison to pot-still whiskey, and prominent Irish distillers of the day dismissed the tasteless spirit that flowed from the column still as “silent spirit.” The Scots, however, were more receptive, and from 1860 onward, they started selling a whole new product: a blend of “silent spirit” and heartier potstill whiskies. Scotch was born.

Unfortunately, the century that followed saw a downward spiral for Irish whiskey, thanks to an unusual confluence of events. The war that eventually led to Ireland’s independence also led to an economic standoff, and the loss of the English markets. Just a decade later, Prohibition meant the loss of America as an export market. It may have seemed like the end of the line for Irish whiskey—but there was still some fight in the industry yet.

Fighting Irish

Threatened with extinction in the early 1900s, the Irish whiskey industry banded together into a single company. Even today, the Irish labels are produced at just three distilleries (Scotland, by comparison has nearly 100 operational distilleries). But the Irish whiskey comeback didn’t truly pick up steam until the “Celtic Tiger” days of the early 1990s, when it began to awaken from its long slumber. 

The Cooley Distillery opened for business and began resurrecting old Irish brands like Tyrconnell—and also resurrected the use of the pot still. Today, the key players are: Bushmills, in Northern Ireland (owned by Diageo); the New Midleton Distillery, near Cork, which produces Jameson, Redbreast (both owned by Pernod Ricard) and Tullamore Dew (owned by William Grant), among others; and Cooley, on Ireland’s east coast, which produces Tyrconnell, Connemara and Michael Collins, among others. Cooley is the youngest and, until its recent acquisition by U.S. spirits company Jim Beam, was the last independent, Irishowned distillery in operation. 

Rounding out the current landscape, some also count micro-distillery Kilbeggan, bringing the tally to “three and a half.” And in September 2012, Tullamore opened its doors as the first new Irish distillery in 60 years, although distillation isn’t anticipated to start until 2014. Since many of the fine aged Irish whiskeys coming to market now were first created during the Celtic Tiger period, the greats wouldn’t have been ready for release until quite recently. After all, the oldest Irish whiskey on the market— Bushmill’s 21-year-old—had to be put down for its beauty sleep in 1991. But most importantly: This means an influx of excellent whiskeys is coming to market.

Going Luxe

Now, Irish whiskey is more than ready for prime time. Consider, for example, the Irish whiskey “flight” offered at Brandy Library to showcase the ever-widening array of flavors in the category. Tipplers can taste their way through amber drams of Greenore 8-year-old, with a corn-heavy recipe that bears comparison to its cornfed American cousin, bourbon; luxe Knappogue Castle 16-year-old, with its aromatic sherry maltiness; or even the surprising smoky notes of Connemara, perhaps the only peated Irish whiskey on the market (and a good transition for those who enjoy peaty Islay Scotches).

“I love all of these,” insists Flores, when prompted to pick a favorite. “If you offer me a glass of any of these, I’ll not turn it down.” It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s never been a better time in recent history for those who love Irish whiskey. The options are wider—and better—than ever before, and it’s taken a luxurious turn. It may not be long before we all start viewing the world through the warm, welcoming amber of Irish whiskey-colored glasses.

The Best Restaurants to Try This Fall

The Best Restaurants to Try This Fall

July 5, 2019

Ah, travel. You plan and plot to piece together that unforgettable, in-the-moment experience you’ve dreamt of for months, maybe years. Shouldn’t the cuisine be as awe-inspiring as the scenery? Of course it should. Summer is not the only season to dine outdoors. Indeed, by incorporating the beauty of autumn and the uniqueness of the locale into your dining scene—be it a harborside patio on the Cote d’Azur or a riverside perch in California wine country—you are sure to unwrap one of travel’s greatest rewards. We’ve sought out four tempting tables around the world that you should treat yourself to … show-stopping scenery included. 

Mediterranean Magic; Achill's Villefranche-sur-Mer in France

What says romantic summer frolicking more than pretty Provence? From turquoise waters to balletshoe pink rosé flowing from carafes up and down the Cote d’Azur, it’s the ultimate beach-centric getaway. Add the soundtrack of lapping waves and lilting langue Française and you have a dream in motion. But there are an awful lot of ho-hum (and overpriced) eateries along the beauteous blue coast—and with such belle scène in your midst, you’d like the eye candy to continue on the plate, bien sûr

For a seat with a sweeping view of a small harbor just outside Nice, check out Achill’s in Villefranche. Entering its third season, Achill’s delightfully chilled-out vibe and simple but super-fresh menu make it the kind of place you’ll find your sandaland-sarong-clad self wandering into more than once. Grab a seat on either the umbrelladotted terrace or the see-for-miles rooftop (closed during the winter months) and hunker down for honest Provencal cuisine without the price gouging.

Start off with a chilly, vibrant-orange bowl of refreshing gazpacho, dig into a pile of plump moules mariniéres, the sweet velvety mollusks made fragrant with white wine, garlic and fresh herbs, or perhaps a slice of tatin de chèvre et courgettes (goat cheese and zucchini tart). Just make sure you abandon all restraint at the door, ending it all with their light-as-air white chocolate crepes. C’est magnifique 

On the Vineyard, California Wine Country

Husband-wife chefs Estes and John Stewart have always been inspired by the terrific local produce that surrounds their successful Sonoma-centric spots: Zazu in Santa Rosa and the late, great Bovolo in Healdsburg. But their recently opened Zazu on the River will inspire you, too. Grab an umbrella-shaded table in the midst of the organic garden (where your meal’s ingredients have just been plucked, naturally) overlooking the gurgling Russian River and get ready to dig into John and Duskie’s decadent dishes.

