thoughts

thoughts

Response to a response: Glove Law

I'm sure there are some of you out there with similar concerns, so I wanted to post this email I got, as well as my response: 

The email:

"Too many of us SF diners have gotten stomach problems from so-called nice clean restaurants.  This should not be merely about respect for the chef.  Instead it should be about respect for the health of your customers!    Your credibility is being shot if you think your email recipients would even consider that the former is more important than the latter.   Also, your proposal to change the law implies restaurant chains are as not as clean as small restaurants, when we all know it's far more likely to be the opposite!

Signed,

A diner and his friends who are tired of expecting a stomach problem every few months of dining at so-called nice clean SF restaurants."

My Response:

"Thanks for the input. I think that all these issues are important, and the truth of the matter is that gloved hands are not any cleaner (and often much dirtier) than washed bare hands. Having worked in restaurant kitchens, people with gloves on are much less likely to change those gloves when changing tasks (taking out the garbage then cutting vegetables), than someone is to wash their hands. It's really just a truism of the logistics of working in a kitchen. I definitely am not downplaying your desire to avoid getting sick (food poisoning sucks!), but this is not the solution, its just a mirage of safety that actually makes you less safe.

Thanks

Iso"

Sign the petition here.

thoughts

On California's New Law Requiring Every Chef To Wear Gloves

On Jan.1 Jerry Brown signed into law a new addition to the California Retail Health Code, the document that governs all restaurants and food service establishments. This new provision requires nearly everyone working in a kitchen to wear gloves.  Single use disposable gloves that they change every time they change tasks. What the law states is that people touching food which won’t be cooked after contact need to wear gloves, but if you think about it logistically, that’s everyone. That’s a bartender squeezing a lemon into your drink, a chef salting a dish after plating, chopping garlic, rolling sushi, really anything done in a restaurant. The reality is that if followed to the letter, it would force every chef to go through dozens of pairs gloves a day.

This really bothers me. For the aesthetic crime of not letting chefs touch their food (which I firmly believe makes good food almost impossible to make), the environmental waste of tens of millions of gloves filling up landfills daily, and from what research I’ve done so far, the fact that studies suggest it actually creates a more bacteria rich environment (think about how sweaty your hands get wearing latex for more than a few minutes, how impossible it is to put on gloves with damp hands after you wash them, and how often they rip).

I disagree with this law, and I’m going to work to do something about it. At the moment we’re gathering information on the states justification of the law. I filed a Sunshine Request, like a FOIA for California, with Pat Kennelly, the head of the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health, to find out the specific justifications of the law. What the process they used in creating the law, and what research was used to back the decision, what studies were done on the environmental impact of the law, etc.

If you want to get involved in the campaign, or if you have info that you think could help the cause, email me at iso@foragesf.com

More info soon…

 

 

thoughts

IT'S NOT A TREND!

Sometimes I worry that it is. That all this; local food, local community, organic food, humane treatment of animals, developing local economies based on people running their own businesses, mutual trust built on real relationships, the move away from industrial food, that it’ll all go away. It’s happened before. This philosophy was popular back in the 1960’s; canning, foraging (Euell Gibbons is still my go to for wild edible knowledge), small-scale farming… all the kids were doing it. Then came the 80’s with TV dinners and… well, honestly, I wasn’t too aware of what was going on in the 80’s, but I do know that in the 90’s I went to a hippie boarding school (Buxton!) where we chopped our own wood, the dorm I lived in was called “The Barn,”  but we still had chicken patty Wednesdays and “Orange Drink” on the table at every meal.  By then the pendulum had swung back, and no one gave a second thought to what they were putting in their bodies.  I sometimes worry that this decline will happen again. I got a book in the mail the other day that gives me hope that this won’t be the case. It’s called “Farming the City” , a book created in Amsterdam, and at its heart it’s a glossary of food movements taking place around the planet.  There’s Brook Park Chickens in the Bronx, a small volunteer run chicken coop; Turntable Urban Garden In Helsinki, a government-funded community garden, educational space, and café; Culinary Misfits in Berlin, started by two women who reclaim produce deemed unsuitable for sale (which is often thrown away) to repurpose into jams and preserves; I could go on. For that list I just opened the book to random pages, and throughout there are scores of similar projects, great examples of people who come up with an idea, then fight to make it happen. From starting my own business I know how hard it must have been for each and every one of them. From the day they had that light bulb moment, to the days and months and years it took to tear it out of their brain and manifest it for the world to see.

What gives me hope is that people seem to keep doing it, and not just here, but all over the world. There’s a lot of talk of us living in a bubble here in The Bay Area, and we do, there is no arguing that. What we are, and what the bubble allows us to be, is an incubator for ideas that spread across the world.   The support and excitement that people here show for new ideas catapults things that otherwise may have never existed into reality. People look to our ideas and create their own, and the freedom of our bubble inspires others to see the ability in themselves to create the change they want to see in their own world.  What is great about all this is that we're not the only bubble. We're part of a global community of people, all with their heads down working hard to reshape the world into one they want to exist. We look to others for inspiration and they look to us. I truly do believe that if we all keep it up, the world will be a very different place when we’re done.

