Salumeria and World Rice Ambassador Gabriele Ferron

La Diva with World Rice Ambassador, Chef Gabriele Ferron!

Darlings!  The third week of February is always a busy time for La Diva!  It's not only my birthday week, but also the same time as the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, so lots of foodie events are happening!

And that is how I found myself at the new Graspa Group resto, Salumeria 104!  I had been emailed about a "free" risotto demonstration and as I had been curious about the new cafe (and would they REALLY serve the elusive-to-Miami Italian guanciale?) the invite had boasted about an all-the-way-from-Italy risotto chef AND it was my birfday, La Diva RSVP'd and was IN.  (cuz I do like FREE on my birthday!  Ahhh, who am I kidding?  I go to the opening of an envelope!)

Spot the Big Bear Man and win a prize!!

The small cafe was dead when I got there at 5:45 pm, in fact, no one was there.  When I asked about the demo, the gorgeous Italian waiter said, "That doesn't start until 7 pm, would you like a glass of wine?"  Yes.  Yes I would.  But, the invite said the demo started at 6....was this some sort of trick to get me there early?  Or just typical Miami disorganization?  Hmmmm...   

Annoyed because I had rushed, I took a table outside in the sun and waited for The DJ to meet me.  Glass of wine in my hand, I watched the passerby and dogs frolicking in the park across the street, I was relaxed and off in my own La Diva head when suddenly, The DJ walked up, gave me a sweet happy birthday kiss and inside we went.

I have to say, all in all, there is no such thing as a "free" lunch, which of course, we all already know that.   There was no where to stand to watch the "free" demo (without being in the way of others) so one had to sit at a table.  And one can't sit at a table at a restaurant and not order any food!

  "Hey, You!  You!  If you sit atta da table, you betta order some food or ba fungul!!!!

The French have their charcuterie and the Italians have their salumeria, both sell a variety of cured meats and sausages and a salumeria is basically an Italian delicatessen specializing in selling (and making) cured meats.  Salumeria 104's menu offered typical Italian cured meats, cheeses and pastas (their cavatelli was homemade and allegedly exquisite!) and YES, there was guanciale on the menu!

The meats included prosciutto di parma, prosciutto san Daniele, cotto al tartufo (truffle), speck, mortadella, bresaola, cacciatorino and parmigiano reggiano, pecorino toscano and bufala (mozzarella.)

We got the platter with parmigiano, prosciutto di parma, cacciatorino and the guanciale and more wine.  It was delicious!  But, what about the demo, La Diva?

Chef begins the risotto by heating up the chicken stock.  To tell you the truth, I was SUPER CURIOUS as to how this demo was going to go....When I first started La Diva Cucina Inc., I had thought about doing a demo risotto for a class but then realized, logistically, it would be boring as all hell.  Risotto making is pretty much 10% prep and 90% stirring....and stirring...and risotto takes a minimum of 30 minutes of stir time.  And adults in a class or demo pretty much have could not ever see Risotto Making 101 as a practical class.

In typical Italian fashion, the start to the demo was a bit, er, chaotic.  They had a large screen above the chef but it really didn't serve any purpose except as a slide show, there were no cameras on the dish as he prepared it even though they had a camera set up on a tripod.  They had a p.a. but had placed it behind the person on the microphone, a representative for the chef, who was going to translate the steps as the chef spoke in Italian.  We couldn't hear anything but mumbling and feedback.

The DJ, who works for a production company producing events for a living, could take no more, called over the owner and explained to him where to position the speaker.  They put it on the floor.  Sigh.  So, with the combination of mumbled translation simultaneously as the chef speaking in Italian in a packed room with no soundproofing whatsoever, it was pretty hard to stay engaged, which disappointed me as a culinary instructor and as an attendee.

The first risotto was risotto with basil but more importantly, check out the Chef's snazzy portable stove!!!  Dang!  I want one.  Did they rent it?  Bring it over with the chef from Italy?  I wish I had taken a closer look at the name......What a gorgeous piece of equipment!

