To be sure, as WBGO.org travel partner, I’ve had the pleasure of organizing trips around the world to attend some of the best jazz festivals, truly a privilege and a whole lot of fun, but having at one’s doorstep world-class musicians performing at the Winter Jazz Fest in the heart of New York City’s West Village, is simply unparalleled!
So much to see, so much to enjoy, but my choice as a start for the evening was Roberta Gambarini, whom, in addition to being an amazing vocalist, is also a compatriot as we were both born in Torino! Her renditions of some of the classics from the American Songbook were beautifully executed but displaying her own unique style-brava Roberta!
Comfortably sitting in the same venue, Roy Hargrove was simply magical not only for his virtuoso performance on the trumpet but also for his incredibly sweet and rich voice as he sang Never Let Me Go!
Then on the Judson Memorial Church where the Dr. Lonnie Smith was in the house, energizing and stupefying everyone in the audience whether sitting on the church’s floor or standing and swaying to the beat!
I ended the evening at the Zinc Bar where for the 2nd. time, I managed to get a seat from which to enjoy the incomparable Rene Marie. Her expressive interpretation of songs that she authored had an obvious impact on the audience and virtually brought me to tears-never do I recall having been affected as such by a performer-what an amazing way to end the evening!
Alas, regrettably I will be unable to attend tonight’s performances but if I could, I would be sure not to miss Ibrahim Maalouf playing at the New School Auditorium at 7:40 and GoGo Penguin appearing at Le Poisson Rouge at 9PM.
I had seen them both while attending the Jazz a Juan on the French Cote d’Azur last summer and they were both incredible-pity!
Since its founding on January 1, 2002, Shop Wine and Dine has been known for offering the most exclusive and exceptional food and wine focused travel experiences.
However, equally important, Shop Wine and Dine, has also garnered a reputation for similarly exceptional tours focusing on world-renowned jazz festivals which over the years have taken us to Italy, Brazil, France and upcoming in July, to Spain’s Basque Region to attend the San Sebastian Jazzaldia Festival.
Shop Wine and Dine is grateful for its many loyal, repeat clients be it wine or jazz focused and in fact, at their behest on December 14, we embarked on our latest adventure and headed to La Habana to attend the 31st. Havana Jazz Festival! As posted on Shop Wine and Dine’s Facebook page, Cuba is a land of contrasts and contradictions… this was my first impression on the very first day which held true throughout our entire, glorious stay. La Habana is characterized by strikingly diverse
architecture as displayed by the many buildings in obvious disrepair and yet, like old, dispossessed and worn-out royalty, maintain a sense of elegance, dignity and grace. Crumbling walls adorned with exquisite modern art, seemingly casting an hopeful eye toward the future, yearning to be brought back to their original splendor and coexist side by side with the new occupants. As evidenced by the many construction sites visible
throughout the city, there is indeed a spirit of renewal and vibrancy which will surely bring back to life the extraordinarily beautiful architectural jewels, reflective of Spanish colonial times as well as art nouveau and art deco. The same vibrancy and sense of renewal permeates Cuban life at all levels, from the incredibly well-informed and impeccably trained local guides, to shopkeepers, budding entrepreneurs and street-vendors alike.
Also working toward a better future, the local baseball leagues as written about in the New York Times on December 15 article-indeed we were on the same flight to Havana with many of the journalists dispatched there, some of which we ran into during our daily excursions and exchanged high-fives! Like the locals, they too, not to mention the Cuban players, were filled with excitement and eagerness about what the future might hold.
My purpose with this posting is not to comment on the politics of the country as that is not my area of purview nor my place to do so, but rather to share my observations and amazement at the resiliency of the Cuban people, full of admiration for the way in which they have, against huge odds and deprivation, managed nonetheless to conduct their daily lives with pride and dignity. I know that there are people that hold the view that travel to Cuba should not be encouraged until the political situation is more reflective of our own interpretation of democracy, however in my view, doing so would further delay Cuba’s progress and deprive their citizens of much needed support.
