Archives for category: New York

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This weekend I finally found myself visiting Bageriet, a small Swedish bakery on Rose Street, Covent Garden which is run by a pastry chef that I previously worked with and a place that has been on my list for over two years now!

Daniel Karlsson was born in Sweden and won many accolades during his training and early years before coming to London and starting his career with the team at Ottolenghi. After some time there he joined my current employer, Melrose and Morgan and really expanded their range with his skill and expertise. Daniel is that rare thing in the food world…. a beautiful, calm, talented and industrious pastry chef. Now you would think this is not such a rare thing but believe me, as someone who is trying to find just such a person to be in that role at the moment. The lesser spotted pastry chef who wants to work the crazy hours, retain that sense of calm and beauty as well as creativity is hard to come by.

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I remember my early years at Melrose and Morgan, turning up one Sunday to get ahead with a Christmas project thinking that there was no one around to disturb me. I arrived to the sounds of classical music soaring through the air and was immediately offered breakfast from Daniel: a bowl of hot porridge and caramelised apples with the perfect balance of spices to bring out the flavour and sweetness. I left him to his Christmas baking and some 7 hours later, he quietly ascended the stairs to the office armed with a small tray bearing a simple slice of salted caramel chocolate tart because Daniel knew that this was a favourite flavour of mine, so he knocked it up after he had finished the Christmas cakes and brought it up with a cup of tea. What more need I say?

When he left to do his own thing, I wanted to help as much as possible just because people like him should be nurtured. I supported him in getting his stunning giant gingerbread houses into the department stores managing to use my contacts to get him in front of Harrods with no agenda other than to support this fabulous chef but sadly the management there couldn’t see beyond the meeting to understand just how valuable Daniel was and his seasonal creations did not make it to their shop floor. It was a big mistake in my opinion as they would have sold loads…. and differentiated their offer from all the other department stores in London. But it was not to be…more, I fear, because of my presence than Daniel himself.

Background pics from Bageriet website

Background pics from Bageriet website

Daniel subsequently asked me to write some copy for his website which I gladly did. I asked him where it all started and he said it was with his Grandma back in Sweden, and all those memories of being a child in the kitchen, as these pictures from his website show.

I was reminded of this conversation whilst I watched Chef’s Table – a Netflix series that L&B recommended and worth looking up if you are interested in chefs and their inspiration. The series covers 6 chefs and their story. Each is different but there is no doubt that their drive and passion for food generally comes from their upbringing and either their mother’s or grandmother’s influence (no pressure all you parents out there!). Massimo Bottura remembers running away from his siblings and hiding under the kitchen table where Nonna was making pasta, giving him a unique perspective above his head of that process which must have driven him to look at food from a different angle and create what is now the best food in the world (his restaurant is currently number 2 in the San Pelligrino world’s top restaurant list). Ben Shewry was inspired by both parents who lived off the land killing their own meat and growing their own produce. Niki Nakayama was compelled to prove herself to her Mum as an equally deserving child in a more traditional world where the son is seen as the rightful heir to the family business of food and parental backing.

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Dan Barber’s mother died when he was four so it was his father’s interest in good food that rubbed off on him, but it was his Grandmother’s farm that really stuck and now that farm is not only the name of his multi award winning restaurant but the farm itself also supplies and inspires his whole food ethos. It was these latter two in the series that we particularly enjoyed.

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I was lucky enough to enjoy a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with the aforementioned L&B some years ago and it didn’t disappoint. In fact for me, Dan Barber is challenging all the right issues and was before his time in understanding the source to plate story. His team are there with him too – from the concierge who took us round the farm to the waiting staff who talked us through the meal, it was an all round experience that I would recommend.

I left you as we departed last week’s wedding in Queens for Manhattan with the younger party goers still in full swing. But the following morning the energy was more subdued with some very sore heads. And the solution? (indeed what is the solution to most things these days?) well Shake Shack of course. This burger phenomenon has spread over the pond now and was one of the most popular stands at Taste of London this year, believe it or not, and back in New York the queues are still endless.

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We met at the original Madison Square Park site under the trees – a cool outdoor space and 94 burgers later, the friends and family were back on their A game, repleted and waving goodbye to Mr and Mrs K as they departed for their Italian honeymoon. Another clever food ploy from these two and a perfect finale to a wonderful three days.

Mum, Dad, sis and I met that evening for our own get together at Kings County Imperial – a superb Chinese in Williamsburg with their very own soy sauce and their own garden out the back to supplement their organic seasonal produce. It was one of the best Chinese meals I have ever had and was rounded off by us mopping up the remaining cronuts.

Eataly, NYC

Eataly, NYC

I still had a couple of days to explore and having read this Eater article, decided to review the food halls of NYC. The article points to the fashion in Europe for what they call food halls and cite Eataly in NYC as the first of this growing US fashion. Eataly is indeed a place to be visited and the combination of Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali is a marriage in food heaven. The benefit of this is that there is a single overarching style and standard which this duo imposed on the concept moving it on from the originals in Italy. The article also says the new halls are a far cry from the suburban shopping mall food courts but I beg to differ.

