Dec 102014

The other day, I published an article in Zester Daily about the monster truffle that was found in Umbria. What I didn’t say was that it wasn’t until the night before it was to be previewed at Sotheby’s that an invitation landed in my inbox. At close to midnight I was waking my husband up to see if he wanted to play hooky from his work the next morning and take a drive into New York City to look at it. After all, it’s not every day that we have the chance to see a four-pound truffle, even if we wouldn’t be lucky enough to taste it. Next, I texted my friend, graphic designer and buon gustaio (the elegant Italian word for “foodie”), Michael LaPlaca, who, it so happens, lives in Umbria most of the time. A few years ago he bought an abandoned 17th century wreck in Bettona and restored it to its rightful splendor, adopting the great green heart of Italy as home. Today, he runs a B&B in his stunning Palazzo Fiumi-LaPlaca, which I had the good fortune to visit recently (and that you may very well want to visit, too). Not surprisingly, he is Umbria-proud. Just his luck, he was in New York for the holidays. Did he want to come? He sure did, and here’s a funny story he wrote about our adventure.

The World’s Largest White Truffle

The three of us at Sotheby's, TBTW on the alter. (Nat is taking the picture).

The three of us at Sotheby’s, TBTW on the alter. Nat is taking the picture. At left, TBTW seller, Gabriel Sabatino.

That it weighed in at 1.89 kilos (or 4.16 pounds) is one thing. That we braved a frigid morning driving an hour and a half to see it in person was quite another. Arriving early, amazing in its own right given the commuter traffic we encountered, we were soon warming ourselves and chatting over watered down cappuccinos on the 10th floor of Sotheby’s Auction House on York Avenue in Manhattan, waiting for the unveiling.
Of course the conversation was about truffles.

Knowing that most white truffles are from Piedmonte, it was exciting that this enormous specimen hailed from Umbria – my region. Julia, Nat, and I speculated what one could do with more than 4 pounds of truffle. Given that it had a shelf life of a little more than two weeks (if cared for properly), whatever one was planning, the buyer would need to get the invitations out fast.

“Tagliatelle for thousands,” said Julia. She recommended a simple butter sauce with shaved truffles on top.

We paused to call up the image, aroma, and taste from our culinary data banks.

“Gnocchi in a cream sauce topped with truffle,” added Nat.

We agreed that would be divine too.

They turned toward me to see where my truffle fantasy lay. I needed to pause a tad longer because their two suggestions were two of my favorites as well and I was thinking about the gnocchi covered in the cream sauce nestled in a parmigiana basket. . . However, It didn’t take long for my face to brighten as I almost blurted out.“Scrambled eggs with barbozza.” This time I thought I heard a little gasp. But that could have been me.Although simple, I’d at least want a couple servings of an over the top, Umbrian style, bacon and eggs. Yes, we Americans are traditionalists even where truffles are concerned.
Agreement and nods all around.

Our fantasies all leaned on the simple side – Julia says that classics are “classics” for a reason – knowing that letting the fresh taste of the truffle come out was the important thing. Then we all sort of glazed over in our own little happy food places while we drained our cappuccinos.
At 9:30 we headed down to the Seventh floor for the event.

We were directed to the front of the auction room where about 20 people were standing near a long table beneath a large gold Sotheby’s logo. There was a small platform in the center of the table flanked by an apple, an orange, and various size bottles of wine that, we were told, were part of the following day’s fine wine sale. (Any of which would make a lovely compliment to a truffle dish, it was pointed out.)

Introductions were made and Gabriel Balestra, family member and representative of the Umbria truffle concern that was in charge of the World’s Largest White Truffle, spoke proudly of the discovery, the truffle hunter, and the well rewarded truffle dog who really was the hero of the story.

After a brief Q & A about truffles, the moment we had been waiting for arrived. Two men brought in a square black and metal trimmed carrying case. (I half expected to see it hand cuffed to one of them.) They opened the box and produced a striped cloth bundle about the size of a foot ball. Placing it on the table they carefully unwrapped the cloth and moist paper towels to reveal the enormous prize and placed it on the platform between the apple and orange to the clicks of professional cameras and smart phones.

It had flown halfway around the world from its humble beginnings buried beneath a gnarled old tree deep in an undisclosed public forest in an undisclosed corner of Umbria to arrive on New York’s Upper East Side to be, for however briefly, the talk of the town.
We were allowed to get up close. To get our “I can’t believe I’m actually in front of the WLWT” shots. Someone even took a selfie with it, which I thought was a bit much. When the paparazzi had backed off, I approached and waved my hand over it to bring the distinct truffle whiff my way.

