wastEDwisconsin

By Amy Huo, executive chef, The Informalist    /   Photo by Kyle Lehman

According to a July 2016 article in The Guardian, Americans discard roughly half of all produce because of a “cult of perfection.” That is, because an apple has some spots or lettuce leaves have fallen prey to a wayward cabbage worm, those products are unsellable and promptly discarded. It must be noted that this produce is unharmed in all other ways, usually perfectly ripe but unfortunately looks imperfect. While I would like to say that my parents and grandparents—the generation oppressed by the Great Depression—would be horrified to see food wasted in such a manner, the truth is quite the opposite. Years of marketing by Big Agriculture in the food industry has changed perception of how our produce must appear in order to be edible. That is, imperfection in appearance signifies imperfections more serious than surface-deep.

 

Where did this begin? All signs point to the discovery, processing, and development of sugar in Europe—some even argue that sugar was a means of supporting American independence (British forces were apparently too busy defending their sugar plantations in the Caribbean to adequately defend against American colonial independence). Furthermore, heavily processed wheat and white bread products were seen historically as more pure than brown bread made with wheat that includes the germ and bran. Essentially, many eighteenth-century Europeans believed eating white foods made one more pure.

 

While I cannot connect via concrete evidence that any of the historical significance of eighteenth-century European tastes led to our demand for culture of perfection in food of the modern age, it does seem that there is a persisting connection between perfect appearance and taste. We live in an age of hothouse flavorless tomatoes and the “Red Delicious” apple (really not delicious at all, in fact, mostly mealy and devoid of flavor altogether).

 

It’s no secret, at this point, that my experience in New York with Chef Dan Barber has impacted my life and my approach to food in the restaurant. Chef Barber started the wastED campaign in New York by serving a dinner completely made of food waste. Most recently, he and the team from Stone Barns served dinner on the rooftop of the Selfridges department store in London to draw attention to the egregious amount of food wasted around the world in developed countries on the daily. His dishes were inventive and flavorful, served on broken plateware and other usually discarded items.

 

Because my background in the culinary industry is heavily influenced by this kind of throw-nothing-away philosophy, I’ve begun to focus on the food waste issue here at The Informalist. wastEDwi is my campaign to draw attention to the many ways we utilize usually wasted ingredients in our kitchen to create dishes that are inventive, beautiful, and delicious. Preserving ingredients to use year-round demands innovation but begets unforeseen experiences for our guests. For example, this year, to preserve the flavor of sugary spring parsnips, we used the meaty parsnips for our various dishes requiring root vegetables but then dehydrated the peels and ground them into dust. The perfumed quality of the fresh parsnips and the pure sugary sweetness are both preserved in the dust and give us an extra layer of flavor to play with in our dishes. In some recipes, I’ve gone as far as replacing the sugar content with this parsnip sugar or dehydrated sweet corn in the same manner. Beets juiced for sauces leave behind pulp that can also be dehydrated, ground, and used to color pasta. Carrot and fennel tops usually discarded can be used the same way or mixed with salt or sugar to garnish a dish.

 

Kitchens have long had to use normally wasted items to improve their food cost, but this approach is more important than just saving money. It’s about respecting the time and effort farmers and producers spend to create the ingredients we serve in our kitchen. Using every part of a product—essentially nose-to-tail for vegetables—means that spiritually speaking, nothing is disrespected. I believe, on a personal note, a guest can feel this kind of approach on a plate. If we can understand that every single element on a dish belies a deeper significance about preparation, care, and environment, then the dish can speak for itself about the philosophy of a culture. In the cult-of-perfection world we live in, imperfection requires innovation. Here at The Informalist, we seek out those experiences so that we may bring the guest a unique, surprising, and exceptionally innovative plate every single day.

