ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

A summer stop in Connecticut, The Dressing Room

image from Michel Nischan's a well-known guy in food circles, having launched a program through Wholesome Wave Foundation that cuts the price of farmers' markets by 50 percent for people in need.

They found -- surprise! -- that low-income people really want fresh fruits and veggies from local farms but the problem has been affordability and access. The foundation tackles this issue by doubling the value of federal food vouchers, or what used to be known as food stamps. On the back of the success at one farmers' market in Connecticut, they've now expanded the program to more than 30 states and gotten the attention of the White House.  

I had heard Nischan talk about this achievement a couple of times, then met up again at the Kneading Conference in Maine. Why was he there? Nischan says he got a wake-up call about whole grains after his son was diagnosed with diabetes and he began researching and changing the family's diet to include more veggies, fruit and grains. Then he brought that knowledge into restaurants he ran.

Now, in these talks, Nischan always mentions The Dressing Room, the restaurant that he co-founded with the actor Paul Newman in Westport, CT. He usually refers to it in passing, since it's not the subject of his talks. But I was always curious about it and since we were driving right through the area on a summer vacation I figured, hey, gotta try it. 

The place is casual, friendly and inviting -- I was in shorts, we took our young daughter - but don't let that handicap any preconceptions of the food. The menu is driven by what's seasonally available, from local farms and the sea. Nischan used to cook here, but now that he's devoting himself to the foundation executive chef Jon Vaast has stepped up. What I loved was his ability to serve something simple, such as plate of crunchy sauteed green beans at the peak of summer, alongside an earthy buckwheat pasta with lamb ragout. Nischan mentioned that the restaurant grinds the flour (yes, the freshness makes a difference, as I've found in grinding grains for my breadmaking). Vaast's special of the night was a braised pork shoulder which happily married rich tender slow-coooked pork with creamy fennel. This is a go-to dish, if they have it on the menu. I stuck with a spicy lobster and mussel stew that was a riff on Mediterranean soups. Think of the sea with a spicy kick.

Nischan sent out a few plates for us to taste and nothing fell flat. In fact, when the kitchen went deep into its reperatoire, as with the pork shoulder, it shined but the cooks also knew when to hold their punches and keep it simple, as with a tomato salad from Nischan's garden.

Maybe it's that kind of approach which led him to Wholesome Wave. Nischan knew that linking a restaurant with homegrown food would be a success -- just as Wholesome Wave understands that farm fresh produce would be enticing to anyone regardless of income. The only difference? I'd make a reservation for The Dressing Room.

- Samuel Fromartz

What do you do with a whole Salmon?


Washington SeaSA, my little venture buying sustainable seafood direct from fishermen for a group of about 10 families in DC, is now in year two. Latest on the menu: sockeye salmon from Bill Webber, who fishes the flats off the Copper River in Alaska. This followed an  oyster shucking party, with the farm-raised bivalves from Rappahannock Oyster Co. They were excellent.

I first met Bill last year, when I made the trek up to Alaska to see the fishery. It didn't take me long to ask Bill if he'd ship direct to us and he said he would, as long as we met his 50 pound minimum. Which is why I corralled up my friends. It wasn't a hard sell. 

Bill sends us whole fish, headed and gutted. He also bleeds the fish on his boat, which he argues makes for a much fresher fish. Blood begins to decay once the fish dies and that in turn degrades the flesh, so if you remove the blood -- with a special pressure tube he developed -- you can slow down the clock. He then ships the fish to us in a chilled pack and I drive out to Alaska Airlines' cargo dock to pick it up.

Now, when you buy salmon in the store, you only get the fillet. Getting the whole fish is a different story. I fillet the salmon on our kitchen counter (with an excellent sashimi knife I got from Japan). Aside from the fillet, I'm left with the rich belly meat, which is the bacon of salmon and is excellent fried in a pan. (What can I say, pork belly, salmon belly, it's all good). Then there's the carcass which usually has about a pound of meat on it. These "waste products" amount to a lot of food.

So what do you do them? 

With our last fish, I made stock, layering sliced onions and thin fennel stalks and drizzling them with olive oil. Then I placed the 2-1/2 pound liberally salted carcass on top, covering and then sweating the fish on a low flame for 20 minutes. I then added water and a cup of dry white wine to cover, simmering it for another 20 minutes. Finally, I took it off the heat and let the fish sit for an hour to release its essence. This follows Rick Moonen's method in Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion, which is now my go-to fish book. Like many chefs he does not recommend using salmon for stock, which is a shame.  Salmon stock is bursting with flavor and isn't oily. But it helps if it's very fresh.

