Chef-Authors at the Fair
The sun came out just in time for the three o’clock chef-show at Ingalls Mall Saturday, one of the street fair events at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. Zingerman’s Ari Weinzweig kicked off the show, followed by Eric Villegas, author of Fork in the Road; private chef-author Laura Stec, who wrote Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming; Vinology chef Brandon Johns; and eve chef Max Sussman, co-author of Freshman in the Kitchen. The five were there to talk about their cookbooks and offer samples of dishes specially created for the event.
Weinzweig introduced his new Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, his fifth book, and told the crowd of sixty or so about adventures in bacon-land, exploring, among other things, chocolate bacon gravy, Melungeons (a “tri-racial isolate” group in Appalachia), and the bacon blues of Andre Williams.
Eric Villegas, who extols Michigan foods in his book and on the PBS “Fork in the Road” series, told the audience about the origins of the day’s contest. Huron River Press publisher Steve Klein “had this idea to do an Iron-chefy kind of thing”: Each chef was to take a grain or a nut, an oil, a vinegar, a fruit, and a vegetable, and come up with a new recipe for the Book Festival. Villegas’s creation included Michigan-grown cherry tomatoes split with Michigan-made knives on a cutting board from Petoskey, as well as spelt, or “dinkel” as it is known among those of German background. All told, he used five of the required ingredients. “I think I won,” he said.
Laura Stec lives in California now, but boasts local roots, a U-M connection, and family in the audience. She talked about how “machine cuisine” from food conglomerates is designed to over-stimulate the taste buds to make people eat more. The focus of her book is on the ways in which food production and delivery are linked to global warming, from mass livestock operations to pesticide use to crops grown in energy-draining greenhouses, and how we can help the environment by changing the way we cook. Stec’s recipe was a big-flavored canapé on bean purée on a daikon radish slice.
Brandon Johns doesn’t (yet) have a cookbook, but he leads a localist kitchen at Vinology on Main St. Johns noted that “local” and “seasonal” are overused terms, but that at Vinology, they “really try to walk the walk.” Nearly all the ingredients in his recipe—including wheat berries, apple cider vinegar, spring onions—were from local sources, except for the EVOO. Olive oil trips up nearly every would-be all-local chef; Johns says he’s looking forward to trying a locally-produced canola oil.
Max Sussman’s recipe wasn’t local, but is definitely one I’ll try to replicate in my own kitchen. He made a kale dish for which he “cooked” the kale by massaging it for about twenty minutes with salt, which breaks down this somewhat tough leafy veg. He combined the kale with figs, red wine vinegar, olive oil, onions, and a sheep’s cheese from the Pyrenees.
Ari Weinzweig’s entry was fitting for someone whose book was on sale in a limited, pre-press “anarchist edition” bound with rawhide ties. His open-faced bacon sandwich on fry bread didn’t exactly adhere to the contest rules, but then again, he noted, “Bacon’s a food group in itself.”