By Not Drinking, This Bartender Became Better At His Job

HuffPost. January 2023.

Eric Nelson is the creator of Portland’s hot new cocktail bar pop-up Shipwreck and co-owner of Eem, Phuket Cafe and Langbaan restaurants. As a sober bartender, he is also on the forefront of the local no-proof movement. After hitting rock bottom, Nelson attended a 45-day rehab program and emerged sober and more focused. 

In this Voices in Food story, Nelson talks about how he became a better bartender, inspiring others to speak out about the importance of good mental health and changing the stigmatized work culture.

When I started working in the restaurant industry, everybody wanted to be like Anthony Bourdain. It was cool to go out and party after work. I also fell into that trap when I was around 25 years old. It started off as a fun thing to hang out with co-workers, but 10 years later, I would wake up in the morning thinking about when I could get my first drink. At 10 a.m., after dropping my kid off at school, I would start drinking and then continue all through the day. 

As a bartender, I was in a high-risk environment, surrounded by alcohol daily and often expected to drink it. But for me, drinking was much more than an indulgence. It was a way to deal with social anxiety and mask my depression. Drinking numbed my fear, I found it easier to be around people, and as the evening rolled in, it became more fun. A few of my friends competed to see how much we could drink during a shift. There was no shame associated with it.

Restaurants seemed to have raised a society of sociopaths for a long time. We are supposed to leave any personal issues at the door and get to work. Mental health has never been a thing until now.

My turning point happened one day when I was around 37. I had been cheating on my girlfriend. I didn’t like who I was. And then, one day, I decided I was going to quit drinking cold turkey. But before I could do that, I had alcohol-induced seizures while my 1-year-old son was sleeping on my chest. It was really bad, but there wasn’t much I could do. The doctor said that my body relied on alcohol so much that it would shut down if I stopped drinking. So I had to keep putting alcohol in my body until I got to a rehabilitation center and got medication to combat the withdrawal. 

Sometimes if you have been drinking alcohol for so long, you don’t have control over your body anymore and you need external help. You can’t quit on your own. That’s why you need to surround yourself with sober people or join organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Ben’s Friends. You need to be around like-minded people who face similar issues. 

After my recovery, I worked as a delivery driver for a few months before I felt confident to get back into bartending. By then, everyone in Portland knew that I was a recovering alcoholic. I applied to a few restaurants, but they didn’t want to hire me because I was too much of a gamble. Others, I feared working for because they promoted a drinking culture among their staff. I watched owners take shots at the bar and walked out of the interviews. 

Finally, after a frank conversation about my past, the owners of the cocktail bar Expatriate gave me a job. At first, it was super awkward and uncomfortable to return to work as a bartender because I had been using drinking to overcome my social anxiety. Luckily, the therapy I got at rehab helped me recognize where that anxiety stemmed from and how to address it without alcohol. I trained my body and my mind to not have temptation and to not want to drink again. In fact, I got grossed out by the idea of being drunk.

Not drinking is also what helped me become a better bartender. I realized that before, I constantly thought about how to get a drink and feared getting caught drinking or called out at work. I never told anyone about my problem. I was always hiding, trying to get away with something. About half of my thoughts were based on guilt and shame. But now that I don’t consume alcohol, I am able to focus more and be present 100% of the time. The space in my brain has opened up. I am able to be more authentic and sincere with my customers and my co-workers. In fact, I feel I have a laser focus on what is happening around me. It has also opened my palate ― after a while, when you drink as much as I did, you stop tasting things. Now, I experience flavors more intensely.

I also started looking at drinks in a different way. Instead of focusing on what people were drinking, I started noticing how they were drinking. For example, if it was for a celebration, going out or just having fun. I started to use cocktails as a vessel to bring energy to my customers and my work. I love the spirit of drinking, people toasting with drinks ― just not waking up chugging a bottle.

That’s why my team and I created successful cocktail programs and non-alcoholic cocktails that allow you to savor the flavors and the moments. You don’t have to drink soda water or ginger beer when socializing. It’s important to have a fancy glass in front of you so you feel you are part of the group. But like good flavorful food, why not have a creative zero-proof cocktail?

Since my recovery, I have received recognition for my capabilities behind the bar and have gone on to pursue my dreams of opening my own restaurants. And that makes me happier. Life is really good right now; I don’t want to throw that away. 

The industry is changing, thanks to a new school of chefs like Andrew Zimmern, Sean Brock and Mike Solomonov, who came out and said that sobriety and caring about yourself are trendy. It’s not like it was in the 2000s, when the restaurant culture mandated employees have shift drinks. Now, we are strict about allowing only one drink, and there are a lot of employees who don’t drink at all. The industry is changing, but more people need to come out and talk openly. We already have a lot of sober chefs, but we need more sober bartenders.

~ Written for and published by HuffPost. All rights reserved.

Edible Education in Chattahoochee Hills

Georgia Trend Magazine. Jan 2023.

Neat rows of Swiss chard and broccoli heads, towering bright yellow sunflowers and friendly chickens running around — that is not your typical school scene. But Chattahoochee Hills Charter School(CHCS), located in the city of Chattahoochee Hills in southern Fulton County, is an exception.

