I love you too

Gwyl Arall menu
Broadbean and Dill Hummus
Caws Rhydydelyn and Purslane Salad
Terrine with Pickled Cammomile Peaches

Rice Bowl with Beef or Tofu
and Strawberry Ketchup,  Russian Kale,  Coffee Beets, Creamed Rosemary Courgette

Gooseberry  Pie

Often I get asked what my speciality/favourite cuisine is. And always I forget to answer: the joys of June. The soft whites and pinks of May, the month of expectancy, have made way for the blood red fruits of love. My heart skips a beat when I spot the first real sun ripened strawberries, raspberries and cherries. For me, it is as with these fruits  nature is saying ‘I love you  too’.
Its is the sparkling burst of abundance which I so love about these last weeks. The vegetable boxes which my local farm has started again are overflowing with green leafs and crisp new carrots, potatoes and onions. Tasting a freshly picked cucumber you realise how much flavour is lost with wrapping it in plastic and transporting it.

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June is the month for haying. The smell of freshly cut grass is loved by so many people I think because it makes them feel right in the middle of summer, when the sunshine is still sparkling. Strawberries in Ginger Ale Jelly are the optimal foodification of this sparkling sunshine in a glass. You could use champagne but I like the extra zing of ginger.

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Gorfennaf is the Welsh for July, and it means the end of summer. That’s a bit premature I hear you say, are summers in Wales that short? But it harbours a grain of truth. Nights are shortening. From now on summer is ripening, drying out. The next few months are all about harvesting, and conserving the crops for winter. Not long before combines almost cowlike graze the fields of golden grain, and digest it, seperating the wheat from the chaff.
The revitalising sparkle has left summer. It is about maturing now. That is why I like pickles so much. The vinegar adds the bit of zing which got lost. Recipes for the peaches and coffee beets on this weeks menu I found in the very inspiring ‘Smoke and Pickles’ by Edward Lee.

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Preparing for next weeks Welsh cultural festival Gwyl Arall I talked to Carwyn Jones, who set himself the challenge to live of the land and the sea for a year. While I am jubilating the abundance of vegetable and fruit produce, for Carwyn these are difficult months. There is not much to hunt and fish for. He’s trying hard to catch that shyest of fishes, sea trout. Although there is an element of sport, achieving the catch, it is mostly about becoming one with nature, feeling almost what the trout is doing, and simulating with your ‘fly’ the movement of small fish it is hungry for.

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If you eat it, you have to be able to kill it, is Carwyns  motto. When you kill an animal for meat, it should be done with respect. That is the word which ressonates with me most. Cooking is not an art, sport or nutritional necessarily action, but paying respect to what nature is giving you. Your way of saying ‘I love you too ‘ to the earth and all what it is providing you with.

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The Flavour of Life

A Dutch farm menu this week.
Dutch  Farm Salad with Cheese and/or Cured Sausage and Buttermilk Dressing
Dutch Beef Burger with Fried Liver Sausage and Mustard
White Asparagus with Egg and Lime Tree Blossom Sauce
served with Sautéed New Potatoes, Broad Beans and Aniseed Carrots.
Dutch style Semolina Pudding with Camomile Cream and Stewed Strawberries

June is my favourite month. Spring is over. Woken up after winter, all its detoxing fresh green leafs were like a refreshing morning shower. All its flowers and blossoms were a dawn chorus of better things to come. But it is in June that these promises are kept, as it is the month of real first harvesting. Ah, the taste of freshly dug up new potatoes, planted at Easter, with some butter and mustard. Strawberries, rose blossoms turned into a sweet juicy fruit of love. Cherries, gooseberries, currants, peas, broad beans.

