food diplomacy through the story of a meal

Archive for Reflection

Bringing Leadership Together: A Roadmap to Move Forward

The Southern California Leadership Network’s Leadership L.A. program ended last November after nine months. I was fortunate to experience some of the best speakers and programming about the various different aspects of the City of Angels.

As a Leadership Los Angeles Fellow, we examined themes such as health care, technology, safety and security, arts & culture, environment, neighborhoods, economic development, etc.  Each month we heard from leading speakers, visited numerous sites for a behind the scenes tour, designed collaborative exercises, and networked through creative problem-solving.

Walking away from this experience brought some insights that overlap for the public diplomat:

  • Always employ listening to all communities, publics, groups, and collaborators.
  • Don’t expect that you can walk in everybody’s shoes.  Empathy and support can be found through many actions.
  • Find out what the problem is, what are the impediments, where there are resources, and what you can realistically do.
  • Know when to sit back and allow others to lead.
  • Do your homework and due diligence.
  • Find where there are openings to creative collaborations.
  • Be clear on your own personal vision, your own values, and find where they overlap with others and organizations.
  • Never take “no” for an answer, continue to creatively problem-solve solutions.

Diversity of products (fruit, vegetables, proteins, grains, etc.) give a story richness.  It gives color, texture, sweetness, salty, and sour.  Having a story to tell about who you are and what you stand for are some of the inarticulated ingredients in any meal.  When you eat something that is not speaking to you, it lacks a story.  We share parts of ourself with others through our food and recipes.

How you bring it together and the memories that each meal create are the parts we share with others and the world.  Cooking sustainable, healthy, joyful, and satisfying food for others is important as we leave a piece of ourselves with them.

A grand ending to any meal is the dessert.  Whether you like fancy desserts, or just the beauty of a home-made pie, the ending of a meal is the icing on the cake.

Los Angeles can give Paris a run for the money on creative and innovative desserts.  Some links to ending a great meal can be found below.

A Guide to the L.A.’s Best Pastry Shops from Eater L.A.

Sherry Yard’s Buttermilk Pie on Pie A Day Blog on Good Food’s site by Evan Kleinman

California native, Elizabeth Faulkner‘s new NYC adventure.  It is not pastry!

For those in Paris, who need to find a patisserie on the run, check out Paris By Mouth‘s bakery map.

Last December, I was in Paris and had amazing desserts, from the hay ice cream at Frenchie to the Italian rice pudding at Chez L’Ami Jean to the roasted pumpkin with salted caramel sauce.  It was truly superb  We left enveloped in love and created new memories to share with others.  Leaders in creating a story with food.

Rice Pudding from Chez L'Ami Jean

Rice Pudding from Chez L’Ami Jean


Love French-Style

From 1969-1974 there was a crazy show, “Love American Style” which promoted the sexual freedoms started in the 1960’s.  Each week, the show featured unrelated stories of romance (and lots of sexual innuendo), usually with a comedic spin.  Think of it as a precursor to any comedy skit show that centered around a large, ornate brass bed.

This kind of sexual freedom, expression, and experimentation was both thrilling and counter to what conventional relationships were like pre-60’s revolutions (women, political, sexual, etc.).

I am a child of the 70’s and my parents lacked non-conformity.  They found one another, were happy with traditional roles, and were committed to one another until one of them passed.  Even in death, their commitment to one another continues.

However, I missed out on that organic feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I am no hedonist, but I just cannot understand a relationship that is based on a fantasy of everlasting love from only one person.  Love is about giving another person freedom, rather than slavery to a culturally manufactured ideal.

Many of the French share the thought that true love lies in the idea of freedom.  To love truly is to want the other free, the freedom to walk away, the freedom to love deeply.  No one person can fulfill all your desires and needs.

Don’t get me wrong.  Cheating, deceit, and falsehoods will take down a relationship in a New York minute, but different individuals come into our life at different times.

Looking back to the 16th century and the rise of the “libertines”, France has always had an edge.  Take for example the less-than-perfect relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  Never married, never lived together, and yet a deep relationship with all the complexities and challenges.

Love is always a risk-taking experience.  What I like is that there is no safety net, there is no everlasting.  Love is is always changing with both a gentle current and life-changing waves.   Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly, as said by M. F. K. Fisher.

There is no place for locks on a Parisian bridge with a river filled with the tossed away keys.