Indeed what I can attest to, is that the Cuban people are extremely grateful for the many US visitors that have traveled in droves to Cuba particularly this year and in doing so, have in fact by way of tips, gifts and in the case of musicians by purchasing their CDs, helped them financially.
Of course the major focus of our trip was the jazz festival for which everyone in the group was in possession of the much prized “full jazz festival credentials” which “theoretically” guaranteed access to all concerts as well as seating at the main venue, the Mella Theatre.
However, as we had been previously warned “this is Cuba” thus we needed to be flexible and expect the unexpected, a prophecy which indeed came to pass, when on the first day of the festival I was advised that the festival organizers had heavily oversold the concerts thus, no guarantee of seating at the Mella! As a very experience travel professional, with Lowell’s help and that of our Cuban partners, we made the necessary adjustments to our daily schedules and nonetheless managed to secure seats for all our participants! This feat was certainly worth the effort as all performers featured lived up to Cuba’s reputation as the young and talented pianist Roberto Fonseca declared “Cuba is a music factory” with an output of the highest caliber. Indeed we were enthralled by the opening performances by the amazing Ernan Lopez-Nussa Trio and for the first time ever in Cuba, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band who joined together in an amazing and rousing finale. Other notables on subsequent evenings included, Cesar Lopez & Habana Ensemble; Pancho & Danial Amat;
The incomparable Orlando Valle Maraca joined by the remarkable Steve Turre with his prized conch shells; the trumpeter Bobby Carcasses joined on stage by the indefatigable Omara Portuondo, the Diva from the Buena Vista Social Club!, not to mention Arturo O’Farrill and so many others at the other twelve venues. With an eye toward future “rising stars”, we enjoyed a private performance during one of our dinners, by the very talented Jorge Luis Pacheco whose credits include performances with Winton Marsalis and JLC Orchestra as well as appearing at JLC Dizzy’s and the Blue Note Jazz Festival in NY-to be sure a name to be remembered! Lucky for us, Jorge was accompanied by the gifted drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa, member of the Lopez-Nussa musical dynasty which includes Ernan as well as Harold! Needless to say, Cuba lived up to and exceeded all our expectations, affording our group an unforgettable experience which I am certain, Shop Wine and Dine will repeat in 2016.
Best wishes for a Healthy, Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful 2016!
Having survived hurricane Sandy, the madness of the holiday season and simply and gratefully, just a lot of work, I am finally able to post my second piece about my experiences and thoughts following my attendance at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre last October.
As mentioned in my previous blog-post, my main focus during Terra Madre was on the issue of GMOs which I will comment on again later, but one other conference caught my attention particularly given the proximity of the elections in the USA at the time and its sad aftermath-the defeat Prop. 37 in California.
The conference topic was “Le Etichette Narranti” loosely translated: “The Labels that Tell a Story” and what a story they tell!
According to Slow Food, the “story” of food products begins at their very origin-all of which encompass their provenance, their natural habitat, diversification of a species, cultivation by sustainable farming methods as well as energy consumption and more.
Within those parameters and taking this concept many steps further, the Etichette Narranti initiative launched by Slow Food, supports small, family-run farms that cultivate products as diverse as the regions that spawned them, often recuperating indigenous varietals/breeds that were on the brink of extinction, and whose farmers have committed themselves to preserving and maintaining their natural habitats natural and evolution.
Progressing along this concept then, when bringing their products to market, the farmers that adhere to this concept, indicate on the label or visibly post at their farms or estates, how their product came to being, specifying how it was produced, the energy consumed to produce it, and of course the true nutritional value.
Thus, just as a Slow Food is the opposite of fast food, Etichette Narranti is the total opposite of what the multinationals are fiercely fighting against-posting truthful labels on products-be they vegetables, breads, pastas or other prepared foods-that clearly indicate whether GMOs were used to produce them or as feed for the animals/fish that we purchase.
Keep in mind for instance that indigenous varietals of beans contain far less carbohydrates and much more protein than the GMO produced counterparts; furthermore as also in the case of flour/breads, they are a better nutritional option for those who suffer from diabetes and other ailments that are currently reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world.
