James Beard Finalists

The 2012 finalists for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant include: Altura, Seattle (Italian); Bistronomic, Chicago (French); Fiola, Washington, DC (Italian); Isa, New York City (Mediterranean); Petite Jacqueline, Portland, ME (French); Pistou, Burlington, VT (American/French); Tertulia (Spanish); and Zeppoli, Collingwood, NJ (Italian).

Three of the nominees for Outstanding Chef are: Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Chicago (Italian); Frank Ruta of Plena, Washington, DC (Italian); and Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles (Italian).

Outstanding Restaurant finalists include: August, New Orleans (French); Balthazar, New York City (French); Patina, Los Angeles (French); Picasso at Bellagio, Los Vegas (French); and Vetri, Philadelphia (Italian).

And for Outstanding Restaurateur: Frank Bonanno of Bonanno Concepts, Denver (Italian); Richard and Larry D’Amico of D’Amico & Partners, Minneapolis (Italian); and Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Group, Santa Monica (Italian).

Piero Selvaggio

I enjoyed both the food and ambiance of Valentino Restaurant during a trip to Southern California perhaps twenty years ago. Selvaggio, who was born in Modica, Sicily, has been in the restaurant business for over forty years and is already the recipient of many prestigious awards.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

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The Story Of French

I arrived in Paris on a Sunday, registered at The Alliance Française on Monday, and began my first class Wednesday on rue Raspail. In 1966 I was determined to learn the language because I intended to remain in France indefinitely. Sadly, I only made it to the second grade. Failing to find work there, I returned to San Francisco six months later.

The year before I was to visit Paris again I began watching French In Action, from the beginning to the final episode in preparation for the trip I was to make three decades after my initial stay. I wanted to attain at least a basic level of proficiency. But in 1996, each time I asked a question in French I almost always received the answer in English.

The Story of French, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and his life partner Julie Barlow, St. Martin’s Press, 2006, not only traces the origins and subsequent history of the language but also unveils some startling information about the attitudes and practices of French people. These include the struggle to linguistically unite the French people over time, the current status of the language in a world dominated by English, and the popularity of French in places such as Tel Aviv.

It was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading and recommend to anyone curious about the language, history, and/or culture of France itself and other parts of the francophone world.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Guest Chef

Guest Chef, a relatively new restaurant in the Rockridge District of Oakland, California, was inspired by the many pop-up restaurants proliferating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Real estate developers Scott Cameron and Jerry Boddum decided to provide a permanent venue for aspiring chefs to try out their skills on a rotating schedule. I’ve never eaten there but it’s an intriguing concept.

Each chef is given an opportunity to showcase his/her cooking skills for a two-week period, giving adventurous diners a chance to sample the food. Several of the people scheduled to cook incorporated Mediterranean influences.

Eva R. Ciammetti, a New Yorker, whose parents settled in the US from Abruzzo, L’Aquila, Italy, learned to cook rustic Italian food from her mother and grandmother. She currently cooks Sundays in Fairfax, CA, teaches cooking in Sebestapol, CA and is active in Slow Food San Francisco.

Paul Skrentny, popular at street fairs and private parties, was the third chef in residence. The food he presented included strong Spanish influences.

Antonio Capezutto, the current guest chef, offers simple and authentic food from his native city of Naples. He learned his skills in his mother’s trattoria long before moving to San Francisco with his American wife and their daughter.

Guest Chef, located at 5337 College Avenue, Oakland, California, serves only dinner Tuesday through Sunday. More information is available at 510.658.7378 or info@theguestchef.net.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Eleftheria Arvanitaki

Eleftheria Arvanitaki is one of Greece’s top vocalists. Born in the port city of Piraeus in 1957, she began her solo career in 1984. Her debut album was simply called Eleftheria Arvanitaki. This was followed by another twelve studio albums, most of which either went gold or platinum. The two most recent releases were Dinata 1986-2007 (Mercury 2007) and Mirame (Universal Music 2009).

She’s toured within Greece internationally with a number of musical artists including Phillip Glass, Dimitra Galani, and Tania Tsanaklidou.

Currently Eleftheria Arvanitaki is performing Saturday evenings at Gazarte Club, 32-34 Voutadon Street, Gazi, Athens. The last four dates are 18 & 25 February 2012 and 3 & 10 March 2012. All shows begin at 10:00 PM. Prices are 25, 35, and 40 euro plus standing tickets for 15 euro. For further information and online reservations see www.gazarte.gr and www.i-ticket.gr.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

The Great Disaster

Paradise Lost by Giles Milton, Basic Books, 2008 begins with a list of characters divided into six categories: British, Levantine, American, Greek, Turkish, Armenian. It recounts the tragic story leading up to and following the destruction of Smyrna and the deaths of thousands in 1922. Milton takes an unbiased, balanced approach as he chronicles the horrific events, relying on the personal diaries of survivors for an eyewitness account of the final days.

