‘Food Forward’ PBS Series Debuts With ‘Urban Agriculture Across America’ Episode

cowsIn less than a century, the United States has gone from being a mostly agrarian society to an urbanized one. Most of us live in cities and, despite our growing cultural fascination with food, most Americans have no idea where the ingredients on their plate (or in that wrapper) are actually coming from.

That’s where “Food Forward” comes in. After a three-year effort, the premiere episode of this innovative new PBS series, as first reported by the Huffington Post, is airing nationally throughout April (see schedule after the jump). In “Urban Agriculture Across America,” the “Food Forward” crew travel from the Bay Area to Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City, talking to urban farming innovators such as Abeni Ramsey, a single mother in West Oakland.

Formerly relegated to feeding her family Top Ramen, Ramsey was inspired some years ago by a farm stand she spotted in her neighborhood, operated by West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. As part of City Slickers’ initiative to nourish under-served communities, their staff and volunteers build garden boxes (designed for small-scale, intensive production) in residents’ yards.

Ramsey got her garden box and soon had a backyard full of produce. Next, she got chickens to provide her family with protein in the form of meat and eggs. Today, she’s the farm manager of the East Bay’s urban Dig Deep Farms. Dig Deep sells and delivers produce to local communities through its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program and works in collaboration with Oakland’s acclaimed Flora restaurant.

Says Flora chef Rico Rivera, “We order the produce, she picks it and it’s here the next morning.” Adds Ramsey, “It’s a modern idea that you get all of your food from the store. People have been farming in cities…since there were cities.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user Martin Gommel]rooftop gardenJohn Mooney, chef and rooftop hydroponic farmer at Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan’s West Village, is another interesting subject as is urban beekeeper Andrew Coté, who collects specific blends from hives around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While the idea of keeping bees in the midst of a metropolis may seem an unnecessary objective, or a somewhat precious craft food enterprise, it’s anything but, as Coté points out. “Bees help pollinate the city’s community and rooftop gardens as well as window boxes.” Localized honey also contains pollen that helps allergy sufferers living in these neighborhoods.

Of Detroit, “Food Forward” co-creator/producer Stett Holbrook says, “It blew my mind. It’s a city that has been devastated by industrial collapse and the exodus of half of its population, but the resilience of the residents still there to remake the city – literally from the ground up – was truly inspiring. Urban agriculture is a big part of the renaissance.”

According to its website, the objective of “Food Forward” is to “create a series that looks beyond the world of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions,” and formulaic recipe shows. From my perspective, it also goes beyond the seemingly endless variations on scintillating (not) reality series on baked good empires, riffs on “Homo sapiens vs. Arteriosclerosis” and “Twenty Crappy Things You Can Cook With Canned Goods.”

Instead, “Food Forward” looks at what it calls the “food rebels” across America – farmers, chefs, ranchers, fishermen, food artisans, scientists and educators – who are dedicated to changingurban farm the way we eat and finding more sustainable alternatives to how food is produced and procured.

“Food Forward” succeeds (if the pilot is any indication) in a way that documentaries of this genre haven’t (despite being excellent on all counts: see, “The Future of Food,” “Food, Inc.,” etc.).

It’s mercifully not about food elitism, either. Rather than leaving you depressed, angry or guilty, the show inspires, entertains and sends a message of hope. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, sustainable fishing and meat production and soil science. Some segments are animated, either to better illustrate a point or to engage a wider age demographic.

“Food Forward” is “written, produced and directed by a veteran team of journalists, cinematographers and storytellers that includes: director Greg Roden (PBS, FOX and National Geographic channel’s “Lonely Planet” and the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle); aforementioned creator-producer Holbrook (Food editor for Metro Silicon Valley and The Bohemian in Sonoma County, and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur and Chow.com); Brian Greene (Food Network, Discovery Channel, NBC), and director of photography David Lindstrom (PBS, National Geographic and Discovery channels).

On April 22, the pilot will air on WTTW in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. and WLIW in New York at 2:30 p.m. On April 28, it will air on Washington DC’s WETA at 5:30 p.m. For future episodes, check your local PBS listings, visit the “Food Forward” website or www.PBS.org/foodforward.


Seattle Culinary Camp With Chef Tom Douglas Offers A Taste Of Washington State

seattle cooking classesIt’s a well-known fact amongst Seattleites that the sun always comes out for the summer starting on July 4. OK, that wasn’t true two years ago but on July 5, there it was. Anyway, it’s the official start of our summer and that means it’s also the start of the eating season. For farmers market goers and lovers of the grill and al fresco dining, July is kickoff time.

Perhaps that’s why Tom Douglas, the modern father of Pacific Northwest cooking (the late James Beard being the true granddaddy of PNW cuisine), chose July for his annual Culinary Camp. The award winning chef and restaurateur behind such Seattle landmarks as Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola and Serious Pie has held a five-day culinary immersion program every July for the past six years.

Locals and visitors alike will get a taste of local ingredients such as geoduck clams, Dungeness crab, blueberries, salmon, wild mushrooms and cheese in hands-on cooking classes as well as demonstrations and tastings from Douglas – currently a finalist for the James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year award.

