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Ocean Attractions

Enjoying star treatment on Celebrity Cruises’ Summit

I was seated at the wall of windows that wrap the Waterfall Grill, enjoying cinnamon waffles and omelets, when a pod of playful dolphins sprung from the twirling sea, one after another, to kiss the warm morning sky.  Over the next five days of our sojourn aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Summit from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera, I anticipated more magical experiences in a departure from the ordinary.

The Summit boasts 11 passenger decks and 1,059 suites that accommodate 1,950 guests, whose epicurean tastes are satiated with 45,000 pounds of beef, lamb, lobster, and fish.  The crew, made up of more than 60 nationalities, provides Vegas- and Broadway-style entertainment; prepares and serves 9,000 meals daily in three dining rooms; and facilitates socials, seminars, and shore excursions.  ConciergeClass is one of three unique brands of services—offering guests preferential pampering.  At this level of service, staterooms are appointed with 24-hour butler service, guests receive dining seating preference, VIP invites to onboard events, and a variety of in-suite comforts.

Each day at sea allowed for indulging in a tireless roster of fun opportunities.  To view the poolside cooking competition and live band, I joined Kathy and Gregg McCree from Brooklyn, New York, who had dropped anchor in a sun-kissed whirlpool spa.  “We usually cruise for birthdays and anniversaries,” offered Kathy as we ordered smoothies, “we were told Summit had a mature crowd; so far we’re in the whirlpools most of the day.”  That evening we dined in the plush, art deco Normandie, which is distinguished for its decoupage, flambé tableside service and dine-in wine cellar featuring 175 fine vintages.

The abundance of tequila factories in Puerto Vallarta, our first port of call, supports the popularity of this excursion. Mario, our guide, steered us to a crowded demonstration and sampling of two-dozen flavors of the legendary libation.  Later that evening, after dinner — and more tequila — we donned white attire and attended the masquerade ball in the whimsical Cirque du Soleil-designed lounge.  Roughly a dozen excursion options are crafted for each port.

A colorful folkloric showcase followed by sightseeing along the waterfront, then silver shopping in the Golden Zone, easily filled our itinerary in Mazatlan.  Founded in 1531, it’s Mexico’s oldest town.  Cabo San Lucas is the hot spot for aquatic adventures. Qevin and I chose the two-bay snorkeling experience for the chance to swim amid flamboyant fish and got a great adrenaline rush wave-running back to the ship.

Michelle and Stephen White of Quartz Hill, California, on their fifth and first cruise, respectively, were among the guests snapping farewell photos as the anchor lifted.  “I’m a casino girl myself,” whispered Michelle as we recapped the trip.  “I wasn’t looking for a 24-hour party boat [which Summit isn’t]; the costume ball, bingo, and Broadway show are a good blend of entertainment.”

The last dinner at sea is a regal affair with tailored tuxedos and elegant gowns.  A string quartet serenaded patrons as captain Michail Karatzas greeted his guests.  At our table, Sandra and Dexter Bryant of Orange County, California — usually fervid conversationalists — were still in sensory heaven from the romantic Cleopatra Slipper treatment they enjoyed in the AquaSpa.  To chart a course for your own divine cruise experience, visit Celebrity Cruises.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

TipSheet: Old Money

Collecting money never loses popularity

and can earn you a pretty penny

Preservation, rarity, and demand comprise the elusive trifecta sought by coin collectors and dealers.  “When you get that combination the value of the coins goes through the roof,” says David Neita, director of sales for California-based American Heritage Minting (800-800-2184), “the first year of issue of any denomination is always in demand,” rarity matters little without demand.  “Any bust half-dollars, dimes, quarters from 1796-1838…anything from the early beginnings of this country is very much in demand,” shares Neita, who sources gem-quality coins for his wholesale dealership, but advises, “buy the level of preservation that you can afford.”

