The Only “Best of” List You Need This Year: My Top Food Moments of 2018

Every time I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while, one of their first questions is inevitably, “You still doing the food thing?” Assuming they are talking about my interests and not whether or not I’m still eating regularly, yes, I am still pursuing my master’s degree in food studies (you can check out this earlier post if you’re confused about what that is). But I’ve done a really poor job of keeping up with my writing, which is a shame because it brings me a sense of purpose and immense joy.

Now that Christmas is over and the flood of “New Year, New You!” marketing is upon us, I am setting a goal and declaring my intention to the universe. In 2019, I will write more, whether that’s on this blog or, hopefully, more mainstream publications. There are so many important discussions happening in the food world, and it’s not all Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out (although that topic has its merits). From farming and climate change, to culinary diplomacy, to massive acquisitions of organic foodstuffs by old guard mega-producers, there are many topics that deserve your time and attention.  

Before we dive into the new year, I first want to look back at some of my personal favorite defining food moments of 2018: 

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1. Sqirl’s Ricotta Toast

I kicked off the year in Los Angeles at Sqirl, an influential and “healthyish” breakfast and lunch spot that is undeniably Instagrammable. Look at this fucking Brioche Toast with Ricotta and Jam.

2. Mole Tasting

In March, I took a week-long course with my classmates in Mexico, learning about the influence of maize in the region. More about that here, but the culinary highlight was this mole tasting in Puebla, the birthplace of mole poblano.

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3. Peter Luger’s Burgers

Peter Luger is known for pricey steaks, but we made a pilgrimage just for the burgers. It was absolutely worth it, and a much more economical way to get in the door and still celebrate a special occasion.

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4. Homemade

Strawberry Pie

I baked a lot of pies this year, but this Memorial Day strawberry lattice pie was my favorite, even if (or maybe because?) it looks like it’s bleeding.

5. Table on Ten’s

Peach and Corn Pizza

In July, Piyal and I took a weekend trip to Table on Ten, a farm-to-table pizza restaurant in the Catskills with a renovated upstairs hotel space. This peach, corn, and mozzarella pizza sounds weird but was probably the best thing we ate all summer.

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6. Make America Dinner Again

As part of my studies this past semester, I worked with non-profit Make America Dinner Again, an organization I wrote about for Civil Eats here. Their mission is to bring liberals and conservatives together over a meal to find common ground and re-learn respectful discourse. Here is the group that I hosted three dinners with, but more to come on this in 2019.

7. Cooking Class Paella

When visiting Barcelona this fall, Piyal and I took a cooking class that lead us through famous market La Boqueria to collect ingredients and then prepare them in a small-group setting. We made this paella with a lot of very potent ingredients, including the squeezed leftover contents of a cuttlefish liver. As I’ve mentioned before, pungent seafood is not my favorite, but I’m proud of myself for trying it.

8. Celebrity Cruise’s Animated Meal

In probably my strangest food moment of 2018, I went on a short Celebrity Edge cruise with my family and dined at an interactive restaurant experience called “Le Petite Chef”. The dining tables and plates were set up below projectors built into the ceiling. Before each course, an animated show danced on and next to our plates to tell the origin stories of each dish. See for yourself at this link.

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9. Classmate’s Indian Feast

At the end of the semester, Piyushaa, an exchange student from London Business School, prepared a heartfelt spread of her family’s Indian recipes for a small group from our class. Moments like these make me grateful to have found the Food Studies program and all the thoughtful, talented people that come with it.

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10. Homemade Rainbow Cookies

Last but not least, I made these fucking rainbow cookies from scratch. Look at them. They’re breathtaking. But still not sexy enough for the two nights I spent baking them. I probably won’t do this again. Lesson learned.

On Mexican Crickets, Hypocrisy, and Shame

“If you want to be more adventurous and get more crunch, try the larger crickets.”

I did not want to try the larger crickets. I did not even want to try the smaller crickets. But in Mexico, on the second day of a week-long academic adventure with my classmates, I was being asked to face one of my fears head on, or more accurately, antennae on.

My fear is not of eating bugs, but rather of being found out as a small-minded hypocrite amongst my peers. Friends and family know me for my enthusiasm and passion for food, which has lead me to pursue a graduate degree to study the economic, social, and cultural aspects of the topic. But only those very close to me know one of my deepest, most shameful secrets: I am not an adventurous eater. I am not into offal, or steak tartare, or oysters. The thought of splitting open a lobster does not excite me – it confuses me with the amount of effort required for so little reward. Spicy foods are unpleasant at best, and brutally painful most of the time. I don’t even like sushi.

“You must not have had good sushi before,” a shocked new friend will inevitably inform me.

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It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve sampled all of these items once or twice, and I try sushi about once a year, just to silence the skeptics. But it is never a pleasant experience. The raw fish, rare animal parts, and tongue-tingling delicacies that delight my classmates and friends just don’t appeal to me. My list of favorite foods sounds like the last meal request of an American inmate whose palate stopped developing at age seven. Give me cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, waffles, and chocolate ice cream with sprinkles, and I’ll die an unimaginative, but happy, death.

I knew that going on an international trip with the specific intent to study another culture’s gastronomy with some seriously passionate and open eaters was going to push me out of my comfort zone. While most Americans think of nachos and burritos when they think of Mexican cuisine, the traditional fare is a rich blend of ancient and modern, with many culinary traditions originating from pre-colonial indigenous cultures. Chapulines, or crickets, are fried, tossed in a variety of spices, and eaten as a crispy snack in the outdoor marketplaces that dot the bustling streets of Mexico City. They are also incredibly healthy and sustainable – crickets are high in protein, low in fat, and require much less fuel to raise than traditional livestock. Even though insects have been notably absent from the diets of North Americans and many Europeans, a recent article in Forbes says 80% of countries in the world already feature them as a normal food staple.

