Wednesday, June 18, 2014

419 Word Revelation: Modernist Cuisine

What has Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine done for food?
It’s easy to play the part of the skeptic. But it’s even easier to pretend your pushing the boundaries of food when in fact you are sitting in a laboratory trying to make strawberries taste like tomatoes in a marinara sauce. When in fact, tomatoes worked just fine, thank you.

Polenta topped with a marinara sauce made of strawberries, whose flavor profile mimics that of tomatoes, was one of 50 courses Nathan Myhrvold served at a meal to Feran Adria and New York Times reporter Dwight Garner recently at his food lab in Seattle. Myhrvold, who started Microsoft’s research division, has climbed out of his Microsoft  Office Window(s) (that’s a double pun, by the way) and into the world of molecular gastronomy, or “Modernist Cuisine,” as he has titled his multiple books on the subject. Surrounded with millions of dollars and a sous-vide vacuum sealer or two, he’s trying to push the boundaries of food by pushing food out of the kitchen and into the laboratory.

The results are sometimes stunning, though seemingly neither satisfying nor desirable. Like, a milkshake is made of goat milk, sugar, xantham gum and whey protein.


What strikes me again and again about this style of cooking is that it fetishizes food. It begs to be playful but indulges in such pettiness, excess and waste that the food itself is lost. Myhrvold gives potatoes an “ultrasonic bath” before serving them in steak frites, which creates cavities in the potatoes for a crispier fry. Is this any different than the laboratories of McDonald’s seeking to make a more addictive fry through science? If you were served pink slime at the Myhrvold household, would you eat it?

Perhaps Modernist Cuisine will stay within the sphere of Silicon Valley, like a foodie version of Segway polo, and in a few high-end restaurants scattered throughout the world. But most movements that combine creativity, art and passion seek a higher good. Frankly, I’m perplexed and fearful for what that higher good might be.

Modernist Cuisine does not answer to the things that draw us to food in the first place: satisfaction, engagement, community, pleasure.  Nor does it seem to answer any of the questions we truly struggle with about the food world: it does not engage in a conversation about health or agriculture or accessibility or hunger.

Instead, it draws laser-engraved images of Ferran Adria’s face on a tortilla.

Tortillas without his face on them were just fine, thank you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar Dogs: 9 Hot Dogs Inspired by the 2014 Best Picture Nominees

It's time for the 3rd annual OSCAR DOGS! I've cooked up everything from a dog resembling Christian Bale in American Hustle to a "Hostage Sausage" for Captain Phillips to a "Money, Money, Money Dog" that even the executives in The Wolf of Wall Street might approve of.

Head over to Serious Eats to check them all out and vote for your favorite! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Brooklyn Cooks: A Cold Weather Escarole and Radicchio Salad from Parish Hall

During the day, Parish Hall restaurant in Williamsburg is sun soaked. Sunflowers bloom on each table and the minimalist decor is calming and inviting. Owner George Weld and Chef Evan Hanczor have put together an operation that achieves what many Brooklyn restaurants strive for, and they take terms like "knowing the land," "local," and "farm to table" seriously, even if those words aren't conspicuously printed all over the menu.

How do I know? For one, Weld grows produce used at the restaurant at his farm, Goatfell Farm, in Upstate New York. I've been to the farm, and it's beautiful. Chef Hanczor told me that every Fall, Weld takes his staff on an "Eggscursion" upstate to work on the farm for a few days. They sleep in tents, tend to the fields, upkeep the greenhouses and eat really well. It makes the romanticized idea of farm to table, like this "Chicken Farm" scene from Portlandia, seem like a reality and like a really good idea.

The focus on knowing-thy-farmer is central to what Parish Hall is all about. During my visit, as though perfectly timed, a farmer dropped off a whole goat as I was leaving. Chef Hanczor and his team butcher the goat whole at the restaurant.

While I can tell you that Chef Hanczor cooks a mean goat, I visited the restaurant to try making something far simpler, but just as satisfying: Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Smoked Walnuts and Ewe's Blue Cheese. You'll find it on the menu at Parish Hall, or you can follow this recipe to make it at home.

“This year we start using some lettuces like radicchio and escarole," said Chef Hanczor. "They’re heartier and stand up to cold weather. They're best when the weather cools down a little. In the cool weather they have that bitterness but it’s a little milder.”

This is a versatile salad. It can be served at lunch with good bread as a meal on it's own, or supplemented with the addition of a poached egg on top. For dinner, Chef Hanczor suggests serving it along with something rich—a well-seasoned rib eye steak or even roast duck.

