February 2011

Foodies TV Episode 1: Italy vs. Asia

From Chris Rovezzi, Executive Chef/Owner, Rovezzi’s Ristorante, Sturbridge:

POLLO ALLA LIMONE

Ingredients

  • Two 4ouce boneless chicken breasts pounded thin
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 3 whole eggs scrambled
  • small bowl of flour for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Juice of one large lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 to 6 grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 2 oz. butter

Preparation

Coat the bottom of a medium size saute pan with the oil and place it over high heat.

Dredge the chicken in the flour and then place into the egg mixture. When the oil is hot enough (you should see a tiny bit of smoke start to rise from the pan) place the two pieces of chicken in the pan and cook until egg turns golden…about 30 seconds. Flip the chicken and do the same on the other side. Place the chicken on a baking pan or baking dish. Add another ounce of olive oil to the pan and place the spinach in the pan. add a pinch of salt and pepper and sauteed the spinach just till it wilts. Turn the stove off. Place the spinach on top of the chicken. Distribute the cheese over the chicken evenly and place baking dish into a 350 degree oven. The chicken should take 15 to 20 minutes to cook through.. While the chicken is cooking. Reheat the pan to high and add one more ounce of oil. Add the

garlic to the hot oil; and just as it starts to turn white…NOT BROWN!!!…add the tomatoes, lemon juice and the wine. let the wine reduce for a few minutes and then add the chicken stock. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and let the sauce simmer for 2 minutes. remove the pan from the stove and add the butter whisking until it makes a smooth glossy sauce. Transfer chicken to serving plates and top with the sauce. Mangia!

 

From Wilson Wang, Sushi Master, Baba Sushi, Worcester:

TUNA TARTAKI

  • About one pound of fresh Atlantic Tuna, cut from the fish market in two-inch –wide strips, about 12” long each. One strip should be enough for four people.
  • Cut the tuna across the tender (the grain) in ¼” slices.
  • Heat a sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil in a pan, sear 5 slices of tuna ONE AT A TIME on both sides.
  • Place some shredded Darkun Radish in a Martini glass for color (put in cold water 5 to 10 minutes and dry before placing in glass).
  • Place the tuna slices in a vertical position along the outside of the radish, like you’re building an upside-down cone, each slice joining the others at the pinnacle.
  • Sprinkle as artistically as possible, some Miso Wasabi Dressing, or Japanese Mayonnaise.
  • Add black or orange caviar by sprinkling with an espresso spoon.
  • Add (to taste) some colorful, green scallions.

RAINBOW ROLL

  • Buy a pound of Japanese Sushi Rice. Let sit in a pan of warm water until water remains clear. This may take up to 10 times, rinsing and sitting. Use 1 part water, 1 part rice.
  • Finally, when water is clear, leave the rice 30 minutes in water without heat.
  • Squeeze a lemon once into some Sushi Vinegar and mix for 2 minutes until rice consistency becomes like sand – not sticky.
  • Buy a package of Roasted Seaweed/Yaki, or Sushi Nori (Gold). This is a wafer-like rectangle of seaweed to place Sushi onto.
  • Wet hands and fingers in a small bowl often, so as to prevent rice sticking to your fingers.
  • Apply rice to Nori along the entire piece, corner to corner.
  • Flip the Nori over with rice facing down.
  • Place fresh crab strips along the center with slices of avocado on both sides.
  • Roll and pat. Use a Bamboo Sushi Mat (available in some organic stores and supermarkets) to form the roll tightly (see Foodies November episode).
  • Top with strips of the following fish cut in ¼” slices: White fish, Tuna, Atlantic Salmon (not smoked), Shrimp. Alternate placement so as to create the true colorful “Rainbow” effect.
  • Garnish with avocado slices on top.
  • Add subtle amounts of black or orange Caviar and scallions.

Wines of Distinction: Vino, Arte dell Uomo

Vino, Arte dell Uomo

Translated as wine, the art of man, this is a proclamation of Marcello Zaccagnini wine lover, art enthusiast and impassioned, incorrigible philosopher of all things culture and all things good.