“How wonderful,” I said. To which Gabriel nodded approvingly.

A few more questions and photo ops and it was time to put the WLWT back in its case. We were told it could only be out for 10 minutes so it would not loose moisture and therefore, precious weight. It was then rewrapped with the same care and placed back in its special case to await its future, which would of course mean its demise.

On the way back to the parking lot, we speculated as to how much the WLWT would bring. The buzz was that an offer of a million dollars had already been refused.
We wondered how high could it go and each of us gave a guess. Being a pessimist, I wanted to say $100,000 but weakly yielding to peer pressure and auction house hype and instead said $250,000. The world was fickle and this was New York after all — a place where one could even be talking about spending a million dollars on an Umbrian fungus in the first place.

(The auction was held today (Dec. 6, 2014) and the WLWT went for a mere $61,000. But given the 22.5% buyer’s premium and the cost of the private jet to transport the truffle to the kitchen of its new owner (paid for by the buyer) I’m guessing the truffle was going to cost the buyer around $85,000. But I really want to know, as I’m sure you do too, what they make with it.)

Michael LaPlaca is the proprietor of A Week in Umbria, which should be on the top of everyone’s “Places to go before I die” list.
View Bettona w Logo

Nov 022014

Boulder is a serious food town where you can find everything from Colorado bison ragù to mule foot pork chops, local pecorino to real Venice-style gelato. I was there recently for the Chefs Collaborative Summit, a meeting of renowned chefs and like-minded professionals who are in the business of food—growing it, producing it, cooking it, selling it and writing about it. Many I spoke to told me that they have learned their trades from Italy’s artisans whose ancient food traditions have inspired them. Why that is, will be the subject of future articles, but here are some of the highlights of my visit, including a love story about two gelato producers who learned their art in the Veneto.

Strolling on Pearl Street…

A limber juggler with an amazing bag of tricks.

A limber juggler with an amazing bag of tricks.

Papa and baby out for a spin in a vintage convertible.

Papa and baby out for a spin in a vintage convertible.

Cured, on Pearl Street, wine, cheese, cured meat and food specialty shop.

Cured, a wine, cheese, cured meat and food specialty shop selling Colorado cheeses and salumi.

Trying to decide what to try first…

Trying to decide what to try first…

Ciao, Cured...

You want to take everything home from Cured. This pork item was one of my favorites, though not for sale.

Eating al fresco at SALT.

Eating al fresco at SALT.

Clams in garlic broth requires eating with fingers.

Clams in garlic broth with chorizo and beans.

Seared fresh water fish, on a bed of vegetables.

Seared fresh water fish, on a bed of vegetables.

salad with roasted endive and local bacon.

Frisée salad with roasted endive, bacon lardons.

Boulder, SALT oven, P1130088

SALT’s wood-fired oven, made in Modena, Emilia-Romagna

Boulder Theater founded by Desi Arnez, site of Chefs Collaborative food truck rally.

A warm welcome for Chefs Collaborative.

Hopping Pearl Street on a Saturday night.

Hopping Pearl Street on a Saturday night.

Chefs Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit, 2014, was an important gathering of movers and shakers in the food industry to fix our broken food system—make it greener, more sustainable, more local and more cognizant of feeding ourselves without harming the planet. The changes begin with small farmers, ranchers, brewers, distillers, vintners, food artisans, cooks, chefs, and grocers all around the country. Colorado, a state that is a hotbed of small farmers, artisan food producers and culinary excellence was the ideal setting. 

Chefs Collaborative Executive Director, Sara Brito

Chefs Collaborative Executive Director, Sara Brito.

A welcome from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper…

Governor John Hickenlooper welcoming Chefs Collaborative at the St. Julien Hotel, says he is committed to helping farmers support themselves on smaller acres.

Governor John Hickenlooper, a “recovered” geologist and brewer, addressing Chefs Collaborative at the St. Julien Hotel, said he was committed to the vision of responsible and sustainable food practices. 

Kim Severson, The New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief, leads the panel discussions.

Kim Severson, The New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief, leads the panel discussions.

Boulder, panel with Kim

Left to right, Mel Coleman (Niman Ranch), Mo Siegel (founder, Celestial Seasonings), Anne Cure (Cure Organic Farm), Chef Hugo Mathieson (The Kitchen), with Kim Severson.

Mo Siegel, founder, Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, talking about the need to make food healthier, signs off with "Bye Bye Burger King!"