In addition much more energy is required to produce the GMOs whereas the only thing that the indigenous seeds require is that the farmer save them from one harvest to the next-thus not having to depend on purchasing them from and be beholden to the multinationals and in doing so, simply employing his/her skills as well as knowledge about/and/respect for the environment while working with nature to bring his products to harvest and to the marketplace.
Alas, given the millions that the multinationals devoted to their cause, Prop. 37 was defeated but not all is lost in the battle for the right to know what we as consumers serve on our table. The future looks bright if schools, many with the support of their local Slow Food chapters throughout the world, run programs to encourage healthy eating by cultivating school gardens as championed amongst many others by Alice Waters-a very good friend and supporter of Slow Food and its founder Carlo Petrini.
In addition, programs such as University of New Hampshire’s Dual Major in EcoGastronomy ,whose Director, Dan Winans, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting during Terra Madre, train students to integrate sustainable agriculture in whatever fields their future careers will take them. Dan was accompanying a delegation of such young and enthusiastic UNH students who while in Italy taking part in UNH study-abroad program in the Marches, attended Terra Madre as shown above, proudly posing with Carlo Petrini whom I too had thehonor of hearing speak and meet at a press conference.
Surely these students and others like them, will have an impact in the fight to protect sustainable farming methods and for the right to know what we ingest.
But in addition to these wonderful young people, there is light that is starting to shine at the end of the dark GMO and land grabbing tunnel. Main-stream journalists have been writing more about this subject such as NY Times Mark Bittman’s articles A Simple Fix for Farming of Oct. 21, 2012 and Fixing our Food Problem-Jan. 1, 2013; NY Times Michael Kugelman the Global Farmland Rush Feb. 5, 2013.
And in February 22 Wall Street Journal’s What’s Lurking in Your Pantry/Applied Food Chemistry by Michael Shermer’s, illustrates just how daunting of a task it is to make informed decisions about the food we eat. But I take issue with a comment made by author of Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss’s who states “”we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.” because the tragedy is that most consumers have no idea about what they are eating thanks to the intentionally confusing or incorrect labeling on many food products being sold in supermarkets in this country-not to mention the sale of fish that proclaims to be what it is not or horse meat in their hamburger patties and meat balls!
There may also be an ally in the fight against GMOs in Montana’s Senator Jon Tester, who, as a guest on the John Maher show on January 25, 2013, spoke about also being a farmer but stating that he and his wife choose to reject mass-market farming methods refusing to plant and harvest crops utilizing GMO seeds, thus operating their farm following strict sustainable farming methods.
But what about the US Government agencies and officials that are meant to protect our health and food supply? Having a White House garden is wonderfully symbolic but perhaps our First Lady Michelle Obama might want to consider furthering the cause of ensuring a nutritionally sound food supply which would certainly make “Obamacare” a lot more cost-effective in the long-run or perhaps our current Surgeon General, who, not unlike her predecessors, keeps a very conspicuous low profile on the subject as reported by Mark Bittman in his Feb. 20 NYTimes column: Our M.I.A. Surgeon General.
I realize that organic, GMO-free products, grass-fed meats, free-range-heritage poultry or wild-caught fish may not be readily available or affordable for many consumers, but everyone should have the right to know what is contained in the food they ingest and be able to make informed decisions about how they choose to feed themselves and their families.
I had the great privilege of attending Slow Food’s Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto, held in Torino from Oct.25-29, 2012. For those who are not familiar with the organization and the world-wide convention that is held in that magnificent city bi-annually, please click here- Terra Madre
For me, going to Torino is going home, as that is the city where I was born, in an apartment that is literally steps away from Porta Palazzo, the largest open-air market in all of Europe (my brother owns that apartment now!)
It’s no coincidence then that I grew up enjoying the best and freshest food available on a daily basis, usually prepared by my grandmother who was from Puglia and my mother, a great cook who has also adopted some Piedmontese culinary traditions along the way. Add to this mix my father’s Neapolitan origins and it’s no surprise then, that following a long career in the airline field, I would devote my attention and efforts to creating food & wine travel experiences.
