Articles in People
A life-sized sculpture of a cow and a sign reading “Dine on our Swine” should have stopped me in my tracks, because I don’t eat beef or ham.
But one look at Industrial Eats’ menu, handwritten on large sheets of butcher paper hung from the walls, revealed I was in the right place.
Industrial Eats, a 1-year-old eatery in Buellton, Calif., has become a must-stop on my visits to the Santa Ynez wine region on California’s Central Coast. The cavernous restaurant furnished with family-style dining tables prides itself on its butchery skills. But for diners like me, there’s plenty of fish, fowl and local produce. The food is simple, straightforward and utterly delicious.
Pizzas are topped with such ingredients as smoked salmon, burrata, mascarpone, Calabrian chile, kabocha and chestnut. The Not Pizza section of the menu contains items such as wild mushrooms; black kale and black truffles; fall veggies with dates and brown sugar; Swiss chard and spinach in Vadouvan curry; and other poetically named dishes.
Simple cooking yields delicious meals at Industrial Eats
Everything at Industrial Eats gets cooked in the igloo-style wood-burning pizza ovens, and local wines as well as sandwiches and an array of cheeses are also served.
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“Cooking is way too fussy and food is too over-handled in most restaurants,” said chef/owner Jeff Olsson.
He describes his cooking style simply: “Ingredients go in a sauté pan with olive oil and spices, in the wood-burning oven and on the plate. It’s honest taste infused in our food.”
But is it really as simple as that?
It could be if we did all our cooking in wood-burning ovens. At Industrial Eats, that’s the mantra. You won’t find gas burners or pricey induction ranges here. Instead, ingredients are placed in an iron skillet that goes inside the pizza oven. Cooked in this simple, traditional style, the food tastes divine.
Olsson and his wife, Janet, met in New York 22 years ago. “I was washing dishes,” said Jeff, who moved up the ladder and worked as a chef in Washington, D.C., restaurants such as Red Sage and Nora, where Janet served as a manager.
Fifteen years ago, the Olssons opened New West catering, which they continue to operate in Buellton along with Industrial Eats.
A two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, Buellton is just off U.S. Highway101 near Solvang. The small town is best known for its ostrich farm, a string of auto dealers and Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn. The local barbecue hangout The Hitching Post II became a tourist haven after it was spotlighted in the award-winning 2004 film “Sideways.”
Although the film pumped up wine tourism in the region, Buellton remained a pass-through town for visitors. It lacked the wine-country charm of neighboring hamlets such as Los Olivos or Santa Ynez.
But not for long.
“Buellton has become gentrified in the last 15 years,” Olsson said. Prohibitive real estate prices and saturation in Los Olivos and Solvang drove people — including the Olssons — to rediscover Buellton. In the past few years, industrial spaces have morphed into cafes, eateries and wine-tasting centers. A distillery is soon to open near Industrial Eats, and the noted Alma Rosa Winery’s tasting room is also nearby.
Industrial Eats, though, is known for its butchery. “We do whole animals from Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley,” said Jeff, who also offers hog-butchering classes at the restaurant. Fresh preserves, patès and handmade bacon are some of the specialties.
“I stay local as much as I can,” he said, noting, though, that meats such as wild boar and antelope are sourced from Broken Arrow Ranch in southwest Texas.
Next time you’re driving Highway 101, stop in downtown Buellton to savor the local flavors at my all-time favorite spot. Meanwhile, you can re-create these wintry Industrial Eats recipes at home during the holiday season.
Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus overnight for marinating
Cook time: 5 1/2 hours
Total time: About 6 hours, plus marinating time for the duck.
Yield: 6 servings
For the confit of duck:
6 duck legs (you can, in a pinch, use chicken as well)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks Mexican canella
4 ounces dried cherries, roughly chopped
4 sprigs sage
Zest of one orange
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds duck fat (available at fine grocers or Hudson Valley Foie Gras)
For the lentils:
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced small
1 bulb fennel, diced small
1 knob butter
2 cups duck stock
2 cups du Puy lentils
For the confit of duck:
1. Place the duck legs into a large ziplock bag with garlic, shallot, canella, cherries, sage, zest, salt and pepper. Let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 225 F. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the duck fat over medium heat.
3. Carefully empty contents of ziplock bag into that fat, ensuring the duck legs are fully submerged.
4. Cook in the oven for 3 to 5 hours, until meat is tender and falling from the bone.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
6. Carefully remove duck legs from fat and allow to drain.
7. Preheat 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Place duck legs, two at a time, in the skillet and fry until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes per side.
For the lentils:
1. Sauté the shallot, garlic, carrot and fennel in butter till slightly caramelized.
2. Add the stock and lentils and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
Note: Serve the duck legs atop the lentils.
