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Cathy Pavlos, executive chef/co-owner, LUCCA

Click here for Cathy Pavlos' bio


Dishing it out in upstate New York
For the majority of our visit to New York, Elliott and I have been eating our way from one end of the island of Manhattan to the other. So, before we headed back to Orange County, we decided to take a little trip up river – no, not to Sing Sing, but close – to the Hudson Valley to visit the Culinary Institute of America, or the CIA, in Hyde Park.





Despite the fact that getting to the CIA is easy by train from Manhattan, we decided to rent a car (I know, I know, you can take the girl outta Cali, but …). We only rented a car to have some flexibility since we decided to take full advantage of upstate New York's offerings by stopping at one of the original farm-to-table restaurants in the United States – but more on that later.

The CIA is arguably one of the top culinary schools in the world. Legend has it that about 75 percent of the executive chefs in the United States all graduated from its program. It is an outstanding, not to mention rigorous, program. LUCCA is proud to say that one of our prep cooks, Jon Allweiss, is currently attending the CIA, and our chef de cuisine, Paul Jacobsen, is a graduate of the Hyde Park campus – as is our consultant and friend, George Kookootsedes (best known as owner of two of Orange County’s legendary restaurants, Chanteclair and John Dominis).





Me? I attended the culinary boot camp up at the Napa Valley campus of the CIA – my own personal "Hell's Kitchen." That’s a story in itself and best left for a return visit to Napa.

This time of year, upstate New York is especially beautiful, and this is the height of the leaf-viewing season – all the leaves are in the middle of turning – and it seemed as if everyone decided to come up for a peek.



We had already been told that all the restaurants – there are five of them – at the CIA were completely booked for lunch and dinner, as were the tours. As part of the curriculum, the students at the CIA all take a shift at the restaurants, working both the front of the house as service staff and in the back of the house as cooks. We walked into the St. Andrews Café on the campus and asked if there was a possibility for two for lunch. The host said that the eatery didn't have any reservations left.

I said, “That's OK, we had been warned,” and I smiled brightly, at which point he called over to the Caterina De Medici restaurant and asked about seating. He told us to go right over – they had a table for us.

Sometimes, it pays to be nice.

Our server at Caterina de Medici informed us that the students work six-week shifts at each of the restaurants. They work three weeks as a server first, then three weeks as a cook. He then told us that the shift change had just occurred and everyone at the restaurant on that particular day had JUST started! Yikes! Maybe because I am a chef, I know all of the things that can go wrong with a rookie crew – and they did, a little bit. We were ordering light because we were going back down to Westchester County for dinner. Our server kept looking over his shoulder and saying, “I sure hope that my instructor didn't see that. ...”

Let's just say that the students need a little more time to settle in with the menu and leave it at that.

After a little more exploring and some picture-snapping, we drove back toward Tarrytown for a 5 p.m. dinner reservation at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills. This is a family-owned working farm and agricultural center, co-owned by Dan – who serves as executive chef – David and Laureen Barber. Everywhere you look are stunning views of the farm and surrounding outbuildings.





A true farm-to-table restaurant, there are no menus at Blue Hill – you are told what is in season, and you decide whether to order a five-taste menu or an eight-taste menu, and whether you would like to include matching wines (the chef will build a menu for you personally, if you have taste preferences, allergies, etc.). All of the food is raised at the farm, foraged on the acreage or is cultivated nearby in the Hudson Valley.



We opted for the eight-taste menu matched to wines. And then the food started to come. Each course (small plates) was absolutely amazing, and the pairings were perfect. From the food, to the service, it was, in a word, amazing. Each and every course was explained, the provenance of all the ingredients revealed, and the chef's motives behind the dish also were discussed. I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in the United States and Europe, and I have to say that none of those eateries came anywhere near this culinary experience.



I was ready to move in and learn.

What a high! So, back in Manhattan the next day – our last in New York – where to eat? How do you top that experience? You don’t. We went in a completely different direction: food trucks!

The Kwik Meal Cart – a truck parked on 45th and 6th – was the past recipient of a prestigious Vendy Award for best street food in the city, so we started there. With falafels and sodas in hand, we headed to Bryant Park for a picnic. It was a beautiful day in the city to sit outside, have a great nosh and watch the world walk by. Yet another great meal.





As Elliott and I review our New York foodie tour on the plane ride home today, I think we’ll have to agree that from five-star dining to food trucks, New York is a great place for lovers of all cuisine. Never a dull moment, and there's always an adventure guaranteed to please all palates.

We’ll probably grab some grub on the way to the airport, so let’s just say that you’re probably in for another story or two, but if you missed any of our adventure, we’ll give you a recap of all the OC METRO blogs in our next newsletter! That means, if you’re not on our list, sign on today!

