Are chefs trying to kill us? (Asks the Boston Globe). Probably not. But might not be focused on public health

‘Every place has a closet behind lock and key that has a lot of that kind of stuff in it,’ The stuff – usually something fermenting, curing or some unapproved (foraged/home produced) food is back there.

According to the Boston Globe, Today’s menus are filled with foraged food, fermented food, food that bubbles, food that molds, food that looks almost exactly like another thing that should probably not be called food because it is poisonous. It’s all perfectly safe, when sourced and prepared properly, under sanitary conditions, by people who adhere to proper procedure and take rules seriously. (Note: This last does not necessarily always describe chefs.)
“You shouldn’t be fermenting and jarring everything without a HACCP plan,” says Brandon Baltzley, chef and co-owner of Falmouth’s Buffalo Jump and a forager for Poplar. “But people know how to get away with it. Every place has a closet behind lock and key that has a lot of that kind of stuff in it.” He once visited a restaurant in Ohio that had a fermentation lab in a hidden attic that was just as big as the production kitchen itself, he says; a restaurant in another country had an entire secret facility a few blocks from the restaurant. 

When he cooked at Ribelle, a Brookline restaurant that has since closed, he would sometimes bring foraged ingredients into the kitchen. Several chefs, under condition of anonymity, reported it is easy to find workarounds when it comes to foraging. One recounted bringing a haul of mushrooms to a wholesaler, who then “sold” them back to the chef with appropriate documentation for a nominal fee. Another, appreciative of the flavor of wild clams from a particular area, purchased other clams, used their tags on the wild shellfish, and served the purchased ones for staff meal. The wild clams went to the customers.

Regulations, can sometimes be burdensome on the regulated party. Especially they aren’t familiar with the consequences. States set restaurant food safety laws, based on the federal FDA food code, and most jurisdictions have a process for variances to that code; there’s already a way for businesses to opt out, via variance, if they feel overburdened by the law as long as the outcome is the same.

Stuff like wild-grown mushrooms, ramps and game carry different risks because they aren’t in a managed system or environment. Misidentify a mushroom and a customer can die. Hunting morels are big business and many of the foraged fungi end up in restaurants sold on somewhat of a black market.

One way to encourage [better risk management] is to build more collaborative relationships between chefs and inspectors, says Bridget Sweet, executive director of food safety at Johnson & Wales. “So many people hate the health department and don’t even know why,” she says. She’s heard the horror stories about people operating in secret and hoping they don’t get caught. She finds them immensely distressing. “It’s such a risk. Inspectors don’t want to shut businesses down. If they have a really good discussion, it will remove the barriers. The answer’s not an inherent no, it’s ‘How can you do this safely within the food code?’ ”

‘MasterChef-itis’ leading to Australian restaurant staff shortages (and dumb food safety)

Young Australians are attracted to the “rock star” chef lifestyle depicted in reality cooking shows, but don’t want to put in the hard graft to get there, Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby says.

rockstar-chefRigby has just released the latest annual Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and said while the food industry was going strong, many restaurants were still having a tough time finding staff.

A Deloitte Access Economics report last year found a current gap of 38,000 staff across the tourism and hospitality sector, a shortage predicted to increase to 123,000 by 2020.

The report predicted demand would be strongest for chefs and restaurant managers.

However, Rigby said young people in particular just weren’t prepared for the years of physical toil it required to make it to the top.

“I think there’s a little bit of MasterChef-itis, I’m going to call it.”

Meanwhile, the Guide announces 11 café trends they’re glad are going away.

Here’s another: No more raw eggs in mayo and aioli.

But that’s a food safety thing and can’t compete with food porn.

Until people get sick.

How do you clean your knives?

Improperly cleaned and sanitized chef knives present a potential contamination risk and a source for foodborne illness.

How-to-clean-a-kitchen-knife-300x200This study compared the efficacies of two cleaning methods (three-compartment manual dishwashing and sanitizer wiping) at removing food soils from contaminated chef knives.

Knife-washing procedures were standardized after observing knife-cleaning behavior in a kitchen. Adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence was used to measure levels of organic soils. Results indicated that the three-compartment manual dishwashing was more effective at removing food soils from knife surfaces than the sanitizer wiping (P < .0001). This study also assessed the influence of other factors on the soil removal efficacies.

A comparison of the efficacy of chef knife-cleaning methods

Journal of Foodservice Business Research; Published online: 29 Jun 2016; DOI:10.1080/15378020.2016.1198611

Xiaodi Suna, Carl Behnkea, Barbara Almanzaa & Douglas Nelsona

Decline of American Empire reflected in food

While guns fire, Americans pither about with Coles Notes quips of this and that food. was once a necessity, with presidential campaigns less than a century ago promising a chicken in every pot.

Now that the staples are readily available, eaters seek a thrill, an experience, a story, to enliven their experience.

Food pornography has never been more desired yet never more unsatisfying.

How many cooking shows are about stories rather than snobbery.

A restaurant in Modena, Italy, won the top prize Monday night as the 2016 edition of the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was unveiled at a New York City gathering attended by hundreds of chefs from around the world.

