Articles in Community
Like most caffeine addicts, I’m a bit fussy about my first, second and third cup of coffee of the day. Bold, crisp and scorching hot, it must perk me up physically and mentally for the long hours ahead. Recently, I added one more criteria for my coffee: It must do some good not only for me but also for the surrounding community.
An afternoon spent at Generoasta Coffee and Café in Warrendale, Pa., prompted this new rule. Tucked into an upscale shopping center in the North Hills suburb of Pittsburgh, the spacious yet inviting, modern coffeehouse has a simple mission: Do good, have fun and drink coffee.
In keeping with this goal, Generoasta features eco-sourced, house-roasted beans and organic, fair-trade teas. It utilizes reclaimed building materials, such as trash cans crafted from discarded 19th-century oak and walls clad in repurposed barn wood. It recycles and uses biodegradable serve ware.
More than just a cup of coffee
Along with advocating greener living, the coffeehouse devotes a large chunk of its 2,600-square-foot space to promoting and supporting the neighborhood’s nonprofit organizations. Through information sheets, display cases and a flat-screen television displaying details about local charities, Generoasta seeks to educate and encourage generosity in the region.
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“We wanted to develop something new, get the community involved with the local charities and remove the greatest impediments to being charitable — time and money,” says Generoasta co-owner and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Eric Ravotti.
Ravotti points out that at Generoasta, customers don’t spend any more than what they would normally pay for coffee or lunch. Rather, for each purchase made, consumers choose between three nonprofits, dropping a plastic chip into the oversized, charity coffee cup of their choice. Based upon customer selection, the coffeehouse then distributes a portion of its proceeds to each group. It makes it very easy for folks to help out in their neighborhood.
The giving doesn’t stop here. The 7-month-old Generoasta also holds benefits for the featured organizations. It recently hosted an art gala and auction for the Mars Home for Youth in Mars, Pa., and a summer community day dubbed “Cause for Paws,” which aided a low-cost spay-and-neuter program.
Each charity receives six months in the spotlight. After six months have passed, three new organizations are showcased. This next round is based upon customers’ suggestions, and the suggested groups have different missions than the previous trio.
Pairing charity with coffee isn’t a new concept. In Great Britain, at least 150 coffee shops have begun offering “suspended coffee.” Based on a movement that originated in Naples, Italy, and quickly spread to other parts of Europe, customers are encouraged to buy a drink for themselves and one for someone who cannot afford a warming cup of joe. The extra coffee is “put in suspense” until someone comes in and requests it.
Coffee shops around the globe have been known to hold donations days. On a specified date, a percentage of the profits are passed on to local, national or international charities.
In the U.S., Housing Works Bookstore Cafe remains a forerunner in the realm of philanthropic coffeehouses. The shop based in New York City’s SoHo district has been brewing lattes; serving soups, sandwiches and sweets; and selling used books to aid New York City’s HIV/AIDS-afflicted homeless for more than a decade. The cafe is run by volunteers and donates 100% of its proceeds to its progenitor, Housing Works.
Like Housing Works’ cafe, Generoasta has more than good intentions in store for its customers. It is likewise devoted to wholesome, flavorful food and drink.
T.E.D. sandwich for Thanksgiving
At Generoasta you can have “Thanksgiving Every Day” with the T.E.D. sandwich. Here, sliced, roast turkey, cranberry chutney and moist stuffing are piled high upon toasted and buttered farmhouse bread. Paired with sliced apples and caramel for dipping, it is a whimsical and delicious repast.
In the mood for a sweeter or more fanciful treat? Try the French toast with maple mascarpone and fresh berries or “Fat Man in a Tiny Parka,” one of an assortment of “javalanches” — frozen, blended coffees.
You can also just opt for a mug of house-roasted Kenya AA, Guatemalan or Celebes Kalossi, an earthy yet zesty and bold bean from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Have no doubt. The roasters and baristas there know how to make a good cup.
At the end of the day, Generoasta fosters generosity through coffee. “We’d like to change lives for the better, cause other companies to take notice and inspire them to do the same,” Ravotti says.
It’s a noble mission, one that’s set to succeed at Generoasta Coffee and Cafe.
Top photo: Generoasta Coffee and Cafe in Warrendale, Pa. Credit: Generoasta Coffee and Cafe
Beijing has been a hotbed of culinary activity since at least as far back as imperial days when localities would dispatch their best chefs to cook up regional delicacies for the emperor there. Creativity and diversity in food shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Beijing is city of more than 20 million people.
These days, food-related activities are increasingly focused on building awareness around sustainability, DIY culture and farm-to-fork conscientiousness. Nothing reflects this greater than the early October Beijing Design Week.
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This year, organizers added Food Loop, a sustainable food festival within Design Week, to what had previously focused exclusively on visual arts, architecture, interior design and issues related to urban planning.
Based out of 751 D-Park, which is a section of the well-known 798 arts district but with elevated walkways and stairwells winding up into old factory structures, Food Loop’s sustainable food exhibits included a demonstration of urban farming and workshops about beekeeping, desktop aquaponics and pickling.
Panel discussions and a self-harvesting vegetable market were complemented by a vegan pop-up restaurant run by Chef Laura Fanelli. Fanelli is the founder and former head chef at the Veggie Table, a vegan restaurant on the popular Wudaoying hutong within the historic neighborhood of Beijing’s second ring road.
At the Food Loop, overlooking a postmodern conjunction of old factory buildings, contemporary art galleries and sculptural installations, Fanelli served dishes including a meat-free version of the classic Beijing noodle dish zhajiangmian. Traditionally, wheat noodles are topped with a (usually pork-based) bean sauce and garnished with bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions as well as julienned carrots and cucumbers, resulting in a smoky, satisfying dish somewhat like spaghetti Bolognese. In Fanelli’s version, tofu bits and soybeans were added to the mix, and soy protein takes the place of pork in the sauce.
Floating aquaponics in China
Sick of food safety scandals and mystery meats — most recently, rat meat being passed off as lamb — Beijing is not only experiencing something of a vegetarian and vegan renaissance, it is also seeing a boom in home-based food-growing projects. A local aquaponics association has begun offering regular DIY classes on setting up desktop aquaponics systems, which was offered by Food Loop during design week.
I’ve purchased one aquaponics kit and once the weather turns too cold to grow food on my rented plot of land outside of the city, this is one way I hope to continue to feed myself, at the very least supplying my own herbs in a way that I’m confident is chemical free.
On the higher end of the spectrum was the dining, video and design installation called “Meating Amy.” A partnership between Chef Brian Reimer of Maison Boulud and design firm Jellymon, it took participants through the story of a pig raised in Yunnan, before it was slaughtered for consumption. Then a meal using parts of a pig from that same farm was served, and parts of the pig were also converted into small material items that helped to create a food cart. The goal, in part, was to reinforce the connection between what we eat and where it comes from.
Sustainable food trends reach Beijing
Beijing and its culinary scene continue to evolve. There is booming creativity in cooking here and the local community is focused on exploring alternatives and advances beyond the current food status quo. The same trends that we see in New York City, Paris or Singapore are also emerging here, with unique expressions that are particular to Beijing’s challenges and needs.
Top photo: An aquaponics set showing how fish and vegetables can grow together, as part of the Food Loop in Beijing. Credit: Manuela Zoninsein
Indigenous foods and animals are the backbone of North America and the global food culture. Native Foodways magazine is a new publication that gives voice to the rich diversity and resilience of native people. Young and old are reviving their lost biocultural, agricultural and culinary traditions, one meal at a time. They are paving a way for all to eat, live and grow in the world sustainably. It’s time to listen.
About 5,000 copies of Native Foodways are distributed free to native wellness programs and communities. The magazine is published by Tohono O’odham Community Action, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a healthy, culturally vital and sustainable community on the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona. An additional 2,000 are available for retail sale.
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The organization Renewing America’s Food Traditions, or RAFT, created a Regional Map of North America’s Place-Based Food that redraws the continent’s borders. North America transforms into a series of distinct food nations: Clambake, Maple Syrup, Wild Rice, Corn Bread & BBQ, Gator, Bison, Chile Pepper, Pinyon Nut, Abalone, Salmon and Moose. The creators sing us back visually to the continent’s native legacy. They revitalize our memory and reimagine our notions of borders and boundaries. It reminds us, we North American citizens, of the region’s indigenous food foundations. With the visual map embedded, we suddenly see the people, the foods and the cultures that came before us.
Indigenous foods of the Americas make up 60% of the global food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These foods include mainly corn and potatoes but also chilies, beans, squashes, tomatoes, pineapples, avocados, manioc, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, wild rice, cranberries, maple sugar, chewing gum, turkey and the beloved clambake.
Yet worldwide biodiversity loss continues with no change in rate and with an increase in the factors that increase loss, according to Science in 2010. North America is no exception. The mountains, canyons and deserts of the Southwest United States and northern Mexico form one of the richest biologically diverse regions. The area is home to more than 40 distinct indigenous communities alone, and within those communities reside important agrobiodiversity knowledge systems. It is not surprising that with the destruction of cultural knowledge also comes the loss of biodiversity and ecological knowledge. Today these declines are only exacerbated by climate change.
Luckily, descendants of native farmers and the culinary carriers who nourished the first settlers up to the present are actively revitalizing their foods, and not just for Thanksgiving. According to Mary Paganelli Votto, founder and editorial director of Native Foodways, “Too often, the focus in the mainstream media is on the health problems in native communities. Native Foodways focuses on the positive efforts taking place to address these issues and seeks to share practical and useful information and to inspire.”
First up, Native Foodways spotlights two chefs
I spoke with two chefs featured in the summer 2013 edition of Native Foodways Magazine: Lois Ellen Frank and Nephi Craig. Frank is a culinary anthropologist with master’s and doctorate degrees. Along with Walter Whitewater, she runs Santa Fe, N.M.-based Red Mesa Cuisine. She is of Kaiwo ancestry on her mother’s side and Sephardic on her father’s side. Her book, “Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations,” received the James Beard award in the Americana category. It was the first Native American work to win the award.
Frank left cooking school and became a commercial photographer for eight years in Los Angeles. Her thought was, “Why study cooking in an institution that championed one cuisine over the rest of the globe, let alone disregarded indigenous cuisines?” But she returned to her passion and the kitchen, this time on her own terms. “I need to work in diverse native communities across the country, especially with those suffering from diabetes. I cannot run a restaurant when I travel so much, an absent chef is just not productive,” Frank says of why she runs a catering business instead of a restaurant.
Her catering kitchen is filled with women. Native and non-natives, they find her. “It is only since the 1980s that a shift in the gender balance began in the kitchen.” Put plainly, when women are not in the kitchen, you lose. “In my kitchen, in our circle, we call in the ancestors to guide us. We do not just feed; we provide sustenance. We are powerful vehicles of cooking and techniques. And then we take the ancient foods, and we embody their knowledge, and present them in a contemporary form.”
Like Frank, but of a younger generation, Chef Craig invokes the circle. The four directions represent different and equally important aspects of the kitchen. “We work in a circular fashion instead of from the top down. We veer away from fear- and intimidation-cooking in the kitchen.” Craig added, “We work like ants, or in the Apache way, we activate ‘Ant Power’ where we are all equally strong and each is essential to the creation of the whole, that is the imagery we choose to use.” Craig, 33, is the executive chef at White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Sunrise Park Resort and the founder of The Native American Culinary Association. His core crew of eight is half men and half women, half elder and half younger and all native Apache. The elders in the crew distinctly remember the old hierarchical ways of running the back of the kitchen. Now, though, Craig proudly says he is actively “decolonizing culinary themes and the kitchen brigade by using the circle, White Mountain Apache values and qualities of leadership.”
In each instance, these pioneers of native cuisines are constructing a space to cook and create on their own terms. And they are up against not just a competitive environment but also historical odds. In the midst of fighting to use local, regional, indigenous foods sustainably, they work in and among populations that have had their education, cultures and lands stolen. Yet they plow forward with the confidence that they possess great cultural richness. Amid these obstacles, they symbolize grace, hope and possibility of inclusion for all at the big table. I know I want more.
Top photo: Chef Nephi Craig’s culinary crew includes, from left, Stephanie Dosela, Nancy James, Juwon Hendricks, Vina Reidhead, Herman Skidmore, Craig, Randall Cosen, Tamara Gatewood and Vincent Way. Credit: Courtesy of Nephi Craig
This article was partially underwritten by the The Christensen Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to biocultural and agricultural diversity of marginalized people and landscapes globally.
Unusual things start popping up in the quiet forests of the Rocky Mountains following the late-summer monsoon rains. First, all manner of berries, from strawberries to raspberries to huckleberries, make their presence known. Next, mushrooms emerge in an astonishing array of shapes and colors, followed closely by the appearance of equally colorful wild mushroom hunters. Known to be an eccentric bunch, people who hunt mushrooms are almost always characters.
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When I first learned to find mushrooms, people would remark to me that most of the mushroom hunters in Colorado were of Eastern European descent. I dismissed this as some sort of myth. Over the years of listening to other mushroom hunters in the woods, it turned out that I did, indeed, frequently hear accents that had a distinctive European lilt.
Most years, Colorado is dry, painfully dry, with an arid climate that skirts disaster. In the good years, the rain blesses the land in late summer. It is my hallelujah season, when I arise at 4 a.m. and make my way up the treacherous canyons in the dark, to arrive at a trailhead at daybreak, ready to chase mushrooms. Most days, I’m happy to wander the mushroom trail alone. I watch my fellow mushroom hunters. Some bounce up the trail with bulging sacks in hand, asking every person they cross if they’ve seen any mushrooms. Others quietly weave in and out of the edge of the forest, averting their eyes when they sense oncoming hikers.
Occasionally, I confront the trailwalkers whose eyes scan the ground. I play ignorant, and ask what they are doing. Most of the time, they are generous in letting me peer into their bag. I exclaim with genuine wonderment, “They’re so beautiful! Can you eat those?” One old-timer joked, “Every mushroom is edible … once!”
Wild mushroom hunters old-world charm and smarts
One day this last mushroom season, eating my snack while sitting cross-legged on a big rock, Mik Hrabovsky and his father, also Mik, both sporting newsboy hats, emerged from behind a stand of Engelmann spruce trees and raised their gnarled walking sticks in greeting. Feeling relaxed and friendly, I asked, “Did you find any mushrooms?” He lifted his basket, the same one that was lovingly carried over from Ukraine when his family immigrated to the United States, for me to see.
“Oh, yes! The forest has been a generous lady.” In the younger Hrabovsky, I heard that touch of Europe. I peered into his basket, which contained far more species than the singular porcini I was collecting.
Both Hrabovkys leaned in close to the rock where I sat, though the elder only twisted his mustache as he stared out at the distant peaks.
I inquired of Mik Jr., how he knew about mushrooms. He explained that the mushroom knowledge was passed down from the women in his family, his grandmother being the most knowledgeable, “She was our living encyclopedia, our wise woman. During the wars, knowing how to feed our family without outside help made her a kind of superhero.” Hrabovsky went on to explain that while his grandmother’s ability to find mushrooms seemed nearly magical, she always taught her grandchildren that mushroom hunting was a very practical way to celebrate the bounty that the forest can provide.
Now that the entire Hrabovsky clan is situated in America, the mushroom hunting tradition continues, with knowledge of mushrooms in the new land gathered from mushroom clubs and guidebooks. “I do it because it’s fun! The way some families watch their football team play every year, my family hunts mushrooms,” explained the younger Hrabovsky as he proudly held up a large Boletus edulis, also known as porcini. “I do it to connect to the old country and this land, too. There is something essential to who we are that we can only know by putting our fingers into the dirt where we live, and picking food from the land and taking it into ourselves.”
Curious about whether the newest generation of Hrabovsky children also enjoy finding mushrooms, I asked whether they ever join the hunt. “It’s hard to convince them to look away from their iPhones,” Mik Jr. said. “But once they get out here, they’re just kids, no different from kids in Ukraine, and they enjoy the treasure hunt.” Hrabovsky placed a hand on his father’s back, “I want them to know that our food is our history, and that they can reach back through time by cooking the same food as their grandparents and great-grandparents.”
Hrabovsky Family Mushroom-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
1 head of cabbage, leaves separated
4 tablespoons lard
2 pounds of edible wild mushrooms, finely chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon dill seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon celery seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart crushed tomatoes and their juice
1. Blanch the leaves of cabbage in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute each. Pat each dry, then stack the cabbage leaves so that they are ready to roll.
2. In a large sauté pan, melt the lard over medium heat. Once the melted lard has started to ripple in the pan, add the mushrooms, onions, caraway seeds, celery seeds and salt. Stir the contents of the pan continuously just until the water starts to emerge from the mushrooms.
3. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and onion, and continue to stir them while they cook for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.
4. Stuff each cabbage leaf with a few tablespoons of the mushroom mixture. Spoon the mushroom stuffing onto the stem-end of the cabbage leaf, then carefully roll it, folding in the sides of the cabbage leaf halfway, so that you end up with cylindrical-shaped packages of mushroom-stuffed cabbage.
5. Nestle the cabbage packages into a large Dutch oven. Pour the crushed tomatoes over the mushroom-cabbage rolls. If needed, add water so that the liquid in the pot comes within a half-inch of covering the rolls. Cover the pot.
6. Braise the mushroom-cabbage rolls in a 350 F oven for 2 hours. Serve over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes.
Top photo: Colorado porcini mushroom. Credit: Wendy Petty
Grand Forks is a small middle-American town in North Dakota that was pinned onto the pop culture map last year by a single restaurant review in a local newspaper. When an earnest review of an Olive Garden restaurant went viral on the Internet, the seasoned reporter who penned the story was probably the most surprised of all.
At age 87, columnist Marilyn Hagerty has been reporting stories of local interest in the Grand Forks Herald for 56 years. But that March 2012 review won her recognition beyond her hometown audience. The compilation of her work spanning 26 of those years, entitled “Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews,” is the delightful result of her overnight success.
My affection for this new book does not stem from defending against supercilious foodies who derided her Olive Garden review, nor jumping on the bandwagon of those who backed her up, like the culinary master of sarcastic retort, Anthony Bourdain. It is much more personal than that. I like her writing style and I can identify all too well with her subject matter.
ZESTER BOOK LINKS
By Marilyn Hagerty
For starters, Hagerty’s first-person voice is full of next-door neighbor character that makes this book fun to read. It’s not often that I break into a chuckle when I’m deep into a cookbook. With every review, she paints a clear picture of the setting, the food and her “Constant Companion,” her meat-eating husband of 64 years. It’s clear from her uncluttered prose that she must have been drawn more to Hemingway than Jane Austen in her formative years. Food journalists everywhere should take a lesson from this.
Describing a local burger joint in 1987, Hagerty wrote:
“You give your order at the counter. They ask your name. You take a seat. They call your name. You pick up your burger and proceed to an extensive topping bar. You take your malt — in the metal can. You eat your burger, your fries and your malt. This is a happy place. This is Topper’s.”
Over the years, Hagerty visited and ate at every local eatery within driving distance of her small hometown, starting with mom-and-pop places popular in the mid-20th century and gradually shifting to well-known national chains and fast-food outlets. Sadly, updated annotations to the reprinted reviews reveal that many of the independent establishments, like Topper’s, are no longer in business. It’s a sign of the times in much of the country, but not everywhere — as I can attest.
‘Grand Forks’ a reminder of home
I spend my summers in a place eerily similar to the Grand Forks of Hagerty’s early work. These places still exist. I live down the street from purely local eateries such as Wimpy’s coffee shop and Bunny’s Custard. There is no McDonald’s, no Starbucks and no other ubiquitous brands unless you count the Subway franchise that pays rent to the corner gas station. Most mom and pop restaurants in town have been in business since I was too young to order on my own.
But years ago, I moved away to expand my culinary horizons and gain exposure to other life experiences. It was not until I had the privilege of reading through Hagerty’s disarming book that I looked at my own backyard in an entirely different light.
In succession, her reviews paint a disappearing landscape of regional fare, blanketed over by the monotonous menus of the chain restaurants. Although it may have been an unintentional long-term project, Hagerty’s new book documents this glacial shift. Some books enlighten because they broaden your horizons. This one simply shined a light on what was already within eyesight and reminded me to enjoy it while I still can.
Top photo composite:
Author Marilyn Hagerty. Credit: John Stennes, Grand Forks Herald
Book jacket courtesy of Ecco Books
René Redzepi had an idea three years ago: He wanted to create a food symposium inspired by the famous Roskilde Festival, which is North Europe’s biggest music festival with a strong identity and sense of community.
After three years of running the MAD symposium — “mad” means food in Danish — I think Redzepi got what he wished for. It was two days of food and love in a rock ‘n’ roll setting under the theme “guts.”
On a Sunday morning, I drove out to an old military area. The area is undeveloped and has this urban charm: Old warehouses mixed with areas of wild meadows leading up to the waterfront with a view to central Copenhagen. It’s quite spectacular.
On an open field, the MAD team had put up a circus tent. In this setting and under the open sky, about 500 people from around the world were gathered — all connected somehow to the food industry. It was a beautiful summer morning. In the middle of an urban meadow, Redzepi greeted the entire group of guests one by one, followed by Danish breakfast and coffee made by some of the world’s top baristas. It was walk the talk from the very beginning. Here was the best coffee I have ever had at any symposium or conference along with a great Danish breakfast of rye bread, cheese, yogurt and, of course, a Danish. It was a convincing start.
MAD Symposium is a celebration of food
The symposium was two days of talks, food, movies — a celebration of the world of food. After breakfast you entered the circus tent, which was dark and had Metallica aggressively coming out of the loudspeakers (not surprising when David Chiang is co-curating). A giant black spotted pig hung from the ceiling, and there was a big wooden butcher’s bench. You kind of knew what was going to happen, but then not at all.
In comes Dario Cecchini. He runs a butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti, Italy, called Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Dario the butcher has a long line of butchers in this family. He also has stories to tell, real stories about eating, respect, love and death. He does that in a dramatic manner and in beautiful Italian, opening up the pig and taking out the guts. Now and then he stops the beautiful stories and his lovely wife translates this butcher prose into English. Listening, you are really touched and you understand why cooking is about life.
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Then he finishes the whole performance with a recital from “Dante’s Inferno” with a deep, clear voice. At that point, tears are quietly running down my cheeks.
On the first day, lunch was cooked by Kamal Mouzawak and the women from Souk el Tayeb, where they cook in the restaurant Tawlét that connects with the market. They had traveled from Beirut, Lebanon, to Copenhagen to cook our lunch and, thus, share the local customs and dishes they cook for their families in their daily lives. We ate a buffet of dolmer, baba ghanoush, hummus, breads, salads with lentils, parsley, pomegranate, sumac and other spices. It was real home-cooked food done with a lot of love.
The other real high point of the conference for me was Margot Henderson. Margot’s husband, Fergus Henderson, gave her such a lovely introduction, saying she was the best cook he knew. With the danger of sounding a bit too hippie-like, at this symposium there was love in the air!
Margot Henderson gave an insight into female cooking and described the differences between female and male cooking: why nourishment is part of female chefs’ cooking, and how male chefs are often driven by prestige and technology. How can anybody think it is better to confit a duck leg in sous-vide rather than fat, as we have done for decades? It is a relevant question.
Also at the symposium, Diana Kennedy gave a talk about her life and ways in Mexico, and Vandana Shiva gave a very thoughtful and important speech about seeds and biodiversity. Redzepi interviewed Alain Ducasse and could not hide his excitement about being on stage with his all-time hero. Christian Puglisi told his story about opening up his restaurant Relæ in a rough neighborhood — which in the first year got one Michelin star and is now 90% organic.
Lunch the second day was also spectacular. Those in attendance came out from the dark tent and walked under the blue sky, and there Mission Chinese Food chefs cooking on woks and serving plates while the Smashing Pumpkins played loudly from the sound system. Right there and then, time was dissolved and all my years in the kitchen became present. Such energy from a bunch of young and upcoming American chefs from San Francisco and New York on a field in Copenhagen gave an instant feeling that the world is really present and everything is possible. Ten years ago, nobody in Denmark would have believed this could happen in Denmark. It just proves there is so much we don’t know, even in the food world.
Every single time I have dined at Redzepi’s Noma I have left very happy, thinking “This is one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had.” Running Noma is one thing, but I really understand Redzepi’s dream: to use his position to create the MAD Symposium, bringing people from around the world together for a conversation about how we can get a better life through food. From a small, insignificant corner of the world, where we do not talk loudly about each other’s success, I really congratulate Redzepi on his dream to create the MAD Symposium. I felt I was part of it for two days.
Top photo: Butcher Dario Cecchini at the MAD symposium during his demonstration. Look closely and you might see René Redzepi in the background near the far left. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
Rebecca Swanner wipes her hands on her frosting-caked jeans. She lets out her squeaky laugh and arranges her homemade gray cupcakes into a semicircle among the other gray desserts. A woman in her mid-20s reaches for the goodies, and without hesitation picks one of Rebecca’s cupcakes. As the customer devours the treat within seconds, Rebecca can’t stop smiling.
Welcome to the Depressed Cake Shop, a sweet idea for a pop-up fundraiser that raises awareness about chronic depression. Swanner organized this end-of-summer event, the first of its kind in the United States, at Buckwild Gallery on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. Depressed Cake Shops in Houston, New York City and Seattle will follow. It’s a trend that has already jumped the Atlantic, and one Swanner hopes will sweep worldwide.
Emma Thomas, the founder of Eat Your Heart Out, an association of creative food artists based in the United Kingdom, started the awareness campaign this summer. She sees the cake gatherings as a way to open up topics that are not widely discussed, such as depression. She had previously started other pop-up bake shops, such as Cakes for Japan, which donated an array of tasty sweets inspired by Japanese flavors to raise money after the earthquake in 2011. She wanted the Depressed Cake Shop to bring awareness to depression, a mental condition that affects more than 350 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. She opened the first pop-up bakery in London on Aug. 2, and it was followed by locations in Bristol and Essex, among other British cities.
Swanner, the owner of the online baking company Secret Marmalade, brought this movement to L.A. after discovering the Depressed Cake Shop on Thomas’ blog, Miss Cakehead. Thomas suggested that Swanner, who has dealt with depression since she was a teenager, start her own pop-up bakery movement.
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“A lot of people suffer in silence,” says Swanner. “I didn’t think I knew anyone who was depressed. I only started finding out that other people were depressed when I started doing this.”
The laid-back event attracted a wide assortment of people, from 5-year-olds who came to munch on sugary goods to 50-year-old tattooed women who came to drink cocktails and bid on the art. A sign read “Cakes Cakes Cakes” in flashing lights at the opening of the gallery. The space was small and dark, but smelled sweet and delicious. The pop-up included an art auction and a sugar-flower demonstration by Shaile’s Edible Art. However, the baked goods were the center of attention and spread over three long tables in the front of the gallery.
All the sweet treats reflected the bakers’ imagination. Cookies shaped like Prozac pills, macaroons twisted into anxiety squiggles, mis-fortune cookies and blue velvet cupcakes with gray frosting lightened the room.
Customers lined up at the tables, grabbing their gray cupcakes, gray macaroons and gray cronuts (a croissant-doughnut meld) and placed them into their big white boxes that each had stickers that read “Depressed Cake Shop.” Swanner worked swiftly with her friends and volunteers to meet all their customers needs. At the end of the event, she reported that, including all the desserts and art sold, more than $6,000 had been raised.
Each pop-up bakeshop donates proceeds to a charity that raises awareness about mental illness. Swanner chose the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Los Angeles because she was impressed by how the organization reaches out to people who have depression and their families, with funding for education, support groups and advocacy.
Once Swanner set up a Facebook page for the event, many people reached out to her, including all the bakers who made the goods. The bakers shared personal stories about how depression affected a family member or themselves, and how they used baking to cope with and express their feelings. She came in contact with Sweet Insanity Bake Shop, which donated gray macaroons; Miss Ali Cake Pop’s in Temecula, Calif., which made cake pops that looked like monsters and gray-dipped Oreos; Alexis Lowery, who made mis-fortune cookies; and more than 20 other bakers who added their desserts to the table.
Swanner says that starting a Depressed Cake Pop-Up is simple. All you need is to find a location, make gray desserts and donate the proceeds to an organization that raises awareness about mental illness. No frosting-caked jeans necessary.
You can follow the spread of The Depressed Cake Pop-up Shop at depressedcakeshop.com. Swanner is looking for bakers for a holiday event in Los Angeles on Dec. 13.
Top photo: Cookies in the shape of a Prozac pill sit next to lemon cookies at the Depressed Cake Pop-Up Shop in Los Angeles. Credit: Julia Adams
While watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament this summer, I couldn’t help but notice the frequent mentioning of strawberries and cream, the foods that are emblematic of this traditional British sporting event. Recent statistics indicate that thousands of spectators consume 23 tons of the fruit, or more than 2 million berries, and 1,820 gallons of cream.
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The sports’ food question arises — why has this particular dish become synonymous with this premier tennis competition? The answer is simple if not obvious: The opening of the matches coincides with the availability of locally grown strawberries, both occurring in early summer. And so this highly anticipated and desirable seasonal fruit has become a natural accompaniment to this singular event. The official Wimbledon strawberry, the Elsanta variety, is grown in Kent and is delivered each day at 5:30 a.m. to the games, where the berries are prepared for the fans.
The delicacy of this fare is in startling contrast to what is typically sold at U.S. sporting events. When we think about baseball, we think about hot dogs, peanuts and beer, although there are regional exceptions. At Boston’s Fenway Park, for instance, Italian vendors just outside the gates dish up sausage sandwiches with plenty of fried peppers and onions, while at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, home of the Orioles, visitors can get a crab cake sandwich. I ate my first tortilla pie at a rodeo in Houston. These hearty dishes are in the same spirit as much of the food served at tailgate parties, a popular ritual found at football games in the U.S.
Although fans of various teams claim ownership of the custom, tailgating most likely originated at Ivy League colleges in the days when team sports were played by gentlemen. Harvard was playing football as early as the 1860s when fans would turn up at games in horse-drawn carts and carriages and would bring along boxed lunches to eat beforehand. With the availability of the automobile, portable meals became even more customary, and the term “tailgating” came along. It derives from the rear doors of roadsters and station wagons, which, when folded down, formed a convenient buffet to hold picnic spreads. Soon fans, whether they were passionate alumni at college games or supporters of professional teams, developed the custom of arriving at parking lots hours before kickoff to spend time eating casually with friends.
Tailgating evolved even more when instead of packing traditional picnics with sandwiches, salads, fruit and cookies, people brought along raw ingredients and barbecue gear so that parking lots took on the look of gigantic cookouts, with perspiring men hovering over charcoal fires. But elegance is not totally lost in this atmosphere. Some come to games prepared with folding tables and chairs, tablecloths, china, silver and fresh flowers, and picnic baskets filled with bottles of wine, brie and other cheeses, pâté and fruit.
Pimento sandwiches and mint juleps
Food at sporting events in the U.S. continues to reflect the region. The Masters tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, is famous for its pimento cheese sandwiches, a dish favored by Southerners but with few Northern fans. And in Louisville at the Kentucky Derby, we get the renowned mint julep, a refreshing drink made with spearmint, bourbon, sugar and water. It carries with it the image of a Kentucky colonel, dressed in a white linen suit, sitting on a porch and sipping mint juleps from a silver cup.
Entertaining sporting events have evolved so that food is not only an accompaniment but the main attraction. Cheese-rolling, a quaint British custom that began as a local event near Gloucester in England, now draws international competitors. From the top of a steep hill, a 7-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling, soon followed by a heap of contestants who race after it, and the first person over the finish line keeps the cheese. The wheel of cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 mph, racers collide and accidents happen, but the ever-vigilant Brits supply ambulance services so that the injured can be rushed to the hospital.
Not to be outdone, Americans in Delaware have come up with an annual competition called Punkin Chunkin in which pumpkins are hurled through the air, and those who propel them the greatest distance are the winners. This event has different categories, depending on the age of the contestants and the form of the hurling. Homemade devices such as air cannons, catapults or centrifugal contraptions described as “windmills on steroids” can send pumpkins flying as far as 4,000 feet. The competition is held in November, suggesting that getting rid of unsold Halloween pumpkins may have been the initial motivation, but these days white pumpkins with thick and tough shells are used. I hasten to point out that some of the proceeds from Punkin Chunkin go for scholarships and other worthy causes.
Sports food: When eating is the event
Strange as these events may seem, to me the most bizarre are the popular eating contests, with entrants in races to see who, in a short amount of time, can stuff down the most asparagus, chicken wings or birthday cake, to name a few of the ongoing rivalries. But the mother of them all is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest held every Fourth of July at that famous Coney Island stand.
This gathering is clothed in the language of sports and is broadcast on ESPN, the sports network. The reigning champion is Joey Chestnut, known to all as “Jaws,” who has won the title for seven years straight. This year he managed to chomp down 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes, a world record. His arm was raised in the air like a boxing champion, but instead of being bruised and cut, his face had a tinge of green.
Top photo: Strawberries for Wimbledon. Credit: Barbara Haber