Caryn speaks with Julia Turshen, former host of Cherry Bombe Radio and writer of several cookbooks including Feed the Resistance (2017).Read More
Caryn speaks with Jeremy Salamon, executive chef of The Eddy, about the pleasures of creating food for others, mental health in the kitchen, and his one magic wish for the restaurant industry.Read More
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?
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.
So this is a little bit late because I was out last night tearing up Flavortown looking like this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you to Chris for Interview #2 and thanks to everyone for bearing with all the pasta gifs.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Food Studies Fridays! Every Friday for the next 10 weeks, I'll be posting an interview with someone who works in the food industry as part of a final class project. (Yes, I'm in school, in case you missed that announcement. More info on that here.)
We're going to kick it off this week with a very special guest from Food Network. Food media is a large part of my graduate program as many students go on to work at media outlets like Food and Wine Magazine, Food52, and Heritage Radio Network.
Without further ado, meet Madeline Langlieb, Programming and Development Executive at Food Network!
So I'm cheating a little bit because Madeline is one of my best friends. I've had the privilege of tagging along with her to many awesome food events. Here I am mooching off her in the VIP section of the Big Apple BBQ this summer:
In addition to keeping me well fed, Madeline is the Executive in Charge of Production for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which was nominated for an Emmy this summer. Go Mads!
Q: How long have you worked at Food Network? A: 5.5 years.
Q: How did you end up there? A: My first job at a talent agency led me to my current company. I previously worked with talent and production companies that star in and create shows for Food Network. I was previously on the selling side, and now I get pitched shows and work towards getting them on TV.
Q: What are a few of the major challenges in your industry? A: There are so many ways to get content, especially food based content. Be it on linear tv, on Instagram, blogs, Snapchat, Facebook, there seems to be more and more options for food focused content. Keeping up with trends and staying relevant is always top of mind. We try to create compelling shows that will entertain and inform our viewers.
Q: What are a few of the major pleasures in your work or industry? A: A lot of people say I have the best job in the world, and I wouldn't say that they are wrong. I get to work for a beloved network, and make entertainment for a living. I also get to eat and drink some pretty bomb stuff.
Q: What's the most bomb thing you've eaten recently? A: Milk ice cream with honey over freeze dried honeycomb from The NoMad!
Q: What skills do you use to be successful at work? A: It all boils down to having great relationships, creativity, and being able to execute ideas.
Q: If there was one thing you could change about your work, what would that be? A: I wish there were more hours in the day, both to produce new shows and to eat more food!
Thanks Madeline for being Interview #1! Tune in next week where I talk to a food entrepreneur who is disrupting pasta.
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...
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?)
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.
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.