The Many Metaphors Of Juicing

Matt Shook of Juicebox and Juiceland is many things, but did you know that he is the Metaphorical Oracle? Having worked with him for over a year now, I had some inkling of his knack for functional prose, but it wasn't until I embarked upon a juice cleanse that I understood the extent of his skills. Shook is a self-styled Juice Cleanse Consultant, having recently garnered some press by advising the Austin Chronicle's Claudia Alarcon on her recent juice cleanse.

My partner in this endeavor would by my close friend Jodi Bart, well-known in foodie circles as Tasty Touring. Isn't she cute? Her recent innocent question ("David, what kind of juicer should I buy?") became an invitation to do a juice cleanse. These food blogger types are always hungry for a story, so she eagerly accepted. She had never tried any sort of fast or cleanse beyond your average Yom Kippur observance and was eager to submit herself to Mr. Shook's tutelage . Being a great proselytizer of his various enthusiasms, Shook leapt at the opportunity to rope me into it. I am a fairly avid home juicer thanks to Shook's influence and an 18-year-old Acme Juicerator, and, having tendencies towards South Austin hippie-dippiness, I have experimented in my day with the grand-daddy of all cleanses... ... the Master Cleanse. That's the famed spicy lemonade cleanse. You drink nothing but water mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne. As off-putting as that may initially sound, it is actually a likeable, somewhat addictive beverage. You drink as much as you want, for as long as you want. The recommended length is ten days, but I had never gone beyond four or five days. It is hard to enter this kind of discussion without becoming fairly graphic, but suffice it to say, in combination with nightly senna tea doses and morning quarts of warm saltwater, it lives up to its name very well.

The cleanse that Jodi and I undertook was just a straight juice cleanse, and I opted to go primarily with just a straight green juice sweetened with a little apple and acidified with a touch of lemon. It still had to be a teensy bit culinary. I also mixed in the senna tea and the saltwater rinse. When I asked Shook about the relative merits of the various cleanses, I received my first metaphor: "Cleansing is like jogging. Sure, somebody could tell you what shoes to buy, what stretches to do, what path to take. But ultimately it's all about running. Just get out there and run, right?"

In support of the juice path, he also noted: "As long as the juice is fresh and raw, your body is feeding its cells with live enzymes that activate the building blocks of chi and heighten the ability of mitochondria to function. As opposed to having your friends over to your apartment to rip bong hits and leave Dominoes pizza boxes littered throughout while the the trash can overflows because everyone forgot what day garbage day was (which is what your body feels like during your normal diet), on a juice diet your body will start to feel like one of those houses in the 'What $750,000 Will Buy' section of The Times."

It started fairly well. I think Jodi may have had a slightly harder time at the get-go because it was virgin territory for her. She was pretty hungry and sought out Matt's help. The Metaphorical Oracle told her: "The first few days will feel like a mountain stage on the Tour de France, but next week you'll be cruising down with your legs stretched out and the wind in your hair."

I had a pretty easy go of it early on. You can see that the lack of calories had no effect on my bowling skillz. Just check out the last  four frames. <insert famous bowler name here>, eat your heart out.

The first question people generally ask is, "Aren't you hungry?" The hunger is there, it comes and goes, generally waning over the course of the cleanse. You are heartened by the thought of the sheer nutrient load that your body is enjoying, but the greatest payoff is the energy. Your physical energy and mental clarity zoom off the charts after day two. Whether it is a factor of your body just functioning better or an instinctive hunter/gatherer fight or flight reaction to the lack of calories (I tend to think mostly the latter), it is a profound effect.

My surprise juicing superpower, however, was not entirely welcome. My olfactory sense sharpened (again, likely a vestige of a prehistoric instinct) dramatically and I... I could smell everyone's breath. Everyone had a different olfactory imprint... it was slightly unnerving, but interesting. It's like I knew something secret about each person I met.

But along about day four, I was feeling pretty good and pretty clean. The weekend was approaching. But the missing social aspect of eating with my family and friends was beginning to become a slight drag. I told Matt I was thinking about stopping the cleanse. He expressed dismay and produced another metaphor. "You're driving to the Grand Canyon right now, and you've only made it as far as Junction. What you're telling me is that you want to stop in Junction and just turn around and drive back to Austin. Tomorrow morning you'll be in El Paso! And then next week you'll be standing on the rim of the Grand freaking Canyon."

When Jodi expressed similar dismay, he said, "You are Michael Jordan and you are going to take this all the way to the hoop. You're going to throw as many elbows as you need to, take as many takeoff steps as you want, you're going to stick your tongue out as you soar through the air and you are going to jam this."

I took his advice and stuck with it. But the following day it really was the weekend and the broccoli in our garden was starting to flower and it needed to get eaten, the sugar snap peas were bursting off the vine and were oh so inviting. I sent him the text you see at right. Drained of his metaphorical resources, he simply turned to brute force and threats.

It did the trick, however. The mention of the "fat trucker" is what did it. If you don't know who that is, then you haven't seen the incredibly motivating film that has inspired quite a buzz in the juicing world, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

When I first told Matt he needed to watch the film, he said, "What happens? Someone has a horrible diet, is really sick, then starts

juicing, then gets better and lives happily ever after?" I said, "Yes." So yes, if a 15-word synopsis is good enough for you, don't watch it. But you might want to watch it, it is quite compelling and touching. The story about Phil the trucker is pretty moving.

 

 

All that aside, I ultimately did not have the willpower to take it all the way. I suffered some serious professional complications (website woes... someone else's fault) on Saturday night which snowballed throughout Sunday. Sunday night, I was so wired and upset by everything that I could not bring myself down... I used food as a sedative. I had a nice toasted piece of delicious multigrain bread with butter and went to sleep. The next morning I indulged in two El Primo migas tacos and a cup of coffee. Not the approved method for coming off a juice fast, but I'm still here to tell you about it. It was good.

What I learned from my cleanse this time is this: Food is almost purely emotional. You don't need much in the way of food to get by; in fact, to excel. On a cleanse: Physically, you're completely functional. Mentally clear. Emotionally balanced. Spiritually in tune. You have a nice shiny coat. You feel like a clean running machine. The difference between fuel and food is purely described by an emotional component. Keeping that balance between food and fuel, between emotion and reason in your diet is probably a key to being a pretty good human.

Next time, though, I think I might try this 46 day beer fast.

Jodi is still cruising and she's going to take it to the hoop. She's expressed some boredom. Matt chimed in with his last bit of metaphorical inspiration: "You've come a long way and if being bored of fresh juice is the only problem, consider this mission accomplished. Take each juice these remaining days and drink it down in the same way Michael Phelps puts gold medals around his neck. Sure, it is a little boring to be so good at something, so out of everyone's league, but soon you'll be down from the mountain top, back with the squares. It is the intention you finish with that will define your time on the juice. Make it count. Be grateful that you have access to fresh, raw fruit and vegetable juice, because millions of Americans will NEVER have the opportunity to juice feast. Imbibe! Swish! And do unto yourself the Internal high-fiving that only a bonafide 10-day Juice Feast can inspire!"

Cleverness From Cook's Illustrated

This is the kind of cleverness that I look forward to when I run from the mailbox to my house when the new Cook's Illustrated arrives. My favorite magazine except of course National Geographic. Family Handyman is great in theory but it's just this side of too manly for my purposes. Anyways... This is from the Quick Tips section that is full of labor-saving ideas from the very most anal-retentive home cooks in the world. It speaks to me.

A Bunch Of Bologna

What sad sequence of events could bring us to the condition where we are most reminded of pink tubular "baloney" when we see the word "Bologna". What we should be thinking of is one of the world's great centers of culinary tradition and decadence. Similar events bring us to the sad condition of thinking of "Ragu" as a jarred supermarket red sauce instead of the highest form of slow-simmered meat sauce. "Ragu alla Bolognese", then, is doubly likely to be the most mis-interpreted menu item... We feature it on next week's menu with pride and trepidation. Trepidation that inaccurate associations will cause you to miss this excellent dish. One of my all-time personal favorites...

No, It Really Is Tuscan

Have I spoken to you much about my love for our Tuscan Polenta Soup? Perhaps the more experienced Soupies amongst you remember it better by its true, Italian, not-terribly-appetizing name: Intruglia. It is one of our kitchen's great works of art, beginning with our painstakingly handmade traditional beef stock, then slow-simmered with polenta and vegetables (the recipe calls for 12 heads of cabbage, which melt away into pure savory delicacy), then finished off with handmade sausage. It is one of the most satisfying one-pot meals that I've ever experienced. I did not actually find this soup in my Tuscan travels, but did spend time in the Garfagnana region which is the origin of this soup. Craggy hilltops upon which are perched painfully beautiful villages, deep ravines, lovely people, and of course amazing food at every turn. Do give this excellent recipe a try.

