Food, wine and travel writer

Full Cycle – Biking in Bologna

bologna

Picture: Lorenzo Pesce

I’m waiting at a red light, in the midst of a swarm of cyclists. It is 9am, Bologna’s rush hour, and I
am joining the morning commute. A young woman with bright red lips and huge Ray- Bans zips past me, while I in turn overtake a senior gentleman wearing a tweed cap, who is casually peddling a ramshackle two-wheeler. It is only my second day here, but I feel very much part of this city…

Read the rest of my piece on cycling in Bologna in the June issue of Wizz Magazine. With brilliant pictures of Lorenzo Pesce.

Dans le terroir

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FOR ENGLISH: SCROLL DOWN

Het begrijp terroir valt vaak als we het hebben over wijn: een combinatie van de bodem, de ligging, het (micro)klimaat, de hand van de wijnmaker en een flinke dosis je ne sais quoi. Een lunch ín het terroir, hoe cool is dat?

Na een fietstocht door de Loire wijngaarden van Saumur-Champigny hebben we honger als oermannen. Toepasselijk wel dat we gaan lunchen in een enorme tufstenen grot. Het restaurant heet Le Saut aux Loups, letterlijk ‘De wolvensprong’ omdat volgens de overlevering wolven door jagers de heuvels op gedreven werden, waarna die enorm ver naar beneden pletterden. In de vijftiende eeuw werden de tufstenen heuvels afgegraven omdat men had ontdekt dat je met dit materiaal prima een kasteeltje of kerk kon bouwen. De steenhouwers bleven wonen in de grotten die overbleven.

De grotten bleken met hun frisse temperatuur en constante luchtvochtigheidsgraad perfect voor champignonteelt. Bij Saut aux Loups worden allerlei soorten gecultiveerd, waaronder de ‘champignon de Paris’, grote champignons die zo heten omdat ze vóór de bouw van de metro in Parijs in de hoofdstad werden gecultiveerd.

Het restaurant is toeristisch, maar niet op het storende af. Overal plezante details zoals een práchtige collectie paddenstoelen- en kabouterbeeldjes waar kabouter Plop nog een puntje aan kan zuigen.

De specialiteit van het huis is de ‘galipette’: een champignon gevuld met rillettes (varkensvlees) of andouilles uit de steenoven. Rustiek, simpel en waanzinnig lekker. Ik heb er helaas geen foto’s van, want het was redelijk donker in de grot. Maar neem maar aan dat ze fantastisch waren. Vooral met een glas Saumur Champigny, een ongecompliceerde rode wijn gemaakt van cabernet franc.

Dans le terroir

We often mention terroir when we’re talking about wine: a combination of the soil, the exposition, the (micro)climate, the hand of the winemaker and a good amount of je ne sais quoi. How cool is it then to have lunch IN the terroir?

A bike ride through the Loire vineyards of Saumur-Champigny left us savagely hungry. How appropriate that lunch was served in an enormous limestone cave. Restaurant ‘Le Saut Aux Loups’ literally means the ‘jump of wolves’ because apparently hunters chased wolves off the cliffs here. In the fifteenth century the limestone hills were quarried, because it was discovered that this material lent itself perfectly for a mighty fine castle or church. The quarriers continued to live in the caves that remained.

With their cool temperature and constant humidity the caves turned out to be perfect for mushroom cultivation. At Saut aux Loups they grow all sorts of different types, for instance the ‘champignon de Paris’, big mushrooms that are called this way because they were cultivated in the capital before the construction of the Paris metro.

The restaurant is touristy, but not overly so. We were surrounded by quirky details, such as a dwarf-with-mushrooms collection that make the roaming gnomes look silly.

The house specialty is the ‘galipette’: a mushroom stuffed with rillettes (pork) or andouilles from the stone oven. Rustic, simple and incredibly delicious. Unfortunately I don’t have any good pictures, because it was quite dark in the cave. But trust me it was especially good with a glass of Saumur Champigny, an uncomplicated red wine made of cabernet franc.

’t Is fris in de Loire

For the English version: scroll down.

vitiloireOndanks de stromende regen en late meikou kun je je met moeite langs de kraampjes wurmen. Op de eerste dag van onze Franse roadtrip worden we meteen meegesleurd in een groots evenement, het jaarlijkse wijnfestival VitiLoire in het centrum van Tours waar producenten uit de hele Loireregio, van Nantes tot Sancerre, hun wijnen laten proeven. Aan de hele bevolking van Tours en daarbuiten, zo lijkt het. Ik snap meteen dat wijn een way of life voor de bewoners hier. In Italië heb je dit soort evenementen ook, uiteraard, maar nooit op zo’n centrale locatie en met zo’n divers publiek. Hier komt oud en jong, sommigen met het idee echt iets te leren, anderen puur voor de sfeer. En een beetje regen kan hun lol niet verpesten.

