Munchies feed for https://munchies.vice.comenThu, 18 Oct 2018 21:44:27 +0000<![CDATA[American Cheese Obsessives Are 'Adopting' Alpine Cheesemakers to Preserve a Fading Tradition]]>, 18 Oct 2018 21:44:27 +0000 Here in the US, most of us are familiar with a basic set of supermarket cheeses: Cheddar, Parmesan, maybe some jack, and, of course, Swiss, the holey stuff we melt over Reubens, pile onto a ham sandwich, and fold into fluffy diner-style omelets. There’s nothing wrong with this mild, gooey cheese, but for the most part it’s a mass-produced product that does nothing to express the unique characteristics of true Switzerland-made dairy, which has formed the base of the country’s rich culinary tradition for thousands of years.

Switzerland is the birthplace of transhumance, a traditional method of raising livestock that originated in the country about 8,000 years ago. Common in many countries with mountainous regions, from France to China, the practice involves herding milk-producing animals such as cows, goats, and sheep up to higher altitudes during the summer, where the animals feed on sweet grasses and wildflowers that flavor the animals’ milk and result in particularly complex-tasting cheeses.


Traditionally, dairy farmers and their families accompany their animals into the mountains, living in rustic Alpine homes until cooler weather arrives and it’s time to come back down the mountain with the animals. It’s a nomadic, demanding lifestyle that has been on the decline since the late 19th century, as advancements in farming and production machinery have made industrial cheesemaking—the kind that produces those big bricks of “Swiss” cheese—more attractive and lucrative.

But since 2013, a small group of US cheesemongers has teamed up with traditional Swiss cheesemakers in an effort to preserve the country’s ancient cheesemaking expertise. In that year, Swiss expat and cheese importer Caroline Hostettler started the “Adopt-an-Alp” program, allowing US cheese sellers to “adopt” Alpine cheesemakers who still practice transhumance, bringing those labor-intensive cheeses into their stores and educating their customers on how they were made—and by whom.

Hailing from the small northern Swiss town of Biel, Hostettler and her Swiss husband relocated to Fort Myers, Florida in 1996, and quickly started to pine for the delicious Swiss cheeses to which they could find no equal in their new home. Shortly after the move, Hostettler was talking to her friend Rolf Beeler, a well known cheese affineur, or ager, and complaining about the paltry selection of cheeses in Florida.


“I said to him, ‘I have to start bringing in your cheeses,’ almost as a joke,” she told MUNCHIES. “And he told me, ‘Well you know, I’ve already had two chefs ask me about importing my cheese.’ That really got the wheels turning.”

Hostettler, a freelance food writer at the time, slowly began to build Quality Cheese, an importer of exclusively Swiss cheeses. Over time, as she deepened her relationships with the traditional cheesemakers of her home country, Hostettler said, she became increasingly fascinated with the practice of transhumance—and increasingly compelled to share that practice with a wider audience.

“I felt a real passion and closeness to people who still do transhumance,” she said. “It has many, many aspects to it. These people live a much healthier lifestyle than most of us, they are more thankful, they are more aware, they don't waste things. And of course, their cheeses taste incredible.”

One night at dinner, Hostettler offhandedly remarked to her husband that she wished more American cheese fans could be exposed to this Swiss labor of love.

“‘We should do something to promote this and make people aware of what this is, because most people have no idea,’ I told him. It just came out of me, the idea was born that night.”

For the first year of Adopt-an-Alp, Hostettler linked six Swiss cheesemakers with 14 US cheese sellers. Over the years, the program has grown, with 25 cheesemakers and 87 cheese sellers participating this year. One of those sellers is Shelley Lewis, owner of Muskegon, Michigan’s The Cheese Lady. A former legal aide, Lewis, a cheese superfan, purchased the store from its former owner in 2015, and last year, heard about Adopt-an-Alp from her cheese importer World’s Best Cheese. Priding herself on The Cheese Lady’s unusual selection of cheeses, she thought the program could help her diversify her offerings even more.


“It seemed like a good way to get our hands on some obscure, off-the-beaten path cheese,” she told MUNCHIES.

Last year, Lewis’s store carried Alpine cheeses from two Swiss cheesemakers, and quickly found herself hooked on both their taste and their provenance.

“What started as curiosity became an obsession,” she said.

In her store, Lewis promoted the imported cheeses to her customers through a variety of activities: a holiday open house in which she and her employees dresses in traditional Alpine costumes and created a “Picnic in the Alps” tablescape replete with pots of fondue, as well as Swiss coloring books for the store’s younger customers. At The Cheese Lady, Lewis is generous with the samples of her Swiss cheeses, and she said that tasting them is the most effective form of promotion.

“We put it in their hands, and they put in their mouth, and the cheeses sell,” she said.

Lewis’s newfound passion for Swiss cheeses even earned her a spot on an annual trip to Switzerland that the Adopt-an-Alp program awards to the stores that most creatively promote the program’s cheeses. This past June, she joined Hostettler and other contest winners on a visit to five different Alpine cheesemakers, and said she was blown away by what she observed.

“There’s just something so pure about the air in the country itself—you can taste it in the cheese,” she said.

This year, Lewis will offer cheese from a third Swiss farm called Ruosalp, operated by the farmers Max and Monica Herger and their three young children. Each summer, Nina Baumann, the Hergers’ 22-year-old niece and an animal homeopathist, joins her aunt and uncle in the Alpine heights where they make their fresh and aged cow and goats’ milk cheeses. For her, the opportunity to disseminate the Swiss cheesemaking culture is what’s most special about the Adopt-an-Alp program.

