Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Best of 2016

- High ABV Beer: Great Lakes Commodore Perry

- Best Sour Beer: Grimm Kenetic Cloud 

- Local Brewer: Starpoint

- Food Illustrations: Lucky Peach (example, example)

- Munchies Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5356zt0JiDY

- Bakery to Follow: Bellegarde Bakery, New Orleans

- Baking Instagram: BigOBread; Mr Holmes

- Local Food Finder: Victoria Bouloubasis

- Mexican: Guanajuato

- Place to Get Hosed and Shaken Down for Amateurish Haute Cuisine: Herons at the Umstead

- New NSB Pastry Item: Italian Shortbread Sprinkle Cookies

- Anticipated Restaurant Opening: Gray Brooks' 24-hr Diner at the Jack Tar

- Local Music Festival: Moogfest
- Food Pilgrimage: Sonny's, Old City, Philadelphia

- Place to Watch Champions League in the Middle of the Day While Playing Hooky From Work: Bull McCabes

- Vintage Foodie Film Footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKoKuXuMN5I

- High School Cafeteria Mexican Food: Jose and Sons

*In MemoriamHorst Meyer

*In Memoriam: Sharon Jones, whose electric music powered the Bakery crew through many many shifts, rip.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Be a Conduit for the Ingredient

"A society's bread is the purest expression of its cuisine."
                                                     --Craig Claiborne

Monday, October 24, 2016

Transplanting Traditions

Tri Sa Selling at Market; Photo Credit: Jagmeet Mac

From Dominique Dery, Healthy Communities Specialist at Transplanting Traditions Community Farm:

As winter approaches, we here at Transplanting Traditions Community Farm are getting close to the end of our yearly CSA season -- and this marks the second season that we've had the pleasure of hosting a CSA pick-up at Ninth Street Bakery, on their lovely porch amidst alluring smells of baking breads and treats. Thank you very much, Ninth Street Bakery!

Transplanting Traditions Community Farm is an educational non-profit farm just outside of Carrboro that seeks to address the challenges of food insecurity, access to healthy foods, and economic inequity in the community of refugees from Burma in and around Chapel Hill. Transplanting Traditions believes that increasing the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs is key to creating a more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible food system. Currently 32 refugee families farm at the 8 acre site and 100% of these refugee farmers were farmers in their native Burma.  The farm showcases a mixture of native N.C. crops and over 40 crops native to Burma. At Transplanting Traditions, gourds, turmeric, bitter melons, ginger, taro root, medicinal herbs and lemongrass mingle with heirloom tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, arugula, beets and radishes and many more. The farm provides a cultural community space for families to come together, build healthy communities, and continue agricultural traditions in the Piedmont of N.C.

Check out our website to find out more about our projects and volunteer needs or to sign up for your own CSA! And look for TTCF farmers at the Carrboro Farmers' Market and the Chapel Hill Farmers' Market selling as Mu Tar K'Paw Gardens. 


And check out this recent audio documentary about the farm made by members of our teen program: 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sanctuary: When the Lights Go Out

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur this year, Matthew, Hurricane Matthew, visited us for a weekend.  On Saturday, the lights went out at Ninth Street Bakery.  Panic-stricken, I called around desperately trying to find refrigeration space for the thousands of dollars of refrigerated ingredients and finished products stored in our coolers and freezers.  In a time that turned out to be much shorter than I feared (about four hours), I was unnerved by the Bakery without it's usual humming mechanical sounds, illuminated only by cell-phone light.  The Bakery has become my second home, and a character with its own personality.  To see it go down in electrical failure, even temporarily, was like seeing a family member struggling to breathe.

During Yom Kippur service yesterday, fasting, I reflected on all that as I put the past year in some kind of context.  At the Judea Reform Yizkor (healing, or memorial) service, a row of Jewish lesbians of all ages and their partners sat in front of me, some with arms around each other.  I wondered what their life has been like this past year, where they have called home, and where they have gone for sanctuary.  For a state that has made itself unfriendly to the LGBT community, I wished to atone for the slings and arrows they must have felt, as a Jew must atone not only for his/her sins, but those of the entire community.

If you are LGBT, we support you, however we can. Come to the Bakery, and ask for me, Ari. We will feed you and give you whatever support is humanly possible.

