Chefs’ Tests – When the experts dine out, critical thinking is the order of the day

There’s nothing wild about the kitchen at Bethesda’s Wildwood Kitchen during the lunchtime rush. Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier presides over the quietly energetic operation like a conductor wearing an apron instead of a tuxedo.

As each dish comes to him, he studies it for a moment. He might add a drizzle of harissa oil or wipe a smidge of something off the plate’s edge. Sometimes he just gives a satisfied nod. Once he’s sure that every element is right, he sends the food out to the waiting diner.

“I’m a mistake finder,” he admits later, after he has stepped away from the kitchen. “I’m trained to look for problems.”

If you think you’re a picky diner, you should see a restaurant through chefs’ eyes. They’re always looking for imperfections from every possible angle. And they go out a lot to see what the competition is doing and to catch up with their industry friends.

“I study everything from the moment that I walk in,” says Wiedmaier, who dines out three times a week in between working in his six restaurants. “Are the windows clean? Are the lights working? Did somebody welcome me? Were they smiling?”

That initial impression is key, as well, for chef Joe Goetze of MoCo’s Founding Farmers in Potomac. “It’s all about the first 30 seconds for me,” he says. “I want a restaurant to stimulate my brain and be creative about it.”

Once they sit down, chefs survey their surroundings again. “I don’t like flowers on the table,” says Bryan Voltaggio, chef-owner of Range in Friendship Heights. “If their scent is too strong, it can overcome the aroma of the food.”

Finish reading this article on the Bethesda Magazine website now.

Photo courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

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13 Mind-Blowing Bites & Sips From the 2013 Fancy Food Show

I’m back in D.C., but I’m still savoring my three days at the Fancy Food Show. Here are 13 bites and sips that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Maple Jelly by Northeast Kingdom Vermont Condiments

Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? If they have, I haven’t seen it. This is simply a mixture of maple syrup and a flavorless gelling agent, so the maple really pops. This and a pat of butter on an English muffin would be a great way to start any day.

Original Hot Pepper Sauce by Hot Diggidy Dog

Yowser! This stuff is damn hot, but damn good. Its creator, Simon Llewellyn, devised the recipe while he was stationed aboard nuclear submarines on months-long expeditions.

Cinnamon and Sakay Chocolate Bar by Madécasse

You can’t beat this sweet heat. The bar is dotted with bits of sakay peppers from Madagascar, which is where this company’s founders all served in the Peace Corps.

Mariachi Mac ‘n’ Cheese by Beecher’s

Mac ‘n’ cheese with a Mexican accent. Anaheim chilies add a little kick to the rich, gooey mass of penne and Beecher’s signature Flagship cheese.

Orange Blossom Champagne Vinegar by O Olive Oil

So delicate that you could sip it straight from the bottle, though it works well in martinis, too. I’m already plotting to use it in a spinach and walnut salad with citrus slivers.

1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix by Auryn Industries

Now you don’t have to cannibalize your jarred olives for their juice. Instead, top shelf Spanish olives are pressed, so their briny liquid can be bottled separately. If you’re wondering why the company is called 1888, it’s because that’s when the first martini recipe was published.

Pop Corn Pop Chocolate Bar by Chuao Chocolatier

This clever confection is spiked with house-made Pop Rocks, which add snap, crackle, and, well, pop. If only movie theater popcorn was this good, we wouldn’t mind getting gouged at the concession stand.

Sitka Spruce Tip Sea Salt by Alaska Pure Hand Crafted Sea Salt

Slightly woody, slightly coniferous, and totally winning. Great for cedar plank salmon or lightly sprinkled on French fries along with some rosemary (Dip those frites in some Sir Kensington’s spiced ketchup while you’re at it).

Espresso Coffee Soda by Manhattan Special

You can’t go wrong with the classics. This sweet, strong, super bubbly soda is the perfect pick-me-up at any time of day.

