A coffee with… Alessio Zappala

He is the one in charge of “feeding” the Italian Ambassador in Luxembourg. He knows her tastes and works hardly to delight the palate of the renowned personalities from Luxemburg and European political scene who frequent her table.

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His name is Alessio Zappala, known as Chef Alessio, he was born in Sicily, Italy, and he is a volcano of gastronomic knowledge, stubbornness and happiness. This might have been probably what impressed the Ambassador Mrs. Rossella Franchini, before choosing him for her kitchen. We met Alessio for a coffee at Caffé Torino in a sunny morning and ask him some questions, for the readers of Barefoot in Luxembourg to get know him better.


Angela
– Chef, what does it mean for a young chef to play such an institutional role?
Alessio – Working for the Italian Ambassador in Luxembourg is a mission. And not just for what you represent, but for the commitment it takes to promote Italian culinary culture in this country. Since I have been working for her, I had the opportunity to work toward my philosophy.

AN – And what is your philosophy?
AL – Here in Luxembourg, Italian restaurants do not lack, indeed, we can say that there are a lot. Despite this, finding who really respects the tradition and the high quality of our products is very difficult. And I understand it, because it is often more effective to meet local tastes and to choose products easily available rather than making efforts to keep up the pure, authentic Italian gastronomic proposal. So I commit myself and I fight for not coming down to these compromises. Each Italian recipe is made of typical ingredients, most of which are excellent. Let us use them, let people know, we don’t have to add elements that have nothing to do with our culture.

AN – You’re right. I am on your side. And tell me how the ambassador caught you?
AL – In 2014 I won the Bronze Medal at the World Cooking Championship at ExpoGast, an international haute cuisine event, in which I obviously represented Italy. That was followed by the silver medal during the period when I was in the Federation of Italian chefs in Belgium. These occasions are unique, you know, to make yourself known. Not to mention my commitment in Luxembourg to grow the Italian Chefs Federation.
So, coming back to your question, it was that one evening a few months ago, I received a proposal that I could not refuse 😉

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AN – And now you cannot get away from the one question: what does the Ambassador fancy to eat?
AL – The ambassador has refined tastes and is respectful of every single ingredient. It is for this reason that she does not like the excess of spices and sauces, to taste the most authentic flavor of the dish. She decides the main and the sides. And as she decides, there are no further questions.
As for her preferences, she especially loves game prepared with the typical Italian aromatic herbs and the sauce that is naturally released during cooking. Then she often makes herself the bread with which she delights family and guests.

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AN – Thanks Alessio, it’s always nice to meet people through their tastes. And tell us, where will we find you soon?
AL – This year, from 24 to 28 November, the Expogast is back, returning to Luxembourg every 4 years and featuring international culinary art. With a lot of competitions, between 46 teams of different nationalities for the “Villeroy & Boch Culinary World Cup”. Well, I will coordinate the Italian team.
So dear Italian readers (and not only!), come to cheer for us!

AN – We, at Barefoot in Luxembourg, will certainly be there. So now last question: What have you got up your sleeve?
AL – There is something in preparation on the menu, but I cannot announce anything yet. Readers will have to wait a few month, they have to stay tuned until next interview 😉

AN – Thanks for this pleasant coffee together, Alessio
AL – Thanks to you Angela for having given me the possibility to talk about my projects on the blog.

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If you want to follow Chef Alessio Zappala check his Facebook Page here.

Pictures are courtesy of Laura Iberti. Follow her Instagram account here.

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Jam BBQ at Windsor: Unexpected and Full of Surprises

Corie and I have been invited to the last summer appointment of the Jam BBQ series, an evening of show cooking at the Atelier du Windsor in Bertrange.

It was a warm Wednesday of September and for us it was the first time.

Those of you who follow the blog probably know pretty well the level of expectations of Corie, mine not yet. Well, as it was a BBQ event, we said, let’s wait for a lot of succulent meat, grilled outside and soft to the heart, – sorry we are not vegan tonight!

When we arrived, the dehors of the Atelier du Windsor was already almost full, the fires and the stove were heated on a long table made available for a show cooking with several hands (I didn’t know, mea culpa, so it was a surprise and I loved it!). I only knew there would have been a barbecue, a DJ set and a cocktail stand held by the Atelier du Barman.

On one side, the bartender prepared delicious cocktails that my adventure partner and I missed out with the desire to taste the wines on display. Sigh!

For starters, the waitress served us a plate of sushi. Aaah! Although I am notoriously a sushi lover, I could not hide my expression of amazement mixed with confusion. I look at Corie and read the same loss in her.

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Keep calm, let’s try to understand.

Ok, a chat with Charlotte, the communication manager of the restaurant, and we understood that, apart from this entrée, the rest of the dishes would have provided after a nice hot bath on the grill, but no dish could be anticipated at that stage. Each recipe would have been improvised at the moment by five local and international chefs during a battle with hot forks and at the rhythm of their favorite playlists.

It was very interesting.

Here, between a Cremant and a IG story, we were served the first courses: scallops and prawns with salad at Chorizo, prepared by the Luxembourger chef Guy Kohnen and then rare Oxiblue grilled, served with braised pumpkin and apple foam, all infused with ginger. A well-chosen and unusual combination with the intriguing Asian scent, prepared by François Jagut chef of Les Roses, Mondorf-les-Bains.

And, listen, listen, finally the meat! Imagine the joy!

Indeed, three courses for carnivores followed. The beef “tagliata” by Gilbert Welter of Op der Leiffrächen, Kayl, also with strong Asian references and served strangely in a bowl. Homemade tacos with meat and vegetables by Francisco Arroyo Ramirez, Casa Natalia, Los Cabos, Mexique, lovely presentation and amazing tasting. Last but not least our coup de coeur: porc “Schneidewind style”, by Jan Schneidewind, pork in strips served on spicy bruschetta. I think I took the dish at least three times, while Corie did not stop until the owner shake hands to greet us 😉

The summer Jam BBQ at Atelier du Windsor was definitely a success.

During the colder months, the party will move indoor, with a similar formula, for a Sunday brunch children-friendly, Kitchen Party. On the menu: show cooking, entertainment and surprises for children, cocktail bar for adults and non-alcohol cocktails for the little ones, live music … It’s happening every first Sunday of the month: October 7th (SOLD OUT), November 4th, December 2nd.
Price is € 45 per person excluding drinks and a reservation is needed.

Ukelele, Clausen, Luxembourg

If you are following my blog, you have probably already realized my “restaurants to try” approach. I have a “to do” list with new openings and restaurants I have never been, but it often happens that if I don’t visit a restaurant immediately after the opening, I loose a bit of interest, as I have the impression my readers will not be extremely reactive, considering there might have been written already enough on the subject.

It was the case of Ukelele, this Thai corner located in Clausen, just off the Rives. I wanted to try it so much as soon as it opened, I lost the moment, for one reason or the other, and then everybody was so much talking about it that it went at the bottom of my “next restaurant”. What could I added if a general public idea is already wide-spread?

I love Thai food indeed and I tend to stick to ordering delivery from Bangkok Thai at the station – the place is a bit dodgy (sorry!), but the food is authentic and well priced, compared to other Thai restaurants I have tried in the city (not the time to mention now, but you can easily find in my reviews).

So – I have almost forgot about Ukelele, when my boyfriend decided to surprise me with a reservation that read “I passed there in front, I liked it and I pop in for reserving”. I could not say no: first of all, because generally speaking I am the one in charge of restaurant reservation in our family and therefore it came pretty much as a shock (no offense intended, just the fair truth 🙂 ). Second, because normally M. is very picky concerning food – and as much as he can eat his Delirio Culinario pizza with gorgonzola and salami at least three times per week, he is totally unmotivated regarding exotic cuisine. So – I told myself, why not.

I got to Ukelele a bit earlier than him and the place was half-busy. I gave my name at the counter and I was indicated two tables on the main street side. There were actually three tables available in total – one in the corner with two chairs and two on a bench. I wanted to be on a chair but I was told to choose between the other two.