Neita, a former CBS Morning News (1968-1973) journalist, fell in love with coins while researching for a Mint Masters catalog he produced in 1986 for a dealer.  “It’s a high-risk high-reward business.”  The famed King of Siam coin set, including a specially minted 1804 dollar, sold for $10 million last year.  Coin dealers operate like stockbrokers, they aim to buy low, sell high and keep the difference to grow their business—and they are instrumental in negotiating for collectors.  At this year’s Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando, auctions hammered $85 million, not including millions traded on the bourse floor, which hints at why this is a very secretive and close-knit community, adds Neita who hails from Brooklyn, New York.

“It took us 20 years to establish contacts in France before they would sell to us.”  Neita, 59, is primarily self-trained and specializes in US, English, and French coins.  He studied how to grade coins, the history of US gold coin varieties, and counterfeit US gold coin detection at the American Numismatic Association, “but there’s nothing like being on the bourse floor at a tradeshow, going from table to table studying coins,” he says.  “You have to be outgoing and like a sponge to soak up information.  The death in this business is the day you think you know everything.  It’s impossible to be an expert on every coin, find an area of specialization.”  Neita offers us what every numismatist (student of the coin) should know:

Theme strengthens a collection.  Before spending a dime on a Buffalo Nickel, Indian Head Cent or any coin buy the book advises Neita.  There are books on every US coin that provide dye varieties and historical insights including where the coin was struck.  “I own slave tokens made in 1793 and 1838, colonial paper money (issued by the Continental Congress to support the revolutionary war, some of it was made by Benjamin Franklin), and currency that bears the signature of somebody who signed the Declaration of Independence—that’s my kind of money!”

Preservation elevates value. Transport coins in a lightweight plastic flip that allows for carrying many coins at once.  “When handling coins always grip by the edge, never place a finger on the coin,” cautions Neita, “[being] thumbed or fingered effects the level of preservation, cotton gloves help.”  Storage should reduce exposure to moisture and dust.  Neita recommends a safe deposit box for very valuable coins, and abhors applying chemicals for preservation.  Coins converted to jewelry can never be a coin again.

Investing takes patience.   If exploring US coins for investment Neita suggests holding them for 3 or 5 years—or longer.  “Hold foreign coins for 5 to 10 years, but avoid investment grade if you might be forced to sell before these timeframes because you’re setting yourself up for the fall.”  The Guidebook of US Coins: The Official Red Book by R. S. Yeoman (Whitman Publishing; $16.95) is an annual guide that lists mintage (how many were made) and dollar value indicators.  Have coins graded by a third party like the Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.  Grading is key to authentication.  Reputable dealers guarantee their coins are genuine and will repurchase any coin at the highest price for that grade if the coin is found to be counterfeit.

Attend the premier coin show in the US, American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money or the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo to sample the thrill of the bourse floor.  For a starter’s tipsheet refer to Helpful Hints on Enjoying Coin Collecting by Bill Fivaz (Stanton Books; $15.95) and A Guide Book of United States Type Coins by Q. David Bowers  (Whitman Publishing; $19.95), more research available via www.coinbooks.info.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Short Stay: Jo’burg Rising

South African capital grows

as business tourism attraction

My first mission upon landing in Johannesburg was to find a perch from which to soak in a South African sunrise.  Equally warm greetings showed up all along my itinerary which was packed with mild adventures of dining on stewed ostrich, trailing springbok in the wild, and visiting historical sites.  There is a glow around Jo’burg, as it’s fondly called.  The city feels like a phoenix rising from an ominous spell.  Dozens of cranes are weaving towers into the skyline, an underground subway is on a fast track to realization, and the country’s GDP growth rate hit 4.7% in the third-quarter of 2006.  Confidence is strong and infectious.

Slice of Jo’burg.