Growing up with wholesome food had an immense impact on me, even as my family eventually moved to the US, where 46 years ago genuine Italian food products and ingredients were not readily available. In spite of that, our culinary traditions continued consistently throughout the years, traditions that I honored later in my life as I raised my own children.
Alas, this culinary tradition is not something that everyone has had the fortune to rely upon and as a result, particularly in the US, many people are left to make choices based on what’s being “advertised” as “healthy” and “wholesome”, leading many consumers to buy foods of dubious provenance and nutritional value.
Going back to Terra Madre, indeed food provenance, pedigree and clarity about our food supply, were the main focus of many conferences and workshops, during which the issue of “seeds”, particularly those that are genetically modified, took center stage and were the topics that I focused on during TM.
Now I am not a scientist and not a particularly militant person, but this issue has truly raised my antennas to what I see as a developing and disturbing trend toward obfuscating the truth about the food that is being packaged and sold to unsuspecting consumers the world over. Yes it’s our own individual responsibility to make sure we are informed and selective consumers, but how are we to do that if the FDA, the multinationals and their lobbyists are hell-bent in hiding the truth?
During TM, it was incredibly heartening to see the amount of efforts and devotion that local, small, artisanal and in many instances very young producers, who with the support of Slow Food have managed to bring back and keep alive ancient, sustainable farming practices and in the process, bring back to life ancient seeds that would have become extinct had it not for their collective efforts.
It would be impossible and not within my scope to report on every conference that dealt with this subject, and to be sure, I don’t feel that I have the right credentials to express in a clear and concise way the scientific research that so many gifted and eloquent speakers shared with the audience; however, below are some of the key points that we should all ponder and make our own determination about as to where our own efforts and opinions should lead each one of us.
Indeed, perhaps farming practices that utilize GMOs were probably essential in some extreme cases where, had it not been for increased yields, many people, particularly in third-world countries, would have faced starvation. On that basis, the efforts of the scientists and the investments of the multinationals in developing these “super seeds” were and probably will still be of immeasurable benefit. However, as each crisis is being conquered and the long-term, ill effects that these genetically altered seeds have been known to inflict have been determined-i.e. depleting the environment’s resources, lower protein and higher carbohydrates content thus promoting obesity and diabetes for example- the time has now come to reverse these practices, to regain food sovereignty and demand our right to know as consumers and human beings what we choose to put on our tables.
Words from Terra Madre 2012
“The new battle for life,” is how Marcello Buiatti of the University of Florence described the current situation, in which seeds are patented and soils “doped” with chemicals, causing the decline of biodiversity and complete dependency on a handful of multinationals. “Seed monopoly is the new colonialism,” said Ahmad Taheri from Iran. “There are very severe laws against doping in sport,” he added, “so how com there are none when it comes to the soil where our food grows?”
Freedom of seeds
Food sovereignty is a gift from the creator and Mother Earth
Everything is a spiritual being including seeds, the beginning of all life and not the invention of the multi-nationals
Seeds are life and cannot be sold or brought
We must control seeds, whoever controls seeds controls food & freedom
One must speak of seeds if speaking of food
Seeds are key to food sovereignty, health, ecology
Seeds are a loan from the past generations and must be passed on to future generation
Genetically modified sees are barren and cannot propagate
Life is a maze of connections, so if we change one link, we destroy the chain
Life in biosphere lives due to diversity
No plant diversity=no human diversity=death
Allow plants to go to seed to allow plants to adapt to their environment
Hybrid sees cannot be replanted thus do not acquire the ability to adapt to their local environment as indigenous seeds do and as a monoculture, could fall prey to diseases and be wiped out with no back up crop
Science is playing with life without knowing the consequences- to automate life is to kill it
75% of seeds are controlled by 5 multinationals
There are laws against doping in sports i.e. Armstrong, but no laws against doping of seeds
Multinationals should be liable for doping of seeds and poisoning the environment
Laws in land (Italy) criminalize diversity by preventing the exchange of indigenous seeds amongst farmers.
Please see below useful links leading to more detailed information about the various conferences and speakers.
