A journal of cooking and eating and agriculture. Cooking is the final act of agriculture.
Cooking and eating are two simple activities that used to be related to each other. Various theories have been advanced as to when they became disparate but I am going to go with Michael Pollan’s claim and agree that the beginning was around the time of World War II. The need to supply troops with foods that could be preserved for long periods of time and were convenient to eat led to major “advances” in food science. After the war ended food manufacturers set out on a campaign to move into the consumer business. It took some time and convincing but eventually the public took the bait. The food manufacturers convinced consumers that by allowing them to take care of the cooking a lot of time would be freed up for other activities. Like eating.
Seventy years later the results of that agreement between the producers and consumers has been substantial growth in corporate profits (Food distributor Sysco reported record sales of $44b in 2013), obesity, type two diabetes and other health related issues. The modern supermarket is stuffed to its ceiling with ultra-processed and processed foods where consumers do the bulk of their food shopping. Most of these foods have been shown to contribute to the health problems and the vast amounts of money spent treating them.
The US spends 17.6% of its GDP on health care. That is $8233.00 per person.
The OECD average was 9.5% of GDP or $3268.00 per person.
The obesity rate in the US has risen from 23% of the population in 1990 to 36% in 2010.
The average among OECD member nations has risen from 10% in 1990 to 17% in 2010.
The United States spends the least amount of time of OECD member nations preparing meals and is third lowest in the time spent eating. In the US 30 minutes per day are spent cooking meals. In Turkey, by contrast, 74 minutes are spent cooking meals. The statistics that suggest people in the US spend less time eating than in 31 other OECD member nations is interesting because the US easily tops the obesity rate in the OECD.
One final statistic is that over the years food in the US has become much less expensive and if people prepare and eat food at home the US is a dream come true. In 1900 people spent about 43% of their income on food. In 2003 it was about 13%.
So? What do the statistics tell us about eating and health over the years? There are no concrete conclusions to be had here but there are inferences that could be useful. Over time in the US we have noticed that the cost of food has gone down as has the time spent preparing and eating it. During roughly the same time we have noticed that health care costs and obesity rates have increased. The disconnect between cooking and eating and the growth of convenience foods is interesting as well. The widening income gap between the rich and poor serves as another marker in this emerging story.
There is a lot worth looking at here and as a chef I have an imperative to read and investigate more about these topics. Cooking isn’t about competition or empire building. It is about doing the right thing. I think this will segue nicely into a discussion about whole animal cookery and what it means to be a chef. I want to address issues about food fetishism and mystification as well. Soon.
Today at The North Fork Table & Inn we (we being me and my commis aka Gerry Hayden) talked mushrooms. This was The Cooking Sessions: Session 7. Mushrooms are an awesome winter thing…comforting, rich and diverse in flavor and texture. Today we handed out four recipes and demonstrated more than twice that many mushrooms and how they can add flavor to this cold and crisp time of the year. We also tossed around some ideas about combining them with another winter treat that we always seem to find in our coolers. Today, fresh from the Man Cave, we also had tuber melanosporum or the Perigord truffle. We live well and it’s not like we have a choice. We just deal with it.
Many, many types of mushrooms
Anyway…we also had some suckling Berkshire pigs hanging around and we decided that the pigs and the mushrooms deserve to spend some quality time together on this snowy day. Mushrooms always lead to other things. Mushrooms and pigs. Mushrooms and rice. Mushrooms and cheese. Mushrooms and fish. Mushrooms as pickles. It never seems to end.
So….mushrooms and pigs. How does that marriage work? We will know more tomorrow but the dating seems to have everyone wanting something….more. So we carefully butchered a 51 pound Berkshire suckling pig “middle” and we stuffed it with a mixture of freshly toasted bread crumbs, roasted shallots, roasted garlic, black trumpet, trumpet royalle, hedgehog, yellowfoot, shiitake, chanterelle, beech and portobello mushrooms. And porcini mushroom stock. We added fresh thyme, rosemary and tarragon. The stuffing tasted awesome on its own. So we added some Perigord black truffles and a splash of black truffle vinegar. Boink.
Here is how it looks now. We will cook it tomorrow and try to make sense of it all. Then we will post more pictures.
Today at the North Fork Table & Inn my friends Gerry Hayden and Mike Mraz rolled through our sixth session. The topic…a monster…was beef and pork. Gerry narrowed the focus to the North Fork of Long Island and how to make use of the whole animal. I cut and cooked the animals. Mike selected things to drink with them. We might consider renaming the classes to the Three Stooges: Cooking Sessions. We all had a lot of fun and the exchange of questions, comments and ideas was refreshing for everyone in attendance.
