Friday, September 28, 2012

Zones of Indiscernibility

I have been listening lately to Beard Foundation Vice President Mitchell Davis' very good podcast, Taste Matters.  I too have thought frequently on the structure and composition of taste, and would contribute this: taste is put into action via an organ structure that responds to both consistency and inconsistency.  What I mean is that often we are aroused to tasty food when what we are tasting is both clear and unclear (e.g. a blend of eleven herbs and spices).  What makes Coke coke-like and RC Cola a pale imitator?  Having cooked a lot but never having worked in an industrial food lab, I cannot tell you what you are tasting when you taste Coke, it is simply Coke.  Likewise, salt is essential to a soup -- without it you have flavored water -- but a good soup will not taste salty -- why is that?  It is because of what I would call, borrowing from Gilles Deleuze, taste's zone of indiscernibility.  At a certain point, not salty and too salty are obviated by an indiscernable zone that is perfectly salted.  I believe that all food operates in this way, the purest example being umami (deliciousness).  Take a drop of soy sauce on your tongue, and the palate reacts purely to this otherwise indiscernable fermented liquid bean paste.  Another example (for me) would be Pepperidge Farm Cookies.  Pepperidge Farm Cookies have gone through decades of testing to arrive at the perfect amount of sugar, the perfect amount of salt, etc., to the precision of production of a Porsche car body.  That is why when you taste a Chessmen or a Milano, what you are tasting is almost ontological in nature.  For our part at Berenbaum's, the recipes that we stick with also obey these rules: they go through weeks of testing, modifying the salt or hydration content by as little as 2-3% (which might come out to 10-15 grains of salt in your home recipe) in order to find the zone of indiscernibility where the product really moves the palate.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

All You Can Hold For Five Bucks

I recently read this foodie article in the New Yorker from 1939 (reprinted here).  Coincidentally, I just saw yesterday that Bull City Burger and Brewery is doing their own beefsteak.  Looks intense!


We have a running joke among the bakers that whenever products are looking excessively handmade, they are not only rustic, they are "artisinal as a _________".  With that in mind, here is a t-shirt/poster that will probably never be made:

I think I could go on about the word "artisan" and its overuse/misuse, but I suppose that would be superfluous at this point.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 74

The Product: The most accurate source of feedback for our baked items comes from Rick B. who works at Ninth Street Bakery (our commissary).  If the product puts a smile on Rick's face, chances are 95% sure our customers are going to dig it.  The Vanilla Buttermilk Tartlet passed the "Rick test" Saturday with flying colors, so I know we were in good shape.  The custard was rich and sweet, and the crust soft and flaky.

Our awesome customers: Adam, HM, Dave and Nancy, Loren, Aaron.

This week's giveaway winner, Loren P. with her bagged winnings (two hand pies)

Ninth Street Bakery Patio: After years of work and perseverance, Ninth Street (our commissary location and my ex-employer) finally has their outdoor deck/patio/beer garden up and running.  Friday night, while we were baking away, the pizzas (made with baker Brian's special dough recipe (using real deal sourdough starter built up into a poolish)) were coming out so fast so furious from the hearth oven and the conga drumming could be heard throughout Five Points.  Check the clip:

Rich Baker, Poor Baker: This weekend, the weather (being so pleasant and balmy) must have driven some customers to the outdoors because market vendors noticed a decrease in traffic, especially at the South Durham Market.  So in times of having one too many tartlets on our hands, I turned to what got us into this game in the first place -- bartering.  In return for our tartlets, we received a bounty: peppers and eggplant from Piedmont Biofarm; beans from Lil' Farm; pecans from Walters Unlimited; eggplant from Hurtgen Farms; peppers from Sassafras Fork Farm; Hunkadora goat cheese from Prodigal Farm; Raw Milk Cheese from Hillsborough Cheese Co.; pea shoots from Four Leaf Farms; spicy pepper jelly from Ladybug Farms; acorn squash from Green Button Farms (smooth website!); a pumpkin from New Oaks Farm; and goodwill and tidings from the Farmer Food Share.  Sweet stuff, thanks to all, you make me feel rich.

Da Crew: Many thanks to our hardworking crew of Ali R., Chef Matt, Andy, Sara and Jeff, SZ, and RG.  Do the hustle!

