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Corie Brown

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Corie Brown is the co-founder and general manager of Zester Daily. A former editor and writer with the Los Angeles Times, she received the 2008 University of Missouri Lifestyle Award for her article about climate change and wine, A Scorching Future, and currently is writing a book on that subject. In 2006, she won both first and second prize for news reporting from the Association of Food Journalists. Corie was awarded a fellowship by the Foreign Press Center of Japan and worked in Japan in June 2010, during which she wrote a story on Koshu wine for the New York Times later republished in "The New York Times Book of Wine." Previously, Corie was West Coast entertainment correspondent with Newsweek and a columnist for Premiere Magazine. On staff with BusinessWeek in Boston and other McGraw-Hill publications in New York City and Washington, D.C., she has written about energy, the environment and healthcare. She is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine, recently authoring a cover story on Internet marketing guru Seth Godin.

Corie is a member of the board of overseers of Chefs Collaborative, a leading nonprofit network of chefs changing the sustainable food landscape using the power of connections, education and responsible buying.

Corie can be reached at:
corie.brown@zesterdaily.com

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Bring On The Funk: Nothing Spoils A Fermented Life Image

Among the many stinky, potentially explosive things in the world I leave to the professionals, fermentation ranks high on my list. An afternoon with my daughter Hayley, however, opened my eyes to what I have been missing. “It’s a cheap way to feel good,” says my recent college grad surviving on minimum wage. “And kind of critical, considering all of the bubble gum-flavored antibiotics you dosed me with as a child.”

Fermented foods are part of Hayley’s daily routine. She drinks a couple of glasses of homemade kombucha — a bacteria-laced apple cider vinegar — as a snack. Her countertop is cluttered with kimchis and sauerkrauts brewing with all manner of vegetables. “When a vegetable in the fridge is about to go bad, we just cut it up and throw it in a jar with salt and whatever spices and herbs are lying around,” she explains.

When she shows me her SCOBY — symbiotic communities of bacteria and yeast — a white floating island growing on top of a current batch of kombucha, I call a timeout. Really proud of the frugality, my dear, but how does something so gross make you feel good?

“My body now is a well-oiled machine,” Hayley laughs and rests her case.

Her confidence comes from studying books by Sandor Ellix Katz, a fermentation evangelist she discovered while working as an intern with Chefs Collaborative on its Sustainable Food Summit last fall. “He’s given me a healthy respect for gut bacteria,” Hayley notes.

Before Katz became its champion, fermentation was more ignored than dismissed among food professionals. It never went out of style, he told the Chefs Collaborative gathering of environmentally conscious chefs. It was living, neutered, behind the wall of industrial food processing.

We crave fermented foods; think chocolate, cured meats, beer, wine and cheese, he said. “Fermentation creates the strongest flavors,” Katz asserted. “People who have grown up not accustomed to them find them scary … and inaccessible.”

When modern America declared war on bacteria, pasteurizing and sterilizing processed food, Katz believes we robbed food of much of its nutritive value. Worse, we lost our healthy gut bugs in the process, fracturing an elegant symbiotic relationship with the microbial world. With the release of his 2003 book “Wild Fermentation,” Katz began barnstorming the country in the equivalent of a “bring back bacteria” tour.

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Sandor Katz, left, and Rowan Jacobsen discuss the ins and outs of fermentation during the Cultural Ferment panel at the 2013 Chefs Collaborative Summit in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Carolina Photosmith

Katz grew up on sour pickles in New York City, but he didn’t think to ferment on his own until he was diagnosed with HIV and moved to rural Tennessee in search of a way to manage his health through diet. Experiments with making sauerkrauts from old garden cabbages, he says, changed his life. His enthusiasm for fermenting became contagious. Both “Wild Fermentation” and his next book, “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved,” became manifestos for food activists.

His third book, the recently released “The Art of Fermentation,” cemented his reputation as an authority on the topic. In the foreword to this dense tome, Michael Pollan calls the book an inspiration. “I mean that literally. The book has inspired me to do things I’ve never done before, and probably never would have if I hadn’t read it.

“Sandor Katz writes about the transformative power of fermentation with such infectious enthusiasm that he makes you want to try things just to see what happens,” Pollan writes. But the book is more than a “how-to” guide. “It tells you why an act as quotidian and practical as making your own sauerkraut represents nothing less than a way to engage with the world.”

