While we’re staying in the Hamptons, we rent a basement suite from a dear Irish woman and her son in the village of Hampton Bays. As with any rental, the kitchen equipment is basic and you make the best with what you have to work with.
We had a large batch of fresh basil the other day that I decided to make pesto with (the organic and farm-stand produce available here is fabulous at this time of year). We had, I thought, all the ingredients and tools required to make it – until I started.
I threw everything into the blender and was starting to pulse before adding the oil and, as luck would have it, the motor seized up. I pulled everything out of the blender jar in batches and coarse chopped the fresh basil (~2 cups), garlic (4 cloves), and walnuts (~1/4 cup). I then took a round bottomed bowl and used the heel of a chef’s knife to create a mortar and pestle. Once I had the ingredients in the bowl pulverized to a coarse texture, I gradually introduced the olive oil (~1/2 cup) and mixed until smooth. I then stirred in the freshly grated Parmesan cheese (~1/2 cup) until just combined.
I had cooked some Casarecce pasta, added some beautiful sliced cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and chopped roast chicken, but was concerned that I wouldn’t like the coarser texture that my handmade pesto would provide. I was delighted that we really enjoyed it and that the small bits of walnut, garlic, cheese and basil actually added to the dish. I’ve always made my pesto very smooth, but this was a huge learning for me that sometimes a more crude or handmade touch is the key to a great dish. I encourage you to give it a try sometime (or at the very least, pulse a bit less to get the same results)!
One year ago today, June 8, 2018, Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand in France at the age of 61. News of his suicide shocked the world as he appeared to be living and loving life to the fullest.
I literally ran into Anthony and his daughter, Ariane, about six years ago in Schmidt’s Market in Southampton, New York. We were both bent down to pick something up on a low shelf and got up at exactly the same time. He couldn’t have been more polite and I was surprised at how tall he was in real life and, in my opinion, far better looking than on television.
I always admired how “real” he made food and the tribute he paid to people and food culture around the world. What I admired most about him was his advocacy of the hard-working people from Spanish speaking countries: Mexico and the many countries of Central and South America. There is nary a restaurant kitchen in the United States that could or would function without these people and he championed his admiration of the people of Mexico in the following article entitled “Under the Volcano” which he wrote in May of 2014:
“Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, and look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs.” But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as a prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.
We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.
So, why don’t we love Mexico?
We throw up our hands and shrug at what happens and what is happening just across the border. Maybe we are embarrassed. Mexico, after all, has always been there for us, to service our darkest needs and desires. Whether it’s dressing up like fools and get passed-out drunk and sunburned on spring break in Cancun, throw pesos at strippers in Tijuana, or get toasted on Mexican drugs, we are seldom on our best behavior in Mexico. They have seen many of us at our worst. They know our darkest desires.
In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs—while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us. The effect on our society is everywhere to be seen. Whether it’s kids nodding off and overdosing in small-town Vermont, gang violence in L.A., burned out neighborhoods in Detroit—it’s there to see. What we don’t see, however, haven’t really noticed, and don’t seem to much care about, is the 80,000 dead in Mexico, just in the past few years—mostly innocent victims. Eighty thousand families who’ve been touched directly by the so-called “War On Drugs”.
Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace. Look at it. It’s beautiful. It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archaeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivalled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over tortilla chips. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply “bro food” at halftime. It is in fact, old—older even than the great cuisines of Europe, and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet, if we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation—many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe—have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling heights.
It’s a country I feel particularly attached to and grateful for. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, and was there—and on the case—when the cooks like me, with backgrounds like mine, ran away to go skiing or surfing or simply flaked. I have been fortunate to track where some of those cooks come from, to go back home with them. To small towns populated mostly by women—where in the evening, families gather at the town’s phone kiosk, waiting for calls from their husbands, sons and brothers who have left to work in our kitchens in the cities of the North. I have been fortunate enough to see where that affinity for cooking comes from, to experience moms and grandmothers preparing many delicious things, with pride and real love, passing that food made by hand from their hands to mine.
In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over. We’ll gather around a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious salsas, drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, and listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.
At a time when many Americans embrace everything Mexican from its food, beverages, imports, etc., Bourdain challenged the hypocritical attitudes towards immigration and was a tremendous champion of the underdog and stood up for these people who make up the backbone of many sectors of the American economy.
I love Mexico – its people, cuisine, culture, music and the beauty of the country itself. It is diverse, rich and beautiful. Thank you, Anthony, for being a champion for this amazing country and its people. Rest in peace.