Mo Siegel, founder, Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, talking about the need to make food healthier, signs off with “Bye Bye Burger King!”

Chefs on journey. Left to right, Sara Brito, Michael Leviton (Lumiere and Area Four, Boston)...

Chefs on a journey. Left to right, Sara Brito, Michael Leviton (chef/owner, Lumiere and Area Four, Boston); Evan Mallet (chef/co-owner, Black Trumpet Bistro and Joinery, Portsmouth, NH); Paul Fehribach (chef/owner, Big Jones, Chicago); Piper Davis (co-owner, Grand Central Bakery, Portland, OR); Matt Weingarten (executive chef, Sodexo, NYC); Kim Severson.

Dan Rosenthal, Owner, Green, Chicago

Dan Rosenthal (owner, Green, Chicago).

Nate Appleman, Culinary Manager, Chipotle, says the  restaurant chain is committed to purchasing sustainable foods.

Nate Appleman, Culinary Manager, Chipotle (center), says the restaurant chain is committed to sustainability and environmentally sound practices. On left, Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (owner, Frasca Food and Wine, and Pizzeria Locale, Boulder) right, Kimbal Musk (CEO, co-founder, The Kitchen Community, Boulder).

Woody Tasch (chairman/founder, Slow Money) giving Rocky Mountain Sustainer Award award to Hugo Mathieson and Kimbal Musk (The Kitchen, Boulder); Michel Nischan at left.

Woody Tasch (chairman/founder, Slow Money) giving Rocky Mountain Sustainer Award award to Hugo Mathieson and Kimbal Musk (The Kitchen, Boulder); Michel Nischan at left.

From left, Mel Coleman (Niman Ranch), Jesse Ziff Cool (Flea St. Cafe, San Francisco), Paul Willis (Niemen Ranch)

From left, Mel Coleman (Niman Ranch), Jesse Ziff Cool (chef/owner, Flea St. Cafe, San Francisco), Paul Willis (founder and manager, Niman Ranch).

The Zester Daily tribe, from left, me, Ruth Tobias, Corie Brown (Founder and Publisher) and Louisa Kasdon (CEO, Founder, Let's Talk About Food, Cambridge)

The Zester Daily contingent, from left, me, Ruth Tobias (Denver), Corie Brown (Zester Daily founder and publisher, Los Angeles) and Louisa Kasdon (Let’s Talk About Food, CEO and founder, Cambridge)

And break-out sessions for hands-on workshops with producers and top chefs…

Shepherds and cheese makers, Jimmy Warren (left) and Chef Alex Seidel making sheep milk ricotta with milk from their dairy.

Shepherds and cheese makers, Jimmy Warren (left) and Chef Alex Seidel making sheep milk ricotta with milk from their dairy.

Gnocchi lesson with Chef Alex for a little pasta dish with Colorado lamb ragù.

Chef Alex giving a gnocchi lesson that ended with a tasting of the pasta and his Colorado lamb ragù.

Their award-winning sheep cheese, Colorado Cacio Pecora.

Their award-winning sheep cheese, Colorado Cacio Pecora.

The gathering was also about hospitality and generosity—nourishing ourselves body and soul with wholesome and delicious food that strengthens our connection with nature…

Recipetion at the St. Julien Hotel, with a view of the Flatirons.

At left, Andrea Reusing (chef/owner, Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC), cooking up scrapple and grits for breakfast at the St. Julien Hotel, in view of the Flatirons.

Ari Rosenzweig,CEO and co-founding partner, Zingerman's, Ann Arbor

Ari Rosenzweig (CEO and oo-founding partner, Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor, MI).

The next day, breakfast food truck rally…

Breakfast pork and veg out at food truck rally.

Breakfast pork- and veg-out at food truck rally.

Boulder, food truck, P1140012_2

Better Green Eggs and Ham than the Ted Cruz version.

At Pastures of Plenty Organic Farm for a Colorado cowboy tradition: the campfire rendevouz to swap stories and refuel…

Western-style feasting...

Western-style feasting…

Pastures of Plenty feast.

…featuring Colorado lamb and bison. At right, Pastures of Plenty co-owner, Lyle Davis.

Eating around the campfire.

On the Summit’s final day, Boulder and Denver chefs team up for a six-course menu focused on technique and the power of procurement at Chattaqua Park…



Local artisan salumi and cheese.

Local artisan salumi and Fruition Farm pecora cheese.

