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Seoul Food: My Favorite Spots to Eat in South Korea’s Capital

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My first meal in Seoul – Gook bob. Mmmmm!

There are two things everyone must do when traveling: find a place to sleep and eat. While there’s a wide range of options of what you’ll do in between those two critical activities: museums, shopping, hiking, guided tours, fashion shows, and so on, enjoying the local cuisine on your vacation can be some of the best memories of your trip.

I love to eat. And I’m one of those fortunate people that doesn’t have any allergies or food aversions, so I am likely to try a wide range of food while traveling the world. My most recent trip to South Korea was a daily adventure for my taste buds, and although I live in Los Angeles where there is a bustling Koreatown full of delicious Korean BBQ spots, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only had Korean food twice. Luckily, I was able to play catch up in South Korea’s capital. Here’s my list of top places to eat in Seoul, where both daring and discerning diners will leave satiated and smiling.

Maple Tree House

I was lucky enough to enjoy a proper Korean meal with some local friends who brought me to this Seoul standard for a sumptuous feast. Not knowing the names of most of the dishes, I just followed my hosts’ lead and ate what they ate. I was pleasantly surprised, but my favorite had to be the bibimbap(pictured above), which is like the ultimate Korean comfort food! Paired with berry wine, and a delectable steak appetizer that was like a better version of a lettuce wrap, my stomach was happy. What a way to start my stay in Seoul!

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Shrimp Curry at Richmond Dimsum – Yum Yum!

Richmond Dimsum

One of the best things about Seoul is its proximity to the rest of Asia, and with that, a wide range of Asian cuisine to enjoy. Make it a point to visit Richmond Dimsum in Itaewon neighborhood, and come hungry. Once you try one of Chef Danny’s Chinese creations, you’ll want to keep sampling more of his masterful menu. My friends and I had a shrimp dish that practically melted in your mouth – I couldn’t believe something could be so good! And then followed by the chef’s signature dumplings, each a different flavor: eggplant, sweet potato, and squid ink – I was in heaven! Another favorite was the shrimp curry. I’m not sure what Chef Danny does to the shrimp, but you’ll never be the same. They are amazing!

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The dumpling trio at Richmond Dimsum – it’s not enough!

Osulloc Tea House

While there’s a few of these around town, I stumbled upon the Osulloc adjacent to the Seoul Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. This place was so good, I circled back on my way out of the museum just to try something else on the menu. Wanting some fuel for intense art scoping, I started with a mild green tea(their signature blend) paired with a green tea croque monsieur. Yes you read that right! I wasn’t sure what to expect from my sandwich, but the green bread did not disappoint. Eyeing the other patrons on the way out, I noticed everyone was drinking a sort of milkshake looking thing, which I ordered on my way back after finishing up at MMCA. Paired with a traditional Korean roll cake with matcha-infused cream, I was glad I came back a second time. Try it at least once – you won’t be disappointed!

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Going green at Osulloc Tea House

Fritz at Arario Museum

I also have a sweet tooth, which can be dangerous at times, but I find that it leads me to some of the best discoveries when I travel, which is exactly what happened with Arario. The funny thing is that I had already been to the Arario Gallery on the other side of town and didn’t know that there was a related museum, which is a must-see for art lovers. But before heading into the labyrinth of rooms filled with contemporary art, I found myself drawn to the alluring aroma of coffee and cinnamon from their garden cafe called Fritz. The cinnamon roll filled with a dollop of ice cream was enough for me, but then I found out that they have three other restaurants, one of which was just mentioned in the 2019 Michelin Guide. If you’re a serious foodie, put Arario Museum on your list.

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The Cinnamon Sweet at Arario Museum – Instagram worthy!

Bann Thai

Just down the way from Arario Museum on the way to Gyeongbokgung Palace, is a Thai restaurant that had a small sign advertising that it was the best Thai restaurant in Seoul. I decided to try it, one because I was too tired to search for anything else, and I thought I’d continue on with my sampling of other Asian cuisines given my good experience at Richmond Dimsum. It was so good that I ate here twice. Their pad thai was the best I’ve had, and I’ve had quite a bit back in California! The second time I visited, I’m not sure what I ordered, but it was absolutely amazing(a spicy shrimp dish with very thin noodles). With a crowd of people filling their small upstairs restaurant during the lunch hour, I knew that there was some truth to their sign outside.

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The perfect lunch at Bann Thai

Buddhist Temple Stay

Now this isn’t a restaurant, nor will you find it on any “best of” lists besides mine, but the food that I had at the temple stay in Bukhansan National Forest was simply divine. The simplicity of the vegan food and the humble surroundings allowed me to focus on each bite. With a strict rule of no conversation during meals, I found myself focused on my food and its textures and flavors in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. If you’re vegan, you might want to visit a temple just for the food. And if you’re not, well this might make you consider going vegan a few days a week. I felt amazing after the few meals I did have and am hoping to recreate some of these dishes back home.

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Veggies never tasted so good!

While I can’t remember every place that my friends took me to eat, I suggest being open-minded when you come to Seoul. Below are photos of a grilled fish dinner that we shared one evening, and a Vietnamese feast that had me drooling over every bite.

 

 

Conrad Seoul

And last, but definitely not least is Conrad Seoul. If you don’t have the fortune of staying here, make it a point to head to the south side of Han River and enjoy their award-winning cuisine for at least one meal. Everything from their breakfast buffet to their crown jewel restaurant, 37 Grill and Bar is worth the trip. If you’re a wine lover, make it a point to visit 37 Grill and Bar and enlist the advice of expert sommelier, Nathan Kim. My chef’s tasting menu would not have been complete without his guidance. Read about my full experience here. And if you’re lucky enough to stay at Seoul’s top-ranked hotel, try the bone broth at breakfast. I know it sounds crazy, but I had seconds because that stuff is soooo good!

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Start to a great day at Conrad Seoul!

Enjoy your stay in Seoul and let me know in the comments where some of your favorite eateries are in this amazing city. I definitely plan on coming back and can’t wait to try more of Korea’s diverse dishes!

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East meets West at the Conrad Seoul breakfast buffet
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Conrad Seoul: South Korea’s Best Hotel

If you’re in the hospitality business, then you are definitely familiar with the phrase, “the customer is always right”. Those of us in the travel industry know what it means to go above and beyond to please our customers, ensuring that they have an amazing adventure, no matter where their destination takes them.Conrad1Conrad Seoul has obviously done something right in the minds of discerning customers from all over the world. The team at Conrad Seoul was just awarded “Best Hotel in South Korea” by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards, an enviable list that highlights the best from around the globe as decided by travelers and industry experts.Conrad5So what are they doing differently from other luxury properties across South Korea, and in the rest of Asia? Well, I was lucky enough to find out on a recent visit to this world-class property ideally set at the edge of Seoul’s Han river.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner Suite_Living RoomThe most picture perfect welcome that included an assortment of treats arranged in a garden-like design, complete with a replica of my company logo, was a thoughtful surprise. What a welcome! After settling into my luxurious corner suite, of which the Conrad Seoul has 47, with wraparound views of Yeouido Park, Han River, and Seoul glittering in the distance, I decided to uncork the champagne and enjoy this enviable view.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner SuiteCharting my itinerary for the next few days, I was happy to learn that Conrad Seoul is ideally situated for many of the sights I wanted to see in Seoul. Just a short drive or subway ride from Seoul Arts Center, home to an opera house, performing arts center, calligraphy museum, a design museum, and much more, Conrad Seoul is the perfect location for anyone looking to indulge in the city’s lively arts scene.Conrad9Although I couldn’t imagine leaving this luxurious oasis after looking at the spa menu, I guess my first adventure was going to be to their award-winning spa! Debating between the jet lag treatment and the Conrad signature massage, I decided to go with the latter after hearing the spa attendant’s description of the balm they used for the treatment. Enveloped in a private suite, I waited in peaceful bliss as I enjoyed a healing rooibos tea while the masseuse prepared my foot bath. Soothing all of my soreness away, I melted on to the table for my massage.

How to follow such bliss? A soothing soak back in my suite with a stunning view of Seoul in the distance. Having only been at Conrad Seoul for a short time, it was easy to see why they have earned so many accolades. The prestigious World Travel Awards just presented Conrad Seoul with four awards: Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel 2018, Asia’s Leading Luxury City Hotel 2018, South Korea’s Leading Hotel 2018, and South Korea’s Leading Business Hotel 2018. Wow!Conrad8What could pull me away from this comfortable suite? A dinner reservation at 37 Grill & Bar, Conrad Seoul’s signature restaurant on their top floor. With so many delicious options to choose from, I decided on the tasting menu accompanied by a selection of wines paired by master sommelier, Nathan Kim. Conrad Seoul_37GrillTucked into my corner table, perfect for a special occasion dinner, proposal, or anniversary celebration, I marveled at the city lights in the distance. As each course appeared, I couldn’t believe that it was so delicious! My favorite? A sumptuous seafood stew that was somehow light, yet decadent and rich at the same time. And the wine pairing was just as spectacular – a Fantini Gran Cuvée Rosé. Kudos to Nathan and the Master Chef!Conrad Seoul_37Grill_Table by Window