IMG_1185We gaan zitten voor een proeverij met Jean Michel Durivault, een ‘smaakspecialist’. Karakteristieke kop, intense blik, sympathiek. Durivault is neurobioloog. Hij raakte geïntrigeerd door onze perceptie van smaak – niet alleen die van wijn of eten, maar ook hoe de smaken van wijn en voedsel op elkaar inwerken. De omstandigheden van de proeverij zijn zacht gezegd uitdagend: er staat een volkoppige brassband buiten de festivaltent te brassen en even later komt de Tours Gay Parade met stampende sound systems langs. Licht absurd.

We proeven de witte wijnen waar de Loirevallei beroemd om is, een Muscadet, een droge, halfzoete en mousserende stijl Vouvray en een Sancerre. Allemaal gekenmerkt door heel veel frisheid, ook al beleef je aciditeit anders in droge, halfzoete of zoete wijnen. ‘Een tekortkoming van de taal’, vindt Durivault, die dit fenomeen bestudeert. Want je hebt wel technisch verschillende soorten aciditeit die verschillende sensaties in je mond teweegbrengen, maar hoe beschrijf je de verschillende nuances? Als je zuur aan water toevoegt in verschillende gradaties, verandert dat de aroma’s, zelfs van dat water. Je ervaart misschien aroma’s van citroen, omdat onze hersenen zo geprogrammeerd zijn dat citroen ‘zuur’ is. Eindeloos fascinerend!

Volg de roadtrip via twitter: @buonappetito of met de hashtag #frenchwinetrip. Op www.roadtripinfrance.com vind je een verzameling foto’s, video’s en andere blogposts met onze avonturen.

 

IN ENGLISH:

It’s fresh in the Loire

Despite pouring rain and May cold you can hardly move around the many stands. On the first day of our French road trip we get immediately sucked into a whirlwind of a wine fair, the annual VitiLoire where producers from the whole Loire valley, from Nantes to Sancerre, offer a taste of their wine. To the entire population of Tours and outskirts, apperently. I immediately understand that wine is a way of life for the people here. In Italy you have these types of events too, but always in some hard to reach location and not for such a diverse audience. Here you find young and old, some with the intention of really learning something while others just want to have a good time. And a little bit of rain cannot spoil their fun.

We sit down for a tasting with Jean Michel Durivault, a ‘taste specialist’. A characterful face, intense look, sympathetic. Durivault is a neurobiologist who became obsessed with our perception of taste – not just in wine or food, but also how those two work together. The circumstances of our tastings are quite challenging: there’s a full brass band blaring outside the festival tent and moments later the Tours Gay Parade passes by with blasting sound systems. Slightly absurd.

We taste the white wines that made the Loire Valley famous, a Muscadet, a dry, semi-sweet and sparkling Vouvray and a Sancerre. All characterized by freshness, a lot of it, even though you experience acidity differently in dry, off-dry and sweet wines. ‘There’s a limitation in our language’, finds Durivault, who is studying this phenomenon. Technically, there are different kinds of acidity that provoke different sensations in your mouth. But how do you describe the different nuances? If you add acid to water in different amounts, it does change the aromas, even that of water. You might even experiences hints of lemon, because our brain is so programmed that lemon is ‘acidic’. It’s endlessly fascinating!

Follow the roadtrip via twitter: @buonappetito or through the hashtag #frenchwinetrip. On www.roadtripinfrance.com you find a collection of pictures, videos and other blogposts with our adventures.

French road trip: back to the basis

My childhood vacations were almost all spent in France. Buttery croissants, orangina, moules frites, escargots – I absolutely loved everything. The wine hobby of my parents was much less appreciated by us kids. After ubertedious visits to wineries we knew that once again we had to give up legroom on our way back. Dozens of boxes of wine were brought back home.

Once I seriously started drinking wine, I began to finally understand. Anyone who really loves good food, also likes wine. A good wine makes a dish taste even better and vice versa. Now there’s nothing I find more enjoyable than visiting such an ‘ubertedious’ winery and question the winemaker on loads of technical details. Yes, call me a wine nerd.

Which doesn’t mean I want to make wine unnecessarily complicated. During wine tastings, I notice that many people have an unfounded ‘fear’ of wine because wine professionals are throwing confusing terms at them. No-one should be afraid of wine. Wine is both for everyday drinking and festive moments, best enjoyed in good company. The fun part is: the more you read and learn about wine, the more interesting it gets. Sharing your experiences via social media is an important part of that.

