Culinary Reflections and Starting Healthy for 2011

Greetings Everyone and Happy 2011 to all of you!

We made it through the last few crazy weeks of 2010! The work load during the month of December is always a bit much, but at the end of the day it is a great problem to have.

Just to give you a quick update about our company, we had a terrific year with both cafes going full swing, our catering services as usual busy with stunning weddings, charity galas and some super cutting edge private parties.

One of the things most evident about 2010 was the 40% growth in revenues from last year through our Giuseppe Specialty Menu. This tells us that you all are enjoying the drop off service with “No Fuss” just as much as our full service.  A very pleasant surprise!  So, since the specialty menu has become so popular, we will have a new addition to the menu each season. I’ll email you the next one, our Spring selection, which should begin around March 1st.

We also saw tremendous growth in the Giuseppe Pronto Services, which deliver delicious and affordable meals for corporate meetings throughout the county.

We’re working on some new things for 2011 that I can’t wait to share with you, like a possible remodel and complete transformation of our Museum Café in La Jolla to celebrate our 10th year anniversary. We may also be opening another café sometime in the Spring, something which is still in the preliminary stages, but I figured I’d give you the heads up anyway.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support, and to thank all the vendors that we partnered with on some very cool events. The beginning of the year seems like the perfect time for me to express my gratitude for my family, my business, my good health and for living in the best place on Earth.

The Popularity of “Farm to Table”

Sometimes I think about this and I wonder, “Why is it such a big deal?” It should always be like this!  Why is “Farm to Table” just now getting so popular, and why aren’t we much more aware of sustainable practices and organic foods?

For someone who grew up around farms in a town where the main business is agriculture, it was a way of life to eat fruit right off the trees and then pick the chicken that would be dinner. “Farm to table”  was all I knew until moving to this country which, for all that I love, I believe has some serious nutritional problems. It’s obvious in the percentage of widespread health issues like obesity and diabetes.

I grew up eating the best ingredients – pure, fresh and of course, seasonal. I never really tried a chicken with added hormones until I moved here. Seventeen years ago I arrived here in perfect shape, my diet was always top of the line ingredients, and I never had health problems. Once I got here I started  having trouble, because my body and my system weren’t used to eating processed foods and preservatives.  To this day, I still struggle with this issue.  Wherever I go, I have to plan my meals, and when going out for dinner, I have to think carefully about what food might be available to provide the type of nutrition my body needs.

The growth of Farm to Table has been huge in the last couple of years, and this is why:

  • Farmers who make the effort to show up at the Market on Sunday
  • Farmers who make the effort to hand deliver boxes full of beautiful produce to your door
  • Companies who are fully committed to sending you a weekly report of product availability
  • And of course, thanks to all the creative minds in professional kitchens, yes the chefs, who have a big role in the development of this new “Trend.”

I see more and more colleagues attending events and seminars, visiting farms, and going to the markets just to get what will be the Special of the Day on their menu. I am confident that by raising the awareness of this practice and promoting even more through school programs, more people will get the message and make positive changes for their health… sooner or later.

Among my favorite places to shop is the Farmer’s Market in La Jolla on Sunday. It is always great and well-stocked. But HATS OFF to the Mercato in Little Italy on Saturdays as well.  Whole Foods is also the place to go if you are looking for Hormone-Free Meats/Seafood/Top Artisanal Cheese/Bread/Produce. I call it the Chef’s Playground, because there is so much to see and so many ways to play.

Fregola Sarda con Salmone Affumicato e Porri

(Fregola Sarda with Smoked Salmon and Leeks)

Can anyone recall the first time you heard of a cheese called Burrata?  If not, all you have to do visit any of the top restaurants in town and you will find it somewhere on the menu.

The burrata has become so popular in the last five years, which to me is so funny because I’ve been eating it since I was a kid.  Eventually it became commercially available in the United States and I immediately began using it, but burrata as a culinary trend has only recently caught hold.  Go figure!

My point?
How often do you see Fregola Sarda on menus?  Probably not as much as the burrata, however the popularity of this ingredient is growing in a similar way, and again I just have to look back at my childhood meals to understand why people love it.

Fregola Sarda is considered the regular everyday pasta for the people from the Island of Sardegna.  Most of the fregola used in home cooking is made from scratch, but the fregola you’ll get here will most likely be produced in Italy and packaged for transport all over the world.

The texture is quite different. Even though it’s made out of semolina like any other pasta, the fregola has a bit of a crunch. I would describe it as a cross between Gnocchi and Pearl Couscous. The uses of Fregola that I’m seeing in restaurants are mostly seafood soups or anything with a clear broth, salads, and sometime purely as a main dish with seasonal ingredients added. In fact, my favorite way of preparing it is by tossing warm fregola in hot olive oil with some caramelized garlic, Parmiggiano, and sautéed root vegetables.