Deep Thoughts On Ribollita

Among my soup travels, I count the pursuit of the great Tuscan ribollita among my very top experiences. A lot of people confuse Tuscan with Tusken, the nomadic Sand People of Tatooine, home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. I'm speaking of the great culinary region in northern Italy... Toscana, or Tuscany. Italy, the country that gave humanity the italic font style. Font, often used interchangeably with typeface, but also the diminutive of fountain, which is a water-gushing installation in the center of most Italian squares, like the one in Firenze outside the restaurant where I tasted the best ribollita of my life. A photo of that soup may be found here. One of my favorite food quotes of all time is noted there. It is from the pen of Waverly Root... a food anthropologist from the time when saying "from the pen of" was meant quite literally. He says, "Florentine food is hearty and healthy, subtle in its deliberate eschewing of sophistication, which is perhaps the highest sophistication of all." I believe that that quote has much to say about what we try to accomplish daily here at The Soup Peddler. Back to the ribollita, though. I had sampled a few during the trip, but this one, at the end of a weary day of walking, sucking exhaust from countless Vespas and Fiats, tucked into a comfortable white-tablecloth, the alcohol molecules from a few glasses of red wine now swishing in a leisurely fashion alongside the corpuscles in my bloodstream... this one was possibly the apex of my eating life. Thoroughly slicked with olive oil, fluffed with overcooked zucchini, vegetal with soft cabbage, salted nearly to the limit of my tongue's capacity to process flavor, held together only by a lattice of soggy day-old bread. The epitome of the Root quote, sitting in real life on the table in front of me. What a poor Food Network travelogue host I would have been at that moment, unable to moan dramatically with pleasure or high-five the chef, consumed as I was in a private High Anxiety flavor spiral (see: Vertigo flavor spiral, for more sophisticated filmgoers), spinning, dizzy, lost in a timeless vortex, swirling in a maelstrom of sensation.

I set my sights to try to re-create the soup... if only to conjure a fraction of the experience... for my beloved Soupies. As well as possible, I reverse-engineered the recipe and feel that we've done a righteous job of producing it in quantity. In a nod to health, we back off on the salt and oil but do recommend the optional home augmentation thereof. To this day, it is my favorite vegan soup. Vegan, by design! Believe it or not.

Summer Soup

When you say "summer soup" to a Marylander like myself, gazpacho doesn't come to mind. Vichyssoise never even enters the picture. There are no cool melon soups or sour cherry this-n-thats in this noggin. No, when you say "summer soup" to me, the old memory banks sputter and crackle for a few nervous seconds, then crank up a vivid memory of folding tables and chairs in well-trod soft grass, newspaper and wooden mallets, spice-stained fingers and burning lips... all the trappings of a Maryland crab feast. And then there's the soup, most often made with the leftover crabs but sometimes served right with the feast itself. Fiery with Old Bay, sweet with fresh summer corn (the corn milk from the cutting board scraped into the pot along with stray strands of silk), cooked to death so the potatoes and green beans are ready to fall apart. And the most distinguishing feature... the demonic little orange claws emerging from the murky depths, a still life of an ingredient futilely trying to escape its fate. A slurping, dripping affair, it is. Not only is it a summer soup, it is an outdoor soup. Just as an overripe peach is an outdoor fruit. First for pragmatism, then ultimately for tradition and just plain rightness. We can't quite conjure that full experience, but we do put our hearts into our version of the crab soup... here is a photo of the first time I cooked crab soup at the Mary St. kitchen. We have since discovered some labor-saving processes, so the task isn't quite as murderous as it once was. Yet the result is quite faithful.

Breakfast Soup

I ran into an old associate of mine at the Juicebox the other day ago, and found him ordering a chicken soup with rice for breakfast, with a smoothie chaser. "Breakfast of Champions," he said. I thought to myself, G-d bless him. Maybe I've been missing the obvious marketing catch-phrase: Soup, It's Not Just For Lunch And Dinner Anymore. In fact, there are many great breakfast soups around the world. Changua is the breakfast soup of Colombia, an admittedly soup-obsessed country. Congee, one of my favorite foods in the world, is a breakfast staple under one name or another for probably a quarter to a third of the world's population. In the Americas, hominy soups like Menudo are the great way to start your dia. But frankly, it doesn't appeal to even me, The Soup Peddler.

But that doesn't mean that I can't turn it into a marketing campaign, does it? Perhaps I could sway myself in the process... maybe I should start with a cup of miso in the morning to fire up the old engines. I certainly love the congee, maybe that could work. It is the inspiration behind our breakfast porridge at the Juicebox, which differs only in selection of grains and because it's just a bit on the sweet side. I have also seen a lovely soup version of a normal breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, and toast taught to me by a Spaniard, it was quite lovely and in fact brilliant peasant fare. Maybe that concoction is something America needs to know about vis-a-vis this explosive new breakfast soup trend.

Edible Austin - Larry McGuire

Chefs at Home: Larry McGuire by David Ansel

When conjuring a mental image of a chef’s home kitchen, one might envision small pots of fresh herbs sunbathing on a windowsill, a pegboard rack lined with naughty pans facing a wall or a magnetic knife strip stocked with varied shapes, sizes and patinas of blade. A peek in the refrigerator might reveal a cornucopia of fresh produce and proteins, rare condiments, preserved lemons, homemade Worcestershire, perhaps a bit of hazelnut confiture picked up on a recent research trip to the south of France.

But upon entering the home kitchen of Larry McGuire—the boy genius behind monumentally successful Lambert’s and Perla’s restaurants—none of these things are present. Rather, one is confronted with an austere sort of Dwell-magazine-meets-Travis-Heights sense of low-fidelity minimalism—no hint of any recent activity; no pots, no pans; the refrigerator is empty save for some fizzy water and butter. In fact, the most commanding element of the kitchen—the open shelving that lines the entire north wall, where any reasonable human being would place some dishware, maybe a small sampling of cookbooks or even a few tchotchkes—cradles only numerous, neatly stacked ranks of manila accordion files.

“Those are my end-of-month financial statements,” McGuire says proudly when asked if the files are full of recipes.

It takes a bit of background to understand why a chef’s home would be quite so… foodless. First, McGuire, at 28, is quite properly a bachelor, yet without the usual pitiable gastronomic detritus of bachelorhood: the coffee grinds on the floor, the forlorn take-out containers in the fridge, the bag of limp carrots solitary-confined to the crisper. Why? McGuire simply doesn’t eat at home.

“I wake up and go to Jo’s for coffee,” he says. “Then there’s usually eggs going on at one of the restaurants. I’m in the restaurant all day, and then, since my friends are chefs, I eat out at a great restaurant every night… Parkside, Uchi, Vespaio.”

What might sound like an extravagant lifestyle is really, in a sense, just work. McGuire has graduated from the ranks of the struggling chef to the echelon of restaurateur/creator—one who travels to New York and Los Angeles just to eat and stay current; one who religiously consumes cookbooks and The New York Times’ food section. His immersion into restaurant culture—both locally and nationally—is part and parcel of his career.

“A lot of people ask me,” McGuire says with a genuinely humble pause, “‘How do you do things that people… like so much?’ My answer is that I just grew up here; I am the customer. I see what holes there are in the offerings here.”

He also credits much of his success to what he refers to as the Lambert aesthetic—a distinct mix of comfort and smart design that is the hallmark of Lou and Liz Lambert’s hospitality projects. “Everything I’ve done is their design; their aesthetic. Working with Lambert’s, doing Steak Night at the [hotel] San Jose and having contact with this whole up-and-coming creative crowd and seeing South Congress really evolve was a lucky break for me.”

Breaks aside, McGuire worked hard beforehand to acquire his business degree from the University of Texas while pulling night shifts on the line at the old Lambert’s. From both experiences, he was able to craft the business plans and investor packages for the new Lambert’s, Perla’s and his two current projects (which are?). Now, firmly ensconced on the other side, McGuire’s bootstrap, dues-paying days may be over.

“I started cooking around town when I was 16, and I’m 28 now, so holidays and weekends for that big chunk of my early life are gone,” he says. “I have weekends off for the first time in ten years.”

To fill some of this new free time, McGuire’s has infrequently hosted small outdoor gatherings at his home, around the oversized grill that once served as the centerpiece of so many of those Steak Nights at the San Jose. Guests are usually chefs and their hangers-on, and the sausages were, of course, ground, seasoned and encased at one of McGuire’s professional kitchens.

Still though, the image of the financial statements lining the walls of his home kitchen seems most telling. At the end of the day it’s sill the food service business, after all, and McGuire is as proud of those spreadsheets as he is his bouillabaisse (I like the word “bouillabaisse,” but don’t you think we should name some kind of sausage to align with the previous paragraph?). Truth be told, the spreadsheets may even hold more promise as they describe a near future where McGuire can reliably take weekends, holidays and nights off; where he can find a girl, settle down… maybe even cook a meal inside.

 

Edible Austin - Mike McKim

When one observes Mike McKim, founder of Cuvée Coffee, preparing his morning cup, one finds a professional who is exacting with his weights and measures, like a scientist, pharmacist, or drug dealer. This is an accurate observation. McKim is equal parts all of these. He heats filtered water to 200 degrees, then uses it to rinse a paper filter that is set into a the inverse conical top of a Chemex, a sort of Erlenmeyer flask. He discards the rinse water.  He slides a small digital scale to the center of his workspace, places a metal cup on it, and zeroes the scale. He measures out 2 grams of coffee beans for each fluid ounce of water. He grinds the beans to a specific fineness appropriate to that bean and pours the ground coffee into the filter, then slowly trickles water through the grinds. The entire process, when executed at a leisurely pace, takes about three minutes.

For those mere coffee mortals amongst you, save your pshaws. Comparing your morning cup to McKim’s is akin to putting Ernest and/or Julio Gallo up against M. Perrier-Jouët. In fact, that comparison is apropos to the name Cuvée Coffee. Many wine drinkers are familiar with the term “cuvée” indicating that a wine is produced from a mixture of grape varieties, but the denotation which McKim had in mind when naming his company is the term’s application to champagne. “In champagne terms,” notes McKim, “They pick the grapes where the terroir is superior, and they only use the first press for cuvée. It’s the best of the best.”

The difficulty in this artisan stratosphere of the coffee world is finding ways to eke out a few extra points on the cupping scale. This 100-point scale is a means for quantifying the qualitative, a necessary but slippery endeavor, by ranking a coffee sample against a variety of metrics. “We shoot for 88 but it’s not always doable with every coffee. 86 is our absolute basement,” says McKim, “whereas most people fall in that 80 to 85 point category.”

The prime “differentiator,” as McKim puts it, is raw ingredient selection. “Every roaster rightfully thinks they’re buying the best coffee. There are varying levels of great coffee. It’s not as easy as calling your importer and saying, ‘Send me the best coffee you have from Colombia.’ It’s way more involved than that.”

This is where the difference between “fair trade” and “direct trade” come in. McKim’s business model is based on his extensive travels. “I know some roasters who travel and visit farms and that’s great. My experience with most people is they do it for photo-ops and marketing, not for the true substance of securing a long-term supply of amazing coffee, of building a sustainable relationship that involves commerce, social, and environmental aspects.”

Establishing these direct connections with farmers allows him to cut out the middleman (No offense to the middlepeople in our readership. We still love you.) and create a more advantageous deal for his farmers. The “fair trade basement,” that is, the lowest allowable price per pound of coffee which conforms to the Fair Trade standard, is $1.26. McKim showed me a sample bag of “yellow mondo novo” that he secured from a Brazilian farmer. He described it in hushed, measured tones as if it was a secret weapon he was waiting to unveil. This farmer had deigned to sell him this rare varietal because “I was the first roaster who had ever visited him twice.” McKim agreed to pay him $2.35 a pound.

But more importantly, in terms of quality control, he knows exactly which farm the beans are coming from, and what methods are being used. For example, one farmer may send pickers through a field only once, whereby berries of a wide variety of ripeness are picked. McKim notes, “Our guy in El Salvador does  five pickings a year. He pays the people to pick only the ripe cherries, and it makes a huge difference.”

The second differentiator is consistency in processing. This is where the individual talents of roasters come into play. McKim’s approach here is impressively methodical, betraying an engineering mindset. Log charts for each batch of coffee are kept with temperatures and transition points for various stages of roasting and are examined over each day’s 9:30 a.m. cupping routine. McKim’s original roaster is an aged Parisian Samiac, and he combed the globe looking for another one with which to expand his volume capability. When he found one in Switzerland, he had it shipped to his lair in the Hill Country, disassembled it, and enlisted the help of his father, a retired airline pilot and mechanic, to rebuild it with Venturi nozzles, servo-controlled motors, and an oddly 1970’s-looking control panel with big buttons. It is the Millenium Falcon of roasters—a  jalopy with guts that can crank up to hyperspace speeds.

“ We’ve kept all of these things that are great about these vintage roasters, all the cast iron, and then we’ve added modern technology. We’re able to take the craft of roasting, use measurables to define what’s happening during the roasting process, so we know what we can do to manipulate things to change the flavor of the coffee. Because we know what those measurables are for each variety, we can do it over and over.”

Rob Ovitt, co-owner of Once Over Coffee Bar in South Austin, is one of McKim’s key clients. He describes the symbiotic relationship between a boutique roaster and a high-end coffeeshop. “We’re big believers in the roaster/barrista relationship. We trust that Mike determines the optimal roast for a given coffee, and Mike trusts that we don’t screw it up on our end, and keep him in the best light.” When asked how important the direct trade ethos is in comparison to coffee quality when selecting a roaster, he said, “We’re most driven by what’s in the cup, but the reality is that what’s in the cup is determined by direct trade. It’s sought out and sourced in such a specific way, and that’s the only way it’s going to end up at such a level of quality.”

Edible Austin - John Hoberman

Zen and the Art of Junk Maintenance: John Ogdenby David Ansel

Deep within the belly of the weed-choked, unmarked commercial kitchen equipment junkyard, through a narrow canyon of stainless-steel vent hoods, teetering piles of walk-in refrigerator panels, grease-encrusted fryers, battleship ten-burners and the occasional dough-sheeter, beyond the crossroads of the valley of shattered two-door merchandisers and the field of rusted metro shelving and steam jackets, an enigmatic hero clutching a cordless phone and a receipt pad appears at the gate of a cavernous warehouse.. This is the inner sanctum of Ogden Restaurant Supply, where John Hoberman holds court. (nice paragraph, David)

Hoberman, actually known to customers as “Ogden,” is Austin's Rain Man of restaurant equipment. He maintains a scarily accurate mental map of tens of thousands of unorganized pieces of equipment and spare parts, and knows the current price on every single piece of equipment advertised in industry catalogs. For those in search of anything from a dicing grid for a mid-70s Robot Coupe to a replacement tread for a Sherman tank, he’s your man.

“A used two-door mega-top runs $795,” he recites to a customer, as if stating an immutable truth. “The one over there is a standard ten-pan unit. $775 for a two-door ten-pan.” (nice!)

It’s a business model that would drop the jaws of MBA candidates to the floor: Hoberman buys decades-old equipment for pennies on the dollar at auction, fixes it up and sells it for nearly the price of brand-new equipment. Oh, and he takes a 50% deposit before touching the equipment. The secret is that restaurant equipment is generally built for no-frills, single-purpose functions: make stuff hot, make stuff cold, chop stuff. Properly maintained and/or occasionally rebuilt, much of it can essentially work forever. And with a never-ending glut of equipment from failed, ill-advised endeavors into the people-feeding business, you have the makings of a millionaire who happens to drive a beater pickup, wear grease-stained jeans and spend his days neck-deep in junk.

How did it all begin?

“This whole thing started with me deciding in college that I was going to tune my logical thought process to figure out through various investigations, meditations, concentration activities and lots of study, how the universe got created,” (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA best to start small, yes?) states Hoberman, matter-of-factly. “To make a long story short, I had a visionary experience and found what I was looking for.”

That experience led him to phone an Omaha radio call-in show to describe his vision of creating matter from mind stuff to a touring minister named Stephen Gaskin. Yes, the Stephen Gaskin, co-founder of The Farm. Yes, The Farm of Summerville, Tennessee—the famous spiritual intentional community. Upon hearing Hoberman’s vision (aren’t you the least bit curious what the experience was???), Gaskin exclaimed to the bible-belt listenership, “I want all you people to realize THAT WAS A TRUE TRIP!” (not sure I get what he means by a “true trip”… like a hippy would say-dude it was such a trip? Yes, like a hippie Or as in it was a legitimate journey?) Hoberman and his wife Susan soon packed their bags and moved to The Farm, where they turned in their bucket of silver bullion to the collective and stayed for nine years.

The Farm used machinery extensively—from combines and tractors for agriculture, to a solar construction company—and all of that equipment needed maintenance. Hoberman had found his niche. He paired his early experience working in his father’s copper-recycling factory with The Farm’s shoestring budget constraints to spearhead a project that built a laundry and bathhouse for the residents by trading scrap metal for broken-down Swedish washing machines.

Soon he was then bumped up into food service, which was primarily concerned with freezing and canning produce for winter sustenance. Hoberman’s guts had never agreed with the pressure-cooked soy beans—the protein staple for the collective—so he set up a tofu manufacturing operation. At the same time, a group from Vanderbilt University did a study on the vegetarian diet of the collective and found it to be balanced but lacking in calories. They recommended the addition of white flour and sugar. (Give them a break. It was the 70s.) Combining the results of the study, the huge surplus of soy milk from the tofu operation and the reconditioned Dairy Queen soft-serve machine that Hoberman had serendipitously acquired, a soy ice cream dream was born for The Farm, making Hoberman one of the first innovators in the field.

Hoberman’s family and several others were packed into a refurbished Greyhound Scenicruiser and shipped off to San Francisco to create a soy ice cream factory with the generous startup budget of $5,000. Ultimately the mission was doomed to failure, but their “Farm Foods Soy Ice Bean” eventually became part of the Hain Foods conglomerate through a series of acquisitions.

Finally Hoberman and family arrived in Austin and landed at a collective located at Chicon and Cesar Chavez. His romance with collective living, however, was waning . “Some people thought I was too interested in making money and I felt others weren’t interested enough in making money,” Hoberman says. “A collective lifestyle has the generalized effect of de-motivating the most highly motivated people. Your efforts are diluted by the combined effort, or lack thereof, of everyone else.” So he threw himself into being a successful capitalist.

Enter John Ogden. The real Ogden, according to the ersatz Ogden, owned a small used restaurant equipment business but was content—thanks to his wife’s wealth—to use it primarily as a napping locale instead of a place of business. Hoberman, who had by now become a master refrigeration technician, made a deal with Ogden: instead of just selling the equipment as-is, he would repair and warranty the equipment and they’d split the profits. Deal. Then Hoberman suggested they get into the icemaker-leasing business, providing a solid revenue stream. The business snowballed from there.

Hoberman’s departure from philosophic ideals was only partial, however. He carries his college studies of Zen into his art of maintenance work life. “It’s very relevant to the work here,” he says. “I use the work as a discipline to focus my intention by. I assume that each situation in which I find myself is posed as a test of my ingenuity and resolve. I’ll find myself out in some boony location trying to move an 800 pound oven by myself and all that is there is a broomstick, a pack of matches and a crowbar. The job for me is to figure out the answer which was already laid out for me to find. By doing that, you open your mind to possibilities that most people would not discover because they presuppose a negative outcome. It makes you look like a magician because you do things that people don’t think can be done. People don’t realize the extent to which outcomes are shaped by negative versus positive thinking. It’s kind of a teleology thing, where your presupposition closes or opens whole sets of possibilities. It’s analogous to sending a missile off—if you get the trajectory off by a tiny little percentage on the ground then the outcome can be half a solar system away at the other end.”

