Are We Foodies or Snooties?


So, I have a question…Since when is good, all natural food reserved for the elite? You don’t believe me? Walk through your local co-op or natural food store with your head on a swivel.   Scope out the not so wide array of vehicles in the parking lot, snag your tiny cart, and tell me that you are not being over charged. We shop blindly, content in the feeling of making the right choice for ourselves and family, but what would we eat if we could not afford it? This type of blind shopping is a contributing factor to the growing debate surrounding the foodie as an elitest.

What is your modern day foodie? I am guessing they will talk a good game about supporting your local farmer, eating grass fed beef and free range chickens, he will probably have an eco bag in is trunk sporting the “I love veggies” inscription. They will be able to tell you all about gmos and hfcs and bpas, and some may even possess a 650 dollar set of cook book written by Nathan Myhrvold. I will talk on this later down the page) They might even have a blog about the wonderful farm to table spots they’ve been frequenting and how they dropped 300 plus down (wine not included) on a beautifully plated somewhat yummy “snout and trotter” tasting at the newest “nose to tail” eatery.

Make no mistake about it, I am all about supporting your farmer, and partaking in yummy foods and yadda yadda yadda. However it seems to me after reading the many blogs and message boards that we are turning our movement into an elite eco system of Chefs and foodies that frown upon those who either 1) CHOOSE to (for whatever reason)  factory farmed agriculture. Or 2) just are not ready to jump all the way in. Lets step back and look at the fact that we as a country are so soiled by the industry we are against that we support it even if we don’t want to. So lets relax a little with the harsh comments because we are all guilty. We all support factory farms and unsustainable farming practices be it knowingly or un-knowingly.  Most of us grew into our mentalities after living a life of crappy eating.  This crappy eating is usually justifiable;  a shoe string budget of Ramen noodles while we are broke in college, or just doing what we can to feed our families.

That’s my rant and here is my take on the Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold… ABSOLUTELY ELITIST!  I heard ramblings of this book coming out and at first I was all about it I even think I posted the Wired magazine article on my Facebook page. You know the story of a guy loving to cook since he was a boy, quits his job as a top researcher for a big company and becomes a chef. But 6 BILLS?!  First off I must say I am judging the book by its cover. But I am hoping you can give me a pass because it cost 600 bucks! I’m sorry, I’m just not throwing that much coin down. I couldn’t stand paying those prices for books in college, and I surely don’t think its cool to ask middle America to swoop it up at that price. I heard in an interview on NPR him say “you can do these things with regular kitchen equipment you can buy at any old store like Sur le Table and William Sanoma. Seriously!? Normal people don’t shop there. It is this type of pretentious attitude (along with the heafty price tag) that keeps the argument going.  I guess what  I am trying to say is I understand it is more of a reference and it probably like most other cookbooks, will just sit on a coffee table. But for that price, It better be hand written in gold leaf with a quill from a rare bird found only in Bolivia, published by Gutenberg, taken off the shelf by the Monastery’s librarian holding a candle on a full moon. If you are interested in a a great approach to food science and have lets say 30 bucks, I suggest you pick up On food and Cooking by Harrold Mcgee. If youn don’t have it already. The approach is definitely different from “Modernist Cuisine”. It’s scientific analysis of food, going into the biology and protein chemistry of grains, eggs, meats, etc, and I don’t think that there’s a single recipe in it other than a few historical examples. That being said, it’s a very revealing view of how food behaves chemically, physically, and culinarily, and has helped me understand a lot my screw-ups in the kitchen. It certainly doesn’t compare to a 2500 page, 5 volume set of lavishly illustrated scientific cookbooks. In all fairness, big reference volumes like this do tend to be expensive. For example, the Oxford unabridged dictionary has always been expensive. These things are expensive to produce and the developer should get a fair compensation for what  it cost and for how much research went into its production.  It is definitely an interesting concept, but totally not for me.  Sad because this is the kind of thing that is super interesting but in my opinion totally alienates Middle America.

DON’T LET THEM HIJACK OUR MOVEMENT!

Fresh wholesome natural food is for everyone.

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Me. My Town. And Irene. A summer for the ages.


http://www.wilmingtonvtfloodrelief.com/

http://drvhumanweb.org/  TO DONATE OR FOR EMERGENCY FUNDING CLICK HERE!

I decided to not put pictures of the flood damage on the blog. I’m sure you have scene enough.

The summer draws to a close. and it took a disaster to get me back at the computer screen squinting through my duct taped, faded Ralph Lauren frames to peck away at a measly 15 wpm (tops) in an attempt to regain my self-proclaimed title as a blogger. The disaster of the tropical storm Irene will be forever etched into my memory. There was very little wind, just hours and hours of steady rain. The devastation is immense and will take its actualized toll in the forth coming months. for more information on the floods of Irene or to help the residents and businesses,  Please Click here! I have friends who were affected and I pray things in the town of Wilmington and all over Vermont, get back to a sense of normalcy.