The K-8 charter school is on a mission to grow 70% of the food consumed on campus by 2025. CHCS has a unique focus on art appreciation, agriculture sustainability and environmental awareness. Students learn to grow, harvest, prepare, serve and eat healthy food as part of the daily routine. Every day, during school hours, they have hands-on experiences that connect their young minds to food, nature and each other. This is not only designed to nurture the body, but to systematically address the crises of climate change, public health and social inequality.

The farm-to-table school lunch idea was started by Alice Waters, one of America’s most celebrated chefs whose name is synonymous with the slow food movement, which uses fresh, organic and locally grown foods. A culinary activist and the owner of famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley, California, Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP) in 1995 to use organic school gardens, kitchens and cafeterias to teach academic subjects and the values of nourishment, stewardship and community. ESP now supports a network of over 5,800 programs at schools worldwide, including the one at CHCS.

The community of Serenbe recently hosted a fundraising reception with Waters, featuring a six-course collaborative dinner created by some of Georgia’s stellar chefs (including Matthew and Tia Raiford of Strong Roots 9Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia and Star Provisions, Claudia Martinez ofMiller Union, and Nicolas Bour of The Farmhouse at Serenbe).Parents and community partners have been heavily involved in supporting CHCS’s programs since the school opened in 2014.

Patrick Muhammad, the principal at CHCS who is also fondly known as the “principal farmer,” had been studying ESP for about five years and developed the school’s first gardens and farm. When he was introduced to Waters via Raiford, a mutual friend, his dream came true.

At the school, you can see a greenhouse that holds thousands of seedlings, tower gardens used for lettuce bases, a two-acre farm for row crops, 50 laying hens, an apiary with three bee hives, muscadine vines and smaller gardens located throughout the campus. There are also plans for workshops on sustainable agriculture for parents, shared kitchens and partnership with chefs to supply and feed the community.

Interested in taking a tour of the school, volunteering at the farm, partnering or donating? Visit chatthillscharter.org.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

The Spirited World of Mexican Agave

AAA The World. Jan/ Feb 2023 print.

As they explore Mexico, curious visitors soon learn that agave is behind many of their favorite spirits. Native to Mexico and part of the Caribbean, agave was considered a sacred plant in pre-Hispanic culture and played a major role in Aztec religious ceremonies. It is believed that the first intoxicating beverage was made from agave plants as far back as 1000 BC. Today, the piña, or central core of this succulent plant, is distilled into sotol, mezcal, raicilla and tequila.

With the trend toward artisanal natural products, agave-based drinks are being produced on much larger scales than ever before to meet demand from trendy bars and consumers across the world. 

Intricacies in plant varietals, distillation processes, flavor profiles and place of origin determine how the spirits are named and categorized. For example, tequila is only made from Mexican blue agave, just as champagne can only be from the Champagne region of France.

In contrast, mezcal, a colloquial term for any agave distilled spirit, can be made from about 40 to 50 of the 200 known species of agave. Raicilla can be made using different types of wild agaves. 

Whether you are looking to expand your knowledge, experience a part of the culture or simply savor these popular alcoholic drinks, here are three destinations in Mexico where agave spirits reign supreme.
   

JALISCO: THE BIRTHPLACE OF TEQUILA 

Hop aboard the Jose Cuervo Express, also known as the Tequila Train, in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco to start your 11-hour culturally immersive tour from the bustling city of Guadalajara to the colorful town of Tequila. You’ll traverse expansive agave fields planted along the rolling hills of the Rio Grande Canyon and enjoy curated onboard experiences such as Mexican-style bingo, educational tastings, Mexican botanas (snacks) and cocktails prepared with Jose Cuervo tequilas. 

On arrival in Tequila, you’ll be greeted by the sweet aroma of roasting agave emitting from the chimneys of two dozen distilleries in this UNESCO World Heritage town. The cobblestone streets and colorful buildings of Tequila also are a federally designated Pueblo Mágico, one of 132 towns in Mexico recognized by the government for their beauty, history or legends. Visit the National Museum of Tequila to learn about the history of this beloved spirit as well as Centro Cultural Juan Beckmann Gallardo to admire Mexican sculptures and art galleries.

You can also take a behind-the-scenes tour of Jose Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery to learn the proper way to sip tequila (hint: it’s not in a shot glass) from a professional Maestro Tequilero.

As guests of Jose Cuervo Express, you have a rare opportunity to visit the agave fields located outside the city and see how the delicate native blue-hued Agave tequilana azul weber plants are tended to and harvested year-round by local men called jimadores. Pop into a few of the bars to taste agave-based cocktails, and check out the gift shops selling crafts made from recycled tequila bottles and paper made from agave plants. Then settle in for the day’s finale: a musical journey and Mexican ballet folklore performed in an open-air pavilion by tap dancers and women in colorful long skirts. 

In the evening, travel back to Guadalajara on the sunset train (or by chartered bus if you’re on the sunrise itinerary). If you prefer to linger to uncover the transformation of the small town for an evening filled with open-air food stalls, live music and congregating families, stay overnight at Hotel Solar de las Animas, which overlooks Plaza Principal, or the main square.
    

