There is a lot of ingenuity in the broad array of holiday season food gifts that Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli offers. One of last year’s most popular offerings – Chocolate Class, in a box ($69) – is back again this year.
The gift is designed to replicate at home the experience of a Caputo’s introductory class to fine chocolate. Presented in a cleanly designed handmade wooden box with Caputo’s logo, the package includes seven top-connoisseur chocolate bars along with a detailed tasting guide to help individuals follow the sequence, as it is presented in the actual course. The item also includes a mass produced commercial chocolate as the ‘control’ bar for tasting so that users can compare the quality with the fine chocolate.
In fact, Caputo’s holiday gift collections this year do a solid job of representing just how far the Salt Lake City store has developed as a retail champion of farmers and food producers – in and outside of Utah – who take entrepreneurial leaps of faith to demonstrate that ethical, sustainable, and respectful agricultural practices make good sense socially and economically.
Among the newest additions this year are numerous standout samplers of chocolates that focus on outstanding American producers, origin of cacao, and styles of production. Other selections include food samplers representing local producers as well as those from Italy and the southern Mediterranean region, which are packaged in wooden crates made by hand at the Utah-based Heritage Workshop. These crates are available for packing and shipping with any gift item, at an additional incidental charge. The crates also are available for individual sale ($40, extra-large; $16, large, and $10, small).
Heritage also has made specific cutting boards for Caputo’s that are suitable also for serving various meats, cheeses, antipasti, and confections. Measuring 19 inches long and six inches wide, they retail for $24 and be incorporated into any gift basket. Caputo’s also is offering a flat shipping rate charge of $10, based on ground transportation to any destination within the United States, for any order, regardless of size and cost, before Christmas. This includes the packing materials and labor, Matt Caputo adds.
In addition to gift certificates that are popular purchases for a specific Caputo’s tasting and cooking class, the store is offering gift cards which recipients will be able to use at any of Caputo’s locations or online for any purpose.
Upcoming classes in early 2014 include the continuing installments of the whiskey series, which has seen all of its earlier classes to date sell out rapidly. Others are based on classic cookbooks from culinary figures such as Julia Child, Alice Waters and Marcella Hazan. Many classes include intriguing themes such as an April session titled ‘Italian American Cooking… Where Did We Go Wrong?!’ and a March wine tasting event with Libation SLC’s Francis Fecteau named ‘Tuesday Throwback – The 2012 Vintage.’
With chocolate, Caputo’s is Utah’s undisputed leader in terms of its offerings, which match and even exceed those found in many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. The chocolate sampler collections, which range in price from $22 to $400, are tailored to underscore not only the exceptional tastes that come in numerous single origin bean-to-bar creations and delicately infused confections and bars but also to highlight the economic and social values of direct trade relationships which farmers are able to propagate and thrive in cacao bean agriculture, that is based in countries which are striving hard to develop their economies. Among them are Italy’s Amedei and Denver’s Ritual Chocolate, both of whom were featured separately at the store’s first two annual chocolate festivals.
The American Standouts Collection ($38) comprises five different bars, each representing one of the new generation craft chocolate producers. Among the producers highlighted are two from Utah (Amano and Solstice Chocolate), Dick Taylor, Patric, and Ritual Chocolate. Ritual Chocolate, a small enterprise established just a few years ago by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies with operations in Denver, Colorado, is a prime example of the new wave of ethical chocolate makers who champion heirloom cacao and sustainable models of agricultural operation. Ritual just recently new bars including a Maranon, a Peruvian origin bar with stone fruit and floral notes, and the Nib Bar with dried fruit and nut tasting notes.
Art Pollard, who founded Amano Chocolate in Orem, became one of the most successful and astute practitioners of direct trade, paying three to four times above the London Cocoa Terminal Market price, not only to ensure procuring top-quality cacao but also to support farmers’ share of profits that provide for their families as well as their business operations.
Several samplers highlight more focused treatments of style and distinctions among producers, breadth of flavor, and various bars expressing the spectrum of country and single origin beans. For $22, Caputo’s is offering a collection of three dark chocolate bars by American producers: Ritual Chocolate’s Balao, Dick Taylor’s Belize, and Potomac Chocolate’s Upala 70 percent nib chocolate. For $115, a collection of 13 dark chocolate bars – both single origin and infusion – covers comprehensively the various approaches by American and international craft chocolate producers.
There are remarkably good values to be had in several Amedei chocolate samplers and collections, ranging from the $63 dark chocolate curated selection to the ultimate company package retailing at $400. Amedei is the modern, cosmopolitan paragon of corporate ethical responsibility that rewards consumers as well as farmers and campesiños. While paying a price that can run three or more times higher than many other chocolates, consumers enjoy a phenomenally pleasing product with memorable flavors and healthful culinary benefits that rely on specific, known sources of high-quality cacao without the use of preservatives or additives. And, farmers earn higher prices for their product and other benefits that include knowledge sharing with agronomists and Amedei’s support.
Amedei’s chocolate gifts may be the most impressive one could give when it comes to confections. Indeed, Amedei’s commitment has been one of meticulous patience. After years of apprenticeship in Belgium, France, and Germany, Cecilia Tessieri founded Amedei not with the idea of becoming a mass manufacturing plant but instead with the form of a laboratory where experimentation and risks would play prominent roles in bringing out the best profiles and elements of terroir from cacao beans grown in the plateaus of Madagascar, the most remote areas of Venezuela, Jamaica and Ecuador, and even in the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad/ Tobago and Grenada. Amedei undoubtedly is the mother of the extraordinary craft chocolate movement that has gained footing in the young century.
And, of course, Chocolatier Blue’s confections remain among the most popular gift items with assortments ranging in size from six to 30 pieces and in price from $12 to $42. Christopher Blue, who came from Lincoln, Nebraska and worked with the late great chef Charlie Trotter, has a flagship store in Berkeley, California. There are three other locations in California, including a Berkeley store that features ice cream, sorbets, and other confections. Blue’s other locations are in Denver, Lincoln, Omaha, San Jose, and Seattle. During the holiday season, Caputo’s likely will sell between 10,000 and 12,000 pieces of Blue’s confections.
One of the boldest innovators, Blue is the master of continuous improvement, indefatigably testing his ingredients to create the most transcendental chocolate confections. The foundation of his chocolate comes from Domori, a company known for a triumph of genetic research that successfully resurrected a virtually extinct heirloom varietal of a criollo bean derived from Haciena San Jose on the Parian peninsula in Venezuela. His other foundational ingredients include California’s Five-Star organic butter and fleur de sel salt from France.
Outstanding savory items also have been curated from specific national origins for several different collection samplers, ranging in price from $30 to $90. Particularly noteworthy are two ‘standout’ sampler offerings – one representing Italy ($73) and the other, Utah food producers ($56). A sampler from Spain turns out to be quite a bargain at $50 featuring such items as imported Serrano ham, Marcona almonds, and manchego from the La Mancha region, along with a pair of chocolate bars from Cacao Sampaka and pieces of Rabitos dark chocolate fig bon bons.
The grande dame of this category is a $90 assortment of products from Italy as well as those made in the United States that incorporate a foundational ingredient directly from Italy as well as a distinctive culinary style of preparation. The package includes some of the best-known cheeses from the store, including the Caprino Cremoso, a heavenly truffle-perfumed small chalky-white button of goat-milk cheese; a sheep’s milk pecorino, organic citrus honey from Sicily, Amedei chocolate, and U.S.-produced items such as Creminelli’s Felino al Barolo and a six-piece box of Chocolatier Blue confections, which, of course, are made with Domori chocolate.
A $30 basket, for example, includes items from France as well as those locally produced as a culinary homage to French preparations and style. The sampler includes a nice tasting size of Ossau-Iraty cheese, produced by Onetik in France and aged an additional six months in the store’s cheese cave. The cheese name refers to two rivers in the French Basque region which gives the spectacular terroir distinction to cheeses of this type. Also featured are French minitoasts, chocolates from Pralus and Valrhona, and caramels produced by the Utah-based Bees Brothers which follows a Provence style preparation for these confections.
