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July 2018

Newideos V l e v Tra

The Travel Issue


The Ultimate Croissant Charming Narbonne


Barcelona: Culinary Delights


Sweet Treats in New York City Discover Maya Wilson’s Alaska

Edinburgh, Scotland 1

Coming this November Ally’s Boho Living...


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...the Holiday Issue (like no other) For more information or to advertise, contact us at


The Charm & Gastronomy of Narbonne (France). . 22


by Mabel Gago

In Search of Croissant Perfection (Paris) . . . . . 12 by Ksenia Skvortsova

New York City Sweet Treats . . . . . . . . . . . . 108 by Danny de la Cruz Color Inspiration: The World of Fashion Illustrator Francesco Lo Iacono . . . . . . . . . . 88


Culinary Delights From Innovative Spanish Stoves (Barcelona) . . . . . . . . . 94 by Mabel Gago

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Discover Maya Wilson’s Alaska . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Blackpool: A Tale of Two Cities (England) . . . . . . 52 by Danny de la Cruz

Mariebelle: The Name on Every Chocolate Lover’s Lips (NYC). . . . . . . . . 128

A Touch of Regal Splendor, Edinburgh (Scotland) . . . . . . . . . 148 by Danny de la Cruz A Taste of Galicia (Spain) . . . . . . . . . . . 184 by Ksenia Skvortsova


DEPARTMENTS Contributor Spotlight. . . 6 Editor’s Letter. . . . . . . . . 7 Editor’s Picks: Travel Products We Love . . . . . 8 Travel Guide: London. . 46 Fashion Picks: Red, White & You. . . . . . . . . . . . 140 Travel Basics. . . . . . . 144

On the cover: St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by DJG

Ksenia Skvortsova

Mabel Gago

Ksenia is a cook, writer and food stylist living in New York City. She graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2011. Ksenia’s website, Saffron & Honey, is a food and travel blog focused on bringing a Provencal sensibility and joie de vivre to everyday cooking, living and traveling.

Barcelona native Mabel grew up surrounded by art with her mum as a haûte couture modiste and an aunt who worked as a bespoke tailor. So, fashion has always been a part of her DNA. Her studies in Business Administration and PR, along with her interests in learning, building projects and working in multinational environments have helped her to grow as a professional who’s good at building synergies. She now focuses her experiences & skills into her passions of fashion and communication and blogs at MabelNow.

In this issue, Ksenia takes us to the City of Lights, Paris, France and hunts down the perfect croissant. Is there such a thing? And back in her hometown of New York City, she gets a taste of Galicia Spain and shares her latest discovery.


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In this issue, Mabel shares three eateries in her beautiful Barcelona and takes us along for the ride as she travels from Barcelona to Narbonne, France to discover this charming city.


hades of Discovery is this year’s Summer Travel Issue

theme. Whether it’s scratching the surface at a new destination, digging deeper in familiar favorites or finding a passion and bringing it to life in new and unexpected ways, this is what you’ll find in the pages of our latest digital issue. Across the pond, we explore the United Kingdom, France and Spain as we discover the regal spirit of Edinburgh, Scotland and witness first hand the drama that unfolds on the international dance floor in Blackpool, England. In Paris, we’re on the hunt for the ultimate croissant (but is there such a thing?) and we also discovered the charm of Narbonne in France’s Southern coast. In Spain, we bring you three distinctive eateries in Barcelona that you have to try and we get a sampling of the bounty of Galicia, Spain closer to home. We always love to spotlight stories of talented individuals and this issue is no exception. We go from the far reaches of Alaska to introduce you to author, food columnist and blogger, Maya Wilson of Alaska From Scratch; we’ll follow the trail from Italy to England (via France) for fashion illustrator Francesco Lo Iacono; finally, we’ll head back to New York City where I personally discovered Mariebelle Chocolates during a recent event and got to know Maribel Lieberman, the woman with the chocolate touch. And what would a travel issue be without travel picks and guides? We’ve got you covered as we’re always on the lookout for ways to make your journey easier and memorable. Finally, I’m so excited to announce that we’re introducing new travel videos on our YouTube channel. As you read about my journeys in Blackpool and Edinburgh, you’ll find accompanying video links that add another dimension to the adventure. I hope you enjoy them and this latest travel issue. Safe travels and have a great Summer!

Travel Issue Volume 4 / Number 6

Publisher & Editor-in-Chief Danny de la Cruz NYC Editor Ksenia Skvortsova Style Editor Mabel Gago Creative Director MJ Cadiz Contact Us VRAI Magazine LLC P.O. Box 62 Techny, IL 60082 General Inquiries Advertising Inquiries

VRAI Magazine is a digital lifestyle publication that delivers food, fashion and travel inspiration. With a team of creatives, storytellers, authors and talented contributors, we curate stories that represent the Style of True Living. © VRAI Magazine LLC. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means including photocopying, recording or other electronic methods without the

Danny de la Cruz Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in digital and print reviews.


products we love: travel



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Photo courtesy of Away


Neck Pillow

Getting sleep on long plane trips to be refreshed (or at least partially coherent) upon arrival at your final destination is key. I’ve traveled with inflatable travel pillows in the past since I loved how easy they were to store in my carry on when not in use. I see many people with pre-formed neck pillows but they’re big and bulky—I just don’ t like those for the space they take up. I recently discovered a new alternative, the Trtl Pillow and it worked like a charm. There’s a flexible internal structure that contours to your neck and head and then covered with soft, washable fleece fabric. You simply position it around your neck and then wrap the fabric around your neck to secure it in place. It held my head in a comfortable position and I actually got several hours of sleep. Since the interior structure has a contoured shape, it can’t be folded completely flat, but it’s still easy to pack away in your carry on. Gimbal

If you love taking video to capture those travel memories and use your smartphone, then the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 is just for you. It’s a gimbal that will help stabilize your footage. It’s light weight, easy to use and has a 15 hour battery life. It can also charge your smartphone if needed. You’ll shoot smooth video (both landscape and portrait)without the bounce and jarring movement when recording with just your hand. Lightweight and at a lower price than the original, it’s a must for budding videographers. Portable Charger


One of my biggest fears when traveling is running out of battery life. I’ve found a solid solution in the Anker Power Core 20100 portable charger. It’s got loads of battery charging power and does it fast. It has two USB connection ports to charge up two devices at once so I’m always covered for all my devices or anyone else who’s travelling with me.

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For this Editor’s Pick, it’s all about traveling in style. This summer, the hot new color as you head for the beach or your next big bucket list adventure is the beautiful SKY Away luggage available in various sizes. The color is the epitome of the season and you’ll stand out from a sea of black and gray suitcases at the airport.


Staying connected abroad while not racking up a huge cellular bill is on top of mind for every smartphone owner when traveling. Even with free WiFi at cafes and in your hotel, having a secured connection is important, since many aren’t secure. I love renting the Skyroam Solis for my international trips. It has all-day battery life and I have constant and secure WiFi the minute I land. It also serves as a backup charger for your devicesWhile it’s great for social media, emails and surfing as needed, just don’t go streaming movies or downloading large amounts of data or else your speed will be throttled— just something to keep in mind. It’s small and easy to stash in your bag or coat so that you’re connected no matter where you go. Simply power it up when you land and your next social media post is just a click away. Order it online and it will be shipped to your home in plenty of time before your departure date and once back, just mail it back in the provided envelope—it can’t get any easier than that. 11

Croissant Perfection in search of By Ksenia Skvortsova


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The crunch, the pillowy center, the buttery layers—what makes a perfect croissant, well, perfect? On a recent trip to Paris, I embarked on a journey (and stood in a lot of lines) to find out. In New York, if you see a long line of people winding down the street, you can usually assume it is for a sample sale. In Paris, the only lines I have seen are for the boulangerie in the mornings and afternoons when you get your freshly baked baguette or viennoiseries. Of course, everything has to be super fresh. But why are there lines at some places and not at others? Spoiler alert: I have found that this does not necessarily correlate with croissant quality. Food media has seen an explosion of “Instagram-friendly” places and certain bakeries have gotten the majority of that exposure. Now, to make sure we are on the same page—we are talking about the croissant au beurre, or butter croissant, not to be confused with the croissant ordinaire, which is made with margarine. And life is too short not to have croissants made with real butter, am I right? A croissant is one of the most difficult things to master in baking. There are the layers and the laminating, and all that butter that can be finicky in warmer weather. So I took this quest seriously. In preparation for this trip, I consulted “best of” lists, favorite guides and blogs, and talked to some local expert consumers of croissants.


Du Pains et des Idees 34 Rue Yves Toudic One thing everyone seemed to agree on: if you stand in one line in the morning, make it Du Pains et des Idees. This storied Marais bakery storefront has been around since 1889, with the current bakery open since early 2002. The good thing about waiting to order is that you get to see what everyone else is getting. Du Pains et des Idees is known for their escargot pistachio and chocolate buns (so called because of their escargot, snail-like


shape, see image below, right). But I needed to try a croissant, in addition to the tempting escargot. This croissant had a less classic shape—it was smaller and resembled a piece of candy in a wrapper, but was extra buttery and delicious. It was the perfect size to enjoy with a coffee, which the bakery somewhat atypically also offers, at one of the picnic tables outside. This was a great start.

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Liberte 39 Rue des Vinaigriers Luckily, my next stop was very close by. Liberte has an industrial-style open kitchen so, you get to see all of the hard work that goes into baking the croissants and the sweet and savory breads that the bakery is famous for making. This trendy spot gets very busy in the mornings. Their croissant was definitely the largest and the most airy. I was comfortable sharing it with a friend. It looked picture-perfect, but I wish it had a bit more of that buttery, crispy crunch on the outside.


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Tout Autour du Pain 134 Rue de Turenne Old school charm and no-frills are the order of the day at Tout Autour du Pain. But this tiny bakery had won best butter croissant in 2015, and it did not disappoint. Layers upon crispy layers offered that rare perfect crunchy balance of doughy give and flaky buttery pastry. This was, hands down, my favorite of the many pastries that I consumed on this trip to Paris. We had a consensus among my croissant companions as well!


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Pierre Herme Many locations throughout Paris Photo courtesy of Pierre Herme

ef In the words of the Association of French Bakers:

Pierre Herme has brought his signature pastries to Jeddah, London, Tokyo and beyond. A visit to one of his many shops, this one in a bourgeois area of the 16th arrondissement, makes clear that his pastries and croissants remain popular with locals and tourists alike. If you ask a young, fashionable Parisian to name their favorite pastry, there is a good chance that they will direct you to Herme’s Ispahan croissant. It is glazed, topped with candied rose petals and filled with a little rose and raspberry paste. I know this strays pretty far from the classic, but the Ispahan came up in so many conversations that I had to include it. Sidenote: it pre-dates today’s fashionable over-thetop offerings like the cronut, by years. It is beautiful and beautifully balanced, if a little sweet for my taste.

“The croissant is born of tender care and craftsmanship. Bakers must carefully layer the dough, paint on perfect proportions of butter, and then roll and fold this trembling croissant embryo with the precision of a Japanese origami master. This process, as you can understand, takes much time. And we implore the patience of all those who order croissants. You may be familiar with the famous French expression, “A great croissant is worth waiting a lifetime for.”

Carton Bio 6 Boulevard De Denain

Glossary Boulangerie: bakery

Photo courtesy of Carton Bio

Viennoiseries: pastries Croissant au beurre: butter croissant Pain au chocolat: viennoiserie filled with pieces of dark chocolate Croissant aux amandes: almond croissant

gh A week after I left Paris, Boulangerie Carton Bio won the best Paris croissant 2018. I guess that means I need to go back and soon. 20

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The style of true living: Food, Fashion and Travel

Š Janet Rokosz



Charm &

Gastronomy of Narbonne By Mabel Gago


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My friends at RENFE SNCF provided me with the chance to enjoy a whole French experience within 24 hours. Sounds crazy, right? Well, for those who are not familiar with RENFE SNCF, it is the cooperation between two high velocity train companies—the Spanish RENFE and the French SNCF. This marriage born in 2013, opened a daily connection between Spain and France. We are talking about 21 international locations that are connected: From Spain: Madrid, Zaragoza, Tarragona, Barcelona, Girona and Figueres. From France: Perpignan, Narbonne, Béziers, Ashe, Sète, Carcasonne, Toulouse, Montpelier, Nimes, Avignon, Aix en Provence, Marseille, Valence, Lyon and Paris. Such ambitious cooperation exists within a huge infrastructure, which is still being improved. The facilities offered by the AVE—the high speed train—put the train on a privileged position among other transportation modes. The stations are located in the center of the cities. It’s like going door-to-door from Barcelona to Paris, which means, lots of easier, cheaper and faster options to arrive to the stations and to our final destination. The time you have to wait before the travel starts is not a nightmare. The train waits for you up to 5 minutes before its departure, but it’s advised that you arrive at least 30 minutes in advance so you have enough time for some good coffee. When it comes to comfort, there’s no doubt. The AVE is more comfortable than a plane—you have more space, larger seats with nice tables and lights and outlets so that you have a temporary office if needed. As for luggage, the allowance for your bags is also more generous. There is also a bar on board and with services provided by the most amazing teams. With all these amenities combined, it’s easy to understand the great success of RENFE SNCF, not just as a train transporting passengers, but also in delivering experiences, discoveries, history and culture. 23


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So for this adventure, a brief escape from Barcelona to enjoy a full French experience, our destination was Narbonne, a charming historical city on the southern coast of France. One history note, due to its prime location, Narbonne was the first Roman colony established outside of Italy. The duration of our journey was just over two hours. Believe me, much less than suffering on some days in traffic jams of big cities. Our travel provided amazing views from different landscapes—from the green and blue marshes, our eyes traveled almost 310km per hour. We arrived at the Narbonne station and from there, we quickly reached the city’s historical center, where a magnificent and unfinished gothic cathedral welcomed us, the Cathedrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur. It’s a monument full of history and inspired from architecture from the North of France. On this visit, we were accompanied by the expert guides of the Narbonne Tourisme. After the Cathedral, we had a beautiful walk through the Canal de la Robine, which has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. The Canal is like the blood which runs the heart of the city—20 miles long, la Robine stretches from the Junction Canal, the one which links it to the Canal du Midi, all the way to the sea near the protected island of Sainte Lucie. The Quai d’Alsace lead us to one of the iconic parts of the city—the main market of Les Halles. It’s a historic place filled with regional flavors, a paradise for gourmets with olives, honey, oysters, wines, cheeses and so much more. After this tasteful explosion of colors and flavors, our stomachs were ready for a French foodie experience. Up next, Les Grands Buffets.



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The Artistry of Les Grands Buffets By Mabel Gago


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About 25 years ago, French entrepreneur and visionary, Louis Privat, created a unique place, the gastronomic cathedral known as Les Grands Buffets. This is the perfect place that gives you an authentic French experience with all its pleasures and respect towards French cuisine. Les Grands Buffets provides a rare gastronomic experience that will not only feed your stomach, but also your eyes, your nose and your soul. The exquisite decoration is well thought out for presenting and preserving the quality of the products. Beauty and functionality converge into unique and unexpected decoration. This gastronomic temple has separated rooms for each specialty: vegetables, cheeses (45 varieties), and we have been told that the selections will dramatically increase at the end of 2018, totaling up to 110 types of foods from foiegras, shellfish, wines, to desserts, and with a special place where you can taste traditional French dishes from escargot, ratatouille, cassoulet and canard.



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Be sure to stop at the Rostisserie which simulates a French theater and we can’t forget about the chefs who create your culinary wishes as they cook right in front of you. Everything at Les Grands Buffets comes together to create a unique foodie experience, down to the organic, white-embroidered cotton, the polished designed cutlery and glasses on your table. What’s more, Les Grands Buffets plays a relevant role within the local agriculture, winery, livestock and fishing by offering the best and freshest products from the region. And of course, we can’t forget about the patisserie, because desserts are venerated in the French culture. More than 100 varieties of exquisiteness ranging from macaroons to cascades of chocolate, everything created under the attention of a master. And finally, pair your choices by selecting from an amazing variety of 70 wines. From our tour of Narbonne and wonderful experience at Les Grands Buffets, we look forward to exploring more destinations together with RENFE SNCF.


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Cookbook author, food columnist and blogger Maya Wilson may be better known as the talent behind Alaska From Scratch, but we wanted to take a deeper dive and get to know this multi-talented individual.

Discovering 36

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Photo credit Maya Wilson

Maya Wilson’s

VRAI Magazine: From California to Alaska, what prompted the big move? Maya Wilson: The desire for a slower pace of life—more balance—for my family and for myself. It was a very deliberate reprioritization and simplification of our busy life.

