Background. Some time ago, we realized that one of the main barriers to Slow Food’s ability to reach everyone on the socioeconomic ladder was the fact that many people simply don’t know how to cook. We came up with the idea of a kitchen primer, a genuine “starting from zero” book that would convey the basics of cooking with the most inexpensive tools possible. Our goal was to publish the cookbook using Amazon.com’s print-on-demand service, sell copies to college students, and use the proceeds to fund additional copies to be donated to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
We held a potluck last year to generate recipes for the book, and we got some excellent entries. Then we visited the Foodbank… and we realized that we had a problem. The Foodbank’s clients receive just about any kind of raw material that you can imagine, from cuts of pork to kohlrabi (but not spices), and an ideal cookbook would help them cook all of it. That’s clearly impossible: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is a massive tome, and even it doesn’t actually cover everything.
After pondering this problem for a while, we came up with a solution: teaching techniques (frying, simmering, etc.) rather than recipes, and then including short recipes as special cases of techniques. That way, people would realize that, if you can sauté asparagus, you can sauté green beans… or nearly anything else. We could then build, for each technique, a library of mini-recipes that can be cooked using that technique, and in a subsequent chapter lay out some combinations of mini-recipes that would form a good meal.
That’s the new approach of the cookbook. Much of the book is written, and we have photography and design expertise to convert it into its final form. What we lack is a large catalog of recipes. An ideal recipe would:
- focus on sustainable ingredients if possible
- teach people how to cook a single thing (a vegetable, a cut of meat) rather than a whole meal
- be easy to prepare in a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet, or on a baking sheet
- be an example of either frying, sautéing, baking, roasting, simmering, or braising
- be very simple
- be breathtakingly delicious
We also need specific expertise, as noted below.
State of Project Development. Advanced; four of the book’s five chapters are largely written and are in the process of being edited.
What We Have. Project leader and author (Bear Braumoeller), photographer (Kristen Stevens), layout designer (Andrew Dehus).
What We Need.
- Recipes. Please email them to the project leader directly.
- More ideas for Chapter 2 (“How to Think Like a Chef,”) ideally from professional chefs. Please leave a comment below.
- Publishing knowledge, to tell us whether alternatives to Amazon’s service are worth pursuing. Please comment or email directly.
In reflecting on an agenda for this Thursday’s membership meeting, I realized that one of our signal accomplishments last year—forming an expanded Board, with specific committees—emphasized an ongoing problem that we haven’t managed to solve to my satisfaction: connecting members to ongoing or potential projects.
Right now, the only mechanism for a member to be involved is by proposing an event. That’s worked out to be a very good system, but it doesn’t address the needs of members who want to be involved without having a specific event to propose. People can email us, of course, but we often encounter opportunities that we’d like to publicize more widely.
That’s the purpose of this series of posts. If we learn of an opportunity or an ongoing project that requires additional people, we’ll post it here, write it up on Facebook, tweet about it, and in general try to get the word out. You can read the entire series of “Projects” posts by clicking on this link. (Bookmark it now!) Over the next week or so we’ll collect information about available projects and post them here for you to read. If you want to participate in a project, just comment on that project’s blog entry. Be sure to include your email address when posting (it won’t be displayed publicly) and we’ll put you in touch with the project leader.
We hope this will keep everyone as informed as possible and let our Chapter reach its potential in terms of engagement. Thanks for taking part.
Slow Food Columbus is pleased to announce our inaugural Snailblazer Award, in recognition of pioneering contributions to a sustainable food system, and to announce that Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery will be the award’s first recipient. Warren will be honored in a reception on February 23, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Wexner Center; the public is invited to attend. Delicious hors d’oeuvres, courtesy of Slow Food Columbus and created by Slow Food members John and Kimberly Skaggs from Heirloom, will be available, as well as a cash bar.
In addition, and recognition of the passion and drive with which Taylor champions the ideals of Slow Food, we are donating $500 to Snowville’s community-sourced Kickstarter campaign, designed to fund a yogurt-production facility. What’s more, we will donate even more money to Snowville’s yogurt campaign… but only if you will. Taking a cue from November’s Big Give campaign, Slow Food Columbus will designate matching funds to be added to every Kickstarter pledge made between now and February 10. The Big Give utilized $1 million in matching funds to leverage a total of $7.4 million in donations—just over $13 for every $100 donated. The needs of Snowville’s yogurt project are smaller, and our treasury is smaller still (we take “nonprofit” quite seriously), but we believe in this project, and we will give $1 for every additional $100 donated to the Kickstarter campaign after the morning of January 23.