RIVIERA NAYARIT: SUN, SAND AND SPIRITS

The 200-mile stretch of coastline in western Pacific Mexico is known for its beachfront all-inclusive resorts and surfing villages. But this tourist getaway also attracts some of the best chefs and mixologists from around the country, making it a hip spot to taste agave-based spirits. 

At the Agave Studio located at the Conrad Punta de Mita, take the hotel’s immersive journey through Mexico to learn about the traditions, growing regions and flavor profiles of six unique agave-based spirits paired with chef-driven antojitos (street food). You can also blend your own mezcal concoction to take home.

Discover the lesser-known spirit raicilla in the Raicilla Master Class at the Auberge Susurros del Corazón resort. Here, Ana Lopez and Juan Pablo, founders of the sustainably crafted La Reina brand, reveal the history of the spirit fondly known as “Mexican moonshine” for its forward flavors, and they demonstrate artisanal fire and in-ground oven cooking processes. 

The learning portion of the class is followed by an exclusive community dinner. Once a month at the resort, you can also experience an emotional shamanic ceremony with drums, dance and raicilla tasting led by medicine woman Sandra Gutierrez. 
 

OAXACA: A CULTURAL CAPITAL 

For generations, growers and distillers in the Zapotec mountains of San Baltazar Guelavila in the state of Oaxaca have contributed to more than 90 percent of the country’s mezcal production. Each July, communities around Oaxaca come together to celebrate the culture of mezcal with concerts, competitions, dances and fireworks at the annual Guelaguetza Festival and Feria Internacional del Mezcal. 

Convite Mezcal was the first in the state of Oaxaca to introduce an intensive program to promote mezcal internationally. In addition to a four-room Airbnb, Casa Convite houses an exhibition room where you can learn the traditional process of producing mezcal, the sustainability of the Casa Convite brand and how they salvage endangered species of indigenous wild agaves. 

Tours of the palenque (mezcal distillery) include tastings at different stages of production and directly from the barrel. Here, you can visit the wild agave plantations and soak up the backdrop of mountains and waterfalls as you enjoy a traditional barbecue lunch of chorizo, bean stew and handmade tortillas.

Back in Oaxaca City, sip Oaxacan mezcal straight up or blended in signature cocktails at renowned bars, tasting rooms and restaurants. Some of the best cozy settings, tasty food and people watching can be found at Sabina Sabe, Selva Oaxaca Cocktail Bar, Casa Oaxaca, Criollo, Restaurant Tierra del Sol and La Quince Letras. 

As your cultural curiosity takes you sipping around different states, you will realize that agave is not just an ingredient for a spirit; it is a part of the history and culture of the Mexican people that connects everything from the gastronomy to landscapes.

~ Written for and published by AAA The World magazine. All rights reserved.

Gabriel Rucker: You Can Be A ‘Cool Chef’ And Still Be Sober

HuffPost. January 2023.

Gabriel Rucker is the chef and owner of Le Pigeon and Canard restaurants in Portland, Oregon. He is a two-time James Beard Award winner, and a relentless advocate for sobriety and helping people in the Portland community who are struggling with addiction. In this Voices in Food story, Rucker talks about why it is important for chefs to move away from the bad-boy persona and to be vocal about promoting a sober, healthy lifestyle in the restaurant industry. 

I liked to party in high school and college. I wasn’t a very good student and was suspended several times for drinking. When it was time to pick a career, the culinary industry seemed appealing, as it looked like it would suit my lifestyle. Anthony Bourdain was my poster boy. So I took cooking classes and started working in the kitchen.

When I got into the restaurant business, alcohol was my main stress aid, but slowly it became a habit. I knew I had an addition — I had seen my father in recovery, but I didn’t want to deal with it at the time. I was busy building my career and thought I’d wait till later to get sober. It wasn’t a priority in my life. 

My wake-up call came in 2013, soon after my second child was born and my cookbook ”Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird” had just come out. I was a horrible mess during that cookbook tour. I wasn’t fully present and often showed up wasted. After I got back in town, we had some neighbors over and I got very drunk and created a scene. That’s when something clicked inside and I felt I needed to make a change. I asked my dad to take me to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

In the beginning, I just needed to learn how to stop drinking and how to live my life without alcohol. AA gave me that foundation — the meat and potatoes of how to recover, a blueprint for how to live a peaceful and serene life. It gave me a solid foundation and helped me see the bigger picture. I have not had a relapse since.

Once I overcame my addiction, I no longer wanted to be anonymous. I wanted to share my story with anyone who could benefit from it. But I did not take any calculated steps in order to influence other people. I was just living a better life myself and sharing what I was doing. In today’s social media age, you can tell when someone is trying hard to grab attention. I wasn’t trying. I was genuine. I guess I was lucky that people were attracted to my run clubs, workout photos, and posts dedicated to sobriety and fitness. 

