Articles in People
Looking ahead to hot days when meals must be light and flavorful, home cooks and restaurant chefs alike want light and flavorful dishes to put on the table. One dish perfect for the summer is tuna tartare, delicately seasoned and plated to satisfy any gourmand’s need for luxurious food, beautifully presented.
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Gabriel Kreuther, executive chef at The Modern, the fine dining restaurant at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is a master at preparing beautifully delicious comfort food. With a dining room view of MoMA’s sculpture garden, Chef Kreuther lets his food take its cue from the art. His plates are mini-sculptures, animated with color, contrasts and meticulous detailing.
Tartare, like sashimi, is only as good as its ingredients and those must be as fresh as possible. Quality seafood purveyors are a good source of the high quality yellowfin tuna and diver scallops required for the recipe.
Adding to the quality of the seafood is the visual design. For Kreuther, the extra effort it takes to make a visually striking plate gives added pleasure to a dish.
Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops Seasoned with American Caviar
For the tartare:
12 ounces yellow fin tuna, sushi grade, medium dice (½-inch cubes)
12 ounces diver scallops (8 to 10 of the freshest, highest quality, firm), medium dice (½-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces American Caviar
3 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cucumber, not too thick, preferably seedless, unpeeled
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar (or reduction of regular balsamic vinegar made by reducing 8 tablespoons over a low flame), as needed
Baby greens or arugula for garnish
For the chive oil:
Chives, leftover parts from above chopped portion
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
To prepare the chive oil:
1. Blend the chives and oil in a blender. Strain the mixture and reserve in a squeeze bottle.
To prepare the seafood:
1. Dice the tuna into ½-inch cubes. Place into a bowl, cover and reserve in the refrigerator.
2. Dice the scallops into similarly sized ½-inch cubes. Place into a separate bowl, cover and also refrigerate.
To prepare the bed of cucumber:
1. Wash the cucumber and pat it dry. Slice it very thinly using a Japanese mandoline slicer for better precision or if unavailable, use a very sharp knife.
2. Season the slices with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and arrange the slices on a chilled plate in 2 overlapping columns (6 slices each, arranged like shingles on a roof) down the center of the plate. Refrigerate until ready to plate the dish.
To prepare the tartare mixture:
1. Combine the tuna and scallops in one bowl and add the chopped chives, hazelnut oil, olive oil and caviar.
2. Season with salt and pepper and mix all the ingredients together gently. On the final stir, add some lemon juice to taste.
Note: Do not use too much lemon juice, as it will overpower the dish.
To plate the dish:
1. Place several spoonfuls of the tartare mixture along the length of the 2 columns of cucumber, down the center, leaving some of the outer edge of cucumbers to be visible.
2. Season the baby greens with some of the remaining lemon juice and olive oil.
3. Spike one end of the tartare with a few leaves of the seasoned greens.
4. Finally, using the aged balsamic vinegar (or reduced balsamic vinegar) and the chive oil in 2 separate squeeze bottles, make 2 straight lines, on either side of the columns of cucumber (parallel to and approximately ½ inch away from the cucumbers.)
Top photo: Tartare of yellowfin tuna and diver scallops seasoned with American caviar. Credit: Diana DeLucia
As something of a general-assignment reporter on the food beat, I cover everything from elite top chefs in the farm-to-fork realm, to Napa winemakers, to boutique growers, to farmers market advocates and culinary academics.
But I also see food banks — a world of hurt no one in the food industry should ignore.
"That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable." -- Richard Nixon
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One of the movie’s shattering facts is that in the 1970s, hunger in America was all but eradicated. By the 1980s, hunger returned with a vengeance and now afflicts more people than any other time in the country’s history. A record 47.8 million Americans are on food stamps. Seventeen million are children. More than 33,000 food stamp users hold doctoral degrees. Enrollment in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has increased 70% since the economic collapse of 2008.
It would appear to be a good time to enrich the food stamp system. But that’s not what’s happening in Congress.
Just when people rely on food stamps more than ever, the Senate voted June 10 for a farm bill that cuts SNAP by about $4 billion over the next 10 years.
And that’s the good news.
The Senate cut is peanuts compared to the $20-billion slash the House of Representatives is proposing. To protest, several of members of Congress tried a budget of $4.50 a day for 3 days this week to see what living on food stamps was like — not easy. The House version of the bill will knock nearly 2 million households off the rolls during a weak economy, with unemployment stalled at 7.6% and 15% of Americans living below the poverty line, the highest in poverty in half a century.
Most people on food stamps work. But if those jobs pay only minimum wage, such as Alabama’s $2.13 an hour for tipped employees, all minimum wage workers easily qualify for benefits.
Hard times can happen to anyone
I was on food stamps in California in 2005. My husband and I had lost a business and became instantly unemployed. As staunchly middle class, closer to upper-middle class growing up, I’d never heard of most of the programs that aid distressed Americans. Only one came to mind — food stamps.
Even though I owned a home and car, it looked as if I would be eligible. Only recently had ownership of a car been stricken as a disqualifying asset. I was shocked that people obviously in poverty were once punished if they owned a car to use to get to work or to look for a job. Then I got fingerprinted. (California no longer fingerprints food stamp applicants.)
I was issued a debit-like credit card loaded with funds every month. It’s called Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT.
I shopped for what would keep us healthy and un-hungry, such as vegetables, fruits, juice, meat, eggs, and OK, chocolate. I’m a good cook, so my shopping habits didn’t change much. I never got into the living-on-beans thing. I didn’t squander precious food-stamp dollars on soda, chips, frozen TV dinners, disgusting canned peas, lunchmeat or cookies, all of which are permitted. Participants who buy Ding Dongs and Hungry-Mans, and can’t cook, burn through their balance sooner.
Once I got the hang of it, I was going to EBT stores like Whole Foods and buying leg of lamb and brie. The program even allowed me to buy seeds and plants to grow a garden.
I thought that being on food stamps was like manna from heaven. But it’s not perfect. Aside from fraud traced mostly to the grocers’ end, the most imperfect thing about SNAP is its recent message about health.
In 2008, it changed its name to SNAP so it would be thought of as a nutrition program. The only problem here is that SNAP’s N-word, nutrition, doesn’t mean much when enrollees can buy liters of Pepsi and bags of Cheetos, and attract the scorn of politicians and the uninformed. My style of food stamp usage is equally criticized as food stamp elitism. How dare I buy high-quality ingredients while on the government dole?
But food is food, and any change to this definition in the Food and Nutrition Act would require an act of Congress. The people on the Hill gave up when they became tangled in the unruly theories of what makes a food too luxurious or too junky. Why not offer food stamp users nutrition classes? Oh, silly me. SNAP’s education funding had already been cut.
Food stamps benefits multiply
Every time an EBT card is swiped at a store, a nearly instantaneous transfer of funds from Washington starts a cash ripple effect locally. For example, the federal reimbursement of an 89-cent head of broccoli benefits the grower, the distributor, the store and the person who consumes the broccoli’s nutrition — for the full 89 cents.
Slashing billions of dollars from SNAP may starve the government beast, but it’s going to starve actual human beings, too.
If the minimum wage is not a living wage, and until the economy becomes unstuck, expect even more people to need that plastic EBT card like the one I keep in my wallet to this day.
Top photo: Clients collecting food at the River City Food Bank in Sacramento, Calif. Credit: Elaine Corn
I’ve never really understood the lure of molecular gastronomy. I’ll admit that the science behind it is fascinating, but as food it just never rocked my world. While dining on cotton candy foie gras at a restaurant known for molecular gastronomy, I ordered an Old-Fashioned. By the time I’d swallowed the chemically engineered “cherry” at the bottom of the drink, I’d had a brainstorm. This experience would be a lot more fun if the chef would simply sit beside me and explain why the seemingly solid maraschino cherry magically disappeared in my mouth. In fact, I wanted to know everything about the scientific principals that made crazy concoctions like this possible.
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Unfortunately I’d never found a way to make this happen. That is, until I attended the 2nd Annual Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Social at LA Makerspace in Los Angeles. It was really less of an ice cream social and more of a molecular gastronomy magic show. This event answered my question about the maraschino cherry, plus a few I’d never thought to ask.
The molecular gastronomist at work
The mastermind behind the event was Ariel Levi Simons. He’s a passionate amateur molecular gastronomist, as well as a physics teacher at Wildwood School in West Los Angeles and a founding member of LA Makerspace. In front of a group of about 50 people, Simons created culinary illusions, while simultaneously explaining the science behind the magic. Families with small children helped him freeze ice cream in less than 30 seconds under a cloud of bubbling liquid nitrogen. Grown-up science geeks mulled the question of which tasted better, carbonated pineapple or fizzy habañero-infused avocado.
