Monday, February 19, 2007

What would you like to taste?

Perhaps I need to set up a wiki. I'd like to turn a few standards on their heads and let the audience create what it would like to taste. Since this is a food group, you might be interested if I describe my job a little bit; in itself, my job is food related.

I'm a tasting host at Zingerman's Deli. My normal role is to pick some subject, say chili peppers, put together a broad spectrum of products to taste, do a scouring of knowledge pulling together all the food resources I can muster (and I've got access to a lot, some of them being producers and growers and artisans), and then create a tasting around those products in which I talk for 90-120 minutes about that subject. I have to guess what a foodie audience would want to taste and then try to communicate the existence of the tasting to those who would be interested. Each of the tasting hosts here has his or her own style, but I can describe mine pretty succinctly: I focus on culinary knowledge about a specific ingredient, I relate that ingredient to its geographic culinary surroundings, pulling in information about the biological, mycological, culinary, chemical, and cultural elements of the ingredient, and I try to build the tasting through a series of steps that will maximize the tasting experience of the audience. I run a very active tasting, asking for opinions and ideas, I want you to create the experience as much as possible.

What I want to turn on its head is the decision making portion of coming up with the idea for a tasting. Why should I be making the decision about what you want to taste? I would enjoy poring my research into any area about food, so why not try to get the audience to voice itself.

I have access to probably the best foods that the world has to offer when it comes to cheese, olive oil, vinegar, tuna, anchovies, olives, smoked fish, salamis, salts, honeys, jams, pastries, bread, chocolate, coffee, spices, pastas, teas, cakes, pies, and sweet cookies. It's a unique access that makes the tasting experience more exciting than one might think.

So I'm asking you, and perhaps I should make this into a wiki format. I'm wondering what you would pay for. You set the price, knowing that I intend to make a profit as a business, but I'm also appreciative of your patronage so I'm certainly not going to cheat you out of what you're due. So what would you pay $20 to come taste? $10? $39

Here's a list of tastings that I'm thinking about doing, perhaps you could tell me what would interest you and how much you think it would be worth.

Would you come for a bagel and cream cheese with various jams tasting? How much would you pay for that? $5? $10? Knowing that a $10 bagel and shmear tasting is going to provide more food or more variety than a $5 bagel and schmear tasting. But for $10, I could see getting at least 2 bagels, cream cheese, butters, and 30 jams. Is it worth it?

How about a bread, butter, and honey tasting? Maybe only an hour long, but including two dozen different honeys and 12 different breads. If 30 people came to that for $20 each, I could provide quite a spread.

I could have cheese tray tasting that you vote on. You create what's on the cheese tray, based on what you would want to eat on your dream cheese tray of the world's greatest cheeses and salamis. Wouldn't it be great to go to a wedding and see that the cheese tray had everything you liked the best? I can make that happen. But what would someone pay for that? The more you were willing to pay, the more amazing I can make it, including gourmet tunas, smoked salmon, pates, etc.

How much would people pay for a foie gras tasting? How many times does one get a chance to eat foie gras? Especially while it's still legal to eat foie gras. "Poach the foie gras according to the recipe given above in Basic Information. Cool it immediately by shocking in ice water, pat dry, and marinate the liver in good Sauternes wine with a tablespoon of Cognac or brandy at least 24 hours in the refrigerator. Cut the foie gras into thick rounds, and place between sheets of freshly baked puff pastry with generous slices of brandy-sprinkled Comice or D'Anjou pears, cracked black pepper and crumbled Roquefort cheese."

Scones and jam?

Cookies, grilled brownies, and gelato?

Pies & cheese? (Tastes good together, I'll tell you that)

Coffee and chocolate?

Macaroni and cheeses, in which 20 grated cheeses are available to put on small cups of orecchiete pasta and sauce? Oooooh, or even more exciting have 8 small cups of different pastas with 20 different grated cheeses and 8 different sauces.

Let me know. s o l o m o n j @ g m a i l . c o m

Sunday, February 18, 2007

how to make couscous

The United Nations as a food resource (manual on cheese making)

I need to investigate this United Nations Agricultural Division site much more. I think I've found one of the best manuals on cheese making I've seen. Also, this.

Why do bananas ripen after they are picked? Avocados, Pineapples? Ugali!

What I do best is research topics, especially topics about food. That and teaching are probably the skills I enjoy using most. Writing is a skill I wish I practiced more.

So, the question came to me, why do avocados and bananas ripen after they are picked? This question led me a few directions, and I'm going to share them.

The first was to find a paper that also tossed pineapples into this group of fruit. As I searched I ran across a paper from the University of California at Davis. It revealed the biochemical workings of the banana and avocado. UCofDavis article.

Still not quite satisfied that the deeper meaning of my why had been answered I went to the source of most of my initial searches, Wikipedia.

This led me to a side-discovery of the existence of banana flour, and now my search had turned into the idea of trying to find the traditional cuisine of the geographic regions of the world that have had bananas at least for the last 200 years so that the banana would be embedded in their cuisine. (and, of course that led to a quick side run into banana juice)

I then went on a fascinating trip to Brazil, since Brazil and India are the top two producing nations of bananas in the world. I started wondering how bananas and cheese were combined. Bananas taste good in yogurt, so I would imagine some cheeses would go especially well with bananas on a cheese plate. I found a cheese called Queijo Minas in Brazil, but I found it on a page from the United Nations... I'm excited because the depth of information is substantive, and I may have found another very useful food research tool.

My last thought on this journey which is not over with this post was sparked by the discovery of ugali, which is a boiled mixture of milk whey and flour (corn flour in Kenya and Tanzania). Boiled water and flour is a method of making couscous, which made me think, "How would cheese and corn couscous be, would they combine those ingredients in cuisines with bananas or plantains in any way?" Then I drifted into wild realms of small balls of couscous surrounding a middle of cheese