Alumni Spotlight: Caroline Pierce

There is a lot of unseen work that goes into writing a good recipe. Typically, conventional recipes contain a list of ingredients and their measurements followed by instructions for how to manipulate those ingredients into a successful dish. The recipe may use precise measurements, or may only call for a pinch or a dash. A recipe may instruct the reader to fold, knead, or broil, and expect the reader to know what each word means. In addition to the ingredients and the methods for combining them, recipes often call for a wide variety of cooking tools and implements. Some recipes may call for elaborate and expensive equipment (Vita Mix, anyone?), whereas some recipes may call for no equipment at all. Recipes can be vague and recipes can be precise. How detailed a recipe is depends on the audience the recipe writer has in mind. A cookbook written for advanced culinary students may be very different from a cookbook written for novice home cooks. In my opinion, recipes should be written with as much information and instruction so as to make the recipe accessible and available to as many readers as possible.

Luckily, I get the chance to write, edit, and test recipes every day. I currently have two jobs that allow me the chance to accomplish these tasks. I am a recipe developer at Just Add Cooking, a local meal kit company that provides easy, delicious, and healthy meals made with ingredients sourced from New England farms and companies. Writing a recipe for Just Add Cooking is challenging because not only must I write a recipe that is easy to read, quick to make, and delicious to eat, but the recipe must also meet the size constraints of the box we ship in and adhere to budgetary constraints. Also, we have nearly 500 recipes, so new recipes must be inventive and interesting, and we don’t like to call for equipment that many people may not have. The Gastronomy program has been incredibly useful in helping me to write good recipes. Karen Metheny’s class, Cookbooks and History, taught me that a recipe can be exclusionary in both financial and educational terms. A recipe that calls for expensive ingredients or equipment limits one group of people, whereas a recipe that excludes important details about cooking terms (how does one actually temper an egg?) excludes another.

When writing a recipe, I include as much information about the ingredients as possible and provide as many details about the instructions as I can in order not to alienate new cooks. I try not to assume anything. Furthermore, I am fully aware and continually question (thanks to the Gastronomy program) how financially accessible meal kits are to the general population.

In addition to my work at Just Add Cooking, I also work as a freelance recipe tester for Fresh Magazine produced by Hannaford Supermarket. As a tester, I am sent recipes which I follow without making any changes or alterations in order to determine whether or not there are any issues with the recipe. Usually, I am looking to make sure that the cooking times are accurate, the recipe yields the correct number of servings, and the instructions in the recipe are precise. This last part is the most complex aspect of recipe testing and could include any number of variables. The baking time might be off, a sauce needs more liquid, there’s too much oregano, etc. The purpose of the test is to ensure that the recipe can work flawlessly in any home.

People lead busy lives and if they go to the trouble of making dinner for themselves and their families, then following a recipe shouldn’t be stressful. Recipes should be straightforward, and the results should be exciting and satisfying. One of the major lessons I learned from the Gastronomy program is that of empathy. My job is to make people’s lives easier. I can accomplish this by writing and editing recipes so that they are clearly read and easily made. If I can also introduce people to new cuisines, techniques, and ingredients, then I am doubly successful.

Advertisements

Memories From My Table – Paintings by Laurel Greenfield

Gastronomy alumna Laurel Greenfield is hosting an opening reception for her first solo gallery show  at Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. on February 8th from 5:30 – 7:30 PM. The gallery features some of Laurel’s favorite paintings from the past year and she will be discussing why she paints food as well as the stories behind some of her paintings. You can see more of her work at laurelgreenfieldart.com.

We hope to see you at the reception!

The Oyster Revival: Restoring Our Waters

A short documentary by Allison Keir

From the moment I decided to apply to the Gastronomy program with a focus in Communication, my decision to do it has only been more and more reinforced. Aside from the vast amount of knowledge gained from the program, the connections with other faculty and students have provided a place of common ground for me to find inspiration and gratification in. Furthermore, the encouragement and support of the Directors has allowed me to mold my own course track and fulfill some of the core skills sets I was aiming to get out of the program.

My background and passion has for a long time been in film but my passion and concern for the health of our environment has been a lifestyle. I don’t have many memories from my childhood that don’t include being outside, in the woods or on a beach. As an adult I’ve been working in film in some form or another, since 2005 but it wasn’t until I began to develop the documentary, “The Oyster Revival” that I realized I could mesh these two passions together and perhaps make a career out of it.

The journey up to that point was by no means a short or simple one. It started thirteen years ago working out of the Boston area freelancing with other local filmmakers taking on whatever role I could. Eventually, it led me to Manhattan where I spent the first year bartending and picking up any freelance film projects I could get. Weeks turned into months that I wouldn’t have a day off or even notice the ball of sun in the sky but I did not care. I was busy and I loved it. I was hungry to work and get as much experience possible in the film industry. Ironically, it was the bartending position that in the end paid off the most when a regular customer I had become close with introduced me to a film producer, who was looking for an Executive Assistant to help run his company. Long story short, I got the gig and worked with the company for three years, until I slowly started to feel a pull back to what I been referring to as my second home since the days of college, California.