 

Sources:
www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit-vegetables-perfect

www.livescience.com/4949-sugar-changed-world.html

www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/03/04/147819980/american-history-baked-into-the-loaves-of-white-bread

www.sucrose.com/lhist.html

www.selfridges.com/GB/en/content/article/wasted-london

Deep Winter Greenhouse: Extending the Growing Season for Northern Climates

By Nyssa Langlois, Writer & Copy Editor for Farm Table Foundation

As we enter the beginning of fall, many of our regional farmers begin to prepare for a slow, if not nonexistent, growing period. Winters in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota are frequently met with shudders in response to the bitter, dark transition that takes over the landscape. Winter in the north is rarely thought of to be an agriculturally productive time of the year–rural farms become barren, and hearty, local crop supplies become incredibly slim.

Yet there has been a recent introduction to these northern agricultural communities that would allow local farmers to grow a variety of greens and root vegetables year-round. The University of Minnesota has spent the last few years researching the sustainability and productivity of deep winter greenhouses, structures specifically geared toward the northern, blistery winter climates of Minnesota and Wisconsin, to provide produce throughout this harsh time of the year.

Research done by the Department of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Minnesota has indicated there are specific methods to maximizing the productivity of these deep winter greenhouses. By using unique methods to retain and transfer solar energy, the design for these greenhouses allows for optimal growing even during the darkest winter months. These deep winter greenhouses are an ideal way for small farms to continue producing a good share of their root vegetables and greens varieties year-round, as this style of greenhouse is oriented toward plants that don’t require copious exposure to direct sunlight. Turnips, radishes, baby kale, sprouts, Asian greens, and herbs do exceptionally well in this particular environment.

In order to sustain and further research in this endeavor, the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships office has worked with the construction of five deep winter greenhouses at different locations throughout Minnesota: the Organic Consumers Association in Finland, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Alternative Roots Farm in Madelia, and the Lake City Catholic Worker Farm. The greenhouse in Finland opened in February of this year, and the second installment of the project, located in Bemidji, opened at the end of September.

The Farm Table Foundation is excited for the opportunity to expand its knowledge base on deep winter greenhouses, as finding more economic and sustainable ways to continually produce local, organic food is a top priority of the organization. To keep the community up to date on this new greenhouse practice, the foundation has invited Greg Schweser, the director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Minnesota, to conduct a discussion about deep winter greenhouses at the Farm Table Foundation. Schweser will be addressing the specific design techniques used to create a deep winter greenhouse, as well as the thoughts and energy that go into creating this kind of structure. This discussion will take place on Tuesday, November 14, at 6:00 p.m., and it will be open to the public. Tickets can be procured for $15 at the Farm Table Foundation website under Classes and Events.

Nyssa Langlois studied at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and worked as a program advisor for World Endeavors. Her current positions are copy editor, writer & server extraordinaire for Farm Table Foundation in Amery, Wisconsin.

Brewing Projekt Launches New Food Truck: Interview with Chef Josh Steinmetz

The Brewing Projekt is sponsoring a new food truck! New local chef Josh Steinmetz will be serving up food from the truck in September. Recently we spoke with Steinmetz about the new endeavor.

Second Opinion: You are a Johnson Wales University graduate. How did that come about?
Josh Steinmetz: Well I started washing dishes at Lake Wissota Golf when I was fourteen just to have some extra cash before school. When I went to college the first time, I decided that I wanted to take a year off to get away from school for a while. I called up my old chef and asked him if he had openings, and he did. I stayed working with him for three more years at which point he told me that I would learn everything that I would need if I stayed in the industry and just worked, but it would take many years or I could go to school and learn the bulk of all of it in a matter of four years.

JWU was a great experience and an amazing learning experience. The first two years went by very fast and were routine with what we made and the correct way that they were made. The next two years when I got into my concentration were a blast and an amazing learning experience. I graduated in May with a bachelors in Culinary Food Service and Management with a concentration in Sustainability and Wellness.

SO: How did you get involved in the food truck project?
JS: Will and I had been talking for a while when he asked me how I would like to be my own boss. We started discussing the food truck and some ideas, and the rest is history.

