The Leafy Green Machine

BY: Ethan Reynolds, AOS Culinary

Modern hydroponic farming is the practice of growing plants in nutrient-dense water instead of soil. This practice has been in existence since the early 20th century. It’s a true agricultural breakthrough, The idea of producing food in climate-controlled indoor facilities, with no need for soil, opens up a myriad of possibilities for farmers to improve efficiency and to grow any type of food at any time of year.

Commonly, hydroponic farming is organized in a greenhouse-like environment. Natural sunlight provides the plants with the ability to photosynthesize, and these plants are fortified by the nutrient-packed water that immerses their roots. Usually, these plants will be situated on large horizontal beds of water. The water itself is blocked from the sunlight to allow the plants access to light but prevent algal growth beneath the surface of the water.

Freight Farms is a company that has expounded upon this farming technology in a truly unique way. Their idea was this: create a self-contained vertical hydroponic system in a shipping container measuring 320 square feet. This shipping container holds nearly everything needed to produce 4,500 plants simultaneously, yielding the same amount of food as two acres of farmland. This is 270 times more space-efficient, a truly remarkable improvement. The portable farm was fondly dubbed the Leafy Green Machine. Though it can grow many kinds of plants including strawberries and sugar snap peas, these plants do not truly fit the design of the farm. It is best suited for growing leafy greens such as lettuce, herbs, and brassicas such as cabbage or kale.

The structure of the Leafy Green Machine is built around making the most of a tiny space. The incubation area, where plants are grown from seed to sproutling, is housed underneath a functional work table which can be used to organize and pack the mature plants. Instead of a horizontal growing system, the crops are grown vertically, then each mature seedling is placed into a slot on a hollow tower. The roots are fed by a flow of specially enhanced water that flows within the tower, from top to bottom. There are many of these towers in the shipping container, and each is set on a rolling track so that they may be moved towards the work table when it comes time to harvest. The plants will then grow out from the towers instead of up from the ground, which allows much more to be planted in a tiny space.

The farm is almost completely automated. The walls are insulated and the climate is computer-controlled, and the plants are “fed” by red and blue LED lights which turn on and off to regulate photosynthesis as the system determines. Furthermore,  the enhanced water is recycled throughout the system. With this system, the farm needs less than five gallons of water to function for an entire day. Sensors within the farm measure the properties of the environment, and these measurements are used to adjust the climate as needed. The entire system can be controlled via an app, which makes it a practically hands-off operation. The farm needs only about 15-20 hours of labor per week to stay running, which is significantly lower than many farmers today. The isolated nature of the shipping container makes it so that pests are hardly an issue; therefore, pesticides do not need to be used. This makes it far more feasible to grow organically.

Due to the climate-controlled nature of the farming environment, the Leafy Green Machine can grow crops in virtually any part of the world and at any time of year. Each farm sells for the comparatively reasonable price of $85,000, with an added yearly cost of $13,000 in upkeep and supplies. This price point makes it practical for entrepreneurs to buy, and build a business around, one or more of these farms.

A small business owner and Vietnam War veteran by the name of Jerry Martin started a farm aptly named Vet Veggies in Springdale, Arkansas. The company serves as an example and an encouragement for recent veterans to rejoin the workforce in the hydroponic farming industry. Vet Veggies grows butter head lettuce,= which is distributed to several local grocery chains.

In urban East Boston, a couple formed a business around four Leafy Green Machines. Corner Stalk Farm brings forth produce that the couple then sells at their well-loved neighborhood retail shop, Boston Public Market. By building a farm in such an urban environment, they provide their customers with truly locally grown, fresh produce while simultaneously improving their community.

Hydroponics have been at the forefront of the agricultural zeitgeist for some time now, so it’s only a matter of course that the innovative minds of this millennium would apply themselves to revealing the extent of possibilities that exist in soil-less farming. If Freight Farms continues to gain traction as a company, the reach of hydroponic farms can only grow wider and  fresh food could be grown in unfarmable sections of the world, feeding scientists in Antarctica or underprivileged children in the deserts of Kenya.




(Don’t) Fear the Critic   

BY: Amanda Lamperti AOS Culinary

Food writer turned restaurant critic Pete Wells of the New York Times earned his respect from people both heavily involved in the New York City food world as well as followers of his work throughout the country. Readers of the Times often resort to Wells as the go-to guru of all things to know in the NYC food scene when searching for the right restaurant to make reservations for a Saturday night dinner. The attraction to these artfully crafted words of wisdom published weekly from Wells can come from the curiosity of seeing which restaurants are rising above the rest, and it is arguable that some readers simply wish to have their appetite satiated by his raw display of sarcasm. Nevertheless,  it is agreed that Wells holds the talent of “telling it like it is” while keeping his reviews both constructive for the restaurant and entertaining for the readers – and people love it. This is not something that is easy to do, which is why Wells is the perfect guy for the job. Chefs are intimidated by him, restauranteurs try too hard to please him, and waiters run the other way when they see him sitting in the dining room. But why? He is just an average guy with a normal opinion, but has the power to use that opinion to make or break a restaurant. So yes, he kind of is a big deal, but  the way people who are affected by food critics in general view them as tyrannical, aggressive, and just plain mean. This one person can put a lot of stress on a lot of people, but if these people took the time to understand the logic of Pete Wells and others in the business, they might change their minds.

To start off, Mr. Wells is strictly a writer; and a fair one at that. In a recent phone interview with La Papillote he explains, “I got into this to write. I started off as a writer, then the food kind of came later.” Wells worked his way up in the columns of the New York Times and started to write about food, which obviously fared well for him.  He now has what any student at the CIA would consider a dream job, eating his way through NYC, all on someone else’s dime. He goes into restaurants as a reporter and writes about his experience, with no favoritism or other opinions in his head. He continues saying, “I think people imagine that a food critic is supposed to be sitting there looking for faults, and you do see them, but what you’re really trying to do is experience the restaurant. Whatever experience they’re offering, you’re trying to have it.” No pre-judgements, no early predicaments on his part. “I don’t read other people’s reviews. I don’t even read that much of the publicity, or sort of pre-opening criticism. Sometimes I go into these places knowing nothing.” Going into each and every restaurant with a clean slate and open mind means that anything can either charm Wells into writing a blissful article of praise or a rather bitter review full of more sarcasm than usual.

And as far as Wells’ relationships with the chefs, no bribery or favoritism is allowed. When he writes an article that does not go over so well with the chefs, he stays calm to explain the backlash he receives from his merely honest report of their restaurant. Wells says, “There aren’t many chefs in New York City who I would consider a ‘buddy’… Sometimes chefs will write back whether it is a good review or a bad review. The worst that will happen to me is that chefs will lash out at me in public, but that’s really rare. But I don’t mind if they do that. [One restauranteur wrote to me] saying that I shouldn’t be doing my job and the Times was making a mistake by employing me.” Chefs will be some of the most fiery and passionate people you will ever meet, and Wells’ calm personality and ‘cut to the chase’ take on his influential job is a balancing act in the restaurant industry. He proves to be the less selfish and attention-focused partner in this duo of food critics and the emotional chefs of New York City. But what irritates Wells are the self-centered chefs that use the dining room as a stage and the guests an audience to fuel their ego. “There are these restaurants where the chef is taking himself or herself so seriously and they forget that people aren’t just sitting there to applaud you all night. They want the show to be all about them, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

But no matter what the cuisine, starred ranking, or generalized fame a restaurant holds that Wells is reviewing, he extends that the most important factor is that they deliver what they promise to their guests. Wells reviewed Senor Frogs, a not so high-class restaurant- chain bar located near Times Square and they received a great review… and they do not even have a chef to run the place. How in the world did that happen? According to Wells, his logic on judging these two extremes is quite simple. “A lot of it has to do with what the restaurant is promising you and what they deliver. Senor Frogs wasn’t really promising that much on the storefront, you know.” Wells laughs. “It wasn’t saying it was this new interpretation of, I don’t even know what it would be, Spring Break Cuisine? They were promising the drinks would be large, and they were. And that there would be wild, weird entertainment, and there was. For what they set out to do, they did it.”

When recalling the fame Per Se’s article retained, he says “I knew it was going to be talked about a lot in the restaurant business and at your school. People who are following the industry were going to be intensely interested in that. But what I did not know was that it was going to be read by so many people who don’t really follow restaurants and had no intention of eating at Per Se. It took off in this scale that I wasn’t predicting.” When discussing the remarks of his reviews in general, he says, “It’s nice to be read. I don’t really enjoy a backlash at all. When it’s a negative review, it makes me a little bit uncomfortable when people are cheering. It’s negative, but it’s not being cheered at the restaurant, for sure. In the restaurant, I see people’s faces where I don’t want to see people laughing at them. And I write to make people laugh, so go figure.”

So if there is one thing that must be done to impress Pete Wells, it is complete honesty and sense of realness in every aspect of the restaurant. That does not sound so mean coming from someone dubbed “America’s most dangerous restaurant critic.” To further his defense, when asked whether Wells preferred to construct his insults while writing his articles or if they were spur of the moment during his meal, he could not quite decide. “Sometimes there are things I think while I am eating, sometimes it’s things I think of when I’m sitting down taking my notes. It’s kind of better if it happens at the spur of the moment. It’s fresher, and it could be more accurate.

And do not think that Wells enjoys special treatment because of his title. The need to ensure everything for Mr. Wells is absolutely perfect at all times is unrealistic, and he is certainly aware of it. “There is refilling the water glass at the table every time someone takes a sip. They just must not realize how irritating that is. It’s distracting; every time you pick up your water glass, it doesn’t need to be refilled if it’s just gone down one eighth of an inch. But [as a reporter] you also have to pay attention to how everyone else is eating. Just looking around the room, how other tables are being treated.”