I was most excited to learn about spherification, the process by which my faux-maraschino cherry was created. Simons enthusiastically described a magical elixir that could turn almost any liquid into a sphere. It’s all thanks to sodium alginate, a common food additive derived from kelp that many of us eat every day. It’s used to prevent freezer burn in ice cream and thicken McDonald’s apple pies. Simons makes a slightly more upscale concoction: synthetic caviar.
Simons loads equal amounts of a concentrated syrup, such as Torani, and sodium alginate into a syringe. Then he squeezes small drops of the mixture into a solution of food-grade calcium chloride. When the two solutions meet, the calcium ions bind to the sodium alginate, forming a skin around the liquid that magically transforms into a sphere within a few seconds.
It’s pure physics and chemistry. When you bite into these tiny spheres, the thin skin immediately bursts, unleashing the taste of tangerine or black tea inside. It’s not quite caviar, but the mystery of the faux-maraschino was solved.
The greater mystery of the event turned out to be Simons himself. I was surprised to learn that Simons’ interest in food chemistry runs deeper than the simple parlor tricks of molecular gastronomy, which he describes as “the showiest and quickest” way to talk about food chemistry.
Molecular gastronomy illuminates our food preservation traditions
Simons is passionate about traditional methods of food preservation, as I am, and we discussed real magic: the slow but startling fermentation of kimchi, the alchemy of 1,000-year-old eggs, and the mysterious transformation of black garlic. Simons is fascinated with the chemistry of even the most basic foods. He revealed the fact that corn syrup is far more chemically complex than anything he made at the ice cream social. In fact, the production of corn syrup is so complex that it is only economically feasible because the United States government subsidizes the production of corn, which makes it almost free as a raw product.
Simons thinks the complexity of our food actually may be a problem, especially because no one realizes how ubiquitous it is. “Food production has been a driving force in human history,” he said. And sadly, this driving force has largely been forgotten.
“We don’t think about food production because we don’t have to,” he said. “We’ve sort of won the game.”
But Simons recognizes that there are good reasons to understand where our food comes from and how it’s made. The point of Simons’ “magic show” at the ice cream social was to “show that it’s not actually magic. It’s a technique we developed to take food and transport it and sell it across the world.”
For me, the real thrill of molecular gastronomy is discovering the science behind the seemingly magical concoctions that I eat. I’ve tried my own food alchemy demonstrations with my kids, including making my own sugar from sugarcane. And when I next have the opportunity to taste potato foam gnocchi or dried olive soil, I won’t need the chef sitting next to me to fully enjoy the experience.
But frankly, my favorite form of molecular gastronomy involves the chemical reaction between a large bag of salt and the back leg of a pig. Country ham — now that’s magic.
Top photo: Molecular gastronomy in action. Credit: Susan Lutz
Can chefs change the way we eat? The Chefs Collaborative is taking a stab at promoting sustainability with a new cookbook of recipes gathered from America’s most notable chef-activists.
Celebrity chefs have a long tradition as tastemakers. It began with Julia Child, the French Chef who influenced Americans’ purchasing decisions about everything from pots and pans to whole chickens. More than 30 years ago another Californian, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, introduced us to mesclun. This baby lettuce mix is now available in every supermarket and served in restaurants across the nation. In today’s television food culture, celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and David Chang tempt us with their daring and globetrotting to try foods that are ever more exotic. Meanwhile, another group of chefs in America is influencing another, less flashy but significant trend: responsible eating.
These chefs are members of Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit devoted to creating a more sustainable food supply. Working in restaurants across the country, they lead by example: celebrating seasonal, locally produced foods on their menus and advocating for farming and fishing communities. For its 20th anniversary, the organization released its first cookbook, “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook: Local, Sustainable, Delicious Recipes from America’s Great Chefs.” Few of the 115 chef contributors are celebrities of TV fame. Instead, they are community leaders who are drawing attention to critical food issues by what they choose to put on the plate.
‘Think like a chef’ with Chefs Collaborative Cookbook
The recipes in this seductively photographed cookbook are grouped in four categories — vegetable and fruits, meat and poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy and eggs. While I expected the recipes to be organized seasonally, this approach made page-turning like armchair-traveling through the seasons. Reading through each recipe inspired me to “think like a chef,” considering how each contributor selected ingredients and flavors together with attention to seasonality, yes, but deliciousness, too.