Photo credit Danae Wilson

VRAI: Were you mentally prepared for the move to Alaska and what were some of your biggest challenges adapting to your new environment? Maya: Yes and no. I was more than ready to leave all of the traffic and the smog and the grind of California behind. I was excited for Alaska and all it had to offer. But in another sense, one is never fully prepared for Alaska. It’ll take your breath away every single day. We moved in the winter— so the biggest challenges immediately were the darkness, the snow, ice and cold temperatures, and lack of access to conveniences and ingredients upon which I’d come to rely in California. VRAI: How did the rest of your family adapt to the move? Maya: My kids were much younger at the time and they saw it as one huge adventure. They stepped off the plane into a winter wonderland, complete with moose and bald eagles. Of course, the winter darkness can take its toll on kids. They get a bit of cabin fever after a while. VRAI: Where there any surprises that caught you completely off-guard (in a good way)? Maya: I talk about this in my book a bit: “Of all the lessons that Alaska has taught me, perhaps the most 38

important [and surprising] lesson of all is that I’m strong and capable and resilient, because you need to have a hardy measure of these things to survive this wild place.” VRAI: We’ve been fortunate to visit Alaska, but for anyone who has never been, can you share what makes it like no other place in the country/possibly the world? Maya: Alaska has a certain magic to it that is difficult to put into words. I’ve never had a visitor leave and not feel more centered—more in touch with themselves and the world around them after having been here. The air is fresh, the mountains are tall, the waters are blue, the wildlife is teeming and it all changes you. It puts things into perspective. VRAI: Within the Kenai Peninsula, can you highlight some places/ things that visitors should try to experience when they visit? And, what’s the best time of year to visit? Maya: June–September is the best time to visit. There is more sunlight than you know what to do with, the land is lush and green, and there’s no end of things to do outdoors (fishing for wild Alaska salmon and halibut among the most popular). You can’t really go wrong on the Kenai Peninsula, from Seward to Homer and everywhere in between. We enjoy kayaking in Kachemak Bay, glacier viewing or whale watching in Kenai Fjords, or rafting or guided fishing on the Kenai River. There are hiking trails everywhere you go. Just wear layers and be prepared for varying weather conditions, and bring bear spray.

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Photo credit Maya Wilson



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Photo credit Maya Wilson



Photo credit Maya Wilson

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VRAI: Ok, let’s talk about food. How did you develop your culinary skills? Have you always loved to cook? Maya: My grandmother got me into the kitchen at an early age and it became my safe space. As I got older, I read cookbooks and watched cooking shows on television in lieu of cartoons. There were seasons in my childhood when I experienced food insecurity. I learned to cook out of necessity, to make something out of nothing, much out of little. VRAI: How has living in Alaska changed your style of cooking? Maya: The lack of access to ingredients and conveniences in certain parts of Alaska (or the high cost of them) has really required that I make more from scratch. If I was craving a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, I was going to have to learn to make it myself. If I was dying for some authentic Mexican food— my California comfort food—I was going to need to figure out how to do it on my own. Alaska’s scarcity and the cravings that followed really inspired me to get back into the kitchen, and ultimately, to start writing about it, too. VRAI: Do you have a cooking philosophy that you can share with us? Maya: I discuss this in my book as well: “More than anything, I cook because I want people to be fed and satisfied, and to know that inexplicable sense of wholeness that only a homemade meal made with love can provide.” VRAI: We’re curious, can you tell us why you put the temperature and what you’re listening to at the start of each of your postings on your website?

Maya: The seasons and the weather always influence what we’re cooking and eating wherever we are in the world, whether we realize it or not. Telling readers about the weather in Alaska invites them into my home, my context, but also brings into focus the reality that we can’t separate what’s on our plate from what’s going on outside the window. Similarly, from early on, music has always been with me in the kitchen, the way a perfect wine pairing enhances a meal. All of our lives have a soundtrack. This is mine. Food activates all five of our senses in a way that very few other things in life can. When I let readers into the weather and the music behind the food, I’m trying to activate all of the senses in a similar way, just long distance. VRAI: Congratulations on the launch of your cookbook: The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook: Seasonal. Scenic. Homemade. Why make the leap from food blogger to cookbook author? Maya: Thank you! I always knew I had a book in me. It had been writing itself for a long time and I just needed to build up the courage to put in on paper. And it seemed to be a natural next step after the blog and my years as a food columnist. Finally the timing was right. VRAI: What are you most proud about the cookbook? And, any words of wisdom for others who want to try and write a cookbook? Maya: I like to call it, ‘Part cookbook, part memoir, part love letter to Alaska.’ I’m proud that I accomplished all three in a way that resonates with readers via the food, the photos and the writing. My advice for other writers is to find your voice, to capture what makes you uniquely you, your food uniquely yours. As Lena Waithe says: “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.” Write about that. 43

Photo credit Maya Wilson

VRAI: Can we expect to see a follow up book in the future? Maya: Yes, I certainly hope so. My agent thinks I have more books in me, and I tend to agree with her. But, you may also see me doing a restaurant here in Alaska in the near future. VRAI: You’re not only a talented cook, but you have amazing photography skills. Between us, do you have a preference for photographing food over nature/ scenery and why? Maya: I’m honored by that. Thank you. Similar to why I share the weather with my readers, the scenery inspires and influences the food. Wild berries growing on remote trails in late summer, wild mushrooms popping up from the soil in fall, salmon jumping in July, a winter cold snap that has you craving soup in the deepest way… I suppose you could say that I find them inseparable from each other, the scenery and the food. Alaska is very photogenic and captivating; she smiles and poses just right most of the time. Food can take a little more work, and Alaska deprives me of sunlight for a good portion of the year, which makes things a little more challenging. There’s styling and effort and timing involved with the food, whereas the scenery is more organic, often spontaneous. I love them both, but they are completely different animals. VRAI: Do you have any favorite places that you love to photograph or is every turn a postcard moment for you? Maya: The wildlife can show up anywhere at any time, so I’ve learned to always be armed with a camera or iPhone so I can pull over and capture them at a moment’s notice. As for scenery, there are some places that are just stunning in specific seasons. For example, there’s a secret little place I like to go to capture fall colors. Other places you can always count on to be photo-ready—the turquoise Kenai River as it winds its way through Cooper Landing is a perfect example. It’s beautiful always. You can see it showcased in the book both in winter and in fall. I’d have a hard time choosing which is my favorite of the two.

VRAI: Final questions as we wrap up... favorite food/ dish that you don’t make? Favorite travel destination(s) and why? Maya: Sushi. I consider sushi-making an art and it’s something I feel very unworthy to make because I don’t have the proper training. As for travel, Alaska is a huge state and I’m still exploring it. Talkeetna, Alaska is a new favorite. Great food, views of Denali, local artisans and a wonderful historic mining town with lots to do and see.

For more on Maya Wilson, her recipes and life in Alaska, visit her at Alaska From Scratch and on 44

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Photo credit Maya Wilson




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TRAVE L O N GUI D E O N By Danny de la Cruz


With London Fashion Week bringing me back to this glorious city season after season, I’ve picked up a thing or two when it comes to making the most of my limited time and being as efficient as possible getting from point A to B. When flying into London’s Heathrow Airport, there are several ways to get into central London. The cheapest is having a friend pick you up, but for most of us, we’re left to fend for ourselves. Transportation The next cheapest method is getting a ticket on the London Underground or the “Tube”. Pros for this method is that it’s a cheap way to get into the heart of the city and then make your connections via connecting Tube stops. Now for the Cons—after a long flight, riding the Tube for almost an hour, stop after stop, can add another level of exhaustion. And, depending on the time of day, the Tube gets packed and so you may find yourself like a sardine with throngs of Londoners making their way throughout the city. Once you’re off the Tube and either exiting or connecting to another line, you may have to deal with some steps if you’re carrying any sort of luggage. There are escalators for the primary exits, but within the system to connect to other rail lines, there are areas where you’ll have to take the stairs. Factor in the crowd, the fast pace and those steps, think twice if you’ve got a lot of, or very heavy suitcases. If convenience is more important, getting a London Cab once you exit the terminal is probably your best bet. For door-to-door service and the experience of riding a London Cab with an extremely knowledgable driver, it’s another option to consider. As for cons, it could take you an hour or more depending on time of day due to traffic and the ride quickly adds up. The last time I took a cab to Central London, it was somewhere in the vicinity of 125 Pounds. Wait ‘til you make the dollar conversion —ouch! Note: All cabs take credit cards and if you’re going to tip, simply round up your total fare. Oh, there’s also Uber as another door-to-door alternative. Heathrow Express After having tried the prior methods on past trips, my ideal way to travel to Central London is via the Heathrow Express train service. It’s a quick 15 minute ride into the city in modern, comfortable train cars. There’s a standard ticket or you can splurge for the Business Class ticket. I’ve tried both and really for a 15 minute ride, a standard 48

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ticket will suffice. Compared to the Tube, the standard car is a luxury experience. There’s also a convenient luggage area to store suitcases in each train car. As for cost, it’s more expensive then taking the Tube, but if you plan ahead and purchase 30 days in advance, you can get a great deal on a one-way ticket. Prices vary so check the website and plan ahead to save money. The train arrives in Paddington Station and from there, you can connect to the Tube, grab a London cab or Uber. I often grab a cab and make my way to my final destination for a few pounds more. The pros—quick, efficient, extremely comfortable and just 15 minutes. It’s a good value compared to a London Cab and definitely saves you time. The cons— Heathrow is a massive airport and once you’ve cleared passport control and grabbed any suitcases, you have to make your way down multiple levels and take several long tunnels to ultimately get to the train. If walking long distances with suitcases is an issue, please do keep this mind. The other con is that once you get to Central London, you’ll probably have to take another mode of transportation to get to your ultimate destination, unless of course you’re booked at a nearby hotel by Paddington Station. I’ve done this as well and once you get passed the congestion of Paddington, the surrounding area, not far from Hyde Park, is a beautiful and tranquil residential area. Hotels What about hotels? There is a multitude of hotel options in London for all tastes and budgets. I’ve been fortunate to stay in various parts of the city and in different hotels and various price points. I’m not going to tell you which one to stay in because there are so many factors involved. What I will say is that once you’ve determined your budget, factor in location. London is such a walkable city, but using the Tube makes it even more manageable and efficient. I always pick a hotel that’s located near a Tube stop at least a block or two away. The Tube More about the Tube. On days where I know I’ll be crisscrossing the city, I often buy a one-day pass so that I can just hop from one train to another on various rail lines. You can easily purchase your tickets in wallmounted vending units in the entrance to each Tube stop and you can use your credit card in the machines that accept them. If you know you’ll be on the Tube for multiple days, consider a multi-day ticket to save money. 49

Keep in mind that most attractions in Central London are in Zone 1 so that’s the ticket type to purchase. A few tips before you tackle the London Underground. Before you make your way onto the trains and stick in your ticket to enter, study the transit map to know where you’ll eventually get off. Once you’ve started to make your way within the Tube system, it can be hectic, especially if you’re riding during rush hour windows. There are always signs telling you which platform to get on but standing amidst throngs of fast-paced Londoners in the middle of the Tube is rather daunting. Quickly scan the signs as you’re moving with the crowd to know which direction to go and where to board. One thing to note about the escalators—stand on the right and walk on the left. You’ll quickly understand why. Once you’ve made your way to your designated platform for your train, try to go to either end of the platform where there are most often less people waiting for the first or last car. The middle cars can get rather packed so I avoid those like the plague. Finally, once you arrive at your ultimate Tube stop, just follow the “Way Out” signage to get you back to the surface. And when you’re about to exit the Tube station, be sure to have your original ticket in hand to insert into the machines to let you out. You don’t want to be the person blocking the exit during rush hour so have it ready, but always guarded when you’re riding. While I love the efficiency of the Tube, take note that there are stairs in some tunnels so keep that in mind if mobility is an issue. Rush hour on the Tube can get very hectic so be prepared to be snuggled up to a stranger during those times. Another downside to the Tube is that you miss a lot of the scenery above-ground. There’s so much to see in London, on any given street so that’s a trade-off for efficiency. ATMs Traveling with cash is really a non-issue while in central London. Credit cards are accepted everywhere so I rarely have cash on hand. But, if you want to have some British Pounds on you, simply stop by an ATM (you’ll find them everywhere) and withdraw whatever amount you need. You’ll get the best rates versus currency exchange locations in the touristy areas. And at Heathrow, once you collect your bags and exit, there are handy ATM machines right within the terminal. Just make sure you know what type of service fees your bank and/or credit card company charges for each withdrawal.


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B ack 52

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A Tale of Two Cities

kpool By Danny de la Cruz


When you think of England, many iconic cities immediately come to mind. So when I mentioned to someone that I’d be heading aboard to visit Blackpool, I got a perplexed look followed immediately by “where?”. The same thing happened as I was clearing passport control upon landing in Heathrow and was asked where I was going. “Blackpool” I quickly replied and the agent looked up at me and had to pause for a minute. He mentioned visiting as a child with his family, but wasn’t sure why an American would fly all the way to go to Blackpool. “I’m attending the Blackpool Dance Festival” I replied and he nodded and understood at that moment. He said it was an interesting place and didn’t really say much after that. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew that it was going to be an experience that I’d never forget. Given Blackpool’s location on the Irish Sea coast of England, it’s not the most convenient destination. You can fly into Manchester or Liverpool, but instead, I was up for an adventure so I chose to fly direct to London and then take in the countryside via train. This would entail one plane, one bus ride, two train rides and one cab ride to our final destination. Easy, right? 54

To see more of the travel day adventure from Chicago to Blackpool captured on video, click here. Upon finally arriving in Blackpool and checking into our hotel, I knew it was going to be an experience. I had already lowered my expectations for the hotel and it’s good that I did. Even upon arrival and checking into the room, I was already counting down to our departure day. Looking at the positive side of things, we were centrally located and situated just around the corner from the Winter Gardens, the main venue for the Blackpool Dance Festival. Our hotel was also close to the promenade, beach area, the main piers, the shopping mall and basically the major attractions, including Blackpool Tower. Everything was in walking distance. As we wandered around the city, there was a grittiness with an underlying hope in the air to revive the magic of a seaside resort from an era gone by. Everything was there beginning with a scenic promenade lined with horse drawn carriages on one side and a beach on the other with piers jutting out into the sea. On Central Pier, families strolled along while kids enjoyed the carnival rides. There’s Coral Island, a pirate-themed, family-friendly amusement destination along with casino. Then there’s the

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touristy Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum to rub elbows with the “stars”. Tip: Be sure to walk to the very end of Central Pier and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the city from a calm and quiet vantage point. Along the water’s edge of the promenade, families lined the concrete pathway, kids waded into the water and took a plunge to cool off on a beautiful June day. A few blocks in from the promenade, a variety of small shops and eateries lined the streets surrounding the Winter Gardens. Also on several streets, all you could see was one local hotel after another to accommodate visitors. Around the corner from our hotel was the Houndshill Shopping Center with your typical range of shops and fast food options. And across the street from the shopping center was the Winter Gardens, a very different world once you stepped inside…



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lackpool Dance Festival...

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Let the Competition Begin



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Stepping into the Winter Gardens and watching the Blackpool Dance Festival was the only reason I was in Blackpool. While I’m not a dancer, I traveled with Ballroom and Latin dance lovers who wanted to experience the competition first hand, the annual event to crown the best in Ballroom and Latin dance. The Winter Gardens evoked grandeur—from the architecture, the ornate details, the chandeliers and the balconies surrounding the main dance floor—it’s a sight to be seen. And when the room is filled with dancers on the floor in their colorful and elegant attire and

guests lining the room and up on the balconies in their finest attire, it’s a completely differently world from the Blackpool just outside the door. Dancers from around the globe come each year to compete for the title and on the two days we attended, the afternoons were filled with competitors rehearsing and then multiple rounds of competition filled with hopefuls (both young and old) looking to get a spot into the quarter, semis and final rounds later in the evening. Watching the dancers glide across the dance floor while holding their forms makes you truly appreciate their



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athleticism, skill and artistry. On day one, we witnessed the Latin dance competitions which ranged from the sexiness of the Salsa to the energy of the Jive. On day two, the Standard dances (from Waltz, Foxtrot to Quickstep) were executed by men in Tuxedos with tails and women in long, flowing and colorful gowns which floated across the dance floor. Watching the professionals first hand is something I will never forget. Photos by DJG


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COLOR The World of Fashion Illustrator Francesco Lo Iacono


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VRAI Magazine: Can you tell us about your style of illustration? Has it always been in the medium of water colors and why? Francesco Lo Iacono: When I was younger I used to also paint big oil canvases. But even at that time, I used watercolour to work on preliminary sketches for my canvas, so I felt like watercolour is really my medium and the one I feel more comfortable with using. I think watercolour has also influenced my illustration style, which is continually evolving.

VRAI: How did you get started as an illustrator? Francesco: I have been drawing since childhood, as far as I can remember, like many people who work in a creative field and/or as an illustrator. My interest in fashion is somehow more recent and it came through my interest in fashion photography, as at that time I was attending a master in photography. So at some point mixing my passion for drawing and fashion became quite natural. I then moved to Paris and started working for a trend forecasting agency as part of a womenswear studio. This experience taught me a lot. Around the same time, I opened my blog which is exclusively dedicated to fashion illustration and started building my career which is still growing day by day. VRAI: We see a lot of your artwork depicting people and fashion. Is this what you like to specialize in or prefer as a subject matter? Francesco: Yes, although I am always open to working on different briefs, I consider myself more as a fashion illustrator. Trying to give my vision on designers’ collections or working with fashion brands and fashion magazines are some of my favourite things to do as an illustrator.