South Africa’s profile as a destination for meetings, conventions and incentive travel is poised to soar.  “The reasons for optimism,” offers Cameron Brandt, International Markets Editor for Emerging Portfolio Fund Research, “include the government’s conservative and consistent economic policy, the rapid expansion of the Black middle-class, forecasts for 10% GDP growth in China [which has] positive implications for commodity demand, and planned public infrastructure spending tied to the [2010 FIFA] World Cup.”  On the flip side, caution is encouraged because of “the expansion of household debt and lack of experience many of the new middle-class have when dealing with credit, still very high levels of unemployment, and the country’s large current account deficit.”  Visit www.southafrica.info for more insight on doing business in South Africa. Travel is about the journey not just the destination.  On our 15-hour intercontinental flight from Atlanta in Delta’s BusinessElite Class ($6,600-$7,900) the pampering began at the gate with VIP compliments in Delta’s Crown Room Club.

Blue Dot performs at Moyo.

On-board service deflects jet-lag and pleasures your senses with personalized five course gourmet dining and flavorful wines, all-leather luxury sleeper seating equipped with a state-of-the-art entertainment system, private video monitors, and a slew of comforts that make for a faultless five-star experience. Sandton, Jo’burg’s gleaming uptown district, bustles with Mercedes-Benz taxis shuttling folk to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Sandton International Convention Centre, restaurants in Nelson Mandela Square; among them is Lekgotla with its tribal chic ambiance, and a massive mall with designer boutiques like Shakur Olla and Sun Goddess, all set near our hotel, the Michelangelo Towers.  Italian heels and Swiss timepieces adorn guests who zip from tables at the lobby restaurant “8” to suites like my tech-savvy duplex ($715 per night).  The ultra-swank Cupola suite has a 360-degree view of Jo’burg, private rooftop pool, butler and security staff and commands $5,700 per night for unrivalled luxury. Considered the ‘urban heart’ of South Africa, Johannesburg is set like an axle in the center of eight provinces:  Cape Town, on the picturesque southwest coast, is famed for its lush winelands and whale watching, Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans lock arms, and the historical site Robben Island.  The North West province is home to the super-sized extravagance of Sun City which contains four hotels, that offer family attractions, casino gaming, two 18-hole par 72 golf courses and conference facilities.  The ultimate safari adventure is in Mpumalanga in the northwest, where 10,000 elephants and prides of lions roam Kruger National Park.  My guide, Joe Motsogi, owner of JMT Tours, charted a fulfilling excursion that included shopping at Chameleon Village and an exhilarating sunset safari drive. Seasons in South Africa are distinguished by precipitation rather than severe temperature changes.  Rain or shine there are eventful attractions year-round: Durban July is an illustrious horse racing event steeped in aristocratic tradition; young and celebrated musicians rule the spotlight at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival; golf enthusiasts flock to majestic greens for the Million Dollar Golf Challenge and the Nelson Mandela Invitational Golf Challenge; and wine connoisseurs attend Winex to sample and shop for vintages from over 200 South African wineries.

Apartheid Museum.

Near downtown Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum, a sleek, modern structure that houses a comprehensive and riveting chronicle of South Africa’s journey to democracy.  It also invokes optimism for South Africa, a country as a democracy that is only 13-years-old.  It’s a new day.  Contact South Africa Tourism to facilitate your convention, vacation and incentive travel needs.

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© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Courting Contractors

A first-time home remodel almost


becomes a costly nightmare

“Hands down I was sold on the house when I stepped onto the deck and saw the beautiful meadow and creek,” recalled Alvin Adell, M.D.  “I was sold on the setting, the house itself needed some love.”  For Adell, 46, an attending anesthesiologist, the appeal of his 3,200 square-foot Center Hall Colonial in Colts Neck, New Jersey includes being a 60-minute train ride from New York City and Atlantic City, and 35 minutes from Newark International Airport.   “I travel often, convenient access was a major selling point.”   In April 2000 Adell began financing the TLC his home needed.  His remodel project had three priorities: create the feeling of a luxe spa on a homey scale in the master bath, build-out a secondary level for the master suite (with fireplace, walk-in-closets and patio), and modernize the kitchen with a heated flooring system and open floorplan onto the dining room and deck.  “I love to grill,” shared Adell, “sometimes in the winter, so easy access to the deck is important.”

Dr. Alvin Adell’s remodeled and expanded kitchen, fitted with heated flooring and premium appliances, hosts many dinner parties and is the center attraction in his home.

“One of the best things was to work with an interior designer [Beau Boger] who knew where everything needed to go, [my] designer worked with the vision of existing furniture,” said Adell.  “I went around with my interior designer to pick the materials together.”  Adell considers his style to be traditional based with contemporary African and Asian accents.

Contractor selection.  Through referrals Adell sourced three contractors to interview, he requested references and visited one site for each contractor screened.  He “checked with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints, and made a subjective assessment,” said Adell, “to see if I would be able to trust that person in my home when I’m not there.”   “One contractor was low-balling, I visited hardware stores to gauge the price of materials and knew it was impossible to do the job with his bid, he was eliminated.  Low-ballers eventually add costs or skimp.”  Adell established an account at Route 18 Lumber so his contractor “didn’t have to [shell-out] upfront money on materials and have to wait to be reimbursed,” said Adell, “and I didn’t have to worry about him overcharging me for inferior materials.  Invoices came directly to me and I qualified for acontractor’s price on materials.”

Master bath with spa comforts, including heated flooring, jacuzzi tub and multi-head shower, adds value.

Budget for surprises.  Even with layers of pre-screening you may not be exempt from costly misjudgments.  “Firing a contractor midway is one of the worst things you’ll have to worry about,” said Adell.  “It delays [project completion], contractors hate to come behind another contractor midstream to correct work.  In their mind, they know you’re vulnerable, so a $10,000 job could cost $50,000.”  In Adell’s case, he waited till the “big hole in the back of my house was sealed” then consulted his attorney to be certain he would be clear and free to fire his contractor for ‘changing design decisions, hiring substandard subcontractors, shoddy workmanship, and for being grossly behind schedule,’ though the contract lacked a timeline stipulation.  “I would find mistakes laid in concrete; [contractor removed] an oak hardwood floor that was never supposed to be replaced.”  David Jaffe,

Master suite build-out with walk-in closets, fireplace and patio, positioned over the two-car garage.

staff VP legal affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, said, “a ‘time is of the essence’ clause elevates the value the homeowner places on time, the contract can be terminated on the grounds of breach if the timeline is missed [however this can be] negated [if another clause pardons contractor] for delay due to reasons beyond his control.”  In hindsight, Adell said, “I would have found a contractor who has in-house plumbing, carpentry and electrical, which means if the general contractor actually employs those three craftspeople they have more control over their schedules, if the general contractor subs it out to individual contractors and the general contractor runs off schedule he’s at the mercy of the subcontractors.”  A full-service contractor is generally more expensive.  Research resources, project guidelines, and educational seminars are available through the National Association of Home Builders.

Adell credits his astuteness to a reading list comprised of Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 (Meredith Books; $34.95), Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest Association; $35.00), and Architectural Digest.  “Share your ideas with others,” said Adell, “you never know how their input might turn out to be a brilliant contribution.”

One year beyond his projected deadline, Adell’s investment tallied a conservative $200,000—more than $50,000 over budget.  Recently, his property appraised at $1.2 million, which redeems the unsavory portion of his first home renovation.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[  404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Savvy Sailor

Frugal comrades discover how teamwork

can get you more boat for less money

Anchoring a boat for seven months adds up to a tidy sum of money down the drain, so Jerome Abernathy didn’t idle on the idea to enter a co-ownership arrangement for his second boat.  At the 2001 Annapolis Boat Show, Abernathy, a hedge fund manager with Stonebrook Structured Products, and his friend Arnold Mintz, executive vice president of Asset Alliance Corporation, found a new Beneteau 473 worthy of their $300,000 investment.  “Arnold used to own a sail boat, one day while sailing my old yacht we hatched the idea of buying a larger vessel together,” recalled Abernathy.  “It is less expensive to own a larger boat in a partnership than to own a smaller one by yourself.”  Abernathy’s first boat [“Noe”] was a Beneteau 36cc that swallowed $9,000 per year for maintenance, insurance, and dockage fees.  In contrast, he drops $6,000 into “Victory” every six months.