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By Chefs Collaborative and Ellen Jackson
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Another novelty is that this chef-driven book is not cheffy at all. Certainly the glossy pages include luxury ingredients and multiple steps, but this collection is not intended to dazzle or bewilder with culinary alchemy or sleight of hand. Not one to languor on the coffee table, this chef book is enticing, instructive and very approachable.
Take the recipe for turnip soup from Dan Barber. The chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Barber is the role model of the sustainable chef. Dining at his Upstate New York destination restaurant-farm-education center was dubbed “a life-changing experience” by Food and Wine.
Turnip soup: There may be no flash to this pea-green fall soup recipe, but there is more than meets the eye. For one, the ingredient list is a carefully selected assemblage of leeks, parsnips, purple-topped turnips plus uncommon parsley root (for which Barber offers a substitution). There is also attentive cooking technique: “Be careful not to get any color on the vegetables” and a teaching note about how parsnips and turnips will be sweeter if harvested after the first frost. Though summer had not yet arrived, I yearned for fall immediately.
Helpful color-coded sections
While the recipes keep the teaching light and informal, other sections of this book offer more hard-hitting resources for study. Interspersed throughout the book, robin’s-egg blue pages called “Breaking It Down” deliver encyclopedic listings demystifying the myriad labels for beef, poultry, seafood, eggs and more, delivering essential understanding for making purchasing decisions today. Other goldenrod-colored pages offer nuts-and-bolts information on topics ranging from using every part of the vegetable to understanding grain varieties to exploring various fish-catching methods. It raises serious issues without being overbearing.
The strength of this book is the variety, including all the highly regarded chefs it introduced me to who work and cook beyond my region. In a series of moss-colored pages titled “Straight Talk,” I read many of them muse about their essential pantry items, their favorite bean varieties, and how they decide between local or organic, among other topics. These read like conversations with the chefs themselves, and I would have welcomed more of them.
As a whole, “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook” offers insights into the complex web of decisions involved in cooking responsibly and eating mindfully. Without great fanfare, these tastemakers — the contributors and chefs in the Chefs Collaborative — are notable for leading the way to a more sustainable and exemplary way of eating.
Serves 4 to 6
If you make this soup with turnips and parsnips harvested after the first freeze, it will be noticeably sweeter. When exposed to cold weather, root vegetables convert their starches to sugars to prevent the water in their cell structure from freezing. Their survival tactic is our reward.
Parsley root, also known as Hamburg parsley, is a pungent cross between celery and parsley. If you have trouble finding it, substitute 1 cup of peeled, thinly sliced celery root and an additional 2 tablespoons of parsley leaves.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 small leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 medium purple-top turnips (about ¾ pound), peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsley root, peeled and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock (homemade or store-bought)
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup picked fresh chervil leaves
¼ cup picked pale yellow celery leaves (from the core)
1. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and leeks, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly without browning, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the turnips, parsnips, and parsley root and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine well with the leeks and onions, cover, and continue to cook slowly for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables become very soft. Be careful not to get any color on the vegetables.
3. Add the stock, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then purée in a blender in batches, adding some of the parsley, chervil and celery leaves each time. Make sure each batch is very smooth, then combine and strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill in an ice bath to preserve the soup’s bright color and fresh flavor. Reheat to serve, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.
Top photo composite: “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook” and Dan Barber’s turnip soup. Credits: Courtesy of The Taunton Press
Upon receiving an e-mail out of the blue last week from a filmmaker asking me whether I’d like to screen his latest production, I half wondered whether he’d meant to send it to my significant other, who just so happens to be the artistic director of a film festival here in Denver. Yes, “Trubadeaux: A Restaurant Movie” is about the hospitality industry, and yes, I’ve written an article or two about food on the silver screen. As a grad student in English many years ago, I even taught a couple of classes on the relationship between film and literature. But none of that makes me a professional reviewer.
Still, living with a programmer does mean I wind up watching dozens upon dozens of movies by unknown hopefuls every year — enough to get a sense of what’s worth my time and what isn’t in all of 15 minutes. So despite a bit of skepticism, I figured I had no more than a quarter-hour to lose.