Katz’s instructions for brewing kombucha are straightforward:

  • Brew black or green tea (loose leaf or bagged).
  • Add sugar (about ¼ cup to every liter, more or less to personal taste).
  • Add a SCOBY mother (obtainable from a fellow brewer or a health food store).
  • Let it sit for 10 days and watch the new SCOBY grow on the surface of the liquid.
  • Flavor the final product with whatever you like. Fruit or vegetable juice, herbal infusions and mint are a few of his suggestions.

Hayley likes the experimentation. “Katz embraces the uncertainties of dealing with something that is alive, and invites you to explore the world of fermentation for yourself,” she says. He gently guides folks toward ever more daring adventures in fermentation.

Her most recent experiment was cutting up a discarded SCOBY and turning it into gummy candies. Not bad tasting, but well beyond her mother’s comfort zone.

Top photo: Homemade kombucha in process. The SCOBY is floating in the jar. Credit: Hayley Fager

Editor’s Note: Corie Brown joined the Chefs Collaborative Board of Overseers last month and is looking forward to the Sustainable Food Summit in September.

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Early Signs Of A California Wine Revolution Image

California wine is finally getting interesting, and wine lovers can dare to hope that America’s premier wine region will produce more wines of higher quality.

What? Those $200 Napa Valley Cabernets aren’t great wines? Sorry to say, most are not. The good news is a group of winemakers is stepping away from California’s pack mentality to produce wines that reflect both an appreciation of the place the grapes are grown as well as an understanding that bigger is rarely better when it comes to wine.

And, be still my heart, they aren’t afraid to say it. Out loud. In print. San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Jon Bonné has captured their voices and given early support to this movement in his recently released “The New California Wine: A guide to the producers and wines behind a revolution in taste” (Ten Speed Press).

During the past half-dozen years, I’ve met with established winemakers who talk about dialing back the alcohol levels on their wines. They claim a deep longing to produce “European” style wines with greater finesse and character. Then they beg, “Please, don’t quote me!” Inexplicably, they seem to think they can accomplish this transformation so slowly that their public — and the critics — will barely notice the change.

Documenting the historic shift

Shifting directions is risky. Timid American baby boomers learned about wine by leaning heavily on critical scores, buying what they were told they “ought” to drink. So when the two overlords of California wine criticism — Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator’s Jim Laube — championed high-alcohol fruit bombs, America’s first generation of wine drinkers eagerly fell in line behind them.

The rare winemaker willing to be quoted declaring a dramatic shift in style away from that norm has crumbled when facing angry consumers wondering why they had been paying top dollar for wines that the winemaker suddenly says are not what they ought to be.

From his perch at the Chronicle, Bonné was able to dig deep into California’s wine culture to find the winemakers who never compromised. Years of walking vineyards in every corner of the state paid off in the discovery of Steve Matthiasson, Tegan Passalacqua, Ted Lemon and dozens of other pioneers making wine to suit their personal taste rather than to score critical points. “Just three or four years ago, these guys were really out in the wilderness,” Bonné says.

Their stories of reviving abandoned vineyards in marginal growing areas, cobbling together wineries in deserted warehouses, and striking crazy work-for-free deals with vineyard owners sound more like the do-it-yourself culture that is transforming the American food scene than the big-money mentality that dominates California wine.

More than one kind of California wine

Bonné is a wine geek who delights in highly nuanced details of grape farming and cellar work. And, while that can result in a slow read at times, it’s an important plus. These are the distinctions that make a difference and separate the pioneers from more established vintners. Bonné empowers his readers by carefully explaining these specifics. And, bless him, he spares us the poetic hyperbole that hobbles so many wine books.

“This story was totally evolving as I was writing it,” says Bonné. “It was terrifying and exhilarating.” The first wine writer to make a strong statement about the promise of these emerging winemakers, and by comparison drive home the problems with California’s established wine industry, Bonné takes a risk. The nascent movement is so small it could easily dissipate.

The established “cult Cabernets” will not go away, Bonné says. Rather, support for these new wines will grow. “The people who had given up on California will turn around,” he predicts.  In the future, there will be more than one kind of California wine.