Once the stock cooled, I strained it, and then removed the meat from the bones, ending up with a big container of salmon delicately flavored by the fennel. I ate salmon salad sandwiches for several days, though you could also make salmon croquettes, as another friend did with the remnants of her stock.

Since we had eaten our fill of fresh salmon over a couple of days, I took a remaining fillet and cut thin paillards --  angled cuts 1/4 inch thick -- a wonderful technique I also got from Moonen's book. I salted them, wrapped them up in plastic wrap and froze them (a typical Japanese home-cooking method). These can be taken out and cooked immediately in a toaster oven or in a broiler. They cook in about 4-5 minutes if frozen, or about a minute on each side if defrosted or fresh. So it's a really fast dinner.

With the stock on hand, I was thinking paella but was short a few ingredients. I went ahead anyway since I wanted to use the stock.

I sauteed a fennel bulb, an onion, half a red pepper, 2 slices of bacon, a clove of chopped garlic and an Italian sausage I had laying around. When the veggies were soft and the meat brown, I added just over a cup of arborio rice and sauteed it for a minute. Then I poured in a cup of simmering stock, with a generous pinch of saffron, stirring now and then. As the stock was absorbed by the rice, I added more. What I wouldn't have done for a dozen mussels or clams!

Halfway through, I oiled up three of the frozen paillards and put them in the broiler. They sizzled while the paella continued to cook in the stock.

With everything nearly done, I sauteed a bunch of rainbow chard and garlic from the garden and out came the dinner -- a thoroughly satisfying plate of pseudo-paella, broiled salmon and sauteed chard.

Using the whole fish is a bit of work, or rather it takes time to prepare. But once you have the fish, you realize all the possibilities at hand. Now, if I could just get salmon roe in Bill's next shipment.

Addendum: Here's another tip. Fire up your grill. Cut the stalks off a fennel bulb. Rub a fillet with olive oil and season it with salt . When the fire has burned down to medium heat, lay the stalks over the grill and lay the fish on top. You'll have fennel perfumed salmon. The salmon should flake when done, but still be visibly moist inside. Remove from the fennel, then drizzle more olive oil, lemon and/or fresh oregano on the fish and serve.

- Samuel Fromartz

What to Do When Alice Waters Calls, Seeking Bread

By Samuel Fromartz

I was leaving the gym when I checked my messages. Alice Waters' office at Chez Panisse was calling -- yeah, right. Who was this really? 

When I called back, it turned out Waters was calling and looking for a baker for her charity dinner in Washington, to replace one who had dropped out. Barton Seaver, a friend and chef at Blue Ridge,  suggested me. "We hear you make the best baguette in DC," said Sarah Weiner, Waters' assistant. "Well, yeah, I won a contest," I stammered, "but I just bake at home. The most I've baked was for Thanksgiving dinner." 

They needed to feed 40 -- at a $500 a plate dinner at Bob Woodward's house. Could it be done in my home ovens? I said I'd call back. I went home to figure out how much bread I needed to bake and realized I could probably do it -- 5 big loaves and several baguettes. I then called Peter Reinhart -- the renowned baker and author I've known for a couple of years -- to see what he thought. "That's not a lot of bread," he said, and he encouraged me to give it a whirl.

So began my first gig as a professional baker -- at an Alice Waters' dinner.

I quickly settled on breads I made time and again and eat at home -- a pain au levain made with sourdough and a mix of white, whole wheat and rye flours; a pane casareccio di Genzano, an airy white big loaf crusted with wheat bran that I picked up from Dan Leader's Local Breads; and of course, my baguettes. 


I've never baked this much bread before, so I worked out a timeline -- and good thing too, since I would need to begin Friday to have the breads ready on Sunday. I started by feeding 50 grams (about a quarter-cup) of sourdough starter Friday morning, building it to 150 grams. On Friday night, I fed it again to take it up to 450 grams. Saturday morning, I refreshed it a third time. By Saturday evening, when I needed the ripe starter to make my doughs, I had over 1500 grams (3.3 pounds) of the stuff. With that steady feeding every 8-12 hours, the starter was bubbling, itching to impregnate the dough. It's pictured at left, and below, in the big bin on the right.