Long story short: I not only watched and enjoyed the whole thing — as you can do on the filmmakers’ website for $5 — but even laughed out loud now and then. As it turns out, this slightly blue, slightly black shoestring comedy about a few days in the lives of a fictional Chicago eatery’s staff of misfits was written, directed, produced and performed by a team with both improv and service backgrounds. And it shows in every last silly, sad-sack detail — from the deadpan exchanges with snobby customers who insist that, say, Sicily isn’t in Italy to the screaming matches in pre-service meetings to the awkward kiss-and-tells of fellow employees. (Shooting took place on location at Edgewater Beach Café.)
“Trubadeaux” stars have restaurant chops
In fact, Group Mind Films managing partner John Berka — who co-created “Trubadeaux” and stars as pitifully piggish general manager Lyle — is in the business even today: “I started at age 15 at Applebee’s, and I’m currently a private-dining manager at the James Beard Award-winning Blackbird. I have done just about everything in the industry — except work as a GM! The one I play in the film is based on a few I’ve known here in Chicago.” Co-star Todd Wojcik — who plays Lyle’s brother, the head chef — likewise based his character on real-life ex-colleagues: “Todd has a ton of restaurant experience,” explains Berka. “We actually wrote a lot of the film while working together in a Rush Street restaurant.”
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That scripting process, he adds, unfolded “very organically.” “Todd and I would meet for our weekly writing sessions and wind up talking about what had happened the night before on the job,” Berka recalls. “My business partner, Jay Sukow, stopped us one day and said, ‘Guys, this is the film.’ From there, we started making a list of all of the weird things that have happened to us working in the industry. Everything was a collaboration inspired by real events, brought to life with the ‘yes, and’ mentality that’s the pillar of improvisation. For instance, the scene about the water main breaking over the sugar supply is one that every restaurant person loves. That was entirely improvised.”
Meanwhile, the supporting cast brought their own experiences to bear on the script: “Duane Toyloy (who plays Jackson) is a very strong server. We wrote his part around his serving ability, while Jyo Minekowa (Blair) is not the best waiter, but has a great personality. Jyo sued one of our former employers; we incorporated that into the scene at the bar where he talks about how Lyle and the chef are stealing tips. And the letter Lyle reads to the staff” — a tirade on lackluster service — “was based largely off a real letter received at a restaurant that both Jyo and I worked at. Rafa the dishwasher (Juan Palomino) is also a local industry veteran; he’s from Puebla, Mexico, and he came up with the idea for his character himself.”
Ultimately, says Berka, the goal “for me, as a longtime waiter, was to show people what waiters go through. The dynamics of a high-stress environment populated by out-of-control egos fuels the natural humor in restaurants” — and also the misery, he admits. “One of the themes of ‘Trubadeaux’ is addiction. Addiction is one of the constants in this life. I don’t think people have a real sense of everything that goes into working in a restaurant. We wanted to show people what happens when no guests are around. That’s the most compelling aspect.”
For other worthy food-and-drink-fueled movies — both narrative and documentary, many lesser known — click this film list. I also heartily recommend the charming “I Like Killing Flies,” a slice-of-life look at New York City’s notorious Shopsin’s; “Blood Into Wine,” featuring Tool frontman-turned-winemaker Maynard James Keenan; and “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” a gorgeously detailed account of menu creation under the legendary Ferran Adrià.
Top photo: Todd Wojcik (left) and John Berka star in “Trubadeaux.” Credit: Jason Beaumont
Maison Boulud has held its ground as one of the best-regarded high-end dining destinations in Beijing since opening a couple of months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At its helm sits Brian Reimer, the executive chef and director of operations in Asia for Dinex, also known as the Daniel Boulud Restaurant Group. Having lived in Beijing for six years, after working for three years as executive sous chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York, I wanted to learn about how these experiences have impacted him.
Reimer and I moved to Beijing about the same time. I first met him when I was dining editor for Time Out Beijing, when the city was in a building craze and citizens waited with bated breath (and grumbling stomachs) to see which of the newly-arrived fancy restaurants would survive the test of time.
What brought you to Beijing originally?
The opportunity to continue my time with Chef Daniel Boulud was one of the driving factors. For us both the idea of having the chance to open a French restaurant in Beijing at the old American Legation was incredibly exciting. Through the continued cooperation we still have to this day with Chef Daniel (a Frenchman) and myself (an American), it simply made sense to take full advantage of this unique venture.
What kept you in Beijing all these years?
As you grow in this craft of cooking and hospitality, you focus more on the larger picture. Of course the cuisine and aspects of service continue to be the most important factors.
