Leather!

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I asked some friends if they could guess which new medium I recently got into – and none came up with the answer! We went through the long list I had played with – drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, sewing, knitting, pottery, woodworking, metal clay, jewelry, glass, metalsmithing – and when I said, “Leather!” Somehow it came as no surprise!

My love for leather dated back to when I was eight years old when my cousins from Toronto came to visit bearing a small leather wallet as a gift. I can’t remember the design exactly but will never forget the sweet smell of genuine leather and all the little compartments and pockets it contained. Yet it wasn’t until my sister bought me a Cartier wallet did I truly appreciate the premium craftsmanship of a high-quality leather piece.

Finding Beatrice Amblard was a total coincidence through Google for classes on working with leather – and was not even the type of techniques I was looking for. But as soon as I found out that a Hermès trained master artisan was teaching the centuries-old craft of refined leatherworking right in my neighborhood, I simply couldn’t pass up this amazing opportunity! Moreover, within 12 hours of my finding Amblard Leather Atelier online, I received an email from my sister with a link to the EXACT same workshop! (To learn more about Bea and her incredible work, check out this wonderful article – she’s the last artist featured so scroll towards the end.)

Without further ado, we signed up for the non-commitment evening class and on our second class, we opted to do the all-day Saturday workshop when the new 12-week session starts in October! To say that we are hooked is an understatement!

Our first project is a card holder – completely crafted by hand! – something small so we can learn every step of each technique. I am a long way from creating that tote of my dream but I sure am enjoying the journey . . .

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What sets this apart is the finishing of the edge containing four layers of leather!

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An Exceptional Evening at Benu!

There are six Michelin Three-Star restaurants in the Bay Area with three – Saison, Benu, and Quince – in San Francisco. Needless to say, reservation at these restaurants can be difficult. We were lucky to actually manage one at Benu last evening with only a five-week in-advance booking (neither Saison and Quince had availability thus making the decision easy).

Benu offers prix-fixe Asian-inspired cuisine and its offerings exceeded all of our expectations. It was truly an extraordinary evening of creative culinary delights.

We also did the (shared) beverage pairings and enjoyed sake, Riesling, Grüner, beer, Madeira, Pinot Noir, and Côte-Rôtie throughout the evening but for the life of me, I can’t remember what was served with what!

The evening started with “small delicacies” and there were many of them! Each was single-bite size yet Benu managed to introduce so many fabulous and complementary flavors within that one bite – we felt like a symphony was playing on our palates with each course!

First delicacy was a chicken “jelly,” mountain caviar

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It was followed by tuna “marrow” but none of us took a picture! 😉

Third delicacy was ankimo (monk fish liver), crispy bulgur wheat, ikura (salmon roe)

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Fourth delicacy was dumpling with pork belly topped with an oyster

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Fifth delicacy was Korean blood sausage wrapped in ika (squid) “sushi” (didn’t know blood sausage could taste this good!)

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Sixth delicacy was abalone and crispy abalone “liver”

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Last (seventh) delicacy was egg white custard, truffle, faux shark fin

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Whole-grain bread fresh from the oven served with tangerine-infused honey butter was followed – finally – by the first of our menu items! Wasn’t sure I was hungry at all by this time… but we did persevere! 🙂

Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger – it wasn’t quite 1,000 years but the egg did take six weeks to make

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Foie gras xiao long bao with house made soy sauce

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Uni (sea urchin) marinated in fermented crab sauce served with green onion Koshi Hikari short-grain rice

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Crispy frog’s leg, lettuce, vegetable sweet and sour (I skipped this due to my issue with frogs… don’t ask!)

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Steamed bass, fish maw, black moss

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Smoked quail (we were told that Benu works with a farm that has been raising these quails for the past 40 years, breeding them for a larger size, and picking the docile ones for their sweeter meats … )

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Served along with spring bamboo shoot

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Warm mantou (Chinese steamed bun) with truffle cream

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Sea of Okhotsk sea cucumber (I never liked sea cucumber until tonight!) stuffed with lobster

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Beef rib steak with assorted condiments – kimchi radishes, marinated fern with shaved cashew (sure wouldn’t want to be that sous chef shaving those wee cashews, one at a time?), and soy bean paste (the leftover from its house made soy sauce that takes 9-12 weeks – in the little celadon jar)

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Leafy crudités for dipping in the soy bean paste

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Consommé, shiitake mushroom, vegetables

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Omija (five-flavor berry – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), olive oil

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Fuji apple, bellflower root, acorn and chocolate (another miss on the photography!) rounded out our scrumptious dinner!

I recommend putting a Benu dinner on your bucket list – it IS that good!