Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Jules delivers!

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

When we popped by Jules Catering on a recent snowy day to chat with Expeditor Oscar Ortiz, we didn’t find him at his usual spot by the phone near the door with a clipboard in hand. Instead, he was hands-on “expediting” deliveries by pitching in on shoveling snow.

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,” we warbled, “but inside, by the stove‚Ķde-lightful!”¬†

“But since we have places to go…” Oscar smiled as he pushed his shovel. “Not to worry, Jules¬†delivers, let it snow!”

Jules Catering Expediter Oscar Ortiz, on the left, teams up with Rony Jimenez to facilitate deliveries

Jules is an all-weather caterer

We were following up with Oscar Ortiz this snowy day, to see how Jules’ new Chevy Express cargo van, purchased in the fall,¬†was holding up in winter weather–and to ask whether Jules’ delivery drivers were feeling daunted by parking bans, snow emergencies, and relentless cold and ice.

Each of Jules' six drivers and vans typically makes 12 to 14 deliveries a day

“It’s all good,” said Oscar. “We have a very capable team and solid systems in place, many of them instituted by my longtime predecessor, Elkin Restrepo. I’ve been with Jules since 2001, much of this time as a driver, and we all know what it takes to get the job done.”

Jules takes very seriously the business of delivering food, including on-time delivery of edible valentines!

“It must take a¬†lot to be a good delivery driver in and around Boston,” we said.
 
“Maybe more than meets the eye,” Oscar smiled. “We have six vans and six drivers who first set off at 6AM and don’t finish up until after dark. No matter what the weather we pride ourselves on our reliability, which means we need to think fast and make smart decisions. Above all, we have to¬†be¬†resourceful. When the only option is to improvise–well, that’s what we do.”
 
“On a day like today, we wish Jules had delivered our breakfast,” we mused. “And never in a million years would Frank Sinatra have squeezed his own OJ on a snowy day, had he been able to order from Jules. (Frank sings and squeezes beautifully–and brieflyso if you have 90 seconds, check this out.)

But, hey! No matter what the weather or the season, Jules Catering’s delivery drivers have places to go! Last November we experienced at least some of what this entails.

An hour in the life of a top-notch delivery driver for a MetroBoston caterer

Whether the fellow behind the wheel is Oscar the Expeditor, or the Oscar known as ‘Matador’–or whether he’s Joe, Kevin, Tony, or Wilbur–you can rest assured your Jules delivery is in expert hands.

“Expert” applies to Joe Lang, a fellow who, though quiet and self-effacing, clearly takes great pride in his work. When we joined Joe last fall, he was poised to make some lunchtime deliveries.

Joe Lang knows that courteous, reliable delivery service is part of what full-service catering entails


Obstacles aplenty

Over the course of half a dozen deliveries in the space of less than two hours, we witnessed first-hand some of what it takes to deliver catered food on time. The challenges were many, but not once did Joe lose his cool.
 
Of course it helps to be a master of Boston traffic.
 

Especially in downtown Boston, both quick response times and patience are required

And it doesn’t hurt to be able to charm meter maids and meter men, if only momentarily.

Genial Joe initiated a pleasant exchange with this equally hard-working fellow just doing his job

No series of deliveries would be complete without encountering the unexpected, Joe had forewarned. And our outing was no exception.

Hazmat road block? Police re-routing traffic? No parking nearby?--No problem! Joe delivered on time.

 Obstacles overcome

Thanks to Joe’s multifarious multitasking capabilities, including both physical and mental dexterity–and of course with the solid backing of Oscar the Expeditor and¬†Jules Catering’s nearly 27 years of experience–on-time deliveries were made.
 

Although Joe has his hands full, he moves really fast

Ambidextrous Joe advances hot food with his right hand and room-temperature food with his left

Joe makes this looks easy, but potential upheaval lurks in every sidewalk bump and crack

Loading docks in the bowels of downtown hi-rises often present Olympian uphill challenges

After a not atypical 8-minute wait for space in the freight elevator, but with time to spare, Joe delivers a corporate lunch

Deliveries complete, it’s back to the nearly empty van…

Joe readies himself and the van to start all over again

…to return to Jules, where more lunches wait to be loaded and delivered.

