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Monday, July 25, 2011

7/26 - A Glimpse into Mandarin Oriental San Francisco's Food and Wine Scene

This week we learn some of the secrets of the very succesful food and wine programs of the iconic San Francisco Mandarin Oriental.  From the beautiful Silks resaurant with Executive Chef Rick Bartram to the frequent and exciting wine dinners and events run by the hotels prolific Director of Food and Wine, Nicole Kosta.  We'll also get a first hand opinion from Winemaker Matt Dicey of New Zealand's Mt Difficulty who has the privilege of having Chef Bartram design a menu to pair with his wines for one of the hotels wine dinners.

Nicole Kosta,
Director of Food and Beverage
Wine Director
San Francisco Mandarin Oriental

Nicole was born in Adelaide, Australia, not too far from well known wine regions Barossa Valley and Mclaren Vale to name a few. Becoming passionate about wine there in the home of wineries, such as Penfolds and Henschke, her training and interest grew while working in fine dining and premier client events at the Adelaide Casino.

She graduated from University of Adelaide, with a degree in organic chemistry, but she was way too energetic to work as a scientist in a laboratory, so she found herself interviewing to get back into the hospitality industry.

It was in Omaha, Nebraska that she landed her first restaurant management position where she was promoted to General Manager within one year and awarded “General Manager of the Year” that year. Life changes led Nicole to Cleveland, Ohio where again her focus became wine. She became aware of the opportunity to work under Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon in Detroit, where studied and obtained her Sommelier Certification.

After two years with Madeline she was recruited to work for an amazing company, “Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar”, in Livonia as their Wine Director. Her outstanding dedication to the 100 wines by the glass program, accolades and awards, wine education, and inspiration of not only her staff but a regular following of wine advocates got her noticed.

She was immediately sought after and recommended to come to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the fine city of San Francisco. As Food & Beverage Director and Wine Director of award winning Silks Restaurant and MoBar, as well as the other outlets in the hotel, she plans to continue to inspire and evolve this already fantastic wine program, and expand on what this great property already has to offer.

Rick Bartram

Rick Bartram, Executive Chef at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco is originally from England. He graduated from London’s famous culinary school, Westminster College and has since accumulated over 20 years of experience in luxury hotels and restaurants in London, South Africa, Vietnam and Bermuda. 

Most recently Bartram was Executive Chef at our Mandarin Oriental’s Elbow Beach Bermuda. He has been with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group properties for nine years including the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London.

Inspired by his global travels, Bartram references his diverse culinary experiences with influencing his use of organic ingredients combined with creative techniques that bring foods back to its simple roots. 

In 2008, Bartram won the Goslings Cup for the “Best Bermuda Fish Chowder”, as a first time entrant, and the United States Meat Export Federation’s 8th Annual Caribbean Competition cook-off in Mexico City. In 2009, Bartram took part in the world’s largest chowder competition, the “Great Chowder Cook-Off” in Newport, Rhode Island and won the Goslings Cup for the second year running.

About Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco 
Located in the heart of the city, the 158-room Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco offers panoramic views of the city and bay from the top 11 floors of San Francisco’s third tallest building, 345 California Center. Silks restaurant is the recipient of Top Spot in the Zagat Survey 2008 and Mobil Four Star rating. Other awards include Conde Nast Traveler 2009 Gold List. Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards 2009, Top US Hotels #35, Travel + Leisure 2009 World’s Best Hotels #34. Travel + Leisure 2008 listed in the Top10 Best Business Hotels in US and Canada.   Andrew Harper’s Readers Choice Awards Top Ten Best City Hotels in the US 2008. The hotel was named #27 in the Americas among Institutional Investor’s Top 100 Hotels
worldwide in their annual survey in 2008. 

Matt Dicey – B.Sc & M.App Sc
Winemaker / General Manager
Mt Difficulty Wines

Matt has a lifelong association with the wine industry, and is a fourth generation vigneron. This association was formalised through gaining a Masters Degree in
Oenology and Viticulture. He has been involved in winemaking for the past 14 years, four of which were spent gaining experience overseas. He returned to Bannockburn in 1998 to try his hand at the ultimate winemaking challenge – making the best wines possible in a region with infinite potential. Matt has made Mt Difficulty Wines since 1999.

Monday, July 18, 2011

7/19 - The Written Word: Books for Cooks

Bill LeBlond, Editorial Director of Food and Wine, Chronicle Books
Christine Hanna, Author and President of Hanna Vineyards.

There's nothing quite like flipping rhrough the pages of a cookbook, absorbing the pictures, gleaning ideas for new recipes and allowing the author to inspire you to try new ingredients, methods and combinations.  You can sit outside, lay on a sofa or take a book anywhere, dog-ear it for your favorites and always have it on hand to go to without having to power up anything.  

In this episode we'll learn about the evolution of the cookbook, the changing styles and topics over the years and how to bring out your inner "author".  You'll hear ideas from both a publishers perspective and a first time author about the process of writing and getting a cookbook published and earn a greater understanding of what lies between the pages of the next cookbook you pick up.