Fall Veggies With Dates and Ginger
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 celery roots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1 kabocha squash, not peeled, but seeded and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound baby Japanese sweet potatoes, not peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
4 shallots, julienned
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup Medjool dates
1 piece of ginger, peeled and julienned as finely as you can
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the olive oil and season with salt to taste.
3. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until soft and golden brown.
4. Remove from oven and toss with dates and ginger.
5. Place back in oven for 5 more minutes.
Note: This can be served as a side dish with Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils.
Main photo: Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils from Industrial Eats. Credit: Mira Honeycutt
Because I’m a chef and food writer, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite food?” The answer is visceral, born of my childhood instead of my professional training or the international food experiences I’ve been lucky to have.
My favorite food is the cuisine of my mother’s native Iran — an overlooked area of the culinary world because of Iran’s 35 years of tense relations with the United States.
Persian food has typically been at the end of anyone’s list of favorites, but that’s starting to change. Driven by the recent foodie interest in the region at large — the Middle East and Indian — Persian food is having its day, and nothing could thrill me more.
By Sabrina Ghayour, Interlink Books, 2014, 240 pages
Those who know about this cuisine already know it is one of delicately nuanced flavors, rich varieties of meats and, in particular, produce, and deft technique that melds sweet and sour in an elegant way. Like Indian cuisine, basmati rice is a staple ingredient, but where much Indian food makes use of pepper, Persian cuisine prodigiously uses warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric. Saffron and rose petals add flavor that is actually more based in delicate aroma than pure taste.
Lamb and, traditionally, game birds are used in stews and grilled meat dishes and baked into rice dishes, but in Western adaptations, beef and chicken have become standard substitutes. As in Arab-Middle Eastern cuisine, a variety of salads and dipping sauces — most often made with yogurt and herbs — is the norm. Two hallmarks that make Iranian food particularly different are the vast array of pickles made from vegetables, spices, herbs and even fruit as well as the habit of consuming fresh herbs, onions and radishes as a condiment eaten out of hand or with bread. You’ll see this on most dinner tables.
I often describe Persian food as “north Indian cuisine without the heat,” and there’s a good reason for that description. The Mughal emperors of Northern India brought the food of the Iran they admired into their own region in the 16th century and mastered the layered rice dishes, fragrant stews and delicate fruit-based desserts. Today, that cooking sensibility remains the hallmark of most Indian restaurant cuisine and is still in evidence in many of the dishes’ Persian names. (Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire.)
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One of the best new entrees into the world of Persian cooking is Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbook “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” (Interlink Books, 2014). In it, Ghayour, a London-based chef of Iranian descent, features both classic Persian dishes such as jujeh kebab, grilled boneless game hen marinated in a saffron yogurt sauce; morassa pollow, or “jeweled rice,” which is made with barberries, mixed nuts and orange peel; and fesenjan, a stew made of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup that is often served on holidays and special occasions.
Perhaps more compelling, for me at least, is the manner in which Ghayour melds Middle Eastern flavors that are not strictly Persian but are familiar to Western readers into a more Iranian food sensibility. She uses these flavors to add intricacy to the cuisine’s elegant techniques and presentations, such as with her Fig & Green Bean Salad with Date Molasses & Toasted Almonds or Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa, Tomato Sauce and Cilantro.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing number of blogs and cookbooks about Persian cooking, including the blogs My Persian Kitchen and Turmeric & Saffron as well as Louisa Shaifa’s “The New Persian Cooking” (Ten Speed Press, 2013), all adding diverse voices to the multi-decade stand-alone canon “Food of Life” (Mage Publishers) by Persian cooking doyenne Najmieh Batmanglij. Ghayour’s “Persiana,” however, stands out for its creativity and clean design and the sheer delectability of the dishes.
Newcomers to Persian cooking as well as those already in love with the cuisine will find many reasons to return to the pages of “Persiana” over and over again, as you will see when you give her recipe for fesenjan a try.
Chicken, Walnut & Pomegranate Stew (Khoresh-e-Fesenjan)
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
This recipe appears in “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” by Sabrina Ghayour.
Khoresh is the Persian word for stew. Fesenjan is a rich, glossy stew of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, usually made with chicken, duck or delicate little lamb meatballs. The flavor is deep and rich, with a nutty texture and a wonderfully gentle acidity that cuts right through the richness of the dish. Fesenjan is a popular dish in Iran, and its sweet yet tart character has made it one of the most revered stews in Iranian cooks’ repertoires. Like most stews, it is best made the day before you need to serve it.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pound, 5 ounces (600 grams) walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups (scant 1¼ liters) cold water
3 tablespoons superfine sugar [38 grams]
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) pomegranate molasses
Seeds from 1 pomegranate, for serving
1. Preheat two large saucepans over medium heat and pour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into one. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent and lightly browned.
