About Me


A Virtual Dinner: Viva Cuba!

I have always wanted to go to Cuba: the music, the food, the art, not to mention the very mysterious tradition of Santeria that involves spirits and gods that were brought to the island by the Africans on their way to being slaves on the grand plantations of the American south.

I always thought it would have been very interesting to go when Fidel Castro was still alive. But unfortunately, I couldn’t.

Although, I met Fidel once: it was at CBS News in the early 2000’s. It was September and he was in town to give a speech at the UN General Assembly. So, he popped in, as one does, to say hello to Dan Rather who had interviewed him on many an occasion.

The whole building was on tenterhooks.

Dan went down to the lobby to meet him and took him for a little tour around the building at 524 West 57th Street that used to be a dairy a very long time ago.

I stood in a corner at the Evening News Desk and waited for him to appear: a man who had been such a major player in the history of the 20th century.

And then he came through the doors. Fidel Castro, who I had imagined would come in his camouflage guerilla fatigues, his combat boots and cap, chewing a cigar, walked onto the anchor desk, dressed in a grey, bespoke double-breasted suit, white shirt and a dark red tie. His beard was perfectly combed and his grey hair slicked back. I later found out the suit, shirt and tie were all Valentino.

I smiled politely when I was introduced, and it was a moment I won’t soon forget. Think what you may of Fidel and his history in Cuba, the man was charming and charismatic, one felt his presence even when he had left.

My other favourite Cuban is a musician: not Tito Puente or Celia Cruz or even Gloria Estefan. It’s Bebo Valdés, a superb pianist who was a major influence on the Cuban music scene all the way until 2013 when he died at the age of 94. A founder of Latin jazz and one who pioneered the incorporation of Afro-Cuban rhythms into dance music, Bebo was a genius.

Living in New York, I’ve always kept an eye out for real Cuban food. Victor’s on 52nd Street came close, but it wasn’t like some of the dishes I sampled during a brief stint in Miami in 2010.

I recently talked to a colleague of mine in the wine world, a Cuban, and we began talking about Cuban food and what wines would be interesting to pair with it.

At the end of the chat, he had handed over his mother’s receipe for pork chops, rice and beans and the girls and I made it for our virtual dinner party on Friday.

Mint, lime, cumin and garlic were the predominant flavours: a perfect mix of all the cultures that have come through the island in the past 500 years: Spanish, French, English, Asian, African…

Wine-wise, I decided on an all-natural cabernet franc from the Loire, K had a rose from the Provence and L a sauvignon blanc from South Africa.

Here’s the recipe:

Serves 2:


Olive oil

4 thinly sliced pork chops

4 limes

2 teaspoons ginger powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

2 teaspoons cumin powder

Salt & pepper to taste

1 cup flour

14 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup rice (Basmati is a good option)

2 cups cupped red onion

2 red or green Serrano chillies

2 cans Goya red or black beans

0.5 cup chopped fresh mint or cilantro

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey


  • Pork chops:

Marinate chops in marinade of lime juice, salt and spices and set aside.

  • Beans:
    Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to coat the pot. When hot, 1 cup of the red onion. Stir. When soft, add about 8 cloves of garlic. Stir. When soft, add chopped chilies. Stir. Add beans. Cover and cook on a slow fire
  • Rice:

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Brown 6 cloves of garlic. Add 1 cup of rice, stirring frequently, coating the rice with the oil and garlic. When the grains start to look toasty, add salt to taste. Cover, lower the fire and let cook. When the rice is al dente, drain the excess water in a colander. (You’ll be getting rid of the excess carbs this way). Return to the pot. Cover and let the rice finish cooking in its own steam
Whilst the rice is cooking, put the cup of flour in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and half a teaspoon of cumin.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan. Whilst oil is heating, take chops out of marinade and coat in flour. When oil is hot, add chops. Cook 3 – 4 minutes per side. Drizzle with honey and keep aside.

In the same pan, add remaining chopped red onion and 2 cloves garlic. When soft, add 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar and some fresh mint. If too dry, add water. Let cook a few minutes. Top off the chops with the mixture.

Serve with rice and beans.



This is NOT America…

Not unlike many others, all I do these days is eat, drink, read, write, sleep, repeat. Oh…and worry, I do a lot of that, the existential angst of what I will do when the world reopens and what sort of a world it will be?

I read an article in the Washington Post this morning about a video that had ‘gone viral,’ and I admit, the phrase made me squirm…

In everything I do, shopping for groceries or just walking the dog, I cannot stop imagining those invisible globs covered with thorn-like tubes lurking at every corner like some post-apocalyptic zombies, waiting to attach themselves to our lungs.