When Nathan returned to describe the next dish and wine pairing, I asked him how to say “perfect” in Korean. There was no other way to describe this experience! Immersion is always the best language teacher, right? Continuing with an indulgent foie gras, Nathan reappeared to walk me through the rest of the menu. Impressed by his knowledge of wine and spirits, he described the wine that he chose to accompany my next course, a cabernet sauvignon from Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa. The ideal match for this perfect 100-point glass? A local Hanwoo steak, which is known to be some of the best meat on earth. Conrad6 At the end of this magnificent meal, I was satisfied beyond words. From the fresh beet sauce served with the bread to the seasonal mango ice cream, and everything in between, 37 Grill & Bar is the crown jewel at Conrad Seoul. Sipping on my special cocktail prepared by Nathan, which he called the “French Connection” as a nod to the theme of his selections, and his recent business trip, I now knew why Conrad Seoul earned so many awards for Best Hotel in this great city. Conrad Seoul_Spiral StaircaseThe next day, my breakfast was just as impressive. With an array of both Eastern and Western breakfast items prepared in their open kitchens, I didn’t know where to start. I headed down their signature staircase, the highest and longest independent spiral staircase in Korea, and decided that I would try out some of the hotel’s other amenities. First up was their indoor golf course. After some generous coaching from Jake, their friendly staff member, I decided to try one of their seven golf courses. Conrad2Reminded of my lackluster golf swing, I decided to head over to the pool. Set at the perfect temperature, this 25 meter long pool offers a panoramic view of Seoul’s bustling business district, with the glass ceiling offering a view of the stars at night. On my tour with the hotel director, she encouraged me to indulge in a night swim to take advantage of the glittering view of both the pool, set with mosaic tiles, and the Seoul skyline above. Conrad Seoul_Pulse8_Swimming PoolClosing out my stay at Conrad Seoul, I met up with a friend at their executive lounge to recap my visit to South Korea’s most dynamic city. Having experienced all that this city has to offer, including Fashion Week, the National Hangeul Museum(my personal favorite!), and an impressive night tour of Deoksugung Palace,  I was already eager to return!Conrad Seoul_Executive LoungeAs we closed up our night, I shared with her the mantra of Conrad Seoul, “Health, luck, and success”. An obvious theme throughout my visit, I was definitely looking forward to sharing this adventure with my clients and colleagues back home. Conrad Seoul has rightfully earned every award, and beyond that has provided me with a unique experience for my first trip to South Korea. There is no other way to experience Seoul!Conrad4

Let me help you plan your trip to Conrad Seoul!

 

 

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I Wish They All Could Be California Girls

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I first discovered the art of Robin Hiers as I was walking downstairs to the beachfront gem, The Deck. Enjoying my handsome date, and the picturesque sea scene that enveloped us, Robin’s signature beach babes, all decked out in the happiest hue of pink, caught my eye. It was at that moment that I found her on Instagram and we’ve been virtual friends ever since.laguna-beach

Robin’s art is always a cheerful interlude in my feed, and although I had never met her in person, I felt like I could sense the positivity and playfulness of her personality through her images. When I finally met her, my instincts were right. She showed up to our interview in typical California beach girl fashion: a breezy cover-up, comfortable flip-flops, and an enviable tan that she earned right here on the shores of Laguna Beach.

Having grown up in Laguna Beach, it’s no wonder Robin draws on this laid-back vibe for inspiration. “I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was 8 years old. My parents had an art gallery, ‘The Pink Palette’, and they started the annual festival Art-A-Fair, so I’ve been surrounded by art. I knew I wanted to do it – I just wasn’t sure how I’d get there!”

robin-hiers-artDiving into art full time after raising her 3 children in Boulder, Colorado, Robin has spent the last 20 years refining her style and her art. Reminiscing about her path as a career artist, she mentioned an ex-boyfriend who nudged her to return to California. “He thought my art would do really well here, but I was nervous about coming back; things had changed. But I always had my passion and talent and I feel like I am doing what I was born to do. I am at the happiest point in my life.”robin-hiers-artAnd happy is just how she wants you to feel when looking at her art. “When people see my art, I want them to close their eyes and sense how I grew up. My mom always lived near the ocean, and she’d have samba music or Billie Holiday playing. She was a character! On Sundays, we’d have champagne brunch and go to flea markets – a very non-traditional mom! It was a shabby chic champagne lifestyle; not a snobby or fancy champagne lifestyle. I want you to sense what’s cool, the sensual music, with a sense of taste.” Surrounded by her mother’s art, unique treasures, and furniture crafted by her mother’s artist friends, Robin still draws on those happy memories of her childhood to infuse her art.

Hearing Robin talk, I got the chills as I remembered the painting that captured my attention over a year ago at The Deck – a beach babe donning a bikini made out of Tab soda labels. Memories of my grandmother sipping on Tab by the pool flooded my mind, as happy tears welled in my eyes.robin-hiers-art
When I asked Robin what else inspires her art, she motioned to the exuberant scene behind us at The Deck. “This place is my idea of perfection. I mean look at the ocean – it even looks better with the orange umbrellas!” I had to agree. This Laguna Beach hotspot has all of the makings for a perfect afternoon – a gorgeous view, tasty libations, and of course, Robin’s art lining the walls.the-deck-laguna-beachIt’s also a short walk from many of the galleries and museums that Robin frequents, including the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, which showcases her work along with established and emerging artists.laguna-gallery-of-contemporary-art“Laguna is an art community. Besides the galleries, we have amazing festivals, like the Sawdust Festival which showcases local Laguna Beach artists, the Festival of Arts, and Pageant of the Masters.” Between these festivals, including the Art-A-Fair that her family started over 50 years ago, formal art institutions like the Laguna Art Museum, and numerous galleries which line PCH, Laguna Beach is an art-lover’s paradise.

