Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SUMMER IN SICILY - Mt. Etna & Taormina

Typhon, the father of monsters, is the most deadliest and fearsome creature in Greek Mythology. He was eventually pursued and defeated by Zeus, the god of the sky, who saw to it that Typhon would be trapped forever in Mt. Etna. Folklore purists will share this story as the reason why Mt. Etna it is the largest active volcano in Europe.
Photograph by Filippo
Sicilians call this natural wonder Muncibeddu, which literally means “beautiful mountain”. Its rich dark brown volcanic soil is the perfect host for many citrus groves, giant oaks, beech and birch trees, and scattered vineyards that adorn the landscape. I had a chance to visit the Torrepalino Winery at the foot of Mt. Etna not far from the a striking castle town called Castiglione (“lion castle”). The wine itself was a moderately good selection of both Sicilian and French varietals.

Photograph by Osvaldo Pieroni, Italy
One wine enthusiast described the wines of Sicily as not living up to the beauty of its surroundings. The Sicillian wine industry has been a bit slow in its advancement of noticeable offerings. However, now, winemakers are making a concerted effort to change this reputation by implementing new viticulture methods throughout the region. Most notably, Benanti Wines, in the Mt. Etna region, have been making an impression in the international wine market.

Photograph by Santino, Flickr
My last stop on this stretch was the beautiful town of Taormina. One of the first things I noticed in Taormina is the Corso Umberto - the city’s main street. Taormina features designer boutiques, jewelry stores, antique and souvenir shops, trattorias, pizzerias, fine dining, art galleries and a very popular bar district. Walking the main street, and the small streets that connect to it, makes for a very interesting experience. Shoppers will love it, as will those who simply like to explore and take it all in.

Photograph by John -
Le Monde 1

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SUMMER IN SICILY - Vulcano, Lipari, & Milazzo

Tourists from around the world book trips to the island of Vulcano to hike up the overlapping volcanic centers and to enjoy the famous sulfur mud baths. Therapy seekers claim that the warm, mineral-rich mud can ease arthritis and several other ailments. While such claims may be true, Vulcano offered me a chance to go participate in one of my all-time favorite activities - fishing.

Photograph by Carlo Columba
I went moonlight snorkeling along the rocky shore. The water was clean, unspoiled, and perfect for spear fishing; the catch included several octopi and fish. The next day a gentleman named Vittorio used the seafood to prepare a marvelous meal which included cuttlefish and pasta in ink sauce, grilled octopus, and stewed fish with lemon and olive oil. Each course was accompanied by a glass of crisp Sicilian wine.

Photograph by Brian Matiash
Later I traveled out of the Port of Lipari located on an adjacent island. I stopped en route and dove again - this time gathering several sea urchins and patella, a type of single shelled mollusk that looks a bit like a tiny abalone. Both the urchins and the patella were eaten on the half shell along with crusty bread and white wine. It was a simple, yet highly satisfying, shore lunch.

The next trip was to Caleca Pottery Works which overlooks the Aeolian Islands. The hand painted ceramics at Caleca have been around for over 250 years. The company certifies their pottery to be cadmium and lead free. Caleca's handcrafted pieces are as much art as they are functional.

Squid Ink Pasta Photograph by Pumpkin Chief
Afterward, I made a trip to Milazzo and ate at a locally renowned restaurant called La Vecchia, Chef Filippo prepared an unbelievable 15 course tasting menu featuring local seafood. Menu items included tuna, swordfish, urchin, scorpionfish, and many others. Chef Filipo was creative in his use of the fish by implementing salted roe, raw loin, and tuna stomach. Personally I think tuna stomach is definitely an acquired taste. However, everything else was delicious.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Photograph by Giampaolo Macorig
Every chef, if having the chance, should travel as much as possible for inspiration. This summer was my time to travel through Sicily to experience, first hand, the regional specialties, culture and history of the largest island in the Mediterranean.
Photograph by Navy NewsStand

Needless to say, my trip started with 14 hours of travelling via a combination of planes, a boat, and an automobile. The length of the trip did not detract from the beautiful scenery experienced along the way - fragrant lemon trees, gnarled olive groves, stately oleander, and splashes of wildflowers hanging on from Spring. I arrived at Vulcano (a real volcano) and the next morning my first reward was granite, a local specialty served for breakfast consisting of brioche served with Sicilian granita.

Photograph by Sebastian Fischer