When the lights go out, if we should ever stop baking bread, we will still be here, North Carolina.  We will fight until the HB2 and all the bigots go home.  It is not the transgender community that has been outed, it is the Republicans in State Legislature who have just showed their hand and how few cards they hold.  If their only hold on the State is underpinned by their capacity to legislate bigotry, we will fight them, and it will be easy to fight them, because their arguments are so vacuous and their platitudes so hypocritical.  This may be a low-water mark in the history of the State, but we will not stop until they are ousted, and North Carolina can become a sanctuary for all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

100-person line at Britt's

Britt's Donuts, Carolina Beach, NC
That line doe! 60 people at 8am for a 8:30 open, and more than 100 by 10am!

Fabled Sticks

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Horst, You Will Be Remembered

One of our most consistent and beloved customers from the time Berenbaum's Bakestand started in 2011 has passed, Horst Meyer.  Many will know Horst from the Farmer's Market, stalking the stalls early at opening in his fishing hat and windbreaker.  He was fond of our Mandelbrot and later, Ninth Street Bakery's Italian Biscotti, asking for them in his heavy German accent, "have you any bis-COTT today?"  Our deepest condolences to his family and many friends and colleagues.

Full obituary here: https://today.duke.edu/2016/08/duke-flags-lowered-physics-professor-j-horst-meyer-dies-0

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Being a Boss in the 20's

"It was unfortunate, but did not matter too much, if the boss was a bastard, a skinflint, a cheat, a no-good, so sharp with his men that one might--God forgive us--doubt he was a Jew.  All that was to be expected of him, was of his very essence as a boss--for a boss, as my mother offhandedly defined the type in a sentence that lighted up for me our instinctive belief in the class struggle--a boss was a man who did nothing himself, sat by idly, enjoying himself, and got rich on the bitter toil of others.  It was far more important to us that the boss be successful, full of work to give out.  Let him be mean, let him be unspeakable, let him be hateful--he kept us alive."

From "A Walker in the City", Alfred Kazin

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Babies, Dogs, or Workout Clothes: Taproom Culture 2016

The burgeoning NC beer scene is getting bigger, thanks to some new taprooms and breweries. The Summer round-up:

- Ponysaurus is the new hot shit. It's official.

- Some strong moves are being made in Raleigh. Lynnwood Brewing has put out a couple of good beers. Nickelpoint has a good IPA. Gizmo has been getting some good press. There are a bunch of undrinkable things mixed in, but who's complaining?

- Looking forward to Starpoint Brewing coming to Rockwood Plaza (near Thai Cafe). This could potentially be the best beer Durham has ever seen!

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't note the new taproom culture. The whole Fullsteam family drinking escapades circa 2011 has now morphed into a culture all its own.  I visited two taprooms in two cities last weekend, and we played a game of punch buggy where you threw a punch every time you saw a baby, a dog, or someone in workout clothes. Let it be known that bruises were suffered for the humor of this new taproom culture. In Belgium and California and beyond there exist breweries and taprooms, but I have yet to see anything quite like the Triangle with its hot mix of beer nerdery, capitalism on steroids, and child rearing. Now who wants to play an life-size game of Connect Four?!

Bonus link: Best article ever on bar culture: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1940/04/13/the-old-house-at-home

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Chef and Forager

In the dozen years since [Bill] Smith pioneered his honeysuckle sorbet, based on a centuries-old Sicilian recipe for "jasmine ice" and his own trial and error, he has taught his employees and their spouses how to pick the flowers. He pays them fifteen dollars for eight softly packed cups. This year, though, thanks to spells of cold and wet springtime weather, he's been largely on his own, forced to forage in thin patches that aren't booming with the typical blooms.

- From the Indyweek

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Denatured Dessert

“I happen not to like sweets,” he [Alex Stupak, pastry chef of WD-50] said as we sat down after dinner and he began to explain his work. “It’s an idiosyncrasy of mine. I decided to become a pastry chef because it gave me autonomy. Whether you think your desserts are manipulated or not, they are! When you’re conceptualizing an entrĂ©e, a protein, you generally expect to get a piece of that thing intact. In pastry, it doesn’t occur. Pastry is the closest that a human being can get to creating a new food. A savory chef will look at puff pastry not as a combination of ingredients but as an ingredient in itself. Pastry is infinitely exciting, because it’s less about showing the greatness of nature, and more about transmitting taste and flavor. Desserts are naturally denatured food.” He looked at me sternly. “Birthday cake is the most denatured thing on earth.”