I gave my notice, packed my bags and drove back out to Los Angeles with no work, no place to live and very minimal funds to contribute to my endeavor. Luckily, I had friends that took me in, until I found a full-time job working at a documentary company in the paradise land of Malibu. The job itself wasn’t the creative outlet I was hoping for but it was a shoe-in with a small company that I felt would expose and teach me a lot about an industry that I knew I had much more to learn about. The company focused on television documentaries that at the time were rapidly turning into some form of a “Reality TV.” My motivations slowly dissipated, not in the company but rather what we were chasing after. I couldn’t have been less interested in the Kardashians, the Housewives club, the Bachelorette or American Idol. No doubt they were very big hit shows that had a wealth of people watching each season but I simply had no desire for any of it. Exhausted by the unfulfilling work, I gave my notice after two years and set off to do something else. At this point the only certainty I had was that I was not going to continue to expel all of my energy into work that I felt no fervor for.

Unsure of where to go from there, I figured I’d go back to the basics and just try to connect with other young filmmakers. On a whim, I went to volunteer at the San Diego Arts and Media Center, where I met an instructor who thought I might be a good fit to help out with some of the Outreach Programs they had going on there – and man was she right, I absolutely loved it. I spent the next year working with students from 7-18 years old, making short journalistic style videos and it all brought me back to the reason I fell in love with film in the first place, the journey of exploration.

Within that same year, I slowly circled back to the Boston area with the incentive of being closer to my family. At the point, I knew I wanted to look into working in academia and maybe even go back to graduate school. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity for a position at Boston University’s College of Communication, where I eventually began to explore other graduate programs. But it wasn’t until my development with “The Oyster Revival” documentary that I became more certain about what I wanted to do with my passion for film.

I wanted to take part in helping to reconnect and educate the public more about the health of our environment. All of the news and media we are constantly bombarded by doesn’t always provide us with solutions. It all just seems unhopeful and overwhelming. I had enough hearing about the problems, I wanted to hear solutions. Then one day I came across an article about the Massachusetts Oyster Project and the oyster reef restoration projects that they were establishing around the Boston area. I reached out immediately wanting to get involved and as I continued to learn more about all the other oyster projects going on around the country’s shorelines, I found a story that I wanted to help bring to a forum.

These oyster restoration projects are living proof that we can symbiotically work with nature to help balance it again and that each of us can take part in it. Oyster shells are being recycled from local restaurants and donated to these various oyster projects that are helping to repopulate oysters and create sustainable reefs that function very similarly to coral reefs. Not only do oyster reefs support and help initiate more marine life, oysters are powerhouses when it comes to filtering water. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by a few million oysters, than you have millions of gallons of water getting filtered on a daily basis. Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, what we found was that these various projects were still lacking overall support from local regulators. Who did not want to put shellfish in unhealthy waters with the fear that local residents would eat the oysters. However there is already sea life living in those unhealthy waterways that people could also very easily eat from and so why not let the oysters thrive so they could assist in cleaning the water. Putting a “No Shellfishing or Fishing” sign up is also another idea but for some regulators that just wasn’t enough. Regardless, the incentives behind these oyster projects have continued to spread and gain more acceptance and support among local communities all across the country. But we can’t just stop with oysters.

A main motivating factor behind my developing “The Oyster Revival” and applying to the Gastronomy program was that I wanted to continue to inspire the thinking, “If oysters can do that, then what else can nature do and how can I be a part of it?”

Student Spotlight: Morgan Mannino

“Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve got a tasting of apple crostata in the main kitchen,” a test cook’s voice mumbles over the telephone speaker.

Morgan dressed up as one of the most popular Cook’s Illustrated recipes of 2017, the Olive Oil Cake.

I look up from my work, it’s 11AM, having some dessert pre-lunch won’t hurt me, plus it’s got apples in it (it’s practically health food) and I’d love to see where Steve is in his recipe development. I grab my phone and head to the kitchen with the hope of stringing together some engaging shots for our Instagram Story. The editors and I stand around a metal table and munch on 3 different samples of crostata, looking for variations in texture and flavor and comment on them. The Cook’s Illustrated team could spend hours analyzing and debating different ways to improve the texture of an apple slice in a crostata. These debates will help inform and color my social posts about the recipe, almost a year in the future. The recipe development happens so far ahead since it involves an extensive, rigorous process of making and making and making again, surveying home cooks who volunteer to make the recipe at home, final tweaking, shooting, and finally publishing. This, of course, is a strange balance with the immediacy in which I am Instagramming what’s currently going on, right now, in the kitchen. Such is the nature of working in social media for a 25 year old magazine.

Three apple crostatas line up in the test kitchen for a tasting analyzing different techniques for apple arrangement and crust recipes.

These tastings punctuate my day as I work towards the overarching goal of marketing Cook’s Illustrated and developing the brand on social media. As a Senior Social Media Coordinator at America’s Test Kitchen, I curate, write, and schedule all the content that goes out on the Cook’s Illustrated Instagram and Facebook accounts (with a little Pinterest here and there). I also work very closely with the magazine editors, video team, photo team, and design team to strategize, visualize, and communicate our brand on the platforms. The craziest time of year is right now, Thanksgiving and the holidays, where I’ll spend 100s of manhours (having started in July) planning and strategizing a cohesive campaign that not only is engaging but also meets our marketing business goals.

Behind the scenes during an animation photoshoot for a guacamole recipe.

I began the Gastronomy program in January of 2016. At the time I had been working at America’s Test Kitchen for almost 3 years, but on the Sponsorship Sales team doing client service work. I had the vision of becoming a member of the social media team, but I needed to pave the path to get there in order to be ready once the opportunity presented itself. The program was a help in that journey, inspiring confidence, inspiration, and helping me craft my writing. It also gave me the knowledge of culture and history of food that I have been able to take into my social media role from writing post copy to adding my opinion in a tasting.

Everyday I am incredibly thankful for my job and for the gastronomy program for not only reminding me why I love food and culture so much, but for giving me the tools to make turn that energy into a tangible reality. Some days I’m capturing our tastings and testings team saw coolers in half with a reciprocating saw for Instagram Stories, others I may be joining them for a tasting of 10 samples of burrata or hot sauce, on very special days there might be chocolate pie or some other treat in our “take home fridge” (where all the extra food goes from recipe development each day)  or gushing over the fact that I get to host a food celebrity in house, most days there are dogs wandering about. Needless to say, I often find myself filled with gratitude for my job, especially when a “bad day” is caused by an empty take home fridge or the stress of planning and executing a Facebook Live about prime rib. It’s hard to know where to go from here (I still can’t believe I am working for the magazine that I used to cuddle up and read when I was growing up), and I am so grateful to be here, but know when it’s time I’ll follow where my nose (and taste buds) lead me.

Left: 8 samples of chicken wings in 7 different hot sauces line up for a tasting. Right: Morgan sawing a lunch tray in the name of science (our tastings and testings team was learning how to use the saw to cut into coolers and other kitchen equipment to learn more about how they work).

Alumni Spotlight: W. Gabriel Mitchell

Sometimes, one needs to take a step back from what one does to gain perspective to move forward. I have been a pâtissier for close to twenty years. Sometime along my career, I became determined to combine my love of the academic with my passion for food preparation and its social constructs. The desire to attend the Gastronomy Program at Boston University was an attempt to leave the practical side of food preparation and re-enter the world of academia to look at food and identity construction. While conducting fieldwork in Perú for my master’s thesis, I received a call that would alter some best-laid plans… upon graduation, I would move to Germany. There, I would resurrect my company, Maison Mitchell, which had been established in San Francisco seven years earlier – and closed when I decided to go to BU.

Maison Mitchell is the first gourmet pâtisserie in Hamburg. In Maison Mitchell, I sell “Ladies”—a colloquialism that refers to the collection of my offerings—and fantasies. We specialize in every-day treats, as well as one-of-a-kind creations. In Maison Mitchell, customers find a selection of various seductive pastries for the discerning palate, and lifestyle products. Pastries range from interpretations of the classic French cannon, e.g., “Sunshine,” a lemon tart, to inspired originals. A very special original for Hamburg is “Maya,” a verrine of New-World fruits (avocado crème diplomat, half-dried yellow cherry tomato, red pepper gastrique gel), and grains (corn panna cotta, and a sweet corn pancake from Venezuela called cachapa). For our four-legged companions I created dog biscuits with duck liver (“Bella”). Moreover, for those who want to enjoy the tastes of Maison Mitchell beyond pastries, I have created a collection of scented candles, e.g., “Midori,” (perfumed with bamboo, green tea, and Thai basil). Although we are established on the French gastronomic model, for my interests it has always been imperative that we represent flavor pairings from across the globe.

Maison Mitchell, therefore, is more than haute pâtisserie. Maison Mitchell offers much to explore and enjoy to those who are open to what food could be beyond mere sustenance, i.e., a source of gustatory pleasure, and discovery.

The multidisciplinary approach to the Gastronomy Program was the perfect fit for someone like me, who had gained enough practical food experience, and now wanted to critically analyze various foodways and their social implications. The freedom to choose courses beyond the required core allowed me to better focus on personal interests such as elite foods and the effects of a professional practitioner’s intentionality on material production.

The ability to take the course Food, Culture, and Society (outside the department) afforded me a new perspective through the lens of the anthropology department. This was the catalyst to enter the master’s thesis process, where I looked at Lima’s burgeoning indigenous haute cuisine, and how the culinary paradigm of nouvelle cuisine affords professional practitioners the freedom to create a new one to be revered on the global gastronomic landscape. The readings that I selected for my thesis not only helped shape my research, but also became imperative tools in reshaping my own material production in Maison Mitchell.

The most influential class, however, was my first. It was there that my cohort and I were presented with Karl Marx’s commodity theory. Though the sixty-plus pages may not have been preferred reading material on an autumn weekend, it illuminated the reality that I am not just selling food, but rather that I am now creating a “commodity,” nevertheless, in pastry form. In a time when food is the new luxury item, the theories I learned during my time at school, combined with my own postulations about food, allow me to conceptualize a brand that is authentic to my sensibilities, in addition to providing a singular product to my new host city.