Skuna Bay Salmon Unlike Any Other

I recently attended a dinner at the renowned James Beard House, which featured chef Nicholas Elmi from Pennsylvania’s Rittenhouse Tavern. The James Beard House has adopted Skuna Bay as their official salmon and hosted the elaborate dinner to highlight it, along with other seafood. I was seated with Skuna Bay salmon farmers, as well as representatives from their local distributor, Gotham Seafood. While chatting with these dedicated men, what struck me was their enthusiasm and passion for their trade.

Unlike all other salmon companies, Skuna Bay truly has a personal touch. The craft-raised salmon company based in Vancouver raises their fish in their natural environment – the first year to year and a half in fresh water and a year or two in the ocean. Once the fish are fully grown, only 6% are chosen by the company’s salmon experts to be Skuna Bay salmon. Any fish with blemishes or imperfections are nixed from the mix. But one of the most impressive aspects of this company is that once the fish are packed on ice and boxed, the next person to open that box and touch the fish is the chef who’s going to prepare it. Their philosophy is that if the salmon farmers themselves can have the freshest salmon, why can’t everyone else? Skuna Bay allows its customers to experience that same fresh fish. Furthermore, the salmon is never flown, but driven right to its final destination.

I never imagined the process of cultivating salmon to be quite so meticulous and learned that it was really fascinating to learn about the lengths to which this company goes to ensure quality salmon to their customers. After hearing all about it, I was excited to try it! And luckily, I was not disappointed  Skuna Bay truly was the freshest salmon I have tasted and it was prepared excellently. Some of the best chefs nationwide are using this salmon, including Ed Brown and David Burke. If you want to see for yourself what all of the fuss is about, dine at the James Beard House or any of chef David Burke‘s New York restaurants to try it out! Best of all, right now Chef Burke is donating a portion of the proceeds from all his salmon dishes to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in New Jersey. So not only can you eat well, you can do something good for others while you do it!

Amanda Mactas

Amanda originally hails from Connecticut, but has lived in the Big Apple for two years now. She has since scoured the bouroughs for the best food and cocktails she can get her hands on. As a contributor to Joonbug.com, SheckysNightlife.com, and SocietePerrier.com, she has a taste for all that is NYC – whether it be a good restaurant, an awesome cocktail bar, or a unique fashion show. When she is not exploring the city, she can be found reading a good book, cheering for the Yankees, or quoting Harry Potter. You can follow her @NYCNightlife411!

#SCBD Exclusive Interview with Aida Mollenkamp, Chef & Author of Keys to the Kitchen

A few weeks ago I was looking at cookbooks with my friend Ashley at Williams Sonoma. We came across Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp and we knew we had to get it! It has 305 recipes, 40 fundamental techniques, and 300 photographs & illustrations! It’s an ideal cookbook for any amateur chef since it covers all the basics.  Before Superstorm Sandy hit, I had the opportunity to interview Aida Mollenkamp about her first cookbook Keys to the Kitchen, life and following your dreams.

SCBD: Hi Aida, thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you and tell my readers about your new and first cookbook, Keys to the KitchenYou have always been passionate about cooking, which eventually led to you studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. What was your favorite experience while at Le Cordon Bleu?

AM: There are so many memories from Le Cordon Bleu that it’s hard to pick one, but they all seem to come down to the experience and interaction that the French culture fosters with food.

One of my favorite moments was when my classmates and I gathered in the middle of the night in order to visit the Marché de Rungis when it opened in the pre-dawn hours. Rungis is one of the largest wholesale markets in Europe and has whole hangars dedicated not just to one animal but to one section of the animal, like offal! It was the first time I really understood that nose-to-tail eating was a very real concept and that the French had been doing it for years.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Robin Jolin

SCBD: I’ve been thinking of taking cooking classes so I can be a better cook & writer. Do you think it’s a good idea? Why?

AM: Well, I think that it’s important to learn something new everyday whether it’s a shortcut on your way to work or trying a new food when you eat. I personally really enjoy classes and like working collaboratively so cooking school really gave me a lot. It may not be for everyone but my belief is you build a solid and then you’ll be able to find your own voice, be it on the page or in the kitchen.

SCBD: You’ve had tons of editorial experience, what was the best part of working for a food magazine like CHOW?

AM: That too comes down to the things I learned. CHOW was founded by Jane Goldman who has had an impressive editorial career that’s included Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Wired, and Industry Standard. Her journalistic approach to food reminded us that food writing doesn’t have to be precious and that we can and should talk about it in plain terms. That concept imbued the whole editorial vision and allowed us a lot of creative freedom in our recipes, food photography, and story concepts.