Our gal Hillary and the importance of food diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never once wanted us to think of her as some little woman waiting for her husband to come home from work with an evening cocktail and a home-cooked meal.  But that does not mean she does not know the persuasive power of food as a diplomatic tool.  She’s turned the State Department kitchen into a tool of international diplomacy.

Clinton put her Chief of Protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall, in charge of what’s come to be known as “food diplomacy.”

Classic French food that used to dominate diplomatic functions is largely gone.  New and innovative chefs, cuisines, ideas are bubbling up all over State from social media, and now culinary creativity.  Foreign diplomats are served American food with fresh local ingredients, along with reminders of home.

Even in the White House, the desire to know when food comes from and how it informs who we are and what we stand for can be seen in the First Lady’s garden.  Listen to a great NPR story from this past May on how the garden came about and why it is an important aspect of presenting the U.S. to foreign publics.

“It’s really important because they’re going to talk about some tough issues with one another,” Marshall said. “We want the framework of those tough discussions to be relaxing, to be welcoming, to be inviting.”
Marshall says that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the State Department recently, he was surprised and pleased to find good hummus at the table.  My colleague’s crowdsourcing project, JEWCER, has a project titled, “Hummus Wars” which brings together foodies and publics of Israel and Lebanon for the coveted title of “best hummus.”Christopher James, the State Department’s deputy chef, said they use a spice visitors are accustomed to or they present a dish in a way that has never been seen before in their country.

And when China’s Vice President Xi Jinping visited this year, a top Chinese-American chef was brought in to cook Chinese delicacies. “Vice President Xi’s eyes lit up,” Marshall said. “He was so honored by the gesture.”

What I think is missing is the story.  Rarely do we use foreign foods, dishes, recipes, and spices to inform our narrative of  U.S. foreign policy to global publics.  By integrating this story and our values behind it, we can demonstrate respect, engagement, and listening through the food to deepen international relationships.

Even this week, acclaimed chef, Jose Andres, created the menu for a meeting of protocol chiefs from all over the world.  He went on to say, “I believe that dinner, gathering people around a table, you have a true opportunity to send hidden messages,” Andres said. “… Through a menu and through the food that you put on a plate.”

To remind the foreign diplomats of the tragic losses and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Andres served Louisiana Gulf shrimp. “Doing this simple gesture all of a sudden at the State Department is sending a message that we need to be supporting American ingredients, we need to be supporting our fishermen.”

It would be hard to prove that good food makes for better diplomacy especially at a time when nations are so sharply divided on so many issues – but don’t tell that to Andres, who believes all things are possible through food. He said, “With better food and a happy table, probably, probably, we will have a better world, a happier world.”

To watch CBS News’ piece on Clinton’s food diplomacy project, click here.

To watch Jose Andres’ 2011 TED talk, “Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges.”

Links to others talking about food diplomacy:

Twitter:  Gastrodiplomacy


Smorgesboard LA – Exploring the Culinary Underbelly of Los Angeles

Culture Kitchen – Delivering Ethnic Food Kits

Miss Lunch – Lunch in the Loft

New Friends Table – Underground Supper Club in Paris and London

Love Story of the Week – My Parents

The depth of my father’s love and dedication to my mom is omnipresent, but this week it was his 15 minutes of fame.  She passed away in the early morning on July 8, 2002.  We were with her as she took her last breath.  Even though she left us that night, my father’s devotion to her continued as if she was still with us.

Weekly visits to her grave site, the walls of his home filled with pictures of their life together, to the giving of her middle name to our dog.  All of these events keep her alive and present in a way that made his loneliness a bit more tolerable.

On her birthday and on the anniversary of her death, he has placed a tribute ad in the Los Angeles Times. Just a few lines to share with the world in a public love letter.

On a chance encounter with Steve Lopez on Monday, they chatted about life, loss, and the radical changes to daily journalism.  My father, Steve, and the editor of the Los Angeles Times lamented their losses, whether personal or professional.

One small article gave a snow-capped gent a moment in the son to profess his love for his late wife and to connect with long lost friends.

Today, an editor of the Huffington Post called to expand the article for their “Good News” section about the story.  As the headline states, “LOVE STORY OF THE WEEK“.

A lovely moment coming a few weeks after their 50th anniversary and just before dad’s 82nd birthday.

What inspires you when the good is gone?