Just the Cheese Corn by G.H. Cretors

If I had a vending machine in my man cave, erm, basement, I’d stock it to the gills with this cheesy popcorn. Luckily, there’s an exercise bike down there, so I won’t feel too bad when I eat four bags of this in a single sitting.

Albacore Tuna Fillets in EVOO by Wild Planet

Tuna you can feel good about eating. Pole or troll caught, it’s 100% sustainable and 100% delicious.

Honey Aleppo Pepper Seasoning Mix by Victoria Gourmet

Smokey, sweet, and spicy, this seasoning mix hits all the right notes. Great for grilling, so fire up the Weber and get down to business.

Free Trade Certified Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract by Nielsen-Massey

Vanilla with a conscience. An excellent addition to any pantry. 

Photo courtesy of Chuao Chocolatier.

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The 4 Worst Things I Ate at the 2013 Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show was filled with some amazing new products (read about 13 of them here), but, inevitably, there were a few fantastic flops. We can all only hope and pray that these items don’t make it to market shelves.

KoKos Coconut Cheese by Cheeseland Inc.

“It’s very popular with Hawaiians,” the gentleman at this booth assured me, when I asked who would ever want to eat a coconut flavored cheese. You’d think it would be made with coconut milk for the lactose intolerant crowd, but the first ingredient is cow’s milk. Another point: though it’s wonderful to pair cheeses with sweet tropical flavors, the cheese itself should never be sweet and tropical. A true abomination.

Italian Pizza Flavored Vinegar by PGM Piazza Grande

This couldn’t be tomato vinegar or basil-oregano vinegar. No, it had to be Italian pizza flavored vinegar. A completely unnecessary bastardization that’s equal parts gimmick and gross. The gummy bear flavored vodka of the salad dressing aisle.

Road Kill Grill Meat Rub

It’s impossible to resist stopping to look at a seasoning mix emblazoned with the tagline “Makes all critters taste great!” I’m not sure how this would taste on day-old possum or a flattened raccoon, but I’m never going to find out. If someone found this on my spice rack, it would be as embarrassing as discovering margarine in my refrigerator. #nevergoingtohappen

Quinoa Flax Chocolate Bar by NewTree

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m in the mood for something sweet, but I also need to get in my fiber quota for the day?” Well, now you can with this candy bar packed with ancient grains. One major problem: you shouldn’t head to the candy aisle when you’re looking for something to keep you regular. That’s just plain weird. My advice to produced similar results would be have a bowl of Kashi cereal for breakfast and splurge on Chuao’s Pop Corn Pop chocolate bar for dessert later that day.

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The 13 Best Bites of the 2013 Fancy Food Show (So Far)

The summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City is going full tilt. Booths housing 2,400 exhibitors are spread out across 354,400 square feet. It’s a monstrous amount of food to try and a lot of ground to cover, but the calories you consume are nearly balanced out by those you burn getting around. Here the best of what I’ve sampled so far.

Roasted Coconut and Kaffir Ice Cream by High Road

Tropical and Subcontinental flavors meld seamlessly in this ultra-creamy dessert. This would be phenomenal in an affogato, as would the company’s Toffee Toasted Almond.

Hawaiian Press by Grace & I

Fruits and nuts from the Aloha State are compressed together into eye-catching bricks that are almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. Cut a wedge off to reveal the artfully composed layers, then dig in.

Pure Cane Sorghum by Bourbon Barrel Foods 

Super sticky with earthy, stone fruit, and caramel notes, this amber sweetener would work well in cocktails or cold pressed coffee. Or eat it straight out of the jar. No judgements.

Ghost Pepper Salsa by Mrs. Renfro’s 

What was once thought to be the hottest pepper in the world is having a moment. This fiery, flavorful salsa was an excellent example of how it can complement other elements without overwhelming them. For a guaranteed good time, put a bowl out at your next barbecue by the chips and secretly film your unsuspecting guests when they try a bite.

Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn by 479°  

Sweet + savory = awesome. Put those flavors on a perfectly popped kernel and you just can’t argue. Not that you can really argue when you’re mouth is full of popcorn.