My recovery-themed tattoo “one day at a time” is the main mantra of AA, which is a constant reminder that you only have to not drink one day at a time. I look at it every time I am stressed about work. But I also have some fun and stupid tattoos that remind me about the time I got wasted and got etched with a stoned unicorn flying out of my underpants! 

I love being a sober chef. I am now able to think more clearly, be more creative, and not come into work hungover, feeling shitty. It’s an amazing feeling! As a leader of my restaurant crew, I am focused and present, and can expect others to do their best, too. I still have stress in my life, but I deal with it by exercising, swimming, eating pizza or simply by spending quality time with my family.

One day, I got a random phone call from Ben’s Friends founder Mickey Bakst asking if I would help start a West Coast chapter in Portland, so chef Gregory Gourdet and I did. I had heard about the organization being beneficial to people in the service industry. They are less structured and work as a complement to AA’s 12-step program, and offer a safe place for people to share their experiences and support each other. It is not only a comfortable place where sober chefs can connect, but also where struggling cooks who are not ready to jump into AA or rehab can find hope and inspiration from people who understand their battle. The pandemic really helped us grow. There were daily in-person and Zoom meetings, so you weren’t as isolated. 

Chefs like me need to be in the forefront of having open conversations around sobriety. Some of us had the idea of collaborating for an event. So, in September 2018, we hosted the first-of-its-kind zero-proof dinner festival with nationally acclaimed chefs at Feast Portland. It was the first big collaboration of sober chefs and zero-proof bartenders. Around 70 people came, and trailblazing cooks like Sean Brock, Michael Solomonov, Andrew Zimmern and myself cooked. We shared our stories and stood together to make a public call for a healthier, less toxic industry. A bunch of young cooks around the country saw this and started thinking about how they, too, can make a change.

I tell my staff that alcohol is not bad. It’s just bad for me because I have an addiction issue. I ruined the privilege of drinking for myself, but I want to give others a choice to not drink, too. Just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean you can’t have a great experience when dining out. My staff and I created a five-course nonalcoholic drink-paired menu so we can show the creativity of our bartenders and servers, while offering a great alternative to diners. 

I think people like us are helping move away from the bad-boy persona that celebrity chefs are associated with. We are trying to show that you can be a cool chef and still live a good lifestyle. I get messages from chefs from all over the country saying they follow me on Instagram or would like to make a similar change in their lives. I give them my phone number and take the time to talk to them. I believe talking in the open about these issues will help create that change across the industry. 

I want to be a sober role model for the next generation of chefs, leading by example. Again, I don’t try to promote myself or be a spokesperson for anything, but rather just be accessible and inclusive. If they pay attention and are attracted to what I am doing, I am open to sharing more stories. 

~ Written for and published by HuffPost. All rights reserved.

Visit These 5 Destinations to Beat The Winter Blues

AAA The Extra Mile. January 2023.

Tired of layering in winter gear, shoveling snow from the driveway, and spending the evening in darkness? Winter blues, aka seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real thing. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend the entire season in hibernation as there are plenty of spots around the world that offer warm weather and sunshine this time of the year. Head to these stunning destinations this winter for a change in mood and a well-deserved escape.
    

THE ST. REGIS BAL HARBOUR RESORT, MIAMI

Deep blue Atlantic waters and expansive white sand beaches, a bustling nightlife, and extravagant shopping make Miami an ideal close-to-home destination whenever you need a little sun and sand. For the ultimate luxury, stay at one of the balcony suites at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. Indulge with a Blue Diamond facial at the Spa and signature Afternoon Tea at La Gourmandise. Nap at one of the Oceanfront Day Villas, partake in a bespoke diamond jewelry design experience at the De Beers store in the lobby, and enjoy a globally inspired, 7-course dinner—perfectly paired with wines—at St. Regis Wine Vault. 
  

SHERATON MAUI RESORT & SPA, MAUI

With 10,000+ humpback whales migrating to Maui’s warm waters each winter, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa is the prime location for whale watching. It offers unrivaled views overlooking the pristine blue ʻAuʻau channel. This area becomes the most protected humpback whale playground in Hawaii, comically also known as “whale soup.” When you book their Kohola in Kaanapali package, a portion of proceeds go to the Whale Trust, a nonprofit that supports marine research and education programs around Maui and throughout the Pacific Ocean. So kick back and relax with some binoculars!
   
   
   
KIMPTON SEAFIRE RESORT + SPA, GRAND CAYMAN 

With a gorgeous Moroccan-inspired spa, native botanical gardens, two ocean-view pools, three signature restaurants, and direct access to the famous Seven Mile Beach, you will have little reason to step outside the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. If you enjoy reading vintage books by the sea, this is the place for you. The resort’s new Library by the Sea cocktail lounge is the first of its kind on Grand Cayman, offering guests a collection of narrative-driven drinkable stories, inspired by works of beloved literature, music, art, and film. Sip on cocktails concocted with 3D printers served at a bar made with reclaimed wood from the airport, and appreciate a restored, hand-made catboat hanging from the ceiling. 
 