“It’s really exciting,” she told MUNCHIES. “We have a lot of contact with Caroline, and she has contact with the people who buy our cheese. We can tell her stories about the Alp life, and she gives that information to her accounts. We send her pictures of the farm, and she shares them on Facebook or Instagram. It’s fun for us to go on there and read the posts of the English-speaking people.”


Baumann has been learning cheesemaking at Ruosalp since she was a child, and noted that while transhumance is on the decline, it’s still a hugely important part of Swiss life.

“It’s tradition to go on the Alp and be in nature; it’s a passion,” she said. “This tradition has lasted from generation to generation to generation.”

Ensuring that this endangered tradition will survive is of huge importance not just to the farmers who participate in Adopt-an-Alp, but also to the sellers who carry their cheeses. That’s true for Beth Falk, owner of Mill City Cheesemongers in Lowell, Massachusetts. A former environmental lawyer, Falk said that when stocking her store, she always considers the circumstances under which the cheeses were made, selecting those that reflect her personal values.

“Sustainable agriculture, and farming with an eye to how agriculture is important to a local economy, is always at the back of my mind,” she told MUNCHIES.

This is the first year that Falk has participated in Adopt-an-Alp, carrying both the farm’s cow and goats’ milk cheeses. Mill City Cheesemongers’ mission, Falk explained, has always been to stock products sourced from local, small-scale cheesemakers. But when she heard about Adopt-an-Alp, she could tell that the Swiss farmers’ methods fit neatly into the paradigm she promotes at her store.

“These are people who do things the right way,” she said. “This is not an easy or lucrative way of life, and we’re glad for the opportunity to share it with our customers. Through this cheese, they’re learning about cultural traditions, not just about food.”


Unlike mass-produced cheeses such as that holey “Swiss,” traditionally made products feature a much more robust flavor profile that can take some getting used to. But Lewis, of The Cheese Lady, said that her customers quickly learned to love the Swiss cheeses she has introduced—as well as the idea of providing real, financial support to a centuries-old tradition.

“These can be pungent cheeses, and initially not all of my customers were fans,” she said. “But now, everybody loves them. And they love being a part of supporting that culture of cheesemaking that’s gone on for hundreds of years in Switzerland, and that we want to help continue on for hundreds and hundreds years more.”

wj9a35Lauren RothmanHilary Pollackfarmingswitzerlandcheesemakingswiss cheesealpine cheese
<![CDATA[Can Burger King's New 'Nightmare King' Burger Actually Give You Nightmares? We Asked a Scientist]]>, 18 Oct 2018 18:46:36 +0000 Burger King has announced that it has released a burger that is—in its words—“clinically proven” to cause nightmares. If your first thought was “Doesn’t every Burger King burger do that?” then you’re obviously familiar with the onion ring-and-mayo topped Rodeo King. But no, the new Nightmare King has been carefully designed to straight-up wreck your subconscious, and Burger King says that it has the science to prove it.

The idea that food has the potential to influence our dreams isn’t a new one: In the early 1900s, the popular “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” comic strip spent more than 20 years illustrating the nightmares supposedly caused by eating Welsh rarebit, an open-faced cheese-and-toast dish.

“There are a number of foods, like some kinds of cheese, that have been shown to increase nightmares in mostly small and exploratory studies, but nothing that comes close to being able to say ‘clinically proven’ or even ‘likely,’" Dr. Michael Grandner, the Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, told MUNCHIES. (That didn’t stop the British Cheese Board from attempting to disprove that whole nightmare thing with its own sleep study, which was never published in a peer-reviewed journal and was met with a collective eye-roll by actual psychologists.)

So that brings us to the Nightmare King. Yes, its deep green bun makes it upsetting to even look at, but does that translate to nightmares? According to Burger King, it totally does. The burger chain partnered with the Paramount Trials and Florida Sleep & Neuro Diagnostic Services to conduct a “scientific study” about whether the Nightmare King really could fuck you up. One hundred participants were fed a Nightmare King every night before bed, and their vital signs, brain activity and respiration rate were all tracked by doctors and scientists to determine whether they had “vivid dreams” or not.

The study’s lead physician says that the research subjects were 3.5 times more likely to have nightmares than the general population; that translates to around 14 percent of them having terrifying dreams, compared to around 4 percent of the population who hadn’t eaten it. But Grandner is skeptical of those results.

“The way they describe the study is really problematic,” he said. “There are many things wrong with this. They are saying that the record of nightmares was 14 percent, which is kind of misleading, since they are inferring that this [burger] caused nightmares. You would only be able to infer this if you looked at prevalence before and after eating the sandwich. That 14 percent [of participants] reported nightmares doesn’t proved that anything caused anything.

“It is also unclear whether participants knew they were in a study to look at nightmares and thus were maybe more likely to report or experience them and how the nightmares were measured is not clear.” (MUNCHIES has reached out to both Burger King and Florida Sleep & Neuro Diagnostic Services for further details on their research methods and is awaiting a response.)

Grandner also said that there was nothing in the Nightmare King’s list of components—a quarter-pound beef patty, a breaded chicken filet, American cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, onions, or even that green bun—that stood out to him as being nightmare fuel.

“Assuming the burger caused nightmares, it must do so by doing something—but what is that thing?” Grandner wondered. “It seems like if something were to cause nightmares, it would likely have to do that by causing a short-term REM sleep deprivation that would then rebound with more intense than usual REM sleep, coupled by a decreased arousal threshold. So if something were to increase nightmares, it would likely have to do so by making your sleep worse, with nightmares as a side effect. That doesn't sound like a selling point to me.”

