Showing posts with label Chefs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chefs. Show all posts

Rave Review: A New Spirit Product JUST for Cooking


One of the perks about being a blogger is you get invited to events in order to review products, chefs or restaurants.   After my last post about cooking with spirits titled "COOKING WITH BOOS,"  I was approached by a PR firm in New York representing a new spirit line for use in the kitchen only.   A lunch would be prepared at the lovely French restaurant La Gloutonnerie by Chef Christian Testa highlighting the new product line in his dishes and would I be able to attend?  I have to admit, I am pretty picky about whom or what I will write about and the main prerequisite to be reviewed is that I MUST like the product, so it's pretty rare you will find a review on this blog, but my curiosity was piqued.   A few days before I went to the Craft Spirits and Beer Show and was bombarded by whiskey producers from states you'd never associate whiskey production with like New York, Texas and Illinois, but this was a new and interesting spirit product:  Spirits I could cook with without losing flavor.  I RSVP'd to attend.

From the company website:  Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits  were designed by chefs to fulfill the need for premium culinary spirits in the kitchen. Unlike any other spirit, Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits are the first family of spirits crafted for cooking.  Whether you are a professional chef or someone who enjoys the pleasures of cooking you will notice the difference when you add Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits to your cuisine. 

Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits combine artisan tradition with scientific innovation to make the world’s first culinary spirits. Our ingredients are all natural and each spirit is heat stable, has no alcohol bite, low in congeners and low in sugar.  You will find each flavor to be balanced and consistent in cooking as any quality ingredient should be.

On the table for each person was a gift bag, a media kit and the menu.  As freshly baked rolls, pate and butter were set out, I ogled the menu, imagining the treats that awaited me in the chef's kitchen.

As we ate our bread, we talked to the inventor of the product, Jim Lindner, a scientist who explained how purchasing an old church in Nova Scotia, Canada and thus learning about the local bootlegging history of the area, had intrigued him to the point of spurring him on to create a new spirit product to which chefs could cook with.   He began to talk to chefs about cooking with spirits and the problems associated with it and then approached food chemists to see if his idea was even plausible.

Thus started the invention and multitudinous testing of Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits by talented and creative chefs from around the nation including Top Cheftestant Ron Duprat and Miami local Tim Andriola of Timo's Restaurant in Sunny Isles, FL.

Trinity, the brand's marketing manager, receives a sample of cognac and passes around one for each of us to try.  Meanwhile, the restaurant's manager heats up more of the same cognac to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.  We are encouraged to sample both.  I find that the cooked cognac has no depth of flavor and has lost it's wonderful, spicy vanilla notes.

Then, a sample of the Rave Review brandy is served while more is heated to the same temperature as the cognac.  We are given both to sample, all of us noting that there is no loss of flavor or depth, both samples tasting exactly the same whether heated or not.  The demonstration illustrated the loss of flavor by cooking with regular alcohol where one is essentially "re-distilling" the product by heating it up again.  It was a very good example of how their product is superior when used for cooking or baking at high temperatures vs. regular spirits.

The waiter brings out the first course:  creamy lobster risotto cooked with brandy.  It is just as delicious as it looks and the brandy flavor is detectable, though not over powering.  After eating up every bite of the chef's delicious risotto, we are invited to the kitchen to watch the chef demonstrate the next dish prepared with the product.

Chef Christian Testa showing us the bourbon flavor of Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits for use in cooking diver scallops.

After searing the scallops in butter and olive oil, Chef Testa adds green onions and grape tomatoes and then flambes with the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits Bourbon flavor.  Just like when one cooks with traditional liquor, the pan ignites and flames shoot up as we all "ooh" and "ahh."  The aroma was just incredible.

The plated demonstration dish:  Seared diver scallops with green onion and tomato, veloute sauce with bourbon flavored Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits.

La Diva and inventor Jim Lindner.  Jim was affable and friendly, and obviously enjoyed answering our questions about his product line.

The same dish is served to the guests and it tasted decadent and divine.  Again, the bourbon flavor is evident yet subtle and absolutely delicious.  I mopped up every last bit of sauce with bread!

The highlight of the lunch:  a vanilla rum souffle!  When this was put down next to me, I greedily thought the entire dish was for moi!  HA!  The waiter served La Diva and then poured over a rich creme anglaise sauce, which he wisely left on the table.  

All of the courses were decadent and delicious, but more importantly, each highlighted what the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirit product was capable of.  Chef Testa did a remarkable job in using the product in classic dishes and elevating their flavors.

Currently, the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirit line comes in four flavors:  brandy, bourbon, hops and rum.  Other flavors are in the works, though Jim explains that more traditional spirits will be considered first, like wine over a spirit like tequila (Yes, I asked!)  Additionally, Jim is experimenting with spice liquors such as cumin, star anise and saffron.

Frankly, the product tastes great and I can't wait to experiment!  Another chef who attended has already been using the product and loves adding the brandy in her bread pudding and the bourbon with her short ribs.  Some recipes from the website include hops bread, Belgian waffles with hops, bourbon apricot pork tenderloin, grilled strawberries with brandy whipped cream and bourbon barbecue sauce.  I already have myriad ideas on how to use the product and will post the results here!  

Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits are produced in Florida and are available retail in convenient 200ml size and for purchase for your restaurant’s kitchen in special 1 liter bottles.  To learn more about the product as well as purchasing for home or professional use, check out the super-cute website for Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits by clicking here.

Darling, what spirit would YOU use out of the line and in what dish?  Do tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now!

Come on Down to the Farm! Free La Diva Cucina Food Demonstration and Farm Tour!

La Diva picking up freshly picked produce at Teena's Pride including sweet corn, celery and purple cauliflower!

Photo courtesy of Steve Levine at


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to see an actual working Florida farm?  TEENA’S PRIDE located in the heart of the southern Florida farming community is a treasure!  Farmer Teena Borek opens up her farm up once a month for tours, a farmer’s market and cooking demonstrations!

Sunday, April 7, 2013
Farm is open from 1pm-4pm, tours are at
1:30 and 3 pm
Cooking demo starts at promptly at 1pm!

La Diva Cucina will demonstrate two quick, easy and unique dishes that everyone (yes, even KIDS!) will enjoy using Teena’s freshly picked veggies and herbs!  

Farm tours are at 1:30 and 3pm.  For more OPEN HOUSE INFO CLICK HERE.

Bring the entire family (but leave the pets at home, thanks!) and enjoy the Florida farmland and fresh air!


Teena's Pride Farm offers a delicious CSA program.  For more information on the program and the farm, please click HERE.

Teena's Pride is known for their delicious heirloom tomatoes!  Come on down and get the last tomatoes of the season!


Traveling NORTH on Krome

Turn LEFT onto SW 272nd Street (Epmore Drive) – (You will see an EXXON Station on the corner at 272nd St.)

Travel west (2.5 miles) to SW 202nd Avenue. Turn RIGHT onto SW 202nd Avenue headin north (0.1 mile) Turn RIGHT onto SW 270 Street. The office is located in the large tan building.

Traveling SOUTH on Krome Avenue

Turn RIGHT onto SW 272nd Street (Epmore Drive) – (You will see an EXXON Station on the corner at 272nd St.)

Travel west (2.5 miles) to SW 202nd Avenue. Turn RIGHT onto SW 202nd Avenue headin north (0.1 mile) Turn RIGHT onto SW 270 Street. The office is located in the large tan building.

Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes!

Darlings!  When I lived in Sydney, there was a very famous breakfast cafe called Bill's (Chef Billy Granger) that had the most amazing ricotta pancakes!  People would line up down the block to eat his dense, rich, cheese-laden pancakes! I made them for my husband for brunch today and they are outstanding! Here's an adapted recipe I cut out from the Sydney Morning Herald years ago: 


Makes 15

(I have both metric and imperial measurements on my measuring cups and used a scale for the flour but if you need to adapt your measurements, then click HERE.)

2 eggs
250 g ricotta
60 ml milk
125 ml natural yogurt
60 ml oil
2 t powdered sugar
180 g self rising flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

Beat eggs and ricotta. Add milk, yogurt, oil and sugar. Add the sifted flour, baking powder, salt and stir until just combined.