Track of the week (selected by Chef Matt):

Monday, September 17, 2012

Week 73

The Product: Four months later, I feel like we are really hitting our stride with the tartlets.  I would say our Shoofly, Chocolate Chess, and French Coconut are as good as any you might find in a fine restaurant.  It has taken a lot of trial and error, but the crusts are buttery flaky, and the fillings deliciously moist.

Our awesome customers: AS, Patrick et al., Linda et al, Frank S., Gerard, Heather C, Nancy and Dave.

Da Crew: Many thanks to Chef Matt, Josh, Jason, Ali R., SZ, and Andy.  Extra big ups to Josh and Jason, local funk/soul connoisseurs, for pitching in as we were short-staffed.

Frank Stacio: Most Durhamites know Frank Stacio from his WUNC show The State of Things.  Frank has been a patron and supporter of Berenbaum's since the cold of Winter 2011 (when we started up) -- Frank always wearing his trademark grey woolen hat and puffy coat.  On Saturday, the tables were reversed as I got to try Frank's homemade sausage at the Cookery fundraiser and front room opening, which came out great (esp. with the fresh basil).  Many thanks to this public personality who takes the time to be deeply involved with the day-to-day of Durham and the Triangle.

Song of the Week (selected by Chef Matt):

Monday, September 10, 2012

Week 72

The "Grand Opening" for the South Durham Market was a smash.  The market was very busy and we had a lot of great conversations with folks about our bialys.  Many customers said that they had not seen bialys since decades ago in New York.  And our bialys stacked up well to their memories....I think the bialys could be improved by being baked in a hearth oven instead of a convection oven (for a harder, more textured crust), but overall, the interior crumb, flavor, and shape were great.  Also, the poppy seeds with the onions in the middle was a good improvement (we had just done onions last time).

The Bialys

Our awesome customers: Marybeth and Allen, Leah, Adam, Daniel, Linda et al., AS et al., Adam.

Da Crew: Many thanks to our fabulous crew -- you guys keep fascinating while you be updating: Ali R., Chef Matt, Andy, JW, and SZ.

New Stand: Add another one to the list.  The Sweetwater Ices guys have joined the Hunt Street lineup -- a duo of shaved ice aficianados with matching berets and trike-freezer-carts.  I haven't tried their product yet but am looking forward to some fancy flavors!

Prodigal Farm: We collaborated this week with Kat Spann of Prodigal Farm at the South Durham Market to schmear her herb or plain goat cheese on the bialys.  They were selling hot....we sold 39 of them by day's end, and were totally delicious.

South Durham Farmer's Market Policies and Procedures: We learned two weeks ago that after a misunderstanding, we cannot sell anything at that market sliding-scale for fear of "undercutting" other vendors, which of course is not the intent of our model and mission.  This will be brought up at an October all-vendor meeting where hopefully we can get the go-ahead to switch back to the old model.  It's extremely odd keeping set prices after doing sliding-scale for so long.  Sorry for the inconvenience to any of our customers who expect sliding-scale for their budgets.

Song of the Week (selected by Chef Matt):

Foodie of the Week:
Kent, with his anti-Kosher Epic Meal Time t-shirt

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Rolling Pin

"They’re cookies...By their very nature, they are guileless and eager to please, and insofar as they play at sophistication, they do so with jauntiness, and without desperation."
"Just go ahead and put a Chessman, a Bordeaux, or a Gingerman in your mouth and start chewing. It might strike you as unremarkable at first. But soon the hard, crunchy cookie will turn into a pleasing goop that resembles melted ice cream or sweetened condensed milk. The flavor will make itself known gradually, growing more intense with time. The goop will get dense but you will be able to swish it around freely—an extraordinary feeling. In the end, it will feel like you are saying goodbye to something you’ve fought for."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Week 71

The Product: Pear Crostatas were the bomb.  Many thanks to my coworker Pam P. for those pears (she has a small farm in Person County).  The bagels came out a little too bready -- needs some more fine-tuning.

Our awesome customers: Suzanne&Josh, Josh+1, Scott, Adam, Fran, Heather C. et al.

Da Crew:  Many thanks as always to our crew, SZ, Chef Matt, Ali R., JW, and Andy.

Song of the Week (selected by Chef Matt):

Eats of the Week: Monte Enebro cheese purchased from Reliable Cheese, possibly the best soft goat's cheese I've ever tasted.  Go to Reliable and get you some!