Caputo’s also has gift baskets packed with items that represent a potential savings of 30 to 35 percent off the cost of items that would be sold individually. A $79 gift basket, for example, includes items that normally would total up to $125 or more. Other baskets represent similar generous discounts, such as a basket of items valued at $70 which sells for $49, while one valued at $40 retails for $29. A $40 gift packaged in a wicker basket includes seven items carried at the store – such as pasta and sauce, locally made popcorn, fruit preserves, chocolate, honey caramels, and cookies. A larger version also is available for $60, which includes 12 products.
The store’s meat and cheese offerings also make for special gifts, primarily because they represent preparations and styles exclusively connected to Caputo’s, such as a house-made cheddar wrapped in butter and duck fat and aged for six months. In addition, the store is extending its Grotte line, supplementing Grotte Caputo with a special cheese infused with sour cherries from the state and brandy.
Frody Volgger, who heads up Caputo’s Butcher Market, continues to astound customers locally and internationally with his charcuterie, all made from locally sourced, responsibly grown meat. While the housemade speck remains a popular mainstay, Volgger has made salami from elk, infused with a surprising ingredient that imparts just the right tone of sweetness (no spoilers to be named), and a pastrami from buffalo that includes whiskey from Utah’s High West Distillery.
Even a simple gift of house-made charcuterie from Caputo’s has significant meaning beyond the obviously outstanding taste of a first-rate product, as indicated earlier this year in a Selective Echo article:
‘Outstanding as the in-house meats and charcuterie have become – as represented in their brisk sales – the butcher shop also has become an important customer nexus for many of Utah’s ranchers and family farms who have invested heavily in propagating the essential criteria of responsible livestock agriculture that includes, but is not limited to, animals which must be of heritage breed and that farmers must demonstrate a near-total dedication to pasture grazing and using feed that is not sourced from genetically modified products.’
Indeed, the entire assortment of holiday gifts being provided by Caputo’s underscores the same philosophy in celebrating the fortunate availability of foods and products that champion responsible stewardship of land and the environment as a small yet powerfully enduring gesture.
For more information, see here.
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Editor’s Note: The show is available for online listening here throughout the holiday season. Photos courtesy of Rick Pollock.
The late film critic Roger Ebert in his solidly positive review about the 2003 film ‘Bad Santa’ wrote that ‘many screenwriters who do sweet PG-rated movies like “Cats & Dogs” have a script like “Bad Santa” in the bottom desk drawer, perhaps in a lead-lined box.’
Known widely for exquisitely erudite, socially conscientious works for the stage, Utah playwright Eric Samuelsen gave Plan-B Theatre, KUER’s RadioWest program, and the audience at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts who braved the snowy conditions a huge holiday bonus by sharing ‘Fairyana,’ his own twisted take on bitter socially dysfunctional oddballs who work as writers for a fictional children’s television show.
The stellar production – the eighth edition of Plan-B’s Radio Hour series – directed by the company’s Cheryl Ann Cluff, played for only one performance coinciding with a live broadcast during KUER-FM’s RadioWest program but what a show. The three actors – Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson, and Jason Tatom – put on a master class of theatrical ensemble and comedic timing. They elevated Samuelsen’s already outstanding script to a rendition that will stand out as a hallmark among a recent string of already extraordinary Plan-B performances.
Last year’s Radio Hour holiday offering also was a rousing success – a holiday-appropriate affectionate interpretation of Sherlock Holmes’ only Christmas story ‘The Blue Carbuncle,’ but this time Plan-B flexed its muscle for this adventurous and mischievously twisted holiday tale. Samuelsen’s script works because, like ‘Bad Santa’ and as the late great Ebert explained, ‘it makes no compromises and takes no prisoners.’ Oh, and as the audience indicated consistently throughout the hour-long performance, it was funny.