-- Alex Gopnik, From The New Yorker

Dessert circa 2011

It was as if the dessert chefs had given up on dessert, too, and produced something else in its place. At even a moderately upscale establishment, you would invariably get what I had come to think of as the Portman Plaza plate, since it so closely resembled the model that a developer would have proposed for the center of a crime-wracked mid-sized city in the seventies: three upright cylinders—small towers of something wrapped in something—with the tops sliced at an angle; a crumbly landscape of some kind; and a reflecting pool running around the edge. The plate would be advertised as, let’s say, a chocolate-peanut-butter mousse cake with walnut-balsamic crumble and a sesame sorbet with Concord-grape foam. But the effect was always the same: not enough of a cakey cylindrical thing, too much of a crumbly thing, far too much of a gelatinous thing, and an irrelevance of an off-key runny thing. Without surrendering sugar, dessert had surrendered all its familiar forms—the cake, the soufflĂ©, the pudding—as the avant-garde novel had surrendered narrative, character, and moral. Losing our faith in art is, in a secular culture, what losing our faith in God was to a religious one; God only knows what losing our faith in desserts must be.

-- Alex Gopnik, From The New Yorker

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Jewish Desserts

click to enlarge
"Mandel bread is Jewish biscotti in a universe where people are always saying, 'Hey, you know the problem with biscotti? It’s too thick and flavorful.'"  From Lucky Peach

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sonny's, Old City, Philadelphia

Crushing cheesesteaks with EJT; the shop was so packed we ate on top of the car

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Chef Stretches Out

We are seeing a phenomenon now where chefs have become minor celebrities, and with celebrity comes the investor that would like to capitalize on fame by building a fiefdom of profitable restaurants for the chef. Where 20 years ago fame might have meant a cooking show and a set of signature pans (e.g. Wolfgang Puck), now the chef in question can expand from the one heralded restaurant to several, often with different conceptual culinary programs.

In New Orleans, I saw this phenomenon at work recently. At John Besh's August, one can eat a fancy, expensive meal conceived by an expert in Southern Cooking. The problem was that most of the food wasn't very good. It wasn't for lack of trying. All of the frou frou ingredients were listed, along with thoughtful mashups of southern cuisine served on small plates that might have been seen on a lesser episode of Iron Chef. It was just that with the actual Chef Besh not at the helm (and who would expect him to? He now owns eleven dining concepts in New Orleans alone), the execution was poor, the etoufee dish was not hot temperature-wise, the spicing was off, and the dessert was stale.

For the entreprising restauranteur, there is no concept not to be explored or exploited: the high cuisine spot; the food truck; the ramen noodle shop; the mozzarella bar; the dessert and bakery concept; the pizzeria.  Who wants to be the next Batali?  But being Batali would mean not physically being there.  The Chef has left the building.

So when I say the Chef stretches out, what I mean is the Chef stretches him or herself too thin. In any kind of operation, especially one with "artisanal" food processes, you can see this happening. Ideally, you want the creative chef to leave his or her imprint on every dish, and for that dish to be unique in a way that speaks to the diner. But this may not always be possible, even with a relatively accomplished and well paid staff.

The staff, the workers that are doing the cooking for the Chef, are only as good as their training.  The U.S. gastronomy movement, being so new compared to Europe, is experiencing a severe shortage of well-trained cooks.  If the cook's training is rushed and not thorough, the end result will be below the quality of the celebrity chef.  But in the effort to both please the investors and keep the ego fed by expansion, a cruel facsimile of the Chefs' cooking gets into the public mouth. The thoughtful restaurant is not something replicable and franchisable like a McDonald's, yet the average McDonald's is doing far better in the consistency department than a restauranteur stretched thin.

