Culinary Sagacity

~Thought for Food~

The Cathayans believed that the soul or mind is located not in the head but in the stomach.

Doubtless this explains why they fret so much about the preparation and serving of food.

It may also explain why their memories are so much better than ours.

Information is stored not in the finite head, but in the expandable stomach.

--Cyrus Spitama in Gore Vidal's Creation

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sprinkles in Beverly Hills – The Best Cupcakes I've Ever Bought

On my recent trip to visit family and friends in Los Angeles, my sister and I took a day to go bakery hopping, to check out some of Los Angeles Magazine's Top 20 Bakeries. After hitting up about five bakeries on their list, and finding myself a bit under-whelmed, we headed to Beverly Hills and our last stop, Sprinkles Cupcakes.

The first thing we noticed about Sprinkles was the line out the door, a serious line stretching about a hundred feet. The second thing we noticed was that everyone in line seemed to be smiling and happy—not the usual case with long waits—but this was a Disneyesque line, Sprinkles seemed like the happiest place on Earth to everyone waiting.

After standing on the sidewalk for 50 minutes, we finally got inside and discovered the shop itself was tiny, it only fits about seven customers at one time. The cupcake case was smaller that I'd expected too, with only a dozen varieties on display. However, Sprinkles offers up their full line of 22 cupcakes from the back of the store, where they bake fresh cupcakes all day to refill their stock.

Huge cupcake fans, my sister and I couldn't wait to get these little beauties back to her house so we could devour and critique them. With my nieces—whose absolute favorite cupcake place is Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank (which are truly Yummy)—we gathered round the table and dug in to the five different varieties we'd chosen to buy. At $3.25 a pop, we expected to be WOWed.

Clockwise from the Top: Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Coconut, Black and White, Irish Cream, and Chocolate-Marshmallow (center)

We were. Sprinkles cupcakes are my nieces' new favorite—and mine and my sister's too. They weren't overly sweet (a flaw found with most American desserts), they didn't have way too much frosting (or not enough to satisfy my nieces' sweet teeth), and the cake—be it chocolate or vanilla—was the perfect consistency: soft, dense, and moist.

My only complaint was that they got my order wrong, they left out one of the cupcakes I'd chosen, a Chocolate-Marshmallow. But, had they not been so good (my sis gave me a bite of hers), I probably wouldn't have cared. Unfortunately for me, the Chocolate-Marshmallow was so heavenly, and the filling so smooth, billowy and perfectly sweetened, that I was rather annoyed to not have my own.

Having finished our Sprinkles Cupcakes tasting, my sis and I looked at each other, and at the empty cupcake platter, and concurred: Even if we had to wait an hour again, we'd still go back to Sprinkles—we'd just buy more cupcakes next time! Indeed, Sprinkles Cupcakes were so good that as I boarded my flight back to NYC a disquieting thought hit me—We have no Sprinkles in Manhattan yet! Now I'm left missing my family, my friends, the sun and surf... and the best damn cupcakes I've ever bought.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Beverly Hills, CA
9635 Little Santa Monica Blvd.

Other locations:
Palo Alto, Newport Beach, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix-Scottsdale

Coming Soon to:
New York City (WooHoo), DC, Boston, Miami, London, Vegas, Denver, Tokyo, San Diego, Charlotte, Seattle, Philly, Chicago, and more!
Regina Varolli

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York

Can I just say how stuffed I am? After sampling everything from Wagu Burgers to Oysters to Sushi to Cakes and Gelato, I could barely make it out of the Javits Convention Center on my own two feet. Although the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York is an industry event designed to showcase wholesale items for industry buyers, there was no shortage of vendors accessible to those of us who shop for our home kitchens.

Having spent two glorious days wandering the visually stunning isles of sweet and savory samples, grabbing everything that wasn't clearly marked "For Display Only," I think I managed to down a taste of everything. The following are photos from some of the most impressive displays as well as some of my favorite brands. If you happened to miss the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York this year, I hope these images will tempt you to come on out next year!

Gelati Flavors from Berzaci

Chocolates from Valrhona

Wagu Burgers! Only wished they were bigger!

The Japanese Food Festival of NYC

Real Kobe Beef from Japan! It's so marbled it looks like Toro!

Other Delectables

I hope you enjoyed the photos... now wipe the drool off your keyboard!
Regina Varolli

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paris Gourmet's 20th Annual U.S. Pastry Competition

When we arrived at the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show in NYC today, despite nearly 500 other distractions, we headed straight for the Dessert Pavilion, location of Paris Gourmet's 20th Annual U.S. Pastry Competition.

As the judging was underway, we got to peruse the isle of sugar and chocolate showpieces made by this year's competitors under the theme Give My Regards to Broadway. Having conducted our own little judging of all of the showpieces, I picked my personal favorite, then doubled back and asked the Chef Ajith Saputhanthri of Russo's on the Bay in Howard Beach, NY, if I could get a photograph of him and his Sous-Chef next to their showpiece—adding that I thought it decidedly the best, and that they would certainly win. They smiled and reacted most modestly. Nevertheless, when I heard Chef Saputhanthri's name announced as the winner, I wasn't at all surprised.

What I loved most about Chef Saputhanthri's showpiece, featured first in this article, was that the bulk of it amounted to one solid chunk of chocolate, carved by hand as if it were marble—what to me is the most artistic of chocolate techniques. Yet when I look at a showpiece, though I notice the varying degrees of difficulty, cross-skill sets and techniques, what always strikes me remains the beauty (or lack thereof). For me, a showpiece must above all else be aesthetically pleasing, Chef Ajith Saputhanthri's was stunning.

Enjoy the photos below, beginning and ending with this year's winner. After walking the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center all day, I'm exhausted. So I'll tell you all about those 500 other tempting distractions after I do it all again tomorrow.

Ajith Saputhanthri of Russo's on the Bay in Howard Beach, NY

Other Finalists Presenting Showpieces

Jerome Le Teuff of The Ritz Carlton, Palm Beach, FL

Salvatore Settepani of Pasticceria Bruno Bakery & Restaurant, Staten Island, NY

Julie Jangali of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

John Quinn of The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena, CA

Andrew Chlebana of Joliet Junior College, Joliet, IL

Monica Ng, Professional Pastry Consultant, New York City

Thierry Aujard
of Jummi Duffy's Catering, Berwyn, PA

Florian Belanger's Awards Ceremony Address

Ajith Saputhanthri Accepts His Prize

Regina Varolli