The History of Washington D.C.'s Dining Scene

Washington, D.C. is finally getting its due as a dining destination. Didn't hurt that Michelin has bestowed its imprimatur. One of the most significant venues, though not a Michelin restaurant, is the Sweet Home Cafe in the Smithsonian's Museum of African American History and Culture. Albert Lucas, Restaurant Associates Supervising Chef Mid-Atlantic region, spent several years prior to the opening of the cafe researching the culinary contributions of African Americans. We were honored to have him join one of our Flavor Forays in Charleston where he had some fruitful conversations with Gullah chef BJ Dennis about that culture. Lucas is co-author of the just published Sweet Home Cafe cookbook, a must read for anyone interested in American food history.

You can order your own copy of the Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook here.

The History of Washington D.C.'s Dining Scene

Steak and potatoes gives way to caramelized scallops with toasted farro. "Where are you going to eat?" That's a question typically asked when a traveler is headed to New York, San Francisco or New Orleans. But Washington, D.C.? Not until now. So why now?

Savoring Portland

A terrific group of food and beverage professionals joined our second annual Portland Potager Flavor Foray October 15 to 17, 2018. It was nonstop inspiration and education as we explored this dynamic food city and met creative chefs, artisans and producers, millers and distillers and wine makers. Nannette Bedway’s photo album will guide you through our delicious journey.

From sandwich champion (and baseball coach) Melissa McMillan’s Pastrami Zombie to Olympia Provisions charcuterie and Jacobsen’s salt, we tasted Portland’s best. We experienced Vitaly Paley’s unique Russian tea samovar service, Peter Cho’s amazing Korean inflected dishes, Nostrana’s delicious interpretation of Italy. And how about those miniature flavor bombs at Pip’s Donuts? We were treated to exclusive tastings at top wineries Domaine Drouhin and Argyle, at craft brewery Wolves & People, at cult coffee favorite Public Domain, at Oregon’s only olive oil mill Red Ridge, and at New Deal Distillery. We were amazed at the variety of herbs and vegetables on Noble Rot’s rooftop garden. No one left hungry.

Thanks to the wonderful sponsors who made this all possible: IMS/Bigelow Tea, Smithfield Foods, ARC Cardinal, Farmer Brothers, Impossible Foods.

Mesquite Missionary

Terrific article in the Austin Chronicle about Sandeep Gyawali and his mission to put this ancient desert food back in the mainstream. Our "Deep in the Heart of Austin" Flavor Foray group visited Gyawali at the Barton Springs Mill in May and tasted some of his fabulous mesquite flavored sour dough bread slathered with mesquite compound butter. There was also a mesquite beer from Jester King. Gyawali is one of the creative artisans driving culinary innovation forward and we were privileged to meet with him.

How One Man Started the Local Mesquite Movement

It started off simply enough: Bake something using a unique ingredient. Who would have thought that such a mundane task would launch a passion project to recover a culturally significant foodstuff that has, over the course of the last century and a half, fallen out of favor?

How One Man Started the Local Mesquite Movement

A baking challenge led Sandeep Gyawali to this little-known flour


It started off simply enough: Bake something using a unique ingredient. Who would have thought that such a mundane task would launch a passion project to recover a culturally significant foodstuff that has, over the course of the last century and a half, fallen out of favor?

Back in 2012, Slow Food Austin asked Sandeep Gyawali of Miche Bread to make something for its annual fundraising quiz using a unique ingredient. Competitors would do a blind tasting and try to guess that unique ingredient. "I wanted to do it in good faith with the mission of the organization," says Gyawali. "So, I checked the Ark of Taste, which is the database of heritage foods in danger of extinction and found mesquite [the actual entry on the Ark of Taste is mesquite pod flour] and decided to use that. I went to Whole Foods for mesquite flour, and found a bag of it from Peru. It was surprising to me that there wasn't any Texas mesquite flour available. From there, it stayed in the back of my mind that there should be a Texas mesquite flour." And that's how the Texas Mesquite Project was born.

The English word "mesquite" comes from the Spanish "mezquite," which was borrowed from the Nahuatl "mizquitl." The mesquite tree (what we have here in Texas is known as the honey mesquite; farther west, folks use velvet mesquite) was a cornucopia for indigenous people pre-colonization. Members of the Tohono O'odham, Pima, Apache, Maricopa, and other tribes ground the pods into meal and used it to make bread, or mixed it with water to make a sweet mush. The rest of the tree could be used for textiles and for medicinal purposes. But today, in Texas, mesquite is most closely associated with barbecue.

