I’m writing this with the tune of David Bowie’s “ch-ch-ch-ch changes. Turn and face the strange,” running through my brain. This past year has been nothing but changes. Changes in what we’re cooking in the kitchen, changes in what kitchen we’re cooking in, changes in where we are working, and changes made to our lifestyle in general. If you’d told me a year ago — yesterday — that this is where we’d be now, I would have laughed my head off. If you’d told me that we would be happier, and better off for turning our lives upside down, I would not have believed you.
In a flash of inspiration last year my publisher came up with a plan to get our readers talking about the food articles that I had been writing. Specifically the “What’s for lunch” column. We decided to try the same style of sub (I’m in New Jersey so it’s a sub. But you might call it a hero, hoagie, or grinder.) an Italian-style from every sandwich shop, deli, and pizza place in town that listed it on a menu. I thought it was a great idea and that I was given a raise for each article submitted was icing on the cake. It was the very same day that my husband came home early and informed me that a job he held with a company he helped build for well over twenty years had let him go. Bittersweet?
I spent months tasting salami and cheese filled rolls. Hot peppers, some with ham, some without. There was fallout. My gut hurt like it never hurt before and I suffered severe brain fog. I had trouble writing the articles that should have easily flowed from brain to keyboard.
The following months proved to be a haze of foggy thoughts and food that was literally making me sick. I thought it was stress. We sold the over-sized suburban money-pit of a house where we raised our three children. Hiring the best real estate agent, was a stroke of brilliance. The house was listed on a Friday and we had offers by Monday. One came in as a cash offer but they wanted us out in five weeks. We took the offer and then hired a professional estate sale expert to make everything we didn’t want to take with us go away.
We moved to a mid-century high-rise building on the banks of one of the most picturesque rivers in New Jersey. The move went so smoothly that it became one of the most surreal experiences in my life. But still, my gut hurt and rashes ran around my skin like a murmuration of birds. The brain fog was also a problem.
An annual checkup provided hints when, blood tests came back with accelerated levels of everything you don’t want to see. It was a question though from our family GP that provided a life-changing breakthrough. “You have one daughter with Celiac disease and another daughter who is gluten intolerant,” he said. “What makes you think that you don’t have the same issues?”
For perspective, you need to know that my Dad owned a bakery as did my Grandfather when I was a kid. Rye bread and challah bread, straight out-of-the-oven were always on our table. Rolls, cookies, cakes and donuts were always around the house. All joking aside, living gluten-free didn’t seem like a possibility.
I thought maybe it would make for an interesting story if I tried walking a mile in our daughter’s shoes for a month or so. I arrogantly thought that I was being altruistic. My attitude flat out sucked. I expected the adjustment to eating a gluten-free diet would be peaches-and-cream-easy. I was wrong. But, the ball had already begun to roll in our kitchen because I was already getting a feel for gluten-free cuisine thanks to our daughters.
A month into the no gluten regiment became two and then three. I wasn’t willing to give up the miraculous changes that transpired. First and foremost, the brain fog that I’d been fighting for more years than I can remember, lifted. I wasn’t painfully racking my brain to remember tidbits of information anymore. Answers were rolling off my tongue — much to my surprise.
My gut felt entirely different too. To be plain about it, my gastrointestinal system started to run like it was supposed to. It was a complete revelation and, like a surprise gift that I never I wanted or asked for, once opened, I was never-ever giving it back.
Eight months later there is still a steep learning curve. What to eat and where to find it is an ongoing saga. I found allies in our kitchen at home and in the smaller privately owned restaurants we frequent. My husband is a fantastic cook and he took up the challenge to not only provide gourmet culinary meals for me, but tasty enough to change our recipes so that they became part of our weekly behavior.
There is a happy ending to the year of changes. My husband is delighted to be working for a new company. I have lost some of the weight that I gained last year.
Sadly and by mutual agreement I am no longer writing a regular food column for the local news site where I had been a contributor for the last three years, and to be honest, I find myself missing that. I loved bringing perspective to the local food scene. I loved the platform that the site provided. I loved being the town-crier of all things delicious and where to find them. I would like to find a healthy balance and start to write about food again. I miss interviewing chefs and tasting what they’re creating.
But this year has given me a new perspective. I’m paying more attention to where our food is grown and how it’s prepared. I hope to write more about our local farmers and especially about community gardens and what everyone is doing with the produce that they grow. I’d like to write more about sustainable farming and how that effects what we are eating now. Most of all, I learned this year that change can be good.
