food diplomacy through the story of a meal

How many grandmas does it take to cook a meal?

I have completed my two-day orientation as part of Leadership L.A. with the Southern California Leadership Network and it was quite  informative.  Some takeaways that can be related back to food diplomacy surround the body.  Not just in the nourishment or caloric intake, but how does our food stories inform us as leaders in our jobs, volunteer organization, or with our family and friends.

Leading in the workplace takes a lot of skills, but to be an “authentic” leader, one cannot consider how it affects the body.  Between stress, inattention, and old scripts, these can take a toll. The word authentic is defined by individuals in leadership positions who demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their heads.   You must understand the story of your life.  Part of this knowing is how you came to be who you are.  Who and what were defining influences and what resonated the most.  Was it a friend, a teacher, a writer, an artist?  Was it a holiday, a vacation, a moment in time?  Throughout our life we are faced with situations that can inform us as authentic leaders, are we listening?

The body holds many clues for us.  With an increased multitasking society, are we giving ourselves the attention we need to have clarity of thought, creative ideas, or time to contemplate solutions for implementation?  Does the collective stress of job, home, family, friends, the world weigh on us so that our bones and bodies are collapsing in fatigue?  Can we sit still, in a chair, with our back engaged and our feet rooted into the floor so that every other muscle can relax?

Inattention, stress, fatigue affects us all.  For some we retreat to food, the fuel for keeping us going.  It is also something we do to remind ourselves of comfort, home, security, and joy.  Some of us do this in isolation, and others collectively.  However, I would believe that most of us reach back into our family food narrative in order to make sense of the chaos.  What does sharing a meal around a table with others give us–human connections.

For those who wish to share their leadership through food, we usually read about a chef or organization that tackles a large social issue such as poverty, homelessness, hunger.  However, there are those who work on the micro-level and one such person comes to mind.

Staten Island restaurateur, Joe Scaravella, wanted to create authentic home-spun place and bypassed “name” chefs when searching for the leader of his kitchen.  After losing his mom and sister, he missed sitting down with family for home-cooked meals. So he created something different.  A place that can reach right into people’s hearts.  A restaurant that you have to go out for a home-cooked meal.

Joe’s food narrative is the joy and deeply held meaning that home-cooked food meant for him.  Being Italian, he wanted to give others the experience of eating “nonna’s” food and the shared values that anybody’s nonna would bring to the family table.

As an authentic leader, Joe’s desire to share a piece of a family memory around food that was deep and profound and subsequently gave him deep satisfaction in his work.

Enoteca Maria doesn’t make a lot of money off the restaurant, he says. Instead, he does it for the homey — not to mention lively — atmosphere the eight or so nonnas create.

To  listen to the NPR story, click here.

Meet the “Grandmas

Make your favorite food based on a memory and toast the person that gave it to you.  Then, share that recipe with a friend.



Lemon, Lavender, Lardons and Leadership

Oh yes, the daily grind of life has put the blog on the back burner, but not for long.  I will be more active as I plan to use the blog as a vehicle to share with you a new endeavor.  Starting next week, I will be a 2012 Fellow in the “Leadership L.A.” program at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.  This is an opportunity to refine one’s leadership skills under the rubric of civic engagement.  There will be 49 other fellows from governmental, corporate, NGOs which represent areas such as banking, culture, LGBT youth, utilities, health care, politics, education, entertainment, etc.  I am so looking forward to learning about these individuals and see where creative collaborations may develop.

My area of emphasis is food diplomacy.  For me, this defined how governments, organization, corporations use food as a narrative to teach, share, define, and promote foreign and domestic policies to the others.  We all have a story, a memory, a taste that we can say transcended our values and beliefs.  Whether you have come from El Salvador, Iran, Guam, or France–you have a story that can be told through food and memory.  It carries with it one’s history (generational recipes) as well as an individual imprint (fusion and modernizing).  It takes us back to formative moments (first holiday, first date, first child) as well as we seek to incorporate other cultures (multiculturalism, bi-racial, bi-coastal).  I believe that when we break bread with another, we have allowed ourselves to be open to another.  This is especially the case when we cook for others.