-Iso

thoughts

Updates on The Cottage Food Law: Licenses, ordinances, and the Board Of Supervisors

The Cottage Food Law, which allows the homemade production and sale of certain foods, was passed on Jan 1st. I was so excited because I assumed that people would be able to start getting permits right away, but of course, that is not how government works. I’ve recently started looking into where we are in the process, and wanted to share what I’ve found. It looks like DPH has set their guidelines and has started to issue permits. Before those permits can be official, however, the ordinance needs to be pushed through by the board of supervisors, specifically the Budget and Finance committee (you can check here for updates on the ordinance). To do this, one of the Sups needs to become a sponsor of the ordinance, and then a vote can be called.  This should happen at the end of this month or early May, but in advance of that, The Health Department is taking applications for permits and issuing licenses. DPH (The Department of Public Health) has outlined the structure of the permits on their end. They’ve set the fees at:

Class A:

This permit allows production and direct sale of homemade foods. So if you’re making something and plan only to sell it to people face to face, this is for you:

No application fee

$100 billed to you by city after registration accepted (annual fee)

$127 zoning referral fee (one time cost unless you move) sent in with your application.

 

Class B:

You’ll need this permit if you want to sell through a secondary market (grocery store, mail order, etc):

$332 application fee (one time cost unless you move) send in with application

$127 zoning referral fee (one time cost unless you move) sent in with application

$350 annual fee billed to you after application accepted.

Personally I’m not sure why there should be a zoning department fee for this ordinance. If you’re not opening a retail store out of your home, it doesn’t seem like it should fall under their jurisdiction. Honestly though, I’m still learning about all this, so we’ll see.

I’ve reached out to David Chiu, the president of the Board Of Supervisors, to get more information about the best way to nudge along the process, and we’ve been discussing different avenues to get people on their way to making (and selling!) their homemade goods.

We’re hosting classes taught by Patricia Kline and Christina Oatfield, both of whom were instrumental in getting the law passed on the state level. They will have more in depth info about what can/cannot be made under the law, and all the info you’ll need to start your home food business. Check here for dates.

This is exciting stuff! I feel like this law is really moving us in a more sane direction on the issue of homemade food. This is a first step.  Once we prove that we can keep people safe, and that small producers are not the ones we need to worry about,  that if anyone should have mandatory inspections it should be huge meat plants—not-home based cookie makers—hopefully we can expand the law to cover all kinds of homemade foods.

 

 

 

 

thoughts

Selling Life: Why a Soybean is Not a Stereo

Selling Life: Why a Soybean is Not a Stereo

I heard a story on my way into work today and am feeling compelled to write something about it. It covered the Supreme Court case of a soybean farmer vs. Monsanto. The case, as I understand it, boils down to this: a man went to a grain mill, bought seeds, and planted them.

These seeds were Monsanto seeds: genetically engineered to produce incredible yields and illegal to replant. The farmer contends that he had always bought seeds from the grain mill to plant, and it wasn’t his fault that the Monsanto seeds were mixed in there.

Monsanto’s basic argument is that if farmers are allowed to replant their seeds without paying, there is no incentive for innovation. The Obama administration is behind them (which really pisses me off), on the grounds that the case has far-reaching implications for “self-reproducing” technologies in other fields (most notably medical devices).

Patents were created to protect inventors. If someone has the bright idea to make a better mouse trap (or stereo, or smartphone, or computer), then they should be able to maintain rights on that invention. If there is no protection, what’s the point of spending time creating it? This makes sense in most cases, and I understand why a court would argue on the side of Monsanto. If the decision applies to all technologies, then they would want set a precedent that is applied correctly.

But this is different. As genetically modified seeds become ever more ingrained in our food supply, it will be increasingly hard for farmers to refuse to use them. Even if they don’t buy them, seeds from neighboring fields could blow in, setting off lawsuits. Over time our food supply will become ever more dependent on the whims of these technologies, at the cost of thousands of years of slow selective breeding.  This is just wrong. We should not treat our food supply like an iPhone; whether it’s similar in a legal sense is not the point. In a real sense, they need to be seen as worlds apart!

I'm not trying to fear-monger,  and I realize that technology, especially bio-technology, has created some real wonders that have pushed us forward as a species, but the issue of patenting life is not only a food issue. A decision in a case like this could have more far-reaching consequences than we could imagine. Just one example is the fact that genes are now patented, and soon, I’m sure, more efficient forms of organs will be patented (grown in factories by handy 3D printers). What will the courts say then? What does a child owe for the superior genes that his parents bought from the lab, and what is it going to cost if he can’t pay? Health would be going to the highest bidder (although that's not too far from the reality at the moment). I know this is taking the issue to its most extreme reaches of science fiction , but all too soon. fiction will become reality. These are the real questions we should be asking ourselves. If we don’t, these questions that will be answered for us by the very companies who stand to profit from our lives.

