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A Fond Farewell to a Friend

IMG_4761I rescued Jenna from the Anti-Cruelty Society’s animal pound on the corner of Grand Avenue and Wells street in Chicago 18 years ago.  She was about as big as a shoe box with long legs, big feet, floppy ears and black nose.  She was six months old and the ID card on her cage said her name was  Jenna.  Her breed was listed as “Akita Mix”.

Jenna and I have gone from Chicago to LA and back several times.

We’ve probably hiked a thousand miles together, up and down the hills of Runyon Canyon, Griffith Park, Angeles Crest National Forest and beyond.

We pounded the pavements of Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica.

She held it down in Chicago at Humbolt Park, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and Grant Park.

We’ve walked along the Des Plaines River on the western edge of Chicago, trudging through snow, jungle-like heat and played in the fallen leaves as well.

185766_1003108992592_9957_nJenna also loved the beach and enjoyed playing in the surf, be it at Lake Michigan (at Montrose Harbor) or the Pacific Ocean.

I originally picked out Jenna for my mother after her dog died.  But she said:  I don’t want her.  She’s a shelter dog.  Jenna outlasted two of my mom’s breeder dogs and was still going strong.

Jenna was a beautiful, beautiful soul.  She loved nature and she loved her brothers Chico, Gunnhi Gunnhi and Mudge.

Jenna passed away, in her sleep, in her home; an old woman in her bed.  We should all be so lucky and this was a fine, fine way for her to go.

She will be missed by me and by all who knew her.

Adios my beautiful girl.




Derrick Rose! That was an amazing roller coaster of emotions you put us all through!

Now that Derrick Rose is gone from Chicago and will become someone else’s problem, I can only think back on those years of incredible basketball he gave his home town.

First overall draft pick.
NBA Rookie of the Year.
NBA Most Valuable Player (youngest ever)
All Star
Eastern Conference Finals.

maxresdefaultBorn and Raised in the city of Chicago, in the shadows of the United Center, he grew up in one of the most violent neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

As a fan, I’ve never seen a guy take over a game so frequently and forcefully as D-Rose.  He was amazing to watch.  He had mad ups, an amazing handle, he could get his own shot and could get to the basket as good as anyone in the game, before or since.

Too bad for his injuries.  They cut short what could have been an incredible career.  Instead he became a bit of a joke.  A punch line for hater-fans and loud mouth sports commentators. (And too bad they fired his coach)

But good for Derrick that he’s going to play with Phil Jackson and Jeff Hornachek.  A change of venue is probably just what he needs.

If New York City and Madison Square Garden can light a fire and re-invigorate his game and his attitude (and if he can stay healthy), he still may have some big balling left to do.

Good Luck Derrick.

Carmello, Porzingis and Rose?  Could be sweet!?


I Watched Two Movies About Chefs in Two Weeks. (One of Them Really Kinda Sucked)

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I Watched Two Movies About Chefs in Two Weeks.
(One of Them Really Really Kinda Sucked)

Thanks to day time, reality Television and the Food Network, the vast majority of Americans have this delusion that all chefs are abusive, tyrannical men, given to fits of rage, who make people cry, throw things across the kitchen and are driven by nothing but an inexplicable passion to create astonishing food… They also believe that chefs are governed by some secret code of scruples, food-isms and taboos that mysteriously drive them from beyond…

BURNT stokes the flames of this tired “psycho chef” stereotype. Bradley Cooper plays a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and booze and jerky behavior, then goes home to America to detox and now he’s back in London, to redeem himself with three Michelin stars. The next 90 minutes are filled with Cooper screaming at his line cooks, making women cry, throwing plates against the wall or in the trash and saying things like: “A lot of chefs want to make food that makes people want to eat…I want to make food that makes people stop eating.” And this wobbly philosophy is supposed to make his abusive behavior admirable.

I’ve worked with a dozen Chefs in New York, Chicago and LA and the one thing they all have in common is that not one has ever been like the ones you see on Television. I’ve worked with a few chefs who thought they were “all that” but they turned out to be horrible businessmen, terrible leaders and ultimately were humbled by the free market system.

All in all, BURNT was a joyless movie and no young line cooks watching should ever aspire to behave the way the chef is portrayed by Cooper in this film. You’ll spend your whole day in Human Resources fighting for your job.

Now CHEF by Jon Favreau, on the other hand was pretty darn good! CHEF is a story about a guy, Jon Favreau, who loses his restaurant job and starts up a food truck in an effort to rediscover his passion and patch things up with his x-wife and son.