Oscar pauses in the process of expediting Joe's next delivery


Jules treasures its delivery team

Back at Jules’ Somerville office, we checked in with General Manager Annie Flavin and founding Owner Anita Baglaneas to share our delivery adventures and ask if they’d like to weigh in on Oscar and Joe and other members of Jules’ delivery team.

“I can’t say enough¬†about them,” enthused Anita. “After all, it doesn’t matter how inventive our menus, how fresh our ingredients, how expertly and beautifully prepared our food–all these things would mean nothing if deliveries didn’t consistently arrive on time.”

Annie added, “Together with the sales team, our delivery team represents the “face” of our company. That’s why we’re so proud of how pleasant, polite, punctual, and professional they are. And they’re great communicators. Our account folks communicate with Oscar, who stays in¬†close touch with the drivers. Delivering on time requires a team effort, but of course the drivers are on the front lines.”

Anita, standing to head down to the kitchen, added, “Taking responsibility for getting the job done…a strong work ethic–these are a big part of the delivery picture. Our customers need to know they can count on us, because rain, snow, sleet, or hail, customer satisfaction is our bottom line.”

Joe Lang, Jules Catering full-service delivery man!

Jules reliably delivers "Delicious"

Photo Credits: Liz Muir 

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Happy (gourmet) Presidents’ Day!

Monday, February 20th, 2012
Thomas Jefferson Gourmet President

John Trumbull miniature of Thomas Jefferson, 1788

While¬†George Washington described his manner of living as “plain,” and noted that those who expect more than “a glass of wine and a bit of mutton may be disappointed”–and while Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard reported that the President “never lost his taste of the things a growing farmer’s boy would like”–Thomas Jefferson, having lived four years in Paris as U.S. Minister to France (1785-1789), was a culinary adventurer and an influential gourmet.

Some of this we gleaned from¬†The Presidents’ Cookbook¬†by¬†Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, now out of print, but cited at¬†The Food Timeline, a fascinating resource created by food editor and librarian¬†Lynne Olver.

Keen for fine cuisine

Even before his years abroad, Jefferson was a dedicated foodie.¬†Dining at Monticello, a richly illustrated book¬†edited by Damon Lee Fowler¬†and published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, notes that just prior to his diplomatic appointment Jefferson sent for a French chef in Annapolis, to train one of his slaves. Then, when Jefferson knew he would be moving to Paris, he instead decided to bring 19-year-old slave¬†James Hemings¬†with him, to study “the art of cookery.” Hennings’ first mentor was the caterer who provided Jefferson’s meals. This was followed by “workshops” with a pastry chef and other training. Before long, Hennings had taken charge of Jefferson’s kitchen on the Champs-Elysees, and he served as Jefferson’s chef from 1787 to 1796.

Our “Pasta President” and his imported macaroni machine

Upon his return to Virginia Jefferson wrote to his valet, still in Paris, to “bring a stock of macaroni, Parmesan cheese, figs of Marseilles…raisins, almonds, mustard…vinegar, oil and anchovies.” In fact Jefferson was so fond of macaroni, he subsequently ordered a pasta-making machine from Naples, which–after a circuitous journey via Paris and Philadelphia–eventually found its way to Monticello.

Jefferson’s meticulous notes on the macaroni machine, which can be found with his papers in the The Library of Congress read, in part, as follows:

“The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF….”

Just below, Jefferson’s wonderfully illustrated notes appear in their entirety:

Thomas Jefferson pasta-making machine

Thomas Jefferson's notes on a pasta-making machine are in The Library of Congress

Also in The Library of Congress, is a macaroni recipe written in Jefferson’s own hand:

Thomas Jefferson’s “Maccaroni” Recipe

6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 tb of flour
a [?] salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Since Thomas Jefferson’s time, macaroni and cheese has been associated with America, and the first recipe appeared in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook written by Jefferson’s cousin¬†Mary Randolph. (We applaud the book’s¬†epigraph: “Method is the Soul of Management”!)

Macaroni and cheese at Jules

Curious to learn how Jules’ very own French Chef, Jean-Claude Banderier, approaches macaroni and cheese, we asked him to weigh in.

Jules Catering French Chef

Jean-Claude Banderier says "the mac and cheese we prepare at Jules is a time-honored American dish."

“We prepare a classic B√©chamel¬†with heavy cream, half-and-half, milk,¬†and three types of cheese: White Cheddar, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano. For additional flavor we boil a whole onion that has been pierced with cloves, and then we blend this into the mix.”

