A Lot to Digest at the Ecofarm Conference in Pacific Grove
From EcoFarm to Treebones, the buffet of important food stuff looks endless.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Sure, our food system is screwed, but it’s no small comfort that cuisine was a theme for the bright bulbs illuminating the exclusive Entertainment Gathering in Monterey last weekend (see story).
The Galloping Gourmet – the only TV food show star to rival Julia Child – told me about his new “Menu2” movement to discreetly include nutritional info on restaurant menus as part of a program that has gotten enthused reviews during test runs in the Northwest (www.grahamkerr.com/menu2). Photojournalist Peter Mentzel led the audience around the world in 80 diets, snappily narrating a visual voyage that crossed dozens of countries to measure and photograph people with their weekly diets spread before them, revealing everything from deep fried starfish eaters to urine drinkers and painting how much food defines us in a fresh, beautiful and powerfully simple way. New York Times “Minimalist” Mark Bittman profiled a food system that has gone “sadly and dramatically awry” – where Cheetos outpace carrots, lifestyle diseases claim more than communicable ones, and obesity will kill more than lung cancer by 2020 – but also aimed at opportunities. The first step, he said: A soda tax to dent empty calories that lead to obesity – “The goal isn’t a Big Mac with fries and a water, but we’ve got to start somewhere” – which has found a foothold in several states and could raise billions while slashing health care costs.
“The goal isn’t a Big Mac with fries and a water, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
At the other larger-than-life conference in town, EcoFarm, food ruled throughout. The insights included a nanotechnology-in-foods alert (the short of it: Stick with foods without packaging, because nano development dramatically outdistances regulation and toxicity studies) and edible landscaping ideas from a master, Rosalind Creasy (download what grows best in your climate zone at www.rosalindcreasy.com). It was USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, though, whose words met the most anticipation. The surprisingly young crowd she saw, meanwhile, must’ve been encouraging, given the average U.S. farmer is 59. (“We’re in a bit of a crisis around this,” she said.)
The Weekly’s Kera Abraham caught the keynote, and reports this (more at www.montereycountyweekly.com/buzz):
She described a tough-love approach to the National Organics Program, including an upgrade to its own division. “We need to be grown-up now about organic,” she said. NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy gave a peek into tighter compliance: unannounced farm inspections, residue sampling and quicker investigations of complaints about products that use the term “organic” too liberally.
“The Age of Enforcement – that’s my line, by the way,” Merrigan said. “They have a job to do.”
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The Handys had an idea. And that’s a good thing.
John Handy’s past schemes have included transforming the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from obscure underground comic book to colossal kid’s toy (during his time at Mattel), and a South Big Sur hillside into the yurt-and-pine Treebones paradise he and his wife Corinne opened upon his retirement. Their surfing-and-skydiving son Lucas, who helps run the family business with his twin brother and two sisters, often has his own wise designs: He composed several inspired adventure pieces as a Weekly intern a summer back.
The inspired idea this time: Talking their sushi crush, Carlos Preciado of their former Long Beach hometown, into moving north and steering newborn Treebones Sushi! (805-927-2390).
The South Coast is stoked they did. From 5:30-8:30pm Monday-Saturday, he’s serving knockout special rolls, sashimi and sushi on a gorgeous slab of reclaimed redwood that seats around 10 in a mini-airplane hangar-type space – which is appropriate, because the views swoop to the blue beyond, and the tastes can simulate high flight – with customized sliding screens that let in the mild night.
It’s expensive (and short on SeafoodWatch green-list options), but excellent. Our group crushed an epic hike-generated hunger with seaweed salads ($4.50 each), rarefied rainbow rolls layered with crab, salmon, yellowtail and albacore ($18), vegetable rolls with gobo roots and daikon sprouts ($9) and one of the best special inventions in recent memory, the spicy tuna-crab-cucumber-seared-salmon-and-subtle-mustard-dressing excellence of the Alaskan Roll ($17), washed down with cold draft Kirin Ichiban and steaming-hot sake. The most remarkably intense wasabi I’ve had accompanied the affair, though Preciado says its potency varies by batch.
After the orgy of good eats, the Handys had another initiative ahead: The sticky date pudding ($8) by pastry chef and neighbor Margaret Graham-Doyle, who helps run Wild Coast Restaurant in the main Treebones building. Her other treats are good, but the ideally textured, beautifully moist pudding (which is more a tort of sorts), elevated by a luxurious but light maple sauce, might have been the handiest idea of the evening.
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Rancho Cielo, the landmark vocational-educational center for local kids who need a new take on a troubled life, is adding a potent component: The Drummond Culinary Academy.
From 5-8pm this Sunday, Jan. 31, the Sardine Factory’s Bert Cutino is assembling local chefs and wineries at Monterey Plaza Hotel for a Western-themed “culinary round up” to give the nascent program a little charitable boost.
He’s getting a big assist from good-hearted chefs like Cal Stamenov and Kurt Grasing, Dory Ford and Wendy Brodie, among a full 17 total – many of whom will participate as guest chefs in the DCC – and local wineries like J. Lohr, Paraiso, Carmel Road and McIntyre. $125, 444-3533.
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Lame alert one: Some big-company Canadians are trying to bully lil’ local beermeister Jeff Moses out of his Boxer Beer label. The silver lining: he’s learning a lot about trademark law and the unfair advantages multinational brands and their deep legal teams enjoy… Lame alert two: Carmel code enforcers have shut down the money music rotation at Mundaka (624-7400), but not before Nico Georis laid down some saucy old-timey notes last Thursday. The piano went well with his brother Gabe’s latest wine discovery, which doubles as a devilish deal: a dry 2008 Rocaberdi from Catalunya for just $15 a bottle. May the music be back soon… Shroom sage Phil Carpenter steers the 12th annual Fort Ord Wild Mushroom Foray and Saute through the backcountry for wild fungi before simmering a feast Sunday, Jan. 31 – shroomers should meet at 9am at the Fort Ord Thrift Shop parking lot, 684-2074… With so many crab feeds washing ashore, last week’s lineup was light one all-you-can-eat affair, the Salinas Valley Democratic Club’s 4-8pm event Saturday, Feb. 20. $25, 210-6116… Horace and Sarina Mercurio hold an open house at their little community pillar of place, Coffee Mia Brew Bar in Marina (384-0148) 2-4pm Saturday, Jan. 30, to celebrate two years in biz with free coffee tastings, goodies and live music… Six dozen chefs and winemakers gather at Steinbeck Center in Salinas this Saturday, Jan. 30, for the Valley of the World Grand Finale 775-4728 x220… Chef David Frappiea’s got new menu items at The Grill @ Ryan Ranch (647-0390): crab-stuffed prawns, mahi mahi tacos among them… Just a couple of days left on a delicioso deal at Chapala (757-4959): two-for-one Sunday brunch… Back to ’80s prices from 2:30-6:30pm at City Diner in Seaside (394-3697) also expires Jan. 31, as does the 15 percent off offer on the 150-some wines at the cute-and-centrally-located Wine From the Heart downtown Monterey (641-WINE)… The Hope for Haiti menu at Baja Cantina (625-2252) – stocked with items exchanged for a tax-deductible donation – goes until Feb. 14… Play hard.