Eventually, “there will be a transfer of power” in the American wine industry, he says. “This emerging generation is drinking with a level of curiosity that is very different from their parents.”

Jon Bonné and Rajat Parr at domaineLA. Credit: Corie Brown

Jon Bonné and Rajat Parr at domaineLA. Credit: Corie Brown

Judging by a recent crowd of young wine lovers eagerly tasting through a selection of California wines championed by Bonné, he’s calling it right. At domaineLA, a Los Angeles wine shop with a reputation for promoting an international selection of well-priced, high quality wines, Jon Bonné and Rajat Parr. was joined by leading Santa Barbara small-production vintners Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, partners in Sandhi Wines, and Napa Valley-based winemaker Steve Matthiasson. This year, Bonné named Matthiasson the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Winemaker of the Year.”

The wines had bold, pronounced flavors, yet they retained the lift of natural acidity. All but a couple of the dozen wines on offer were priced below $40 a bottle. And the alcohol levels were all under 14%, a mark of a classic European-style wine.

Questioning the dominance of Napa Valley’s over-extracted and over-priced bruisers will soon go from taboo to “told you so.”

Top image: The beginning of growth on an old vine. Credit: Courtesy of Ten Speed Press, publisher of “The New California Wine” by Jon Bonné

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Zester Daily Dozen-Plus: 2013 Reader Favorites Image

Zester Daily fans took a deep dive into our rich assortment of stories in 2013. A review of our top hits of the year reveals an appreciation for the practical as well as an insatiable appetite for what’s weird and wonderful.

With more stories than ever from an expanded network of contributors, Zester Daily delivered on our promise to treat readers to a wealth of “fresh intelligence.” Below, you will find a countdown of our 12 most popular new stories with links to the complete stories as well as links to the contributor page for each author.

Cheers to a great 2013!

12) New Seasoning Shio-Koji Emerging in Japan, by Sonoko Sakai: The city of Saiki in the island of Kyushu in southern Japan is blessed by nature. In the surrounding mountains, farmers grow shiitake mushrooms, prized for their thick meat. The crystal clear sea is …

11) 3-Day Detox Juice Cleanse Comes With A Dramatic Arc, by Cheryl D. Lee: Juicing and juice cleanses are all the rage these days. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the cardiac surgeon turned TV personality is a great proponent of juicing. He has his own 3-Day Detox Cleanse, which seems very easy to follow. My system needed a jump-start …

10) The Icelandic Food Scene Goes Beyond Rotten Shark, by Jody Eddy: “Is it a cookbook about rotten shark?” I’ve received this question more than once when people find out I’m writing a cookbook about Icelandic cuisine. But contemporary Icelandic food …

9) Fight Cancer: Top 10 Foods To Decrease Inflammation, by Harriet Sugar Miller: “One of the most significant medical discoveries of the 21st century is that inflammation is the common thread connecting chronic diseases,” writes Dr. Mark Hyman, author of several books on health and wellness. The conditions he’s talking about …

8) A Secret Weapon for Silky Custard: Vitamix Blender, by Caroline J. Beck: Late winter is usually a somber time in the garden. But in Southern California, it’s citrus season — bringing a combination of riotous color and flavor intensity that …

7) A Thanksgiving Appetizer So Good You’ll Have To Hide It, by Clifford A. Wright: Long before the turkey comes out of the oven golden and glistening, our family has gathered, preparing all the myriad dishes, drinking, laughing and nibbling on Thanksgiving appetizers since the morning …

6) The Mother Of All Heirloom Recipes From Brooklyn, by Julia della Croce: Long before Brooklyn became a mecca for hipsters, it buzzed with Italian immigrants. Hearing the dialects on the streets of Williamsburg, Red Hook or Bensonhurst, you would have thought you were in Naples or Palermo or …

5) Boost Cancer-Fighting Effects Of Onions And Garlic, by Harriet Sugar Miller: Although some Buddhists may swear off onions and garlic because they allegedly arouse both anger and libido, these aromatics have powerful nourishing properties. Experts say …

4) Surprising Top Beef Cuts Make for Succulent Holiday Roasts, by Lynne Curry: If you’re thinking of serving beef this Christmas or New Year’s, you’re probably counting your quarters to see if you can afford a tenderloin or prime rib. Like many people looking for good …

