integrity (realgoodfood)

I don't usually eat meusli, but my body targeted its cravings that way last week, and I follow. I found a beautiful one, and expensive, from realgoodfood. I was especially pleased with it because the phrase "organic" emblazoned on the label turned out to refer not only to the grains which make up the bulk of the product, but also to the dried berries (biodynamic, actually). This is rare. I didn't mind paying $10, because I got what I really wanted, an organic product.

"With the idea of returning organic wholefood to our diet in an enticing way, realgoodfood began. Eleven years on we remain committed to our philosophy of working with certified organic and biodynamic organic wholefood. Our ingredients are grown in nutrient rich soil by Australia’s best growers and minimally processed to preserve flavour and valuable oils." (realgoodfood)

A few days later, I was enjoying a marinated feta cheese from Binnorie Dairy, just purchased from the farmers market this morning. The cheese was delicious. What herb is in the marinade? We turned the bottle, peered sideways across dripping fingers. "Canola oil???!!!" They're diluting the olive oil with canola to save money. I paid $14 for the feta. Charge me more, but don't cut corners.

I'm reminded of an article I read this week, about the Hebberoys of Portland. C. 2001 Michael Hebb and Naomi Pomeroy started an underground restaurant in their house, called Family Supper. Their guests ultimately included financiers who invested in a restaurant, ClarkLewis, which was gorgeous and delicious (opened in 2004). They hired fabulous chefs, including Morgan Brownlow and Tommy Habetz. In 2006, Michael Hebb fled town, abandoning Pomeroy, a restaurant empire in financial ruin, and according to some an entire town who felt deceived by his charismatic PR.

ClarkLewis photo by http://pdx.eater.com/

Nancy Rommelmann's article in Portland Monthly, entitled "Last Supper" is sympathetic to everyone, including the "manic" Hebb. But, as it turns out, Hebb did not make off with investors' money, or Pomeroy's. What he did wrong, what led to financial ruin and accusations of betrayal, was spend too much on food. The restaurants were full every night, so everyone assumed they were making money. Hebb knew they weren't, kept seeking new sources of cash, kept spending more on ingredients than the restaurants were earning. His crime was feeding people really good food, giving them what they were paying for.

Actually, I don't think that's so bad.

I was also impressed with Pomeroy, who instead of saying "he gets all the glory and I do all the grunt work", a story we've heard many times, said it differently and in what I think is a more self-respecting way. She called herself "the motherboard". Naomi now owns a new restaurant, called Beast.

Michael Hebb is doing underground restaurants called One Pot. He has appeared on TedX, talking about "tablemaking".

ClarkLewis is still operating, with new chefs.

favorite foods - for life

I realize that several of my favorite foods, meals I cook over and over, were things I first ate in a restaurant or market. They were so good that I went home and experimented until I made something close enough - or better. All of these have become household favorites, and make repeat appearances on Viand menus. Several that come to mind are:

I realize that I should devote myself to reproducing all of my other most remembered foods prepared by others, so herewith is the to-do list, in chronological order:

• really stupendous sauteed wild mushrooms (I had these as a child at a restaurant in NYC, and I believe it was my first experience of nouvelle cuisine. I ordered a second serving.)

• in Palm Springs: a salad: avocado, grapefruit, red onions.

• filo-encrusted candied apple from a restaurant in Boston which I loved so much that I had my 21st birthday dinner there. I know this restaurant closed, and sadly I don't remember the name. The caramel soaked through the filo dough, making it chewy in places while crisp in others

•sundried tomato, black pepper, parmesan scones from the San Francisco Farmers Market when it was still in a parking lot. I've tried to make these several times and it's not as easy as it sounds. I suppose the first challenge is a really light but buttery scone recipe. Then the right parmesan. Wet or dry sundried tomatoes?

•blackberry turnovers (probably i'll enjoy other fruits as well). these were also sold at the San Francisco Farmers Market before the Ferry Plaza Building. I think the bakery was in Sonoma somewhere, but the important thing was that transition from chewy where the fruit has wet the crust to flaky to a crunchy sugary crust.

fruit breads from Noe Valley Bakery. This is bread, not cake. My favorites are: Apricot & Ginger, Chocolate & Cherry. I used to buy 8 loaves when I'd visit San Francisco, then slice and freeze them back in Santa Barbara. One of my favorite treats. What is really interesting about these breads is that the fruit isn't that sweet. The bread is. How to make the bread sweet like this, with a wet sourdough texture? And the chocolate in the chocolate cherry bread is very dry and crumbly, I don't know what kind of chocolate it is.

•salad of 39 things from La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar in Buenos Aires. Every bite is a different combination of flavors, nuts, berries, roots, shoots, some cooked, some cold, some warm. I think there was a bit of mayonaise in the dressing. I finally attempted it (without the mayonaise) at Viand 29: Berlin 2: High Low.

•cube of spaghetti with curry and small shrimps from Freud & Fahler in Buenos Aires.

•seafood citrus salad from Yellow in Sydney. I'm crushed to find this restaurant is closed. I don't remember anything about the salad beyond what I said. I think there might have been macadamia nuts in it?

•chocolate brownie from John&Peter Canteen, Sydney (closed)

•Grandma I-ya's german chocolate cake. It's always your family's food that is the biggest challenge to replicate. Because your version of grandma's cake will always be missing one ingredient - her love.

Studiofeast "we're trying to get people who don't cook to cook"

This is a video by the underground restaurant team of Studiofeast in New York City.

They started out "pushing the limits of what you can do as a home cook", then moved on to a series of dining stunts (including serving dinner on a subway route with A Razor, A Shiny Knife) and now they are focused on "getting people who don't cook to cook", in part by rethinking how to communicate recipes.

Watch this awesome video of their Pecha Kucha presentation:

Integrity Economics

I use to teach economics. Now I’m a professional artist and I teach. Often I spend 4 hours preparing a class that earns $50. My students can do the math. “What kind of an economist were you?”, they ask.

I spend my money at the farmers market, where I chat with the farmers and artisans. I especially like cheese, and was excited today to find a new vendor selling buffalo cheeses. Like many farmers at the market, he’s displaying a laminated newspaper article. His tells the story of a fire that destroyed the fencing around his new buffalo herd and how Ian Massingham (a septic tank salesman) and wife Kim spent days rounding up the animals. They’ve tried to source semen from Bulgaria, but the language barriers were preventative. Nevertheless they have bred and increased the herd.

As excited as me, talking rapidly and straining Ian’s capacity to have two conversations at once while dispensing tastes of his cheese, an Asian restaurateur is trying to organize enough supply to include the mozzarella in one of his salads. The cheesemaker is firm “I just can’t do that right now. We only have 24 buffalo.” And one of them is a bull.

The article explains that the couple are still working full time. I mention my friends Michael and Cressida McNamara selling their Pecora Dairy sheepsmilk cheese a few stalls down at the market. “She’s quit her job but he’s still working.” I remember that Cressida gets up at 4am to sell at one of the other markets and wonder how many slices of cheese do you have to sell standing in the rain so that one of you can quit your job? I'm pretty sure they're not doing this because they think it's going to be lucrative.

The new buffalo cheese company doesn’t have an urbane name like Pecora Dairy. They’re calling themselves AusBuff Stuff. The article explains that the couple went on a vacation to Italy, fell in love with cheese, and came back and bought a herd of buffalo. The same story as Richard and Helen Dorresteyn the owners of Clevedon Valley Buffalo Mozzarella. He was an electrician. Now with 200 buffalo they are one of the brightest lights in the fledgling New Zealand artisanal cheese scene.

Later, I go see Michael, intending to take home both sheep and buffalo mozzarella. He whispers to me. “I only brought my blue cheese today, no mozzarella, because I want the new buffalo guy to be successful.”

What kind of economist are you?

This is story is about falling in love with food. It’s about working for something because it’s beautiful, and hoping the money will be enough to keep doing it - a story that I keep running into while distractedly turning a corner. Mike Davis has written about the odd return of wildness to sterile urban ecosystems. (Ecology of Fear, 1999) This story is about the wild return of a romance with sensuality and craft in a world of information overload, where nothing seems to matter for very long, and everything can be had for $.99 from the iTunes store. It’s about a search for meaning in the money, connection in the contract.

Chad Robertson, award-winning artisan baker at Tartine in San Francisco, is a celebrity. He makes 175 loaves of bread a day, and sells out in 45 minutes. Do the math. In an interview with Bon Appétit he explains: “I wanted to do something with my hands.”