Chowder Cook Off 2017

BY: Deja Burrows, BBA Food Business Management

If you were to enter the gymnasium at the Culinary Institute of America on March 12th, you would have been enveloped in the smooth sounds of the live band and salty air smell of simmering clams. Fourteen teams were selected to be a part of the CIA’s 16th Annual Chowder Cook Off, with food preparations starting the day before and decorations being carefully crafted from weeks before the event. The competition included two components – the first being the judged competition with a panel of judges that each team presented with hot bowls of ungarnished chowders for critique. Fellow students and other members of the CIA family were invited to help in judging for the People’s Choice award. A ballot holding fourteen boxes – one for each team – was given out and each ballot was stamped upon approaching the booth and sampling the chowder. Each guest could vote for the chowder they liked best. Every stamp on their voter’s card counting as a point.

With themes as varied as prison lunch style chowder to Finding Dory, costumes and decorations filled the room with color and style. SPICE even gave the guests themselves a chance to dress up with a “decorate your own sailor hat” table, including shells and fabric paint. So, with voter cards in hand and sailor hats on their  heads, guests set out to try the carefully crafted chowders. Each chowder had its own signature style. Some included seafood rather than clams; crawfish, shrimp and even cod roe made an appearance while others included classic ingredients such potatoes,  corn, and bacon for a smoky finish. Though the creamy cups of steaming chowder were delicious on their own, the garnishes put them over the top. Such additions included freshly-baked, moist, crab shaped corn biscuits, crisp potato sticks, and charred corn. After sampling as many cups of chowder as one could handle and dropping their ballots into the bucket of the team whose chowder they liked the best, guests gathered around to witness the great oyster shucking and eating contest. With contestants signing up earlier in the day, they were organized into three separate rounds. Each person was given a platter of ten oysters with a cutting board, towel and oyster shucker. After being prompted to start, each contestant began prying open and flipping over each of their oysters as quickly as possible until the victor dropped his shucker and shot his arms up in pride. The winner from each of the three rounds then returned for a face off, with techniques being displayed such as the use of a glove to allow in-hand shucking and bending to be at table height. The last round ended in a tie with two contestants finishing too close for a clear winner to be decided upon. This then led to a five oyster shuck off to reveal the true winner. The festivities didn’t end there; something had to be done with all those shucked oysters, so three rounds of brave contestants lined off to slurp down oysters with a concoction of cocktail and hot sauces that made some turn bright red. While both competitions excited the guests, all ballots – including the judges and the common people – were being tallied in the background. The humming of the mechanical shark was soon ceased, the bands equipment were packed away, and all contestants gathered in the middle of the carpeted gym anxiously awaiting the big reveal. In addition to first second and third place, other categories included: people ‘s choice, showmanship (based on the ascetic of their booths and costumes) and professionalism based on timeliness of ordering, cleanliness and overall attitude throughout the competition. After weeks of making decorations, two days of food preparation and full day of cooking and greeting the Chowder Cook Off Winners were finally revealed to be:                                                       

Professionalism Award – Finding Flounder ( Team 3)                                                                              

                                                              Showmanship Award-Crusty Clam ( Team 14)

                                                              People’s Choice- Star Anise ( Team 2)

                                                              3rd Place Overall-Straight out of Clamton ( Team 8)

                                                              2nd Place Overall-  Bivalve & The Crawdaddies ( Team 11)

                                                              1st Place Overall – Just Keep Swimming ( Team 1 )

It’s  clear to see the 16th Annual Chowder Cook-off was an exciting time for both the competitors  and guests. Congratulations to all the teams that participated, and especially to those who placed. Next year, don’t be afraid to submit your own recipe or come and have a fun time at the CIA’s Annual Chowder Cook Off.   




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.


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”