So what do we do? I think the first step is simply letting people know that they are eating these foods. That is why I was so behind Prop 37. I feel like the issues of health are almost secondary to the issues that are being brought up in this case. One company should not have a monopoly on our food supply. Negative effects of GMO's are to this point unproven, but it seems that science has had one too many "oops" moments. Moments where something that was "proven" safe reveals itself to be anything but. These are bets. Bets that wager advancement of our species against some unseen consequence. The problem with this bet is that if we lose, the loss will be far greater than we can pay. It will be the loss of thousands of years of careful small advancements in food production, advancements that will be much harder to regain once they are lost.

 

 

thoughts, wild kitchen

Looking back over four years of dinners

Tonight is our four year anniversary of our Wild Kitchen dinners, our meals that focus on locally foraged ingredients. It's crazy that’s its been four years! I did the first Wild Kitchen on Valentine's Day in a friend of a friend's warehouse in the Mission. At the time my email list was about 50 people - all friends that I knew from the city - and I sent out the little blast with the menu to them. Two days before the event, almost no tickets had sold. I had bought all the food (spent my rent money and then some), had the location, but no one to eat! I was freaking out when my girlfriend at the time suggested I send it to Mission Mission to see if they’d post it. It worked! Allan from Mission Mission posted it and the dinner sold out! It's interesting to think of what would have happened had it gone another way. What would I be doing at this moment? It's crazy how many pivotal moments there are that I can look back on. Moments where it seemed like everything was going to fall apart, but then somehow, miraculously, it all worked out. Someone appears with just the right solution at the right time, or a location pops up out of nowhere when the one you think you’ll use has fallen through, or just the right amount of money falls into your lap to just barely finish buying the food for a dinner. It really is amazing.

We had two kinds of tickets that night, communal and couple. The warehouse where we held the meal had all these great nooks for couples. The one I remember best was an old speedboat, a two seater, where we sat super friendly couple. I distinctly remember them being really into the event and into each other. We turned down the lights and filled the space with candles. The whole night I was worried that the health department was going to show, and there was even this one guy at the table that I became convinced was going to bust me (in retrospect, I think he was just a bit shy and overwhelmed by the whole scene). At that meal I decided it’d be fun if I got up and talked about the dishes as they were coming out, why I chose the ingredients, and what I found exciting about them. This has become an integral part of the dinners, and its fun to try to relate my excitement to the diners.

It’s been a good four years. It’s easy to lose sight in the day to day, but I think that that is what’s good about anniversaries: more than a celebration of the day, they are a chance to look back and see how far you’ve come.

thoughts

Kickstarter dinners and crowdfunding

I havn't written in a few weeks, and lots has happened. We just got done with our first series of kickstarter reward dinners.  Dinners where everyone there was either a kickstarter supporter or their guest. It was nice to finally meet and give back to the folks who helped so much during the campaign.  We made caja china roast turkey, with wild mushroom stuffing, fried smelt with caper aioli, wild boar proscuitto, and I discovered a new favorite dish, eucalyptus-huckleberry popsicles. It was a great weekend. Over 1600 people gave to the kickstarter, which is an amazing thought. That 1600 people, most of which had never met me or anyone at forageSF, decided to give some of their hard earned money towards a project that they believed in; something they thought should exist, is really great. There has been a lot written about kickstarter, how it has helped artists and entrepreneurs get projects started that would have otherwise floundered, but I think there is something more interesting at work. I feel like crowdfunding has the ability to totally upend the way that things are created, as well as the general publics relationship to those projects.

Classically, a person with an idea shops it around to investors, gets money (hopefully), designs and builds out a space, creates the notion of what the space will look like, and opens it up. Only when it opens does the public find out about it. Businesses even go so far as to block out windows, so you only get to see when something is totally done. The idea being that the process of creation tarnishes the finished product. I dont think this is true. I think that people want to be involved in the process, and that the finished product can only be improved by community input.  People want to see how the institutions they use are being built, and they want to have a hand in that building. And why not? Rather than drop an idea from the sky, why not work with the people who are going to use it to make it better? Social media, crowdfunding, these are buzzwords used to explain technological innovations; but I think they are really allowing us to change the way people interact with their world. Now we're able to involve ourselves in what we're interested in, and create the businesses and products that we believe should exist. It really is an amazing time, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Iso Rabins

 

We'll post pictures soon, but they wer

An Incubator Kitchen, thoughts

This week in forageSF- open source design, Outstanding in the Field, kickstarter reward dinners, plates made of walnut

This has been a good week. The interns we hired a few weeks ago are great, and it's been nice to have the extra help. We're finally finished getting all the info together on the kickstarter backers. It's amazing what a logistical challenge it is trying to get 1600 people to respond to a survey, then deal with the inconsistencies of what rewards are going where....wont bore you too much with the specifics, but the good news is that we'll finally be able to get stuff out to the people who deserve it! The first step in that process are the kickstarter reward dinners we're organizing for next week. Im excited about these meals. The menu is going to be a lot of fun to create, and everyone at the event will be someone who helped get Forage Kitchen started, its going to be a good couple of nights. We're creating some custom serving dishes for this meal, out of walnut scraps (the wood not the food). Everything tastes better served on wood.

In other news, we set a date for the Open Source Design night. When we invite everyone (you!) in to share your ideas of what Forage Kitchen will be. What it will look like, how it will feel, where the ovens will go. We're going to have tons of pictures up on the walls of our ideas for the space, and invite you to tell us what you think/add your own.

Something Im also really excited about for that night is the model of the space we're going to build. We're going to build a 3x3ft model, complete with everything we want to have in the space, and invite you to create your ideal space. Move the walls, change the colors, push the cafe up front, and we'll have a photographer there to document your genius.

This event is going to be potluck style, so I hope you'll come, and make sure to bring something delicious to share (food or drink).

On the kitchen front, things are moving forward. Im going to be interviewing candidates for the Operations Manager position starting the 3rd week in october, excited about meeting all the candidates, and building a solid team to run this operation. We also just hired a wonderful woman, Katy Oursler, to manage and expand our events. She is one of the folks who pioneered "Outstanding in the field", the great travelling dinner series. Its been a company that I've always really respected, the way they marry food and experience, and one that I've used in many ways as a model for my events. Its really exciting to be working with her, and to discuss ideas and philosophies of creating amazing events. She is going to be spending time creating a private events series for forageSF (so if you're interested in having a private event hosted by us, definitely get in touch), as well as expanding the classes we offer. Forage Kitchen will be with us soon, but in meantime we want to start organizing classes to give everyone a taste of what we'll have in the space. Hope you're good.

Iso

 

thoughts

This week in Forage Kitchen

Just got off a week of working our asses off for the Eat Real festival. Sold a ton of grilled cheese, fried smelt, and mouth numbing pickles. Hope we saw you there, and if not, hope to see you soon. I've been personally focused on reading through the applications for the operations manager position we're working to fill. There are some really amazing applicants, so I’m excited to meet them when we start the interviews. We've hired three new interns, and posts from them will come soon, introducing themselves and talking about what they're up to at forageSF. Something I’m excited about is the final project they are going to plan as a culmination of their internship. We're going to have them organize an event completely of their own creation. They've already thrown out some cool ideas, so it should be a fun one. When that happens I hope you all will come out to support, should be a good time. I've started to read a new book called Locavesting, which I’m really excited about. It’s about the new crowd funding movement, where locals are starting to be able to invest on a small scale. It makes sense, having the ability to support businesses and the people who are creating something for your community. I’m going to write a more involved and dedicated post on that soon, but you should all check out the book, because I think this movement has the ability to totally upend the way our economy operates--not to be too grandiose about it.

Well back to work, hope you're all doing well out there, and may the odds be forever in your favor.

Iso

 

thoughts

The week back

This past week involved playing a lot of catch-up from my week in the desert. I definitely paid for my absence. Came back to 500 emails, so I’ve been sifting through those. The week before I left, the space I had my heart set on for Forage Kitchen fell through. It was a beautiful warehouse in the Dogpatch, and for reasons I wont go into right now, it just didn’t work out. I almost decided to cancel my week off (the first in years) to try to push to make it happen, but the reality was that it just wasn’t going to work, no matter how hard I pushed. It was a big disappointment. I’ve debated whether or not to write about this. It always seems better business to present a happy, successful face. To write only about the wins, and hide the months of tumult that invariably lead up to those wins. I think its better to be honest. Running a business isn’t easy, things rarely go to how you imagine they will. Plans often don’t work out, people quit, deals fall through, rental companies don’t show up with the tables you need for the event that people are going to be arriving at in 15 minutes. Its hard, and sometimes it makes you crazy.

The flipside is that this is also the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. Every success is so much sweeter because of the bumpy road that took me there. Its cliché, but if it was easy, everyone would do it, and if everyone is doing it, what’s the point? So I want to be honest. Starting your own business wont be easy, but it will give you a satisfaction in the creation of something truly unique that few people find these days.

So this space fell through. Another will appear (and two possibilities already have). What I try to keep in mind at moments like this is that everything always works out in the end, and it really does. Every situation that seems like a failure, or a roadblock, in hindsight is usually the best thing that could have happened. If you just keep stepping forward, you’ll make it there.

 

Iso

 

 

thoughts

What makes a "Chef"?

  Im speaking at The Commonwealth Club tonight on a panel called "Climbing the SF Foodchain" with Craig Stoll from Delfina, Anthony Mynt from Mission Chinese, and Richie Nakano from Hapa Ramen. I think it'll be an interesting talk. Something we've been focusing on in the lead up, and what I think will be a really good topic, is difference between the "Old school" and "New school" food scene. There is a definite, mostly unspoken (sometimes screamed from the rooftops),tension between the two.