The Chef’s Collection – Ultimate Gourmet Salt Sampler by The Spice Lab 

Spanish Saffron, Italian Black Truffle, and large flake Viking Smoked Oak are all represented in this fetching collection of gourmet salts. The set will look beautiful on your kitchen counter and taste beautiful in the meals you make with them.

Sundried Tomato Ketchup by Traina Foods

Watch out, Heinz, there’s a new kid on the block. Four pounds of Roma tomatoes go into each bottle of this thick, sweet, salty sauce. After one bite, you’ll be rethinking your French fry routine.

Bacon Schnecken by Queen City Cookies

A sticky cinnamon roll stuffed with bacon? Sounds like too much of two good things. I was skeptical, then I took a bite. Call me an instant convert. If my heart could take it, I’d eat this every day for breakfast. And for dessert after dinner.

Tomato Basil Truffle Sauce by Urbani  

Trufflize your pasta routine with this supreme sauce. Equal parts sweet, savory, rich, and herbaceous; it’s the epitome of umami.

Veggie Roaster Packets by Urban Accents 

Take the guesswork out of spicing your vegetables. Just add a little oil and a spoonful of these seasonings, roast, and enjoy.

Ghost Pepper Salt by Sea Salt Superstore 

This super spicy salt created a memory that lingered through two cups of water. Once I put the fire out, I started thinking about the ways I wanted to cook with it. I’m thinking I’m going to rub it on a brisket before a daylong smoke session.

Rocket Fuel by Ethical Bean  

There’s an old saying that I may have just made up: the darker the bean, the sweeter the buzz. These philosophically minded Canucks do an ultra dark roast (call it Beyond Italian) that’s guaranteed to keep you fired up all day long.

Espelette Pepper Mustard by KL Keller Foodways 

Sweet, fruity, and floral on one hand, piquant and a little tangy on the other, this blue ribbon condiment was a fun find. Sure to be a perky stand-in for the customary yellow mustard I’d be squeezing on my frankfurter this July 4th weekend.

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Perfect Picnics: Three local chefs come up with the ultimate outdoor feast

Kick off your slippers, put down the remote and log off Facebook. It’s summer and there’s no better time to pack a basket, grab a blanket and head to a local park for a picnic.

But how to assemble a memorable meal that’s equally fuss free and palate pleasing? We turned to three local chefs—Dennis Friedman of Newton’s Table, 8407 Kitchen Bar’s Ed Witt and Michael Harr of Food Wine & Co.—and asked them to create the ultimate picnic lunch to feed four for under $100.

Our trio of toques stocked up on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients at area markets and devised menus that require little or no preparation. Keeping it simple was key for the chefs, who say they’d rather stay out of the kitchen on a day off and spend the time noshing and relaxing outdoors with family and friends.

Dennis Friedman

Chef-owner of Newton’s Table, Bethesda

Market: Whole Foods in Friendship Heights

Prep: Take 10 minutes to make everything ahead of time at home, so you can be present with your guests and enjoy the moment.

Prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe: Cut lengthwise strips of melon; top each with a couple of fresh basil leaves, a drizzle of honey and some Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings; and wrap each strip and toppings in a thin slice of the cured meat.
Mediterranean crostini: Cut a baguette lengthwise, rub the halves with a raw clove of garlic and then slice the bread into 2- to 3-inch sections. Rough-chop black olives and piquillo peppers to make a simple tapenade to spread on the bread.

Shrimp ceviche: Shell one dozen raw shrimp (of the size that would provide 31 to 35 shrimp per pound), cut them lengthwise down the spine and discard the black vein that runs down their backs. Squeeze two fresh lemons and one orange into a bowl, and add one minced shallot to the liquid. Let the shellfish sit in the marinade in the fridge or an ice-packed cooler for about 30 minutes before serving.

Beverage: A couple bottles of GT’s Classic Kombucha, a fermented tea

Dessert: Whole Foods Two-Bite Brownies

Favorite picnic spot: The C&O Canal in Potomac, right off the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Falls Road. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of the wilderness and forget that you’re anywhere near Washington, D.C.

