ara-vartanian

L.A. Woman: A Weekend at SLS Beverly Hills

 

LA-womanWelcome to Los Angeles – where there’s never a “low season”. Gorgeous weather year-round attracts travelers from tough climates, while the entertainment capital of the world draws in jet-setting stars and adoring fans from all over the world for a steady rotation of awards shows, premieres, and film festivals. The perfect location for this flurry of star-studded activity? SLS Beverly Hills.

The list of accolades is long: Condé Nast Traveller “Hot List Hotel”, Travel & Leisure “It List”,  Fodor’s “Best Design Hotel. And I haven’t even started on the long list of awards held by Chef José Andrés. But more on him later…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Entering SLS Beverly Hills is unique to say the least. A red carpet welcoming you to the whimsical world of Philippe Starck is one small detail that lets you know you’ve arrived to a destination that is one of the gems of a glittering collection of Starwood Luxury Properties around the globe. True to the hotel brand’s mission, SLS Beverly Hills is an “expression of its location; a portal to the destination’s indigenous charms and treasures” that befit each Luxury Property.

Ara-Vartanian

Glittering beneath some of SLS Beverly Hills’ collection of over 77 bespoke chandeliers, Tres lounge is the genius antidote to the hotel lobby experience. Leather lounges, captivating bookshelves, and cozy fireplaces make you feel as if you’ve stepped into your own living room. At either end of this unique design space are two private rooms; The Black Room and the White Room. Each flanks the opposite end of Tres to provide VIP guests an even more luxurious way to dine and entertain.

LA-Woman

What to wear in this town? The edgy, yet sophisticated looks from Thomas Wylde. Founded in 2006, this global ready-to-wear and accessories luxury brand is perfect for the L.A. woman out on the town. While its headquarters are here in Los Angeles, Thomas Wylde has developed a loyal international following through brand awareness in Vogue, L’Officiel, and WWD, in addition to runway shows in New York and Milan.

SLSRed3

When I went to the showroom to pick up my pieces, I had the great fortune of sitting with Creative Director Jene Park. “The Thomas Wylde brand is strong yet elegant. And a rock ‘n’ roll influence is in our DNA”. Walking among enviable pieces of silk, leather, and other sumptuous fabrics, I learned more about the Thomas Wylde aesthetic. “Our fashions are wearable; it’s not just for the runway.”

thomas-wylde

I have to agree. While waltzing through the SLS in these varied looks, I felt like I was ready for a night on the town. Comfortable, classy, sexy, quality – all elements that I look for when shopping for myself and my clients are here at Thomas Wylde. And it’s why they have such a large and diverse fan base that includes Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Heidi Klum, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez, Dita Von Teese, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Paradis, and Li Bingbing.

LA Woman

Learning a bit more about Jene’s illustrious background, I was even more impressed to hear that she’d won the sought-after scholarship from Maison Lesage and had spent the early days in her career at the fashion houses of Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Chanel. As she chose my pieces, Jene imparted with a wink, “there’s romantic movement in our pieces. But it’s still edgy.”

SLSBraid8

The obvious complement to Thomas Wylde’s edgy and glamorous styles? Jewelry from Ara Vartanian. I discovered Ara’s signature style on a press trip to Brazil earlier this spring when my luxury guide, Flavia Liz Di Paolo took me on a private tour of his São Paulo atelier where I witnessed his artistry firsthand. Sitting with Luna and Val, the motivated women behind the brand, I learned the story of his signature hook earring. “It was his wife who inspired him to make this style. He had observed her wearing larger pieces, and found a way to make it comfortable, yet just as striking.”

thomas-wylde

When your wife and exquisite gemstones are your muses, it has to be a success! Another one of Ara’s muses is Kate Moss. She recently helped launch his London showroom, bringing the Brazilian designer’s jewels to a new audience. Luckily, I can find Ara’s designs closer to home here in Los Angeles at Broken English Jewelry. A wide array of his two and three finger rings, hook earrings, cuffs, and chokers, all featuring the unique inverted diamond setting are waiting at their Westside boutique to adorn the L.A. woman.

SLSGown5

“No two stones are the same so each piece of jewelry I design becomes unique by this mere fact. These characteristics may be the key to understanding a sentence I often repeat when I finish creating a piece of jewelry: ‘The stone always chooses the right person’,” Ara states. And it is this mantra that has made each of his pieces a work of art.

SLSAra1

Speaking of art, those of you who have been reading my articles for a while know that I always seek out art on my travels. And it’s something I enjoy while here at home in L.A., too! One of my favorite local artists is Clara Berta, whom I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting at an art event last year. We instantly clicked while acknowledging each others’ funky style: Clara was donning a teal dress from Thomas Wylde and I had on some provocative tights from Wolford.

Clara is an artist at heart, not just by trade. Her energy is infectious and she speaks with passion about everything she does, whether it’s her favorite L.A. restaurant Bestia or the latest speakeasy she’s discovered. Clara did her first art show in 2000, while working as an actress at the same time and along her journey, met a costume designer who introduced her to printmaking. “I spent two years studying with her and getting a more formal eduction. I needed to learn structure. I think it’s important for every artist to have a foundation”.