Neither the Greeks nor the Turks, the principal players involved, can claim innocence in the matter. And both the British and Americans failed to intervene with the exception of one man whose actions saved countless lives among the myriads of desperate people attempting to escape the final conflagration.

At the end of World War I, Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, was occupied by British forces because the Port was on the losing side. The major European powers were eager to seize control of major parts of the empire. The Treaty of Sèvres promised the Greek Kingdom Smyrna and a considerable portion of land surrounding the port city in Asia Minor.

However, the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and his followers, along with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promoted the Great Idea: the conquest of Constantinople. The Greek Army seemed to be succeeding until Mustafa Kemal rallied an affective fighting force to repel the invaders and drive them back to the sea.

Twice A Stranger by Bruce Clark, Harvard University Press, 2006 presents the personal stories of some of the survivors and their descendents were uprooted from their homes and the lands where generations of their family lived during the population exchange in 1923. About 400,000 Muslims were forcibly moved from Greece to Turkey and 1.2 million Greeks from Turkey were resettled in Greece.

After peace between the two nations was restored, a few of the exiles and/or their children managed to visit the places where they once lived and still longed for but none were allowed to remain there permanently. They talk about the initial hardships they faced as refugees among their coreligionists and recount tearful reunions with their former neighbors years and decades later. The book humanizes and gives witness to a sad episode of nearly forgotten Mediterranean history.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Paris Art Market

The Republican Party in the United States continues its hollow claims that taxing the wealthy one percent will ultimately hurt the other ninety-nine because it is those at the very top that provide private sector jobs

However, The Wall Street Journal a few days ago reported that art auction houses such as Christies and Sotheby’s are doing well because their rich clients believe art is a more secure commodity presently than either stocks or real estate.

Paris bridge, 2004

January 2011 Art Exchange opened a centralized marketplace in Paris to sell shares in works of art much like stock exchanges around the world sell shares in major companies. The first piece offered was a painting by Italian artist Francesco Vezolli, The Premier Of A Play That Will Never End, valued at €135,000, with individual shares going for €10 each.

Roxani Azmi, a journalist who covered the story for The Art Newspaper, attended the Paris Photo fair in November 2011. Prices were astronomical. The fair was held in the Grand Palais to accommodate more exhibitors including well-established international galleries such as Fraenkel, Gagosian, and Pace/MacGill.

Purchases were made by Los Angeles County Museum Of Art, Metropolitan Museum, and San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, paying from €3,000 to €12,00 for vintage photographs.

There are speculations that Paris is becoming the photo capital. It was the undisputed art capital over half a century ago but after World War II the center shifted across the Atlantic to New York. Perhaps one reason it is regaining its status is because rich Americans love going to Paris, especially when top work is offered.

image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Spaghetti With Nettles

I shop for organic produce at the Ferry Plaza Famers Market in San Francisco every Saturday morning and buy stinging nettles when they’re available. I caution anyone handling them that they need to either use tongs or wear rubber gloves because the green in its raw state irritates the skin. I like to eat stinging nettles with pasta.

The ingredients needed for the two-serving recipe that follows are: about ½ pound fresh stinging nettles, 6 ounces dry spaghetti, ½ cup raw or toasted pecans, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, 6 olives, 2 cloves garlic or one stalk green garlic when in season, 1 ounce canned anchovies, olive oil, a large cooking pot, a colander, kitchen shears, a serving bowl or platter, a garlic press, and a kitchen timer.

This dish doesn’t take long to prepare and is best served immediately. I start by putting everything I need on the kitchen counter. I fill the pot with cold water and light the burner to heat it. I weigh the spaghetti so it’s ready. I put the colander in the sink and begin dumping the stinging nettles into it in batches and using the shears to cut it into smaller pieces so it doesn’t form clumps when it’s cooked.

Whenever the water reaches the boiling point, I slide in the spaghetti, setting the timer for ten minutes from the water resumes boiling. I make sure to stir the spaghetti once softens to separate the strands. It takes more than ten minutes for it to become al dente but the timer gives me a bit of advance warning to keep an eye on it while I complete the preparations below.

I break the pecans into pieces in the serving bowl, add the crumbled feta, remove any pits from the olives and cut into small pieces before also adding them. I clean the garlic and push through a garlic press or slice the green garlic and add to the other ingredients. I chop up the anchovies as fine as I can and add them along with the olive oil they’re packed in plus a bit more olive oil.

Just before the spaghetti is done I turn off the burner, add the stinging nettles to the pot and press down any that aren’t submerged. They take about a minute to cook. I return the colander to the sink where I drain both the pasta and greens. Once all the water is removed, I add the cooked spaghetti and nettles to the bowl and mix well before serving.

image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved