Eli and Dean co-hosted an epic Italian dinner this past weekend in TriBeCa. Eli prepared homemade bruschetta, rolled out fresh pasta and served octopus! The guests left stuffed with food and filled with wine. Here are a few snapshots from the evening.
Summertime brings out the best of Washington Heights’ lively dominican neighborhood. From dusk until dawn, music can be heard blaring from windows, while young and old men play dominoes on fold out tables and chairs parked in front of their apartments; Farmer’s markets open up shop to locals, with old and new friends reconnecting over cool drinks.
On a traditional tour of Washington Heights most people will find themselves enchanted by the tango of Spanish words fluttering through the air around them. Recently however, Washington Heights has been in transition. The overpopulation of lower Manhattan, Columbia’s expanding campus and the gentrification of Harlem have all contributed to the changing face of Washington Heights.
On our trip, The Forks of New York decided to explore some of the new faces of the uptown community. Fortunately for us, it was not long before we became intoxicated by the wafting scents of a home-cooked Nigerian meal, cultivated by our host: Yemisi Awosan.
ARRIVAL: Guests arriving at Yemisi’s humble abode will more than likely take the A, C, or 1 train to 168th street, for the short walk over to her apartment. The host’s trip home however, was not quite as simple. Yemisi moved to the United States from her home in Nigeria roughly 20 years ago, and did not settle into her New York lifestyle until nearly 11 years after. Her time spent growing up in Nigeria, taught Yemisi that her culture embraced spending time with family and friends, as well as cherishing fun events that often included delicious food. Though she learned her way around the kitchen at an early age with her mother; Yemisi originally came to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. Though she thrived in her roles as buyer and then financial planner within the fashion industry, Yemisi could not help feeling as if she wanted to do more with her earliest passion, cooking.
APPETIZERS: Returning to her love for the kitchen, Yemisi’s apartment has been turned into a local restaurant for the guests of the Forks of New York. Patrons are seated on giant pillows staggered around a candle adorned table. For most of us it is a unique setting for dinner, but Yemisi assures it is an image of home. She remembers this arrangement all too well as a childhood custom and one she continues in her own home when hosting friends. As the food rolls out, hungry eyes follow giant plates passing from hand to hand around the table. Heirloom tomato salad with a boiled peanut vinaigrette, salted boiled peanuts, and a ginger spritzer spiced with scotch bonnet pepper, are the first courses to make their way around the table. It is in this communal fashion that Yemisi maintains and shares her culture in New York. Whether in her church community or in the kitchen, Yemisi maintains the values she grew up with and considers them an integral part of her new lifestyle.
LEGACY: As far as legends are concerned, New York City takes the cake for it’s infamous dirty water hot dogs, pretzels, and halal food stands. In Nigeria however, pounded yam is the dish of Ijesha legacy. The Ijesha people are from the southwestern region of Nigeria, and it is here that Yemisi traces back not only her roots, but her entree recipe.For non- Ijesha women, succeeding at pounded yam represents a right of passage and acceptance into Ijesha culture. The traditional tale boasts that the appreciation of a loving husband is motivation enough for many women to embark on the feat of producing a delicious pounded yam meal. Though the men in the room were unprepared for marital commitments, pounded yam was served as an accompaniment to traditional Egunsi stew and short ribs
EATS: Meals by Yemisi are prepared by combining culinary techniques from different cultures to create a unique spin on her own dishes. A few years ago she introduced the french technique of braising meat (typically seen used in Beef Bourguignon or Italian Osso Bucco) into her Nigerian dishes.Yemisi recounted that by braising the meat she was able to produce more succulent pieces as opposed to the tougher meat she was used to seeing in Nigerian meat stew (Obe Ata). The tender stewed short rib and thick pounded yam brought to life a new style of dining that many of the guests present had never indulged in before.
Nigerian flavors are not those that can be described easily with comparisons to any modern American dishes. There is a succulent, savory texture to the stewed short rib and a slightly spiced, tomato infused sauce poured over the meat and yam. The yam, while thick enough to be scooped with a piece of an Igbako shell (of the calabash plant), had a very smooth texture reminiscent of the tiny pasta bits of gnocchi. While the flavors of the entrees tested the palettes of each of our novel diners, the additional treat of the night was the pairing of cultural culinary history with present mouth-watering consumption. Yemisi engaged her new friends by taking them on a trip around Nigeria through food. From the arab influences in the north, british and portuguese spices of the west and finally, the indigenous cooking practices still used today. There are truly few better ways to travel the world than with an informed host, a hot plate, and an insatiable desire for the cultural exchange of friends and food.
Yemisi Awosan is founder of Egunsifoods, LLC. ; a food company specialized in delivering authentic, all natural, and mouth watering African cuisines to customers via personal chef, prepared meal delivery and supper club services.
Photographs by: Shruthi Aramandla
Written by: Niomi Sterling (email@example.com)
Peter, the chef at Brooklyn’s underground eatery Calva, prepared a beautiful summer menu recently for 8 guests. The attendees gathered in the charming dining room as Peter prepared a round of cocktails and small bites to start the meal. The rest of the meal continued gracefully and ended with digestifs, cigarettes and two beautiful desserts. Experience Calva firsthand this Friday, book here.