Sunflowers, Balsam Farms
In my opinion the takeaways from Session 6 were the importance of purchasing as much locally raised food as possible and treating it (the land, plants & animals) with the careful respect that they deserve. In the case of the land this means letting it heal naturally after it has given us its bounty. In the case of the plants it means tending to the land and letting the plants grow and proliferate in a natural way and not with chemicals and pesticides and herbicides. In the case of animals, which when properly raised rely on the land and the plants they graze on and consume, this means using all parts of the animal as wisely and widely as possible.
One of the many beautiful things about the North Fork of Long Island is its agricultural diversity and what it offers us as natural resources. The land, plants, animals, wine, fish and even the consumers play a large part in this synergy. Now we need to spread the love, knowledge and appreciation of what lies at our feet. It is pretty fucking cool. It was also a surprise to see fellow chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona walk into the class as our tardy students. We forgive them!
Our “Cooking Session” at the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, NY today was our 5th installment. And just like the four that preceded it the atmosphere was festive, lively and fun. Today we covered “fish and shellfish” and we talked about supporting sustainable fisheries, butchering round and flat fish and which knives to use when butchering what the oceans offer us.
Gerry and I could go on for about 50 years when we talk about fishing, cooking or not cooking fish and eating them. More importantly we could go on and on about which fisheries to support, which ones to back away from and how to tell the difference. Unlike the world of animals raised on land the world of fish is governed by fewer rules, less oversight by governmental agencies and a deeper understanding of the rhythms of nature.
Our message during today’s Cooking Session is what we tend to live by in the kitchen…less is more.
Learning to cook is something I often think about. As a chef who has practiced the craft for over 30 years with recipes published everywhere from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust to small church cookbooks and cooking class hand outs I have been coming to some conclusions.
Blindly following recipes from cookbooks or internet sources does not lead to success. Why? Because all too often the recipes have not been reliably tested. In addition to this the recipes that are tested are often tested under different conditions than the home cook works in – different ovens, for example, will lead to uneven results and the home cook seldom has a properly calibrated oven to use.
There have been, through the years, many beautiful cookbooks published so that home cooks can “recreate” the food of the cookbook writer, chef or television food personality. The books are typically well written and beautifully photographed and sometimes they will remind a reader of their last trip to Tuscany or Paris or wherever. The whole point of writing cookbooks is to sell cookbooks and the visual appeal of a book helps to identify and define the writer’s “brand” and style of entertaining or cooking and it also helps the books sell. The books will not teach people how to cook. They will not help people learn how to taste either.
So how does someone learn how to cook? By cooking as often as possible and by eventually understanding the science behind the cooking. I am not about to claim that cooking is a scientific pursuit but for almost everything that happens in a kitchen there is a scientific explanation.
During the course of my kitchen career I can safely say that I have almost never used a recipe. I also never went to cooking school so I didn’t any preconceived notions about how food is made. I learned by seeing it, watching it and doing it. After that I always wanted to find out why something turned out a certain way and not some other way. I think, all taken together, experiencing and performing the act of cooking and finding out why the outcome was good or bad or really good is the best way to learn how to cook.
This week during The Cooking Sessions at the North Fork Table & Inn (this will be the third session) I will be exploring the wonderful world of sheep with Gerry Hayden and Tom Geppel. Tom, along with Carol Festa, owns 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, NY where they raise Icelandic sheep and a bunch of other stuff. The farm is beautiful as are the sheep and they are committed, as are many who farm on the North Fork, to sustainable practices in raising food.
Food is where Gerry and I share a vision and that vision is to use as much locally raised vegetables and meat as possible in the restaurants where we cook. Local fish? That part is easy and local shellfish will be part of the Cooking Sessions: Session 4.
As far as domesticated animals go sheep occupy a unique place in the world of animal husbandry. We use them as a source of meat, milk, coat and hide. This multifaceted animal is beautiful and delicious and we will demonstrate the best ways to use all that it offers. I will explain how to bone out and butcher the best cuts and we will provide some cooking advice and a recipe or two as well. We will discuss the coat and the hide and how those parts of the animal are best used and we’ll match some fine wines, spirits and libations for the occasion as well. This will be fun!
I hope to post a recap of last week’s session soon. Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms is an extremely knowledgable and articulate farmer who has an interesting and insightful view of raising vegetables.
Happy New Year! In my opinion 2014 looks pretty cool. This past year has been busy for me. After 22 seasons in the Hamptons I have cooked my final meal in a restaurant on the south fork. And having spent all of that time in East Hampton my recent, and temporary, move to Southampton has been nice.
So? Now what? Northward and upward and on to the Cooking Sessions. Since I have left the Hamptons I have been spending the bulk of my time on the north fork of Long Island. The north fork is where you will find farms, wineries, farmstands and fishing boats. You will meet people who make cheese and wine and really cool food. There are coffee roasters, beer brewers, oyster farmers and chefs who weave it all together.