 

As Robin shared more about her career path, I was intrigued and inspired by her infectious enthusiasm. “I actually went to college with the intent of study advertising and doing logos, but my professors kept pushing me towards illustration. I loved looking at the old ads from LIFE magazines from the 50’s and 60’s. And I remember my dad telling me when I was about 7 years old, ‘You could put your style on anything, Robin’, and so I did! He was a huge influence on me. I looked at my mom’s seascapes and thought ‘these aren’t happy enough!’. So I often drew sexy women having fun – maybe that was my lifelong goal,” she giggled as she tossed her hair aside.

robin-hiers-artWhat’s next for this quintessential California girl? Robin’s art is now being shown at a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, Artspace Warehouse , and she plans to take her art to an international audience in 2019. As we sipped on our colorful concoctions(my favorite being the Desert Pear Vojito) and chatted about some of our favorite international beach destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the French Riviera, and Barcelona, I felt like Robin and I were meant to be travel buddies.

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But her heart and soul will always be here in Laguna Beach. “I can be myself here – 100%! There’s a lot of happy people here and we have live music every night of the week, with a beach chic vibe that I love. My inspiration is here. It’s coming to The Deck. I’m friends with a lot of artists here in Laguna Beach and it’s so fun to see each other and trade techniques. I get inspiration from living a fun life and my bikini girls are just that – sexy, confident, and fun!”

I smiled and said, “That’s me in three words!” as I leaned back and inhaled the fresh, ocean air. And just like Robin’s art, I felt happy. where-to-see-art-in-laguna-beach

Want to see more of Robin’s art and the scene in Laguna Beach? Contact me! 

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Coffee Culture: The History of Fazenda Tozan

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High above the fields at Fazenda Tozan

Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.

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Former slave quarters, or “senzalas” in Portuguese, at Fazenda Tozan

Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.

Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.

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Family house at Fazenda Tozan

Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”

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Yellow coffee cherries ready for picking!

Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!

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Truly the only way to drink coffee!

Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!

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As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.

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A chapel at the edge of Fazenda Tozan

Start planning your trip to Brazil today!

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Uniquely Urban: A Weekend in São Paulo

Having lived, worked, and vacationed in Brazil for many years, it’s kind of shocking that I hadn’t really explored its largest city. São Paulo was always just a layover on the way to the gorgeous beaches of the northeast or the sexy city of Rio. But with an itinerary carefully crafted by my colleagues at the São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was in for a surprise. Hotel Unique_Lobby

Walking into my hotel, I was immediately struck by the unique design of the lobby and quickly understood how it earned its name. Hotel Unique is the architectural gem by Ruy Ohtake, one of Brazil’s architect legends. Drawing inspiration from Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and of course, his mother, famed Brazilian artist, Tomie Ohtake, Ruy’s lunar shaped luxury hotel is a sight to behold. Unique_Skye_Pool

Sitting down to check-in, I noticed the Conde Nast 2016 awards for “Best South American Hotel” and Hotel Unique’s enviable position at #8 on the list of “Top 50 Hotels in the World”. Sipping on a glass of welcome champagne, I was curious to learn how this hotel had earned its accolades.

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Eager to rest, I drew a bath in my suite, all the while intrigued by the edgy design. The contrast of curves and corners set against a backdrop of soothing white decor had me entranced.

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But why the awards? There are many hotels that boast cutting-edge design and invest in their interiors, but what makes Hotel Unique stand out is their service. Every one of my requests, odd as they were, was met with a warm smile that made me feel like I was at an old friend’s home. Read any of the TripAdvisor reviews, and it’s no wonder Hotel Unique is ranked as their top São Paulo recommendation. And it’s also worth mentioning that I was greeted with a glass of champagne wherever I went – it was as if they had a secret champagne nymph following me around the hotel!

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In a city as large as São Paulo, it’s sometimes hard to uncover hidden gems. But with the help of my expert guide, Flazia Liz Di Paolo, every corner beckons with glittering finds. Two of her unique fashion recs: Japonique Boutique and Léia Sgro Jewelry.

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My favorite COMAS dress made from men’s shirts!