This approach, we subsequently learned, is basically how¬†Auguste Escoffier¬†outlined his recipe for¬†B√©chamel¬†presented in¬†Le R√©pertoire de La Cuisine: “White¬†roux¬†moistened with milk, salt, onion stuck with¬†clove, cook for 20 minutes.”

And the topping?

“Dry panko bread crumbs mixed with butter and sprinkled with paprika forms a crispy crust when the elbow macaroni and cheese is baked,” Jean-Claude explained.

Pasta geometrics

Macaroni pasta geometrics

Finally, because we have no doubt that both Jean-Claude Banderier and Thomas Jefferson would be fascinated by an article we recently read in The New York Times, we post a link here:  Pasta Inspires Scientists to Use Their Noodle.

Photo Credits:
Wikimedia Commons: Miniature of Thomas Jefferson and macaroni
The Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson’s pasta machine notes
Liz Muir: Photo of Jean-Claude Banderier

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Tears of Chios Cocktail

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We love our bubbly, but when recently celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, our drink of choice was the Tears of Chios Cocktail served in the Roof Garden Bar atop the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square.

Day or night the view from the Hotel Grande Bretagne Garden Bar intoxicates

Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Bar with Acropolis view

At first sip we knew we were onto something special, but we were puzzled….

The cocktail menu itemized ingredients, but what accounted for that that elusive taste?

Luxury cocktail menu Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

Was it the Skinos mastiha?

Tears of Chios Cocktail Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

The Tears of Chios cocktail we sipped in Athens also featured muddled mint and grapes

Mastiha

In Greek,¬†mastiha¬†(pronounced MAHS-teeh-hah) is an aromatic resin harvested from a shrub in the pistachio family¬†that grows on the island of¬†Chios¬†in the northeast Aegean. When the bark of this shrub is slashed, globules of sap form the mastic ‘tears’ used by the makers of Skinos¬†mastiha.¬†In her encyclopedic journey of a book¬†The Glorious Foods of Greece,¬†Diane Kochilas¬†writes that “in a way, the trees have to ‘cry’ for mastic to be harvested.”

Mastic "tears" and shrub

Mastic 'tears' and shrub

Kochilas goes on to explain that in cooking, “the rock-hard, somewhat sticky crystals have to be pounded to a fine dust, usually with a bit of sugar, to keep them from sticking to the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.”

Anthropologist-author-cook Susanna Hoffmann also waxes poetic (without being “sappy”) on the topic of mastic resin. In¬†The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, she writes: “I place small open jars of the sap in my kitchen to scent the atmosphere…. Mastic tastes like lush piney vanilla. It smells like the perfume Shalimar, but with a conifer tinge. It is irresistible.”

Which brings us back to our¬†cocktail, because when mastiha is mixed into a refreshing beverage, “irresistable” says it all.

Made in Chios, available in U.S.

When we returned to Boston we placed¬†Skinos Mastiha¬†at the top of our shopping list because we knew that even without an Acropolis view Tears of Chios would taste pretty great. But the key ingredient wasn’t available! At least not at first try, when we stopped by our neighborhood store.

Greek tragedy? Not at all, thanks to the hugely helpful Jeff Dolin, a buyer at¬†Blanchard’s Liquors, in Allston.¬†On our behalf Jeff initiated some online research, placed a special order, stocked his shelves, and…voila!

Variation on Tears of Chios cocktail with muddled pomegranate seeds

A variation substitutes muddled pomegranate seeds for grapes

Tears of Chios Cocktail Recipe

2 ounces Skinos mastiha
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce agave (diluted 50/50 with water)
muddled grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint

  1. Dilute agave syrup by adding an equal part of boiled water. Stir.
  2. Muddle grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and ice and shake.
  4. Serve on the rocks in a double Old Fashioned rocks glass.
  5. Garnish with bamboo skewer through a grape and mint leave, or–if you’re making the pomegranate variation–just the mint

Yield: Serves 2
Anita Baglaneas, Owner-Chef of Jules Catering, adapted this recipe from a cocktail menu at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece

Not just for cocktails

In case you were wondering… The Greek origin of the word ‘masticate’¬†derives from¬†mastichan¬†(to gnash the teeth), which is related to¬†masasthai¬†(to chew). If you’re looking for something¬†tangible¬†to chew on and you happen to find yourself in Manhattan, head down to the Lower East Side and stop in the¬†mastihashop New York, where you can¬†purchase mastic chewing gum and other¬†mastiha¬†products from the island of Chios. And if you’re inclined to delve further, two books that features¬†mastiha¬†recipes are¬†Mastiha Cuisine Cookbook¬†and¬†The Greek Vegetarian.