The story revolves around ‘Fairyana,’ a children’s television show for the 4-7 age demographic, and the behind-the-scenes creative writing team: Stan, a weak-willed hypochondriac who can’t seem to get any professional respect except for doing excellent formatting of four pages of dialogue that are considered unusable; Viv, a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking writer with a troublesome boyfriend who insists upon disposing permanently the cuddly villain character of Snoogums, and Max (the play’s narrator), who has been brought in from ‘Homicide Twins’ (‘thirteen-year-old girl detectives Twinkles and Topsy, solving crimes with the help of their parrot friend, Pierre’) to help revive ‘Fairyana’ with a Christmas story line that will have enough steam to last through the holiday season.
However, Max is desperate because Viv has been off for three days on ‘sick leave.’ He relies on unorthodox measures for motivating his colleagues – involving the mob syndicate.
At the beginning of the second scene, Max, whose nerves are being jangled by the flighty prima donna of Princess Amber who can’t get his name right, gets a disturbing voicemail:
‘Marvin, dear. This is your Princess speaking. We’ve been hearing these teensy weensy little rumors about your floor. About possibly some writers maybe having issues about the direction of the show? ‘Cause if so, he’s an elf. Santa’s favorite elf. And, and I need script. I need it soon. And I’m not interested in excuses. Get it done, or you’re fired! (Pause.) Love ‘ya!’
There is good reason to be worried. Max has ‘bupkus’ – ‘zero pages’ except for one line: ‘Snoogie oogums want yummy yum yums.’ He calls in Guido and the other ‘goombas’ who arrange four limousines to gather Viv from her apartment and to hold Carl as ransom in exchange for her creative gifts.
It is here that one easily becomes mesmerized at the performance art of the cast members who must switch character voices effortlessly for the benefit of the live studio audience and those listening on radio. As Viv who is now ready to write the show and cast the story line featuring Snoogums, the fantasy villain she despises so completely, Sanderson lives up to and exceeds the promise of Max’s voiceover line (delivered so pitch perfectly by Tatom): ‘And then we watched her. Sittin’ up, eyes rolled back in her head. Like Linda Blair in that exercise movie. Possessed, like.’
Sanderson transforms Viv’s voice with an unbelievably effortless demented twist that works to every comedic effect. Meanwhile Perry plays the hapless Stan with the right touch of pathos while Tatom shades Max just enough to keep the comedy going within the sinister realm he occupies.
Possessed, Viv is dishing out dialogue and Stan is typing it, all to Max’s delight but then she stops cold when she clunks her head and passes out. When she comes to, Max is relieved and believes they will make Amber’s deadline, but then Viv reveals the bombshell: Snoogums must die.
Samuelsen’s writing here is gold, as Viv describes in detail her near-death experience and the reason for her return:
‘That’s it. It’s like my mission in life, the reason I’m here. The bartender angel, he explained it to me. Most people have a mission, and sometimes people decide not to do theirs.
‘But we all have ‘em: to cure cancer, world peace, win the trifecta at Santa Anita. Mine is to kill Snoogums.’
And, here Samuelsen and, ultimately, the cast follow all the wise choices to make ‘Fairyana’ work as a darkish comedy not intended for family audiences. Max will do whatever it takes to ensure the last remaining half-page of script is finished and that Viv is not allowed to kill off the show’s marquee ‘cuddly villain.’ The ending is perfect.
The actors make every line virtually memorable. As a gruff, rough-edged Max, Tatom, with his wonderful sonorous tones, relishes gifts such as ‘Our audience at Fairyana ain’t maybe the most sophisticated, but a five-year-old with a laptop can chat on a fan site.’ Perry’s comedic genius propels even the simplest line – ‘Rigor mortis–? Is that a thing you can get?’ – with just the right pace and inflection. In the epic recount of Viv’s near-death experience which she claims to have seen her mother’s image, Sanderson inhabits the persona with such eerie naturalness, speaking lines such as ‘Yeah. Especially since my Mom, she’s in a old folks home in Sausalito, what’s she doin’ in my near death experience?’
