Alumni Spotlight: Chris Maggiolo

Alcohol is an ancient food. It is a social lubricant. It is a component of ritual, of art, of dream-making. It is powerfully charged and, yet, so completely misunderstood in American culture.

chrisI moved from Virginia to Boston in September 2011 with these words in mind – words jotted down while taking notes during my freshman seminar in alcohol and culture. I was keen on studying the anthropology of alcohol and the Gastronomy program, I felt, was the perfect tool by which to do so. A few years honing my studies and then I’d apply to a PhD program. Well, the best laid plans…

To say I concentrated in alcohol studies would be putting it lightly. It was everything I did. I worked full time managing the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge, leveraging contacts and a vast network of brewers to find interview participants and volunteer opportunities. I took a second job in the summer managing relationships between wholesalers and retailers. I conducted every project and wrote every paper (save for one, I think) on the subject of craft brewing and alcohol culture. And when I wasn’t working or hunkered down over a book for school, I volunteered with breweries and, later, distilleries. I believed in the holistic approach fostered by liberal arts studies, and I tried to engage the industry from all angles.

siloUltimately, it was the liberal arts approach that landed me my job at SILO Distillery. Craft producers need to be swiss army knives rather than specialists, and the Gastronomy program prepared me well for this. To a degree, I understood marketing and sales, production practices, legislature and regulations. In a pinch I can crunch financials. And if I didn’t know something, I had the tool set to figure it out. I never would have guessed that I would know as much about boiler systems as I do now, but last week I answered a call from an aspiring distiller with a background in chemical engineering and we had a half hour call about our boiler unit. The liberal arts approach is real, and it can be very valuable.

But it can also be too vague, too broad. It’s important to have a goal in mind – something to anchor the Gastronomy net. Focus your intent, and the program will open amazing doors.

I frequently draw on my experiences with the Gastronomy program to fuel SILO’s growth. As a company we focus intently on local and regional agricultural systems. I’ve held meetings with groups of farmers in order to discuss potential crop growth for distilling purposes and to facilitate the collection of our spent grains. Having an understanding of their work and struggles goes a long way to securing these relationships. In conceiving of new products, I consider both modern trends and historic and cultural precedents. For example, amaro is really hot right now in trendy restaurants and cocktail circles. I’ve been working on a fun analog rooted in a mid 17th century cookery book. It’s been a blast and I think it’ll be quite successful.

Just as Gastronomy studies the art and science of food, distilling practices the art and science of spirits. In a craft that is as technical as it is creative, having a liberal arts background is a keystone of success. Sure, work can be stressful at times, but familiarity with the big picture brings everything back into perspective and keeps me energized and excited for what lies ahead.

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Alumni Spotlight: Audrey Reid

img_9996Fun fact: There is such a job as Brewing Scientist. No, not a scientist that has taken up brewing, a scientist that studies beer and works with brewers to craft the perfect libation.

BU Gastronomy alum and self-proclaimed Gastronomical Chemist Audrey Reid started Imbibe Solutions, a Charlottesville, VA based laboratory that works with craft breweries and small wineries, to do just that. She found a need for laboratory testing by breweries and wineries who didn’t have a fully equipped lab of their own, so she opened Imbibe Solutions to fulfill the need and save the businesses from the large investment required to build one.

Breweries and wineries measure a variety of variables throughout their processes. For breweries, quality control testing is about consistency of product from batch to batch, process efficiency, elongation of shelf-life, and elimination of off-flavors. For wineries, QC tests help winemakers understand what their starting product is, monitor fermentation and aging, make adjustments, add preservatives, and prevent microbial contamination. Common lab tests you will likely be familiar with but may not have given much thought to, include: ABV, IBU, residual sugar, gravity, acetic acid, carbonation, and sulfites.

During her time in the Gastronomy program, Audrey relied on both classes and the amazing opportunities that Boston presents to shape her education. She studied national wine policies and flavors produced by yeast in beer at 808 Comm., while learning about fermentation from Boston Ferments, brewing with friends, and picking the brain of an intern at a local distillery. She thought she might do policy work for the wine and beer industry after graduation; never once did she think she would become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until she moved to Charlottesville and spoke with a brewer about the need for chemists in the industry, that she realized she could do one better than beer policy, she could combine her love for food and science as a beer chemist.