I visited all on the Eater New York list and found them to be disappointing experiences. My first foray was to City Kitchen which claims to be a food market with funky signage leading upstairs. There you find good views over 8th Avenue and the queues at Shake Shack opposite but no food market. Rather a strange mix of places with poor seating in the section itself and an overflow going into the adjacent Row hotel which was at least a little more interesting. I really struggled to find anything worth eating and when I decided just to get a drink I was confronted with a New Yorker with attitude that made me feel like I had done something horribly wrong. I am sure that the brands that are there all link back to some great places back in their mother sites but honestly it didn’t connect for me.

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Unperturbed, I progressed to the next on my list which was Gotham West Market and a showcase in how to do the industrial look with quirky comms. I know my timing was a little unfortunate, but again this was too much style over substance for me. I left almost immediately and progressed down towards the World Trade Centre and the shopping centre opposite: home to Le District and Hudson Eats.

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To be fair, Le District was a well designed homage to French cuisine and when you are such a long way away from Europe I am sure that it ticks a lot of boxes.

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The zones inside worked much in the same way as Eataly in Turin and the overall atmosphere was much more enticing and the product range at least made sense in terms of the concept.

A bit further upstairs in the upmarket and yet unfinished Brookfield Place shopping centre is a better but similar version of City Kitchen: a mix of trendy brands each with their own cubicle to serve an edited menu of their dishes. The trouble for me was that it wasn’t as grunge or as a pop up or as slick as the actual restaurant itself, instead a strange combination of the worst of each place. Yes there were bagels and salad bars, ribs and Mexican but sitting together with formulaic seating and lots of trays carrying food that was rapidly going cold, I really couldn’t be inspired to eat anything at all. The best option would be to take away a Sprinkles cupcake which reminded me of a great experience many years ago in LA but I just wasn’t in the mood.

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The final place to try was Gansevoort Market in the Meatpacking district and warily I made my way down there making sure that I went via the Highline and Chelsea Market just in case I was disappointed. These two places are always worth seeing in my eyes when you are in NYC and whilst they were crazy busy they still retained many of the aspects that I enjoy. And so to my final market foray.

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Ganservoort was my favourite of them all. It simply had more atmosphere and a more foodie slant, relating back to the history of the market back in the 1880’s. It reminded me of the Saturday Biscuit Mill market in Cape Town.

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The products were well prepared, the authenticity was more easily communicated within each stand and the seating was more familiar with clusters sitting throughout the area rather than one big central communal melamine topped section. It also falls out onto the Meatpacking district with outdoor seating and more going on which gives a vibrancy that the other shopping centre floors lack.

All in all I have to conclude that the food markets or food halls or whatever the latest marketing says are merely more like the original shopping mall eateries and if you want to create a new community of young vibrant food brands you have to do a bit more than put them in a giant circle around a central seating area. What Eataly has is a connection to how the food is made, the ingredients it comes from and the vibrancy that sitting together and sharing a meal can deliver. As a food hall it allows you to eat in and take home, it gives you more choice and a wide range of all things relating to Italian food. It gives you a story with a message that allows you to connect and therefore feel grounded in its wake.

Nothing new that has cropped up since I first saw Eataly in NYC has come near to matching what it offers. I await with bated breath to see what Antony Bourdain does with his new concept because I know he understands the levers that make great food experiences and combining that with his passion for street food will undoubtedly add up to something more real and tasty than any of these new breeds. I look forward to that.

It’s taken me the best part of this week to recover from our intense NYC tour and also to wade through all the photos we took.

There is no doubt that many UK cities, and in particular London, offer great inspiration but since we found ourselves in New York it seemed churlish not to make the most of it. So after the usual suspects and Brooklyn, we set off to mop up the remaining places. This city delivers people doing one thing well, whether it’s coffee, ice lollies, meatballs, dougnuts…..you name it they do it. As ever, my friends from Echochamber and also the lovely Lauren & Ben gave me the best tips making it easier to cherry pick the places to catch up on.

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Lauren & Ben epitomise the passionate New Yorker. They seem to be friends and connected with so many of the new food & drink people and know so much about where to go and what to consume. Every recommendation is spot on. They told me about Daniel Delaney last time and we popped into Briskettown when we were in Brooklyn.

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This time they told us about Mighty Quinn’s BBQ, which is similar to Pitt Cue Co. but keeps it more open with the kitchen butchery on show and stacks of wood to fuel the fire and produce great dishes such as the spare ribs and especially burnt ends. Signature bottled BBQ sauce is a must these days along with the t-shirt and baseball cap. Also essential is smoking the meat and slow cooking those delicious hard working cuts that are just the best when cooked like this.