Fry the hotcakes (I use a quarter cup measurement) on hot oiled fry pan or griddle. Turn when bubbles appear on top and the underside is brown. Keep warm and serve!

La Diva modification: Add a few blueberries to each pancake on griddle, serve with real maple syrup and butter!

Here's Bill's recipe with honeycomb butter!  Enjoy, darling!

La Diva DEBUTS on ABC's "The Taste!"

ABC's "The Taste" with mentor judges Ludo Lefebvre, Nigella Lawson, Brian Malarkey and Anthony Bourdain

Darlings!  You heard it right, your La Diva is going to be on national television!    While it won't be the first time I've actually been on tv (I DID do a live segment for NBC's local news variety show Live Miami at 11 back in August, 2011) it will be the first time I've been on national television.  The show is supposed to be viewed in over 22,000,000 homes.  Dat's a lot of people, my friends.

I've now been approached a number of times to be in reality and/or cooking shows:

1.  After being flown to The Food Network's Chelsea studios in New York city in November 2010 for The Next Food Network Star, I found I didn't make the cut.  Me thinks the platinum blond hair was too close to Anne Burrell and Guy Fieri's.  (can't have THREE platinum blonds on The Food Network, after all!)  

2.  MasterChef:  I stood in line and auditioned, fed them my famous Thai meatballs and the local food judges loved them and loved me.  I went on to do more camera interviews until I was called back only to find out that I was disqualified.  Apparently the producers didn't know the rules themselves and one cannot compete as a home cook if their main source of income comes from preparing food.  Boo.  I was disappointed and would have LOVED to work with Chef Gordon Ramsay.

3.  The third show??? I can't remember the name but it was going to be for a competition for TV pitchmen, a la Billy Mays, and I was the only woman to try out.  I actually did quite well at the audition but they only picked one person from each city and it wasn't me.  Ah, well.

4.  Hell's Kitchen:  They called me and I said HELLS NO.  I'm not putting myself through that nonsense for any amount of money.

5.  The Next Food Network Star:  NO.  Been there, done that.  (La Diva ain't desperate, after all!)

6.  The Taste:  By this time, casting agents and culinary producers have heard of La Diva and approached me to be on the show.  Since I couldn't make it to the casting calls in New York or Chicago, I filled out an online application and submitted a 10 minute video of who La Diva is and why I would make a great contestant for the show.  I submitted it on July 5, 2012 and the producer called me the next day.  "I LOVE your video, I couldn't stop watching it and wanted to see more!  You are moving on to the next level!"

After a medical check, resumes submitted and background checks, I finally found out, only a few days before the actual filming began, that I was a contestant on The Taste!  La Diva was one of 60 contestants picked from over 7000 people who auditioned!  ABC, here I come!

I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.  Actually, I was pretty funny when I was filming for the show.  I was "kind of" a HAM and was scolded by one of the producers for talking directly into the camera (like I'm used to doing when shooting my own videos!) and I was told to NEVER do that!  A few re-takes later.....a subdued Diva complied.  Only just though.

So, in September on Labor Day weekend, I was flown out to Los Angeles to compete.  I sussed out my competition and recognized some faces from tv, my Facebook friends and also a local chef that I'd met once.  All super talented and good looking, I knew the competition was going to be FIERCE.

The premise of the show is for all cooks, home cooks, professional chefs, etc. to submit a BLIND taste on a spoon to the judges.  Everything you want to convey to them has to be in one very tasty bite.  If one judge only likes YOUR bite, they will put you on their team and you continue on to compete on the show.  If none of them like your bite, you get booted off, end of story, sent home, boo-hoo.

If you get picked, the judge that picks you becomes your mentor and you are on his/her team.  Each judge got to pick only four cooks/chefs each.  Thirty contestants auditioned on day one and La Diva was first to go as part of a group of four for the second 30 on day two.