If that sounds like a selling point to you, though, the Nightmare King will be available at Burger King for a limited time, starting on October 22. Sweet dreams and all that.

a3p99kJelisa CastrodaleHilary PollackFast FoodBurger
<![CDATA[17 Sweet Potato Recipes That Might Pass for 'Healthy']]>, 18 Oct 2018 18:45:00 +0000Before they became the darling of the health food-crowd, sweet potatoes were the kind of food Americans primarily thought of as a holiday staple, and ate doused in butter and even more sweetness in the form of marshmallows and brown sugar. But, as it turns out, all those nutrition-obsessed bloggers weren’t wrong to substitute regular French fries with sweet potato fries, as the tuber happens to have a ridiculously high amount of vitamin A. (Like, orders of magnitude greater than your average white spud, and three times more than the FDA suggests for your recommended daily amount.) So if you really are looking for small, achievable ways to improve your healthy eating habits, substituting sweet potatoes for the regular kind isn’t a bad place to start. Or maybe you’re just riding the seasonal produce train straight through to Root Vegetable Town and are in need of new ideas for how to use these cold-weather staples for the foreseeable future. Or you just really enjoy making naturally sweet foods taste sweeter—whatever, you do you, marshmallow lovers. We’ve got a collection of sweet potato recipes from the archives here just for you.

Sadly, marshmallows are not vegan. So to keep as true to form as possible for this casserole, we topped it with a cinnamon-brown-sugar-pecan crumble.

Just before serving, this baked root veg mash gets a few minutes in a 450°F oven for a nice golden brown crust on top.

A light cornstarch batter gives these sweet potato fries an extra layer of crunch for an ideal side to your favorite burger.

Really commit to the health food lifestyle and forego frying altogether. Our culinary director Farideh Sadeghin also suggests tossing these fries, before they go in the oven, in a spice mix of your choice, like curry powder, Old Bay, or za’atar.

Double down on the sweetness here with a can of sweetened condensed milk in the custard of this pie, then cut through it with a crème fraiche whipped cream.

Warm, ooey-gooey brie and a little bit of honey make perfect sense with sweet potatoes, but what really sets this dish off is the sprinkling of chili flakes for just a little heat.

Creamy mashed sweet potatoes studded with English walnuts for a little texture, then topped with deeply caramelized onions, make for a surprising addition to your holiday table, or just the dinner table any night of the week.

Sweet potatoes get more of a savory treatment in this soup, brightened up with fresh ginger, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and red curry paste.

Sure, you could throw all of your Thanksgiving leftovers onto a sandwich the next day, but turning them into pizza toppings is even better.

This spicy, acidic ceviche needs a sweet, fatty background, and buttery mashed sweet potatoes with grilled avocados are just the right match.

Korean sweet potatoes have more of a red or purple-ish skin with white insides, as opposed to the all-orange tubers you might find more commonly at the supermarket, but they taste just as sweet and homey in this classic holiday dish.

This is a truly luxurious appetizer that would feel right at home on a holiday table, but would probably be just as much of a crowd pleaser as a finger food for your next party.

The best part about cooking with root vegetables in the long cold months ahead is that they’re super easy to cook all at the same time, thrown together into the same dish, because their flavors are so complimentary. Here, this two-step mash comes together in under 25 minutes.

Autumn. On. A. Plate. Next!

This chickpea socca pancake is delicious on its own, for a light breakfast or snack, but with this subtly spicy sweet potato puree and a fried egg on top, it’s a sublime experience.

Ahhh, the rainbow-esque bounty of the fall farmer’s market!

And if all else fails and you’re sick and tired of all those healthy sweet potatoes, slice ‘em up real thin and drop ‘em in a fryer til they’re extra golden and crispy.

bj4kk4Munchies StaffsoupRecipechipsfallFriesCrispssweet potatoesroot vegetablescasserole
<![CDATA[Nik Sharma's Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken Is The Perfect Dish for Cuffing Season]]>, 18 Oct 2018 16:15:00 +0000 In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.

Is fried chicken better when it's made with love? We're about to find out in the MUNCHIES test kitchen when Nik Sharma stops by on a sunny-but-blustery early October day. He's a little jet-lagged after flying in from his home in Oakland, California as part of a whirlwind tour to promote his first cookbook, Season, and after this, he's going to Martha Stewart Living. "She won't really be there, right?" he wonders nervously. But how cool would it be if she was? For the next half hour, though, maybe-Martha will have to wait because there's curry leaf popcorn chicken to be made.

"I feel like every country kind of does fried chicken in their own way," says Sharma, who first burst onto the food scene with his blog, A Brown Table, before adding a column in the The San Francisco Chronicle to his repertoire. "Frying is something that’s international across cultures. Everybody loves deep-fried." But this particular dish isn't about everybody.

"This was for my husband, because my husband is from the South and he loooves fried chicken," Sharma explains. "Actually, he loves anything fried, but fried chicken is his thing." That's adorable. Now let's get to it.

Spices and other ingredients

First, a quick caveat: The work you'll do to make this popcorn chicken takes less than 30 minutes, all told. However, you'll need to account for marinating time. We suggest making the marinade and cutting up the chicken in the morning so it can spend all day soaking up up the seasonings. Then, when you get home, you're mere minutes away from the most flavorful fried chicken we've ever had. That's right, we went there. If it's already almost dinner time and you just gotta have the chicken tonight, Sharma says you can get away with marinating it for as little as an hour if you cut the pieces pretty small, think about half the size of what we're showing here.