Paranoid? Yes.

But then, how can one not be?

To date, over half a million people in the United States are infected and over 22,000 people have died. New York alone has over 100,000 infected and we are closing in on 10,000 dead.

New York City has completely shut down, stores, restaurants boarded up.

People talk about the return to normalcy, but what does that really mean?

Will normalcy in the post-Corona world be the same? Will we be able to shake hands with people, hug or kiss friends, jump on the subway without feeling a twinge of fear about infection?

People are finding solace in all kinds of quack theories: the virus disintegrates in warm weather; heavy rainfall washes it away… then perhaps we should all move to India, hot summers and the monsoon.

These days, just taking the dog for a walk is a blinking palaver: not only do I have to remember jacket, scarf and hat, but now there’s gloves and a mask to add.

Often the poor dog, who is standing at the door, desperate for his morning constitutional, has to cross his legs to hold it.

And of course, when we come back, it’s a complicated feat of coordination between taking off my shoes at the door, getting into the apartment, washing my hands for the requisite 20 seconds, wiping down the dogs’ paws with dog-wipes, and my own shoes with anti-bacterial wipes…you get the picture.

It is frightening how this virus proliferated. As we began to catch wind of it back in late February, it was clear that it was coming. It was no longer a question of “if it was coming,” but “when it would be here.”

And when it arrived in New York City, it was a tsunami.

And yes, we were woefully unprepared…

Had this been a war, literally, who would have been better prepared than America?

Soldiers on the frontline would have had every state-of-the-art weapon imaginable at their disposal to show off the might of this, the most powerful nation in the world.

Except, in this case, the soldiers on the frontline didn’t need guns or bombs, they needed masks, gloves and we couldn’t even give them that.

As the virus devoured New York, turning it almost overnight into ground zero, the world watched Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desperation as he bid against other governors for ventilators, hounding the White House for help; we saw the news reports of hospitals being overwhelmed with the sick and dying, saw pictures of nurses making their own masks, using garbage bags to help protect them from the enemy, read accounts of doctors who had to choose which patient was going to live and which one was going to die.

Wait…wait just one floofing moment!


“This sort of stuff doesn’t happen here.”

But it does.

“How can it be that in 2020, in the richest country in the world, people are dropping like flies? How did we not see this coming?”

The healthcare system in this country was a runaway train heading at breakneck speed to edge of a cliff and this pandemic pushed it over the edge.

Health insurance was the first thing you were asked when you walked into the emergency room of a hospital. How many people died because they didn’t have a card to show the admissions desk?

No one cared.

Until now.

Because this virus has affected the health of this wealthy society, a true equalizer if there ever was one in the recent past.

Our ill-preparedness has its roots in the astounding stupidity and thoroughly incompetent behaviour of Mr. Trump who has in effect turned the Oval Office into a family office.

According to the New York Times, in January, top White House aides, experts in his cabinet and top muckety-mucks in the intelligence apparatus identified the threat of this epidemic, sounded the alarm and repeatedly told Trump to aggressively get out in front of it. American lives were at stake.

But, there was no personal gain involved for Mr. Trump. There was no money involved to line his coffers…so a few people would die…so what?

Where are you taking all this money, Mr. Trump? It’s not going to be of any help to you when you’re six-feet under and rotting.

Had it not been for the governors taking matters into their own hands on a state level, this pandemic would have been much, much worse.

This is not America….so sang David Bowie in 1985. The song was recorded with Pat Metheny for a movie called “The Falcon & the Snowman,” a spy drama starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn about two young, privileged American men who sold CIA secrets to the Soviets, destroying their lives and ruining their families.

The song got its’ title from a scene in the movie in which Sean Penn’s character is arrested and beaten by the police in Mexico City. “I am an American citizen,” Penn shouts, implying his entitled rights, to which the policeman replies, “but this is not America.”

At no other time in all the years I have lived in New York, has this phrase had a such a shocking ring of truth.

I came here as a young woman to go to college and never left, bewitched by what this country promised, giving me the opportunity to something of myself without the shackles of class, society or name.

Why has this happened to us is a question so many are asking themselves?

It’s a virus. It does not come with a moral playbook. It’s not part of a bigger Chinese plan to rule the world, nor is it God punishing us in the biblical sense.

All we know is that it has brought the mighty to their knees and shut down the world, creating a discombobulating chasm between our past and our future. As human beings, we want to cross the chasm, close that gap, heal the wound and keep going. But no matter what, the scar will remain.

The global shut down, hunkering-down of whole populaces has gone a long way in helping close that gap. But is it personal fear or a real sense of a shared purpose and destiny?

As we navigate these un-chartered waters, and cross over, perhaps we need to take stock of what doesn’t work, let go of our baggage and move lithely into a bright new world?




Life’s Simple Pleasures

Until a few short weeks ago, I was involved in the opening of a new restaurant in New York City.

I was the wine director responsible for a 45-page wine list that boasted 750 references and over 3500 bottles in the cellar, plus a team of sommeliers.

It was the toughest reservation in town, people clamouring to get in, begging for a reservation to dine and be seen at such a hot spot.

Work on the restaurant began months before, but once it actually opened, my life was no longer my own: I was working seven days a week, often putting in fifteen-hour days. I was so busy that I barely saw my own dog: on one of my rare days off, I actually had to call his walker to find out what he ate because I had run out of his food. Needless to say, friends fell by the wayside, collateral damage for an over-achiever that I seem to have been all my life. Clawing one’s way up a ladder, no matter which industry you’re in, does not leave much room for balance that includes friendship, compassion or empathy.

But now, here I am: unemployed and with no idea of what role I’ll play when life goes back to normal. What will the restaurant world look like when the world at large reopens? Will I have a role in that world? And more importantly, do I even want to stay in it?

Nowadays, hours merge, days and nights flow into each other, thoughts ramble along with no compass…because there is none.

The only thing I know is that we have to navigate forward, because there is no other way.

I sat at the foot of a tree today in Central Park with Baxter, my faithful wheaten terrier, rolling around on the green grass a few feet away, I laughed…really laughed, perhaps the first time in months. Seeing him so happy, made me happy. I turned my face up to the sun and breathed deeply, taking in the Vitamin D and…enjoying the pleasure of being outdoors with my dog: no timetable, no schedule, no appointments…nothing, just the whole afternoon ahead of me. It was bliss.

Such a simple pleasure. I had forgotten what they were like.

As we continued our walk around the bridle path, with me masked and gloved and judiciously walking from one side to the other keeping myself within a 6 foot bubble, I began to think about simple pleasures. What are they?

Simple pleasures are experiences that are exactly as described: simple. They are everyday experiences that don’t take forever to plan or schedule, but mainly, they balance our life, allow the prism to shift from our mad, daily schedules to certain things that fill our souls and make us whole again.

Simple pleasures are highly personal: what is a simple pleasure for me may not be one for you.

Many years ago, I worked as a personal assistant to a very rich Park Avenue matron. She claimed that going shopping every day, buying the same dress in three sizes, two pairs of the same shoes and spending on average $30,000 a day on such things was a ‘simple pleasure.’

Mine, on the other hand, include: waking up to a beautiful day and knowing I don’t have a schedule to follow; staring at the ocean listening to its ebb and flow; lying on the grass staring up at the sky; a glass of wine at sunset; catching up with a friend on a lazy summer afternoon over a lunch of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and avocado; cooking Sunday lunch for friends…my list is not one that costs a lot of money, all it requires is time…which in my case has been in very short supply, until now.

I’ve been reading a lot of accounts of people who lived through the Spanish flu pandemic just over a hundred years ago. It reads like history repeating itself, except in one, very important way. Technology.

In our enforced solitude, technology has allowed us to still be with one another. We have the luxury of virtual cocktails, virtual dinner parties, virtual gyms…not to mention Netflix and Amazon Prime. And we can get food and groceries delivered.

So whilst we all think we are alone, and a lot of us are, I can Facetime with friends, text them, call them and I know they’re there.

One of the things I hope drifts into the post-corona world is that we remember our friends and those we love and make time every day for the simple pleasures of life, no matter what they are for you.






A Virtual Dinner Party: Lamb Ragù

About a quarter of a century ago, I went to Sardegna…the one and only time I’ve visited this island in the Mediterranean, but one that I swore I wanted to go back to…and I will.

One summer, a few years after we both graduated, my best friend from college, a Roman girl told me she had rented a small cottage on the West Coast of Sardegna.

“It’s the un-chic side of Sardegna,” she said. “Not the Costa Smeralda…” which is an obligatory pit-stop for the jet set and their magnificent yachts as they cruise the Mediterranean in the summer.

“Why don’t you come visit?” she suggested. “You’ll have to fly into Caligari and take a taxi.”

Why not? I thought and booked myself on a flight to Rome and onwards.

As the taxi trundled north to the address that was not much more than the name of a farm and a general area rather than a ‘street address,’ I was amazed at the scenery. It wasn’t anything like what I’d imagined. It was wild.