Wells finishes off by saying, “I’m not writing them a report card. I’m not writing them to give them a sense of how to improve their business. I’m really writing for the reader.” Nothing that Wells says is meant by any tyrannical, aggressive, or just plain mean things people assume are his intentions. He laughs, saying, “Well, there’s the job and then there’s the person. And it’s never been personal for me, and I think it’s hard sometimes for chefs to realize that. It’s personal for them.”

Kenka: A Taste of Japan in NYC

By Cindy Yuong, AOS Baking & Pastry

A wild and eccentric Japanese Izakaya restaurant can be found in St. Mark’s street of NYC’s East Village. Walking along the street at night, the restaurants along the strip seemed quite average, but once you got to Kenka, you could not pass by without at least pausing and looking back. The exterior of the restaurant is quite something – a huge blue sign spells out Kenka in Japanese, but a unique raccoon statue with glowing red eyes stands at the right side with a cotton candy machine and a head in the hole picture board on the left. A huge crowd gathers outside the doors waiting to get in.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, it only has a clipboard with a sign-up sheet in front of the doors. The host walks out once a table is cleared to check on the list and seat the next guests. During my wait, people spoke of previous visits to the restaurant, saying the wait could be either extremely short or long, but they would always come back for the food and atmosphere.

The interior may be a little more extreme than the exterior. Vintage Japanese flags, posters, pachinko machines and more line the walls of the restaurant as slightly obnoxious music blasts through the speakers. However, the experience is truly authentic as the host announces the party’s entrance and the entire staff yells “Irashaimase!” in welcoming just as they do when entering any building in Japan. Seating includes tables and benches in addition to countertop spots by the kitchen. Baskets are provided to place one’s belongings in at the foot of the table.

At Kenka, the menu itself is ginormous and action packed with a movie poster like specials booklet and items written in both Japanese and English. Kenka’s special menu offers a 20-minute jumbo curry eating challenge along with the likes pork brains and fried udon of intestines. Moving onto their regular menu, the dishes showcase Japan’s best street food offerings and classics of the nation. No sushi rolls can be seen, but rather authentic sashimi combos, grilled noodles and meat – anything ending in -yaki, fried foods, stews, and hot pots line the page with impressive pictures. Sashimi, oden, gyoza, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, teriyaki, katsudon – you name it, they have it. The bar also has extensive offerings including unique cocktail combos and an $8 pitcher of beer that restaurant goers rave about. Once ordered, the waiter brings the ticket over to the kitchen, calls out the order in Japanese, and gets an enthusiastic call back from the chefs.

When I found Kenka, I was in search of a Japanese restaurant to satisfy an okonomiyaki craving. Having had one from the land of okonomiyaki in Osaka, Japan, I definitely had high expectations for it. The okonomiyaki, which translates to “grilled as you like it,” is a Japanese savory pancake layered with batter, shredded cabbage, slices of meat, and various topppings, – came out on a sizzling plate, topped with bonito flakes, pickled red ginger, delicious okonomiyaki sauce, and a warm mayonnaise drizzle. It was not in completely distinct layers like the original one I had, but rather was all mixed into one batter and cooked. The pancake was thick and soft with shredded carrots, cabbage, and onion, strewn with chewy squid pieces, thin pork slices, and accented with umami filled toppings. Not what I had expected, but it hit the spot in all the right places.

Besides the okonomiyaki, I had also ordered a few other sides. The Gyu Tataki – rare beef with ponzu – came out first with a beautiful plate presentation: grilled beef atop raw shredded onions, with minced garlic, micro greens, sliced lemon and lettuce on the side. The slight bitterness of the garlic balanced out the tender meat splashed in ponzu sauce. Hotate Butter – grilled scallops in butter – was absolutely delicious. Perfectly crisp, large scallops steamed in its dish before melting in the mouth with its richness. To cleanse the palate, I had a side of Asa Zuke – traditional pickled vegetables: radish, carrot, cucumber and cabbage as I ate through the night. However, the fun doesn’t end right with the meal. With the check comes a small cup of candy sugar to spin on a chopstick in the cotton candy machine outside the door to take along as a souvenir.

Was it worth it to have found Kenka? Yes. Would it have been more fun with other people? Absolutely. The late night atmosphere of Kenka is not to be missed with all your friends looking for an adventure in the streets of East Village. Bring a hungry crowd, partake in a few wild food challenges while having a blast, and experience a small bit of Japan through the wild and crazy charms of Kenka. Do not miss out!




Facts and food in a post-truth world

BY: Mike Feist

“Post-truth” is the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for no small reason. We have major politicians that believe climate change is a hoax and vaccines cause autism, despite mountains of scientific evidence. Our president’s administration started their first day in office claiming this inauguration was the largest ever, despite aerial images and transit records showing otherwise. The administration later defended the claim, saying “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” It’s not just a problem here – two days later the new UK Prime Minister kept news of a nuclear missile test failure from the House of Commons and the public. Her defense secretary even said the government “successfully concluded” the operation. Lies, secrets, and the rejection of evidence-based statements are abundant in politics. But this isn’t just the routine “most politicians lie”; the amount of blatant, easily refutable falsehoods is unprecedented.