That’s nice.

The Times reports that since it began in 2002, the list has proved its power, making international stars of chefs. It has become so popular (and profitable, with the opportunity for multiple sponsorships) that sub-lists — 50 Best Restaurants in Asia, 50 Best Restaurants in South America — have been established, with more to come.

This was the first time since the awards began that the event took place outside London, a move intended to highlight haute cuisine’s increasingly global and decreasingly Eurocentric focus. (Next year’s awards ceremony will be held in Melbourne, Australia.)

burnt-cooper-2.0Similarly, at a time when more chefs are interested in food policy, the environment, health and leadership, a group of them descended on the Yale campus in New Haven this week to talk about food issues.

Called the MAD Yale Leadership Summit, the gathering is an outgrowth of MAD, the Copenhagen-based nonprofit organization — spearheaded by the chef René Redzepi of Noma — that holds events around the world.

For this event, which began with a dinner June 13 but is not open to the public, chefs like Mr. Redzepi, David Chang, Kylie Kwong, Jessica Koslow, Alex Atala, April Bloomfield and Rosio Sanchez are attending lectures and salon-like discussions on topics including fermentation, law, food security, agriculture and gender.

Safety is notably absent.

Some of the happiest friends I have, as they age, return to what they love with an emphasis on basics, while continuing to explore and experiment.

They don’t care about lists, they don’t care about poses, they nurture, produce and create with experience and passion.

Many of them love food, and they don’t make people barf.


Going public (not) Australian style: Chef fined for eating on the job in Adelaide

We all do it — have a nibble here and there while preparing dinner — but a patron at a Glenelg eatery took exception to seeing the chef do it, landing the hungry cook a $2500 fine.

waynes-world-monkeys-might-fly-out1The customer first complained to the waitress.

When the chef continued to eat on the job, the unhappy customer contacted the local council to report the cook’s snacking.

The resulting $2500 penalty made the restaurant the only food outlet in Holdfast Bay to receive a fine in the last financial year.

Council wouldn’t reveal the name of the restaurant fined, saying the fine was punishment enough.

The details of the complainant are also being kept under wrap.


Chef at New Jersey restaurant who spit into patron’s food fired

A chef at Kennedy’s Pub who allegedly spit into a meal that a man sent back for additional cooking was fired immediately after the incident occurred, according to a report.

goodfellasMount Olive police responded to the Route 46 restaurant on Sunday evening after an employee contacted authorities to report that 32-year-old John Stagg spat onto a patron’s dinner the prior night.

He was charged with tampering with a food or drug product, as well as disorderly conduct, and released with a court date. The customer, a 51-year-old Lake Hopactong man, was contacted by police and notified of what happened to his food, police said.

Stagg was terminated after authorities’ investigation confirmed he’d spat in the meal, according to the Daily Record. 

Dumpster diving in New Zealand nets gourmet meal; not without risks

Dumpster diving, or freganism, has been around for a while but the current movement gained momentum through restauranteur (and Against Me! drummer) Warren Oakes’ magazine, Why Freegan? Folks who participate may being doing it for lots of reasons; it could be as a stand against food waste or as a hunger coping strategy. Or somewhere in-between. Some retailers worry about liability issues and others come close to facilitating it by sharing when certain items will be disposed to a network of known users. Reducing food waste through freganism is noble, but not without risk. And the divers and users are comfortable with the risks, go for it.dumpster-dive-flickr-diegofuego

The New Zealand Herald reports that kiwi chef Ben Barton jumped into the word of food waste and cooked a meal for 32 with ingredients largely recovered from retail store garbage.

For anyone none the wiser, it could have been a feast sourced from a farmers’ market.

Mr Barton used the challenge to highlight the amount of food binned by retailers and restaurants.

Collecting edible food from bins is gathering steam overseas. Thousands of New Yorkers have been rummaging through dumpsters behind food chains as part of the “freegan” movement in which environmentalists live off throwaway food as a political statement against corporate waste and big agri-business.

Mr Barton, who discovered dumpster diving while in Manhattan, finds the waste generated by the modern food system irritating.

“I hoped I wouldn’t encounter the same in my beloved … New Zealand but I have found that Auckland food retailers throw away enough food, of such quality, that I can turn it into an extravagant gourmet meal.”


Ajoblanco – a spanish soup with almonds, garlic, olive oil, grapes
Three types of crostini
Romesco – a nut and red pepper-based sauce with crumbed smoked gouda

Panade – a dish made from bread that’s similar to lasagne
Potato cakes with tomato sauce
Potato salad
Salad with greens, croutons, pinenuts, parmesan, sundried tomatoes and radish

Bread and banana pudding.

I’d worry about any cut produce (stuff like salad mix or tomatoes) used in the salad, even if packaged, since it’s unclear how long it was in the dumpster and what the cross-contamination and temperature abuse situation was.

Where it falls apart is giving the dumpster-salvaged food away to needy folks who may not be provided with enough information to make risk/benefit decisions:  this food is free, but because we don’t know how it was handled, and can’t cook many toxins out of it, it might make you barf.

