Wüsthof 7-inch Nakiri Classic Review

Wüsthof produces its knives out of Solingen, Germany. Since 1814 this family owned and managed company has produced high quality tools known universally around the world.

Each product is made to last and is backed by a lifetime warranty. Currently I do not have a ultility knife in my kit, but this knife fills that role nicely. It is extremely versatile with the ability to take on almost any task. This is a great tool for the amatuer home cook or seasoned chef!

Weight: 7.6 ounces; this light knife boasts some fantastic heft, cleaving through tougher vegetables with ease. The weight of the knife is balanced more towards the handle offering an extremely light tool, especially if the user chokes up on the handle.

Design and Appearance: 58 HRC, high carbon stainless steel, Precision Edge Technology – the blade is 20% sharper with twice the edge retention – Polyoxymethylene handle, a synthetic material with a tighter molecular structure to resist fading; standard European handle design offering a fully comfortable grip. Full tang construction with no bolster to allow sharpening of the entire cutting surface. The hollow edge creates air pockets, reducing drag and friction while helping to loosen food from the blade.

Use and Application: It has no issue breaking down tough skin vegetables like winter squash. It makes quick work of any lighter vegetable too. The 7-inch blade offers slightly more control than an 8-inch knife which makes this knife perfect for mincing onions, slicing vegetables and other medium sized tasks. The softer steel does make for frequent sharpenings under heavy use, but overall the blade holds a nice edge and can be sharpened to a razor edge.

Price: Ranges from $109.72 (amazon) up to $139.00 at various sites (William-Sonoma, Sur la Table) MSRP is $177.00

Rating ***

What the stars represent: ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

Cooked: Synopsis and Review

Pollan starts at the Skylight Inn in North Carolina with hopes to discover the primal roots of cooking: fire. He meets Sam Jones the owner of the establishment who introduces him to James Henry Howell, the pit master.

maxresdefault

Synopsis

Howell is responsible for maintaining the fires, cooking the hogs, processing the meat and seasoning for service. Pollan learns during his visit that the Skylight Inn is one of the only placed practicing whole hog BBQ in the traditional manner due to being grandfathered in against the current health codes. After seeing the process of whole hog roasting he samples a platter and a sandwich, both composed of a mix of back, belly, shoulder and leg meat.

But, it became quickly evident that he wasn’t going to be able to learn much from the Skylight Inn, most of the work was done autonomously by the pit master. Pollan did managed to connect with Ed Mitchell, a pit master in Raleigh. Mitchell agreed to take him on and informed him about an upcoming event. Pollan got just a taste of whole hog cooking, this was done off premises for a shareholder event and he worked the first part of the day with Aubrey, Mitchell’s brother. This involved breaking down the meat, saving the skin, seasoning the mix, adding appropriate cuts and spices when needed, and finally crisping the skin for a final garnish. When the dinner seating arrived, Aubrey clocked out and Pollan worked the final shift successfully alone. The next appearance he makes is in Manhattan at the Big Apple BBQ block party. Mitchell divided the process, identical to the one on Pollan’s debut. He manned a chopping block and worked furiously to keep up. They started at 11am and by 1pm they were sold out. The total amount of product moved was 8 hogs worth of meat, netting 2000 sandwiches.

Pollan then endeavors to make his own BBQ. He orders a front leg of pork and a cord of wood. Then, he spends his day “cooking” wood into coals and butchering, with the help of a chef, the leg for easier cooking. Pollan discusses the technique, control and compromise in quest to produce authentic BBQ; his result is fantastic.

Pollan transitions to the kitchen, moving away from water to its opposite, water. After a brief explanation about the inner workings of an onion, he continues describing the steps of braising. Something he boils down to “cooking with water”. This process is divided into seven sections starting with the dicing of onions. Then he sweats them, while providing pertinent information on the chemical reactions taking place. The third step is browning the meat. With the help of his friend and instructor, a chef from Chez Panisse, Pollan sears various meats, and much like the aromatics, explains the reactions behind this complex step. Moving forward, he dissects the history of and the nature of the stew pot. Going back thousands of years, Pollan documents the traditions and rituals behind the pot. An interesting discovery that he notes is how the invention of the cooking pot was just as much a boon to civilization as it was to agriculture. By softening foods and rendering them more nutritious the cook pot acted as an external mouth and stomach for children, the elderly and all in between.

The next step, pouring braising liquid over the previous items, is as complex as the liquids themselves. He describes many different braising mediums and concludes that many of them return on one central taste sensation: umami. He describes its characteristics and various extraction methods, touching on stocks, dashi and even milk. The following step is to simmer the ingredients “for a long time”. During this lengthy step Pollan delves into the concept of time and cooking. He describes the reaction in a cook pot; braising for many hours allows the breakdown of collagen and proteins for a more tender and nutritious product. He also discusses the decrease of time spent preparing home cooked meals and the act of eating; both figures on a steep decline since the late 60’s. The seventh and final step is to skim the fat, reduce the sauce and serve. Pollan uses the simplicity of this step to test a theory. With his family he purchases and cooks two family meals. One made by him, the other in the microwave. His goal is to determine which method offers more saved time. His results are conclusive as he demonstrates the difference between the two meals. (This alone is worth reading Cooked!)

Pollan’s next adventure is cooking with the element of air. He beings this quest – a search for the perfect loaf of bread – by researching sourdough. Along his journey he discovers the book Tartine Bread, which gives a 27-page recipe for the bakery’s signature loaf. He dives into the world of bacteria and fungi and begins exploring the unique relationship between the two. He begins by attempting a loaf by himself. He creates his starter and after about a week produces a leaven, or sponge. He then tests his sponge to see if it gathered enough air by dumping it into a bowl of water. The objective is that it floats, and it does. He then adds his other ingredients and sets the dough to bulk ferment. This is where the gluten develops and the cultures in the dough begin to break down the proteins of the flour. After several hours he shapes his loafs and allows them to go through a final proof. His first attempt is mediocre and he is determined to make a perfect loaf. He enlists the help of the baker of Tartine Bakery to get some tips. Pollan meets with the owner and learns a few tricks about bread making. His second attempt is much better, although by his standards it’s still far from his desired result.

He begins to look farther into bread making and begins to research baking with whole grains. He begins to discover that there are many more specificities that are involved in baking with whole grains. In his research he meets with a few bakers who live by whole grain baking. He begins to learn about some of the science behind bread as well as a few different tactics to make his process easier. He tries for a final loaf and is fairly impressed with the product – this time using whole grains rather than white flour.

Pollan’s next and final chapter concludes by cooking with Earth; more specifically the art of fermentation. His journey commences with a lesson and demonstration by Sandor Katz, a master fermento who advocates the use and consumption of live culture products. Pollan begins this exploration of fermented foods with a pickling recipe. He practices two types of pickling vegetables; those of the leafy variety like cabbage and those not, such as cucumbers and radishes. His first few attempts have mixed results and Pollan decides to visit a fermentation festival to learn more. During this festival he samples many products but also begins to learn about the health benefit of these foods. Pollan discovers that “9/10 every cells in our bodies belong not to us, but to…microbial species (most of them residents of our gut), and that 99 percent of the DNA we’re carrying around belongs to those microbes.” Another interesting fact he learns is, “Exquisitely reactive and fungible, bacteria can swap genes and pieces of DNA among themselves, picking them up and dropping them almost as if they were tools. This capability is especially handy when a new toxin or food source appears in the environment. The microbiota can swiftly find precisely the right gene needed to fight it – or eat it.”

Pollan proceeds on to cheese making. He takes an internship at an abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut. With the help of a nun her learns the process of making a traditional French cheese. It starts with placing the milk in a wooden barrel with rennet where it coagulates for a few hours. Once solid, the curd is cut and herded into a solid mass. Then it is removed from the barrel and placed in cheese presses overnight to expel the remaining whey. Afterwards, it will be placed in a cave to cure for two months.

During his cheese education, Pollan learns a shocking revelation about live culture and raw dairy foods: “Sister Noella regarded her wooden barrel and paddle not merely as quaint antiques, but essential elements of the traditional cheese making process. The fact that the wood harbored bacteria was actually a good thing. She preferred to think of them not as contaminants but ‘more like a sourdough culture.’ So, Sister Noella designed an experiment for the benefits of the health inspector. From the same raw milk, she made two batches of cheese, one in the wooden barrel and the other in a stainless-steel cat. She deliberately inoculated both batches with E. coli. What happened next was, at least to a Pasteurian, utterly baffling: The cheese that had been started in the sterile vat had high levels of E. coli and the cheese made in the wooden barrel had next to none. Just as [she] had expected, the ‘good bacteria’ living in the barrel…had outcompeted the E. coli, creating an environment in which it couldn’t survive.”

Pollan moves onto the last form of fermentation: creation of alcohol. Alcohol is the oldest and most widely consumed fermentation. It is all responsible because of saccharomyces cerevisiae. Many species enjoy this fermentation ranging from elephants to monkeys. It is believed that the scent of alcohol was indicative of fermentation, which meant that food was at it highest level of nutrition. Pollan makes a first attempt at producing alcohol with mead. He dilutes honey in a water solution one parts to four parts and then lets it sit out for a few days, stirring it occasionally to gather natural yeasts. Once it began to bubble he transferred it to a carboy, essentially a sealed vented container. It results in a tasty, low proof beverage. His next attempt is beer; he purchases a kit from a local brewery and begins by boiling water. Then he adds malt extract and magnum hops, a bittering agent. The next step involves crushing some grains, tying them in a sachet – like a teabag – and steeping them in the liquid. After half an hour he adds some hops, allows the mixture to sit and then in another hour removes this mixture from the heat and adds more hops of a different variety. Once cool, it is strained, and the yeast is added, it is placed in a carboy. He lets it ferment for two weeks and then bottles it with a small amount of sugar to promote a final round of fermentation that produces the carbonation. His first attempt is deemed “pretty good”; both his son and him had a few critiques, but overall, they were satisfied. Pollan desires to make beer from scratch rather than a kit. He makes a connection with a friend who does home brewing and begins to learn the process. It is lengthier and more complex; it begins with soaking crushed malt in hot water. This breaks down the grains carbohydrates into sugars. That liquid – called wort – is then drained and the grains are sparged – washed a second time to remove extra flavor. The wort is then rapidly cooled to prevent any contamination. Then the wort is poured into carboys and pitched with yeast. The bottles are sealed and let ferment. One of Pollan’s bottles explodes during his fermentation process. The surviving batch is bottled in the same manner as before and when Pollan samples it he claims it ” as somewhat of a disappointment”.

Review

Pollan elegantly expresses “a natural history of transformation” with outstanding detail. Cooked offers the reader elemental knowledge about the transformative effects of cooking but also the transformation of those practices since their creation and discovery. He cleverly reduces several common methods into an elemental state and thoroughly explains the deeper meaning behind each. As always, Pollan applies firsthand knowledge and experiences pared with superbly extensive research to create a masterpiece. He has expertly crafted a narrative by detailing each step of his process while simultaneously weaving in fibers of pertinent information. He questions our changing eating – and cooking – habits, beginning to identify some of the causes and the shocking underlying effects. Pollan also makes fantastic observations about what really happens during cooking. With absolute brilliance and comprehension, he creates a piece of literature that does great justice to something so crucial to our everyday life.

To all who eat: Michael Pollan’s Cooked is a must read. A composition of skillful writing, exciting experiences and relevant information to the world of food and its eaters; I highly recommend Cooked with tremendous respect.

Final Remarks:

Cooked offers valuable information to the trained chef, seasoned cook and even the humble home cook. The information is clear and concise providing details about each reaction as well as the outcome. It simplicity outlines the complex steps of classic cooking methods and provides key connections between the how and why. Pollan has infused me with a new spirit of excitement for trying new recipes and techniques while also providing me with more foundational knowledge – historical and technical – for my career.

Miyabi 9.5” Chef Knife, Artisan Series Review

Many years ago I purchased a tool that really has become an heirloom in my kit. Brilliant in appearance and effective in design, this is my go to chef knife!

A subsidiary of Zwilling, Miyabi offers a variety Japanese style knives hand honed in Japan. The Miyabi line takes the classic German techniques and pairs them with the finest craftsmanship of sword and knife producers in Seki, Japan.

Weight: 9.6 ounces; this chef knife is well balanced between the handle and blade. The thin blade helps manage the overall weight and the result is a moderate to light chef knife. Consumers who desire a light knife will be pleased.

Design and Appearance: 63 HRC, SG2 Powder steel, clad with layers of nickel and stainless steel, pakka rosewood, tsuchime finish; full tang construction. The handle is solid construction with an attractive steel end cap and brass pins built into the handle. The handle is crafted in a D shape to allow a fantastic feel in the user’s hand. It has no bolster allowing for easy sharpening of the entire blade. The blade fades perfectly into the handle providing a natural point for a no-slip grip.

Use and Application: The blade glides effortlessly through any soft object. It’s light design and proper balance prevents hand fatigue but still offers a strong knife for mincing, chopping and slicing. This knife is not meant to be used on bone or hard objects, the hardness of the steel makes it susceptible to chips and nicks if used improperly. The long blade can be a bit cumbersome at times. It is great for large tasks but lacks control for smaller jobs. It is fantastic for processing large vegetables but struggles with shallots and garlic. (I use mine for these though and don’t have issues, practice teaches control.)

Price: $290, although it is almost exclusively sold at 229.99, my guess is a marketing tactic. (It is the reason I purchased this knife.)

Rating: ***

What the stars represent: ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

Armory Review

As I opened the door into the quaint dining area I was overcome by a plethora of aromas dominated by a strong smoke. This was going to be amazing. The menu was posted on the classic 90’s display board, little white magnetized letters that latched onto a black backdrop. Four tight columns divided into different categories detailed nearly 10 items each. The kitchen, located right underneath this board, was open and displayed a large flattop, a few fryers, a small range and a massive smoker. The healthy chef was casually completing his orders using nearly all the equipment.

I approached the register and placed my order: Water Street tacos – which I was informed were being sold a la carte in honor of ‘taco Tuesday’ – one chicken, one brisket and one pork, a rib platter, where I doubled down on the meat for only six extra dollars, served with cornbread, and my two sides of mac and cheese and smoked baked beans. I took my seat at the only two seat table I could find and began to peruse their menu further. As I picked up a menu wedged between a napkin holder, I was exposed to FIVE separate bottles of barbeque sauces. I took my time reading their descriptions and before I could finish the cashier brought over my appetizer. Three loaded flour tortillas stuffed with my meats of choice and topped with cole slaw and cilantro and green onion. Okay, probably the most sacrilegious tacos I have ever eaten but easily some of the finest. The chicken was cooked perfectly, effortless tearing with each bite I took. It was spiced with a mix of spices that had a nice kick and resembled a blackening spice. The cole slaw cut the chicken with a nice burst of acid finished with a rich sweet sauce. The brisket and pork offered nearly the same level of enjoyment.

Again, quicker than I was ready for, the cashier brought my rib platter. Piled high a dozen ribs, a massive portion of mac and cheese and healthy cup of baked beans. The smoky aroma of the ribs was enchanting. I wanted to taste the sides first, as I dove into the mac and cheese I noticed it could have been hotter. The macaroni also had lost of some of its texture and I presume both factors were because it was pulled, ready-made, out of a steam table. The flavor did amend these issues though, a rich creamy sauce with a sharp cheesy bite coated each noodle in a velvety layer of mornay. The beans, contrary to the mac, were nearly boiling and I was appreciative. Each bean, also coated liberally in a smoky sweet sauce, was incredibly tender and almost creamy in texture. I took a quick bite out of my cornbread which I only need to describe by detailing what my notes of the meal said: Holy shit, moist. I now turned my attention to the ribs.

I wanted to experience that ethereal rub that was assaulting my nostrils, so I ate one dry. As I took my bite the entirety of its meat fell right of the bone. My palate was blasted with a hard smoke, and a complex mixture of spices I can’t even fathom. As I finished the tasty morsel I was teased by a slight kick of heat, something I came to enjoy each and every bite. The first sauce, Kansas City Barbeque, was subtitled simply as sweet. I caught tones of molasses – which could have been accurate, although I think I was tasting the molasses in brown sugar – a pleasant mixture of onion and garlic, a very slight hint of acid and tomato. (One of my biggest peeves about barbeque sauce is when it is crafted with ketchup – essentially high fructose corn syrup and tomato concentrate – but I asked the chef about this sauce and told it wasn’t I was thrilled.) Next up was a tangy Memphis style sauce. It was, as expected, a vinegar-based sauce. The level of acid was high, but it was appropriately balanced with a sweetener, the lack of that rich molasses taste leads me to believe they used honey, although white sugar is also an option. I followed this with a smattering of Georgia Peach barbeque sauce. This lightly sweetened sauce, exploding with peach flavor paired excellently with complex rub on the ribs and helped mellow out that slight burst of heat at the end. My next sauce I was somewhat apprehensive about. Labeled only as chipotle barbeque I was expecting some bastardization – although the tacos should have given me

some insight – of a chipotle sauce. The heat was gradual, slowly enveloping my palate as I gobbled down my rib. It’s complexity of flavors and sensations left my head spinning as I was greeted with heat and sweet playing off the undertones of the rub. I had just found my favorite sauce. My last was Carolina Mustard sauce which had me intrigued from the start; it was the only bottle on the table that had an intense golden color. At first bite I was greeted with the familiar flavor of mustard, a gentle biting bitterness that slowly developed into a colorful burst of tanginess and sweetness that ended on almost floral notes. This was easily the most complex sauce on the table. My preference though was still towards the Chipolte and so I doused my remaining ribs in a health portion of it with a few drops of Kansas Barbeque in between.

