The First Annual Flavor of Napa
by Chef Len Elias
The “Flavor of Napa” was a world class celebration of food and wine highlighting some of Napa's best-known chefs and winemakers. Events took place up and down the Napa Valley over 4 days in November and included culinary demonstrations, multi course dinners, wine tastings, and a closing brunch. Proceeds from the festival benefited the scholarship fund at the Culinary Institute of America. Participating Chefs included Thomas Keller, Bob Hurley, Christopher Kostow, Masaharu Morimoto, Tyler Florence, Michael Chiarello, Cindy Pawlcyn, Richard Blais, Todd Humphries, Jeff Jake, Christophe Geurad and dozens of others. The main purpose of my visit was to lend a hand and support the culinary team at the Dolce Silverado Resort.
WALL STREET INVESTS LUNCH MONEY AT VERONICA'S KITCHEN
Like many women of her generation in her native Trinidad, Veronica Julien grew up learning how to cook under the watchful instruction of her parents and grandmother. "This was something every girl learned," she remembers, "but in my household, everyone had to learn how to cook and clean and keep a house, not just the girls." Julien, now a grandmother herself, credits her childhood training for the award-winning fare she serves from Veronica's Kitchen, as she calls her stainless-steel cart. Found on the streets of New York's Financial District, the cart is a popular mainstay among the lunch crowd for its Trinidadian dishes and punches.
Like the various forms of Caribbean cooking, a tasty, colorful hybrid of the many cuisines and cultures that left their imprint on Caribbean history, Julien is from a multinational household (her grandmother and mother were "born and raised Trini"; her father was an Englishman originally from Grenada). "Trinidadian [cuisine]," she explains, "is a little of everything— African American, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese. And a lot of Trinidadian dishes are Eastern Indian staples, like roti, curry, and pilau."
FROM OAHU TO VEGAS, ELENA'S WINS FANS
Beautiful, lush Hawaii is a siren call heard around the world, one Theo and Elena Butuyan found impossible to ignore. In 1969, they left behind the comfortable life they had built for themselves and their two children in Dagupan City, of the Pangasinan Province in the Philippines, where Elena was a teacher and Theo an accountant. "We had read in the newspapers and heard from other people who left that Hawaii was the paradise island of the United States of America," Theo Butuyan says dreamily. "So we left the Philippines for greener pastures."
The Butuyans settled in Waipahu, Oahu, where they opened Elena's Home of Finest Filipino Food, a small lunch counter with six seats, and served home-style Filipino cooking. "You want to know why we named it after Elena?" Theo jokes. "So she would work hard."
Work hard they both did, quickly building a steady and loyal stream of customers – the majority of which were not, as might be expected, from the Philippines. Theo explains: "Filipino immigrants like to cook their own food at home [so] we cooked for the local people Japanese, Chinese, Tongans, Americans, Samoans, and Filipinos born in Hawaii."
DESSERT TRUCK: BRINGING GOURMET SWEETS TO THE STREETS
America is a country of pioneers, and Jerome Chang, born to Taiwanese immigrants, can justifiably be considered one of them. In 2007, Chang became one of a handful of trailblazers forging the way for a new class of gourmet food carts, with Dessert Truck. The now-iconic vehicle, painted with the brand's whimsical logo, serves delicious, epicurean sweets of a caliber typically found only in top-tier restaurants.
A mouth-watering sampling of the sophisticated desserts offered on the truck includes Warm Molten Chocolate Cake with an olive oil ganache center, roasted pistachios, and vanilla ice cream; Goat Cheese Cheesecake with rosemary caramel and quince; and Espresso Panna Cotta with coffee-lavender ice cream, Nutella, and caramelized almonds. The crowning achievement, though, is the Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise, recently featured on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Dessert Truck's version was declared the winner in a blind taste-test by the public.
FROM ENFANT TERRIBLE TO CHEF INSTRUCTOR: CHEF ILIANA DE LA VEGA
We had a beautiful life. It was like magic," Iliana de la Vega says, remembering her family's charmed life in Oaxaca City, Mexico. There, de la Vega and her Chilean-born husband Ernesto Torrealba owned El Naranjo, a restaurant serving modern Oaxacan cuisine to an international following, carefully built over eleven years. With their two daughters, they enjoyed the cultural vibrancy of Oaxaca, until political unrest, stemming from a teacher's strike in 2006, threatened their happiness.
The strike, punctuated by violent clashes with the state militia, disrupted both their business and family life. Schools were suspended. Tourism trickled to a standstill. The local economy veered toward the edge of collapse, while the national government faced a widespread civil rebellion, which erupted after the 2006 presidential election. So when the opportunity arose, de la Vega and her family decided to leave their home and start anew in Austin, Texas, where they reopened El Naranjo ? this time, in the form of a food truck parked at the site of what they hope will one day be the future home of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
The truck serves Mexican dishes from across their native country (Oaxacan dishes remain El Naranjo's specialty), and de la Vega is proud of her authentic preparations. "What people know about Mexican food is still very limited, even though we are so close and share a huge border. So I chose to showcase traditional foods, and the reception has been good." The menu selection is not extensive, but changes regularly, with offerings such as Salpicón de Res Taco (a cold beef salad taco), and Swordfish Escabeche (a pickled fish popular in Veracruz). De la Vega also prepares signature moles, traditional dishes composed of complex sauces made by blending many ingredients and served over meat and rice.
HOME STYLE COOKING IN A CART, CZECH STYLE
For many, the road to becoming a professional chef is a long and arduous one. For Karel and Monika Vitek, owners of the Tábor food cart in Portland, Oregon, the journey was much longer and more unpredictable than most.
"We would not be in the food business if we had remained in the Czech Republic," says Monika. "But being immigrants gave us an advantage."
It was not an easily earned advantage. Karel first attempted to escape from the former Czechoslovakia, then under Communist rule, in 1984, by applying for a one-day tourist visa to Turkey. He was foiled, however, by the presence of undercover police in the region, and forced to abandon his plans.