According to Daniel Vaughn, writing for Texas Monthly, the association of mesquite with barbecue goes back to the post-Civil War era in the Southwest, which gave rise to the cattle ranching industry. Grazing cows helped propagate the trees across the scrubby range, which effectively turned mesquite, a thirsty tree, into a nuisance plant. To combat the problem, in a triumph of midcentury marketing, mesquite became the go-to wood for that "authentic smokehouse" flavor of Texas-style smoked meats. Today, mesquite occupies 50 to 60 million acres of land in Texas. That's a lot of untapped raw material – and potential for revitalizing an ancient foodstuff beyond the smoker – and there are plenty of good reasons to explore the possibilities.

Mesquite pods

“I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of mesquite.” – Sandeep Gyawali, Miche Bread

Chris "Chiltic" Luna, a Phoenix-based ethnobiologist descended from the Guachichil Chichimecas of San Luis Potosí, documents the process of harvesting, storing, and processing mesquite and other native plants. In so doing, he pushes back against the erasure of cultural practices, and recovers indigenous plant knowledge in the process. For Luna, who prefers to add bone broth or berries to mesquite meal for a grits-style breakfast, consuming mesquite is a way to avoid incorporation into the late-capitalist food chain. "One small mesquite tree can give you five gallons of beans, which is enough to feed you for a while," says Luna. "Power structures don't like that, because if you're able to eat off the land, who's going to tax you? If you can go harvest mesquite beans, you don't need McDonald's. When the land provides, the corporate structures start to break down."

While Gyawali, who hails from Nepal, doesn't have that same ancestral drive to revitalize mesquite as a culinary ingredient, he does recognize its importance to the lifestyles and livelihoods of those who lived in Texas and the greater Southwest centuries ago. The Texas Mesquite Project is animated by a desire to re-establish the culinary use of mesquite because it's delicious, local, and has a rich cultural history. "I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of mesquite," he says.

With help from funds won via an Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant, Gyawali bought a hammermill, which he stores at the Barton Springs Mill headquarters and uses to grind the mesquite pods after they have been harvested, roasted, and dried. "Initially my idea was to make a flour available for retail sales, but there needs to be an educational component first. I realized that if I just made flour, no one was going to buy it or know how to use it." According to Gyawali, you can add the mesquite powder to just about anything – coffee, chocolate, bread, butter, smoothies – and it will improve the flavor.

In order to put that claim to the test, I took home a tub of mesquite flour and whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, replacing a third of the white flour with the mesquite flour. My 13-year-old son spooned up some of the dough and asked, "Did you add cinnamon to that?" A family friend described the flavor as "snickerdoodle-y." The cookies themselves, made with dark brown sugar, were decidedly nutty/malty, and the flavor of the mesquite worked very well with the caramelization of the brown sugar. The mesquite added a sweet depth and earthiness to the cookie that you wouldn't get from an ordinary Toll House recipe.

But it's true that without prior knowledge of how and within what context to use it, people aren't going to purchase a bag of mesquite flour and go to town with it in the kitchen. That's where Gyawali's canny partnerships with other local food purveyors who are among the food brands that have embraced the mission of the Texas Mesquite Project and have incorporated the ingredient into their goods come in. The Brewer's Table features mesquite baguette and butter on its menu; Cured in San Antonio makes a mesquite tres leches and a mesquite mole; Jester King released a Cerveza de Mezquite; SRSLY chocolate makes a mesquite "dirty white" chocolate; and Lick Honest Ice Creams added a honey-sweet mesquite cookie crumble ice cream to its summer menu. "People eat what they're offered. A lot of these brands are influencers in terms of how we eat," says Gyawali. What better entry point to a new and exotic foodstuff than via your favorite local brand?

Says Anthony Sobotik of Lick Honest Ice Creams, "Food, especially ice cream, serves as a nonintimidating vehicle to open a person's eyes to the history of what they're eating. In the case of the mesquite beans, it's documented that Native Americans have been making meal from them for at least 500 years, so it's only fitting that we used a mesquite bean meal to make the cookies in our flavor. It creates a direct, tangible connection to this ingredient that has been a part of the diet here for hundreds of years and I just think that's awesome."

Of course, indigenous folks centuries ago probably weren't enjoying their mesquite in chocolate chip cookies and delicious ice cream (although they could mix the mesquite meal with water and ferment it to make a low-alcohol beer), so the bridge to the past is a bit wobbly, at best. But the Texas Mesquite Project is opening the door to considering how we can use these heritage ingredients in new and delicious ways, while also being respectful of the traditions that preceded us.