Hands prepping spices

If you're looking to cut down on day-of prep even more, you can put together the spice mixture up to a week in advance. All that means is toasting cardamom, coriander, cumin seeds, and the peppercorns in a hot skillet. This goes fast—less than a minute. In the time it takes for everyone to ooh and ahh over how amazing it smells when the essential oils from the cardamom are released, Sharma is done toasting and takes the mixture off the heat. Half gets reserved for the breading and half gets tossed into a blender with the rest of the marinade ingredients: buttermilk, serrano chiles, scallions, curry leaves, garlic, cayenne, ginger, lime juice, and more salt thank you think you need—"because it helps with the penetration," Sharma says slyly before bursting into laughter at his own middle school sense of humor.

Man smirking with a blender

The flavors clearly and intentionally harken back to Sharma's childhood in Mumbai, as do most of the recipes in Season, but he's careful to clarify that respect for the past doesn't have to involve a deference to way things used to be. "At the end of the day, I just want people to look at ingredients as ingredients and flavor, versus people getting all bogged up in sort of mysterious, mythical tradition," he says.

hands cutting raw chicken

The marinade mixture is blended until smooth and then transferred to a plastic bag with one-inch cubes of chicken. While this sets, you can also prep the dredging mixture by mixing the rest of the spices (ground in a mortar and pestle) with flour, baking powder, baking soda, more cayenne, and salt in another plastic bag. Now, go to work, or whatever else you do all day.

MAKE THIS: Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken

Man shaking a bag of chicken

Frying can be intimidating, but Sharma made it look easy. He heated a couple inches of oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven while adding chicken chunks to the bag full of the flour mixture. Once the bag is sealed, he shook it around shake-weight style and quickly fried up batches of the chicken, just a couple minutes at a time. When that was all done, and we'd all burned our mouths stealing bites off the drying rack, he tossed a couple of curry leaves into the oil for a crispy garnish.

Fried chicken
fried chicken garnished with curry leaves

When Sharma set out to write his first cookbook he made the whole thing more difficult on himself than it had to be by developing all new recipes. "My logic has always been that if I’ve already put it on the blog, there’s no point in me asking people to buy it in a book. You can get it for free, that’s not fair. So I decided that I would create everything new for the book." Beyond that, he wanted recipes that no one else had made either. "That was my strategy for the book, if someone else has done it, I’m not going to do it." The result is inventive combinations like the sort-of-spicy maple syrup vinegar sauce that he drizzled over the finished fried chicken. Trust us, it was amazing. But you won't find the recipe anywhere but in the book.

Sauce being drizzled on fried chicken

After we tasted the finished product—which was somehow crispy and delicate and unctuous and sharp all at the same time—we had to know: Does Sharma's husband like this version better than his mother's fried chicken, which was reportedly made with pork fat?

"I want to say he likes this more," Sharma says.

evw9q7Munchies StaffRupa BhattacharyaChickenfried chickenCurryWorkaholicscardamompopcorn chickenNik Sharma
<![CDATA[Did Anyone Really, Genuinely, Seriously Care that the Bagel Emoji Was Bad?]]>, 18 Oct 2018 15:23:42 +0000In college, rather than dedicating those credits and tuition towards something useful, I spent two years studying the language of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was a mistake for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am a truly terrible artist—can’t draw at all—and hieroglyphics at the college level involves a fair amount of drawing. But when I failed my Middle Egyptian midterm junior year, it wasn’t because my snake scribbles looked more like ferrets. Accuracy in usage was important, accuracy in rendering was less so. Hieroglyphics developed as standardized, simplified manifestations of objects that corresponded to concepts—which in turn became increasingly simplified for the sake of expediency, until we ended up with Coptic and then Demotic en route to a real alphabet.

Emojis are like hieroglyphics—sort of. Not all hieroglyphics are logograms, which represent complete words or phrases, but some are, in that they are pictures to represent ideas. They are not, really, art. They are not intended to communicate value through the style of their rendering.

A rectangle with a chunk missing from the bottom line in ancient Egyptian is pronounced pr and means “house.” When it’s messily drawn, it does not mean a messy house. When it is big, it does not mean a big house.

A round bit of pixelated dough with a hole in the middle on your iPhone means “bagel;” it does not mean “bring me a bad, flash-frozen bagel that would be laughed out of any deli, regardless of its zip code” if the top is too smooth or the interior texture resembles Wonder Bread or there’s no cream cheese in the picture. And I don’t believe anyone really thinks that it did.

By now, if you’re reading this, you likely know that earlier this month, Apple released a new slate of forthcoming emojis that included a plain bagel, sans cream cheese, that didn’t look delicious enough to… what? Eat? That’s fine! You couldn’t if you wanted to. But because we are all striving to create constant content in a newscycle that is more relentless than ever (with decreasing resources to pursue anything beyond what’s reflected on the screen in front of our faces), people said as much.

They made jokes on Twitter.

The Brands weighed in.

And pretty soon, the emoji was changed. A win for grassroots organizing.

The point here is not to shame people for caring about ephemeral idiocy on the internet. I care enough to write this whole thing. But the Great Bagel Kerfuffle of 2018 feels like a parody of caring about things on the Internet, like a bunch of people going through the well-trod motions of outrage and backlash and enjoying the catharsis of effecting change through witty tweets and writing thinkpieces about the “complicated politics” of it all. When really, I just cannot fathom anyone lost any sleep over the bagel on their iPhone being too smooth.

