Monday, April 30, 2012

Ingenuity’s Bal Ingenieux revives Kokoon Club’s masked balls


The Ingenuity festival’s new fundraiser, Bal Ingenieux, held this Friday, May 4, draws its inspiration from Cleveland’s Kokoon Arts Club balls of the 1920s.  

“Kokoon was known for their funky art parties with a risqué approach,” says James Krouse, director of programming for Ingenuity, an art party for the 21st Century. “They were about the cutting edge, getting out and celebrating.”  

The Ingenuity festival combines art and technology for a free three-day event in September. The Bal Ingenieux is a fundraising precursor for the fest and takes place at Halcyon Lodge, the old Masons hall on West 28th Street in Ohio City.

“It’s not your grandmother’s formal event. But I guess that really depends on who your grandmother is,” Krouse says.

He hopes to see guests in costume, channeling their inner Kokoon. “The spirit of everyone showing up in costume is what sets the bar for us.” Krouse recalls a guest decked in a full, red zoot suit at an earlier Ingenuity fundraiser. “I don’t know why he would have that in his closet, but it’s just what we’re looking for.”

Krouse wants this year’s masked ball (where about 900 to 1,000 guests are expected) to be a preview of the festival, surrounding guests with musical performances and interactive art. Returning to Ingenuity after an overwhelming response from last year’s event is Cello Fury, a musical act meshing cellos and rock drums. Interactive artist Chris Yanc, creator of the Digital Graffiti wall, will also preview his plans for the September fest. (Another act, Zany Umbrella Circus, is pictured.)

Tickets are available at and start at $20, ranging upward for different levels of performances, displays and drink tickets. And no worries if you don’t have a costume. Masks will be provided.

“Explore the art,” Krouse says. “Be a part of the art.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Showtime for A Chef and A Restaurateur

Hodges, the new Euclid Avenue restaurant from food trucker Chris Hodgson and serial restaurateur Scott Kuhn, officially joined Cleveland’s downtown dining scene at the end of March. I got the grand tour last week and sat down with Chef Chris over lunch to talk about what he’s doing and plans for other projects he and Kuhn have in the works.

My walk-through starts in the bar at the front of the narrow space, inside the ground floor lobby of this office and apartment building. The name’s up in lights like a theater marquee, suggesting diners are in for a show. And indeed those who grab one of the hi-tops or a stool at the long counter have a view into the kitchen and can watch plate after plate of eye-catching food come over the pass. Beyond this area are two dining rooms, plus another upstairs on a balcony that looks out over the action below. A separate space is available for private events and multi-course chef’s whim dinners, served family style.

The décor is a quirky mix of country chic and city sleek: weathered wood paneling, old barn doors, and canning jars on a shelf paired with cushy candy apple red upholstery on chairs and the banquette, metal tables, and factory floor lighting fixtures. The patio, due to open April 30th-temperature permitting- will add 100 more seats (to the 124 inside). It’s a pretty spot, set out of of sight and far from the street, with its own bar.

Chris describes his menu as global comfort food but what I saw was heavy on American favorites- sandwiches, turkey club, ribs, mac-n-cheese, burgers, pork chops, steaks and salmon. All however incorporate something out of the ordinary: exotic spicing; an unusual condiment like onion bacon jam; sides of lobster whipped potatoes and creamed heirloom beans; or meats smoked in-house. There are some intriguing surprises- a lard spread sweetened with local honey among the snacks; an appetizer of mussels and Korean sausage in a coconut curry; and duck breast with black barley “risotto.” A few items reflect the whimsical riffs he’s known for. The PBLT (braised pork, bacon, siracha aioli, lettuce and tomato) reprises a Dim and Den Sum favorite. Another dish that shows the chef’s playful nature is “pork & beans,” with braised bacon and pressure cooked pine nuts standing in for the usual ingredients to delicious effect. I also tasted a wonderful creamy goat cheese and leek tart, made with chevre from Mackenzie Creamery; airy ricotta gnudi topped with crisped artichoke hearts in a silky Parmesan lemon sauce; and ravioli in a French onion soup reduction, an interesting concept but unfortunately it had a burnt taste, as though this batch had spent too long in the pot and over the flame.