SCBD: You have quite a record and had two shows. Ask Aida which aired on Food Network followed by foodCrafters on The Cooking Channel, what was your favorite part about filming? What was your most memorable segment (on both or either show)?

AM: Oh, the crew would be my favorite part about filming – you get to work with amazingly talented people and it really is a group effort to make a show come to life. As for my most memorable segment, that’s really hard to say as I had some seriously awesome experiences. On Ask Aida, it would probably be one of the first days when I was told to never stop or call cut and to leave that to the producer. I began doing the show intro and had a pan with oil heating on the stove. Well, I went on a little too long and the pan caught fire but I was thinking, “the show must go on.” The producer thought I had a screw loose but I was just trying to follow orders!

On FoodCrafters it’s really hard to say because each experience was really unique. I adored making orange marmalade in traditional copper pots with Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit  because her work is proof that attention to quality ingredients and detail really makes a simple product like a preserve that much more exceptional.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: Those eventually led to you writing your first cookbook, which I bought this past weekend Keys to the Kitchen. It’s a cookbook that covers all the basics that every chef should know along with some delicious innovative recipes. How does it feel to have your first cookbook published?

AM: It’s really quite surreal. Keys To The Kitchen has been over two years in the works yet nothing really prepared me for the publication day. A fellow food writer told me it was like having a baby and, though I haven’t had a child, I do feel like this book was almost as much effort, attention, and work. The fun part is that now I get to travel around and share this book with people and do what I love: encourage people to have fun in the kitchen.

SCBD: All the recipes look delicious, what’s your personal favorite in the cookbook? Which should I start with?

AM: The great thing about Keys To The Kitchen is you can pretty much start anywhere. If you’ve really never cooked before, I’d take it easy and make baked eggs or one of the pastas. If you feel like baking, the Sage-Maple Cornbread is a lot of flavor for minimal effort. And if you want to try something different and a bit challenging, try out the Caramelized Fennel Tarte Tatin.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: Why do you think it’s so important for every chef or just newbie cooks to know basic techniques?

AM: My other love aside from cooking is music, and many a great musician would claim that you can’t make it your own and riff until you know the basics. Those basic techniques function like directions on a compass, without them you wouldn’t really know which way you’re headed.

SCBD: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

AM: That’s a hard question because it’s constantly changing. If I’m in the kitchen, it’s almost always about recipe testing so I don’t have a ton of time to cook just any old thing. I do really enjoy doughs and pastas because it’s a really apparent payoff as the effort and time you put in directly results in the level of quality of the finished product.

SCBD: You have a cookbook tour going on, what should people expect at the tour?

AM: What’s really great about this tour is that I’ve got an assortment of events as we’re doing almost 40 events in nearly 20 cities. I’m traveling with Williams-Sonoma to do cooking demonstrations in a variety of their stores; I’ve been holding cocktail parties in locations such as urban farms; am collaborating with some of my favorite food stores for hands-on cooking classes; and am doing a number of ticketed dinners through mid-December.

My belief is you eat three times a day so you might as well have fun with it, keep in interesting, and know how to make a few things and all these events weave in those concepts.

SCBD: What was the last dish you cooked?

AM: Let’s see, that would be veggie tacos I made for the site yesterday. I have a series called Pretty. Easy. where I teach simple recipes and ways to dress them up or further simplify them and this month will be quinoa, black bean, and caramelized onion tacos.

SCBD: What’s your life motto?

AM: I aim to seek adventures – be it as little as a new nail color or as massive as a trip somewhere foreign – every single day.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone trying to break into the many facets of the food industry?

AM: Well, it’s a lot of hard work so do what you love. Think about why you want to be in the industry – if you like making food gorgeous, you should aim for food photography; if you like food science, maybe a test kitchen is for you – and find people doing those jobs. Ask them what they’ve done and how they’ve gotten where they are. Finally, always be willing to take a bit of risk to go after what you want – I started as an unpaid intern at CHOW because I wanted that badly to be a part of something new and different like CHOW.

SCBD: You’ve accomplished a lot in a few years, where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

AM: To be honest, I’m just focused on the next 5 weeks. After that I’m going to need some serious rest and then I’ll start thinking about the long term future.

 Click here to order a copy of Keys to the Kitchen.

Aida Mollenkamp on Facebook & Twitter.

Be sure to grab a copy of Keys to the Kitchen!

It’s a cookbook I highly recommend– happy cooking! 🙂

Why SCBD thinks you should see Robert Irvine Live!

In case you didn’t know I’m a huge fan of Chef Robert Irvine & so is my boyfriend! I also was fortunate to have to have the opportunity to interview Chef Robert Irvine for Jersey Bites before he had his show live in Red Bank, NJ on October 5th!