Attempts to tie the issue to some sort of true New Yorker identity feel like a bait-and-switch, not to mention an embarrassing ass-showing about the self-centered NYC media echo chamber. Representation in emojis does matter—if we’re talking about interracial couples or women wearing hijabs. People who boast their Big Apple bonafides by publicly proclaiming the demerits of any bagel in the public consciousness are not a protected class. I promise, Apple is not dog-whistling their bias against the city or any of its millions of residents by oversimplifying the bagel. (Although, worth it for this work of Pulitzer-worthy satire.)

And that’s just it: It’s an oversimplification. You know how we know the bagel emoji is just fine? Because everyone knew it was a (bad) bagel on sight. It accurately conveys the idea: Bagel. It’s not a recipe or a review or a serving suggestion. It’s not a value judgement of anyone’s actual bagel order. After all, the croissant has no texture to speak of, the apple is bright red (not a good sign), and the Woman Raising Her Hand has eyes that take up half her head.

Of course, people complain, entertainingly, on Twitter and all over the internet, endlessly. If America circa 2018 has a unifying art form, it’s loudly making mountains out of other people’s mole hills, blurring the line between performative indignation and actual anger for the sake of having something to say. The problem is when the momentum starts to build and self-perpetuate until there’s a whole cloud of contrived controversy with nothing at the core. One guy tweets a joke about how the bagel emoji looks bad and suddenly we’re having a national dialogue even though no real person sincerely gives a single fuck about it.

In their otherwise smart, thorough contextualization of the whole debate, Vox concluded that although aligning your identity politics with any bagel at all seems like a stretch:

[T]he outcry over the bagel emoji suggests that there are people who really do feel — on some level, even if it is tongue-in-cheek — that the bagel does represent them in some way, and that this anemic version (“the most gentile bagel ever baked”) does a disservice not only to carbohydrates but to the rich diversity of American identity. (That, and people generally enjoy being angry on the internet.)

But I care about those asides: Whether it was tongue-in-cheek, why do people enjoy being angry on the internet? Because an entire news cycle built around the idea that people are offended by something, without attempting to parse whether that offense is ironic or sincere, ultimately undermines what we’re all doing here by reading the news and reacting to it.

And I get it! Maybe it's a manifestation of the overwhelming existential angst that accompanies the literal end of the world as we know it. All that anger has to go somewhere and you'll give yourself a hernia or carpal tunnel or an anxiety disorder tweeting at Donald Trump all the time. This is a chance to be angry and heard. To have a simple opinion about whether something is Good or Bad and have that opinion echoed and amplified until it has demonstrable impact. You fixed it with your outrage. And that's the best we can hope for these days. Or maybe it's a distraction from everything that really matters. A farcical controversy that is in fact part of a large farce that everything is fine. I get that, too.

But I hope you know that if you took time to sign the petition to add cream cheese to the bagel emoji, you better fucking vote.

vbk8zbHannah KeyserHilary PollackTwitterbreadthe internetBagel
<![CDATA[John Bil's Posthumously Released Cookbook Will Change Your Relationship with Seafood]]>, 18 Oct 2018 13:00:00 +0000On page 200 of Ship to Shore: Straight Talk from the Seafood Counter, John Bil declares that porgy is a “much-maligned fish that needs to be brought to the forefront” because of how responsibly sourced and delicious it is. This salute to porgy is classic Bil; as emphatic about making good food as he was about finding edible solutions to what he called the “solvable problems” of sustainability.

Bil dedicated much of his professional life to pushing obscure and inexpensive seafood out of the deep and into the bright lights of the fish case. Like the owner of a record store committed to digging up and curating only the finest vinyl, Bil’s strengths lay not only in good taste but an encyclopedic knowledge of his product.

It’s not surprising, then, that Bil owned a vinyl shop called Sketchy Records when he was 17. Or that he also helped open some of the most esteemed restaurants in North America, including his very own Honest Weight in Toronto, leaving a long trail of trout ponds, fish counters, and enlightened customers in his wake, until his death earlier this year.


Luckily for those who never met Bil, his final opus is a posthumously published cookbook full of recipes, glossaries, musings, arguments, and conversations with fishermen about seafood. On page 200, as with every other page of this book, one can almost hear John making his case for porgy from the great beyond, in a polite but assertive tone.

At least that’s the case for his friend and frequent collaborator Fred Morin, who wrote the foreword to Ship to Shore. “I haven’t read the book fully, because I find it very difficult,” Morin says. “But when I read it, I hear his voice and his argumentative nature come through and I think the main argument is that you should respect the things for what they are and not change them.”

Back in 2002, while employed at a ritzy Montreal supper club, Morin stumbled upon a box of exceptional oysters from Prince Edward Island, which were hard to come by back then. So, he called the number on the side of the box, and lightning struck. John Bil answered the phone and sent 12 cases of PEI oysters to a bus station, along with oyster knives and instructional DVDs that Morin watched intently. With a little guidance from Bil, Morin stopped putting wasabi mayo on oysters and started focusing on technique instead.

“All of a sudden, we started practicing shucking and contacting really good producers,” Morin recounts. “This supper club (that was a temple of evil sometimes) now had a really nice oyster bar. I realized that the way you add value to an oyster is by opening it as best as one can, by not piercing the muscle. You’re not adding value to an oyster by dressing it with diced green apple and raspberry foam; you’re actually removing not just financial value, but metaphysical value.”