Going forward, you’ll see a transformation in the content of Flavor Chronicles. Hopefully you’ll find our culinary ideas interesting, amusing, and sometimes eyebrow raising but I hope you know that I bring them to you with an open mind and a luminous point of view.
Annual events have a tendency to become stale and in time mundane. An exception is the happily titled Beer, Bourbon, BBQ, Year of the Chicken, a suburban, backyard food and drink extravaganza that sprang from the minds of Sissy and Rick Norman. That spark of an idea would become an epic conflagration — with the help of Dave Mayhew and his wife Jen — into the 2017 celebration of professional chefs, bartenders, beer brewers, and entertainers seen in the pictures below.
Tonight on Food Network, the TV show Chopped will feature two spectacular chefs.
Laercio Chamon Jr. aka Junior, executive chef at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ and Lauren Van Liew, chef and owner of Chef Covas Catering in Red Bank, NJ are just two of the contestants facing off over picnic baskets filled with who-knows-what ingredients.
Not a myth: Chefs tables really do exist. There are only a handful in all of New Jersey but bigger cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles seem to be teeming with them. Monmouth County has two restaurants with specifically designated tables open to or inside the kitchen and a few quasi chefs tables in the form of cooking schools.
Chefs table at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ.
A documentary series on Netflix delves into the lives and careers of half a dozen famous chefs. It’s interesting and entertaining, but not essentially about actual chefs tables.
The Red Bank area boasts two such atypical dining options, one can be found at Zoe in Little Silver and the other at Nicholas in Red Bank. There is a third option in Fair Haven where you can enjoy a meal while getting to know a chef better. Taste and Technique Cooking Studio has hosted many local celebrity chefs often managing to teach a trick or two while impressing a small crowd.
Salmon served over cheddar grits from Zoe in Little Silver.
Those who eat to live probably won’t appreciate the idea of eating a gourmet meal while getting to know the chef in a more intimate setting. But those who live to eat, who collect recipes and equate most of their life experiences to the meal consumed in the moment, who memorialize their lives bite by delectably important bite … these are the people who wind up paying the big bucks to sit at a chefs table.
Smoked habanero salt encrusted duck breast platter with potatoes au gratin and pickled vegetables from Zoe in Little Silver.
So let me break it down for you. A coveted reservation at the chefs table at Nicholas will run you $150.00 per person. Tax, gratuity and booze not withstanding. Pricey? Yes, but the bragging rights might make it worth the money.
Laercio Chamon, known to most as Junior, is owner and new executive chef at Zoe. He’s just getting his feet wet with organizing his chefs table. A few months into owning the place, he is changing things to meet his own desires and expectations which include locally sourced produce and meats. He tells me that he is willing to work with customers to accommodate a chefs table experience based on specific desires. Currently offering a chefs table meal of pasture raised suckling pig with all the accoutrements, the meal will set you back about $80.00 per person. Tax and gratuity again add to the price, however, this is a BYOB restaurant which gives you the option of pricing your wine and beer high or low.
Chefs Lauren Phillips and Claudette Herring, owners of Via 45 in Red Bank demonstrate to about a dozen at Taste and Technique in Fair Haven.
Taste and Technique Cooking Studio offer chef demonstrations that run about $75.00 per person. You will observe the preparation of a complete meal. Usually three or four courses. It is also a BYOB. Although the chef in this case doesn’t have the benefit of home court, every chef I’ve observed in this venue has not only taught me a thing or two, but has thrown together an awe inspiring meal.
A bowl of corn chowder embellished with whole lumpmeat crab cake was a memorable highlight at Taste and Technique prepared by a much missed chef, Joe Romanowski.
The take-away is an unforgettable experience as opposed to just another dinner out. Getting to know how the chef thinks and operates, the possibility of making a connection and being fed an outstanding meal. Life is all about the experiences that we stack up. A meal at a chefs table might just be every foodies dream-come-true. It is a step above the ordinary and worth every extra penny you spend. Book a reservation soon and let me know what you think.
Who brings produce and plants from their garden to an interview just to make a point? Linda Walton and Lynn McKittrick owners of the hurricane Sandy wrecked, River Front Cafe in Sea Bright, NJ wanted me to understand their concept of good food.