The term “alternative facts” has taken center stage in much of our news reporting and political debate since Brexit – the United Kingdom’s proposed secession from the European Union – and in the US presidential election. Information sources once deemed reliable by the mainstream are increasingly rejected, and the number of “fake news” websites is on the rise. People are largely ignoring facts and instead gravitating towards repeated emotional ideas and personal beliefs.

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternative facts are the backbone of government publications. The fictional government’s secret Thought Police surveil everyone and punish dissenting speech, actions, and thoughts. The Ministry of Truth is responsible for creating propaganda, doctoring papers and changing historical records. Orwell’s book, published in 1949, has recently seen a record surge in sales, becoming the top-selling book on Amazon and prompting a reprint of 75,000 copies (which is almost as many books as are found in our Conrad Hilton Library). Obviously a great many people are comparing our current times and foreseeable future to that of Orwell’s fictional world.

Statistics lost public credibility especially after Trump was announced as the election winner, as both the media and the public had become dependent on polling data to determine who would win. Those outlets disseminated their absolute certainty Clinton would win. Though the details behind the poll flaws are complex and vary by poll, the largest flaw may be media and public dependence on poll data. Elections are not science: you simply cannot predict the results with exact detail. A false prediction is not a reason to start losing faith in statistics as a whole, however. And, this premise applies similarly to the fields of food science and nutrition.

As in politics and media, the culinary industry sees a large amount of misinformation and disinformation (intentionally misleading or false claims) and a disregard of scientific evidence, for example, how people receive diet and nutritional advice, how they determine foods’ safety (such as genetically engineered foods), and how they view economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture. Some of these authors take advantage of ideas, like the conceptions that corporations hide data, fund (and thus influence) research, bribe doctors, and lobby Congress. Many alternative lifestyle organizations use partial truths to convince people to turn to unproven herbs and medicines, nutritional claims, or agricultural techniques. And they can play on public fears over published data to allow emotion to become dominant in determining personal beliefs. GMOs may be deadly. Gluten may make everyone sick. Coffee may be bad for you. The problems and solutions in politics, health, nutrition, and food safety are all similar, in that emotion-based sources tell you that terrorists, chemicals, toxins, and all things foreign are present, and they must be kept out, so detox, build walls, eat natural, and eat clean. Right?

Emotional ideas have already impacted our industry in huge ways, turning opinions on biotechnology, like genetically modified foods and herbicides like glyphosate. The latter reduces the use of soil tillage and therefore reduces erosion and runoff. It has also passed the EPA’s and other national institutes’ risk assessments many times. Genetically modified foods are among the most studied, and the process reduces environmental damage, increases the food supply, can prevent allergic reactions, and can literally save lives through nutrient benefits. As an example, golden rice is biofortified with beta-carotene, which reduces vitamin A deficiency, the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness, affecting millions of people.

Marketing plays a huge role in disinformation, with Non-GMO Project labels becoming ever more popular. Similarly, “natural” labels are also everywhere, though any food could be labeled natural: there aren’t any restrictions on the term’s use. There are restrictions on the term “organic” in the United States, but the US’s organic program is flawed, with organic farms requiring significantly more land and resources than conventional farms to produce the same amount of food. Organic farms have a larger carbon footprint and larger environmental effects. Marketing often targets pesticides as a reason to buy organic, and consumers buy into it. However both organic and conventional farms use a variety of synthetic and natural pesticides. Some natural pesticides, such as copper sulfate, are more harmful to the environment, and many of the synthetic pesticides are designed to quickly break down into simple substances. The USDA organic program also has fear-based and unscientific policies against irradiation, antibiotics, and genetic modification. It prohibits any use of antibiotics, which can be an ethical problem regarding the treatment of animals. Overall, organic products are more expensive and bring no demonstrable benefits, to food quality, nutritional content, the environment, or the economy.

Another food industry example is truffle oil. It’s overused and not appealing, and there are a lot of similar opinions most chefs agree with, but what about the facts? It turns out that those are hard to come by. Nearly all of what can be found on truffle oil is opinion-based, and often false. For example, Joe Bastianich said in 2014 that “it has nothing to do with truffles”, “it’s made by perfumists”, and that “it’s bad for you.” Just to be clear: many brands of truffle oil are flavored with pieces of truffle, producers of perfume do not make truffle oil, and no, truffle oil is not hazardous to human health. Contrary to claims published in The Alternative Daily, the WHO’s JECFA report recognizes truffle oil as safe.