Chef Michel Nischan (CEO, founder, Wholesome Waves, Bridgeport, CT) with Justin Brunson (Executive Chef, owner, Old Major, Masterpiece Deli, Denver Bacon Co., Denver), at Chautauqua Park.

Alisha Fowler, Michael Leviton of Chefs Collaborative. Fried rabbit, finger-licking delicious!

Chef Collaborative’s Alisha Fowler (Program Director) and Michael Leviton (Board Chair) tackling the fried rabbit course.

A taste of things to come at  Chautauqua Park Green.

A taste of things to come at Chautauqua Park Green.

One more day and another meal before heading home, comfort food and a gelato high…

The Kitchen Next Door, on Pearl Street.  The idea is simple, simple, simple good local ingredients.

The Kitchen Next Door, on Pearl Street. The idea here is simple, simple, simple, using high quality and local ingredients.

Meatballs over polenta. Can't get much more Italian than that.

Meatballs over polenta. It doesn’t get much more Italian than that.

Bangers and mash, not Italian, so delicious!

Bangers and mash with kale, not Italian, so delicious!

Dessert (or breakfast, if you like)—genuine, small-batch artisan gelato made every day on Pearl Street. For the love story, continue reading here…

True small batch, hand-made gelato at Fior di Latte, Pearl Street.

True small batch, hand-made gelato at Fior di Latte, Pearl Street.

The Boulder Flatirons at twilight.

All photos ©Nathan Hoyt/Forktales.





















Oct 082014
There's Good News in the World, Too: Gelato Explosion!

In my recent article for Zester Daily, I wrote about the gelato explosion. One thing is for sure, gelato is on the move from its Italian home base as more and more entrepreneurs set up shop all over the world using Italy’s state-of-the-art equipment, designed for small-batch, artisan production. Following up on my last post about Rimini, here’s the scoop about why I was in that famous beach resort last month. No, it wasn’t to sunbathe or take in the nightclubs. It was to join the World Gelato Tour which, after circling the globe and picking finalists along the way—including […more…]

Sep 242014
Fellini Drawings Disappear

….Not from the Rimini museum where I recently photographed them, but from Facebook. I’ve been trying to post a story I wrote about the drawings from his dreams yesterday, but Facebook has been blocking the link. Could it be because of his surreal images of naked women? To get to the post, click here.

Sep 222014
Rimini. Falling into Fellini

This is where the Gelato World Tour landed after sweeping through four continents. I’ll be reporting on the results of the contest that brought me here for the “world’s best gelato” in an upcoming post, but here’s another side of this splashy seaside town on the Costa del Sole than its appetite for gelato, famed night life, and nine miles of beaches. Rimini is where the  journalist, illustrator, script writer, and finally, legendary film director, Federico Fellini, was born. He never forgot this ancient Roman town on the Adriatic, and it never forgot him. Everything from the airport to the piazzale, […more…]

Aug 102014
Readers Write: About that Peppery Steak Salad Scented with Olive Oil...

The recipe in my last post for a quick and easy steak and potato dish (read here) seemed to be especially popular, and some of you sent me comments and variations. I’m passing some of them along here. One more thing…do wash it all down with a nice Pugliese red. Salute! Great recipe, Julia–reminds me of Tuscan tagliata di bistecca. And perfect for a no-nonsense meal on a hot summer night. You reminded me that the great teaching chef Bill Briwa from the CIA (you know which one of those I mean) experimented with beef and olive oil and found […more…]

Aug 022014
Steak and Potatoes Take on New Meaning Doused with Bold Olive Oils

After my recent travels to Puglia, Italy’s southernmost region, I’ve had its big, bold olive oils on my mind. The province of Bari, founded well before the 8th century BC when it was absorbed by Magna Graecia, has lived on olive oil for millennia. Today the area still makes most of Italy’s olive oils. Drive past places with names like Cassano delle Murge, Bitetto, Bitonto, Bitritto, and Binetto, and you see nothing but forests of olive trees and billows of sky, interrupted now and then by towns undisturbed by tourism. But where once, production was geared toward quantity to meet Europe’s […more…]

Jun 152014
Toritto, Puglia: An Afternoon in My Father's Land

My father left his native Toritto as an infant in his mother’s arms in 1909. With his young parents and grandmother, he sailed for Ellis Island in steerage. The family said that in those bleak times in Puglia, they had survived by eating the wild greens that grew in the fields where they had toiled. Although he returned to Italy many times as an adult, especially to the Carrara quarries to buy marble for his shop in America, my father never went back to where he was born. What kindled his memory was the food he was raised on. His […more…]