Marcello is the son of Ciccio Zaccagnini and together the two Abruzzesi viticulturists created Sallis Castrum Winery in 1977.

Before their oenological endeavor, Ciccio and Marcello sold grapes to wine makers throughout Italy’s Abruzzo region. As the grape vending business slowed in the late 70s, Marcello began to direct his efforts to the slow art of making wine. Thus Sallis Castrum Winery was born and since, they have crafted wines of remarkable quality and value.

Of course, we would have never known this were it not for Marcello’s urge in 1984 to begin exporting the nectars of Abruzzo. Sallis Castrum is nestled near the Italian National Park of Abruzzo and surrounded by the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. Its existence is a picturesque juxtaposition of the old and new, the ancient and modern, the romantic and commercial. In fact, much of the property sits on sloping hillsides, dotted with strategically with sculptures that are visible for miles, or kilometri, of course.

The art on the grounds is undoubtedly modern and holds a particular significance to Marcello for a multitude of reasons. One being his love of nature and respect for the Abruzzi region, however, his heart is especially belongs to those pieces created by his beloved son

The Cultivator’s Mindset

Marcello is not a winemaker, but rather a thinker and cultivator of goodness. His mindset was simple, but not very common: Give to that which you want to grow. Cultivate, and you will reap.

His desire was pure as the lands surrounding him: Create and provide wonderful and attainable wines of character, history, and lineage for those who may not be as fortunate as he, those who haven’t been blessed by Abruzzo, her crisp, clean air, her fertile ground, and her organic and unspoiled yield.

Many Italians feel a connection to their terrain; however, Abruzzians have a particularly strong attachment to the regions bountiful lands. This bond holds a level of comfort and oneness with the land that all nativi appear to possess. Sure, you’ve probably heard similar remarks about European life before, but to witness its existence in Abruzzo, where Italians find their livelihood in the land is another matter.

Were he to attempt wine making himself, Marcello knew he could not do the grapes growing about him any justice despite his passion and determination as a farmer. Instead, he sought out the natural abilities of his cousin Concezio, who helped Marcello and his father refine their talents as oenologists through education and practice.

Eventually, the respect and diligence that Ciccio, Marcello and Concezio showed madre terra began to pay off. Not only were the grapes coming to fruition, but the winemaking process was also yielding reasonable wines. Young Marcello, however, refused to settle. He wanted to ensure that the greatness coming forth from the vines translated into the bottle. Unafraid, he invested greatly into the equipment necessary to guaranty his homage to the montepulciano and trebbiano grapes for which Abruzzo is known.

That was over 30 years ago and with Concezio at his right hand, Marcello has consistently been producing wines of dignity and distinction and, as he likes to say, they get better and more affordable all the time.

Wines of Distinction

Together, Marcello and Concezio have created a mark of oenological greatness in virtually every price category, particularly among $10 to $15 wines. Imported by Massachusetts’s distributor Rudi & Son Wine Importers, Sallis Castrum wines are available in many cities and towns from Lenox to Boston.

2007 La Botte dell Abate

Looking back on many Zaccagnini creations, one of particular interest comes to mind. The 2007 La Botte dell Abate, a marvelous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva boasting the Papal seal of the Vatican, although what really matters is inside the bottle. It’s nothing short of liquid luxury and only sets you back $12.

At first taste, it shows an abundance of full, rich, dried cherry fruit, followed by leathery notes and nuances of smoky cured meat at the mid-palate. A subtly sweet herb quality lingers into the softly tannic finish, which is accented by more dried cherry and berry fruits. La Botte is a Riserva wine, which means it is barrel-aged for a little over a year in large oak casks, which give it that nice, spicy fragrance and softer tannic profile.

Its dryness may be typical of the regions other Montepulciano wines, but La Botte is most certainly in a class by itself. Perfect for any red wine lover.