Japonique is trendy, but tastefully curated. I picked up a pair of Melissa shoes for a client, browsed through chic room decor, but my favorite discovery was the COMAS clothing line. Lucky enough to meet with the director of COMAS, she shared some of their eco-friendly design philosophy with me. “It’s upcycling. We take men’s shirts and rework them into wearable designs for women.” Emphasis on wearable. Luckily I bought my sustainable, yet stylish items early in my trip and wore them all over Brazil(see below!), since they hardly wrinkle, and looked great with wedges, tennis shoes, and the ubiquitous Havaianas.

Flavia Liz’s other hidden gem? The handmade jewelry of Léia Sgro. Walking into Léia’s studio, there’s a definite shift in your energy. Calming and centering, her delicate pieces float on branches hung throughout her gallery, coaxing you to take a second look. My favorites – a pendant and earring set made from the skeleton leaves in her garden.

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Léia’s talents don’t end with jewelry making. She is also one of only three people outside of Japan trained and skilled at the art of Chabako. Léia explained that a chabako is a box once used to store kimonos, as well as tea implements, made popular in the Sen no Rikyu era for use in outdoor tea ceremonies. With her special touch, they make the perfect addition to any room.

As Léia showed me some of her upcoming pieces, which will be shown in Rome in 2018, she talked about how her designs are inspired by her travels and nature, “especially the forms I see in nature”, she smiled. With her degree from Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and international stints in London, Vienna, Boston, Madrid, and Rome, Léia has plenty of inspiration to infuse her modern designs.

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One of Leia’s custom crafted chabakos

As we drove to our next stop, Flavia Liz shared some of the history of Japanese culture here in São Paulo. “With a large influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, São Paulo is now home to over 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. And its influence is seen in the art, gastronomy, design, and culture throughout this huge metropolis.”

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Tomie Ohtake Institute’s striking façade

A near perfect example of this influence is the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. Mother to famed architects, Ruy and Ricardo, Tomie Ohtake was part of that Japanese immigration wave and reinvented herself as an artist at age 40. The embodiment of the phrase, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been”, Tomie went on to hold over 120 solo exhibitions in Brazil, and around the world in Milan, Miami, Tokyo, New York, and Havana.

Her institute hosts debates, research, and of course exhibitions that promote an understanding of national and international contemporary art, architecture, and design. Luckily, I was able to see the shocking and socially engaging exhibit of Yoko Ono, The Sky Is Still Blue, You Know. Known for her provocative and political art, Yoko’s works held true to her artistic signature of engaging with the spectators and seducing us to participate in the exhibit. museums-in-sao-paulo

As I walked through the exhibit, some of it was joyful and fun, like writing my wishes on the large tree in foyer, while others like the video of Yoko’s infamous and iconic 1964 Carnegie Hall performance, which allowed spectators to snip strips of her clothing, had me puzzled and pondering present-day power struggles.

But that is what great art is supposed to do, and it’s no wonder that Instituto Tomie Ohtake has staged shows of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, all previously unheard of in Brazil. Tomie’s eponymous design landmark is definitely a must-see while in São Paulo.

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Next stop? A dining adventure at Ícone GastroRock in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. Two tips for a visit to Ícone GastroRock: make reservations and come open-minded. With a tasting menu that changes weekly, you’ll want to book your seat at the table well in advance where you can watch the mastery of Chefs Roberto Satoru and Alexandre Ortigoso up close.

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The brainchild of Chef Roberto and Chef Alexandre, Ícone GastroRock’s menu fuses the ever-present Japanese influence into artfully prepared plates – all ready for that perfect Instagram shot! Roberto was a gastronomy pioneer here in São Paulo, opening one of the first temakerias and launching a food trend across the city, while Alexandre brings his own gastronomy chops with a strong background in all things ale and spirits.

I’m glad that I came hungry! My first dish was a colorful array of vegetables placed atop a hummus made with red lentils, but it soon disappeared and was promptly followed by the most sumptuous seared scallop set atop a bed of seaweed salad – OMG! Next on the list – a beautiful arranged tuna tartare with Asian pear, quail egg, and a delicate ponzu sauce. My favorite(and not pictured because I gobbled it down!) was a braised lamb paired with the most divine burrata I have ever tasted. I forgot how strong the Italian influence was in Brazilian cuisine until I tasted this dish – perfection!

Back in the comforts of Hotel Unique, I marveled at the contemporary design by João Armentano and sunk into one of the chairs off the lobby’s extensive library, adjacent to their secret indoor pool. Intrigued by the vast collection, I was debating whether to stay here and get lost in a book, or head up to the rooftop marvel that is Skye Restaurant & Bar.

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“I can read on the plane”, I thought, and with that I headed up to the panoramic views of São Paulo that awaited at the top of Hotel Unique. After my bartender tested my Portuguese, he crafted a cocktail that was the perfect accompaniment to this sweeping view. Quickly perusing the menu, I decided to have lunch here the following day so that I could enjoy the creations of award-winning Chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, consistently ranked among the world’s best. Sipping on my drink, I was already looking forward to my next stay at one of the world’s best hotels, right here in São Paulo.

