At 6:15 a.m., as the sun rises over the Persian Gulf, I meet Alessandro Salvatico, the young Italian chef behind Armani/Ristorante at the Armani Hotel in Dubai, for a tour of the city’s old fish market. “You can do some beautiful carpaccio with that,” he says, eyeing pristine local tuna stacked on ice, as we wander, groggy, among the catches of the day.
We both could be in better shape this morning. Just a few hours ago we were overindulging at the Cavalli Club, an animal-print and crystal-chandelier-bedecked nightspot owned by Florentine designer Roberto Cavalli that’s currently the place to be seen in the Emirates. In fact, much of my time here has been spent indulging in over-the-top food and drink provided by luxury fashion houses. The five restaurants in the Armani Hotel, for instance, have been piling on the foie gras, caviar and shaved Alba truffles in dining rooms shaded in muted grays and browns. Versace will soon join them here, with a new restaurant-filled hotel on the shore of Dubai Creek that will no doubt be as glitzy as the company’s red-carpet gowns.
While Giorgio Armani himself famously eats simple and light, the food at his Dubai restaurants is hardly model bait—like most successful designers, he gives his clients what they want. “Last night we did 28 truffle tasting menus,” says Salvatico, wandering past displays of live lobsters and baby hammerhead sharks. In fact, Armani himself may have started the fashion-food fad now sweeping the world. The 79-year-old icon launched his first Emporio Armani Express restaurant in London in the 1980s, its look and feel inspired in part by Richard Gere’s clotheshorse hustler in American Gigolo. “Mr. Armani designed everything,” says a member of his hospitality team not authorized to speak for the company. “The restaurant was the start of becoming not just a clothing company but a lifestyle brand.”
Though it might be (slightly) more eye-popping here in Dubai, where high-end brands and lavish dinners go hand in hand, this phenomenon is hardly unique to the Emirates. Epicurean ventures are an essential component these days for fashion brands vying for world domination. Roberto Cavalli also runs clubby restaurants in Delhi, Beirut, St.-Tropez and Miami, among other places. And in Paris, Ralph Lauren recently opened Ralph’s, a hotspot on the Left Bank known for its pricey burgers and New York–style cheesecake.
In Armani’s hometown of Milan, where the designer runs a high-end Italian restaurant, a Nobu franchise and the Emporio Armani Caffè, there’s plenty of competition on the fashion/food front—often with surprisingly ambitious and accomplished cuisine. London-based Canadian design duo Dsquared2 just opened a serious rooftop restaurant there, joining eateries from Dolce & Gabbana, Trussardi and Missoni. The nearby Bulgari Hotel flies in food stars from around the world for guest chef stints. Even New Yorker Marc Jacobs has a small café attached to his Milan boutique. And in all of this excess and luxury, there seems to be just one rule: Don’t spill anything on the clothes.
Drop shots—lowbrow shooters tossed in beer or Red Bull and often drunk in a single go—are longtime favorites of rowdy college kids and off-duty bartenders. Those same bartenders are now updating this drink style for the craft-enthusiast crowd, using high-end spirits and mixers to make versions that are more sippable—for example, Fernet-Branca poured into ginger beer at Las Vegas’ Vesper Bar, and Maker’s Mark and preserved lemon syrup tipped into Kölsch-style ale at Chicago’s Drop, which will make almost any cocktail on the menu into a drop shot. Composing these things requires a deft palate, says Steve Yamada, Drop’s cocktail consultant. “There’s a pairing aspect to it,” he says. “You’re essentially making a small cocktail—the shot component—and then serving it in another medium, like a housemade soda or a craft beer.” Here, he shows us how to make one. (Photo by Arthur Knutson)
› 6 sprigs rosemary
› 750 ml bottle of Don Julio Blanco
› ½ oz. Cynar
› ¼ oz. fresh lime juice
› 3 oz. San Pellegrino grapefruit soda
1. Place rosemary in the bottle of Don Julio. Infuse overnight, then strain.
2. Add 1 oz. rosemary-infused tequila, Cynar and lime juice to a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain into a shot glass.
3. Place a rocks glass over the shot glass. Holding the shot glass against the bottom of the rocks glass, flip over both glasses. The mini cocktail should stay in the upside-down shot glass.
4. Pour grapefruit soda into the rocks glass.
5. Before drinking, bump the shot glass so that the sealis broken and all the contents mix.
Last winter, with professional grump Gordon Ramsay still smarting from his bankruptcy scare and bombshell Nigella Lawson being slammed in the press mid-divorce, Brits began looking for a kinder, gentler food celebrity to love. They may have found one in Tom Kerridge, chef at The Hand & Flowers, the only pub in the world with two Michelin stars.
As the year came to a close, the burly pub chef was everywhere at once: at the UK’s National Restaurant Awards, picking up the prize for restaurant of the year; in primetime on BBC2 with the country’s top-rated new food show, “Proper Pub Food”; and on bookstore displays and best-seller lists with his program’s companion cookbook, which for a while outsold even the new Bridget Jones installment.
A former child actor, big for his age—“I would be cast as a thug or the school bully,” he says—Kerridge these days is as comfortable behind the stove as he is in front of the cameras. His gentle-giant TV persona (calling food “proper lush” is a favorite catchphrase) has helped make his modest country restaurant outside London among the most coveted reservations in Britain. The tasty food hasn’t hurt either. “Just because it’s a pub doesn’t mean the food has to be rubbish,” Kerridge says. His brigade—17 chefs for just 15 rough wooden tables—serves elevated pub classics, such as an ale-rubbed roast chicken topped with shaved English truffles. “It’s serious food,” says Kerridge, “but served in the kind of place I’d want to go on my day off.” (Photo: VisitBritain)
Along with poutine, hockey and Dan Aykroyd, maple syrup ranks as one of Canada’s greatest exports, but the time has come for the amber-hued nectar to share its sweet reign. Lately, birch, hickory, pine and walnut syrups have been showing up in desserts, marinades and cocktails, paired with foie gras, drizzled over ice cream and poured atop stacks of pancakes.
The alterna-syrups range in flavor from nutty and smoky to fruity and tangy and are significantly less sweet than their more popular cousin. They’re also significantly more difficult to produce. It takes 100 gallons of birch sap to produce one gallon of syrup, compared to 40 gallons of maple sap for a single gallon of syrup. And shagbark hickory syrup, which is made from the bark rather than the sap, is even more labor-intensive.
The slow (ahem, molasses-like?) rise of substitute syrups is fueled by artisan producers like Wildwood’s Travis and Joyce Miller, who started selling their Virginia-foraged hickory syrup, made chiefly from shagbark, at local farmers markets three years ago. Their audience is primarily local, but chefs like Chris Edwards, who mans the kitchen at the new Salamander Resort
& Spa outside Washington, D.C., have glommed on to their woodsy syrup. “There are smoky notes and a complexity that make it a great choice for breakfast foods, but we also enjoy it with a tart fruit, like cranberry or green apple,” says Edwards.
Sherrie Yarling and Gordon Jones, the duo behind Hickoryworks, lucked into their Midwest syrup business when they were gathering wood for their shiitake mushroom–growing business and met an old man who ended up giving them his family recipe for hickory syrup. And in northern Italy, Eleonora Cunacia gathers the buds of a shrubby pine called mugo, collects the sap and cooks it down with sugar and water to make Mugolio. A sign that these maple substitutes are contenders for the throne? You can find both at Dean & DeLuca.