LA-woman

Next in Clara’s evolution was her one-woman show, Sex Is My Specialty, a performance that she found both healing and cathartic. “I found my voice, and saw how healing and moving the show was for other women.” It’s as if this emotional show prepared her for the sudden death of her husband, when she turned to painting. “I remember my first sale because my love and grief were mixed together in that piece.”

LA-woman

This turning point allowed her to grow as an artist and be truly happy doing what she loves. “I’m inspired by people, nature, and the small miracles that happen in daily life. Sometimes I’m even stimulated by a good meal and the energy of my food!”

Like her art, Clara is exciting, vibrant and filled with energy and you’ll experience that at her studio events with guest speakers including neuroscientists, interior designers, and other artists. Next up for Clara? She has her sights set on Biennale, a possible show in Luxembourg, and hosting a retreat for aspiring women artists here in Los Angeles.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ok, so back to the Bazaar at SLS! This masterpiece dining concept is the brainchild of internationally recognized culinary innovator José Andrés. His accolades require their own article, but a few are Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef”, and President Obama’s “National Humanities Medal”. Wow!

sls-beverly-hills
The Bazaar at SLS Beverly Hills

Which is exactly what you’ll say when you step into The Bazaar, where every seductive corner lures you in with a design as diverse as Andrés’ menu. Chef Andrés has created a fanciful array of traditional and pioneering tapas, while the Patisserie features delicate sweets and roaming carts which showcase edible delights that weave their way through glass cases full of art, jewelry, and provocative books.

 

Sink back into one of the 277 chairs, all selected by Philippe Starck, and sip one of the inventive cocktails that integrate contemporary techniques and tools such as liquid nitrogen, olive and cherry spherifications, herbs, and organic emulsifiers. My waitress recommended their signature caipirinha cart; a welcome suggestion on a hot Los Angeles evening, and the perfect pairing for Andrés’ croquetas de pollo. Ummm! I sat there wondering what gastronomic wonders Chef Andrés will feature at the upcoming opening of Somni…

thomas-wylde

Hard as it is to break away from the enchanting yet exotic Bazaar, you definitely need to seek out some nightlife when visiting L.A. The best choice? A performance by L.A. native, Anabel Englund. Her vocals infused the international chart-topper “Reverse Skydiving” with a sensual and sultry call to get out on the dance floor, energizing crowds as far away as Brazil and the UK. “Music has always been a part of my life. I was shy, but my whole life has been about challenging myself. If I’m afraid or uncomfortable, that’s a sign for me to go do it. If it’s healthy for me and my spirit, I go for it”.

 

Hearing Anabel describe what she calls her “moral code”, I can already sense that she is destined for stardom at this early phase in her career. In an industry that is competitive and cutthroat, she’s definitely got her head on straight! “We need to embrace each others’ differences, but we’re all the same. We share the same spirit.” Her spirituality is something that keeps her anchored in a frenzied environment. Anabel’s pre-performance ritual? Prayer. “Even if I don’t have time to be alone, I just say a quick prayer behind the DJ booth and ask God to help inspire me and ignite a fire in someone else.”

SLSAnabel

And her career is definitely on fire. With an EP due out later this year, Anabel has drawn on her previous collaborative works to produce her recent party series “Gari Safari”, a curated tour of live dance music, an innovative concept that crowds are loving. This L.A. woman is ready for her close-up.

 

Credits:

Photography: Mike Fox Photo

Wardrobe: Thomas Wylde

Jewelry: Ara Vartanian

Makeup: Chanel

Hair: On Demand Salon

 

 

Save

Save

brazils-gold-mine

Brazil’s Gold Mine: A Visit to Minas Gerais

 

 

Long before Google had every inch of the globe mapped and scaled online, I was assigned to an exchange program in a small Brazilian town called “Ouro Branco”.

Eager to learn more about my future destination, I entered this foreign city into the search box, only to discover the name translated to “white gold”, and that it was a few hours from Minas Gerais’ state capital, Belo Horizonte. As with all things destined, the mountainside town of Ouro Branco became my anchor for discovering more of Minas.

Brazil’s inland state is just that, a hidden gem. A quick plane ride from its more popular neighbors, Rio and São Paulo, Minas Gerais is a vast countryside full of historical towns, hidden waterfalls and hiking trails, and the best cuisine in all of Brazil – the general consensus among Brazilians.

brazils-gold-mine

The most expansive of Minas’ hidden gems is Museo Inhotim. To call it a museum is an understatement. This 5,000 acre masterpiece is a design lover’s dream, a nature lover’s paradise, and of course, an art lover’s epiphany. Sitting about an hour outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city, Inhotim is a full sensory experience. Lush, green trees envelop you from the moment you walk in, wrapping you in a cocoon of natural wonders.