I figured the best way to tell you all why you should see it is through pictures! I will let you know that the night was filled with cooking, physical, mental, & cooking challenges. As Robert promised in my interview– a robot & of course getting to know him better and on a personal level! We had great seats– 2nd row to the left! It was a great night shared by both my me and Jason (my boyfriend) and let me tell you Count Basie probably smelt the best it ever did!

Here’s a peak of Chef Robert Irvine Live:

Started the show cooking a great piece of fish!

Speaking to the crowd with the lights up in the audience!

Speaking again– in tip top shape!

Getting ready for a challenge!

Telling us a story!

Time for a physical challenge, that was crazy!

It’s #hammertime

Bidding the hammer and proceeds go to the armed forces & vets!

If you are a fan of Chef Robert Irvine, I highly recommend you go to the show! It’s unlike any show you’ll go to and you really get to meet Chef Robert! It’s awesome that he is constantly interacting with his audience and they actually participate in the show! Check out if he will be in a theater near you– here.

For all the Jersey fans– Chef Robert Irvine will be back in New Jersey at Bergen PAC in Englewood, NJ on December 16th. I know I will definitely be there, especially since it’s so close to where I live now! If you plan on going to the Bergen PAC show, you can purchase your tickets, here.

If you’ve gone to the show I’d love to know what you thought of it! Also let me know if you plan on attending the show on December 16th, maybe I’ll see you there!

’til next time! 😀

A Gem in FiDi: Battery Place Market!

About two weekends agp, I had the pleasure of going to Battery Place Market in the heart of the Financial District.  It’s unlike any market I’ve seen, filled with organic & unique groceries. It’s perfect for a foodie, who isn’t afraid to venture out of their comfort zone or even just wants a specific product that they carry, and they carry a lot! 🙂

It’s not just a market, you can also sit in their seating area in back and eat dishes made by Executive Chef Robert Sckalor.

From early morning breakfast sandwiches and frittatas using only the finest artisanal products, to a lunch that includes hot dishes or sandwiches on Sullivan Street or Orwasher’s breads, to picking up a dinner that has local or organic chicken, beef, fish, pork or vegetarian dishes that will warm the soul, Chef Robert  Sckalor creates it all. Sckalor has been cooking for the last 37 years in such establishments as the Waldorf Astoria, Agata & Valentina, and the Four Seasons. He cooks what many consider the best prepared cuisine from a specialty food shop in New York City.  The New York Times praised his incredible crab cakes and DOWNTOWN Magazine‘s staff enjoyed the first batch of Chef’s homemade turkey chili and according to the magazine, “One bite and you are hooked!” Chef Rob also teaches a weekly cooking class at PS-IS 276 across the street from Battery Place Market.  He just loves watching the kids help make unique dishes and seeing them and the teachers eating everything!

I was welcomed into the market to an amazing cappuccino to warm me up since it was cool that weekend. After getting a tour of the market, I had the pleasure of trying Chef Robert’s Kobe Beef Brisket on a light roll with his homemade coleslaw which was delicious for lunch. I was also able to try Mamma Chia which I really enjoyed since they have so many one of a kind products at the market. The brisket was unlike any brisket I’ve tasted & I could definitely taste the difference in the beef.

I was fortunate to meet the Chef during my visit who told me himself, “I am alway working on twists on classic dishes and utilizing the finest products I can find. The best thing about this market is working with awesome local and national vendors. It’s unlike any market you’ll find in Manhattan.”

The great thing about Battery Place Market is that they have tons of organic and non-organic products available. I was in heaven seeing so many products available to cook with and products you can’t get just anywhere– one of my favorite was the Jersey tomato ketchup, being that I am a Jersey girl.  There were also tons of things I was interested in using to cook with like fresh truffles, a full selection of organic and local NYC vendors and more.

Chef Robert’s Kobe Beef Brisket & homemade coleslaw from Battery Place Market.

I really loved it and would definitely get my specialty groceries there! I also would love to try more of Chef Robert’s dishes. I was extremely impressed with the brisket and the coleslaw. I would love to try more of his Kobe beef entrees and sides.  So if you are looking to find one of a kind, unique, or even organic groceries– go to Battery Place Market. It’s also a place where you’re welcomed to shop on an empty stomach because you will surely be satisfied by any of Chef Robert’s dishes. Compliments to the Chef on his unique dishes!

Insiders Note: They also have a smaller market that serves up the same great products right under the Goldman Sachs building– it’s located at 240 Murray Street  (North End Way)! Make sure you check it out!

Well, I have tons of more on the way– stay tuned!