Oh, and a BIG thank you to Editor-in-Chief Tina Borgatta, Web Editor Kristen Schott and the entire staff at OC METRO for allowing me to share my journey with you!


Finding New York's perfect bakery
Yesterday: markets.

Today: in search of the perfect bakery – and other stuff.

C’mon, it’s New York: More is, well, more!

No food trip to New York is complete without a cannoli. Usually when I am in New York, we go up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. That is the real Little Italy. This is where my grandparents lived when they immigrated to America from Italy. There are at least two Italian bakeries on each block. You know the type – the ones that have wedding cakes in the front windows. And not just any wedding cakes; these have mezzanines, staircases and balconies. In fact, an entire cake village for your wedding enjoyment – alas, I digress.

Today, Elliott and I set out to check up on my favorite bakeries in the city. Both of them are located deep in the Lower East Side. First we visited Veniero's on 11th, notably the older of the two, and then DeRobertis. It's just a young business, established around 1906. Both of these bakeries have fabulous displays at Christmas, with more than 100 different varieties of Italian Christmas cookies! My BFF Mona tells me that her cousin's tiramisu wedding cake came from Veniero's. Go figure.





We tried cannolis in both places to find our favorite – I know, tough job, but someone's gotta do it. Though both were fantastic as always, my tongue still itched.

The Lower East Side also happens to be the neighborhood where Momofuko noodle bar is (nice coincidence, no?), so we popped in and scored a great table for lunch, and while discussing cannolis over noodles and pork belly buns (hey, we are professionals, here!), we started to hatch another plan.



I pulled out my phone and looked into Hoboken, N.J.’s famous Carlo's Bakery – home to the "Cake Boss” on TLC.







Elliott’s been looking forward to this visit and yes, I admit it, I just LOVE the "Cake Boss" – kind of like “I Love Lucy” meets the “Sopranos.” Anyway, two subways and the PATH train to Jersey later, we were standing in front of Carlo's Bakery. The bouncer – yeah, they’ve got a bouncer – flagged us in. I'm thinking, This is all fake, the show is probably shot on a set. Was I ever wrong! Not only is the bakery the set, but Buddy's sisters were there, waiting on customers at the counter, just like on the show! And as we were waiting for our two regular cannolis and espressos (and a couple of T-shirts), Mauro came down and proceeded to make himself a cup of coffee – he had that annoying little kid with him, too (you know the one I'm talkin' about?). We paid for our cannolis and espressos, and then went and sat out on a park bench in downtown Hoboken and enjoyed them.


No hype, that was the best cannoli I have ever eaten – the espresso, not so much.

Still, we were satisfied as we headed back to Manhattan and over to the Chelsea Market in, well, Chelsea. This market has everything and anything, and it's the home to the Food Network.


We stopped in at Buon Italia (I resisted another cannoli, after all, three is my limit). Here, you can find just about any Italian ingredient imaginable, as well as an espresso bar. In fact, the espresso bar at Buon Italia is my favorite one in the city – the shop doesn't serve Lavazza (instead, the store offers Illy), but it reminds me so much of the espresso bars in Italy. I had to have another espresso.





From there I went to the Bowery Kitchen – Restaurant Equipment & Supplies. This is probably the oldest restaurant supply store in the city, and its tight and cluttered displays would put Restaurant Depot to shame. The store's website allows you to order online, and Bowery will ship anywhere. I usually spend an hour there – or until Elliott's eyes glaze over.



It was starting to get dark, and we're thinking, what next? Someone in the market told me about a new tapas place in Soho, and we were off! We had a coupla tapas (kind of unremarkable and overcooked, but we WERE feeling trendy) and some rioja wine. Next, off to Chinatown for Dim Sum. ...

Well, that kinda wrapped up our eating day – good thing we walked a lot. I wonder how many miles I have to walk to burn off a bazillion calories?

Tomorrow, off to the CIA in Hyde Park and dinner at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant near Tarrytown, N.Y. Again, if you miss any of our adventure, we’ll give you a recap of all the OC METRO blogs in our next newsletter! That means, if you’re not on our list, what are you waiting for?



Eating IN New York City?
When visiting a new place, some people, when they get to their destination, check in with all of the tourist sites and monuments. Me, I go for the markets. When visiting New York City, I have to check in with each and every one to make sure that nothing has changed since the last time I was there. With a general itinerary planned for the day, Elliott and I expected to come back to the apartment with quite a few edible finds, so we decided we would cook dinner with what we found on the day’s journey.