Touted as one of the top 10 barbecue joints in Iowa, the Armory makes good on this promise. The intoxicating aroma as you open the door should be enough, but for those who are still not convinced the diverse menu offers items from brisket to pulled pork and all matters in between. The tables are clean, and the service is quick. Both impressive feats considering I saw over 30 people in the establishment during the hour I enjoyed my meal. Authentic main dishes, innovative appetizers, solid sides and a playful collection of sauces will leave any barbecue fan satisfied and satiated. If you are breezing through the little town of Decorah I highly recommend spending some time in one of the top 10 barbecue restaurants in the state: a true taste of mid-western barbeque.

Old Armory BBQ
***
Address: 421 W Water St,

Decorah,

IA 52101

(563) 382-6208
Website: www.oldarmorybbq.com

Atmosphere: A quaint barbecue joint in the heart of Decorah. Service is quick and employees are friendly.

Sound Level: moderately loud

Recommended Choices: Water St tacos are a must and one of the meat platters.

Drink’s, Wine and Cocktails: Only fountain drinks and water.

Price $ (Inexpensive)

Open: Monday to Thursday from 11a-8p; Friday and Saturday 11a-9p; Sunday 11a-3p

Reservations: No

What the stars represent: ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

Omnivore’s Dilemma: Excerpt Synopsis and Review

Synopsis

The modern supermarket offers such a maze of maize. All cleverly disguised behind ‘All natural’ and lines upon lines of literature composed to draw the attention of consumers. But, to many, the supermarket offers “outstanding biodiversity”. Hundreds of species gathered together in a beautiful union to create a bounty no biome could even hope to produce. Unlimited choices are quite the dilemma. But upon closer inspection these choices dwindle, because between the “canyons of breakfast cereals and condiments” and unfortunately the meat, the ingredients start to look the same. This vast array of sections: beef, pork, chicken, fish, the entirety of all processed foods the boxes that so cleverly market these items, the pesticides used to protect them, the “linoleum an fiberglass” providing their home and of course the fuel used to transports these goods thousands of miles to you, can all be factored down into one common denominator, corn. To those appalled, here is the shocking answer to the one central question. Why?  Click here to find out!

 

Review

Pollan has masterfully created a piece for the ages. Carefully constructed through not just his own experiences but also the flora and fauna shared with him. With blinding, and possibly revolting, comprehension, he eviscerates the industrial food system. Carefully tackling issues and making sacrifices that will leave readers incredulous and inquisitive about the very food system they knowingly or unknowingly participate in. From CAFOs to corn fields he endeavors to call to attention some of the leading cause of health issues plaguing America, increasing devastation to the planet for the short term gain of profits as well as the clever marketing ploys that hide what’s truly in your favorite breakfast cereal or organic TV dinner. With absolutely no reservations, Pollan thoroughly investigates the industrial organic industry. At every turn, providing facts and information that allow the reader to make criticisms and ask questions about an industry regarded as healthy and sustainable. Pollan has done his research getting down and dirty with manure-caked boots, hazmat suits, and crushing physical labor to demonstrate not just an interest in his subjects but also the passion and dedication for creating a truly, authentic narrative. Emotionally aware and chillingly honest, he composes astounding vignettes, laced with shocking facts, blunt criticisms, creative insight and devastating conclusions about himself and his experiences.

To the chef, the consumer, the eater, or the young adult just beginning a journey in this world, one that is so unavoidably connected with food: I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, with paramount praise and extreme admiration.

Final remarks

Pollan has changed how I think and operate as a chef and made my question myself as an individual. For that, I would like to extend my undying gratitude. My only regret in reading Omnivore’s Dillema, is that I haven’t done it sooner.

Omnivore’s Dilemma: Full Synopsis and Review

Synopsis

The modern supermarket offers such a maze of maize. All cleverly disguised behind ‘All natural’ and lines upon lines of literature composed to draw the attention of consumers. But, to many, the supermarket offers “outstanding biodiversity”. Hundreds of species gathered together in a beautiful union to create a bounty no biome could even hope to produce. Unlimited choices are quite the dilemma. But upon closer inspection these choices dwindle, because between the “canyons of breakfast cereals and condiments” and unfortunately the meat, the ingredients start to look the same. This vast array of sections: beef, pork, chicken, fish, the entirety of all processed foods the boxes that so cleverly market these items, the pesticides used to protect them, the “linoleum an fiberglass” providing their home and of course the fuel used to transports these goods thousands of miles to you, can all be factored down into one common denominator, corn. To those appalled, here is the shocking answer to the one central question. Why?

During the settlement of America, corn offered such a versatile product while also providing tremendous efficiency of food production. It was capable of adaption to a myriad of climates and conditions, offered “high genetic variability” and could be stored indefinitely. Among the indigenous populations and then later settlers, its applications included providing a ready to eat food, acting as a source of flour, and even alcohol. The other plant matter could be repurposed into “rugs and twine”, “silage for livestock”, as a heat source and – to much discomfort – toilet paper. This versatility propelled corn into the center of developing America which ensured the plants survival.

Pollan’s journey tracing the flow of corn begins in Iowa. On a small farm owned by George Naylor, in Greene County, he begins this voyage by sitting in a roaring tractor helping Naylor plant, in less than a day, what would eventually equate to, 1.8 million pounds of corn. It is no surprise that the ‘rural’ state of Iowa is more developed than many cities with only “two percent of the state’s land” remaining as it originally was, grass prairies. All of this was made possible by post WWII industries as factories switched from bomb production to fertilizer. The excess of ammonium nitrate was cleverly converted into “an excellent source of nitrogen for plants”. With the help of the Department of Agriculture, the idea of using as fertilizer took root. What had once been an industry of chemical agents and explosives, now was shifted into an industry of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As Vandan Shyva so accurately states, “We’re still eating the leftovers of World War Two.”