Not exactly a Fred Sanford monologue.

As far as a business ethos, Hoberman says the key to being a successful capitalist is to “find a technique for time-binding. Money is symbolic of energy as a medium of exchange between people. So if you can figure out a way to make your past energy pay you today, you’ll find success.” He goes on to relay the tall tale of George Westinghouse charging Ford $10,000 dollars for a seemingly easy repair. “The part cost $10 dollars,” says Hoberman. ”Knowing where to look cost the other $9,990.”

Hoberman is a riddle to be sure. He runs a highly profitable business out of a place that inspired Daily Juice owner Matt Shook to wonder aloud if he was going to get attacked by some insane axe murderer by simply walking onto the lot. He quotes Gurdjieff and Roshi with the same nonchalance as listing the amperage specifications for a 100 quart mixer. He looks like he walked out of a Ford truck commercial yet he’s been a vegetarian for 39 years. He earns devotion from clients yet treats them in a manner not consistent with most accepted customer service theories (“Will it take a long time to get it ready?” “Well, it takes a long time to do anything except ask stupid questions.”). He’s a delightful combination of crustiness and eloquence.

His domain is the back of the house for the back of the house. What looks like a junkyard to the untrained eye can inspire an air of reverence or even awe among the food service professional. It’s a graveyard swirling with stories. How many sorry saps stood in front of that charbroiler sweating night after night? Whose dreams were built on the purchase of that convection oven? It’s a place of resurrection as much as repair; phoenix as much as vulture—where the energy of Austin’s past failures is recycled into its next successes.

Further Thoughts On Soupmaking


Addie Broyles of the Austin American-Statesman recently interviewed me for a story on improving your soupmaking skills. Unfortunately I didn't have my thoughts entirely, cohesively together, so I'm re-cobbling them together here:

Cook Longer: Just because it takes longer to make doesn’t mean you have to work harder. Soups perform very well on autopilot. For example, with ten minutes of attention a stock can be put on before bed and be ready without another thought for dinner 18 hours later. A vegetable soup can be put on Sunday morning and stew all day with scant attention and be glorious by dinnertime. This is the #1 way to make your soup taste better, it’s the secret behind the alchemy of soupmaking.

Don't Shop For Soup: all the essentials for soup have great shelf life and your home should never be without them: carrots, onions, garlic, celery, potatoes, rice, noodles. From there you’re never too far away from having soup. All the great soups of the world are cucina povera, from the poor kitchen, using the scraps. This should be the spirit behind your soupmaking. Look at the larder and figure out what soup can come from it. It's that alchemy again... How to turn lead into gold.

Cook Like Bob Ross: Don’t paint by numbers. Develop a feel. Choose where you want to put that happy little tree. You start with a big brush, setting the background, the mood, with your stock and aromatics. As you move along, you add layers to the painting, you move to smaller brushes, adding details like featured ingredients which may be highlighted by a separate or shorter cooking process. Then you finish with a tiny little detail brush, adding those little shimmery bright spots like lemon, parsley, salt, finishing oils, etc.

Take Recipes With A Grain Of Salt: Soup is a particularly tolerant medium, so recipes are great for inspiration, but they should be thought of as a lead sheet in music. The chords are there, the melody line is there, but the song can become realized an infinite variety of ways. Think about interpreting a recipe as if it’s a piece of music. That parsley is in the recipe to freshen up the flavor, right? You happen to have only cilantro and mint on hand (shame on you for not always having parsley)... go with what you’ve got. Those shallots and leeks are there to provide a deep savory flavor, but you’ve only got garlic and onions... go with that.

Be Like Michael (Pollan): Don’t Put Anything In Your Soup That Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize As Food". Use only whole ingredients. With the exception of pasta, canned tomatoes, maybe a can of coconut milk here and there, your ingredients shouldn’t come from boxes or cans. This provision is primarily intended to enforce against use of store-bought stock/broth, which is with VERY rare exception pure trickery.

Edible Austin - Robert Kraft

“My guitar is under the bed, next to all the rifles,” said Robert Kraft, manager ofAustin’s Vital Farms. It stands to reason that an egg farmer-short story writer-carpenter-voiceover specialist-fugitive recovery private detective-jazz singer-heavy equipment operator-guitarist would stash all his long, thin possessions under the bed of his two-room trailer. Kraft’s factotum job history is all true. You could know his voice and face from anything from a ubiquitous Time Warner commercial to live shows with Glover Gill and Tosca. I asked him why he’s with Vital Farms. “This is my first steady day job in about ten years,” he said. “I wanted to get into something different than ad work, something that was tangibly beneficial to the world as opposed to making pretty music, something that helps people and educates people about where our food comes from.”

You find Vital Farms onBrandt RoadinSoutheast Austin. Austinites who may, in their checkered pasts, have sufficiently angered the parking gods are likely familiar withBrandt Roadand associate it with memories of dodging the pit bulls that protect Assured Towing in order to recover their vehicles. My recent visit toBrandt Roadwas decidedly more bucolic than the previous one. Flocks of Bovans and Hy-Line Browns clucked with what sounded to this reporter’s untrained ears like chipper unconcern. It may have been wariness or conspiracy but decidedly not angst. The farm is a long, sparsely-treed field that spreads along the tree-lined floodplain of Onion Creek.

Upon my arrival, I hitched a ride across the field with Mr. Kraft on a lipstick-red Kubota en route to witness the most important function in a pastured chicken operation: moving the birds to fresh pasture. “The whole crux of the pasture raising operation is the grass,” Kraft told me on the bumpy ride across the field. “The grass makes a special product, the dark colored yolks, the viscosity of the yolks, the flavor, it all has to do with the birds eating grass.” The forage component is only about one third of their diet—the other two thirds is an organic “layer ration” made primarily of corn and soy.

He was quick to point out that “pastured” is distinct from “free-range,” which in the egg context has very little if any legal definition and is often employed primarily as a marketing term. In this context, a “marketing term” is a marketing term for a “lie that may be printed in good conscience” on a package. “Free-range,” according to Kraft, “signifies that there is an outdoor area available to the birds which is seldom used.” Whereas “pastured” birds, while also lacking legal definition, is sort of the opposite: birds that live outdoors but have access to indoor space.

“This is nativeTexasgrass. What comes up now is buffalo, winter rye, fescue, and various winter crops,” continued Kraft. “There is a slight variation of the flavor and color of the eggs during the course of the year depending on what the chickens are eating. The French chefs have a term for a winter pastured egg. It’s something that’s really sought after. They know an egg that has been on winter pasture is distinct.”

What this means for the farmhands is that they spend their days conducting a veritable game of musical chairs for the birds, where the pens are moved around every few weeks in order to provide fresh grazing. Each pen consists of a solar-powered low-voltage fence (for the birds’ protection from land-borne predators), about 400-500 hens, a shade shed that looks like a small set of bleachers with a roof, and a MCU—don’t you know, a Mobile Chicken Unit. The MCU looks like a verySouth Austin, galvanized version of the Jawa Sandcrawler droid factory where Luke Skywalker purchased C-3PO and, reluctantly, R2-D2. The MCU is the “coop” where the hens lay their eggs. Why? “They have a special set of specifications in their mind as to where they want to lay their eggs, and we try to make sure the nesting boxes fulfill their requirements,” said Kraft. Part of that is removing other options, like low bushes or other cozy, inviting spots inside the pen.

When the pasture inside the pen has been taxed, Kraft and company enlarge the fence to encompass a fresh, adjacent pasture area, drag the shade shed and MCU into it, then chase the birds somewhat comically in that general direction and close the fence off behind them. The used land then has time to regenerate, and the birds have a few weeks’ worth of forage at their disposal. Voila. Pastured eggs.

We adjourned to the processing trailer, a truck trailer housing a Rube Goldbergish egg-sorting machine. “The eggs get candled then go through a solution of organic egg wash and water, then it rinses, dries, sorts and grades them,” said Kraft. “These little kickers kick them out according to weight. It’s an old piece of junk—we get several months of good work out of it and then it breaks down for a month while I run around the country looking for parts.” What then? “We just get a few pairs of nice ladies’ exfoliating gloves that are available at your finer establishments and hand-wash the eggs in a bubbler I made from a freezer compressor and perforated piece of PVC.”

He cracked open an egg. “See how the white holds together like that?” Kraft said proudly. “Grass makes these really thick orange yolks. Dessert chefs like these very much. The yolk stands up a little more. If you treat the birds better and you feed them the right things, you get this premium product. Our ethos is if you’re going to ask an animal to give you food, you owe that animal the best possible living conditions you can provide it.” He paused. “You hear how quiet it is here? If you’ve ever heard the egg farms like down in Gonzales, the birds are just screaming. It’s like something out of Dante.”

