Worlds of Flavor Conference: Flavors of the Mediterranean

What happens when hundreds of chefs, culinary professionals and journalists descend on Napa's Culinary Institute for three days of intense discussion, demonstrations, food-trend forecasting and eating? You've got the annual World's of Flavor Conference.
This year focuses on the Mediterranean cooking -- Italy, Spain, Greece and the fascinating flavors of the Middle East. I'll be blogging throughout the day today (Friday) and Saturday. See what the food world is talking about.

rice.jpgWhat happens when hundreds of chefs, culinary professionals and journalists descend on Napa’s Culinary Institute for three days of intense discussion, demonstrations, food-trend forecasting and eating? You’ve got the annual World’s of Flavor Conference.

This year focuses on the Mediterranean cooking — Italy, Spain, Greece and the fascinating flavors of the Middle East. I’ll be blogging throughout the day today (Friday) and Saturday. See what the food world is talking about here in Napa…

Admittedly we’re at Food Nerd Level 9 here. This is hard-core gourmet heaven. As usual I’ll break it down to just what you need to know.(Not your cup of tea? Stay tuned for a dispatch on Lynn’s Thai, a new restaurant in Cotati).


wolfert.jpgSpent the morning with local cookbook author and legend Paula Wolfert whose decades-long affair with Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically that of Morocco, has helped to bring tangines (clay pot dishes) and preserved lemons to the American palate. Wolfert and SF chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza created a Moroccan lamb tanjia cooked over hot coals for eight hours.

Says Wolfert, “Nothing is coddled more than a Moroccan dish made by men for men.”

What you need to know: Tajine are clay vessels that are often passed through generations that are used to cook stew-like dishes (often my the men) that simmer and cook overnight in hot coals. The food is packed in — often root veggies, lamb, exotic spices (cumin, saffron, a special blend called Rass el Hanout), aged butter (called Smen) and garlic. The result is a rich, thick, melt-in-your mouth dish that sticks to your ribs.

Want to try it: Mourad is one of America’s rising young chefs, bringing the flavors of his Moroccan heritage San Francisco. Check out the menus at Aziza.

saturday.jpgBefore leaving (BiteClub can only take so much deliciousness, afterall), I checked out the Worlds of Flavor Marketplace. Designed to look like a Middle Eastern market, attendees got to wander around to dozens of stations serving up everything from cold blue seafood soup (from Spain, of course, and colored with cabbage) to couscous, a whole suckling pig, prosciutoo, tapas, lamb, lentils, pasta and more wine than should be legal. I’m in a food coma. Top Chef Cat Cora was the celeb of the moment, pimping American catfish. She’s a whole lot tinier than you’d think, but the girl can cook.

 Next year’s theme is Street and Comfort Food. I’ll be there.

Man can not live on bread alone. Or wine. But put the two together and you’ve got a pretty great meal.

is a bastion of cooking history and traditions, but few as entrenched
as the cooking styles of Apuglia–roughly located in the heel of
Italy’s boot (aka the southeast coast). One of the most famous products
of the region is  pane di altamura, a type of bread made with hard
durum wheat. What makes this bread so unique, other than the fact that
you can’t get it outside of the region, is the sheer size of it.

can be two feet (or more) around and weigh multiple kilos. We’re
talking super-sized loaves that could feed a family for a week — and
literally did for centuries. It’s a rustic, crunchy bread that was
baked in a communal oven and would provide nutrition for a week to
families on isolated farms.

You gotta wash all that bread down
with something, and frankly the Rioja region of Spain is one of the
most vibrant winemaking regions in Europe. Wine expert Doug Frost says
the Spain could, in fact, usurp France as the EU’s top producer of wine
in the next two to three years

It wasn’t always that way. In
fact the Rioja region has always made lots of wine, but it was mostly
jug-type stuff that made Hearty Burgundy look downright fancy. That’s
changed, and now the Rioja region is turning out some super-premium
wines. Sounds like kind of a familiar story here in Northern California.

Fact: Tapas is all the rage in America, but its actually a culture in
Spain. Tapas bars open in the mid-afternoon for snacks, wine and
conversation. A sort of enforced chill-out time. How awesome does that


lunch.jpgGreek food usually
frightens me a bit. Too many flaming Ouzo-soaked pieces of kefalotere 
(cheese) and fatty gyros have made me skeptical. Frankly, however, most
American-Greek restaurants are about as authentic to their true flavors
of their homeland as Chef Boyardee is to Italian food. Not so much.