Happy Eating! 😀

*Disclaimer: The PR team paid for my meal. I was not required to write about these experiences and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Help the Fight Against Hunger this November at #NYTaste!

First of all, happy October– this year is surely flying by & to many people the fall means — pumpkin picking, apple cider, hayrides, & pumpkin spice coffee. In the food world, fall would not be complete without food events. From mid-September until early November you can find about 3 every weekend. One of the largest events in the New York City is next weekend is NYCWFF (aka New York City Food & Wine Festival)

One of the last food events of the season that I forgot to mention in my previous fall event round up is NY TasteNew York magazine’s 14th annual culinary event. It’s an event not to be missed & I’m pretty stoked about it!

 New York Taste, will be held on Monday, November 5, 2012 at The Waterfront in New York City. The signature event will be hosted by New York culinary editor Gillian Duffy, and will feature restaurateurs and mixologists from New York City’s most celebrated restaurants. A portion of the proceeds from the evening is donated to City Harvest to help fight hunger. Tickets are on sale at nymag.com/taste, and regular updates will be posted to Twitter with the hashtag #NYTaste.

The tasting event will host some world renowned talents, including Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem (Modern American), Abram Bissell of NoMad (Mediterranean), Laurie Jon Moran of Le Bernardin (French), Masaharu Morimoto of Morimoto (Japanese), Dan Barber of Blue Hill (Modern American), and many more. The culinary masters will gather in a new historical setting—built in 1891 as the Terminal Stores building, the Waterfront was the most ambitious riverfront structure of its time, and 121 years later will set the stage for an evening of cocktails and great cuisine. This year’s event will also feature increased mixology offerings, with the main bar curated by media partner Liquor.com.

 The event hosts over 1,000 guests, with general admission tickets costing $175. VIP tickets can be purchased for $250, and include admission to a special preview hour, access to the VIP lounge, and a VIP gift bag filled with a variety of products, including culinary tools. VIP tickets are limited and sold on a first-come first-serve basis.

Also at the event, guests can preview In Season, a beautifully illustrated and user-friendly cookbook of over 150 recipes provided by the country’s finest chefs and restaurants. The recipes were compiled by New York magazine’s food editors, Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, and were inspired by fresh farmers’ market ingredients. In Season will officially be released on November 8th, 2012. 
Guests will taste dishes from thirty-one of  New York’s elite restaurants:
  • A Voce
  • Aldea
  • Benoit
  • Bistro La Promenade
  • BLT Fish
  • Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
  • Bobo
  • Booker and Dax at Momofuku Ssam
  • Brushstroke
  • Clover Club
  • Corton
  • Crave Fishbar
  • Ed’s Chowder House
  • FP Patisserie
  • Hill Country
  • La Silhouette
  • Le Bernardin
  • Le Cirque
  • Lincoln
  • Morimoto
  • NoMad Restaurant
  • Osteria Morini
  • Porter House New York
  • Recette
  • Red Rooster Harlem
  • Rouge Tomate
  • SHO Shaun Hergatt
  • Telepan
  • Tertulia
  • William Greenberg Desserts
  • Wong

 I don’t know about you but an event that helps fight hunger, tasting of over 30 restaurants, and has an exclusive cookbook sounds like an event that I do not want to miss! Don’t forget to purchase your tickets, here.

Stay tuned for more news, fun fall posts & my event coverage from Bergenfest and  Wingfest this past weekend!

Until then, happy eating & drinking– cheers to a great October!

Upcoming Fall & Fun Food Events: The #SCBD Edition

It’s official– food event season has begun and is going strong at least until November. I already had the pleasure of attending the Vendy Awards & Food Truck Rally. So in honor of the event season, check out this line-up of upcoming food events, starting with Bergenfest tomorrow night:

Bergen Health & Life Bergenfest 2012:

BERGEN COUNTY’S BIGGEST CELEBRATION!
No one knows the best go-to destinations in Bergen County better than the people who live here. You voted for your favorites and now we are bringing them all together for the 5th annual Bergenfest Party & Expo. at a New and Bigger Venue–with Great Parking.

Where: Sheraton Mahwah, 5-9 PM
The 411:
VIP Ticket Admittance – Don’t miss a thing! Enjoy EARLY admission and the chance to win great prizes, and special gifts. 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. | $50 | $65 at the door
General Ticket Admittance – 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. | $35 | $50 at the door
*VIP tote bag will be given to the first 500 attendees!Order tickets here: http://www.bergenhealthandlife.com/Bergenfest2012/Sponsors:
Bergen Health & Life, Sheraton Mahwah Hotel, The Fountain Spa, Devon Fine Jewelry, Atlas, & Montvale Health Associates.