Or, you can dumb this salad down for more picky eaters (we know who you are). Romaine replaces bitter greens well, and cheddar can pinch hit for the rich ewe's blue cheese, a hearty sheep's milk blue.

The most important point to making this salad a success is the quality of the ingredients. New Yorkers struggle to find good produce during the winter, but the ingredients here lend themselves well to the colder months and aren't difficult to find.

I know Chef Hanczor used quality ingredients when a small, green ladybug crawled out from the head of escarole. Nothing says fresh like a happy visitor from the farm.

Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Smoked Walnuts and Ewe's Blue Cheese
Serves 2

1/2 cup smoked walnuts (available at Sahadi's in Brooklyn and other specialty stores)
1 teaspoon nut or canola oil
1 tablespoon honey

1/2 small head of escarole, torn into pieces
1/2 small head of radicchio, torn into pieces
1 bartlett or bosc pear, slices into thin segments
10 leaves fresh mint, torn into pieces
10 leaves fresh, flat leaf parsley, torn into pieces

1/4 cup Creamy Squash Seed Oil Dressing (recipe below)
1/4 cup crumbled ewe's blue cheese

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, oil and honey. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat and add the mixed walnuts. Toast the walnuts, tossing frequently, for 1-2 minutes until the honey sizzles and the walnuts begin to brown. Remove from the heat.

Combine the escarole, radicchio, pear, mint, parsley and candied walnuts in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing until well-coated.

To serve, divide the salad among two plates and top evenly with the blue cheese. Serve and enjoy.

Creamy Squash Seed Oil Dressing
This will make a few cups worth of dressing, but it can be halved and also saves well in the fridge for a few days. 

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced shallot
juice of 1/2 an orange
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

2 cups canola oil
2 tablespoons squash seed, walnut, or hazelnut oil

salt and pepper

Whisk the egg yolk, cream, shallot, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar and honey in a large bowl. Begin incorporating the canola oil by drizzling it into the mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously until you have created an emulsified dressing. Add in the squash seed oil and whisk to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Twisting the competition at Pelzer's Pretzels
Photo Credit: Clay Williams 
Bulletin: Looking at new small food businesses for The Brooklyn Paper, I visit Pelzer's Pretzels in Crown Heights, which is churning out quality (and totally adorable) Philly-style pretzels in their small shop. With variations like "Everything" and "Jalapeno Cheddar," as well as homemade mustards for dipping, these pretzels add a serious twist to the Brooklyn pretzel scene. more > 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This Week in Brooklyn Food News

The View from Brooklyn: Not so shiny, says Paper Magazine.
The Best Brooklyn Dishes at Any Price Point [The L Magazine]
The L Magazine's Sarah Zorn searches high and low for the best of Brooklyn on a plate, from $1 tacos al pastor to a $45 porterhouse steak at Peter Luger.

Behind the Scenes at Brooklyn Brew Shop [Village Voice]
A video feature on the team behind Brooklyn Brew Shop, the online beer making and supplies store, and their plans to open EST Brew Company.

Saul Bolton's Acclaimed Restaurant Saul Reopens Tonight in the Brooklyn Museum [Eater NY]
The 14-year Smith Street institution makes a splash by reopening in the Brooklyn Museum. Will Saul's food be as critically acclaimed as the art in the museum's galleries?

Beer Nerd Alert: Glorietta Baldy Opens in Bed-Stuy Tonight [Brooklyn Based]
The team behind Dolores and Owl Farm in Park Slope bring serious brews to Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood quickly becoming one of the borough's food/drink destinations.

Note from Kim: "F*ck Brooklyn. I (Still) Love New York" [PaperMag]
Kim Hastreiter loses her last bit of credibility, and coolness, with a defense of Manhattan and a FUCK YOU to Brooklyn: "Survival in post-gentrified New York has now taken on a whole new meaning when a burger costs 15 bucks and a downtown one bedroom (sans the tranny hookers working the block) can be almost $4,000 a month or $1.5 million to buy. It's not surprising you still have to be one tough motherfucker to stay alive in this shark tank." Um, right.

Carlo Mirarchi On the Roberta’s Cookbook and Bushwick’s Neighborhoodization [Bedford+Bowery]
Roberta's releases a cookbook 6 years into their landmark restaurant which has helped define Bushwick in more ways that one. Great insights into the restaurant's early days — did you know that for the first year they had only butane burners and toasters to cook with (but oh, how Bushwick of them that was!). 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Startup Test Kitchen: Mermaid's Garden

The Startup Test Kitchen is a weekly feature on food, drink and agriculture startups in this eager and entrepreneurial borough. Know a startup, small business or Kickstarter campaign that we ought to write about? Let us know!