San Clemente

If you’re after a pricier venture, try San Clemente, Zaccagnini’s flagship red. Concezio offers San Clemente in a Burgundy style bottle, which accurately reflects the wine’s French Rhone characteristics—spicier, brighter fruit, longer finish, crisper acidity and more food-friendly than many other big reds.

To its credit, San Clemente Riserva is a fabulous, jammy, focused, and balanced Italian red that rivals the likes of Piedmont’s Barolo and Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino . This make may not be for everyone, but if you like richness and complexity with ample fruit, San Clemente is for you. And at only $30, you can bowl everyone over without over spending.

Salute, Foodies!

Written by Domenic Mercurio, Jr.

Domenic Mercurio, AKA The Wine Guy, is a broadly experienced sommelier, having traveled far and wide for his experience. Known for being able to carefully craft a taste experience precisely to the taster, Domenic is a wine expert, and entertainer.

Beer Pick: Milk Stout

 

Left Hand Milk Stout and Banana's Foster Pairing
Left Hand Brewery Milk Stout
Left Hand Brewery Milk Stout

Major Beer Category: Ale

Major Style Category: Stout

Sub Style Category: Milk Stout

What Is A Stout? A direct descendant of the Porter style originally the mixture of three different beers and formally developed by Ralph Harwood who developed single beer that mimicked the flavor and Daniel Wheeler who created a unique kiln for creating black malt these beers are brewed with a select roasted barley rather than a black roasted malt. The name €œstout comes from the creamier, richer, roastier, stronger version of the original Porter described above. The addition of the word €œstout to Porter making it a Stout Porter has since dropped leaving us with the lone word to describe this beer.

What Is A Milk Stout? Using the brewing methods of the traditional Stout, this beer is distinct in that it is brewed with lactose which is unfermentable by beer yeast. The lactose helps to enrich the sweetness and creaminess of the beer.

Our Choice: Left Hand Milk Stout Longmont, Colorado (www.lefthandbrewing.com); 12 oz 6-pack

Why we chose this style: Have you ever had a chocolate covered banana? With hints of sweet chocolate and subtle nutty notes the beer adds a dimension to the bananas you won’t find in your local grocer. The creaminess, sweetness and silky characteristics of this beer delicately balance the texture and mouth feel of the bananas foster.

Where Can You Should Find It In A 6-pack: KJ Baarons, Mass Liquors, Austin Liquors, Julio’s Liquors

Where Can You Should Find It On Draft or In The Bottle: The Dive Bar, The Boynton, Peppercorns, The Horseshoe Pub, Loft 266 Bar & Lounge, Sweet

***Note: This beer may not always be available at the above locations at all times.***

 

 

 

Matt Webster
Matt Webster

Written by Matt Webster “ Supreme Chancellor of Beer”

Matt Webster is a craft beer enthusiast, educator, event goer, blogger, restaurant adviser, private dinner consultant, celebrity video show host and above all, proudly passionate about all things beer. With nearly a decade of professional beer experience, Matt is known as the Supreme Chancellor of Beer.


 

Worcester’s Best Chef 2011

Billy Costa and the WBC award!
Billy Costa and the WBC award!



Food. Most everyone loves it, not everybody can prepare it well. In Worcester county, those restaurants that both prepare arguably the best dishes and care about promoting the art of food preparation can be found at the annual Worcester’s Best Chef competition.

This year’s competition was held at historic Mechanics Hall to an enthused crowd of both casual and serious foodies. Nearly thirty restaurants claimed their territory over two floors allowing for their chefs to prepare their signature dish to be shared to all in attendance. This year’s event was paced perfectly—especially with an exclusive VIP-hour allowing the personal attention between the chefs and attendees.