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It is the month of my birthday, and sometimes it feels like the whole month is a birthday, being given all this fresh fruit and veg. And as on the morning of a birthday, there is the almost exhilarating anticipation of more things to come. Went for the hills on this early summer day, a lark singing high in the sky, surrounded by heather and llus bushes (bilberry). Couldn’t help but checking how many berries there are on the bushes, hoping the sheep will leave them alone, and that I will be able to pick my fair share in a month or so. Looking out below me I noticed the wheat is already starting to turn into fields of gold, and I could already almost smell a freshly baked bread.

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A friend of mine lost his farming father earlier this year. Living in the city himself he told me that he felt he lost more then his father. He missed the connection with the land, his father came from a way of life which is gone now. I guess he felt that the rhytm of his life has changed. For centuries food, and producing food, gave structure to our existence. Nowadays it seems more and more that food is just something nutritious. Instead of seeing it as a way of connecting, we separate  it by wrapping it in as much plastic as possible. In restaurants the distance is created  by turning food into some kind of art.

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I feel blessed that I can see golden fields and wild bilberries growing where I live. The importance of food as the flavour of life is also shown in the brilliant novel I recently read by Manon Steffan Ros: the Seasoning. It tells the story of Peggy, living in a village in the Welsh hills.  Each chapter centers around a different person and starts with a recipe of food they enjoyed together. It is the food that gives her memories some extra spice.
I applaud the concept of this book. I wish everybody the excitement of baking a cake, picking homegrown strawberries or the waiting for the right moment to pick wild blackberries. You can feel natures pulse through it, and that makes life so much tastier.

Memories in a Jar

 

  • Chantarelle mushroom soup
  • Liquorice lamb with roasted vegetables & sweet carrot jus
  • Fish frikadeller with curry remoulade
  • Open pie with rye crust and rice & smoked cheese filling
  • Pancake tart with apple & rosehip sauce and blackberries

Finally time to do some contemplative writing again, after a busy summer. It’s been good, making friends for life over breakfast while running a B&B, enjoying all the fresh local produce in the restaurant & having manic days while popping up with Oren at festivals as Gwyl Arall and Gwyl Gardd Goll.
Now, with the wind blowing around the house, autumn has definitely arrived and brings a bit of melancholy with it. Nature is starting to show its more sorrowful colours in the deep red & purple of aubergines, plums, blackberries, elderberries & grapes. I would love to spend some time in a vineyard in Southern France to experience the buzz of the harvest and the anticipation of the wine it will make.

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The chill in the air and the first yellow leafs are telling us to hurry up, gather our produce and preserve the summer for the dark days to come. It is the season of jam & chutney making. No wonder there are no jam jars left in Caernarfon’s hard ware shop as we bought the last ones for the green tomato chutney I made. No point in waiting for the perfectly glossy full bodied but hard & green tomatoes to get some colour. Better off putting them in a jar where they will remind me of the good summer I had growing them.

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Of all the jams, rosehip must be my favourite. Ever since one summer as a small boy I helped pick Mrs. Blauw lots of them from our bushes, and she gave me a Matchbox Ford tractor as my reward. Mrs. Blauw was one of the few people to recognize the value of these fruits of the flower of love. They need a bit of work, with their little devils of thorns and millions of rock hard seeds. But after a good cooking you end up with a scented syrupy goodness – full of vitamin c.

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All in all a good symbol of the sweet memories I am left with after the hard work this summer.

 

Kashba & Farm

 


Chicken meatballs with lemon Harissa relish

Grilled seabass with herb & raisin salsa and Chermoulah marinade
Broad bean burger
Poached asparagus & carrots with caper mayonnaise
Jersey Royal salad
Vine leaf, herb & yoghurt pie
Bulghur wheat Kisir
Roast rhubarb with sweet labneh

Time to celebrate Ottolenghi’s recipes again. His ‘Plenty’ is one of my favourite cookery books, and after it good damaged in the fire a customer gave me a fresh new copy, hoping that I would use it as often.

