Darra Goldstein Brings Classic Nordic Cooking to Life with Fire + Ice

By Amanda Balagur

Reindeer StewAlthough she’s best known as the Founding Editor of Gastronomica and Professor of Russian at Williams College, Darra Goldstein has a long-standing history with Scandinavian cooking. She first ventured to that part of the world in 1972, when she flew to Finland and took a weekend bus from Helsinki to Leningrad (she was studying Russian then). In 1980, she had plans to go to Moscow to research her dissertation, but unforeseen circumstances related to the U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics resulted in a change of plans — she and her husband, newly married, ended up going to Stockholm, Sweden instead. Goldstein describes herself as being quite taken by Scandinavia, calling her latest cookbook, Fire + Ice, a “cultural excursion into the way people actually eat there” in contrast to the often innovative and highly conceptual New Nordic cuisine.

The cookbook focuses on four core countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark Fisherwomanand Norway. The name Fire + Ice reflects the two key elements that define the region. Photos of snowy landscapes, silvery architecture and windows glowing with amber warmth gave the Pepin Lecture audience a feel for Goldstein’s inspiration as she described the local cuisine. Cold and warmth are reflected in traditional beverages such as glug, which is mulled wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom served warm in the wintertime, and schnapps or aquavit, a distilled liquor made from grain and flavored with caraway, ginger, cardamom or even young birch leaves.

SmorgasbordGoldstein explained the evolution of one of the most familiar Scandinavian offerings, the Smörgåsbord. It started out as a table displaying an array of schnapps, to which food was added until it became institutionalized as the feast we think of today. According to Goldstein, there is a certain way to eat at a Smorgasbord, which is broken up into five courses: his majesty the herring (a fish so important to local cuisine it’s admired in isolation like royalty!), other fish and seafood, cold meats and salads, hot dishes and desserts. After the Smörgåsbord was introduced to the U.S. at the 1939 World’s Fair, it became all the rage and eventually turned into the all-you-can eat buffets and salad bars that pepper the American landscape to this day.

Other items of importance in Scandinavian cuisine include brown bread, Dried Fishmade from grains like barley, oats and rye, which ranges from chewy sourdough to delicate crispbread, and pickled, salted and fermented fish, which range from mild (gravlax) to pungent (suströmming). Additional favorites include foraged greens, mushrooms and berries, and dairy products like cheese and butter. The region’s cuisine reflects seasonality, indigenous influences and Viking conquests – it’s no coincidence that spices like cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg, encountered centuries ago via the Silk Road, are now associated with Scandinavian cuisine. The art of preserving food, shaping anthropomorphic Christmas cookies and infusing liqueurs is as much a part of life in this realm as the extremes of light and dark. To learn more about Darra Goldstein and Fire + Ice, click here. Book Signing




Startup Stir Offers Insight for Food Startups

by Carlos C. Olaechea

IMG_2823Every month, Beacon Hill Partners sponsors a Startup Stir event that brings in different professionals to offer advice to individuals considering starting their own business. On Thursday, September 18th, the evening was all about food as a panel of seasoned professionals offered their insights on starting a food business at Workbar in Cambridge. Those in attendance were given some time to mix and mingle, as well as sample some of the panelists’ own products, include ZOOS Greek Iced Tea, Downeast Cider House’s unique brews, Tribe Mediterranean Food’s new hummus and pita chip snack pack, and addictive donut holes from Union Square Donuts.

At 6:30 PM everyone took their seats, and the panelists took center stage and offered stories as to how they all started their businesses, the sometimes-bumpy roads that had to be taken, and how they managed to achieve success.

IMG_2813Josh Danhoff, of Union Square Donuts, offered that one of the most valuable tools available to budding food businesses in Boston are kitchen incubators that allow startups to rent licensed kitchen space to prepare their foods. They are one of the best, most risk-free ways to test out a product. Union Square Donuts started out this way before moving to their own location, and after much success were able to get a newer, larger location that will be open in October.

Ross Brockman, of Downeast Cider House, had started his company with friends from college right after graduating and notes that the regulation and licensing processes can be grueling. Sometimes it is necessary for business startups to bluff, stretch the truth, and skirt the rules in order to make it through that hurdle. Nevertheless, it is what he deems a naïve excitement for launching your product that gets you through it.

IMG_2816Christina Tsoupiras’s own experience in launching ZOOS Greek Iced Tea parallels Brockman’s in that she started marketing her product across social media before she even had any product to sell. Half of the battle, according to her, is establishing a lifestyle brand, and sometimes it’s best to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Her iced teas are now featured in over 100 retailers. She continues that it is beneficial to team up with people who have complimentary personality traits – if you are creative, it is best to have someone practical on your team.

Jim Mitchell was perhaps the panelist with the most experience at starting food businesses in the Boston area. He maintains that “success is a cognizable commodity,” and that “it’s not a mystery.” When he helped start Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square, they had placed the ice cream makers at the front of the store by the windows so that passersby would be attracted by the drama of the beaters dripping with freshly churned ice cream. Upon opening Bertucci’s, which is now one of the most popular casual Italian chains in the Boston area, he applied the same concept that made Steve’s a success, placing the pizza ovens by the windows. By the time he opened Fire + Ice, he had figured out that what had made his restaurants successful was that touch of the dramatic. It is important for business owners to find that successful model either in their own businesses or in those of their competitors.

IMG_2820Keeping an eye on your competition was something that Adam Carr was very familiar with. As president and CEO Tribe Mediterranean Foods, best known for its hummus, his focus is always on Sabra, which controls roughly 60% of the market. He keeps packages of all of his competitors’ products in his office so that he never forgets that his isn’t the only product out there, and by looking at different brands, he can apply models that work, as well as improve upon models that don’t.

Overall, the panel was an excellent opportunity to pick at the brains of people who have been there and done that and offered choice insight into what it takes for someone to start their own food business not only in Boston, but anywhere. The most encouraging message of the evening was not only the fact that it is possible for a food business idea to have success, but that there is also a world of help and support in this town to get you on that path.