Whether supporting your favorite restaurant or looking to see what other restaurants are out there, the event provided the perfect opportunity to sample until you were uncomfortably full. While every restaurant was effective in wooing votes from the attendees, a couple restaurants stood out from their peers: voted by the judges, the Worcester’s Best Chef award was presented to Wilson Wang of BABA Sushi (runners up: Jared Calderone of Feng Asian Bistro & Hibachi and Tim Quinn of Old Sturbridge Village’s Oliver Wight Tavern). The People’s Choice Award was awarded to Mark Hawley of Flying Rhino (runners up: Wilson Wang of BABA Sushi and Brian Treitman of BT’s Smokehouse). The WXLO People’s Choice Winner was Chef Christina Ernst from Via Alto. The winner of the Iron Chef competition—where selected chefs had 20-minutes to prepare a dish with pre-selected secret ingredients—went to Tim Quinn of Old Sturbridge Village’s Oliver Wight Tavern.

WorcesterScene would like to call attention to some restaurants that presented some amazing flavors and perspective. Niche Hospitality’s The People’s Kitchen and Bocado lived up to their reputation of exemplar detail to flavors and presentation. Perfect Game seemingly came out of nowhere with an incredible version of the Slider style burger. Kai Sushi Bar and Grille‘s combination of flavors and textures to their sushi rolls left many coming for seconds and thirds. And EVO wowed everyone with their creative choice of flavors, textures, and overall preparation of their dish.

If you were unable to attend this year’s competition, be certain that next year you plan to be part of the area’s most influential event on food culture.

Written by Luke M. Vaillancourt of WorcesterScene.com

The New Way to Eat Sushi

Cranberry Brie and Bacon Sushi
Cranberry Brie and Bacon Sushi

Seafood, it’s a New England staple. Lobster, cod, scallops–no matter the mollusk, there’s something on the menu for seafood lovers. But let’s face it, les fruits de mer aren’t always a favorite. And sushi can be even more difficult for some to swallow. However, there is one way around the raw fish route: make your own!

The possibilities are endless and don’t be intimidated by the illusory rigamarole of Japanese cuisine. Wilson Wang, owner and head chef at Worcester’s renowned BABA Sushi, assures that making your own sushi can be simple with the right tools. “All you need to start is a rolling mat and you can get those–or any other ingredients–at most asian grocery stores.”

Before you dig in to these simple recipes, here some simple tips to literally help you get rolling. Using sushi rolling mats may seem intimidating, but don’t let that get to you. Simply keep a firm grip and gently roll the sushi toward the the side of the nori where you left a tiny bit of seaweed showing. Once you near the end, use a bit water to seal the roll. While your first roll may not look like it came from BABA’s kitchen, it is guaranteed that you will have a great time making it. Let’s roll!

Classic California Roll

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sushi rice
  • 1 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 4 nori sheets
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1/2 a cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds

Preparation:

Slice 1/2 an avocado into long thin strips. Do the same with the cucumber.

Rolling:

Place one nori sheet on the rolling mat. Moisten your hands and grab a handful of rice. Using only two thirds of the nori sheet, pat the rice in to a layer no more than 1/3 of an inch thick.

Take the avocado and place it in a horizontal line on the rice, making sure to stretch from one end of the mat to the other. Repeat this using the cucumber. The less filling you use, the easier it is to roll.

Gently roll the sushi toward the seaweed only side using the mat. Once you near the end, use a bit water and pat the nori to seal the roll. Then, just slice your roll into 1 inch pieces using a sharp knife.

Brie, Bacon and Cran

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sushi rice
  • 4 nori sheets
  • 3 slices of bacon
  • small wedge of brie
  • 2 teaspoons cranberry sauce
  • dried cranberries

Preparation:

Slice each piece of bacon vertically, making long thin strips. Then, cook as instructed.

Slice the brie the same way: long, thin strips. The smaller the strip, the easier it is to roll (half inch wide section would do nicely).

Rolling:

Place one nori sheet on the rolling mat. Moisten your hands and grab a handful of rice. Using only two thirds of the nori sheet, pat the rice in to a layer no more than 1/3 of an inch thick.

Lay the brie down in a horizontal line, stretching from end to end. This will help the bacon stick.