Most of the recipes have got a modern Middle Eastern flair – Ottolenghi is originally from Jerusalem. Reading his recipes it strikes me that the love for fresh ingredients almost jumps of the page. Images of a Middle Eastern Kasbah come to mind, with piles of watermelons, tomatoes, aubergines, the scent of fresh coriander & mint, and a spice bazaar full of yellow & red and all the colours between them.

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I’ve never been to such a place, but reading the words ‘pomegranate molasses’, ‘zumac’ and ‘za’atar’ brings me back to the Kanaalstraat in Utrecht, where I lived close by for years. It is in a multicultural neighbourhood, which is regarded as an example of integration. You’ll find an abundance of Halal butchers, Moroccan greengrocers, Turkish bakeries, Iranian supermarkets next to a an excellent wine shop, a Dutch cheese specialist and a well stocked fresh fish monger. A couple of Surinamese shops selling a unique mix of Oriental & Caribbean ingredients make it complete.
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I know realise how fortunate I have been to have all this on my doorstep in my beginning years as a chef. Still remember that I first discovered a bottle of pomegranate molasses and asking the shopkeeper what to do with it. And after reading about it in some cookery books, spotting a vegetable like cardoons (blanched thistle) a couple of months later.

Being able to do all the shopping in one street was perfect– on the bike of course! It is not only the variety of produce that drove me there time and time again, but also the cheap prices and certainly the quality of the products. Whatever fruit I would buy, it would be ripe and sweet & juicy. I am always disappointed if I buy fruit in the supermarket now – never really right. Maybe that is because it’s all part of one big logistic nightmare process. Fruit is grown industrially to an order placed months before, then picked way before it is ripe because it will take a long time (travelling, being packaged) before it ends up in the supermarkets where it has to have a bit of a shelf life.

No, I’d rather have the piles of darkest red cherries which I remember from the Kanaalstraat. Ripe & ready, yes some a bit blemished, but they need to go, so are flogged at low prices. And of course I realise that they might have been picked under not very nice circumstances in Turkey, and brought to Holland overnight in the back of an old lorry.

Here in Wales the situation is dire. No greengrocer or fish shop in Caernarfon, or in even within miles from it. A couple of good local butchers, selling Welsh beef & lamb. Bangor, a university town, has a couple of ethnic shops, an oriental supermarket and a place with Middle Eastern goods – where I hope to find my special ingredients for this menu.
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But better than buying it from the shop is buying it straight from the farm. Luckily there is quite a few of those around! I might not be able to do my shopping on the bike anymore, but driving through the beautifl Welsh countryside and see your vegetables grow and the hens who lay your eggs potter about, is an experience I wish every chef could have.

Gentle Expectation

 

  • menu May 10th and 11th:
  • Daisy Soup
  • Duck & Shitake Pho
  • Gratin of Laverbread & Oysters
  • Nettle, Ground Elder & Goosegrass Burger with Wild Garlic Hummus
  • Served with Dandelion & Potato Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil and Hawthorn Salad with Soy Honey Dressing
  • Gorse Flower Charlotte

I have got a favourite stroll through some fields just outside Caernarfon and then back along the Menai Straits. Recently, in the middle of a field full of dandelions & daisies, the thought ‘Isn’t spring one big egg’ came to my mind. Everywhere nature was showing yellows and whites. Being in Wales, all the daffodils for instance. And the sloe bushes in the hedgerow in their white blossom haze.

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Finally after a long cold & dry period, trees are showing their fresh, limegreen coloured new leaves. It makes me want to eat them. And fortunately, you can. A wild food menu for Oren is on the cards for this week.

May is the month of expectation. Not a vibrant and overexcited one, but more a serene looking forward, reflected in those yellows and whites nature is showing, and the gentle blues and pinks (forget-me-nots, bluebells). Yesterday I saw my first cabbage white butterfly of the year frolicking through the sky. That movement captured my mood exactly.