NYC Wingfest 2012:

The 411: WingFest returns, with some new challengers to try and de-throne back to back champion, Dukes NYC’s title. Join us for all you can drink drafts, and all you can eat wings from the city’s best BBQ joints.

All you can eat wings from:

When: Saturday, September 29th

Time: Noon to 7 PM (divided into two sessions)

Session 1: Noon to 3 PM

Session 2: 4 PM to 7 PM

Where: Center 548- 548 West 22nd Street, NY, NY

Robert Irvine Live:

When: Friday, October 5th 2012

Time: 8-11 PM

Where: Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ

The 411: Robert Irvine Live 2012” is Irvine’s first theatrical tour and he’s not taking the show lightly. “This is not just me cooking on stage for two hours because that has been done before. I wanted to do something totally different that makes cooking a vehicle for being able to create a theatrical event,” says Irvine. If his premiere performances in Florida are any indication, Irvine has truly taken the idea of theatrics to heart. Those performances found him rappelling down balconies and being challenged to feed members of the audience with no knowledge of the ingredients while a timer counted down. Of course, these challenges are nothing new to Irvine, whose Food Network shows “Dinner: Impossible” and “Restaurant: Impossible” often find him challenged both physically and creatively with deadlines that often seem nothing short of insurmountable let alone impossible.

Look out for my pre-show interview with Chef Robert Irvine on Jersey Bites & post show coverage coming up soon!

Fairway Foodie Programs:

FOODIE FRIENDS HALLOWEEN THEMED COOKING CLASS FOR KIDS

WHEN:   WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2012
TIME: 4-5 PM (AGES 4-6), 5-6PM (AGES 7-11)
WHERE: FAIRWAY MARKET WOODLAND PARK, 1570 US 46 WEST
THE 411: Hannah Netter, Children’s Culinary Instructor at Fairway Woodland Park, has over a decade of experience working in childcare and currently manages and teaches children’s cookingclasses as partof a NYC-based company.  The Fairway “Foodie Friends Class” will inspire kids to be independent with their food choices and with small responsibilities like preparing their own simple meals. Each participant will take home a Fairway lunch box that they will have time to decorate during the class; a coupon for their guardians to come back and shop; the food they prepared during the class; a Fairway grocery pad and pen; and a fun recap of what they accomplished for the day. Tickets are $5 per class and parents are welcomed but not required to attend as each class will be supervised. For more information, call or inquire within the store or email info@fairwaymarket.com. Purchase tickets at the Woodland Park store or online at www.fairwaymarket.com/foodie-friends-class.

6th Annual NYC Food  Film Festival: 

What: Where Guests Taste What They See on the Screen

When: October 17 – 21, 2012

Venues:

The 411: Returning to New York City for its 6th consecutive year offering a unique series of events where food and film lovers return to taste what they see on the screen, the NYC Food Film Festival is the only festival in the world that serves the food that is seen in the films. Produced in association with the James Beard Foundation and benefiting the Food Bank For New York City, the 2012 NYC Food Film Festival runs from October 17 through October 21 in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The NYC Food Film Festival has grown from an intimate food-nerd date-night destination to one of New York City’s most beloved festivals, and the largest of its kind in the world. Last year, the Food Film Festival made its 2nd trip to Chicago, where it will return this year from November 15th – 17th for the Chicago Food Film Festival. The NYC Food Film Festival was created by George Motz, the documentary filmmaker behind the award-winning Hamburger America film, book, and mobile app, and host of Travel Channel’s Burger Land, along with Harry Hawk. Through documentaries, features and short films, the Festival presents the best, and the most memorable, of the world’s favorite and exotic foods on the big screen…and then serves them to the guests. The NYC Food Film Festival is co-produced by Grease Bomb LLC and Food Films America.

TICKETS ARE FOR ON-SALE ONLINE AT:  www.thefoodfilmfestival.com

Hope to see some of you readers at these events! Let me know if you plan on coming! Look out for another event round up in the works closer to November. Comment me if you plan on coming out!

‘Til next time, happy Eating! 😀

Get a fresh taste of fusion at Session Bistro in Maywood!

A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying a one of a kind meal at Session Bistro in Maywood, NJ. I was thoroughly impressed with their fusion cuisine and freshly everything is prepared. Their is not much like it here in Bergen County, here’s why:

The moment I walked in, I was greeted by the staff of Session Bistro. I met the owner, Joe Hanzel Troy who spoke to me about his vision of the restaurant and his start in the food industry. He owned Troy’s Grill in Pearl River, NY before opening Session Bistro. Session Bistro focuses on only using the freshest ingredients that are available at the local markets. They even serve homemade hummus when you first arrive, it’s quite delicious and varies daily. After tasting the homemade hummus I started my meal with an appetizer sampler, which included their Chorizo Scampi ($11.95), Shrimp & Black Bean Sauce ($11.95), & their Pulled Pork Tempura ($10.95).