The risotto al basilico looked great but notice how it did not spread out on the plate?  It was quite firm. Would Tom Colicchio approve?  Is that REAL risotto?  Hmmm....would I tend to believe a smarmy Italian-American chef and restauranteur who makes his living "judging" others on tv or a man that has devoted his life to promoting rice and making risotto, is a renowned chef and rice ambassador who comes straight from Italy?  YOU decide.

The risotto was put onto appetizer plates and passed around.  It was creamy and delicious but decidedly al dente.

Risotto with squid ink and calamari.  YUM!

Risotto with pork and cinnamon, my least favorite.  This one was very al dente...was it al dente because the chef preferred it that way?  Or because he was running out of time?  As the demo wore on, the cafe became louder and busier, waiters scurrying about.  I felt a bit sorry for the great risotto maestro, it's hard enough to cook and talk in front of people but to compete over their babbling...just kind of rude.  But then again, poor planning and a lack of technical knowdege contributed to the outcome.

By the time the first sample had come out, we had finished our meat plate and wine but had dropped $60 without really eating.  The DJ, ever observant, had noticed a spread of open wine bottles laid out on the table near the demonstration.  Instead of paying another $10 for a glass, he walked up and filled our glasses with the gratis grog!  And then he did it again.  And again.  And no one stopped him.  (would YOU?!)

La Diva is four glasses in and feeling no pain!

And so La Diva enjoyed a lovely birthday and realized that risotto IS still a hard dish to demo but in spite of the demo hiccups, we had a wonderful time!  (and I left with all the recipes demonstrated and a history of Italian rice in a small booklet!)  Molto grazie, Risotto Maestro, Chef Ferron!

Two Weeks of FABULOUS Birthday FUN with La Diva Cucina!

La Diva at Salumeria in Midtown Miami for my birthday!

Darlings!  I DO SO LOVE having a birthday in February in Miami!  After living half my life in the cold midwest, it's so nice to finally be able to celebrate my special day without freezing my patootie off and trying to navigate ice strewn sidewalks in spike heels, cursing the cold and wishing I was somewhere warm, because now, finally, I AM!  

Because winter time is "HIGH" season in Miami and the city and beaches are loaded with tourists and snow birds, there is always myriad events and fun things to do!

The week before my birthday, The DJ was doing a large event for an important client from Germany and was working downtown, so for convenience, the client put him up in one of our fave Miami hotels, The Epic.  Knowing how much I loved it there and how much I needed a little break from work and "life," The DJ asked if I wanted to start my celebrations a bit early by staying with him a few nights downtown?  OF COURSE, I did!  And since I had requested a massage as my birthday present, perhaps La Diva would like one from the hotel spa as well?  YES, DARLING, INDEED I WOULD!

View from our balcony on the 18th floor

So, The DJ picked me up from home, small overnight bag packed, and whisked me to our fave taqueria on Calle Ocho in Little Havana for a cheapie dinner, knowing my stay at the hotel would be anything but "cheap!"

Upon checking in, I recognized Les Clef d'Or concierge Gene Ruotolo, whom several years before made our stay at The Epic so memorable and fabulous.  He was happy to see me and didn't hesitate to do something special for me when I told him I was there to get a bit of "R and R" and celebrate my birthday.  He quickly handed me a spa guest pass, wished me a fabulous time, and we went up to the room to get settled.

This is part of the offerings of The Epic's mini bar, very nice and "high end."  I had to take a photo of the 
M & M's, mini Snickers and peanuts in the Kimpton sealed, zip lock bags on the right.  I guess someone in the hotel finally got wise to people replacing mini bar items taken from the night before and replacing them with cheaper, drug store replicas the next day!  haha!  (hey, it always worked for me!)

 As it was such a gorgeous, balmy night, The DJ and I enjoyed a few glasses of wine on the balcony and afterward I lounged in the lovely, extra deep bath tub.   Soon after, we went to bed, hubby had an early start and I had booked a yoga class at the fitness center courtesy of Gene the concierge!