Next, place the cooked strips of bacon on top of the brie.

Drizzle cranberry sauce over the bacon and brie. Add in dried cranberries as needed.

Using the mat, roll the sushi toward the seaweed only side. Upon nearing the end of the roll, use some water to pat the nori and seal the roll. Lastly, slice the roll into 1 inch pieces using a sharp knife and serve.

Written by Julie Grady

Personality, the Secret Ingredient

The adage is, a good personality is contagious. If that’s true, Baba Sushi’s Wilson Wang should be classified as a full-scale epidemic.

Chef Wilson Wang of Baba Sushi
Chef Wilson Wang of Baba Sushi

Weidong ‘Wilson’ Wang’s infectious laughter in the dining room and consummate schmoozing expertise among sushi connoisseurs should get him upgraded to a pandemic. “My personality is a little happy,” he explained. “Most of the Chinese sushi chefs are so serious, so reserved. Not me, I like people more than I like preparing sushi for people. Sushi is my excuse to make people happy.”

And happy they are. In 2007, Wilson proved he really knows how to put it on the plate when he took top honors at Worcester’s Best Chef culinary competition, earning the Judges’ Choice Award. At that time, he was just getting underway at Baba and decided to make a splash with sushi in a market that had once belonged to Italian-American chefs and experts in Mediterranean fusion. Judged by a panel of seven culinary experts and award-winning chefs, Wilson’s entry received high marks. “I just knew I would win. I had a new restaurant, a very unique concept, and my sushi is so delicious and looks so good!”

An award-winning sushi restaurant was a far cry from Wilson’s computer science expertise. Living in his home province of Shandong in Northeast China until the mid-90s, Wilson was tempted by thoughts of moving to the U.S. Despite his desire to expand on his computer science background, Wilson recognized his expertise in crafting sushi would be welcomed by many health-conscious American restaurant-goers. And so, he turned to the restaurant business to “add life” to his career choice.

The Western World got the better of Wilson’s curiosity and he landed on U.S. soil in 1994, leaving his family behind to have a go at the American Dream. From his first stop San Francisco to Las Vegas, Memphis and Cambridge, Wilson’s tour of the States led him to become one of the most sought-after sushi masters. Even Harvard University offered Wilson a position teaching a sushi course as well as the opportunity to open a sushi bar on campus. A flattered Wilson admits that “[Harvard] always hires extraordinary people,” and while he was forced to refuse the Ivies due to extensive travel demands, he was pleased to have been thought of to satiate the sushi cravings at one of the nation’s most elite academic institutions.

Another nation’s elite also shares in Wilson’s cutting-edge cuisine: the Chinese Royal Family. Dong Chogn Xia Cao, an incredibly intense herb that grows on the foothills of the Himalayas, was once exclusively used in food preparation for Chinese royalty at the Imperial Palace. Now this very rare herb is used—quite sparingly—to enhance tea and soups at Baba. “This was only for the Chinese Royal Family,” Wilson insists. “Now, I brought it back for my customers in Worcester.”

Such gracious hospitality is another part of his beaming personality, a part that continuously appears not only in the man, but on the man’s menu in the form of tea service. Wilson has been treating patrons to a truly sensational offering, Pu Tuo Tea, or as he calls it, Kung Fu Tea. This delightful brew comes from red tea leaves traditionally allocated for Chinese aristocracy at the Imperial Palace. It boasts a smoky, almost woody aroma and, as a result Wilson advises it “must be sipped slowly in our tiny Chinese cups.” These tiny cups are incredibly delicate, hand-painted beauties that have aeration slots that magnify the already-intense flavor. Wilson pays $300 for a mere 2-ounce bag of this marvelous brew, but doles it out to his patrons as if they were in attendance at his daughter’s wedding.