Bill LeBlond is the editorial director of food and drink at Chronicle Books. He is responsible for the acquisition of most of the thirty cookbooks, cocktail books, and wine books Chronicle publishes each year. Bill publishes some of the best food writers in the country and has had the privilege of working with such outstanding authors as Colman Andrews, Michael Ruhlman, Joyce Goldstein, Martha Holmberg, Michael Chiarello, John Ash, and Janet Fletcher.

Bill’s books have been nominated for, and won, many IACP and James Beard Foundation cookbook awards. Bill is also a frequent speaker on publishing topics.

Christine Hanna is the President of her family’s winery based in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California.  She grew up at the home ranch, making tiny batches of wine with her father, winery founder Dr. Elias S. Hanna, in the late '70s and early '80s.

Christine came to work at Hanna Winery full time in 1991, first in public relations and marketing, then taking over the management in 1993.  In her tenure, she has directed the winery’s growth from 1000 cases to 50,000, with national distribution and a robust direct to consumer program through three tasting rooms and three wine clubs. Christine has repositioned the winery’s focus to Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, a consistent award winner now representing half of Hanna’s production.  She transitioned the winery’s dependence away from purchased fruit to an estate program and began marketing fruit from Hanna’s vineyards to other leading wineries.

Christine is the author of The Winemaker Cooks: Menus, Parties and Pairings, published by Chronicle Books in 2010 and available everywhere. In the book, Hanna presents more than 100 recipes, drawing from local farmers' markets and the garden that grows beside the rustic, century-old Alexander Valley hunting lodge she and her family call home. Her menus are brought to life with 75 luscious photographs by Sheri Giblin, a San Francisco photographer. In sidebars throughout the book called “Ask the Winemaker” Christine answers the myriad questions about wine and winemaking that she’s asked every day by consumers. The Winemaker Cooks was one of three finalists for Best American Cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Christine’s recipes have also appeared in Food & Wine, Savor Magazine, The Tasting Panel, Imbibe, California Home+Design, and on the syndicated television show In Wine Country, and she demonstrates them to consumers at cooking classes around the country, including Central Market Cooking School in Texas, and Apron’s Cooking School in Florida.

Christine is a past President of the Sonoma County Vintners, and helped reposition the organization with its current focus on strategic marketing. She served on the Board of Directors for ten years. She served as Chairperson for the Sonoma County Showcase and Auction for 2003 and 2004, directing the popular consumer food and wine event, Taste of Sonoma.

Christine holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.  She has done postgraduate work in viticulture and enology. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Alexander Valley Unified School District.

Christine is married and has two children. They live in the Alexander Valley in a restored Craftsman hunting lodge and grow 14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on their property.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

7/5- A Taste of Italy in Napa - Oenotri Restaurant and Matthiasson Wines

Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde
This article is from the San Francisco Chronicle ( noted Bay Area chefs earn their culinary chops at places like the French Laundry, Chez Panisse and Manresa. Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde, co-executive chefs of Napa's Oenotri, earned theirs at Benihana and the Cheesecake Factory.

"We joke about that now," Rodde admits, laughing. But while Di Fede discovered a passion for prep work, Rodde says of his stint at Cheesecake Factory: "I learned how to make the numbers work."
Such skills are important when you open a restaurant in your late 20s.

The pair act - and even look - a little bit like brothers who grew up sharing the same kitchen table. But while they both have Napa in their blood, they met just five years ago.

Di Fede grew up in New Mexico, but spent his childhood summers in Wine Country visiting his grandparents - both parents were born and raised in Napa. A visit to his dad's relatives in Italy at the age of 16 inspired him to cook, so he took the first job he could get as a teenager, as a dishwasher in a Thai restaurant in New Mexico, then prepped his way through Benihana before jetting to London for culinary school.

Back in the States, Di Fede moved to Las Vegas, working the line at a newly opened Commander's Palace for a couple of years before heading back to the Napa Valley.

"I figured it wasn't smart for a 21-year-old to be living in Las Vegas," he says with a grin.
After cooking at Bouchon and Terra, Di Fede returned to England to stage at the renowned Fat Duck.
"That kind of changed my view on food completely," Di Fede says. "I realized that it didn't feel right to receive cherry tomatoes from Israel, or cook with fennel when it was snowing out."

Another visit to Sicily got him thinking about Italian food. When he returned, he got a job at Oliveto in Oakland, rising from line cook to chef de cuisine. He also met Tyler Rodde.
"We bonded over the commute," Di Fede says.

Born and raised in Napa, Rodde was back on his home turf by the time he started at Oliveto, driving daily to Oakland. The two quickly drummed up a dialogue about the best routes.

Rodde admits his career path wasn't as "romantic" as Di Fede's, but he still paid the necessary dues.
"We had a family rule," Rodde says. "You either had to play sports and go to school or work and go to school." Rodde chose sports, enrolling at USC and walking onto the swim team. After blowing out his shoulder, however, he tended bar and worked as a bouncer at a cafe while he earned his degree in economics.