We were finally able to attend a FREE Chamber Music Masterclass at the Clark Arts Centre on Tuesday night which featured Kim Kashkashian, Grammy-winning Armenian-American violist, who currently teaches viola and chamber music at the New England Conservatory. She worked with two quartets on movements from Claude Debussy, String Quartet in G Minor, Op.10 and Gabriel Faure, Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15.
Kim Kashkashian working with her students
The talent of these young adults was astounding and watching Ms. Kashkashian work with them to improve their performance and their understanding of the material was inspiring. The format was that the quartets would each play their prepared pieces in their entirety, then Ms. Kashkashian would break it down phrase by phrase, line by line, and constructively critique and draw the very best from these young artists.
Hailed as one of the best violists in the world, Ms. Kashkashian has been hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “an artist who combines a probing, restless musical intellect with enormous beauty of tone.” The New York Times has joined in these accolades, praising her “rich, mellow timbre and impressive artistry.”
There were similar workshops conducted on Wednesday and Thursday nights which featured two other artist/faculty masters. The culmination of this week is the Chamber Music Workshop Celebration Concerts, matinée and evening, on Friday and Saturday.
These young adults are brilliant musicians and the Perlman Music Program offers unparalleled musical training to young string players of rare and special talent from all over the world. It is a privilege to be able to hear and observe these gifted young people and their instructors who possess such extraordinary talent. They are truly the leaders in the future of classical and chamber music and we are grateful to have been able to watch them perform in such a positive and nurturing learning environment.
View through the trees on the Perlman Music Program grounds
There are world-class performing and visual arts here in the Hamptons. The proximity to New York City draws extraordinary talent and while we’re here, we try to take in as much as we possibly can. We’d be crazy not to take full advantage of it.
In June of last year, we attended an excellent performance of Arthur Miller’s production of All My Sons at Guild Hall in East Hampton. The production featured a really strong cast and starred Hamptons local Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) and Laurie Metcalf (The Big Bang Theory and Roseanne). A difficult subject, the tragic play was about a successful businessman whose unethical practices during World War II resulted in aircraft equipment failure that hurt and killed air force personnel and ultimately destroyed his and his former partner’s life and family. It was flawlessly acted but the subject matter made it difficult to watch. It was, in a brief description, theatre at its best.
“All My Sons”
Last week, we attended the opening night, world-premiere performance of The Forgotten Woman at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. This play is about a tremendously talented opera singer who is right at the cusp of fame and success in the opera world. As she steps into her own power, she must address core personal issues including her weight, conflict between motherhood and career, self-doubt and sexuality. Every performance was strong, but we felt that Ashlie Atkinson in the role of the opera singer, Margaret, was outstanding.
“The Forgotten Woman”
Last night, we attended the opening performance of The Underpants, adapted by Steve Martin from a 1910 German farce, at Guild Hall in East Hampton. We went with our actor, director and producer friend, Ian, and his friend, Birgit, from Cologne, Germany. Unlike the last two plays that we’ve seen, this was a wild satire, chock-full of sexual innuendo with lots of verbal and physical comedy. Ron and I thought the play was fun, was well-performed by the actors, and felt that we’d had a fun night of entertainment. I wouldn’t see it again, nor highly recommend it to others, but we felt it was definitely an enjoyable performance.
We’re looking forward to seeing whatever production is next and hope we’re able to attend!
There is a roadhouse family restaurant in Sag Harbor, New York, that we try to get to every Thursday night. Bay Burger makes really good burgers and their lobster rolls are delicious. We love their fresh veggie sides and their Joe & Liza’s homemade ice cream is wonderful (free ice cream on Wednesdays with your lunch or dinner – you can’t beat that!).
Although it’s jam-packed (no pun intended!) and chaotic on Thursday nights, we absolutely LOVE coming out to listen to the live jazz which is led by Claes Brandal and features the Thursday Night Live Band every week. If you miss coming out, you can always listen in to the Jam Session Radio Hour every Wednesday night at 7:00 EST on WPPB 88.3 F.
You never know who you will see there jamming and we have heard some truly world class entertainment (a week ago Thursday we saw world-renowned trumpet and flugelhorn player, Randy Brecker, and his beautiful wife, Ada Rovatti, a brilliantly talented saxophonist, jamming with the locals. There was a line-up of performers out the door that night, but the highlight was a young man of fifteen who stepped up to play sax with this cast of seasoned talent. I’m sure it was a night he’ll always remember, as we will, and he’ll be someone to watch in the years to come.