VRAI: Where in Italy are you from? Can you tell us more about your home town/region? Francesco: I am from Palermo, Sicily. I think my hometown is pretty known, although I am not sure it is for the good reasons. I had a lovely time growing up in Palermo and have a lot of sweet memories there. Whenever I meet someone, I always suggest paying a visit to my region as it is truly a gorgeous place for its history, but also for its natural beauty. 89


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VRAI: Can you tell us about your journey from Italy, to Paris and now London? Francesco: Before moving to Paris I lived in Florence for about 4 years and I think I felt a bit stuck in what I was doing, too comfortable to really look for something else. At that time I was mainly working as a teacher. But I felt like I really needed a change, a new profession and new personal challenges. So I chose to move to Paris since I had already lived in France and always dreamt of living there. Since I also wanted to work in the fashion industry I thought Paris could be a perfect fit. So I lived in Paris for about 5 years. Now I’ve just moved to London, it was more for personal reasons, but I am really in love with it right now and I knew it would be also a good choice for my work as an illustrator. VRAI: Your beautiful work capturing collections from the recent London Fashion Week Men’s Spring/ Summer 2019 caught our eye. What’s the process like of creating a piece during a fashion event (presentation or catwalk)? How long does it take? Francesco: It is always quite random, meaning that since I need to work fast, I don’t really know how the sketch is going to turn out. But I love those moments of pure creative adrenaline. During presentations or backstage, it is easier, since I have a little more time, so I can work on some details or even doing more sketches. During catwalk shows, I really need to be quick and I may need to add some details later. I mainly use watercolour again, as I said I am really comfortable with it, and I think also it allows me to work pretty fast. VRAI: Where can we see more of your work? Francesco: I am quite active on Instagram and Twitter and you can check my portfolio and blog on my official site I am going to Paris Fashion Week so you can also see more of my sketches from the Parisian shows!



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VRAI: We see that you’re a Cass Art Professional Watercolor Ambassador and tutor. Can you tell us more about that and what you do? Francesco: Since last October I have started tutoring a series of fashion life drawing classes at Cass Art Islington, here in London. Each month, an exciting and talented designer is invited and people draw live from a model wearing his/her clothes. It is a project that I really love, also because I’ve already worked as a teacher in the past and I really enjoyed it. So far the class has been pretty successful, so I am already working on new ideas to improve the class.


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Delights By Mabel Gago



Carrer de l’Arboc, 6, 08348 Cabrils Barcelona, Spain The coast of Maresme, not far from Barcelona, is well known for its rich agriculture and wines. This Mediterranean corner offers a good selection for bon vivants. And within Maresme, in the small village of Cabrils, is the home of AXOL restaurant. I discovered AXOL while admiring photos taken by my friends at Studio Torden. What their lenses do with food is pure artistry. Lisette and her husband Fernando are one of the best photographers specializing in food and gastronomy. While my eyes enjoyed the beautiful food photos, Lisette and Fernando described the magnificence of AXOL’s cuisine. “You must go and live the experience,” they said. So that same weekend, I booked a reservation at AXOL Restaurant. Be sure to use your GPS. Even though it’s not far from Barcelona, around 30km away, AXOL is based in a hidden, quiet place. Once you find it, AXOL is housed in a cool villa with unique, modern design and architecture. And once inside, the welcome one receives is extraordinary. I was told that the name of the restaurant is actually an acronym of Albert and his sister Xenia and their respective surnames, Ortiz and Lázaro. Albert Ortiz Lázaro is the chef, a professional with thousands of hours spent studying at the best places. His family has been working in the hotel industry for 20 years. According to Albert, El Racó de Can Freixa, from the multi-awarded Ramón Freixa, was the place that led him to follow his passion towards gastronomy. El Bulli, with Ferran Adrià, was one of the places at which Albert worked. It’s was perfect for creativity and learning new techniques. The Arzak, with the supervision of chef Juan Mari Arzak, was also a unique experience for Albert, while the Celler de Can Roca tested Albert’s management skills. After this amazing training, the passion and dream of our chef was ready to create and explore new concepts. His sister Xenia, who obtained the Sommelier certificate recognized both in Spain and worldwide at the Escuela Superior de Hosteleria de Barcelona, decided to join in on the adventure. This meant the start of a new destination for foodies and their hunger for discovering new pleasures. A sampling of the AXOL menu consists of salad with 96

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pickled quail and seasonal ingredients, to baked red prawns, cream of mushroom with foie gras and poached eggs. There’s smoked sardine toast with tomato, scallops with tomato, aubergine, basil and roe from trout. Octopus rice with vegetables and a “San Simón” cheese terrine with duck thigh, pear and black olive are other creative dishes. For dessert, there’s a “Bavaroise” of fresh cheese along with cheesecake, iced-raspberry and spice soup. The desserts are wonderful and every dish is artfully presented to tempt your palate. All these pleasures can be paired with a wine carefully selected by Xenia from an extensive wine cellar. Click here to learn more and make sure you book a reservation on your next visit to the Barcelona area. Special thanks to Studio Torden for these photos.


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Green Vita

Various locations, click here for details. Indulgence is probably the common sin we enjoy during our holidays. Gastronomy is one of those pleasures we adopt daily. And, yes, sometimes, too much of this gastro joy takes us away from a healthy lifestyle. But don’t worry, Barcelona has a tasty and healthy, gastronomic offering. During the past year and a half, our city has welcomed the addition of Green Vita, the perfect marriage between flavor and health. Founders Diana and Joan Manel tell us “Our will is to be transparent and honest, to offer the best that we have and to wish that you like it”. That is the DNA behind their healthy menu. They source products from local providers and focus the menu on vegetables more than meat or fish… providing a flexi diet, a healthy diet. There is nothing boring about Green Vita’s dishes. The meticulous daily selection of the best ingredients is followed by a respectful cooking process, focused in preserving the quality and taste of the fresh, raw materials. To achieve this, nothing is fried, contains preservatives or artificial colorings. And everything selected must come from responsible agriculture. Every dish is cooked at the moment of order right in front of you. Eat it raw, steamed, stir-fried or grilled over organic vegetable charcoal. I was fortunate to experience Green Vita first hand thanks to a special invitation. They wanted to share their philosophy first hand and provide a sampling of their dishes. The location was their restaurant based at Diagonal Mar shopping center which is very close to the beach. So, a good day on your holiday might consist of the beach, shopping and gastronomy at Green Vita. I was warmly welcomed by Diana and Joan Manel and led to the sunny terrace, surrounded by beautiful plants. The design and décor of the restaurant is composed of neutral colors and organic woods which create a comfortable and chic atmosphere. Diana stated “We want to make you feel like you’re at home, so as our customers can properly enjoy our gastronomy”. The overall concept works well as they welcome around 350 guests each day, and from that number, 60% return more than once a week. And in less than two years, they have opened five new restaurants. What captivates me the most is the offering of foods which are beautifully presented. The presentation is something you surely would never expect from a healthy 100

food cuisine concept. The presentation of vegetables, colors and textures which dance around bio salmon and chicken are something to enjoy. There is an explosion of natural flavors and ingredient combinations that stimulate my senses. There’s grilled octopus, Norwegian salmon, grilled chicken, teriyaki, black or red bio rice, salted quinoa, guacamole, gazpacho, salads and more. And, be sure to save space for dessert. They are more than delicious! Gluten-free and without refined sugars, deserts at Green Vita will be the perfect happy ending to your meal. You’ll have a difficult decision when choosing between chocolate cake with zucchini, red velvet cake, pumpkin and chocolate cake. And, they also have one of the best carrot cakes in Barcelona. Be sure to visit Green Vita during your travels to Barcelona.

