By Justin Chao

This was an interesting article in the New York Times last week.  The author, Michael Moss, explains why food companies in their quest for increasing their profits and market share are driven to add more salt, sugar, and calories to our food.


Please click on the link below to read the article:

"The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" by Michael Moss


Feb 25 2013 | 0 comments

By Justin Chao

Bruges canal 

What's not to like about Bruges?  It's got incredible beer and incredible chocolate shops.  I stopped by De Halve Maan, the only active family brewery in the center of Bruges.  I decided to take the tour.  The tour guide walked us through all the steps that it takes to brew beer, but the highlight was being able to taste the beer at the end.

Copper pots at De Halve Maan Brewery 

After the brewery tour, I wandered around Bruges and found a store with loaves of nougat.  I couldn't resist and bought some salted caramel nougat.  It was delicious!  I'm tempted to try to make some when I get some free time.

Loaves of Nougat in Bruges 

That night I had more beer at De Garre.  Located down an alley, De Garre was very difficult to find, but it was well worth the effort.  I had the Garre Tripel which is uniquely served at De Garre.  It was served with cheese which I needed since the beer is 11% alcohol.  The beer is so well balanced that you don't taste the alcohol.  

De Garre Tripel beer

On my second night in Bruges, I stopped by Bar Azar because I heard that they have a nice garden there.  I'm not sure what I was thinking because it was the middle of January, but I decided to sit outside and enjoy the garden.  While I was there, I started talking to the people next to me.  Before I knew it, they had brought me a large box of chocolates from a chocolate shop named Pralifino.  I bought several boxes of chocolate in Bruges, but this was by far the best box chocolates I brought home from Bruges.  I don't think that it's typical to receive large boxes of chocolates from strangers in Bruges, but I found people in Bruges to be quite friendly.

Pralifino chocolates

By Justin Chao

 Last week in my sustainability seminar class at CSUN, we took a field trip down to the CSUN food garden.   Apparently, it took three years to convince the university to allow the CSUN Institute for Sustainability to cultivate this small plot of land.  After my visit, I am looking forward to helping out in the garden so that I can learn more about growing vegetables in my yard.  Occasionally, master gardeners come to the garden in order to educate the community about vegetable gardening. 

If you are interested in volunteering or participating in some of the workshops, please visit the CSUN's Institute for Sustainability website.




By Justin Chao

Petits gateaux at Bellouet Conseil 

Individual cakes at Bellouet Conseil.



Since launching my website, I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about my culinary training in Paris.  Choosing a culinary school was a tough decision.  I researched culinary programs in the US, but none seemed to fit my needs. I had talked to a few culinary professionals who told me that--while culinary school was a great experience, you only really learn your craft when you start working professionally.  With this in mind,  I decided that I would like to do an intensive short program in order to get my training and start working as soon as possible.  I visited the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and the San Francisco Baking Institute, but neither of these schools really fit my needs.

For me, it was a logical choice to go to France to train.  Training in France would differentiate me from my peers.  In addition, I was already familiar with living in France because I had done an exchange at HEC Paris when I was in business school.  From my perspective, I had only one chance to go to culinary school, and I wanted to choose the best program for me.  With this in mind, I decided to go to France in order to see the schools I was considering.  I considered four schools:



Ecole Lenôtre near Paris

While all of these schools were excellent choices, I thought that Ecole Lenôtre was too large of a program for me.  I was looking for a small program where I could get personal attention. 


Ecole National Supérieure de la Pâtisserie (ENSP) in Yssingeaux

I was very impressed with ENSP’s program, and I really liked what the program director had to say.  Unfortunately, at the time, they did not have a general program for a beginner like me.  However, I have checked their website recently, and they have added a general 20-week pastry course. 


Olivier Bajard in Perpignan

I also visited Olivier Bajard, but I thought that Bajard’s program was not really tailored toward a foreign student like me. 


Bellouet Conseil in Paris  

Bellouet Conseil in Paris was the last school I visited, but as soon as I walked in the door, I felt very comfortable.   It was a small school with classes of just five to six people which would provide me with the personal attention I was seeking.  More than anything, my gut reaction was that this was the program for me. 

Ice cream cakes at Bellouet Conseil 

Ice cream cakes at Bellouet Conseil


My classmates and I in front of the entremets we made 

My classmates and I at Bellouet Conseil.


My experience at Bellouet Conseil

Going to Bellouet Conseil was one of the best experiences of my life.  I was excited to be living in Paris, one of my favorite cities--learning a craft that I loved. 

My teachers were experts in their field.  In fact, the school’s director Jean-Michel Perruchon is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF).  The MOF is one of the highest honors an artisan pastry chef can achieve in France.  MOFs must demonstrate a mastery of all of the skills needed to be a pastry chef--only a handful of pastry chefs have achieved this honor.  

I also really enjoyed the curriculum.  Within a few weeks, I was producing beautiful pastries that I never thought I could be capable of making.  It was a 12-week course, and each week we learned a different pastry skill.  For example, one week we learned chocolates and the next we learned about how to make ice cream.  I was very impressed by the amount of knowledge that the teachers had from working in the field, and I feel like I learned a lot just by being around them.