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Contact me to visit São Paulo’s top luxury hotel!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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“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.”

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

 

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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”.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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!

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Brazil’s History: Plate by Plate

When I took my trip to Iguaçu Falls earlier this year, I expected to see magnificent waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and endless lush forests. Who wouldn’t in this glorious part of Brazil that is considered one of the natural wonders of the world? What I didn’t expect to witness was a culinary tour of Brazil’s history, produced by the talented chef, Fabio Tavera.

“Why don’t we give value to simple things? We think, ‘oh this is from the south, the Amazon, it’s from immigrants’ – Casa do Chef is a response to all of this. We have great food here in Brazil and we need to break it down so people can understand. Understand what’s in our food, understand our people, understand our society.”

 

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Chef Fabio’s intro was merely a hint of what was to come. Having lived, worked, and traveled in Brazil over the past 15 years, I thought I knew a thing or two about Brazilian cuisine. All of that changed as Chef Fabio took the “stage” at his rustic and inviting culinary school called Casa do Chef. “After 16 years working in kitchens, now I am having the opportunity to present Brazilian food in a broader way, relating the historical and anthropological approaches, garnishing this experience with music, which is also my passion. Casa do Chef has been my dream for years.”

And I felt like I had just fallen into a epicurean dream! While my tastebuds were teased with the first dish from the Tupi, Chef Fabio walked us through the dish, dissecting this fish in a history lesson peppered with culinary facts. “The Tupi didn’t use salt at all; you won’t find it in Amazon cuisine. They used peppers and chiles as a preservation mode for meat and fish, and their curing technique is different. Their ritual of smoking is the fusion of the four elements – earth, water, air, and fire.”

 

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Watching Chef Fabio prepare the plates for our first course, I listened intently as he continued to describe the features of this prehistoric fish, pirarucu. “The pirarucu is the biggest scaled fresh water fish in the world. Because the fish scales are so huge, the only way to catch it is in the river during dry season when it gets stuck because of these strong scales. But that’s what makes the meat so good!”

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Dressing the fish with pineapple, roasted peanuts, and honey, Chef Fabio continued – his knowledge the perfect hybrid of TV favorites, History Channel and Food Network! “The Guarani Indians domesticated the pineapple and peanut, here in this area of South America. And when the Portuguese arrived, they noticed that the bees made honey from flowers. At this time in Europe, honey was of very poor quality, so this was one of the first Brazilian exports.”

Chef Fabio recommended starting with a bite of the jambu, an herb from Amazon forest, that has a strong aroma and gets the tongue numb, perfect to eat with this fish that’s been seasoned with fresh chiles – no spices or salt! Enjoying the balanced, smoky flavor, I marveled at how delicious this “sodium-free” dish was – and made a note to integrate some of these healthy techniques when I returned home. Chatting with Chef Fabio as he plated our next course, he shared that Japanese cuisine was one of his favorites because of the beautiful presentation and lightness of flavors. As you read on, you’ll see that same artful influence evident in all of Chef Fabio’s Instagram-worthy presentations.

When I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through his side-by-side comparison of moqueca, one of my favorites! Having been to Bahia, Brazil’s Northeast state known for its gorgeous beaches, I was already aware of the strong African influence in its culture, music, and food.

 

“This mixing of the trade routes with the Portuguese is really evident in what most people know today as moqueca baiana; the mango, lime, and coconut came from India. The cilantro from the Middle East, onions and garlic from the Orient. But what moqueca looked like 600 years ago is here on the left. Fish, urucum, oil from the native Brazilian coconut – babaçu, chili, and of course, no salt.”

Having sampled both, my tastebuds weren’t sure which way to go! I loved the caramelized, simple flavor of the native technique, but I also found the familiarity of the cilantro mingled with the coconut milk delicious. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose!

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Listening to Chef Fabio describe the fusion of foods from all over the world, I thought about the similarities between Brazilian and U.S. culinary history. Both countries had a strong Native Indian food culture that was often aligned with spiritual practices of the tribe. After the arrival of European settlers, much of that history was drastically changed, with many indigineous techniques lost. I felt really grateful to see Chef Fabio reviving some of those techniques here in his cooking school.

 

Next up on the Casa do Chef tasting menu – Carne de Sol, which Chef Fabio said was the perfect dish to highlight the Indian, Portuguese, and African influences. But as he explained, carne de sol is actually a misnomer! Finding out that I spoke Portuguese, Chef Fabio carried on in his native tongue, saying that it’s more of a “de lua, de noite, do vento” because of the aging process. And the description of his homemade clarified butter – well, I’m sure you can imagine how my stomach responded.

“Normally, manteiga de garrafa, or clarified butter, is done the French way – skimming the solids and the clarified butter remains. But this way – a heavy cream is reduced until it’s almost caramalized and solids remain, ending up more like a cheese.” My stomach screamed – “yes, please!”