3) The Mystery of Almond Boneless Chicken, by Tina Caputo: It’s been more than 20 years since I moved from a suburb on the east side of Detroit to San Francisco, and there are a few things I miss about my childhood home. When I say “a few” I mean three …

2) The Secret To Mastering Italy’s Best Tomato Sauce, by Julia della Croce: A question I’m often asked is how to make the best so-called “marinara.” It’s one that vexes me as much as the perennial hunt for the best pizza that makes good headlines. How could only one …

1) Consumers Still In The Dark: 6 Tips To Buying Better Olive Oil, by Elaine Corn: Have you ever wondered what exactly you’re getting when you purchase a bottle of olive oil? Extra virgin? Pure? “Pure,” explains Dan Flynn of the University of California Davis Olive Center, “which is such a great word from a marketing standpoint …

Also, the top Soapboxes of 2013 from outside contributors:

5) Don’t Overanalyze Your Wine. Enjoy It, by Terry Theise: Lately I’ve been frustrating my customers, which is never a wise thing to do. We get asked all the time for analytical stats on the wines we offer …

4) Koloocheh, A Persian Cookie, Is A Cultural Mother Lode, by Louisa Shafia: Is it possible that an exotic date-filled confection offers insights into the secret origins of Christianity? Well, while it remains a fringe theory, researchers …

3) Living Simply is Complicated – Is it Just a Fetish? by Elissa Altman: Simplicity is ubiquitous: if you — like I — get sucked down the gorgeous wormhole that is Pinterest, you know what I mean. Click on the DESIGN tab, and there they are …

2) Lessons Marcella Hazan Taught Me, by Amelia Saltsman: Marcella Hazan, the great Italian cooking teacher and cookbook author, passed away Sept. 29. That evening, as I prepared a simple tomato sauce for dinner, I realized I routinely hear …

1) What’s Hiding Behind Our Food Labels? Deceit, by Andrew Gunther: Pick up a pack of beef or a carton of eggs in any supermarket and the chances are the label will proudly display a bucolic farm scene and one of a range of positive sounding claims …

Top composite photo:

Images from top Zester stories, clockwise from left, lemon curd from Caroline J. Beck, Koji Master Koichi Asari from Sonoko Sakai, tomatoes for best Italian sauces from Julia della Croce, olive oil tips from Elaine Corn, cookbook author Louisa Shafia, and holiday roast from Lynne Curry.

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White-Knuckle Harvest For Oregon’s White Hot Hazelnuts Image

Hazelnut farmer Barb Foulke watched in disbelief as the relentless storm lashed Oregon’s Willamette Valley in late September. Two weeks of rain punctuated by a 5-inch deluge over four days.

A warm May meant the valley’s hazelnuts had matured early and were already lying on the ground when the rains started. Instead of “vacuuming” up the nuts in the typical whirl of dust, Foulke’s crop was sitting in the mud. “It’s painful,” she said.

Hazelnuts (filberts in England) have become a hot commodity in Oregon with acreage dedicated to the scrubby trees increasing 10% a year during the last decade. Three thousand more acres were planted this year with the region’s 2013 crop predicted to be close to 40,000 tons.

That’s slim pickings when compared to the flow of hazelnuts from Turkey, which produces 75% of the world’s crop by weight. Still, it’s enough to give the state runner-up status along with the countries of Italy, Georgia, Greece and Spain.

Foulke and other growers are working to distinguish Oregon hazelnuts in terms of quality by focusing on sustainable farming and modern harvesting technology. As the Portland culinary scene has exploded, the locally grown nuts have become a signature ingredient.

Discovering great hazelnut recipes

Visiting the Willamette Valley for the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in August, I fell in love with the nut’s rich, creamy texture and sweet flavor. In the shell, they look like acorns. Lightly roasted, they lose their paper-thin skin and have a bite that is firmer than a cashew, softer than an almond.

A dinner in the sleek, new Sokol Blosser Winery tasting room, created by Jenn Louis, chef/owner of Lincoln in Portland, featured crushed, toasted nuts in a honey spread spiked with toasted rosemary, chili oil and sea salt. Louis’ slab of roasted porchetta was made from pigs fed on the meaty nuts.