Cluff’s production experiences rounds out ‘Fairyana’ magnificently. Using a laptop and smartphone, Dave Evanoff delivers the perfect musical accompaniment, complete with an original yet standard saccharine children’s TV show theme and the effective combo of noirish saxophone music and jingling bells. Michael Johnson serves as Foley, providing a babbling brook, chirping birds, and a croaking frog. The usual strong crew is rounded out with Jennifer Freed, stage manager; Jesse Portillo, lighting design, and Randy Rasmussen, set design.
Two Samuelsen plays have been done so far in Plan-B’s ‘Season of Eric,’ and one major point already is clear: his writing leads to some of the strongest performances ever to grace the company’s stage.
For more information about the upcoming productions in 2014, see here.
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There have been some very good instances where writers, especially for television, have played up quite effectively the darker comedic effects about imaginary and actual dysfunctional natures of the talent and creative teams behind children’s television shows.
As many fans of The Simpsons know, writer Matt Groening fashioned the boozing, confrontational, bawdy Krusty The Clown character from a loose interpretation of Rusty Nails, a Portland, Oregon television clown whose show was popular during Groening’s childhood days. Groening sharpened the edges of Krusty’s character with biographical details of the great stand-up comedian Jackie Mason, who was a pioneer in the ridicule and insult comic genre.
One of the most memorable episodes of the ‘Frasier’ television series featured the character of children’s performer Nanny G., who reveals to Frasier that her marriage to the show’s producer is just a sham for business. Backstage before a concert for a children’s audience, Nanny G. and Frasier, overwhelmed by sexual passion, strip naked and climb into the prop bed, only to have it raised to the stage as the show begins.
Plan-B Theatre is set to offer its own take on darker comedic possibilities behind the scenes of ‘Fairyana,’ a fictional children’s television show, in the eighth edition of its Radio Hour productions. Written by Eric Samuelsen, whose plays comprise the company’s 2013-2014 season, it is a sharply tuned live radio show that becomes ‘an exercise in extended irony–awful, damaged human beings writing a cheerful children’s show,’ as he explains in an email interview with The Selective Echo.
The show, directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff, takes place Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on KUER-FM’s ‘Radio West,’ hosted by Doug Fabrizio. As with last year’s holiday Radio Hour production – which was completely sold out for the live show – it will be presented in the Jeanne Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
Jerry Rapier, Plan-B’s producing director, says an important element is the ‘literal live studio audience.’ He adds, ‘the more people in the theater, the more energy bounces onto the stage, the more energy bounces back to the audience, which translates to more laughs and a better performance for the live studio audience and a better broadcast.’ The show will be rebroadcast on ‘RadioWest’ the following day (Dec. 4) at 11 a.m. and will be available for streaming and download here.
From a production and technical standpoint, there are unique challenges especially for a dark comedy to come off convincingly both for a live audience and the audience listening on radio. ‘I think the trick for the audience listening on the radio, as well as the “live” audience actually in the theater,’ Cluff says, ‘is to remember that we are creating the characters and action in the imaginations of the audience. So as the director, I make sure I’m listening to the show from the perspective of each audience at all times.’
And, in an hour-long production, several elements are quickly established for the audience’s full entertainment benefit. The play opens in October. The show is the ‘sugary-sweet’ Fairyana, targeted toward an age demographic of four to seven, and the writing team, including a ‘chain-smokin’ alcoholic,’ is stressing about coming up with a Christmas story line that will have enough steam to carry through the holidays. Inspiration is difficult for them. A Christmas frog story line is nixed immediately because the writers ‘met the frog quota and exceeded’ it. The same with Indians: ‘Both kinds: Geronimo-type and like Patel. With the curry.’ Likewise, wizards, witches, and space aliens are out the door.