A Look at Burgundy Today

Even tradition bound area are changing to meet demands of the modern world. Anne Moreau of the distinguished Louis Moreau domaine tells how.

A Look at Burgundy Today with Anne Moreau

Even tradition-bound regions are changing to adapt to the modern world. Anne Moreau of the distinguished Domaine Louis Moreau visited New York City at the end of April on behalf of the Bourgogne Wine Board to talk about Chablis, the changes underway there, and to show off some of Burgundy's more moderately-priced wines.

First Look: Mourad Lahlou's Amara in San Francisco

Morocco will meet Mexico when Mourad Lahlou and Louis Maldonado open Amara this summer on the spot where Aziza once flourished.

First Look: Mourad Lahlou's Amara in San Francisco

A sneak peek at Lahlou and Louis Maldonado's new restaurant exploring Moroccan-Mexican connections. Expectations are running high. Amara, the mashup of Moroccan and Mexican cuisines in the works from Mourad Lahlou and Louis Maldonado, is one of the most anticipated openings this year in San Francisco.

Science meets Spirits

Science meets spirits at this new tech centric bar in NYC's Greenwich Village opened by Dave Arnold and Don Lee. Josh Eden helms the kitchen. Dave Arnold was a frequent and valued contributor at Food Arts and we're pleased to follow his successful career path.

Existing Conditions Opens in NYC

Shaken, stirred or spun-you'll find all this and more at Dave Arnold's highly-anticipated new bar. Traditionally, cocktails are shaken or stirred. But at the techno-centric bar, Existing Conditions, they are as likely to be spun.

21st Annual BBQ

It's almost that time again - this must-attend party during the National Restaurant Show is open to all industry personnel.  See you there!


Competing chefs this year include: Tony Priolo, Piccolo Sogno; Stephen "Smokey" Schwartz, Burnt End BBQ; Cory Morris, Boleo, Gray Hotel; David Chapman and Joe Frillman, Daisies; John Coletta, Quartino; Martial Nougier, Bistronomic; John Manion, La Sirena Clandestina and El Che Bar; Marcos Ascencio,Bar Lupo; James Lintelmann, Baptiste & Bottle and Noyane, Conrad Hotel; Derek Campbell, Big Bricks; Ryan McCaskey, Acadia; Brenton Balika, Margeaux Brasserie at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago; Tom Carlin, Dove's Luncheonette.

Lauded Chicago Chef Carrie Nahabedian Starts a New Chapter

Carried Nahabedian chatted with me about her emotional decision to close Naha, one of Chicago's most popular restaurants after 18 years, and completely revamp it in a new location. She also speaks out on women in the industry and the pride she takes in her Michelin stars. It's always a pleasure to hear her open and honest opinions on just about everything.

Lauded Chicago Chef Carrie Nahabedian Starts a New Chapter

She'll close her one-starred NAHA at the end of the month. Chef Carrie Nahabedian never stops. At the end of the month, she's closing and reconceptualizing NAHA, her 18-year-old Chicago stalwart, despite tearful pleas from neighborhood regulars. Reservations for the last few nights are pouring in. "It's exciting and mentally draining," she says.

NYT: Finding a Lost Strain of Rice, and Clues to Slave Cooking

Gullah chef BJ Dennis discovered hill rice in Trinidad, an important clue to the history of slave cooking. Read about it here in this New York Times article. We were honored to have BJ cook a Gullah lunch for our Flavor Foray group in Charleston. His collards cooked in coconut milk are to die for!

Finding a Lost Strain of Rice, and Clues to Slave Cooking

That's why B.J. Dennis, a Gullah chef from Charleston, was stunned to find the rice growing in a field in Trinidad, tended by a farmer descended from slaves who once lived in Georgia.

Congratulations Jose Andres!

Congratulations to Chef Jose Andres, who will receive the humanitarian of the year award from the James Beard Foundation for the wonderful work he did feeding the people of Puerto Rico following the hurricane. We are proud that his World Central Kitchen is a beneficiary of the Championship BBQ and Cook-Off coming up in Chicago May 20.

Click below to read more.

James Beard Foundation Names José Andrés Humanitarian of the Year

Global restaurateur and Eater Icon of the Year José Andrés is now also the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year. A previous recipient of James Beard Awards for his cooking and empire building, JBF is recognizing Andrés this time around for the millions of meals (over 3 million and counting) he's provided to residents of Puerto Rico still working to piece together their lives following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.