Along the coasts, gigantic cliffs plunged into a sea so blue that it redefined ‘turquoise,’ and inland, when the road took us there, the hills were craggy and rugged and the valleys green and rich with local vegetation, the air redolent of the scent of herbs that was reminiscent of the Languedoc region of Southern France.

Shepherds snoozed under the heavy foliage of trees as their flocks foraged for fresh, sweet grass, whilst a strong wind swept through, cooling the effects of the hot summer sun. As we got closer to the house, a flock of flamingos rose up into the sky in a perfectly choreographed formation that took my breath away.

I honestly can’t remember exactly where the cottage was, but it was charming and the view and place made up in spades for what it didn’t have in the more modern comforts of life.

Besides the scenery, what has stayed with me from that trip were some of the meals we had: one a pasta dish made by the farmer’s wife when I arrived, mallerodus, a local pasta, in a simple sauce and lots of pecorino cheese; two, the lunch on the boat that we took to see the coast, was another simple pasta in a red sauce, made by one of the crew. Why is it that pasta in Italy just tastes better?

But the third meal was at an agriturismo, an Italian table d’hote, the dinner table of a local farmer.

At this agriturismo, the table was outside under the star-filled, inky sky of a summer night. I remember it was hot and humid and the air was quite still. Candles lit the area and the smell of wax mingled with the scent of wildflowers.

The table was laden with platters of antipasti and cheese and hot, homemade bread. There were pitchers of cold water and bottles of a homemade rose wine. The pièce de résistance was the incredibly beautiful sucking pig that everyone thought was the star of the show.

But for me, it was the pasta, the primo piatto that came before the pig that I have never been able to forget, the layered flavours of the lamb ragù creating an indelible memory of a dish that I recreated years after the trip, re-building it step by step from the flavours I remembered and the few pointers given to me by the farmer’s wife.

Three years ago, I was in East Hampton for some much-needed time off and my very close friend, K, came to visit. And as we sat drinking a Sicilian rosé by the pool enjoying the August sun, talking about places we’d visited and hoped to go back to, Sardegna was one that came to my mind and I told her about that meal at the agriturismo.

Inspired, I conjured up the dish, feeling a little bit like a witch stirring her cauldron, relying on my palate and olfactory memories from so many years ago. We had it that night, sitting outside, the table lit by candles, a couple of bottles of wine to keep us going and crickets chirping in the bushes. And…I have to say, it was pretty darned good and came very close to being exactly what I had eaten twenty-five years prior.

Last week, following the success of our first FaceTime virtual dinner party, my friends, K and L, suggested we do the lamb ragù next. Problem was that I had never written down the receipe in East Hampton, but, unbeknownst to me, K had taken notes as I cooked. So, we decided to go for it…K, L and I cooked on FaceTime, took a break to take our respective dogs out as the ragù simmered in three kitchens across Manhattan, and came back to it, served it and sat down and ate it…alone, yet together.

Wine was copiously consumed, L decided on a Marsanne from Yves Cuilleron, K a greco di tufo from Campania and I had a monica from Sardegna.

We ate too much and we drank too much and talked far too much, but this time, we didn’t have to get in cabs to go home. We were home.

Not yet sure what we will do next week, but there was some talk of Mongolian steak…

Stay tuned!


Meantime, the ragù receipe is below.


Olive oil

4 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
10 whole black pepper

2 bay leaves

8 cloves garlic minced
2 red onions chopped
4 pepperoncini or 3 fresh serrano chilies chopped or 4 dried
2 pounds minced lamb
2 of each sweet and hot sausage, without the casing


4 fresh tomatoes

Pinch of sugar

3 – 4 sweet potatoes, cut in chunks

A palmful of finely chopped parsley

1 box of a short pasta, rigatoni, fusilli, cavatappi or celentani
Pecorino cheese to taste


Heat a good glug of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of a pot
Add whole spices to perfume the oil
Add garlic

Add red onion and chili
Add a pinch of salt to make the onion sweat
Once onion is soft, add meats and brown

Salt to taste
Peel the tomatoes, puree, and add to mixture
Add a teaspoon of sugar
Cover and cook on low fire, about an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
Toss chunks of sweet potato in olive oil and salt and roast, about 25 to 30 minutes until soft.
About 5 minutes before ragù is ready, add roasted sweet potato to the pot.
Top with parsley.

Boil pasta in salted water until al dente.

Drain and return to the pot and add the ragù to the pasta and allow it to mix.

Top with pecorino cheese and serve.


A Virtual Dinner Party: Harissa Chicken

One of the things I love to do is entertain at home.