A day before we competed, we were taken to Whole Foods to purchase our food.  The next day at the filmed audition, we were given a limited amount of time to gather all of our ingredients and equipment and to complete our dish.  I had to make four one bite spoons for each judge and then two extra plus a sample plate to be photographed, all while being filmed and questioned while three other contestants did the same thing.  Like other culinary reality shows, once time is called, you must stop, put your hands up and you are DONE.

Mmmmmmm....darlings, would you like some of my Marmite spaghetti?  Nigella Lawson's take on The Taste can be read HERE.






While I'm not allowed to tell you WHAT HAPPENS until after the show airs, I CAN tell you that the set was incredible.  I took some set photos and impressed my event producer husband with the lighting, rigging and hydraulic judging platform.

The rigging on this show was an event producer's wet dream.  

Additionally, there were multiple cooking stations with state of the art equipment, fully stocked pantry and myriad pots, pans, cooking equipment and utensils to choose from to aid in preparing our dish.  

All in all, I had a wonderful time and met some very cool people.  

 Malarkey by name, full of Malarkey by nature.  

Well, truth be told, at least the ex-Top Cheftestant Brian Malarkey is actually wearing proper shoes here.  When he was on set with me, he only sported flip flops with his cutesy, rolled up skinny jeans.  Not sure what to think of this cabana boy Ken doll.  Well, I DO know what I think of him but we'll leave that for the next post on "The Taste" after the show airs, won't we?  heheh.....

So take a look at a few teaser clips HERE and don't forget to watch La Diva on



And then we'll meet back here again to discuss the results at a later date, m'kay?  Ciao for now, darlings!

Chicago's Girl and The Goat

Darlings!  Did you think I'd forgotten about sharing our fabulous experience at Top Chef Stephanie Izard's Girl & The Goat?  Of course not!  As soon as I confirmed that we were going to Chicago after catering my nephew's graduation party in Detroit, I did not hesitate to book.   But when I went to the restaurant's website, I was told to come back, it was too early to reserve a about April, I made one for Sunday night at 9:15 pm for June 24, the earliest time slot they had!

The DJ and I had enjoyed a wonderful time in Chicago, catching up with dear, old friends and now it was, already Sunday night, our last night in Chi-town, and in the morning, we would be on a plane back to Miami. I wanted our last night to be memorable.

What is it about Chicago restaurants that make many of them so warm and inviting?  Perhaps its because so many of them have large, old fashioned wooden bars and fittings?  The restaurant's main dining room was cavernous and was beautifully appointed with dark wood throughout and dimly illuminated with warm, comfortable lighting.  Unobtrusive old school rock music was playing only loud enough to enjoy but not too loud that we couldn't even hear our own conversation.  

The DJ pointed out  that G&TG had a revolving door instead of a regular one, a feature we noticed at many Chicago restaurants.  We decided that  the intense cold and wind from their harsh winters was most likely the reason many restaurants had them instead of regular doors, allowing patrons to walk in without blowing the frigid air on the dining patrons inside.  This addition added elegance and drama to the restaurant's entrance, the place looked  welcoming, stately and classy.

We settled into our seats and instantly, a waiter appeared.  I like that.  La Diva gets mighty ticked off trying to hunt down a waiter, get his attention and then be kept waiting for her first drink!  He offered us  an extensive craft beer list and wines, of course, but I went straight for the cocktails and ordered a "Double Barrel" which included Old Forester Bourbon, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Bleinheim Ginger Ale, lemon and Angostura bitters.  It was like an upscale version of The Manhattan, very tasty and very adult.

The DJ ordered the "Double Standard" which included Templeton Rye, Ransom Old Tom Gin, lemon and mint.  We loved both of they were strong and sophisticated without being "fruity."  Strong enough for a man but I liked it too....(heh, heh...)

The menu was divided into three sections:  vegetables, fish and meat.  The choices were so unique and sounded unusually delicious.  Additionally, we were offered a "specials" menu which included various oyster dishes, both raw and cooked, and a half a dozen goat items including goat liver mousse, goat carpaccio, goat shank and confit of goat belly.

We were told the best way to eat at the restaurant was to order multiple dishes to share.  Uh oh.  I could see this getting expensive....but honestly, the dishes started at $7 and then went up to $25 for a braised pork shank with most of the dishes' prices ranging between $13-$16.