IMG_2467

My knowledgeable guide Marcelo Martins led the way, pointing out the natural furniture by famed Brazilian designer Hugo França. These striking pieces from repurposed wood sat amongst the 500 different botanical species at Inhotim. My favorite tree, paxiuba, is known as “the palm that walks”, moving 3 centimeters a year to follow the sun. Stopping at our first exhibit, he asked “What do you see here?” as I gazed up at a large set of chairs and tables surrounded by a manicured garden. Apprehensive about my answer, I wondered if Marcelo would allow me to advance to the next exhibit based on the quality of my response.

 

IMG_2606
Chris Burden’s Beam Drop

 

Luckily, my answer was suffice and our next stop was the Sonic Pavilion. An ambitious and complex work by Doug Aitken, the pavilion holds a deep well over 600 feet, equipped with microphones that send the wailing frequencies of the earth’s cry up into the room. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the pain and voice of Mother Earth crying out, reverberating through my body and soul.

 

IMG_2447
Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion

 

There’s not much to say when you leave an experience like that. I walked along in silence with Marcelo until we reached our next stop when he said, “The earth was extra loud today. She must have known you were coming.” This prompted our discussion of meditation, as I told Marcelo that I’m glad I had a daily practice which truly prepared me for Inhotim. The spiritual and physical work that I’d been doing allowed me to fully absorb every somatic stroke of this magnificent place.

 

IMG_2449
Mathew Barney’s From Mud, A Blade

 

Speaking of preparation, nothing truly prepared me for the next exhibit by Mathew Barney. Weaving the conflict of Ogum, god of iron, war, and technology with Ossanha, the god of plants and nature, Barney’s massive work draws inspiration from Bahian Candomble to highlight the tension between our natural and man-made worlds. In a word, this was disturbing. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do, right?

IMG_2483Less disturbing, but just as provocative was the gallery featuring work by famed Brazilian contemporary artist Cildo Meireles. Awash in varied hues of red, it was a playful, yet evolving exhibit as the strong color came to signify violence and blood as I moved from room to room.

Heading to lunch, Marcelo shared the history of Inhotim and its gardens, “Roberto Burle Marx visited this place, and being a close friend to Bernardo Paz, the museum’s founder, he advised Bernardo on what plant species to use, the colors, and even the layout.”

 

Over a delicious lunch of fresh fish and endless salads and local fruits, Marcelo reminisced on his early days at Inhotim. “When I first started working here, I thought 2 days was enough time for a visit, but now I recommend 4 days. You really want time to experience Inhotim. To really absorb it.”

During our decadent meal, Yara Castanheira, who heads the education department at Inhotim, joined us. “Here at Inhotim, we connect art and nature. We blur those boundaries.” And it’s evident at every turn. Exhibits are hidden behind towering trees, obscured by winding vines and orchids, and discovered at the end of trails overflowing with the flora and fauna that is unique to Brazil.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Our collections, all with a theme, provide a new perspective. But we’re mediating and guiding – not giving answers.” During my visit, Inhotim’s theme was gender and water, chosen in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. “We’re looking at contemporary challenges, and through researching this theme, we discovered that in places where there was enough water for the community, the women were also having that basic need of education met. Without water in the community, women and girls have to collect it and forgo the chance at an education. It’s a powerful discovery.”

IMG_2512

Thinking about how grateful I was to have an education, we talked about Inhotim’s international partnerships with schools around the world. “In such an expansive place you can feel small. But yet each of us has a big impact. With the foreboding climate change and global warming, you think about the impact of your trash and plastic on our environment.” Yara’s words never rang truer as I thought about the political debates on global warming back home in the States.

 

Leaving lunch, Marcelo took me to an unexpected artwork – a pool. If you know me, or follow my Instagram, you know that I love a good pool party! In the balmy weather, I was tempted to dive right in, held back by the absence of a bikini. I’ll remember to pack it next time! Like every work at Inhotim, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina encourages the viewer to particpate with the art. Macchi’s work is a large scale recreation of his paper drawing, which fused an address book and a swimming pool, two items that are rarely seen together. Sitting there with my feet dangling above black granite letters, I wished that I could come back for another day at Inhotim. One day was definitely not enough!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My tour through Inhotim unfortunately came to an end, but as Marcelo carefully orchestrated every turn, we ended at the symphonic “Forty Part Motet” – a surround-sound exhibit blasting a choral work that was written for Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday in 1575. Talk about a grand finale! I didn’t know what else to do besides stop and take it all in, letting my body harmonize with the chorus.

IMG_2390

You know a place is good when you eat there twice in 24 hours. Because you want to. This is obviously the case at Pão de Queijaria, an ideally situated gastropub in Belo Horizonte where I ate the night before I left for Inhotim. And when I returned! Quickly gaining fame in a city full of foodies after its opening in January 2014, Pão de Queijaria won coveted “Best Of” awards from Veja Magazine, all hanging on their wall among funky artwork.

 

At first bite, you’ll think that “white gold” I mentioned earlier refers to the toasted puffs of bread, or maybe it’s the creamy canastra cheese that accompanies your pão de queijo. Either way, your tastebuds will be thanking you. Sitting down with Lucas, one of Pão de Queijaria’s founders, I learned a bit more about this precious canastra and its importance in their menu. “We source from local farms here in Minas, where we know the cows by name. And the aging process is very particular – producing only the best cheese – usually over the course of 20 to 30 days. We like to call it our ‘black label’,” he said with a wink.