The portrayal of Favreau’s CHEF was much different than Cooper’s. Favreau was of course obsessed with food to the point of self destruction (he lost his wife, kid and job over it), but he was also warm, loving and kind to the people he worked with. Of course Favreau had to get fake tattoos all over his hands and arms to play the chef, but he was a very likeable character who had a sense of humor about himself.

And this portrayal by Favreau rings much more true than Cooper’s in BURNT. The best chefs to me are still the ones who are professional, genuine, good with guests and fair to their line cooks and sous.  The movie is a real celebration of food, family and creativity. The performances were great and the story itself was engaging and fun.

AGAIN, all you young line cooks out there: You don’t have to have tattoos all over your neck, arms and hands to be a great chef. You don’t have to be an asshole either. And believe it or not: you don’t even have to have the best food. There’s a ton of great food out there. But there is a shortage of real personalities, and unless you’ve got a rock start GM and Managers that you TRUST, you’d better be out in the dining room shaking hands, taking selfies and kissing babies with your guests, because they are the ones who will make you or break you.

The world needs more Wolfgang Pucks and less Gordon Ramseys.

In conclusion, cinematically speaking, subject matter aside, CHEF is simply tops. Check out this cast along side Favreau! John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlet Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt and Robert Downey Jr. That’s a tour-de-force of extraordinary actors.   Although, the script is strangely structured, the movie itself is a blast to watch and full of big belly laughs. Favreau (who is a hugely successful director now) should be really proud of this small but soaring film.

#chefmoveie #burntmovie #jonfavreau #wolfgangpuck






I ragazzi del candiani

Badass Wine of the Month: 2011, Finca Dofí by Alvaro Palacios, Priorat, Spain

6220284_2_In my mind a “badass” wine is one that goes against the dominant “new world” wine trend of big fruit, big extraction and high alcohol. A badass wine leans more toward an old world; terroir driven, place-specific, mostly un-manipulated wine that happens to be delicious as well.

It’s the artisanal not the industrial. The long shot not the favorite. The indie-film not the blockbuster.

The 2001 Finca Dofí is maybe not the obvious choice for “badass wine” because Alvaro Palacios is arguably the most famous winemakers in Europe and was recently named Decanter Magazine’s “Man of the Year”.

150320023707-alvaro_palacios_decanterBut in spite of Mr. Palacios’s super stardom, “Finca Dofí” is badass because the wine has taken a stylistic turn toward from big and rugged to restrained and delicate.

And that can be tricky in the American Market (where I work) because the average guy who pays $200 for a bottle of wine is usually expecting it to tear the top of his head off with tannins, deep fruit and high alcohol… But when you sell the average guy a more graceful, almost feminine wine, at $200… he will sometimes look at you wondering: Where’s the beef???

So I’m going to name the 2011 Finca Dofí from Rock-Star, Wine-God Alvaro Palacios as the Badass Wine of the Month because what used to be a very good, muscular wine suddenly became a very good intellectual wine. And I think it took a little nerve to make the change and I’m super impressed.

What was his big move with the 2011 vintage? What did he change?

Well, believe it or not, I reached out to Alvaro Palacios himself and asked: “Senor Palacios: What makes this new Finca Dofí so badass?”

It took him 3 months to reply, (he is a rock star after all), but to make a long story short: “The reason why Finca Dofí shows so refreshing and right is because, since 2011 vintage, we are not using Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.”

He took the Cabernet and the Syrah out of the wine! Why is this kind-of-a-big deal?

First of all: Cabernet and Syrah sell. But also what he’s done, by removing the French varietals, Palacios has made a strong move toward the indigenous grapes of Priorat, in this case Garnacha. And Garnacha to many consumers is like: Huh?

But the story of Finca Dofí and Alvaro Palacios really begins in Rioja.

The Palacios family (according to “The Wines of Rioja”, by John Radford) is believed to have been making wine for more than 350 years in the Rioja Baja area.  In 1945 José Palacios Remondo established what is still today known as Bodegas Palacios Remondo.  José had 9 kids and four of the sons went into the wine business, the most well known being Alvaro.

Alvaro is quick to point out that his father was his biggest influence. “My father is the one I really learned from. His passion for quality, his joy for work and his respect for everyone, really influenced my humble destiny.”

Alvaro went on to study winemaking around the world, but most famously at Petrus in Pomerol, Bordeaux. But where he really made his fame is in the hills outside of Barcelona in the wine-producing region of Priorat in Catalonia.

The Quick and Devine History of Priorat (D.O.Q.)