As a native New Yorker, I can attest that if you asked most of us what we know about Switzerland… a vast majority would respond somewhere in the field of dairy; citing cheese or chocolate as the Swiss claim to fame. Though not completely untrue, The Forks of New York sought out to find the authentic gems of Switzerland, the sort of delicious delectables that only a true Swiss local would know. Our search culminated in an introduction to Yael Haze, a friendly film student from Zurich, Switzerland who currently resides in Brooklyn Heights. While most people would book a ticket, and board a plane to learn more about Switzerland. The Forks of New York do things a little bit differently. For this journey I grabbed my metrocard and a bottle of San Pellegrino before setting out for Switzerland… via the 2 train stop at Clark St.
First stop: “The St. George Hotel”
Arriving at the “St. George Hotel” I expected to hear soft elevator music and see neutral colors adorning the lobby, with the possibility of a bellboy awaiting new guest cargo. What I ended up walking into consisted of brilliantly bright hues, splashed across couches and walls surrounding the entire lobby. Lana Del Rey crooned through our entrance and the entire scene suddenly became a sight befitting of a teen queen’s bedroom.
Where am I? Who lives here? And has wonderland been hiding in Brooklyn this entire time?!
Second Stop: Wonderland
After being allowed entrance into the land of wonder, Yael (secretly Alice but with a much greater aptitude for what to eat and what not to eat) suddenly appeared in all of her splendor carrying dishes we can only assume were magical cooking aids of mystery.Yael greeted us warmly and offered us a seat at a rose petalled dining booth, conveniently located near the kitchen area of the building.
The first things noticed were intricate hand-folded napkins at the head and foot of the table, and four plates of salad awaiting our arrival.Arugula and Fennel salad, with fresh pressed orange dressing and sunflower seeds. As we sat at the plates before us I discovered I had no idea what fennel was, and avoided it like the plague on my plate.
Fortunately, a piece snuck into my arugula mixture and suddenly I became fennel’s number one fan. The crunchy texture, citrus glaze and fresh combination of ingredients really prepped our palettes for the comfort food of the next course.
Third Stop: Switzerland
Enter the star of the show: Älplermagronen and homemade applesauce.
There are some things in life that you never forget; your first kiss, your first trip to Disney world, and mine?
My first bite of apple sauce coated noodles, potatoes, pearl onions and cheese…
Switzerland, you’ve won me over! The recipe for Älplermagronen was shared with Yael by her grandmother, however the original recipe dates back to World War 2, where Yael’s great grandmother picked it up from a woman in Graubünden (which is a very large and traditional canton (something like a state) in Switzerland). This dish, as well as some other swiss delicacies, is influenced by neighboring Italy. Italian culinary culture is infamous for it’s fundamental use of pasta and Switzerland has adapted this use of pasta into many of its own dishes. A key point to note however is that Älplermagronen would not be made possible without the potatoes, and the culinary use of the potato crop is actually very common in traditional Swiss meals.
Overall, Yael informed us that Älplermagronen is THE comfort food of choice in Switzerland, especially after a long, cold day of skiing or snowboarding (along the alps perhaps?). Although I was falling in love with Switzerland with every bite of Yael’s delicious creation, she insisted on crediting her grandmother’s recipe as being the original and unmatched in taste and love.
Fourth Stop: New York City
Over this feast of savory, cheesy, goodness I had a chance to talk to Yael about her life in Switzerland and her transition to New York. Some of the highlights of this conversation are listed below:
- Upon traveling to New York, Yael imagined herself beginning the life of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City, and was instead met with the literal mole people of the NYC subway. Sigh, Carrie you continue to fool us all.
- Baked by Melissa would not exist in Switzerland. More specifically, tiny cupcakes t hat leave you begging for about 8,000 more….. do not exist in what I can only imagine is full-sized bliss, in Switzerland.
- Hot dogs and Halal food (the New Yorker’s guilty street food pleasure) is definitely not for Switzerland. Sorry, not sorry guys, the Swiss choose to eat the hygienic way and we should all aspire to live up to that one day.
- Remember that guy you saw getting cursed out for stealing a taxi this morning? Not in Switzerland. According to Yael people are extremely polite in Switzerland and instead of stealing a taxi they might offer to share a seat with you or apologize for the mistake.
- (Update: Though Yael has adapted to NYC profanity, she tries to maintain her politeness and limit her obscenity usage to just below the New Yorker standard.)
- Swiss cheese in America is nothing in comparison to the real Swiss cheese: Appenzeller. Appenzeller cheese dates back to 1282 and is protected by a secret herb-mixture recipe only known by 2 people in the entire world (affectionately deemed “the cheese royals” by yours truly).
If all of this has made you wishful for a little slice of Switzerland, Yael recommends a visit to one her favorite spots in New York: Brooklyn Bridge Park. The natural herbs growing on the edge of DUMBO mimics the freshness that exists in Switzerland, and if you arrive there at the right time, on the right day you can even experience some serene silence, a little thing cherished by all, even those of us who are not Swiss.
Final Stop: Happily Ever After
Our meals concluded with a beautiful berry rose-creme dessert that Yael innovatively created on her own. We spent the rest of our night scraping the glasses of those dessert dishes and laughing at how we all wished we could have a jar to take home, or an everlasting night in Switzerland with the wonderful host and future restaurateur Yael Haze.
Food Photos by: Shruthi Aramandla & Ahreana Blair (glossy)
Host Photos by: Ahreana Blair (bottom) & Shruthi Aramandla (top)