2. In the other pan, toast the flour until it turns pale beige. Add the ground walnuts and cook the mixture through.
3. Once the onions are browned, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the pan containing the onions. Increase the temperature and stir well to ensure you seal the thighs on both sides. Once they are gently browned, turn off the heat and set aside.
4. Add the water to the walnut pan, stir well, and bring the mixture to a slow boil, then cover with a lid and allow to cook for 1 hour over low-medium heat. This will cook the walnuts and soften their texture; once you see the natural oils of the walnuts rise to the surface, the mixture is cooked.
5. Add the sugar and pomegranate molasses to the walnuts and stir well for about 1 minute. Take your time to stir the pomegranate molasses well — it takes awhile to fully dissolve into the stew because of its thick consistency.
6. Add the chicken and onions to the walnut-pomegranate mixture, cover and cook for about 2 hours, stirring thoroughly every 30 minutes to ensure you lift the walnuts from the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn. Once cooked, what initially looked beige will have turned into a rich, dark almost chocolaty-looking color.
7. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and enjoy with a generous mound of basmati rice.
Note: Fesenjan is served with chelo (Persian steamed rice).
Main photo: Fesenjan, a walnut and pomegranate stew, is one of the more traditional recipes in “Persiana.” It melds traditional Iranian technique with a diverse ingredient sensibility. Credit: Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton
Kunrath Lam remembers the delightful punch of spicy-creamy-sweet in her mother’s cooking while growing up in Cambodia. The key was a blend of lemongrass, turmeric, galangal (a relative of ginger), kaffir lime leaf and roasted peanut sauce. Today that inimitable infusion features prominently on the menu of her St. Paul, Minn., restaurant Cheng Heng.
One dish — Lam’s childhood favorite — is called chha kroeng; chha means stir-fry and kroeng means put together. Local food critics call it a showstopper. One diner wrote on Yelp, “Don’t ask … just order this.”
Will Matsuda is a senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Majoring in geography and educational studies, he plans to pursue photojournalism after graduation. He spent the spring semester of his junior year in Morocco, working on a project about underage brides. Find more of his work at williammatsuda.com
Chha kroeng is popular across Cambodia, with each city serving up a distinctive recipe. Lam’s version comes from Kampong Cham, her mother’s hometown, where the emphasis is on lemongrass. Beyond its light citrus flavor, lemongrass has a soothing effect, says Lam, 42.
“For us, it’s like a medicine,” she says. “It helps with circulation, and after you eat it, your body feels good. When you feel sick, you drink lemongrass and then you feel better.”
Her family grows lemongrass all summer and buys more, for freezing, from the local farmers market — enough to supply her restaurant during the long Minnesota winter.
As intimately as Lam’s customers know her Cambodian cooking, however, few know how close they came to never tasting the secrets of her kitchen. The family’s nightmare began in April 1975, when soldiers forced them to leave their home in Phnom Penh. “They said to take whatever is necessary for three days and then you’ll be back,” Lam says.
Three days turned into four years. During that time, Pol Pot and his Communist-influenced Khmer Rouge soldiers killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians, almost a fourth of the country’s population and much of its educated elite.
Lam and her family were sent to the jungle, where they endured long, hot days of physical labor with never enough food. Her father was put in charge of more than a hundred buffalo: Lam remembers him counting them again and again because he’d be killed if he lost even one. At age 5, she was sent to the rice fields, though she was much too young for the backbreaking work. Lam’s scarred legs remind her of the beatings she took for being slow at her job.
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Her parents were in constant danger because they had university degrees, and the Khmer Rouge targeted people with an education. “It’s lucky my mom and dad didn’t wear glasses, because anyone who wore glasses would be killed,” she says. “When they asked my father to read something, he held the book upside down.”
It isn’t clear how Lam’s family was spared when almost everyone around them was being killed. Lam thinks a Khmer Rouge official, a man her mother had befriended in Phnom Penh, protected them. “He looked ugly and everyone made fun of him,” Lam says, “but my mom always gave him money to buy food and then he became very powerful (under the Khmer Rouge). He found my mom and protected her.”
When the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out and occupied Cambodia in 1979, Lam’s family fled into the mountains. One night when Lam was 9, her family got separated as they crossed the border into Thailand. After they crawled under a series of three barbed wire fences, Thai soldiers chased after them. Lam hid in a well to avoid detection and found her family in the morning. Eventually, the Lam family ended up in a Thai refugee camp. Then, more luck: A St. Paul church offered to sponsor them. They arrived on a snowy November day in 1983. Lam was almost 11.
