By Noel Bielaczyc
Each year sometime in March, as the waters of the Gulf of Maine begin to warm, an amazing migration takes place. Shoals of fishers, processors, distributors, retailers, sales people, chefs, and seafood enthusiasts congregate in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to exchange business cards and miniature crab cakes in the hopes of forging partnerships and relationships in the seafood industry. As a fishmonger and Gastronomy student, the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) offers an irresistible mixture of food culture, global economics, fisheries policy, and limitless free samples of seafood in all forms.
The first impression one gets when entering the exhibition hall of the Seafood Show is total madness… And of course the overwhelming smell of cooked seafood. The enormous scale and diversity of exhibitors is astounding, and the accompanying crowds heave and swell through the maze of booths. Bags are provided for the reams of brochures, pamphlets, knick-knacks, and business cards, which even a choosy visitor will amass.
The Seafood Show is somewhat of a reflection of seafood consumption in American with a preponderance of exhibitors featuring farm-raised tilapia, salmon, and shrimp. Processed oven-ready products, the species they contain, and equipment to manufacture them, are by far the most common feature at the show. If you squint hard enough though, many smaller exhibitors begin to appear, some doing very interesting things.
One example is Schafer Fisheries in Thomson Illinois. They deal exclusively with freshwater fish from rivers and lakes of the upper Midwest, and have developed a market for the invasive Asian carp, which have proliferated in those waterways. While Americans universally thumb their noses at these species, a brisk export trade in Asian carp, buffalo fish and sheephead, makes this a lucrative fishery and important source of protein. Several other small fisheries were also looking to market underutilized marine products like sea cucumber, dogfish, and sea urchin, particularly in the face of reduced quotas on traditional species like cod.
The New England Aquarium’s (NEAq) booth focused on their Sustainable Seafood Programs and offered a variety of educational materials including their Seafood Choice Guide, which lists only best choices for both wild and farm raised species for a simplified set of guidelines that avoids the finger-pointing of “worst choice” recommendations. In addition to educational programs at the aquarium, NEAg partners with local chefs and restaurants to host Blue Plate Dinner events. Each meal highlights seasonal, sustainable and often underappreciated varieties of seafood from our local waters, like scup (porgy), surf clams, squid, and sardines.
A number other products caught my eye while exploring the booths. The most intriguing was small, vacuum packs of dried marine phytoplankton. Hand harvested from the pristine Veta La Palma Parque in Spain, this green powder is composed of millions of microscopic organisms that live suspended in the water column. It does seem ironic that the movement to eat further down on the food chain has literally reached the bottom-most trophic level in the ocean. Regardless, the briny, “ocean-like” flavor of plankton is highly regarded by chefs, who happily pay the premium price for this strange product.
The obligatory sampling of countless forms of seafood yielded a few highs and many lows. My favorite may have been the unadorned but delicious Jonah crab leg, which was neatly scored along key joints. Also very noteworthy were the smoked bay scallops from Ducktrap River of Maine and a single cold slice of raw geoduck from a Korean shellfish company. Among the various fried fish nuggets and deli cups of chowder, the least appealing thing to cross my lips was a cube of smoked sturgeon from a Chinese caviar company that was the temperature and texture of a greasy popsicle.
Looking beyond the giant plush polar bears, the custom “barracuda” chopper, and the “mermaid” models, the International Seafood Show is fascinating glimpse into the global seafood industry. This year’s show illustrated the huge (and expanding) importance of aquaculture as well as a growing awareness of issues related to sustainability. For anyone interested in food policy, media, business, or seafood in general, the IBSS is an eye-opening and stimulating experience. For information on next years show, visit http://www.bostonseafood.com.
Noel Bielaczyc is a first year Gastronomy MLA student and the spring 2013 editor of the Gastronomy at BU blog. He is also a fishmonger and scientific illustrator.
We have a busy second half of the semester planned! Please mark your calendars for the following, post-spring-break events:
THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 4:30 – 5:30PM
Milk and Cookies with Rachel Black Come say hello, meet other Gastronomy students, and discuss the semester – and have some milk and cookies.Boston University Fuller Building (FLR) Room 109, 808 Commonwealth Avenue. This event is for current Gastronomy students only. ————————————————————————————————————————–
SPRING 2012 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series:
THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 6PM
Boston University College of Arts and Sciences Building (CAS), Room 211, 725 Commonwealth Avenue.
SATURDAY, MARCH 23, 2012
BU’s American and New England Studies Program (AMNESP) Conference Beyond Production and Consumption: Refining American Material Culture Studies
TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 4:00 – 5:45 PM
Life After Gastronomy: Part I “Pursuing The PhD”
Interested in continuing your educational journey beyond the MLA in Gastronomy? Join us for an information session and workshop to help you prepare a PhD application. BU Anthropology and History faculty will be on hand to answer questions and offer guidance. Fellow Gastronomy student Emily Contois will provide an applicants point-of-view. All students considering a PhD program are encouraged to attend. Please RSVP to Gastronomy Program Coordinator Barbara Rotger.
SPRING 2012 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series:
TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 6PM
Universal Free School Meals: An Ideas Whose Time Has Come Janet Poppendieck, Professor of Sociology, Emerita, Hunter College, City University of New York and the author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America and Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement
Boston University College of Arts and Sciences Building (CAS), Room 211, 725 Commonwealth Avenue
Please submit events to email@example.com.
Please join us for the second installment of the Spring 2013 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series. Lectures are free and open to the public.
by Noel Bielaczyc
The term “molecular gastronomy” generally conjures images of chefs utilizing science-based techniques and high-tech lab gadgetry like immersion circulators, vacuum sealers, dehydrators, and rotovaps to create visually arresting, palate dazzling, and expensive cuisine. While edible gels, foams and powders have become a somewhat trite symbol of the movement, the central principals remain important to the way chefs (and increasingly home-cooks) understand and create flavor. The first installment of the Gastronomy at BU Spring 2013 Lecture Series tapped professor Guy Crosby to bring his perspective as a chemist in the kitchen (rather than a chef in the lab) to illuminate some of the food science driving current cooking methodology. His talk, aptly titled Understanding and Enhancing the Flavor of Food, addressed the senses and human physiology behind tasting, the neural processes involved in perception, the basic sources of flavor in foods, and how to improve them.
It may seem obvious that foods’ edibility is based mostly on flavor (followed by appearance, texture, and nutritional value) but many people never realize that flavor is actually the combination of taste and smell. In fact, Crosby reckoned that by some estimates, smell contributes nearly 80% of the experience! Using the case of “super tasters” to segue, Crosby addressed the various ways in which we are biologically equipped to sense flavor and why sensitivity varies from person to person and flavor to flavor. Perhaps most interesting was his analysis of food cravings and how eating stimulates the brain regions associated with emotion, memory and reward. Is it a surprise that the same regions respond to sex, drugs and music? Indeed there is good science behind the irresistibility kettle chips.
The meat of Crosby’s talk addressed the sources of flavor in food and how intervention through cooking can alter and improve various aspects of taste. Crosby’s background in organic chemistry became apparent as he described how flavor could be naturally formed or physically initiated. For example crushing garlic gloves to release taste and aroma compounds or salt foods to activate certain flavor molecules. Similarly, umami can be amplified by combining specific ingredients with interacting compounds, like anchovies and mushrooms. Other foods derive their flavor from reactions, such as caramelization and the related, but distinct Maillard- Hodge reaction (the delicious browning on roasted meats and crusty breads). Crosby concluded with a note on the controversial idea of flavor pairing based on shared compounds. Anyone for strawberry and coriander gelato? These few examples represent a fraction of the existing food research, but offered an approachable & applicable introduction to the field.
The ideas and techniques of molecular gastronomy have shaped the cuisine of high-end restaurants for years, driving innovation of concept and flavor. Now, the same science and technology are increasingly being found in the home: sous-vide machines are available from William Sonoma, and the science behind better burgers appears in an article in the latest Popular Mechanics. While the take away may remind us of the “better living through chemistry” jingle, there is certainly value to anyone who cooks in understanding the science behind flavor.
For more information on Guy Crosby and why butter-poached lobster melts in your mouth, visit www.cookingscienceguy.com
Noel Bielaczyc is a first year Gastronomy MLA student and the spring 2013 editor of the Gastronomy at BU blog. He is also a fishmonger and scientific illustrator.
Please join us for the first installment of the Spring 2013 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series. Lectures are free and open to the public. For more background and a bio of Guy Crosby, visit http://www.cookingscienceguy.com
by Rob Haley
The message was clear when we sat down at the long table protected by sheets of brown paper tablecloth – this meal was going to get messy. On Thursday, January 31st, Boston University’s Gastronomy Student Association (GSA) marked the beginning of a new semester by visiting Jasper White’s Summer Shack in downtown Boston. Our mission was to take part in their version of the traditional New England clambake. For those born and raised in the region the menu seemed familiar, but for many this was a chance to experience for the first time one of the Commonwealth’s most revered gastronomic celebrations. While the restaurant interior could not entirely replicate the experience of an ocean beach bake during the dog days of summer, the food that was shared by the fifteen students in attendance did not disappoint.
The dinner began with a couple pitchers of PBR along with two bottles of white wine, followed quickly by a choice between Bermuda Fish and Crab Chowder or the Boston Clam Chowder. Lobster crackers and bibs were handed out to the party: a sure sign that we would have to earn this evening’s meal. As soon as the soup bowls were cleared, platters of steamed lobsters and snow crab legs drew the attention of our hungry crowd. This was accompanied by the obligatory corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, and cole slaw. Corn bread was delivered to take up the few empty spots on an already crowded table, and we were left to fill our own plates with the generous feast.
Seasoned veterans were quick to demonstrate to the rookies the process of cracking crustacean shells to ensure the maximum yield of sweet morsels locked inside. Technique is truly an art form when holstering the cracker, and the willingness to dive right in with both hands is also essential with a lobster bake. Arms, legs, tails, and torso were twisted and torn with large chunks of salt-steamed meat as the reward. Forks and picks were used like a mad surgeon’s tool to ensure no scrap was wasted. Empty shells piled up in the large community waste buckets, and everyone was satisfied with the work they had done to claim their undersea cuisine.
By the end of the meal, with serving plates empty and stomachs full, the GSA celebrated another successful group outing. The gathering also marked the passing of the torch, as recent MLA Gastronomy graduate Natalie Shmulik turned her GSA Presidency over to Elizabeth Bada, a current Gastronomy student. Appropriately initiated, Liz will no doubt lead the association towards more great events and nights such as this during the 2013 school year. With a bit of luck, this may just include a summer seaside clambake somewhere along the Massachusetts coastline.
Rob Haley is in his last semester (hopefully) pursuing his MLA in Gastronomy. He is also the Senior Media Producer at the Office of Distance Education at Boston University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you might find him at your favorite neighborhood watering hole.
by Amanda Balagur
Do you remember the feeling when you first arrived at college for undergrad? You had probably just spent your high school career working towards the goal of attending that institution, and you were probably pretty excited – likely a bit nervous – when you walked into your first class and sat down with your new classmates.
Well, it’s one thing when you’re a teenager, but for a thirty-something (or even twenty-something) adult, the experience can be just as nerve-racking. Imagine you just picked up and left the life you had – a successful career, a city you knew well and loved, friends, community, your “deep bench” – to pursue a Masters degree in Gastronomy, your passion and something many people have never even heard of (“Did you say Astronomy?”, “Oh! You mean cooking school?”, “Don’t you have to go to medical school to do that?!?”). It’s daunting to walk into a room full of strangers for an orientation; you may as well have a sign on your back that says, “I’m a beginner! Please be gentle.” But you quickly realize everyone else is in the same boat, and you start to relax.
As we settled in and began chatting, I realized I wasn’t the only student who relocated a fair distance to attend the MLA in Gastronomy program; one student moved here from California, another from Dubai… Seventeen of us are embarking on this journey together (including one Food Studies Certificate student), each with a unique story about how we got here (check out our bios).
The formal orientation began with an introduction by Dr. Rachel Black, Assistant Professor and Academic Coordinator of the Gastronomy program. Recent graduate Natalie Shmulik spoke about the Gastronomy Student Association, a group of students who put together events and lectures each semester, and encouraged us to get involved. Dr. Black followed up with a brief overview of the Gastronomy program, and recommendations for achieving success and getting the most out of our time here in Boston.
Meanwhile, Blair Newhard was prepping in the kitchen with assistants Audrey Reid, Rob Haley, and Gab Korakot, all current students in the program and graduates of the culinary arts lab. The new students were divided into four teams, each tasked with a recipe selected by Blair. We set about chopping, stirring and cooking, our uneasiness replaced with an immediate sense of community and common interest.
When the meal was ready, we dined at one long table on Citrus, Fennel and Avocado Salad, Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale Pesto, and Sweet Potato Dirtbombs (likened by one diner to delectably rich donut holes). Toasts were made to celebrate the start of a new semester and a new class of Gastronomy students, and conversation flowed as freely as the wine. Up and down the table, students and professors chatted about classes, books, lectures, and what brought us to the program. It was inspiring to finally meet my fellow students, and talk about the opportunities that lay ahead of us. The phantom sign on my back had disappeared, and I was left anticipating an exciting semester and incredible academic experience.
Special thanks to those who made this wonderful orientation event possible: Dr. Rachel Black, Blaire Newhard and her kitchen assistants, and Program Coordinator Barbara Rotger.
Amanda Balagur is a first year Gastronomy MLA student and creator of the Twin Cities-based local food podcast, Localicious.
by Melissa Herrick
On December 5, 2012, the Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center hosted speaker Jacques Pepin, renowned chef, TV personality, cookbook author, and one of the founders of BU’s Gastronomy program.
The event started out with a reception. Having come straight from work, the full bar and passed hors d’ouevres were a welcome sight. Before the talk began, people milled around in small groups, admiring a selection of paraphernalia from the archives: handwritten recipes, several medals and certificates, personal notes from Julia Child, a Christmas card from President Obama, and some of Pepin’s paintings. My favorite item: a recipe for cherry pie at Howard Johnson’s, calling for over 1000 pounds of cherries.
As cocktail hour drew to a close and people began to take their seats, an air of anticipation settled over the crowd. The low hum disappeared as Pepin’s guests walked out to take their seats in the front row, and the appearance of Pepin himself was met with applause. The older crowd seemed particularly enthusiastic, maybe indicating Pepin’s main demographic. Despite being the
“patron saint” of the Gastronomy program, his popularity with the younger generation is not as pronounced as that of someone like Julia Child. (Then again, there’s never been a major Hollywood production about Jacques Pepin.)
Pepin started his kitchen career in his parents’ restaurant, and dropped out of school at age 13 to work in restaurants in Paris. He also worked as a chef to French President Charles de Gaulle before coming to the United States in 1959. Pepin started working at Le Pavillon in New York on his second day in the U.S. (a career feat that many Gastronomy students would envy, I’m sure). Pepin became friendly with some of the most well-known foodies of the time: Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Julia Child and more. His resume is lengthy and impressive: he opened his own restaurant in 1970, earned a Master’s degree from Columbia University and an honorary doctorate from BU, has been featured on 13 television shows, and has written 20 cookbooks.
But Pepin is much more than his resume. He smiles a lot, and speaks with a French accent. “Usually in front of a crowd I have a skillet in my hand,” he said at the beginning of his talk. Wearing a light blue collared shirt, a dark tie, and an ever-so-slightly oversized navy blazer, Pepin is charming and funny. Despite his long list of achievements, he is not egotistical, nor is he falsely modest: he seemed aware of his celebrity, and proud of what he has done (half-teasingly bragging about his restaurant), yet he often poked fun at himself. He talked a lot about how the food world has changed since he began working in it. There was a time, he said, when chefs were the bottom of the pile. “Now, we are genius!” he said. The diverse crowd was a testament to this statement. The audience ran the gamut—graduate students, undergrads, professors, community members, and a fair number of “Friends of the Library.” All those people were there to bask in the presence of a food legend. Would this have happened 50 years ago? Even 15 years ago? We can only hope that this is a sign that more people are starting to realize the importance of food and cooking.
“The table is the great equalizer,” Pepin said. Maybe this speaks to Pepin’s own career, from cooking for the French President to mass producing cherry pie for Howard Johnson’s—in the end, everyone eats. But, as a gastronomy student, I think this is particularly relevant. Everyone eats, yes, but food also connects people. Inviting someone to share a meal with you is inviting them into your life in a very particular way. We can learn about people, families, and cultures through what they eat. To many, food is simply sustenance. To us, food is about much more than what you’re eating. Though he is often asked about his favorite restaurants, Pepin says that memories of meals have more to do with who you are eating with. “Food and wine is to be shared,” he said. (He also suggested solving political problems by sitting the Republicans and Democrats down to dinner together. It couldn’t hurt, right?)
At the end of the talk, Pepin made his way to the back of the room to sign copies of his new book. On his way down the aisle, he smiled at me, patted my shoulder, and asked me how I was.
I may never wash my sweater again.
Melissa Herrick is a current gastronomy student and member of the Gastronomy Student Association. She has a BA in English from Colgate University.