BEFORE YOU BUY.  The type of waters and distances you intend to sail informs the type of boat you buy.  “Sailboats are the original hybrid vehicles,” said Abernathy.  “You have sails and (usually) a diesel engine for propulsion and electricity generation.  When sailing you rely on a bank of batteries for electricity, often, a sailboat will have solar cells or a windmill to recharge its batteries.  Sailboats are very stable, it is not unusual for a 25-foot sailboat to cross the ocean.  Power boats, [however] rely solely on an engine for propulsion and usually are not stable enough for sailing open seas, and are much more expensive to operate.”  Abernathy added, “to go cruising or to sea, you should consider a boat greater than 30-feet with a proper galley (kitchen) and head (bathroom).”

Jerome Abernathy on Victory in New York.

SAILOR 101.  Abernathy has raced from Charleston, South Carolina to Bermuda and does monthly day-sails from his homeport in Mamaroneck, New York to Newport, Rhode Island and Essex, Connecticut.  Before boarding to sail any distance it’s imperative to acquire sailor 101 knowledge.  Although Abernathy and Mintz were seasoned sailors, he said, “our dealer spent many hours teaching us the boat’s systems.”  “I highly recommend courses that follow the American Sailing Association’s curriculum [which teaches] basic sailing, navigation, weather forecasting, and emergency rescue procedures.”  Abernathy advises, “Take an ASA Basic Keelboat course, join a local sailing club to gain experience on smaller boats like the J24, and volunteer to crew on a race boat return delivery.”  He also advocates attending boat shows, vacationing on a chartered yacht with a group, and subscribing to Sail and Cruising World magazines and Practical Sailor newsletter.   As you consider upgrading your boat, Abernathy suggests keeping current on “sailing techniques, technology changes and new equipment offerings.”

ADDED VALUE.  Camaraderie and spending less time on upkeep are benefits of co-ownership to Abernathy who says having “compatible uses for the boat” was important in his decision, as was having a written agreement that clearly articulates the terms of the partnership.  “A new boat will depreciate, but not as fast as cars,” said Abernathy, “and electronic systems such as radar and GPS will likely need maintenance early on.”  After initial depreciation—depending on how well you maintain your craft, the manufacturer and model—a boat actually increases in value.  According to Abernathy, “If your boat has a galley and head, your boat loan can qualify for second-home tax treatment, which considerably lowers the cost of ownership.”   For even more savings, consider mooring your boat (tethering to an offshore anchor) for roughly $100 per month, compared to paying $300 – $690 to dock it.

© SEAN DRAKES
all reproduction rights reserved

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

LA Confidential: Brad Johnson fuels a Downtown revival

An appetite for dining out is integral to life in Los Angeles.  It’s pretty common for movie scripts and record deals to get the greenlight over a four-course meal.  For restauranteur Brad Johnson, success in the fine dining sector of the food service industry affords prized access to the pulse of Hollywood.

Brad Johnson atop Windows in Downtown Los Angeles.

Johnson, a native New Yorker, migrated west in 1989 and opened the Roxbury, an immensely popular restaurant and dance club that was immortalized in the movie A Night at the Roxbury.”  His follow-up contributions to LA’s nightlife, Georgia (co-owned by Denzel Washington) then The Sunset Room (both now closed),  helped spark the revival of the Hollywood business district.  These days his passion for dining is invested in Downtown Los Angeles where he manages an impressive net income turnaround for Windows restaurant, which is part of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s portfolio.