“I take nothing for granted,” says Lam, who opened Cheng Heng in 1997. Cheng is the middle name of Lam’s husband, Kevin Cheng Lam. Heng means lucky. Like so many immigrants, Lam wants to share her luck. Over the years she collected the restaurant’s tip money and has used it to build two schools in Cambodia — one just for girls.
Cheng Heng’s Cambodian Chha Kroeng
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped
2 pieces of kaffir lime leaves
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon galangal, chopped
3 ounces sliced eye round beef
2 tablespoons soybean oil for wok
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped or shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped or shredded
Couple pieces of broccoli, chopped or shredded
1/4 of a jumbo onion, chopped or shredded
Handful of chopped peanuts
4 to 5 pea pods, chopped or shredded
Roasted peanuts, to garnish
1. Using a food processor, combine the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, garlic, shallots and galangal until a fine texture is achieved. This is the kroeng.
2. Set two tablespoons of the kroeng aside. Rub the rest of this mixture into the beef to infuse the flavor into the meat. Set this aside for 10 minutes.
3. Place soybean oil in wok, add the reserved kroeng and let it cook at medium heat for 5 minutes, until a pleasant aroma is released. Add the beef, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until the vegetables are still slightly crunchy.
5. Season with more salt or sugar to taste. Garnish with roasted peanuts and serve with white rice.
Main photo: Chha kroeng is popular across Cambodia, with each city serving up a distinctive recipe. Credit: Will Matsuda
(Portions of this article first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.)
Stories abound about farmers of color in the United States and their historic ties to the land. Current-day farmers carry nuanced stories about why their ancestors left and why they feel compelled to return: Is it spiritual, out of need, political or pleasure?
FARMERS OF COLOR
A three-part series to make visible the lives of the invisible
Gone are the post-Civil War days when some forsook farming to northern cities and industrial jobs. The descendants of the enslaved understood farm work as degrading and severe, something to be shunned at all costs.
Instead today’s farmers of color are reclaiming and revitalizing their historical ties to the land, a land full of riches their ancestors, distant and near, built.
Sandra Simone, of voice and vetch
Sandra Simone, a jazz singer, returned to the soil of her roots. Her life moved forward once she bought back a fraction of her ancestor’s land in rural Alabama. Watch and listen to Sandra.
Frankie Lee Michael, on native southern pecans
A part-time pecan farmer, Frankie Lee Michael carries on his father’s business of providing automated pecan shelling to local pecan farmers in Mississippi. Lee, of Native American heritage, shares his perspective on pecans, desserts, the environment and the changing climate in this short film clip.
Rashid Nuri, on urban agriculture
Rashid Nuri of Truly Living Well has a long career in government and private sector. In this short film clip, Nuri describes why all people should have a right to healthy food, urban or rural, and he shares how he and his community are doing it in the heart of downtown Atlanta.
Main image: Rashid Nuri. Credit: Sarah Khan
During a hosted visit to explore the city of Napa, I stayed at the Inn on Randolph in a leafy neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Waiting to meet chef Paul Fields, I was offered a golden brown chocolate chip cookie, a good litmus test of a baker’s skill.
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All too often chocolate chip cookies are overly sweet or undercooked. In either case, that puts one’s teeth on edge. When chef Fields joined me, I complimented him on the cookies. With pride he explained they were gluten-free.
The Inn on Randolph is one of the few gluten-free upscale inns in the country. Fields was challenged by owner Karen Lynch to create flavorful, quality dishes that gastronomic visitors to Napa Valley would enjoy.
Fields makes virtually everything he serves from scratch using local ingredients. Many ingredients come from the inn’s gardens and fruit trees. He doesn’t make wheat-based breads and pastries. So to satisfy the need for morning carbohydrates, the day I stayed at the inn, he served a hot plate of Beluga lentils, a poached egg, roasted carrots and squash, with maple chicken sausages.
Anyone who bakes knows how well wheat flour mixed with a liquid and a fat creates elastic dough and batters. Many supermarkets and health food stores carry gluten-free flours made from a variety of plants: chickpeas, corn, chia, buckwheat, rice bran, barley, arrowroot, amaranth, nuts, potato, millet, quinoa and tapioca. But these flours have flavors and binding properties different from wheat.
Chocolate chip cookies are part of my childhood sense memory. They evoke my mother’s kitchen, where my sister and I vied to eat the first cookie warm from the oven.
Fields’ cookies passed my-mother-used-to-make-these-cookies test. They had the right amount of chewiness and sweetness with a lovely melted chocolate flavor. They were delicious.
Inn on Randolph Chocolate Chip Cookies
Fields suggests making a good supply of the gluten-free flour blend. The flour recipe below will make 6 dozen cookies. With the holidays coming up, the flour will not go to waste. Store the blend in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry or in the refrigerator.