IMG_2367

And the quality is evident in every bite. Tearing me away from my sandwich, a perfectly marinated short rib garnished with fresh tomato, Lucas showed me a bit of their “behind the scenes” operations, and wow was it fragrant! Seeing what goes into this craft of making something seemingly simple as cheese bread made me appreciate it even more. This snack that I first learned of during my days in Ouro Branco had a new elevated status thanks to Lucas’ insight.

pao-de-queijaria

Drawing inspiration from star Chef Jaime Solares, who owns a nearby restaurant, Lucas and his partner Mario have asked Chef Jaime to give an unofficial nod of approval to their menu. “We just changed our menu, adding the short rib you just had, a fried chicken sandwich, and we made some changes to the hamburger, calling it Hamburger 2.0”. I’m just glad that they left the polenta bites and caprese sandwich on the menu – two of my faves. But now I have another reason to come back!

Sitting there with my friends, we were already deciding what to eat on our next visit. I told them that I would definitely be back – I had to follow Marcelo’s advice and do three more days at Inhotim!

IMG_2556

Contact me to book your visit to Minas Gerais, Brazil!

 

festival-de-inverno

How Brazil Does Winter: A Visit to Campos do Jordão

I’m sure the title fooled you. Trust me – when my colleagues in São Paulo showed me the itinerary for my recent VIP trip, I was a bit confused when I saw the words “fondue, wine, fur, chocolate, and winter festival” sprinkled throughout my schedule. It’s not the usual word association one has when you hear “Brazil”.

IMG_2808

Set 111 miles outside of the sprawling metropolis that is São Paulo, Campos do Jordão is a lovely weekend getaway perfect for couples, honeymooners, or really anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

By the time I visited Campos do Jordão, I had already seen quite a few highlights of Latin America’s economic epicenter: Fashion Week, private art tours, and a preview of their newest luxury hotel, all organized by the team at São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

IMG_2723

But the train ride up the hill to Campos do Jordão is half the fun. Starting in the quaint town of Pindamonhangaba, our group enjoyed a relaxing tour through the countryside. I marveled at the stretches of rice fields and farmland, spotted with cows, horses, and other livestock, thinking back to my train ride on the British Pullman outside of London earlier this year.

Climbing the mountains, I learned that this railway was the only one in the world that goes to such a high altitude without any cables or extra machinery. Normally trains like this chug along at a 3% incline. Not this one! We were going at 11% according to the conductor. Besides Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon, I think that Brazil needs to add another natural wonder to its list!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

High up where the air cooled and the humidity subsided, we stopped at the depot for a welcome snack of homemade grape juice and the most divine cod-fish fritters, knIMG_2892own as bolinho de bacalhau. On our way through sprawling hills, I learned more about Brazil’s ecosystem and some of its unique fauna and flora, all visible from my train window. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music and could almost hear the refrain “The hills are alive…”

Speaking of music, Campos do Jordão is the host of an orchestral showcase known as “Festival de Inverno” which takes place every July. This winter music festival, the biggest classical music festival in Latin America, has found the perfect home in this beautiful town.

Before you even enter the Cláudio Santoro Auditorium, the dedicated place for this magnificent display of opus upon classical opus is the Felícia Leirner Museum. With striking art sprawled across green hills, I stopped to take it all in. The clean, crisp air, the stark white statues standing tall with the trees, and small strips of poetry by Vinicius de Moraes clinging to a nearby bush. A perfect respite!

Felicia1

My knowledgeable guide told me a bit about this talented artist, and I became even more impressed with the history of this place. Felícia emigrated to Brazil from Poland in the late 1920s and began to study sculpture in her mid-forties under the tutelage of renowned sculptor, Victor Brecheret. Her late start in her art career reminded me of a quote that my life coach once told me when I changed careers: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Always timely advice!

Here my hosts from Campos do Jordão Visitors Bureau welcomed me and guided me to the next portion of my tour. Wishing that I could return in July to hear music played in this serene setting, our group headed to dinner at Ludwig, the most picturesque restaurant to enjoy a post-symphony meal.

An enchanting place, Ludwig is the award-winning culinary enterprise of Fausto and Zezé, a warm and lively couple who welcomed me like family. Sipping on the most delicious wine and enjoying a cheese plate that included housemade jam and local cheeses, Fausto and Zezé shared their love story, which led to a round table of everyone divulging dating stories, divorce woes, and everything in between! All of this before our first course!

IMG_2981

Looking out over their green garden, also used as the occasional event space, I told Fausto that I had seen the opera Faust with my dad many years ago – my first opera – which led to some tearful reminiscing. But there’s nothing like gourmet food to put a smile on my face, and my Instagram-worthy plate was just the thing!

Truta

When Zezé originally asked me to choose my dish, I told her “I eat everything!”. She smiled and said, “Okay, we’ll give you the local specialty” and came back with a handful of nuts called pinhão, which would be ground to make a puree accompaniment for my truta, a fish local to the Campos do Jordão region. My mouth was already watering, but seeing it presented – wow!