Levain and flour I measured out the flours and began mixing the dough. I don't really knead or use a mixer. Rather, I combine the ingredients by hand until they come together. Then I let the shaggy mass rest so the flour slowly soaks in the water, then fold it over every hour or so to develop the gluten. By the end of the process, the dough glistens with moisture. If you pull away a small piece and stretch it, you should be almost able to see through it -- the so-called windowpane test that shows when a dough is done. This folding technique is a cousin to the no-knead method, since you just fold over the dough and let time do its work. It works beautifully, especially since my home mixer couldn't handle the volume of dough I made. 

Now the magic began -- the first rise, the source of all flavor -- and luckily it was a chilly night. Why was that important? Because I let my sourdoughs rise in an unheated basement storage room that is about 55F. That's the perfect temperature for a languid fermentation, when the sugars in the bread develop. Bakers buy proofing cabinets that cost thousands of dollars to get this temperature with refrigeration. My solution was less precise, but it worked fine. The genzano and baguette doughs rose in the refrigerator, since they contained instant yeast as well as sourdough and I wanted a slower fermentation.

At 7 the next morning, I took the pain au levain dough out and let it warm up for about an hour. I then shaped three boules, letting them rise for 2-1/2 hours. In the meantime, I heated up the baking stones in my double-oven. Then I repeated this with the Genzano loaf, about an hour later, and then the baguette. 

The rise went well, full of oven spring. I attribute that to the levain, which you'll recall had built over a 52-hour period with successive refreshments, including the last one in the dough. (Pictured below are the pane casareccio di Genzano - Genzano Country Bread).

Pane di Genzano

I finished baking at about 2 p.m. and let the breads cool, then delivered the loaves for the dinner. Jean-Pierre Moullé, the chef at Chez Panisse, was there to greet me. We talked briefly about the breads and I mentioned I was a home baker, not a professional.

"I know, but you did not bake these at home," he said.

"Yes, I did," I countered -- and I noticed his eyebrow rise a bit.

Later that evening, at a party preceding the dinner, Alice Waters took me aside, bread lover that she is, and thanked me warmly. It was a nice moment.

For a home baker, there's always the moment of anticipation when the bread comes out of the oven and you wait for it to cool before tearing into it. Alas, with these loaves, I didn't get a chance to cut into them, to evaluate the flavor and aromas or assess the interior crumb or the density of the crust -- all crucial to a decent loaf. But I trust they were fine. 

The thing is, I don't bake for a living. There is no daily pressure, no waking at 1 a.m. to get to the ovens, no staff, no orders. It's just me and the bread. And until yesterday, I've only given my breads away to friends. Now I've donated them for a worthwhile cause. Maybe I've just widened the circle of people who eat my bread. And that's just fine.

Dinner bread

What Should Nobu Do on Bluefin Tuna? A Few Offer Advice

Image source: Bluefin Tuna, Monterey Bay Aquarium

By Samuel Fromartz

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is one of the world's most celebrated Japanese sushi chefs, and with partners, like Robert De Niro, he operates 24 restaurants globally that have been a favored haunt of Hollywood stars.

But for several years now, he has come under fire for serving bluefin tuna, a spectacular and expensive species of tuna which is dangerously overfished in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Bluefin tuna populations are one-tenth of what they once were and industrial fishing, a good deal of it illegal, continues to decimate them.

British environmental journalist Charles Clover has been one of Nobu's loudest critics, and in The End of The Line, a powerful new documentary based on his book, bluefin tuna and Nobu's menu are a central issue. (The documentary opens on Monday, World Oceans Day.) 

In response, Nobu recently added an asterisk describing bluefin as "environmentally challenged" on the menu and putting the onus on diners to eat it or not. This move has not placated critics, like Greenpeace, which has demonstrated inside Nobu's flagship restaurant. Now the celebs who put Nobu on the map have threatened to boycott the restaurant over the issue. Among them: Charlize Theron, Sting and Elle Macpherson. They want a response by Monday.

Given the potential damage to the chef and his restaurant's reputation, I posed the following question to a number of people, including New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, ocean conservationist and writer Carl Safina, and several others, many of whom work on sustainable seafood issues.

What should Nobu do to resolve his conflict over serving bluefin tuna? How can he both protect his brand and ensure the highest dining experience for his patrons?