According to Tim Wu, professor of communications law at Columbia, part of the problem with false facts is the internet. The beautiful idea of free and open worldwide communication has turned into what he calls a “wasteland of empty articles, celebrity non-stories, and random stuff designed to get your attention for even a microsecond.” Websites like Buzzfeed largely seek an emotional reaction and have no ultimate goal beyond selling advertising. This model where a company’s worth is only based on the number of clicks they get “makes TV ratings look honorable by comparison”, according to Wu. In comparison, Wikipedia is one website which has structured itself to prevent that: on a list of the thirty most popular websites, it is the only nonprofit and the only one not ad-based. Its director has stated that accountability is the most effective way to build public trust – transparency at every level and earnest aspirations towards the truth and self-improvement. Tim Wu expressed hope that other media organizations take on similar standards in order to maintain the public’s trust. If you’re unsure about a controversy or are looking for information on food safety, nutrition, or biotechnology, look to Wikipedia, which has policies requiring neutral content, though still check that the information you find is cited from trustworthy sources.

What does this matter to a CIA student? As a reader, choose your information sources carefully, as there is more disinformation being spread recently. For determining the truth, the best course is to read multiple sources, all with no apparent bias, transparent and appropriate motives for reporting, detailed and reasonable methodologies, authoritative authors and publishers, and a peer review process (like review boards for scientific journals or editors for books, newspapers, and some online media). Maintain skepticism and rigorously challenge even the most basic of claims to see how they stack up against robust evidence.

Regardless of what degree program you’re in, you are going to be affecting what and how people think about food. You may come to be interviewed or asked to write a piece, but even if you don’t, your menu and philosophy as a chef or business owner will speak to the public. But without public trust, as institutions are finding themselves ever more frequently lacking, your words and the truth will be lost to all.


From dock to dish

BY: Mike Feist, BBA Food Business Management

I was painted a vivid picture; almost 90% of fish sold in the US is imported, mainly from Asia, and about half of those from farms are in and around polluted rivers like the Mekong. The fish are largely illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) and forced labor is prevalent in the industry. Due to these factors, US seafood prices are rock-bottom. The number of US imports surpasses the previous record each year, and the FDA only inspects about 1% of these imports before the food is distributed. More foodborne illness outbreaks come from seafood than from any other imported food. We have an epidemic on our hands.

Sean Barrett is a lifelong fisherman who is currently located at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. We met there to talk about what he’s doing to fight this catastrophe. In 2012, Sean created Dock to Dish, a network of fishermen, chefs, and some of the most brilliant people in the industry. He launched the operation in Montauk, having worked with Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Scott Chaskey at Quail Hill Farm, where the “farm to table” concept evolved into “dock to dish”.

The original initiative was simply a community-supported fishery (CSF), based on the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, and the first of its kind in New York. Dan Barber crafted an additional new program with Sean, the first restaurant-supported fishery (RSF) in the world. Sean’s fishermen supply top-quality fish, always delivered within 24 hours and never frozen. At Dock to Dish, they only offer sustainable seafood by only fishing for underutilized and abundant species, and working with multiple agencies to ensure that remains true. They are also sustainable in their methods – only using pole- and spearfishing to prevent bycatch and sea floor damage. This also made them a supply-based restaurant purveyor, reversing away from the traditional demand-based motivation as a purveyor.

They supply seafood to 15 restaurants in New York, including Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, April Bloomfield’s John Dory Oyster Bar, and Mario Batali’s Manzo at Eataly. Their waiting list has over 250 New York restaurants alone. Google’s Chelsea office also demands ten times the volume of a typical shipment to one restaurant, a staggering volume of fish. Whatever Sean brings in the chefs will take, whether it be Atlantic butterfish, sea robins, triggerfish, or cocktail bluefish. Chefs love these underutilized (and historically bycatch) fish, and the public, once mostly wary, are now specifically asking for them too.

Sean Barrett grew up around the freshest fish. His parents said they’d send him to basketball camp and he would return home with a “best fisherman” trophy. He’s worked in fisheries and restaurants since he was young, including his family’s tavern, where he learned to stand his ground in a kitchen. He grew up around one of the first CSAs in New York, Quail Hill Farm, founded by Scott Chaskey. Chaskey’s book, This Common Ground, made him think, “could CSAs work for seafood?” Scott then helped them start their CSF in 2012, and Sean said it skyrocketed from there. It became so popular that right away he had over 100 families with a 300-family waiting list. Sean brought the idea of adding restaurants into the mix to Dan Barber. The pair piloted it at Stone Barns, where philosophically it was a perfect fit, matching ideally with the force behind The Third Plate.

Dan Barber developed Sean’s idea to work for other restaurants, and immediately got on the phone. Dan personally called Eric Ripert, April Bloomfield, and half a dozen other top chefs. With his reputation and his insight as to which chefs would join in, he quickly got them on board. Dan Barber also guided Dock to Dish through some operational kinks. The first couple of times, they delivered the fish to Le Bernadin around noon, which was too late in the day. Sean didn’t realize they served lunch there and the fish should have been delivered much earlier, around 7:45 am. So they strolled in, excited to deliver some beautiful fish, and didn’t realize – the staff was ready to go for service, without the fish.