Wilson’s charisma wasn’t always front and center. Touring the U.S. for years did help him gain useful experience with respect to sushi, but he didn’t get to add his secret ingredient, his larger-than-life, stellar personality. That came when he ventured to Boston and connected with an old friend who had just graduated from Harvard School of Business. His friend had designs on opening a Japanese restaurant in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, so Wilson joined him as the sushi chef.

The venture, as is turns out, was too expensive for the location. So, as if Horace Greeley whispered to Wilson himself, “Go West, young sushi master,” Wilson followed his instinct and headed for Chestnut Hill in Newton.

There, in 1997, he opened Oiishi, the first of two premium-dining establishments. The second, Oiishi Two, came on the scene only a year later in Sudbury. More than ten years later, both restaurants are still striving, each filled not only with customers but warm memories. “I remember meeting Ming Tsai at Oiishi,” Wilson says as reminisces about the famous international restaurateur and chef. “He would come in with his newborn son and we would talk about sushi and [his restaurant] Blue Ginger.”

With a resume bursting with more qualifications (Master Sushi Chef at Zipango in Worcester, owner of Tapanyaki in Franklin) and a keen desire to open even more venues, Wilson reflected on Worcester as a would-be destination for sushi. And in 2006, his business sense led him to led him to open Baba, a boutique-style establishment resembling a quaint, New England cottage on the outside with a modern yet romantic sushi bar on the inside.

Baba on Park Ave Worcester, MA
Baba on Park Ave Worcester, MA

Wilson’s eye for design is yet another talent to add to his ever expanding resume, a talent that is entirely evident at Baba. The dinning room boasts natural green-leaf tones, bamboo (bamboo what? Reeds? Fixtures?) and a new partially covered patio that accommodates guests year-round. “I wanted to increase the space, but I also like to give my friends a change of atmosphere.”

What’s next for Wilson? To answer that, one must pose the question “What’s next for sushi?” Taking sushi to the next level requires commitment. In fact, Wilson returns to China every year to keep up on the latest sushi techniques; he remains up-to-date on innovations by dropping in on his friends at Oya in Boston; and he meets with Iron Chef sensation Masaharu Morimoto at his New York City restaurant Morimoto. “I have so much respect for his abilities and I loved to watch him on Iron Chef America. He’s so entertaining,” admits Wilson.

Being true to his craft, Wilson likes to remain ahead of the sushi master pack, but even though he’s well aware of the best practices used in many sushi restaurants, he insists, “You don’t want to follow someone; you want someone to follow you.”

Ergo, organic. Elements of sushi are already organic, but customers want more and Wilson wants to give them more by taking sushi to the next level in Worcester. “Sushi patrons want organic,” he explains. “Tuna is wild and, therefore, organic. Salmon, on the other hand, is said to be farm-raised and so we can never know exactly what they feed it.” According Wilson, Baba is already sourcing organic rice.

Wilson’s inherent inertia continuously pushes him forward, however, his priorities remain the constant. Leaning over, a very serious expression on his face, Wilson reveals his top three priorities going forward in the restaurant business: “One, quality; two, quality; and three, quality.” His top three concerns? “One, clean; two, clean; and three, clean.

The open kitchen shows customers what sushi masters are doing and how clean Baba is. They trust our food because we are the only open-kitchen sushi bar in Worcester. We don’t want to hide anything. Our quality is top!”

Baba Sushi
Baba Sushi

Always determined to give his patrons the utmost happiness they seek in their sushi experience, Wilson’s philosophy is surprisingly simple: “high quality, clean sushi with a fun, comfortable atmosphere.”

Written by Domenic Mercurio

Chicken Parmigiano: The Italian Barometer

Some epicures regard chicken parmigiano as an overly simplistic dish, while others argue you can’t even find it on menus at restaurants in Italy. Ordering such a dish might appear as a cop-out, particularly when there are so many less than pedestrian plates. So, why waste time on such a seemingly basic entree?

The answer is simple; one bite can instantly reveal the quality and innovation of the chef.

