We're back with Vol. 2 of the Ellen Edit, a rundown of everything that's been happening in our CEO/ Apron BossEllen Bennett's world, her AMAZING #apronsquad adventures, and some awesome tips she has to share from her travels-- and really just about staying alive, being healthy, and crushing it EVERYDAY!
TONS of people have been asking me about my trip to Cuba. It's been a couple months, but it's better late than never. Here's the 411:
Bring a lot of cash! American credit cards are not excepted in Cuba yet so what you enter with is what you will have.
Don't buy cigars from anywhere except for inside hotels or at the airport! A lot of people want to sell you cigars on the street but you'll run the risk of buying counterfeit cigars which means they just rolled them at home and they don't smoke the same way as the proper cigar.
Romeo and Juliet are the best cigars. Cohiba is a little bit stronger and way harder to smoke.
Don't wear anything super flashy, wear casual clothes. Everyone wears pretty run down gear so you don't want to be walking around in some epic outfit or anything. Bring a good outfit and then stick to comfy walking shoes, a ton of shorts and breezy short sleeved collar shirts or button ups that are light weight. You can buy a Cuban hat when you're there.
For a really great time and a visit to a very classic place, go to la bodeguita del medio to eat.
Our favorite meal in Havana was at "Doña Eutimia". Believe it or not you have to make a reservation because it is always fucking packed. It is super delicious, like really delicious classic Cuban food and is it is very cute. Right next to it to the left is a really amazing art studio that you need to pop your head into before you sit down and eat.
PLEASE NOTE: Cuba does not have crazy epic delicious food yet because of the embargo. You will probably have better Cuban food in the United States but regardless you have to eat tostones- fried plantains, black beans and rice, rope vieja- shredded beef dish, picadillo- ground beef dish while you are there. Eat all those at Doña Eutemia.
One of the best experiences was walking by what looked like an old abandoned building and peering inside to find a freaking dance company in full fledged rehearsal. I took part in their rehearsal and looked like a goof ball but who cares! It was a real treat to see this go down in a very rundown building. It's near old Havana and if you look for the corner of Trocadero and Consulado, it's on the same block and same side as a place called hotel Lido Havana. It looks like a total neighborhood street but if you peer inside the different door ways, you will see a dance rehearsal in there that will blow you away. They usually rehearse from 10 am -12 pm. Please try and see that, it's so amazing!
You need to go visit the cigar factory in Old Havana.
The national art museum also known as The museum of Cuban art is also really great.
A very old school mobster like hotel you should visit and see the old school pool and architecture is the hotel habana riviera. Super old school movie stars would stay here and it's totally rat pack 1950s looking.
Walk down Obispo - another great street to cruise on.
Walk down Mercaderes, great street for walking and looking at the epic architecture.
You must go to "Fabrica Del Arte". This is a super cool and VERY ahead of its time, art gallery meets night club but it's really cool and totally unexpected and different.
The cemetery in the middle of Havana is crazy and is one of the biggest in Latin America so it's worth a stroll through there.
For a clean and simple meal where you can get delicious fresh pineapple juice and other drinks and talk to other interesting backpackers and world travelers, go to "el chanchulero."-Havana
For wifi you can go to the Saratoga which is the only hotel that if you stay there, they give you unlimited access to wifi. NO ONE has that in Cuba except for that hotel from what we saw. It's the nicest hotel in Havana compared to a lot of places we saw and it's really well located.
The other hotel that's really epic is called the Hotel nacional de Cuba. That one is really old school.
You can rent an old school American convertible for about 35 Cuban pesos and they will drive you around the city. They will stop you at different spots to take photos and charge you little one pesos and two pesos here and there though too so be prepared to get hustled.
A very cool antique shop on O'reilly street in old Havana - it is on Villegas (that's the street) #101 between San Juan de dios and O'reilly.
Attending a baseball game in Havana is also a really good time. That is something that tourists don't always but is legitimately super freaking fun!
If you want to go out of Havana. Everyone recommended Cien fuegos and Trinidad which are cities outside of Havana. We went to Varadero which was a very small town but had really beautiful beaches. We stayed there 2 nights which was plenty.
We bought our tickets online through a canadian website. We flew from Miami to Cayman Islands and then booked a separate flight back through Mexico City and back to LA.
VISAS- We got ours in the Cayman Islands at the airport for 20 bucks each on our layover.
It was pretty straight forward coming back in via mexico and we even had our passports stamped by Cuban immigration and American immigration didn't make a fuss of it. One thing to note though is we did check that we were there for business reasons + "professional research".
HOTELS- where to stay
We stayed at a pretty great hotel called The Saratoga and at another place called the Hotel Inglattera.
But lots of people stay at houses that are private homes similar to Air bnb. I have a handful of places that I could recommend. A lot of those home are on trip advisor too.
