Building a Restaurant After Genocide: Josh Ruxin’s ‘A Thousand Hills to Heaven’

In the 35 years I’ve been working in restaurants, I have seen more than enough to scare a person out of the business.  I’ve seen fires, near-fires, and explosive fire suppression systems. I’ve taken coworkers’ thumbs to the hospital for them on two separate occasions. And I’ve seen a guy slip while cleaning an oven’s exhaust hood and dunk his foot in a deep fryer, causing his nylon sock to melt into his skin.

These are the kinds of stories any American cook can tell. And, after reading Josh Ruxin’s book, A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda, they mean nothing. Read more

Documentary Explores Restaurants and the Power of Conviviality

All restaurants, from the small-town diner to the Michelin 3-star, carry a touch of a mystique to them.  People who are not in the industry usually have fairly romanticized views of what it takes to create and operate a successful restaurant, and too often this leads to people saying “I love to cook at home, I should open a restaurant,” which is very much like saying “I have a driver’s license, I should race at Daytona.”

A new documentary, aptly named Spinning Plates, delves into the balancing acts behind three restaurants that at first blush seem to have nothing in common. Read more

Want to Fund Your Sustainable Food Business Idea? Start Here

What is the one thing that gets in the way of almost every great idea? Money–or the lack of it.  Whenever anyone says “it’s not about the money,” it’s probably about the money. Almost everyone I know has a dream business, a dream project, an idea that would be truly fantastic if only they could get it off the ground. If only they had the capital to invest. If only someone would write a guidebook explaining exactly how to raise the dough. Enter: Raising Dough by Elizabeth Ü, a recent Food and Community Policy Fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and Executive Director of Finance for Food, a one-woman nonprofit organization that educates food system entrepreneurs. Read more

The Last Word: Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman

W.H. Auden once said of legendary food writer MFK Fisher “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

This is how I feel about Elissa Altman.

I am far from the first to say so.  Altman was once described as “The illegitimate love child of David Sedaris and MFK Fisher,” which is also quite fitting, since she approaches her craft the way she does her life, with humor and love, and not without some occasional sarcasm.

She wields a sharp wit and an even sharper eye for detail in her new memoir, Poor Man’s Feast – A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle, 2013). Read more

Book Review: “A Girl and Her Pig” by April Bloomfield

They’ll tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case perhaps you should make an exception.  In A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, April Bloomfield delivers exactly what the book’s cover implies – a straightforward approach to food from a working class Birmingham girl who found her niche.

As a child in England, Bloomfield wanted to be a Policewoman, but circumstances conspired as they so often do and she followed her sister into cooking school.  Unlike her sister, though, Bloomfield found her way into the profession and on to New York, where her no-nonsense take on real food has won her accolades piled upon accolades. Read more

A World Without Fences: A Review of Will Allen’s New Book The Good Food Revolution

We have our pantheon of deities in the Food Movement–the people and organizations who have had the most impact on our culinary landscape. We have discernible cuisines in this country, certainly more so than a century ago, thanks to James Beard, Julia Child, and Alice Waters. Carlo Petrini and Slow Food have helped us understand that food and pleasure must be connected to awareness and responsibility. Eric Schlosser showed us the dangers of our “fast food nation” and Michael Pollan illuminated “the omnivore’s dilemma.”

All these and very many more have helped us to start remaking the food system writ large, and while there remains much to do, perhaps none in this Hall of Heroes has had more direct, hands-on, person-to-person impact on the food decisions of individual people than Will Allen. His new book, The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities, tells the story of how a sharecropper’s son–once a professional basketball player and the first African American to play the game for the University of Miami Hurricanes–found his way back to the land in Wisconsin. Once there, he shaped–and in a very real way–saved the lives of a generation of Milwaukee’s youth. Read more

Channeling MFK Fisher: An Everlasting Meal

When I was an intern in Santa Fe, New Mexico a thousand years ago, my mother sent me a three-page letter (yes, a letter. It was that long ago).  Worried that her underpaid intern son might be starving in the desert, she wanted to pass along her wisdom on how to cook and eat on the cheap.  It was called “Good Old Mom’s Three Days on One Chicken and Other Depression Folklore.”  It kept me fed that long hot summer and later became a family treasure.

I was reminded of it recently when I had the opportunity to read An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler.  Read more

Why the Modern Tomato is Flawed: A Review of Tomatoland

First let’s get one persistent canard out of the way. Yes, the tomato is technically a fruit, not a vegetable, but for purposes of economics the USDA classifies it as a vegetable, and as such it is the second most popular vegetable in the nation after that other burger staple, lettuce. This is surprising in only one respect: A vast majority of the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. every year ($5 billion worth), are devoid of the flavor and nutritive value they once had.

Sure, that plant your neighbor gave you that’s just beginning to enjoy the summer heat will produce lots of delicious, succulent tomatoes come August or September. But in his new book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit, two-time James Beard Award-winning journalist Barry Estabrook tells us why the modern factory-farmed tomato in most grocery stores is a poster child for nearly everything that is wrong with industrial agriculture.  Read more