Best Memories & Meals in 2012

It’s kind of hard to wrap my mind that it’s almost the end of 2012. Time and life never takes a break but sometimes serendipitous things happen. (In relatively random order.)

First thing in mind would be my graduation gift from the luxe chocolate and pastry brand, La Maison du Chocolat

Thank you, La Maison du Chocolat!
A large Andalouise cake from La Maison du Chocolat

My Andalouise cake from La Maison du Chocolat is something I never anticipated them gifting me and sending well wishes for my graduation from graduate school. This seasonal cake is intensely flavored of lemon pastry cream and chocolate mousse, chocolate macaron biscuit, and chocolate glazed cake was simply sublime.

Outdoor beds on the beach for the Governors Suite
Infinity pool meets the gorgeous blue Pacific
This ain't Dubai...
Some snapshots of Los Cabos, Mexico

I never thought I would be involved with a press trip to Mexico during July but it was truly amazing. I’m not a big beach person but waking up to watch and hear the captivating, powerful Pacific Ocean crashing onto the coastline was what I looked forward to everyday I was there. (It’s worth the large mosquito bites on my legs.) The food was pretty good, mixing traditional Mexican cuisine with outside influences (French, American, etc.) and I rode a camel for the first time. If I were to go there again, I’d consider leaving my phone at home to unplug from the world and be by the water (even though most beaches are not exactly swimmable places).

A few of my previous posts on Cabo: One&Only Pamilla Resort and camel back riding.

The first dessert with a birthday candle
Sea urchin custard with baby squid, bay scallop, and apple
After adding the condiments
140-day aged prime rib beef grilled with mushrooms, amaranth, and arugula

My belated birthday dinner at 3* Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison Park in NYC was unusually fun. I wrote “unusually fun” because I never associate the phrase “Michelin-starred restaurant” and the word “fun” in the same sentence, as it’s usually the previous phrase and words like serious, professional, and formal yet have fantastic food. However, EMP manages to be fun. The kitchen still serves delicious fare yet have interactive courses that diners like myself, would have fun to mix and match different parts of the course/plate and feel like I’m part of the experience than just be the spectator. The waiters and servers still the professional mannerisms yet have the approachable aspect that makes me feel at ease even though I’m in an upscale restaurant.

Chef Daniel Humm and his team’s constant need of evolution of the food and arguably, the service, makes me a longtime fan of this restaurant.

(To view the remainder of my photos, please click here)

Large copper & stainless steel oval roasting pan filled with our two different steak orders
6-pack of "The Original" Hamachi Shots (31-ingredients)
Hot: Seared Foie Gras

Two cuts of steaks, Hamachi Shots, and Hot Seared Foie Gras from Alexander Steakhouse

Alexander Steakhouse in San Francisco is contemporary, urban, handsome, upscale steakhouse and if you do look at their food menu, it has Asian touches. Everything about this steakhouse is what I dreamed of. Professional service with a slightly relaxed attitude and perfectly executed food that was truly delicious and beautifully plated. I can’t complain. (To see more photos, here’s my photo set.)

Short rib burger
Tomahawk steak
A few of Pat LaFrieda’s products

Having Pat LaFrieda as one of my clients to photograph was (and still is) a true honor. I wouldn’t have dreamed of shooting for a famous, family-owned meat purveyor. And yes, their beef is seriously delicious and pristine to cook and photograph. It’s hard to eat anyone else’s beef once I had Pat LaFrieda’s. (A few of my photo sets of my work with them: steak photo project and burger photo project)

Chef/Owner Dominique Crenn
Course 5: Abalone
Course 11: Coal & Ash
Chef/Owner Dominique Crenn and a few courses from my dinner at Atelier Crenn

I had a phenomenal meal at Atelier Crenn, while I was vacationing in San Francisco. Now a 2* Michelin restaurant (it earned it back on late October 2012 for 2013 Michelin SF guide, as it was a 2*), Chef/Owner Dominique Crenn and her team amazed and delighted me and my friend with unexpected flavor pairings and textures and even the visual aspect was something I haven’t experienced before. Her food is truly culinary poetry, as she’s stated. I am a big fan of her food ever since.