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Summer, the season of freedom, is around the corner. I will be able to walk barefoot soon, or in sandals, instead of having them tied into shoes. And there is a new dawn for Oren, after moving it from the Hole in the Wall Street to the cozy environment of my kitchen at Abel’s House. Personally I feel relieved, having no longer the restraints of a separate restaurant premises. And I am grateful the growing stream of returning customers feel as much as home at Abel’s as I do.

Tiny Morsels & Great Conversation

 

Dates in Duvets
Devilled Chicken Liver & Tarragon Vol Au Vents
Welsh Lamb Meatballs in Tomato & Leek Sauce
Radishes with Anchovy Sauce
Curried Oren Bach with Smoked Haddock (fried rice balls)
Potted Crab with Harissa
Mini Rarebit
Spring Green Salad
Home Baked Oatcakes
Potato Salad with Wild Garlic Mayonnaisse
Lemon Trifle

Spanish cooking has always had a special place in my heart since my first job as a chef, in a Spanish restaurant in Utrecht. I have got good memories of that job. The restaurant had recently opened and the staff formed a good motivated team (complaining about everthing the managers did wrong of course). Waiters greeted me in the morning with cafe con ponche (coffee with a bit of sweet brandy on the side). The dishwasher, a Spanish student from Barcelona, taught me how to make the perfect tortilla, potato omelette. The trick is to cook your sliced potatoes in plenty of olive oil, then drain them and mix the eggs with the warm potatoes.

Spanish-Tortilla-Recipe

There is something about Spanish cooking which suits me very well. Maybe it is because it is a rustic cuisine, heavily influenced by the people of the land, instead of fine dining influenced by palaces & aristocracy. Tapas are Spain’s biggest contribution to global cooking. Somebody had the idea to put food on the little plates which were used to cover glasses, to ward off greedy flies. There is something to be said for a cuisine which regards food as a tasty bit on the side. It is that what endears me most about Spanish cooking. The food has a supporting role to a social occasion. Most important is that people have a good night, and having some nice little snacks on plates are helping to realise that.

012Inspiration for this week’s menu comes mostly from ‘My kind of cooking’ by Mark Sargeant, one of the most inspiring cookbooks I read the last couple of years. It does really contain easy recipes, based in British tradition. I read the book and thought, oh, I’ll put that on the menu, and that, and that… So it is back to the table buffet formula at Oren this week. I realise now why it is always such a succes, because it goes back to the important role food has as a social medium.

(con)fusion and principles

 

 

  • Buttermilk-soaked Chicken with Croutons, Butter Beans & Brazil Nuts
  • Prawn & Mandarin Soup
  • Chilled Cashew & Black Olive Soup
  • Baked Sausages with Tomato, Balsamic & Cumin
  • Grilled Sardines with Beetroot, Grapefruit and Parsley
  • Baked Aubergines Crumbles with Szechuan Pepper
  • White Grape & Bay Leaf Bavarois

I do have principles when it comes to food. ‘Eat as much from your direct environment’ is the first one which comes to my mind. It is branded ‘local & seasonal’ in todays food marketing. Basically you should eat the food which grows around you, suitable to climate you live in. Two weeks ago I picked some wild garlic, and it brought the very fresh cleansing taste to my plate of food, which I had been looking forward to after the stodgy winter. Nothing brings me more pleasure in early summer than the first local strawberries.Looking at the little red darlings in the suppermarkets now, I can easily refrain from buying them, because I know it will be nothing compared to the real thing.

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But local food in wintery Wales is scarse. I guess if you really wanted to eat local all the time, you have to resolve to traditional conserving methods, with the additon of the freezer. Dry your beans, salt your meat, smoke your fish, jam your fruit and freeze lots of vegetables when there is an abundance of them. That would all be ok, if society hadnt moved from an agricultural village to the ‘global village’.