TIERRA MAGNIFICA RESORT, COSTA RICA

Nosara is a small, quaint town located on the western coast of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, in what is considered one of the rare Blue Zones in the world that support longevity and good health. Here, you can experience “pura vida” at the family-owned-and-operated Tierra Magnifica Resort. Check in to a 1,500-square-foot master suite and enjoy spectacular views of the bay and forests speckled with tropical birds and howler monkeys. With morning yoga, waterfall hikes, locally sourced nourishing breakfasts, and relaxing time by the pool, you will find your mind and body completely rested. And when you want to explore the town, Nosara offers beautiful beaches, lush green canopies, and some of the best waves in the world for surfing. 
     

FOUR SEASONS RESORT MAURITIUS AT ANAHITA, MAURITIUS

Once you step inside your private villa with a plunge pool and unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean, your winter blues are sure to wash away. The African island of Mauritius is best known for its year-round moderate climate, endless sandy beaches, and friendly hospitality. The 64-acre Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita is the perfect spot to indulge yourself in boundless pleasures of swimming, snorkeling, wellness, golf, and dining. Get a spa treatment in an overwater suite situated along lagoons and tropical gardens, and exercise with a professional boxer at the fitness center.

~ Written for and published by AAA The Extra Mile. All rights reserved.

How to Make Your Own Giant Puppet Doll with a San Miguel Artist in Mexico

Fodor’s Travel. January 2023.

n the opening scene of the blockbuster James Bond movie, Spectre, you may notice the intriguing tall skeleton puppets and skeleton-clad dancers parading the cobblestone streets. Many of these puppets were created by a third-generation local Mexican artist who is one of the few carrying on this artisanal Mexican tradition.

Hermes Arroyo Guerrero is a world-renowned artist in San Miguel de Allende in México who makes mojigangas (giant puppet dolls with oversized heads and small bodies). Dancers wear the tall 3-D handmade puppet dolls at festivals and weddings all around Mexico. The papier-mâché and fabric puppets are especially popular during weddings, as bride and grooms have their faces imaged on the faces of the giant puppets, which the wedding party then parades along with the merrymaking crowds. You can also see dozens of these dolls at annual events held throughout Mexico, such as Dia de Muertos (day of the dead), Dia de Los Locos (day of the crazy), and La Quema de Judas (Burning of Judas) during holy week.

Arroyo, now 52, has been practicing this art since he was only seven years old. While growing up in San Miguel de Allende, he watched his grandparents and father create wooden sculptures of nativity figures and saints for religious events. They were santeros–ones who creates religious statues. As a young kid, he was more attracted to the festivities centered around the patron saint days, which included a lot of food and partying. Then he started dreaming about being among the imaginative figures and started making his own art.

Continue reading on Fodor’s Travel

Spanish – Latin Vibes

Georgia Trend Magazine. Jan 2023 print.

On a Friday night, downtown Alpharetta is bustling with families celebrating, groups of friends grabbing drinks and romantic couples having a date night by candlelight. In the past few months, this suburban enclave has become a hotspot with the opening of new, innovative restaurants, such as the Spanish-Latin restaurant Fogón and Lions by Chef Julio Delgado (formerly at New Realm Brewing and JP Atlanta).

A lively and large 30-seat-bar that opens to the interior of the restaurant on one side and an outdoor patio on the other is the focal point. Traditional Spanish-colonial design elements such as stone walls, tile floors and pops of yellow hint at the chef’s origins in Puerto Rico. A 14-foot-long wood-burning fogón (hearth) makes a dramatic backdrop for the open kitchen. Diners can see an orchestra of chefs grilling skirt steaks, roasting octopus and sautéing in paella pans.

A black-and-white picture of Delgado’s grandfather, who was a butcher in Ponce, Puerto Rico, hangs in the entryway and adorns the cover of the menus. The symbol of a crouching lion pays homage to Delgado’s hometown. Ponce is also called “La Ciudad de los Leones” (city of lions) and was named after the grandson of explorer Ponce de Leon.

The extensive menu draws inspiration from culinary traditions in Spain and its colonies in the Caribbean, Central and South America and The Philippines. The tapas section includes cured meats and cheeses, ceviche, tacos, roasted vegetables and traditional appetizers – so you can explore the world through your palate.

Start with cornmeal sorullos, a popular street food from Puerto Rico that is akin to a Southern-style fried-corn hush puppy, served with lusciously spiced buttermilk syrup. Creamy chicken croquetas are lightly breaded, deep-fried and simply melt in your mouth. Barbequed shrimp taquitos marry sweet barbeque sauce to the fiery poblano cream, on a bed of a refreshing mango salad. For a simple yet flavorful vegetarian dish, have the Catalan-style wood-roasted eggplant escalivada, drizzled with earthy olive oil, fresh rosemary and honey.

Entrées are generously portioned and sharable to round out a meal. One of the restaurant’s signature fire-treated dishes, such as the adobo wood-roasted chicken, is a must. Simmered in a brine of citrus, cumin and peppers, the bone-in chicken is moist and smoky. It is served with cilantro rice, black beans and a chimichurri of roasted-jalapeño cilantro-garlic olive oil on the side.