Traditional chefs go to culinary school, work the line in restaurants for years , go to France to apprentice. Years of repetition, studying the science and technique of food.  The new school just started doing it. Decided that having a food cart would be fun, had a good recipe and the balls to stand outside and brave the cops and possible crushing failure, and got out on the street.

Both schools have their positives and negatives, but with these two schools working side by side in the city, the definition of what a "Chef" is becomes blurry. The old school put in the time, the new school has the saavy to create something new and unique. I put myself firmly in the new school. I can cook, don't get me wrong, but I havn't worked on the line for years (and honestly I never will, it's not how my mind works). I trade in ideas as much as flavors, and create what I think almost as installation art pieces as much as dinners. Moments in time that people share, that may never reappear.

A Chef has always been someone who has worked their way up from the bottom, has unsurpassed technical skill. Is that what it means to be a Chef? Or is a Chef a person can create an culinary experience for people? A menu and a scene that creates a unique experience, like an underground dinner. These experiences have as much to do with the ideas and the company as they do with the food, but if we're honest, so does any meal. It's cliche, but a simple meal  cooked with friends can be a better experience than the most button up 3 star restaurant. The most delicious food in the world, served in an empty restaurant, is not successful food. So what is the most important part of a restaurant experience? It's hard to say.

We can't deny that the ideas around the food we eat inform our enjoyment as much as the flavors. Words like "local" "organic", "foraged", or "artisan", do make food taste better.  We'll pay more for it because we believe it's not only the right thing to do, but we feel it supports the kind of people we want to be - honest and hardworking, people with integrity working within a system that seems totally bereft of any honesty.

Honestly I get uncomfortable when someone calls me a chef. I create menus, create dinners, make money from selling food, truly enjoy the experience of creating dishes, finding the perfect balance not only in a dish, but throughout a full menu,  but I'm not sure I'm a "Chef". Like anyone should who is trying to create something larger than themselves, I have my weak spots, and I work with people that fill in the holes of my abilities. I have a vision, and I find the people who help me make it happen. That doesn't mean that they are the "Chef" either. The menu us my vision, the dinner is my creation, so giving them that title wouldn't be fair either. Is it the technical skills or the ideas that are important? I don't like the idea of not giving credit where it's due, but its a confusing balance. I've settled on "co-chef", which could also be "chef de cuisine", but I feel like that title has a subordinate connotation. It's still not a clear distinction, and in the fast paced military style of a kitchen, a lack of a clear leader can cause problems.

So what makes a Chef? At the end of this ramble, Im still not sure. What I know is that I am going to sit on a panel tomorrow with three people who have worked in restaurant kitchens more than I have. I've taken a different path, but I feel like I havn't done so bad myself. Perhaps fists will fly, blood pressure will rise, and we'll get into some of the real meat of what this all means. Don't miss it.

Tonight at 6:30, Commonwealth Club, SF

To see:  Here

To hear: Here

 

thoughts

Restaurant Day: An app inspired citywide pop-up in Helsinki

Just read this great article about "Restaurant Day". A one day a year event in Helsinki where hundreds of pop-up restaurants appear for one day around the city. From a woman who lowers breakfast sandwiches from her window, to full fledged sit down style experience. All the pop-ups are displayed on an app, with what they're selling, location, etc. Super cool idea. It's like a headless Underground Market. We should have that here. Check out the full article here: http://ht.ly/b4up7

thoughts

On management (and the beginnings of a business)

Those of you that subscribe to this blog probably don't do it to hear management tips, but as a business owner its probably the thing I struggle with the most. How to manage people. How to get a group of people, each with their own mind and own personality, to help you create a very personal vision.  When I started my business, I thought the hardest thing would be getting people interested in what I thought was interesting, and yes, get them to buy what I was selling (gotta pay the rent). That was hard. I remember the first time forageSF went public. I had come up with the idea for the CSF (wild food CSA) about 2 weeks earlier, had been spending time deciding how much the boxes were going to cost, what would be in them, where I would forage, and how to get the word out. It was the last day of  Slow Food Nation, and it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to introduce my idea to the masses. Up until this point, forageSF was just an idea in my head. I'd talked to my friends about it, but hadn't really put it out into the world. It's a scary thing, putting yourself out there with an idea thats different. So I rush printed some cards with the logo I'd created, what the boxes were, some info about my philosophy of splitting profit with foragers, rode my bike down to city hall, and staked out a spot with good traffic. That was the first moment. I got some good response. People seemed interested. I got some comments asking if I was collecting from dumspters. Some comments about the ecological impact of what I was doing, but overall, people seemed into it. But I digress.

At that point I didn't give a second thought to managing people, how to navigate the rocky shoals of personality styles. People respond differently to different things. Some people need to be coaxed into getting stuff done, some people appreciate a more direct approach. Some people need to be micromanaged (something that is not in my DNA), some people can take an idea and run with it.