The perfect place to retire at the end of a long journey – Campos do Jordão’s Grande Hotel. Nestled in greenery along the hills, you’ll want to take advantage of the trails around this luxury property that lives up to its name. There are beginner level trails to enjoy throughout the day, as well as tennis courts, a pool, a spa and pretty much every amenity you could imagine – even an in room foot spa with a robust menu of soaps and creams that were a soothing way to end a long day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I sat on my terrace looking out at the full moon, tired toes soaking, I read more about Felícia Leirner and her sculptures. Awarded the Best Sculptor Award at the 1963 São Paulo Bienal, Felícia’s work was featured in Paris, the Tate in London, and of course, in nearby São Paulo. But it was her personal life which intrigued me even more. She situated herself here in Campos do Jordão after the early death of her husband, creating an impressive portfolio of works. Her story reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists, and how she retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. I wondered, would I suffer the same fate and retire to some beautiful countryside and create meaningful art? But I’d have to get married first! First things first…

IMG_3022

If you follow my Instagram, you know I’m a bit of a chef groupie, so a breakfast meeting and tour with Chef Mauro was all the motivation I needed to get out of bed early the next morning. Chef Mauro is what you’d call a prodigy. He leads a team of kitchen staff, most of whom are twice his age, to produce an award-winning menu at Grande Hotel’s premier restaurant, Araucária. Leading me through the kitchen, Chef Mauro explained the techniques used at Grande Hotel since this was a training facility for hospitality professionals. It definitely showed! Every detail of my bountiful breakfast was perfect, but it was the service with a friendly demeanor from every staff member that really made this place a luxury property.

The best place to walk off this yummy brunch was through Campos do Jordão’s downtown shopping district. My favorite place, which I didn’t even expect to find in Brazil, was Puro Cacau, a boutique that specializes in furs, with a license from the Brazilian government to ensure no harm was done to the animals. The perfect place to wear these beauties? Right across the street at the new Ice Bar, which provides gloves and other special features so you can enjoy your drinks literally “on ice”. Continuing along, we saw chocolate shops, souvenir boutiqes, and plenty of German bars. I learned that Campos do Jordão is also a vacation destination for one of Brazil’s most celebrated holidays, Oktoberfest. With a strong German influence in Brazil, this holiday rivals Carnaval as Brazil’s biggest party.

A fan of classical music, I was already trying to figure out when I could come back for this annual Festival de Inverno. With my 2017 already full of travel, I guess I’d have to put it on the list for 2018!

To book your visit to Campos do Jordão, contact me today!

Hotel

 

bespoke-london

English Lit

My first toy was a dictionary, so it only made sense for me to pay a visit to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s home-turned-museum in London. Dr. Johnson, publisher of the first printed English dictionary, was born into his fate, as I learned on the candlelit tour, since he has been born in a bookstore. Wordies, linguists, and English teachers will all be mused, and inspired, by the quips and quotes from Dr. Johnson, all on display throughout the house. Pictures of important friends and family hang beside replicas of the first English dictionary, while the museum staff enthusiastically shares intimate details of Dr. Johnson’s life.

bespoke-london

As the tour continued, I learned about Elizabeth Carter, a pioneering woman who studied the Classics back when women weren’t exposed to such scandalous texts. Lauded by Dr. Johnson as a good cook, and even better conversationalist, Elizabeth Carter helped him edit texts, while also expanding his social circles. The other memorable highlight was the story of Francis Barber, Dr. Johnson’s manservant and friend, who eventually became Dr. Johnson’s heir. As a man who loved a debate, Dr. Johnson strongly opposed slavery and bequeathed much of his small estate to someone who came into Dr. Johnson’s life shortly after his wife had passed.

Listening to our guide reveal more details of Dr. Johnson’s remarkable life, I was inspired by this man who seemed to be a pioneer in his own right. Flipping through his detailed dictionary, I thought about the enjoyment I used to get from mine, coercing childhood friends to play word games, after which they eventually tired, saying it reminded them of school.

bespoke-londonbespoke-london

I certainly didn’t think I’d be eating tacos in London. But lucky for my strong sense of smell, I was led along the cobbled streets of Soho by the trace of hickory smoke to an underground haven called Temper. Unbeknownst to those walking by, it has a modest front, and you’d never know that this culinary gem lies below. Looking around, trying to figure out where the luscious smell was coming from, I saw blocks of firewood through the glass, my first clue that I had found the source.

bespoke-london

Do not come to Temper if you are a vegetarian or vegan. The sight of lamb shanks, beef loins, and a pig’s head roasting over crackling fires might deter you. It only lured me in further. I took a seat at the bar-the perfect spot to watch the Temper team make fresh tortillas, prepare cuts of meat, and toss eggplant onto the coals. When my plate finally came, it was hard to decide where to start. The fresh burrata drizzled with lime and jalapeno oil, or the soft cuts of pork gently set atop fire-grilled tortillas? Life should always be filled with such decisions! With portions small enough to sample a few options, I began my fireside feast.

