You are also serving eighty portions of each course all at once, so timing is crucial. Dinner started at seven o'clock. We served four hundred plates over the course of a three hour meal, which means cooking and plating a dish, mixing and pouring a cocktail every two minutes for three hours straight! The team that pulled it off tonight consisted of Shane Feirstein, our bartender at Park Kitchen, Scott Dolich, the owner of Park Kitchen, myself, Ethan Snyder, a Park Kitchen alumnus, currently sous-chef at Locanda Verde in New York, and Reed, our assistant bartender from Savoy in New York. Cheers!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Of all the food related documentaries, this year's "Food, Inc." directed by Robert Kenner is the most ambitious project of it's kind to date. The film reached more theaters and had a more far-reaching message than it's predecessors. It was greatly indebted to contributors like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, whose work has made them celebrity spokespeople for food reform. When I saw the film on Labor Day (several months after it's release), the theater was still packed! Robert Kenner set out to interview the powerful companies that run America's agricultural industry, only to discover an airtight lid of secrecy and intimidation covering up the details of how and why we spend less on food, but more on health care, than any other nation on Earth.
The film starts with marketing, showing how todays large companies advertise their food products using a pastoral brand image, the farmer with a red barn and animals outside, when this is not at all the scene of the massive factories where these foods are produced. Then we move toward the chicken industry, where some of the best questions in the movie are asked. A spokesperson for the National Chicken Council describes the origin of these enormous facilities, which is to grow a lot of food on a small amount of land, at a low price. "Now can somebody tell me what's wrong with that?"
Indeed, that is the question explored throughout this film. A Kentucky chicken producer named Vince Edwards has a small part in the film. He seems like a good-ole boy, everyday American, as he describes how Tyson has the process all figured out. "If you could have a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one that takes three months?" he asks. That's a good question. What he doesn't say is that these chickens live and grow in a place so unhealthy, many of them die of suffocation or stess, and if they didn't slaughter the chickens in 49 days, they would die soon anyway. Because they've been specially bred for large breast size and rapid weight gain, they have become mutants both physically and genetically, that eventually can't even stand on their own two feet.
It is amazing what science has done for the efficiency of growing chickens. In 1935, the average chicken at the market weighed 2.8 pounds (versus 4.9 pounds today), and took 112 days to raise (instead of 49), but how do we achieve that, and at what cost? Later in the movie, we hear from Joel Salatin in Virginia. As he butchers chickens in his open air processing facility, he tells the story of how the USDA tried to close his plant because it was unsanitary. After lab analysis, Joel's chickens had 133 CFU (colony forming units), while the USDA approved processing plant had 3,600 CFU, and that was after their chlorine bath!!!
The film talks about crops like corn and soybeans. Corn is another scientific success story. Back in the early 1900's, a farm could grow 20 bushels of corn per acre. Today, a farmer expects 200 bushels, and being so heavily subsidized, we have a lot of corn to sell. It ends up being used for things God never intended. We feed corn to animals like cows and farmed fish, who need certain cocktails of antibiotics and hormones to digest this food. We convert the sugars in corn to sweeteners that the body can not process in large quantities. One of every three children born in America today will develop type 2 diabetes!
Another portion of the film talks about the exploitation of labor, focusing on the world's largest pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. This enormous facility is owned by Smithfield, butchering and processing 32,000 pigs every day!! Smithfield also operates the enormous plants in Veracruz, Mexico, where the swine flu epidemic outbreak began this year. For a closer look at how Smithfield emerged to control more pigs than its nearest eight competitors combined, read Jeff Tietz' article in Rolling Stone from 2006, entitled "Boss Hog," in which Mr. Tietz welcomes you to see the dark side of the other white meat. Food, Inc. focuses instead on the workers at these plants, many of whom are illegal immigrants, or workers shuttled from great distances to work here. The reasons are obvious. These are low wage, very dangerous jobs with high risks of illness. People simply can't work here for long.