Cooking for friends, picking the wine, setting the table, choosing the flowers, candles music…it’s all part of what I love to do. And if I’m going to cook for someone, they’d better eat! In fact, in my book of hospitality, the empty plate of a guest is a crime of etiquette.

Before I got back into the world of restaurants and had no time for my friends, I would have dinner parties at least once month, informal gatherings of friends or large Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas get-togethers that involved creating more complex menus, cooking over two days and the best part, choosing the right wines and opening a bottle as soon as I put on my apron! You can’t cook without a glass of wine!

Now, in this time of social distancing, I have, ironically, reconnected with these friends and we get together every couple of days at 6pm, via FaceTime for a drink. A few days ago, one of them reminded me about the dinners I would have for monthly column I used to write. It was a column about wine-pairing, written for people who wanted to enjoy wine without breaking the bank.

My editor would send me a receipe and it was my job to make it and pair the dish with a red, white, rose or sparkling wine, with the caveat that the bottle was under $25.

So every month, I’d invite half a dozen friends and we would all gather in my kitchen for a glass of champagne, the opening aperitif, that was my welcome drink of choice. I would cook, and we would all catch up, nibbling on hors d’oeuvres and enjoying one another’s company.

When the dish in question was ready, we would sit at the dining table and I would present the wines and everyone would taste and sip and I would take notes until I had enough. After that, the diner party would take on a positively raucous edge and indubitably, much more wine was opened than the requisite ones that were to be part of the article.

So I got to thinking…why couldn’t we do the same? Virtually? The suggestion was met with definitive enthusiasm and  we agreed to Friday night to cook via FaceTime.

The opening recipe was Harissa Chicken. A simple roasted chicken with the added kick of one of my favourite North African spice paste.

Just as I was in the kitchen washing vegetables, K and L both texted me at the same time. “What are we drinking?”

Ah! The most important part of cooking is what you have in your glass, that liquid that makes the world look slightly better in the midst of all this instability. Since K and L only drink white wine, I suggested a pinot blanc or a pinot gris, something with a little more fruit that would stand up to the spice in the harissa.

And for myself, I pulled out a bottle of Cour-Cheverney, a little-known appellation in the Loire where the local varietal is the rare Romorantin, an old Burgundian varietal now only grown in Cheverney. On the nose it’s all pear and apple and white flowers and on the palate, it’s delicate, elegant and a touch honeyed, which would be perfect with the chicken.

My harissa chicken receipe is incredibly easy to make: everything goes in one dish. Essentially, the chicken is rubbed with the harissa and salt and laid on a bed of a sort of mirepoix of peppers and onions, themselves seasoned with olive oil and salt. And into the oven it goes for about an hour and a bit.

As everyone’s chicken cooked (on FaceTime), we had a drink together and chatted. When everything was ready, we all sat down at our respective tables. I had my chicken with pita bread, yoghurt with cucumber and an extra squidge of lemon; K had hers with naan and tzatziki sauce and L had hers with coucous.

It was delicious and it was a great evening, even though we couldn’t all be in the same room. So much so that next Friday, we’re doing the same, this time, the receipe that is being clamoured for is a lamb ragù that I learned from a farmer’s wife in Sardinia about 30 years ago whilst on holiday there with a college friend.

The receipe for the Harissa Chicken is below:

Makes 4 servings:


1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 green pepper

1 red onion

One chicken (if you do a whole chicken, cut through the backbone, so you can lay it flat) or pieces of a chicken, breasts, thighs, drumsticks on the bone

Olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and pepper

Harissa (can be store bought or see my receipe)

Fresh lemon wedges


Chop all the vegetables, season well with salt and pepper and toss in lots of good olive oil and a tablespoon of the Harissa.

Place in a baking dish.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and take a good dollop of the harissa, at least 2-3 tablespoons and rub the chicken all over before placing it on the vegetables. Drizzle honey over the chicken.

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the dish in the oven and let the meat sear…about 15-20 minutes, depending on the oven.

Once a crust has formed, lower the oven to 350 degrees and cook the chicken for about 55 minutes.

Take out of the oven and let rest.

Serve with naan bread, pita bread or couscous.

Squeeze the juice of the fresh lemon on the chicken and dig in.



(about 2 cups)

8 fresh red serrano chilies

8 dried red chilies (can be chile de arbol, chipotle, ancho guajillo)

2 red peppers

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

4 cloves

4 whole black pepper

6 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Juice of half a lemon

Salt to taste

Olive oil

Fresh mint


Rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water, about 40 minutes.

Chop the heads off the fresh chilies and keep aside.

Chop the two red peppers and roast them in the oven at 450 degrees until the skin is charred and the peppers are soft. Peel off the charred skin and keep aside.