Yesterday at The North Fork Table in Southold, NY my good friend chef Gerry Hayden, along with Holly Browder of Browder’s Birds, David Page and Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyards conducted our first “Cooking Sessions” class. It was a wonderful and spirited demonstration and discussion of the intersections of food, farming, viniculture and culture. All of the speakers made vivid and well researched commentary and the crowd in attendance asked thoughtful and informed questions. I demonstrated some old and new culinary techniques involving the chicken and the egg and we all had a few laughs and some delicious chicken posole.
I have been hanging out on the North Fork of Long Island for the last few months (as if most of you didn’t already know this) and I have been cooking with my friend Gerry Hayden who owns a fantastic restaurant in Southold, NY called The North Fork Table & Inn. Before I rolled into Southold I had pretty much decided to leave the world of restaurants and turn my attention to developing cookbooks, media and consulting work.
I “retired” and had some free time after a lot of years in various kitchens. During my new found free time one of my first priorities was to go and see Gerry and his partner and significant other, Claudia Fleming, who does a kitchen proud as well. My first thought, after spending some time with them, was “I am fucking jealous! The North Fork is so awesome!” This thought is still with me.
So, you might want to know why I am jealous. Or maybe you don’t want to know. It’s my blog so I am going to tell you. I am jealous because from a chef’s standpoint the raw materials that are available to cook with are first rate. Beef. Pork. Sheep. Chickens. Eggs and shellfish and local fish and so much more. My head spins every single day. There is so much beautiful stuff coming through the back door it almost seems like a dream.
I have other reasons to love hanging out with Gerry, Claudia and their partners Mike and Mary Mraz. The first reason is that they run a proper restaurant that is focused on great food and hospitality. The second reason is that we all get to laugh a lot and we have so much hospitality background to share with each other.
And finally, cooking with Gerry is a lot like working with me. I know that when I ask for the fenugreek, the yuzu juice, the alginate and the soba noodles all in the same sentence no one will bat an eye. That’s pretty cool.
You read the title correctly. It is terrine season on the North Fork of Long Island. This post will be short and sweet but it will be seasonally driven. This time of the year we are all looking for some hearty fare…the stuff that warms your shivering bones on a cold night.
Stop by and see us at the North Fork Table & Inn. We can offer a warm greeting, a cozy setting and informed service and meat. Meat delicately cooked for a long time at a low temperature and seasoned well. We have the food you want when it’s cold outside! There will be more tomorrow.
Crispy Pork Terrine with a Soft Pullet Egg
Beef Shank Terrine almost Made
Tomorrow I will add photos of the Beef Shank Terrine in it’s finished and plated state. This beef came to us from Reid Farm in Argyle, NY.
Cooking in this day and age is more complicated and easier than ever. What do I mean?
Local Swordfish with Roasted Local Peppers & Basil Broth
In years past those of us who cook for a living relied on our suppliers to get us the best ingredients to cook with and to sell them to us at a reasonable price. It worked for a while. But as food producers and distributors grew and then turned to consolidation to cut their costs the sources of what we were buying became harder verify. Food distributors and wholesalers could package and market their products with a good deal of latitude in terms of how accurate the information was that they were giving to customers. This makes cooking difficult because it takes the chefs out of the kitchen and forces them into the office in order to source and verify the food they cook. Tracking down USDA establishment numbers and other time consuming tasks (is Blah-blah Farm real or is it a marketing ploy by Some Large Food Processing Company) really affects the ability of chefs to watch and train the prep cooks, cooks and dishwashers as well as educating the FOH staff about the food they are selling and serving.
So where does the easy part come in? It is when a chef or restaurant owner can turn to largely local sources for a good deal of what they sell. It becomes even easier when the chef forms a close relationship with the suppliers they use in the kitchen. And that, friends, is what makes cooking on the North Fork of Long Island so nice. The sense of community, the logistical ease, the easily accessible and traceable supply chain and the general life-style of the North Fork makes cooking easier than it might be in many other places in the world.
There are many places in the United States where you can source great produce or great meat or great fish. On the North Fork you can have all of those and throw in great local shellfish and wines as well. Think about it. Where else in the United States does all of this come together like it does on the North Fork of Long Island? It is all here…right in our backyard. Easy.
Fisher’s Island Oysters with Cucumber Mignonette
Our second class in the Cooking Sessions at the North Fork Table & Inn on January 11 will be with Invincible Summer Farms and Stephanie Gaylor. Stephanie brings an intellectual and anthropological approach to farming. She curates seeds, strives for biodiversity in her fields and embraces the notion that healthy agriculture leads to healthy communities and citizens. In the next few days we will also announce the winery for that Cooking Session.
I am chef Kevin Penner in East Hampton, NY. I used to run the kitchen at cittanuova in East Hampton. I have served as the chef (or co-chef) at a number of restaurants in East Hampton. Della Femina, The Star Room, The 1770 House, cittanuova and Wei Fun. I was also responsible for opening all of these restaurants as well as Della Femina-NYC.
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