I have been thinking about inspiration now that I have crossed the 1-year mark post surgery.  Let me share with you stats, since I think some you may want to know.  I lost 81 lbs.  While saying that and feeling great about the accomplishment, there is still lots of adjustments that are not tied to the weight.

As you know, I love food.  Thinking, eating, cooking, blogging, and watching it takes up most of my waking hours.  I have had to find new inspirations that go with these permanent changes.  As I am not going back!

After my trip to Paris, I was deeply moved by the local, innovative, and the classic all rolled into each meal.  I know that the trend for molecular preparation is all the rage, but it lacks the emotional connection for me.  I want to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the butcher who prepares my rabbit; with the fish monger who cleans my monkfish; and with the producer who harvests my olive oil.  Cultivating new friends with a re-jiggered stomach that are not part of the surgical weight loss community is few and far between.

So, I have discovered new pockets of inspiration.  In Paris, Au Passage, Agape Substance and the brilliant Miss Lunch bring inspiration, creativity and passion to their life, every day, each day, with their relationship to food. Believe it or not, Communal in Provo, Utah does the same in this food desert community.

Each day, those who give of themselves in the kitchen see food choice, prep, and cooking as a spiritual expression of who they are. Similar to a Sunday church service, there is drama, rejoicing, humility, and beauty.  There is faith in the gut of knowing what is right and what is false.  They honor the goddess who brings the bounty that then is transformed into a meal of memorable dimensions.

So I encourage you to discover what inspires you and then to take that inspiration and share it with others.  Be it a meal, a story, a poem, a song, or a newly configured stomach.

I am inspired by what I know about myself.









The Simply Wonderful Miss Lunch

A treat for anybody who is a foodie and visiting Paris is a cooking experience with Miss Lunch.  She is a multi-talented artist, chef, entrepreneur, and bright light.  I had participated in a Lunch in the Loft event in 2010 and vowed that at my next trip, I would do a cooking class.

We had kept in contact and shared updates with one another.  During this winter trip to Paris, we coordinated a meet-up at the Marche d’Aligre  to shop for our lunch.  The cold December morning at the market did nothing to damper the activity.  We picked up fruit, vegs, rabbit and rabbit livers, rose-water, cardamom pods, and finally staples at the market.

Gilles chatted us up while picking the beets, onions, endive, and mushrooms for our meal.  If you are in Paris, check out stand 101-102 for a great resource while shopping, and has a lovely smile!

After busing in to Miss Lunch’s friend’s apartment off Étienne Marcel, we unpacked all our goodies to get ready for our lunch.

Le Menu

Rabbit liver tartes with onion marmalade

Endive salad topped with Pulpe de Tanche (olive pulp with herbs) and marinated beets

Rabbit (saddle and legs) braised with shallots, mushrooms over roasted potatoes and a sauce charcuterie

Cardamom and rose-water creme and passion fruit coulis

The olive oil and pulpe de tanache caem from Oliver Baussan’s Premiere Pression Provence.  This amazing and organic line of olive products are a must for any foodie.  You can visit their website, but it is best to visit one of the stores in Paris.  I brought home a jar of their black truffle pesto to try.

After being the sous chef for our lunch, I meditated on prepping the shallots, beets, mushrooms, endives, and potatoes.  We put the onions on to cook low and slow in olive oil like a confit.  Once soft, we added balsamic vinegar, water, thyme, and salt & pepper and reduced down to a thick syrup.  These will be placed on the bottom of the cooked tart shell.  To top the onion confit, we sauteed the rabbit livers in PPP olive oil, shallots and then deglazed with Armagnac.  Once cooked, they were placed on top of the onions and the one-bit tartes were utterly divine.

We then cooked the rabbit, which came from the butcher on the outside of the Marche d’Aligre.  The rabbit was cut into pieces–saddle and legs.  We lightly dredged them in flour and then got some color on them in butter and olive oil  before transferring to a platter.  Meanwhile, the mushroom caps were peeled and then sliced and added to a stock pot with thyme, water, white while, and the browned rabbit.  It was cooked on the stove-top until tender (40-50 minutes).  We served the rabbit over the cooked potatoes flesh which was mixed gently with butter.

Finally a charcuterie sauce was prepared with diced cornichons, diced ham, and cooked down in PPP olive oil and shallots.  The sauce was deglazed with 1/2 cup of wine and if you wanted to add a small pat of butter to finish.   Reduce the sauce so the flavors come together and then spoon over rabbit and potatoes.