Wait. Dd I just say Wilmington? Last most of you heard I was at the helm of the Putney Inn. Working and gleaning from the bounty of the farms of Wyndham County. I apologize For my lack of updates on my to-ing and fro-ing. I guess I have some filling in to do.

This was to be the year that I made a solid reputation in New England as a respectable Chef providing high quality, world-class grub to locals and travelers alike. I established a wonderful network of farmers to drive my cuisine and the rep was starting. My departure had ABSOLUELY nothing to do with the owners or the property. I was given free rein to develop and create menus according to my whims and  palate. But the property was a large one. Banquets out the wazoo! And busses of tourists flocking to peep out the colorful canvas of de-naturing leaves is totally not my speed. The restaurant is still a great place to grab a bite of yummy food in southern VT and is the perfect spot to hop off of rt 91 at exit 4. www.putneyinn.com. that being said I prefer an ecosystem that caters to the expectations of dinners who are looking for THE SPOT.  So, after three offers, trails, (trying out in the kitchen) mystery baskets and negotiations, I accepted the job at what I see as being THE SPOT for me. Is it a Relais Chateau, on lake Champlain, brand spanking new with shiny never before used appliances and small wares? Absolutely not.  Is it 100 percent committed to the sustainable, farm to table, nose to tail ideology? Yessssss! (Very Important) The Wilmington Inn is in so many ways is a dream come true. The lack of the brand spanking new stuff gives it a few dings in my book but all in all, pretty close to perfect. Since we have been closed off from the rest of the world due to poor roads and mass construction vehicles, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my decision. This reflection has a reoccurring theme; community and farmonomics. Click here for more info on farmonomics. This view of the owners (along with many others) and  their commitment  mirrors my outlook super eerily. The fact that John kicked the shiny silver truck off the property with the purchase of the Inn and wants to ink the menu with “SYSCO free since 2010” is pretty slick.

These times of crisis it is important to realize our role in our communities and how we spend our money seriously affects our neighbors. In Vermont the slinging around of terminology like “buy local” is for the most part not a marketing ploy, it’s the real deal. (I can name some posers in a private convo off the record if you like) When we put a face to the producer of our product and put a face to the consumer it is more than just a business transaction, we now have a connection. When we know that Westminster Organics is Paul Harlow and family and they stand to lose a nice amount of coin in crops (250,000 in crop damage) we should  do all that we can to help.  That amount does not include property damage, loss of jobs to employees, and the fact that they have to wait four months before planting again. Buying local is the least we can doand it directly effects helps the Harlow family and all of their employees. What about Jonathan Wright of Taylor farms? in Londonderry? It is a baig chain grocer  or sysco telling you that they are discontinuing an item and you keep shopping blindly. It is painful to know that after baling hay for his grass-fed cows the flood washes a huge chunk of food for his livestock. This is the reality. when we buy Taylor Farms Gouda from the store, we are helping Jonathan Wright.

I am stoked to hear about all of the people helping get the Brattleboro farmers market up and running within a week! After first the first reports said a new location may be necessary? AMAZING! I wish I were there this saturday to see the swarm of like-minded community based folks (some a little weird) helping support the ever so needed local economy. I was helping along with a host of other residents (and non) rebuild the tourist economy based center of Wilmington which was decimated by the flood. It is a site to see. People working together is a beautiful site. There are many things going on in the valley to assist the businesses affected. I even here murmurs of a star-studded benefit concert for those without flood insurance being in the works. The Wilmington Inn is putting up five bucks from every entre to the flood relief, Chris and Steve of Apres Vous are looking to open next week and open for breakfast and lunch to give some of the folks of DOTs Dinner (a darn near monument) employment. It is nice to see a community at work.

The craziness of starting a new job has kept me away from my blog. The craziness of this storm has just revealed to me how relaxing and a release it is to share my thoughts. My unplanned time of reflection has totally fortified my ideology and commitment to the support of the small farms and producers and has given me more incentive to work at my craft and offer some of the best cuisine in Vermont. I must admit, I was not too fond of the touristy feel of the town of when I first arrived. However, the spirit of  community is in the air and I welcome all of you to Wilmington!

Next up is my garden, my foraging and some new farm visits!

Their name is on our menus… Do we know them?