I ordered a Thai Tonic while I waited for M. to arrive and I was given the menu. He got there from work with his usual delay and, little by little, the restaurant got really packed.

He also had a Gin to start with and we ordered. We went for a mixed starter to share, I follow with a basil beef, while he had red curry chicken. We concluded with espresso and cognac.

After the pictures of our dinner, you will find my thoughts about Ukelele – and yes, I know lots have been written already, so these are just my two cents.

What I liked about Ukelele:

  • The place is very nice and I loved the decorations – specifically the reversed umbrellas on the ceiling. The atmosphere is warm, welcoming and casual, as well as the service. If you are not familiar with Thai cuisine, the staff is very glad to help you doing an informed choice, advising on hotness level, sauces and so on.
  • I liked the food: the basil beef was definitely MY dish and would order it again straight away. Perfect level of hotness and delicious, authentic flavors. The starter platters was as well tasty. The spring rolls were so good I wanted to have other ten probably, while I liked the fish cake a bit less, but it was a kind of starter I would have not ordered in a single portion. Go for the rolls, definitely 🙂
  • While you could not expect to pay the same price you would in Thailand – in Bangkok, I probably had the same dinner for the equivalent of 17 euros and my Thai colleagues were complaining about the fact it was a rather expensive place – Ukelele is fairly priced, with main around 15 euros. We had basically everything (Gin Tonic to start, a shared platter of starters, two main, a good bottle of wine, coffee and cognac) and we spent a bit more than 100 Eur.

What I liked a bit less about Ukelele:

  • We had a lovely dinner and I would definitely consider to visit the restaurant again – even if over week-end it is often fully booked, so having to reserve well in advance might be, for me, a restrain factor. There are just few points I would note, as you know I am picky: the place is small and very cozy as said, but if you end up in a night where the are big groups, like the night we visited, it becomes a bit noisy. Second, on the same side, you are basically dining with the table next to you. That might be positive if you are in the mood for talking, not really if you want to have a reserved conversation and the table next to you speak your same language. Lastly, the bench where I was seated was very uncomfortable as it is at a different level to the table compared to chairs, at least if you are tallish like I am. Ask for a table with chairs 🙂 Silly points, as usual, indeed, and nothing that would stop me to consider it as my first choice for Thai dining in.

 

To sum up: Ukelele is a lovely Thai restaurant in Clausen. The location is very unique and warm and the atmosphere is casual, with a friendly service. Food is on point and prices are fair. My recommended dish would definitely be the basil beef, if you like spicy food. Perfect for a night out with friends. Reservation needed – in advance for the week-end.

Barefoot in Luxembourg meets People: Cecilie

A new week starts with a new interview for our Barefoot in Luxembourg meets People column. Today Jenni is introducing us Cecilie, a dynamic, smiling lady who is reminding us, among all, how important is to believe in your dreams.

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Good Morning and Welcome Cecilie! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about who are you and what are you doing here?

Sure! My name is Cecilie Rigneus, I am originally from Norway, and I’m a nurse (former one!), a mom and a personal trainer. I arrived in Luxembourg 17 years ago with my husband, basically because of his job. At that time, my children were very small and the prospect of working was stressful balancing child care and long working hours. So I decided I was going to look another way and began to look at options of starting my own business. This would then give me a more flexible working schedule and allow me to work from anywhere at any time and around my family. Being able to share my business opportunity with people is something I am truly passionate about as I am able to change their lifestyle with reduced stress and added freedom. I also wanted to inspire people to pursue a healthier lifestyle in the long run.

My friends and family would describe me as a happy, positive and including person who love living life to the fully.

Can you tell Barefoot in Luxembourg readers a bit more about your business?

It was 8 years ago, whilst I was looking for a flexible business that I was introduced to this opportunity and I just knew it was for me. I call myself a “Lifestyle Optimizer”. My business is divided into two categories: clients and partners. With regards to my clients, I aim to inspire them to look and feel younger in the long term by encouraging them to make the best choices with health, fitness and wellbeing. Partners are typically people who want to get away from regular office jobs, want more flexibility in their working hours or have moved here and have a hard time finding a permanent job due to the language barriers, education or skills.