Saatchi6

In the era of smartphones, it seems as though there’s a social media channel to suit everyone’s fancy. I love Instagram, so it was only natural that I pay a visit to Saatchi Gallery, “the world’s number one museum on social media” as they say on their site. And rightly so. With tastefully, yet provocatively, curated exhibits, Saatchi Gallery is a must-see while you’re in London – whether or not you have a smartphone.

Saatchi2

I planned to see the opening of Saatchi Gallery’s SALON featuring Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s paintings, and was pleasantly surprised. A longtime fan of Maekawa’s work, I learned a bit more about his art and the Gutai Art Association, Japan’s post-war avant-garde art collective. The word gutai means “concrete”, and was an intentional choice by the collective’s founder “to express the idea that art constitutes the embodied, material manifestation of human spiritual freedom.”

Walking among the rest of Maekawa’s work, and Saatchi Gallery, I thought about my own spiritual path, what “freedom” really means, and the profound and distinct impact that art has on all of us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leaving Saatchi Gallery, I enjoyed an uncharacteristically sunny day in London and walked up to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Friends who recommended I visit warned me that the museum was large, but I had no idea what to expect upon arriving. Holding over 2.3 million objects, I figured I should tackle only two exhibits and save the rest for my next trip to London.

A photography enthusiast, I caught the last days of The Camera Exposed, a small exhibit that featured black and white photography, with each photograph capturing the camera, either in the hands of the photographer, or angled to attempt antiquated selfies. Studying each image, some dating as far back as the 1850s, I was reminded of my days in the dark room back in college.

Vna

My last stop at this immense place was the Lockwood Kipling exhibit. Up until early April, this exhibit details some British history, not only of the V&A Museum and its beginnings as the South Kensington Museum, but Kipling’s contributions to the arts and crafts in the Punjab region of British India.

An illustrator, designer, curator, and teacher, Kipling, along his wife Alice, made much of his life, and artistic contributions, in India. Intricate watercolors from artisans in Calcutta are displayed next to Kipling’s earthenware plates that depict these artisans, each piece telling a different story. As I stepped out of the exhibit in the expansive halls filled with art from around the world, I thought of the quote hung on the wall at Dr. Johnson’s home, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. I definitely wasn’t tired – just on to the next part of my journey.

Kipling1

Wine Country: Take Two

My first visit to the wine country was for a weekend of corporate planning, goal setting, team building; a typical work retreat with my first job out of college. What I

fairmontchampagne

remember most from that trip was the team building – a bike ride through sun-soaked vineyards, with frequent stops for tasting the region’s top export. There’s nothing like a little wine to help timid office mates connect. As my fellow coworkers and I rode along, our adventure took an interesting turn when my boss realized that none of us were fit to ride back to the hotel. Sensing the frustration and fatigue of her troops, she called a few cabs to safely return us to the welcoming embrace of our blush-hued resort, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.

Since then, my occasional trips to the wine country have been just as memorable. My cousin’s wedding, a dinner at French Laundry with a friend who lost a bet, and most recently my visit to the Napa Valley Film Festival.

The film festival, now in its sixth year, is the brainchild of a dynamic duo, Marc and Brenda Lhormer. Beyond bringing their extensive experience in event planning to the festival, the Lhormers produced Bottle Shock, a film about the Judgement of Paris, a controversial wine competition that put Napa Valley on the map. When I spoke with Marc about how their movie production background informs the energy and focus of this festival, he replied, “we have tremendous empathy for the filmmakers who come through every year. We know what it’s like in the trenches and what they go through – we are supportive of the producers.”

dev-patel
Dev Patel reflects on the movie Lion

And what is produced every year here in Napa Valley is not just a film festival. It is a feast for your senses. The calendar is filled with events and tastings featuring award-winning restaurants and vineyards from the region. “What makes Napa Valley Film Festival unique is that it’s epicurean, it’s sensual. You’re not just seeing great films – you’re eating and drinking the best stuff! We really weave that into the experience.” I’d definitekollarchocoly have to agree with Marc’s words. At the opening night party, we were treated to an epic feast hosted by Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. His delectable bites floated among wines from Quixote Winery, an array of sweets from Kollar Chocolates, and late-night nibbles, my favorite being the mozzarella bar: two words that should always be together.

One thing’s for sure when traveling through the wine country: you will have the opportunity to taste delicious wine and food at every turn. I was reminded of this when I returned to my hotel, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, only to be greeted by turn-down service that included champagne and truffles. Sinking into my jacuzzi bathtub, I thought back to the first time I visited this resort during the aforementioned team building weekend and how much had changed in my life since.

bathtub

Still digesting the powerful and heart wrenching scenes from the film festival premier of Lion, I sat back amidst the bubbles and thought about Saroo’s quest for his identity, his past, and a piece of his genetic history that would complete him. Amongst many memorable scenes, I replayed the scene where Saroo tears up the maps, the guide, and the outline in his frustration. Only after doing this does his quest open up to divine guidance – literally. Then I thought about my own quest and how I’ve tossed the map aside many times, only to be guided by a special energy leading me along.