After a while, Rodde says, he got sick of dealing with drunken college students, so he hid out in the kitchen.

Returning to Napa after graduation, he got involved in a book project for cancer research and patient care. His work setting up photo shoots and soliciting chef contributions put him in contact with some of the greats - Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Charlie Trotter among them.

"I think that was my defining moment," says Rodde, explaining how the chefs would talk about their travels, expensive wines and celebrity friends. "I thought, 'Damn, that sounds fun.' "

He decided to go to culinary school in Pasadena, but dropped out after eight months - "The economist in me was going, 'This is a horrific waste of money,' " Rodde says.

A year later he was managing the kitchen at the Cheesecake Factory, and helped open several in the Bay Area. But finally, as he puts it, it was "time to learn how to cook again." That education happened at Oliveto.

"I came in thinking I knew everything because I knew Cheesecake Factory systems and operations. And they were like, 'OK, forget everything you know. We're going to make brown butter, and we're going to do that 40 times until it's absolutely perfect.' "

Rodde spent just eight months at Oliveto, but when he went to work as sous chef for a Napa couple's West Berkeley restaurant, Riva Cucina, he and Di Fede began plotting their own future.

"That's when Curtis and I were like, 'Let's just do the damn thing. If they can do it, we can do it.' "
Fast forward a couple of years, and the pair spend every night cooking side by side in the kitchen at Oenotri - a hard-to-pronounce (but conversation-starting) name they found while trolling around on Wikipedia.

"We liked that it was directly translated to 'vine cultivators,' because his family grows grapes and my family grows grapes, so it was like, 'OK, we're vine cultivators,' " Rodde says.
The chefs explain that the southern Italian focus means their cooking incorporates a lot of olive oil, fresh fish and vegetables, whereas northern Italian dishes typically feature heavier sauces and rich cheese. It's unlike anything else in the area, they say, but the best part is that it's a 50-50 effort.

"You're sitting there and you're like, 'It's right there, but I'm missing something, and I can't think what it is,' " Rodde says. "He'll be like, 'Dude, slow-cook the egg. It will be awesome.' And I'll think, 'Aw, that's what I was forgetting.' "

Seconds Di Fede: "You don't know what you're going to end up with until you're there."

Steve Matthiasson and Jill Klein Matthiasson

As a child Steve was profoundly affected by his yearly visit to the small farm in North Dakota where his Great-Grandparents, Jon and Stephania Matthiasson started a new life after leaving Iceland. Summers there and at his uncle’s farm in Manitoba instilled a love of farming.

After graduating in 1991 with a degree in Philosophy from Whittier College, and spending three years working as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco, gaining spiritual nourishment from his community garden plot, he finally figured out how to chart a course into agriculture.

Steve graduated from UC Davis with a Masters degree in Horticulture, and worked for an agricultural consulting firm in the San Joaquin Valley, specializing in the sustainable and organic management of vineyards and orchards.

After four years apprenticing in the craft of farming, he joined the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission and spent two years educating the grower members on sustainability and developing a manual and self-assessment tool for the sustainable management of winegrapes. That book is now the industry standard in California (it was adapted into the “Code of Sustainable Conduct” by the Wine Institute).

After a stint doing research on the effects of vineyard practices on wine quality for a large winery, Steve came to Napa to run Premiere Viticultural Services, Inc., in 2001, where he helps with the strategy and execution of all of the seasonal activities on vineyards throughout Napa and Sonoma.

In 2003 he started making wine for Matthiasson Wines, and in 2004 he and Jill leased land and planted their first fruit tree orchard. Since then they have expanded to three vineyards and two orchards, where they raise peaches, plums, apples, pears, quinces, persimmons, berries, sheep and chickens.

Jill’s love of ecology started at Penn, after which she explored her Jewish heritage by studying ecology for two years in Israel, working on a number of research projects, including one recreating ancient farming methods.

After Israel, and a Masters in 1991 from UC Davis in International Agricultural Development where she studied cover crops in the Salinas Valley, Jill spent ten years working to save family farms and promote sustainable agriculture with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers in California. She traveled the state creating programs and organizing farmers into groups where they could exchange information about sustainable ag innovations developed on the farm.

Jill and Steve met in an almond orchard in the course of one of Jill’s programs— a program that went on to reduce pesticide use and permanently change unsustainable farming practices.

After their first son came along, she scaled back on travel, and served as the Executive Director of a small non-profit called the Association of Applied IPM Ecologists, which is dedicated to information-sharing amongst agricultural pest control professionals, with the mission of reducing pesticide use. It was founded 50 years ago by the entomologists that developed the concept of Integrated Pest Management.

Now, with the second son getting bigger, she is focused more locally, working with the Napa School Board on a healthier school lunch program, teaching a Cooking from the Garden Class at her son’s grade school, serving on the board of the Napa Farmers Market, and running our family businesses of farming, making and selling wine, and selling fresh fruit.