We adjourned to Kraft’s home, a mud-spattered trailer. The juxtaposition of eggs and trailer trash brought to mind the sadly overlooked Oscar-grade performance of Edie Massey merrily warbling “Oh, the egg man, the egg man!” in John Waters’ 1972 classic Pink Flamingos. Alas, it was Cloris Leachman’s year. Inside the trailer preenedAndorra the cat. I suggested that this was acush assignment for a cat. “She has a pretty good life if she can stay out of the clutches of the coyotes,” said Kraft. The same could be said for the chickens. “The object is to allow the birds to live as natural an existence as possible. There are downsides to that, they have to sleep outside in the cold but it’s not anything they can’t adapt to. They sleep in big groups and their body heat keeps them warm. The electric fences keep 95% of the predators away. We had a coyote who figured out how to jump the fence and he killed a lot of chickens until I was able to hunt him down. The large hawks will occasionally take a chicken. That’s the balancing act of letting them live naturally.”

“We’re the only provider of this product in the country—a real organic pasture-raised egg that is available in various markets. We’re in about 200 Whole Foods stores, about to be coast to coast.” Something didn’t add up. Kraft had said that the Onion Creek farm would max out at 2,500 birds, producing some 2,200 eggs per day. How could such a small farm with a built-in production ceiling play ball with UNFI, the Whole Foods distribution company? It turns out that Vital Farms considers the Onion Creek farm to be a “flagship” farm—true enough, the next day Whole Foods was coming to film a short segment. The vision of Vital Farms’ owner Matt O’Hare is to set up a network of small farms across the sun belt—the only region that allows for year-round pastured eggs—to service various regions, effectively adding sales range without adding food miles or over-scaling the farms. They already have a satellite farm inArkansas, a large egg farm that primarily supplies Wal-Mart which Vital has contracted to set up a 5,000 bird pasture operation according to their specs. Two additional contract farms are coming online soon nearBastropand Lockhart.

Kraft indicated that Vital cares about theAustinmarket as well. “We want to service the community that nurtured us. We had a lot of local accounts but due to the drought our production went down and we weren’t able to service them properly. We lost some clients and I’m in the process of re-building that.” Vital Farms has recently re-joined both theSunsetValleyand Downtown Farmer’s Markets and their eggs are available at Wheatsville Co-op, Asahi Imports, and Farm To Market.

Going Mobile Article from Edible Austin Fall 2009


EDIBLE ENDEAVORS

GOING MOBILE

By David Ansel
Illustration by Matt Lynaugh

The summer sun had not yet shone its first rays into the third-story windows along Congress Avenue, but Delphino Martinez had already worked up a sweat. As he struggled to pull his tamale cart onto the sidewalk, the hot water in the steamer sloshed back and forth. His six-year-old son, Matt, keeping him company, helped by fanning the brazier of coals. The year was 1923, and though the work was hard and the pay meager, the seed Delphino planted in the dusty ground of itinerant commerce eventually took hold, sent down roots and grew a strong tree. You can still see it on South Lamar: the restaurant his little boy started called Matt’s El Rancho.

Just next door, a woman who owned a failing gift shop spent her 1996 income-tax return on a taco trailer and equipped it with Tupperware and cheap plates from her house. She worked 16 hours a day to get the business off the ground. These days, you can see an oversized papier-mâché bust of her—arms outstretched—reigning over her own little taco kingdom. Her restaurant, perhaps the epicenter of the nascent global breakfast taco revolution, is Maria’s Taco X-Press.

If this established style of restaurant incubation is nothing new, why are food trailers popping up all over Austin like hackberries along a fence line? Let’s begin the answer with a popular riddle among restaurateurs: What’s the best way to make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large one.

It’s well known that the restaurant business is a risky one, but even more so among bankers who are, hopefully, polite enough not to laugh out loud in the presence of loan applicants. The infrastructure costs are staggering and generally require a gaggle of risk-seeking investors sewn together in a high-return partnership. Additionally, there are several forbidding operational line items in the restaurant business model: high rents, high maintenance and labor costs and a wildly variable cost of goods. Every restaurant needs to combat the gravity of these costs with the lift generated by a yield on square footage. When your square footage is taken up by people, the only workable strategy is to turn and burn—get those diners to chew and swallow faster because they're taking up valuable real estate.

So what’s an eager, doe-eyed foodie dreamer to do? Hit craigslist and plunk down a few grand for a kitchen trailer. All the cool kids are doing it.

Inspired by a crêpe trailer in Galway, Ireland, Andrea Day-Boykin and Nessa Higgins of Flip Happy Crepes knew that delicacies other than tacos and sno-cones could be successfully discharged from a trailer window. They thought it would be a smart way to move forward. “We bought the trailer for about three grand,” says Higgins, “then put eleven or twelve into the kitchen.”

As with any cultural shift, the idea had already been percolating in the minds of many. But there are only so many people willing to be the first to dive off the cliff and test for rocks—and the rocks are many and varied. Would Austin support such an endeavor? Would people be reluctant to take trailer food seriously? Would they be willing to share their dinner with the mosquitoes at picnic tables on a 100-degree evening?

Those murky depths have been plumbed, and the floodgates have opened, of course. It seems every foodie with a strong back and a smidgen of savings has made the now-much-smaller leap into mobile culinary entrepreneurship, and the game is on to see who will last and whether the public will support the movement.

Popularity aside, some issues remain, like the public perception of street food safety. “If you've got a conscientious operator who’s following all the rules and doing everything like they’re supposed to,” says Mark Parsons of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, “there’s absolutely no difference in food safety between a restaurant and a mobile vendor.” Arguably, due to their visibility, street food kitchens are under greater public scrutiny than the mysterious backroom workings and unwitnessed scalp rubbings of your favorite brick-and-mortar restaurant.

And there’s something different, amusing—even romantic about eating at a cart. Diners are participating in a public space—allowing people of all stripes to rub elbows and create a vibrant, diverse tapestry of culture. The late urbanist, writer and activist, Jane Jacobs, wrote that as “lowly, unpurposeful [sic] and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”

This reporter recalls the coffee vendors of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Every morning they roamed the streets with pots of coffee on burning embers and trays full of porcelain cups and simple candies. When they stopped at a corner, an impromptu coffee shop convened, with several businessmen in conversation sipping their coffee through the sweets. Just as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone.

“Urban streets at their best are celebrations of public life in all its forms,” notes Austin City Council Member Chris Riley. “When there’s a constant ongoing explosion of human activity on the street, you always see people enjoying food.” But does that mean street food is the proverbial chicken or the egg? “I’m honestly not certain whether [street food is] a cause or a symptom of an active setting,” continues Riley. “If you go to Sixth Street on a weekend night, you’ll see all these vendors on the street because it’s such a busy place—there’s a natural client-base. I would love to see more active street experiences like that, but how you get there is a complicated thing. I'm not sure you could just take street vendors and put them on Burnet Road and expect to see it create that setting.”

In the book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, acclaimed sociologist William H. Whyte writes, “If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food. Food attracts people, who attract more people. Vendors have a good nose for spaces that work. Very quickly, the space can become a great social interchange for pedestrians.”

Austin lies somewhere in the middle in terms of its welcome to street food operators. While there have been difficult chapters—like the so-called East Riverside Taco Wars in 2006 which pitted taco stands against the city’s Planning Department—city code has caught up, and Parsons notes that it’s actually easier to get a permit here than in many other cities. Austin has a much more liberal policy as far as where a vendor can set up, as well. When compared with Los Angeles’s Draconian regulation requiring mobile food vendors to relocate every hour, Austin’s rules seem quite laissez-faire. But when compared with the cart-culture Promised Land of Portland, Oregon, we’re wandering barefoot on the Sinai. Portland’s “food cart pods”—semi-permanent gatherings of three to twenty food trailers—are springing up throughout the area.

Lizzy Caston—the force behind the foodcartsportland.com blog—has cataloged and reviewed Portland’s burgeoning scene for years. “We have lots of creative types that live here and want to stay here. They say, ‘I’m tired of working for someone else, but I don’t have the capital to open a restaurant.’” And while the city is concerned with food safety, the food and zoning restrictions offer a little wiggle room. Many municipalities require vendors to visit their commissaries daily, and even GPS-tag their carts, but Caston notes that most of Portland’s carts never move—remaining in one place sometimes for years. The county health inspector and the city administrators have been very supportive of the carts as well.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning recently commissioned a study entitled Food Cartology: Rethinking Urban Spaces as People Places which reported that “food carts have a positive impact on street vitality and neighborhood life and advance public values, including community connectedness and distinctiveness, equity and access, and sustainability.” And with a lively cart culture in place, formerly weed-choked lots morph into destinations and owners of unimproved lands are able to collect at least nominal rents with nearly zero investment in improvements.

For a city in search of workforce development strategies, the food cart concept couldn’t come at a better time. As Austin’s community development corporations struggle to find ways to promote individual wealth creation without incurring the high risks associated with microlending, a vibrant food cart culture in Austin could provide an answer. As Taco X-Press’s Maria Corbalan notes, “you can spend a few thousand dollars and if it doesn’t work out, you can sell it. It’s the safest way into the food biz.”

In Austin, some are dubious about the viability of the cart model. “A food trailer is like my ex-girlfriend,” says Bob Gentry of Torchy’s Tacos. “It’s really high maintenance.” And while his South First Street trailer holds its own compared with his two traditional restaurants, Gentry says that as much as they love the trailer park concept, they feel pretty strongly that trailers are not the direction they want to go. Flip Happy Crepes, though, has matured to become a sustainable model for Higgins and Day-Boykin.

“We’re both moms, we haven't given up our lives—it’s worked out well,” says Higgins.