For me, the most distressing part of the documentary is the exposition on politics. You really feel like the foxes are guarding the henhouse when you learn that many of the government agencies regulating these large companies are run by employees of the same companies they regulate. The film asks how Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, could be objective in writing his decision to prevent farmers from saving their own seed, when prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1991, he had been a former attorney for Monsanto, who stood to gain millions of dollars by this ruling. Another Monsanto attorney, Michael Taylor, advised his company on GMO labelling before being appointed as FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy. He now works for Monsanto again as a Vice President. These are far from isolated incidents, these companies have infiltrated every level of government. For a great article on Obama's appointments, read this.
The refreshing portion of the film doesn't take place on Capitol Hill, or Tar Heel, North Carolina. It takes place at Wal-Mart. One of the few large corporations to participate in the documentary, Wal-Mart realizes that public opinion matters. Their chief dairy purchaser decided to purchase rBGH free dairy products because the market demand was there. Gary Hirschberg tells the story of his company, Stonyfield Farm (organic yogurt), and his realization that he couldn't change the world by preaching to the choir. Wal-Mart is now one of the largest buyers of organic yogurt in America. How you spend your money may be more powerful than the vote you cast at the ballot box.
Ingredients puts roots into Local Soil
Ingredients, a well made film based here in Portland, examines the fifteen year resurgence of the farmer's market in America, and the re-establishment of direct relationships between restaurants and farms to increase the awareness and demand for quality ingredients. There are a lot of personal stories here, and the tone of this film stays refreshingly positive. Rather than scare the audience with horror stories of business-as-usual, it shows how courageous, intelligent people have overcome the obstacles of corporate economies-of-scale. There are stories from our recent past, when chefs like Jean-Louis Palladin and Alice Waters approached their farmers with new demands twenty five years ago. They wanted higher quality instead of lower price, and they were willing to pay the difference.
The film struggled a little over what to include and what material was simply too much. The food supply is an incredibly complex topic, and often hard to humanize. We have the good fortune of having a relatively healthy local agriculture. Oregon is recognized for its strong organic agriculture and farmer's markets, but even here the laws favor large scale industry that is lobbied for by a handful of powerful companies. One of the most personal themes is summed up by local chef Greg Higgins, "You can pay the farmer now, or you can pay the doctor later." As long as we have no common regulation between health and the food supply, the U.S. government and its agencies will never be able to keep the market healthy.
Let's not forget the Ocean's, though it seems everyone else has!
I saw "The End of the Line" during its opening week, the first major documentary on the depletion of the world's seafood. My girlfriend and I went to the only theater showing it in town, and we were the only two people there, a sad indication of awareness on this, the most vital front-line in the global war for resources. It was based on the book of the same title, by Charles Clover. This is the story of the globalization of fishing, and how technology that was developed since the Second World War has made the global seafood industry "a race to catch the last fish and name it's price." It is a heartbreaking indictment of wreckless capitalism across international waters and with complete disregard for legal catch limits.
The film opens with the collapse of the cod industry in Newfoundland, 1992. From there, it examines Professor Daniel Pauly's research about the decline of the global seafood catch. Most studies indicate that the complete collapse of global seafood is a mere 40 years away at our current rate of consumption. The inevitable extinction of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is another large part of the film. It covers the same material as the National Geographic special report, April 2007 "Saving the Sea's Bounty." As in their story, Mr. Clover interviews courageous whistle blowers who give their testimonies about corruption, secrecy and greed.
Some of the fishing techniques used to catch our seafood are brutally exposed. The destruction of bottom trawling, the enormous gill nets and purse seiners. "We are really too good at killing, " says biologist Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University. Unfortunately, we aren't very good at using what we kill. This picture shows a Mexican shrimp trawler dumping eighty percent of its dead by-catch back into the ocean. Only the shrimp will come to port.
Since I moved to Portland eight years ago, I wondered why the variety in the seafood market was so limited. I thought being on the west coast would bring the bounty of the Pacific Ocean within reach. I've come to learn that the leading cause is a lack of interest among consumers. Here in the Northwest, people love salmon. Most consumers are buying salmon, whether fresh or farmed, halibut and tuna. People think they are still buying local salmon, though our local habitat has been destroyed. The halibut is from Alaska, and no one cares where the tuna comes from. The price is still relatively low on Oregon's only sustainably harvested fish, black cod and albacore tuna.