In a skillet, dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves and black pepper.

Grind the dried spices in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.

Drain the dried chilies and keep the water.

Combine all chilies, roasted peppers, spices, garlic, lemon and salt in a blender or food processor.

Once coarse, slowly add the olive oil to create a paste. If still too dry, add some of the water from the rehydrated chilies.

Add a few sprigs of fresh mint.

Place in a jar and store in the fridge.

You will need to add a little olive oil each time you use the paste after refrigeration.



The Great Chef, Floyd Cardoz

“I’m so sorry,” sad a tearful voice on the other end of the telephone early this morning.

“About what?” I asked, groggy, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

“Chef Floyd…” came the response.

“Oh no,” I sagged back down against the pillows. “It’s not possible…”

I knew he’d been ill…but it couldn’t be. Not Chef Floyd.

My thoughts immediately turned to his beautiful wife, Barkha, and his two sons. I knew Justin better than I knew Peter mainly Justin had been part of the opening team at Paowalla, his gorgeous big bright smile, welcoming in the droves that summer of 2016.

I, too, was part of that opening team.

I had been introduced to the great chef, of whom I already knew so much, by the opening GM. I was shaking when I met Chef Floyd, his reputation as a star in the firmament of New York’s culinary scene being so stellar. But Chef Floyd was not in the least intimidating. He was kind and gentle and had the biggest heart.

He hired me as a server and I promised myself to be the best he had. I knew about Indian food and spices and how the addition of even a pinch of something would change the flavour of a dish and how spices would affect the taste of a wine, when paired with it, often leading to pairing wines that were unexpected.

I loved the job and I loved learning even more about food and wine as the months went by and I absolutely adored Chef Floyd and his wife, Barkha, who together created a real family, looking after all of us as they did their own sons.

But the time came for me to leave when I decided to dedicate myself full-time to writing. But I never lost touch with Chef or Barkha and they often, over the past four years, kept asking me to come back in some way, shape or form. I tried, a couple of times, but somehow or the other, the timing was never quite right.

The last time I saw Chef Floyd was when he held a cooking class at Paowalla: he made clams in green coconut curry and a classic Hyderabadi biryani and my greatest honour was to have been there to help.

He was brilliant: a born teacher with his patience, his smile and his self-deprecating humility that was so very endearing.

I am beyond sad that he is no longer. But I know that he will live on in my memory as someone who helped me when I needed it most and taught me so much about food, wine and hospitality. But more than that, he was just a beautiful soul and great man. Thank you, Chef for everything.



A ‘Golly’ Moment

Yes, it is a bit of a ‘golly’ moment in New York isn’t it?

Uncertainty is awful. But, it is a necessary step towards reinvention, which is what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half.

On average, over the past 30 years, I must have reinvented myself a good half a dozen times…an average of once every five years or so. But why?

I suppose I could say that I’ve been acquiring new skills, honing in on existing talents…but that would really be a load of bull feathers.

Honestly, I never intended on reinventing myself. I would much prefer a quiet life in the Cotswolds or the Lubéron. But reinvention seems to be my lot in life.

To be truly frank, I’ve never really had a plan or a career path. 

Opportunities are presented to everyone, every day: it’s part of life. Some recognize them and take them, others watch them go by.

All I’ve done is see them, seize them and taken them as far as they would let me.

I can’t tell you how many times people have been awestruck by the fact that I speak 6 languages, have traveled the world, worked for a rock ‘n’ roll band, been a journalist at a top news network, opened a luxury clothing storage business that is now a staple of Park Avenue matrons and celebrities, danced across Europe as a professional flamenco dancer, wrote and published five books and now a wine director at what was one of the hottest restaurants to open in New York City this year. 

Even as I write it all, I think I’ve just impressed myself! But seriously, all of this was simply because of an idea, an opportunity, and in a couple of cases having the luck of the stars being perfectly aligned in my favour.

Now, as I sit here in my apartment, I wonder what’s next? My most recent avatar was in that wonderful world of wine.

I do not honestly believe the restaurant industry in New York will come roaring back, or actually, perhaps it will, but it will have a different character, a different personality. I don’t know that I will readily see someone spend $9000 + on a bottle of 1990 Petrus as I did a merely couple of Saturdays ago.

Friends of mine in Spain are terrified: one of my best friends, one of the top sommeliers in Madrid, had to take her mother for her chemotherapy today. She had no mask and no gloves and she described the feeling in Madrid as apocalyptic, where the secret enemy lurks on every corner, waiting to engulf you.