This is the day and view I woke up to the next morning, simply gorgeous!  After a small breakfast, yoga and a quick work out on the bike, the hard part of the day was over, so I quickly changed into my swim suit and headed straight for the pool.

The colour of the pool water alone was very enticing to this Sirena and I couldn't wait to get down there!  After doing 20 laps in the cooler pool, I went over to the other pool that was heated to almost jacuzzi temperatures and lounged with my fashion mag until my belly grumbled and I decided to order lunch.  I splurged and got a bacon, cheddar chicken sandwich with fries, ooh yes and sighed deeply.  It's very rare for me to take a day off midweek to do something like this and I was enjoying every minute of it!

"Um, yes, I WILL have another Arnold Palmer, thank you very much.  Oh and YES, thanks for fixing my towel into a head pillow, cheers."  *sigh*  A girl could get used to this!  In fact, I had texted MOI  the night before and told her how easy it was for me to slip into luxury....Her response?  "Why couldn't WE be trust fund kids?!"  Moi gets it too.  At 2:45, I put on my fluffy hotel robe and headed up to the spa to get my massage and acupuncture treatment at the Exhale Spa. 

After several hours of blissful back-kneading that seemed to go on for an eternety, I left the spa, with a dazed and heavy head, and slowly made my way back to our room.  On the desk waiting for me was a lovely bottle of pink champagne on ice along with a lovely card thanking me for choosing The Epic.  I just love those thoughtful little touches at a nice hotel.

Since hubby was hard at work and would not be back for hours, I realized that I had NO CHOICE but to open it and drink it immediately.  Naturally, I called down to the concierge and thanked them profusely.  *sigh*  Now La Diva was REALLY feeling relaxed.  There was no way I would be heading home that night and for purpose anyway?  To go home to an empty house?  I think not.  

After a number of glasses of champagne on my own, La Diva was feeling very inspired and thought the colour of the bubbly matched the clouds and fading sun on those buildings on South Beach.  See?  See?!

The DJ walked in about 5:30 pm and told me he had dinner plans with the client but would be happy to cancel to keep me company.  I said, "You will do no such thing!  This client is too important!"  So, while he went off to Burger and Beer Joint with the boys, La Diva poured the rest of the champers and scanned the dinner menu.

Hmmmm...this lovely barley and grain salad sounds healthy and tasty, and I can get a side of chicken, shrimp or steak with it.  I called down to room service and ordered my dinner and asked for the steak side, all that lounging by the pool and drinking sure did work up my appetite!  I was surprised when the waiter asked me how I wanted it cooked?  "Medium rare, of course, and DON'T forget the chocolate mousse."  Those chocolate covered bananas from the mini bar the night before just didn't do the trick...

The meal was delicious!  But there was something that I didn't understand...the kitchen had sent me an entire steak!  The steak was an "add on" to the salad for only an additional $9.  Adding it to the $13 salad brought my very generously portioned dinner to $22.  Yet, on the room service dinner menu, a steak dinner was $38!  WHA?  Go figure, I'm not sure if they made  a mistake or not, but I sho did enjoy that steak!

As I watched tv and spread out on the king size bed in my fluffy hotel robe, I realized how much I really needed this time away to look after myself.  I had not had a massage in so long, perhaps years, and taking a day off midweek to "play" was unheard of!  It was a wonderful day and for once, my worries had melted away as I allowed myself that time to just relax and de-clutter my head. That night, I slept deeply and soundly, and I woke up well rested.  I quickly packed, thanked the front desk for a job "well done," checked out and went back to my life on the beach.

Yet to come....

La Diva and Rice Ambassador for the World, Chef Gabriele Ferron from Italy performing "Risottoa Al Basilico" and other delights at Salumeria 104 

La Diva at a private cooking demo for press sponsored by Bertolli Olive Oils with Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani at Casa Tua

Sobe Wine and Food Festival seminar with Momofuku's pastry chef Christina Tosi and sommelier Andrea Robinson!

Stay tuned, darlings, more fabulousness and food porn is coming your way!