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Steven Shaw: A Class Act

Desk ChairsIt always seemed strange to say I had a mentor. It’s the kind of throwback term that describes a commitment, integrity, and generosity of time and spirit that you just don’t see any more. But that is the only way I could describe Steven Shaw who passed away suddenly this past Tuesday – he was my mentor and a throwback in all the best ways.

I met Steven in 2009 when I took the first every food blogging class he taught at the International Culinary Center. An award- winning food writer, he’d already made the jump from blogging (even before that was a term) as the founder of e-Gullet to publish books and write for Saveur, Elle, the New York Times among others – all still considered more legitimate platforms. I had recently left production and was looking for a way into the food world in general and writing in particular. Blogging seemed the only way open and I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction than Steven’s class. I don’t know if I could adequately describe the joy he took in blogging and the possibilities he saw in it – it was unabashed, it was wholehearted, it was infectious.

Still, it was after the course was over that Steven really stood apart as a friend and teacher. With every new development, he was the first person I’d email with good news and nervous questions – always knowing that in just a few minutes I’d have his thoughtful and well-considered advice to follow. I thought this might taper off as he met new students and started countless blogs but it never did. A couple of times when Steven invited me to come back with other former students to speak to his current class, I questioned whether I had accomplished enough to merit the honor but was so proud that he felt I had.

I also knew that panel speakers were invited to join him at L’Ecole, and if there’s one thing he taught me, it’s to never be embarrassed about going somewhere for the food.  Joining Steven for a meal was something like going for a light run with Usain Bolt – you can fool yourself that you’re keeping up but he is operating on a completely different level.  It wasn’t just the pleasure he took in a 5 course meal but his ability to write brilliantly post about it immediately afterwards that was so special. He loved talking and writing about food and he wanted everyone to be part of the conversation.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Steven than to blog about him as many have in the last couple of days.  My heart goes out to his wife and son who he talked about so often and so lovingly.  I’m sad today but know that I’ll always smile when I think of him and feel an enormous sense of gratitude that I have a space – thanks in no small part to him – to write these words.

RIP Steven A. Shaw (1969-2014).  Paz, luz, y progreso.

Mast Brothers Mole

IMG_0369The recent signs of spring are so small that, if I wasn’t desperate, I might not have noticed them at all. A little more light, a little later in the day, and I’m a completely different person. Once a layer comes off, I find it impossible to put it back on.  Even with the frequent temperature drops, I stubbornly leave my gloves at home and my puffy coat is not coming out again until next year.  All of which leaves me cold but determined.  I’m also taking advantage of the break in the weather to enjoy my neighborhood in a way that I haven’t for a very, very long time. I reference Brooklyn in my posts often but the changes in the last few years can sometimes feel like a cautionary tale about getting everything you wish for.

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Garbanzos Fritos con Langostina

IMG_0006Last year I took what felt like a slightly selfish trip to New Orleans.  My excuse was book research, so I decided beforehand not to post or take too many pictures.  It felt like if I stopped to post or take a picture every time I saw something beautifully strange or strangely familiar in New Orleans, I’d do little else.  Strange because it’s a city so completely itself that it makes you come all the way there to experience it and familiar because I’d always heard stories from my family about New Orleans when it was a short jump from Havana.  There were so many parallels that it wasn’t surprising that so many of my relatives settled there when they left Cuba in the 1960s. Read more

SOBEWFF 2014

IMG_3133When my last and final book deadline came and went this month, I found myself heading back to Miami again for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  Now one of the largest in the country, the festival is essentially held in my own backyard though I’d never gone down for it before.  After interviewing a few of the chefs who’d be participating for The Latin Kitchen, I was excited to be there for the event itself but had not idea what to expect. Read more

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

IMG_9909This past December, I went home to Miami earlier – for Art Basel – and stayed later – for Christmas – then I usually do.  I was coming back to a cold, gray winter, so any time spent inside felt like a missed opportunity – as though I could somehow store the sun in my skin and the colors in my eyes to get through the next few months. I put together a too-ambitious list of places I wanted to go but was still surprised when I couldn’t get through it all – though what I did see, I loved. Read more

My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook

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I first met Leticia Moreinos Schwartz  at a seminar at the International Culinary Center.  Perched in the front row with a well-prepared list of questions and samples for the class, she would have been intimidating if she wasn’t so incredibly nice.  We’ve stayed in touch since and she’s always quick to answer my questions and offer much needed guidance and advice.  Her first book, The Brazilian Kitchen, is full of unfailing recipes and her personal insight into Brazilian cuisine and has become a favorite.  Less familiar to me than other Latin American traditions, Brazilian food has been a blind spot though I’m always happy when I make the effort.  Her latest, My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook, tells an even more personal story of both the carioca home cooking she grew up with and the contemporary Brazilian cuisine she encounters on frequent trips home.

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Sleeping Almond Meringues

IMG_7776For the past few weeks, I’ve been hopping around different countries for Devour.  This recipe for sleeping meringues, however, is very close to home.  I’d been trying to make my grandparents meringues which were air crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside when my friend Maria Budet shared her own grandmother’s recipe, providing the missing piece that had eluded me.  Mystery solved, I added a few toasted almonds and drops of vanilla but  am looking forward to many variations in the next year.   Thank you all for reading and I hope you’re all enjoying a happy and peaceful Christmas morning!

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