TIME Magazine recently put together an article that managed to spark a scandal that has since grown into divine proportions. The article, called The Gods of Food, covered “all” of the major influencers in the modern day culinary scene. The problem with the article? Of all the chefs listed in the article, only two were women AND they were pastry chefs (they were also notes in a sidebar). Obviously that seems to be not only a little stereotypical, but also fairly shortsighted and I honestly feel that women around the world should be outraged at something like that. There are a lot of women out there who are moving and shaking the culinary scene and I’m not just talking about Alice Waters.
Here’s the thing though. I’m going to be completely honest. Until somebody actually mentioned that there were no women on the list, I hadn’t actually thought twice about it and that’s my bad. Just the faces on the cover alone indicated it would be all of the people that I would’ve expected to see. Rene Redzepi, David Chang and Alex Atala are indeed everywhere and they do have a wide range of influence not just in, but also outside of their respective restaurants in a wide variety of formats. TV shows, books and the internet are all places were you can readily find these faces and that’s not to mention widely popular symposiums like Redzepi’s MAD. The problem here though, is that they are largely the chefs that you would expect to see.
Who wants to read an article that meets your expectations before even reading it? What’s the point of writing the piece? Where’s the research?
Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep admiration for a lot of the guys they listed, but this got me to thinking a bit. It’s hard for me to just except the fact that TIME editor Howard Chua-Eoan just decided that he felt there wasn’t a woman worthy of his list, but after reading his interview with Eater.com, it kind of felt like that was exactly the case. In it, in reference to legendary Chez Pannisse chef Alice Water, he states, “The thing about Alice is she retains a lot of loyalty, the people who work in her kitchens stay. There are a couple of big names who came out her kitchen, April [Bloomfield] and Dan Barber, I think, but otherwise the tree was sort of thin. So we had to go with someone else at that point. Alice is, of course, iconic.”
At what point does someone get the designation of Food God or Goddess? What more could you possibly need? Not only did she INVENT the local food movement as we know it, she’s also trained a handful of people that have gone on to continue changing the culinary arena for the better. If it wasn’t for Alice Waters, no one would give a rip about what hyper-locavore Rene Redzepi was doing. He’s famous because of his take on her idea. How many other chefs continue to make names for themselves based purely on the principles of Chez Pannisse. Maybe they never worked in her kitchen, but they certainly owe their careers to her ability to change peoples perceptions on what local ingredients can mean on a plate.
When you see a list drawn up like TIME’s Chef Family Tree, it certainly perpetuates the “boys club” stigma that restaurant culture has become notoriously known for. Just because the dudes are off putting their names out there, drinking craft bourbons and eating luxury meats, doesn’t mean that women aren’t out there doing exactly the same things, they might just being doing it a little more quietly.
One reason I think men tend to be more predominate in culinary media is because more often than not, they’ve been more likely to throw themselves out there in louder ways. Look at Elena Arzak for instance. She’s been featured in a lot of media, but she’s almost always sitting second chair to her father Juan Mari Arzak and she doesn’t tend to say a whole lot. She’s also been seen on TV with the notorious Anthony Bourdain, but she wasn’t at all portrayed as a chef, she was his travel companion. Despite her modest media appearances, I’d be willing to bet she’s a big part of what makes Arzak, Arzak and anybody who knows anything about the global culinary scene, knows exactly what that means. The innovation flowing out of that kitchen is nothing shy of celestial (I mean, it is listed as being the 8th best restaurant in THE FREAKING WORLD!). Maybe if she were marching around saying, “Hey, I’m a chef, LOOK AT ME, look at what I’m doing,” she might have made the list, but the point is, she shouldn’t have to. If TIME want’s to uphold their reputation, they need to do their due diligence when it comes to research and not just list chefs with, “the most name recognition and the hot restaurants at the moment,” as stated by Editor Chua-Eoan.
Is a God a God simply because of its name or because of what it does or has the capacity to do?