This focus on the metaphysical remained a pillar of Bil’s all-encompassing—though somewhat bleak—worldview, and helps frame the recipes in Ship to Shore beyond the usual cookbook discourse of “Hey, look at me make a lobster roll the way my grandparents did!” Instead of putting himself front and center, Bil focuses on the provenance and sustainability of a staggering array of seafood. Throughout the book, Bil weighs in on the myth of “sushi-grade” fish, whether lobsters feel pain, why clambakes are a terrible idea, and even explains to consumers how to sniff out unscrupulous fishmongers.

You may know seafood well, but even so, among the wreckfish, plaice, and spiny dogfish recipes in Ship to Shore, you will likely still encounter a creature you have never heard of before—and then learn how to prepare it with respect. Recipes are simple, with availability, stock status, sources, and alternatives listed for every sea creature. What the reader comes away with is a deep reverence for seafood as well as the humans who fish, harvest, and process it responsibly.

That same ethos underlies Honest Weight, the restaurant Bil opened in 2015 with business partner Victoria Hazan. Part fish counter and part restaurant, Honest Weight is Bil and Hazan’s very own record store of underappreciated marine life and a way of sharing their seafood philosophy with diners.

“We shared a vision about bringing seafood to people in a way that would allow them to appreciate the effort that went into putting it into their hands, whether it’s in a fish case or on a plate,” Bazan says. “It’s great to give people the opportunity to try seafood they’ve never had before—it’s like bringing someone a gift. John and I weren’t trying to school anybody, we were just trying to help people appreciate things from a different perspective and try new things.”


One of those people was Stars and Broken Social Scene vocalist Amy Millan, one of Bil’s closest friends, who even wrote a song called Ship to Shore in his honor. As with Fred Morin, this book has become the physical embodiment of Bil’s spirit for Millan.

“Every time I open the book, I start crying,” Millan says. “When I got it in the mail, it felt like he was at my house again.” But having John Bil’s voice in your head can also lead to ethical dilemmas when ordering food at a restaurant, according to Millan, “Sometimes, I want that salmon tartare, but John wouldn’t feed it to his dog, so what do I do here?”

LISTEN: Seafood Philosopher John Bil Explains How to Open a Restaurant

Again, like Morin, Millan witnessed Bil make inflammatory statements about fishing and seafood and then back them up with Spock-like calm. “The teardown never felt aggressive,” she says. “He just wanted to have a proper conversation about it instead of winning the argument. It was more about placing a different part of your brain into the discussion; he’d met so many fishermen throughout his life and he wanted to protect that line of work.”


All of which gets to the core of what Bil is trying to do in his book. “That was the danger for him: when you start throwing around the word ‘sustainable,’ you start cutting off a bunch of fish that you don’t really understand where they’re coming from or how it’s working,” Millan concludes. “He never thought he had all the answers, he just thought maybe we’re just asking the wrong questions.’”


Perhaps the most basic and least obvious question about marine life is why we eat it in the first place, and if you’re looking for the answer to that, Bil offers his own answer in Ship to Shore, “Ultimately, the point of seafood is to remind you where you are and just how close you are to the ocean.” In other words, try porgy—it might remind you of how far we are from really understanding seafood.

evw9pnNick RoseRupa BhattacharyaoystersseafoodCanadafishsustainabilityjohn bil
<![CDATA[Radicchio and Summer Tomato Salad Recipe]]>, 18 Oct 2018 13:00:00 +0000Servings: 4
Prep: 10 minutes
Total: 25 minutes


30 multi-colored tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons bronze fennel flowers, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, microplaned
1 small red chili, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 ounces|70 grams manchego, thinly sliced
1-2 heads radicchio, leaves separated (about 6 ounces|185 grams)
1 small head purple lettuce, leaves separated (about 1 ounce|6 grams)

fresh basil leaves


1. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with the vinegar, garlic, fennel flowers, chilies, salt, and pepper. Marinate for 15 minutes. Add the manchego and toss to combine.

2. Lightly toss the tomatoes and manchego with the radicchio and lettuce leaves, then arrange on a platter. Top with some fresh basil leaves and drizzle with any remaining dressing.

bjajz4Aaron CrowderNick PerkinsdinnereasysummertomatolunchDirty Worksidesaladtomatoesradicchiosummer recipes
<![CDATA[50,000 Pounds of Meat Destroyed After Worker Caught on Camera Peeing Under Conveyor Belt]]>, 17 Oct 2018 22:15:00 +0000 When there’s a vaguely described incident at a meat processing plant that requires the swift disposal of 50,000 pounds of pork products, morbid individuals like me start wondering whether that means an employee lost a finger—or an entire arm. But in this case, Smithfield Farms was just forced to trash its meat because one of its workers took a piss while he was still on the production line. And before you ask, no, nothing happened to his penis (that we’re aware of).

According to a report from WAVY, the unidentified employee was working on the production line at the company’s plant in Smithfield, Virginia when he had to go, like, right that second. In a video that was sent to the station, the man can be seen pulling his gloves off and taking a leak right underneath the still-moving conveyor belt. He then calmly slips his hands into his gloves and goes back to work.

Smithfield confirmed the incident to the station, and said that it was an “isolated incident,” and that the employee in question has been suspended, pending an internal investigation. In addition, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is reportedly looking into the incident as well. (MUNCHIES has reached out to both Smithfield and the USDA for additional comment and is awaiting a response.)

“In accordance with Smithfield’s food safety and quality standards, more than 50,000 pounds of product were disposed of following a swift internal investigation that revealed an employee had urinated at his station during the production process," Smithfield Foods spokesperson Lisa Martin told WAVY. "The facility immediately halted production, fully cleaned the processing line, and sanitized all equipment multiple times before resuming operation.” (Just as a general rule, it’s probably best to refrain from workplace behaviors that require the cleaning and sterilization of...anything.)

