In the fall of 2012, Forty North Oyster Farm had just begun planting their first crop of oysters. Mere days later, Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard, destroying coastal towns and remaking the shoreline. “Of the 300 or so houses in Mantoloking, 50 or 60 of them were missing after Sandy,” said founder and farmer Matt Gregg. “We were cleaning up plastic and debris for months, and it was incredible how the contents of people’s lives were scattered all across the bay.”
One year later, the farm has certainly gone through growing pains but is stronger than ever after the disaster. Matt is expecting his first commercial oyster crop to go to market next spring, and looks forward to sharing his oysters with diners and chefs. He recently added a new partner to the Forty North team, NYC restauranteur Chris Cannon, who will be opening a new restaurant in Morristown next spring. Located inside the historic Vail Mansion, the restaurant will feature Forty North as the house oyster. It is a well-deserved coup for the farm after a rough year.
Last weekend, the NY Oyster Lovers Meetup took a field trip to Forty North Oyster Farm to meet Matt and his partners Scott and Serafina. The drive to Mantoloking was scenic, though if you looked closely, you could see oddly placed sand dunes and abandoned boats, the reminders of Sandy’s power.
We began with a hike through Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, a network of coastal wetlands and marshes. Hawks flew overhead the flame-tipped trees, as we made our way toward the water. Here too there were souvenirs from the hurricane: random planks, lattice fencing, plastic lids and more.
When you think of Japanese food, sushi may be the first thing that comes to mind. But the world of Japanese street foods and bar snacks is just as eye-opening and tasty, while eschewing less accessible ingredients like bluefin. One of my favorite dishes is takoyaki, or octopus balls. These are typically cooked in massive hot plates at street stalls and festivals. In Japan, it’s not unusual to see just one chef deftly turning, cooking and serving dozens of takoyaki in a matter of minutes—the speed is truly remarkable! After watching these takoyaki masters at work, I began to wonder how I might replicate the dish at home.
First, you start with a takoyaki pan. If you have gas burners, I recommend this reasonably priced cast iron takoyaki pan, which even comes with a smiling octopus at the top. There are also electric pans which you can use on any counter top, though they do take up a bit more storage space. Also, if you are concerned about cluttering your kitchen with single-use kitchen items, just think of what else you could make in balls, like Danish aebleskiver (puffed pancakes) or donut holes!
Having already tenderized and cooked an octopus, I simply diced an arm into pieces and prepared the batter. The batter is fairly simple, mostly flour, water and egg with some dashi powder (Japanese soup base made with dried fish flakes and seaweed). If you don’t have dashi, you can substitute some chicken bouillon powder. The batter should be thin, so don’t be concerned if it’s quite runny.
A few more tips: be sure to generously oil the surface and holes of your takoyaki pan. You want to be able to flip the takoyaki balls easily, so this is important. Also, if you try to rotate your takoyaki balls and they seem sticky, they probably haven’t developed a firm crust yet. If you wait another minute or two, the takoyaki usually firms and becomes easier to rotate. Finally, if your takoyaki aren’t perfectly spherical or come out looking like Pac-Man, fret not. Once you douse the balls with sauce, seaweed and other garnishes, it will still be delicious and no one will be able to tell the difference anyway.
Get the recipe after the jump:
So you can break down a chicken, truss a duck and french a rack of lamb? Have you tried cooking an octopus?
There are some dishes which are so failure-prone that a vibrant mythology is built around how to avoid the usual pitfalls. Tenderizing octopus certainly falls into that camp. A quick Google search on the subject quickly reveals that the best way to cook a tender octopus is to vigorously beat it on some Grecian rocks. Or to cook it with wine corks in the pot. Or to add some vinegar. Or maybe the secret is to rub the octopus with grated daikon radish. Actually, scratch all that, the real key to success is to slowly dip the octopus a few seconds at a time into hot water until it acclimates to the boiling temperatures. All of these methods have their proponents, who will wholeheartedly assure you that it will work because after all, that is how their grandfather did it, and his father and his before that.
Since I lack heritage knowledge in octopus cookery, I turned to the next best option: esteemed chef and food scientist Harold McGee. In this article, he admits that his own results with octopus have been inconsistent—sometimes chewy, sometimes fibrous—and proceeds to test all of the usual methods for tenderizing octopus. The result? None of them seemed to be foolproof.
Turret trucks careening around corners, workers unloading boxes of glistening scales and tentacles, tuna carvers wielding samurai swords. All happening while Tokyo sleeps.
Tsukiji Market holds a storied place among international visitors and chefs in Tokyo. It is the world’s largest wholesale seafood market, sprawling across 23 hectares or about 55 American football fields. Over 2,000 tons of product moves through these stalls every day, ranging from tiny anchovies and smelt to hulking tunas and cuts of whale.