Having a good supply of pre-shaped frozen cookie dough is a great help for spur of the moment holiday celebrations.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 10 to 12 minutes or overnight
Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature soft
2 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract without alcohol
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 cups Inn on Randolph flour blend (see below)
8 ounces chocolate chips of your choice: milk, dark or a blend of the two
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter and brown sugar. Mix to combine and break up any lumps. Stir until smooth.
3. Add egg and vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated into the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix baking powder with gluten-free flour blend.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well until most of the flour is incorporated. Leave some of the flour unblended.
5. Add chocolate chips. Fold together the unblended flour and the chocolate chips to prevent the chips from sticking to one another. Then mix together with the batter until no flour can be seen. Scoop out the cookies with a 1-ounce scoop or with a large spoon. Prepare a nonstick baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the balls of dough next to each other.
6. Freeze a minimum of 10 to 12 minutes or overnight. If the cookies are going to be baked on another day, transfer the frozen balls to an airtight container and return to the freezer.
Just before baking, remove from the freezer. Place the balls on a nonstick baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with a Silpat sheet or a piece of parchment paper. Remembering that as the cookies bake, they will expand, leave 4 inches of space between each ball of dough and the sides of the baking sheet.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes to desired doneness. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Inn on Randolph Flour Blend
Weight is more accurate, but you may use cup measures. Store the blend in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry or in the refrigerator.
Prep time: 10 minutes
1 1/2 cups or 167 grams sorghum flour, superfine
3/4 cup or 101 grams cornstarch
1/2 cup or 82 grams potato flour, finely ground
3/4 cup or 117 grams potato starch, unmodified
1/2 cup or 56 grams tapioca flour
Measure out each dry ingredient.
Mix together. Stir well.
Store in an airtight container.
Main photo: Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies made by chef Paul Fields for guests at the Inn on Randolph, Napa, Calif. Credit: David Latt
In the video, Fields shows how to freeze the cookie dough in individual portions.
On a Sunday night in May, Scott Wright arrived at his Carlton, Ore., winery to find flames shooting from the roof and smoke billowing into the sky. “There were 30 to 50 firefighters in full gear scrambling around, working on the blaze,” Wright said. “It was like something you see in the movies, very surreal.”
He tracked down the crew chief to find out whether the fire had been contained. Foremost on his mind was the condition of the 2013 vintage at the other end of the building. He’d sampled the wines only the day before and had marveled over the quality.
“It would be absolutely crippling,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything more damaging than losing an entire vintage.”
Wright is one of the winemakers I interviewed for “American Wine Story,” a documentary that explores the drive to start life over in the wine industry. He co-owns Scott Paul Wines, a business he started after leaving behind a successful career in the music industry in Los Angeles.
Wright’s preoccupation with reinventing himself in wine was so great that it had affected his health. Unable to track the source of the decline, his doctor encouraged him to follow his obsession. “Driving home from that doctor’s appointment was when I had the realization that, yes, I really had to do this,” Wright said.
Shortly after that visit, he founded Scott Paul Wines in 1999 and never looked back. In the settling smoke 15 years later, his future was in question.
Wright’s plunge into the wine business follows a common thread in the industry. During five years of filming, I spoke to dozens of people who left their previous lives behind. Engineers, radio personalities, computer programmers — the dizzying array of former careers was matched only by the unimaginable stress and labor it takes to launch a wine brand.
Despite the inherent risks, the steep learning curve and the long hours, there’s no shortage of born-again oenophiles willing to take a shot at making it in wine. We began filming at the height of the Great Recession. At that time, by official count in our home state of Oregon, there were 275 wineries.
A financial downturn seems hardly the time for people to dive en masse into a capital-intensive business like winemaking, in which it takes years to generate a return. But five years later, just as we’re releasing “American Wine Story,” Oregon wineries now number 545.
“Most people starting wineries in Oregon come to it as a second or even third career,” said Michelle Kaufmann of the Oregon Wine Board. It’s no easy transition. “Oregon is a challenging place because our yields are small. It takes a lot to produce wine here.”
Given the obstacles, why did the roster continue to expand even during tough economic times?
“When the recession was happening,” Kaufmann speculated, “people were looking for what really makes them happy.”
Wine makes people happy. And obsessive.
Look at the prices on the top shelf of any good wine shop and you’ll know that you have to be a little crazy to spend a small fortune on a bottle of fermented fruit juice. We found clear evidence of that intense ardor for wine as we traveled to six states, talking to the people who make and sell it. Most of them began as consumers.
A leap triggered by an ‘epiphany bottle’
Often it was a single “epiphany bottle” that rocked their concept of what wine could be. A humble beverage suddenly became a captivating elixir that they strove to understand. And the best way to understand wine? Make it.