Michael Sutton
Director, Center for the Future of the Oceans
Monterey Bay Aquarium

As perhaps the nation's most prominent sushi chef and restaurant owner, Nobu has a vested interest in the sustainability of our seafood supplies. Kuro maguro, or bluefin tuna, is one of the most valuable and prized species for the sashimi market. Nobu naturally wants to supply his patrons with the very best sashimi, so it's understandable that he does not want to remove bluefin tuna from his menus.  

But the mark of a real leader is foresight, the ability to consider the future impact of present-day decisions.  And it doesn't take much foresight to see that bluefin tuna is seriously depleted throughout its range and could become commercially extinct in the near future. Nobu therefore has a terrific opportunity to become recognized as the savior of the bluefin tuna rather than a principal factor in its demise.  

If I were Nobu, I would seize the opportunity and issue a press release saying that after considering the long-term interests of sashimi lovers everywhere, I will no longer serve bluefin tuna in my restaurants until fishery managers have taken appropriate action to put the species on the road to recovery. A decade ago, leading chefs did just that by joining forces with the Give Swordfish a Break campaign, which helped build the political will for swordfish recovery.  Many of those leading chefs won praise from their clientele and have now have put swordfish back on their menus, secure in the knowledge that we'll all be able to enjoy swordfish for the future.  Nobu, it's your turn to step up to the plate and into the limelight!

Mark Bittman
“Minimalist” Columnist,
The New York Times

Author of Food Matters: A Guide To Conscious Eating and other books

Nobu is both a “he” and an “it.” I don’t know if “he” or the organization makes these decisions. It’s very simple. He/it either cares about this issue or does not. From a culinary perspective, I agree that yellowfin tuna is not a real substitute. But there is a world of food out there, and good chefs can work around hardships like this. If enough do, maybe bluefin will come back as a commercially viable species. If not – in short order, no one will be eating it, not even Nobu’s customers. Surely this is understandable.

Carl Safina
Author, Song for the Blue Ocean and other books
Founder Blue Ocean Institute

Nobu should do what we should always do: the right thing. The "highest" experience includes the awareness, sense of responsibility, and often the self-sacrifice that goes with real leadership. He should wear the intentional omission of bluefin as a badge of honor. 

The fish is doing extremely poorly specifically because of overfishing for sushi markets, and is listed "critically endangered" in the Atlantic. At the extreme minimum, he should stop selling wild bluefin and wait until the Australians (or whoever gets to market first) have farm-hatched fish for sale (not wild-caught, captive fattened). Even that has problems, but no one should be involved in killing wild bluefins at this point.

As far as I'm concerned, a person who does not care enough to do the right thing simply isn't a leader. Catching bluefin tuna and mako sharks was the most thrilling thing I ever did, and I did quite a bit of it--years ago; not anymore. For one thing, they're so rare it's just sad now. For another thing, I don't want to be part of what's obviously a big problem.

As for the "highest" experience, I'll say this: I would not go to Nobu for a free meal. He's just in it for himself and isn't trying to be part of the solution. That's typical, not "highest." There are, as they say, bigger fish to fry. Except that in this case, they're smaller fish, and they're raw.

Michael Ruhlman
Author of Ratio, The Reach of a Chef, and other books

While I cynically wonder if Charles Clover is using the tactic of singling out a high profile chef to promote the film based on his book, I also think Nobu ought to respond. He can say I'm doing nothing illegal and my allegiance is to my customer, not the fish. Fair enough.

But I believe it is a chef's duty to care for the earth and the source of his or her food. He ignores it at his own peril. If I were Nobu, I would not serve it and urge others not to. His example would be powerful. Also he's a chef, he should be able to make great food out of my lawn. Why does he need any one single fish to keep his business afloat?  Surely he can use his wits and talent to create extraordinary food without relying on the diminishing supply of wild bluefin.

I hear Chilean sea bass is nearly off the endangered list. I'd be willing to go five years or more without bluefin to ensure that it thrived.
Fedele Bauccio
Founder and CEO
Bon Appetit Management Co., a premium food service company focused on ethical sourcing for more than 20 years.

I don't see why Nobu has to serve bluefin tuna to protect his brand. The measure of a good chef should be making great tasting food using ingredients that are grown or harvested in a way that protects the well being of guests, the communities where the food is served and the natural environment that provides culinary bounty. Local, seasonal ingredients have been an honored tradition in Japanese cuisine for thousands of years. Why not build the menu around these treasured elements rather than serving a threatened species?