Also look out for my next blog post on clear and informative labeling and the defeat of Prop. 37 in California: Appalled by the defeat of Prop. 37 in California which was hoped would be the trend to be followed across the US, how can we as concerned and relatively informed consumers carry on with the task of making the FDA, multinationals, lobbyists and our political leaders such as they are, respond to what is a consumer’s right, to know what is contained in the products that we purchase?
Eccomi finalmente*, begging forgiveness for this long hiatus between postings.
Over the last spring and summer I had planned to travel to Piemonte in April and May but thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland last April that prevented 10 out of a group of 14 from reaching Piemonte, I actually had to travel there again last June and immediately following off to amazing Friuli Venezia Giulia with another group.
Each trip was absolutely perfect and accompanied by my terrific travel companions, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit top estates such as Angelo Gaja, Bartolo Mascarello, Bruno Giacosa, Aldo Conterno, Paolo Scavino, Giacomo Conterno, La Spinetta, Luciano Sandrone and Oddero in Piemonte; Radikon, Gravner, Jermann, and Fantinel in Friuli and finally Movia in Slovenia. In the coming weeks I will share stories and photos from these trips that I hope will be of interest but for now, I must continue with our Amazing Women of Piemonte series.
Our next featured woman winemaker is Maria Teresa Mascarello, who since her father’s demise has had to fill some pretty big shoes in becoming the winemaker at Bartolo Mascarello.
Salve* everybody! I could not have picked a better way to start our second blog posting than to announce the winner of the fantastic prize that Shop Wine and Dine was proud to offer to all participants at the Divinale-Women in Wine Week events which concluded last week at City Winery. The prize which includes a three-night stay for two in the fabulous Langhe at the 5* Relais Monforte, dinner for two including wines at the Michelin 1* Ristorante Guido in Pollenzo as well as a wine tasting with a top wine producer, is going to Judith Peterson!
Auguri* Judith, it is safe to assume that you and your traveling companion will have a fabulous time! Apart from Shop Wine and Dine’s prize, Divinale was a resounding success! What else could a wine lover, be it a woman or a man, want? It had it all, great winemakers who personally and proudly presented their wines such as Alessia Antinori and Cristina Mariani-May, seminars, tastings and of course great food. Divinale is sure to become a yearly event so mark your calendars for March 2011!
As I mentioned on our last posting, on and off over the next few weeks, we will be telling you bits from the lives of some of the Amazing Women of Piemonte. Lucky for me Bruna Grimaldi was in New York City a couple of weeks ago and I took the opportunity to meet her at her hotel for a chat over coffee. What struck me immediately was her warmth and the passion she conveyed for her work as well as her total dedication to her craft, something that certainly is the case with all great winemakers particularly those who have “grown up” in the vineyards. Such was indeed the case with Bruna Grimaldi whose fondest memories of her life in the luscious vineyards of Serralunga d’Alba are of her maternal grandmother, Nonna* Angela with whom Bruna spent most of her summers as a child. As she tells it, tending to the vines is hard work but when the summer midday sun was scorching the earth and her grandfather after lunch retreated for the obligatory pennichella*, Bruna and Nonna Angela would go to the vineyards, tending to the grapes, pruning where needed or even applying sulphur, by all accounts a back-breaking job. Inspired by her nonna, a true and original donna del vino*, Bruna eventually became one herself.
Of the three sisters in her family Bruna was the only one who pursued studies in enology, studies that led her to her husband, also an enologist. In 1999 she eventually inherited the estate and aided by her husband, her father, and during harvest mamma e figli*, Nonna Angela’s Serralunga d’Alba Badarina vineyards were replanted to facilitate the work and are now where Bruna’s top wine, Barolo D.O.C.G. Badarina Vigna Regnola is cultivated. She also inherited her father’s estate in Grinzane Cavour where from newly planted vines, in 2011 she will be releasing for the first time another Barolo. From her recently purchased Roddi vineyards, look out for another new release, the 2011 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio; yielded from existing 15 year old vines, it is destined to become another classic.