A pattern began to emerge: desk job, epiphany bottle, wine enthusiast, home winemaker, wine business owner working 16-hour days with a mad glint in the eye and a heck of a story. None of the winemakers we met had regrets. But a few wondered if they’d be able to go through it all again.
The challenges are clear. Yet more and more people are willing to take the risk and jump in. And it’s not just a West Coast phenomenon. It’s happening in every state in the union.
On the opposite coast, Virginia is also striving to stake its claim on wine. The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office lists 250 “farm wineries” in the state.
Although Virginia may be a lesser-known region in comparison with California’s Napa or Sonoma or even the booming wine town of Walla Walla, Wash., it has some serious wine history. Thomas Jefferson started the Commonwealth’s first commercial vineyard with an Italian neighbor, Filippo Mazzei, in 1776. That project didn’t take off, but the seeds of an idea were sown, and old Long Tom would be proud of what Virginia’s accomplishing today.
You can visit restored vineyards on the slopes of Monticello, where another Italian, Gabriele Rausse, tends the vines and brings them to harvest with more success, doing his part to further Jefferson’s original vision.
“I think that Jefferson was ready, 200 years ago, to sell wine to the French,” Rausse said with a laugh. “We are not there yet. But we are going in that direction.”
We made stops in Arizona and Missouri to learn about some of America’s more challenging growing conditions. We visited large and small producers. We spoke with Oregon wine pioneer Dick Erath, who grew his namesake label to 90,000 cases before retiring to make wine in his garage. We also spoke with Jim Day of Panache Cellars in Philomath, Ore., who commercially produces vins de garage: 250 cases of fine wine emerge each year from his tiny suburban facility.
Despite the myriad challenges and setbacks, tricky weather, fickle markets, entrepreneurial souls continue to plunge headfirst into wine. New labels and entire regions seem to spring up overnight. Both by pluck and luck, Americans are chasing their dreams by the barrelful.
Although the size of the American dream doesn’t matter when it comes to wine, passion does. And a little luck doesn’t hurt, either.
At Wright’s place, the fire hit on a Sunday night, when most of the volunteer firefighters were at home — and thus available — instead of at work. That saved precious minutes, and the fire was kept from spreading to the storage areas. Otherwise, Wright said, “it might not have been a death blow, but it would have been impossible for a new winery to recover.”
A few days after the fire, Wright sampled his wines and confirmed that they’d survived the flames unscathed, showing the same promise they had before the fire. “It was a damn good tasting.”
Main photo: Of his career switch from music to winemaking, Oregon’s Scott Wright says, “I really had to do this.” Credit: David Baker
On a long trip across America’s heartland, I spotted a pair of button eyes peering out at me from a passing semi truck full of livestock. The pig that I had locked eyes with was probably being taken to slaughter. I lost count of how many large-scale animal-transport trucks I saw while traveling Interstate 80 through farm country, each carrying animals, including turkeys for Thanksgiving, shoulder to shoulder, listless as wet carpet.
Those images made for a stunning contrast when I arrived at Ham Sweet Farm in Williamston, Mich., owned and operated by Kate Spinillo and her husband, Christian.
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It looked so peacefully perfect that it might well be an artist-created movie set, from the goats sitting on a kiddie playhouse in a pen nearest the road, to the sweet yellow house with the wrap-around porch, to the pigs eagerly grunting and munching on leftover jack-o’-lanterns and enjoying scratches behind the ears, to the acres of oak and hickory that stretch out at the furthest reaches of the property.
Theirs is the idyllic farm that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) want you to picture when they advertise industrially-raised meat, the same type of animals that were being transported in those interstate semis. But that sort of advertising is an illusion that attempts to mask the reality of how mass-market animals live and die.
The Spinillos say that putting the finest product out to market begins and ends with happy animals. Selling direct-to-customer and as part of a meat CSA, Ham Sweet Farm provides heritage breeds of pork, beef, chicken, turkey and eggs to their community, including restaurants and a food truck. Amazed by the fact that they are able to maintain their operation while they both work full-time jobs outside the farm, I asked Kate how Ham Sweet Farm came to be.
“It started simply enough, with both of us working on farms, more as an outlet and interest than anything else. But once you start, it gets into your blood. You want the work, the challenge, the tangible reward at the end of a day of work and problem-solving.
“It’s as much about the relationship you have with the land you’re working on or with, as it is about the animals you’re raising or the produce you’re growing. It all falls together into one panoramic picture of the way you want to live your life, and also the way you want the food you eat to live its life.”