An organization has the tendency to replicate the traits of its leader.  So if the restauranteur is overambitious, so will the restaurant be.  And if ambition and skill is diluted by a score of dining concepts, what remains for the customer to enjoy?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Moogfest Recap

GZA at Motorco 
(this should be his Blue Note cover)

Let me first say that Moogfest was dope. With all the skepticism surrounding its virgin year in Durham, all the money issues chattering around, all the shit talk vis-a-vis Art of Cool, let me just say that Moogfest brought the pain. Should it be renamed "Durham on Drugs"?  Maybe.  But I will say that the sheer scale of the artists, venues, technology, and beautiful people that came to visit our little hamlet of the South was nothing short of deeply flattering.  I never thought I would seea a nighttime East Chapel Hill Street chock full of hipsters holding maps.  The Bakery Cafe, as you could imagine if you didn't visit, was hellaciously busy, posting our three busiest days ever. We look forward to next year with excitement and trepidation.  My favorite show?  Mad Professor at Bull McCabes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Delicatessen circa 1870

"Hungry city-dwellers visiting their local delicatessen could choose among the following: meat pies, smoked beef shoulder, smoked tongue, smoked fowls, roast fowls, smoked, pickled and salted herring, fresh ham, baked beans, potato salad, beet salad, cabbage, parsip, and celery salads, in addition to all the usual wursts, breads, and cheeses."
-- From 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Snapshot Capsule: American Fried

School yourself in ecstatically funny food writing. Calvin Trillin, longtime humorist, food writer, and New Yorker columnist collects essays here on barbecue, phoney French restaurants, the best hamburgers of the Midwest, the crawfish festival of Breaux Bridge, and how to diet down while owning a venerable pizza chain. Recommended. From 1974.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bellegarde Bakery, New Orleans

After hearing much from my old friend Alex Ruch about Bellegarde Bakery of New Orleans, I was finally able to visit to watch him bake and even help out one morning.  A polymath and Duke Lit alumnus, Alex works part-time for Bellegarde when not professing at Tulane. Bellegarde's breads were inspiring, much in part due to the vision and zeal of owner Graison Gill.  Graison has to be one of the most principled, intense bakers I have ever met.  Read his statement of philosophy on their website, and you will get a small impression of his focus and drive.  He is currently milling two varieties of wheat on site.  It was a thrill to hold just-milled soft fine wheat, still warm from the grinding stones.

Alex loading the hearth oven

Alex cutting epis

Those baguettes doe

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

beignet frying at cafe du monde

I got to speak briefly with this beignet baker - he had true skills

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HB2 Mechanations

Nice summation of the issues surrounding the recent HB2 cluster from Fresh Air's Dave Davies and PR Watch's Lisa Graves:


Barred Lists

Sample Barred List - Beware Crazy Jerry!
Every bar, restuarant, or other service establishment has a "barred list", and we are no different.  There are various Downtown panhandlers that have hassled or stolen from us and our customers and are no longer served (also know as 86'ed).  At the top of our barred list right now is this man, Lindsey Williams, owner of Ninth Street Coffeehouse in Durham (no relation to the Bakery):
Lindsey was an erratic payer of his invoices for breakfast pastry, and then stopped paying entirely.  I would not recommend patronizing his store, and if you are a vendor, caveat emptor!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


The poet is not a "little god". No, he is not a "little god". He is not picked out by a mystical destiny in preference to those who follow other crafts and professions. I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colours and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.  - Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize Lecture, 1971

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Development in Durham

Construction dwarfs the remaining brick facade at Durham Central Park

Last Saturday, I went to an event on Development in Durham at Pleiades Gallery across the street from the Bakery. About fifteen people attended, including some local journalists, activists, small business owners, and artists who had contributed to the gallery's eponymous theme of hung and sculpted art.  Speaking that day were Urban Durham Realty (UDR) agents Susan Herst and Mary Rae Hunter.  Their spiel was basically how much they love Durham and all the charitable works that UDR participates in on behalf of the Durham community (note: I bought my home through a friend and UDR agent).  During the Q&A period, some tough questions arose regarding gentrification, renter displacement, and the changing urban fabric that comes along with building a 26-story skyscraper inside what was recently a gritty post-industrial Downtown.  More than half of the condos in 1 City Center have already been sold for between $300,000 - $1.6 million.  And what says "city center" like a rooftop pool?  How is this complementing the city?

The UDR folks were a little bit on the defensive, given that the clients that they represent are more typically the monied class that can afford to buy rather than rent.  It felt a little disingenuous that they were speaking of how they educate new homeowners on working with banks and their credit scores when these clients are far more wealthy than the renters who may be forced to move due to rising prices around Downtown.  They don't want the Cheesecake Factory, they want Durham's own original and independently operated version of it. The idea that Downtown now has legitimately swanky places to eat and drink (with more on the way) is a selling point for a real estate agent or a developer, and for many folks in the room, that felt like it is going to bleed the city of its guts.  We don't want to build a better smarter tastier Raleigh here.

One of my chief complaints about the UDR defense of Durham development are the changes to the urban fabric that have already occurred and those that are on the way. It is perhaps ironic that the urban durham that Susan and Mary Rae love has taken some shots in the ribs with recent generic-looking high-rise condos being built like 605 West, West Village Phase 3, Station Nine, Crescent Ninth Street, Whetstone Apartments, and 300 Swift to name a few.  Again, these condos/apartments are ugly, generic, and look like they were last seen in a quick and easy cookbook for urban development.

Small businessowners are excited about all the new tenants that will supposedly be filling these spaces, but on the flip side, many will be put out of business the next time their lease turns over.  Development on Ninth Street was referenced several times.  How hard will we need to work to make sure a chain like Subway or Tequila Flats never enters the Downtown Loop?  Now that there is a Harris Teeter and a bunch of regional chains on Ninth Street, rents can now go up and above $30 a square foot, which would be unsustainable both for NSB and a number of other Downtown businesses.

The question of renter displacement was handled in a really off-handed way by Susan and Mary Rae, saying that there now exists more rental stock in Durham for renters to move into should they be displaced by gentrification and higher rents.  This doesn't address the issue that renters may have been living in their detached or subdivided homes for quite a long time -- they would have to give up their neighborhood and house that they like for one that might be in an entirely different place or one that they don't like or that is more expensive than what their rent used to be.

Ultimately, the event ended as a bitchfest without anyone in power to bitch at.  No city councilors or developers were present.  Even if 1 City Center is the Second Coming of Durham, will the $85 million building have any effect on the poverty in East Durham that its tenants will have such a good view of?  How are these new tenants, some of whom are paying cash, helping Durham?  Is this the kind of investment we need or is it the laziest and most opportunistic form of gentrification?

Corporate Food for Corporate People

We live in an amazing world. I was reading a baking trade magazine where they detail a European industry leader that can produce 3 million buns a day. Robots do some of the work, nothing is mixed or formed by hand, twelve humans are working per shift, and the company is valued at $56 million.

Ninth Street Bakery, by contrast, still produces bakery products by hand, and the baking machines that we use, like a basic spiral mixer, could have been found in bakery in the 1970s, or 1950s for that matter. 
Across the nation, small artisanal bakeries, donut shops, and confectioners are springing up to fill the desire for authentic goods. But that is not news to anyone who has ever watched the Food Network.

What remains to be unraveled is; who are the remaining 95-percenters who are still buying industrial, corporate bread? Who are buying those 3 million soft, preservative-laden buns that can sit on the shelf up to three weeks?

* * *

I drove to Harker's Island last summer, which is a great spot on the North Carolina coastline for fishing, crabbing, and clamming. Along the way. I passed a Flowers Foods bread factory in Goldsboro.  The distinctive smell of Sunbeam and Nature's Own was wafting through the air.  The workers were ending their shift, driving home with blue hairnets still on.

The thing was, those workers with the blue hairnets, driving away from their corporate bread job, they were happy.  They were smiling.  The sun was shining and the sky was Carolina blue. 

And this made me realize, that these folks that work in corporate food, these are the self-same people that buy the corporate food in their local food desert.  In case you were looking for it, there's no Wholefoods in Goldsboro.  The corporate food wins because that is what exists for people who work in corporations. That is their daily reality. It is not all that mysterious.

The question that it leaves us with is if we want to upend the corporate food chain, we think we need to start with the companies, like the Wal-Marts and the Wholefoods and the McDonald's, but in fact we need to begin by thinking about their employees.  What are they looking for? How can we guarantee them a steady paycheck while offering a different way to consume calories? Which companies in the future will do this well, and which poorly, and how will that affect their fortunes?