Chef Eddie Esper
Chef Eddie Esper

Chicken parmigiano has an intrinsic nature that echoes that of all Italian cuisine: simplicity. Comprised of what most Italian food fans adore about the boot, it can instantly reveal the quality and innovation of the chef.

Depending on how well the elements of the dish work together, any guest can gauge the level of quality expected with more complex dishes. You just need to understand three basic elements: gravy, cheese and chicken.

Pass the Gravy

Gravy is Italian-American for sauce. In this case, it’s marinara and it’s meant to run red and thin.

The redder this simple tomato sauce is, the fresher it is. Darker marinara, almost brown in color, tends to indicate that it has passed its prime. A catchy rule of thumb: if it’s brown, leave town; if it’s red, pick up the bread.

At its thickest, marinara should have a consistency similar to that of a pure. However, the sauce becomes more acidic as it gets thicker, which leaves many Italian foodies suffering from acida (pronounced ah-chi-dah). Luckily, ingredient number two helps to prevent this burning feeling in the chest.

Say Formaggio

The dish may be called chicken parmigiano, but the cheese isn’t actually parmigiano. It’s mozzarella and it should be melted, soft and plentiful.

Remember, there’s no such thing as melting the cheese too much. You’ll find that once it hits the hot cutlet, it melts and sure enough, when the sauce trickles over the chicken, it melts even more .

Overly spicy sauces and spice-laden breading can easily trump the mozzarella with their intensity. One trick to thwart this: put cheese on the cutlet, add sauce and then top it off with a little more cheese. This achieves a dense texture and prevents the mozzarella from being overshadowed.

Chicken Reigns Supreme

The chicken cutlet, or cottaletta in Italian, is arguably the most important part of the dish. Differing from a fillet, a cutlet should be rather thin and very tender.

Chicken Parmigiano at Chioda's
Chicken Parmigiano at Chioda's

Tenderness is key. Overcooking or drying-out a cutlet can be very easy. It should be pounded somewhat thin, but not so much that you can read a newspaper through it. Personal preference may vary, but you’re looking for something about half the thickness of a New York sirloin.

Telltale signs a chicken might be overdone: crunchy breading, hard breading, and burnt edges. Slow cooking is one way to prevent dry chicken, a tried and true method used by Chioda’s Trattoria.

When these elements come together ”the freshest sauce spiced slightly with oregano, a little extra mozzarella and a perfectly pounded, tender, breaded cutlet lightly spiced and fried only in pure, extra virgin olive” the result is a mouth-watering gastronomic symphony known as chicken parmigiano.

If you think you’re ready to try testing this infamous dish, a great place to start is Chioda’s Trattoria in Worcester, MA. Executive Chef Eddie Esper has proved to be a genius when it comes to chicken parmigiano. With the help of Steve Chioda, Jr., they have perfected a simple yet delicious sauce that’s light on spice and full of fresh flavor and mastered slow cooking. Buon appetito!

Written by Domenic Mercurio

A Real Food Revolution at Armsby Abbey

In a world filled with national restaurant chains, wholesale retailers and flavors that are concocted in chemical factories, what does it mean to produce real food? Considering the grand illusion that food should already be real, this is something that calls for a little deliberation. If food is suddenly real, what was it before? Was it the opposite of real–fake, false, feigned, artificial, untrue?

In all actuality, we’re guessing that its just a marketing ploy. But isn’t it a scoche scary that what should be a norm is now a novelty?

Armsby Abbey
Armsby Abbey

We can only be left to speculate. But amidst this trend in labeling food as real, there are craftsmen, the artisans who continue to feed the world with fresh, honest and natural products. One such artisanal establishment is the localvore haven Armsby Abbey, which its passion for all things purely pabulum.

“You see these commercials advertising real food–what does that even mean?” ponders Alec Lopez, owner of Armsby Abbey. Located at 144 Main Street in Worcester, the Abbey is more than just a local brewpub. It’s a godsend for local and regional food producers and farmers.