To view more of my photos of this dinner, please click here

Raymond Vineyards at The Theater of Nature
Dreary skies but still lovely here
Inside the Red Room (an insider's club room) of Raymond Vineyards
Raymond Vineyards

Keeping with the Bay Area train of thought, my visit to Raymond Vineyards was one of the most interesting vineyards I’ve visited as it’s trying to be interactive with their consumer with the gorgeous Theater of Nature grounds at right off the parking lot, their exclusive members-only Red Room to other rooms that aims to educate. (Here’s more photos of this visit.)

Rolling green hills of Iron Horse estate Wall full of White House dinner menus that featured Iron Horse Vineyards' wine
Gorgeous space that Joy calls it "The Board Room"
Iron Horse Vineyards

In the Sonoma Valley, visiting to one of my favorite wineries Iron Horse Vineyards was a treat, especially meeting the beaming CEO of this family owned vineyard, Joy Sterling. The rolling green hills and gentle breezes after recent morning showers when I visited, it was a sight to see. Of course, all of the sparkling cuvées and even their still wines are delicious. (More of my photos on this visit here.)

James Beard House 25th Anniversary Cake by Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes, Baltimore, MD
Chefs José Andrés, Wolfgang Puck and his wife, Susan Ungaro
Chef Daniel Boulud and his daughter Alix
Savory custard with braised duck from Jediah Hawkins Inn
Various James Beard Award snapshots

Shooting at the James Beard Awards for Huffington Post was a physical and emotionally draining event to cover. The James Beard Awards is like the Oscars of food and I had the honor to shoot for Huffington Post for this and it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that. Starting with the red carpet during the early evening outside of the grand Lincoln Center with all the who’s who of the cooking realm in the U.S.; crammed into the tight Press Room with other press who’s covering the event yet being served with generous spoonfuls of California Caviar right on my fist and good cocktails; rolled into the two floors of delicious eating from past James Beard winners and went to the after-party circuit that goes into the wee hours of the morning. Thank goodness adrenaline kept me moving.

(To view my photos of: James Beard 2012 winners and James Beard Gala).

Paul Liebrandt peeling the Austrian white asparagus Slow cooked egg, asparagus veloute, Parmesan crumble, sorrel
Chef David Bouley
Jacques Torres blowing up a rubber glove for one of his colleagues who's watching at the classroom's window My handmade chocolate box and truffles for my mom from Jacques Torres class at New York Culinary Experience
Cooking with the greats (chefs, I mean, Paul Liebrandt of Corton and David Bouley) and the jokester/chocolatier/Dean of Pastry Arts of ICC, Jacques Torres and the chocolate box I made for my mother from Jacques Torres’ class

New York Magazine’s Culinary Experience at the International Culinary Center is an amazing (that’s an understatement) weekend of cooking and baking with some of the best chefs (mostly based in NYC) in the United States. Every day has a morning and afternoon classes with an evening cocktail reception to end off each night to connect with newly made friends and talk to your favorite chef who might be mingling there. Though it’s not an inexpensive weekend to cook with these chefs but it’s a great experience for someone who’s not in the restaurant/cooking industry but are fans of certain chefs who are involved with this weekend. (Here’s my post for Day 2 of this weekend of cooking.)

A brigade of chefs working at the kitchen
1st course: Trout roe, carrot, coconut, curry
Courses 2-5: Oyster leaf, King crab, Sea urchin, Razor clam
8th Course: Wooly Pig 15th course: Squab, inspired by Miró
Alinea: The brigade of chefs in the kitchen and various courses

The 3* Michelin restaurant, Alinea in Chicago is found in an understated building with everything decorated in neutral, streamlined, very modern settings, setting the backdrop to the beautiful, delicious food that are served in gorgeous and sometimes unusual vessels. The flavors and textures are very forward thinking yet tasty and the execution are exceptional.

(Here’s the link to view my Alinea photo set.)

Honorable mentions: Meeting Chef Hiroyuki Sakai at Benihana’s private event, another very good meal in NYC Gwynnet St in Brooklyn; great meals in Chicago at the The Purple Pig photo set and Hot Doug’s, previewed Craftsman & Wolves in San Francisco (a few months prior to opening and had their unusual yet awesome Rebel Within muffin), and roasting a whole pig (from who else? Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors) for Chinese New Year with my family.