When I think of my ideal company, I think of a group of people, all spending time doing what they love, in pursuit of a common mission.  Collaborating on ideas, lifting each other up with suggestions, and able to work on projects without too much input from me. This is deceptively hard to achieve.  When you are an entrepreneur, you imagine everyone thinks like you. That everyone has a singular vision to create what you want to create, and thinks like you think. The challenge is trying to see your work through the eyes of your employees. What inspires them about the job? What seems like drudgery? Whats going on in their lives outside of work that might be effecting them? Sometimes I feel like a psychologist, trying to peer into their brains to figure out what makes them tick. It's a constant challenge.

Luckily I think Im getting better at it. Or at least Im more aware of the mistakes I've made in the past, and try my best not to make them again. A couple of the lessons I've learned so far are:

Don't yell. Especially in food, high pressure situations are constantly in front of you, and the impulse to tear into someone in public is high, but it doesn't solve the problem, and all you'll get is a disgruntled worker. What I try to do (mostly successfully), is to try to solve the problem directly in front of me, and then make a note to talk about it later. Tensions run high at events, and its always better to sleep on it rather than explode. At the same time, you can't let things slide too much, so even though its uncomfortable, I try my best to bring it up within a couple days. This also gives you time to come up with a solution to keep it from happening again. When I do have a discussion with the person, I try to let them come to the solution on their own rather than giving it to them, I find that works much better.

If someone isn't doing something right, it's probably your fault. This is a philosophy I really try to live by. If you have a skilled, intelligent, inspired person working for you (and there is no reason ever to hire anyone else), they truly do want to do a good job. They also have the capacity to do a good job. So if they aren't, most likely its because they havnt been given the tools to do something the way you want it done. I think business is a lot like making movies. A director has an image in his head of what the movie will be, and he can't create that image alone, so its his job to employ an army of people to help him craft that image.

Its the same when you're starting any business that is crafted around a vision. The people working with you didn't come up with the vision, and they can't see into your head. All they can do is listen to what you tell them, and try their best to help you pull your idea out into the world.  You need to set up the environment that helps them do this.

With some people thats checking in daily on progress. With some people thats leaving them to it, and making sure they know you're there for support if they need it. It's a constant flow, of figuring out what kind of support people need to accomplish tasks. Of course, sometimes you run into people that aren't a good fit, and although its hard, its also your responsibility to deal with that situation rather than let it fester.

I've rambled for long enough. People who know me know that these are issues I struggle with constantly. I really do believe thats its the hardest part of getting a business from a solo enterprise into a larger company. The reality is that you can't do it all alone (at least I can't), so learning these skills is essential.  I havnt found the answers yet, but in the pursuit of trying to help people get to where I'm at without quite so much pain, I thought Id lay out the conclusions I've come to.  There is something that smacks of manipulation in what I've written here as I read it over, but it's really more about helping people to do the best job they can do at what they love in an environment they feel comfortable in. That's all we can really ask for.

Do you run a business? If so, what have you found that works with your employees? Please let me know, I'm always looking to get better at this. Iso

thoughts, wild kitchen

Changing things

Friday was a bad day. An incredibly stressful situation that was solved by writing a check for $1325 to the fire department. Apparently the owner of the building where we're holding our event never finished the permitting process for their occupancy permit. Basically a permit with SFFD that says how many people can safely be in the space. For my $1325 I had the pleasure of having two fire marshalls come and watch us set up, then sit in their cars outside the venue for 4 hours. I struggle to understand how that made anyone safer. The one point the fire department did allow was a pass on our "candle permit". This is something new to me. Everyone who has candles in a restaurant apparently needs to get a candle permit. A payment for every new kind of candle they use....I won't go into it because its boring me even as Im writing it, but suffice to say that it is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. Yes, we need to insure public safety, but the idea that we as a people need to be babied to the point where the fire department tells us which kinds of candles to use is beyond comprehension.

Every one of the permits, fees, and taxes that small businesses are charged is justified by some logic. The reality is that when you add them up its an incredible burden. Tens of thousands of dollars go toward these fees, and that's even before you start buying the things that actually make your business run. Everyone I know struggles with this. Constantly being surprised by new fees and permits, many of which appear seemingly out of thin air when the need for city revenue increases.

I ramble, but the thesis of this post is that there needs to be some kind of change. If we are to create a robust local economy, we need to stop taxing small business into the ground. As much as it pains me (I hate politics), I am going to start working with folks in The City to try to streamline some of these processes, and get rid of some of these fees.  There are easy ways to insure the same level of public safety, without all the bureaucracy attached, and hopefully we're at a point now where enough people are behind us to make it happen. Wish me luck.