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Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through the rest of this colonial dish. “We use the ancient method of soaking the abóbora, or pumpkin, in limestone for 10 minutes and then cook it in molasses. This is the African influence with the sugar cane grinders and the use of molasses.” The finishing touch? A hollandaise sauce, using that same delicious manteiga de garrafa…OMG!

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And finally, Chef Fabio’s presentation of feijoada. This is one dish that most tourists have tried on their trips to Brazil, and is what most consider Brazil’s national dish. “This food we call ‘Brazilian’ is new, developed in the last 100 years – at most! Through recipes and ingredients, my idea is to demystify feijoada, and enhance some things that we never thought we could.”

Chef Fabio’s history lesson on feijoada was as much a surprise for my Brazilian colleagues as it was for me. “Meat was rare for everyone in those times. The invented story of feijoada being a ‘marginal dish’ with scraps and leftovers that was fed to the slaves is false. All parts of the slaughtered meats were preserved because there was no refrigeration as we have today. So everyone ate the same thing. This notion that the diet of a slave and the main lord was different is a bit of a myth, with the exception of sugar, which was very expensive.”

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After snapping some shots of this tantalizing plate, I finally enjoyed this Brazilian classic, with Chef Fabio’s special touch. “You know feijoada has a Portuguese influence too, but theirs is with white beans; ours with black beans. Here it’s not deconstructed, just presented differently for more texture. And since the concepts have changed in this invented dish, I invented mine”, he said with a sly wink. Savoring each bite, I thought about how American cuisine is also a melding of immigrant influences, and the bevy of restaurants that are in my Los Angeles neighborhood: Mexican, German, Korean, Armenian, Peruvian. A true melting pot!

Nibbling on the most picturesque sampler of Brazilian dessert classics, I looked up to hear Chef Fabio emerge from the kitchen, serenading us with a flute performance. A true Renaissance man! Historian, musician, and talented chef – how lucky I was to have had this enlightening epicurean adventure through Brazil.

To book your visit to Foz do Iguaçu and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity at Casa do Chef, contact me today!

 

 

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Mama Teresa

While waiting to check in at my new hotel, Mama Shelter, I overheard the receptionist telling the story of the lobby’s colorful artwork. “Designed to incorporate the art of a local Indian tribe, the theme here is inclusivity. Mama Shelter wants to include everyone; we welcome everyone here”.IMG_1949

This new boutique hotel in Rio de Janeiro is a welcome addition to the funky art neighborhood known as Santa Teresa. Sitting at the top of a windy maze of intertwining roads, Santa Teresa is home to top restaurants like Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro, as well as stylish boutiques such as Baoba, which sources their textiles from Angola and Mozambique. And just across from Mama Shelter is the Centro Cultural, an old villa which hosts art exhibitions and live music performances for the local community.

But you won’t have to go far to hear great music. Mama Shelter has a great rotation of jazz musicians and hip-hop deejays that add even more vibrancy to their hotel. There’s no better way to start a Sunday than by sitting in their open-air restaurant and enjoying a bountiful brunch with a bottle of rosé and those funky beats in the background.

Speaking of funky beats, during my visit to Rio I had the lucky fortune of sitting with DJ Vivi Seixas and hearing about her career, and the evolving path that it’s taken over the years. Born into a family of Brazilian music royalty, Vivi grew up being surrounded by music. “I listened to good music from an early age. As a teenager, I had my doubts and everyone expected me to be a singer or guitar player, like my father.”

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That stifling comparison made her nervous and so like any teenager forging their own path, she went abroad at age 18. “At that time, everyone went to the U.S. to study, but I wanted something different so I went to Australia.” A pioneer in many ways, it was here that she discovered the music that moved her: electronic music. Her eyes glittered with happy memories as she recounted those days, “After a visit to a festival, I met a deejay, DJ Tati Sanchez, who took me to some parties and showed me the scene there in Australia.”

This was just the beginning of her musical career. Back home in Brazil, she recalled telling an old boyfriend about a dream that she was playing music for a crowd of people. He nudged her to pursue this craft citing her innate rhythm and good taste, so she took classes, practiced at home, and started playing for her friends. Inspired by everything from Leonard Cohen to Brazilian forro, Vivi explored the full range of electronic music, playing lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop.

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But Vivi felt she wanted to make people move and dance instead of chill out. “I had to find music that I liked. Back then I didn’t have much reference of what was techno, what was house, what was trance. I had a friend who said, ‘Here’s my music, you can drag whatever you like to your files’. I explored his whole library and he said, ‘Everything you dragged to your folder is house music’.”

Like any true house deejay, Vivi had to cut her musical chops on vinyl. In 2006, she went to San Francisco to do a music production course and it was here that she really honed her craft with all mediums of house music, learning from Chicago house greats like Mike Frugaletti, Mark Farina, Chris Carrier, and Hector Moralez. “It was there that somebody told me, ‘If you want to play house music, you have to learn how to play vinyl’.”

