Pottery and ceramics hold a special place in my heart. I love the way the art form completely represents a place. Whenever possible I try actually to meet the people that create this art since they are working directly with their hands and the earth they know the place well. The works at Setia in Ubud are by a Japanese-born potter working in Bali for the last two decades. The integration of the raw materials and resources of Bali with the workmanship of a Japanese artisan make for pieces that are unique, organic, simple, and thoughtful. There is a small gallery in Ubud proper where you can easily pop in and for prices that seem like sealing head home with a piece or five. Take it a step further and make your way from the gallery to the studio up in the hills just above the main drag where the open air layout and organized chaos is inspiring. The day that I visited the studio there was a meeting on for a new restaurant concept in Singapore where Setia would be creating the tableware. Very normal to witness at a factory, yet, in this case, it wasn't in a conference room or an office. This meeting for a massive project was happening at a work table in the middle of the studio open to the jungle with racks of works in progress surrounding you. Being this close to the person making the pottery with the raw materials surrounding you make anything seem possible. I started to daydream about ways to come up with an excuse to make products with them, an excuse to come back to Ubud for work someday. Still dreaming from afar at this point and loving the time I spend with the works I've brought home.
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Meet Mauro Buffo, notable chef who's been in many of the best kitchens in the world. Most noteworthy were the four "courses" or seasons that he was a part of the team at El Bulli. I had the pleasure of having met Mauro through mutual friends in New York, and then a few years later embarking on what I like to call the insider foodie tour of Barcelona with him. We landed in Spain from different corners of the world and started the tour of Mauro's favorite spots inside and just outside Barcelona. Many of the team that Mauro was a part of at El Bulli had since moved onto their own or other endeavors and we were able to partake of those new successes. My favorite Barcelonian was Albert Raurich who's place Dos Pallilos (two chopsticks) made for a real "situation" for me. Albert was at El Bulli in the beginning and stayed for well over a decade before stepping out on his own. I will be writing about our visit to El Bulli and our many meals at Dos Palillos soon, but for now it's a focus on Lolita, a perfect tapas spot formerly helmed by Albert Ferran and called Inopia. We were in town the weekend the switchover happened from Inopia to Lolita and yum is about the best way to sum it up. We sat down at a high bar along the wall and began ordering basically everything on the menu. A menu which is formed from a tight edit of heightened standard tapas fare, from ham to sardines to burgers all made differently with standout details added. The hot dogs are served with toy guns full of catchup which made for fun and good photos. The highlight of the night came when we literally ran into Albert Raurich as he was winding down from the service at Dos Palillos and joined us for cocktails and desert. He was heading to Lolita for a chill after work chef snack and an evening cocktail. I can admit that it felt like I was somehow privy to a life that I hadn't earned, but very much enjoyed being a part of. I suggest the Gin & Tonic which was all the two chef's drank and it's somewhat of a ceremony for them end of shift. Mauro currently makes food magic happen high up in the alps at the Vigilius Mountain Resort in Lana, Italy.
The Scholium Project is the brainchild of Abe Schoener, a former professor from St. John's College and someone I am lucky enough to call a friend. I have always wanted to participate in a wine grape harvest and began pestering him over the last few years for the chance to help out. Having grown up in California near enough to Napa for school field trips there from a young age, it was in my blood. In retrospect deciding to participate in the harvest, is most closely aligned with waiting for the birth of a baby. Abe and I exchanged many e-mails and calls. The conversations were filled with guesses about the weather and when it might be right to harvest. As luck would have it I was attending a birthday party for another friend in Marin County in early October, and the grapes cooperated. I woke up the morning after a wonderful celebration and I hit the road to Scholium’s home base on the river in Napa. A small group of us gathered early that foggy morning. Most of us were meeting for the first time over coffee while gathering the supplies needed, bins, clippers and gloves.
A caravan collects and we’re headed out to the groves to began the harvest. Abe works with many growers and different grape varieties for the brands vintages. This is part of what makes his wine unique and so special. He processes the wine in his own winery, but the grapes come from various spots throughout the valley. I realize while we are in the vineyard picking that Napa is good for the soul, there is something about the place that is peaceful and chaotic at the same time. It’s almost like the ground knows the value of the crop it supports both economically and emotionally. We pick hundreds of pounds of grapes and head to the winery to set-up for the processing. We load the haul into a contraption that primarily operates as a boa constrictor to the grapes. Abe makes the most amazing “orange” wine which I have come to learn is white grapes put through a skin-on fermentation and this is the process we were working with. Wine making is a science with a bit of magic thrown in. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. There were test tubes and thermometers and conversations that bordered on sounding like the biology classes I remember from long ago, but even with all that there’s the sun and the air and the variables that all need to come together over weeks and years to birth a beautiful vintage.
The moment has come and I GET TO STOMP GRAPES. Not in a barrel like on I Love Lucy but still! I recommend that this is added to your bucket list. It’s freeing and fun and productive all at once, and you’re part of something that won’t really come to life for a year at least. I love the cooperative work style that is a part of the culture Abe had created, everyone including him is learning all the time. After we finished the days pressing we check the development of the rest of the seasons work. There was more stomping and a lot of conversation contemplating the progress each barrel had made and what it might mean to each vintage’s future life. We then hit the road to go look at the ripening progress of some other more precious varieties with the idea that the upcoming pressings could be scheduled…or not depending on the verdict.
It was a perfect sunny day in Napa, I learned so much more than I expected to, and I felt the magic. Abe pens the most amazing newsletters which are worth signing up for, the wine is supremely good and it’s worth a visit to their digital world for the knowledge to be gained alone. There are forward thinking retailers and restaurants that stock the wines, however I think it’s more fun to digest the information on the site and ask the winemaker directly if you have questions. I’ve got two cases waiting for me at home in LA and I can’t wait to find excuses for dinner parties just to be able to partake of the wines with my friends. Especially the 2011 Prince aka “orange wine."