In 2007, I gave an interview in Portland Monthly promoting anchovies. I always try to promote seafood that is underutilized. Education is very critical at the restaurant level, which Mr. Clover points out in both the film and the book. Throughout this year, I have struggled to buy anchovies for Park Kitchen. It is not because anchovies aren't being caught, it is because they are worth more as fish food than they are as anchovies. That is one reason why all the anchovies caught on the American coastline are sold to salmon hatcheries and tuna feeding pens in the Mediterranean and South America. If anchovies are worth $2 a pound, why sell them? They can be fed to farmed salmon and tuna which can be worth $15 per pound or $60 per pound respectively. Even though you must feed wild seafood to farmed fish, and it takes about five pounds of wild fish to get one pound of farmed fish, the market demand for these species is so high that these economies are actually possible.
Is there a Happy Ending?
Although these stories and images are often disturbing (probably because we realize that we have somehow participated, perhaps unknowingly, in a crime), this year's documentaries all point out that we have the power to change the system. However powerful the companies are, however large the system, profits can only be made when people choose to buy. As in the case of Wal-Mart and it's dairy purchasing, corporations are making decisions based on what you want to buy. McDonalds is one of the leading buyers of Marine Stewardship Council seafood, and they have increased their standards of sourcing humanely raised meats (much to the dismay of large scale American pork and beef producers, who rarely meet the standards). The FDA is even preparing to set limits on "nontherapeutic use of medically valuable antibiotics in agriculture." Seventy percent of the nation's antibiotics and related drugs are used on animals, to promote growth and prevent diseases caused by overcrowding conditions in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). The Obama administration would be reversing decades of agency policy, and would change the way animals are raised for consumption.
These are decisions that come from awareness and demand for change. Secrecy helps prevent the awareness, and low cost helps prevent change. People often say that they can't afford to make responsible purchases. The truth is that the cheap alternatives are an illusion that is making very few people very rich. Responsible purchases aren't making anyone rich except perhaps Mother Earth. They reflect the real cost of food, health and happiness.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Pig's blood cookery is nothing new to the world. All that is new is what people are doing with it. Elsewhere in Portland, Xocolatl de David has a wonderful pig's blood chocolate ganache, and Le Pigeon restaurant has served a very tasty pig's blood pappardelle. The well stocked meat counter of Laurelhurst Market often has blood sausage with whisky. Portland's culinary talents are exploring pig's blood. Maybe you should, too.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The kaiseki meal follows a certain progression, with appetizers followed by a clear soup, then sashimi, grilled foods, steamed foods, and so on. The beautiful lacquerware and seasonal motifs on the plateware are all a part of the experience. About half way through the meal, the chef uses a dish made by one of the greatest masters of twentieth century ceramics, Kitaoji Rosanjin. The dish imitates a painters palette, and facilitates six individual variations of texture and flavor. Here, the selections include (clockwise from top left) a terrine of mushrooms and ayu roe, duck breast with negi, braised satoimo (taro root), glazed scallop on a leaf of shungiku, asian pear and salmon stuffed with egg yolk, and a salad of shiitake and marinated shungiku (edible chrysanthemum).
A proper Japanese meal consists of shokuji (食事), serving rice, pickles and miso soup, which come at the end of the meal. Maruyama-san presents the rice course in an okama, an old fashioned earthenware pot that fits into a charcoal stove. Of course, a kaiseki restaurant will enhance these simple dishes with their own style. On this occasion, the rice has been garnished with uni and nori, and the white miso soup is pureed with yurine (lily bulbs).
The next meal would be my first time dining at Hisao Nakahigashi's famous restaurant, Sojiki Nakahigashi. It is a very small restaurant, and the seats are often booked several months in advance. Although the Michelin Guide only rates the restaurant with one star, it is one of the hardest reservations to get in Kyoto. The clever name of his restaurant is an indication of the chef's tsumigusa (foraged, or freshly picked) cuisine. The word sojiki is a creation of the chef, but it suggests "eating leaves or grass." There is a more subtle suggestion that it is an apothecary cuisine, of sorts, and it was this inclusion of wild and bitter flavors that I found fascinating.
