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New Yorkers Keep Life Interesting With SideTour

From foraging mushrooms in New Jersey to creating chocolate treats on Madison Avenue

By Zachary Stieber
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 12, 2012 Last Updated: November 14, 2012
Related articles: United States » New York City
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A cocoa pod in its natural state during a SideTour at Neuhaus. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

A cocoa pod in its natural state during a SideTour at Neuhaus. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Vipin Goyal and his wife left their jobs, sold almost all of their belongings, and bought two plane tickets. For six months they traveled around the world.

Yet after having many remarkable experiences, the pair yearned to keep the adventures coming after arriving back in New York.

“I felt like we were three-year-old kids, always curious about everything and wide-eyed, and so we got back to New York, and I didn’t want to go back to the same five bars or the same ten restaurants with the same 20 people,” said Goyal.

“We’re surrounded by all of these fascinating people who are doing crazy, interesting, remarkable things every single day,” said Goyal, “and if we could step into their shoes for an hour or two, how much would that enrich our experiences?”

So Goyal started SideTour, a website that lists different experiences experts are offering to people in the New York metro region looking for new things to do.

Offerings include dinner with the casting director of HBO’s Homeland, learning how to de-shell a live lobster with a Japanese chef, and hanging out with former rock star photographer Michael Halsband. Recent SideTour experiences have included an afternoon on a nearby farm and a night of learning about and tasting high-end chocolate.

Experiencing Something Different

An edible mushroom before it was picked and cooked for dinner during a SideTour experience. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

An edible mushroom before it was picked and cooked for dinner during a SideTour experience. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

The goal when traipsing through Hartshorne Park? Find mushrooms.

“They’ll grow in old oak trees, or at the base of oak trees, or in oak leaf litters, so sometimes you’ll find them actually sprouted out of the ground,” said Megan Paska. “They usually like old hardwoods, so that’s usually what you want to be on the lookout for.”

Paska and her partner Neil Despres recently started farming on a yoga retreat in Highlands, N.J., overlooking the Navesink River, a 10-minute car ride after 45 minutes on a ferry from East 34th Street.

Megan Paska picks fresh greens for a salad during a recent SideTour experience led by Paska on her farm in New Jersey. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Megan Paska picks fresh greens for a salad during a recent SideTour experience led by Paska on her farm in New Jersey. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Paska taught SideTour beekeeping classes in Brooklyn prior to moving to New Jersey, as well as instructed at venues including the New York Botanical Gardens.

Paska and Despres have a range of animals, from three dairy goats to 60 egg-laying chickens.

After showing the group of four the animals, and incorporating a late arrival, we were in the forest looking for dinner.

“It’s something different,” said Stephani Zuckman who lives with her husband near Columbus Circle. The two-hour tour (it ran a little long) felt like a good block of time, “not too much of a commitment,” said Zuckman.

“I think we could find these things on our own, it’s just easy,” she added. “The whole thing is easy.”

Chopping mushrooms and garlic before cooking them. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Chopping mushrooms and garlic before cooking them. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Paska and adventurer Anita finish preparing a salad with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Paska and adventurer Anita finish preparing a salad with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

After finding pounds of mushrooms the group headed back to the farm to cook them. After snacking on some fresh goat cheese, the meal was served with a salad of greens and tomatoes, freshly picked from the garden.

A Night With a Maître Chocolatier

“This is so beautiful,” said Christine Battagila, watching chocolate become tempered.

At Neuhaus on Madison Avenue, Mehdi Chellaoui told a dozen people about the history of chocolate and helped the group temper warm chocolate, or stir a liquid and solid chocolate combination into a smooth crystallization.

A chocolate faucet, which spurts out liquid chocolate at 84 degrees. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

A chocolate faucet, which spurts out liquid chocolate at 84 degrees. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

“Start with warm chocolate. You cool it down until the cocoa butter starts crystallizing, and the cooler it gets the faster it crystallizes, the more it crystallizes, and then the next step would be to heat it back up,” instructed Chellaoui while adding warm chocolate from a faucet into a bowl where the chocolate had hardened too much.

Maitre Chocolatier Mehdi Chellaoui finishes tempering chocolate on a slab. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Maitre Chocolatier Mehdi Chellaoui finishes tempering chocolate on a slab. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Bringing to life the art of chocolate making, Chellaoui taught about how the Aztecs and Mayans reverently gave chocolate to their soldiers and royalty. He also explained the three main varieties of cocoa beans.

After the groups had tempered the chocolate, the bowls were combined in a larger bowl, which Chellaou then dumped onto a slab and began swiftly tempering until it was ready to dip small pastries in.

Laine Cialdella dips a pastry in chocolate. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Laine Cialdella dips a pastry in chocolate. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

SideTour Prices

Experiences begin at $30 and are typically not above $60

Battagila of Staten Island brought her two daughters along, one is in high school and the other a student at Fordham University. She had seen SideTour advertised at her one daughter’s internship and was already signed up for two other tours. Joining them was Laine and Barbara Cialdella.

After the pastries were dipped in chocolate they were added to a box with four chocolates and wrapped up as a gift.

Who would Laine be giving the gift to?

“No one,” she said, laughing. “I’m eating them myself.”

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