This warm stew was perfect for the rain that started as we were cooking and light enough as to not feel weighted down for a late lunch in the 1st.

Our lunch concluded with a cream (not caramel) that was infused with cardamom and rose-water and then surrounded by passion fruit coulis.

The afternoon ended with four well fed people who all share the joy and love of the City of Light and a beautiful afternoon enjoying a meal together.

It was a moveable feast.

L’Enfant Terrible cooks at l’Agapé Substance

The Webster’s Dictionary defines an enfant terrible as an unusual person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, and/or avant-garde.  This was the experience of a multiple course meal at l’Agapé Substance in Paris during my trip there.

Having read about new restaurants in Paris to try, l’Agapé Substance was in the ‘hood and open for business.  The restaurant is located in the 6th and seats approximately 24 guests for a one-service dinner.  The long counter in the middle of the space butts up against the kitchen in an open plan.  The fully mirrored ceiling allows the services to coordinate the delivery of each plate.  This multi-course meal is also extraordinary theatre.  It was a mix of Hell’s Kitchen with a bit of Iron Chef.

I watched as L’Enfant Terrible composed, created, and crafted each and every plate that left his kitchen.  At the start of your meal you are shown a board of a possible 12 foods that may or may not be prepared for you.  If you have any allergies, likes/dislikes, speak now.  The staff is completely willing to modify the meal based on this information.  After sharing my food restrictions, they began to craft a meal that was innovative, creative, and nothing if not, memorable.

The courses came out in a blitz, but the intent and desire to push the envelope in cuisine and presentation were deeply crafted.  To start, I had hogweed two ways.  You ask, “what is hogweed?”  It looks like it would grow on the side of the 405 Freeway, however, it is a herbaceous perennial or biennial plant of the carrot and parsley family. The plant is common in herbaceous places, along roads, in hedges, meadows and woods, especially in mountain areas up to 2500 m of altitude. It prefers rich in nitrogen, moist soils.  They prepared it two ways, one in a cream that was briny and salty and then in a sponge that had the color of green tea.  This plate ends with the instruction to bite on the hogweed pod resting on the plate.

Following this course was a sublime crab dish with four small towers of crab about the size of two pencil erasers end-to-end.  They were enveloped by a lovely broth that had either asparagus and/or artichoke or just one.  The broth was put in the bowl at the table and poured out of a blood vial tube in a dramatic motion.  The flavor of the broth was spring.  Fresh, meaty, earthy, and green.  It complimented the sweetness of the crab.








Dish after dish, combinations, calculations, inspiration would be served.  A sea urchin was served next. I have seen this prepared so many ways on the Food Network, now it was my turn to taste.  I vowed that I would taste everything put in front of me, as who comes all this way to chicken out.  After the sea urchin, I had the second velouté of pumpkin in a week, however, the speck foam (speck’s origins at the intersection of two culinary worlds is reflected in its synthesis of salt-curing and cold smoking) on top was smoky and porky to balance out the natural sweetness of the pumpkin.  At each point during the meal, and at each plate, L’Enfant Terrible barked out his orders and demands from the sous chefs.  When he did not get exactly what he wanted and when he wanted it, he would pout and roll his eyes like a coddled child.

I was embarrassed for the chefs working with him, as his people skills were that of a school-yard bully who needs to get the shit kicked out of him.  But then I was in utter amazement of what he created and coaxed out of the ingredients in a very innovative and sublime manner as he spoke to the food.

Finally, after 5 plates, I needed to stop.  I had 5 more courses, but could not keep up  They allowed me to sit there through the entire service, watching the psychodrama in the kitchen, and then picking up with me with the cheese course and one of the three desserts.  I finished my meal with an ice cream made from flour (yes, farine).  The flour was toasted to take on a color and consistency of a crunchy topping.  It was nutty and had depth of flavor, yet light and not too sweet.  Who would have thought!








The entire night was a wonderful treat to be able to experience the food, l’Enfant Terrible’s commitment to his vision, and to have a seat at the counter with which to watch the dramatic presentation.  For any foodie out there looking for a unique experience and some astonishingly creative cuisine, I highly recommend l’Agapé Substance.

Restaurant L’Agapé Substance
66, rue Mazarine
Paris ( 75006 ) METRO: Mabillon, Odéon, Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel
TEL: +33 1 43 29 33 83