Guest Post: The Food Loft Redefines Culinary Entrepreneurship

Throughout the year, the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post and photographs are brought to you by Gastronomy student Claudia Catalano.


What is a food entrepreneur? Those in tune with the local food movement might imagine a food truck venture, a banker-turned-baker, or perhaps an artisan working out of a culinary incubator like Jamaica Plain’s Crop Circle Kitchen. But at the Food Loft, Boston’s latest co-working space for startups, food entrepreneurship has grown to encompass more than you think.

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Founded by the publishers at Harvard Common Press, the Food Loft is a shared working space aimed at attracting passionate entrepreneurs in the food and food/tech industries. Gastronomy students Samantha Shane and Claudia Catalano were guests at the official opening party held at the South End location last month. Assistant Professor Rachel Black and Barbara Rotger of the Gastronomy program were also in attendance.

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The eclectic Albany Street space hosts a growing number of food-centered businesses with technology and social media at their core. Current tenants include Culture Magazine, Nosh On It, and Bakepedia. Despite their robust online presence, each of the food innovators seemed at home amongst the Oriental rugs, walls of books, and antique sculpture collections that adorn the office. Unlike the standard culinary incubator model, the space is not a shared kitchen, but rather a collaborative working environment where industry innovators can network, share ideas and discuss what’s next for food, business, and technology.

Guests at the launch party came from all over the Northeast to nibble sophisticated hors d’oeuvres and mingle with fellow cookbook publishers, food artisans, social media gurus and bloggers. Amid the 75 attendees was Jane Kelly of Eat Your Books – a personalized cookbook search engine where users can create their own virtual bookshelf. Kelly’s business idea is an example of food entrepreneurship that moves beyond food production to develop technology services for people who love to cook.

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Other attendees included Boston-based food writer and speaker Jacqueline Church, Janet Morgenstern of Jute Marketing – a firm specializing in sustainable and natural brands, and Jill Danielle Fisher, social media editor at America’s Test Kitchen. Traditional culinary entrepreneurs such as Bonnie Shershow of Bonnie’s Jams also joined the food-tech startups at the event. Shershow began making small-batch jams at Formaggio Kitchen over ten years ago and now sells her products nationwide.

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It is clear from the variety of business ideas represented at the Food Loft that there is a new breed of culinary entrepreneurs joining the food renaissance. While small-batch artisans, innovative chefs, and food trucks continue to tempt our palate, technologically savvy innovators are dreaming up new ways to enrich our relationship to food while carving out viable niches for themselves in today’s food industry.


Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!

Guest Post: The Controversy of the Chipotle Scarecrow Ad

Throughout the year, the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post is brought to you by Gastronomy student Brad Jones.


When I first watched Chipotle’s new Scarecrow advertisement, the one currently going viral across the internet, I was ready to condemn it from the mountain tops. To summarize briefly, the advert follows an unnamed protagonist scarecrow through his workplace, the industrial giant Crow Foods. It is the scarecrow’s job to patch up the façade of the processing plant, ensuring that the unknowing patrons who are purchasing prepackaged 100% beefish meals and chicken-shaped nuggets at the end of the omnipresent (dis)assembly lines remain enthralled by its glossy veneer. It’s a good thing they do as inside the factory chickens are pumped full of chemical hormones ballooning to twice their size while in the next silo over a herd of forlorn cows are attached to pumping machines that resemble and probably function like an iron lung, ensuring just the bare minimum of what one might call life.

Dejected and dismayed, our protagonist commutes to his rural home, where he tends a small garden, the sight of which gives him an epiphany. He proceeds to harvest his bounty, drive into the city, and prepare it fresh for happy if inquisitive patrons amidst the looming walls of the industrial complex. Beneath a banner that reads “Cultivate a Better World,” he’s finally able to shake the omnipresent crow that has perched on his shoulder throughout. It’s seems a final act of defiance.

I watched the short film over and over again. I angrily picked apart the storyline, the symbolism, the music. I was going to go on a long diatribe about the marketing efforts of big business to influence our buying decisions, in this case all the more insidious because they are subliminal (except for the conspicuous red chile pepper that started a revolution that is). I was going to attack the fact that the company had for many years an unholy alliance with McDonalds making a fortune for McD’s to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars (the two have since parted ways). I was going to comment on the irony of using a haunting version of “Pure Imagination” to silhouette the action, not because it juxtaposes utopian allusions of Willy Wonka’s candyland with the dystopic images of factory food processing and fallow fields, but because that scene from the chocolate factory has always struck me as more indicative of gluttony, consumerism, and excess than the fantastic land of medieval cockaigne.

The list goes on. I was going to lambaste the company for intentionally rousing controversy and, whether bad or good, advertently splashing the Chipotle name across the internet (even as I was aware of my own complicity). I was going to note that while scarecrows are an apotropaic symbol of farm protection, their association with brainlessness may not be the image Chipotle wishes to convey. I was going to shake my head that such a touching story did little more than prelude the release of the company’s new juvenile “The Scarecrow” cellphone ap. I was going to all but throw a fit.

But before I did so I went to their website to gather ammunition and to see if Chipotle’s practices in any way resemble what they preach. I researched the history of the company, analyzed the way they prepare their food, and scrutinized their ingredients closely. All this was surprisingly easy to do and I was forced to admit I was pleased to find such a large measure of transparency. And then I realized that they do have some things to boast about: they do lead the world in buying (and selling) hormone and antibiotic-free beef, pork, and chicken; they do buy quite a few products locally; they do prepare things fresh on site; they do provide a relatively well-rounded meal nutritionally; they do employ real-live sentient human beings.

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And then I started thinking, and realized if nothing else we must agree the advertisement has got us all doing a little more thinking. The popularity of the ad (amassing over 5 millions views in less than a week) and the abundance of articles written for or against it shows that we’re talking about our food again and that we’re doing it in a critical way. Are we in large numbers finally breaking free from our industrial sopor? Are we, like our protagonist scarecrow friend, refusing to be complicit in the shame of agro-industrial food production? Are we accepting the call to arms and proactively cultivating a better world? Are ads like this (and their 2009 Back to the Start version) encouraging us to do so? I’ll hesitantly admit that I think the answer is a resounding yes.

So while the advertisement still doesn’t sit entirely right with me, I realize it may very well be an agent for good. And while I’m not likely to eat any more fast food (pardon, fast casual) I realize that at least Chipotle is the lesser of evils and at most it has the power to be a significant arbiter of change. So go get em’ scarecrow… one (million) “all natural” pork tacos at a time.


Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!

Fall Lecture Series Recap: Sensing Microbial Diversity of the World’s Artisan Cheeses

Throughout the year, the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post is brought to you by Gastronomy student Lauren Kouffman with photographs provided by fellow Gastronomy student Chris Maggiolo.


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Boston University’s Gastronomy Program presented a lecture on Thursday September 26th, entitled, “Fall Lecture Series: Sensing Microbial Diversity of the World’s Artisan Cheeses,” in conjunction with MET ML701 (Food and The Senses), a core Gastronomy course which focuses on the physical and sensory aspects of experiencing foodways. Benjamin Wolfe, a Postdoctoral Researcher from Harvard University, presented his research to a mix of Gastronomy-matriculating students and members of the public, and later invited everyone to partake in the sensory experience themselves, with tastes of three very distinct cheeses.

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Dr. Wolfe specializes in studying microbes: tiny organic particles that grow, and eventually group together into what is known as a colony, in the process of breaking down food matter. Essentially, Dr. Wolfe described, microbes are the force behind rot- but this is not always a bad thing. His current research has led him to an in-depth exploration of the microbial factors that influence the expression of various texture, smell, and taste traits of some of the most well-known artisanal cheeses, each one developed through years of precise microbial manipulation and traditional methodology.

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via Chris Maggiolo

Interestingly, Wolfe and his Harvard research team have recently been at the helm of a new movement to identify and propagate uniquely North American microcultures in artisanal cheesemaking, rather than relying on imported European-native cultures or American-manufactured reproductions of the more traditional strains. The project itself might even be compared to larger national initiatives to re-popularize certain Heritage breeds of crops and livestock, based on an altruistic approach that simultaneously is concerned with preserving unique regional flavors (that is, the basis of terroir itself), and restoring diversity to the American culinary landscape. A new laboratory at Jasper Hill Farms, a Vermont dairy farm and artisanal cheese producer, has even been subsidized by the United States government for the continuation of Dr. Wolfe’s research. Evidently, the identification and taxonomy of uniquely-American microbial terroir is worth the trouble.

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While identifying the individual cultures that already exist on any one style of cheese is a logical, if time-consuming, macro-approach, Dr. Wolfe explained he often takes a reverse-engineering approach to his work, attempting instead to isolate and identify each specific culture by tinkering with the conditions (quantities and varieties of salt, for example, or even the type of grass that is fed to the animals producing the milk) that might cause any particular strain to thrive.

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via Chris Maggiolo

At the end of his intriguing talk, Dr. Wolfe opened the floor for questions. While he touched upon the subject briefly I was particularly interested in learning more about the influence of the DuPont-owned industrial reproduction of European-native cultures, and whether or not Dr. Wolfe’s team anticipates being at odds with the economic or political motivations of a huge corporation like DuPont. Is there the potential for a Monsanto-esque backlash in the future? Dr. Wolfe explained that since he is not actually modifying genetic material, and there’s no possible way to copyright the microbes he is studying since they appear naturally in the world, there is little threat of resistance from DuPont at this time. Still, the idea that a larger corporation might take umbrage at independent and public research isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and I am certainly interested to see how long the government will continue to subsidize this project, worthy as it may be.

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via Chris Maggiolo

Dr. Wolfe’s work is equally fascinating for members of the science community, food-activists, or the average cheese-lover, and his engaging talk certainly left me hungry for more. For more information on Dr. Wolfe’s work with Jasper Hill Farms, along with his other incredible research projects, visit his website at http://www.benjaminewolfe.com/.

Benjamin Wolfe will be teaching a class in the Microbiology of Food during the Spring 2014 Semester. This class will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 PM.


Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!

Guest Post: A Photo Essay on Chai in Kolkata, India

Throughout the year the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post and photographs are brought to you by Gastronomy student Abby Clement who is in her first semester with the Gastronomy Program. This summer she took a month to travel throughout India; what follows is a snapshot of her experience in Kolkata.


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Kolkata held an auspicious place in my mind. Known for its destitute and those who strove to save them, I was wary about what the city would hold and how I would react. The night we arrived, our young hosts took us out for chai. Ten minutes and three death defying driving maneuvers later, we were parked on a side street, sitting on the trunk of the car. Initially the night did not seem too hot, but after a few moments I found my shirt had become sticky- clinging to me as if magnetized and the air had suddenly gotten thick. A squat man carrying a tray trotted up to us and spoke a few sharp words in Hindi, one of which was chai. We ordered one for each of us, and he disappeared into a storefront thirty yards up the road.

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Normally, tea would not be my drink of choice on a humid sticky night. This was not any tea. This was milky, earthy, spicy and sweet; the gritty texture of the clay pot adding to its character. The hot tea and the humid air worked together like a double melody–not competing with each other or making their similarities to strong to bear…more like two best friends singing the same song on the radio. Same words, same tune, but infinitely better than singing by yourself. Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the moment. Maybe it was the fact that you smash the clay pot on the ground when you’re done. Who knows. But sitting on that trunk on a typical Kolkata Sunday night, I couldn’t stop smiling.

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Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!