I look to the women around me in my own community and I’m perpetually blown away. I mean, I don’t really want to drop names, but… you know what, actually I do. Stephanie March from Mpls/Stp Magazine has called attention to this same issue. She’s a phenomenal voice in the Twin Cities Scene and honestly deserves a lot more credit than what she gets for it. Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl at Mpls/Stp is also fabulous. I look to not just Chef Jamie Malone at Sea Change for being incredibly forward thinking when it comes the sustainability of our food system, but also when it comes to flavors on the plate, but I also look to Sea Change’s raw bar chef, Holly Carson. The dishes she puts together are insanely inspirational and delicious. On the chef side of the plate we also have the legendary Lucia Watson. If it wasn’t for Lucia, our food scene would likely look radically different. Brenda Langton anyone? Kim Bartmann? How about we look to the Birchwood Cafe were Tracy Singleton just received an award for her role in the community. Over at Midtown Global Market, Kitchen in the Market’s Molly Herman and Tracy Morgan are continuously pushing the standards for what it means to be not just food-centric business owners, but simply business owners in this town. Midtown is also the home to Michelle Gayer, James Beard Award semi-finalist for not just outstanding pastry chef, but also best chef – Midwest. I’m personally giddy to see what Jes Werkmeister is going to put together for The Strip Club’s upcoming new venture (yes, The Strip Club is a restaurant and not the thing that you were probably thinking). How about Naomi Williams, owner of Sanctuary, one of the most interestingly fun restaurants in the cities. There’s also Monica Walch and her uniquely awesome Dinner on the Farm series. I could honestly continue this list for days, but let’s just say that there’s a lot of women here in the Twin Cities doing enough amazing work, that when I look to a global scale, I have a hard time believing that TIME Magazine legitimately felt that there wasn’t one woman that could cut the mustard and ascend into holiness.
Shame on you TIME Magazine, and next time, try to work a little harder because the women of the world are just as important in the professional kitchen as the men of the world.
I don’t love writing about a topic like this due to the devastating nature of it all, but I feel as though I would be remiss to not post a little something to try and do my part to help. It still comes as some surprise to me that this isn’t all over the place, although maybe it is more than I realize, but for those of you that may not know, one of the largest storms ever recorded recently hit the Philippines literally affecting over 9 million people, leaving thousands dead and countless numbers without food, water or shelter. The people of the Philippines need as much help as we can give, so I figured I’d post a list of links here to various food and water charities that are dedicated to helping the effort.
This list was taken directly from CNN.com and includes descriptions of each charity. It’s my hope that if you can, you’ll pick one and make any size donation that is feasible for you. I understand that many are not in the position to do so, but if you read this and you can, please do.
The World Food Programme was already providing emergency food assistance in the Philippines following the October earthquake. With these emergency food stocks stretched thin, they’re now mobilizing additional supplies and are flying in 40 tons of fortified biscuits in the coming days. Additional food supplies are needed. You can help these efforts by donating online or by calling 1-202-747-0722 domestically or +39-06-65131 for international calls.
Samaritan’s Purse has sent disaster relief specialists, including water and nutrition experts, to the Philippines to deliver immediate aid. They have launched the Philippines Emergency Relief fund for this disaster, which you can support online or by phone at 1-828-262-1980.
World Vision is responding in the Philippines by first providing emergency food and clean water. They will also work to create child-friendly spaces and help families rebuild from this disaster. They have launched a Philippines Disaster Response Fund that you can support online or by calling 1-888-511-6443.
Action Against Hunger is on the ground providing drinking water and survival kits containing buckets, soap and chlorine tablets. They’re also working to distribute sanitation equipment to prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases. They’re requesting assistance and you can help by donating online or by calling 1-877-777-1420.
Locally you can donate to or volunteer with Coon Rapids based Feed My Starving Children.
Or you can donate directly to the Philippine Red Cross.
There’s nothing like traveling to a new city and letting yourself run a little wild in a foreign food scene. It makes for an interesting frame of reference to what’s going on here in the Twin Cities and to this day, I have yet to encounter anything as good as you can get here. That’s not meant to be a knock towards anyone else, it’s just that the food that we have here is that damn good! When you look at what’s being recognized around the country as being the best of the best, it’s easy to draw analogies to local people doing similar things and when I’ve had the opportunity to taste the food at some of these places, it just doesn’t quite live up to the standard that we’ve set here. At least not in my humble opinion.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Charleston, SC, a city that’s being heralded as an up and coming food mecca. I was there to attend the Chef’s Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit, which was unreal. If you’re into food, I cannot recommend enough getting involved with the Chef’s Collaborative. These people are working towards tremendous change and the exchange of ideas, presentations and demonstrations put forth were motivating to say the least. Among the speakers were celebrity chef Rick Bayless, Four Fish author Paul Greenberg, members of the Momofuku research and development team, Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s (more to come on him in a later post), and many, many others! I’ve never felt more motivated about food in my entire life.
In addition to all of the fantastic speakers, we had the good fortune of being able to sample a wide variety of different foods. The culinary highlight of the entire trip came in the form of a traditional Gullah lunch. For those who might not be familiar with the term Gullah, it refers to the decedents of African slaves that still live in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia. A local author of a Gullah cuisine cookbook and a local chef instructor prepared a lunch spread consisting of several rice dishes, stews and vegetable preparations all richly rooted in Gullah tradition. The flavors were rustic, yet elegant. A lemon rice with shrimp preparation caught me particularly off-guard as the dish was so effervescent and ethereal, you though you were going to be whisked away on some kind of a cloud. We also had the opportunity to snack on some tasty lamb charcuterie provided by the American Lamb Council and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat pastrami again after eating their whole roasted lamb pastrami. It was one of the single best meat experiences of my life. Sorry vegetarians/frutitarians/non-lamb eaters, but it was crazy good.
The Chef’s Collaborative also put on a special event at the South Carolina Aquarium which included a tasting of several local restaurants. One of the dishes that damn near dropped me to my knees was a beautiful amberjack crudo served in a made-on-premises corn tortilla with a pumpkin guacamole. Amberjack is not a fish we typically see up here in the Twin Cities so it was nice to get a taste of something different. The freshness of the fish was evident right away and it’s fatty, silky texture were simply sublime.
And now on to the restaurants…
I wasn’t about to visit Charleston, SC without visiting the infamous Husk, restaurant of the upcoming Mind of a Chef star Sean Brock. Chef Brock is dedicated to a menu that consists of hyper-local ingredients. There’s not much at his restaurant that comes from more than two hours away. The night before, Chef Brock served up a pork dish at the aquarium that was a nice homage to both the fall season and South Carolina, so I was excited to see what his notorious restaurant would have to offer.
I started with the crispy pigs ear lettuce wraps. They texture of the wraps were fantastic and the pigs ears tasted like beautifully crisp strips of bacon. As good as they were though, it felt as though something was missing. I’m not sure if it was that the sauce on the pork wasn’t quite sweet enough or if the fermented cucumbers didn’t bring the proper amount of vibrant acidity to the party. I had higher hopes for the quail entree that I had ordered, but it felt as though it had the same problem. The roasted quail was served on a bed of faro with cubes of butternut squash and was dressed with a rich brown butter. The dish had a lot of earthy, nutty notes, but it seemed to lack an overall vibrancy that really could’ve helped to balance the whole thing out. The breast meat on the quail was also severely overcooked. While it was good in concept, it was actually reminiscent of something you might see Chef Adam Vickerman do at Cafe Levain, only Chef Vickerman is a master of flavor balance. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal taste, but overall I just felt that there was a little something missing from each dish.