The ability to see a space such as ours filled with such history and to now add our small mark on its importance it’s priceless. Coupled with the ability to see our staff grow as individuals and as a team — it’s the most wonderful feeling to be a part of this.
What challenges has Maison Boulud faced serving foreign food to a Chinese clientele?
We have of course run into a few occasions where the guests do not fully understand some of the cuisine. But the education of the guests with the experience of traveling abroad is fantastic.
What changes have you seen amongst your clientele over the years?
Even within just these past six years the knowledge of our guests at Maison Boulud continues to coincide with the growth of the city. It is being brought to the point where the product and supplies now available here are on par with other top cities in Asia.
What trends are you noticing in fine dining in Beijing?
The attention to detail of so many of the restaurants in Beijing and their offering a wide selection of cuisines. It is the diversity that makes Beijing, well, Beijing.
What makes the kitchen culture at Maison Boulud unique, given you have a mixed foreign-local team?
When interviewing new staff we search for them to have a predispostion to serve. It’s what makes our staff stand out in the market. We want to be able to read the guest and anticipate what they will require before they have to ask for it.
Name a culinary lesson you learned working in China?
Coach Your Team. We use the acronym CYT. It means to have to continue to instill what we are trying to serve our guests and reiterate this point time and time again.
What is the best-selling dish at Maison Boulud?
Our menus here at Maison Boulud are very seasonally focused. It’s a cornerstone of everything Daniel Boulud stands for. In the spring time, we have white asparagus from France on the menu and morel mushrooms from Yunnan with hand-rolled potato gnocchi. Our chilled tomato soup comes in the summer. Squash soup is served in the autumn which turns into a celery-chestnut soup in the winter time. We have people who look forward to the harbingers of the upcoming season. Of course we always look forward to welcoming in the bounty of each changing season.
To photo: Brian Reimer. Credit: Courtesy of Mason Boulud
It’s morning in Maine, and Margaret Hathaway has already milked the goats in the back yard and fed the chickens. Four-year-old Beatrice colors in the dining room, baby Sadie is napping, and big sister Charlotte is at kindergarten in Portland.
By the time I find my way to Ten Apple Farm in Gray, Maine, the chévre is cooling in its triangular molds, and the Manchego is simmering on the front burner. “You have to slowly warm the goat milk to 86 degrees,” cheesemaker Hathaway says, whisking figure-eights calmly in the big pot on her kitchen stove.
Pushing back her bandanna, Hathaway takes a quick look at the clock. It’s time to add in her culture packet — a microbe-rich mixture of rennet, culture and salt. “Making cheese is really straightforward. All it really is is good, fresh milk — ours comes straight from the goat and is unpasteurized — seasoning and culture — and patience.” This morning, Hathaway is a little worried about her cheese. She made bread earlier in the morning, and it’s conceivable that the microbes from the yeast in the bread may have hijacked the microbes in the cheese culture. “Making bread and cheese at the same time is considered a no-no in cheesemaking, but I wanted bread for lunch,” she says. So, we eat lunch and wait — a goat cheese quiche with fresh spring herbs and home-baked bread — and keep checking to see whether the Manchego explodes instead of condensing when it comes time to put the milk in the cheese press.
It didn’t explode at all. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: lose more than 50% of the liquid volume and settle the curds into a semi-soft round cake. The cheese won’t be ready to eat for several months after it ages, but it will be a beautiful, unpasteurized goat cheese Manchego.
From city living to cheesemaking
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Before immersing themselves into the world of farming and cheesemaking, Hathaway and her husband, photographer Karl Schatz, had good jobs. An English major back from studying on a Fulbright grant in Tunisia, Margaret was in publishing, working on a novel and managing a cupcake bakery. Karl was an online photo editor at Time magazine. One day, at home in Brooklyn, eating chèvre at the kitchen table, the two were suddenly seized by the fantasy of leaving “all that” and becoming goat farmers. They left their jobs, put their stuff in storage, borrowed a car from Karl’s parents and headed out on a quest documented in Margaret’s first book, “The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese.” One farm, many goats and three children later, Hathaway Schatz is homesteading in Maine, making cheese and teaching others how to do the same. “It was never meant to be a profit-making venture. More of a way of life.”
She is quick to point out that her husband has a “real” off-farm job as the director of a photo agency in Portland. “As someone who got a good education and great medical care, I wasn’t about to raise my kids without enough money for them to go to college or worry about health insurance,” Hathaway said. When we last spoke in early May, she was mucking the goat stalls and planting her vegetable garden. In between baby naps and cheese timers, she checked her e-mail. “Spring is surprisingly busy on the farm.”