Click the image above for Mermaid's Garden Kickstarter video.

Making sustainable choices about the fish and seafood you consume can be a lot like going fishing—you try your best, but in general, it's a pretty uncertain game. You try to go and talk to the guy at the fish counter or closely read the packaging on the bag of shrimp from Trader Joe's, but at the end of the day, there are so many steps and middlemen between the fish in the ocean and the fish on your dinner plate that it's really hard to know where it came from and if it was raised, caught and processed sustainably. 

It was this uncertainty, an entrepreneurial drive and a love of really fresh fish that led husband and wife team Mark Usewicz and Bianca Piccillo to start Mermaid's Garden, a sustainable seafood business which includes a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) seafood pickup program and soon to open retail shop in Prospect Heights. 

Often, said Piccillo, fish and seafood are, "caught here, sent to China, processed, sent back to the US and sold here." It is a lengthy and inefficient process that costs the consumer and the fisherman. "Rather than having the fish go through many different hands, we make that chain much shorter. [It means] better, fresher fish for the consumer and a better price for the fisherman." 

Mark and Bianca at the ocean. Photo credit: mermaidsgardennyc.com.
With backgrounds in ocean sciences and the service industry, Bianca was a marine biologist and Mark a chef, the couple put their know-how to use to start the business with a six-week trial run of the CSF. 

Once a week, members could pick up a share of sustainable seafood from Mermaid's Garden, which included fish like New England and Long Island black bass, haddock, swordfish and even Alaskan salmon and Florida stone crab when in season. Most of the fish was from friends (or friends of friends) of the couple in the Northeast, all of them small boat fishermen. This meant they knew the story behind each fish, who was catching it and if it was being caught and processed in a sustainable way. The CSF caught on, and they were soon offering the program year-round. Today, they have 350 committed customers. The CSF costs $132 per month for a full share (half shares are available too), with pickup locations around Brooklyn. 

"The response has been incredibly positive," says Piccillo. 

The model worked well and the couple wanted to expand to a brick and mortar shop. But finding the capital to support their small business wasn't easy. 

"There's not money for start-ups out there unless you go to a VC. We're not trying to be the next Tumblr. Most banks won't even talk to you if you haven't been around three years," added Piccillo. 

Just as the couple found that the Brooklyn community was supportive of their CSF, they found that they could tap into the local community to help launch their shop. They just completed successful Kickstarter campaign last week, bringing in over $18,000, which combined with personal investment was enough to make their their business plan work. 

The shop, to open on Vanderbilt Ave, will feature a rotating variety of seasonal fish and seafood as well as prepared dishes and sides. Brooklyn, it seems, is the right place to open such a shop. 

"Definitely people here are very invested in what they're eating and want to know where it comes from, from the farm to the plate or the ocean to the plate," said Piccollo of her Brooklyn-based customers.  

And for Brooklynites wanting to take the guesswork out of where their fish and seafood came from, Mermaid's Garden was the place to go.

"A model like ours," Piccillo chimes in about the business, is one "where you can tell the story."

Visit www.mermaidsgardennyc.com for more information on the CSF program and the forthcoming shop. Follow the company @MGFishNYC.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Brooklyn Voices in Food: 10 Questions for Diner Journal's Editor In Chief Anna Dunn

Brooklyn Voices in Food is a weekly series on the publications, zines, websites, writers, artists and producers leading the conversation about food, cooking, media, art and culture in Brooklyn. Know someone who would be a great fit? Let us know!

This week, we spoke with longtime Brooklyn food writer/editor Anna Dunn. Anna serves as Editor In Chief of one of the most original, inspired food publications we know: Diner Journal. Every time we leaf through the smooth matte pages, we can't help but feel inspired by the photography, the original artwork, the unusual stories and the unusually creative and reliable recipes. Each issue has its own character, and where other journals or magazines might become formulaic, Diner Journal keeps every issue original, bright and insightful. The covers alone (we've sampled a few of them throughout the interview) make it difficult to not pick up off the newsstand. It's exactly the type of food-meets-art-meets-culture publication we love to see. And it's right at home here in Brooklyn, where it has been published since 2006.

1. There are more food quarterlies, magazines and zines out there than any of us can keep track of. Tell us about Diner Journal. What makes it stand out? 

