Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thirty-Mile Bounty

I'm not going to apologize for not blogging since my last entry. I'm just going to say...well...I've been busy and leave it at that! School, life, kids, holidays...blah, blah, blah!   Here's one thing I've been working on FOREVER that is finally done and I'm really happy with the way it turned big MENU PROJECT for school. The assignment was to develop a 4-course menu, with a wine pairing, cook each dish, photograph it, create the recipes, food cost one recipe, have it all follow some theme, then write an essay on that theme, the history of some item in your menu and talk about the wine pairing and (deep breath) make it all look good in a folder/binder or something.

I came up with the idea of a sort of "farm-to-table" theme utilizing farms right in my own area, which are quite ubiquitous. I source most of the ingredients for my menu from farms all within a 30-mile radius of my home in Hunterdon County, NJ. I visited all the farms, took pictures, saw how the animals were raised, talked to farmers, visited farmer's markets and got to taste some of the most amazing products out there...fresh organic goat's and cow's milk and cheese...grass-fed quails and was inspiring and insight-filled shopping for sure. I couldn't help but feel a connection to food, to where it comes from, what it takes to produce it when visiting these farms. In preparing the dishes from the products I bought on the farms I had a reverence for it that I can say I just don't experience when picking up a family pack of chicken breasts from Costco.

Those of you who know me, know I've shopped and eaten like a  "health-nut" for over 30 years....that's what they called someone way back when who shopped in "health food stores" and wanted foods produced without additives, chemicals, white sugar, white flour, hormones and antibiotics. Now it's a bandwagon being driven by everyone from Whole Foods to Walmart, The White House to the International House of Pancakes. But we still have a long, long way to go before more of our food is produced in an ethical, healthy way that benefits both consumers and the environment.  We have a  long way to go before before big argi-business and big food processors stop messing with our mass health by bio-engineering and chemicalizing our food until it's barely unrecognizable as food. If you haven't yet read Michael Pollan's books on food and food production, I encourage you's a survival primer for our generation. We need to start becoming conscious about food and its production and get back to real food in this country. Every aspect of our nations health—mental, physical, emotional and intellectual, depends on it.

The Menu Project made me realize that this is the direction I will go in my culinary career. What ever I do I want to be supporting sustainable, organic, humane food production and a return to people cooking and eating real food.  I want to be a part, a contributing part, of the culinary community that is carving out a road back to this more real, more conscious, more responsible relationship with food. I really believe that the culinary world has the spotlight and "star power" it does right now because we are meant to help popularize this "new" movement and galvanize the public to demand more of this responsibility from their grocers and from the big food producers.  ( I say "new" ironically because before agricultural industrialization during and after WWII, this small-farm, sustainable way of producing food was the norm for thousands of years before). I say "Enough!" with the "food-like substances" that line our grocery store shelves (as Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food). Anyway, whatever I do, where ever I end up placing my efforts—working in a restaurant, or starting my own business—I will align myself with this vision and with others in the industry who live and work this vision.

Check out my Menu Project. I used iphoto on the Mac to produce it as a book that I handed in...but here it is as a slideshow. Click this link My Menu Project then when you get to the site click on "Menu Project" on the top of the page.