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I love New York. Nope, I don’t really care about why you don’t like the city because it’s got several things that are remarkable for me. In no particular order: character, family, friends, synergy, mad vibes and just crazy food all over. That said where am I going with the rest of this? I’ll let you in on some of my experiences I had on my trip there recently. So pull up a seat why don’t ya. Sorry, I’m all out of Andouille dusted popcorn and the coke is a little flat. Prosecco anyone? Okay, so I was in New York recently for the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival held there at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens. Folks were out in great numbers and to boot, the weather was fabulous for a mid summers July Sunday.

There were booths and stalls everywhere. Small and large businesses were stocked to the gill selling and giving away to their hearts content. Raging grills, tantalizing aromas of pork and chicken, roast corn, lemonade stalls, hungry lines stretching for miles (ok, 40 or 50 deep), boombastic entertainment (Etana, Maxi Priest and Mr Vegas were on the line up this year), chefs demos featuring: Chef Brandon Walker and Chef Gason Nelson; Celebrity Chef throw down with two Alumni from the Food Network show Chopped; Chef Gason Nelson from NOLA and Chef Maxcel Hardy – Personal Chef to Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks. They all threw it down and I was there to see it all. There also was the Celebrity cook off between State Committee Woman Scherie Murray & Senator Kevin Parker – Senator, call me please, I give great cooking lessons. He should have known better than to try prove his cooking prowess against a mother of two. It was mad fun. What was I doing you should ask? lol… Well, let’s just say I found a little time this year to enjoy a little aged Scotch and a stogie, Fiyah!!!! Chef Max don’t know anything about that and that’s his story, I can vouch for it . All in all a good experience it was once again this year. Now Let’s move on shall we.

So, on the eve of the jerk fest I had the privilege along with my Chef Mate Gason Nelson, of eating at a cool spot in the West Village, Sotto 13 where Chef Ed Cotton mans the helm. Gason Met Chef Ed back in NOLA where they worked together at a charity event and Chef Ed gave him an invite to come check out the restaurant whenever he was in NY again. It was a perfect night. Did I mention earlier that the weather that weekend was just superb, one wouldn’t have known it was the middle of July. I’ll skip the pleasantries, the hellos with our server, the cool martini that I had because I could, the perusal of the menu. I’ll get to the business at hand. We did come for dinner right? Then let’s eat.

Saffron risotto croquetas

Chef Irie, Chef Ed Cotton, Chef Gason Nelson

One word, okay two must be said here in reverence … Freaking Awesome. I know for me as a chef, when I leave an eating establishment inspired, something went right. Something went right in my head, my belly, my soul. We started off with the Saffron Risotto croquetas then on to the Capricola pizza with onion jam marmalade and bacon. Something killa about the salty and sweet together with the ham, the jam and that bloody bacon. The pig rules. The crunch from the crust of a NY pizza, delightful. Cheers chef, for pretty soon we will need chariots to wheel our chef asses out of your establishment. After dining on house made rabbit sausage over wilted chicory with roasted carrot puree, Fettuccine Bolognese made with beef, pork and lamb, pig feet Parmesan with sloooowww roasted tomato sauce, roasted snails with mushroom, pancetta finished off with garlic butter parsley sauce. Damn it man!!! Ummm, Oh Paris (pareee). The Memories, I could have broken out in song right here. I know, you’re saying chef, gross. But you are a foodie, isn’t all this so exciting? Everything that I was eating just felt like I was having foodilingus in my mouth. I think my tongue came. I want to spoon with a butterfly, a Mariposa. What?!!!! Don’t be giving me the side eye. Phhfft, please. Damn I’m sooooo full, aren’t you? Trust me, it was dynamite. Sweet Degustation, ooh la la. Oh crap, bloody hell! Here comes the Panna Cotta in a mini mason jar with balsamic reduction and strawberries. HeLp!!!

Chef Ed allowed us to see a deft approach to fresh ingredients and an uncomplicated culinary viewpoint. I couldn’t think in coherent terms after such a culinary treat, it was chef’s heaven I tell ya. I needed a pacifier, I needed to have my belly rubbed. Both Gason and I were transported to a creative nirvana which sparked conversation amongst ourselves about working on fine tuning our own craft. This was bolstered when we got to sit and chat some with Chef Ed. This moment with my peers was priceless. Unfortunately, this was not an all night affair, I wanted more but we had to leave. I’ll see you again Chef Ed. Now time for a flipping walk in the West Village for this was wickedly sinful. Yeah that’s it, let’s give Gason a little taste of NY. It was Food on Fiyah!!!.. More stories about the trip coming soon, stay tuned.

Jose Maria – the Meal There have been a few times since becoming a chef that I can truly say I have had an enjoyable and memorable meal

The suckling pig from start to finish, the kind that make you say…Great Meal!!! Two of which are birthday dinner a few years ago at Normans in Coral Gables, they are closed now another would be from a dinner I attended on a recent trip to Spain. It was in Segovia, Spain at the dinner reception for Law without Walls at famed restaurant Jose Maria owned by chef of the same name. This was an evening I most certainly won’t forget anytime soon. I was excited about this dinner because I was going to be having Cochinillo, the roast suckling pig. It is said that the roast suckling pig here is on par to that which is served in Botin, the oldest working restaurant which I visited during my stay in Madrid. Some even have said it could be better. Well, seeing as I didn’t get to have Botin’s suckling pig the jury is out eh.