For now Hodgson’s running the kitchen- but that’s a temporary role for him. (The opening executive chef left and they’re in process of hiring a replacement.) He and his partner have an ambitious agenda and never saw Hodges as a one-off chef-driven restaurant. They intend to develop multiple properties and have already signed a letter of intent to lease space for another eatery in Chagrin Falls. Their company, Driftwood, is the umbrella organization for a variety of ventures that also includes a catering arm and operation of the food trucks that launched Chris’ career. So if you want to catch some face time with this personable young chef, better get yourself to Hodges soon before he moves on to whatever’s next for this dynamic, entrepreneurial duo.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cleveland Pastry Chef Tackles Food Network's Sweet Genius

Sitting in the green room, waiting to go on camera, Stefanie Paganini grew nervous.

Paganini, from Chardon, was about to compete on the Food Network’s pastry chef show, Sweet Genius. 
“The only time my nerves got to me were right when we were about to film,” Paganini says. “At first, you have so much adrenalin and excitement about just being on the show. Then you realize this is going to be seen by millions of people and you have to keep yourself calm.”

Soon, Paganini was tackling a kitschy candy test, in which she and three other chefs competed to create desserts that included cherries and horseradish root. It was one of three events that tested the chefs’ knowledge and pastry-creating abilities, with renowned pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel judging and awarding a $10,000 cash prize. Paganini’s episode of Sweet Genius airs this Sunday, April 29, at 10 p.m.

Paganini, the daughter of local cooking instructor Loretta Paganini, sent in an application for the show after a friend had mentioned the auditions.

“I wanted to do this just to try, because even if you suck, you still tried it,” Paganini says.

She was chosen to compete on a TV episode after a series of in-depth interviews and grueling portfolio reviews.

Paganini says she feared having to compete against a nightmarish reality-show villain, an Omarosa of the pastry world. Instead, she discovered the other contestants had the same fear.

“Everyone competing were all-around good people,” Paganini says. “We were so glad to compete against each other, and everyone was so talented.”

Filming the show was “exciting and terrifying,” she says.

“Just getting the chance to have Chef Ron take a bite of your food is terrifying,” says Paganini. “He is the pinnacle of pastry chefs.”

Before her culinary career, Paganini worked as an assistant prosecutor for Lake and Geauga counties. She left the law six years ago to pursue her passion for food and join the family business, The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland.

“When I was a prosecutor, the end result of the job was usually sending people to jail or prison,” Paganini said. “But when you’re a pastry chef, you make people cakes and pies and cookies, which is way better.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Louisiana on Larchmere

Ever since Scott Himmel moved on from Boulevard Blue, the restaurant he operated on Larchmere Road, to focus on Paladar in the Eton Collection, the old place has suffered an identity crisis. It’s been home to a succession of chefs and concepts- neither of which last very long. Part of the problem may have been that every tenant has tried to do here what’s already being done elsewhere, from sustainable, locally sourced and seasonal cuisine and edgy inventive presentations that showcase the chef to steak and potatoes. Now Menu 6 is gone, replaced by Jezebel’s Bayou which bills itself as a New Orleans inspired kitchen. Since there’s no place else around to sit down and enjoy gator bites and Big Easy style barbecued shrimp this qualifies as a genuinely fresh idea with broad appeal. It might just be what the neighborhood’s been waiting for and the right fit for this location.

The dining room was pretty well populated for a week night when I visited recently- a good sign. The folks in charge have made only minimal changes to the big room which has always been a good dining space. No more tablecloths, some Mardi Gras art on the walls, a long banquette slightly alters the seating set up, and candles add glow. I had a personal accomplishment to celebrate so I started off with one of the house’s special cocktails- the Paris Match, a mix of Absolut Vodka, St. Germain, club soda and fresh lime juice- and enjoyed every sip. A complimentary plate of just-out-of-the oven mini jalapeno corn muffins came soon after drinks, but they didn’t last too long.

The menu offers just what you’d expect when inspiration comes from Cajun and Creole cooking. There’s jambalaya, crawfish tails, fried oysters, po-boys and sides of red beans and rice. My gumbo Ya Ya was thick with the requisite chicken and andouille (though I had to send it back because it arrived lukewarm. To his credit, the server was gracious and responsive, whisking it away and promptly bringing me a properly heated portion). The husband had the pecan crusted catfish appetizer. It tasted good but at $8.95 seemed over-priced for the portion size. On the other hand, at $6 the piece of blackened redfish he added to his sweet and crunchy praline salad ($8.95) was a steal. Large and prepared just right it turned the big bowl of field greens studded with dried cherries, pecans, and mandarin orange slices into a satisfying entrée. We shared that and an order of seafood etouffe, milder and seasoned with a light hand, but tasty and a nice change of pace.