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Spoonik Restaurant Carrer de Bertran, 28 08023 Barcelona

If I had to recommend a unique dining experience for anyone visiting my dear Barcelona, I wouldn’t have any doubt about recommending dinner at Spoonik. At Spoonik they treat gastronomy as something quite artistic and powerful. Jon Giraldo, from Colombia and Jaime Lieberman, from Mexico, never thought they would find their passions in the kitchen. Jon was a lawyer and Jaime worked as a fashion photographer. They had founded a common business in the fashion industry. But, as it happens with great entrepreneurs, they realized that the money was not fulfilling their lives. In 2008, they decided to sell their company and Jon thought it was time to revisit his desire to study cooking. Jaime decided to accompany Jon in this new adventure. What was supposed to be a short course, turned into a whole new career and learning from the best chefs from restaurants like Ramón Freixa Madrid and El Celler de Can Roca. In 2013 they gave birth to Spoonik Experience. Like in a film, Jaime and Jon created a unique setting for all your senses. Actually, they talked about gastronomic performance, the perfect script which provides a catharsis and an experience of a lifetime for all their hungry guests. Needless to say this neurogastronomic experience means a focus on all the details. This is how their Mexican and Colombian roots collided with the Mediterranean flavors of Barcelona. A stringent daily selection of the best, raw materials also led them to connect with great producers, including wineries, cava, champagne, coffee and olive oil. Their involvement has led to partnering with one of the best olive oil producers based in Alicante, 5 Oliveres, who has created a special edition to be served only at Spoonik. As for wines, the iconic Albet i Noya, known for being one of the most innovative and sustainable wines in the market, has partnered with Spoonik to create a classic Penedes. The classic Penedès Brut Reserve Spoonik is a blend of parellada (40%), xarel·lo (25%), chardonnay (20%) and macabeu (15%). It has 15 months of aging and presents a balanced profile between structure, freshness and a silky texture. Jon’s Colombian roots also justify a veneration towards the best coffee. At Spoonik, the coffee is a special blend 104

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created for them from the best farms in Colombia. And, yes, you’ll find unique tableware specially designed for them at the best atelier based at El Poble Espanyol. It seems as if these amazing chefs are treating cuisine like haute couture! Examples of what you can enjoy at Spoonik: • Arepa de choclo with Stilton cheese and Honey air • Duck confit in Pibil, pickel purple onion avocado and beans • Vegetarian Ceviche, mango, green apple and nopal • Corn ice cream, corn cream, Corn textures and lime foam, pine seed pesto • Peach palm fruit, Crispy moringa, orange zest yogurt, Tobiko vanilla. • Desserts: Tribute to Ek Chuan: 100% cocoa ice cream Natural Yogurt with 7 textures, Sunset Dessert pumpkin and apricot cream Ginger and lemon grass ice-cream. If you love experiences, I strongly encourage you to feed your life at Spoonik. Photos courtesy of Spoonik.


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New York City

Sweet Treats 108

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Summer’s the perfect time of year for a bit of indulgence and NYC is just the place to explore a range of treats from ice creams, pastries to chocolate. With the aid of New York local and food blogger, Sheri Silver of, we mapped out some incredible places to sample. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it! There’s too many places to cover but for more amazing eateries to discover in this dynamic city, click here.


The Pint Shop


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What we Love: Vibrant, interactive and Instagramready! Sample unique ice cream flavors or book ahead for special Tasting Events. Shop the retail store for fun and colorful gifts. It’s a great time for the entire family! Click here for more details!


Ample Hills


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What we Love: Made with hormone free milk and cream from grass fed cows and organic cane sugar—what’s not to love about that? And when you are addicted to Ooey Gooey Butter Cake (pictured opposite page), you just have to keep coming back and try the other flavors! Click here for more details! 113

Aux Merveilleux

What we Love: One can’t live on sweets alone so to offset the guilt, it doesn’t hurt to pair up decadence with savory indulgences. For a touch of Parisian chic in NYC, elegant Le Merveilleux is the place to go. A must try is the deceptively petite Le Merveilleux, dark Belgian Chocolate meringue pastry (picutred opposite page) that’s gluten free, low calorie and heaven when you put it in your mouth! And for all you bread lovers, the glistening brioche rolls are a joy to savor and just the right size (pictured, right). So many options to try, we’ll have to save them for our return visit. Click here for more details!


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What we Love: There’s a giant unicorn, enough said. Seriously though, the Salty Pimp (pictured opposite page) with soft serve vanilla, dulce de leche and the chocolate dip is brilliant. And that little cone holder that keeps the drips from getting all over you is genius! When it comes to soft serve and fun, this is the place to go. Click here for more details! 116

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Big Gay Ice Cream


What we Love: Creative flavor combos to make you take pause before you bite in and smile. Sample a variety of the smalll-batch doughnuts such as the Maple Bar topped with bacon or go “healthy” with the Those Beetz Are Dope for a bold pop of color with a mild and not overly sweet taste. Be sure to try “The Bronx”. Click here for more details!

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Camp Cookie Do


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What we Love: Soft serve, nostalgia and edible cookie dough combinations make this a great stop on any summer day. But be forewarned, this location is a pop-up shop and will be gone by the end of summer so don’t delay. We indulged in the Campire Sundae (pictured opposite page) with graham crumbles, torched fluff, chocolate chip cookie dough, marshamallow soft serve and topped with milk chocolate ganache. Kid-friendly with a sophisticated twist. The cookie dough buried underneath the soft serve and toppings was a wonderful surprise as we dug in with each spoonful. Click here for more details! 121

What we Love: If you love cookie dough then we don’t need to go any further to convince you. From classic flavors to signature combos, there’s something that will grab your taste buds with no worries at all since it’s all safe to eat, really! Click here for more details!


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Doughnut Plant

What we Love: This is the home of the original creme brulee doughout and it’s a must try during your first visit. Don’t worry, you’ll be back again and again to try the other flavors. Not only do they have square doughnuts, but they also have our favorite doughnut during our time in NYC—the Coconut Cream (pictured opposite page)—the best doughnut we’ve ever tasted. Soft with a delightful cream filling that’s’ not overly sweet and then that coconut glaze with bits of coconut all over that just adds another flavor dimension and texture to every bite. This doughhnut is insanely good and we’re still dreaming about it to this day. Click here for more details! 124

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Morgenstern’s 126

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What we Love: You walk in and feel as if you’ve just been transported back to a simpler time. A black & white themed diner with metal stools along the counter and nostalgia embracing you with each taste of ice cream. We sat down at the counter for a two-sccop indulgence of green tea pistachio and blueberry chocolate. Both flavors were delicious in their own way—from the added crunch of pistachios, to the wonderful tart blueberry flavor that permeated each bite of dark chocolate—wow! Be sure to arrive by noon at the latest for an early treat, otherwise, you’ll be standing around the block waiting to experience this NYC institution. Click here for more.



The Name on Every Chocolate Lover’s Lips


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Photo credit: Maribelle New York

Meet Maribel Lieberman


VRAI Magazine: Tell us about Mariebelle chocolate and what makes it unique? Maribel Lieberman: MarieBelle is a premier boutique luxury chocolate company offering luscious chocolate products crafted with quality ingredients, ethically sourced, nutritionally sound and packaged in uniquely designed presentations. Mariebelle is “Art for the palate” combining exquisite chocolate with beautiful art. VRAI: Did you always dream about becoming a chocolate maker as a child? Or, did you have other aspirations? Maribel: When I was a child I dreamed of becoming a bilingual secretary, when I was a teenager I wanted to be architect, then later I decided to become a fashion designer.

The Journey VRAI: Why did you move from Honduras to the U.S. and can you tell us a little bit about the story? Maribel: They say that even the worst things happen for the best. I was in high school and my mother thought that it was important to have a minor degree in secretarial (I always showed signs of independency and wanting to work to make my own money). She wanted me to have a back-up in case I dropped out of school to go to work. It happened that I was really bad in typing and shorthand, so I failed the year. It might sound funny but it was hard for my mother and me. This is what made me decide to come to the United States to study English and then go to fashion school. VRAI: You studied at Parsons School of Design. Can you tell us about how you made the transition from fashion and design to making chocolate? Maribel: I love fashion and creation but later realized it wasn’t my world. Living in a cosmopolitan city like New York, exposed to so many cultures, customs, foods and ingredients, etc., I became curious and wanted to create dishes with ingredients that I wasn’t familiar with, create fusion cuisine. This is how I fell in love with food and chocolate.


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VRAI: How did you learn to make chocolate? Maribel: After learning how to cook with different ingredients, I opened a very successful catering business (for 5 years). I then wanted to open an international gourmet food market, representing foods of different cultures, introducing new recipes using ingredients from different parts of the world, including chocolate. I did some research and realized I couldn’t afford it, so I decided to start small with one ingredient, “chocolate”. I then went to have some training on chocolate in France and Montreal, Canada.

The Brand VRAI: Mariebelle New York is a global brand. Beyond Japan and Dubai, where else will you be expanding so that people can taste your delicious chocolates? Maribel: This coming July we are opening our MarieBelle boutique at the Kitano Hotel located in midtown east Manhattan. It’s a 100% Japanese owned hotel and we are so excited about this collaboration. Our fifth store is opening in Japan in 2019 in Osaka. We are in the works to expand in China, Hong Kong and other countries in Asia. VRAI: Can you tell us more about the artistry that goes into decorating your chocolates? Do you create each design? Maribel: I am the art director for the drawings on the ganache collection. The inspiration comes from the occasion or the season but, most of the designs are based on life in New York City.

Enter a world of chocolate indulgence as you’re transported to an elegant shop plucked from the streets of Europe. Savor more than just chocolates in the Cacoa Bar but save room for a tempting treat or two. 135


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Photo credit: Maribelle New York

Beyond Chocolate VRAI: Do you have any favorite travel destinations to rest and recharge? Maribel: I love Europe, especially France, Italy and Japan where I travel often. VRAI: When you are not eating chocolates and crave something savory, what are some of your favorite NYC eateries? Maribel: I like good restaurants, not necessarily the most luxurious restaurants but restaurants that have really good food, fresh and clean ingredients. Love Greek food. VRAI: What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs who have a dream? Maribel: Perseverance is a key for success. Don’t think you need a lot to start a business, all you need is passion and to believe in yourself. Follow your gut feelings.

