Filmmaker and Gastronomy student Allison Keir shares her new film: The Oyster Revival
Over the last century, coastlines throughout New England and across the globe endured dramatic transformations. The foundations of mankind slowly overtook the ecological bedrock—a massive expanse of oyster beds that once harbored a bounty of creatures. In the last 100 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have skyrocketed, acidifying the oceans. Deteriorating municipal infrastructures, agricultural and industrial runoff, continue to disrupt nature’s balance. Powerful storms, now without the underwater obstacles of oyster beds to temper them, are devastating our seashores. Some believe these underwater environs are beyond repair.
But there may be a solution to aid the problem, right within the hands of nature. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day—an entire reef? Millions. The presence of these reefs, attract multitudes of other creatures that feed larger predators, building populations, and improving our fisheries. Oysters are the gills of our estuaries, and the scaffolding that supports coastal biodiversity. Their return might stifle ecological devastation worldwide.
The Oyster Revival is a story about revitalizing a tenuous relationship between man and mollusk, and the efforts being made to restore ecological balance to our coastlines. The documentary and transmedia campaign will explore the important role oysters play in maintaining a healthy ocean environment, and the various groups of people around the world advocating for their efficacy.
Gastronomy Students: If you are looking for an elective next semester, consider MET ML 589 Nature’s Past: Histories of Environment, & Society with Dr. James McCann. He has provided us with a brief description of the course.
I teach and think about connections between
our physical world, humans role in that and what they grow, eat,
and talk about eating. It tells us a lot about our world(s).
Environmental history has its methods defined by the parameters of science and the natural world –flora, fauna, topography, seasons—as well as human elements of technology, demography, and social organization. Cooking and cuisine is at the apex of these interactions. This course will examine the work of key historians in the emerging field of environmental history and the role of food/cooking in that human/nature interaction.
The course begins with historical/cultural landscapes and ends up in Boston’s landscape of food in bistros, food trucks, groceries, and storefront restaurants. It will include 3 group sessions in that will focus on particular dishes from Africa, the American South, and Italy as examples of the movement of ingredients, ideas, and techniques. The goal is to explore ingredients and the ecologies of cuisine. There seems to be a growing local, and global fascination with the world of food and how ideas in our world of what we eat, and cook, merge and diverge. Wonderful stuff about who we are.
All photos provided by Dr. McCann
James C. McCann
Professor of History
Associate Director for Development, African Studies Center
Faculty Fellow, Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future
The Gastronomy program is pleased to welcome our newest instructor, Corby Kummer.
Heralded by the San Francisco Examiner as “the dean among food writers in America,” Kummer is a welcome addition to our program. He is Senior editor at TheAtlantic, where he has worked for over three decades, as well as the restaurant critic at Boston Magazine. Author of two books, The Joy of Coffee and The Pleasures of Slow Food, Kummer boasts five James Beard Journalism awards. Most recently, he has begun writing a monthly column on the intersection of food and culture for The New Republic.
In his course, Food Writing for Media, Kummer will guide students through the fundamentals of food journalism. Topics include journalistic ethics, advertising, recipe writing, and food criticism. In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of the program, this course will take scientific, technological, anthropological, and historical approaches to writing about food.
On September 30th, a rainy Wednesday evening, Dr. Ari Ariel presented the second Pepin lecture of the year, titled “Hummus Wars: Buying and Boycotting Middle Eastern Foods.” The new head of the Gastronomy program began his presentation with a slideshow of the Guinness World Record competition between Lebanon and Israel, each vying for the award of producing the largest hummus dish. A 9,000-pound dish in Israel was quickly defeated by a group of Lebanese chefs. After a few rounds of back and forth battling, the record for largest dish of hummus was won by Chef Ramzi Choueiri and students in Lebanon for their 23,000 pound serving.
While this might sound like nothing more than friendly competition between neighboring countries, Dr. Ariel says he views the hummus record as an extension of the political climate. It is set, he explains, within “a rhetoric of violence that turns cooks into combatants.” Since 2008, Lebanon has been seeking a legal claim to hummus. By trademarking hummus in the European Union, they aim to regulate the proportions of ingredients allowed in the tasty dip and require Lebanese recognition on every label.
The history of hummus is largely unknown. In Arabic, the word simply means “chickpea,” but the dish hummus bi tahini has become so popular around the world that it is commonly referred to as simply hummus. The exact origin remains a mystery – the earliest recipe is found in a 13th century cookbook – yet several countries claim ownership of the dish. Because hummus exists between multiple foodways and constructions of identity, this attempt to trademark the dish raises questions of authenticity and gastro-nationalism. Who has a right to regulate claims to authenticity? Is authenticity a product of, or a producer of, identity and nationality?