The same holy trinity of toasted hazelnuts, honey and rosemary was the heart of a tapas prepared by Colin Stafford and Alex Yoder of Portland’s Olympic Provisions with paper-thin lardo enveloping whole hazelnuts.

Discarded hazelnut shells provide landscaping ground cover throughout the Willamette Valley. Credit: Corie Brown

Discarded hazelnut shells provide landscaping ground cover throughout the Willamette Valley. Credit: Corie Brown

When I returned home, I dog-eared half a dozen yummy hazelnut recipes in my cookbook collection. All called for toasting the nuts — 10 to 20 minutes at 350 F, single layer on a baking sheet, removing the skins by rubbing the toasted nuts between tea towels.

Portland Chef Gabriel Rucker has a recipe for hazelnut pesto spiked with sun-dried tomatoes in “Le Pigeon” (Ten Speed Press).

In “The Fresh & Green Table” (Chronicle), Susie Middleton garnishes Brussels sprouts and carrot ragout with coarsely chopped hazelnuts.

Beloved L.A. food guru Joseph Shuldiner features chopped hazelnuts in his dukkah and halvah. He grinds them into fig paste, folds them into his mushroom risotto and tosses them atop his wild mushroom polenta in “Pure Vegan” (Chronicle).

My dessert guru, Alice Medrich, has a recipe for “Hazelnut Gianduja Chunk Cookies” in her cookie book (Artisan).

Nigel Slater offers half a dozen hazelnut desserts in “Notes from the Larder” (Ten Speed Press).

Taking my shopping list to the grocery store, I began looking for hazelnuts.

Getting nuts on the grocery shelves

“You don’t see hazelnuts that much in stores,” said Mike Klein, a spokesman for the Willamette Hazelnut Growers. While the exploding sales of Nutella — a sweetened hazelnut spread — are testament to the popularity of hazelnut’s flavor, the naked nuts are rarely on the shelf. Grocery chains don’t think cooks want to mess with toasting them, he said.

You rarely find them in cans of roasted mixed nuts because they are relatively rare. Only 40 million pounds of shelled hazelnuts are produced each year compared to 1.8 billion pounds of almonds, he said.

I found hazelnuts at Surfas in Culver City and there were a few containers of them at my neighborhood Whole Foods. But the local Ralphs grocery store doesn’t carry them.

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Alice Medrich’s Hazelnut Gianduja Chunk Cookies as baked by Corie Brown. Credit: Corie Brown

The easiest way to buy hazelnuts, said Klein, is to go to the website of an Oregon grower and buy direct. Unfortunately, Oregon growers sold out months ago, and you’ll have to wait for the new harvest.

The line is forming at Barbara Foulke’s Freddy Guys Hazelnuts, the nuts many Portland foodies consider the gold standard. Her small-batch processing using a tricked-out little roaster she traveled to Italy to buy directly from the manufacturer provides the obsessive attention to detail that appeals to the local DIY ethos.

And Foulke will have plenty of nuts. The rains stopped the second week of October. The sun came out and ushered in an Indian summer as odd as the earlier deluge. The warm days dried the ground, allowing the crew to “vacuum” up the nuts with Foulke’s harvesters before mold or mildew could gain a foothold.

The 2013 harvest is expected to set records.

Top photo: Cracker thin toast with fresh ricotta, stewed kumquats and other fall citrus, shaved fennel and toasted hazelnuts from Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles. Credit: Corie Brown

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If There Is A California Cuisine, Who Owns It? Image

“California cuisine?” When my friend Evan Kleiman and Santa Monica’s public radio station KCRW dedicated a Sunday afternoon to discussing the topic, I was curious.

California has a rich and evolving food culture, but a distinctive style of cooking? Hardly.

Turns out I’m not the only naysayer on this topic. On the stage at New Roads School in Santa Monica were three people comfortable with the label sitting next to three folks who clearly weren’t. The difference was written on their faces — three older white faces next to three younger Asian and Latino chefs.

A turn toward fresh ingredients

California was stuck in post-World War II “continental cuisine” muck with the rest of the country, according to San Francisco cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein, whose new book, “Inside the California Food Revolution” (University of California Press), provided the background for the sold-out event.