Later that day, I also stopped by a local restaurant cutely named, Fish. I started with their “Dim Sum” style appetizer which allows the diner to choose 4 items off of a list of various small dishes. I opted for the frog leg spring roll, the tempura escargot, a flounder mousse and a duck hash with foie gras. All of the dishes were quaint, but nothing really spectacular. The entree was a little ill-conceived in my opinion. The dish was fried trigger fish with a miso/dijion crust. Those flavors essentially blew the delicate nature of the trigger fish out of the proverbial water. The texture of the fish was wonderful and it was cooked to perfection, but unfortunately the flaky white fish was lost to a sea of very powerful flavors.
Probably the best restaurant experience I had was at Fig, another restaurant with several James Beard Awards and nominations that is owned and operated by Chef Mike Lata. Unfortunately my phone died before I could get any food pics, but what can ya do?! I’d like to make a special call out to their service. I walked in with no reservation, very last minute and they went out of their way to accommodate me. Yes, the wait was long, but that was expected and they were continuously giving me updates and checking back on me to make sure that I was okay. They were phenomenal. I had an excellent rye cocktail called The Key which also helped to take the edge off of the wait!
For a starter I went for the trigger fish carpaccio. Since my first experience with trigger was a little unfortunate, I wanted to see if I could get the true flavor of the fish and this dish delivered. The sweet flesh of the trigger was both succulent and beautiful.
For my entree I went again for the amberjack since my first experience with it was so enjoyable. The dish came crusted with mustard, served on sauteed greens with a piquillo pepper and cauliflower picatta. Unlike the first trigger fish dish I encountered, the steakiness of the amberjack was able to hold up to the mustard which was also toned down a lot more in this preparation. The only issue I had is that the fish itself was fairly overcooked. Not end-of-the-world overcooked, but more so than I would expect from a restaurant of that caliber. It was still delicious and I definitely wiped my plate clean. Next time I’m in Charleston, I will certainly return.
All in all, the eating on my trip was fantastic. I had a lot of interesting food that definitely made you feel South Carolina. Although there may have been a few technical missteps along the way, I still had a blast and greatly enjoyed my time there. If you ever make it to Charleston, make sure you hit up some of the local talent. They’re classic approach to local food is definitely note worthy and my guess is that things are going to continue to improve because just like the Twin Cities, they have a very supportive food community and as we know here, that does wonders for everybody.
Last week the New Yorker published an article that attempted to detail why an independent climate research organization would sell itself to one of the largest conglomerates and proponents of a monoculture agri-system in the world. That company, Climate Corporation, focused on studying climate change and it’s direct impact on farmers and their ability to cope with radically altered weather patterns. The company recently allowed itself to be sold to Monsanto in a $1 BILLION dollar acquisition that will allegedly allow the company to operate in the same independent manner in which it always has. The 33 year old CEO, self proclaimed psuedo-hippie, vegetarian and humanitarian wrote a lengthy letter to his staff explaining the sale and why they needn’t worry about Monsanto’s new roll as the companies sole shareholder. Here’s exactly why they should.
First of all, why on earth would Monsanto pay $1 Billion dollars for a company that it had zero intention of managing? I’m not completely certain on how Climate Corporation deals with it’s data, but I imagine that their findings turn into published works, of which Monsanto would have access to. Now these findings will be considered proprietary information that Monsanto will most likely keep for it’s own personal records and can “lease” out to high bidders (the U.S. Government?). They also now have the ability to stop the publishing of any research that doesn’t fit their monocultured paradigm. Right there is the biggest problem; the ability to suppress information that could potentially benefit the world and allow it to adapt to upcoming change. Perceivably now, Monsanto can prepare and charge the rest of us to get on board. In a way, they’ve managed to privatize the worlds future. Does anybody else see a problem with that?