In addition to a Tuesday-Friday Happy Hour from 5-6:30 PM featuring seven $5 small plates, Jezebel’s Bayou is doing a second version of the bargain time slot, Tuesday- Thursday from 10-11 PM and Fridays 11 PM-1 AM. Select items from the dinner menu are available until 11 pm weeknights, and 1 AM Friday and Saturday- later than other restaurants in the area. More reason to stop by and check out what's happening here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Induction highs & lows

Highlights and lowlights of the Rock Hall induction ceremony:

Highlight: Ron Wood (right), still a badass at 64, smoking at his table on the floor of Public Hall (who's going to stop him?); canoodling with his latest 30-years-younger girlfriend, Sally Humphries; and leading the Faces through a spectacular three-song set, including the raucous one-night-stand anthem "Stay With Me." (More on the Faces set here.)

Highlight: Green Day. They started the show with a ferocious pair of songs, including "Letterbomb" (fan video here), with Billie Joe Armstrong F-bombing the audience until they got on their feet. Inducting Guns N' Roses 4 1/2 hours later, Armstrong also provoked debate, asserting that Appetite For Destruction was the best debut album in rock 'n' roll history (speech text here).

Lowlight: The 5 1/2-hour marathon length of the show. The Rock Hall needs to trim its inductee classes and enforce time limits on speeches, like the Oscars, with swelling music if necessary. Less talk, more rock.

Highlight: Slash's guitar solos on three Appetite for Destruction songs, especially "Sweet Child of Mine," in a three-fifths reunion of the classic Guns N' Roses lineup.

Lowlight: Bette Midler's speech explaining Laura Nyro to a new generation was passionate, but a mess. She bombed with her line about New York in the 1970s being worse than Cleveland ever was -- a failed attempt at solidarity that came off as a burn. "The Divine Miss Bitch!" my date exclaimed.

Highlight: Sara Bareilles saving Nyro from Midler's mess with a gorgeous version of "Stoney End."

Lowlight: The red carpet was nearly bereft of star power. Most of the stars slipped through a back entrance, leaving the front-door scene-stealing to two guys dressed in homage to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video and George Clinton, arriving in the Euclid Beach Park rocket ship car.

Highlight: Celebrity-watching from the balcony. Bird's-eye view of Chris Rock and Kid Rock at same table with Mellencamp, Midler, and Meg Ryan (Mellencamp's date). Little Steven at the next table, Michael J. Fox near the front.

Highlight: The Freddie King induction, with his daughter Wanda ad-libbing one of the night's best speeches, confounding the teleprompter, and two ZZ Top guys tearing through King covers.

Lowlight: Kid Rock, the Roots & Co. tried, but couldn't substitute for the Beastie Boys, who didn't perform. MCA, diagnosed with cancer three years ago, did not attend. Ad-Rock and Mike D likely refused to perform without him. That's understandable, but LL Cool J's appearance on stage briefly had me dreaming of a one-time Def Jam reunion that was not to be.

Highlight turned lowlight: Chuck D and LL Cool J's dual (dueling?) induction speeches for the Beasties. Interesting insights about the Boys' role in '80s hip-hop, but they got lost in the long talk.

Highlight: Donovan. Ever the Scottish mystic, Donovan accepted induction with a poem written for the occasion. (Who is the woman, now in the grave, who stole his art?) He played his breakthrough ballad "Catch the Wind" and "Sunshine Superman" before tearing through "Season of the Witch" with John Mellencamp.

Highlight: Darlene Love singing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" in tribute to songwriter and TV host Don Kirshner.

Lowlight: Axl Rose not showing, of course.

Highlight: Chris Rock's induction of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with an aside dismissing the Axl controversy (at 12:30): "Even if he was coming tonight, he wouldn't be by now."

Highlight: The Chili Peppers -- Flea and Anthony appropriately shirtless -- doing "By the Way" & "Give It Away." Ron Wood, Slash and George Clinton joining them for the finale, Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."

Photos by Wanda Santos-Bray/City of Cleveland Photography

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Seasonal Pleasure

Nothing about this winter or spring has been weather-as-usual. The unexpected untimely periods of warmth left us people confused about what to wear and threw Mother Nature into a tizzy about when to sprout and bud. We’ve actually been picking kale, arugula, and chives from our backyard garden for a month-unheard of in all the years I’ve lived in northeast Ohio.

Happily there was one thing very much in season and on schedule- the annual spring opening last Saturday of the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. As always, the sheep were on hand and the guy shearing them drew a crowd of fascinated onlookers. There were lots of familiar faces behind the tables and in the crowd and it felt a bit like a reunion. The energy as always was positive. Although so many more things will be available in a couple of months, vendors had plenty to offer including radishes, various salad greens, spinach carrots, and herbs plus eggs, meats, cheese, baked goods, cut flowers and bedding plants.