Today, when I walked out towards the Park with Baxter, it was too pretty a day to be scared or panicked. Yet, I know the end of the month is coming and that brings with it the spectre of bills. What will I pay with? There’s no money. 

Perhaps we ought to look at what is happening as a reinvention? What comes out the other side, we don’t really know so there’s no sense driving oneself nuts speculating. Let’s just keep our eyes open for the next opportunity.

I thought this morning about what I feel when I’m in my tunnel of reinvention, I don’t struggle, I don’t strain, I allow myself to be. There are an awful lot of disappointments along the way, and yes, of course, I am human and I do worry and I chafe and I rant and rail, but one soon comes to the conclusion that it is futile. What will be will be.

And whilst we may not get what we want on the other end, we will most certainly get what we need.

That…is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in this time of uncertainty. 

And take this time to reconnect with friends, whether by text, email, facetime, however you want, but reconnect. There are a couple of girlfriends of mine I had not seen in months, mainly because I’d been working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week on this new restaurant opening. And now, for the past week, we get together on Facetime every day for a drink at 6 o’clock and catch up. Another friend, I hadn’t spoken to in a good two years, I reached out to her and when she said, “It is so good to hear your voice,” I almost cried.

Living in New York, working in jobs that rob us of what our lives should be filled with: friends, family, laughter, companionship and support…that for me is something I will change after this is all over. I want to make more time for the people who add something to my life, I want to work to live, not live to work. 

And years from now, when I sit in front of the fire with nothing but my memories, I want to know in my heart that I was a good, loyal friend, not a fair-weather one.



The Art of Hospitality

This summer got me thinking seriously about restaurant hospitality.

I spent a grueling four months as the wine director, sommelier and special events guru at the Hamptons outpost of a New York City restaurant that has been around for three decades and I noticed that the time-honoured tradition of hospitality isn’t quite… ‘hospitable’ … but then again, it’s like most everything else these days: a watered-down version of what it really is supposed to be.

Hospitality has become a business and restaurants are now ruled by accountants and their spread sheets rather than the convivial hosts who made you feel like the king or queen of the world.

A quarter of a decade ago, there used to be a small restaurant on the upper east side called Café Trevi. Charming and brick-walled, it sat no more than 40 people. It wasn’t particularly chic or posh or even sexy, tucked away as it was on First Avenue…not Madison, nor even on a tree-lined street between Park and Lexington…no, it was on the Avenue with a nondescript entrance.

I stumbled upon the restaurant completely by accident. It was late September and the skies suddenly opened and a monsoon-like downpour began. With no umbrella, not a cab in sight and several very long blocks from the subway, I took refuge under a yellow awning. Minutes ticked by and I was slowly getting drenched, my Jimmy Choos destroyed. I turned around and realized I was standing by a restaurant and looked curiously at the menu. A drink? I thought…and at the very least, a chance to dry off.

I walked in and was taking off my raincoat when,

“Signora!” a male voice with a lilting Italian accent said behind me.

I turned and saw a very dapper man in his late 50s, dressed in a grey suit with a blush-pink shirt and a purple tie and matching silk pocket square peeking out of his breast pocket, smiling at me as though I were his long-lost daughter.

I grinned.

“Allow me please,” he said helping me with my wet bag, my raincoat, handing it to the bored coat-check girl with too much makeup.

“Now…” he said, rubbing his hands together, “how about a nice plate of pasta and a glass of wine?”

And despite the fact that I was on my way to meet my husband for dinner, his suggestion sounded so perfect that I found myself nodding, thinking that I ought to just call Duncan and have him meet me here instead of the overpriced French bistro where we had reservations.

And that was my introduction to Primo Laurenti, the owner and maître d’ of Café Trevi where I ended up about three times a week until it closed.

I went to the restaurant not for the ambiance or the “scene,” because admittedly, there wasn’t much. I went, because Primo looked after me from the moment I walked in: he honestly made me feel like I was, in that moment, the most important person in the world to him…his words and gestures warm and comforting, never cloying or overbearing. He knew when to speak and when to melt away. And every single time, he seemed to know exactly what I wanted, when it came to food and wine, always suggesting delicious dishes that he would have the cook whip up.

I watched him with his other clients. He glided through the room, danced elegantly around tables, courting them, talking about food, wine or anything else. When the meat arrived, he would be there to debone it, or the fish, to filet it, or the sauce that he spooned.

I took everyone there. At the time, I was working for CBS News and one by one, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Mike Wallace, Bob Simon and Ed Bradley…all went to Café Trevi.

Primo had a gift…a very special one…he was the consummate host. It was a gift that cannot be bought or taught. You either have it or you don’t.

