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.

 

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Giselle Kennedy Lord Named James Beard Foundation National Scholar

Gastronomy at BU is proud to announce that student Giselle Kennedy Lord was recently selected as the James Beard Foundation National Scholar Northwest.

The JBF National Scholars Program “provides ten high-impact scholarships of $20,000 each to food-focused candidates of exceptional talent.” Winners are chosen based on academic standing, personal recommendations, and professional recommendations.

A recent dinner hosted by Giselle Kennedy Lord.

“My application for the scholarship was centered around my focus in the BU gastronomy program, which is how people express home and identity through food and cooking. My thesis research, which I will do in the Spring of 2018, will be a deep dive into that theme as it relates to the Lebanese diaspora in Argentina and the Americas,” says Lord.

Giselle lives in the Columbia Gorge area of Oregon, where she launched her small business, Quincho, in 2015. In the years before launching Quincho and becoming a Gastronomy student at BU, she worked as a freelance video producer specializing in food and agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.

Giselle now hosts pop-up, food-culture-focused events with Quincho and she is currently working on launching an online shop of cookware and kitchenware connected to distinct food cultures and artistic traditions. According to Lord, “Quincho is about culture, community, and cookery. It’s a celebration of foodways and culinary tradition the world round. It’s a call to gather with like-minded people to learn something new, be inspired to explore, and empowered to create.”

Giselle will travel to Argentina in January to conduct ethnographic research for her thesis. In between interviews and kitchen sessions, she will be on the lookout for unique cookware and working to forge connections with local artisans. She also plans to eat a lot of empanadas, peruse every street fair, and hunt for vintage cookbooks.

You can follow her journey on the Quincho blog: http://quincho.co/blog/

Alumni Spotlight: Nina Quirk

nina-headshotFinding the perfect career path can be a struggle for some Gastronomy graduates. Throughout my time in the program, my friends and I would discuss matters such as balancing hospitality industry schedules with families, low pay and menial incentives, endless hours of kitchen drudgery, and many more unappealing aspects common to a life devoted to food.

While pursuing my degree, I worked as a personal chef, specializing in cooking for people with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and food allergies, using advanced diet therapies to help address those conditions. This offered flexibility, hands-on experience and decent pay, but clients came in waves. I found myself craving the social atmosphere of a kitchen and wondering what foodservice management might be like.

My husband works in elder care, so I conducted various studies with the senior population he served as I worked toward my master’s degree. I researched nursing home and assisted living gardens, taste loss and aging, and Grandmother Cuisine, among other topics. That new interest in senior food systems led me to pursue a career with SALMON Health and Retirement, a housing and healthcare organization in Central Massachusetts.

In June 2015, I took the position of Director of Dining Services for SALMON’s Natick campus. Our building houses 66 residents in assisted living apartments (including memory care), 54 residents in a skilled nursing center, 50 children in the SALMON Early Education Center, and 45 Adult Day Health Center clients. All in all, the kitchen I manage feeds 200 people daily.

When I arrived on the scene, there were obstacles to overcome. In my first few weeks on the job, we went from using an outside contractor to being a Salmon-managed kitchen. As the first manager of this new operation, I saw boundless opportunities to create a wonderful, gastronomy-friendly system for a superior dining program. I started by teaching my culinary team to cook menu items from scratch, saying goodbye to the frozen and canned past they knew. I hired a talented pastry chef to elevate the baked goods and treats on campus. Now, most of our food items are homemade, including salad dressings, breads, pizza and desserts. Our residents grew enthusiastic and happier with the new dining services over time, and the positive impact good food had on the whole community became obvious.

This acceptance allowed me to host a variety of programs to engage our residents around food:

  • We formed a traveling group, visiting foodie destinations like the Boston Public Market or the Boston Public Library for afternoon tea, and various local farms.
  • We established a Solarium for residents to grow plants—both edible and flowering. The space is solely dedicated to the garden craft; it’s also been widely accepted by our residents with dementia.
  • Each month, we host interactive cooking demonstrations where residents handcraft ethnic specialties. So far, we’ve made ravioli, pierogi, tomato tarts, pickles, jams, and much more.
  • We partnered with a group called Brain Wellness to conduct a three-part seminar on brain-healthy eating where I cooked the foods and served them to a full house.
  • Our most recent endeavor is a program called Heritage Cuisine. We’ll gather recipes and food traditions from our residents’ families to create a varied and unique campus cuisine.

We have a lot of fun at work building community around food, and I feel very fortunate. This position has provided me with the perfect application of the Gastronomy Program: food infused with meaning.

The Oyster Revival

Filmmaker and Gastronomy student Allison Keir shares her new film: The Oyster Revival 

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Photo: oysterrevival.com

Over the last century, coastlines throughout New England and across the globe endured dramatic transformations. The foundations of mankind slowly overtook the ecological bedrock—a massive expanse of oyster beds that once harbored a bounty of creatures. In the last 100 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have skyrocketed, acidifying the oceans. Deteriorating municipal infrastructures, agricultural and industrial runoff, continue to disrupt nature’s balance. Powerful storms, now without the underwater obstacles of oyster beds to temper them, are devastating our seashores. Some believe these underwater environs are beyond repair.

But there may be a solution to aid the problem, right within the hands of nature. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day—an entire reef? Millions. The presence of these reefs, attract multitudes of other creatures that feed larger predators, building populations, and improving our fisheries. Oysters are the gills of our estuaries, and the scaffolding that supports coastal biodiversity. Their return might stifle ecological devastation worldwide.

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Photo: oysterrevival.com

The Oyster Revival is a story about revitalizing a tenuous relationship between man and mollusk, and the efforts being made to restore ecological balance to our coastlines. The documentary and transmedia campaign will explore the important role oysters play in maintaining a healthy ocean environment, and the various groups of people around the world advocating for their efficacy.

Learn more here and on Facebook.

Bringing Food History to Nutrition

This is the third post in a series highlighting the ways students utilize Boston University’s many resources to cater the Gastronomy program to fit their own unique interests and needs. Don’t miss Carlos’ post on Entrepreneurship or Debra’s on Technology.

by Kelly Toups

As an eager, young registered dietitian, I quickly realized I’d rather spend my time talking about the “food” aspect of nutrition than insulin and tube feedings. The BU Gastronomy program, which focused on issues of culture, policy, food systems, and cuisine, was exactly the kind of education I that I needed to specialize within my field, and transition to a more food-focused career.

Continue reading “Bringing Food History to Nutrition”