The husband and I scored everything we needed for an outstanding dinner. We bought a bunch of ramps, those garlicky wild members of the onion family and a true Ohio spring delicacy; a basket of very hard to find sunchokes- tubers that taste like artichoke hearts; half a pound of blue and brown oyster mushrooms from Killbuck Valley; and three handfuls of Ohio City Pasta’s roasted red pepper fettuccini. We also got a couple of big blueberry muffins from Zoss the Swiss Baker for Sunday morning breakfast.

Market photos courtesy of Susie Sharp

This is my regular go to market because it’s the closest to where I live. But here’s a short list of some others that I can highly recommend from firsthand experience. The temperatures may be unpredictable and the sunshine erratic, but shopping at our local farmers’ markets and putting a meal on the table sourced from what our own regional community can provide is a dependable pleasure.

North Union Farmers Market, six locations, each with own days and opening dates

Countryside Farmer’s Market, south of Cleveland in the Peninsula/Akron area, multiple locations with different days of opening and operation for each

Tremont Farmer’s Market, open April 17, then weekly in May

Kamm’s Corners Farmers Market, weekly starting in June

Coit Road Farmers Market, year round Saturdays, plus Wednesdays starting in April

Downtown Farmer's Market at Public Square, weekly starting June 1

Growohio has a handy easy to read chart on their website about what's available from local farms, month by month.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April Opportunities

There’s so much going on for food enthusiasts of every all persuasions, from the grow your owners and eaters-for-a-cause to out-to-eaters with a hunger to explore that I decided an event round- up was in order.
Cleveland Independents, an association of locally owned dining establishments, is hosting its first ever spring restaurant week, now through April 14, kicking off their plan to make this popular promotion a twice a year event. Sixty organization members located on the east and west sides, in the suburbs and downtown are offering special three courses prixe menus. Most are priced at $33 person although some places may charge a bit more. No matter which place you choose, you’re guaranteed a bargain, meaning this is a great time to discover what our local restaurants have to offer. Menus and more at . Note- this offer is not available on Easter Sunday, April 8.

More out to eat fun at Dinner in the Dark-Rockefeller's in Cleveland Heights on April 16th. As always, a unique line-up of chefs, a menu full of surprises, a night to remember, and money raised for a worthy charity. Must buy tickets in advance, and they go fast, so don't wait.

The beautiful city of Shaker Heights is celebrating its Centennial this year In keeping with its reputation as home to gorgeous gardens, a couple of free lectures open to the public are aimed at those who like to dig in the dirt. Making the Most - and Least - of Invasive Weeds on Wednesday, April 11 at 7 pm at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, will reveal what delicious surprises lurk in your yard. Learn how to prepare them, and what you can do to keep less desirable weeds from flourishing. Registration required. Adding Edibles to your Elegant Garden will be a tutorial in ways to incorporate food plants that are also ornamental into your garden without traditional rectangular beds of crop rows. It will take place on Tuesday, April 24 at 7 pm. (Location to be determined.) Registration required.

Lots more information about how to raise some of what you put on your table at Earthfest 2012, April 22 from 10-5 at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. There will be hoop house (a simple, build-it-yourself greenhouse) set up in new Local and Sustainable Food Area, along with exhibits about composting, rain gardens, and urban farming. Details at Earthday Coalition.

Sunday evening April 22 is also the date for Cleveland Foodbank’s annual fundraiser. Formerly called Market Under Glass, it has a new name- Market at the Foodbank- and a new location- the organization’s own facility on Waterloo Road. What hasn’t changed is the array of fine things to eat and drink from fifty northeast Ohio restaurants and beverage purveyors, and the opportunity to contribute to Harvest for Hunger. Ticket are $85 per person until 4/21, $100 at the door. , 216-738-2046

Star struck foodies should check out the celebrity line up for the spring version Fabulous Food Show, April 28 & 29. If names like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse aren’t enough to get you excited, then maybe the theme, grilling and outdoor entertaining, will fire you up to visit the IX Center. BBQ master and cookbook author Steve Raichlen will be on hand to share some of his encyclopedic knowledge about cooking over coals and flame. The husband and I have attended his presentations in the past and found them-and him- entertaining and enlightening. Better yet, they inspired my guy to become skilled in the arts of dry rubs, wet mops, and slow smoking. Tickets on sale now.