Butchery at Mighty Quinn's

Butchery at Mighty Quinn’s

The obligatory signature sauce

The obligatory signature sauce

We also discovered Chobani which has become a bit of a phenomenon in the USA. This company was started by a Turkish immigrant, Hamdi Ulukaya, in 2005 and in the past 7 years has grown into a $1billion business. He keeps it simple, making authentic, natural strained or ‘greek’ yogurt with real fruit flavours and this formula has made it into the most popular yogurt brand in the US. It is coming over to the UK with some Tesco and Morrisons stores now stocking it.

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Frankly it is not the pot of yogurt that impressed me – rather their Soho shop. Set on the corner of Prince and W Broadway, this yogurt bar is so well done with a clever service counter, lovely finish to the outside and most especially a wonderful way of serving take away yogurt with glass dishes and a simple muslin lid held on with a red elastic band. Oh – and the yogurt wasn’t bad either!

inside Chobani

inside Chobani

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The other place that is less well known but continues to deliver is Sullivan Street Bakery in deepest darkest Hells Kitchen, making wonderful authentic Italian bread and pizza bianca.

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Founder/owner Jim Lahey keeps it real with an open kitchen, simple decor and edited range of breads that showcase his now well known techniques. I particularly liked these wooden ladders for the pizza which clearly allow the base to breathe and remain crisp crisp crisp.

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Finally, no trip to New York would be complete without a connection with the Cronut. I say a connection because it is still almost impossible to get one, but nevertheless, I whizzed off to Dominique Ansel’s Soho patisserie on Sunday morning to witness the craze. True to form, the Cronut queue is still going strong with a security guard manning the entrance and the order. When someone asked him why people were queueing for a pastry he simply said ….they need to get a life! Well, life or not, we went in to witness the process and actually had a really lovely not-cronut pastry, the DKA. It may not have made the media hype but we loved it and judging by the people around us who had managed to bag a cronut, it was markedly more manageable than the slightly sweet sticky signature. In fact, one couple sitting next to us said it wasn’t as good as the copy they had eaten the previous week!

The cronut factory continues with avengeance at the back of the bakery

The cronut factory continues with avengeance at the back of the bakery

Over the Brooklyn Bridge

Over the Brooklyn Bridge

I am in New York this week taking the Laverstoke project team around on a research trip.

It’s been a couple of years since my last trip and it is interesting to see that many good places have stood the test of time: Eataly, Chelsea Market, Dean & Deluca, Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma….all classic favourites of mine continuing to inspire in some way or other.

But the real change is the development of Brooklyn which was getting there last time I was here but is now the must go destination for anyone with an interest in food. It is here that all the exciting concepts are doing their thing and it is here that you connect with passionate people who want to tell you all about it. Some would say that Americans are annoying with their ‘have a nice day’ approach but for me, I find the enthusiasm infectious especially in Brooklyn where it is genuinely placed and much more informed, as well as infectious, than in many UK destinations.

As ever in NYC, the concepts are focused on doing one thing well and we embraced each one with gusto: coffee, ice cream, bakery, beer, pickles, doughnuts, meat, chocolate….plus lots more. I think it is the fact that these guys get the fundamentals that drive good retail: a focused concept, great product, simple relevant branding and cool young things delivering the service offer to underpin it all.

Lovely packaging at Blue Bottle coffee

Lovely packaging at Blue Bottle coffee

Tiered taps reflecting the ale strengths at Torst

Tiered taps reflecting the ale strengths at Torst

Williamsburg is the first stop particularly along Berry street and if you are lucky a weekend chance to eat your way through Smorgasburg market. Particular favourites were Mast Brothers chocolate, Toby’s Estate and Blue Bottle coffee, Torst, OddFellows ice cream and Briskettown. Interestingly two of these concepts (plus the rather lovely pizza place Paulie Gee’s) were designed by hOmE who are obviously a clever bunch. There is an honesty and simplicity that showcases the product to its best potential. At Torst it is the wooden beer taps and glasses that say all that is needed to be said about their range and credibility. At Mast, the open production and piles of cocoa bean sacks give credibility to the product and the central table of beautifully packaged chocolate bars let’s the product do the talking not only in their display but also in their samples.

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Further south going towards Pacific Heights a special mention should go to Brooklyn Brine and in particular Jenny who had us with her passion for pickles. This lovely lady is everything you could dream of having as a member of staff and she was incredibly generous not only in her time showing us around the rear factory and talking us through all they have achieved but also in her insistence that we all took a free jar away with us. Who knew there could be so much joy to be found in a pickle?

Back in Manhattan we pooled our pics and pondered the industrial designs, the clever touches and the beautiful pieces of reclaimed kit that were so achingly trendy but also so raw against these fabulous shiny new brands. We have taken much from our last couple of days and still have so much more to discover so watch this space.

Good old New York…it never disappoints.