At some point, we in the catering industry will seal its popularity by adding Fregola to our own menus, which exposes the ingredient to larger numbers. For my part, I want to share this recipe with you simply because you can adapt this to your next cocktail party when you need heavy hors d’oeuvres.  Just prepare it ahead and let it rest, then you can serve it lukewarm in a martini glass, a small soup bowl, bamboo plates or whatever small container you like.  It’s a good type of food to pair with cocktails as it’s definitely on the hardy side.  Try it out and let me know… (download recipe here)

By the way, you can buy Fregola at a couple of specialty stores in Little Italy.  Makes me proud to be Italian!

Healthy Start for the Year

Right around the beginning of the Fall I was feeling a little out of shape. As most of you know, I teach spinning classes at La Jolla Sports Club every Sunday, so I’m constantly around people who have a need to exercise, and I see how hard it can be. Sometimes just the physical effort won’t do it. We work out really hard, we try to watch what we eat, we try to rest and take good care of our bodies, but we still don’t get the results we want.

It has a lot to do with our mental state and the way we approach the problem. That is why nutritionists and health professionals study nutrition AND psychology, because you can’t only focus on one issue.

Recently I had the privilege to be a guinea pig for ARMR. Accept Refine Manifest Results (ARMR) was founded by Alisha Randall and Melanie Rivera, two women who have taken their knowledge of physical fitness and combined it with their passion for nutrition to help people who want to transform themselves to a healthier life. Alisha and Melanie are an inspiration for their own achievements, but it’s in the way they apply their expertise to coaching others where they are real masters.

Working with them, I tackled my most difficult challenge, the acceptance of my injuries and their effect on my future as an athlete. Then they taught me the mechanics of getting out of shape and what it takes to get back on.  They really helped me to analyze my day, my nutrition, my habits and behaviors and at the end of the day I was able to document all of the above in a report that I share with them on a weekly basis.

The outcome….well I’m not even close to where I was a few years ago. So I’ve set a goal to fully recover from injuries and start racing again. To help achieve it, I’ve learned how to deal with my day and have a more positive attitude, which leads to making better decisions about food and lifestyle in general.  It’s a slow process, but everyday I’m reminded of the lessons I treasure from Alisha and Melanie. They’ve helped me trust that eventually, a little at a time, my body will return to normal, just as I expect.

If you feel you need help getting to the next level of your physical health, or if you just think it’s time to make a change, please take my word…these are the two people who will help you get there. For more information, contact them directly or come to visit them at the gym.

Events for the month


Tuscan Style Ribollita Soup

Saturday, January 22:  Taste of Italy Cooking Demonstration at Macy’s Home Store, Mission Valley

Since my cooking demonstration last November, I’ve realized how much I enjoy spreading my love of Italian cuisine for a live audience. It’s so rewarding to see immediate reactions to the dishes, and I love being able to talk with people directly and answer questions.

So when another cooking demonstration opportunity came up from Macy’s Mission Valley Home Store School of Cooking, I was excited to say yes!

They’ve asked me to prepare two of my favorites for a special Event on Saturday January 22nd. I’m really looking forward to it, and these are great dishes, the Ribollita Soup and Pollo Al Rosmarino.

Pollo Al Rosmarino

I would like to see you all there, especially since the $5 donation benefits the San Diego Food Bank, which is such a great cause.

To attend or for more information, please visit Macy’s site here.

Wednesday, January 19: Ultimate San Diego Wedding along with Magic 92.5, Exquisite Weddings Magazine and San Diego Magazine have given a very deserving San Diego couple the Ultimate San Diego Wedding, which will be catered by us!

Rachel and Matthew won their Ultimate San Diego Wedding by popular vote on November 23rd, and we’ve had a great time coordinating with all the other wonderful wedding vendors who are providing their services for the lucky couple, including one of our favorite venues, the El Cortez.

After the wedding, we’ll be posting some descriptions of the event and pictures, so come back to Culinary Confessions after January 19th.

Thursday, February 17:  *Save the Date* for CULTURE AND COCKTAILS at San Diego Museum of Art

Get your party shoes on and experience art in a whole new way with Culture and Cocktails at SDMA. We will host the after party at Sculpture Court Cafe. Get ready for “London Underground”!  More details will come soon.

That’s it for our first edition of this year’s Giornale. I’m looking forward to more great things in 2011!

Until I see you again,

Mangia Bene e Vivi Meglio