Talking Tomatoes with Ariane Duarte

by Melody Kettle

For me, there are few things more delicious than in-season Heirloom Tomatoes. When Ariane Duarte, owner and chef of CulinAriane, lends her Midas touch to these lutein packing beauties, their flavor exceeds even my palate's expectations - - it's gold.

Ariane and her husband, Michael, a fellow Culinary Institute of America graduate, and pastry chef, opened CulinAriane, initially as kitchen space for their catering business. The restaurant was very much secondary, with only ten small tables. Soon, however, popularity began to grow and CulinAriane became one of the stars of the Baristaville dining scene. Then Top Chef came calling and the rest was culinary (and reality tv) history.

Ariane believes in eating and preparing fresh, seasonal foods, and changes the CulinAriane menu about eight times a year, according to the seasons. Ariane allowed Baristanet into CulinAriane to give us a demo of her "famous," but very easy, Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon & Feta Salad. She slices an Anaheim Stripe Tomato, then an oh-so-meaty Purple Cherokee, then wedges a citrusy Green Zebra. Then she adds a few pieces of seedless watermelon, some firm Greek feta cheese, fresh basil, a demitasse spoon of Mediterrean Sea Salt, and finally drizzles it so simply with aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. Watch the video to see how it's done.

Ariane is what my grandfather might call a "real firecracker," full of energy, and excitement. Over the Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon & Feta Salad, Ariane and I had occasion to speak briefly. Despite all that she's accomplished, Ariane's focus is to take care of her "baby," CulinAriane, and perhaps take a vacation eventually, maybe to India.

Have you been able to get a table at CulinAriane? How was your experience? And, by the way, is it sauce or gravy?