According to Dr. Ariel, the hummus wars prove that, while food can serve to reconcile, it can also push things in the opposite direction. Far from a bridge to peace, this culinary rivalry creates a new space within which political conflict can work itself out. Whether this non-violent space will remain such is yet to be discovered. So the next time you reach for some hummus, remember that the dish is a little deeper than you thought.
Student Claudia Catalano recounts her experience cooking with Chef Jacques Pépin, one of the founders of the Gastronomy Program at BU and a celebrated chef in his own right.
It’s 7 pm on a Wednesday night. Eighty ticket-holding foodies sit attentively while gulping down sparkling rosé. I’m standing underneath a kitchen demonstration mirror, my hands trembling as I peel and core apples as fast as I can without losing a finger. The audience is captive, but not because of me. I could be flambéing a roast goose and they wouldn’t notice. Their eyes are fixed on the man by my side—the legendary Jacques Pépin.
I was proud and honored to be assisting the celebrated chef while he visited BU for three days. Pépin co-founded the Gastronomy program and at age 79, and he still comes to work with the culinary students each semester. The time spent with Jacques in the kitchen culminated in 2 evening events that were open to the public. For both nights, he demonstrated recipes from his 2007 book, Chez Jacques, while discussing his philosophy on food and his journey as an artist. Besides being a prolific author and beloved television personality, Jacques is also a painter.
The menu was the same for both dinners and reflected simple traditions from his lifetime of cooking. We started with fromageforte—a savory cheese spread made from odds and ends of leftover cheese (camembert, stilton, chèvre, cheddar, anything!), garlic, white wine, and a generous pinch of black pepper. Packed into little crocks and served with freshly made croutons, it was a quintessential product of his humble upbringing and resourceful approach to cooking.
We also made duck liver pâté with shallots, duck fat, ground bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and a few glugs of good cognac. The students hovered around an extra crock and slathered the rich earthy spread on the same crisp croutons.
While he demonstrated the dishes, cracked jokes, and told stories from his early years in New York, the students buzzed around behind the scenes to churn out scores of plated portions for every other course. With the help of Pépin’s longtime friend and equally accomplished chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak, we had been prepping and cooking for the event all day. After the fromage and pâté, we made truffle and pistachio sausage with warm leek and potato salad. Ground pork shoulder was seasoned with pickling salt, white wine and garlic, and then combined with chopped truffles and pistachios. Logs were rolled tightly in plastic wrap, then foil, and left to cure in the refrigerator for four days (these were made ahead). On the afternoon of service, we poached the sausages and cut thick slices to serve atop the potatoes.
For the main course we made chicken thighs with morel sauce and rice pilaf. The sauce was enhanced with the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms, fruity white wine, the pan drippings, and cream. It was the perfect marriage of elegance and comfort food. To cap off the meal, we baked rustic apple tarts with hazelnut frangipane.
Amidst all the prepping and cooking for the big events, Jacques still found the time to teach us how to bone a whole chicken for galantine—a task I’ve seen him perform on videos and TV. He’s so approachable, it’s easy to forget how accomplished he really is. But when I watched him work I realized I was observing a man with a lifetime of embodied kitchen knowledge – knowledge that flows out of his fingers with ease and grace.
In addition to the perfected techniques and beautifully executed dishes, there’s so much more I took away from my three days with Jacques and Jean-Claude. So much that I had to boil it down to “Jacques’ credo”:
1) A chef is a craftsman before he is an artist. A young chef who is trying to be “creative” is like a writer who doesn’t have a good grasp of grammar—it just doesn’t work.
2) Good food should be simple.
3) Home is the best restaurant.
4) For experienced cooks, a recipe is an expression of one moment in time.
5) Food does more than fill a biological need. It can mean love, home, comfort…
6) The best food is the food you know (Jacques isn’t interested in what he called a “plated unborn vegetable”).
7) You can make a convincing “Champagne” by mixing white wine with Pabst Blue Ribbon (this one I got from Jean-Claude at the after-party!).
8) Great food is even better when shared with friends and the people you love. So if nerves get to you in the heat of the kitchen or you dropped your tart on the floor, just relax and have another glass of wine. As long as you keep good company, everyone will still have a good time.