One of the best parts of going to Bellouet Conseil is that you have a choice of where you would like to work in Paris.  I would recommend taking advantage of any internship program that your culinary school offers.  It is an intense experience, but I really feel that it gave me confidence in my skills.  After my internship, I knew that I could work in any setting and do well.   


Sep 04 2012 | 0 comments

By Justin Chao

An oak tree in an Ojai orange grove

When Lishan—our visitor from London--was here, we went to Ojai for a quick overnight trip.  I highly recommend Ojai as an easy weekend trip from Los Angeles.  Ojai is only an hour and a half drive away, but it feels like it is worlds away from hectic LA.

Lishan and I at Old Creek Winery

On our way into Ojai, we stopped at Old Creek Ranch Winery.  Old Creek Ranch Winery is located on a charming 850-acre cattle ranch.  Unfortunately, the vineyards were lost during the 1980’s to Pierce’s disease.  The owners now bring in wine grapes from other vineyards for the Old Creek Ranch Winery label.   For a $10 tasting fee, we were able to taste nine wines.  My favorite was the Viognier which tasted of apricots. 

Wines at Old Creek

After the winery, we checked in at the Ojai Valley Inn.   If we weren’t so short on time, we probably would have spent an entire day just relaxing at the pool and spa there.  The architecture takes advantage of the weather in Ojai and provides spaces that draw you outside to enjoy the scenery.  Highlights included the organic vegetable garden and the beautiful swimming pools scattered around the property.  In addition, there were fireplaces in all of the outdoor spaces so you could sit outside and enjoy the warm summer night.   We were lucky enough to check-in on a Thursday when they have their Manager’s Reception which included complimentary wine and cheese.

After the reception we had dinner at Suzanne’s and then headed over to the Ojai Beverage Company. Ojai Beverage Company is a wine store with a bar in the back.  The bar offered 20 different beers on tap.  We decided to do a five beer flight for $10.  My favorite of the five beers in my flight was the Firestone 805 Blonde Ale.  In addition to the bar, they also had a great selection of local wines for sale in the store and very large selection of beers.

Ojai Beverage Company

The next morning we went horseback riding in the Ojai Meadows Preserve.  Even though I was a little nervous at first because I don't have a lot of experience horseback riding, I had a great time.  Unfortunately, because it was summer, the river was not running.  However, the beautiful mountains and trees still made the trip worth it. 

Lishan feeding apples to the horses 

After horseback riding, we stopped at our friend's organic orange grove.  The 20-acre grove was located on a creek and was filled with beautiful oak trees and river rocks.  After we finished lunch and were getting ready to drive back to LA, our friends told us that to stop by Ideal Seafood on our way back.  Ideal Seafood is located in a very unassuming drive-through stand. If we hadn’t gotten a recommendation, we probably would not have seen it.  We bought the ahi sashimi tuna and swordfish.  The fish was all incredibly fresh, and they even put it in a cooler bag for us with ice. 

Brian and Justin at the Ojai orange grove

Ideal Seafood

Ideal Drive Through Seafood 

LA Rediscovered

Aug 28 2012 | 0 comments

 By Justin Chao

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to see your city through someone else’s eyes.  Our friend Lishan came to visit from London.  She had never been to LA before and she loves to eat.  Of course, we had a great time.  And it was great to rediscover some of the places that we love, but that we had maybe forgotten about.

The first night she arrived we went to Robata Jinya.  The skewers and ramen are so good.  I especially enjoy the tsukune (chicken meatball) and chicken thigh oyster skewers.  The skewers are grilled at high heat adding  a lot of flavor to the meat.

Another highlight was Sugarfish in Santa Monica.  Sugarfish is pretty low key, but the fish is extremely fresh.  I ordered the Nozawa which comes with six types of sushi, two handrolls, sashimi, and edamame.  The rice is still warm and loosely packed which served as a nice contrast to the cold fish.  My favorite was the blue crab handroll.

We also went to Water Grill.  I had heard that it had been remodeled, so I was curious to see it—especially since I used to work there. They did a good job with the remodel.  It was no longer so stodgy and had a more modern feel.  The menu was pretty much the same, but the restaurant was really busy compared to when I used to work there.  We ordered the Deluxe iced shellfish platter with a side of sea urchin. I love Water Grill's chilled seafood platters and it was just as good as I remember.  The sea urchin was also the best I’ve had in LA.


Lishan’s last night here.  We went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Pixar in Concert.  They had a large screen on stage where they played clips from Pixar movies while the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played the music from the movies.  The show started around sunset.  The view was amazing as well as the music.  Even though I’m not much of a Pixar fan, I really enjoyed myself and would highly recommend going.

Blackout Cake

Mar 20 2012 | 0 comments

By Justin Chao


I was looking around Zoe Francois’ website one day and I saw this recipe for Blackout Cake.  I had never heard of Blackout Cake before, but once I read the description, I was intrigued.  A blackout cake is a devil's food cake filled with chocolate pudding.  


This is a great recipe.  Her devil's food cake is not the run-of-the-mill chocolate cake.  It is made with coffee and rum which cuts down on the sweetness of the pudding and the frosting and adds some complexity to the flavor of the cake.


I can't wait to make it for my friends at my next dinner party.


Zoe Francois’ Recipe for Blackout Cake


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