So that’s what she did. This rite of passage paid off and now DJ Vivi travels all over Brazil. Talking about her love for house music, which she says is so versatile and has varieties that can be played at a beach party, wedding, or club, Vivi does have plans to get back into producing, in addition to finishing her university degree. “Here in Brazil, the scene is changing to provide opportunities to deejays who can also produce. I’m looking for a studio to make that happen – to make that bridge.”

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Her latest bridge? Remixing the Raul Seixas songbook. “I was invited by Warner Music to make a CD with remixes of his songs. It was truly a mashup of dub-reggae, drum & bass, blues, house music. But my dad’s fans are very protective of his music.”

Experiencing criticism and backlash from the die-hard Raul fans, Vivi walked carefully across this musical divide of rock ‘n’ roll and house music. “Although many people have done musical tributes to my father, people think there’s nobody as good as him. So I had to find a way to do it organically, combining electronic music and musicians. I loved the result.”Vivi5

An emotional project that’s been well-received by fans from both camps, the tribute to her father was a reminder of their eternal connection. “I felt like he was there in the studio. I found this piece of him talking on a cassette tape, and I used his words as an intro – ‘Let’s start. I don’t want things from the past. I want something new.’ It was as if he had given me a blessing throughRaulSeixasguitar the music.”

With chills up my spine, I showed her a photo of some art that was made in tribute to her father by a fan – a self-made artist in the favelas of São Paulo. Giddy at the thought of someone using recycled pieces to make such astonishing art, Vivi talked about her community service work in the favelas here in Rio.

“I work with Jardim Gramacho, next to the Lixão, the dump here in Rio, and I teach music. I used to give money, but I felt the need to help people in a different way.” We talked about our work with non-profits and the work I do with young girls and photography back in Los Angeles, and the mothering we do with these at-risk children in our local communities. “Seeing children doing their homework on piles of trash – it makes you value what you have. And be in the moment of gratitude.” Grateful I definitely was. To have this unique opportunity to sit across from such a vibrant and talented woman, who is forging her path and helping others along the way.

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Walking back to Mama Shelter, I became entranced with all of the street art – everything from murals to mosaics, all lending an artistic flair to the streets of Santa Teresa. One of the best features of Mama Shelter is that it is part of the Accor Hotels family, an extensive network of boutique and luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for me, their sister property Hotel Santa Teresa is right up the street and I was able to purchase a day pass to their pool. No need to trek all the way to the beaches now! I had a tranquil, secluded setting to enjoy.

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Sitting back in my lounge, I thought about my interview with DJ Vivi Seixas and her fortitude to her craft. How great to meet someone so passionate about their work, and then to pass that knowledge on to the youth in her community through service. My work with Las Fotos Project gives me that same satisfaction. Seeing young girls express themselves through photography and writing makes me feel like a proud mama! Having just wrapped our annual fundraiser prior to my Brazil trip, I thought about one of my favorite quotes about mothers: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s words couldn’t be truer for the work that both Vivi and I do with children in need.

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Surrounded by a green garden full of art, flowers, and of course that marine-colored pool, I drifted off into a dreamy trance, lulled to sleep by the soft sound of Marisa Monte playing in the background. What finally woke me up was hunger pangs!

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Tearing myself away from the pool was my hardest task of the aftmama-teresaernoon, but a dinner reservation at Térèze was all the motivation I needed! This top rated restaurant sits atop the neighborhood with a twinkling view of Rio’s seductive sunsets below.

But the real reason to come here is for the food. Like all Accor Hotel properties, the menus have a French influence. Which is a good thing since the French are known for excelling in all things gastronomy. Let’s start with the bread plate. Uttering a soft, “oh my God” when my waiter set it down, I didn’t know which piece to choose. A sampling of butters, cheeses, and savory marmalades accompanied my choices, making my decisions a bit more delectable. Then a salmon pave dish that was so artfully prepared, I felt a bit guilty taking my first bite. Crispy fresh vegetables, coconut-parsley sauce, and a hibiscus-infused foam danced around baroa quenelles. What is a baroa quenelle you ask? It’s the perfect fusion of Brazilian ingredients and French technique. The baroa is a bright, yellow vegetable known as the “carrot-potato” to Brazilians. And a quenelle is a beautifully shaped scoop, usually used for sorbets and ice creams, but in this case, it decorated my dinner plate just perfectly.

Back in the embrace of Mama Shelter, I sat on the colorful terrace and caught up on some emails, Instagram, and all of those technological advances that allow us modern humans to connect while traveling. But what I loved most about this visit to Santa Teresa was connecting with a new neighborhood, giving me more reasons to love Rio!

Contact me to plan your visit to Rio de Janeiro today…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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