My motivation of helping people is to offer them a possibility to earn money with the option of working from any location and country with totally flexible working hours.

Why should people in Luxembourg be attracted to your business?

It’s a great way to make money on your own terms. As a business owner you set your own goals and get the necessary coaching and support to help make it happen. There are also no special requirements for success, just the right attitude! To get a better idea how to be more involved is to come to our next event, which is on Saturday the 3rd February at 11.00. To receive more information people can send an email to info@lifestyleoptimiser.com.

What are your future plans?

To continue living life the way I do! My business allows me to travel and to meet so many inspiring and interesting people.

My motto is that I don’t live to work but work to live.

Coming back to your Luxembourg background, you told us you have been living here for 17 years.

Yes, and in this 17 years I have seen a lot of change in Luxembourg and I love to be a part of that change. Luxembourg is such a diverse community with so many nationalities and cultures.

What is your favorite place in the city?

I like Come a la Maison because of its unique concept. It’s truly a lifestyle kind of place with stylish decoration, healthy choices, food and the best coffee.

What is your preferred night-life spot in Luxembourg?

I don’t have the same desire to hit the nightlife anymore. I tend to go out for drinks with friends and if I have to choose some places then I’d say Boos Café in Bridel or Mansfeld in Clausen.

What do you like about Luxembourg life?

I love the diversity. You can just be yourself and people will accept you for who you are. Luxembourg is also very family friendly and I’m happy to have my children growing up here. It is also very green and the healthcare system is excellent.

What do you miss here and what would you like to change or improve?

I would love to see more of the cheaper health stores. I have to say I have seen a big change when it comes to people getting more health conscious and availability in healthy options. There is definitely room for more. I love both fashion and home deco, but have to admit I don’t find much of my Scandinavian style here.

What is the best place you visited in a range of 200 km from the city and that you would suggest for a day trip?

Champagne region is my personal recommendation. I love the rustique French countryside, I love bubbles so I can’t really ask for more.

How would you describe Luxembourg with three adjectives?

Safe, international and open minded.

Thank you for being with us today Cecilie.

To discover more about Cecilie you can follow her Facebook page here.

 

Maison Steffen: where good food matters

Established in 1989 in Steinfort, Luxembourg, Maison Steffen is, without a doubt, one of the trendiest places to go grocery shopping when you are looking for a boucherie, a shop to get some good quality meat and cold cuts. Barefoot in Luxembourg was invited to the re-opening of Maison Steffen’s oldest boutique in Steinfort and it was a great occasion to discover more about this brand!

The boucherie itself was recently renovated and has now a completely different look. In my opinion, it’s very inviting as one of its walls facing the street is made entirely out of glass and lets a lot of light in. The interior of the butchery, is however, kept rustic, simple and harmonic; there are some sausages and cold cuts hanging and old butchery equipment is also present. When it comes to the selection of their products, you can choose from raw meats to ready to make meals and even catering options.

After visiting the shop, the night continued at another venue where we were taken by a shuttle bus. At this event hall, we were offered drinks followed by a short promo movie explaining the history and the current status of the shop. When the clip was finished, the food buffet was opened and we had a chance to sample many different dishes, that were made by using products available for purchase at the stores. Most of the dishes were very typical Luxembourgish dishes and small enough so I could try several of them – all delicious!


Overall, my experience at Maison Steffen was great and I was left with a very positive feeling about the shop; it is definitely worth visiting if you happen to find yourself in Steinfort. For those who live in Luxembourg city or other parts of this massive country, you have an option to check their other shops in Cents, Petange, Esch-sur-Alzette or Dudelange. Exact addresses and opening hours can be found on their website. Maison Steffen also owns a restaurant La Table de Frank, located in Steinfort.

Naturalia – A new Organic Grocery Store

For a long time, Luxembourg Gare area has been a very shady one but recently there have been a lot of improvements and new businesses have opened up. In the end of September, I attended at the opening of Naturalia at Luxembourg Gare. Originally from France, Naturalia is a  specialized in selling organic food items  such as vegetables and fruits but also cheese, wine, bread, rice and pasta. They also have a big selection of hygienic products, vitamins and food supplements.