We ordered four dishes, I knew I wanted to save room for dessert.  But when the table next to us received a gorgeous plate of broccoli, I asked the waiter to add that too.

It was a wood fired broccoli with a rogue smoky bleu cheese in a light buttermilk dressing and topped with spiced rice crispies.  YES.  Like the cereal.  It was heavenly, the smokiness of the grilled broccoli cooked to crisp tender perfection, the bleu cheese none to overpowering and the delightful crunch of the puffed rice.  Surprisingly delicious, I vowed to duplicate the recipe at home.

Since you know La Diva is no slouch in the kitchen, whenever we go out, we like to order foods and dishes I don't make or made with ingredients that I  can't easily get my hands on.  This dish included a combination of tender grilled baby octopus, guanciale, fava beans and radish in a pistachio lemon vinaigrette.  Of course it was delightful!

Then out came the diver scallops, only two, with braised duck, marcona almond butter, green papaya and green almond nuoc cham.  I had never thought to put duck and scallops together but in Asia, they mix seafood with a variety of proteins all of the time, so it worked.  Nuoc cham is a generic name for a Vietnamese dipping sauce.  We were not disappointed.

I couldn't go to Girl & The Goat without ordering any goat and the goat belly confit with crab practically screamed to be chosen.  I don't usually go for pork belly, as I find it much too rich for my tastes, but the goat was subtle in flavor and texture, not overtly fatty and was the perfect foil for the rich crab.  Divine.

Every time The DJ and I looked at the menu, the "Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face" stood out amongst the meat choices.  Pig face?  Really?  I HAD to ask the waiter his thoughts.  He described the dish as a melt in your mouth pork entree full of texture and layers of flavor.  We ordered it.  The pork did not look like a discernable pig's face, it was meat from the tender cheek, over a cilantro reduction, tamarind sauce and a red wine-maple gastrique topped with crispy matchstick fries and a sunny side egg. 

We were told to be indelicate when eating it and to "mix it up" for the best flavors.  Naturally, La Diva needed little encouragement and attacked the plate, cutting it into bite size pieces and making sure I got a taste of everything on the fork in one bite.  HEAVENLY.  This was our favorite dish and one of those that you think about long after the meal....

Ahh, but I told you, I was saving room for dessert, for I knew that if Chef Izard's desserts were anything like her entrees, we would be delighted  and surprised with a unique, sweet bite.

"Mom's Zucchini Cake" looked nothing of the sort!  In fact, it was quite deconstructed for a "cake" and resembled more of a crumble!  The broken cake sat atop a gorgeous marscapone mousse with a sweet lemon eggplant and tomato caramel.  The dessert just sounded so wacky with all of the savory vegetables, we HAD to try it, I was curious how they would use these usually savory veggies in the  form of a sweet dessert.  It was easy to eat, tart and sweet at once, with a lovely, unique texture that one would not normally expect of your usual slice of cake.

The next dessert was a luscious goat cheesecake with a hazelnut crunch, candied beets and cajeta, a Mexican goat milk caramel.  I used to hate beets until I learned how to roast them to bring out their natural sweetness and never would have imagined enjoying them in this uniquely more-ish dessert.


Full but not stuffed, satiated and delighted, we got a cab back to our hotel, dissecting each course in our conversation.  It's not often that I find food that is unique without being insanely priced, especially when using high quality, artisanal and boutique farm ingredients and produce.

And so our last night in the fabulous food city of Chicago ended, Girl & The Goat etched in our memories as a new "must go to" restaurant for our next visit.  Well done, Chef Izard!

EXOTIC EATS (and dear old friends!) are FOUND in the Midwest!

Home made flat bread and garlic sauce at Le Saj restaurant in a Detroit suburb.

Darlings!  If there is any one THING I LOVE about eating out in America it's the richly diverse food offerings we have throughout the country.

And Detroit is no exception!  Boasting the nation's highest concentration of Arab populations in the United States (with Lebanese comprising of one third of that population) it stands to reason that absolutely authentic and gorgeous Lebanese food is readily available in Detroit and its suburbs.