Table at Windows with a drop dead gorgeous view.

When Johnson entertains visitors he avoids the beaten-track.  “I’ve taken friends to classes at Power Yoga, to dine along the Malibu coast, and to The Ivy or the Newsroom where you might find a fair number of [film] industry networkers.”  “I love exploring Chinatown and The Farmer’s Market on Main St. in Santa Monica on Sundays,” adds Johnson, who frequents the nine-mile bike path that starts in Manhattan Beach and snakes along the vibrant Venice Beach boardwalk.  Major boxing events and the uninhibited nightlife in Las Vegas provide an alternative weekend experience for Johnson who manages V Bar at The Venetian resort.  “Jobs and people are always turning over so there’s a constant search for what the next thing is,” he says, “since people [in LA] define themselves by where they go and who they’re sitting next to it’s important to know what place that is at any given time.”

Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Restaurant sales in California in 2005 tipped the $50 billion mark, in 2004 visitors to LA spent $12 billion, and LA ports handled $235 billion in trading activity.  “Obviously the entertainment industry is the hub of the wheel,” shares Johnson, “as for emerging opportunities, LA’s gone through its cycle there are a lot of Downtown developments going up [and fueling the construction industry], but we’re at the tail end of that boom.”  The Staples Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Music Center have principal roles in casting Downtown as a hip destination for sports and performing arts attractions.  The 2007 arrival of LA Live, a sports and nightlife venue that houses the Grammy Museum, an ESPN studio, bars and bistros, should confirm LA’s new ‘It’ address.

“LA’s an easy place to live though it’s getting more expensive and congested,” admits Johnson, “it’s still a forward thinking city.  If you’re not in New York the only other place to be is Los Angeles.”  Learn more, visit the official site of the LA Convention and Visitors Bureau.

STAYThe Sunset Tower Hotel “Is low-key, a little more exclusive and a bit more expensive,” offers Johnson.  Its art deco architecture hints at the elegance of its suites that offer views of Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills.

Petit Filet with Lobster Tail.

DINE: The unobstructed 360-degree penthouse view from Windows is as luscious as the Petit Filet with Australian Lobster Tail or Bone in Rib Eye, both specialties of this steak house and martini bar situated near Staples Center.

CHILL:  After lunch Johnson designs a relaxing afternoon in West Hollywood by perusing “spiritual, meditation and New Age releases” at Bodhi Tree Bookstore before drifting to Elixr for a mind-clearing herbal tonic.  Here a tranquil garden offers “a place to sit and read.”

ENJOY:  Downtown’s cultural jewel, Walt Disney Concert Hall, offers self-guided audio tours of this spectacular structure and year-round performances by touring choirs and orchestras.  Catch a free exhibit at California African American Museum, which preserves the legacy of African American culture in the western states.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

15 Minutes: Chef Franco Savors Argentina

Fernando Franco’s kitchen preps 400 dishes daily, 

Sean Drakes surveys the chef’s table

 

When you’re the executive chef of a restaurant situated at a premier address for conferences and international business travelers, expectations are high and distinction is everything.

Fernando Franco has been at the helm of Waterfront Restaurant since its January 2008 opening at Hyatt Regency Trinidad.  The native of Buenos Aires, Argentina has worked for Hyatt since 2001.  “I think it was a very good idea,” shares Franco, 43, “to open a hotel is like to have a baby, you see the baby from when it’s born.  To be here from inception was very exciting.”  Franco has created inventive courses at hotels in Europe, Spain and Portugal.  His culinary career was launched in 1989 at Alvear Palace Hotel in Argentina where he was a chef de partie.  He also served as chef at the US Embassy in Argentina.