In the mid-1970s, a group of young, largely self-taught California chefs decided to throw out the cream sauce and started building menus around fresh produce. Today the whole country talks about farm-to-table cuisine. The idea, however, said Goldstein, took root here then.

Unfortunately, “the ingredients weren’t here,” said Ruth Reichl, the former Gourmet Magazine editor who, at the time, was a cook in Berkeley.

Michael’s in Santa Monica, the first Los Angeles restaurant promoting “California cuisine,” flew ingredients in from New Zealand to serve produce good enough to take center stage, said Nancy Silverton, the chef behind La Brea Bakery and L.A.’s Osteria Mozza, who worked the cash register at Michael’s when it opened in 1979.

From the earliest days, Reichl said, California’s food revolution was part of an anti-industrial farming political movement. To get the food they wanted to serve, the chefs had to cultivate farmers willing to learn how to grow it.

Roy Choi discusses his take on California cuisine during a panel discussion organized by KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif. Credit: Timothy Norris

Roy Choi discusses his take on California cuisine during a panel discussion organized by KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif. Credit: Timothy Norris

“The big change — beyond just connecting with farmers — was when restaurants became personal businesses where you knew your purveyors,” said Goldstein. Chefs shared their sources with each other, something she said could not have happened in the secretive world of New York City’s better kitchens.

“We made sensible choices and cooked sensible food,” said Silverton. Formal dining gave way to raucous rooms with open kitchens; waiters dressed in khakis. Going out to dinner became fun.

California’s casual ingredient-driven way of eating spread across the country long ago, but the Mediterranean climate continues to give the state a distinctive edge. “If you go to our farmers markets, on our worst day, our produce is orders of magnitude better than what you have on any day in the Greenmarket in New York City,” said Sang Yoon, chef/owner of L.A.’s Lukshon. “California is all about celebrating that bounty.”

International influences make their mark

The difference is the personal histories of today’s California chefs. The European traditions that underscored the original “California cuisine” have been pushed aside in favor of the richer, spicier flavors familiar to chefs who grew up in immigrant communities.

“I see California beyond the food we cook as chefs and look at the way we grew up,” Kogi taco truck impresario Roy Choi told the audience. “It’s about immigration and how some of our food becomes stronger here.”

Take the taco, Choi said.  “A taco from L.A. tastes like a taco from L.A. You can’t duplicate it in New York.” Yet, he added, “Korean food in L.A. is better than what you find in Korea.”

Mexican food has been slow to gain respect, said Chef Eduardo Ruiz. But the critical accolades for his Corazon y Miel in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell is evidence of change. Ruiz said he looks to his grandmother and mother for inspiration.

If he had the chance to start his career over again, Korean-born Yoon said he would skip the years he spent training in the “physically and emotionally abusive” kitchens of France’s top chefs. “I’d embrace my own culture and start there.”

“I’ve never been more proud to say I’m from L.A.,” said Yoon.

The hometown crowd erupted with applause.

“California cuisine” may have been definable back when farm-fresh, casual dining was novel. Today’s California chefs have more interesting stories to tell.

Top photo: Joyce Goldstein and Nancy Silverton discuss California cuisine at a KCRW event in Santa Monica, Calif. Credit: Timothy Norris

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Summer Love With The Passionate ‘Fruit Hunters’ Image

This Sunday morning, we filled our farmers market baskets with fragrant heirloom melons, the tastiest of the dozens of varieties of plums and pluots on offer and piles of fresh greens, lugging home a rough balance of fruits and vegetables.

Scientists might identify our fruits according to which produce started out as a flower.  Sweetness, however, is the distinction that makes a difference to us.

The perfect accompaniment to the season’s intoxicating abundance is Yung Chang’s film “The Fruit Hunters,” a love letter to the world’s rarest, most delicious fruits and the people obsessed with finding and eating them, which is being released on DVD and digital on July 16.

Chang calls his cast of sweet freaks “fruities” and they are manic about the taste of their favorite fruits. “There is a need to grow the fruit, to cultivate the fruit, not just to taste it,” he says. “There is an explorative, adventuresome sensibility. They want to discover the origin of the fruit they love.”

Don’t call them “foodies,” says Chang. Fruities only love to eat fruit.