I can’t wait to leave for France, the country where the seeds for my lifelong passion were sown. Together with five other European bloggers, I’m going on a road trip to discover the diversity of French wine styles. I’m sure it’s not going to be boring for one bit.

Hit the road!

More about the trip: www.roadtripinfrance.com.I’ll write daily reports (in Dutch) on the website of WINELIFE Magazine.

From the heart – On authenticity in Georgia

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Luarsab & friend. Picture: Gabriel Dvoskin

As I am (finally!) wrapping up a longer travel piece on our trip to Georgia last November, I’d love to share a glimpse of the meta-story. What do I mean? Well, as I am obsessed with that slippery notion of ‘authenticity’, I was wondering what this meant during our short trip with some 20 hyper-connected bloggers and wine professionals.

IMG_4723Arriving at the Tbilisi airport, we were giddy like school kids on an excursion, busy joking, taking pictures of each other and getting onto the wifi. Little did we know that the wines, the food, the people and the music all touched us in ways we have a tough time describing.

When Luarsab Togonidze, owner of Azarpesha restaurant, and his friends broke into Georgian polyphonic song for the first time, it made grown men cry. Luarsab showed how Georgians toast on wine, family and love, as he and his wife Nino treated us to an abundant supra (feast) paired with great qvevri wines (traditional Georgian wines fermented in clay vessels). Everything about that lunch felt right. And real.

The same day we all cringed at the sight of folk dancers who were frenetically moving to loud synthesized music at restaurant Phaeton. It portrayed a rustic side of Georgia, with cheerful folkloristic wall paintings and defunct agricultural machinery as nostalgic decoration. There was the same cheese bread, the same walnut spread, the same eggplant rolls. Done pretty badly. We didn’t get it. It felt wrong. This was fake.

But was it, really?

There were several groups of Azerbaijani’s having a ball at the same time. They didn’t seem least bothered by the music and the food. In the terms of Pine and Gilmore*, who explain authenticity as 1) being true to itself and 2) saying what it says it is, Phaeton would be a ‘fake-real’ to us (not what it says it is and IS true to itself), while for the other diners it would be a ‘real-fake’ (is what it says it is, but NOT true to itself). They were genuinely entertained in that setting, while we, because of the great supra earlier that day and many previous travel experiences, couldn’t enjoy it.

Azarpesha was different. Perhaps not completely ‘real-real’, but ‘referentially authentic’: referring to the history, memories and traditions of Georgia. Because they were so convincingly carried forward by Luarsab and co., the experience never felt derivative or trivial. It had HEART. And that’s really the hardest thing to put into words.

Check out this video, shot by Magnus Reuterdahl at Azarpesha.

Restaurant Azarpesha is on Facebook.

Pine and Gilmore, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (2007)

Pictures taken by Gabriel Dvoskin. He also made a great trailer for a longer video on wine in Georgia.

 

Kid-friendly veggies

My absolute favorite in the book, this pic of a kids’ cooking workshop (not too healthy cakes), by Maarten Laupman.

My work has been mostly about veggies lately. I wrote the Dutch part of the Groene Gault Millau (the Green Gault Millau), a guidebook listing the best greengrocers and (farmer’s) markets of the Netherlands and Belgium. Also included are interviews with chefs who put vegetables center stage. Jonnie Boer of De Librije was one of the first Dutch chefs who created truly inventive green dishes and offered a complete vegetarian tasting menu in the 3-Michelin-star restaurant. I believe this is the way forward.

I also worked on Sophia Kookt!, a forthcoming book to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sophia Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam. The book features the favorite recipes of young patients, but also those of doctors, nurses and other staff. More than just a cookery book, it’s a beautifully designed homage to the hospital, full of personal anecdotes and full-color pictures.

Most recipes had to feature fruit & veg, which prevent you from getting sick if you are not and help you get better faster when you are. But try explaining that to a (sick) kid sitting in front of a plate of green mush. Doctors told to me that eating well is one of the biggest issues in the children’s hospital. When you’re sick the last thing you want to is eat, but food plays such a crucial role during recovery. Often times, the patients are allowed to eat any food, even sugary snacks, in order for them not to lose too much weight.

But vegetables don’t have to be yuck nor scary. The challenge was to create healthy dishes with ‘hidden’ vegetables that look attractive enough for kids to at least give them a try. Supposedly a child needs to try a certain flavor up to seven times to finally accept it. I’ll post a few of the vegetable recipes over at my recipe blog.

 

groenegaultmillauDe Groene Gault Millau
€15,95

 

 

 

 

sophia kooktPreorder Sophia kookt! – 150 jaar Sophia Kinderziekenhuis or take a look inside the book.€19,95
Trichis Publishing
Proceeds of the book will go towards medical research.

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