After having an appetizing glass of rose and sample tapas of fried pork ribs at the bar I joined the table to meet and enjoy the company of new friends. Yep, a few more glasses of wine, reds this time from Ribera del Duergo (pago de Carraovejas). I was starting to feel…Nice. Then the meal started, I’m sorry the onslaught of yummy goodness began with a series of tapas served family style. First up was roasted lamb marinated salad with apple jam. I had forgone any large meals earlier in the day anticipating this dinner so that salad got sucked up in the vortex of hunger. It was good; I think…yes it was good. That apple jam lingers on the palette in a nice way. Before I knew it more platters of new Tapas was on the table for us to share. There were platters of Iberian Ham croquettes with glass of beet and potato chips, Picadillo – three type of pork; lean pork, bacon and cured ham – that’s pan fried and simmered until tender with onions,garlic, tomatoes and pimento (Paprika) with Morcilla and peppers; Iberian cured meats and there was that damn pork soup with butter beans, oh slap me and call me Django. It was insane I tell you. After this righteous savory indulgence one would think the belly would be full and the mouth tired…Not at all.dinner has arrived

Main course of Cochinillo was to come. If baby pig was not your choice, grilled pork and salmon with a vegetarian option were also available. Sorry, I left my vegetarian passport at the door this night. For me, what came next was quite frankly the highlight of my day. I will exclaim right here right now, in Spain the pig is king! Chef Jose Maria is now decreeing the sacredness of the Cochinillo. I’m so busy videotaping that I’m not even listening. The Long and short, the pig is proclaimed to be authentic then a chosen woman is asked to test the doneness and tenderness of the pig by poking in several places then cutting the pig in half length wise, head and all…with a PLATE!!! Shut up I said!!!

There is a certain violence attached to this feat so definitely not meant for the weak hearted. As if that was not

My Cochinillo, dinner is served.

enough, Chef Jose Maria proceeded after this to expertly carve and dissect the suckling pig for serving…with the said PLATE!!! I watched in awe, I wanted to hug him after this I tell you. It’s okay, the chef was most gracious to have his picture taken with me earlier, even remarked that he made a concession in allowing someone taller than he was to take a picture with him. He’s a comedian i tell ya. I was in Chef’s Heaven. No time for frolicking now as I had Cochinillo to devour. A piece of pork on a plate with sauce made from defatted cooking juice from the roasting process served from a clay jar. I felt like a reformed caveman who had gone through etiquette training. I had to enjoy every taste across my tongue, my lips, my teeth, damn, what else is in my mouth. So succulent with an amazing taste seeing as the pig is only seasoned with salt, olive oil and water. Scintillating it was. So satisfied I was that even a secondary flair of flambé, fiery chocolate with Cardomom ice cream was just extra fill stop. For more on Jose Maria click HERE. Tonight, truly… It was Food on Fiyah!!!

The tour guide organized a tour of the facilities in El Botin, oldest working restaurant located in Madrid, Spain for me the chef…I’m blushing like pink sea salt. I met chefs going about their morning business prepping for the start of lunch service. I feel as if I’m in a candy store tagged with bundled energy, I miss that sometimes. In this epicenter, pots are boiling, oven doors are clanking, meat is getting butchered, vegetables being peeled, monk fish is being expertly fabricated…and oh yes, suckling pigs are getting seasoned and roasted. Roasted in an oven that has been lit and operating since 1725 having never been extinguished… I touched the worn granite, it was so surreal. In this kitchen and in Spain the pig is king. 50 -60 suckling pigs get roasted here daily. The little 35 pounders each take about 2 – 3 hours to get done. Seasoned simply with Thyme, Bay leaf, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, salt and Spanish Paprika – prepared so differently than in Jose Maria in Segovia, Spain. No authentic suckling pig seal on the ears of every pig, it doesn’t get purchased. I chatted a bit with Chef Michael, a Filipino national that has worked at El Botin now for 10 years, roasting suckling pigs. With that smile, I know he enjoys his work.

The tag on the ear – Authentic suckling pig.

Chef Irie, Chef Michael & suckling pig in El Botin – Madrid, Spain

One of the dining rooms in El Botin

El Botin is a charming place with multilevel dining rooms, both above and below the kitchen. This was the favorite restaurant for Earnest Hemingway as he mentions in his book “The Sun also rises”. They said he wrote that novel while dining there at the restaurant. The building is even more fascinating when you understand that the many hallways, rooms, hidden stairways were used not just means of egress but were used to hide people during perilous times. One of which lead down to a wine cellar housing priceless bottles of wines. The dust was so thick on some I was expecting Christ to come out and pour me a drink. Of course you know I had to take a closer look. Squeezing my way between racks of wines. Upon leaving this cellar I began to think of the craziness of what I just did. Break a bottle and I might still be in Spain roasting suckling pigs to pay my debt. Hey, no risk no glory. I enjoyed this tour because as a chef it truly allowed me to feel connected to Spain. I never got to try the pig there but maybe they can ship me one of these little suckers. Food on Fiyah!!!

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