Jbirdsall's Profile

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10 Must-Make Christmas Cookies

We feel terrible that we offended—our apologies. We were reaching for a stock joke, but stock jokes can hurt. Lesson learned.

Dec 11, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features
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Cranberry Shrub Spritz

Nov 26, 2014
Jbirdsall in Recipes

Rum and Cranberry Shrub Cocktail

Nov 26, 2014
Jbirdsall in Recipes

Savory Picadillo Meat Pies

You could make them and freeze before baking, then either defrost in the fridge overnight and bake, or bake them while they're still frozen, increasing the baking time until they're crisp and golden and the filling is hot throughout.

Nov 22, 2014
Jbirdsall in Recipes

What's Next After Farm to Table? The Evolution of a Revolution

Consider this discussion the beginning of a search, the opening in an ongoing talk on a particular fact of restaurants these days.

I’m talking about a term that you probably use, or perhaps you hate, or possibly both use and hate, or maybe really love. I’m talking about "farm to table," and what’s next for chefs, for restaurants, and eventually, maybe, for the rest of us who find meaning in food. Ever since the rise of farm to table, the concept—the shortening of the chain between grower and eater—ever since that became a thing, and then became ubiquitous, it’s made some chefs pause. I'd like to explore, here and in future discussions, the state of farm to table, and the way some chefs have already begun looking beyond it, trying to forge a new system that feels more dynamic, more personal. More (brace for the word) authentic.

Here’s how my own thoughts on this began.

A couple of years ago I paid a visit to pastry chef Boris Portnoy, at his house high up in the eastern hills above Napa Valley. Portnoy, whose last gig was down below us somewhere in St. Helena, at the restaurant at Meadowood, cooked a Georgian lunch inspired by his recent trip to Tbilisi. As we sat on his driveway making churchkhela, walnuts threaded onto strings and dipped in thickened grape juice, he talked about his dissatisfactions with the practice of farm-to-table sourcing.

After years of excitement—of feeling cutting-edge and vital—“farm to table” had become an almost completely passive exercise, Portnoy said. With the growth in the infrastructure of specialty growers and distributors, pretty much any chef with the means to pay could pick up a phone and order pristine product: Oregon truffles, tiny fava leaves and tendrils, mind-blowing tomatoes. “Chefs are passive consumers,” Portnoy said. He told me how he (and others) felt they’d lost the connection to the ingredients they worked with. Disconnected from them.

It was kind of a huge revelation.

Now, there are probably 50 shades of passive, a kind of hands-on sourcing that varies by degree. Some chefs I know still personally go to the farmers’ market, fish wholesaler, or even just Berkeley Bowl to look, taste, and choose. Others contract with growers to grow special stuff just for them, while the rare (and rarefied) few are able to support their own gardens.

Portnoy was talking about taking sourcing much, much deeper than tasting the strawberries before you load a couple of flats into the restaurant’s van. He was talking about chefs taking such an active involvement in sourcing ingredients that it defines the very food they cook, the number of diners they can serve, and even the form of their businesses. Can you cook a multicourse meal for 100 guests if you’re actively raising or foraging the food, or can you only support the occasional pop-up?

Active involvement—hands to table, for lack of a better phrase—could mean trudging out into the woods and actively foraging. It could mean harnessing the powers of ripening and fermentation to radically change the nature of food, not cooking, strictly, but learning, say, the mutating power of bacterial growth and knowing when (and how) to harvest the results. (Portnoy himself was gathering grapevines from his wine-grower neighbors, bartering produce from gardeners who set up at a certain intersection not far from his house….)

Since that day on Portnoy’s driveway, I’ve come to see it as part of chefs’ ongoing search for authenticity in the food they cook, the quest for some kind of intimate connection with food that goes beyond lining up the right vendors. The transformation starts, not in the kitchen, after some purveyor has dropped off crates of stuff at the restaurant’s back door, but far earlier than that. Just as some chefs are cooking their biographies to achieve a level of authenticity in their food, others are seeking a far more intimate relationship with what they cook.