With this change, an industry that was almost exclusively ‘solar powered’ now relied so heavily on fossil fuel for all aspects of production that “every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between one quarter to one third of a gallon of oil to grow it”. Simplified: 50 gallons per acre of corn. Even further discouraging “more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy” was required “to produce 1 calorie of food”. Before chemical fertilizers farms, like Naylor’s, managed to produce caloric energy at a rate of 2:1, that is food produced to – alternative – energy sources invested. Why chose to go to a less energy efficient system? Ultimately, it is cheaper in dollars to produce corn with synthetic fertilizer. Traditional methods were slower and provided less yield; lower energy input yielded less profit.

Due to the desire for higher yields which ultimately equates to more profit, farmers use “yield insurance”, in the form of laying, in Naylor’s case, 80 percent more fertilizer than required. That excess evaporates into the air where it “acidifies rain” and contributes to climate change. Some finds it way into the water table where it converts into nitrite, which “compromises the bloods ability to carry oxygen to the brain, when consumed. The rest runs off through drainage ditches, the into rivers which flow into the Gulf of Mexico. This stimulates “the wild growth of algae”, and as a result smothers the fish. This is cause of the hypoxic or dead zone that is now the size of the state of New Jersey. These practices can be traced back to the end of the New Deal Era.  With the fall of Russia in 1972, Earl Butz, Nixon’s second secretary of agriculture, helped arrange a sale of 30 million pounds of American grain. The goal was to boost crop prices, and it did, A combination of rapid demand aired with poor growing conditions that year “drove grain prices to historic heights”. Butz was then in charge of fixing this issue. It began with pushing farms to increase yield; he called upon farmers to recognize themselves as agribusinessmen. This was all because he believed that larger farms were more productive. Simultaneously, through passing the 1973 Farm Bill, he dismantled the New Deal programs such as the price supports.  Rather than supporting farmers through “loans and government grain purchases” he moved to a “system of direct payments to farmers”. This shift in farm policy dropped the, previously steady, market price of corn. Farmers could now sell corn at any price and the government would make up some of the difference. During all this, to “make American grain more competitive in world markets” nearly every farm bill lowered the target price of corn It was only several years later that ADM and Cargill – “the largest privately-owned company in the world” – began to shape these policies further. This shift of direct support to farmers through government programs to indirect support through subsidies marked, what Naylor calls, “the plague of cheap corn”.

In late 2005, Iowa State University estimates it costs a farmer $2.50 to grow a bushel of corn, while market prices were sitting around $1.45 a bushel. Yes, you read that right. Farmers now, unlike previously, have on option when the market prices fall: produce and sell even more corn. ‘Cheap’ corn has many hidden reasons why it is priced so low. On top of bankrupting farmers, continuously dropping the market price – creating an unsustainable down-spiraling market – it also costs the Federal Treasury $5 billion a year in corn subsidies. This “plague” has seemed inevitable. Return to 1856, the Chicago Board of trade created a new grading system for corn. Number 2 corn, not the corn that many are accustomed to enjoying, was guaranteed as being “as good as any other number 2 corn”. Instead of farmers striving to produce the best product they could, they began to recognize the only critical criteria: yield. Now, when Naylor brings his crop of number 2 corn to sell, it is quickly weighed and graded. Shortly after he is written a check, by in his case, the Iowa Farmers’ Cooperative. Surprisingly this only accounts for a fraction of his income, Pollan notes that over half of “the income of the average Iowa corn farmer ” is from government subsidies. A bill that represents nearly a quarter of the “$19 billion that U.S. taxpayers spend each year on payments to farms”. One primary reason, since 1970, the supply of corn has increased from 4 billion bushels produced annually to, now, 10 billion. And where does all this corn go? Pollan responds bluntly “What’s involved in absorbing all this excess biomass goes a long way toward explaining several seemingly unconnected phenomena, from the rise of factory farms and the industrialization of our food, to the epidemic of obesity and prevalence of food poisoning in America.” Pollan’s intent by joining Naylor on his farm was to track the flow of, specifically his corn through industrial food system. But shortly after he soon realized that this task was nearly impossible.

Pollan now transitions to Poky Feeders, a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO in Kansas. His goal is to observe how his cattle, now named steer #534 participates in the industrial food system. As the name implies, CAFOs seek to do one thing: feed its occupants, in this case cows, quickly to produce meat. These operations have created a world where anyone can consume these products as frequently as desired. It has managed to do this with many techniques, but most crucial to the operation is the ability to convert corn, among other supplements, into raw protein. But before understanding the functionality of a CAFO, it is imperative to understand that cows aren’t naturally consumers of corn. Pollan notes, “The coevolutionary relationship between cows and grass is one of nature’s unappreciated wonders; it also happens to be the key to understanding just about everything about modern meat.” In a natural cycle the cow and grass form a symbiotic relationship. As the cow grazes it “expands [grass’] habitats” by preventing the growth of other flora that would steal resources, specifically sunlight. In return the grass provides the cow with a “high-quality protein”, possible because of the rumen. This organ houses a plethora of bacteria that enable the cow to break down grass. Pollan tactfully asks “Why isn’t it that steer # 534 hasn’t tasted a blade of grass?” And then answers, “speed”. One indication of this trend Pollan remarks is how cows have gone from a slaughter age of four to five years, to three to four, in the fifties, and now in 14 to 16 months. And aptly jests, “Fast food, indeed”. In just that short period of time, modern practices can turn an 80-pound calf into an 1100 pound mass of beef. This is all possible because of corn. Incentives for heavily marbled meat, set forth by standards of the USDA, and the nature of corn’s calorically dense composition have created a fantastic outlet for the 10 billion bushel “mountain of corn”.

It is important to note that using all this cheap corn comes at a cost, especially since producers aren’t incurring it. One common ailment that afflicts cows – and other ruminants – is bloat. It is caused by an increase in gas production from the fermenting grain. Additionally, this high corn diet can cause acidosis. A cow’s rumen is normally neutral, but its high corn consumption causes it to acidify, this causes the cow, what human’s recognize as, heartburn. If left untreated this causes the cow to “scratch their bellies” and “eat dirt” which can worsen into “diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, ruminitis, liver disease and general weakening of the immunes system.” This can leave the animal susceptible to a myriad of feedlot diseases. The prevention of these symptoms is combated through Rumensin and Tylosin. The former helps “buffer acidity” and the latter “lowers the incidence of liver infection”. This practice has now been widely accepted as the direct “evolution of new antibiotic-resistant superbugs”. These practices ultimately leads to a terribly inefficient product that requires eight pounds of food to produce one pound of “gain”, which includes “muscle, fat and bone”. They also have aided in the proliferation of E. coli, something unseen before 1980, now occupying the gut of 40 percent of feedlot cattle.

As for the other two kernels, from five, that don’t make it to factory farms, they end up finding their way into our food system. Consumers are responsible for “consuming a ton of the stuff every year” through indirect consumption all made possible by processed foods. This consumption has created quite the epidemic. With three in every five adults, one in five obese and a rise of type two diabetes, the American health care system incurs annual costs of $90 billion. “Since 1977 an American’s average intake of calories is 10 percent higher.” Some of this caloric intake is due to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), but that isn’t the sole contributor. Since 1985 consumption of HFCS has increased from 45 to 65 pounds. Simultaneously the average American’s sugar consumption has risen five pounds. This is partially a result of the price of sugar consistently falling in the over the same period.

Pollan concludes his journey of following corn through the industrial food system at the most appropriate venue: McDonalds. During which, he examined a chicken nugget to discover thirteen of its more than 30 ingredients, were “derived from corn”. He then provides a detailed breakdown of his family’s meal. Some of these include a milkshake and salad dressing, composed of 78% and 65% corn, respectively.

Pollan presses on with his quest of the omnivores dilemma, now back in the supermarket. His arrival has been sparked by his curiosity in the industrial organic system, an $11 billion industry and “the fastest growing sector of the food economy”. Now researching an entirely different food system, Pollan finds himself surrounded by “wordy labels point of purchase brochures and certification schemes”, housed in Whole Foods. Perusing the isles, he selects an organic chicken, an assortment of vegetables and greens, and several other items. Just like the corn, and his steer #534, he traces these items, among others, back to their roots.

He begins with Rosie, the organic chicken, who was marketed as “sustainably farmed” and “free range chicken”. Pollan’s account of the farm is that “the chicken houses don’t resemble a farm so much as military barracks.” To further understand this step in the process he wanted to see what goes into a “sustainably farmed” chicken. Admittance into one of these chicken houses required, what Pollan describes as a, “hooded white hazmat suit” to be worn. The birds aren’t allowed any antibiotics to remain organic. Paired with their proximity to each other they are extremely susceptible to disease. Upon entrance he notes “20 thousand birds move away as one” and “the air was warm and humid and smelled powerfully of ammonia.” At the end of this football field stretch of chickens is a small door leading outside. “Access to the outdoors” is what allows Rosie to be considered free range. But while the birds are given this choice, they seldom exercise it. Standard procedure at Petaluma Poultry is to keep this door shut for the first five weeks of the birds’ life. By the end they are so “settled in their habits” that it makes no sense to them to leave the warmth, protect and food provided by their home.

Pollan treks on to visit Greenways Organic. He notes how, between the conventional farm – located adjacently – and the organic farm that “the fields were virtually indistinguishable”. Industrial organic must combat the same issues as conventional farms but with much greater limitations. Rather than petro-fertilizers, Greenways sources local horse manure as their input for nitrogen. To combat weeds most organic farms practice a series of tilling cycles. A combination of irrigation and tractor tilling helps manage the weeds. Once the crops are to large to allow tractors to continue, farm hands go around with butane torches and blaze all unwanted new growth. This “heavy tillage – heavier than in a conventional field – destroys the tilth of the soil and reduces biological activity as surely as chemicals would.” Pollan deems this “a compromise at best”. Pollan continues to challenge the organic industry as he investigates Earthbound Farm. As he follows the processing of the largest producer of organic greens, he explains that “sorting, mixing washing, drying and packaging” continuously occur at 36 degrees. An estimate from a Cornell scientist determines that it takes 57 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food. Companies like Earthbound do try to consume less energy and offset their fossil fuel consumption by planting trees. Through their farming practices they have reduced their fossil fuel reliance by four percent compared to the conventional farm.

Pollan concludes his journey through the industrial organic food system with a meal crafted from only ingredients that were produced from that same system; Rosie the chicken, Earthbound Farm salad greens and several other items. While the meal is fantastic, the questions that Pollan asks are even more so: Is organic food better, but specifically “Better for what?”

Pollan then transitions to Polyface Farm, a place he regards as standing “so far away from industrialized agriculture” as possible, “without leaving the planet”. The farm is owned and operated by Joel Salatin. Salatin regards himself as a grass farmer even though Polyface produces “25,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of pork, 12,000 broilers, 800 turkeys, 500 rabbits and 30,000 dozen eggs”, annually on only one hundred acres of pasture. Salatin’s operates his farm by allowing his cows to graze freely during the warmer months. As they finish their meal from the pasture they are herded and relocated to another area to prevent overgrazing. As the cow sheers the leaves of the grass the plant desires to maintain balance. Its roots die back providing the soil with direct nutrition and indirect fertility by providing other microorganisms with food. By moving his cattle on a precise schedule, Salatin can eliminate the problem of overgrazing which, if left unchecked, can transform a lush grassland into a desert. Several days after the cows have vacated, Polyface’s “sanitation crew”, Salatin’s hens, are given access to the pasture. They pick the fly larvae out of the cow manure helping to manage diseases and pests and also spread the manure around. This exchange gives the chickens free protein that is wasted in conventional systems. This combination of diet and grasses drastically increases the quality of their eggs. Use of these practices eliminate the need for “antibiotics, wormers, pesticides and fertilizers”. Pollan later gather ingredients from the farm and creates a meal entirely out of – mostly – local products.