There’s been much ado about restaurants vs. carts in the media lately. Restaurateurs feel they’ve made great investments in infrastructure, and times are tough for many segments in the sector, forcing many to tighten their belts—the L.A. regulations were set in motion by restaurateurs, in fact. But, as with many things, it might be a little different here in Austin.

“I think the more the merrier,” says Corbalan. “I wish that everyone is successful, then the world will be a happier place.”

Undoubtedly, the world is a happier place when people are able to combine their passions and their vocation—the goodness ripples. Local filmmaker Nils Juul-Hansen says of El Primo taco trailer owner Humberto Reyes: “I was having a rough day. I was really questioning myself, my career. So I went to get a taco. The way he made the taco, every movement so precise, his concentration so exact, his aura so confident, so placid—it blew me away. I said, ‘Wow. If he can create an artist’s haven in ten square feet, I can do my work, too.’”

A Byte Of Austin

(from Edible Austin Summer 2009)

EDIBLE NETWORKS

A BYTE OF AUSTIN

By David Ansel

Photography by Jenna Noel and Logan Cooper

New technologies always change the game. One can almost imagine two medieval calligraphers drowning their sorrows in mead, lamenting the advent of the printing press. (“Now any old jester with a bucket of ink can stamp out a sonnet, Benvolio!”) This could well be the attitude of the traditional journalist currently under virtual assault by legions of bloggers. True, the blogosphere may have destroyed the last remaining entry barriers into journalism and blurred more than a few lines along the way, but it’s also ushered in new ways to unite causes and communities and democratized publishing for the masses.

Meet Addie Broyles, hip but down-to-earth, urban but with garden soil under her fingernails, around-the-town professional schmoozer but laid-back mom. Certainly not the first food blogger in Austin but universally accepted as the ringleader of the bloggers. Broyles is the food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and blogs at austin360.com. In today’s food world, much of the local beat is claimed by the Internet—bloggers and other review websites such as Yelp, Dishola and Chowhound have helped render Wednesday’s hard-copy food section less relevant. Yet competition isn’t the mindset that Broyles brings to the job.

“I like to think that we’re all doing this together,” she says.

Broyles has united Austin’s food-blogging community into a noshing, sipping, photo-snapping, keyboard-tapping, opining gaggle of gastronomic sophisticates. She began by hosting a series of “eat-ups” which has helped the disparate group coalesce into a community.

“Addie’s the reason it has become a community,” says eat-up member Jodi Bart of tastytouring.com. “She’s so open with these events, not proprietary at all.”

Food blogging isn’t new, of course—few topics escape the blog radar—but who are these local food bloggers? And what’s the motivation behind this genre of guerilla journalism? Logan Cooper of Austin’s bootsintheoven.com offers one pragmatic, purely selfish reason to blog.

“A lot of food businesses don’t make it,” says Cooper. “If you find someplace that is really special and amazing, but they don’t advertise and people don’t know about them, you get out there and try to angle people their way.”

One such push was recently directed toward far North Austin’s Chen’s Noodle House.

“They use a cleaver to cut these delicious noodles off of big blocks of homemade dough…whittle them right into bubbling Northern-style Chinese soups,” says Cooper. “The place only seats about 10 people and I’m terrified the guy won’t make it.”

Other local food bloggers are using the medium to grow their businesses and create opportunities. Food writer Beth Goulart uses her texaslocavore.com as a scratch pad for developing larger stories.

“I never would have thought I was entering a food mecca when I moved here,” she says. “I was astounded by all the great food, and I wanted an outlet. The most power we have is as consumers…I’m a writer and I can’t sell a story to a national magazine about every little thing I discover.”

Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh uses her blog to engage customers and entice them to enroll in her cooking classes, and also as a little Thai Cooking 311—some customers have made their way to Jam’s store following confusion in the kitchen.

“They say, ‘I found you on your blog.’” Jam says. “‘I was trying to cook this Thai food, but I have a question.’”

Christian Bowers of austinfoodjournal.com uses his to log culinary efforts at home, show off his food photography and inspire others. And Mando Rayo started blogging as a way to share details about a trip to South America with his friends back home. Currently he blogs at tacojournalism.com as one of the self-appointed taco czars who seek out and share with loyal readers the best tacos to be had in Austin.

“Everyone has such a different perspective on what they’re blogging about,” notes Broyles. “The voices are different, where they live in town is different…there are so many ways you can write about food.”

And for some, a blog might be the first step in a new direction. “Professionally I think it could lead to things because you’re out there and people can see another side of you,” says Bart. “I have my blog on my résumé.”

“I’m meeting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” adds Goulart. “The blog has given me a community of like-minded people.”

It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Couldn’t the same be said for writing about food? Isn’t all of this blogging about personal minutiae simply self-aggrandizing foolishness? Perhaps, but according to the bloggers we spoke with, it’s more about a means to a human end; another way to reach out and form community. And with many national food bloggers being offered book deals, blogging appears to be seen as more than just ego-journaling.

The same holds true for our local food bloggers. While they’re out rubbing elbows at restaurants and taco trucks, and twittering meetings, culinary book clubs and potlucks, chefs and restaurant owners are beginning to see the group as a marketing force. Several local restaurants have recently invited Broyles and her blog-roll buddies to exclusive tasting events.

“Members of the media are treated like royalty when it comes to marketing, but they don’t do that for bloggers,” says Broyles, who feels blogging is a burgeoning legitimate tier of the media. “Some people think I’m shooting myself in the foot by giving everyone the same access that I have,” she says. “But I ask that bloggers be invited to things like preview media parties.”

Of course such perks have the potential to harm a blogger’s objectivity and compromise integrity—risks, according to Goulart, that are especially pronounced in a realm with little-to-zero editorial control and a similar paucity of journalistic training. “A blogger could cross the line if she just gushed about everything a restaurant or chef did because of one of these marketing events,” says Broyles. But risks be damned, Broyles supports the restaurant-blogger relationship, noting that attending bloggers aren’t obligated to write about the tasting events, though many do—both promoting the meals they loved and cautioning readers about poor experiences.

Tyson Cole, head chef at Uchi, recently hosted a blogger invitational and was mightily impressed with the return on investment.

“The labor’s not much, the food is not much, the results we got from it were incredible, almost instantaneous,” says Cole. “Within a week, my PR department had 12 articles online with photographs. It’s priceless.”

As with many chefs, Cole has concerns about the “untamable beast” aspect of blogging, and says that reading unfair or unfounded blogger opinions feels like having your hands tied. But he still thinks the restaurant-blogger relationship is of value.

“You know they’re going to be in your restaurant anyway,” Cole continues. “At least instead of staring over the fence worrying about the monster, you just go around and shake hands and say hello.”

As with any community, Austin’s food bloggers are a heterogeneous bunch not only in terms of style, but also professionalism. But the best of them aren’t your mama’s bloggers, yammering on about what they had for lunch or trying to score free appetizers—they’re a not particularly amateurish group of amateurs enhancing Austin’s status as a foodie city and raising the bar for paid journalists like Broyles as well as for chefs and restaurants around town.

The Reuben Project

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to have a Reuben sandwich, a decent respect to the proper creation thereof requires that one declare the unfeasibility of procurement of ingredients or finished product from a Central Texas purveyor of delicatessen.

One afternoon's perusal of the deep freeze, I noticed a deboned shoulder of Axis deer and pondered its use. I consulted a friend who had been trudging through the newish Ruhlman/Polcyn Charcuterie book. He scanned and emailed me the recipe for corned beef and my mind started wandering, shaping a culinary project around it. Eventually, I felt compelled to build a Reuben sandwich using as many local ingredients as possible that would rival the quality of a New York deli sandwich.
The Reuben takes fresh, chewy, hopefully seeded rye bread and lays it on a buttered grill, whereon Swiss cheese is melted and warmed corned beef or pastrami is layered over a slatering of Russian dressing and crisp sauerkraut. So we have Germans, Jews, Swiss, and Russians in close proximity, though I somehow doubt the Russkies are behind something made out of mayo and ketchup. It is easy to understand why the Reuben sandwich has achieved its ubiquity. Salty from the cured meat. Sweet from the dressing. Sour from the kraut. Maybe a little hot from the pastrami's pepper. While it requires quite some poetic license to call it a "symphony of flavor", it would not be a stretch to call it, say, a chamber concerto of flavor.

For those American Jews who want to claim this as a creation of their own people, it is roughly as likely as not--kosher or kosher-style meat sandwiches don't have any dairy elements, as the mixing is strictly verboten (Deut. 14:21). However, the blurring of this proscription has been underway for several thousand years and lore from my grandparents' delicatessen confirms this... my own Zadie was known for cutting meat and cheese in succession on the same slicer and his non-Jewish patrons, thinking that the term "kosher" meant higher quality, would often ask for "kosher ham" and the like.

This rambling background leaves us no closer to the truth. I found a 1976 Craig Claiborne article with details of the two most prominent creation myths for the sandwich, each equally plausible. The headline reads "Whence The Reuben? Omaha, It Seems." I mistakenly read it as "Obama, It Seems" and was momentarily confused. I will just share the article with you instead of paraphrasing it. Frankly I don't buy the latter explanation and I'm surprised that Claiborne gives it credence. There are fundamental, irreconcilible differences between Arnold Reuben's sandwich and the modern standard.