In recent years, the frozen bluefin tuna auction has become a popular attraction for tourists, drawing large crowds who have sometimes been disruptive. In response, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) banned the admittance of visitors for a while, then settled on allowing the first 120 people to view the auction from a designated area. Visitors are admitted beginning at 5 am, and people start lining up even earlier than that.
But don’t go to Tsukiji just to wait in line for the frozen tuna auction; there’s plenty of other sights and stories to learn. I was lucky to come across Naoto Nakamura, a tour guide who worked in the seafood industry for 12 years and may well be Tokyo’s leading expert on the market’s history. At 3 am, we gathered just outside of the market and Nakamura-san explained the ground rules: no photographs with flash, no standing in heavily trafficked areas, and if TMG security guards approach, simply say that you’re shopping and move if asked.
So you’ve created a wildly successful restaurant, and you’re just beginning to have some semblance of stability and free time again. Is it time to expand and build another location? At last night’s Culintro panel on restaurant expansion, three prominent chefs tackled that question and more. Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Andy Ricker (Pok Pok) and Michael White (Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, Nicoletta) collectively shared their insights and mused on why anyone would decide to “go do the hardest thing in the world—open a restaurant in New York.”
After all, opening and running a restaurant is asking for unexpected kinks and surprises every day. “You wake up in the morning wondering if today is the day you get your ass handed to you,” Ricker noted wryly. “The job is basically problem solving. It’s being able to grasp a whole lot of things happening at once.” That global vision is what makes a chef and restauranteur. “It’s not just cooking—you’ve got to know about electricity, basic engineering, and when something breaks, you can’t call someone because he’ll come three hours later and you need it fixed now.” Bowien agreed and offered some optimism: “All the challenges—if you can just power through them, it’ll work out. When we were getting reviewed by the New York Times, I was flying back from Copenhagen, and just after I landed, someone texted to say the New York Times is here…and so is the health department. I was having a heart attack! But you just have to power through it all.”
So when do you know it’s time to expand? Most people don’t set out to build restaurant empires, but it becomes clear when the timing is right to grow. “When your restaurant is very successful, you have a sort of political capital, and you either spend it or you don’t—you sh*t or get off the pot,” said Ricker. “You reach a point where you have ideas that don’t fit in the current template. If there’s interest and political capital, the door just opens up.” Over the course of the evening, Ricker, Bowien and White batted ideas and shared the following lessons for aspiring chefs and restauranteurs (or any entrepreneur):
About five years ago, I graduated from Cornell. I picked up my diploma from the economics department, took another walk around the Arts Quad, and drove 4.5 hours back to MA with stinging eyes. My undergrad days were over, I was cast out into the cruel Real World, and nothing would ever be the same.
But you know what they forgot to tell you in college? Life is even more awesome AFTER college. After spending Labor Day weekend at Cornell, I can confidently say I have no desire to go back to my college days.
One major change: you’re no longer stuck on a student budget. Now, I was never eating ramen for meals (unless I wanted to) or really strapped for cash (thank you slightly-above-minimum-wage chimesmaster salary), but I did have to be pretty conscientious about money. I still am, but having worked for a few years now and become accustomed to New York-level prices, many things in Ithaca that once seemed luxurious are now quite affordable. $9 cocktails at Stella’s? You can easily pay double that in Manhattan. Appetizers, drinks and an entree at Maxie’s? I used to limit myself to just a po’ boy because I was a um, po’ girl. Shortline Bus for $107 or the snazzy new roomy, wifi-enabled Campus-to-Campus bus for $160? You get free snacks and drinks on the latter; the choice is clear.
Gastrocinephiles! So you’ve watched and rewound the opening scene of Eat Drink Man Woman multiple times? Your dreams involve recreating the timpano from Big Night? Then the NYC Food Film Festival is the place to be, celebrating the year’s accomplishments in food film, food documentary, and of course, food porn. In its fifth year of running, the Food Film Fest is attracting all sorts of attention from food media, filmmakers, and even Mayor Bloomberg, who kicked off the opening ceremony by declaring “Food Film Fest Day” in New York.
I was present for the closing gala, themed “Farm to Film to Table.” Held in the Varick Room at the Tribeca Theater, the city’s student filmmakers, publicists and chefs gathered for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails made from locally sourced ingredients. Chef and Food Network star Amanda Freitag spearheaded a menu of baked crab apples with pork belly in the core, butternut squash with curry and pepitas, and roasted sunchokes with red garlic. Most interesting was the edible dirt, a powdery concoction of mushrooms served with peppery arugula. The dirt, while tasty, would’ve been better if it were warm, so I actually ended up sprinkling some over a bowl of chili for highly satisfactory results. Read more…