While we were enjoying a drink on the front porch and taking in the cornfield across the street, the gang of turkeys strolled in front of us, seemingly with a group goal or destination. With an arresting blend of humor and salt in her voice, Spinillo pointed out the difference between pastured and CAFO turkeys.
“Our turkeys are pretty friendly, and like to climb out of their mobile fencing to parade around the house, the driveway, the shop, various barns, our neighbor’s house, the mailbox and occasionally our front porch.
“The toms also like to get out and torment our big Blue Slate tom, ‘Phil Collins,’ but the joke is on them, because he is a permanent resident of the farm. Being heritage breeds, they retain their abilities to fly, so some of them roost in the trees or on top of our garden fence posts at night. Industrially-raised turkeys grow so fast and have such large breasts that they can hardly walk, let alone fly, toward the end of their lives.”
She explained the turkeys consumers find in most stores are broad-breasted white turkeys, which take about 5 months to raise before they go to the butcher. The Spinillos’ birds, by contrast, hatch in the spring and grow for about nine months before slaughter. They’re smaller than typical turkeys you find in the grocery store. Butterball would consider them “average,” Kate said.
“The flavor of our turkey last year, though, was phenomenal. One family worried about the smaller size of our birds, and so purchased an extra breast to serve on Thanksgiving … no one ate it, because our pasture-raised turkey was just that good.”
In an age where some stores put turkeys on sale for as little as 50 cents a pound, the cost of a pasture-raised bird — $9 a pound for a whole turkey — might seem shockingly high to some, but it takes into account the value of what it takes to bring the animal to market.
“Other than pigs, which we are raising to three times the age of the average CAFO pig, turkeys are our greatest investment. Seventy percent of the cost of a Thanksgiving turkey is to cover hard feed costs; the other 30% should theoretically cover the cost of the bird itself, processing, equipment, and your time.”
The percentage is theoretic, she said, because of the amount of human labor it takes to care for them daily for nine months is quite great.
Deeply committed to being a part of the local economy, the Spinillos understand well that not everyone can afford their meat, and go to great lengths to meet the needs of their customers, even arranging payment plans and deliveries for families who need those options. Still, it causes them to flinch when someone tries to imply their product isn’t worth the price.
“People see your heritage bird pricing and balk, but they forget that a turkey is good for multiple meals,” Kate said. “Thanksgiving dinner, leftovers, and then you make soup and stock from the bones. Turkeys should not be a disposable dinner, and we don’t price them like they are.”
Spinillo suggests that one of the easiest and most budget-friendly ways to support a small farm like theirs is to learn to make use of less-popular cuts.
“What’s frustrating is that people love the idea of the farm, they love coming to visit, and I think they love the romantic idea of purchasing directly from the farm raising the meat (or eggs or produce). But everyone wants the cuts that they know — steaks, belly, eight-piece chicken.
“The parts that we cannot GIVE AWAY are things like poultry feet and necks (duck, chicken, turkey), gizzards of all kinds, pork and beef offal (liver, kidney, heart, tongue). These all represent some of the best and most nutritious eating on the animal, as well as the cheapest cuts, but much of it we end up eating ourselves because we cannot give it away, let alone sell it.”
Slow Cooker Turkey Neck Bone Broth
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 24 hours
Yield: 8 cups
1 turkey neck
Any other bony pieces, including feet or tail
1 onion, halved
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
10 whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
10 cups water, or enough to generously cover the ingredients
1. Place all of the ingredients in a large slow cooker and heat them on low for 4 to 6 hours.
2. Pull out the turkey neck and any other bones that may have meat attached. Pick off the pieces of meat and save them for another meal. Return the bones to the slow cooker and let the bone broth cook on low for an additional 20 hours.
3. Strain out the bones, vegetables and spices. Let the bone broth cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator. It should be quite gelatinous by the time it is chilled. Bone broth also takes well to being frozen and can be a go-to for holiday meals.
Main photo: Turkeys at Ham Sweet Farm in Williamston, Mich. Credit: Kate Spinillo
As far as I am concerned, we New Englanders own the winter kitchen, from the cranberries and pumpkin pies of Thanksgiving all the way to the corned beef and cabbage of St. Patrick’s Day. Our regional cooking is reliable and time tested, but possibly also a bit dated — in need of a pick-me-up, a refresher that catches us up with the way the rest of the country eats. Chef Jeremy Sewall is offering that refresher course in his new cookbook, “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes” (Rizzoli, 2014).
Sewall is one of the best chefs in Boston. A true New Englander (he descends from a family of seafarers and lobstermen), he is the chef and partner at four top Boston restaurants (Lineage, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34). Following in the great tradition of Fannie Farmer, Jasper White and Lydia Shire, Sewall is widely seen as the new face of classic New England cuisine: heavy on the seafood, aware of the seasons, conversant with the flavors of the globe. This is his first cookbook, and it’s a modern classic — and a keeper.