“Our mission is simple: to do the best we can. For us that means only using handcrafted items,” explains Alec. “We make everything from scratch here and use local products in the process.” And, while the beer may be anything but local–rare brews reign supreme–those lucky enough to be featured are always handcrafted and Alec handpicks them himself.

Apparently, beer isn’t the only thing handpicked by Alec. “My day starts at the farm. The greatest part of my day is picking,” confesses Alec. “There’s a zen in that. There’s a huge connection to everything, being at one with your inventory.” With all this integrity abuzz, it’s no wonder the Abbey is a special place to eat and work.

The Abbey roster includes nine chefs, two pastry chefs and 32 other employees, all of whom undergo–at minimum–a two-month training regimen. It’s no wonder there’s a sense of pride carried throughout entire establishment. “When we forge for nettles at the first break of spring, it’s like a fever runs through the whole building,” describes Alec. And once those nettles appear on the menu, the fulfillment settles in. “You know the person that raised [the crop]. Not only do we have a sense of pride in what we do, but it gives patrons a sense of pride in where they’re money is going.”

Working closely with family-owned Berberian Farm in Northborough, Alec has found ample ways to feed the community, both literally and figuratively. “It’s about community involvement. We’re constantly exploring the farms around us, creating networks,” says Alec. “It’s amazing how many great farms there are with great food and great products, just no marketing teams.”

Slate at the Armsby Abby
Slate at the Armsby Abbey

In 2008, when Armsby Abbey was born, farm stands weren’t exactly a hot commodity. Now, with homesteading appearing as a popular trend, Alec is trying to educate. And he’s succeeding. After a formal submission to begin the central Massachusetts chapter of Slow Food International, Alec and his wife are taking Slow Food’s eco-gastronomic approach and applying it not only to at the Abbey, but in our very own community by attempting to create farmer’s markets and instruct others on home and urban gardening. “There has been this great push in the general consciousness toward [eating local],” Alec observes. “We thought we would have a narrow passage of people like us, but the whole world came through our door. Everyone from our favorite farms to old women to people who enjoy great beer.”

It’s this overall enjoyment of food and beverage that encapsulates Alec’s drive in the industry. “I’m from Argentina. I grew up with the baker’s son riding his bike down the street selling baguettes every day. I was raised on good wine and fresh food.” Moving to the U.S. in his later years, Alec quickly realized that the American way of consumption–cheap and colossal–wasn’t his style. “I remember my friends drinking cheap beer, but it never tasted good to me.”

Eventually, Alec opened with specialized beer at The Dive Bar. From there, he went on to open the Abbey. Similar to The Dive in brew selection, but also offering up gourmet pub grub; food was there just to compliment the offerings at the bar. “We were pounded by the demand for food, but we only have this tiny kitchen,” says Alec. “The demand just kept groaning and we were faced with this dilemma: people were waiting an hour for a table. But, they were happy about it.”

This astonishing turn of gastronomic delight has urged Alec to expand the Abbey. Acquiring the property next door, the kitchen will soon be across the hall, enabling an addition of 30-35 seats, and hopefully cutting down the waiting list.

So what’s next for Alec? It still involves yeast. Crust, his bakery, is set to open its doors in mid-August. “Everything I do is out of selfishness,” he explains. “The Dive was created because I didn’t want to drive an hour for craft beer. We created the Abbey out of my desire to become a chef, as well as to expand our beer reach. Making the bread there just made sense.” But the irony, the wonder, lies in the bread. After all, he just wanted to provide the Abbey with its own supply and break even. Virtually no risk. “The funny thing is, we’re already getting restaurants that are interested in buying our bread.”

Still skeptical? The first words to greet you on the homepage of the Abbey’s website: artisan and craftsman, along with definitions. Artisan: A worker who practices a trade or handicraft; Someone that produces items, such as cheese or beer, in limited quantities using traditional methods. Craftsman: One who creates or performs with skill or dexterity especially in the manual arts. Even in line with the Miram Webster Dictionary, Armsby Abbey just can’t get any more real.

Written by Julie Grady

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