The New Yorker reports that Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pig and pork producer, with $15 billion in annual sales. Its facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina is the largest pork processing plant in the world, euphemistically “processing” around 30,000 hogs every day.

The plant in Smithfield where the on-the-job urinator was caught on camera produces bacon, sausage, pork, and smoked meats. That location employs an estimated 2,500 people, although that number might drop to 2,499.

But this worker might have also been taking desperate measures under unsustainable work conditions. A 2016 report from Oxfam America found that some workers in poultry processing plants are forced to wear diapers while on the line because they’re forbidden from taking regular bathroom breaks. The Oxfam report surveyed 266 workers in Alabama, and 80 percent of respondents said they could not use the bathroom when needed; 86 percent said the same thing in a separate Minnesota survey.

"What would be shocking in most workplaces happens far too often in poultry plants: Workers relieving themselves while standing at their work station," the report says.

Additionally, about a third of workers in the meat and poultry industry are immigrants, and as a result, are less likely to report an illness or injury for fear of losing their jobs.

Even though Smithfield had to destroy the equivalent of ten Ford F-150s worth of meat, it could’ve been worse. Let’s be honest: it could’ve been so much worse.And to Smithfield Farms: We hope your employees are offered regular bathroom breaks.

43emajJelisa CastrodaleHilary PollackGrossmeat processingSmithfield
<![CDATA[Trendy Coffee Shops Are Ripping Off Millions of Dollars from Indie Musicians]]>, 17 Oct 2018 21:17:00 +0000 For the past several years, I have worked from home, which is more-or-less a way of implying that I’m one of the d-bags with a laptop monopolizing the wall outlets at your favorite coffee shop. I’ve spent enough time at that place to become intimately familiar with the owner’s musical tastes, which include Tame Impala, Drake, and the most ironic four-minute track in Toto’s entire back catalog.

But it turns out that many indie coffee shops like that one—along with restaurants, bars, hotels, hair salons, retailers, and countless other small businesses—are seriously short-changing Tame Impala, Drake, and any other artists they might play.

According to a study published by Soundtrack Your Brand, a music licensing service, and Nielsen Music, the number of businesses playing improperly licensed music is costing the music industry an estimated $2.65 BILLION in revenue. So what constitutes improperly licensed music? It’s using a personal account on a streaming service in a business setting, like if your barista’s afternoon soundtrack is coming from her own personal Spotify account, or if the bartender plays Apple Music during Happy Hour.

To ensure that artists, composers, songwriters, producers, and others are appropriately compensated, businesses are supposed to be licensed separately, but “supposed to be” are the key words in that sentence: according to Soundtrack Your Brand, only 17 percent of the businesses they surveyed had obtained that license.

“Business licenses give music creators fair, and typically much higher, compensation when their music is used to benefit commercial activity,” Soundtrack Your Brand explains in its research. “Consumer streaming services don’t include those rights and that’s why they aren’t allowed to be used in places of business. Their Terms of Use clearly state this.”

Soundtrack Your Brand commissioned Nielsen to interview the owners of almost 5,000 small businesses in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. (And it focused purely on small businesses, not those that are part of “bigger enterprises,” like McDonald’s or Subway.)

Almost 90 percent of those businesses reported that they played music in-store or on-site at least four to five days each week, and more than 40 percent of them said that music was “very important” to their business. (Personally, I don’t even know how a Flat White would taste without “The Less I Know The Better” playing overhead.)

But when it comes to how they’re playing that music, the results are pretty grim... because almost all of them are doing it not-so-legally. Eighty-three percent of the respondents used a personal music service like Spotify or Apple Music instead of using a music service that is legal for business use. According to this research, the music industry loses $11.96 per month from every business that streams a free music service, and $8.33 per month from every one that has a paid subscription to a streaming service. With 21.3 million businesses using these services globally, that adds up to $2.65 billion in losses annually.

When those results are broken down by country, the United States is one of the worst offenders. Seventy-one percent of our business owners “incorrectly believe” that having a personal music account makes it OK for them to play for their customers; only Spain (75 percent) had a higher percentage of improperly streaming business owners. (Italy was the best performer when it comes to proper compensation, as 50 percent of business owners either have the correct license or know that they cannot stream music without it.)

“The music industry at large needs to do better to educate,” Andreas Liffgarden, Soundtrack Your Brand’s chairman and co-founder, told Rolling Stone. “You instinctively know that you can’t use your Netflix account and open a cinema—you’d surely roll your eyes and say, ‘of course I knew that’—but the same isn’t true for music. In the TV and movie industry, it’s almost taken for granted. But in music, aside from large brands who always comply, the educational journey hasn’t happened.”

Liffgarden believes that the next move will be for businesses to have their own streaming music services, which presumably would include the cost of a proper license in their subscription fees. Either way, I’d like to propose a ban on Tame Impala.

7x3ak4Jelisa CastrodaleHilary PollackcoffeeRestaurantscafes
<![CDATA[Here's How to Make Toast Sick as Fuck]]>, 17 Oct 2018 19:45:00 +0000 Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce. In this edition, Aaron Crowder, chef, and Nick Perkins, chef-owner of Hart's in Bed-Stuy and Cervo's on the Lower East Side, make Mediterranean magic out of the simplest of ingredients.

Nick Perkins has his hands full these days, what with running the kitchens of two of New York's buzziest restaurants—Hart's and Cervo's, the latter (and newer of the two still-quite-young restaurants) with the help of chef Aaron Crowder. They're both taking a bit of a breather from the restaurant today to hang out in the garden with us and make lunch, and so their hands are still a bit full, only now with all of the sungold tomatoes and husk cherries they can possibly hold.

