Everything Old Made New Again

Greetings. During a week of work and wandering around London I marveled at the ever-changing face of British cuisine in a country best known for fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, bangers and mash, traditional English breakfasts…complete with lard-fried toast and a cardiologist’s warning, and high tea served with the finest scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, and cakes. Around many corners of the city there were great and innovative chefs using bountiful local ingredients to create a fresher, lighter, healthier, and tastier new cuisine that can even be found in some of the best city pubs. And the range of delicious international choices continues to grow well beyond the most reliable Indian restaurants.

I was also struck by the excitement of the city’s food markets, with my favorite this trip being the Borough Market at London Bridge where an awesome array of delicious cheeses, noodles, meats, samosas, falafels, paellas, ciders, baked goods, candies, and beet-filled veggie burgers awaited. If only I’d had more time and a few extra stomachs.

And one of my favorite stops was a booth called PieMinister which has taken an English tradition and made it new and interesting again…creating brilliant pies that go far beyond beef and organs to include organic vegetables and chicken, goat cheese, smoked fish, and a world of old and exotic flavors. In this process of paying tribute to (and reinventing) a special part of local food history, this business is winning awards and building a very loyal following.

And here’s a picture of my favorite pie named “Heidi” filled with smoked goat cheese, sweet potatoes, spinach, and red onions, sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered with mushy peas, toasted shallots, and gravy…

Simply delicious and a cultural and culinary landslide! (Kind of looks a bit like Mt. Vesuvius at its height!)

Pie

We win in business and in life when we honor the past as the starting point for an even more remarkable future.

Cheers!

Notes From Italy

Greetings.  After a wonderful week in Italy a few additional thoughts stand out in my mind…

First, customer service here is uneven–ranging from the remarkable warmth and hospitality of our innkeepers in Venice (whose lovely Bed & Breakfast I would be delighted to recommend)…to the less than customer-centric behavior of many shopkeepers who operate on their own schedules and agendas.  And once you get outside the big cities most shops close for three or four hours in the middle of the day.

Second, organization and planning does not seem to be the highest national priority.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Third, Italians are passionate about food and it really shows.  In fact, it's almost impossible to get a bad meal here even at the smallest and most out-of-the-way restaurants.  And everyplace, at least in Tuscany, seems to make its own wine and olive oil.

Fourth, hardly anyone here speaks English–which is fine…except that the country's major industry is tourism and English has become the de facto language of travelers from a wide range of lands.  Not that I should expect everyone to speak English.  And besides, this "language barrier" doesn't stop them from trying their hardest to give wonderfully sincere and detailed guidance complete with inspiring gestures.  Unfortunately, given my limited knowledge of Italian, I rarely had any idea what they were saying…though I am pretty awesome at reading an Italian menu.  And I always said a resounding "Grazie!"

And here are a few of my very favorite "handmade" signs.  The first three provide interesting insight on customer service…

Information

Sometime

No Maps

And the last one provides a higher level of guidance on how to get to the amazing cathedral in Orvieto…

Duomo

We win in business and in life when we try our best to understand and appreciate other cultures.  And when we keep our eyes open for clever clues all around us.

Cheers!

Tasting the Differences

Greetings.  We learn a lot from our differences and that's one of the things that makes traveling fun and valuable.  Sure we use our similarities to connect and build an initial bond, but differences give us room to grow as we discover new things about other people, places, and our own potential.  And now that we've been in Sweden a few days some of the big and little differences are striking.  If you followed the national healthcare debate in the U.S. you'll recall that opponents of a new approach often cited Sweden as a model of "socialism" where everyone had access to care but very few had any choice about who would provide their care and when it would be provided.  As you might imagine, the contrast in approaches is significant but clearly more complex and important–with Swedes being much more focused on health than healthcare.  But that's is a longer discussion about culture, economic systems, and our shared need for innovation that I'll reserve for a later post.

Today I'd like to talk a bit about food, which is an important part of any trip.  And I should preface my thoughts with a note that we spend most of our time in Sweden in a small fishing village on the west coast about halfway between Gothenburg and Oslo, Norway.  So you can imagine that fish is central to the local economy and our diet.  And it's also brought out the genius in everyday people and some of the region's finest chefs.  Take mackerel for example, a real staple of the area's cuisine.  It can be fried, grilled, smoked, marinated, pickled, or used in a soup, casserole, pie, or souffle.  And, thanks to the magic of travel, we know that it also makes some incredible sushi especially when the sea is at your doorstep.  Or shrimp which are also plentiful and popular here in this corner of the North Sea.  Not the jumbo shrimp (one of my favorite oxymorons) we see at home, but a smaller version boiled in salt water right on the ship and purchased in one kilogram bags to peel and eat as quickly as possible.  Shrimp are also popular in sandwiches, soups, pies, pates, summer salads, mayonaise-based spreads, and an amazing creation called "rak ost" or "shrimp cheese" which comes in a tube and can be squeezed onto any type of bread or cracker.  It's fun, portable, and if you can get past the notion of pureed shrimp that you can keep in your pocket it's almost a perfect snack.  As you might imagine the winter here is long.  So while the fresh fish is amazing, generations have out of necessity used their ingenuity to figure ways to preserve fish and broaden their dietary pallet. 

A few other notes.  First, there's no such thing as "decaf" coffee here in Sweden.  The Swedes just can't understand why anyone would want or need to take the caffeine out of this essential beverage.  Coffee is meant to be strong, tasty, abundant, and well caffeinated.  And, there's no such thing as nonfat milk.  The closest you get is 0.5% milk which is mighty tasty.   There's also a unique twist on pizza where the most interesting variations also celebrate the bounty of the sea.  My personal favorite includes shrimp, mussels, crayfish, asparagus, and a touch of garlic sauce.  Not your typical toppings in New York, Chicago, or Rome.  But a delicious twist on one of the world's favorite foods.  And while McDonald's and other fast food chains are expanding across the country, Swedish fast food is often found and a local kiosk (pronounced "shaw-sk") and while the menu includes burgers and fries, it also includes a large hot dog or "korv" with or without a bun and smothered with mashed potatoes.

But enough about food as I'm getting a bit hungry to try something new…

Pizza

We win in business and in life when we challenge ourselves to taste the differences around us.  And when we combine our genius with the genius of others.

Cheers and have a delectably innovative week ahead!