Trinidad experienced a restaurant boom in the last decade.  The capital city’s allure to the international business sector was heightened after Hyatt catered to President Barack Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009.  Franco reinvents menus every three or four months with innovative pairings and approaches using local ingredients.  He turned down his pots for 15 minutes to celebrate an Argentinian passion for beef.

Executive Chef Fernando Franco at Waterfront. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

Franco’s approach to fusing culinary traditions of two cultures onto one menu:

“When I make menus it’s funny,” begins Franco, “with the chef you know all the different ingredients…the produce, you know the taste you know the flavors, and when we talk about new menus and we invent new dishes you mix together ingredients, but you think in terms of flavor.  The lamb is good with this herb and this carrot, and then you put the mash, because you know the different flavors and combinations, you don’t need to try the dish.  You know when it’s good and it’s not good; take a carrot sauce and you put a sausage with too much herb it’s not that good a combination.”

Franco observes the divergent food habits of three cultures:

Upon arriving in Trinidad his first task was to scour local cookbooks to acquire a primer on indigenous ingredients.  Chadon beni, bhagi. dasheen bush, curry and coconut milk are the ingredients that are now fixtures in his culinary arsenal.  “The big difference between [Trinidad and Argentina] is breakfast,” suggests Franco, “here you have the doubles, it’s spicy and fried, in Argentina it’s just bread or croissant and coffee, nothing else.  It’s not like in the States, they eat eggs, bacon, sausage.”

Sun-dried tomatoes herbed risotto with seared sea bass and fresh organic arugala lettuce. Right: Roasted lamb loin, sweet pumpkin "coo coo" with organic cherry tomato and a merlot reduction. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

Franco factors in geography and creating an experience to feed meat lovers:

“It’s different here than in Italy, France, Miami or Buenos Aires, we have different kind of guest in each place,” he notes.  “In Trinidad we have plenty products.  You put on a list all the products you can find here, then start doing the combinations,” explains Franco in his slightly patchy English.  To construct menus he considers: “If I use white fish and salmon [on a current menu], I find another fish, like sea bass and snapper [for a new menu].  If I used before lamb chops and now lamb legs, next menu I use lamb shank.”  Hyatt Regency Trinidad recently unveiled themed dining nights with Argentinian feast for meat lovers on the first Wednesday of each month.

Shrimp and papaya salad served with organic mixed greens with a lime vinaigrette. Right: Dessert trio of steamed chocolate and banana pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

Franco embraces culinary traditions that preserve the bond to his homeland:

“My father cooked on holidays, weekends, special days,” recalls Franco, “all the family worked together in the kitchen.”  Franco apprenticed with Francis Mallman and El Gato Dumas, who are credited with launching a culinary revolution in the ’80s that converted aspiring engineers into celebrated chefs, and spawned a slew of culinary institutes in Argentina.

“We are famous in Argentina for beef,” claims Franco, “the rib eye is one of the best cuts now, the strip loins is very good.  In Argentina parrillas (bistro-style eateries) serve every cut of beef.  On Argentina Night we have the parrilla on two large outdoor grills, we grill beef, lamb, pork, sausage.”  Another new fine dining attraction at Waterfront is Brazilian Night.  The black bean-based feijoda, explains Franco, is a traditional Brazilian dish served for lunch on Saturdays.  For feijoda, most items on the menu are cooked with black beans.  Once cooked, the beans are extracted from a black liquid which is separated into six to eight pots and used as stock to cook sausage, bacon, dried meat…all the different parts of the pork.

Franco spends 12-hours each day in a kitchen with his staff of 55.  Though he finds time to visit Maracas Beach for a shark ’n bake treat, Franco’s charge to be a creative leader at Waterfront Restaurant keeps his plate full.