I love seafood, so this was heaven for me. “The key to all our dishes is the sauce that accompanies it.”, said owner, Joe Hanzel Troy. All the food is prepared and crafted by Head Chef, Christopher Holland. Holland was influenced by his father to begin his start in the kitchen and is a Jersey native, who grew up in Fort Lee. Growing up in Fort Lee was a major influence on his passion for fusion cuisine and you can see that in every dish he prepares. That was just the start, next I had another signature appetizer — the Korean taco ($10.95). I loved the taco, but my favorite was the Pulled Pork Tempura, because the mix of flavors are a perfect combination. Next, I had the Mutton Lettuce & Tomato, which is made with house smoked lamb bacon, lettuce, tomato served with a homemade Garlic Aioli.  It’s definitely an added touch that they smoke their lamb bacon in house. I loved it and would definitely get it when I come next time. Their appetizers are perfect to share, each come with 2-3 of each dish.

Also, unlike most restaurants they only serve fresh food and get their produce from the market almost daily.  I also don’t want to forget to mention that Chef Holland was also a finalist in Bergen’s Top Chef last year, which is certainly well deserved. Session is known for having live music on Friday & Saturday and for being a BYOB in Bergen. They also plan on adding wine to the menu but still plan on maintaining their BYOB status so people can drink their wine of choice.

I decided to try the Shrimp & Grits ($20.95)  for my entree which is  shrimp sauteed in chorizo cream sauce that is served on top of a Jersey fresh corn polenta. I love shrimp and enjoyed the previous shrimp dishes I had so I figured it was worth a try. I loved it, you get both the sweet & savory flavors and can taste how fresh the corn is. It cannot be topped.

Session’s Shrimp & Grits

I finished my meal off with the Chef’s Dessert of the Day, homemade Cinnabon ice cream. You could taste how fresh the whipped cream was on top, I gobbled it all up quickly. It was the perfect ending to a delicious, homemade meal, that showcased some of Jersey’s best produce.

I’d highly recommend it to anyone and plan on coming back one weekend for the entertainment. I’d definitely have the Pulled Pork Tempura again also, it’s so unique and a Session Bistro speciality & signature. It’s the perfect place for a date night or a girls night out & it certainly beats Applebee’s appetizers.

Session is open for lunch Monday to Friday, from 10:30 a.m to 3 p.m and currently have a deal that if your lunch order is a minimum of $25 you get a free dish from the Tapas menu with a value of $12 or less. They are also open for dinner from 5pm- 9pm or later if there is entertainment everyday. Along with implementing wine to the menu they also plan on starting brunch from 10:30  a.m to 3 p.m beginning weekends this fall. I know I’m definitely stopping to see what’s the Chef is creating for brunch soon!

If you’re in the area, take a trip to Maywood & enjoy a Mutton BLT, the Pulled Pork Tempura, and a delicious, fresh meal at Session Bistro.

Session Bistro, 245 Maywood Avenue, Maywood, NJ

*Disclaimer: The restaurants PR paid for my meal and stay. I was not required to write a review, and my thoughts and opinions are my own.*

#SCBD #Exclusive Interview Series: Chef, Attorney & Food Network Star Finalist Serena Palumbo

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting, interviewing and sharing a meal with Serena Palumbo at Keste Pizzeria & Vino (271 Bleecker Street) in West Village, NYC. Keste is one of her favorite pizzerias in NYC and specializes in serving Authentic Neopolitan pizza. Not only is she an attorney but she also has a food blog with webisodes called Cooking in Manhattan and was also a finalist of Season 6 of Food Network Star.

Serena and I after enjoying our meal at Keste Pizzeria in West Village!

Here’s the inspiring interview I had with Serena Palumbo while enjoying dinner with her at one of NYC’s finest pizzerias:

SCBD: First, you grew up in Italy, what did you pick up from cooking in Italy? What’s your favorite Italian dish?

SP: It’s a pleasure to meet you and do this interview for your blog Small Chick Big Deals. Italians are usually very passionate about food because it is a very strong part of our culture. I see the same applies to the great Italian American community in the US.  It is amazing to see how they have kept their identity as Italians through food and have created a real melting pot of flavors implementing the American traditions as well.  I learned everything about Italian food from my family and friends growing up in Salerno.  But besides the recipes and techniques what I brought with me from Italy when I moved to New York was the concept that your food defines who you are.  The dishes that we tasted in our childhood, are the first step to people’s culinary knowledge and flavor pattern so they are also near and dear to our heart.  In my case, since I am from Campania, I usually crave Neapolitan pizza. And because of the time I spent in Rome, working as an attorney at the beginning of my career, I love Carbonara and Amatriciana.