fairmont-suite
Fairmont Sonoma’s Master Suite

There’s not many things that will lead me out of bed early in the morning, but a short walk to the spa was well worth it. Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa, which was recently awarded “Best Hot Springs” by Wellness Travel, is a sanctuary unto itself. I started my day with a restorative yoga session surrounded by large windows that looked out at wispy shoots of green bamboo. After realigning my spine, chakras, and perspective, I thought, why not more of this, and took in the water yoga class at the Watsu pool below.water-yoga

Luckily for my body, and my skin, the resort is one of the few luxury spas in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water, which is found in all of the pools at Fairmont Sonoma. As I slid into the warm water, our instructor shared some of the minerals that were present: manganese, potassium, zinc, calcium, and copper, just to name a few. Dipping my head back into the water for savasana pose, I was led to even further relaxation with the sounds of soft pipe music melting my muscles into the water. When wrapped up in a blissful state such as this, it’s hard to leave the oasis of Willow Stream Spa. But when your afternoon agenda includes a visit to an award-winning vineyard, it’s just the push you need.

Tucked in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, Ceja Vineyards is a family run vineyard, where I instantly felt at home as I was greeted by Dalia Ceja, who shared a little of the vineyard’s history. “This land, which used to have horses, rams, and sheep roaming freely, is my childhood home. The house, which is surrounded by 15 acres of pinot noir, was built by my father in 1985. It is here where I first learned about the labors of wine-making.”

Ceja View.jpg
Vista from Ceja Vineyards

Since then Dalia has gone on to earn her MBA in wine business, perfecting the knowledge that she learned in the fields with her father and siblings. Leading me through the front part of the property, which is surrounded by the fields growing their chardonnay grapes, we were joined by Amelia Ceja, founder of the vineyard and former California “Woman of the Year”, an honor she earned for breaking glass ceilings in a very competitive industry. Hearing Amelia, who is a living encyclopedia, share the history of this region is reason enough to visit the vineyard. “The indigenous Guapo Indians used to live on these lands, so when building our vineyard, we consulted with experts who understood the history and the topography of these lands. We are in the southernmost part of Napa Valley with the Napa River running throughout and creating this fluvial soil due to the River. If you’re a grape, this is Eden.”

grapes

Amelia, who recently gave a guest lecture at Stanford’s Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, guided our tour toward the “capilla”, the small chapel that sits at the edge of the vines. As Dalia and Amelia highlighted the custom artwork and stained glass windows that adorned the walls of the capilla, it was clear that I had been led to a special place. “There is nothing like this in the wine country. We want to be inclusive of all religions, we want everyone to feel welcome here. There’s a sense of spiritual energy that’s welcoming. Nuestra casa es su casa”, said Dalia with a warm smile that can put anyone at ease.

cejachapelI could definitely feel the embrace of this place as I looked up at colorful glass images of Moses, Buddha, the Black Madonna, and of course the Virgen de Guadalupe. Walking around the back of the capilla, which has a private dining area perfect for an intimate tasting or team meeting, Amelia provided some more background on the decor. “A gift from the foundry, this bell at the top of the tower is a genuine El Camino Real bell like the ones you’ll see at the missions and along the side of the road. It’s the same technology that was used many years ago to design these historical bells.” Acknowledging the controversial history of the missions, Amelia gave me a short lesson about the land, talked about the art that they had commissioned for this space, and walked us around to their symbolic cemetery. “Nobody is buried here. But everything that should be dead is buried here: bigotry, discrimination, sexism.”

muraldetailcejaAs this regal mother and daughter duo wandered back to the tasting room, I stayed behind to take in the meditative energy of this space. What a beautiful homage to everything that had come before: the indigenous that had lived off of these lands centuries before, the farmers that had plowed and picked the fields of the wine country, and the contributions of Latino artists to the diverse fabric of California’s landscape. cejamag

Catching up with Dalia at the edge of the bocce ball courts that her father, Pedro built, I learned a bit more about the Ceja family. “Here we have Bacchus and Dionysus battling each other, with the color of the balls representing our pinot noir and chardonnay. We want people to have fun – it’s an experience here at Ceja!”

To continue my experience, I began my tasting of Ceja’s prized wines while the aroma of fresh chiles came wafting from the kitchen. Listening intently to Dalia describe the fermentation process, the climate differences between Napa, Sonoma, and Calistoga, and other nuances of the wine region, I decided that my favorite was their vintage Sauvignon Blanc. “This wine is grown at our Sonoma Coast adobe vineyard about 45 minutes west of this tasting room. We use French oak judiciously, and this one has some grapefruit and guava characteristics.” With each sip, I began to understand more of Dalia’s explanation and made a mental note to take home a bottle.