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As growing economies like China and India develop middle classes with a taste for meat, many scientists believe eating insects is the key to solving the world’s upcoming protein debt. Entrepreneurs worldwide have started betting on their success with the use of cricket flour for baked goods and processed cricket meat for nuggets. At an academic and environmental level, I am a huge supporter of eating insects. They are nutritious, better for the planet, and can be raised and sold by nearly anyone, regardless of social class or land-owning status. But the “ick” factor still radiates from the base of my throat whenever I think about consuming them myself. How do I reconcile such strong cognitive dissonance between my brain and my mouth?

I turned towards Nico, our handsome culinary tour guide, and surveyed the spread of insects on the silver tray he held with his outstretched arm. “I’ll just try a little one,” I said in a tiny voice, pinching the crispy legs of a critter that had been cooked in salt and garlic. I tossed it into my mouth, chewed just long enough to get a hint of flavor, and swallowed quickly, clearing any extraneous body parts from the inside of my cheeks. It tasted a little nutty and had the texture of the burnt, overly fried bits you find in the pan after making hash browns. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t rushing back to pick up the larger insects and risk feeling the separate thorax, legs, and antennae swish around on my tongue.

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As my classmates began nodding excitedly and chatting about their enjoyment of the morsels, I flashed a quick smile and stayed quiet. I survived another day of my contradictory existence as an unadventurous food lover, and my secret shame remained hidden with me.

Whole Foods 365 Opened in Downtown Brooklyn And It's Actually Cheaper Than You Think

There are few things I love in this world more than a good supermarket. One of my favorite ways to de-stress after a hectic day is to stroll through the neatly stacked displays, alone and anonymous, feeling thankful to be present in this moment in culinary history. Five kinds of extra sharp cheddar, pre-spiralized butternut squash noodles, Root Beer Float flavored Chips Ahoy - what a time to be alive! In this blog, I've previously written impassioned announcements of the arrival of Trader Joe's and Wegmans outposts in New York City locations:

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Adding to my collection of real and poorly edited images with markets, join me in triumphantly welcoming Whole Foods 365 to Downtown Brooklyn!

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Whole Foods 365 opened this past Wednesday in the bottom floor of 300 Ashland, one of the myriad of luxury high-rises in the area. The budget-friendly store is a smaller version of its big brother, Whole Paycheck. But is it actually easier on your wallet?

I compared the prices of staple items here to my normal grocery store, the Stop and Shop at Atlantic Terminal, five minutes away from 365. Much to my surprise, 365 is beating Stop and Shop in pricing for nearly every item. See below for a detailed breakdown:

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In addition to being cheaper, 365 is downright classy. Here's a photo tour of the new digs:

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Saige C., who lives in East Flatbush but works in the area, struck up a conversation as I devoured a quick dinner from the hot bar.  When I asked her how she felt about the store, her feelings were mixed.

"I'm proud of the jobs the new store is creating," said Saige, "but I think their use of Fort Greene all around the store is unnecessary. We're in Downtown Brooklyn, which is already pretty gentrified. They should stop trying to make Fort Greene part of their brand."

But if your sustainable seafood doesn't come from a neighborhood with tree-lined, brownstone speckled streets, is it even worth buying?

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Food Studies WEEK: Interview 3 – Culinary producer

foodstudiesWEEK My initial intention when starting this series was to post one interview each week for the final weeks of class. Well, class is over for the semester, and guess what didn't happen?

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Which brings me to important Grad School Lesson 1 - going to school at night and working full time is hard. No matter how much I love food studies and genuinely want to do all the readings in their entirety, I'm not invincible - far from it. Sometimes I just need to watch 7 episodes of 90 Day Fiancé. And that's okay. Learning to appreciate learning for what it is, rather than worrying about grades and papers and projects, has been the most important lesson from my inaugural semester.

But now that the semester is over, my final interview project needs to be turned in. So I'm going to pack these pieces into one content-blasted week, and I really can't wait to share them with you. I am so incredibly grateful for the collection of food industry rockstars that agreed to speak with me for this project. Next up, meet Melissa Schwimmer, culinary producer for BSTV Entertainment.

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In addition to being one of the coolest cucumbers (look at her rocking those overalls like a champ), Melissa currently works on the set of Food Network's The Kitchen, an hour long show where culinary personalities cook seasonal recipes, provide meal tips, and playfully schmooze in front of a live studio audience. Another important fact about Melissa is that she has a very tiny dog named Moose, which is hilarious, because he's actually a dog and not a moose.
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Q: Hey there! You have such a cool job. How did you end up in this field?
A: So I started out as a cheesemonger.  Through that job, I met a freelance food stylist and learned a lot from her. I fell into my previous job at MacGuffin Films as a food stylist, shopper, and assistant, and I worked there for a year. I was also freelance styling during that time, and I worked with Chobani, I did cookbooks, I did a whole bunch of other brands, and I loved food styling. But the freelance hours were a BETCH.

So I had drinks with a woman in the industry who was also a food stylist because I wanted to get her take on things. It was just a random meeting and then she actually happened to post about a job on Facebook, so I gave her my resume, interviewed the next day, got the job on a Monday, started on a Tuesday.

Q: What exactly is food styling? 
A: It's basically making food look pretty for consumers. I worked for all the big brands - Burger King, Taco Bell, Red Lobster - you name it, I've done it. So any time you see a burger on TV, it's been styled. So I'm making the seeds look perfect on the bun, I'm melting the cheese to perfection, making the burgers look unctuous and meaty and steamy and delicious.

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Q: So how do you know that you were going to be good at this job? How does one get into the world of food styling?
A: It's just having an eye for what looks pretty and what would make other people hungry. A lot of it is just trial and error. There's no school for it. It's learning through others, and through experience, and gaining confidence with it. But I didn't know I'd be good at it other than I like making food and making food look good for other people. So I tried it, and I loved it, and I was pretty good at it!

Q: Let's say you're a reader and you're interested in getting into the world of food styling. Do you need to have a portfolio?
A: Most jobs require portfolios but it's mostly just word of mouth. Everyone knows everyone in the realm and once you get in, you get more experience. So you start out as a PA (production assistant), and then you are given more responsibility and tasks. You see how the stylists work and then you're given your own jobs.

Q: So it seems like to get into the world, you need to know someone first that's going to give you a chance.
A: Yup.

Q: As you said there's no school...
A: I mean you can go to culinary school or take classes at any school for food. Somebody might say, "Oh I like that background, that work ethic." But for the most part, it's a lot of word of mouth and who you know.
Q: So once you're in, what are a few of the major challenges in your industry?

A: Freelancing is really hard. Some people love freelancing - they love that they can make their own hours. I just find it stressful because you never know when you're going to get another job. You could work for weeks straight but then there's a dead period and you don't know what your doing with your life. You're home on a random Tuesday sitting in your apartment calling your friends saying, "Hey guys, you wanna go out?"And everyone's like, "We have work" and you're just like, "oh. right."
But in my job currently, one of the biggest challenges is communication. There are so many people working on one thing that if one person's off, everything turns to chaos. It's important to talk to everybody and make sure everybody's on the same page, especially with a large team.

Q: What is the hardest thing to food style?
A: Anything time sensitive. Like cheese - it will dry out really quickly. Eggs are really hard. And anything that needs to be hot.

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Q: Is the ice cream in commercials really mashed potatoes?
A: No. It used to be. We use a lot of fillers in styling, but by law, you have to use a company's product in commercials, especially for big companies.

Q: Oh! So there are laws that regulate this industry?
A: Oh yeah, now there are.

Q: I didn't know that! So Burger King can't be using a Shake Shack burger in their ads.
A: Exactly. We just have to make it look really pretty. We can use things to enhance it but we have to use their product. So when I did a shoot for a big ice cream company for example, I had to stand in a 20 degree room for 12 hours. We were all huddling for warmth.

Q: That sounds... rough. Do you at least get to eat the food you style?
A: When I was just styling for commercials and shoots, I ate none of it because there was a lot of bad chemical stuff in it most of the time. In my current job, I eat everything because we have chefs in the back that are preparing the food that goes on set. It's a struggle during shoot weeks because we have all of the food from every single show, and then we also get catered lunch, and we also just have all this food around all the time and I have no self control. I'll eat a double cheeseburger for breakfast and then have cake for lunch.

Q: Where does the food come from when it gets to set?
A: We source from every supermarket.

Q: So are there people that go out to the supermarket and get it? Is that a job on the show?
A: Yes, we have shoppers.

Q: Oh my god, I want that job.
A: Actually, it's not great. I did it in the city, and carrying 75 pounds of groceries through the streets of Manhattan is one of the worst things that you can ever do. You're carrying 80 oranges, 5 melons... I was rolling them down the street at one point. Shoppers are hard workers and basically their goal is to get the prettiest stuff for television. But even though it’s a super hard job, it’s definitely a foot in the door and can get you lots of other job opportunities.
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Q: I've been thinking a lot about ugly produce...
A: In my personal life, I buy ugly things when I shop. My views on food can be pretty different from what we put on the show. Our demographic is people who are looking for easy recipes and inexpensive ingredients. I like creative cooking and sustainability, which are often at odds with the content on the show. It kills me a lot of the time which is a huge challenge but at least I can go home and eat an heirloom apple and know that I'm supporting a local farmer.

Q: So once you've got the food on set, what happens to it?
A: We have a prep day before where all the stylists are figuring out their recipes that we, the culinary producers, give them. The next day, we start at 7:00AM. We have carts that we set up for each of the six acts of the show. During a shoot, it's an endless cycle of food going in, food coming out.
I am very conscious of how much we buy, so after the shoot, I take stock of what we bought and what we have left over, and try to make it better for the next shoot. We keep everything in the office that we didn't use that isn't perishable, and also donate everything else afterwards. We donate to a women's shelter and I go every run.

Q: That's amazing. Do you think all shows are doing that?
A: I think more people are doing it now than ever because there's more consciousness of food waste. And I think a lot of production companies are starting to do more. Mostly everybody is trying to do their part and either compost or recycle. That's a big thing too - not just the food but recycling of packaging.

Q: If given the chance, would you want to be a food stylist for Guy Fieri?
A: If that were to happen, literally my intestines would fall out of my butt with excitement.

Q: You have to promise me that if you meet Guy Fieri, you'll keep your intestines inside your body.
A: Okay, fine. My intestines will stay put.
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Food Studies Fridays: Interview 2 – Food Entrepreneur

FOODSTUDIESFRIDAYS So this is a little bit late because I was out last night tearing up Flavortown looking like this:

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Moving on...

This week's interview is with Chris Beisswenger, Director of Insights and Analytics at Banza. Banza is a pasta made from chickpeas that is high fiber, high protein, and low carb. I'd tell you to go buy some, but it looks like they're completely sold out on their site, so they must be doing something right. You can use their store locater here.

What I really love about Banza is that they were part of Chobani Food Incubator, a unique program run by executives from super successful company Chobani to help bring the latest mission-driven small food businesses to market. Other products that have taken shape in the incubator program include responsibly sourced chocolate snacks and juice made from ugly fruit. Banza's mission is to become the Greek yogurt of the pasta category, i.e. the healthier, more nutritious version, and after being named one of Time Magazine's Top 25 Inventions in 2015, they are well on their way.

 Q: How did you get to doing what you are doing now?

A: It was all pretty lucky. I was working in finance out of college, but I knew it wasn't where I wanted to be for the long term. I saved up some money to travel and left for a year long trip heading east around the world. I was about ten months in when I got an email from an old colleague of mine saying that his friend from college was starting a company making pasta out of chickpeas and needed some help.

My interest in food deepened dramatically as I was traveling. Across cultures, I saw delicious and healthy food fueling astonishing human pursuits and bringing people together around the table to build lasting bonds. Banza in particular appealed to me as the hearty base to such a wide variety of tasty, creative, and convenient meals.

I did my interviewing in various internet cafes around Southeast Asia. I loved the concept and the three impressive people at the company, so I tentatively accepted having never tried the pasta. As soon as I got back I tried a box of penne and was very pleased with the taste and texture. I joined the team in April 2015.

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Q: What are some of the major challenges in your work? A: While Grocery is modernizing rapidly, it is still an old-fashioned business. We often hear, "that's just the way things work," which is a frustrating response when you are trying to take a new approach that you truly believe is in the best interest of consumers. Luckily, we have found a number of progressive partners in the business who are willing to take risks and lead constructive change with us. We double-down on these relationships when we find them.

Educating the consumer and inducing trial are really tough. People have deeply-ingrained preferences and eating habits, so it's tough to tell them the benefits of a healthier pasta and even tougher to actually find a way to have them try a bite. You can't tell someone a food tastes good. They have to try it to know.

Production is a challenge for food brands regardless of size. Producing at scale, matching manufacturing quantities to sales, ensuring consistent quality, and maintaining an edge in product innovation are where a lot of great food brands get lost and discouraged.

Q: What are some of the major pleasures of your job? A: Being the reason people gather around a dinner table and share special moments is important for us. We believe food is family, and we aim to bring about more joyful meals in a time when so many people are snacking and eating on the go.

I love that we are changing peoples' perceptions of health food. Rather than accepting healthy food as unappetizing, time-consuming, serious, or expensive, we believe it should be accessible. To this end, we are always thinking about how to make Banza more delicious, convenient, fun, and affordable.

From what I have seen, helping people to eat more nutritious food often leads a ripple effect that brings fulfillment in other aspects of their lives. I love that we can set this chain reaction in motion by giving them a simple swap to improve their diets and livelihoods.

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Q: What's the process like to make Banza pasta and get it to the consumer? A: First, Sourcing Raw Materials - This could be going as far as the farm level or purchasing from other ingredient suppliers whose capabilities match your requirements.

Manufacturing - Either you own your own facility, or you look for a third-party manufacturer who agrees to make your product for you.

Warehousing & Fulfillment - Logistical requirements for retailers and distributors can be complex. Again, you either build these systems yourself or you find a third-party logistics (3PL) company to handle it.

Distributors - Many retailers prefer to pull their product from a distributor, which is an intermediary that provides convenience for retailers (and in some cases brands/manufacturers). They add cost in the chain but can streamline if set up correctly, especially with smaller retailers.

Grocery Retailers - Getting on shelves is only the beginning in your relationship with a grocery retailer. Promotions, ads, displays, and other collaborative programs are key to understand. Often these relationships are managed jointly by a brand's sales team and a "Broker", which is an outsourced sales force specializing in certain retailers. Often a presence is required at the store level to assist with relationships with in-store decision makers.

Marketing - This is usually quite broad and diverse for many food brands. It includes areas such as field (often doing sampling of the product), digital, social, PR, customer experience, etc.

Q: If there was one thing you could change in this industry ... what would that be? A: Better technology across in the industry could help eliminate inefficiencies and bring innovative products to more people at improved prices.

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Thank you to Chris for Interview #2 and thanks to everyone for bearing with all the pasta gifs.

 

Urban Agriculture From Seed to Tart - Growing Basil Indoors at Square Roots

In two weeks, I start my first classes in NYU's Masters of Food Studies program (true). I've got my backpack (true - I already own this), notebook (someone buy this for me), and pens (can I have this too?). I've done my summer reading (true) and I've sourced the most sustainable, artisanal, local, and organic apples to bring to my teachers (false - I'm not THAT big of a nerd). Today I visited Square Roots, an urban agriculture incubator in Brooklyn founded in part by Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk's brother. Square Roots has an office in the old Pfizer building at 630 Flushing Ave in Bushwick, home to many of your favorite artisan NYC food brands like McClure's Pickles, People's Pops, Cinnamon Snail, Joe's Pizza, and the list goes on...

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The bulk of Square Roots' operation takes place in the parking lot inside large shipping containers that house indoor vertical hydroponic farms. Myself and another volunteer met up with Josh Aliber, one of the 10 entrepreneurs currently in an intense year-long entrepreneurship program with Square Roots. We helped him harvest, package, and plant new basil crops.

Fun facts about indoor vertical farming:

  • You can control everything about the climate of an indoor farm including temperature, humidity, and lighting, so the produce is extremely high quality and farmers aren't at the will of the weather gods for earning their livelihood.
  • This method of farming uses a lot less water, but still uses a lot of electricity. Since it's a relatively young technology, there's a lot of room to grow in efficiency and automation. We harvested the basil plants, removed the leaves from the stems, packaged, and seeded new plants by hand.
  • It takes about 7 weeks from seed to harvest for a basil plant grown this way, which is less time than a traditional outdoor farm.
  • A lot of the advancements in hydroponic farming thus far have come from one of the early adopters of the technology: the marijuana industry. Thanks dude bros!

So what do you do with all this super high quality basil? Josh sells it direct to local grocery stores and restaurants. What did I do? I made the most beautiful fucking tart and sprinkled fresh basil all over it like a dog on their favorite fire hydrant:

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This tart was made with heirloom tomatoes and cipollini onions from the farmers market, fresh mozzarella from BKLYN Larder, and genovese sweet basil from Josh's 8/23 harvest. I HAVE REACHED PEAK BROOKLYN. (Recipe adapted from Taming of the Spoon.)

Learn more about Square Roots here: Kimbal Musk — Elon's brother — just opened a shipping container farm compound in New York City

So, what the hell is a Masters of Food Studies?

giphy2 Last week, I was accepted into NYU's Masters of Food Studies program, starting Fall 2017. I'll be going part time (not quitting my job) and it will take me anywhere from two to three years to complete. Ever since I shared the news, many people are confused about what the hell I'll be doing, so I wanted to help answer some of the most common questions I've received below:

Q: Will you be bringing me soufflés? A: No. This is not a culinary degree. Cooking is not part of the curriculum, although I'm sure I'll be cooking more on my own due to being a poor grad student.

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Q: So if you're not bringing me soufflés, what will you be doing? A: According to NYU, studying "the ways in which individuals, communities, and societies produce, distribute, and consume food".

Q: Okay, that's pretty vague. Can you be more specific? A: Gladly. The program has three suggested tracks: Media & Cultural Analysis, Policy & Advocacy, and Business & Social Entrepreneurship. I'm most interested in the latter, but I plan to take classes across all areas.

Q: What kind of classes? A: Some core courses include Food & Culture, Food Policy & Politics, and Nutrition in Food Studies. Within the Business & Social Entrepreneurship track, I'll take things like Economics of Food: Consumer Behaviors and Food Entrepreneurship. I'll also be taking some of my courses at the NYU Stern School of Business like Financial Accounting and Foundations of Social Entrepreneurship.

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Q: But it's not an MBA? Or a JD? Or an MD? Wait, what's the point of this? What does someone do after they get this degree? A: Nope, it's not one of the more common graduate degrees that many of my friends and colleagues have gone on to obtain. Kudos to them, but if you've been reading this blog or know me at all, you know that food is my passion and this is where I belong.

People who graduate from the program go into a lot of different fields like food writing, food marketing, supply chain management, operations, nonprofit work, advocacy, and entrepreneurial food ventures.

Q: What do YOU want to do after you get this degree? A: Great question. Right now, I'm really interested in reducing food waste, urban farming, and food policy. There's a hell of a lot of problems in the US food system, and I know I've only scratched the surface of what's out there. I'm sure my interests will change 100 times as I learn more about the issues and what I can do to help solve them.

Q: Cool. Thanks for the clarifications. A: giphy1

 

A Love Letter to Cooking Your Own Damn Food

November 9th, 2016 was a day few Americans will ever forget. And now we're all looking for ways to feel less helpless, less at the whim of a government that doesn't seem to share any of the values of the majority of its constituents. We can and should protest, write letters, make phone calls, run for office, and donate to the charities that need us to keep fighting. But sometimes it feels overwhelming. Every day spent not doing something to resist the new administration feels wasted. And you get deeper and deeper into a shame spiral about your inaction, which makes you do less, and then you feel guilty again, and YADA YADA you get the picture. So here's a radical idea if you're feeling like you're not in control of your destiny:

COOK YOUR OWN DAMN FOOD BECAUSE IT'S FUCKING EMPOWERING.

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Make choices. Go to a farmer's market and speak to the growers about their work. Take home some ugly produce because you're not shallow - you care about what's ON THE INSIDE. Buy organic meat at the supermarket. Yes, it's more expensive, but you vote with your dollars. Organic, local farmers are going to need our help when agriculture gets even more deregulated and garbage meat filled with hormones and poison floods the market. Get a beautiful cookbook, a real one, in print, written by a person that cares about their work and their environment. (Might I suggest Small Victories by Julia Turshen who is a true boss?)

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Spend a day figuring out an ambitious recipe. Roast a whole fucking chicken. Make something slowly with ingredients you've never used, like this Slow Cooker Coconut Lemongrass Chicken (pictured below). Prove to yourself that you are an effective human, and even if the whole world goes up in flames, you have the control to create something beautiful and nourishing for you and your loved ones.

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This is what I've done so far. But I know my knowledge of the food issues affecting our country - food waste, industrialized agriculture, the cost of healthy food, food deserts, unfair wages, and many more - is limited. So I've applied to the Masters of Food Studies program at NYU, and G-d willing, I'll be starting part-time in the fall.

Moving forward, this blog will have a bit more substance. It'll still be snarky and weird and sometimes crude, but there's a time and place for lists of the 22 Best New Cantaloupe Dishes of January 2017 (maybe?), and this isn't it.

The universe might keep throwing 🍆 at us, but let's not be afraid to make a damn good 🍆 parm.

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The Museum of Ice Cream is as great as it sounds

OMG did you know there's a Museum of Ice Cream now in New York City? Are you just finding out about this? Do you think that would be a fun thing to do? giphy

Too bad. By the time the news hit The New York Times, all 30,000 tickets for the limited-time, summer-only pop up museum were sold out.

Thanks to being a loyal Gothamist reader, I found out about the museum on July 9th and promptly bought four tickets at $15/each face value. I put my tickets up for sale last week on Craigslist for a day for $150, a 900% markup, just to see if they would sell. I had 5 inquiries within 24 hours, and one threatening email telling me, "That's honestly ridiculous, greedy and downright outrageous. I hope you have zero luck selling these tickets." While the lady had a point, she clearly didn't realize how far people are willing to go to experience this limited-time engagement.

If you're shit out of luck and don't want shell out one hundred fifty smackaroos, don't fret: Little Girl Big Mouth is here to show you exactly what you're missing. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

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Room 1: Ice cream! That you eat!

I had a pretty deep rooted fear that the Museum of Ice Cream was just going to involve looking at ice cream and talking about ice cream and there wouldn't be any real ice cream consumption. Thankfully, my suspicions were proved wrong within two seconds of entering the building. You start the tour with a custom scoop of ice cream made especially for the museum.

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Different local ice cream vendors will be offering scoops of custom creations depending on when you visit the museum. Scoop schedule:

7.29 - 8.8: Blue Marble & Kellogg's 8.10 - 8.15: Oddfellows Ice Cream Co. 8.17 - 8.22: McConnell's Fine Ice Cream & Maman 8.24 - 8.31: Chinatown Ice Cream Factory 8.8 & 8.15: Black Tap

Room 2: Edible balloons that aren't ice cream but are still fun

This room is called the "cone room" because it's decorate with a bunch of waffle cone paraphernalia, but the real star of the show is the candy balloon filled with helium that they hand each patron. The balloon is pretty sticky and disgusting but the results are fun:

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Room 3: Creating the world's biggest sundae with freakish non-melting ice cream

This room was a dud. They tell you some history about ice cream and then ask everyone to pick up a sticky scooper and spoon out some magical non-melting ice cream to throw on top of a goblet. You don't get to put anything in your mouth in this room, so it is inherently less fun. They also encourage you to take a selfie with the oversized bowl of unknown substance. Non-melting ice cream is an abomination and it upsets me.

 

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Room 4: The chocolate room, where you can put things in your mouth again

Chocolate! Everyone loves chocolate! This was mostly a space filled with projector screens showing images of flowing liquid chocolate. There was a chocolate fountain in the corner but they tell you in advance not to touch it or drink from it, which I get for hygenic reasons, but still a bummer. Thankfully, there are individually wrapped Dove chocolates all over this room for you to eat while marveling at the melting imagery on the walls.

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Room 5: This is what you came for: the (fake) sprinkle pool

The sprinkle pool at the MOIC is probably going to be in the top 5 things instagrammed in NYC this summer. The museum has been pushing this image hard in their promotional efforts, and for good reason: the thing is pretty fucking cool and everyone looks glamorous in a backdrop of rainbows. The caveat: it's not real sprinkles. The pool is filled with little plastic beads that you find in between your toes hours later. Next to the pool, there are plastic bins filled with gummies, more chocolate, and other sugar delivery devices, so you can literally have your cake and eat it too, or in this case, have your candy and eat it in a pool full of imitation sprinkles.

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Room 6: Take this pill and eat this ice cream that came out of nowhere, you'll be fine, I swear.

As you enter this room, an attendant gives you a pellet of concentrated synsepalum ducificum, more commonly known as magic berries (you can buy them on Amazon for $15/pack). The chemicals in the pellet bind to the sweet receptors on your tongue and make sour food taste sweet for about a half hour. To test the effects, a spooky glove-covered hand appears from behind a wall and hands you tart frozen yogurt and lemon slices.

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Room 7: Tinder is here for some reason

The final room is sponsored in part by Tinder, which doesn't have much to do with ice cream, but okay sure we'll go with it. There's a giant ice cream sandwich you can swing on and an ice cream scoop see-saw. But, again, nothing to put in your mouth, so kind of a lackluster finale.

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So that's the museum! I got to put things in my (little girl big) mouth in 5 out of 7 rooms, and that's more than I get in a normal museum, so this was an overall win. Go team!

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A tradition continues: LGBM and family try Japanese KitKats

My brother recently traveled to Tokyo, and knowing my fascination with foreign junk foods, he brought back some treats: purple sweet potato KitKats: DSC00641

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I first subjected my other family members to the confectionery experiment:

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And then summoned all of my bravery to try myself:

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See the full videos with all of the giggles and facial expressions here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVAoPmlKITA&w=560&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGgjiWEhLMs&w=560&h=315]

A Short Video Series: LGBM and Family Eat Weird New Zealand Gas Station Treats

While traveling with my family through New Zealand, we picked up some traditional and newly developed Kiwi snack foods at a local gas station. This gas station wasn't quite as special as the one in Australia because that one had kangaroo tails in the freezer next to the ice cream. kanga tails

While we didn't buy the frosty Aussie appendages, my family members were kind enough to sample their other New Zealand snacks on camera. Varying results below.

SPOILER ALERT - Pineapple lump face:

THE FULL REACTIONS:

Pineapple Lumps

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5g2yqpI6v8[/embed]

Vanilla Shake M&Ms

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnKz4ScApJo[/embed]

L&P

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYsHxwZPs2I[/embed]

LGBM is going DOWN UNDER!

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G'day mates. As of this Friday, I will be embarking on a two week journey to Sydney and Ayers Rock in Australia and Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand with the fam. I will eat shrimp on the barbie and Vegemite (but not really) and whatever they eat in New Zealand. Are there kiwis in New Zealand or just the birds called kiwis? Is that an ignorant question?

Also, THIS:

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Baonana Split aka fried bao w/ice cream, fresh bananas, salted peanuts & Nutella from Belly Bao in Sydney. Yaaaaaaassss.

Any other reccos?

Grilled Cheese and Entrepreneuship: My article in the Cornell Alumni Magazine

In an unbelievable stroke of luck, the Cornell Alumni Magazine let me write an article about my favorite thing in the world: grilled cheese. Spencer Rubin '08, owner of Melt Shop, spoke with me about his adventures in cheese grilling and what it takes to start a fast casual empire. This is what it looks like in print in the July/August issue, out now: Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 8.56.01 PM

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You can read the full article online here: Earl of Sandwich

Celebrate America with Melted Cheese and New Restaurants

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You can't blame Boehner for getting emotional - that is some sexy cheese. I also may have cried while eating it.

Get out of your backyard (if you're lucky enough to have one) and head to one of these new or newish restaurants in NYC.


Santina

This new hot spot right under the High Line is always full of beautiful, trendy people. The palm trees and colorful dishware make you feel like you're on the Mediterranean coast. The food is light but pricey - buyer beware.

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Cecina with avocado trapenese. Fancy words for chickpea pancake with Mediterranean guac.

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Kale salad

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Tortellini sorrentina - goat cheese tortellini

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Bonus round - Cocktail: Manganelli punch. Comes in a fun pineapple great for taking hilarious "Look I'm drinking out a pineapple!" pictures.

Get it here: 

Santina - 820 Washington Street


Upland

Everyone's been raving about this new Flatiron place for dinner, but I actually liked it better for brunch. And the room glows with gold light so it makes you feel like your robbing the gold bar supply from a bank. A delicious, heavy breathing-inducing bank.

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Pastry Basket - house-made grapefruit pound cake, baguette, bacon and chive scones, cinnamon sugar donuts, lemon poppy muffin, butter + jam

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Spanish frittata - roasted garlic mayonnaise, espelette + chives. A Spanish tortilla masquerading as a frittata. Still good.

Get it here: 

Upland - 345 Park Ave South


Maman

I'm gonna start some shit when I say this: Maman is the new Levain Bakery. If you don't feel like shlepping to the Upper West Side and waiting on a 20 minute line for a cookie, Maman's are just as good.

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Chocolate chip walnut cookie

Get it here:

Maman - 239 Centre St


Gato

This is Bobby Flay's newest Spanish influenced NYC restaurant. Most of my pictures from here came out really shitty because I had just gotten a new camera and didn't know what the hell I was doing, so here's one of the most popular and unique appetizers: scrambled eggs.

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Scrambled eggs, almond romesco, boucheron cheese, tomato confit toast

Get it here:

Gato - 324 Lafayette St


Root and Bone

Southern food is my favorite type of food. I have an unrefined palate and I don't like sushi or clams or beef tartare or basically anything that "foodies" should like. I might be the worst, but Root and Bone is the best.

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Apricot and ricotti bruschetta

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Grilled peach caprese - gooey pimento cheese croquette, charred peaches, pickled green tomatoes, baby heirloom tomatoes, basil & molasses vinegar

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Macaroni and cheese - big pasta, crunchy cheese & biscuit thyme crust

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Fried chicken & waffle sandwiches - whisky maple syrup, pickled green tomato, watercress, on a cheddar cheese waffle. We didn't even order this but they brought it to us by mistake and I wasn't mad.

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Crispy chicken biscuits - tabasco pepper jam, jar of pickles & root chips

Get it here:

Root and Bone - 200 E 3rd St


Raclette

The mothership. This shoebox in the East Village has literally 6 seats in it. You order a plate of vegetables, potatoes, and meat, and they come by with this giant wedge of hot cheese and melt it on top of your food. They have a few other things here but why bother: you know why you came.

They're doing a solid business in takeout, which I don't really understand, because how does the cheese melting work? Does the delivery guy come with the wedge of cheese and the contraption that melts it and do it for you in your living room while you watch your 5th episode of Law and Order SVU? Or, much worse, is the cheese pre-melted? Just do yourself a favor and get here ASAP.

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Get it here:

Raclette - 195 Avenue A

 

HELLO I'M WRITING AGAIN!

For my first published article since October, click here for a review of Brod Kitchen's smorrebrod - open faced Danish sweet and savory sandwiches. They didn't have as much cheese as I like but I made an exception because this one has Nutella, hazelnuts, dates, and mint. nuttela

Now that I'm no longer working my day job in food, I need to get my fix elsewhere, so expect more of these soon.

If you live in NYC, please let me give you $10

carrying money2 Munchery, one of the latest players in the somewhat-prepared meal delivery space, just launched in NYC. Their private chefs create a couple of entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks, and you can order any combination of them to be delivered to your door around dinnertime. It's way easier than Blue Apron or Plated, because the meals are already fully made, so you won't have to spend the suggested 25-35 minutes preparing dinner (or in my case, chopping lemon rind and thinly slicing rainbow chard for 2 hours). The meals arrive "chilled" but not frozen, so they just need to be popped into the microwave or oven. You can order a week in advance or same day.

Some sample items from next week's menus:

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Honey-Tea Braised Chicken Thigh

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Seared Spring Salmon

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Celeriac, Fennel, and Apple Soup

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Banana Cream Pie

Want some free food? Click the link below to create your account, and get a $10 credit. Bam.

Click Me For $10 Free from Munchery!

Beignet, Done That - The LGBM Guide to New Orleans

In what will likely be one of the most gluttonous trips of my life (but not the most because no one should underestimate my future ability to eat delicious junk), I traveled to New Orleans and ate for three days straight. Here I am in GIF form enjoying a beignet from Café Du Monde: Beignet

And if you want to get up close and personal with that fine piece of legendary sugar and dough:

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Was it delicious? Yes. Was it the best thing I had in New Orleans? No. Read on to find out what made it to the top of my list of N'awlins eats and lots more Cajun delicacies.


Commander's Palace is as old school as it gets, setting up shop in 1880. And Wikipedia says, "It was ranked the most famous restaurant in New Orleans," so it was obviously our first stop.