But back to my desire to create an excellent Reuben. I knew that the kraut would take the longest and that I should start there. I visited Boggy Creek Farm early on a Wednesday morning and was quickly surrounded by an impassioned though hush-toned kraut conversation among the farmer, Larry Butler, and chefs Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due and Eric Polzer of Wink. Butler narrowed his eyes to slits and held his finger to his thumb such that only the dermal ridges of his fingerprints touched to demonstrate the desired thickness of the shredded kraut. With my cabbage I went directly to Callahan's in Southeast Austin to purchase a crock. The difficulty I met finding a crock is a commentary on the withering of a foodway and our loss of contact with the rhythms of the growing seasons.

Once the kraut was two weeks underway and producing some curious molds, I moved onto curing a lovely venison shoulder for the pastrami. Pastrami is corned beef (brisket) that has been coated in a simple spice rub, primarily finely ground black pepper, then cold-smoked. The secret ingredient for making corned beef is sodium nitrate, which has many uses. You don't need much of it for the curing solution so you may feel free to use the remainder for solid rocket propellant or blasting powder. It also has the approximate half-life of basalt, so it will keep well in the pantry. I was surprised by the resulting flavor of the corned venison... it tasted exactly like corned beef, whereby I concluded that you could probably corn a cat and it would taste roughly the same.

The correct pickle to serve with a Reuben, according to Claiborne, is a half sour. It happens to be one of my favorite foods. This is the fresh-looking, crisp, salty, garlicky, dilly kind. A very simple recipe, a fairly quick process, an ever-so-slight fermentation. Unfortunately the recipe I found on the vast dumping ground of half-assed recipes otherwise known as the internet yielded an aggressively salty pickle. I felt my entire head and upper portion of my torso pucker at the first bite. I have adjusted the recipe for your use accordingly.

I wanted a chewy, heavily seeded rye for the sandwich. This does not exist in Austin. Even the bakeries in Fredericksburg don't fill this void. The recipe I found is quite excellent, and requires a three-day potato starter. It provided a nice, subtle sour note and although I couldn't find "white" rye flour locally (you'll notice the dark color of the bread in the photos), this was probably the most outstanding element of the sandwich.

I didn't make my own Swiss cheese. I'm sorry, okay? Had I really thought of it long enough ahead of time, I would have. I did make my own mayonnaise for the Russian dressing from neighborhood-grown eggs, but I didn't make my own ketchup. After all, that's silly. What person in his right mind would make his own ketchup.

After weeks of preparation, on the final day in a flurry of activity and torrent of salivary expectancy, I baked my bread, cooked and smoked my pastrami, harvested my kraut and pickles, and assembled my sandwich. We waited until the baby was asleep, then my wife and I sat down to eat.

Was it worth it? The three weeks of planning, curing, procuring, preserving, consulting, smoking, researching, simmering, discussing, whipping, proofing, baking. Conservatively, it was the best Reuben sandwich served within a several hundred, if not several thousand mile radius on that particular evening. But what if a sandwich, say, 87% as good could have been purchased and eaten within moments of the urge for, say, 23% of the price? This is the question, yes, this is the question. Where is the point of diminishing returns when it comes to cooking and food, ingredients and effort? Some might balk at the mere mention of an economic theory in conjunction with food, but I agree that it is no moot question. In the framework of the sandwich, the doubter is correct. The endeavor was not worth the xx% improvement upon another locally-prepared Reuben. However, in the framework of my life, the Reuben project was what slow food aspires to: an enriching experience which connected me with foodways and ancestors, deepened my knowledge of cooking, and satisfied my soul.

Sauerkraut:

3 pounds cabbage
2 tbsp pickling salt
more pickling salt
distilled water

Shred cabbage fine. Mix well with salt. Pack tightly into a crock using a potato masher. Cover with a plate and weights. Add brine (1 1/2 tbsp salt to 4 cups distilled water) to cover all objects in the crock. Cover crock with a plate or towel and place in a cool place for three weeks. Skim the surface regularly.

Pastrami: (from Charcuterie by Ruhlman/Polcyn)

5 pounds meat (beef brisket is preferred)
5 tsp sodium nitrate
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp pickling spice
4 qts water
ground black pepper
ground coriander

Simmer water to incorporate salt, sodium nitrate, sugar and to bloom half of the pickling spice. Cool. Cover meat with brine in a deep pot and weigh down meat with a plate. Refrigerate five days.

Remove meat from pickle and place in a covered pot in several inches water and remainder of pickling spice (or more). Braise in a 275 degree oven for three hours or until softened. Remove and let cool slightly. Pat dry and coat with a mix of the black pepper and coriander. Smoke at 90-100 degrees for two hours, using ice if necessary to keep the smoker temperature at a minimum. Remove and refrigerate. Keeps several weeks.

Half Sour Pickles

5-6 pickling cucumbers
3 tbsp pickling salt
4 cups distilled water
1 bunch fresh dill
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin

Prepare brine with salt and distilled water. Slice pickles in half longways and pack fairly tightly into a wide-mouthed jar. Stuff the dill and garlic down between cucumber wedges. Cover with brine to the very top of the jar and cover loosely. Place jar in a small pan or plate to catch any overspill, place this in the pantry for three or four days, until you see some fermentation but before you see significant color change in the cucumbers. Refrigerate.

Rye Bread

Sour Starter:
1 cup warm potato water (boil a few peeled potatoes and reserve the water)
1 cup light rye flour (works with whole wheat rye flour too)
1 tbsp dry active yeast

Mix above ingredients well, cover loosely and let sit three days in pantry.

Dough:
2 cups warm water (120 degrees)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
1 batch sour starter (above)
2 cups light rye flour
2 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup caraway seeds
5 cups high-gluten flour

In mixer with dough hook, mix first three ingredients and let activate for ten minutes. On slow speed, add sour starter to mixing bowl then incorporate all the remaining ingredients for three minutes. Turn speed to medium and mix six minutes more.

Remove bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled. Punch down and turn out onto a floured counter. Cut into three portions, give each a light knead and shape into a hot-dog bun shape. Place well-spaced onto baking sheets sprinkled well with fine cornmeal and give each one three transverse slices a finger deep. Cover with damp cloths and let rise again until doubled.

Meanwhile heat oven to 450. Boil several cups water in a shallow pan. Place the pan in the bottom of the oven. Carefully remove the cloth from the bread and put the bread in the oven. Turn head down to 375. Start checking bread's interior temp at 15 minutes, remove it when it reaches 180 degrees. Cool on racks.

Glaze:
1 1/4 cup water
3 tbsp cornstarch

Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Boil remaining 1 cup water. Add slurry to boiling water, heat until well-thickened. Remove from heat.

Using a pastry brush, brush on a nice layer of glaze onto each loaf.

Russian Dressing:

2 egg yolks
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 cup salad oil
salt to taste
1 tbsp chives
1/2 cup ketchup

In a food processor, Whip egg yolks with vinegar. On high speed, very slowly dribble oil. Once well incorporated, you may add oil more speedily. Remove and salt to taste. Whisk in chives and ketchup.

Blog Fodder for Foodies

If you're a foodie and you find you have a lot of free time whilst in front of a computer, you may already be a blog-hound... it's a burgeoning if hidden food scene in Austin. I (or more accurately, my fridge) was recently featured on Relish Austin, written by new Statesman food writer Addie Broyles. Along the left side of her blog is a list of other Austin food blogs (of varying degrees of webworthiness)... you'll have to assess them but there are some gems. My favorite bite-sized food blog is the video section of Mark Bittman's Bitten Blog. To me he's just a lot more likeable and humble than a lot of the figures in food today, and he has plenty of simple wisdom to help people develop a good food culture in their homes. His recent article on using your pantry and refrigerator space wisely is great. For an example of his approach to releasing yourself from reliance upon recipes, you might check his article on simple summer recipes, obviously not timely now but shows an approach to home cooking that's very valuable. He's kind of a cooking coach.

In conversations both personal and via email, I've been developing a sense that people are in need of cooking coaches, especially those that are time-pressed by the demands of raising young children and further pressed by a desire to eat well and feed their loved ones well. Add to that a feeling of inadequacy in the kitchen and a frustration that you were never taught a vital skill for a human being, and somehow watching Rachel Ray doesn't help restore that confidence. I'm in the curious position of being in charge of selling the labor and cost saving aspects of our food to folks but also wanting to share my love for the myriad rewards that cooking for oneself provides. I guess they're not mutually exclusive.

Getting to the point of enjoying instead of dreading these daily tasks is a long road in itself... I'm reminded of that by my current frustrations learning to play piano. My teacher, in efforts to demonstrate the cool things that can be done with each song, plays with such fluidity and joy that it ends up pissing me off. I wonder if that's what my friends feel when I try to cajole them into the fun of cooking, nay, cooking with a baby in the kitchen. I think that reading Bittman as I mentioned above is a great start... his "How to Cook Everything" books have great prefaces that give strategies for keeping the kitchen stocked well and so forth. I have my own ideas and I'm sure many of you do too. It has to do with how you use space, how you shop, what equipment you need (and don't need), how you organize your brain, how you store ingredients and leftovers, how you do dishes, etc., etc., etc. If you get it all working well, "scraping something together from the pantry" can become like our dinner last night... banana leaf wrapped packets of coconut rice, fish and caramelized bananas. It was indeed a perfect day for bananafish...