The bulk of this brazen CEO’s letter is focused on public perception and the word “evil”. He makes the argument that if anything is called “evil” enough times, eventually people will start to believe it. I’m not going to argue that there’s some truth to this, however, in the same right, all he does is state the opposite about Monsanto and that if you really read the research, the findings will inevitably point to the fact that they’re actually doing a lot of good. Well, what research? He cites no particular article or study and gives no reference to where people can go to find out the information for themselves, he simply states, “I have read the science—it was not a short and easy effort. And I think Monsanto has created amazing and safe technology. It took me a while to get there. You should take your time, learn about their science, and I’m certain you will get you there too.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had access to Monsanto’s research to determine these things for ourselves? Right now, we only have the research that’s available to us and right now that research doesn’t support his $1 Billion claim. In fact, last week the FDA finally came out and said it would be banning trans-fats. Something that we’ve been told for a long time that are okay for human consumption. Now we know that’s not true and a lot of people have known that for a long time. The question is, who was telling us that these fats were okay? Well, considering that they largely come from highly processed corn products and byproducts, I’ll let you take a guess. Yep, Monsanto. Maybe not directly, but through it’s many lobbying arms, they were certainly on the trans-fat side of the battle.
The author of the letter also goes on to explain that the so called “Monsanto Protection Act” is actually called the “Farmer Assurance Provision”. Most of us know that, just like the “Affordable Care Act” isn’t really called “Obamacare”. The difference is, the “Farmer Assurance Provision” does in fact apply almost solely to Monsanto and a few other major agribusinesses. The author truthfully states that the provision was not drafted by Monsanto, but was in fact drafted by, “a number of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers, and others,” however, every one of these organizations has direct ties to Monsanto. This information is conveniently left out of his letter.
The letter also addresses the fact that the genetic manipulation of foods has been going on for, “11,000 years, primarily through seed breeding, where we “got rid of” the traits we didn’t want and introduced the traits we did.”
This is obviously the truth, however the difference is that we weren’t genetically engineering these foods to contain Roundup. We weren’t directly manipulating the DNA. We were crossbreeding new traits into our crops and not all of those efforts were successful either. In certain instances, toxic results were achieved rendering the hybrid version inedible. It’s important to note that these two process are not the same thing and they shouldn’t ever be confused as such.
“I am also a vegetarian. I’ve never eaten chicken, fish, or meat in my life. My parents are pseudo-hippies and always taught me that we should try and avoid harming the world and do as much good as possible.”
I found this statement to be particularly damning in the sense that it’s no secret that Monsanto seeds are in most cases not used for people food. They’re used for factory farmed cattle feed, bio-diesel, plastics, chemicals and various other things that are well known to do a good deal of harm. Monsanto represents all of the things that violate this persons own personal ethics, but apparently when presented with some portion of $1 Billion, personal ethics are no longer a concern.
I do agree with one thing this CEO has to say and that’s if you say something enough times, people are inevitably going to believe it as truth. That’s exactly why he’s starting the internal “Monstano is not evil” mantra. I personally don’t believe that Monstano is evil as that would imply some level of intentional malice. I don’t think they’re out to hurt the world, I think they’re out to turn a profit and have gilded themselves in a bubble of denial reinforced with a lack of corporate responsibility. As a company all they’re doing is manufacturing products to help farmers grow their crops. Why should they be concerned with whatever the outcomes are; that’s the governments job to deal with. Yet they also spend their time lobbying for smaller government and less regulation of their product in order to allow for increased sales. It’s the corporate paradox at work and it gracefully skips over the idea of consequence.
This CEO sold out his company and any possible good they were doing and is now on the offensive using the same stalwart tactics he’s rallying against in his article. Let’s all just take his word for it. Oh, wait, he did go and tell us to research these things on our own time, but for those of you who have tried, you know that you can’t find any positive research that’s NOT put out by some organization that’s somehow financially linked to Monsanto.
Towards the end of his letter, he states, “If at any point, you aren’t doing work that you’re passionate about, or we’re operating in a way that doesn’t meet your model or standards, then you can very simply walk away,” and that’s exactly what his employees should do if they care about the work that they do, because at this point, it’s not very likely to have its intended effect.