They bought the farm in 2005 and bought their first goats in 2007. The first baby goats arrived two weeks after Beatrice, now 4, was born. The new farmers delivered their first “kids” armed with skills honed by watching a YouTube video. “Before that, the only delivery I’d seen was one where I was a participant, and on the other side,” Hathaway said.
Today, Hathaway and her family raise about 70% of their food on the farm. They’ve got a vegetable garden, and apple trees, chickens, turkeys and goats. “I like the idea that most of the food my kids eat comes right from where they live,” she says. It took a while for the couple to get comfortable with raising animals for meat. “We had to move our minds from thinking about animals as livestock instead of a collection of individual animals,” she says, shifting the baby in the backpack just enough to reach the cheese press.
The big off-farm treat for the day I was there was crisp sheets of nori seaweed, with both baby Sadie and Beatrice fighting over the last paper-thin green wafer. “Ooh,” says the mother of three. “I was hoping to save some nori for Charlotte’s after-school snack.” (Not all is so green. Beatrice found a leftover chocolate Easter egg in a drawer and scarfed it down before mom could intervene.)
Several times a year, Hathaway teaches cheesemaking classes as part of her homesteading classes. “It’s not very hard or expensive to make cheese if you can get good milk. Most of the equipment you need you probably already have in your kitchen. A large pot, some spatulas and a frosting knife to smooth the tops of the cheese.” She recommends only buying a few things with a total cost of $150: a good basic home cheese book and a cheese press with a pressure gauge. “The best kind have a thermometer attached to the pressure gauge.”
Somehow Hathaway still finds time to write. Her second book, “Living With Goats,” has just come out in paperback and she is working on a novel that she says is not about cheese or goats.
People understand the natural affinity of educated women around food, but why cheese? Why not wine, or bread, or chocolate? Hathaway has a thought. “The American artisanal cheese movement was started by women, following in the whole female tradition of milk, the whole milkmaid thing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that women lactate. Having three young daughters and any number of goats and kids, sometimes it feels as if our farm was one big lactation factory.”
Top photo: Cheeses made at Ten Apple Farm. Credit: Karl Schatz
The number of food stands at the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival in May at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., was a bit daunting because all the food looked wonderful and smelled even better. One of the longest lines was for the katmer, a baked flaky pastry stuffed with clotted cream, sugar, and pistachios. It was the line we got on.
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The festival is a celebration of all the cultures of Anatolia — Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish — all of which enjoy more or less the same food. There were historical displays, concerts and handicrafts. For me, though, the primary draw was the food court with its stunning display of foods, some of which I haven’t seen since I was last in Turkey and some I had never seen or tasted.
I was beginning to get impatient with the wait and the crowds around me when another couple waiting suggested that under no circumstances should I even consider quitting the line before I had the chance to eat katmer.
The chance to eat katmer is so rare, especially since this katmer was being made by the master katmer maker himself, Mehmet Özsimitci, of the Katmerci Zekeriya Usta in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Özsimitci had flown in with pounds upon pounds of the best Antep pistachios, the best in the world they say. Mine line mates said they didn’t know of anyone in the United States who was making or even could make katmer, so it was truly a special food.
As our interminable line got closer and closer to the katmer, I began to marvel at the mastery and artistry of Özsimitci’s skill. My first thought, which was confirmed by my newfound Turkish interlocutors, was that this is really tricky to do. He flattened a ball of dough on a greased marble slab and then rolled it out until thin. Then, as if it weren’t thin enough, which it wasn’t, he lifted and flipped and spun the dough repeatedly until it was ultra-thin before letting it land on the slab again to receive its stuffing.
He stretched the dough further and secured its sides to the slab by patting them down and then with his hands sprinkled the clotted cream on top and spooned sugar and ground pistachios on top of that. Then, carefully, he folded the sides of the pastry inward to cover the stuffing, forming a square pastry that he then picked up in one deft motion and placed on the baking tray, which his assistant then placed in the oven.
Katmer is usually eaten as a breakfast item, and it will give one enough energy until dinnertime. They say it is best when eaten hot, and it was. We devoured it while realizing we would have to wait for the next Anatolian Food Festival in two years time before having another one.
Top photo: Mehmet Özsimitci making katmer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright