Posts Tagged ‘Pure Food and Wine’

Heads up, vegans (and food expo habitués). Here comes The Seed Experience. On June 16 and 17 at 82Mercer in Soho, there will be a multi-media vegan event that includes speakers, film screenings, food tastings, demos, workshops, and more.

Speakers will include Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Kathy Freston, Nick Cooney, our friend and blogger JL Fields, and many more. Check out film screenings including Vegucated, Forks Over Knives, Lunch Hour, and Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead. Tastings will be provided by Cinnamon Snail, Pure Food and Wine, Candle Cafe, Blossom, Cafe Terri, among others.

Most importantly, look for demonstrations by NGI’s Olivia Roszkowski and Fran Costigan. Olivia will prepare Spring Shoots with Asparagus, Miso-Spiced Eggplant, Adzuki Beans, Edamame, & Black Sesame Seeds in a Ginger Dressing at 4:00 on the 16th (Stage B). Fran will prepare Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts for Everyone on the 17th at 2:00 (Stage B).

Follow the event on Twitter @theseedexp. Also, rumor has it there’s a 50% off Groupon waiting for you.

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NGI Grad Amanda Cohen, Chef/Owner of Dirt Candy

NGI Graduate Amanda Cohen, Chef/Owner of Dirt Candy in East Village, has boldly joined the media fray to put vegetarian, plant-based food on the culinary map (see also NGI Graduate Chloe Coscarelli’s coup with vegan cupcakes on Cupcake Wars).  On August 29 at 10 pm, Amanda goes up against none other than Japanese fusion legend Masaharu Morimoto on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

Amanda has her own legendary “cred” in vegetarian cuisine, having held chef positions in such highly regarded vegan and vegetarian venues as Teany, Pure Food and Wine, and Heirloom before opening her own critically acclaimed vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant in 2008.

By the way, you may notice on her website that Amanda won $10,000 from PETA in a competition to create a vegetarian, cruelty-free foie gras (“faux gras” as the contest called it).  Her winning entry, a mushroom mousse, is on her menu.

Let’s support Amanda by watching the episode on Sunday, the 29th. It’s a great opportunity to root for one our own doing what we do. On Thursday, September 2, Amanda will re-create her 5-course Iron Chef America meal for diners at Dirt Candy. Fortunately for Amanda, but unfortunately for the rest of us who weren’t quick, that event sold out almost immediately.

Stay tuned for a Blanched and Shocked interview with Amanda Cohen about her career as a chef and what it’s like to build own a vegetarian restaurant in New York City.

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Jessica Swadosh graduated the Chef’s Training Program 9 years ago (CTP 83).  Like many graduates, she garnered considerable restaurant experience over the years, working at Asia Nora, Pure Food and Wine, Heirloom, and Savoy.  But what distinguishes her career is her relationship with farming.

Jessica’s interest in farming dates back to graduation from high school, when she traveled with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) to New Zealand.  Jessica recalls that “this is where I first experienced my first organic farm.  I knew I was in love.”  Through WWOOF, she also volunteered in Eastern Canada, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ireland, Norway, France, Italy, Greece, Japan and Korea.

Jessica in South Korea adding cooked rice to a kimchi pot to make rice alcohol

Jessica’s agricultural journeys have changed her life in profound ways:

Seeing how other cultures practice agriculture has had a massive affect on me, from small bits, such as a structured tea time, to how different cultures take care of their soil.  What really marked me the most was my trip to Japan 2 years ago.  This is the country that started CSAs.  But their techniques are quite different than the Western take on organic agriculture.  Their machinery was impressive as well.  They, by far, grow the tastiest fruit and vegetables I have eaten.

I have really enjoyed just seeing how things grow!  I have gone to different ecosystems so I could learn how to harvest and process olives for oil, wheat for flour, and how to harvest rice, tangerines and mangoes.  It’s also been really fascinating to work with livestock, seeing different varieties, what they eat, how to milk goats, sheep and cows, then how to make cheese.

Jessica with South Korean tangerine pickers

Upon graduating from NGI, Jessica interned at Willow Pond Farm in Maine and Garden of Eve Farm in Long Island.  Flash forward several years and those internships have culminated in a management position at Veritas Farms in New Paltz, New York, where Jessica has been for the past three years.  “I’m in charge of the vegetable growing, buying all the supplies, making all the contacts for markets and organizing our CSAs,” Jessica says.  “I also start the seeds, take care of the plants, fend off disease and weeds, harvest and transport the plants to market or CSA.”