Like, betcha never had Melitzanopita me Karydia ke Kymino or Sofegada me Tsipoura ke Aromatika Horta. Me
neither, until the talented young toques from the CIA threw together a
little lunch shindig for the gobs of picky, highly critical food folks
here with some of the most amazing and authentic Greek dishes i’ve ever

lunch2.jpgBraised Sea Bream wtih Wild Greens and Fennel, gigantic beans with buttermilk and shaved Botargo (the
preserved roe pouch of tuna — nice), a cream of Trahan soup (a grain
mixed with yogurt), lots of octopus and a barnyard of barbecued pigs on
spits. Crazy good.

Contemporary Cooking of Israel
Forget falafel and hummus, the cooking of Israel is emerging as some of the
most creative in the Middle East. Chef Daniel Boulud has a surprising
number of chefs learning the craft in his kitchen and returning home
with that knowledge. “It is a cuisine under construction,” says
moderator Joan Nathan.
Best quotes: “How can a country of 2 million Jewish mothers not have any good food?”
Try this: Pan sauteed cauliflower with lemon and date honey.
What’s date honey? There are no bees involved in making this ancient
sweetner from pressed dates. It’s available at most Mediterranean
specialty shops.
Get it at home: Okay, so BiteClub hasn’t had much great Middle Eastern food in Sonoma, but Humble Pie has recently been serving Matzoh Ball Soup! Omg.

crossroads of the Mediterranean. This is more than just garlic and roma
tomatoes…Included in the lineup of some of Italy’s top chefs: Carmelo Chiaramonte, Accursio Craparo, Pino Maggiore and Ciccio Sultano
Best lines: “Use vegetables that smell and taste of the earth.”
“A mortar and pestle is the key to Mediterranean cooking. You’re not a real chef it you can’t use a mortar and pestle.”
Try this: Sicilian Pesto (made with a mortar and pestle of course) with garlic, almonds, basil leaves and boiled, seeded tomatoes.
Inspired eating: Although tuffles aren’t native to Sicily, local chef Josh Silvers just got back from a whirlwind trip to Italy for Terra Madre
and brought back a couple of serious white truffles. He’ll be serving
them up this weekend on the tasting menu. We’re just entering truffle
season, so stay tuned for more local truffle feasts.


6 thoughts on “Worlds of Flavor Conference: Flavors of the Mediterranean

  1. I could add “shish kebab” to the Trukish influences, since such food is quintessentially Turkish and, again, so is the term. Kebap (Turkish spelling) is a general word for a variety of cooked meat dishes. Sis (Turkish spelling, pronounced “shish”) is the Turkish word for “skewer.” Then there’s “Greek salad,” actually a standard dish in Palestine, Lebanon, Greece, Armenia, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, etc. In Turkey, it’s “coban salatasi” or “shepherd’s salad.”

  2. That’s too bad about Persian cuisine, which is great. However, strictly speaking, it’s not really mediterranean or even middle eastern, although it has many elements that are similar to Arab/Turkish/Greek/Armenian cuisine, due to centuries, even millenia, of back-and-forth exchanges.
    I am glad to hear that Turkey is included, as it is so often neglected over here yet the Turks have had a huge impact on the entire region from Italy to Iran in cuisine as in every other aspect. In addition to dolmas, the Turks are arguably the ones who brought yogurt to the region (the very word is Turkish, it’s very Central Asian, and tzatziki – or in Turkish cacik – is not really possible without yogurt), and introduced Turkish Delight, baklava, and even the “gyro” or doner kebap (supposedly invented in its modern, vertical-spit form by a 19th-century chef in the Turkish city of Bursa). Anyway, I guess I’m adding more than I need to but I’m a big fan of Turkish food and the cuisine of the whole eastern mediterranean/Balkan/Anatolian/middle eastern region in general.

  3. Let’s hope they don’t forget Turkey, which I don’t see mentioned there (“middle east” does not, properly, include Turkey geographically, historically, or culturally). Turkish influence is seen across the eastern Mediterranean from the former Yugoslavia to Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. The Turks brought together traditions from central asia, the middle east, Greece, Albania, former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, the Ukraine, and blended them into something rich and varied, which their influence then spread to their domains. It is such a shame the good Turkish traditional cooking, not to mention Ottoman high cuisine, are barely known over here, except via mostly Greek or Arab outlets. Example: “dolmas” are widely availbable here in Greek eateries, yet how many people know that the name comes from the Turkish verb dolmak, which means to stuff or fill? In Turkey, there are many different types of “dolma,” not just the stuffed grape leaves.

  4. I just started focusing on more Mediterranean cooking at home- for the health of it and also to get to my “roots” (Sicilian.) It’s amazing how good the food is- and how good it is for you! Really looking forward to reading more of your blog posts on this subject.

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