So how does food diplomacy and leadership development come together?  One has to see their role as a leader as a catalyst and not an individual powerbroker.  In any recipe or food narrative, you can achieve success in the mechanics, individual spices, ingredients, preparations, but you will never have a complete and enjoyable experience if it does not come together and is shared with others.  Leaders do not work in isolation.  The innovative and creative ones assemble the best teams that cover all skills, and bringing diverse and unique voices to the table.

Effective public diplomacy does the same.  There are no solitary actors who can effect change, they need to be part of a strong team where governments, international actors, corporations and practitioners can contribute their intellectual and compassionate capital to the issue.   I plan to look at civic engagement from my lens–food diplomacy.  I will be introduced to many facets of the public life:  art, culture, education, transportation, law and society, health care, economic development, neighborhood development, water and the environment with 49 other committed colleagues who also love our city.

Check in monthly as I walk the streets of Los Angeles and discover how sweet, bitter, sour and salty she is.








For more food graffiti, click here.

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

First days, first meals

I arrived in Paris on Saturday to a grey and rainy city.  I am going to enjoy all it offers and make sure my food offerings and choices meet the usual expectations. 

I have visited both the Marche de Vanves and Marche de Clingnancourt this past week-end to see remarkably similar stuff to the fleas in Los Angeles.  We are all connected.  However, there is much more furniture and less of interesting jewelery.  Is it the economic times that is forcing sellers to keep back the good stuff to got a better price when needed?  The grey skies are looming large and they break away to rain on a daily basis.  Metro to Marais, for a Sunday of retail therapy as they are the only stores open in Paris and the people-watching will be good! 

The best falafel is found on Rue des Rossiers. However not eating the pita is a bit anti-climatic.  I have had less carbs in the last six months and nothing is as challenging as Paris.  I eat the falafel with a plastic fork and the lack of joy permeates the experience.   Perhaps dinner will give a sense of the foodie joy that is missing.   Walking around the Marais is like being in the most stylish shetel. I stopped into a fun Parisian store Zadig et Voltaire and found out that I can try on Parisian clothing now that I am about 64 lbs lighter. I am surprised that things fit.  Old images die-hard and the purses, which I was only able to buy until recently, still call my name. 

Dinner ended up being a warm bowl of mussels and frites as the rain was coming down cats and dogs.  The delicate mussels and warm wine broth were a perfect vehicle for the frites that have been sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Dunking them into the soup did make the frites soft, but sharing the spoon with the tender mussel was a traditional taste of Paris.

Tonight I am at Au Passage in the 11th.  It is s brand new restaurant off the Passage Saint Sebastien which serves tapas and regional fare.  I have started with a glass of rose from Corsica and roasted pumpkin with basil leaves and shaved ricotta salatta.  I spread the softened pumpkin and a mint leaf on the crust of multigrain bread.  It called my name!  The saltiness of the cheese and the floral note of the mint leaf is lovely with the warm roasted and carmelized pumpkin.

For the 2nd plate, I am having pan seared scallops on a bed of brussels sprouts purée.  These three scallops are topped with a bit of tapenade and mint leaves again.   The brussels sprouts purée is lovely, the scallops are crunchy on the top and soft on the underside.  I imagine that the entire scallops are cooked on the just one side and that residual heat cooked it through.

The place is packed and it would be wise to book in advance, however you can sit at the bar and enjoy the meal.  I finished my dinner with a mild blue and one last bite of the multigrain bread crust.

Not bad when you can only have 6oz per each meal.

Tomorrow is my cooking salon with Miss Lunch and I cannot wait until we plan, shop, and eat.  I plan to photo and post throughout the day.

J’aurais toujours Paris

I have been quiet of late on this blog as I have been taking care of the young man in my life and blogging about that on Tea and Sympathy.