Once the operation became replicable, they started branching out all over the US, now operating in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Costa Rica. In California, they’re known for serving Michael Cimarusti’s Providence and Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. They always deliver within a 150-mile radius of the source, with an average of only 70 miles’ distance. In Vancouver, they average 11 miles away and in Costa Rica, it’s only 7 miles from the dock. They end up with the smallest carbon footprint of any distribution system in their class.

This month, Dock to Dish is launching a Kickstarter campaign for what they name Dock to Dish 2.0. They want to show transparency through traceability by introducing the first real-time seafood tracking system. It shows the fishing boats arriving just like watching an Uber pull up to your door. You can see information on the fishermen’s names, history, license numbers, favorite fish, recipes, and more.

They’re partnering with Google and the system will display on Dock to Dish’s website. The program has the potential to display on member restaurants’ websites or on a tablet at guests’ tables. Blue Hill already does similar demonstrations for guests, including showing videos of Sean and Dan’s crews out on the fishing boats. Sean hopes this transparency will spread to other types of purveyors, so he’s making everything open-source and easy to replicate.

I asked Sean about his personal philosophy. The work is hard, laboring on boats and docks, hauling and lifting. He admits to questioning his career, like many chefs do after a long and exhausting day. Sean questions his work more when he’s waiting through miles of traffic on the LIE before dawn, hoping to get to the Manhattan restaurants on time. However, he reminds himself that his products feel like preventative medicine, as good fish is fresh, clean, and healthful. With his program, he can check off all the boxes for sustainable, traceable, hyperlocal, and seasonal fish. So for the families and restaurant guests he feeds, he knows they can have a wholesome, delicious, and nutritious meal to end a hard day’s work. That idea is what keeps him going – knowing he’s making a difference.

He’s also excited about the nation getting back to its roots of locally-sourced food. It’s partly why he and Dan Barber are such good friends. Together, they also created the Squanto Project at Stone Barns, which started when Sean ended up with scraps from filleting fish for the CSF. Squanto and other Native Americans taught the early colonists that if you fertilize the earth with fish, crops will grow larger and stronger. Sean and Dan applied that knowledge to the compost for Stone Barns’ fields, and together with a switch from cardboard to reusable plastic containers for the seafood, they eliminated nearly all their waste  . They started teasing the Stone Barns farmers later that fall, having to harvest “Jurassic Park-sized produce” – due to the fish from the spring before.

Dock to Dish also works heavily with CIA alumni; Sean estimates that 75 or 80% of his restaurants’ chefs have graduated from the school. One of his closest mentors, William Rosenzweig, directs the CIA’s new Food Business School and is an Advisory Board Member.

The outlook of local seafood finally looks promising.   So many fish populations have been soaring over the past two or three years; fish like porgy and bluefish are both at 150% of their target populations. Sean says we now have the largest and most diverse population of sustainable fish in US waters that we’ve had in generations. And with a blueprint for fresh, traceable, and environmentally-friendly seafood supplies, the food industry has a bright future.



Beyond the Bottle: alcohol laws


Prohibition led to the decimation of the beverage industry, but it also dealt considerable damage to the restaurant industry. With a lack of revenue from liquor sales, food establishments struggled to generate enough revenue to support the bottom line. Jobs were lost. Crime drastically increased and states lost a revenue source. While it was considered to be a “noble experiment” it became widely regarded as a failure.  A few years later, the 21st amendment repealed prohibition and allowed for the recovery of the food and beverage industry.

The 21st amendment can be broken up into three sections. The first section of the amendment repealed the 18th amendment-the prohibition amendment. Jumping ahead, the third section states that the amendment must be properly ratified to take effect. Finally, the second section was then interpreted to give all the power of alcohol control over to the states. This means that each state has the right to decide for themselves how to control alcohol. Some states gave the power to decide to individual parishes, counties, and even towns. If a town or county decided to not allow the selling of alcohol, they are commonly referred to as “dry”. To this day there are over 200 counties that prohibit the selling of any type alcohol. This does not include the number of counties that have some sort of restriction on selling alcohol in some form or the numerous amount of dry towns.

With the continuation of dry areas, it hampers the opening of new business and innovation. It also brings barriers to existing companies. For example, in the town of Lynchburg, Tennessee it is illegal to purchase alcohol of any kind. This is particularly notable due to the fact that it is the town that Jack Daniels is produced. While visitors may purchase a commemorative bottle at the souvenir shop they cannot purchase Jack Daniels anywhere else in the county. This prevents local businesses from tapping into the tourist interests and serving mixed drinks featuring whisky.