Did Whoopi barf later? Celebrity chef Rachel Ray offers terrible food safety advice on The View

Celebrity chefs still know squat about food safety.

Ten years after we showed the majority of celebrity chefs were food safety imbeciles, foodie fanaticism (and fascism) continues unabated, with fashion still triumphing over facts. And it’s getting worse.

I don’t watch The View, the U.S. chat-fest and I don’t watch the Australian version, The Circle; both are often on at the same time as The Flintstones, so that’s some competitive background viewing (watching the Stanley Cup final live at 10 a.m. yesterday made for excellent background viewing).

Sarah Hubbart at did however catch The View on June 6, 2012, when Rachel Ray visited the ladies to chat up her new burger cookbook.

Whoopi: When meat is red like this, pink, it’s OK, right?

Rachel: I think people should be better educated about where their food comes from. If you want to eat meat, buy it once in awhile, buy really good quality, and know where it comes from … a lot of the ground beef scares we’ve had are from pre-made patties, mass-produced burgers.

Whoopi: so this is OK?

Rachel: Absolutely, 100 per cent; we made that grind ourselves. If you know the quality of your meat and buy something that says organic or grass-fed, you’re going to be fine if you like your burger a little pinker. … depending on what you’re cooking with, obviously you don’t want a rare turkey burger.

Obviously, Rachel is a victim of food fashion.

Hubbart got it right when she said all ground beef must be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 160F in order to kill bacteria and that color is a lousy indicator of safety.

Hubbart added, “I like how this beef producer put it: “Whether the beef is fed grass, hay, corn, soybean meal, or Krispy Kreme donuts also has nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is processed in a large facility, local butcher shop, or at home the same rules apply.”

References available through and

Bad food safety advice abounds, from many sources. I know celebrity chefs are there to entertain but is it that difficult to get it right?

People watch this stuff, they buy the cookbooks, so the celebtards say what they want while depositing another cheque.

UK celebrity chef arrested for stealing cheese

Things have gone from bad to worse for British celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who was arrested after shoplifting cheese and wine at a Tesco grocery store.

The Courier Mail reports that Worrall Thompson, 60, was arrested in front of astonished customers after five shoplifting episodes in just 16 days.

Suspicious staff filmed the chef on a secret camera in the store’s self-service checkout area, where shoppers scan barcodes on their purchases and pay using machines.

The recession-hit star is said to have put some items under the scanner but sneaked others into bags without paying for them. Guards stopped him from leaving the supermarket and checked his bags after he was filmed last Friday – then called police.

Sources said the stolen goods were "relatively low value" but included cheeses and bottles of wine.

Worrall Thompson tasted success as he launched a string of top eateries – and soared to TV fame in the 1990s. But the recession hit his restaurant business, and he recently moved out of his $2.5 million mansion.

Worrall Thompson has shown up in before. He was a signatory to a open letter calling on the British public to ask where their food comes from (free from the grocery store?), he published a recipe in Healthy & Organic Living that included a toxic plant as an ingredient, and has run afoul of public health types for using paving stones as a kitchen counter at a public BBQ.

Instant-read thermometers make people better cooks; lowers risk of killing family and friends with food

An instant-read thermometer is the best gift for the cook who has everything. Here’s what some folks told Elizabeth Weiss of USA Today.

William Keene, senior epidemiologist at Oregon’s Public Health Service, gives instant-read thermometers as wedding presents. "They save people’s lives."

The thermometer also makes Keene’s food taste a lot better. That’s because after spending a long day talking to people who’ve gotten sick from eating undercooked food, he found he had a tendency to overcook everything. Food "would get all dried out." But when he used the thermometer he actually stopped when it was done, rather than overdone. Though don’t forget to wash the tip with soapy water after you use it, "to avoid cross-contamination.”

Kathy Bernard of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline gives them out as bridal shower presents. At the holidays they’re especially useful when people pull out recipes they don’t often make, like eggnog. "Since it contains raw eggs, if you’re going to make it from scratch you start cooking the egg base, stirring it over low heat until the mixture reaches 160," to kill any possible salmonella.

Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen, a popular cooking show on PBS, said, "It’s something you can be pretty sure most people don’t own, or if they do own one, they don’t own a very good one.”

And they’re not just for meat, says Bishop. The old-fashioned method of knocking on the bottom of the loaf pan to see if the bread’s done only works if you’ve spent enough years baking bread that you know what you’re listening for. With a thermometer there’s no guessing. Plain bread is done at between 200 and 210, a sweet loaf between 190 and 200.

And for cheesecake, a thermometer is the key to avoiding cracks across the top. "The magic temperature is 150," Bishop says

Old-fashioned meat thermometers rely on metal actually expanding and turning the temperature dial. Digital instant-read thermometers use electronics and are faster and generally more accurate. The instant-read digitals use slightly different technology than a regular digital thermometer, so be sure to look for ones that say they are instant-read.

Our favorite is the Comark PDT 300 (right, exactly as shown, about $30).

I started using my thermometer on homemade bread a couple of years ago; big improvement.