Sometimes I wonder if part of me is reincarnated Far East Asian. I have an enormous fascination for Chinese, Japanese & Korean food. After seeing Ang Lee’s film ‘Eat Man, Drink Woman’ years ago (starting with the father cooking a meal) I immediately went out the next day and bought bamboo steamers and seasoned a carbon steel wok. Ever since, from time to time, I yearn for some Asian food.

bamboo

So, as an excuse for wanderings into foreign cuisines, maybe my biggest principle is to eat as varied as possible. I dont mean the fake variation suppermarkets are offering, of isles of different kind of chocolate biscuits, breakfast serials and the newest out of space flavour crisps. No, more the one day pasta, next day potato and the following day rice variation.

This week though, I have taken the eat varied theme one step further. All because I read Vicky Bhogal’s cookery book ‘Flavour’. There are a lot if dishes with sometimes far sought combinations of food. Scallops with lychees and bitter lemonade anyone? Well, strangely enough I fancied it.  I realise writing this that it is working for me, because the book shows aprreciation of ingredients. With that, it is grateful for what the earth is giving us. And that is probably my biggest principle of all.

 

Triumph of Simplicity

St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday, so Oren turns Gwyrdd (Green) for a week.   Yes, the grass is definitely greener in Ireland. Havent been there for 15 years now, but it was my travel hotspot in the nineties. In fact, Ireland is the reason that I am where I am today. After deciding I wanted to leave crowded and overregulated Holland, living in Ireland seemed a perfect plan. It didnt work out completely, I got as far as North Wales. Although I am perfectly happy here now, I stll think the emerald isle. Especally of  the Aran Islands on the West Coast, which is the most beautiful spot I have been to.

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So time to put my love for Eire into a special menu.

  • Brotchan Roy
  • Braised Oxtail
  • Cod with Cream & Bayleaves
  • Vegetarian Buckwheat Balls & Guiness Stew
  • served with Wild Garlic Champ
  • Rhubarb Pie.

I am leaning heavily on recipes from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditonal Cooking. They are examples of the triumph of simplicity.

Brotchan Roy – Broth for a King – is a soup made of Leeks & Oatmeal. Yep, basically just that. Sweat leeks in butter, add stock or milk, stir in oatmeal, cook for 45 min. Ancient recipe but you end up with the most flavourful soup, which has a beautiful celtic mist colour. Darina suggests a bit of mace for flavour, but  I guess thyme (my favourite bedfellow for leeks) or white pepper will do as well.

Ehm…Oxtail isnt particularly Irish, but I just fancied cooking it before winter is really over.

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It feels so good to have something fresh green on the menu again. Yesterday I went for a walk to my secret spot for picking wild garlic, and discovered that despite the wintery temperatures of  the last couple of months it had already come up in abundance. I got enough to use for the champ – potatoes mashed with milk which has been infused with the wild garlic. Not only it has the fresh Irish green colour, but for me, the taste of wild garlic anounces the arrival of spring. It cuts through the stodgyness of wintery food.

The acidity of rhubarb does the same, and that makes it one of my favourite spring ingredients. The recipe from’ Irish Traditional Cooking’  for Rhubarb Pie, with a bread-cake base (using baking soda as a rising agent, in combination with buttermilk). This recipe works perfect, as the base soaks up the juices from the rhubarb.

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I was surprised how good these simple dishes tasted. But it is a good reminder that Ireland once signified a life of simplicity, and that I am still striving to lead that life.

rural life & human spirit

 

Welsh Smorgasbord
Lamb Shank with Jones’  Surprise
Seafood Hotfood
Vegetarian Welsh Hash with Poached Egg
Pear Tart

It is St David’s day this Friday, Wales’ National Day. But on Thursday Oren’s bookclub is gathering to discuss ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man  who climbed out of the window and disappeared’ by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Thus this week’s menu ended up as a fusion between Nordic & Welsh cuisine.