Picture me standing in a tub up to my knees in water balloons, scanning a room filled top to bottom with crafts, gift bags for an army, and an explosion of color. This party was meant to be a "Hey Mini Apron Squad members that didn't even know they were mini apron squad members yet, the time has arrived... no more frilly aprons for you" kind of celebration but to tell you the truth, we decided to throw this crazy soirée partially just because the kids within us would have just as much fun as any mini that attended. Kids arrived, slapped on their apron of choice and were handed a bundle of balloons big enough to lift a small apron lady off the ground. From there, we jammed it in. Cue the tie-dye, fruit prints and cupcakes in ice cream cones, balloons the size of pot-bellied pigs, a collage wall, a 2-year old duo banging a tune out on the piano and, oh yea, my chickens. They're still recovering from the fact that I spontaneously turned them into a diy petting zoo, but when there's 30 kids in aprons, what can you do?
We're loosing-our-minds excited about the new kids line and couldn't have celebrated it any other way than with these maniacs.
Fortunately this year we got to get out there and see it with our own 2 eyes and let me tell you, there were apron squad members left, right and center!!! More of our favorite chefs than you could count. Oh, and the Chicago food scene which was on point!
The awards started in 1990 and since then have boomed into an event like no other. This picks out the best of the best, the cream of the crop in the cooking world! Think Oscars but tastier. Not only was this the 25th anniversary, it was a big year for other reasons as well. For the first time ever, the awards moved from their traditional home in NYC to Chicago. It was so inspiring for us to see such incredible chefs awarded credit for the hard hard work that they put in. It was moving to be part of such an event.
Considering it was a two day trip, it seems nearly impossible that I visited as many restaurants as I did, but like I said, it was on point so how could I not!! Au Cheval... Oh Au Cheval why must you be half the country away? What a meal!! I also made my happy way through Big Star, Spiaggia and G&T Fish and Oysters. There was no stopping me! Then there was The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Topolobampo, AND A PILE of churros :-) I told you.. no stopping me!!
I'm looking at this weekend's lineup and feeling like I might exploding with excitement. On top of Friday's party at the Apron HQ, Sunday is the Hammer Museum's K.A.M.P. (Kids' Art Museum Project). This annual fundraiser is one of my favorite events of all time. The proceeds support the Hammer's amazing weekly kids programs and we're pumped to be outfitting this year's crew of artists. Talk about some talented Apron Squad Members!!
Take a peak at last year's artists and mark Sunday's event on your calendar!
New York, what a freaking adventure! I seriously can’t even believe how it cold it was over there. I mean, I kid you not, I think the first day I arrived, it was the coldest day in the last 20 years or something like that. It was crazy!
I left LA at around 11pm on a red eye and arrived in New York at 7:30 in the morning. Thank God for Uber because the first thing I see when I get my luggage is a taxi line of 40 people. In 10 degree weather! There’s no way in hell I’m going to stand in that line so I call an Uber and less than a minute later he arrives. All I can think is, “This is amazing!”
(my face when my Uber arrives!)
The first item on the agenda is a meal with Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. She is one of the loveliest, simplest and humblest ladies EVER. She is so nice and kind that you would never imagine she’s such a badass. I really enjoyed having breakfast with her. But it really goes to show you that no matter who you are and where you are in the world, you don’t need to be cocky just because you are in charge or this, that or the other. That’s just a silly mindset.
From there, I just hit the ground running with six meeting lined up back to back. I didn’t even have time to stop at the place I was staying! I just lugged my suitcase from meeting to meeting like a turkey, but you know what? That’s what apron ladies do. So it was fine.
My first meeting was a pow wow over coffee with my East Coast Sales Rep, Allie. Then we headed over to Gramercy Tavern for lunch which was SO MUCH FUN. Howard, the awesome, awesome chef de cuisine and his team made such an amazing meal of fish and beautiful salads and the most delicious desserts you’ve ever seen. It was just so lovely. Now all of the chefs at Gramercy Tavern will officially be on the apron bandwagon, pretty happy about that one. :)
Next was Steven Alan’s showroom and headquarters where I met with the buyers who made their selections for which aprons they wanted to do for the season. What’s even more exciting is that H&B is going to be in ALL of their stores, which is super awesome because Steven Alan and his company are one of my favorite American-made companies. I think that what they do is so perfect and on par with what I strive to achieve with H&B. The simplicity of the design is so perfect and uncomplicated, yet so accurately made. The way a t-shirt should be, the way a collared shirt should be, a pair of pants. It’s just spot on. And that is the most brilliant way to design something. You don’t need a million frills to make it right. I admire Steven a lot and so it was awesome to meet with him. And he even helped me lug my suitcase from one of his retail stores to a main office. I mean, come on, what a doll/dreamboat/amazing man.
