Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Latest from the Clipping Service

The New York Times...I just can't help myself. I mean to check the food columns of the other on line papers, but never do.

1. Ribs Without Smoke. Who is rocking the barbecue in the Okanagan? I really am asking...anyone? There was a mobile barbecue situation in Oliver last summer; they were set up on the front lawn of a motel south of town on the west side of Highway 97. Anyone remember? Hopefully they will be back.

What I love most about barbecue is the comparatively low cost of equipment and the regional variety--North Carolina versus South Carolina versus Texas, etc... Has anyone definitively defined Okanagan Barbecue? What can the Okanagan do with a 50 gallon drum cut in half, a bunch of fruit wood and some Okanagan Beef or Lamb? (I wish I could say Okanagan Pork, but alas...) Or is Okanagan Barbecue about venison? There's plenty of them around. Or maybe it's salmon. What's your vision of Okanagan Barbecue?

2. Slaughterhouse Shortage Stunting Area's Eat Local Movement. Ooof! Should the Petaluma plant close, there will no longer be any truly local beef, veal, lamb or pork for the bay area. Sure, it will be grown there, but it will have to take at least 2 longer than usual car rides to get from farm to market. Meanwhile, gas isn't getting any cheaper, and yet essential agricultural utilities, namely abattoirs are fewer and fewer in number and are getting further and further away from population centres. Isn't that awkward.

3. Chef Julien Fouin, the Parisian Wizard of Offal. Speaking of abattoirs, for local food to work, (and by "food" I mean beef, pork, lamb, goat and fowl--animals that can be, and for the most part are raised in the Okanagan) there must be whole carcass utlilization. Eat your liver! I am digging this new trend to "eat those cuts that barely got us through the depression" as my mom likes to say. I'm happy to shake pom-poms any time someone comes out rocking the offal.

4. A Mafia Boss Breaks A Code Telling All: A Mafia boss and..."onetime restaurateur, catering consultant and coffee truck owner." Apparently walk-in refrigerators are a great place to go when you're trying to avoid electronic eavesdropping. Did you know?

Ok, so that's the Times. Who out there is scanning the Vancouver Sun? The LA Times? The UK Guardian? Many hands make...quick reading?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Greening the Restaurant Industry: Deep Fat Fryers + Free Market Capitalism = Clogged Toilets

Somewhere Adam Smith is having a hard time finding a working toilet and he doesn't know why.

Could it be fryer grease from the restaurants in free market heaven is clogging the sewers?

If you can believe anything you read in the news, that seems to be the case in heavenly Richmond, BC. Here's the headline:

Restaurant grease buildup costly to Richmond

How costly?
The City of Richmond has been handed a $480,000 repair bill — one of the biggest to be borne in Metro Vancouver — this week to fix a sewer main that ruptured after being clogged with grease.
and later on
Metro Vancouver — along with local municipalities — already spends up $2 million each year to clean up clogged and backed-up sewer pipes.
and lastly
It's estimated it will cost Metro Vancouver $1 million per kilometre to rehabilitate this sewer, and it will take 10 to 12 years to complete the work.
Paragraph two makes it clear:
The city suspects restaurants were responsible for the grease buildup
Wow! Richmond, a true rising star in BC's food culture, is destroying the civic infrastructure with old grease.

While the economic (let alone the ecological) toll of broken sewers is all kinds of fun to think about, even more fun is reflecting on the broken broke-ass broken-ness of our economy. What is it about free market capitalism as practised in British Columbia that some entrepreneur, multi-national fuel conglomerate or government agency isn't collecting all this grease (before it hits the sewers) and turning it into a magical liquid that can fuel engines?

What's crazier still is that converting fryer grease into bio-diesel is not a new science. "The history of bio-diesel began in 1880..."

Here's where a little centralisation can come in handy.

Let's take all the above costs and, simply for the sake of argument, call that number (ha!) One Million Dollars. Sure, the total costs will probably run somewhere in the tens to hundreds of millions, as initial estimates for large scale projects sometimes don't reflect reality--but for now, let's pretend a million bucks appeared like Manna from heaven, ear marked for a bio-diesel project, despite the anti-incentives like ending tax-exemption for bio-diesel in 2009.

With $1,000,000 could "we"

1. Train restaurant employees to collect fryer grease, an not pour it down the drain?

(This is perhaps the largest hurdle facing bio-diesel production from fryer grease)

2. Collect the bio fryer grease/transport to refinery?

3. Refine this grease and use it to run vehicles?

4. Donate surplus bio-diesel, as the ultimate profit is realised by the reduced stress the grease places on the sewer system--an ultimately unknown number that is larger than any of us realise.

It's like traditional Chinese medicine--you pay the doctor to keep you well, to maintain the body--the doctor doesn't get paid when you're sick.

"We" should be paying to keep the sewers free of fryer grease to avoid the much more costly repairs. When grease is kept out of the sewers, it can be refined, re-used and monitized. When it is thrown down the sewer, it becomes a gigantic tax-suck and eco-disaster.

Back to market centralisation, could the restaurants in the Okanagan collect their own fryer-grease and some how monitize it for the benefit of the restaurants in the Okanagan? Wouldn't that be a fun emoticon-insignia to put on your menu? How long before everyone wants a "We belong to the Okanagan Fry Grease Refinery Society because that's just how hip and evolved the restaurant culture is in the Okanagan" emoticon next to their deep fried offerings! Can stickers for the window be far behind?

Even if all that theoretical Okanagan bio-diesel was given away, don't you think it could be a wildly huge marketing coup for the region and its restaurants?

I wonder if the new prison will make bio diesel from their fryer grease?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Something I Learned Today

Bet you didn't know Oliverdailynews.com and the New York Times had something in common. Don't worry, they don't have that much in common, but they both have been running stories about local farmers taking local shit kickings in their local region by the locals.

Let's start with the New York Times, shall we? The headline is

Local, Organic Milk: Nice Idea, but Try Making a Profit

Did you get that? If you didn't, the article goes on to say

“Our boat is made of duct tape and we’ve almost sunk a few times, but we’re paddling along,” said Mr. Bell, 33.

MOO Milk’s journey is a cautionary tale: true grit, a laudable philosophy and a hot trend aren’t enough to create a viable business.

“There are folks who support what we do, but there’s not enough of them up here,” said David Bright, a former newspaper reporter and the organization’s treasurer. “So far, I haven’t been able to find 6,000 people who will buy a gallon of our milk each week.”

Now lets just pause for a moment and think about dairies. Yes, dairies produce milk, and in the case of MOO Milk, they provide the most exciting milk imaginable--the very frightening "whole milk" which despite having nourished people all over the globe for thousands of years and despite being the ingredient for serious cheese makers making serious cheese, we are blessed with a government (of the people, by the people for the people) gracious enough to step in and protect us from the dangers of this scary, scary product.

Dairies also produce something else. Can you guess what? Think chocolate milk...have you figured it out yet? YES! Manure! Thousands of metric tons of manure!

Now, imagine you live in an agricultural region with lots of land--land enough for several dairies. Imagine there are vineyards and orchards all around--plants that contribute substantially to the economy of this hypothetical agricultural region.

If it were up to you and you could choose one and only one, would you choose a dairy that makes manure to nourish all the plants (and the occasional bit of milk for those brave enough to drink it) or would you chose...a prison? (Don't get me wrong, prisons are hot right now--especially those fine fine Canadian built ones.)

Speaking of prisons, Oliverdailynews.com has also been writing about agriculture, particularly the joys of growing the beloved apple.

It's hard to say which article was more the rib tickler. Here are your choices:

1. Apple Prices

Prices are starting to come in for the 2010 apple crop and growers are appalled. For the third year in a row, prices have hit rock bottom. Growers say it is a crisis that could lead to the end of the Okanagan apple industry and could force growers to abandon their orchards altogether.

or is it

2. Apple Month Comes to a Close

“A year ago at this time, Okanagan orchardists were bleeding red ink because the cost of production outstripped the price of apples. Government was urged to help, but nothing of substance ever materialized.

Now, the situation is even more critical as the cost of growing apples is almost double what farmers pocket (22 cents compared to 12.6 cents a pound).

With little capital readily at hand, it may be difficult for some growers to prepare this year’s crop. Some may just pull out their trees and walk away.

Vote for your favourite in the comments section!!!

Makes me want to demand Okanagan apple pie and home made Okanagan apple cider vinegar every time I visit a restaurant in the Okanagan that builds their marketing identity around their "support of local growers" and "use of locally grown product."

Home made vinegar as value add from a local product that no one wants to buy? Crazy, I know...

Lastly, to make the voyage complete, we return to the New York Times with their coverage of "young" people getting into farming, be they underemployed "spikey haired" Japanese janitors, be they Uncle Sam's Misguided Children back from their peace keeping missions in other lands where the people can't manage to govern themselves to Western standards or Corporate Soldiers tired of slogging through the financial killing fields where the real wars are waged.

Farming. Who knew?


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gate and Plate

This is interesting...from the blog Honest Meat:
Likewise, another key issue in why restaurants aren't supporting their local meat producers more significantly is the disconnect between what they are looking for and what producers want. I can't sell a 50lb box of fresh pork tenderloin every week, but I can sell them a couple whole hogs each month. But restaurants often don't have the space to break down whole animals, the skills, or they don't know how to properly menu all the different cuts of the animal.
How about the Okanagan? Well, here's a random list of some of the restaurants in the Okanagan. It is by no means a complete list, but it is a list--a starting point:

Bouchons Bistro
Black Iron Grill and Steakhouse
19 Steakhouse and Lounge
Hooded Merganser
Sals Prime Steakhouse
Grapevines (Gray Monk)
The Vanilla Pod
Hanna's Lounge & Grill
Minstrel Cafe
Old Vines (Quails Gate)
Barrell Room Bistro (Hillside)
Sonora Room (Burrowing Owl)

One afternoon, I went to each restaurant's web site, opened their PDF menu and looked at which cuts of beef were on the menu. PDF 4th quarter 2010 beef menu items of the Okanagan in descending order:

Rib Eye

Short Rib
Strip Loin
Flat Iron

And here are some cuts of beef that are not on any PDF menu in the Okanagan

Inside Top Round
Sirloin Tip
Flank Steak
Tri Tip
Eye of Round
Outside Round

Someone has to buy and do with these if there is going to be local beef. C'mon...flank steak special...how hard is that? Tri Tips? What's wrong with those? Grind some burger with Outside Round and some fat of your choosing? Staff lunch?

Speaking of local beef, I had the occasion to go to a cattle sale in Kamloops today. If you've never gone to one, you really should--especially if you live in the Okanagan. There's one in OK Falls if you don't want to schlep all the way to Kamloops. I also prefer the hamburgers at the OK Falls sale over the Beef-On-A-Bun. But that's just me.

I didn't watch ever single second of the auction...just a few hours worth. Listening to the auctioneer's "chant" got psychedelic after a while. I was told that some calves in the 600-700 pound range were getting about $1.30 a pound. That's beween $780 and $910 a calf.

I don't remember a single bred heifer or steer that fetched over $1.00 a pound. Most of them hovered around $0.75 and $0.60. It also seemed like the heavier (and often the older) the animal, the less it was worth per pound. 1200lbs of cattle at $0.75 = $900.

So...buy a 700 pound calf at $1.30 a pound, feed it for two or three years and say you sell it at 1200 pounds at $0.75 a pound for $900. That's a whopping -$10.00 in profit (provided you don't count the cost of feed, or labor caring for the animal). Do I have that right?

Restaurants: How would you feel if a customer came in, stayed there for 3 years, gained 500 lbs and during that time, that three year period, went to the bathroom randomly throughout the restaurant (again, for three years) and left -$10.00 to cover the bill?

Farmers deserve better!

Friday, January 14, 2011


I want to send a shout out to all you home bakers out there. I have recently read this book cover to cover and have to share with you all. I am a bread enthusiast, and much like the author of this book I have been dreaming of creating the perfect loaf of bread for most of my career. This author takes you on his journey of finding the "perfect loaf." Although there are many good recipe books out there, this one has brought me the closest yet to my "perfect loaf" after just three rounds in the oven with their formula.

The Basic Country Loaf formula has dramatic shape, the crust is strong and has the perfect crunch. The crumb is airy and open. This book is a great referrence for professional chefs looking to understand bread better and take their breadmaking skill to the next level. The great thing about it though is the book was written and photographed in a way that even a novice can have great success. The recipes in the book are unique, and along with several bread formulas, the author has also included great ways to use "days old" bead too.

Here are some pics from my first loaves. Happy Cooking!!