The chef presents his hassun course on a leaf of satoimo, and garnished with a shaft of susuki, one of the seven flowers of autumn. In the glass dish is a wonderful salad of figs and white miso, a variety of nuts include chestnuts, a ginko nut stuffed with egg yolk, and broiled mackerel stuffed with walnut (amazing). There were also some tsukudani-style dojo, a small eel-like freshwater fish often caught in the rice paddies!
Here, chef Okuda slices barracuda rolled with matsutake and grilled. You can see that there is no bar or counter between the diner and the chef's work table. It was as if he were on the other side of the dinner table, a very open design which requires impeccable cleanliness and technical finesse at all times, a lot of fun to watch.
This is the yakimono, or grilled course, decorated with autumn leaves of maple and magnolia. The rolled barracuda, unagi served both shirayaki (unseasoned) and kabayaki (glazed with sauce), accompanied by ginko nuts and tatami iwashi, a toasted cracker made of tiny sardines, dried and pressed into thin sheets. Beautiful and tasty! This was one of the few glazed plates used in the meal, with the shine and color imitating the autumn leaves garnishing it.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Seasonal Beauty at Kikunoi
This beautiful book hit the shelves in English just weeks before my first trip to Japan in autumn of 2006. The chef, Yoshihiro Murata is the third generation chef of the family restaurant, Kikunoi. The book is divided into four chapters addressing the four seasons. The innovation of the book is that it often has a full page photo of his dishes with a description of its inspiration and meaning on the opposite page. It also displays the beautiful dishes and lacquerware that kaiseki is often served in, and how it is presented to the guest. All the recipes are presented at the end of the book in the appendix, not that the recipes are less relevant than the pictures. Murata-san is a very talented chef. The photography of the book is stunning, but the strength of the book lies in the stories that accompany his dishes, revealing both his innovation and purpose. Japanese cuisine, and especially kaiseki, is a highly seasonal and symbolic art whose meanings are often lost on foreigners. Kodansha (講談社) has been publishing in English for years, and are very experienced in translating for a foreign audience. I am greatly indebted to the chef and his publisher for the timing of this release, just prior to my first tour of Japan.
Two Books from Bunka Shuppan (sorry, in Japanese only)
This is chef Toshio Tanahashi's only recipe book, Shojin, Vegetables are Genius (精進、野菜は天才). I have enjoyed shojin ryori before I bought this book, but my appreciation has deepened tremendously since. Shojin is devotion cuisine, the vegetarian fare of the Buddhist temples. Although humble in origin, it is the predecessor of the tea ceremony and kaiseki cuisine. The chef ran a restaurant called Gesshinkyo out of his home in Tokyo for many years (read more about him here), named after the temple Gesshinji in Kyoto where he apprenticed. The publisher, Bunka Shuppan Kyoku (文化出帆局), like many in Japan, have been publishing books with step-by-step photography, showing how the recipes are executed, not just what they look like at the end. The page layout seems especially appropriate for Japanese cooking, since there is a great appreciation for appearance in the presentation of Japanese dishes. The book is divided into twelve chapters, and the pages reveal a few dishes from each month, as well as instructions and photos of technique, the appearance of the raw ingredients (shokuzai), and the ritual devotions of preparation. The most famous example of this is the chef's use of his ninety minute morning meditation to grind sesame in his mortar for the daily gomadofu!