A few years ago, after leaving CBS News, I decided to study wine and became a wine writer and sommelier. Now, in the hospitality game myself, I often think about Primo and how he made me feel and I try to do the same when I talk to people about wine: warm and humble without an ounce of pretension. I don’t want to scare people about wine, I want them to enjoy it as much as I do. My greatest satisfaction comes from the enjoyment people get from trying a wine I have suggested.

Good hospitality creates memories and at the of the day, isn’t that what makes us all richer?






The Quality of Life

Of late, I’ve been quite preoccupied with the idea of quality of life and what it really means to me.

I’ve always been a hard worker, whether it was in school or later when I started working…somehow, I was happy to put in long hours, trying to go the extra mile, keeping ahead of the 8 ball.

All through my 20s, 30s and 40s, I was convinced that if I could do better, my quality of life would improve, and so I worked feverishly, constantly striving, achieving, getting ahead, climbing the ladder, call what you will, but I felt that I needed to be the best I could be at whatever I turned my mind to.

For example, I took up flamenco dancing, first as a hobby and became so obsessed with it that I decided to move to Sevilla, the mecca of the artform. And not just that, I took it all the way to the top, dancing professionally, touring Europe and the like.

I turned my hand to cooking and would run home every evening to cook a rather grand meal for my then hubby, who affectionately told me that I probably wouldn’t stop until I ended up on Iron Chef facing off with Alain Ducasse.

I came up with an idea as to how to make the most of a small closet in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City and turned it into a business known as Garde Robe.

I love wine and drink it, copiously…but I turned that into a sommelier certificate.

Over achiever? Yes, probably.

But that was then.

Today, I am more concerned about happiness and being content and I realize that the smallest things bring one the greatest pleasure, if one slows down and stops for just moment to notice them.

I was at a friend’s house in Sag Harbour recently and she had the most beautiful, vibrant watermelon pink peonies on her front table. Something about the flowers got to me and later that evening as I walked on the beach enjoying the sunset, I realized how little it takes to make me happy: the sight of a flower, the feel of sand between my toes, a kind word, a stranger’s smile, a melody of a song that reminds me someone I once loved…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to pack up and go off and live La Dolce Vita in a villa in Tuscany…as much as I would love to, I can’t afford it!

I still work hard and I love being busy. But my most precious moments are when I am deep into a manuscript and the words are flowing off my fingers appearing magically on the computer screen, or a walk in Central Park with the dog when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or when I have friends over for dinner and the food and wine and laughter make for indelible memories, or even something as simple as a walk along the River Seine in Paris on a bright, sunny Spring day.

What all this means is that balance is key to a harmonious life.

Work…of course, we all have to. But time for oneself and time for those in our lives will only enrich us even more. And time is honestly the greatest gift one can offer.


For the Love of a Prince

I had all intentions of watching the royal wedding this past weekend.

But I slept through the alarm, woke up late and had to rush off to work.

Later that Saturday night as I served a delicious 2015 Puligny-Montrachet from Jean Chartron, I was asked by the gentleman who was tasting the wine if I’d seen the wedding on television.

“Alas,” I replied chagrined. “I did not.”

“I woke up at 4:30am,” he said proudly. “It was spectacular.”

As I poured the wine around the table, I was reminded of that day in late July 1981 when Harry’s mother, Diana married Prince Charles.

Barely a teenager, I remember being riveted to the screen of the television, tears pouring down my cheeks as Diana arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, looking every bit the princess that I, and every other young girl dreamed of being.

Sadly, it did not turn out well for Diana, but her sons seem have done rather well.

I was disappointed that I had missed watching the Harry/Meghan wedding because there was something about them that appealed to me, much more so than the wedding of Harry’s brother William to Kate.

It was because Meghan’s is a Grace Kelly-esque story: the beautiful American who marries her prince. And her smile: it was open, warm and so genuine.

As I sat in bed and watched the videos and the images, I was struck by the visible, almost tangible love that one could discern between them: it was so honest, so open, so overwhelmingly charming. Was it because she is an American, I wondered? With none of the British reserve? Perhaps?

But honestly, it was the picture-perfect fairytale wedding: the dress, the church, the castle, the carriage…this was British royalty at its best.

She looked every bit the princess and he the prince.

But even so, it looked simple and uncomplicated…mainly because it was all about their love and how radiant and passionate it was.

Watching them together, I was reminded about how precious and rare love is. And that was before I heard the sermon from Bishop Michael Curry.

Seriously though, love really is what it’s all about…love in all it’s different forms: platonic love, romantic love, filial love…however you choose to define it, love really does win in the end.