First stop of the day: Greenmarket Farmers Markets. It puts our farmers markets in O.C. to shame. The market showcases the best that the small family farms outside the city have to offer, while giving these farms the opportunity to sell their locally grown, caught, foraged and baked products directly to consumers. The variety is incredible, and ALL New Yorkers have access to the freshest, locally foods in the region. A win-win, right?



I picked up two different varieties of heirloom eggplants, five different heirloom tomatoes – just to try – some frying peppers and two organic types of lettuce.







Next, we schlepped (hey, I'm in New York; walking purposefully while carrying a bag is called "schlepping"), out to Borough Park to visit one of the last surviving authentic Italian markets – D. Coluccio & Sons. From the subway station to the market, I must have heard no fewer than eight different languages and dialects in this New Utrecht neighborhood. It was amazing. We stopped at Coluccio's and picked up the beginnings of our dinner tonight. My goal: a pasta with the veggies that I bought from Greenmarket, olive oil, pasta (mezza manica), cheese and canned imported Sicilian cherry tomatoes from Coluccio's.

The last of our ingredients for dinner came from Agata & Valentina, a true inspiration to all foodies in New York City. There, we got our hands on some fresh fennel sausages, fresh basil and smoked mozzarella. Located on 1st Avenue at 79th Street, Agata & Valentina is one of my favorite gourmet markets. The other markets that I frequent are Citarella, Grace's Marketplace, Balducci's, the Chelsea Market (where the Food Network has its headquarters), and Dean and DeLuca. Somehow, Agata & Valentina is just more real. We sat at a small counter in the front of the market and tasted the shop's wine of the day, a fantastic red and white from Sicily. How many markets do you know where you can go in and, before shopping, enjoy a fabulous glass of wine?

Next, Elliott and I headed out to Brooklyn in search of the best pizza and a few more outstanding Italian markets. Our first stop was Grimaldi's Pizzeria, the best pizza in New York, according to the Zagat guide, and probably the oldest pizzeria in the boroughs.



Contrary to popular belief, pizza is not an Italian invention – legend has it that it was created by the poor Neapolitan immigrants on board the ships bound for America, and when they got off the ships in New York, they perfected it. Somehow, it made it back to the motherland, Italy. No one does it better than Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn Heights (where the line out the door is often down the block; as the sign says, "We don't take no reservations and we don't sell by the slice"). This place is known as the best pizza in the city – and the oldest. We couldn’t duplicate the ovens even if we wanted to – they have been seasoned for more than 100 years.







Before we headed back to cook up dinner, we had to stop at Fishs Eddy – no culinary trip to New York is complete without a visit to this store, which is full of dinnerware, flatware, glassware, serveware – lots of it vintage, all of it, fabulous. Elliott bought 2 dozen dessert wine glasses for 99 cents each! Make sure you check ‘em out next time you’re at LUCCA! The website is great and you can order online!



It was only after we got back to the apartment that we remembered most apartments in the city aren’t made for home cooks, so we knew we’d be in for a challenge with the two 3-cup pots, 8-inch skillet, and a few forks and bowls we had for cooking. That’s another story in itself, but let’s just say that our cheese grater was a fork and a bowl (it was still the best Parmesan I have tasted outside of Italy).

After dinner – yes, we managed to create a lovely pasta in our tiny New York apartment kitchen – Elliott and I went up to the Guggenheim Museum (see? We did get some nonfoodie culture in today).




Tomorrow, we're thinking dim sum in Chinatown, the Chelsea Market and a schlep out to Hoboken to visit Carlo's Bakery – home to the "Cake Boss."

If you miss any of our adventure, we’ll give you a recap of all the OC METRO blogs in our next newsletter! That means, if you’re not on our list, what are you waiting for?

O.C. chef heads to New York City
We made it! After a day of traveling from O.C. to New York City, Elliott and I are situated in our apartment for the week on 20th Street off of Park Avenue. We are conveniently located by the Toy Building, home to Mario Batali's new 50,000-square-foot eating adventure, Eataly. (Click here to find it on facebook.)

With the marketplace being so close, Elliott and I decided to regain our strength after the journey (man, even the cross country can really take it out of you). So, we started our “research” for our new concept in Orange County at Eataly!