Giving Back VRAI: You give back to your native Honduras. Can you tell our readers more about what you do? Maribel: As of 2015, we have been a bean-tobar company. I work with small cacao farmers from Honduras, especially women. These small farmers usually sell their cacao to companies that do fermentation and drying, they then sell it to exporters. I work directly with the women farmers, giving them a very fair price and, since my company is the exporter, they are able to make more profit because we skip the middle man. I often have seminars with them and teach them how to make chocolate so they can sell finished product locally, making a profit.

For more information on Mariebelle, click here.


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Photo credit: Maribelle New York

Photo credit: Maribelle New York

Red & You The time between Memorial Day through Labor Day is the perfect time to bring out a little red, white and blue in your wardrobe. We’re not talking about walking around like you plastered the American flag on you, but more subtle and stylish ways to show your spirit. We’ve gathered a few pieces from Amur, Ibkul and Isti to give you some inspiration. Whether it’s a subtle print, a bold accessory or a combo of colors, you’ll look great running around and staying cool during the day, to evening events and weekend gatherings where casual style is always on point during the summer months.


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Dylan Dress by Amur

Kelsey Top by Amur

Jones in Red by Isti Leah Pant by Amur 141

Claire Top by Amur

Presley Dress by Amur

Emery Dress by Amur

Augusta in Red by Isti


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Diane Print Bell Sleeve Dress by Ibkul

Diane Print Convertible Tunic by Ibkul

Diane Print V-Neck Dress by Ibkul



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Travel Bascis Getting from A to B is an adventure on its own especially when you’re travelling great distances and long periods of time. And having flown countless times, whether for work or pleasure, we’ve gathered a few basic travel tips to help make your next trip a bit more comfortable and less stressful.


Packing In this day an age of baggage fees, packing light is essential. Bring a carry on for short trips of less than a week to avoid checking in a suitcase and risk the chance of it not arriving at your final destination. In general, stick to one color palette so that you can easily mix and match items and try to only have two shoes at the most—a travel pair and another for those special occasions. When it comes to packing, use dry cleaning bags to prevent wrinkling for those fancier pieces. On trips where you need to be dressed up, put dresses/blazers/ jackets or suits (still on a wire hanger) in dry cleaning bags before folding them up into thirds. The slippery bags allow the clothes to move around so that permanent wrinkles won’t form. And, pack them last before locking up the suitcase and then hang those items up ASAP upon checking into your hotel room to minimize any wrinkling. And here is one essential item for your carry-on bag. Always have a pen for filling out those landing forms when you arrive in a new country. You have plenty of time on your flight to fill it out so that you’re ready to get in line and clear customs upon landing.


Security Lines and Passport Control Sign up for TSA and/or Global Entry (if you are in the U.S.). It’s a simple application process that will save you so much time during baggage screening (no removal of shoes and unpacking everything from your bags) and upon arriving home after an international trip, simply go to a kiosk, answer a few questions and get a printout in a matter of minutes. Now, if you have checked in bags, you’ll be waiting a bit until the bags finally make it to the baggage carousel so that’s the only downside. Regarding your passport, be sure to have a photocopy of it or even a simple photo on your cellphone in the event that you lose it somehow.

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Zzzz If you aren’t fortunate to get Business or First Class seats and you’re traveling on a long-haul or overnight trip and need to get some shut eye, here are a few essentials. Support your neck so that you can get some sleep. There are a variety of products out there but get something that will support your neck well and help you get some zzzs. If you’re a light sleeper or just want to drown out the noise around you, bring noise cancelling headphones or bring simple ear plugs—you just never know when you’ll need it. You can also bring along an eye mask as another aid. These are all inexpensive items that you should have in your carry on because you just never know. If you’re traveling on a red eye and arrive early the next morning at your destination, try and get some sleep during the flight. Any amount of sleep is better than none. Force yourself to sleep and skip the movies (if offered). Adjusting your body to your destination’s clock can help you adjust faster. One more thing during the flight—stay hydrated. Either bring your own bottle of water (purchased after you’ve cleared security) or drink up whatever free beverages, from water to juice, are offered whenever the trolley cart rolls by.

Sanitize Before you get comfy in your plane seat, wipe down your area. Bring travel-size disinfectant wipes in your carry on and wipe down your tray table, arm rest and even your seat belt buckle just to play it safe. Getting sick while traveling is never fun, so a small ounce of prevention can’t hurt. And in line with sanitary conditions, we hate using the plane’s bathroom. It’s cramped and the sink is so tiny, no matter how much washing and soap, you always feel like you’ve accidentally touched a surface and have to wash your hands all over again. So, bring some hand sanitizer and have it ready when you’re back at your seat just to have some peace of mind.


A Touch of Regal Splendor

Edinburgh By Danny de la Cruz


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Nothing could have dampened my spirits in Edinburgh. Despite a cool, drizzly and overcast start to the month of June, and with only had one day of sunshine during our entire visit, there’s a mysterious beauty and regal splendor to this compact and hilly capital of Scotland. It’s a true walking city, but you must be prepared to walk up, to walk down and to “hike” within the city center to explore it properly. While medieval Old town is filled with steep closes (alleyways) and a Royal Mile that takes you either downhill towards Holyrood Palace or uphill towards Edinburgh Castle, New Town, on the other hand, with its Georgian architecture gracefully arranged on straight and well-thought-out streets, is basically flat and much easier to navigate. Welcome to my three plus days in Edinburgh, Scotland. We had arrived in Glasgow, Scotland via Virgin Trains and then were picked up by a private bus to drive us to Edinburgh, about an hours drive east. Driving up to Edinburgh, it’s hard to miss majestic Edinburgh Castle as it dominates the skyline. The excitement continued to build as the bus inched its way closer to Old Town as it wove its way past crowded streets and finally to our hotel, the Radisson Collection Edinburgh. The hotel is situated right on the Royal Mile, in the heart of Old Town and so close all the major attractions—Edinburgh Castle, Victoria Street, St. Giles Cathedral, Princes Street Gardens and the National Museum of Scotland—the location could not be more perfect. We were greeted with a regal hue of purple upon entering the modern hotel lobby, complete with a sleek roaring fireplace. Check in was fast and welcoming and we quickly made our way to the room and the delights continued. To see our travels to Edinburgh and the room tour, click here. After unpacking, it was time to explore the hotel. From the lobby, there was a an Italian restaurant and bar area and up the stairs to the mezzanine level, was a dining area for breakfast in the mornings and afternoon tea in the later part of the day. Breakfast was included in our rate so each day, we were able to order a hot entrée while helping ourselves to the extensive buffet area with fruits, pastries, meats and cheese and so many options— you could fill up alone on just the cold buffet. Just off the restaurant was a little outdoor patio area. We wanted to make the most of our time so we ventured out and headed down the Royal Mile and were quickly pulled into exploring one of the closes—this first one, a steep stone stairway leading us down. 150

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Radisson Collection Edinburgh



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Princes Street Gardens


Each close is different so it’s always worth the exploration—you never know what you’ll find down these passageways—from restaurants, shops or steep steps heading to another level of the multi-level city. We headed down and explored the area by the Scottish National Gallery and Princes Street Gardens. We didn’t have much time to explore on this evening since dinner reservations were made by the hotel at The Outsider, just a block or so from the hotel. Be sure to get a table on the second floor if possible for a great view of Edinburgh Castle. Day 1 On our first full day, I had booked a private 8-hour tour with Highland Explorer Tours. We would visit the Kelpies, Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle and a few more stops along the way. We were picked up promptly at our hotel at 8:30 am and were off to see the Kelpies. For video highlights of this day-long tour, click here. We arrived at the Kelpies before the crowds and had wonderful views of the imposing steel horse heads that stood over 98 feet tall, which were created to represent mythical creatures that would lure passengers onto their backs and then steal their souls. From there, we made our way to Loch Lomond for some scenic nature trails and just a sample of the beautiful lake. Next, we stopped in the town of Aberfoyle for lunch and to explore the Wool Center. We chose to dine at the local Aberfoyle Deli and Trossachs Butcher Shop with an assortment of savory pies and then topped it off with some delicious Lamingtons for dessert. If you’re ever in town, be sure to stop by this unassuming little deli. Before heading off to Stirling Castle, we had a chance to get a better view of the Highlands in a quick stop and just soak in the beauty that surrounded us. Finally, we were dropped off at Stirling Castle. There are free guided tours throughout the day so just meet at the starting point and you won’t be disappointed in the colorful and energetic history lesson given by the guides. You’ll walk away knowing the true story of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (Braveheart). We arrived back at the hotel around 5:30 pm. We freshened up and then made our way to New Town, about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, for some Thai Food and spectacular rooftop views at Chaophraya Edinburgh. Make sure to ask for a table in the glass enclosed dining area, but if you’re not so lucky, just stroll on out to the outdoor patio area for the scenery before sitting down to eat. 156