Iso

SF Underground Market, thoughts

I'm breaking up with my bank, or, why I'm joining a credit union

I'm breaking up with my bank. Now, don't think it's anything that she did, lord knows she's been good to me. 24 hour customer service, flashy website, free bill pay, even an iphone app! You really couldn't ask for more. Sam, my banker at 16th/mission, is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. Always takes care of fees for me, and helps me out whenever I visit. Every time I walk into that venerable institution I'm greeted with a smile. The problem is, we don't agree on one thing, what they're doing with my money.  Although they're really just holding it for me, the reality is that they use it more often than I do. Every hard won dollar I make, from a dinner, created with 14 hour days of planning, prepping, foraging, and cooking, they invest in for profit detention centers. For a wild food walk, whose very purpose is to help people get more connected with their local environment, to know what is edible around them, they invest that money in...I don't even know. I had to google that first example, because the reality is that I have no idea where my money goes.

I spend my life focused about food. Where I get that food, how I cook it, what I think about it, and at the core of those thoughts is a sincere belief that local food is better food. It's better for many reasons that if you're reading this post you probably already agree with, but I think one of the most important reasons is that through a robust local food system, we can create a robust local economy. An economy of people doing something they love, and helping each other out along the way. That's what its all about. That's what local is about. That's what the Underground Market is about. It's the center of all the ideas I have.

It's time we realize that food isn't the only area that we need to focus on. If we want to build something real and lasting, we need to look at who holds our money, and what they're doing with it. Sure, convenience is nice, but at least for me, I can't ignore the rest of it anymore.

Today is Bank Transfer Day. Join millions from around the country and transfer your money out of global banks and into local credit unions, run by locals, for locals. I put my money in San Francisco Federal Credit Union, but here are some links to a couple others to peruse.

SF Fire Credit Union

Patelco Credit Union

Provident Credit Union

If you want to take it one step further, there is going to be a protest to support Bank Transfer Day today (Saturday), at Justin Herman Plaza (right across from the ferry building) at 3pm. Hope to see you there. If you checked out the protest or transferred your money, let us know in the comments section or on twitter.

thoughts

The Omelette Show

I recently downloaded The French Chef. The cooking show Julia Child created.  I know, it’s a bit cliché to talk about Julia Child, but up until this week, I’d never actually seen an episode of one of her shows. I'd seen clips, and the Saturday night live spoof, but never one from beginning to end. They have names like “The Potato Show”, and the “The omelette Show”, where she’ll spend 30 minutes going over 5 or 6 ways to cook something specific. What’s really interesting is that it almost feels like she’s introducing these things for the first time. Which she probably was. Teaching Americans how to cook cook lobster or pan flip eggs.

Beyond the food, the production of the show is also great. No cuts, almost nothing pre-prepared, she just plops the food down on the plate, without much if any concern for presentation.  She drops things, she loses her glasses, says things constantly like “If no one is watching, you can do…..”.  It feels so much more real than an episode of Rachel Ray, and really makes me wish shows were more like that now.  It seems cooking shows now work so hard to be perfect, that it becomes more of a voyeuristic exercise than an educational one. Sure, the food looks good, and they never make any mistakes, but I think people are intimidated by that. Flaws are what connect you to a person, bring them down to earth.  I was going to write out one of her recipes, but it wouldn't do the video justice. Enjoy:

thoughts

These Days: an update

Hello my friends from the internet ether.  I haven't written for a while, and I wanted to give an update of the goings on at forageSF: 1. I've been talking to Hank Shaw, a guy who writes a pretty amazing blog called Hunter, Angler, Gardner,Cook, about collaborating on a dinner. We're going to take 20 or so people out on a fishing boat (already pretty exciting), and then invite them to a Wild Kitchen dinner made with the catch. I've been following his blog for about a year now, and was really excited when I got the email from him. It will be partly an event to promote his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook, which I myself have on pre-order. If you're interested in cooking, hunting, foraging or fishing, his blog is one to get in the google reader, really great stuff, with great pictures.  The dinner is planned for July, and we'll be opening up tickets for sale sometime in May, so hope you'll join us.

2. I finally sent out my own book proposal for a book on The Wild Kitchen, with recipes, stories, pictures, and a bit of food politics (never imagined just writing the proposal of what a book will be could take so long). I had a ton of help from my friend Will Schrom, who reads book proposals for a living, so I think it turned out pretty well. Sent it off to agents a couple days a ago, and already heard back from a couple!

3. I'm going hunting! My very first real boar hunt is this weekend down in Southern CA.  I am very excited, got the gun all sighted in (means I practiced at the range to get the scope to read accurately at 100 yards) with lead free bullets, got my pig tag, and huge knife.  I'm ready. This time next week, I will have become a man.  I'm planning on having a huge boar roast if I get one, so maybe Ill see you there.

4. Hiring: We got a ton of great applications for the Underground Market manager job, so Ive been sifting through those, trying to decide who to interview. Hiring's hard, and everyone I talk to has a different take on how to do it. Ive settled on about 20 phone interviews, followed by 8 in person interviews. I'm excited about the people I'm interviewing, so probably the hardest part will be choosing who to hire.