SO: What kind of food will you be serving from the truck?
JS: I will be serving a Carolina-style BBQ with my own twist. Some of the items will include smoked pulled pork, herb smoked pulled chicken, sharing portions of tator tots and fried Brussel sprouts, house-made pickles and sauces. Once things get rolling I will be having certain weeks where I will be serving different-style ethnic cuisines.

SO: What is your interest in using local foods and how do you hope to incorporate that with the truck?
JS: My interest in using local foods is trying to get the best ingredients closest to the source of growth. The closer you buy something to where it was grown the better flavor and more nutrients the ingredients will have.

SO: When will the truck begin serving?
JS: We are hoping to have the food truck up and running by the first week in September.

SO: Will the truck be serving Brewing Projekt products too?
JS: We won’t be selling Brewing Projekt products, but we will be using some of them in our recipes.

SO: Describe some menu features that will use local products.
JS: All of the pickles that I will be making will feature local foods, along with the sauces, and I will be using local cheeses. I will be trying to incorporate as much local as I can right away, but it will be a process that will take some time.

SO: What are your goals for the truck?
JS: Some of my goals for the food truck are to offer some big bold flavors that won’t break the bank, trying to be as sustainable as possible, and creating everything I can from scratch.

The Watershed Café: A Gathering Place of Local Flavor

By Summer Kelly, The Watershed Cafe

The Watershed Café is a locally and sustainably sourced restaurant, perched above the scenic St. Croix River in Osceola, Wisconsin. The owners, Rita and Steve Rasmuson, established the restaurant in 2014 with a mission to bring the best comfort food to the table. For Rita, that means using simple and fresh ingredients. “We are a whole food restaurant, which means we bring in beautiful food and simply create dishes for all people to enjoy.”

Rita’s vision for The Watershed Café is built around the nature of St. Croix River Valley. “We wanted to create a space for community,” Rita said. “We really enjoy the culture of the river valley–the park systems, the activity of the outdoors, and the community itself.”

The St. Croix River Valley is a hub of small, family-owned farms practicing sustainable and organic farming methods. The Watershed Café works closely with four farms within 10 miles of the restaurant to source much of its fresh vegetables, herbs, dairy products, and meat. Because the story of The Watershed Café is connected to the stories of its partners, we would like to share a bit about them.

Common Harvest CSA: Margaret Pennings and Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farm created a fruitful, small-scale sustainable CSA farm as stewards of the land. Stewardship of the land for them means practicing organic farming methods: hand-weeding, amending the soil with local and organic compost, growing vegetables without pesticides or herbicides, and using solar panels as earth-friendly energy solutions for the farm.

Foxtail Farm CSA: Chris and Paul Burkhouse, owners of Foxtail Farm–Winter CSA, have a unique twist on farming in the Midwest. They focus their efforts solely on winter produce. They run their farm with a “Morganic” philosophy, a term coined by a Foxtail Farm member meaning “more than organic.” To Foxtail Farm, this means building dependable relationships between farmers and members, and growing produce naturally with organic principles in mind.

Crystal Ball Farm Organic Dairy: Troy and Barb DeRosier own and operate organic Crystal Ball Farms using a holistic approach to farming with pasture-raised, grass-fed dairy cattle. To increase the farm’s sustainability, Crystal Ball Farms installed roof-top solar panels to the barns, creamery, and granary, providing renewable energy for the farm.

Peterson Craftsman Meats: Peterson Craftsman Meats is a family owned and operated farm practicing pasture-raised beef cattle farming. With a passion for maintaining the vitality of the land and the animals, Andy Peterson uses organic practices, rotational grazing, and crop rotation.

Join us for local comfort food at The Watershed Café at 99 N. Cascade Street, Osceola, WI. Learn more about all of our sustainable partners at www.thewatershedcafe.com.

 

Summer Kelly is a local gardener and plant-enthusiast with a passion for marketing and environmental sustainability. Crossing paths with Rita and Steve of The Watershed Café is the best thing that has happened to Summer in her free-lance marketing career.

New Chef Brings Love for Local Food to Sheeley House

Recently we spoke with new chef Brian Jensen at Sheeley House in Chippewa Falls about his love of using local foods and how he is incorporating them in the menu.

Second Opinion: How long have you been a chef? Where else have you worked?
Brian Jensen: I have been a restaurant chef now for a little over four years. I’ve always had an interest in cooking and a passion for it but never imagined taking that passion and pursuing a career through it. I spent the last ten years (before moving to the Chippewa Valley a little over a year ago) working in the Door County and Appleton area. I worked in all facets of different styles of restaurants there but really enjoyed the creativity of working with local foods and high-end ingredients. I got my start in a French/Latin fusion restaurant called Restaurant Saveur, learning and working for a brilliant chef who inspired the bold flavors and unique style I like to cook with. Most recently I worked in Door County running the kitchen at an old staple restaurant called the Inn at Kristofers. From there I moved to Appleton to pursue opening a new Restaurant called Rye in the Copperleaf Hotel. I had stepped away from cooking at this time to manage the front of house and also another wine bar. But it really brought me back to my need to step back into the kitchen fully and dedicate myself to it. Working the tourism circuit between Door County in the summer and South Florida in the winter, it gave me a lot of insight to food and the industry. It also taught me I wanted to come back close to home and make a life here doing what I really wanted to be doing which was cooking.. I have been back to the Chippewa Valley and at the Sheeley House since the end of May 2016.

SO: Why did you want to become a chef?
BJ: My inspiration to become a chef dates back to when I was a child working in our large family garden, watching my mother cook simple recipes from garden ingredients. As the youngest in a large family, my siblings and I always enjoyed fishing for trout in the local streams, picking berries and mushrooms, and even tapping maple trees for the sweets to enjoy around the dinner table. The kitchen was always the focal point of the household, and I can still taste those flavors of fresh ingredients today. They still inspire me.

SO: Describe your interest in using local foods at Sheeley House. What is your long-term goal with it?
BJ: This past spring, I started a project to take an empty parcel of land at the Sheeley House and turn it into a garden to supply the restaurant with fresh produce and herbs. This alone I knew wouldn’t be able to sustain the bulk of ingredients for the menus, but it always gives me different ingredients to use in creating a special or supplementing our current or future menus. I thought this would be a step in the right direction to going to more strictly local foods. I am currently in talks with farmers and getting my foot in the door to start slowly incorporating more of these products in to our menus.

SO: How will you use local foods in your menu?
BJ: Seasonal cooking to me is at the heart of most chefs’ creativity. I love using fresh greens from the garden in creating a fresh salad or braising them to use in stews or accompanying rich fatty meats such as pork belly or short ribs. With an ever-changing menu and extensive weekly specials, I have an almost obsession over using every part of fresh produce as to not waste the fruits of our labor or of local farmers.

SO: Do you do foraging too? How do you use what you find?
BJ: I really started to forage about five years ago. When I was a child picking berries and such was just a way to satisfy my sweet tooth. But it had come back in a roundabout way to foraging mushrooms of all different kinds. My favorite are chanterelles. I love using them to make fresh pastas, a beautiful mushroom soup with bacon and walnuts, to sautéing with a steak, or a mushroom strudel.

SO: Anything else you’d like to share?
BJ: I think that there are many hidden treasures in the Chippewa Valley in the lines of different avenues to find locally sourced food. But it is up to chefs and restaurants to take the steps to highlight these places and show the importance of sustainability and how this helps support local community and business in our area. Wisconsin has much to offer in the changing growing seasons, and we have so much to take advantage of right in our backyard. I am hoping more establishments will start to get on board with this movement of local flavors and cuisine.