Oh, and just for fun, here’s a list of links to studies that call for further research on GMO’s due to potentially negative health effects:
I’m not really the type to get overtly happy when a business makes the tough decision to shutter their doors, as traditionally, the end result tends to put a lot of people out of work. However, in this particular instance I think that it makes a fascinating topic for conversation. It was announced last week that Downtown Minneapolis’ ONLY McDonald’s location would be closing up shop. As in boom, no more Big Macs! No more chicken nuggets! And no more Fillet of Fish!
This news of course comes on the heels of several other skyway fast food shops also announcing closures or consolidations. Taco Bell went the way of the dodo this summer and Taco John’s opted to consolidate down to a singular location. A few years back, the entire City Center food court went belly up. So the question is who (or what) is this secret assassin that’s been putting down these seemingly unbeatable leviathans of the quick nibble?
The answer? Better. Quality. Food.
Downtown consumers have spoken and what they want is real food made with real ingredients. Okay, that might be a oversimplifying the matter a little bit as I’m sure many trucks use processed ingredients, but the fact is that when the food trucks rolled into town, what they brought with them was quality, and quality tends to go a long way (also no matter how much processed food a truck uses, there’s NO WAY it’ll be as riddled with chemical fillers and additives as a Big Mac!). The City Center closures I mentioned above likely had to do with other issues as that occurred before the trucks, however it’s no leap of anyone’s imagination that they were just not pulling in the revenues required to support the astronomical rents they were being charged. By and large however, the modern day issue does boil down to access to quality.
Yes, eating at a food truck is typically more expensive than grabbing a quick number two from traditional sources of fast food, but the paying customer has made it clear that they’d rather spend their money supporting local businesses who are also largely dedicated to supporting other local businesses. Farmer sells to food trucker who sells to eater. This is a much easier chain to follow than corn grower sells to cattle rancher sells to manufacturer (who also buys from chemical preservative and filler makers) sells to distributor sells to branch location sells to starving people. That’s complicated and people really aren’t that overly thrilled with things that are that complicated. I do acknowledge that processed food manufacturers would have you believe otherwise and many people would probably claim a level of nonchalance to the whole thing, but when the choice is given, overtime, people will choose the better option.
A report from the Twin Cities Business Journal states that, “Since they arrived on the lunch scene about three years ago, food trucks have been blamed for hurting restaurant sales at stores within downtown buildings,” and I would be hard up to argue that point. The owner of downtown skyway deli, D. Brians, has been screaming bloody murder for almost three years on this very issue. In fact owner Doug Sams has taken his fight quite public calling for increased regulation on trucks in order to make competition “more fair”.
Whereas the initial instinct for many was to feel bad for the brick & mortar downtown lunch restaurants, when you really stop to look at what businesses are hurting the most because of the trucks, the feelings of sympathy quickly subside. By and large it’s the corporate owned entities who have made no issue with the fact that they sell bad food. They’ve owned it and they’ve sold it and they’ve done it for years. Fair enough. I’m not a total MacDon’s hater, but as I’ve said before, it’s “sometimes” food, not an everyday lunch option and downtowners seem to be mirroring that sentiment in spades. As far as the locally owned skyway operations go, all I can say is ramp up your food and give people a reason to come upstairs. Increase your efforts to let people know you’re there. If your food is good, people will come and living in a world of denial isn’t going to get you anywhere.
In summation, it’s actually a relief on many levels to see that good food is making strides. In a world where it seems to be that fast food is king, taking any sort of “victory” is absolutely necessary and what’s really important here is the fact that people are, possibly unknowingly, learning that they have a choice. Maybe it’s because the food trucks are hyper hip at the moment, but the fact that they keep making that choice over and over again is promising. Maybe next time some of these people are at the store they’ll opt to buy organic over conventionally grown produce. Maybe they’ll buy an actual steak instead of a frozen TV dinner or better yet, maybe they’ll decide to make a homemade pizza from scratch instead of buying frozen or calling for delivery. It’s the small victories that are important because eventually they might just become large victories.