SCBD: I saw that you went to school in Italy for a law degree, how was it going to school in Italy? Do you have any early memories of food playing a part in your life during that time?

SP: The school system in Italy is very different from the US! My father was a doctor and he would have loved for me to go to Medical School.  I took the tests and I got in but I am not very fond of blood so I had a frank conversation with him and I told him I was going to Law School instead.  He told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I did not disappoint him. So Law School it was!  I wanted to be a journalist when I was a kid but then I learned that lots of journalists in Italy had a Law Degree so the choice was easy. 

My fondest memories from school are the birthday parties! My mom is really awesome because she always finds a reason to celebrate and invite people over.  So when my birthday  or name’s day approached she would plan great parties. My mom is kind of fearless when it comes to cooking for people, so she would tell me to invite my classmates and other friends and we would discuss menus and cook together. It was SO EXCITING! My friends LOVED coming to our parties because my mom would serve grown up food, not just pizza and cake.

3. I saw that you were a former ballerina. I used to dance as well. How did that shape your life? Did it get you ready for the camera?

SP: Determination, dedication, and commitment. Those were the values I learned from ballet.  I had a great ballet teacher and have very fond memories of my ballet years and thanks to Facebook I am in contact with all my ballet classmates. They are great girls (and boys) and some of them became professional dancers while others moved to a different career path.  The common denominator is that we are all very focused and have a fire in our belly.  Ballet played a great role in my childhood and teenage.  I took classes for 14 years and graduated at 19 years old.  Today I realize that ballet made me camera ready too. I am not afraid of talking in public, doing a culinary demonstration or talking into a camera because falling from a pirouette or an arabesque in from of the whole theater is a lot more embarrassing!

SCBD: Your specialty is Mediterranean cuisine, what is a signature dish of yours you recommend an amateur like me try?

SP: Mediterranean food is the best! But I might be a slightly bit biased. I think Mediterranean food is the healthiest choice you have, because of its simple ingredients and that the techniques are not overly complicated.  Food should be food, not a product that goes through an industrial process. Mediterranean recipes let the ingredients shine and they are also easy on the waistline and the wallet.  I really resent the recipes that call for 15 different spices and exotic ingredients. The great thing about Mediterranean food is that it is accessible easy and fresh, so anyone can whip it together very quickly.

You should try my Salmon Cartoccio with Pear Arugula Salad. It is super easy and you can’t beat the fast clean up! It is perfect for a small kitchen and people who don’t have time for complex preparations. Check out the video to both recipes here.

SCBD: Before you applied to Food Network Star, you started your blog Cooking in Manhattan, did you expect for it to take you this far? Do you recommend video blogging? I’m just about to start doing it and it’s a big step for me.

SP: The webisodes started as a joke.  I had a friend who could not cook and she wanted to learn. We were both very busy and so one day Kurt, my husband, decided to make a video of me cooking.  I posted it on youtube and soon thereafter it got 320 views… not bad for a newbie!  Cooking in Manhattan is a big part of my life now. I never imagined that posting my recipes on the internet could give me so much joy.  It is the interactive aspect that I like the most: people commenting on the recipes and asking questions. The webisodes are still a homemade production so I have control over every aspect of them.  I think you should definitely consider video blogging but you should have one specific topic for every segment. As for cooking videos you need to limit your message to something that the viewer will follow from the beginning to the end. I try to limit the length of my videos so that I won’t lose the viewer in the process. 

SCBD: Did having your blog help you in regards to reaching your audience on the show?

SP: It helped me introduce myself to the audience because they could see my videos, but once I joined Twitter and Facebook and became more active in social media I was able to really reach my audience. In retrospect, I would’ve joined Twitter during the taping of the show but at the time I didn’t believe it reach could be as big if not bigger than Facebook. I love speaking to my fans on Twitter now.

SCBD: I saw you cover more than cooking on your blog, such as travel & lifestyle. What’s the best thing you ate on your travels?

SP: The website has taken a life of its own in the past few years. I started with food but then readers started asking for suggestions on where to go on vacation or where to eat while in Milan Rome or Naples.  The lifestyle part comes from the fact that (like many Italian women) I am an absolute beauty junkie.  You need a new mascara? Dry Shampoo? Scrub? I have probably tried everything on the market by now. I am also very lucky because I have friends from all over the world and they have been extremely generous to contribute articles for the website.  We now cover Brazil, Peru’, India, UK and of course Italy with CityProfiles and there are many more to come!

