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Live Culture: Looking for a new employee?

Live Culture's Logo

A little homage to the sustainability tip this morning.  After a quick Google news check, I found a write-up today about Anya Fernald in the NY Times blog about the Nifty 50, highlighting America’s up-and-coming talent.  Two questions immediately came to mind:

– Why am I not on this list?

– Who is Anya Fernald?
While the answer to the first question continues to elude me, the second was quickly answered in the linked article.  Anya (we’re on a first-name basis since I’m a casual guy) is a food consultant who founded Live Culture, which helps companies trying to move to a more eco-friendly/sustainable food.

From the company’s website:

“Anya Fernald founded Live Culture Company in 2008 with the goal of supporting the development of viable, thriving food businesses that produce good food. Live Culture Company has built a strong track record of creating market-based change, overcoming complex infrastructure and organizational challenges, and business planning and has emerged as a unique service provider at the intersection of artisan, sustainable and quality food and business consulting.”

Awesome stuff.

This is the type of independent, small business that will prove to be influential (and profitable) in the coming years, particularly in this space.  These experts will be in higher demand as consumers start to not only request, but require, more knowledge about where their food is coming from and how it impacts the environment.  And these consumers tend to have deeper pockets, meaning all of this good work can lead to big profits.

Based on the client roster at Live Culture, it looks like the biggest market niche remains in smaller-scale producers and companies.  This is the beginning of the riptide, however, as the larger companies start to take notice.  It looks like the consultancy also is equipped to handle the more complex business realities associated with sourcing locally grown and sustainable food.  Even with innovators like Anya, I still struggle with the question, “how is the industry really going to change?”

The short answer from me at this exact moment is, “I don’t know.”  Part of me thinks the damage is largely irrevocable, and a vast majority of consumers don’t really care.  It has been said by others that business change in the industry will need to be preceded by a social change, and I think that is a valid point.  I have a lot of friends who don’t really care about “eating local,” and I’m not sure there is a way to make them want to, unless it’s a) cheaper or b) markedly more healthy.

The other, more optimistic, part of me thinks that the changes need to start small, and groups like Live Culture, Karen Karp, Sustainable Food Systems, and Chefs Collaborative are leading the charge.  Let us all recall that Food Network started as a fledgling TV station with a handful of shows, and now it actually has enough leverage to get itself pulled from a cable provider (sorry to all those folks with Cablevision…).  My optimistic side sees that there is a passionate and influential group of people who can eventually make significant changes to the food system.  The rubber will really hit the road when there is a business case for doing so, and I think we are there.  Here’s to staying optimistic.  Check out Anya’s write-up.

Restaurants of the future? WSJ Reports.

In an article featured in Friday’s WSJ, they discuss José Andrés’ newest restaurant in Beverly Hills, and how its key attributes may or may not be the trends of the future.  Interesting weekend read for all of y’all who are interested in the restaurant business.

You can help make a difference.

And all it takes is a Facebook account.  This is too easy to not do.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll just paste in the latest email from Chefs Collaborative:

We are excited to announce a new partnership with Muir Glen organic tomatoes, a company with a demonstrated commitment to organic and sustainable practices.

Muir Glen is raising up to $40,000 for Chefs Collaborative through a viral campaign on Facebook.  So far over $17,000 has been raised!  You can support this campaign in two ways:

  1. Become a “fan” or “friend” of Muir Glen on Facebook.  For each new “friend” or “fan” acquired now through March 31, 2010, Muir Glen will donate $1 to Chefs Collaborative. If you have a Facebook account, simply search for Muir Glen (in the upper right corner of the screen), then click the button to Become a Fan.

  2. Purchase the 2009 Muir Glen Reserve kit which includes vintage varieties of fresh, hand-picked tomatoes from California’s Yolo Valley.  For each $7 kit sold online now through March 31, 2010, Muir Glen will donate $2 to Chefs Collaborative.

Please feel free to pass along this email to friends and family and help us reach our goal of $40,000!

Thank you for helping us spread the word and for all you do to promote a more sustainable food supply!


Chefs Collaborative”

It ain't easy being green… WaPo Reports

Great article from the Washington Post highlighting the challenges of sustainability in restaurants, even if the intentions are good.  The article focuses on two case restos in the DC area: Founding Fathers, a 263-seat restaurant promoting a commitment to fresh and local ingredients, and Equinox, a 90-seat (expensive) restaurant basically doing the same thing.

While the challenges are the same for both, the lesser-expensive Founding Fathers often has troubles truly sourcing its local ingredients, citing lack of clear reporting and cost.  And that makes sense; think about three turns in a night, that’s almost 800 meals, and that’s just one daypart.

Talking with restaurateurs around in NYC, this is definitely an issue.  As with most purchase decisions, cost is a/the major factor in choosing one product over another.  Unfortunately, “long term assets” do not include anything about the environment or health concerns (until Google decides that they have a computer algorithm that can model this).  When the rubber hits the road, how can a “good idea” also be a “profitable idea”?  It is clearly a major concern for any business, and the food business is no exception.  Quite simply, it is expensive to source local ingredients, and in the winter months, as any farmer’s market regular will attest, it is difficult to get ingredients that would compose an entire meal.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  A survey sourced from Zagat says that 61% of people are willing to pay more for “green” or “sustainable” food.  A key question that is left out is of course, “how much more,” but let’s hold that thought for a moment.  If this 61% is willing (and able) to shell out a few extra bucks to support farmers truly farming/raising sustainably, then this provides the much-needed money to invest in infrastructure and other needs, which then addresses some of the volume and distribution issues that are the problems in the first place.  Take, for example, the Milk Thistle Farm, a local New York dairy farm in Ghent, NY.  They recently started selling bonds to invest in a new bottle facility on-site.  This will help with their distribution footprint, and will hopefully expand their market share.  And it will bring their costs down (I hope).