Barton Seaver
Founding Chef, Hook, Washington DC
Current Chef, Blue Ridge, Washington DC

The business of a restaurant is to satisfy guests and even the greatest can be broken by a fickle clientele. So it's not hard to understand why a restaurant group such as Nobu continues to play cards that work. Bluefin tuna is simply the best tuna in the sea. It also takes a lot of the guess work and variability out of a vast multinational operation.

But bluefin has not always been the king of the menu. Chefs like Nobu had to convince guests to try it. "And you want me to eat that raw?" was most likely the initial response. If chefs like Nobu could vault bluefin to its star status, then certainly they can use their talent to introduce guests to a substitute. Kate Winslet has said Nobu's 'food is like sex on a plate'. That is pretty good praise. Nobu clearly has the talent and credibility to shape tastes globally. It is time for him to do so with a delicious and sustainable solution.

Mark Powell
Marine Biologist, formerly with Ocean Conservancy

Nobu should use his standing to help build change.  For example, he could work with bluefin tuna conservationists to create an action campaign, and he could speak out for conservation and enlist his customers in the effort.  Nobu’s Save the Bluefin campaign could have “action of the month” opportunities such as advocating for specific management measures, e.g. science-based catch limits and protected areas for spawning fish. These could be chosen to address the biggest issues and opportunities as they arise. There’s a great need to work with people’s love for fish as seafood, rather than denying and fighting against such connections. Walking away from bluefin would be the easy way out. Working to correct the problem after years of profiting off the fish would be far more noble.

Kozo Ishii
Director, Marine Stewardship Council - Japan Program

There is a growing market for sustainably caught fish that is being supported by fisheries, fish processors, retailers and restaurants in the world. It remains the responsibility for all of us to support these efforts by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing where it is occurring.  As a celebrity chef and restaurateur, I think that Nobu is in a unique position to further accelerate the supply and demand for sustainably caught fish by not only committing to sourcing it himself, but also by using his voice to help drive home the urgent need to secure fish stocks for future generations.

Tim Fitzgerald
Marine Scientist, Oceans Program
Environmental Defense Fund

I'm of two minds on this one. On one hand, it seems clear that the only way forward is to remove it from their menu entirely. And if they really wanted to start repairing their tarnished eco-image, they could even go so far as to call on global tuna fisheries authorities to institute more sustainable management for these species. Or, they could support research to develop eco-friendly aquaculture that does not rely on wild-caught bluefin.

However, consumers have notoriously short memories, and Nobu might decide to weather the PR storm until it blows over. Remember the PCB scare with farmed salmon a few years ago? Six months later the industry was posting record profits as if nothing had ever happened.

Reflections on Best Baguette in Washington D.C.


By Samuel Fromartz

Once in awhile, when you put a lot of work into a task and actually get a decent result -- well, you get to gloat, at least for a few minutes. So excuse me while I do so, because my humble, home-made baguettes just topped every bakery in Washington, D.C., in a blind tasting competition.

On the one hand, this result was unexpected. I mean, I’m a writer by profession. I’ve always been a writer, well, almost always. But I love to cook too, and at times have become passionate about it. I’m also drawn to crafts, and to crafts people; whether the craft is putting words together or making a whole grain sourdough loaf.

But in distinction to writing, baking has been a private endeavor. It was just something I did to break the tension, when my arms tensed up from typing too much, or when I just wanted to leave the computer screen and do something with my hands -- to make something tactile.

This grew into a regular practice. Starting many years ago, I stopped buying bread, because I made enough. A few loaves a week, we’d eat one and another would go into the freezer. I became adept at sourdough, using the natural yeast present everywhere. It was like conjuring something out of thin air.

My motivation was simple. I just wanted good fresh bread. Who can argue with that? It wasn’t a business. There was no market to worry about, no bosses or rent, nothing. Just baking pure and simple without any distraction because I had absolutely no larger intention. It was pure craft.

The parameters of the task were clear and challenging. You have just four ingredients: water, flour, yeast and salt. So often, we think of all the stuff or things we need to do something -- the equipment, the newest gizmo. And I did buy a few things, like bench scrapers and a couche (a linen cloth to support the shape of baguettes) and a baking stone to try and mimic the conditions of a hearth oven. But that was pretty much it, not much more than $100 over, what, a decade? Plus the ingredients, like flour, seeds, walnuts - or whatever else I choose to put in the loaves.