I would have to say that the best meal I ever had outside of the US is in Sicily at La Madia, a small restaurant owned by one of the most creative chefs, Pino Cuttaia.  I still remember the 7-course menu I had 3 years ago, and I usually don’t remember what I ate last week so that tells you how great it was.  I had great food in Ecuador too! We visited some friends this winter (it’s summer there) and they roasted a pig on Sunday. It was the best porchetta I have ever had!

SCBD: How and why did you get into Food Network Star?

SP: I decided to audition for Food Network Star because a couple of friends/readers told me I should give it a try. The point is that I love my webisodes and I put a lot of time and effort in them. My friends and family have been very supportive because not only they get the tips and tricks of cooking in a small kitchen they also get to try the food!

So I went to an audition and there were probably 3000 people so I did not think I would get to be on the show at all. When my time came I went into the audition room and I presented myself and my cooking webisodes.  The lady I interviewed with liked the idea of cooking in the confined of a urban kitchen and she gave me a call back for a screen test. 

After that, much to my surprise I was invited to be on the show! In Season 6 I was the only finalist without a culinary education, and still many people who had a culinary pedigree were eliminated before me.  I am very proud of how I did during the show. The challenges are very complex because there are time constraints as well as the pressure to perform and cook edible food for people that might become your new employed. Still, I had no reputation to tarnish as I was and still am an attorney… the worst case scenario was that someone would sue me because I poisoned them, right? Well I did not poison anyone thankfully most importantly I went into every challenge with the purpose of having fun and testing my limits.

SCBD: How did it change your life?

SP: Well first of all now I can put food network star alumna next to the NYU law alumna badge. That is quite an accomplishment in my book! I am still the same person I was before, I just know a lot more about myself.  The Food Network Star is more than a competition to win a job. It is a real test of your abilities that spans from the cooking abilities to testing your work under pressure. I am used to pressure because of my daily job but no one (including myself) thought that I could endure the physical effort that is required of you on the show.  You wake up at 5AM and go to bed at midnight so it is a real test of how resilient you are. 

The show also changed the way I think of my website and webisodes: I learned that you need to listen to your readers and viewers and cater to their needs first and foremost.  So for example if you have a viewer with food allergies you need to provide solutions for that viewer so that he/she can enjoy the recipe as well with few tweaks.  I don’t come from a marketing background but I believe that listening to your readers and viewers is the best way to build a solid following. Content is king on the internet and if you deliver useful content to your viewers and readers, that is the best marketing you can possible engage in.

SCBD: What was one of the hardest competitions you did on the show?

SP: During my season there were some very difficult challenges.  The producers really upped the ante on what they wanted to see from the finalists.  There was a competition for a party in episode three that was really tough for me since I got injured and the finalist I was paired with was a very difficult character. In the end we did not win the challenge and I kind of ended up at the hospital fearing I had broken my foot…. But at least we weren’t eliminated!

SCBD:  What was your favorite competition, why?

SP: There were some pretty awesome competitions and I loved cooking during most of the show. It was just so much fun for me to be away from my desk job and following my passion for once. My favorite competition was in episode five when Brianna and I were paired to work in a lunch truck.  We have both very strong very assertive women and initially Brianna and I did not see eye to eye, but not only did we work together very well, we won the episode challenge! It was a real underdog story but we surely demonstrated some girl power that day!

SCBD: Last, I saw on your profile on Food Network that you are only in your early 30’s and have accomplished so much. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

SP: You know it is really funny that you ask because some days I feel ancient and some others I feel like an “absolute beginner”.  One of my best friends tells me that I always look like I have a plan and that I know exactly what I am doing.  That is not always the case. I try to use my strengths and downplay my weaknesses but I don’t really have a life plan.

You know that part of your childhood when you plan at what age you get married, buy a house and have children? I skipped that part altogether, I try not to make plans especially the long term ones. Making plans for me is like setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. No matter how much you plan, life always throws you a curve ball and you have to be ready to make the best of it.  If you plan too much and you are too focused on your life plan you don’t see the opportunities around you. They may not be what you planned but they may be great nonetheless.  There is nothing worse than a wasted opportunity especially for a self made girl.  So in 10 years we will have to get together again and I will tell you what happened, but in the meantime I will keep my eyes and ears open!

Thank you again for doing this interview with me Serena, it was pleasure to meet you, another woman making her mark in the food industry! It was truly a blessing to share a meal with Serena at one of her favorite and Authentic Neopolitan pizzerias, Keste! Grazi!

Look out for more interview on the way in my interview series! In the meantime…

Here are some pictures from our dinner at Keste Pizzeria:


Until my next post…. Happy Eating & Drinking!