Additional educational opportunities will be available from other respected Seattle food and drink authorities; in the past, these have included Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce and The Corson Building, Mark Fuller of Spring Hill/Ma’ono, and Maria Hines of Tilth and The Golden Beetle. Former visiting experts have included acclaimed chef Nancy Oakes and her husband, sausage king Bruce Aidells and noted food writers/cookbook authors Rose Levy Beranbaum and James Peterson.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle, so citywide celebrations will make vitamin D-depleted Seattlites even more festive than usual. The Tom Douglas Culinary Camp will take place July 8-12 and tuition is $3,000. To learn more and reserve a spot, contact Robyn Wolfe at robynw@tomdouglas.com.

[Flickr Photo via cbcastro]

Top 5 Travel Attractions of Seattle, Washington

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen celebrates 30 years, tickets going fast

aspen food and wine 2012Who would have guessed that 30 years ago, a high-altitude, fancy-pants gathering of some chefs, winemakers, and hungry and thirsty revelers would have evolved into the nation’s preeminent food and wine festival?

This year, from June 15-17th, Food & Wine magazine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Food & Wine Classic at Aspen. Join the nation’s top chefs including Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Michael Symon, and Tom Colicchio, as well as internationally renowned winemakers, master sommeliers, brewmasters, and mixologists at the most anticipated and prestigious culinary event of the year.

The three-day weekend also features over 80 cooking demos, wine and interactive seminars, panel discussions, tasting events, and classes on food and wine pairing, as well as a bacchanalia involving 300 winemakers, craft brewers, distillers, and food purveyors in the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This year, new seminars and demos include “Game on!” with Andrew Zimmern; Ming Tsai’s “Asian BBQ;” “Undiscovered Grapes of Spain” by Steve “Wine Geek” Olson; “Fried Chicken for the Soul” by Marcus Samuelsson, and “Swill for the Grill” by uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Special anniversary events are also on the menu, including a hands-on knife skills seminar, “Butchering for Beginners,” by acclaimed chef John Besh, a 5K charity run, an anniversary party, and a late-night dessert bash (Fact: your metabolism actually speeds up at 8,000 feet!). Additional special events will be announced over the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Facebook page over the next few months. Psst…tickets are selling fast, so hop to it.

Tickets are $1,125 before March 15, 2012 and $1,225 thereafter. Food & Wine donates two percent of the net proceeds from all tickets sold to Grow for Good, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase tickets, click here.

Need an affordable place to stay after splurging on said tickets? Here’s an insider tip.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

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Video: Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time

“Sometimes when you cook swedishly, the meal is destroyed. This is natural.”

Did you grow up watching the Swedish Chef on “The Muppet Show?” I loved that guy. Do you find everything about “foodies” and the Food Network obnoxious and tedious? Yeah, me too. Allow me then, to turn you on to a little Internet sensation called “Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time (ROSMT).”

The mad, brilliant brainchild of a group of Swedish university students, ROSMT started out as a hungover, 2011 New Year’s Day lark. It was filmed in the apartment of “chef” Niclas Lundberg, with the aid of his friend and ROSMT co-founder Isak Anklew.

The resulting “Spaghetti Explosion” was inspired by the spoofy, Canadian YouTube cooking show hit “Epic Meal Time.” Lundberg has taken culinary instruction to a new level, spicing things up with signature moves like hurling ingredients into walls, ripping off hunks of raw meat with his teeth, and using his fists as everything from potato mashers to mixing spoons.

“Spaghetti Explosion” was such a success, Lundberg and friends quickly produced “Meatball Massacre,” and “Sidepork Pandemonium.” The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the guys (five, in all) behind ROSMT are pop-culture icons in Sweden and abroad. Me? I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s the Pepto-Bismol to pretentious food culture gastric reflux.

Below, I present to you the “Chop Chop Carnage Stew (Alternative Pyttipanna)” episode. Pyttipanna is a Swedish specialty consisting of potatoes, onion, and meat, with the likely additions of fried egg, chopped pickles and beetroot, and really, god knows what else. Enjoy.

Today’s lesson: “Chop Chop Carnage Stew (Alternative Pyttipanna)”


January is California Restaurant Month

california restaurantsAs a native Californian and longtime former Bay Area resident, I have to confess there’s no place like home when it comes to the American food/dining/wine scene (New Yorkers, feel free to sharpen your knives…).

California’s always been progressive when it comes to food and drink, from the early days of the vaqueros and Gold Rush-era San Francisco, right up to today’s never-ending parade of talented food artisans, chefs, farmers, and mixologists. It’s only fitting then, to feature a California Restaurant Month.

In January, the second annual statewide celebration is back and better than ever. Presented by Visit California, nearly 30 destinations across the Golden State are creating special restaurant week or month-long promotions and deals, including celebrity chef, prix fixe, and wine pairing dinners, and a series of “Dine and Drive Itineraries” that map out the culinary and scenic highlights of specific regions. Included are “Wine Country Fresh,” “Food Lover’s Classic Coast Drive: San Francisco to L.A.,” and “A Taste of San Diego.” Participating regions for events include cities and counties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and Northern and Southern California.

If you’re worried about the calories, California Restaurant Month also offers travel tips on where the best skiing, surfing, hiking, and other outdoor activities are to be found, regardless of your itinerary. And that’s the thing about California. As my dad always said, “What other state offers so much diversity?” Whether bagging peaks, scuba-diving, camping in the desert, or having a blow-out shopping spree is your thing, California’s got it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stuck in Customs]