Another great book from Bunka Shuppan is Grass, Leaf, Root (草 菜 根), by Hisao Nakahigashi. The chef is very famous for his foraged ingredients and his organic renditions of kaiseki. The name of his restaurant in Kyoto, Sojiki Nakahigashi, gives an indication of his style. Sojiki means "to eat grass," but the first prefix suggests that these grasses and leaves are medicinal. That is to say, his restaurant is like an apothecary. Indeed, one of his most defining characteristics is the presence of bitterness in his food, which people often associate with medicines, and his use of the whole plant in his dishes. If you are served sweet potato, it would probably be served with its greens, and the same would be true of peppers, carrots or lotus. If you are served a small fish in one course, you are likely to have it's roe or innards in the following course. The chef says his mentor instilled this approach-his mother. He does not seek the finest ingredients in the country, rather he has a great connection with local products. Only lake and river fish are served, local meats, wild vegetables, and he is intimately attuned to changes in the seasons. If the beans are tender in early summer, and starchy in early autumn, they are used for what they are instead of being discarded for the next prized commodity. And people respond to his cooking...the restaurant is often booked several months in advance! I like this book, because it features many forgotten ingredients that people want to remember, and the photography often shows the chef foraging or working with the farmers who supply him. These connections have become very popular in American cookbooks, but here the connection goes a little further to the source.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I managed to get a small salad on the menu before the season ended. It was a salad of melons and lemon cucumbers with house cured lardo and prosciutto, pine nuts, green coriander dressing and wood sorrel. I originally ran this dish as a special with Anthony's Sweet Seduction grapes, but later decided to leave them out, so the rich, tender melon could shine.
I had just begun curing and hanging lardo and guanciale (pork jowl) for the coming fall and winter. Wood sorrel (oxalis montana) is a wild herb that I have been foraging this year (the rains which brought about the end of melon season have ushered in the local chanterelle, pictured below with wild wood sorrel), and I now cultivate it at home as well. It is not a true sorrel, but has a similar herbal sourness. I find it a little more approachable than sheep sorrel (rumex acetosella).
Anthony shared his reason why they won't be planting melons again next year. He couldn't deal with the heartache anymore:
"Sadly the warm nights over the last week (8/9) have reduced the sugar content of this years crop. They are good, but not the usual sublime confections. On average, we harvest between 25 and 30% of the melons. Last year the quality was very high. In this planting we may not even pull off 5%... Good melons have a corky webbing on their skin, those lacking the cork are inferior and not worth picking. Most of the field is smooth skinned."
Anthony also recalled the old market farmer who said you only plant melons for five years before you never want to see them again. Ayers Creek Farm held out for eight years!
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The first guideline is proper notice. It is not a universal tendency of special diets (whether vegetarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovotarian, vegan, celiac, kosher, or whatever) to surprise the kitchen with a laundry list of special requests, but it is the lion's share. I certainly sympathize with dietary needs, but without some notice for special preparations, the diner does not sympathize with my desire to serve a quality experience. Many of my colleagues in town simply print on their menu "substitutions politely declined," which is not an inflexible policy. However, there is little that can be done by any kitchen on a busy Saturday night at 6:30 pm, while we are cooking for 60 other paying guests who have ordered from our menu.
The second guideline is price. There is a very simple equation for a successful restaurant to produce a great dining experience. The kitchen invests an enormous amount of time preparing food that will be served to many guests. When special requests are made, a disproportionate amount of time is spent for a very few guests. As of this week, we will begin to charge a supplement for work that must be done beyond our menu to accommodate special diets. We welcome your business, and we want to cook for you, but it must be fair for everyone.
I also want to briefly address two widespread misconceptions about vegetarianism. First of all, there is the inaccurate belief that chefs of fine dining restaurants don't understand or sympathize with a vegetarian diet. For those of you reading this blog, it may surprise you to know that I was a vegetarian for many years, Naomi Pomeroy of Beast was a vegetarian for many years, and so was Jason Owens of Laurelhurst Market, to name a few.
22% Dry Goods
16% Dry Goods
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Perhaps my most popular summer salad is the refreshing beet and watermelon salad, with pickled watermelon rind, amaranth (amaranthus retroflexus), dried chile vinaigrette and grated Redmondo, a firm, aged goat cheese from Juniper Grove. The beets, amaranth and chiles are earthy and savory, the watermelon and sweet rind pickle are juicy and fruity, the cheese is only mildly salty, and mildly firm. It could be my kind of dessert, though no one has ordered it that way.