And there is Snoogums, ‘the most cuddly little villain,’ who terrifies one of the writers (Viv). She is insistent: ‘I will write Princess Amber, a forty-one-year-old woman who looks fourteen and talks like she’s four. And I will write Busby the Bee and Baa Baa the Lamb and Snooty Hooty the Owl. But I will not write Snoogums. I don’t care if he’s Santa’s elf. I don’t care if he solves all our problems. A professional draws a line somewhere, and that’s where I draw mine.’ Unfortunately, the writers also are hopelessly stuck on the motivation for Snoogum’s ‘villainness:’ ‘Snoogie oogums want yummy yum yums.’
Finally, there is Max, the sociopath boss who also doubles as narrator. His message is stark: ‘Children’s television is about numbers. Good Nielsen numbers, or they find your body in some Burbank dumpster, two bullet holes and no clues at all. I needed to talk to the writers.’
One quickly understands this is not going to be your ordinary holiday special suitable for all ages.
Plan-B, which has mastered the art of effective minimalism in staging, finds the bar pitched even higher for the live Radio Hour production. Take story, for example. ‘We have to accomplish all that [exposition] in about five minutes, using only dialogue and sound effects,’ Samuelsen explains. ‘If we staged it as a play, the design would communicate a lot of that immediately. For radio, you’ve got to accomplish it all verbally and aurally.’
As for cast, Cluff explains that, ‘as far as dark comedy goes, having fantastic actors is a huge bonus – actors who are adept at playing comedy truthfully and not in a tongue-in-cheek or gimmicky manner.’
Music plays an equally significant role, as it did in evoking the Yuletide setting of last year’s adaptation by Matthew Ivan Bennett of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Case of The Blue Carbuncle.’ ‘I’m using music that is more ‘gritty’ this year while still giving the sense of the Christmas season,’ Cluff says, adding Dave Evanoff is writing original music for two important purposes. One is, as Cluff describes it, ‘the ridiculously, gross, sweet children’s show theme music’ for Fairyana and the other is incidental music to underscore the narrator – a combo of Christmas and film noirish themes ideal for saxophone.
Samuelsen, who says Christmas is his favorite holiday, found inspiration for ‘Fairyana’ from numerous sources, including writers Donald E. Westlake and Elmore Leonard, classics of film noir, the popular 2003 ‘Bad Santa’ movie, played with great effect by Billy Bob Thornton, and the FXX original network series ‘The League,’ which the playwright says is among the funniest shows he has ever seen. ‘It’s about a group of guys who have a fantasy football league. They’re awful, awful human beings, and they’ll literally do anything to gain an advantage in playing fantasy football,’ he says, adding ‘two of them are attorneys, and they include a football trade in a plea bargain agreement (very much to the detriment of the client).’
Establishing the holiday angle in ‘Fairyana’ also was an easy inspiration. ‘A lot of episodes of The League take place during holidays–Thanksgiving, Halloween, and, of course, Christmas,’ Samuelsen explains, ‘where Taco (easily the worst person among the characters) causes a ruckus at a local mall’s Santa village by insisting that Santa’s dark counterpart, Kegel the Elf, be given equal time.’
‘Fairyana’ originally was written as a stage play before Samuelsen was asked to adapt it to the tight Radio Hour live production format, which he said was not an easy task, even with his experience in radio.
‘I worked my way through grad school doing radio at a local public radio station in Indiana. I had a sports talk show, and I also had a classical music call-in game show that was very popular. So I’m used to radio, and love it,’ he recalls. ‘But radio drama is a different animal altogether. Timing things out is incredibly difficult. I spent some time picking Matt Bennett’s [Plan-B’s other resident playwright] brain; he’s done a few of these, and had some great suggestions.’
The cast features some of Plan-B’s most beloved live radio drama actors – Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson, and Jason Tatom. As Cluff explains, ‘their timing is impeccable, which is critical in live radio. They are also highly skilled at using only their voices to 1) create a sense of the “action” in the play, which is not presented literally on the stage, and 2) create dimensional, interesting characters which supports the reality of dark comedy.’
Rounding out the production are Michael Johnson (Foley) and Eric Robinette (sound engineer).
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