The day was a series of freezing my ass off, going to a meeting, freezing my ass off, going to a meeting, all while dragging my suitcase around a frozen city. That’s the not-so-glamorous side of being an apron lady. But I survived and I can’t complain--I was in New York meeting with all these amazing people!
My last meeting was with a dear friend of mine at the SoHo House (soon to be outfitted by H&B) who used to work at Net-a-Porter.
Getting in the Kitchen
Despite my jam-packed schedule, I decided that I wanted to cook at Gramercy Tavern. Even though I was exhausted, I thought, “Who cares?! I love cooking at Gramercy, so I’m going to do it!” Honestly, cooking and being in a kitchen has taught me a lot about life and running your own business. It’s one of those things I like to stay connected to it because it keeps me on my toes and it keeps me hustling. It keeps one grounded and working hard and reminding oneself of, “Wow, this is how it is and how to legitimately have a sense of urgency” and there’s no other place that I have ever experienced that has that more than a kitchen. That pure adrenaline when you’re in that environment is so f*ing awesome and I love it.
(me with the Gramercy Tavern chefs)
So I did that for the night. I jumped in there. I helped on the meat and fish section of the kitchen. I helped shuck oysters, plated food, ran around doing anything and everything I could and it was so freaking satisfying. Michael Anthony, the chef of Gramercy Tavern had just flown in from Paris and he was there, so I got to say hi and give him a hug and we started to talk about a cool new project we’re working on together. So I ended my night on a high note before going home to crash!
The next day was Valentine’s Day and I was by myself and I thought, “Who am I going to have Valentine’s with?” I had a major craving for pizza and so I was told I should go to this place called Pizza Loves Emily, so of course, that’s exactly what I did. It’s in Brooklyn,and iit’s so f*ing good, I can’t even tell you. I sat there in the kitchen, as their little chefs table and had a freaking ball, eating two of most delicious pizza’s I’ve ever had in my life (I wish I had that pizza now). They put HONEY on the pizza, who does that? Pizza Loves Emily does!
(me with the Pizza Loves Emily chef)
So while Casey (my other half of the melon) was in Seattle by himself, I was in New York by myself eating (almost) two whole pizzas.
(my amazing Valentine's pizzas)
Then I migrated over to Upland Restaurant, which is owned by a fellow friend of mine, Justin Smillie, who used to be the chef of Il Buco Alimentari. Justin said, “You can come over, cook, eat and help out!” I ended up showing up to the restaurant extremely late--if you’re ever considering practicing in a kitchen, you don’t roll in at 8pm, but I did (not on purpose though, I had taken the train back from Brooklyn and it took FOREVER!!. I finally arrived and I had my H&B chef coats with me, and I had one of the aprons I’m testing out so I was ready to go. Justin asked me where I wanted to start my cooking and I chose pasta of course! This place is producing some incredible pasta, so it was such a treat to see how it was done, learn how they craft their pasta and actually participate in making it. By the end of the night, I had gotten my hands on every single pasta dish on that station and was pushing out dishes to the guests... the sous chef said that he would have hired me (insert emoji smile face) haha
(with chef, Justin Smillie (left) at Upland Restaurant)
On Sunday, I got to meet Matt Duckor who’s the restaurant editor of Epicurious. He’s so funny and so fun-- getting to meet someone you know from a magazine or instagram or any other media places is always a toss up. People can be total wierdos or incredible humans, he happened to be the latter. Later, I went to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, it was sensational to say the least. Talk about having some beautiful art and displays. Just really got me thinking about how complicated some stuff is, yet how simple design really should be, and how people make it so complex.
That night I went to Estela and had probably one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in NYC. And that IS an understatement! It is so incredible. They have this panna cotta dish that was champagne vinegar, honey, salt, on top of the simplest panna cotta that was not overly sugary and holy moly I enjoyed it!!!!
Monday Run Day
Monday morning was a rush since it was my last day in NYC so I had a lot to pack in. I got to swing by ABC Home, which is one of my favorite stores of all time and also a beautiful place to get inspired. If you’re ever in New York you must go to ABC Home. It will knock your socks off. I even got to see Dan Kluger, who was the chef of ABC Kitchen, and now he is starting his own venture, which is very exciting. Then popped into the Soho House for a quick meeting with the wonderful chef there, stuffed my cheeks while we talked business, aprons and then some and after that, hit the ground running because I had to pack and get myself to the airport! My final treat though needed to happen... I rushed over to the Spotted Pig and inhaled their burger which I must say was... P.E.R.F.E.C.T.
(one of the beautiful ABC Home product displays)
I flew home that night! Casey picked me up and we got home at around 1am. I still woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning and ran from my house to Downtown LA, where the apron HQ is located because I am training for the LA Marathon, which is happening next month!
So those were my apron lady adventures in New York City, and I really wanted to share it with you to give you a behind the scenes look at my one of my apron lady adventures :) xx