Then, there was the baguette itself, which is deceptively simple and hard to master. There’s the soft, slightly sweet crumb, the uneven and slightly chewy and bubbly interior, the crisp crust, delicately toasted in sections, and the aesthetic appearance, which comes from the slashes running down the top of the loaf.

When I began baking, this was the first bread I tried to make. It was an absolute failure, too dense, tasting of yeast and lacking  a crisp exterior. I tried many times to make it, then just gave up. Decided it couldn’t be done at home. I went on to bake other loaves and over the years learned a lot more. I could have condensed this process had I even taken a few baking classes, but I didn’t. I learned from cookbooks and developed the technique on my own (since baking is more about technique than a recipe -- again the craft of it).

But the allure of the perfect baguette was always there, so I’d go back to it now and again, but never approached what I thought even a half decent loaf should be.

The breakthrough first came maybe two years ago with a sourdough baguette, which I let rise in the refrigerator overnight. I was somewhat surprised by the results, since I had finally achieved the interior bubbly structure I sought. So for a while I stuck with those loaves, thinking they were pretty close to what I wanted.

But then I thought, to really be a baguette, the loaf should be lighter. With the aid of a Peter Reinhart recipe, I made a loaf without any sourdough. It had the bubbly structure, but I felt the taste wasn’t quite on par with sourdough. He also used bread flour, which I felt it was too strong, leaving the interior crumb too chewy, so I switched to all purpose flour -- a misnomer because it really tells you nothing about what you're using. The actual flours I bake with -- King Arthur Unbleached Organic All Purpose Flour or Whole Foods 365 Organic All Purpose Flour -- were ideal because they are both made with hard winter wheat suited to artisan loaves.

The final breakthrough came by reading a description of the baguettes made by two of the most influential bakers in France, Eric Kayser and Dominique Saibron, in historian Steven Kaplan’s book Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It. Both bakers added sourdough to their baguettes in minor amounts along with yeast, and though Kaplan’s book is a contemporary historical narrative, he gives just enough information about the technique to craft a recipe. And more importantly, he talks about why bakers apply certain techniques, which can be more valuable than any recipe. Kaplan, by the way, is the world's foremost historian of French bread.

Then, in the midst of the recession, I got the unlikely opportunity to travel to France for a new start-up magazine, Afar. They liked my idea of working in a boulangerie -- something I had always dreamed about (and describe more fully in the article which appears this summer). I ended up at boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel in the 9th in Paris working beside Thomas Chardon, a young baker who took me through all the tasks of baguette making. We made a couple of hundred loaves each morning, repeating the techniques so that they become an extension of your body. It was exhausting but highly gratifying, and could be applied to the home kitchen. I also had the great fortune to spend a morning with Prof. Kaplan discussing bread.

When I returned, I just redoubled the work and began to get consistent results -- ones I was finally happy with.

So why did my baguettes win?

In France, my baguettes would have been decent, nothing to write home about especially in comparison to what is available. But because they take a full day to rise, they are also superior to loaves mixed and baked within a couple of hours. And that describes many of the loaves in the DC competition -- approaching the idea of the airy, white, bland bread that also widely swept France but has been roundly rejected by a new generation of artisans.

A key insight for me came when Loic Feillet, the baker and owner of Panorama in Alexandria, Va. -- who actually trained with Kayser in France -- mentioned that he offered a true baguette, but his wholesale customers revolted. He could not convince them that his loaf, made with with a hint of sourdough, was superior. So in essence, he dumbed it down to their idea of what a baguette should be.

The lowest common denominator may do wonders for a business, but it has never been the path to greatness. Working in my kitchen, I never had to worry about that. My only customer was the ideal loaf that I had tasted on occasion and had in my head. All I had to worry about was to do better next time.

So what’s next? A hearty rye perhaps ... it doesn’t matter. The point is to keep my hands moving, connected to my mind and to that ideal of taste I have. To keep the craft alive.

The winning baguette recipe is here. Happy baking!

Dan Barber Kissed by Ferran Adrià

Ferran Adrià's comment on Dan Barber in Time magazine:

Everything he does in the organic world is authentic and truthful.There is no pretense. When he offers you an appetizer composed of simple vegetables dewy with liquid salt, he is saying something to you. He converses with one of the things that I love in gastronomy: the essence of the produce. These are culinary preparations that retain the soul of the food. You discover and decipher the workings of that language — sometimes simple, sometimes complex — during the meal. It is a playful dialogue because we enjoy eating it.