And why am I eating this?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Of course, pinot noir is Oregon's most celebrated wine, but the panel examined Chardonnay and Reisling as well. It was among the aged whites that I was most impressed. We tasted some surprising dry reislings from Amity 1988 and 89, and enjoyed Chehalem's 96 Reisling and 97 Chardonnay. With vintages spanning from 1979 to 2006, I have to say that after tasting little more than a dozen wines, I could only judge the quality of my intoxication! Indeed, it does take a professional to evaluate, or even be able to taste so many wines in one sitting.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
This Sunday, the Park Kitchen team took a field trip just south of Scio, Oregon to meet our friend Joe Schueller at his ranch. Joe started Rainshadow el Rancho in 2001, and we have been buying pigs and rabbits from him since 2006. Joe has been working hard on a poultry processing plant for the last few years, and it is finally operational. We all wanted to take a closer look at his work on the ranch.
Joe keeps a diverse population on his ranch. He has a small herd of buffalo, a warren of rabbits, a few sheep, cornish hens, chickens and ducks (both layers and meat birds) and turkeys. During the construction of the processing plant, Joe's hogs have been raised on his neighbor, Claude's land. When they come back to Rainshadow, they will rotate on the pasture with the other animals. He has over 140 acres of pasture, and this is the primary diet of his animals. During our tour, Joe mentioned the writings of Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms, author of "Pastured Poultry Profits," as an inspiration to his own model of pasture raised farming.
There are a number of hatchling coops near the house. They stay under the lamps for the first three weeks before they go into the pasture. Then the chickens and ducks live in portable huts that are moved every day, so the animals have fresh grazing, and the manure is evenly dispursed. The animals are rotated in the pasture as well. The chickens will eat the bugs out of the manure of the larger animals and help to break it down, layering the nutrients in the soil. Once the soil is healthy, the environment is favorable for the growth of nutritious legumes like clover and lupine, dandelions and bluegrasses. This is the lifeline of the pasture. Once this harmonic balance is achieved, just letting the animals graze naturally perpetuates the pasture, which minimizes the cost of nutrient grain feeds, antibiotics to combat illness and malnutrition, and drugs to accelerate growth and weight gain.
The laying hens and turkeys have a more permanent residence, grazing under Joe's orchards of apple, cherry, plum and asian pear. The birds seem very happy there. Their eggs are delicious, and a bargain at $5 per dozen. This year will be the first for his Black Star chicken layers and Ancona duck layers. I'm looking forward to his first year of duck eggs and meat birds.
If you build it, they will come.
Joe began building the poultry processing plant on his ranch after twenty years in construction contracting. Joe said this was one of the most difficult projects of his life, in large part due to the difficulties of securing skilled workers for a small, rural project. After $600,000 worth of headaches and more than three years of work, Joe can process his own chickens, ducks, turkeys, game birds, and rabbits. Small growers and distant neighbors can bring their animals for custom processing as well. Today, small processing plants (less than five hundred head per day) are increasingly rare, but a great asset to everyone in the area.
This is Joe's wife, Karen in the doorway of their processing plant. The first room contains the funnels seen here for bleeding, as well as the scalder and plucker machines for poultry. When we were here, Joe had not yet acquired the wax tank for duck processing.
The poultry enters the cleaning room through a chute from the centrifugal plucker. The hangers hold the poultry by the head and feet, and the belt turns around the processing table. Then they enter the chill room, followed by bagging, weighing and freezing (unless they will be shipped fresh). With the plant running at 40% capacity, Joe said the electricity bill is about $450 per month. The economics of the small processing plant are challenging, but they cover the real cost of processing meats. Unlike their large scale competitor, the CAFO infrastructure is usually funded with tax dollars, and so is the waste treatment. Guys like Joe aren't using your tax money to sweep costs under the rug.
The mighty buffalo roam in their own pastures. This is an entirely different scale of animal. There is about one bull for every ten cows, and right now Joe has a bull near 2,000 pounds! The average buffalo weighs about 1,200 pounds and dresses out to about 600 pounds of meat. It's nice to see the buffalo returning to American pastures. It's a rare sight, but Joe has a rare vision, and it's exciting to watch him bring it to life.