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Short Stay: Knoxville Renaissance

News anchor Tearsa Smith is never

bored in an emerging tech town

By Sean Drakes

“As long as I am in this field my life is never going to be boring,” says  Tearsa Smith, a morning and noon news anchor for ABC affiliate WATE–TV 6 News.  That sentiment also applies to her adopted hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Charming and quaint with a population of about 174,000, Knoxville is noted for its contributions to country music and the 1982 World’s Fair international expo.  Among its acclaimed locals are poet Nikki Giovanni and William Henry Hastie, the first African American federal magistrate judge and governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Anchorwoman and city insider Tearsa Smith. Photo: Sean Drakes

Smith points to the new convention center, Turkey Creek shopping district and the $25 million restoration of the Tennessee Theatre as indicators of Knoxville’s diligence to develop.  A $2.5 million business incubator at University of Tennessee is one of three high-tech support projects that defines Knoxville’s reputation as Innovation Valley.  Originally from Miami, Florida, Smith says Knoxville is a burgeoning media hub with several production companies that support cable TV producer Scripps Networks, which is headquartered in Knoxville and whose presence creates employment for writers, marketing professionals, producers and production crew.

Restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday’s, movie theater chain Regal Cinemas, and processed foods producer Bush Brothers & Co. are also based here.  Expansion Management has Knoxville on its 2007 list of 50 Hottest Cities for Expanding Companies.  The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to Smith, attracts computer science professionals, researchers and engineers to the metro area.  But registered nurses, elementary school teachers and auditors outnumber other professions in Knoxville.

“I’m a big shopper, and actually ran the Knoxville Expo 5k/10k,” shares Smith.  The Knoxville 100/Casey C. Jones Golf Tournament hosted by 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville “is a great time for golfers to visit or plan a business trip, tournament proceeds provide “Promise for the Future” scholarships for young men in the mentoring program.”  The Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival [has] “an Italian wine tasting hour, it is one of my favorite events that showcases the city’s love of the arts.”  The Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival and Women Today Expo are other uniquely Knoxville events, visit City of Knoxville for a full lineup.

_______________________

Tearsa Smith’s City Insights:

STAY:  Built in 1799, the Maple Grove Inn 8800 Westland Drive is a Georgian-style house, each of its seven suites is uniquely styled and some have a fireplace.  “My favorite room is the Maple Suite,” offers Smith.  “Rooms are spacious and don’t feel [like] commercial hotels.”

Four Points by Sheraton Knoxville Cumberland House Hotel 1109 White Avenue is a centrally-located swank, boutique property in the Fort Sanders Historic District.  It’s just steps from the Knoxville Convention Center and University of Tennessee.

DINE:  It’s tradition at Pasta Trio 119 South Central St. (865) 540-3970 to bring a bottle of wine for your dinner.  You sign the empty before adding it to the installation that’s a centerpiece of the decor.  Entrées such as the Cajun pasta which Smith says, “is extremely spicy and beyond good,” are mid-range at $20.

Baker Peter’s Jazz Club 9000 Kingston Pike “is an old mansion converted into a jazz club/restaurant with intimate lighting,” describes Smith.  “It’s like eating in someone’s home.  The food is consistently good.”  Her recommendation: the port wine duck confit with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach and port wine-blueberry syrup.

SHOP:  Bliss Home & Art  24 Market Square (888) 809-2424 is a cozy shop trading in vintage home accessories, glassware and novelties.  It stands out in Knoxville’s charming Market Square district.  “I got a funky wine holder there.”

Knoxville Soap Candle & Gifts 4889 Broadway (865) 689-6545 “is one of my personal favorite [shops], it’s a pamper-me-shop with every type of cream you can imagine, it’s like being at a spa.”

SEE:  “I recently went to see the opera Carmen,” at the Tennessee Theatre 604 South Gay Street.  “Every time I go there it takes my breath away, the Theatre brings old Hollywood glamor to Knoxville.  Bill Cosby, John Legend and Clay Aiken have performed here.

The Comedy Zone 9246 Park West Blvd.  “My husband and I double date here quite often.  You will leave with a pain in your side from laughter!”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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