Now that I live in Miami, which has a very LARGE Latin population with relatively few Arabs, I find that whenever I get back to Michigan, I MUST get my fix of Lebanese food whenever I visit my hometown.

(from Le Saj website cuz mine came out way too blurry!)

My all time favorite Lebanese meal is kibbee naye, a dish comprised of raw, very lean ground lamb blended with cracked wheat and seasoned with spices (any combo of allspice, ground cloves, cinnamon or ground coriander.)

I grew up in Michigan eating Lebanese food and to a little girl Diva, eating this exotic raw meat specialty was no stranger than eating a huge bowl of mostaccioli with sausage, pork and chicken on a Sunday afternoon at my Auntie's house. Kibbee paved the way for this cavewoman to try and then fall in love with the Italian raw meat dish of carpaccio and also steak tartare later on when I was out on my own.

Kibbee naye is served with olive oil, fresh parsley, raw onions and plenty of fresh pita bread to scoop it up.  The cracked wheat gives the meat a bit of texture and the onions add a pleasant crunch.   The dish is to be served not hot or cold, but at room temperature to allow the subtle seasonings to be tasted and savored.

Chicken tawook (from their website)

So with two hours left in town, my sister insisted on taking me to Le Saj, a Lebanese bistro that specializes in making their own pita bread in a traditional oven called a "saj."  Served hot with a garlic sauce which can only be described as a "Lebanese garlic aioli," one could make a meal of the bread and dip alone.

We also partook in fattoush (a mixed green salad with toasted pita bread and mint, a bread salad) fried kibbee (picture from Le Saj webpage!) which is lean ground lamb AND beef stuffed with onions and pine nuts and served with labneh, a creamy and refreshing yogurt sauce including garlic and cucumbers. I also had the chicken tawook (kebab) which is divinely marinated and grilled on skewers and served with more labneh.

Delightful and different, I never tire of eating healthy and clean Lebanese food! And it certainly beat the heck out of eating a Coney Dog at the airport!

Years back when I lived in Chicago, my friends and I would enjoy the Ethiopian food at a few small cafes on North Clark street. I'll never forget the first time I tried it. Ethiopian food is so unusual in it's flavorings, it reminded me of Indian food because of its complexity, it's layer of flavors and the lentil and meat dishes that were served like a stew. But instead of basmati rice, the whole lot is served on (and scooped up with) the unique and vinegary, sponge-bread, injera.

The usual Ethiopian haunts are now gone as real estate on North Clark has certainly climbed, so my friend Thom took The DJ and myself to another place, The Demera Ethiopian Restaurant on North Broadway across the street from the famous Green Mill Cocktail Bar.

We started off with a plate of spinach sambussas, which are amazingly like the Indian samosa and just as delicious and spicy.

Thom then ordered a combo platter, starting with the doro wat, a chicken stew with berber sauce, an Ethiopian chili sauce, along with ginger and hard boiled egg, it's their most popular dish.

The platter also included ye-misir wot or split red lentils in a spicy sauce, quosta, a chopped spinach cooked with onions, garlic and ginger, as well as a chick pea stew and various other offerings of beef, fish, more lentils and a cooling, refreshing salad.

The platter was $45, and we were happy to pay $15 a person for the bountiful platter, there was even enough for leftovers for Thom!

Satiated, I looked over at Thom, a dear friend whom I've known and adored for almost 30 years, and The DJ, who had only met Thom for the first time a few hours before...they were laughing and having a grand time. We were meant to go to Chef Grant Achatz's The Aviary for molecular and pricey cocktails at 10 pm and it was now 9 pm.... I'd made the reservations months in advance and then confirmed earlier.

Looking at their smiling faces, hearing their laughter and seeing the focus they had on each other's words, I knew it would not happen. So we paid the bill and went across the street to The Fat Cat, another one of the plentiful Chicago bars lining the street, to continue with our merry making. After all, who knows when we would be together again and a cocktail is, well, just another drink. (even if it does have smoke coming out of it!)

STAY TUNED, DARLINGS, for my FABULOUS post about our visit to ex-Top Cheftestant Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat!

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!