Priorat is located in the hills outside Barcelona. Let’s quickly go back 800 priorat-montsantyears to 1190 AD when a Devine Staircase carrying Angels up into Heaven appeared in the sky before some local sheepherders. This “religious event” was kind of like Mary at Guadalupe or the face of Jesus appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich. but instead of selling the sandwich on E-Bay, Carthusian Monks went to the site and built an epic monastery called Scala Dei (God’s Staircase).

As Monks like to do, they planted a bunch of vineyards and made wine in the monastery for a few centuries until 1835 when the land was taken from them by the state and given to small landowners.doq-priorat

Farmers and winemakers continued to develop the wine business there until 1890-ish when phylloxera finally destroyed the vineyards.

The area was replanted until the 1950’s, declared a D.O. in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Priorat really began to re-emerge as a major wine-producing region.

A group of five wine makers, lead by Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbiere, of Clos Mogador, decided to buy land, plant vineyards and re-build the business.

In 1993, Alvaro Palacios produced a wine called L’Ermita that skyrocketed up the charts and put Priorat back on the map for good. Since then, Priorat has re-emerged as a major contender in Spain and all of Europe in terms of notoriety and pricing.

Finca Dofí could be considered the “little brother” of L’Ermita. But while the L’Ermita continues to be an Icon, the Finca Dofí continues to mature into this pretty interesting character.

“The first Finca Dofí vintages, they had 55% Garnacha and 30% Cabernet and 15% Syrah. Now we decided to produce the wine with the most transparent expression of the vineyard, the vintage and the historic identity of Priorat.”

This to me is badass… Here’s a really famous guy making really famous wine, but he decides to change the recipe. And why? Just to make it a more true expression of the terroir and the history of the place itself. This, to me, gets major props.

“We have been reducing the percentage of these varieties over the previous six years. When we made this decision, we started grafting all these vines (Cab and Syrah) to Garnacha and Cariñena and little of the white grapes from Priorat.” Mr. Palacios tells me. “Garnacha is not a very tannic grape, but it has others privileges, such as acidity and a special refreshing quality which make it the most musical and joyful grape of Mediterranean climates.”

Yes… He’s right. The wine sings.

“I do only understand wine when it expresses itself with the purity its environment and when it really performs with grace and the flavors and the mysteries of that culture and climate, at the end when we can perceive the whims of the nature.”

I barely even know what that means. It’s so badass, I can barely understand what he’s talking about. But it sounds cool, no?

Priorat now, thanks to Alvaro and the other pioneers, is incredibly successful and there is some argument as to weather all the new producers are really making good wine or if they are simply jumping on the Priorat-Brand Band Wagon… So I asked Mr. Palacios: “With the incredible success created in Priorat by yourself and other pioneers, does it break your heart or warm your heart to see so much development there?”

“Yes of course there is development in the region. Everything has been going really fast. But in terms of recovering and bringing back the real potential of Priorat, this experience still so young. The quality of these wines are so amazing but we also have the responsibility of doing better.”

Well, he certainly is practicing what he’s preaching. What’s even better news is that, if you can’t find anymore 2011 Finca Dofí, the 2012 was made with the same intention and the 2013 is supposedly going to be a great vintage too.


Copyright Albert Letizia 2015

Badass Wine of the Month: Ignios Origenes, Vijariego Negro 2013

The Badass Wine from the Badass Wine Region You Didn’t Know Existed
by Albert Letizia (copyright 2015)

I’ve been working with wine for nearly 20-years and it’s capacity to surprise and energize never ceases to amaze me. Every once-in-a-while there is a badass bottle or producer that comes along to blow-my-mind and prove, once again: there is always more wine to be had and some badass winemaker out there trying to crush it.

The Badass bottle right now is made from 100% Vijariego Negro, a native grape of the Canary Islands. The guy who grows it and makes it is named Borja Perez at his winery: Ignios Origenes in the Tenerife region of the Canary Islands.

The pure force of this wine immediately took me aback. Not that it is a massive wine; it’s not. It’s actually quite elegant, medium plus body and medium alcohol, but: so concentrated with minerals and herbals and pristine fruit. It was like drinking liquid stones. Unlike anything else I’ve tasted. It actually set me on a tasting spree of Canary Island wines and, believe it or not, each one was just as badass as the next.