As I finished my tasting, Amelia graciously served me quesadillas with arugula and Spanish chorizo, piled high with her salsa made fresh from those chiles I had inhaled only a bit ago. This impromptu feast was paired with their award-winning Cabernet that was also served during the Napa Valley Film Fest Saturday gala. Savoring each bite of this sumptuous meal, Amelia and I chatted about everything from social media, to the challenges of being a Latino business owner, to our shared love of author Isabel Allende. Recounting the details of one of our favorite books, Daughter of Fortune, I thought about how fortunate I was to have been led here to sit with this inspiring businesswoman who has started a legacy for her family and the region of Napa Valley.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetThere was nothing more comforting than wrapping up a day of delicious wines and home cooked food than falling back onto the cozy couch in my suite, warmed by a crackling fire. Easing into its embrace, I looked at the calendar for the film festival and began to plan the next day. How to choose among so many enticing options? I thought back to my interview with Marc when he discussed how they chose films for their festival. “We like to show films that people would really relate to; we’re representative of the audience. The films are less edgy and more positive, with upbeat, amazing documentaries.” Scanning the list, I decided to see Crossing Rachmaninoff, a feature documentary that beautifully blended the story line of pianist Flavio Villani’s personal and professional quests.

flavio-piano

Watching Flavio’s gifted hands dance across the keys, I was grateful that he decided to hone his gift and forgo his “safe” career as an IT professional. Thinking back to the film, Lion, I realized there were a lot of similarities between Saroo and Flavio. As they tossed aside the map that had been laid out before them, their true destiny began to open up. And witnessing Flavio’s destiny to become a world-class musician unfold on screen brought joyful tears to my eyes. Tears that seemed to ebb and flow to the melody of Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece concerto.

Leaving the screening, I headed over to Bar Terra, a gastronomic gem tucked behind St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema. Knowing that it was quite difficult to get a reservation, I lucked out and found space at the bar, eagebisteeyar to chat about all things film, food, and wine with the other patrons. Not hungry enough for their full tasting menu, I opted for the most perfect bowl of polenta soup, another masterful dish created by Michelin Star Chef, Hiro Sone. Making sure to save room for dessert, I originally had my eye on the goat cheese cake, but went with the apple and almond bisteeya, a recommendation from my bartender, Stephen. Always take a dessert recommendation from a man who makes his own grenadine. Each bite of the light and flaky bisteeya melted in my mouth, with soft flavors of cinnamon and wild flower honey easing it along.

imagerygallery

One of my favorite past times is visiting museums and art galleries, so when the Fairmont concierge recommended that I visit Imagery Estate Winery, a winery that also has a gallery on-site, I knew I had to pay a visit. Once inside, my wine guide and impromptu docent, Lilly, led me through their space. “What’s unique about Imagery is our labels, with each piece being commissioned to incorporate the Parthenon logo in a creative interpretation by each artist.” Originals of past labels hang beside Imagery’s top-sellers and wines reserved for club members, encouraging visitors to not only broaden their palate for wine, but their appreciation for art. Upon leaving, I passed a piece called Lion, a watercolor by Laura Ball that will be used for a future wine label. I told Lilly about how I now knew why I was led to this winery; Lion was a feature film at the festival, and my dad was a Leo, two reminders to always trust my path.

Stopping back by the Fairmont for a quick bite before heading back to the festival, I indulged in a juicy hamburger at 38º North. This wasn’t just any hamburger; it needed no fixings or extras. Using Mindful Meats, a local company that produces 100% organic, non-GMO, grass-fed beef, this delectable burger is layered with smoked fiscalini cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, and pimentón aioli. Mouthwatering to say the least!

The great thing about 3bisque8º North is that it is led by Chef de Cuisine, Andrew Cain, who also orchestrates the menu at Santé, Fairmont’s Michelin-rated restaurant and one of Elite Traveler’s top 100 restaurants in the world . Chef Cain’s inspiration for the menu comes from “the change of season, what is available at the farm, a conversation with another chef, or a memory.” And memorable it was. Having already tried their lobster bisque and charcuterie after the hotel’s nightly wine tasting, I made a note to come back and try Chef Cain’s favorite: “a Venison entrée that comes from a 55,000 acre ranch in Wyoming that raises the animals in a natural free range environment. We are serving it with petit vegetables grown locally, as well as a sauce prepared with wild huckleberries harvested from the coast.”

My last film of the festival was Pisco Punch, a lively documentary that traced piscothe history of one of Peru’s most spirited exports. The film weaves anecdotes from Peruvian distillery owners, mixology tips from renowned bartenders, and haunting images from Peru’s troubled past. Now experiencing a revival, Peru is luring travelers to its diverse culture with a dynamic food scene, and of course pisco. Watching the artfully prepared cocktails and cuisine flash by on screen, I instinctively felt that Peru may have to be my next destination.

At the wrap party, I compared my favorite films, and of course favorite eats, with other festival goers’ top picks. During the party, I bumped into pianist Flavio Villani, excitedly telling him that I had gone back a second time to see his film after hearing that he was going to perform live for the film festival audience. We chatted about some of our other favorite classical pieces, his family recipes highlighted in the film, and the challenges of being an artist. Looking around the party at my fellow artists, and the filmmakers who had conquered insurmountable situations to create their films, I was reminded of the words from Flavio’s brother featured in the film: “Having faith in yourself is the biggest obstacle that you have to overcome.”

Piano.jpg

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save