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French 75 - Gin, champagne, lemon juice, sugar

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Turtle soup (with 100% real turtle)

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CRAZIEST MENU ITEM: Mardi "Foie" - Black skillet seared Hudson Valley foie gras over foie gras and cream cheese stuffed beignets with a Abita root beer-foie gras ice cream float. Shiiiitttt.

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Pecan crusted gulf fish with crushed sweet corn, spiced pecans, petite herbs, and Prosecco poached Louisiana blue crab

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Creole bread pudding soufflé

Get it here:

Commander's Palace – 1403 Washington Ave – 504-899-8221


Ruby Slipper Café is perfect for a really decadent brunch and a heart attack.

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Bananas foster pain perdu

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Eggs cochon (Ruby Slippers "signature item") - Slow-cooked apple-braised pork debris sitting on a homemade buttermilk biscuit, topped with poached eggs, finished with hollandaise

Get it here:

The Ruby Slipper Café – multiple locations – 504-525-9355


Pat O'Briens is the best time on Bourbon Street.

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This giant sugar-laden red drank is a Hurricane, their signature cocktail. It will have you singing Taylor Swift karaoke on a stage full of strangers.

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Get it here:

Pat O'Briens – 718 Saint Peter Street – 504-525-4823


Go to Apolline just for this epic bloody mary:

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Pickled green beans, bacon, buttermilk biscuits, shrimp, celery, lemon, lime - in a drink.

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Or come for this cinnamon bacon with brown sugar and pecans.

Get it here:

Apolline – 4729 Magazine Street – 504-894-8881


GW Fins is a fancy seafood place for fancy ladies and gents.

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Lobster dumplings with fennel, tomato, and lobster butter

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Parmesan crusted drum with asparagus, crispy capers, jumbo lump crab, Meyer lemon, brown butter

Get it here:

GW Fins – 808 Bienville Street – 504-581-3467


I obviously had to eat a po' boy, but I opted for a non-traditional variety at Killer Poboys, a po' boy pop-up in the back of a bar. And they are SERIOUS about the fact that it's a bar - the badass lady chef verbally chastised two young-looking boys for trying to buy a sandwich. The boys were terrified but the rest of us were quite amused.

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Glazed Pork Belly Poboy - NOLA rum & ginger cane syrup, lime slaw, garlic aioli

Get it here:

Killer Poboys – Back of the Erin Rose Bar at 811 Conti St 


Our final meal was at local celebrity chef John Besh's pizza mecca Domenica. From 2pm - 5pm every day, they have half priced glasses of wine, bellinis, and pizzas; best deal in town.

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Half margherita and half gorgonzola with speck, apples, and honey

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Roasted cauliflower with sea salt and whipped feta

Get it here:

Domenica – 123 Baronne Street - 504-648-6020


So what was the best thing I ate in New Orleans? An unassuming local donut hole called a buttermilk drop at Wink's Bakery.

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Buttermilk drops are part cake, part donut. When I asked what made them so good, the person behind the counter said, "We use the real stuff to fry them." I don't think I want to know what that means, but this was definitely the best bite I had in all of New Orleans. Better than a beignet. Trust me.

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Get it here:

Wink's Bakery – 1218 Decatur Street - 504-309-2481

How to Ball Out When Your Rents Are In Town

I spend all year compiling lists of restaurants I would eat at if I had fistfuls of cash, and then I shove all the reservations into one weekend when my parents come to town. So when Mom visited this weekend, we ate HARD. From thin-crust trendy pizza to fluffy James Beard pancakes, read on to find out how you too can feed yourself and your parents like the morbidly obese kings of NYC. caviar omelette parents

(This omelette from Norma's in The Parker Meridian actually looks vile. Please do not ball out THIS HARD.)

Breakfast: Bubby's High Line

I've always wanted to go here, but every time I've passed by it's been ridiculously mobbed by a rough-riding stroller crew. Also, $10 for a side of bacon... no. We avoided the line by going at the Mom-requested (and Caryn-reviled) time of 9:30AM. $8 Valrhona Hot Chocolate sounds stupid crazy but was worth the price tag. We should have split one entree because everything was HUMONGOUS. I forgot to take pictures because 9:30AM is too early to function, so instead, here is a photo ripped from TripAdvisor of the James Beard-recipe pancakes I ate. And just to illustrate how big they were, I photoshopped myself into them for some perspective.

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Get it here:

Bubby's High Line – 71 Gansevoort Street, NY, NY 10012 – 212-206-6200


Lunch: Marta

While this place isn't super pricey, a quick search on OpenTable shows reservations for the next two weeks are extremely limited. You can either eat at 2:30PM with the unemployed or "creatively self-employed" types, or at 10:45PM with the monsters that think that's an acceptable time for dinner. OR you can plan ahead and make a rezzie for when your parents are in town like a boss.

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Frittura di Zucca - breaded and fried delicata squash rings

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Funghi Pizza - Fontina, Hen of the Woods, Chanterelles, Red Onion, Thyme

Get it here:

Marta – 29 E 29th Street, NY, NY 10016 – 212-651-3800


Dinner: August

My favorite food blog The Infatuation just listed August as one of the must-try new restaurants of Winter 2014. This is a perfect parent place: warm and cozy, a little too expensive, in the Upper East Side, and occupied by a few other "older" people who aren't instragramming their meals.

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Burrata, Roasted Beets, Walnut Soil

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Roasted Organic Chicken, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Black Truffle, Roasted Carrots, Porcini Oil

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Roasted Scallops, Celery Root, Honeycrisp Apple

Get it here:

August – 791 Lexington Ave, NY, NY 10065 – 212-935-1433