Minnesotan Todd Macdonald is the new chef at Cru in NYC. Todd’s parents Bob and Sue are two of the most committed supporters of the local food and wine scene that I know of, and they are ardent boosters of great food and chefs around the world. Their son is a talented young man who deserves this shot in a big way. His parents have been to more Michelin-starred restaurants than anyone I know outside our industry, and their blog can be found at andrewzimmern.com.
Coon Creek Family Farm in Mondovi, Wisconsin, is the place to get turkey this holiday season. The farm offers stunning white turkey as well as heritage birds. Check 'em out. The birds I got two years ago are still the best I have ever had, and I am ordering some for Christmas this year since they freeze superbly. Plus turkey is good for you.
What’s not good for you is stuff like this, and despite the powerful call of this type of excess, it’s truly food porn of the most unattractive sort. I get the humor, and I laughed my ass off when I first saw this site. But after a week of talking to folks about it and seeing their almost rabid reactions to wanting to try food that for sure can kill you, I am starting to think some of this is dangerous. I am a civil libertarian of the highest order, but at some point (think smoking bans, warning labels for transfats, truth in labeling laws, et cetera) someone has to stop the ignorant and uneducated from hurting themselves. Why can Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cereal be advertised all morning long on Saturday when kids are watching cartoons, but Marlboro and Stoli Vodka aren’t allowed to? Seems like its all the same to me. And with both childhood obesity and adult diseases associated with poor dietary choices skyrocketing, I am convinced that our worship of foods like the ones seen on the thisiswhyyourefat.com have more than just a casual effect.
On the other hand, I was in Arizona last week and chowed on some truly great food. You need to check out El Charro in Tucson for its rooftop-dried carne seca, pico de gallo for pumpkin empanadas, tacos de cabeza, and killer flan, and Maico for the best birria (goat stew) I have eaten in years. In Phoenix, I had yet another amazing meal at Pizzeria Bianco. Chris Bianco is a superbly gifted chef and an even better human being. The marinara pie continues to be a revelation every time I eat it—tomato, dough, garlic, and oregano on angel's wings—simply evanescent. Chris also picked some figs from the tree outside his kitchen door and combined them with taleggio and prosciutto for a memorable special pizza of the day. But the experimental focaccia he’s toying with, made with Farro flour, Reggiano parmesan, and caramelized onions, had our table swooning. The wait for a table is legendary, but so worth it.
While there, Chris told me I should check out Claudio Urciuolo (formerly at Il Fornaio in LA), the new chef at Prado in the Montelucia Resort and Spa in Scottsdale. This was easy enough, since I happened to be staying there. It's a world-class resort, and the Joya Spa is incredible, but Claudio’s food is so superb it's worth building a long weekend around. You can eat each night at Prado and then spend the day in the spa. Lather-rinse-repeat. The collection of tequilas, the wine program, the sherry steward at the door, the fireplaces, the insanely comfy room, and the gorgeous detailing in the restaurant is one thing, but the food sets this place apart. We started with antipasti of wood grilled head-on prawns and house-made sausages, creamy and intense burrata with crispy escarole and dried tomato jam, sea scallops over braised controne beans, prosciutto, salames, cheeses, olives, bay scallop and crab risotto, roasted vegetables from a farm three miles down the road that included some of the best chili- spiked Brussels sprouts, pinky sized eggplant, and okra I have ever eaten, several cuts of grilled dry-aged beef and superbly fresh Suzuki, skate, and bream. All the grilling is done over local hardwoods and Claudio’s team is kicking ass in the Valley of the Sun.
Looking for a great Holiday gift for the outdoorsman in the family? My buddy Myke Hawke has a new custom-designed survival blade for sale on his site. I ordered one the moment it came out and won't travel anywhere without it. It’s called the Hellion. Tops Knives made the blade for Myke, and since he is one of the world's most famous survival experts, special-ops gurus, and security/tactics specialists, in addition to being a trained medic, you know that this knife can do it all. If you are looking for a gift for someone this holiday season, you should order now as I am sure there will be a waiting list very soon. I ordered mine last week and will carry it everywhere when I am in the field.