Diner Journal is certainly one of the oldest food journals around. Institutions like Gastronomica and Art of Eating really inspired us in the beginning and all the new journals continue to inspire us. It feels like a broadening conversation and it's exciting to be a part of it. We may be one of the few ad free journals and one of very few started by a restaurant. We also value the art as much as we do the content or the recipes which makes it really fun for us. We publish a lot of original art, poetry and fiction. It is just as important to us as the recipes and the food.

2. As a Brooklyn-based food publication, what does the local food culture add to Diner Journal

Local food culture has been very vital to the Diner Journal. In the beginning we really used the Journal as a means to learn more about our practices at the restaurants. We travelled to farms and slaughterhouses, butcher shops and cheese caves. Now in such a vibrant community (food and otherwise focused) there is never a drought of ideas, contributors, passions or curiosities to be represented in our pages.

"Food is only different than art and writing because people can tell they need it on a basic level. We get hungry right? Well I think it's the same for art and creativity. We crave it. Food is a lens, a way for us to get at the ideas that inspire us."

3. The motto of Diner Journal is "Ad-free and three hole-punched since 2006." What have you done to keep the publication relevant in the seven years that it has been in print? 

I don't know that we have been very concerned in being relevant. Which is certainly a kind of fault of ours. We set out to make something thoughtful and inspired, something as an alternative to all those glossies that had become popular ten years ago. And I think we are lucky that it seems to have spoken to the food movement that was taking shape. Now we try and stay relevant by staying excited, or moved by what we are publishing—which is not always food related.

4. In fact, Diner Journal has been around a lot longer than many of today's Brooklyn-based food publications. What has changed in Brooklyn's food scene since you started Diner Journal? 

The food community has just taken on fire here in Brooklyn since we started. I feel so lucky to live among so many talented young producers, urban farmers, bee keepers, bartenders, chefs and butchers.

5. How did you become Diner Journal's Editor-in-Chief?

I was working in the coffee shop at Marlow and Sons when Caroline Fidanza, Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth started the Journal. Someone, I think Caroline, knew I was a writer (poet even?!) and I was invited to work a little on the first one. With the second I became the editor type of person on set and it has just evolved on since then.

"The Journal

is a constant


6. Is there a story that you've published in Diner Journal that is particularly memorable for you?

There are many stories in the Journals I think of and return to time and again. I loved Robert LaValva's story on the history of our seaport. He is the Director of the New Amsterdam Market and just a lovely writer. Later he and Caroline wrote each other letters about eggs that are surprisingly moving. Mateo Kehler writing about Jasper Hill Cheese Caves, sunshine and micro-finance. Caroline's long recipe for Ribollita. I make it every year for the vegetarians at Christmas dinner. Scarlett Lindeman and the Ham. Poetry and fiction by Peter Milne Greiner and Jess Arndt.

7. Can you walk us through the lifecycle of an issue of Diner Journal?

The Journal is a constant conversation. Andrew Tarlow, the publisher and owner of Diner, Marlow, Reynard, Romans, Achilles Heel, etc, and I keep a running list of ideas or themes for a Journal. He likes to have four planned out in advance. Once we pick one and roll with it there are pitch meetings. After we get the content on lock down we have many late night editing sessions. There a handful of amazing people who work on the Journal issue to issue. Becky Johnson is Art Director. Julia Gillard is our photo editor. Scarlett Lindeman is our recipe editor. Leah Campbell, Sarah Wyman and Tessa Basore copy edit and basically give the thing legs. We all work other jobs, many of us in the restaurants. And then in the final days before we hit print, Becky and I sit in the office late into the night at Marlow and Sons obsessing over every detail, drinking Bud and finding typos. It's perhaps an imperfect system but one we return to every time.

8. You don't just publish stories but also original art, photography and recipes as well. Is it important that food publications participate in a larger conversation about culture and art? 

Food is only different than art and writing because people can tell they need it on a basic level. We get hungry right? Well I think it's the same for art and creativity. We crave it. Food is a lens, a way for us to get at the ideas that inspire us.

9. What's in store for Diner Journal's next seven years? And what do you think is in store for the Brooklyn food publication scene going forward? 

I have no idea. We try and stay present. I hope the food publication scene continues to expand and grow. All the emerging voices and points of view are really exciting.

10. Why is Diner Journal three-hole punched? 

So you don't throw it away.

Anna Dunn is Editor In Chief of the Diner Journal and co-writer of Saltie: A Cookbook. She is currently enrolled in the Crime Fiction Academy at the Center for Fiction in hopes of some day writing a mystery novel—or seven. She bartends Saturday nights at Achilles Heel in Greenpoint and has one amazing wife and five pretty cool pets.

Top photo credit: Julia Gillard