Pollan finishes this saga by striving to create, what he calls, the perfect meal. Now moving to the least connected portion of the food industry he heads to the forest. He begins by spending several days in the woods where he spent time tracking and hunting wild California boar. His guide, Angelo, an old world Italian, helps him along by training him what to look for as well as the techniques of hunting. Pollan create a surreal narrative of this experience and touches about the ethics of eating meat. He last spends time with Angelo, as well as a cast of other characters, hunting for chanterelles and morels across many forests of California. His adventures all take him to some unsavory conditions where he braves treacherous waters in the quest for abalone and salt. His meal combines all these ingredients, as well as some others foraged from his neighborhood and from the freezers of his friends and acquaintances.

Pollan spends his final chapters planning and creating his perfect meal, which he describes in great detail. His meal is taken from the land with one of the smallest carbon footprints he could manage. And while he spent a large majority of his time in the forest, he also spends nearly as much time pondering some of the larger issues that ultimately culminate in identifying the omnivores dilemma.

Review

Pollan has masterfully created a piece for the ages. Carefully constructed through not just his own experiences but also the flora and fauna shared with him. With blinding, and possibly revolting, comprehension, he eviscerates the industrial food system. Carefully tackling issues and making sacrifices that will leave readers incredulous and inquisitive about the very food system they knowingly or unknowingly participate in. From CAFOs to corn fields he endeavors to call to attention some of the leading cause of health issues plaguing America, increasing devastation to the planet for the short term gain of profits as well as the clever marketing ploys that hide what’s truly in your favorite breakfast cereal or organic TV dinner. With absolutely no reservations, Pollan thoroughly investigates the industrial organic industry. At every turn, providing facts and information that allow the reader to make criticisms and ask questions about an industry regarded as healthy and sustainable. Pollan has done his research getting down and dirty with manure-caked boots, hazmat suits, and crushing physical labor to demonstrate not just an interest in his subjects but also the passion and dedication for creating a truly, authentic narrative. Emotionally aware and chillingly honest, he composes astounding vignettes, laced with shocking facts, blunt criticisms, creative insight and devastating conclusions about himself and his experiences.

To the chef, the consumer, the eater, or the young adult just beginning a journey in this world, one that is so unavoidably connected with food: I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, with paramount praise and extreme admiration.

Final remarks

Pollan has changed how I think and operate as a chef and made my question myself as an individual. For that, I would like to extend my undying gratitude. My only regret in reading Omnivore’s Dillema, is that I haven’t done it sooner.

La Florentina Review

The meal commenced with a glass of prosecco blanco and house ricotta cheese served with toasted sourdough.  The cheese was carefully garnished with salt, fresh cracked black pepper, minced parsley and extra virgin olive oil.  It spread like soft butter across the light toast coating the bread with a rich fatty layer of pure perfection.  My first bite was astounding as my palate sampled a complex play between the fattiness and smoothness of the ricotta and slight tang and crunch of the sourdough brushed lightly with olive oil.  Each slice had slight bits of char near the edges adding another delightful contrast each bite.  I meandered through the course savoring each bite.  The wine was quite fruit forward and had a nose of apples and pears.  It paired gorgeously with the cheese, which slightly enhanced the fruity attack and gave it a sharper flavors.

With perfect timing I moved to my main course, a liguine arribiatta.  Both the pasta and risotto are available as entrees for a supplemental charge.  I still chose a starter portion and when it arrived I observed that the portion was more than generous.  Upon  my first taste I was assaulted by perfectly cooked pasta coated in a complex tomato sauce.  Balances between the sweetness of the cooked tomatoes and acid they inherently provide made me supremely satisfied.  Each bite finished with some slight spiciness, as to be expected with arribiatta, that was gauged well by its creator.  I was offered a dusting of parmagiano which I graciously excepted.  As it was grated across my plate I discovered that it had been aged 36 months.  This course was paired with a medium body montelpuciano, which carried a nose of earthiness, a few black fruits and almost a sharpie type aroma.  It’s attack was round and complex with almost no fruitiness.  It finished quite dry and it lingered on my palate for many seconds.  Paired with the pasta the complexity of the wine was slightly mellowed by the sauce, but was still quite enjoyable.  As with the first I took my time enjoying each bite to the last.

The final course was just as fantastic.  Three brilliant chartreuse scoops of pistachio gelato topped with a coarse pistachio crumb.  Each bite offered a creamy and smooth blast of pistachio essence and creamy delight.  It was the perfect choice to follow the aribiatta, who’s spice had just over stayed.  The gelato  pleasantly offered a sweet, cool relief from my previous course.

La Fiorentina
***
Address: 40 Parliament St
Dublin, Dublin 2,
Ireland
Phone: 01 635 1922
Website: http://fiorentina.ie/

Atmosphere:  An intimate corner building with very opening seating and a open view of view of Dublin.  Service is excellent as the servers are vigilant and responsive.

Sound Level: noisy

Recommended Choices: Appetizers and pasta or rissotto are a must.  Prices for each dish are mostly under 15 euro.

Drink’s, Wine and Cocktails: the cocktail and beer menu is sparce but is complemented by a large list of wines by the bottle, carrafe or glass from Italy.

Price $$ (Average)

Open: Tuesday to Thursday for lunch; daily for dinner.

Reservations: Accepted

What the Stars Mean Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

Go chew glass.

If you are a student at the CIA I am sure you are very familiar with a local takeout Chinese food joint that goes by the name Yeung Ho II. Now I want to begin by mentioning that Yeung Ho II has been my favorite place to dine on “Chinese” food since I started back in late September. I have been a loyal customer and this incident has disappointed me more than anything else.

About 2 months ago my roommate and I both ordered a special combination meal of boneless pork spareribs. Now for a college student this is a great deal: about 1 pint of fried rice, and a pint of pork with a pork eggroll for $7. I just recently spent $7 on about 5 oz of gelato the other day so this is a fabulous deal. Quality has never been an issue, in fact I thought that this particular order was fantastic. The pork was relatively lean so I wasn’t chewing on fat the entire time. The heart of the problem was in my roommates food. As he bit down on a mouthful of pork he felt a sharp pain in his mouth. He spit out his food and he saw a shard of glass glistening like a diamond in the rough.