This is why I continue to see immense value in partnering with the big food companies in order to effect any real change.  At the same time, those big companies need to learn to partner with the little guys instead of buying them out and changing the rules.  During a meeting in the Lehigh Valley last week, the President talked about the importance of innovation and its longer-term effects on the job market in this country.  If we think about the food industry in the same way, there is plenty of room for innovation, and its benefits go much farther than job creation.

In any case, give the article a read.  And if you’ve got an extra grand, get a Milk Thistle Farm bond.

It's turkey time.


It must almost be Thanksgiving.

It seems like all I do these days is go to Kennedy Airport and head off to faraway lands.  Today I’m heading to the left coast, to pay a visit to the burgerrents.  And, of course, it is thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday.  I mean, when else can you unabashedly stuff your face with rich foods, using the excuse, “well, it is thanksgiving…”?  Never.  Except maybe Christmas, New Year’s, your birthday, groundhog day, every other Monday, and Friday.  Oh, and saturday.

Growing up, Thanksgiving always meant stuffing and canned cranberry jelly.  To this day, I still look forward to eating both of those items on the magical fourth Thursday in November.  Now, as a little kid, I was slightly fooled about the Thanksgiving stuffing that my dad used to make.  My mom, being a foreigner, didn’t really know too much about stuffing, and made it out that my dad’s stuffing was this revelation, a recipe handed down from generation to generation (although, in retrospect, I highly doubt my italian-born great-grandmother knew what Thanksgiving stuffing was).

In any event, the smell of my dad’s stuffing permeated the house on Thanksgiving Day, and the taste was always delightful.  I hoped that some day, I, too, would be able to make this magical delicacy.

A few years ago, I got my chance.  I was asked to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family a couple of family friends.  I started to plan months in advance, thinking about how the timing would work, and how my culinary skills would astound and amaze my guests.  There would be butternut squash soup with toasted pine nuts, pancetta, and a sage cream, mashed potatoes with rosemary and caramelized shallots, chickpea flat bread with rosemary and gorgonzola, turkey, and, of course, my great-great-great-great grandmother’s super-secret recipe for turkey stuffing.

I knew that it had one ingredient: breakfast sausage.  It never really dawned on me that again, a foreigner would not have breakfast sausage.  Especially not Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage.  I guess this was another one of those things that I was fooled about, just like Uncle Ben being my uncle.

That was an honest mistake.  I thought he was just really tanned.

Anyway, I asked my dad if he had the recipe.  Thinking he would say, “yes, son, I can give you the recipe, but promise me you’ll guard it with your life.”  Then, he would pull it out of his wallet: a frayed, worn-to-the-point-of-being-like-cotton recipe card, written in ancient script (aka, cursive).  He would hand it to me with a look of pride, as I, his only son, would inherit the stuffing recipe.

Imagine my dismay when he told me, “Uhh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I think the recipe is from the package of Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  I mean, it’s just sausage, celery, and onions.”


PEPPERIDGE FARM?  My entire childhood was based on a recipe that some “test kitchen” at the Campbell’s Company came up with?  Jimmy Dean® Old Fashioned Breakfast sausage™, onions, LUCKY Brand celery, Swanson®-brand chicken stock for moisture, and a bag of Pepperidge Farm®-brand stuffing (Original™ or Herb Seasoned™), baked for about 45 minutes in a Pyrex® a pre-heated 350-degree General Electric Monogram™ oven was not a Burgeretti family recipe?  Are you kidding me?  I was duped by corporate america?

Apparently I had been.

I always knew that the cranberry jelly came from a can, so that wasn’t really a problem for me.  But this whole stuffing thing basically meant that my entire Thanksgiving history was based on a corporate sham.  A rich, meaty, delicious sham, but a sham nonetheless.  What was next?  Was mom’s Easter “alphabet-shaped pasta in a sweet and highly viscous red tomato-sauce-like sauce” also a widely available commercial product?

Couldn’t be.

In other news, here’s a picture of a grass-fed sirloin steak I made last night.  Just thought I’d share.  I’d also like to give a shout-out to chanterelle mushrooms, just because they are awesome.  Especially when they are cooked in a pan that has leftover black truffle bits and butter in it.  I’m just saying, they are delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


MMM, salty.

In today’s MediaPost email blast, there was an article about Diamond Crystal Salt’s new advertising campaign, which features a microsite called Salt101, which features information about Diamond Crysal salt and features Alton Brown.

Now, normally I wouldn’t visit a brand’s microsite, unless it was the age-old classic, “will it blend?”  However, a quick visit to the site actually entertained me for a good 15 minutes, as I learned why I should buy Diamond salt now, in all of its various forms and shapes and sizes.  It also had a few interesting ideas and applications of salt, most of which are admittedly common among foodie circles, but are probably lesser-known among the masses.

The videos are short but entertaining, and are organized into two areas: the kitchen and the lab.  The former tackles home cooking and uses of salt, while the latter focuses on the science stuff.  Whoever produced these shorts was probably watching Wes Anderson movies for a few weeks straight prior to makng the videos, because each one is like watching Life Aquatic or the Royal Tenenbaums.  Either way, the site was well worth the visit.