Quite fashionable, something Nordic. It’s clear, crystalline esthetics are conquering the world. The world’s best restaurant, according to in-the-know-critics, is Noma in Kopenhagen, where you are fed whole ecosystems  on a plate. Best crime fiction seems to come from Scandinavia and after being glued to the television for ‘The Killing’, Sarah Lund’s Nordic knitted christmas jumpers were on everybody’s wish list. And it might not be easy to construct, but the simplicity of Ikea furniture has made it to homes all over the world.

My last holiday (3 years ago,sigh) was to Sweden, this time of the year. The sky seemed blue-er then anywhere in the world, providing a clear & crisp light. Dense forests and heavy clean snow & ice gave me the feeling that something exuberant of life was hidden in it.  Nordic freshness with a heavy beating heart is part of the Scandinavian succes story, I think.

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I enjoyed ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man….’. It fits into a tradition of Swedish literature which has produced some of my all time favourite books.  Jonasson’s book is combination of world history and comic road trip, and made me think of Selma Lagerloff’s ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. That is the best road trip book ever, published in 1906, about a boy travelling on geese, having adventures in all the provinces of Sweden. The book paints a beautiful picture of regional folklore & life in rural Sweden at the beginnning of the 20th century.

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The simplicity of pre-industrial agricultural Sweden forms the backdrop to one of my all time favourites as well, ‘The six Bullerby children’ by Astrid Lindgren. Just the story of day to day life of 7 children on 3 remote farms. A life led by the seasons, which seems so far from these modern times. It might look now that those children were living in a small world, but with their imagination their world might be bigger than that of some children nowadays.

Astrid Lindgren is also responsible for one of my childhood heroes, Pippi Longstocking.  Despite all the technical shortcomings I can see now, I still like to watch the televesion series I was addicted to as a 4-7 year old boy. In honour of this girl of extraordinary fysical strength & human spirit, who showed me as a child the farcical complexity of adult life, a recipe for Swedish Princes Cake.

pippi

http://makeandbakeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html#!/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html

The Art of Travel

surprise Hungarian menu

Of course, blogging is part of arm chair tourism.  With modern technology, we can communicate with anybody anywhere who can tell us everything about anything. We can travel the whole world without lifting our ever growing behinds from our seats. We don’t need to go to China, we just read about it on the internet. We don’t need to taste exotic food, we just buy a whole world of cookery books without ever using them.  I wonder how many people will, after reading a recipe in a blog, actually cook it?

As the world is getting smaller, it is getting more & more difficult to submerge yourself into the unknown.  We don’t want to let go of the control we have over our environment.  Instead of stepping into the world, we let the world come to us, through our mobile phones & computers, with more & more apps as new control mechanisms.

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But I like to be surprised. I just love wandering aimlessly in big cities, never knowing what is around the corner. Maybe it is all Budapest’s fault.

In the summer of 1989 I embarked on my first solo travel, a month touring (then still communist) Hungary.  At the eve of the revolution, Budapest was a very vibrant city. There were concerts all over town every night, and because they were so cheap they were attended by people from all different classes. I saw my first Opera. Daytimes I picnicked in parks, discovered a massive variety of little shops  – one specialised in bow ties  – and had cakes & coffee in all the  classic cafés. Ah, Dobos Torte in Café Gerbaud!

It’s funny how food plays such an important role in my memories of that holiday, even though I wasn’t a chef back then. The cold cherry soup I had in scorching summer heat is still ranked among the best things I’ve ever tasted. But Tokaj and Eger Bulls Blood wines, Gundel pancakes and Chicken Paprikas could easily be added to that list.

English wasn’t widely spoken – the older generation spoke a bit of German. So ordering something from an Hungarian menu was a bit of an adventure. But you soon learn the words for soup, chicken & some cooking techniques. And you can’t go wrong with Goulash.

I fancied making Goulash this week. But the rest of the menu will be a surprise. Because I like cooking for people who are willing to take a risk. It adds to the spice of life.  Eating at Oren is rising from your armchair, let go, and go on a culinary travel where you never know what is around the corner.