Remember, folks, the deadline is February 10, so please, donate now. And we hope to see you at the reception on February 23!
The past few years have brought some changes at Slow Food USA, changes that might leave members wondering about the principles behind the organization and behind their local chapter. It makes sense for us, in advance of our Annual Meeting, to lay out a statement of what those principles have been, and what we hope they will continue to be.
In past years, Slow Food developed a reputation as an elitist organization, largely because of its emphasis on being willing to pay the visible premium associated with good, clean, and fair food. To its credit, the organization took the criticism, in part because it took the long view: the invisible premium on conventional food, measured in terms of environmental degradation and health, would come closer to evening the price than most consumers realized. But elitism is an easy charge to make, a difficult one to evade, and a problematic one for a growing organization. More to the point, there was a growing sense that the emphasis on the best, cleanest, and fairest food excluded many Americans who could not afford it on a regular basis.
Accordingly, there has been a recent shift at Slow Food USA toward an emphasis on lower-cost solutions that nevertheless maintain the standards of food quality. The outcome has been divisive: a recent Chow article, while mentioning the substantial growth in the organization, nevertheless noted prominent defections from the Slow Food fold. According to the article, Slow Food’s shift toward $5 dinners and away from supporting the organic farmers who have been its core constituents is responsible for the disbanding of the New Orleans chapter and for making Alice Waters cry.
We regret that New Orleans is without a chapter, and we hope that Ms. Waters is well. But frankly, we don’t understand the reason for the uproar.
We have always believed that Slow Food should be a movement for everyone. The organization’s shift in emphasis toward younger and less well-off members is welcome, and we seek to continue it and to share it ourselves. But in our chapter, it is not, and should not be, exclusive. We hope that the mix of events that our chapter has sponsored over the past few years speaks to that orientation. We seek, as our homepage has always said,
to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
The quote never specified which people—and it shouldn’t. Slow Food should be a movement that is accessible to everyone on every rung of the socioeconomic ladder. Period. Some of those people have been, and will remain, the core supporters of organic and sustainable farmers around the country. Others may be soon. Still others desire to find the best, cleanest, and fairest options available to them.
It is incumbent upon our organization, and upon the chefs, farmers, and rank-and-file members who comprise it, to use our creativity and skill to realize that vision for everyone. That is our purpose.
If you share those goals, please consider joining Slow Food or keeping your membership current, and if you are a member, please consider proposing a new event.
You might think, at first blush, that Columbus is a shoo-in for a James Beard award. Julia Child once described James Beard as “the quintessential American cook;” Columbus, a test market for fast-food chains for years, has long been a quintessential American city. At the same time, both are progressive: Columbus was just named the up-and-coming gay city of 2011, and Beard was expelled from Reed College for homosexual activity back in the 1920s. Yet despite these obvious similarities, with the exception of the Dispatch’s own Robin Davis (who won while living in a different city), Columbus, unlike Cleveland (!!), is home to no winners of the prestigious James Beard Award.
We believe the time has come for this travesty to end. And we want your help in putting a stop to it.
The Beard Award nominations are open from now until December 31 (just click here to submit your choices). In past years, Kent Rigsby of Rigsby’s Kitchen and Magdiale Wolmark of Dragonfly Neo-V (soon to be reopened as Till) have been nominated in the Best Chef—Great Lakes Region category, and those worthy chefs probably will be again—with good reason. We would, in addition, urge you to forward two more names to the Beard Foundation this year, names that our Board believes brook no argument whatsoever: Chef Ryuji (“Mike”) Kimura of Kihachi, whose culinary skill wowed Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman on Bourdain’s No Reservations show, and Spencer Budros, the pastry wizard behind Columbus’ star pâtisserie, Pistacia Vera.
If you are reading this blog, you don’t need us to tell you anything more about these people. Please go vote for them now—and with any luck at all, Columbus will be able to celebrate the Beard Award committee’s recognition of their accomplishments in a few months’ time.
On a recent visit to The Chef’s Garden I also had the opportunity to learn about their non-profit Veggie U. Based in Milan Ohio, just down the road from the Chef’s Garden, Veggie U is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit, that was established by the Jones Family in 2003. It shares space with the Culinary Vegetable Institute which offers retreats and educational opportunities for chefs as well as Earth to Table dinners and cooking classes open to the public.
The inspiration for Veggie U came from a belief that diet is a big factor in many of the diseases afflicting our youth in increasing numbers (obesity, diabetes etc). The Jones Family partnered with local chefs, educators, a nutritionist and a physician to design the program. The mission is to promote the well-being of children through a healthy lifestyle.
Veggie U is a curriculum designed to empower children and to teach them that they have choices in the food they eat. The curriculum includes all of the materials needed to teach hands on lessons covering healthy nutrition, sustainable agriculture and state-required plant studies. Veggie U is targeted at fourth grade and can also be used for home school. The program takes 5 weeks. It is designed to teach proficiencies in science, math, health and nutrition.
Veggie U is ‘dedicated to changing children’s eating habits one classroom at a time’ and the curriculum is currently being taught in 1800 schools around the country.
A $450 donation can put an Earth to Table™ science program kit in a classroom and a donation of $225 allows the teacher to host the program a subsequent year with a refill kit. The kit comes complete with seeds, soil, flats, root view boxes, grow lights and a worm farm. Equipment that is designed to let the kids see, feel and taste the whole process of planting, growing and harvesting vegetables.
Veggie U’s goal is to expand the program to include all 6,500 fourth grade classrooms in Ohio and the 93,000 fourth grade classrooms nationwide.
Most of the people planning Slow Food USA‘s $5 dinners have shown remarkable ingenuity in stretching their $5 far beyond what anyone would have imagined—preparing multiple courses of sustainable food that few would have believed cost less than $5 per serving.
I decided to try something a little different.
I stuck to the $5-dinner rules, but I wanted to address the criticism that many people have of cooking at home—namely, that they don’t have the time to do it. I didn’t seek out ingredients that I could stretch as far as possible; instead, I chose ingredients from the North Market that I could turn into a simple, delicious, sustainable meal, quickly:
- One 4-1/2 lb. Amish chicken $14
- 1 lb pesticide-free Brussels sprouts, Ann’s raspberry farm, $4
- 1/2 lb salad greens, $2
(Prices are approximate; when you factor in the salt, pepper, and olive oil/vinegar that I added later, the result puts us almost exactly at $20, for four meal-sized portions.)
More importantly, I made use of a lot of the time-saving tips I described in the previous blog post. And I tracked the extra time it took to obtain the ingredients, prep them, and cook them on the Slow Food Columbus Twitter stream. Some sample tweets:
@SlowFoodCMH Rather than documenting cost for today's #5challenge, I'll document the time it takes. Proving we have time to cook. bit.ly/q1aHcj
@SlowFoodCMH Entering @NorthMarket
@SlowFoodCMH And done
@SlowFoodCMH Not bad... produce and poultry in 6 minutes. short lines today
@SlowFoodCMH Sprouts prepped, salad prepped, kitchen cleaned, trimmings thrown in freezer bag for stock. Clock stops: 21 minutes this leg #5challenge
@SlowFoodCMH Dinner in 36 minutes. #5challenge lockerz.com/s/139692086
@SlowFoodCMH And a few more nights' worth of dinners, already ready for the fridge. #5challenge lockerz.com/s/139693172
@SlowFoodCMH All told: 4 servings shopped for, cooked, and cleaned up in about an hour's time—15 minutes per meal. Now time your next fast food run.
I did relatively little to the ingredients: I removed the extra bits from the chicken, rubbed it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary, and threw it in a 400° oven to cook for just over an hour (15 minutes per pound). Then I rinsed, oiled, salted and peppered the sprouts and put them on a tray by the oven, rinsed the lettuce and put it in the refrigerator… and went back to reading. When there were 40 minutes left I slipped the sprouts into the oven. When everything was done I pulled the sprouts and chicken out of the oven, quartered the bird, dressed the salad, put the remaining portions into Pyrex storage containers to cool, snapped a quick photograph… and sat down to enjoy dinner at my leisure.
It was far from the most elaborate meal that was prepared today. But it’s sustainable, it’s healthy, and it clocks in at around $5 per serving. And even making generous allowances for travel and cleanup the time spent obtaining and preparing it doesn’t exceed an hour, or 15 minutes per meal when you take leftovers into account.
You might be able to beat that with a trip to the drive-through window, maybe… as long as you don’t get stuck behind the guy who can’t decide whether he wants fries with that.