Tasting Spring with Chef Walker

Chef Nicholas Walker of Cobb Galleria Centre invited me to celebrate Spring with him in his kitchen. He presented a multiple-course lunch that depicted a transition of winter into spring using. Some dishes leaned towards the coziness of winter, other towards a gentle lightness of spring.

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Tasting Austin in June

I am in Austin, TX for the IACP Annual Conference. I have come to learn of Austin as a city full of arts, music, clubs and food. Known as the “music capital of the world”, “home of Whole Foods” and “city for the creative class” and a lot more- all keeps Austin weird. The people here are friendly, eclectic and open minded, as I would discover over the next few days.

As this was my first time attended the IACP conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With over 700 attendees, I have obviously met a lot of who’s-who from the culinary world. Also, I got to taste some interesting food and drinks, showcased by chef’s, restaurateurs, and authors from around the world.

The opening night reception was a fabulous event that was held at the famous Bob Bullock State History Museum. We were greeted by bulls and armadillos waiting by the giant lone star monument. A few of us even raced the armadillos against each other inside the little barricaded area they were chilling at Well, not really raced, but gently nudged them to move along the cones in hopes of winning a bandanna!

Inside was a world of gastronomy to be explored against the backdrop of the museum’s rich history. Local vendors had set up tables of Austin’s finest creations for the most discerning patrons. Here is a brief synopsis of what was showcased…

Whole Foods Market presented an appetizer of cashew chive cream cheese with balsamic pickled fig on whole grain crostini and a sweet and spicy treat, smoked BBQ shrimp with carmelized ramps on a crispy flat bread. East to make and good hors devours one can make ay home for entertaining.

The heirloom tomato tart by Jeffrey’s had a good balance of crunch, cheese and tart. Again, easy to make for a cocktail party.

Ranch 616 put an interesting twist on the snack food-Frito chips, serving chilli, sour cream and pico de gallo inside the bag itself. I like the idea of serving everything in a bag with a fork especially when you are having a pool-side or backyard party. I bet kids would find it a novelty that can’t resists.

I wasn’t very impressed by Rosemary’s Catering. The combination of quail egg fry with bacon and soggy hard bread did not do it for me. I loved the Antonelli’s Cheese Shop presentations and would like to visit them to take a few things home. The freshness of cheese with off the beaten path combinations (blue cheese with strawberry jam), were a fiesta in the mouth.

Another interesting twist on the cheese balls was a corn flakes encrusted goat cheese ball. Your guests would keeping popping all through the night, forgetting the calories.

There was nothing to rave about the peach pie with bacon-pecan-maple sauce served with lavender ice cream. The peaches were undercooked and the ice cream “vanilla.”

For drinks, there were stations of tequila which ran out halfway into the evening. I managed with a peach iced tea. The ambiance of the history museum, along with a guest list, made the event even more special, in spite of the mediocre food. I was hoping to taste more local flavors with south-western influences. Perhaps I had bigger expectations from Austin’s culinary creators but I am sure they also had a challenge preparing for these many guests in 100F weather.

Let’s continue to explore rest of the food scene here…

Tasting at East Andrews

East Andrews Cafe in Buckhead, Atlanta has been a long standing establishment that I find myself coming back to ever so often. Over the years, they have taken over the shopping center and opened two more locations, Andrews Upstairs (a bar with live music) and Cellar 56 (wine bar and casual restaurant).

My past few experiences dining at East Andrews have been less than pleasant, always leaving me with a resolution of not to return. So when I got an invitation to a media only tasting party of their new food and wine menu, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a peek at what they are cooking up lately.

I reached at 6:15 pm and was surprised to find that they were still setting up the party. (The invitation was for 6 pm). The usher handed us a glass of wine and a sample menu card for what we will be having that evening. Each course was carefully paired with a wine selection from a different region of the world. I was already looking forward to it!

The plaza with the water fountain in the middle was dressed up formally with black and white table cloths. There was a station set for different courses and servers were eagerly pouring and plating for our pleasure. We started with glasses of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc served with spinach salad with bacon and egg, nicely tossed, and another strawberry and mixed greens salad drenched in vinaigrette.

Moving on, for the fish course, there was a seared tuna too dry and bland to taste, even with the fiery homemade wasabi and soy. The blackened salmon was cooked perfectly but was over seasoned. I did not try the pork egg rolls but was told they were good. My favorite was the macaroni and cheese paired with Argentinean Malbec. Shells pasta was cooked with adult-tasting cheeses, lots of parmesan and a hint of nutmeg. I wanted seconds of this one!

Lastly, there were two desserts served with champagne, actually a light white wine from the south of France. The first was a bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme doughnuts with caramel sauce. It was smooth, moist and luxurious. I have eaten this creation before somewhere, but East Andrews made it really good. The second dessert was a flourless chocolate torte. It was no comparison to the bread pudding and a second choice if you have to have chocolate.

Overall, I feel East Andrews is a great place to have wine and spirits. Their collection is amazing and the servers actually have a rich knowledge of the wines. The patio boasts a cozy place for gatherings at the bar, for happy hour or after dinner. As far as coming here for a meal, it can be a hit or a miss. They still need to smooth out a few sauces and seasonings in the kitchen.