He immediately called the restaurant to let them know and as I sat there and listened he was extremely cordial and polite. He made no threats or complaints, he simply wanted to let them know why had happened. They listened and apologized she even offered to comp a free meal. They even drove all the way back to Hudson to drop off the meal. I honestly don’t think it could have been handled better by both sides.

So what is my complaint? About a week before the semester ended we attempted to order our usual. But as we told them our room number they began to give us trouble. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us. Now I respect the right to refuse service but the justification was farfetched and ludacris. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us because hey didn’t want to put more glass in our food. My roommate asked to speak to manager but they refused, claiming that he was not working that day. This went back and forth until my rooms hung up.

Now my intention is not to scare anyone. The food that they produce has great price point and is very good quality for what it is. But their customer service department needs a major overhaul. I hope they see this but until then with what you et when you order from them, you may just end up with a mouthful of glass.

It’s Day 11 and you still can’t cook damn vegetables…

I want to preface this review by saying I have a lot of respect for the chefs at the CIA.  I understand that most of them strive to do their best and that they make a valiant effort to pay attention to detail in the kitchen.  The students also deserve credit.  They (AM Classes), wake up at ungodly hours to work for nearly full work days on food that hundreds of kids will taste.  They are also at school to learn.  I am sure that one thing will be missed from time to time.  That being said, I had the most “delightful” pleasure of eating at Modern Banquet’s yesterday and wanted to give you some insight on what I crunched on.

First course was a basic garden salad.  The salad greens were clean, which shockingly is something that students neglect to take care of.  The portion size and presentation were above average and the dressing taste quite good.  Upon finer examination of my rabbit food I noticed that the precision knife cuts that were placed on top were atrocious.  These cuts looked like a first term fundies student had been given an old rusty butter knife and then asked to cut brunoise ( what is normally 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inch cubes) to whatever dimensions they deemed fit.  It was also garnished with julienne that, while appropriate in width and height, looked like uneven strands of grain that might be used to draw straws.

Soup course was quite a disappointment as well.  I do not enjoy anything more than eating tepid soup.  Of course I am not being serious.  My chowder was lukewarm at best.  And while it had quite a decent flavor and consistency the fish, cod I presume, was chewy and tough.  I wasn’t the only person who thought this either.  Two other diners at my table made a comment at how poor the soup was.

Entree course was decent.  It was buffet style so of course I did not expect the food to be screaming hot.  It was a nice temperature and I applaud the students for that.  We were given the choice of two different proteins.  Either beef pot roast or roasted turkey.  The flavor on both of these items was superb.  The turkey had a crunchy briny exterior that left me longing for more.  The bird itself was cooked to perfection, white, juicy and tender.  In fact I was quite impressed by the doneness of the bird because this is more often than not the low point of most CIA dishes.  The pot roast also had a fabulous flavor.  A combination of subtle red wine undertones paired with a strong meaty blast from the demi glace, that I imagine was used to make the braising liquid, gave the meat an excellent flavor.  The only real complaint I had, aside from the lack of sauce, was the tenderness of the meat.  After braising a pot roast for at least 3 hours I would have liked it to be more tender.  As I said, it tasted phenomenal but it was slightly tough.  Now the vegetables, the damn vegetables.  I actually, while writing, just spoke to a student who was looking over my shoulder at this review.  She agreed with my statement that vegetable cookery is by far one of the easiest competencies to learn at this school.  Simple, blanch the item, put it in your mouth and if it is crunchy, throw it back in the water.  We learn this early on and I would think that it would become embedded in each future chef’s mind.  I guess being in the weeds causes short term memory loss.  Along with the protein, we were given three vegetable options.  The first was brussel sprouts.  My sprouts were similar to eating lukewarm stones.  Enough crunch to put good dill pickles to shame.  The best part was, the procedure for cooking them looked right. The bottom was scored and the outside leaves were removed.  They were even consistently sized.  For some reason, whoever was on vegetable station either neglected to taste the item or just didn’t care. My next item was a root vegetable mix.  We did this vegetable side with our braised beef lesson in fundamentals and I liked it so much that I suffered through nearly 2 hours of precision knife cuts during Thanksgiving and Christmas to make it again.  When we made it in class it was roasted the vegetables so the sugars caramelized and it gave it a better overall flavor and color.  The monstrosity that was placed on my plate was far from that.  Wet, bland root vegetables cut in various sizes.  It was obvious that someone got overly ambitious and wanted to cut small dice for this medley.  They must have run out of time because thrown into this dish were battonettes of miscellaneous lengths.  On top getting served what looked like a grab bag to lego pieces, upon taking my first bite I was greeted by that all to familiar crunch.  This time even more so, I might as well have been eating the legos themselves.  Lastly the butternut squash, the saving grace for veg station.  I thought it was perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and hot.  My dining partner thought otherwise but I figured he had gotten a rough patch.

Last course, which for me was only tea, was also quite a disappointment.  I have had this happen to me before so I wasn’t to surprised, especially with the outcome of the meal.  I let me tea steep for about 2 minutes and after what seemed like an eternity decided to pour some.  I noticed that the water stayed the same color as when I first got it and that there was no real noticeable aroma.   My first sip was similar to drinking the water out of the pot sink.  Same temperature and same flavor. Now the flavor of the tea is usually good, I think the fact that I was only drinking bath temperature water could have altered the flavor.  I kid you not when I say I take showers in water hotter than the swill I was served.

Now some perspective:  I obviously wrote this with as much flair as I could muster.  While the facts are accurate my opinions may be somewhat off base.  I mean this is how I really felt about the meal but the students don’t deserve this harsh a review.  We all make mistakes and as I said we are all here to learn.  Time is all was needed to make that meal better.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