New England fare for all seasons
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Here’s my test for a new cookbook: If I’d instantly start prepping the first three entrees I come across, I know I’ve got my nose in a new classic. I hadn’t even finished the introduction before I started rummaging in my fridge, freezer and pantry to see if I could make the Steamed Mussels With Pilsner, Garlic and Fresno Peppers. I moved on to the Mushroom Ragout and the English Pea Soup before I acknowledged that I was getting very excited about ingredients that wouldn’t truly be available until early spring. So I thumbed deeper into the book and made Sewall’s recipe for Seared Sea Scallops With Creamy Turnip Puree and Crisp Shiitake Mushrooms. That held me for a while.
Sewall is a prodigiously talented, hardworking and remarkably humble chef. Not a TV commodity, he picked time in the kitchen over time in front of the camera, so you may not know him. But if you begin to work through his recipes, you’ll appreciate the skills honed over decades on the line.
For this book, he smartly teamed up with food writer Erin Byers Murray, the author of “Shucked.” The two share a connection to Island Creek Oysters, where Murray worked for a year as an oyster farmer, taking a sabbatical from her day job as a food writer and editor, and Sewall is the executive chef at two Island Creek Boston restaurants. The two seamlessly present a voice that is warm, confident and so infused with New England roots that you can hear the broad vowels as you read.
But there’s nothing provincial or backward looking in “The New England Kitchen.” It is stocked with food you want to eat because you love the flavors of New England and you live in this century. Razor clams and pot roast. Fried clams (of course) and a mussel dish that puts the French to shame. Pan-roasted hake and roasted duck confit. A recipe for skate wing I’ve made twice so far, and it’s made me a kitchen hero both times. A gorgeous lemon tart with lavender cream.
Each recipe is illustrated with a gorgeous large-format photo by Michael Harlan Turkell, making you believe that you can deliver on the promise of a perfect meal.
Reading through the book, you will get a good sense of the local bounty of New England season by season, and how a top-tier regional chef makes the most of it.
If you need a new cookbook to get you through the New England winter, this is the one.
Spiced Skate Wing
Recipe courtesy of “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes.”
Sewall’s note: “Skate might seem like an unusual choice for the home cook, but it has a nice firm texture and a really sweet flavor. Here, I toss it with a seasoned flour and quickly sauté it for an easy weeknight dish. Buy skate from a trusted fishmonger and give it a sniff before bringing it home (it takes on an ammonia smell when beginning to go bad). If you can’t find skate, freshwater trout is a great substitute, but it might require a minute or two longer to cook, depending on the thickness.”
Yield: Serves 4
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon curry powder
4 tablespoons canola oil
4 (6-ounce) skate wing fillets, trimmed, skin removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic starts to brown just a little, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a small bowl. Let cool for 1 hour. Just before serving, whisk the lemon juice into the garlic oil.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the cumin, dry mustard, turmeric, white pepper, coriander and curry powder. Set aside.
3. In a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil over medium-high heat. Dredge the skate in the flour mixture and shake off any excess. Season the fish with salt and black pepper. Place two pieces of fish in the pan and cook until they begin to brown lightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip over the fish and immediately remove the pan from the heat; let the fish rest in the pan for 30 seconds before removing it. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining fillets.
4. Place the fillets on individual plates. Drizzle with garlic oil just before serving. Serve with Toasted Orzo With Spinach and Chorizo (see recipe below).
Toasted Orzo With Spinach and Chorizo
Recipe courtesy of “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes.”
Sewall’s note: “I often pair this pasta dish with Spiced Skate Wing, but you can try it with other fish, chicken, or on its own. Chorizo is a spicy sausage that comes fresh or dry; for this recipe I use dry chorizo and cook it lightly. The heat from the sausage mellows when tossed with spinach and pasta.”
Yield: Serves 4
1 cup orzo pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
6 ounces dry chorizo sausage, cut into thin rounds
1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons vegetable stock
2 cups lightly packed baby spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Toss the orzo with the olive oil in a baking pan and toast in the oven for 7 minutes, stirring halfway through. The pasta should be lightly toasted and have a nutty smell to it.
3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the toasted orzo, lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool.
4. In a large sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat and add the chorizo and onion. Sauté until some of the sausage fat starts to render out and the sausage begins to lightly crisp around the edges, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain off any excess fat. Add the orzo, lemon zest and stock to the pan and warm through over medium heat. Add the spinach and immediately remove the pan from the heat; the spinach should be slightly wilted. Toss together and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Main photo: Chef Jeremy Sewall and his new cookbook, “The New England Kitchen.” Credit: Michael Harlan Turkell