What’s Cooking at the Museum of Science?

It was a beautiful fall day in Boston today, the perfect day for an outdoor cooking demonstration on the banks of the Charles River at…the Museum of Science?

The last place I expected to see a cooking demonstration was a science museum, but when I think about it, it makes sense.  Growing and preparing food involves many sciences, including agronomy, nutritional and environmental sciences, not to mention molecular gastronomy.

But, as Chef Chris Douglass said, cooking requires both art and science. Understanding that something you are roasting will “carry over” cooking when you take it out of the oven is the science, he said, but “getting it right is the art.”

Today’s event, “Citizen’s Chefs Meet Boston’s Best,” was part of a weekend kick-off for the Boston’s Museum of Science’s two-year “Let’s Talk About Food”  initiative. Six of Boston’s top chefs—Jody Adams, Chris Douglass, Tiffani Faison, Rahul Moolgaonkar, Jason Santos, and Ana Sortun—were paired with six non-professionals—“citizen’s chefs”–to demonstrate how to cook a delicious, healthy, sustainable meal that can be prepared at home.

Writer and journalist Louisa Kasdon, a project consultant for “Let’s Talk About Food,” told the crowd that she hopes that the Museum of Science will serve as a “Big Tent” to bring people together to discuss all aspects of food and food policy.

As a long-time PescoVegetarian, I was already familiar with the cooking techniques and nutritional value of many of the foods being used, but I was delighted to collect some new recipes and expand my knowledge.  Here are a few tasty tidbits I picked up, accompanied by a slide show of photos by Michelle Johnson:

Commentator Edith Murnane, Food Policy Director for the City of Boston, said that Brussels sprouts were one of her favorite vegetables, because of their sweetness.  “As we go into later fall and winter months, Brussels sprouts become even sweeter,” she noted.

“This is the only time of the year when you have two seasons of vegetables at once” [both summer and fall], chef Ana Sortun pointed out.  “Right now, leeks are magical,” she said.

Chef Tiffani Faison, runner-up on Season One of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” cooking competition show, stated that it can be hard to get kids to eat fish. Faison showed us how to make “meatballs” from scallops and monkfish, two fish that “tend to be a bit sweeter” and appeal to kids.

“Bluefish are local and they are good for you,” said Chef Jody Adams, who demonstrated her “Grilled Bluefish with Pomegranate Glaze, Garlic Yogurt and Fiery Greens” recipe. “Lots of people think bluefish are too oily, but fresh bluefish is delicious and doesn’t taste too oily,” Adams said. She also prepared farro, which she said has a lower gluten level than wheat and is her “favorite grain in the world.”

Ana Sortun combined escarole, cucumber, dill, parsley, spearmint, garlic, lemon, and  olive oil with Greek-style yogurt to create a “Cacik,” described in the program as “anything or everything green with thick garlicky yogurt.”

Commentator Kathy McManus, Department of Nutrition Director at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, sang the praises of Greek yogurt.  In addition to being wonderfully thick and rich, McManus said, “Greek-style yogurt has twice the protein and is lower in carbohydrates and sodium than regular yogurt.”

Since I love Greek yogurt, I was glad to hear that.  But I went home reflecting on something else McManus said: “Being mindful and thoughtful and savoring our meals is as important as the foods we eat.”

And that, dear reader, is where the art of food trumps the science.

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Boston Local Food Festival Brings Bostonians Together to Meet and Eat

The Boston Local Food Festival on Saturday, October 2 was a mashup of people and food on Boston’s waterfront by the Children’s Museum. The event—a first for Boston—brought farmers, fisherfolk, restaurateurs, artisanal food producers, and eaters from the Boston area together to share their passion for local food.

Volunteer duty

Volunteer Rachel "HealthyChicks" Chemerynski helps The Food Project unload their truck.

I shivered in the pre-dawn chill as I walked across the deserted Congress Street bridge at 6 am Saturday morning to begin my volunteer stint, but by the time I left that afternoon, it was a perfect sunny fall day and the festival was so packed, I could barely make my way out.

Beautiful turnovers and brioches from Canto 6 Bakery & Cafe in Jamaica Plain.

From free samples of milk, chocolate, hummus, and the smoked fish patés from Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse to the dishes from local restaurants and vendors, all priced at under $5, everywhere I looked and smelled, there was food, glorious food. In between the eating opportunities were learning opportunities galore: Educational exhibits, food demos, and a seafood “throwdown” between chefs Didi Emmons and Jason Bond.

In addition to generating excitement and support for local food, one of the goals of the festival was to ”facilitate collaborations between local food farms, businesses, and public and non-profit organizations” and the festival organizers, the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, certainly succeeded.

Jeff Barry, founder of Boston Organics, an organic produce delivery service, and a sponsor and supporter of the Local Food Festival, told me, “Putting this event together has created so many good connections. Boston Organics provided produce from farms, breads from Nashoba Bakery, and food for sandwiches for the volunteers, but we couldn’t figure out how to get all the stuff here [when they needed it].  We knew that Katsiroubas Bros. [a wholesale fruit and produce company] was bringing a truck, so even though I didn’t know them, I called them yesterday to ask for help and they delivered it for us.”

Boston Local Food Festival

Boston Organics Founder Jeff Barry

Barry concluded: “The food system and infrastructure are dominated by the larger entities.  This event came together through using informal networks, and that’s how the local food system will come together.”

Boston Local Food Festival on October 2 Will Be a Love Fest for Food-Lovers

Berries

Local berries from Heavens Harvest

Food is love, as far as I’m concerned.  There is no better way to show your love for family, friends, community, your community and the planet than through what you buy, cook and eat.

As a fish-eating vegetarian, I’ve always preferred fresh and local food.  Until recently, however, I put much more attention on the fresh than the local side of things. I sought out fresh foods with as little processing or additives as possible because I assumed they were tastier and healthier than cooking canned and frozen foods.  As long as it looked fresh, it went in my shopping cart, regardless of whether it came from Cambridge, California, or Cartagena.

But the more I learn about the benefits of eating locally-grown food, the more time and money I’m willing to invest in supporting it.  By seeking out local foods from conscientious growers and producers, I’m supporting the local economy, helping workers earn a living wage, eating eggs that are less likely to be contaminated with salmonella, and swooning when I eat a fresh peach. What’s not to like?

Cape Ann Fresh Catch fishes for the best catch

So I’ve joined the Heavens Harvest Farm Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community-Supported Fishery (CSF) and volunteer at the Community Servings  Farmers’ Market.  And I’m growing a few herbs and vegetables in my front yard–still waiting to see if I can harvest my potato crop.

Even so, I still find that eating locally can be challenging.  When I go to the supermarket, for example, the signs often do not tell me where the food is from, and the store is less likely to sell artisanal products from local companies.  When I go to most restaurants—except for the ones that specialize in local foods–the menu seldom tells me whether the fish is wild or farmed, and where it was caught. When I can, I try to support the places that support local food and provide the information I need without having to ask.

I’m happy to report that the consumer demand for fresh and local products is beginning to force even the food chains and the supermarkets to provide more local options.  Just because the food is sourced locally, however, doesn’t mean that the benefits go to the farmers or their workers.  The only sure way to know you’re supporting your values with your dollars is to know your farmer—and fishers, and cheesemakers, and…  In short, be an informed consumer!

Which brings me to my final point:  The Sustainable Business Network is holding Boston’s first ever Local Food Festival on Saturday, October 2, from 11am-6pm at the Boston Waterfront at Fort Point Channel.  The fest will be a chance for you to meet local producers and learn about local foods while you attend cooking demos by some of your favorite local chefs, sample delicious local beers, and enjoy some music from local bands.

And—specially for “us” pescovegetarians—there’ll be a mini seafood festival featuring fresh, locally-caught delights. For those of you who love watching Iron Chef and Chopped, two chefs will compete in a cooking “Throwdown” competition, featuring a mystery seafood ingredient.

Free food, fun, and the chance to learn more about eating local—sounds like a love fest for food lovers to me!