Food Evolution Conundrum

Recently, a Soupie-in-exile sent me a very interesting Christian Science Monitor article about new municipal regulations in Lucca, Tuscany which ban "foreign" foods from being sold there. It's an interesting new chapter in Italy's rather reactionary reaction to the dilution of its "brand"... while efforts had generally been focused towards protecting Italian food terms abroad, this is the first instance of protectionism inside. The question of orthodoxy in foodways is a curious one. Foodways are by definition ever-evolving stories, of course since the advent of "better living through science" the evolution is more of a devolution, thus the motive for protectionism. But once someone seeks to protect a foodway, it freezes it in time, basically ending the story. I ran into this conundrum when I recently visited the Terlingua international chili cookoff... the rules are so rigid that while it upholds important standards, it basically freezes chili in time and kills its possible evolution. I'm just sayin.

Latke Advice

Though I have been expressly forbidden from owning a deep fat fryer, I get a pass this time of year, and latke duty falls upon my shoulders for whatever Hanukkah needs might arise. Over the past few years, I've gotten a little better at it and learned from a few mistakes... I'm often asked for "my recipe", and I thought I'd share it with you.

I hate to disappoint you, but "my recipe" really isn't any different from any out there. In fact there's no recipe, it's mostly done by guesswork and feel. Potato, onion, egg, salt, pepper, matzoh meal, maybe some baking powder, and that's the whole story. But instead of worrying about the quantities of ingredients, the actual preparation is the most important thing and I'll try to give you the best description. Figure four to six latkes from each medium potato:

Shred potatoes and onions, maybe one onion per two potatoes, either by hand or for larger quantities, a food processor with the shred blade. Don't worry about the potatoes discoloring. Mix them in a strainer with a generous amount of salt. The more salt, the better, basically. Here's the thing: as soon as you salt the potatoes and onions (or any vegetable, really), water will be pulled out and the mix will seem "watered down". For that reason, I place the mix in a strainer and the strainer in the sink. After 30 minutes or so, water will have dripped out of the mix and will make it easier to form latkes. Now, transfer the potato/onion mix to a mixing bowl, add one egg per potato or two, more salt (much of the earlier salt has dripped away), pepper, and matzoh meal or flour. Maybe some baking powder. Make a nice stiff mixture.

Now prepare your station. Heat some oil in a heavy pan, at least a half inch deep. Preheat your oven to 180 or 200 degrees and place a pan inside to hold finished latkes. On your counter, set up a wire rack inside a cookie sheet to drain the latkes after they come out of oil. Do NOT place them onto paper towels, as most recipes suggest, to sop up the oil. That's like an oily wet diaper for latkes, and is no bueno. Bring out the mix and an empty bowl for catching excess water as you squish and form the latkes.

The oil should be almost too hot, smoking, BECAUSE you're about to introduce a lot of cold product into it. Keep the heat high and start forming latkes about two inches across and a half inch thick, squeezing excess water into that empty bowl. Place them in the pan and let them go until they are brown and crispy on one side, then flip them. It shouldn't take too long if your oil is hot enough. Like I said, keep the flame high and be bold.

Use tongs to place the completed latkes on the wire rack and get your next batch into the oil. If you're doing a lot, each batch of latkes will soak up oil and you'll need to replenish it (and bring it back up to temp) to make sure it's deep enough. Once you've got your next batch in the pan, you can move the drained latkes from the rack to the pan in the oven. NEVER cover the pan in the oven, even if you're transporting them to another location, because they will soften and you'll lose all that crispy goodness that you worked so hard to achieve. You can hold them in the oven at a low temp for hours and they'll stay really nice.

Now go take a shower and take your window drapes to the dry cleaners. Everything in your life now smells like latkes. I forgot to tell you... you might consider doing this outside. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce. The reason the latkes should be so salty is precisely because their flavors are balanced with these two condiments.

The Cassoulet Project

One need only read the “cassoulet” entry in the Larousse Gastronomique to be forever cast under its spell. It is good bedtime reading, best done on a full stomach and with clean blankets nearby for dabbing the moistened corners of the mouth. Additionally, the bed is a good locale for there’s something slightly deliciously racy about the prose. Something that thickens the blood and expedites the heartbeat.

“…on the surface of the dish a golden crust forms, thick and fat. Break it because this element must be incorporated… put it back in the oven, wait until another crust forms, which must be broken, and this must be done six times. Serve after breaking the crust seven times…”
Further along, you’ll find a description of the slowness of preparation of the dish. This is quite the opposite of the “quick and easy” bent of food culture. I won’t mention any names. It is a 20-hour recipe, not a 20-minute recipe. It is a recipe for people who want to come home after a long day of work and whip up dinner and have it ready for the following day. It is for people whose first thoughts upon awakenment from a night of dreaming are not just of dinner, but of dinner several days hence.

“…a little tavern in the rue Vavin, chez Clemence, who only makes one dish… to be good it must have cooked very slowly for a long time. Clemence’s cassoulet has been cooking for twenty years. She replenishes the pot sometimes with goose, sometimes with pork fat, but it is always the same cassoulet.”

With this subtext, we transport cassoulet to the wilds of Texas, a place whose entries into the world’s culinary playbook lie more within the realm of deep-fried blobs of Coca-Cola syrup than twenty-year-old cassoulets.

A Dallas attorney with 20-10 vision, a shottie polished to a high sheen, and too much free time gifted me a freezer bag of three unfortunate ducks, shorn of their mortal coils and then their feathers and innards somewhere in Southern Louisiana. I puzzled over the best use of the critters for several months until an Austin parkland acquisition dealmaker with a trusty hand-me-down .30-06 and too much access to virgin parkland provided me some smoked sausage made from a whitetail that last frolicked on a crisp December day in Llano County. In a fine bit of lesser-known algebra violating the associative and probably the distributive properties, duck plus sausage equals both gumbo and cassoulet. Of course, gumbo is just a fuzz too easy. It only takes twelve hours to prepare. Cassoulet, now there is a culinary project as manly as the slaying of the fauna from whence it is inspired. Add the complicating factor of a nine-month-old human baby clambering between your feet, racing toward the oven, dodging spattering molten fat, and pulling on the legs of your camera tripod, and you’ve got a quite masculine task ahead of you.

Oh… what is cassoulet? I sincerely apologize for the forgotten Journalism 101 lesson… I violated the tenets of the inverted pyramid of prose composition. Appropriately, cassoulet conforms well to an inverted food pyramid, one where meats and fats are to be eaten in massive quantities and vegetables are nearly nary seen. Cassoulet is Languedoc’s contribution to the Pantheon of French culinary classics, a hearty, peasanty white bean and meats casserole. Castelnaudary claims to be the world capital of the cassoulet. Of course, once the flag is planted, all others are pretenders, responders, apers. Toulouse and Carcassonne collectively slap their civic foreheads and mutter for not having taken advantage of the branding opportunity. They sadly have little else to recommend them as worthy destinations. That’s it. Meat and beans. Gallic shrug. Then why such the fuss? The fuss, my dears, is that every last muon of flavour has been wrenched from these simple ingredients. The fuss is that this is culinary alchemy at its richest. Cast aside your flimsy tools of molecular gastronomy, your favored countertop liquid nitrogen receptacle and essential oil vaporizer… I bring you true conjuration.

Enjoy the enclosed recipe. I reluctantly included numbers and amounts… don’t let those mislead you or muddy your instincts. I hope you’ll take the time to see the associated slideshow at _______, as photographs are reputed to be able to substitute for many words. It would not be a bother if you contacted me with any questions at david@souppeddler.com. Please, however, direct criticism and complaint to the proprietors of this establishment.

P.S. I forgot to include tomatoes. For that, I am sorry.

David J. Ansel
The Soup Peddler

Here’s the recipe:

3 wild ducks
1 rope smoked venison sausage
1 or 2 cups duck, chicken, or bacon/pork fat
1 or 2 smoked ham hocks
2 cups cannellini or any decent-sized white bean, soaked overnight
6 fresh bay leaves
12-18 sprigs fresh thyme
Fresh parsley for garnish
1 yellow onion
1 head garlic
Salt
Pepper

Preparation time: 2 days

Butcher ducks. Use a paring or utility knife to cut off duck breasts and legs, leaving skin on. Reserve these for confit. You may desire to soak the ducks in milk for 24 hours to remove gaminess. I tend to think it’s not entirely necessary… the gaminess of my ducks seemed to have mellowed in the long cooking processes of this recipe.

Prepare stock. Break down carcasses if you wish. Add to a 4 or 5 quart pot along with ham hocks, half of bay leaves and thyme, and cover with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover. Simmer for 4 hours to overnight. Strain and refrigerate to skim fat. Pull any meats from carcasses or ham hocks and reserve for cassoulet.

Prepare confit. Place a layer of duck meat in a covered oven-safe dish. Add remaining bay leaves and thyme sprigs, smashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Cover with remaining duck parts. Pour in room-temperature fat to cover. Cover the pot and place in a 250 degree oven for 4 hours to overnight. This can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks.

Prepare beans. Cover beans with duck/pork stock and simmer until par-cooked. Add two or so teaspoons of salt. Cook until just slightly al dente.

Prepare meats. Over a low-medium heat, saute chopped onion and a few cloves of chopped garlic in fat from the confit for twenty minutes. Add venison sausage and cook through. Pull the confit meat and add it to the sauté, just to heat through.

Assemble and bake cassoulet. Layer the sauté into the bottom of an oven-proof dish. Deglaze the pan with stock and add this to the dish. Cover with cooked beans. Pour in two or three cups of stock. Bake uncovered in a 300 degree oven for two hours, checking to make sure there is still at least a little liquid in the pan.

Serve. Spoon out a helping of meat and beans, garnished with fresh parsley and black pepper.