Jessica’s not sure what the future holds.  “Sometimes,” she says, “I can see myself going to Africa to work on systems for sustainable agriculture and methods to stop desertification.  Other days I would love to just homestead.  I feel like I could put roots down anywhere, which makes the decision a whole lot harder.”

Jessica’s culinary education and experience continue to play a role in her career.  At Garden of Eve she took extra produce to make soups, sauces, salads and main courses, featuring vegetables as the main ingredient.  “Lots of people really have no clue about vegetables,” says Jessica.  “I think that is why I went to the NGI, to teach people vegetable-based meals can taste good.  I am always dishing out advice about how to prepare vegetables.”

For the past 2 years at Veritas Farms, Jessica and another chef have prepared 4-course dinners for 50 people in the greenhouse.  95% of the ingredients for the dinner come from the farm, including the animal protein.  Jessica encourages NGI students to get involved:  “Help out a farmer.  Do a farm-to-table dinner on their farm.  It would be awesome for some students to come up to help us out.”

Squash harvest from Veritas Farm

Jessica has made a personal and professional commitment to sustainable agriculture.  For her, the choice is unavoidable:

I think it’s important for people to be familiar with where food comes from and who picks it.  [Industrial] agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to global warming along with air and water pollution.  It’s destroying rain forests, enlarging deserts, poisoning migrant workers and giving cancer to those who live down-wind from it.  It can be a highly destructive practice or it can be sustainable.

We need sustainable farming to be the future; it’s not really a choice.  Unfortunately, so much of it is economical.  The cost of land is too high for anyone in an average income bracket to start a farm, and the taxes and cost of farming are too high for most farms to stay afloat.  People need to vote with their wallets. We are a capitalist society.  People can say what a great a thing I am doing, but if they turn around and buy grapes from Chile or Earthbound mesclun mix, it’s not helping a local, sustainable farmer.

Squash and their blossoms at Veritas

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Pastry Chef Elena Balletta plating at Counter

Since graduating from Chef’s Training six years ago, Elena Balletta has worked extensively in New York City’s vegetarian restaurant scene.  Her accomplishments include running the wholesale business at Pure Food and Wine, working as pastry chef for Heirloom with Matthew Kenney, working under executive pastry chef Bill Corbett at Dona, opening Broadway East, and running a monthly vegan supper club with Chef Scott Winegard called “Nasturtium.”  For the past year, Elena is working as pastry chef and kitchen manager at Counter.

Elena first came to Counter at the request of her friend, and then chef, Scott Winegard.  It was while Elena was helping out wherever she could that the general manager “held up a dessert menu, flipped it to its blank side, and said, ‘It’s all yours.  Do whatever you want.’  I suppose that was their way of hiring a pastry chef!  I also am the kitchen manager, working side by side with Chef Whitney Aycock in menu planning and restaurant concept.”

Counter has had its ups and downs over its seven years of existence, but owner Deborah Gavito was ready, as Elena puts it, “to have a team of people that she could trust so she could take a step back.  I felt I had come into a kitchen that had been neglected for so long, that it was almost past the point of repair.  It was pretty chaotic, a lot for anyone to take on.”  Those days seem to be over, as Counter has recently received positive and consistent attention on several occasions from the likes of Wine Spectator and Zagat Survey.

The restaurant is now under the capable direction of Chef Whitney Aycock who, with Elena’s help, has created a Mediterranean-influenced menu ranging from small plates to entrees, “all focusing on vegetables, grains, legumes, and greens.  90% of the menu is vegan.  I honestly think there are only two items on the menu that can’t be made vegan upon request.  We work with two local farms, Satur and Blooming Hill.  The winter is rough, but we are still managing to get some really nice produce.”

Guest Chef Anita Lo, Chef Whitney Aycock, and Pastry Chef Elena Balletta

I asked Elena what she has done to improve the dessert menu, and she told me “The standards are always high for me.  I am passionate about creating vegan desserts that are equal to, if not better than, their dairy counterparts.  I want my desserts to make you feel special.  Not a totally pretentious, overdone plate, but just right.”  One of Elena’s specialties is her vegan ice cream.  “Believe me,” she says, it has taken years to perfect vegan ice cream.”

The cheesecake at Counter

Elena thinks the future looks bright for Counter:  “We really have given the whole place a much needed face lift.  As soon as the weather is nice enough to open those front windows, we will be serving breakfast and lunch during the week.  Elena recommends watching the website for the upcoming anniversary party, wine-pairing events, and fundraisers.

Counter has taken Natural Gourmet interns in the past, and Elena wants NGI students to know “we are definitely open to interns, and I feel we have a really great kitchen family that anyone would be happy to work with.  I have had the pleasure of having a few students do their internships with me since I’ve worked here.”

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A smattering of internships available to NGI Grads

Completing a challenging internship is highly empowering. Although the first few days can be overwhelming, with the right mindset you’ll quickly realize how much you already know, and you’ll be able to focus on improving your speed and learning the techniques used in the particular kitchen you’ve chosen for your internship.

The most satisfying internships take place in kitchens where you’re allowed to do more than chop. Of course, every intern should expect plenty of prep work, but some chefs allow you to work at various stations during the course of your time there. For example, at Mercer Kitchen, many students have reported getting on the line during their first few days – under close supervision, of course. But their philosophy is that students learn best by doing, not just watching. There’s no better confidence builder than completing an intimidating task successfully and realizing you have the skills necessary to do the work required in a busy restaurant kitchen.  Most students who go to Mercer spend 2 days on every station in addition to lots of prep work.

Other positive feedback comes from farm-to-table favorites like Savoy, Il Buco, Mas Farmhouse, Gramercy Tavern and both Blue Hill restaurants (Stone Barns and NYC locations). All place an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, and students describe the kitchen staff members as driven, dedicated, creative, and most importantly, very supportive when it comes to interns. That makes for a very positive learning experience. Interns at these establishments spend much of their time at the garde manger station, but often get a chance to plate, make pastry, and do lots of prep.

For exemplary students who can commit to a 3-month, formal internship with a full kitchen rotation, there’s Per Se. This is strictly for the highly motivated.  It’s difficult and physically demanding. The schedule is 5 days per week, and the shifts are 12 to 14 hours long. As one student put it, “It taught me a lot about myself…and what it takes to be great…what dedication and passion for cooking mean.” The application/acceptance process is sometimes lengthy, and there’s often a waiting list, so plan ahead.

For students who prefer to spend their internship hours in a plant-based environment, Dirt Candy and Pure Food and Wine top the list in this category. At Dirt Candy, interns can expect to make soups, sauces, and desserts in addition to prep work and plating. All report back that they get excellent hands-on experience in this tiny but exceptional kitchen. Pure Food and Wine allows students to explore the techniques involved in upscale, raw food preparation. In this kitchen, the chefs are all good teachers, and the atmosphere is calm, focused and team-oriented.

If you wish to venture outside of New York City, internships at Berkeley’s Three Stone Hearth get rave reviews. It’s a community-supported kitchen where students are actively involved in preparing soups, stews, savory dishes, baked goods, condiments, cultured products and other nutrient-dense foods. The partners (two of them are NGI grads) work directly with local farmers. A recent intern wrote, “This is an amazing place to intern – so supportive, and you learn so much.  I could not have been happier with my experience!”  Three Stone Hearth also has an Apprenticeship Program for those who wish to make a longer commitment.

And for those who want to combine farming with cooking, the Center for Discovery in Harris, NY is a great choice. The Center is a community inspired by people with disabilities. It’s a 50-acre campus that consists of residential homes, Thanksgiving Farm, a café, a bakery, a CSA, and a state-of-the-art kitchen for various events. Interns there participate in all aspects of the farm-to-table experience. You can expect to plant and harvest herbs and vegetables, tend to farm animals, cook for special events, staff and residents in numerous settings, bake artisinal breads and improvise daily specials at the employee café. This quote from an NGI grad sums it up: “It was one of the most enriching, stimulating and educational experiences of my life. I cannot recommend it highly enough for NGI students.”

The thing to keep in mind is the purpose of the internship:  to put your newly acquired skills to use, continue the learning process and gain confidence. There are many, many venues in which to do this. These are just a few of our particularly noteworthy options.

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NGI Graduate Louisa Shafia's Lucid Food

Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life is a welcome addition to the expanding canon of cookbooks promoting more ethical and sustainable ways of shopping, cooking, eating and living.  The book expresses Louisa’s passion for her subject and the expertise she has developed since her graduation from NGI in 2001 (CTP 81).  She’s worked in such venerable eco-conscious institutions as Millenium, Roxanne’s, Aquavit, Pure Food & Wine,  started her own environmentally friendly food consultancy, and now writes a food blog.

Chef Louisa Shafia

The book’s introductory “Eco-Kitchen Basics” will be useful for the beginnner.  They provide eco-friendly shopping advice, waste reduction practices, a rationale for the cost of eating organically and sustainably, as well as explanations of other eco-responsible living choices.  There’s also a “lucid” glossary of buzzwords that can befuddle the consumer – fair-trade, pasture-raised, organic, cage-free, biodynamic – what they mean and the issues they raise.  People who are newly-initiated to this way of eating will appreciate the pithy breakdown of this information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm.

The recipes, a pan-ethnic mix of mostly plant-based dishes and some responsibly chosen animal fare (mostly seafood), are divided by season to make menu planning easier.  The food photography (by Jennifer Martiné) and the accessible recipes are seductive enough that I’m strongly tempted to try a few.  Many, I think, would be suitable inspiration for Friday Night Dinner dishes.

To get interactive with this book, you’ll probably have to frequent a green market or get involved in a CSA, but that’s a good thing, right?  The book particularly succeeds with recipes that emphasize simple preparations of more esoteric seasonal ingredients.

The recipes inspired by Louisa’s Persian heritage are particularly alluring.  Two rice dishes particularly caught our eye.  The first is a basmati rice-stuffed dumpling squash with dried fruits, walnuts, saffron, and rose petals (a fall dish).  The second is Green Rice, seasoned with leeks, lime powder, parsley, cilantro, and dill (summer).  I’ve had Louisa’s version of Green Rice, and it was awesome.

I think it’s probably a safe bet that cooked rhubarb with honey, cardamom, and rose water is a bang-on pairing with strained yogurt and pistachios.  I’m also drawn to the Persian New Year’s Soup (Ash-e-reshteh), a clear broth with chickpeas, kidney beans, favas, and lentils with greens, noodles, and fresh herbs.  Since I’m a bread enthusiast, I’ll probably test the Fall fruit focaccia made with plums.

Some of the book’s recipes will probably make an appearance in Louisa’s upcoming public classes:  Vegan Hors D’Oeuvres (May 27) and Persian Cooking for the Modern Table (July 20).

This past Friday, January 29, Louisa was the guest chef of our Friday Night Dinner, and word among the students and diners was that the dinner was a hit.  The menu:

Warm Chickpea Cakes with Tamarind Beet Glaze and Frizzled Carrots over Salad Greens in Citrus Vinaigrette

Pan Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Crispy Shallots over Lemony Root Vegetable Puree, Sautéed Kale

Pear Kanten with Poached Pear and Orange Dice, Pear Cream, Gingersnap Tuile, Orange Saffron Sauce

Chef Louisa Shafia's Warm Chickpea Cake Appetizer

Here’s the recipe for Louisa’s Chickpea Cakes with Cilantro-Jalapeno Sauce (both recipes can be found in Lucid Food):

Chickpea Cakes

Serve these fragrant Indian-spiced cakes with sweet and tangy Cilantro-Jalapeño Sauce to set off their flavor, and Cucumber Yogurt for a creamy contrast. For a hearty lunch, perch a few cakes on top of a green salad, or pack them into a pita pocket along with shredded vegetables. Makes approximately 10 cakes.

¼ cup millet

1 cup water

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying

1 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons dried mint

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups cooked chickpeas

1 cup bread crumbs


Place millet in a small saucepan with 1 teaspoon salt. In a tea kettle, bring ¾ cup water to a boil. Add boiling water to millet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer millet to a food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the onion. Saute for 5 minutes, until soft, then add the garlic, jalapeno, coriander, cumin, mint, turmeric, and cayenne, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, then remove from the heat, and let cool.

Put the mixture in a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are broken down, but the mixture still has texture. Fold in the millet and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to cool mixture completely, making it easier to form into patties.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs onto a plate. Form 3 tablespoons of the mixture into a ball. Flatten the ball against your palm, shaping it into a cake. Dredge the cake in the bread crumbs. Heat a skillet with 1/4 inch of olive oil. When the oil is hot, drop in several cakes and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on a wire cooling rack. If you prefer to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the cakes on an oiled, parchment-lined baking sheet and brush each one with a little olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 5 minutes, or until the cakes are brown on top and crisp. Serve hot.

Cilantro-Jalapeño Sauce

We have Mexico to thank for the tangy flavor combination of cilantro, jalapeño, and lime, although this sauce complements all types of cuisines. Pair it with crispy appetizers like the Chickpea Cakes. Try pouring it over grilled chicken or fish for a zesty finish. Serve this sauce in the first hour after blending, when its color is brightest. Makes approximately 1 cup.

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves

1 or 2 jalapeños, ribs and seeds removed

and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon olive oil


Combine the cilantro, jalapeño, honey, lime juice, and olive oil in a food processor or blender and blend until liquefied. Taste and season with salt. If you prefer more heat, add another jalapeño and blend again.

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