I am sure you have seen menus laden with citations, bibliographies, indexes, appendixes if you will, all in an attempt to give credit to the farms that inspire our ever changing menus. I have went from listing my farms after each dish, a tallied list at the end of my menu under the name of producers to most recently coining them contributors.  I am here to tell my fellow chefs out there that a name without a face leaves one wondering who “who are these people”. Have you met them? Do you haggle the crap out of them to get your profit margins just right while leaving the farmer with change to pay for the rising costs of feed, waste management, oil for machinery and fees for organic certifications and FDA stickers? The tag line for the Windham farm and food network is, Make the connection. Buy local. Know your farmer. I DIG IT! And, this by far sums up our responsibility as food producers, educators, chefs and consumers to truly become sustainable.

So when you hear advertisements of an aluminum foil wrapped 2 pound burrito slinging  establishment waving the we are committed to local blah blah blah card, don’t believe the hype!  Trust me on this, they are duping you! Does this sicken anyone else? Are companies really taking advantage of consumers who want to eat responsibly? Of course they are and I would expect this type of exploitation from these no scruple having corps.  But when chefs irresponsibly floss the “local” card with absolutely no intention of contributing to the ever so important food awareness and sustainability movement, it saddens me. It actually ticks me off a bit. This exploitation is of course is the hottest marketing trend and restaraunteurs and Chefs are sucking it right up. What are the main issues with the food system? There is no way I can fully answer this rhetorical question in my measly little quick read posts, so watch a documentary or read the omnivores dilemma. Or for first hand experience with our food system issues you could; support your child’s soy, salt, sugar and corn addiction and send them to the school cafeteria, take a drive through a food dessert, grab a five pound “Bryson” all natural chicken breast at your local grocery, purchase a pseudo organic product from “Mole Foods”, plant a garden using new and improved GMO”Franken-Seeds” or try to get sold on buying pre-fabricated microwaveable foods while learning to cook fabulously food via the “Fooey Network”.

When you "make the Connection" you might get some seeds to grow your own micro greens. Sure beets 20 bucks a pop!

Remember, the “stand up guy” card is an easy one to throw down. What’s not easy is backing it up.  It takes commitment, true passion and in my case a lot of trial and error. I for one was extremely apprehensive about butchering. So I would request from my farmers certain cuts of meat. Now of course I see butchering as one of the most important pieces to running a TRUE

An aged veal mid-section ready for butchering.

Farm to table restaurant that truly sustains the farming community. My initial willy nilly hatchet man cuts of meat were almost as embarrassing as me taking forty plus minutes splitting an underwhelming amount of wood, or wearing kitchen clogs to a farm in mud season. (I won’t even get into my countless homesteading blunders).

The small meat producers (not talking meat factories here) biggest problem is of course the food system. It is set up to leave an enormous amount of not so popular cuts of meat. This is what it breaks down to: two of each of the following; rib loins, strip loins, tenderloin and sirloin. Not to mention, of course, the ever popular beef hanger steak.  This cut of meat could feed maybe twelve people. Thats right, twelve people from 1000 pounds! We chase after trendy cuts to keep a consistent menu and remain relevant in todays  ever-changing landscape of foodie satisfaction. Totally un-sustainable.   If you have some rump in your kitchen, some people may get try tips, (again maybe 10 servings out of the whole steer), and of course some short ribs, and a few other cuts of interest. But the fact remains that out of a steer that weighs in at 1000 plus pounds, the majority is left as un favorable cuts of beef to the consumer after all the highly preferred ones are swooped up by Chefs that don’t want to do the work of making as many menu items as possible out of the whole animal. And this is happening across the country at self-proclaimed sustainable/Farm to table restaurants. Again, pretty un-sustainable.  This lack of commitment from chefs and in some cases lack of support from money hungry owners leaves the farmer making sub-par sausage (in most cases) to sell at farmers markets and many a compromise from chefs (use your imagination here). Don’t believe me? Ask a farmer. I am finding them to be some of the coolest people around!

The Garden Shots Have nothing to do with this post. I am just super psyched!

It is super beneficial to both parties involved in the whole animal purchase. Number one. When a farmer has a bunch of leftover meat for grind and unfavorable cuts sitting in their deep freezer (if they have one), this makes the price of a 100% grass-fed prime cut on average 4 dollars more per pound and of course this gets passed on to the consumer which then keeps only the well to do partaking in the joys of true all natural eats. And adds to the notion that some have (I’m on the fence) about the totally clueless foodie elitists out there zipping around in their Priuses. Which still have 7 gallons of oil in each tire, the body of the car is made of oil and they are shipped here on tankers using a bunch of oil and are shipped on semis using crazy amounts of oil and…and… and….  Where are our post oil solutions? This charade and bamboozlement adds nothing to sustainability movement either.

My Award!

The local movement does not end at just having local food. It doesn’t even start at it. Making the connection is the key component. At least that is what the Windham Farm and Food network believes and I for one am all about it. Don’t know how to say this without saying it so…. I WAS GIVEN AN AWARD!  And no it’s not the James Beared or a Rising Star Award or anything like that. Trust me. Not taking anything away from the insanely talented chefs who totally deserve the recognition especially all the great chefs in C-town who get slighted every year. But any way… Mine is the highly touted Farm and Food Chef All-stars award! When Hanz Estrin (he runs the organization) called me up and informed me I was a recipient, I couldn’t wait to put it on my fridge! I even took a picture of it to share with you guys.

One last thought. And I want you guys to help me on this one. As I said earlier, I give credit to my farmers on my menu. Is this necessary as a Chef? Shouldn’t a diner spending hard-earned loot EXPECT the best? And we all know there is NOTHING better than an in season heirloom tomato or an over wintered parsnip! I’m leaning towards the belief that if I run my kitchen with integrity, I will get the respect of the farmer. That farmer/producer will then tell a customer of theirs they can get the goods at my establishment. Once this cycle repeats itself amongst the community enough times, my kitchen would be recognized as a stalwart operation with integrity and commitment to as many farms it takes to sustain my establishment. What do you guys think? I would love to hear from you!

Just want to show you guys what we are up to. Kale, artichokes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and of course herbs.

For more information on the Windham Farm and Food Network supported by the UVM extension Click here! I can attest to its successes (and ease of use) and it continues to make my life easier as a chef striving to support my farming neighbors.

Farm Visit… New Leaf CSA


Farm Visit… New Leaf CSA

http://newleafcsa.com

OK. First off I need to say for this little 1 day old dwarf Nigerian fluff ball (that was SO comfy in my arms), I could maybe, even possibly, consider thinking about contemplating, the prospect of becoming a vegetarian.  I mean who could slaughter such a cutie? Who thinks “curried goat marinated in kefir and mint” after snuggling up with one of these? This was actually my first ever encounter with a baby goat. I am not sure if I forgot to teach myself while home schooling or if its city living that neglected me the knowledge of baby animal names. In this, case a baby goat is a kid. And this kid has got me thinking about goat milk, and how to make chevre. Elizabeth Wood, of New Leaf CSA offered to teach me, (after a subtle hint),  simple but yummy cheeses out of goats milk. And there is no way I would ever sell it at the restaurant. (wink wink).  Just as would never make my own cultured butter, creme fraische and quark! People may get sick and DIE from eating handmade unpasteurized cheeses and the like without a thorough inspection from the health inspector. However, I will keep you up to speed on all of my cheese making and milk manipulation REALLY soon! In the mean time, just ask me for recipes and you will get them. I promise.

As I’m standing in the cold in awe of new life at New Leaf with Elizabeth and Eesha, I am also thinking veggies. They are not a goat farmers. They have an amazing  CSA (community supported agriculture) in Dummerston. The Inn is actually a pick up location for share holders in the Putney area, but for some reason there is only one person with a HALF share picking up from us! What is that about? It obviously has zero to do with the quality of goods offered by Elizabeth Wood. In fact, as of my first ever encounter with these cuddly kids, their shares are seventy-five percent sold. In addition to the Inn these shares can be picked up at the farm (111 dutton Farm road), or at Works Cafe in Brattleboro.  You can check out their website for more info as well. Last year I met Elizabeth at a meeting for The Windham Farm and Food Network and thought she was super awesome! It’s ALWAYS great to put a name with a face. I was ordering her yummy carrots last fall through the network (which is super and will totally tell you more about Hanz Estrin and Paul Harlow on another post). I THINK THAT IS 2 PROMISED POSTS!

I do have to admit, the only thing I got from Elizabeth last year was some super yummy carrots.  I cant even remember how they were prepared. Apologies. This year will be completely different. One of our vegetable options will be dubbed “The New Leaf CSA Plate”. It will be a whimsical preparation of my weekly drop off of assorted vegetables from the farm. So, because I am  at this very moment a vegetarian and can’t imagine this cutie going to slaughter, it should be a super inspired CSA Veggie Plate!  Definitely check out their site http://newleafcsa.com/membership.html and sign up for their csa which also  includes some really cool unlimited pyo (pick your own). I will be re-visiting the farm  during the season and will be posting my recipes then. One thing is for sure, by the time I post again The thought of vegetarianism will have passed and I may be blogging of local goat meat on my menu!

OH yeah! After doing the whole will you be my friend thing on facebook, Eesha forwarded me these great pics! Thanks a Bunch! In addition to capturing candid shots of baby goat lovers, he is a contributing journalist for The Valley Post http://valleypost.org/. I have only just recently been introduced to this website and it is welcome addition to my list of informative forward thinking media outlets. CHECK IT OUT!

Till Next Time

-Ismail