I want to get more into Borja Perez and his Ignios Origenes project later. Right now, let’s focus on The Canary Islands. You’ve heard of them, but where are they? Anyone? (I’m from Chicago. I had to Google it.)
where-are-the-Canary-IslandsFor the record: The Canary Islands are located off the coast of Morocco. They belong to Spain politically, but geographically they are located only about 60 miles off the coast of Africa. They were a major stop on naval trading routes and they were also the “last-grab” of Spain’s former empire around 1402.

BUT, there’s another thing I didn’t know about the Canaries:  They’re making some badass wine out there!

But what’s new to me is old to the Wine World.  Spanish “settlers” brought vines from the mainland as early as the 16th century, 500 years ago, and they became famous for a sweet, oxidized style of wine, likened to Madeira or Sherry. In fact they were “toasting” with Canary Island Wine on July 4th, 1776 at the signing of The Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

Over 200 years later, what continues to make Canary Island wines so badass?

There are only a few “basics” involved in wine: the grapes, the soil, the climate and whether-or-not the winemaker screws it up.

So to answer the question more specifically, I called on Sarah Gallaher, the Spanish Wine Brand Manager for David Bowler Wine in New York City. And I had to ask her: “Sarah, what makes these wines so badass?”

“What people don’t understand is that when you’re drinking wine from the Canary Islands, you’re drinking wine made from varietals that don’t really exist anymore because Phylloxera wiped out the vines on the mainland, but they survived on the Canaries because of geographic isolation,” Sarah explains. “A lot of these grape varieties were never replanted in Europe. You pass the wines in a store or on a wine list and you say: ‘What the heck is Baboso or Listan Negro? ‘ These grapes are obsolete in Europe, but remain planted in the Canaries on Vinifera rootstock.”

Quickly: Phylloxera was a little aphid (bug) that destroyed virtually every grapevine in Europe between 1858 and 1862. The wine industry was eventually saved when scientists discovered that European Vines could be made “resistant” to Phylloxera by grafting them onto American Rootstock that are genetically immune to the bug. So, pretty much all grape vines in Europe are planted on American Rootstock.

So, how does original rootstock contribute to the wine?

“The vines are able to age longer and have higher yields. Grafted vines have a shorter lifespan. In the Canaries you have 200 year old vines that produce the same as they did at 150 or 100 years and younger. They have more vigor.” Then Sarah ads, “They also have more established roots that can tap into ground water and really extract that minerality and that terroir.”

And what about that terroir? That earth?

Tenerife (ten.er.reef.hay) is the largest Island of the Canaries and is home to the oldest wine D.O, Tacoronte-Acentejo.  The vineyards here grow higher than anywhere in Europe (over 3000 feet) and are terraced into steep hillsides of Volcanic Soil. In fact, Tenerife has the 3rd largest volcano in the world, Mt Tiede, right in the middle of it. That Volcanic soil is the flavor “cornerstone” of the wines that are grown here.

The other thing to consider is the climate. “Although they’re close to Africa, they don’t have the hot African Climate people think of: hot, dry, arid. They’re affected by cool trade winds from the northeast and north. They call the climate an ‘eternal spring time'” Sarah says. “Then a couple times a year they get the Cirracos, a hot wind off the Sahara Desert, like the Santa Ana winds of California. So the growing season is very long and very diverse.”

The Ignios Origenes winery is an “homage” to the igneous rocks that define Tenerife. Owner and winemaker Borja Perez spent his entire life studying agriculture and learning to make wine from his father and grandfather who owned the winery prior to him. He bought them out to form Ignios Origenes in 2011. He owns some vineyards and buys from some others that he manages. “Although he’s a young guy, he’s incredibly talented and his wines are very nuanced. He’s using only indigenous varietals. All his farming is organic,” Sarah told me.

Also, his website claims that he uses sulfite (preservative) to a bare minimum level and that total production here is tiny; less than 500 cases total.

Wow… Sounds good, no? That’s pretty much what you want in a wine: Someone who is growing it right and making it right and not trying to poison you in the vineyard or the winery.

But do they sell?

Well, according to Sarah’s numbers at David Bowler Wine, sales for Canary Island Wines are increasing in all markets; New York, Chicago and now L.A. and everywhere in between.

“The word is spreading and people are beginning to hear about it, but once the bottles are opened and you begin to taste the beautiful, kind of briny, flavor, they’re stunning,” Sarah concludes. “There’s really nowhere else in the world like it.”

So, there you have it folks. Badass Wine of the Month: Ignios Origenes’ “Vijariego Negro”, 2013. Go get yourself a bottle. If you need help finding it, let me know. I might have a guy.

Sarah Gallaher spoke to Turn and Burn Journal from her office in New York.

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