5. Got a couple events coming up . Next Wild Kitchen dinners are the 15th, 16th, and the next market is the 23rd, so planning on getting out and doing some foraging soon. I really wanted to include wild mussels on the menu for this dinner, but at the last minute a shellfish quarantine was issued, so we're going with herring (which I think might actually be more delicious).

6. Been talking with Slow Money, an org whoes goal is to have 1 million people invest 1 percent of their income in sustainable food projects within a decade.  They are having an event in a couple months where we may incorporate an Underground Market.  It's a really interesting organization, with some great ideas about re-thinking the of a "successful" investment.  There are an amazing amount of people interested in starting sustainable food businesses, so a group that can connect them with the money they need to get going definitely has my support.

7.Thinking about shooting a cooking show, more youtube than Travel Channel, so look out for that on the site in the next couple months.

Thanks for reading, and come say hi if you see me at a dinner or the market.

Iso

thoughts

Menus and Offices

Big day today. I just signed a lease on my first office.  Never thought I'd be so excited to have one, but there is something to be said for moving out of cafes, and into a space that is yours. Things tend to get lost when you dont have a central place.  Also signing the lease on my apartment in the Haight tonight! Spending most of the rest of the day planning my menu for the next wild kitchen in April.  Just looked at the weather, and its supposed to be a nice month, but it will also have cold nights (as always in SF), so Im going for a mix of hearty warming dishes, and light spring fare. Iso

thoughts

Out of Chicago and into hell

Hello. Chicago was good. Mainly because I had never really been there before. That sounds negative but isn't. I would have liked more time in Chicago, to really check it out. I spent most of my time foraging (more on that later) and at the taste of Chicago. The Taste is a festival put on for the last 30 years in Chicago that means to....Im not honestly sure what it means to do. It certainly doesn't mean to show the people of Chicago anything interesting about food. Think 40 vendors all selling the leftovers from the Des Moines county fair, and you get an idea of the culinary virtue that is The Taste.  Perhaps unfair ( I did have grilled turkey ribs that weren't too bad), but pretty apt. Its interesting to me that you would put on an event focused on food, and have so little diversity. Or maybe I've just become a food snob in these past years. Ok, onto the interesting stuff.... There were an amazing amount of new (to me) plants in Chicago's parks.  I grew up in VT, so many of the plants ( like milkweed, pictured here)

It was great to walk around with Sunny, that I saw in Chicago we had back home, but this time I saw them with new eyes.  I really only started foraging when I got to SF, so it was really enlightening to learn from Sunny who's knowledge of wild foods definitely surpasses my own (Sunny Savage has a TV show on the Veria network about wild food. She's the reason I was in Chicago, to help her forage and cook). Mine is very SF specific, so I was lost in this new environment.

Overall a good trip, Im in NYC now (where it is 96 degrees,hence the "hell" in the title), but will be back in SF on the 7th. We just posted some new wild food walks on foragesf.com, and look out for an email about some upcoming dinners we're doing mid July.

Also....we're starting the CSF back up! A friend of mine, Kevin Feinstein, who is going to be managing the workings of it in the months to come, so look out for an email about that too.

Well I'm off to meet Ava Chin, a NYC based forager, who writes a column for the NY times.

Also....Just got interviewed for a Times magazine article, so look out for that! Very Exciting. Ok, enough talk.

thoughts

Taste of chicago day 1

Today was my first day in Chicago. Didn't sleep last night in the hopes of actually making it onto a 6am flight out of SFO, so it was a bit of a long day. Im here for 4 days to help out Sunny Savage, a forager who has a TV show that is in post production. Shes on a publicity tour at the moment, and asked me to come along to help her cook/forage.  We'd actually never met before I got into today at noon, which was a bit random I suppose, but everything seems to be working out so far.

We spent most of the day today foraging for ingredients for Sunnys presentation tomorrow and Saturday at the taste of chicago. It was a lot of fun seeing the diversity of plants out here, and I am amazed at how few I recognized.  The change in climate changes things in really big ways, and all the standbys, wild radish, nettle, etc...were no where to be seen. We did find some good stuff though. The one I was most excited about was wild ginger. (which we actually have in SF, but I had never foraged it myself before):[gallery]

Another plant that we have around SF, but I've never been sure of the identification is Lambs Quarters. You see plants that are very similar everywhere in the Bay Area, but many of them are poisonous, so its very important to have a proper ID on this plant. I'm told that it tastes like spinach (full disclosure, my pics weren't very good for this plant, so I lifted this online:

Notice the shallow viens and silver/white sheen, those are both defining characteristics of lambs quarters. Be careful though, because it looks very close to some very poisonous look alikes. Another really cool plant we found today that I have definitely never seen in SF is nodding onion (below).  I imagine the name derives from the "nod" of the top, for some reason it reminds me of swans. The bulb is really a lot closer to green garlic than onion, really great plant. Well....thats it for today. Ill be here for the next couple days, hopefully finding some new plants. Tomorrow Sunny is giving a presentation at the taste of chicago main stage, should be fun, cooking and what have you.