As a treat, I will be traveling to Paris this December for a pilgrimage to my “holy land”.  I have never been in the City of Light in December, so I am looking forward to the beauty of the holidays and the cool winter air.  In addition, I plan to explore new parts of the city and to do participate in specialized cooking/foodie activities.

I want to still have the love of the city through these new eyes after the surgery.  I want to be able to sample and eat new and exciting meals and still be committed to this new chapter in my life.

This brings me to finding the balance between joyful abandon and adherence to a program.  I will be learning how to make the beautiful French macarons like they sell at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé.  Granted, they won’t be as stunning as those, but to learn how to make them in Paris is a special treat.

I also will be participating in a cooking salon with Miss Lunch again.  This time we will plan, shop, and cook together as we construct and deconstruct a meal while sharing the love of fresh and seasonal food sold at the local farmer’s market.

For the last few weeks, I have gone to bed dreaming of the trip, the food, and the possibilities.  I am giddy with excitement about my time wandering the streets of the city that will feed my soul, my heart and my mind.  Preparing for this trip, I have thought about what food means to me and how integral it is to the happiness in life.

It is not a small part, a take it or leave it element.  Cooking, planing, and creating gives me pleasure and meaning.  The senses are awakened and with that the heart is moved.

I will have seconds of that!

Here are a few Paris blogs that I have been following – may they inspire the Parisian in you.

Paris in December: cooking, food and exploration

I have decided that a trip to Paris is in order to shake the fog that started in late August. I hope December’s winter light and crisp temperatures will allow me to experience new neighborhoods and opportunities. Having spent the entire week-end creating food that falls under a monochromatic color palate – white (cauliflower fritters, celeriac and Asian apple slaw), I think I am living through the black and white images of Paris in the wintertime already.

On Saturday, I immersed myself re-reading all my Paris clippings and planning new places and neighborhoods to explore. I came across an article by Matt Gross in the NY Times. He wrote something that spoke to me about a recent trip to Paris.
“This was something I’d never done in Paris before – had event imagined doing – and that was exactly why I was here, to see what new experiences could be wrung out of a city. “I didn’t want to just return to my favorite places and willow in nostalgia. I wanted to see if it was possible to re-experience Paris as if for the first time, to be amazed by the reality of the place instead of comforted by it familiarity.”

I am at a crossroads in my Parisian love affair. I certainly can return to previous haunts and wrap myself in the comfort of the place. I can find safety and security in old haunts. However, with real life as chaotic as it is and with the persistent feeling of being off-kilter, I plan to discovery new experiences in my city of light. A sort of waking of the senses.

I hope to return from Paris with new eyes on the world, as these old puppies are a bit worse for wear. In the meantime, I will enjoy the cauliflower fritters and celeriac slaw for tonight’s dinner as I imagine what will be. But for now, it is in black and white.

Cauliflower Fritters
1 head (2-cups) cauliflower, cut into pieces
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1/2 cup Garbanzo flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence

Cut cauliflower and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and roast in oven at 400 until soft and brown, around 30 minutes. Put aside and let cool. (You can boil the cauliflower, but I like the flavor from roasting the vegetable.)

Add eggs, garbanzo flour, cheese, herbs, and salt & pepper. Mix well, and if too wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time to bring it together. Using a 1/4 cup measure form into patties. Slightly press down.(For additional crunch, you can coat the outside of the patty with Japanese-style bread crumbs.)

Place in a non-stick pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Cook on low to medium heat till browned on one side about 5-7 minutes. Flip, pat down slightly and cook till browned on other side about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt on top. It should make 8 fritters.

Eat warm or room temperature. Can be topped with jarred marinara sauce or a yogurt-cucumber sauce.
For an Indian twist, add a 1/2 teaspoon curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon of cumin to the mix and top with raita sauce.

Recipe inspired by www.worldaccordingtoeggface.com