* * *

One amazing this has been to watch independent business mimic the corporation.  I recently went into an independent cafe, and the service flow and the way the counter staff presented themselves, I momentarily thought that I was in a Panera Bread.  As independents get pushed out by large brands, independents take on the traits of the corporate, for better or for worse.  Sometimes that means getting a very vanilla customer service experience, but it can also mean using online ordering or social media in a way that allows the independent to outmaneuver or at least compete with their corporate counterparts.

* * *

I went recently to the recruiting day at Johnson and Wales University, probably regarded as the best culinary training in the state.  And I would say that 90% of the recruiting businesses were larger corporations: casinos, hotels, corporate restaurant groups, retirement community corporations, tech campuses, and so forth.  The students appeared motivated to be employed, but it seems like after an expensive education, they likely want top pay plus benefits, and few independent restaurants can offer that to a novice cook.  So if you are wondering who is cooking the meals in corporate America, here they are, bright, smiley, young, and ready to work, but maybe not at an independent restaurant near you.

* * *

There are certainly days where I wish my life was plan-o-grammed and multiple layers of bureaucracy insulated me from having to wash dishes or take out the trash occasionally.  But ultimately, I'm happy we're not corporate because of all the compromises you would have make to be corporate.  Not just the preservatives, but the entire ethos that must accompany making a sealed cinnamon bun or PB&J sandwich shelf stable.  You have to be able to stare bad food in the face and say, you know what, for poor people, this is good enough.  For obese people, this is good enough.  For people without a lot of time on their hands, this Snak-Pak or Lance Cheese&Crackers is good enough.  An economy built of phoney food is going to be run by people who have made so many compromises, that their tough talk on diet and nutrition and exercise will ring hollow.  These two rhetorics are not mutually compatible.  Ultimately the food economy, like the economy itself, will need to be regulated to ensure access for all to healthy food.  Left to its own devices, it is a race to the bottom.  So yes, let's tax fast food, let's tax soda, let's tax alcohol until we figure out how to produce consistent fresh food for society.  But not only that, let's educate and make fresh food and fresh cooking sexy and affordable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

State of the Bakery

Reflecting on last year now that our tax returns are being assembled, we are happy to report that the Bakery grew at a healthy 20% rate in 2015.  We were able to pay employees an increased average wage of 15%, while our ingredient costs unfortunately grew by 30% due to steep increases in the price of quality nuts, organic flour, butter, and some produce. We donated over $20,000 in cash, in-kind donations, and gift cards to charitable organizations. We look forward to continuing to serve the Triangle community the best we can in 2016.  As always, we hope to hear from you with your feedback!

As a sidenote, we are planning our first NSB Employee Alumni Day for Saturday March 26th to help mark our 35th anniversary.  Check out this link for more information, and if you know any past employees, please share widely: https://www.facebook.com/events/233715140307179/

Thursday, March 3, 2016

From Frenzy to Fatigue

Call it foodie fatigue.

My mother was dining recently, and rankled and confused by the menu filled with fancy ingredients, she said, "Can't I just have a good pasta with some broccoli?"

While overall restaurant food quality has gone up, Americans once enthralled by the wave of excitement brought about by the Food Network and Iron Chef are now more reticent to open the newest celebrity cookbook with the same kind of enthusiasm.  Maybe it was Pete Wells' takedown of Guy Fieri (or Thomas Keller?), or maybe it is just market saturation, but I don't see the same kind of appetites for the "next new thing", whether it be a food truck or a donut shop.  Maybe we are so overstimulated by our phones that even gourmandism has been segmented and pushed to the margins.

Yes, I still love food, and yes I am still trying the new restaurants and following the blogs and tweets and pins, but restaurant food of now is focused on 1) multiple fresh ingredient components 2) saucing 3) clean and artistic presentation. What will be the next step forward, if there is a next step?  Will it be a live bowl of Asian food, like Pok Pok or Mission Chinese?

We are now living in a post-Eleven Madison Park world, a post-Noma world, a post-Faviken world where destination dining is not new, entrees can easily go for 50% more than they might have ten years ago, and listing "farm-to-fork" on a menu sounds trite.