As her outstanding wines have garnered accolades from both press and consumers alike, Bruna’s future dream is to build a baita* immersed in the hills of one of her vineyards. A simple refuge, just one big room with unimpeded views of the magnificent vineyards, where her visitors can in total harmony with the environment, savor and appreciate the fruits of her hard labor. Given her proven success as a winemaker and a businesswoman, I have no doubt that this dream will become a reality.
But in spite of Bruna’s great achievements or perhaps because of them, she has only one regret, it being that Nonna Angela did not live long enough to rejoice in her successes as a winemaker and most of all to see how her Badarina vineyards have become the jewel in Bruna Grimaldi’s well deserved crown! As a practical note, Bruna Grimaldi has maintained the cost of all her wines at 2002 levels making them a superb value not to be overlooked!
Finally our promise to share some of the recipes created by our Amazing Women Chefs of Piemonte. As a first step toward providing a “complete” Piemontese meal, one of the most traditional antipasto langarolo* is Carne Cruda all’Albeseas served by Clelia Costa of Tra Arte e Querce.
Our featured primo piatto* is the quintessential Piemonte classic, Tagliolini con Sugo alle Tre Carni, a home recipe that has become a trademark for Claudia Francalanci of La Contea.
I wonder what great Piemonte wines you would pair with these two fabulous recipes…. share your picks with us and at our prossimapuntata* we will share the chef’s own preferred pairing!
Arrivederci alla prossima*!
*Italian Words of the Week
Auguri-best wishes or congratulations
Donna del vino-winemaking woman
Mamma e figli-mother and children
Antipasto langarolo-appetizer from the Langhe (the Langhe is the main wine-producing wine are of Piemonte)
Primo piatto-needs no translation!
Prossima puntata-next episode
Arrivederci alla prossima-till the next time
I have been very patient over the last year or so, something that is not very easy for me to do, wondering when the right time might be to launch the Shop Wine and Dine Wine Travels blog.
Certainly our tours featuring some of the top wine makers in Italy, indeed the world, have given us plenty of material to draw upon, but something has held me back until now.
I didn’t want this to be just another blog, but as in our tours, I wanted to be able to offer a glimpse into Shop Wine and Dine’s unique perspective on what a wine tour to Italy should offer, along of course with some useful information and interesting anecdotes that visits to these winemakers “immancabilmente”* provide.
And so I decided that “Divinale-Women of Wine Week” to be held at City Winery from March 8-13, in honor of Women’s History Month, was going to be our debut into the world of blogs!
Apart from being present at the Grand Tasting on Saturday March 13 from 1-5PM, Shop Wine and Dine will be raffling off a three night package for two featuring the 5* Relais Monforte, dinner for two with wines at a Michelin 1* restaurant and a visit at a top winery in the Langhe! So if you have been dreaming of a wine tour to Piemonte, this may be the time to make your dreams come true!
But how else could we have honored Women’s History Month? Well, in true Shop Wine and Dine’s fashion we created an exceptional tour-Amazing Women of Piemonte, an Italy wine tour like no other that will feature only women winemakers and chefs, some of the best of the region, also encompassing the International Alba Truffle Fair!
In the coming weeks we will be featuring stories about these “Amazing Women of Piemonte” sharing some insights about their lives, dreams and visions for the future. We will also share some special recipes that our women chefs have generously shared with us so please look for our next posting for further details.
Lastly, Shop Wine and Dine’s mission is also about sharing insight and knowledge about Italy and Italians. As an Italian-born living in this country for many years but still thankfully deeply steeped in the Italian culture, when I speak or write I have a habit, albeit annoying even to me at times, of switching back and forth between the two languages. This happens mostly because in Italian there are certain words that defy translation as they convey a very specific thought or sentiment. I have therefore thought that rather than fighting this impulse, when this happens, I would simply use the Italian words and share them with you as my “Italian Words of the Day” with the albeit poor English translation below.
*Allora, I apologize if this initial posting is a bit longer than most might like but I certainly hope you will enjoy hearing from us with the next posting featuring one of the “Amazing Women of Piemonte”
*Un caro saluto,
*Italian Words of the Day:
Immancabilmente: without fail
Allora: well then….
Un caro saluto: fond greetings (this is one of those poor English translations!)