What Alice Waters named the “delicious revolution”—a complete change, in the past 30 years, in the way restaurants source ingredients, the relationships built with farmers and butchers, brewers and cheese makers—this has been a wonderful thing. Now what? It feels like we’re poised at the brink of a generational lunge, an evolution.

In future discussions I’ll talk about the chefs who are reaching beyond farm to table to forge a more active relationship with the food they cook. Before I get into it, though, I really want to gauge the ongoing usefulness of even the phrase. Does “farm to table” still seem useful, or has it been overplayed, like “artisan,” “green,” and “sustainable,” appropriated by big supermarket chains and fast food companies to sell stuff that is in fact, very far removed from its sources? We probably all agree that the concept—that short chain between producer and eater—is a good thing for all kinds of reasons (environmental, aesthetic, and above all for flavor). Can we take it farther? How will it limit, or change what we expect from restaurants? Some thoughtful chefs and restaurant owners have started the journey. I’ll talk about them in future discussions.

Nov 20, 2014
Jbirdsall in General Topics
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Romesco Sauce Makes Everything Taste Better

Workie now :)

Nov 17, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features
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Don't Cook a Turkey If It's Tamales You're Thankful For

Nov 02, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Can We Think Beyond the Nuclear Family Table?

Oct 27, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Gin and Tonic, Barcelona Style

Oct 15, 2014
Jbirdsall in Recipes

3 Days to Make 8 Cronuts at Home? No.

Oct 10, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

The Myth of the Secret Recipe

Oct 03, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Always Trust Your Food Instincts

Sep 26, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Atholl Brose Cocktail

Yes, sorry! The oven temp is correct, but the time was way off. We've corrected it.

Sep 26, 2014
Jbirdsall in Recipes

16 Scenes from Markets in Thailand

Sep 17, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Under the Temple, the Oldest Way to Eat

Sep 08, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Eating Outside the Bubble

Aug 29, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

That Time Anthony Bourdain Scared Kids with the Gay, and I Laughed

Aug 22, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Why Phase Out "Chowhound" Brand?

Hi Mark, it's been great working with you these past few years! Wishing you lots of New York deliciousness.

Aug 12, 2014
Jbirdsall in Site Talk

Underrated Cuisines?

Most people know the really obvious Filipino dishes (adobo, pancit, lumpia) but there are a lot of fresh, delicate things from the Philippines that general eaters overlook: ceviche-like kinilaw, macaron-like silvanas, delicate polvoron. It's a misunderstood cuisine (or cuisines, since there are so many regional variations) and completely underrated.

Cocktails for Tourists: 6 San Francisco Places You Can Sip

Aug 01, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

My Chowhound Wedding

This looks amazing!

Jul 29, 2014
Jbirdsall in Home Cooking

Killer Kebabs for the Rest of Summer

Jul 24, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Scotch Whisky Cocktail Ruffles Your Hair

Jul 19, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Do You Need a Pricey Culinary Degree to Be a Top Chef?

No, Sarah reports that Keller is self-taught, and is a supporter of CIA (even though he didn't study there).

Jul 10, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

California's Oldest Farmers' Market Is Diverse and a Tad Funky

Thanks for applying your eagle eye, Caitlin.

Jul 09, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Tisha Cherry's Instagram Food Portraits Are Amazing

Nice.

Jul 07, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Pizzas Built for Summer

This is a good one (ignore the grilling part, if you like)
http://www.chow.com/recipes/24529-bas...

Jun 30, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features
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Pizzas Built for Summer

Thanks. Oh, you know: Try to write "One hears pizza, one thinks cheese that flows like..." and it sounds a bit freshman English composition class. Actually, my days, starting in the mid-'80s, making pizzas at Greens restaurant in San Francisco inspired it. Same vintage as McNair, different source.

Jun 30, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Pizzas Built for Summer

Grazie

Jun 28, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features

Father's Day, Table for One

Jun 13, 2014
Jbirdsall in Features