NIck Perkins of Hart's and Cervo's
Nick Perkins
Aaron Crowder of Cervo's
Aaron Crowder, smelling bronze fennel

Usually, visiting chefs let us guide them through the garden, plot by plot, not wanting to stray too far from the people who know their way. But about ten minutes in to our garden tour, Nick and Aaron have wandered off in opposite directions, plucking cherry tomatoes and hot peppers at random to test their flavors. We're not entirely sure what they're even picking, but we're happy that they've found so much to put to use.

Nick Perkins testing a red jalapeno
Nick testing to see if this particular pepper variety is spicy or mild

"Got some yerba buena," says Nick, referring to some mint he snipped from one of the many patches of it on the roof. We're not sure where that's going to fit into their Iberian-Mediterranean-accented repertoire of dishes today, but it sure does smell good. They're here at the absolute perfect time to harvest some of our little gem lettuces, and some tender, young castelfranco radicchio, plus some early heads of cabbage.

Aaron Crowder picking husk cherries

They end up picking nearly all of the ripe sungold and cherry tomatoes, as well as what appears to be roughly two quarts of husk cherries. (Aaron runs out of hands to hold them in at one point, and starts tossing them into a pouch he makes with the front of his t-shirt, like a little kid.) We've given them sheet trays to carry their hauls, and on them we also see plenty of basil, thyme, and oregano, plus kohlrabi, celery, leeks, peppers, and onions.

Nick Perkins picking sungold tomatoes
Castelfranco radicchio
Baby gem lettuces and celery

Back inside, they sit down at our conference table to strategize. They sit quietly for a few minutes, drawing diagrams and making lists and muttering to each other about toasts and salads and marinating things. Staying true to the Hart's and Cervo's style, they decide to make us two types of things-on-toast, and two salads. When they're ready to start cooking, they decide to share one cooking station, which seems to be a rather endearing tell about what their working relationship is like in their kitchens.

Nick Perkins and Aaron Crowder sharing a work station
Crowder and Perkins sharing a work station

Nick gets started on the first of the toasts, which'll be marinated hot and mild peppers with husk cherries, and Aaron gets started on a cabbage Caesar salad. Nick slices a few peppers into rustic shapes—no juliennes or perfect dices here. He's keeping everything in pieces that will have some heft to them when spooned over olive oil-fried sourdough toast.

chopped peppers

The peppers get sautéed in a bit of olive oil; then, in a heavy-bottomed pot, he sautés some garlic with red chilis, then tosses in about a pint of husk cherries, sans husks, to let them blister and break down a bit.

sauteeing husk cherries with garlic
peppers and cherries marinating

The peppers will get tossed in with the cherries plus more basil and lemon zest, then set aside to marinate more and to let the flavors meld.

MAKE THIS: Pepper and Husk Cherry Toasts

Finished pepper toast

"Nothing we do is a lot of ingredients or technique, it's very simple—we just use good quality stuff," says Aaron. The "good quality stuff" he's referring to are the very nice anchovies that Nick is deboning as we speak, which will go into just about every dish they're making here today. (They're a staple at Cervo's, of course, which is a Spanish and Portuguese-inspired seafood concept, but they're also the salty fish of choice at Hart's, too.)

Preserved lemon and minced anchovy for caesar salad dressing

Aaron peels the tender inner leaves of a baby head of purple cabbage off, and carefully removes the thickest parts of the rib, because he's leaving this cabbage raw, and it will be just a bit too tough otherwise. Using our mortar and pestle, he mashes up microplaned garlic, minced anchovies, preserved lemons, salt, and olive oil to make a caesar-ish dressing. While he's doing that, Nick is frying some torn bits of sourdough in olive oil to make croutons. Aaron scatters thinly sliced onions and kohlrabi in with with cabbage leaves. The whole thing will get a generous amount of fresh horseradish root grated over the top for a punch of spice, and whole fillets of anchovy for an extra kick of umami.

MAKE THIS: Cabbage Caesar Salad

Finished Caesar salad

The second toast is going to be remarkably simple, just some blistered sungold tomatoes marinated with bronze fennel and basil on toast, with shaved bottarga on top, which Nick has underway in another pan.

Thick-sliced sourdough fried in olive oil

When they're ready to serve this, Nick heaps the tomatoes up on top of the toast, then shaves so much of the salty cured fish roe overtop, you can barely see it. Like a tiny snowy mountain of bottarga and juicy sungolds. This riff on pan con tomate is something that Nick keeps on Cervo's menu as long as the tomato season lasts, and then in the winter, they cycle through other seasonal produce.

MAKE THIS: Sungold Tomato Toast with Bottarga

Finished sungold toast
Nick sliding onto the conference table for a little break

We quickly realize that there is far too much food being prepared than the current occupants of the test kitchen can consume, so we rally the rest of the MUNCHIES troops for a surprise lunch.

Chicory salad with pecorino and marinated tomato and anchovies rounded out our lunch buffet

Briefly, Nick catches a moment of repose on our conference table while Farideh, our culinary director, snaps photos of all of their finished dishes. It's Aaron's day off, so we open a bottle of wine for him and let him celebrate a job well done. Chefs, you're welcome back in the MUNCHIES test kitchen any time.

43emxjDanielle WaydatomatoesanchoviesMake thisCaesar saladbottargastuff on toasttoastscervo'shart'snick perkinsaaron crowder