However it is not just dry counties that can interfere with business. Oklahoma recently changed a law that stated that local breweries could not sell high point beer, any beer that’s not 3.2, on premise to customers. Before the law changed, local breweries had to deny customer requests to buy their product on premise. The breweries were also more pressed to make low point beer to improve their bottom line instead of creating micro brews of their choice. It also forced breweries to only sell samples of their high point brews on premise. However in August of last year, senate bill 424 allowed for breweries to sell full strength beer on premise. This helps breweries to be able to cater to their guests as well as increase profitability.

As in Oklahoma, alcohol laws around the nation are beginning to change and open up. While the change is headed to open up the laws and allow for a more progressive view on alcohol, it’s important to inform local lawmakers on the implications of their decisions. While alcohol is an integral part of the restaurant industry, it is also a controversial substance. This means that many groups will lobby for stronger alcohol control laws. In order to protect the best interests of the restaurant industry, restaurateurs and chefs need to be active participants in their local government. This way, the restaurant industry can continue to rely beverage sales as a substantial form of revenue.



Spent Grains




BY: Joe Piccirillo, BPS Applied Food Studies

After a long day of cooking, sitting in class, memorizing recipes, or studying, many students seek repose in The Egg. Some may want to enjoy a cold beer and unwind. In Brooklyn Brewery’s state-of-the-art brewing facilities and classroom, Head Brewer Hutch Kugeman educates students in the art, science, and history of one of the world’s most ancient beverages. Beer has four key ingredients grains (malt), water, hops, and yeast. Together these components give the beverage its iconic flavor, aroma, and pleasant effervescence many people have grown to love. The grains stand out in the brewing procedure. Grains allow the wort (unfermented beer) to begin the fermentation process by providing necessary sugars to feed the yeast and determine the final flavor of the finished product. After mashing is complete, the remaining grains are strained out of the wort and are often thrown out. This generation of large amounts of spent grains as byproduct has become a major disposal problem in the brewing industry. Fortunately, as sustainability movements grow in popularity, brewers have grown more resourceful. Some have reached out to local farmers in their area who can use spent grains as cattle feed. Beyond animal feed, brewer’s waste makes an excellent nitrogen-rich component in any sort of composting system.

Spent grains are a treasure in their own right. They are rich in nutrients such as protein and fiber, and acquire a distinct sweet and nutty flavor from the brewing process. Because of this, chefs and home cooks alike are adapting to the culinary uses of spent grains. Here are the CIA, Chef George Shannon, the chef instructor of the breakfast class at The Egg, has done extensive research in the utilization of these grains. Chef Shannon has been working with Hutch at the school’s brewery and is trying to utilize as much of the grains as possible.

Once Chef receives the grains, he begins to process them into flour. First, the grains are all laid on sheet trays, about ½ inch layer per tray. Then they go into an oven, set at the temperature 225F. Over the course of a few hours, the low heat will dry all the moisture out as well as deepening the flavor of the finished product. During this process, it is imperative that the grains are rotated on to new sheet trays, about every 30 minutes. This ensures even drying and safeguards the grains from sticking to the tray as moisture is released. After drying is complete, the grains are stone ground into flour in a grinder. The coarseness of the flour varies from coarse to fine, depending on the final usage. Now that flour is now ready to use and appears in many of Chef Shannon’s breakfast dishes. From waffles to muffins, spent grains are fortifying these dishes with nutrients, and most importantly, flavor. Chef Shannon is continuing to find new and innovative ways to provide these grains with an afterlife.

Although Chef Shannon is doing good things with our brewery’s spent grains, we are still disposing, on average, about 500-600 pounds a week. Hutch is willing to give grains to students.  Now that you are aware of the benefits and many uses of spent grains, stop on by the brewing facility a grab a few pounds of grains, and discover your own new way to repurpose them.






BY: Francesca Zani, AOS Culinary

Most of us are like -minded when it comes to the topic of aphrodisiacs, especially with Valentine’s Day. Many of us can’t help but snicker at the thought of their purpose. Aphrodisiacs can be anything from fruits and spices, or liquors that evoke sensual feelings presenting a fun diversion for adult couples. There are many interesting assertions surrounding this topic including the nutritious benefits aphrodisiacs offer and their potentially controversial side stories.

It is a common theory that if a food looks like a body part or an organ, then it must be beneficial to that body part.  The Culinary Institute of America’s Chef and culinary science professor Jonathan Zearfoss has studied aphrodisiacs, and in his work mentioned a theory called the Doctrine of Signatures. This theory contends that if the plant or herb resembles human body parts or organs, then it will positively help that particular body part or organ.  CIA Chef William Philips notes how avocados look like the cervix of a female and therefore assist in the menstrual cycle along with the antioxidant Vitamin E. Upon further research, the idea of avocados improving reproductive health dates back to the time of the ancient Aztecs.   

As for males, oysters are alleged to be of assistance in reproductive organs. Chef Phillips also mentioned zinc and oysters being good for men’s sexual health. Zinc was used as a supplement for male testosterone levels. Chef Zearfoss stated  that because oysters are usually eaten alive, the idea of “taking on a life force” may be a factor in why live oysters are seen as something more than just food. Saffron, the vibrant orange culinary delicacy, is also essential for libido levels or sex drive. You can steep it in tea , or do as Queen Cleopatra did, which was to bathe in it.