Their new store is quite small but very bright and attractive. Presentation of fresh veggies and fruits at the entrance is lovely and the store even makes fresh “smoothies to go” in the morning. At the event, I had a possibility to try some of the different combinations they make and also some vegan raw cakes and other appetizers. I also liked the idea of them selling seeds, nuts and cereals from plastic containers from which you could choose the amount of each item you want to have  without additional waste or packaging.


The proximity to the train station certainly attracts many clients, especially because there are no other organic stores with a similar concept nearby and they have long opening hours. Even on Sundays. As ecological lifestyle is starting to be a growing trend in Luxembourg, I’m sure that once the possibilities for buying organic gets easier, people will also be more interested in green eating.

Naturalia Luxembourg
Address:
12-18 rue Joseph Junck

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 8.00-20.00
Friday: 8.00-21.00
Saturday: 8.00-19.00
Sunday: 9.00-19.00

A Drink at Brasserie Philippe, Luxembourg City

Being in Luxembourg for almost 12 years now, I noted that there are restaurants/bars that have been the same for ages – notwithstanding the quality or level of prices – while there are some places that changed management / name / kind of activity very often in a short period of time. I can name few, but one example I had in front of my eyes recently was the brasserie located on Rue Philippe II almost at the cross with Avenue Monterey.

It used to be for long time an Italian bar – I remember I was going there to watch football matches when I did not have TV at home! – but after that it lost a bit the plot – ice cream parlour, brunch place, restaurant, after-work.. it was not really clear to me what it was and it looked in all the cases a very touristic trap. During one of these changes, I got in to have an ice cream and prices were mad and service unbelievably rude.

Anyway – the place I am talking about now has a new name, Brasserie Philippe and look more one of those neighbhood places you can find in Limpersberg or Belair, a nice, refined one.

It was not on the top of my “to try” list, but it happened that on December 26th I got back to Luxembourg in the afternoon. I was a bit too cold to stay at the Christmas Market – well, just the addendum in Place Guillamme was still on -, it was too early for dinner and I was not in the mood for getting into one of the usual bars in the Old Town.

As Brasserie Philippe was open and not empty, we said, why not to try.

The menu out of the meals’ hours reads several kind of drinks and some snacks. We started ordering two glasses of Montepulciano, followed by a charcuterie platter, a wine refill and a further platter of cheese.

Find quick pictures of our afternoon treat followed by my general impressions.

What I liked about Brasserie Philippe:

  • Service was very nice. As per above, you have more the feeling of being in a local brasserie than in a bar in the very city center. It was public holiday and it was over week end, so they had finished the normal bread, but before taking our order the waiter informed us, saying they had just industrial bread and if it was fine. I am sure in some other places they would have not cared.
  • Prices are extremely fair: wine glasses were between 6 and 10 euro while the shared platters were in a range of 8 / 12 euro. Definitely more than acceptable for a downtown bar!
  • Location is cozy and warm. I also spied a lovely mezzanine dining room.
  • Choice of wine and drinks again is pretty wide (table next to us had gin tonic prepared in the big glasses with cucumber) and reasonably priced.

What I liked a bit less about Brasserie Philippe:

  • Let’s face the thruth: while the place is very nice, due to the location the client basis is very mixed – hence you have tourists and families, nothing too posh or sophisticated. So the perfect spot if you are around for shopping and you want to have a drink / a snack, not the place I would plan in advance to go for a night out.
  • My mum is always saying: If you don’t spend much, you cannot expect much. So, while I definitely appreciated that the shared platters were pretty cheap compared to the Luxembourg average, at the same time you cannot say they have an amazing quality – and cheese was mainly just brie. Still, while kind of commercial, they were fresh and tasty.

 

In conclusion: The renewed Brasserie Philippe, in the very city center, is the perfect place for a stop during a shopping afternoon or in-betweens errands. The selection of drinks is wide and prices are extremely reasonable compared to the location. Bonus point: a very kind service.