The chicken and seafood paella is made to order from scratch, so allow 45 minutes to prepare. This version of the classic Valencia dish uses both chicken and seafood (shrimp, mussels and clams), in a juicy bed of roasted onions, pepper and saffron sofrito, cooked and served in a large shallow paella pan.

Rum-glazed plantains have an odd combination of rum, sugar and garlic luster that somehow works. The sweetness makes them taste more like a dessert, but they are traditionally eaten with the mains.

For dessert, Basque burnt cheesecake is creamy in the center and extremely soft, so it crumbles with a fork. Sweet and pucker guava sauce on top transports you to the tropics. Staying true to the theme, the restaurant offers a traditional crema Catalana, the Spanish version of crème brûlée that incorporates cinnamon and orange zest for a delectable ending.

The beverage offerings are as elaborate as the former Spanish empire itself. These include a long list of Spanish and South American wines, imported and local beer, as well as “mis tres amores” (my three loves), some of Delgado’s favorite rum, tequila and whiskey. Cocktails are designed to replicate the happy hours in Latin America, where diners linger with their favorite spirits – choose a balloon glass filled with gin tonica (Spanish-style G&T) or something fruitier like a house-macerated sangria. Also, try the naturally sweetened bright-green signature avocado margarita with a rim of spicy tajin, or in Fogón grand fashion, Delgado’s take on an Old Fashioned made with Don Q rum.

Fogón and Lions offers a casual and relaxed interpretation of some of the Spanish culinary influences found around the world, with the common denominator being enjoyment with food and friends

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Here’s How Christmas Eve Dinner Looks All Around The World

HuffPost. December 2022.

While many familiar Christmas traditions originated in Western countries, people from all around the world and from different cultural backgrounds celebrate the holiday with the same spirit of gratitude and togetherness. No matter where, recipes passed on through generations are central to family gatherings. From callaloo to chicken tikka masala, find out what renowned chefs and food influencers around the world are cooking on Christmas Eve.

Mexico 

Martha Ortiz Chapa is the head chef at Tuch de Luna at La Casa de la Playa in Riviera Maya. She was the chef-owner of Dulce Patria, which had been named one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America and the best restaurant in Mexico City before closing earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also served as a judge on “Top Chef Mexico,” and in 2020 was named one of the 40 best chefs in the world.

Our December traditions begin with the Posadas (a religious festival held from Dec. 16-24), which lead the way to the grand celebration of Christmas Eve. During this time, Mexicans hang seven-point-star piñatas (the peaks representing a different capital sin, including gluttony) made with contrasting colored tissue paper and filled with pieces of sugar cane, tejocotes (a fruit), orange wedges, peanuts, candies and sugar-coated almonds. We blindfold the guests, who take turns hitting the piñata until someone breaks it, in celebration of the predominance of virtue and abundance.

On Noche Buena (the night that is good)aka Christmas Eve, I elegantly present these crafts to my guests. I usually use a dark tablecloth as a canvas and decorate it with wooden kitchen utensils, such as grinders, spoons and saucepans, surrounded by colorful flowers. I personalize each guest’s place on their plate with a small piñata, which holds inside a traditional sweet or piece of candy and a message of friendship and love, in the hope that they will take it home with them and, when they break it, the abundance of affection, bonds and the celebration of life will grow.

As a proud Mexican, I begin with traditional dishes such as romeritos (tender sprigs of seepweed) with cactus strips, and mole (made with at least 50 ingredients) seasoned with dried shrimp. I serve a salad called Noche Buena, which is prepared with diced jicama, apple, beet, orange wedges and crunchy peanuts. For main, we have pork leg in spicy pulque marinade. I wash it down with my personal favorite, a punch of tejocotes, tamarind, jicama pieces, piloncillo (a raw form of pure cane sugar), guavas and spices and a touch of hard liquor.

Continue reading on HuffPost

Cooking with compassion

Georgia Trend. December 2022.

The first thing that you think about during the holidays? Food. Parties, family gathering and baking together are integral to the festive season. A new book shows us how to approach our food with kindness, respect and dignity. If you are inclined to eat well and give back not only this month, but throughout the year, incorporate these tips in your kitchen.

Published in October 2022, “The Humane Table – Cooking With Compassion” is a cookbook that acts as a guide to sourcing and cooking with high quality products that nourish our bodies as well as the planet. The book includes delicious recipes using dairy, meat, poultry, seafood and egg ingredients sourced from producers and chefs. A sampling includes delicate ricotta sweet potato beignets, beef satay with peanut butter dip, Fire Island blueberry duck with port wine, crisp zucchini corn fritters and refreshing key lime pie.

The author, Robin Ganzert, is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization founded in 1877. Its iconic programs include Humane Hollywood (you may recognize the “No Animals Were Harmed®” end credit on the movies you watch), Pups4Patriots™ (which trains dogs to be lifesaving service dogs for veterans with PTSD or brain injuries), American Humane Certification in agriculture, as well as global conservation for animals in zoos and aquariums.

Proceeds from Ganzert’s book benefit the nonprofit organization to further its work to protect animals around the world, including saving, sheltering and improving the lives of some 1 million animals in 2020-2021.