There are also potentially harmful foods consumed for the perks that aphrodisiacs offer. Many of us in the culinary industry have heard about Fugu, the tetrodotoxin poison containing blowfish of Japan. This malignant fish is considered an aphrodisiac because of the mouth numbing sensation it gives diners. Yarsagumba, which can be found in Nepal, is a fungus that grows on caterpillars and is known for its amorous effects. Studies in Chinese medicine tell us that the fungus is boiled and consumed in forms of hot tea or soup.

There is controversy on the subject of aphrodisiacs, however. Chocolate is probably one of the best regarded to eat on any given day. Valentine’s Day is this month. It is interesting to bring about a controversial perspective some have on the topic. On the contrary of aphrodisiac history with chocolate, the 2006 New York Times article “The Claim: Chocolate is an Aphrodisiac”, written by Anahad O’Connor, found  this to be a false assertion. Although chocolate contains tryptophan which induces serotonin and phenylethylamine – a chemical released when you’re in love – there is not nearly enough of either of these chemicals in chocolate for it to have an effect on the body. This idea relates to other items people consume like spices and herbs. Although many herbs and spices offer health benefits, they must be consumed in large amounts for them to have an effect on the body. Don’t let this research put a damper on your fun, but it’s good food for thought next time you consider eating colossal amounts of chocolate while watching romantic 1980’s movies. 





The Rise of Za’atar

At Restaurant Shaya

BY: Sarah Lubitz, Alumni Contributor

When I think of spices used at Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant I work at in New Orleans, the first thing I think of is the smell of za’atar. Once I am fixated on that smell, I start thinking of specific things. I think of our pita bread, steaming as it is being taken from the oven. Our pita is served with an olive oil and za’atar mixture, and this is one of the first tastes of Shaya that you are presented with as a diner. I also cannot help but think of our Israeli salad, a bright and bold mixture, beautiful in its simplicity. Diced cucumbers and red onions are accompanied by quartered grape tomatoes. Za’atar, salt, fresh lemon zest, and a vinaigrette made with za’atar finish this salad. When ordered, more za’atar is sprinkled upon the salad. The smell of this herb blend is earthy, and it transports me to some place far away yet familiar.

My knowledge of za’atar was limited before starting my job at Shaya. I decided to taste it and to truly enjoy using it at work. But, since then, I have wanted to know more. Admittedly, writing this article made me finally get around to truly educating myself about this blend. I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook to gain more knowledge. I quickly discovered that not only is za’tar a common spice blend, but it is a plant. During my reading, I learned that za’atar can be used fresh in the spring and in the summer, and it can be used dried and rehydrated throughout the rest of the year. When most people think of za’atar, they think of the spice blend that contains dried hyssop leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. I turned to my boss, Shaya’s chef de cuisine, Zach Engel, to ask him about the blend we use at the restaurant. He told me that Shaya uses a Jordanian blend, which is composed of mostly thyme and oregano.

To gain even more knowledge of the za’atar plant, my chef loaned me his copy of The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices, written by the founder of La Boîte, Lior Lev Sercarz. In Lior’s book, he tells us that za’atar, Origanum syriacum, was an herb before it was a spice blend. He explains that this herb is the main component in the Middle Eastern spice blend of the same name, along with such spices as sesame, sumac, thyme, and other various spices, most of which vary from country to country. When it comes to be being harvested, za’atar is harvested in the wild, but is now being commercially cultivated because of the ever-growing demand for it. The most traditional uses for za’atar are the za’atar spice blend, marinated olives, tomato salad, all from the Middle East; Shanklish cheese in Lebanon; herbal tea in Oman. Za’atar is commonly used in flatbreads and in pita bread, as well as in mixtures with olive oil.

When it comes to using this herb in the kitchen, there are many options. Lior suggests adding crushed dried za’atar leaves to cheese biscuits before baking. He also suggests whisking together za’atar, honey, lemon juice, and olive oil, and then using it for basting a Cornish hen as it roasts. (I feel like this would work for any poultry.) At Shaya, as previously mentioned, we use it with oil for pita bread, and we use it in our Israeli salad. We have also used za’atar on fresh pita chips, and we have sprinkled it in salads. I look forward to learning of more uses for this spice blend that I have come to love. Hopefully, the next time you cook, you will keep za’atar in mind.




As time continues to pass, the trends in the food industry seem to be marching forward in the plant-centric direction. As pulses were the focus of 2016, 2017 may have more plant-based foods at the center of the plate as more people realize their multitude of benefits. Food waste is also a huge topic in the food industry and learning to utilize an entire product is significant to keep waste to a minimum. This year, we will see more of cauliflower, plant roots and stems, purple veggies, ethnic foods, and food served in bowls amongst others. Continue reading “Food Trends to Soar in 2017”