Eataly in a word: boisterous, big, bold. ... OK, that was 3 words. This is by far one of the most extensive eating emporiums that I have ever seen (even for New York). It is certainly comparable to Harrods in London, but with an Italian accent. True to the hype, there is a counter for everything, as well as endless aisles filled with anything and everything to take home and cook (the only problem being that New Yorkers do not cook). It is sort of like an Italian Disneyland for food (and a shrine to Battali and Lidia Bastanavich). And for that, you do pay a premium. We ate at the fish restaurant today, and I feel that it still has a couple of bugs to work out. Service, a little surly (but hey, this is New York); fish, a little overcooked and a little overpriced (and again, this is New York); and overall experience, well, we were sitting at the counter where we could watch the line cooks, and I distinctly heard the sous chef yell, "Table 37, fire that ^%$&* fish – what? They want it well done, #$%$#, are they nuts?” Nuts, indeed. (Did I mention this is New York?)

A tip: Don't even try this place during lunch hours. As a Californian, and a Southern Californian to boot, you'll never survive the crunch. You’re asked to line up at these “seating points” where you get on a list to sit down. To a Manhattanite, this is normal, to a Californian, it is insane (in the best possible way, of course). Think of Eataly as a football-field-size space, crammed with the best-of-the-best food options available – and about 40,000 people all trying to get to them! I was told that Eataly is visited by – are you ready for this – 200,000 people a day! I think that all those individuals were there when we were trying to have lunch.

Not to be a spoiler, but here’s the deal: The fish counter is superb, the pasta counter is dizzying and the breads – "fuggedaboutit." But then again, this is Manhattan, and you can't shake a stale baguette without hitting a fabulous food experience of some kind. I have shopped on Canal Street in Chinatown for the best local fish (the turnover is incredible, and the fish the freshest ever) at about half the price that I saw today. These fish have pedigrees. In fact, the provenance of all the products is written on the walls of the store. I believe the word is "convenience," and in Manhattan, peeps are willing to pay for it. I know a fabulous cheese shop in Greenwich Village, alongside a butcher shop that has everything; a bakery in the Chelsea Market that would make you cry; and prepared food from Zabars that is the best. At Eataly, you can find it all under one 50,000-square-foot roof – er, ceiling.

Oh, and by the way: Eataly serves Lavazza coffee, too, just like we do at LUCCA! Today the wine store was tasting Pio Cesare selections – many of the same that we have on our list at LUCCA. Not bad at all!

Now, we still have much ahead of us, according to our “must-do” list:

• Visit one of the original farm-to-table restaurants in New York
• Check out pizza concepts in Brooklyn – well, shucks, we gotta eat pizza!
• Tour the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus – after all, it is considered the mother of culinary schools
• Visit the Cake Boss in Hoboken, NJ – a MUST for Elliott
• Visit the best charcuterie shops in the city
•  Check out Chelsea Market and other notable shopping destinations

Stay tuned for more adventures! We’ll give you a recap of all the OC METRO blogs in our next newsletter, so if you not on our list, join here: j.mp/7bi4kE!!





















I've been 'yolking' around in Italy
I hear it’s pretty hot in Orange County. Well, Elliott and I have been rising and retiring with the cool breeze of the Italian countryside against our skin. I’m not bragging, just trying to convey the simple beauty of the region. Yesterday, I did mention that we’ve been working 14-hour days prepping, visiting local markets and villages.



Today, we started our morning with breakfast eggs, basting in the oven – for those of you who’ve joined us for brunch at LUCCA (in Irvine), you know I love those eggs – who doesn’t love a good yolk??



As for the long days, my amazing sous chefs, Josh and Michelle, have been right there by my side! They’ve helped me to lead the group through classes ranging from making 200 raviolis from scratch to making nutella gelato – it was seriously good and zero calories. These guys have been known for their miracle work in the kitchen.



Josh made pasta from scratch – a truly talented young man.



Michelle proudly served our guests Italian flatbread, or Piadina, that she made from scratch!

I know it’s Friday there, and you’ve had a short workweek, so I hope you’re taking advantage of the recipes that I’m sending! Today, I give you the recipe for the flatbread, or Piadina. Again, this is my recipe for a large group of 24, so please adjust accordingly and have a great weekend!

Piadina

Ingredients:
5 4/5 lbs All-purpose flour
3/4 oz. baking soda
1 1/2 oz. fine sea salt
1 1/2 lbs. salted butter
2 1/4 cups whole milk
6 fl. oz. olive oil
3 lbs. Stracchino cheese
6 lbs. Chicory

Recipe:
Combine the flour, baking soda and 1 tsp. of salt in the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.

Add the butter and mix on low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes.

With the machine running, slowly add the milk until the mixture forms a dough around the hook.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes until smooth.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Form into disk shapes and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each piece of dough into an 8- to 10-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.

Brush each circle with the olive oil and grill for 4 minutes on each side.

Remove the Piadina from the grill to cool slightly.

Season with sea salt and pepper.

Place the sliced cheese and the prepared Chicory on half of each Piadina and fold over.

Cut into 3 pieces.

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