Inspired by his friend Adam Leith Gollner’s 2008 nonfiction book “The Fruit Hunters,” Chang spent two years following fruit obsessed scientists, anthropologists and conservationists around the world in search of nature’s sweetest treats.

Noris Ledesma and Richard Campbell lead an Indiana Jones-like quest for rare mangoes in Bali and Borneo as they race to preserve disappearing varieties. Honduran scientist Juan Aguilar struggles to breed a banana capable of resisting a devastating fungus threatening the world’s banana crop. And in the hills of Umbria, Italy, Isabella Dalla Ragione researches Renaissance-era paintings for clues to where she might find the remaining examples of ancient cultivars.

As Gollner writes in his book, “These denizens of the fruit underworld are as special as the flora they pursue.” Largely hidden from the public eye, “they have devoted themselves to the quest for fruit.”

The passion is understandable, he writes. “Fruit is inherently erotic. After all, every time we eat a fruit, we engage in a reproductive act.”

Food porn for the smart set

“I’ve lived for the last 20 years for each day off when I can learn more about fruit,” Bill Pullman told the crowd at a Santa Monica screening of “The Fruit Hunters” earlier this summer. The star of Chang’s film, Pullman is a fruit tourist traveling to tropical fruit hot spots to meet his fruit heroes and learn their secrets, slurping and moaning over each local delicacy he discovers along the way.

Yung Chang, internationally award-winning filmmaker, made his first feature documentary, "Up the Yangtze," in 2007. Credit: Courtesy of EyeSteelFilm

Yung Chang, internationally award-winning filmmaker, made his first feature documentary, “Up the Yangtze,” in 2007. Credit: Courtesy of EyeSteelFilm, all rights reserved

At home, the actor is a fruit community organizer, leading his Hollywood Hills neighbors in a quixotic quest to turn abandoned land near their homes into a community orchard. He spreads the gospel of fruit through communal fruit harvests, known as gleanings, and homey canning parties.

There is urgency to the effort, Pullman explains. Industrial farming has taken a toll on fruit diversity. The race is on to save what is left.

Fruities believe a special bond connects fruits and humans, says Chang. Fruits nourish us and, through the act of consuming it, we ensure the future of that fruit species by dispersing its seeds.

“It is a love affair gone awry,” he says. “We need to reconnect with what it means to be a fruit hunter. These people we meet [in the film], these fruit hunters, take us through the world to rediscover our innate connection with fruit.”

As Gollner writes, “To love a diversity that, as limitless as it is fragile, both haunts us and fills us with hope.”

‘Fruit Hunters’ unearths an inner-fruit fanatic

“My connection to fruit was nostalgic,” says Chang. The people, not the fruit, drew him to the project. Several months into filming, he realized things had changed.

Noris Ledesma and Richard Campbell, the “Indiana Joneses” of fruit, seek to find and preserve rare varieties of mangos and durians. Credit: Courtesy of EyeSteelFilm

Noris Ledesma and Richard Campbell, the “Indiana Joneses” of fruit, look to find and preserve rare varieties of mangos and durians. Credit: Courtesy of EyeSteelFilm, all rights reserved

“At the beginning, I was very focused as a filmmaker, looking through the lens, so to speak. But people were always handing me fruit to eat. You can’t deny it. You have to taste it,” Chang says. The revelations “became overwhelming. Everywhere. Every second. Someone would have, for instance, a freshly fallen durian fruit [a spiky skinned Southeast Asian fruit with creamy almond flavored pulp] in the backyard of a grandmother’s home and at that moment that would be my favorite fruit.

“Then we’d be at a nursery in Hawaii and I’d be presented with a Burmese grape. It looks like it is in the lychee family. You open the shell, and inside is this semi-translucent pearl with swirls of pink. It tastes like Bubblicious gum.”

The tart, sweet blue Haskap berry that grows in arctic climates and has three times the antioxidant value of blueberries will be the next fruit craze, predicts Chang.

You don’t have to be a fruitie to enjoy “The Fruit Hunters.” The film is playful and joyous, a feast for the mind and the senses.

“When you watch this much food porn, you’ll want to eat fruit,” cautions Pullman. “Would you have come to a movie about vegetables?”

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