Georgia-based Springer Mountain Farms, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Baldwin, was the first major poultry producer in the country to become American Humane-certified. The family-run farm offers well-treated and better-tasting chickens that are guaranteed to elevate your Southern fried chicken. Just ask chef Robert Butts of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Poursrestaurant in Atlanta – or better yet, try his recipe for fried chicken with Thai chili cilantro glaze, one of the humane recipes he developed for Springer Mountain that’s included in Ganzert’s cookbook. Butts builds relationships with local producers to deliver the highest quality farm-to-table ingredients on his menu and also hosted the book launch event. “The food tastes more clean and delicious. When cooking with beef, you can see the natural red color and marbling and the chicken doesn’t taste tough,” says Butts.

Or check out nearly 100-year-old Rose Acre Farms in Canon which uses an efficient and sustainable egg production model, The Good Egg Coop, to produce humane and high-quality eggs, perfect for a hearty country picnic potato salad.

Get humane for the holidays by consuming healthier, happier and drug-free animal products. And, if you are looking to set up a humane table year-round, get to know where your food comes from. Butts advises shopping for ingredients from farmers markets, local butchers (like Midtown Butcher Shoppe on Monroe Drive) and accessible organic grocery stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods). Avoid freezing meats as they lose nutrition and can get freezer burn.

Glossary of producers can be found in the back of the book.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Preserving the past, protecting the future of Daufuskie oysters

Atlanta Journal Constitution. December 2022 print.

The one-room History Museum in the former Mount Carmel Baptist Church on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, contains a sewing machine, rocking chairs, an old piano, coins, black-and-white photographs and other random artifacts that reflect life on the island. The provenance of those objects may have been lost over time, but there’s one object that has a history well documented: a poster featuring a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress advertising Daufuski Brand oysters.

Early in the 20th century, oysters processed on Daufuskie Island were sold all over the world. In the 1930s, advertisements for the brand appeared in newspapers across the country. According to Jenny Hersch, co-author of “Daufuskie Island — Images of America,” L.P Maggioni and Company opened an oyster factory on Daufuskie Island in the 1880s, employing island residents and workers from neighboring islands, as well as about 50 seasonal Polish workers.

“Men did the picking, while the women and children shucked the oysters. When Maggioni built the factory, all the harvesting, shucking and steaming was done on the island. Oysters from Daufuskie were packed in tin cans, put on ice and transported by boat to Bluffton and Savannah for sale,” said Hersch.

Additional oysters companies also operated on the island, too.

There are several theories for what led to the decline of Daufuskie’s oyster industry: unsanitary work conditions, pollution, better employment opportunities with the Works Progress Administration. The upshot is, the last oyster business on the island shut down in 1959.

Today, you can still purchase small red cans of Daufuski Brand smoked and boiled oysters at big box retailers such as Walmart, but they have little connection to their namesake island. In the 1970s, Maggioni contracted with a company in South Korea to source and package oysters and then sold the brand to Liberty Gold Fruit Company in California.

Harvesting wild oysters still continues recreationally on Daufuskie Island, although it’s unlikely the industry will ever make a comeback. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to celebrate the island’s oyster industry and to create new oyster habitats around the island.

The Oyster Union Society Hall showcases the oyster history on Daufuskie Island.
Sucheta Rawal for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Credit: Sucheta Rawal

Honoring history

Just 5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, Daufuskie Island has no bridge to the mainland and only a few paved roads. Surrounded by oyster reefs, spartina grass, salt marshes and a rich habitat for the American alligator, loggerhead sea turtles, snowy egret and wood storks, this pristine island of sandy beaches, ancient oaks and Spanish moss is a Lowcountry wonderland where the pace of life slows to a crawl.

Inhabited for more than 9,000 years, the Yemassee indigenous people were its first known residents. When the Europeans arrived, they brought in enslaved populations to work the plantations. After the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves remained on the island where they cultivated a language and culture called Gullah, a blend of Southern English and African dialects and customs.

Today Daufuskie is home to about 300 full-time residents, 60% of whom live in the upscale community of Haig Point, while others live in the Historic District and smaller neighborhoods. Seven or eight families descendant from enslaved people remain on the island. Many of their family members worked in the oyster industry. Other descendants have moved away but still own ancestral land and houses.

Among the island’s newer residents is former Atlantan Sara Deitch, who started vacationing on Daufuskie in 1988 and moved there about 12 years ago. As a board member of the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation, she works to preserve the history and culture of the island.

The Foundation’s latest initiative is the Oyster Union Society Hall, opening in spring 2023. Located in a two-story house built in the 1890s, it originally belonged to the family of James Peto Chaplin Jr., an affluent boat builder and oyster business owner, and was a popular gathering place for oyster workers. To help tell the story of the Brothers and Sisters Oyster Union Society, one of several benevolent societies on the island, the foundation restored the abandoned building and brought in artifacts, including shucking knives, membership ribbons and a bateau, a locally-built flat-bottom wooden boat.

While the Oyster Union Society Hall serves to preserve the island’s history, other efforts are in the works to protect the future of the island’s oyster habitats.