Best picnic memory: One time at summer camp we went out for a picnic and got caught in a torrential downpour. We turned lemons into lemonade by spending the whole afternoon doing mudslides.

Find out what Michael Harr and Ed Witt whipped up by clicking through to the Bethesda Magazine website now.

Photo courtesy of flickr/beL0VED.

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The Despair of the New Dad: Paternal postpartum depression strikes about 1 in 10 fathers

Parenthood is always a shock to the system. “Frank,” a 48-year-old Adams Morgan resident, got hit even harder.

He and his wife decided that he would leave his job to be a stay-at-home dad when his daughter was born late last year. Although it was a role the first-time father had eagerly anticipated, the transition took an immediate toll.

“For the first two weeks, I was cross-eyed. It was intense,” says Frank, who asked to use a pseudonym as he undergoes therapy.

He had dealt with depression before, but he soon began to experience something different. He was constantly cranky, stopped cracking his usual jokes and began withdrawing.

“Part of it was the feeling of not being able to escape,” he says. “There’s no break.”

This initial reaction isn’t surprising, says Jennifer Kogan, a licensed independent clinical social worker in the District who focuses on children’s and parent’s issues.

“There’s sleep deprivation and a lot more to do,” Kogan says. “That’s when people start to have problems.”

In the ensuing weeks, Frank’s unhappiness escalated. “Every morning, it was completely grim,” he says. “I would relive the day before and how exhausted I was. I used to fantasize about doing fun things if I had free time; now I just wanted to be under the blankets in a dark cave.”

Finish reading this article on the Washington Post Express website now.

Artwork by Joseph Hirsch, Lunch Hour (1942)

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Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a Diehard D.C. Foodie

10. You know how to correctly pronounce Cathal and Rasika.

9. You’ve stood in line for two hours to spend an hour eating at Little Serow.

8. When you say you’re getting Baked & Wired, you have no intention of smoking a joint and then doing a line of coke.

7. You’ve eaten a Chivito, Luther, or half smoke…after midnight.

6. You follow both @chefjoseandres and @nowayjoseandres on Twitter.

5. You’ve driven all the way to Frederick just to eat at one of Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurants.

4. You have seen Carla Hall at the Silver Spring Whole Foods and had to stop yourself from yelling, “Hootie hoo!”

3. You make reference to Tom and Todd in conversation as if you know them and expect everyone around you to know whom you’re talking about.

2. You have paid $20 for a sandwich…from a food truck.

1. Your diet regularly includes pepperoni sauce, lamb carpaccio with Caesar salad ice cream, and crème brûlée doughnuts.

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Gator Ron’s Gives Back

Like many great ideas, it started with a few—well, more than a few—cocktails.

Ron Griffith was known for his Bloody Mary mix. Using lots of tomato juice, zingy fresh horseradish, habaneros, cracked black pepper, a little ground celery, and a few other ingredients, it was always a hit.

In fact, the mixture never failed to make him the center of attention whenever he and his wife, Connie, went boating on the Eastern Shore and tied up with a flotilla of partygoers.

The passionate home chef didn’t confine himself to cocktail mixers, though. He made a mean wing sauce and a spicy barbecue sauce, too.

Everyone called him Gator Ron. That’s because the University of Florida alum always wore something featuring the college’s alligator mascot.

“We’d go to black-tie events, and he’d wear his logoed leather bomber jacket,” says Connie.

After years of people telling him that he should sell his Bloody Mary mix, Ron brought an old soda bottle full of it to hot-sauce emporium Peppers in Lewes, Delaware.

“I’d never seen him nervous,” recalls his wife, “but he was that day.”

The aspiring entrepreneur shouldn’t have stressed out: They loved it. Peppers’ owner told him to come back when the mix was in a bottle and ready to stock.

“He high-fived me all the way home in the car,” says Connie.

Finish reading this story on the Maryland Life website now.

Photo courtesy of Vince Lupo and Maryland Life.

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