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The Kelpies


Loch Lomond

View of the Highlands


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Stirling Castle



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Day 2 For Day 2, I had signed us up with Context Travel to do a three-hour walking tour of Old Town. I normally like to explore on my own, but given that I was traveling with a large group, it just made more sense to dive into the history and be guided by local experts. To see video highlights from this tour, click here. Our group was split into two since Context likes to have more intimate tour groups. We met our guide Irene, just outside of the National Museum of Scotland, a mere 5 minutes from our hotel. The tour would consist of diving into the history, the architecture and visiting key landmarks within Old Town. We headed off to our first destination, Edinburgh Castle. From our hotel, the castle is a quick walk uphill to one end of the Royal Mile. What’s interesting as you approach it this time of year is all the construction going on. Stands are constructed at the start of Summer and completed just in time for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place

during the month of August. Upon completion of the event, the stands are taken down and then the process is repeated again next season. The tour didn’t include the castle, but we’d return to explore further later that same day. Edinburgh is such a walkable city so be sure to bring comfortable shoes. But one word of caution, there are a lot of steep passage ways and uphill climbs, so if you’re less mobile, be prepared that you may not be able to see it all. If you try exploring any of the Closes that radiate off the Royal Mile, take note that some are very steep with stone steps so just be prepared. We veered off the Royal Mile, took a stairway down to another level and found ourselves on a colorful, curved street known as Victoria Street. This is the street that inspired author J.K. Rowling to create Diagon Alley in her Harry Potter book series. Just uphill and around the corner from Victoria Street, you’ll also find the Elephant House which is the place where Rowling sat down to write many of the chapters of the books. So for all your Harry Potter fans, Edinburgh is a must.

Victoria Street



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Greyfriars Bobby

Next to Victoria Street, we found ourselves in an open square known as Grassmarket. Known as an area with many cafes and restaurants, this was also once the place for public executions. Just uphill from Grassmarket, we ventured into Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery where we learned about the steel grates placed over burial sites to deter grave robbers. This is also the place where Greyfriars Bobby is buried, a Skye Terrier who sat at his master’s grave for 14 years until he died in 1872. Just outside the cemetery entrance is his statue and fountain. Be sure to rub his nose and you’ll see why it’s a different color. Right around the corner, we were back onto the Royal Mile and we stopped in front of St. Giles to learn more about its history. As we continued on downhill on the Royal Mile, you can’t help but be entertained by the street performers,

people watching and all the shopping opportunities and eateries tugging at you as you walk by. For me, I was easily distracted with one cashmere and wool shop after another as I was on the hunt for a cashmere scarf. As we progressed down the Royal Mile, the street became less congested and we eventually found our way to the end at the Scottish Parliament Building directly opposite from Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat in the near distance. You’ll either love or hate the design of the Parliament Building. It has a very organic design which seems out of place with the structure of the city. We walked around the building to get a better view of Arthur’s Seat. Given our tight schedule, Arthur’s Seat would have to wait until a return trip. We eventually ended up at Edinburgh University where our tour ended for the day. We walked a lot and learned so much great history in Old Town. 163

St. Giles Cathedral


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General Tips: In early June, the weather was cool, mid to upper 60s with a chance of rain or light drizzle on most days. Be prepared with a light jacket, umbrella and comfortable walking shoes.


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A view of Arthur’s Seat



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Visiting Edinburgh without exploring Edinburgh Castle would be a complete miss so we set aside the afternoon to explore. Although we didn’t arrive until mid afternoon (we missed the 1 pm firing of the canon), there was still plenty of time to walk around. Unlike a traditional castle where you think there’s just one building that sprawls with endless rooms, Edinburgh Castle is composed of multiple buildings spread out across various levels. Don’t be fooled once you’ve made it to the entrance because once inside, you’ll continue to climb even higher. Each level offers even more amazing views of Edinburgh, both Old and New Town. To see video highlights of Edinburgh Castle, click here.


A view of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens


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Holyrood Palace


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Day 3 Our last full day in Edinburgh was what I had designated as a “free day”—no tours and everyone in the group could explore or go shopping to their heart’s desire. After another wonderful breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we headed down the Royal Mile to explore Holyrood Palace. The only challenge with the plan was that there were many shops to check out along the way so it took a bit longer to get to our destination. We finally made it to Holyrood Palace and were able to explore the palace room by room, check out the ruins of the Abbey and wander through the gardens on a beautiful June day. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to film inside the palace and one of my favorite spots was climbing the circular staircase to see the living quarters of Mary Queen of Scots. Upon entering the grounds of Holyrood Palace, you’re provided with an audio unit to guide you through the palace and grounds so take advantage of it to soak up the history. To plan your trip for ticket prices and hours, click here. We spent about two hours exploring the castle and then slowly made our way uphill on the Royal Mile back to the hotel. Of course, this time around, we had already selected the shops we would stop back in and do some souvenir shopping. By the time we made it back to the hotel, we had 30 minutes to get to our next destination back in New Town. This time, we had reservations for afternoon tea at The Dome.



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Though I’m often in London, I’ve never had the chance to enjoy afternoon tea. This would be my first experience and I was excited. Upon entering The Dome, you climb up the stairs to the Georgian Room for tea. Once upstairs, you find yourself in a long room elegantly decorated with a more quiet and proper feel. You get to choose from a selection of wonderful teas and then for our group of four, we were provided with two tiered serving trays of savory finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and delicate, beautiful pastries. Our tea selections were delicious and of course, the food was divine. It was a wonderful experience and a far cry from a Lipton tea bag. Tea Time at The Dome


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Given that this was our last night in Edinburgh, we decided to head down to Princes Street Gardens which was lined with people enjoying the beautiful weather and relaxing on the grass. We strolled to the other end to St. John’s Episcopal Church and then made our way around Edinburgh Castle to explore other parts of the city before finding ourselves back at Grassmarket and then back onto the Royal Mile. This would be an early night for us since we had a 5 am flight the next morning out of Edinburgh Airport. Looking back at Edinburgh, there’s so much more to see and explore in this beautiful and walkable city. While I had researched a lot of sights to see, you just have to take a moment and enjoy the views and the world around you while realizing that you can’t tackle it all in one trip. Savor the moments. Savor the views. There’s plenty of reasons to come back to Edinburgh and I certainly will. Photos by DJG 179


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Taste of Galicia By Ksenia Skvortsova


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On the last week of June, New York City hosted the 4th annual Galician Cinema and Food Festival (GCFF). The Festival highlights the many appeals of the Spanish region of Galicia and is sponsored by the region’s government as well as by the European Union’s Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Galicia, located on the Atlantic coast of the northwest of Spain, holds many delights and the GCFF was a great opportunity to get exposed to so many of them at once! Galicia is sometimes referred to as the “o país dos mil ríos” or “a country of a thousand rivers,” and the banks of the rivers and the hilly landscape lend themselves well to wine production. Most of the grape varieties grown here are local and rarely found outside of Galicia or Northern Portugal—no chardonnay here! The white wines are often blends of local varietals such as albariño or godello. The light red wines of the region are primarily made from the thin-skinned mencia grape. The many miles of Atlantic coastline also make fishing one of the main local industries so, it is not surprising that Galician cuisine makes great use of fish and shellfish. Chefs Fran Novas and Rogelio García from New York’s Tomiño restaurant prepared delectable dishes using local products and treated the festival guests to delicate fresh fish, meaty mussels, and melt-in-your-mouth octopus.


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The following day, we paired Galician smoky cheeses, sardines and mussels with local wines. It was up to you to decide whether you preferred them with the Altos Torona white or the 100% mencia grape Regina Viarum red. Sommelier Jose Gutierrez was on hand to answer questions about all the local varietals and point out the taste notes of minerality that come from the black slate in the local soil. Next time I am in Spain, sign me up for a long pit stop in Galicia to try more of everything the local cuisine has to offer. Photos courtesy of Fito Perez and GCFF


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VRAI Magazine July 2018 Travel Issue  

Discover the UK, France, Spain, Alaska and New York City in our latest Summer Travel Issue. And along with travel guides, travel tips and ne...

VRAI Magazine July 2018 Travel Issue  

Discover the UK, France, Spain, Alaska and New York City in our latest Summer Travel Issue. And along with travel guides, travel tips and ne...