Volunteers help build oyster reef on Daufuskie Island.
Courtesy of Haig Point.
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Credit: Handout

Coastal filters

In addition to having once played an integral role in the island’s economy, oysters are essential to Daufuskie’s environment, says Michael Hodges, a wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. They act as filters that help maintain water quality in coastal zones, prevent intertidal banks from erosion and protect coastal marshes, one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. One oyster filters up to 50 gallons of phytoplankton and sediment-filled water per day while creating essential habitat for a wide variety of marine species and birds.

“Part of Daufuskie Island is exposed to the Intracoastal Waterway. Boat traffic, winds and lack of shoreline stabilization materials lead to the island’s erosion,” said Hodges.

To mitigate erosion, improve water quality and maintain habitat, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Program (SCORE) are working together to help coastal communities build oyster reefs.

SCORE has worked with more than 5,000 volunteers to build reefs at 133 sites along the coast of South Carolina over the past 20 years. One key requirement for DNR reef build locations is that the area be off-limits for harvesting. The artificial reefs are constructed strictly for serving the environment.

Reef builds take place in late spring through early summer before oysters reproduce, sending spawn into the water. When the larvae sink, they need to attach to a hard surface like oyster shells to grow. If they land on sand, they will not survive. Constructing man-made reefs with oyster shells creates a stable environment for the oysters to thrive and protect the environment. With the passage of each season, more oysters will propagate the vertical reef creating a self-sustaining habitat.

Visitors are welcome to volunteer on a Daufuskie Island oyster reef build, just be advised that heavy lifting is required. More than 350 bags of oyster shells, each weighing more than 30 pounds, are moved twice — first from the mainland at Bluffton to a marine vessel, and then from the vessel to the shoreline at Haig Point. A human chain of volunteers dressed in waterproof boots, gloves and hats help place the bags in the mid-intertidal zone, and then SCORE staff secure them so they don’t wash away in the rain, waves or wind. The process takes about three to four hours to complete.

In April 2022, a volunteer group of about 100 built a 65-foot reef along the Haig Point shoreline. The next reef build takes place May 4, 2023. Meanwhile, there are more immediate volunteer opportunities available, including shell cleanups, bagging, reef monitoring, outreach and education, which are conducted throughout the season.

Those interested in participating are advised to fill out a volunteer form at http://score.dnr.sc.gov/deep8493.html.

Dine on oysters fresh, fried or roasted on Daufuskie Island. Chris Hunt For The AJC
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Credit: Chris Hunt

Island Flavors

Besides being good for the environment, oysters are delicious, and there are a number of ways to enjoy them while on Daufuskie.

Community organizations and Daufuskie Elementary School often host oyster roasts that are open to the public. Check the bulletin boards at the museum or Haig Point for announcements and details. It’s a great opportunity to meet locals and enjoy locally harvested oysters cooked on an open fire. Wash them down with locally crafted spirits from the Daufuskie Island Distillery.

You can also grab a plate of fried oysters and a deviled crab at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company. Or Haig Point members and guests can watch the sunset while enjoying raw oysters at the Calibogue Club, the island’s only fine dining restaurant.

So the next time you enjoy a succulent oyster on the half shell or oyster Rockefeller, think about how these small, odd-shaped mollusks not only nourishes your body but the environments they live in as well. By protecting their habitats, you can help safeguard the islands and all those who depend on them.


IF YOU GO

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is 280 miles southeast of Atlanta via I-75 and I-16. Access via boat from Bluffton, S.C., and Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Getting there

Daufuskie Island Ferry. $49.50 round-trip for day-time visitors, $60.50 roundtrip for overnight visitors. 35 Fording Island Road, Bluffton, S.C. 843-940-7704, daufuskieislandferry.com

Things to Do

History Museum. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Free. 44 Old Haig Point Road. 843-384-6363. daufuskiemuseum.org

Daufuskie Island Distillery. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Free. 270 Haig Point Road. 843-342-4786. daufuskierum.com

South Carolina Oyster Recycling and Enhancement Program.(SCORE). Inquire for volunteering opportunities. 843-953-9241. score.dnr.sc.gov

Where to Eat

Old Daufuskie Crab Company. Local seafood in an informal setting overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. $8 and up. 256 Cooper River Landing Road. 843-785-6652. daufuskiedifference.com/restaurant

School Grounds. Small coffee shop located in the old lunchroom of the historic Mary Field School. $4 and up. 203 School Rod. 919-610-8808.

Where to Stay

Daufuskie Rental Group. Private vacation home rentals on the island start at $359 per night. 843-540-8986, vacationdaufuskiesc.com/rentals

Haig Point. Inclusive Discovery Visits featuring water taxi transport from Hilton Head Island; access to golf, equestrian and tennis facilities; food and beverage credits; and accommodations at the Strachan Mansion or the 1873 Lighthouse start at $699 per night. 10 Haig Point Circle, Hilton Head Island. 843-341-8104, haigpoint.com/discovery-visits

~ Written for and published by Atlanta Journal Constitution. All rights reserved.