Photo Credits:
Mastic ‘tears’ and shrub: Wikimedia Commons
All other photos: Liz Muir 


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“…dishes to whet the appetite”

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Athenaeus, a scholar of food history who lived around 200 AD, observed that¬†“the ancients employed many dishes to whet the appetite.Focusing now on actual dishes–i.e., plates–we couldn’t agree more.

Ancient vessels

On a recent visit to Athens’ other-wordly-wonderful¬†Museum of Cycladic Art,¬†we were fascinated and puzzled by a clay vessel labeled “Frying Pan” and dated¬†2800 to 2300 BC. Delving further we learned that the popular name of this beautiful object relates to the vessel’s shape, not its function. While most of these ancient objects have been discovered in graves, some have also been found in settlements where Cycladic Islanders lived. Many theories about the “frying pan’s” function have been put forth, including one that posits that these exquisitely crafted objects may have served as plates for food.

"Frying Pan" Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

Incised decorations on this "frying pan" are thought to represent the sun and the sea

Also from the Museum of Cycladic Art, but much more recent (dating back “only” to circa 350 B.C.) is a red-figure plate on which food would seem to be superfluous.

Red Figure Plate Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

There's no doubt about what the figures on this plate represent

Ancient recipes

Pondering plates created by people thousands of years ago got us thinking about ancient recipes. So we turned to our bookshelves to check things out. “Antique” cookbooks worth more than a browse include:

  • Ancient Dining¬†by chef, restaurateur, and consultant¬†Maria Loi¬†(described by some as “the Martha Stewart of Greece”) was selected as the official book for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. While Loi’s cookbook is now somewhat hard to find, her food can easily be located at Loi, a restaurant she opened in 2011 on New York’s Upper West Side.
  • The Classical Cookbook,¬†written by historian¬†Andrew Dalby and chef Sally Grainger and published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is richly illustrated with scenes of food, hunters, and revelers depicted in ancient art.
  • The Glorious Foods of Greece, a compendium of recipes from many regions of Greece collected and described by chef-author Diane Kochilas, kicks off with a chapter on Greece’s culinary lineage that sheds light on the remote origins of Greek food and food lore.
  • The Philospher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook¬†by food historian Francine Segan offers modern adaptations of dishes originally recorded in ancient sources, including–among others–Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.

A page from Maria Loi's 'Ancient Dining'

 Photo Credits: Liz Muir


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On the second day of Christmas…

Monday, December 26th, 2011

…We found ourselves in Athens! Although we spotted no partridges or turtle doves in the fruit-laden orange trees that line downtown streets and squares, we were struck by the festive sounds and colors of cylindrical bells fashioned from tin cans.

Christmas decorations on orange trees in downtown Athens

Gently tinkling tin-can bells adorn citrus trees in downtown Athens

Also on the second day of Christmas, we tagged along as Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas–always on the lookout for ideas she can adopt or improvise upon when planning catered events back home–roamed Athens streets.

“I’m not at all tech-savvy, but I’m a really visual person and I have a new iPhone,” Anita explained. “So whenever I see something that might even¬†remotely¬†be applied to the business of catering, I stop and point and shoot!”

Anita Baglaneas inspired by Athens' streets

These colorful Athens' street wares caught Anita's eye

Ornamental bouquet of painted pomegranates Athens

Don't be surprised if Jules' table decor reflects Athens' streets

“And I do this in far less exotic places than Athens,” Anita continued. “For example, the other day in a Christmas Tree Shop in Natick I photographed equipment we may decide to use for some other purpose. And I picked up a spice rack constructed like little steps, as a sample to share with Jules’ Event Managers. ‘Would this spice rack work as a vehicle for multi-colored shooter glasses?’ I’ll ask them. “They’re all creative thinkers, so they’re likely to come up with other¬†ideas, but this was what I had in mind.”

Did icy, December branches inspire this sweet table?

Jules Catering sets a nice table, even without fruit-laden branches or plump, painted fruit

Next time we check in with Anita, we’ll be sure to inquire.

Photo Credits: Liz Muir

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