At Ninth Street, we try to make real food without a lot of preciousness.  Which is great, because hearty, flavorful food is the food that folks actually eat on a daily basis, for calories, to do stuff, like work. You can't run your whole day on raw halibut with yuzu and a Clif bar.

To have the food movement continue to move forward, we need to think beyond the plate, beyond fundraisers, and think about what kind of businesses we are leading and where we are taking both the employees and the customers.  Will the future be more participatory?  What kind of space does the customer want to interact in?  How to we bring in minority populations?  Are we ignoring stratification and poverty or providing choices at every income level?  Given the spotlight that food has in our culture, I look to local food entrepreneurs to lead, rather than follow on these issues.  In 2015, NSB gave over $20,000 in cash, in-kind donations, and gift cards to charitable organizations.  What kind of impact can we have on Durham in 2016 that moves beyond charitable giving?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Joe Beef

"And then after five years of that I realized that—even when I wasn’t at work—I had anxiety about everything: the interminable lists, the list of fish, whether the supplier would come or not. Did he show up with a rabbit? Is it in the basement? (Or is this a dream?) Did this chef show up? If not, do we have a replacement? Did the dishwasher show up? The grease trap is overflowing; the lights are broken; the hutch is not clean; the owners are harping on my ass about food costs and salary costs. I was just drowning all the time."

From: http://luckypeach.com/the-art-of-toilet-cleanliness-joe-beef

Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: Mission Chinese Food Cookbook

One of the cookbooks on our Best of 2015 list is the Mission Chinese Food Cookbook.  Based on how it was promoted through the Lucky Peach email list, it sounded like it would be a bunch of dumbed down, pseudo-Chinese recipes for your average home kitchen (like how to make a quick imitation Hoisin sauce).  Reading through it however, it's clear that Danny Bowein has tried to faithfully write down his most popular recipes, no shortcuts included.  This includes dishes such as his Kung Pao Pastrami, Westlake Rice Porridge, and Ma Po Tofu.  There is no skimping on the Sichuan chilies.

Perhaps just as interesting as the recipes is the behind-the-scenes of a young chef's ascendancy to fame (he was the James Beard Rising Star Chef of 2013).  Modest in the utmost, his account (co-written with friend and Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying) is honest and earnest.  He recounts periods of his life spent doing blow, the aftermath of his mouse shit restaurant shutdown, and so forth, these trials having only added to his legend and fame.

And the recipes are swinging for the fences.  Though I have not tasted the actual food, the spicing preferences show an aptitude for deconstruction and recreation.  As evinced in this video for Munchies, his friend Brandon Jew explains how Bowein will taste a dish, deconstruct it mentally (by ingredient, method, and technique), and then reconstruct it better than it ever was.  You can see this clearly in his Kung Pao Pastrami, a bastardization of Chinese cooking mixed with Oklahoma BBQ (his roots).  Like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, he appears say, "I can do anything, I know Kung Fu." 

Where Bowein appears to fall off track is where this confidence or overconfidence allows him to experiment in cuisines where the research and testing has not dug quite as deep, for instance serving pizza at the new Mission Chinese New York (just because the restaurant already had a pizza oven), or playing around with Mexican flavors at Mission Cantina.

But these missteps are quickly forgiven by a bourgeois foodie audience looking for the next David Chang. Like Chang, Bowein doesn't belong to the cuisine he represents (Bowein is a Korean serving Chinese Food; Chang is a Korean serving Ramen (Japanese)), but these are the new rules around ethnic cooking.  The efforts these classically trained cooks make to re-translate authentic ethnic food make it palatable for bourgeois (read: white) audiences that otherwise would be scared to order in what might be an authentic Chinese food restaurant in Chinatown.  Translation is exactly what Andy Ricker has done for Thai food with his Pok Pok empire, and Sean Brock for Southern food with Husk.  Each of these chefs has elevated the cuisine and crafted a new authenticity that is informed by professional cooking and a highly trained, educated palate.  Like Danny Bowein, they are not afraid to break boundaries if only to reset them for the rest of us.

Roman Pizza

Via Lucky Peach, via JRS