One of the biggest lessons the Gastronomy program taught her, is you have to design your own path. The program certainly doesn’t dictate which classes to take (beyond the core); you take the classes that sound interesting and teach you what you want to know, whether in the program, elsewhere at BU, or at any of the other amazing schools in the city. And as students well know, this is a unique program relatively new to the world, which means you often have to create your own job upon graduation. Find what you want to do and convince the right people that they need someone like you.

For Audrey, that meant starting a laboratory to help brewers and winemakers succeed in their ever-growing industries.

A Whirlwind Culinary Exploit in Asheville

by Debra Zides

Student Debra Zides recaps her gastronomic escapades in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Cucina 24 Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, serves up his canestri pasta

Last weekend I hopped a flight into Charlotte, North Carolina, grabbed a rental car, and drove two hours to the artisan community of Asheville for a whirlwind weekend exploit. For years, friends had been telling me about the town’s great restaurants, breweries and art galleries – so I decided to put my newfound Gastronomy program education to the test.

I began my adventure Friday with the Eating Asheville High Roller Walking Food Tour. We met up with our tour guide, Hank, at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar and kicked-off our culinary experience with a glass of French Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine and locally-sourced Gouda cheese spread and smoked trout spread on bruschetta. Hank provided background about Asheville’s restaurant scene, discussing the trends in supporting local farmers and sustainable foods. Then we were off to our first excursion, Cucina 24. Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, personally met our group and served us his canestri pasta creation paired with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. He spent time with our group discussing his restaurant concept and some of the challenges of owning a business. It was interesting to note that his greatest challenges are not in the kitchen, but rather the administrative and business sides.

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a server putting finishing touches on the chimichanga at Zambra

We said “thank you” to Chef Canipelli, and we were off. Over the next two and a half hours we explored and additional five restaurants where we met chefs, owners, and managers. At Table, we were served a delightful Devils on Horseback appetizer consisting of bacon-wrapped stuffed dates topped with a balsamic reduction. Zambra had the most amazingly exotic sangria packed with port sherry, brandy, mulling spices, and citrus which paired very well with the chef’s signature chimichanga served over pureed avocado sauce. Isa’s Bistro introduced us to a Black Angus beef tartare, which was presented cleanly in a small white dish atop a triangle-cut slice of toast. Strada Italiano is a 3 star green certified facility, and while not a standout with their inconsistent Tucson Poached Egg appetizer, the restaurant is an example of why Asheville is considered the first Green Dining Destination as per the national Green Restaurant Association with over seven percent of the city’s restaurants certified Green. We finished our culinary experience at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge cleansing our palates with a conversation about the critical role of terroir in chocolate making and sampling their supremely decadent chocolate truffle steeped in Earl Grey tea.

But there was no time to kick back and enjoy the food coma, as I had also booked a brewery tour for the following afternoon.

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A view of Twin Leaf Brewery tasting room and the brewing facilities

The tour was run by Asheville Brewery Tours. I selected the Sunset Deluxe 4-Stop Tour, which was a driving tour and enabled us to visit several parts of town. Our knowledgeable tour guide, Eli, was originally from the Boston area and had worked at Harpoon Brewery prior to moving to Asheville to become a part of the microbrewery scene. Today he and his partners are in the process of starting up their own brewery, which is expected to open Spring 2015.

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Touring Green Man Brewery

Eli took us to four sites, including Twin Leaf, Urban Orchard, Green Man, and Catawba Brewery. He leveraged the various facilities to demonstrate key beer making processes as we sampled an array of concoctions. The most unique stop on the tour was Urban Orchard, which is actually a hard cider production company that uses locally sourced apples from Hendersonville, North Carolina as the base for their creations. We had the opportunity to visit the production facility on the lower level, then returned to their bar for a tasting of their ciders currently on tap. We sampled the dry Ridge cider, ginger cider, and a jalapeño cider. The jalapeño cider was a treat, starting very subtle and timid, and then suddenly, “Bang!” as you felt the rush of heat from your mouth through your esophagus.

Overall, I found Asheville a culinary delight. One weekend was definitely not enough to gain a full appreciation for all the cultural and gastronomic activities. This city will be staying on my list of places to visit.