Not to be outdone, Barber also won a James Beard award this week for outstanding chef.

Obama Iron Chef Contest

Talk about a meal change in the White House. Bush didn't care for anything "green" or "wet" but the Obamas eat a lot of fresh food, the NY Daily News reports.

"They try to limit the sweets and they include a lot of fruits,vegetables and lean meats in their meals," an Obama pal said. "Of course that isn't always possible when he has been campaigning."

Here's the three chefs in the running for White House chef: Art Smith, who prepared Obama's meal at Oprah's fund-raiser for the candidate; Rick Bayless, owner of Chicago Mexican restaurants Topolobampo and Frontera Grill; and Daniel Young, who cooked for Obama at the Democratic Convention, the paper says.

So who's in the running for White House Gardener?

Clare Whacks a Chef with a Fish

Dear Chef-You-Know-Who-You-Are,

I figured our telephone conversation the other day might be awkward. Confrontation usually isn’t my thing. That’s why I’m a food-writer and not an investigative journalist. Believe me, no one was more surprised than me to discover you have bluefin tuna on the menu so brazenly, nestled right between the locally farmed oysters and beautiful organic greens from a nearby farm. I could have accidentally thought you were into sustainable ingredients. Silly me. So when I called you to ask “Why do you have bluefin tuna on the menu?” Uh, it wasn’t to chat with you about the fat content and deliciousness of the fish like you assumed.  It’s because everyone – including my 80-year old mother in the middle of Iowa – is aware of the demise of this spectacular fish.

I’d like to give you a pass because you simply didn’t know, but frankly? You’re in the industry. You talk to your fish purveyor frequently. And telling me that you only sell four pounds a week didn’t really make me feel better about spotting it on your list of offerings. Worse? You shared with me -- an identified reporter -- that half the time, you can’t get bluefin and that you’re substituting yellowfin. I was just wondering, Chef, if your customers aware of that? Or in addition to serving an extremely overfished species, you’re duping your diners as well? Because you see, when you said, “Well, it’s delicious, and that can win over my conscience,” that sorta sealed the deal for me on whether or not I’ll ever be calling you for a source in one of my stories, or if I’ll bring a group of friends to your place. The chances are pretty slim, you know, just so you know.

And if you’re wondering how I found out about your menu item in the first place? I came across this chill website called FoodieBytes. Have you heard of it? It’s got a cool feature where I can just go to “food search” and type in things like bluefin tuna, monkfish or shark’s fin and find restaurants in cities like Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco that boast about them on the menu.

So, hey. Thanks for your time, but I’ve got few other calls to make.

Clare Leschin-Hoar

Channeling Woody Allen at the Farm

In this youtube video, first seen via Megnut a few days ago, Chef Dan Barber related a hilarious story about his stud pig that has, well, shot its wad.

The question: What to do with Boris?

In this talk at the Taste3 conference (which we actually don't know much about), he relates all the various answers he got from the staff at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture (where he has a restaurant), and, in a neurotic, New York kind of way, ends up channelling a bit of Woody Allen.

The Boris saga actually begins with another story about a carrot that appeared in the New York Times magazine recently. So if you're time-pressed, and want to hear about poor Boris, jump to 6:15 into the clip and hit play. It lasts another 15 minutes but is well worth it. Click on the picture to view it.


How to Sell a Carrot

Chefs and farmers wax poetic about their food, farms, and dishes, but let's face it: what sometimes works best is a little marketing magic. Customers want it. They consume it. And images can be as easily manufactured in the kitchen as in Tinseltown.

Dan Barber, chef and owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, comes clean about how this works in an interesting New York Times piece about carrots - specifically, carrots that he attempted to infuse with the scent of almonds by sprinkling some of their nutty dust in his greenhouse garden.

He then marketed prodigiously, spreading the word that his almond carrots would be harvested and served at dinner one evening in a salad. What happened next is pretty hilarious, but it just goes to show you, as any Madison Avenue guru would tell you, it's the sizzle that sells.

Perhaps coincidentally, the title of this essay, "The Great Carrot Caper," was the name given to another incident in 1988 - when workers in California were photographed putting conventional carrots into bags marked organic. This was outright fraud.

Barber's antics are more innocent, but still a disguise, and one that customers end up rating with four stars.

I'd give Barber four stars too, having eaten at his restaurants, but - full disclosure - he also blurbed my book.

- Samuel Fromartz