This California wine country gem is open only during the day, an idyllic hideout to while away an afternoon. Graze upon the maple-bacon popcorn, black pig bacon-wrapped dates, and bright watermelon and blistered-tomato gazpacho while sipping on wines from Davis Family Vineyards. And to be filed under ThrowYour-Calorie-Counting-in-the-Russian River: Do not under any circumstances miss Duskie’s peanut butter ice cream sandwich, complete with chocolate dipping sauce from America’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Scharffen Berger of San Francisco. 

Rooftop Splendor; The NoMad Hotel

Manhattan, Beyond Central Park, or a trek out to the beach in the Rockaways, it can be challenging to find great outdoor space in New York City. Rather than trying to carve out a narrow sidewalk spot, one of the best newcomers in the city opted to build up instead. The intensely talented chef Daniel Humm—who made his mark at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park—is rolling aces at his new spot, NoMad Hotel, as well.

Humm’s ethereal dishes with outstanding ingredients are even better sampled on the pedestal perch of the eponymous lower Midtown Beaux Arts-style hotel’s rooftop. It can be about as tough to score a seat as scaling the sides of the building itself. Reservations for each day are sold in the form of tickets that are available starting at 11 a.m. from the website only. But, oh, is it worth it… Up, up in the elevator you’ll go, opening to decadent velour-upholstered seating in the lounge for cocktails and the first course, and then off to the round tumbled-marble table for the rest of the four courses of the nightly tasting menu. Escaping the bustle of the streets below, this rooftop nest serves romance and glamour in the ultimate urban al fresco environment.

Ciao Time; Il Postale, Tuscany

It’s a given that you will drink well in Tuscany. Is it also a given that you will eat well in Tuscany? Well, surprisingly, no. To dine deliciously among the rolling hills and dales of the Tuscan countryside takes a little bit of exploring. And one of the greatest finds in all the region is the forward-thinking cuisine of chef Marco Bistarelli, whose Michelin-starred Il Postale in hilltop-perched Perugia will, quite frankly, blow your mind. 

Here, we trade al fresco dining for dining under historic ceiling frescos at one of only four tables in the medieval stone Monterone Castle (theatrical European setting: check). While the storybook scenery is vacationdreamy, as soon as the food arrives you could be eating in a box for all you’ll notice—every ounce of attention will be on Bistarelli’s beautiful plate presentations and your taste buds, as whispers of “mmmmm” and “ohhhh” and “yummmmm” breeze through the room. Peer inside the tiny and tidy open kitchen and smell the tempting aromas of dishes like risotto with creamy artichokes, roasted sweetbreads, white truffles, or the duck-duo of honey-kissed breast and leg confit with smoked, savory eggplant. 

Best-Selling Author Chef Ming’s Thriving Career and Travel Tips

asian-food-featured

Best-Selling Author Chef Ming's Thriving Career and Travel Tips

June 19, 2019

“I love the concept of a restaurant,” says Boston-based chef, best-selling author, culinary TV star and Inspirato Member Ming Tsai. “With great food and service, you can make people happy.” It’s that positive approach to cooking that has propelled Chef Ming, as he’s called, to the top of the food chain in the Boston area thanks to his signature restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley. It’s also led to the opportunity to cook for heads of state, China’s among them, as well as a private dinner party for the late poet Maya Angelou.

Tsai learned the ropes of the restaurant business from his mother who ran a Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen, in Dayton, Ohio. Despite a blue-blood education—Phillips Andover and a mechanical engineering degree from Yale—that prepared him to follow in his engineering father’s footsteps, not his mother’s, he spent his summers in Paris cooking, first at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and then working in area restaurants. It was there that he realized his calling.

headshot-ming-tsai

“There I was, a first-generation Chinese-American, telling my immigrant parents that I want to be a chef,” laughs Tsai. “My mother was supportive, and my father just said, ‘Son, if you’re not passionate, you will not be a success.’ And that was that, I was a chef.”

Tsai earned his masters in hospitality from Cornell and then landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s famed Coyoté Café. By 1998, he and his wife had moved to Boston and opened Blue Ginger, which Tsai describes as a mix of East meets West cuisine (think garlic lobster or butterfish in a creamy miso sauce). In 2002, the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef Northeast, and Blue Ginger has held onto its status as one of the top restaurants in the region.

Why Boston? “Our priorities were to find a city that was big enough to support a Chinatown, so we could easily supply the restaurant with the best ingredients, and had a sizable population that was well-traveled because if you’re well-traveled, you’ll appreciate good food and wine. We loved San Francisco, but the economics didn’t work, and it came down to New York or Boston. As a student, I already had a connection to Boston, so we chose Boston.”

Since then he’s collected an Emmy for his Food Network show, East Meets West with Ming Tsai. In 2013, in the hip Fort Point neighborhood, he opened Blue Dragon, which he describes as an Asian gastro pub (“Try the whole fried chicken,” Tsai says). Driving all his efforts is the deep-seated satisfaction his food brings out in people. “People who appreciate great food and wine will do what it takes to find it, and it’s those people who make being a chef the best.”

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Favorite Vacation Destination

“My family loves to ski, and I can’t wait to get out to Vail in the winter. What I like about vacation houses is that, as a cook, I have to have a kitchen to cook in—that’s why I don’t do hotels. We love Inspirato homes because they do a great job of stocking it with everything I need to feed my family.”

Must-Have Travel Ingredient

“You have to have garlic. In every cuisine around the world, there’s garlic, and the smell of garlic sautéing in butter or oil makes my mouth water and makes me feel instantly at home. Of course, in my opinion, ginger is the equal of garlic for its savory and sweet flavors.”