This week I had another chance to contribute once more to one of my favorite newsletters, Why is this Interesting? on one of my favorite topics: how home fermentation can help create the foundations of resiliency that will make the world a better place.
Nick Parish (NP) has been a long-standing friend of WITI since his days as the junior reporter on the NY Post’s sports desk. He’s since worked in editorial, strategy, product design and currently lives in Portland. He’s a fly fishing mentor to Noah, and he last talked about fermentation/Kombucha way back in NYC at 2008’s Interesting New York conference, a strange precursor to this very newsletter. – Colin (CJN)
Nick here. I love fermentation. At its core, it’s the story of how the human species has ridden out boom and bust cycles of nature, uncovering tasty treats and useful new materials in the process. It’s a story of magic and alchemy.
My love of fermenting at home started over a decade ago
with kombucha in a tiny uptown apartment, glass jars from a Harlem
dollar store, and a mother culture gifted from a car service driver.
Now, I’m looking after a big urban garden in Portland, Oregon, with a fair chunk of shed space for experiments. Our overgrown lot features several dozen varieties of edible berries, tree fruits, perennial vegetables, and other items you’d find in the farmer’s market, in addition to a big seasonal vegetable garden and a leech-filled pond. On good days, time spent in the garden is a feast, where we wander and graze on whatever looks ripe. On (rare) bad days it’s me fretting over soil health, pest management, and the future.
Rhubarb wine? I’ve been into fermenting ever since my Harlem kombucha-making days, but now that I’ve got a little more land to work with I’ve made smoked, fermented hot sauces, sauerkrauts, and beer with self-grown hops.
Most recently, though, I’ve been interested in wines, specifically country wines. So what better way to celebrate the first year of your child’s life than a sassy vintage of a dry country wine?
The garden threw off a substantial surplus of rhubarb, so I fermented it and bottled a few cases of a dry country rhubarb wine. I followed a hybrid of John Wright and John Seymour recipes, both loosely. Fiddling with InDesign to illustrate and design the label was probably the hardest part.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer experiences.
We’re kicking off our U.S. Now / Next / Why swing on Wednesday in NYC (followed by May 16 in Chicago and June 11 in San Francisco) and the event is all around the idea of “obsessing experience.” And there’s a ton of stuff to talk about around your typical Brand Experiences, but I wanted to isolate one specific instance that might not feel immediately relevant but is.
My wife, Juno, is passionate about food. You could say she obsesses the experience. Whether it’s going out to try new restaurants, reading about chefs and cooking, organizing an intricate weekly meal plan and now writing about food and nutrition full time, Juno’s got it covered.
One of our running chuckles is around an entirely condescending phrase we’re becoming accustomed to hearing in variation, when we eat out:
“Are you familiar with the concept of sharing?”
Forget about the fact that we all learned to share at age four. When a server asks this, it’s a snapping flag to me that we’re in for a less-than-perfect experience. Because it validates something very important in the restaurant power dynamic: that the kitchen rules.
It doesn’t matter if we’re eating together, and each of us order one thing that we want to eat exclusively: the food comes when it’s ready. And Juno’s even experienced instances where her dining companion has finished her meal before Juno’s even arrives. It’s becoming commonplace to put the food before the people.
To me, this is emblematic of the celebrity-chef-obsessed, ego-driven foodie culture that’s bred a new generation of restauranteurs. Many careers have been launched and pockets have been lined by the idea of the kitchen as altar.
But it annoys me, needless to say, and I wanted to pass along an attitude that’s the antidote, one I hope more restaurants will adopt, and one that might be relevant to how you view edge cases, or needy customers, in your work, whomever your literal or metaphorical customer might be.
Brooks Headley is the executive pastry chef at Del Posto, a fine dining restaurant in New York.
Our mission is to make people happy—think of us as your surrogate grandmas for the next few hours. I want you to come in to Del Posto and have the grandest, amazing-est time of your life, shooting the breeze with your date, the mom, that boss you’re trying to impress, swirling the wine in your oversize goblet, utilizing your purse stool. And if you’ve got some dietary issues you wanna toss my way? Bring ’em on!
It’s a great little essay, and an even better attitude. You can say what you want about the identity politics of food, which tires me to no end. But this isn’t about identity—it’s about humility and service.
In just a few days we’ve seen a couple of dimwitted scumbags erode the brand’s credibility faster than you can say “Get the door, it’s Dominos.”
Unfortunately, George Orwell’s rule of thumb (“roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it”) never applied to pizza franchises.
As the backlash against the two coworkers guileless enough to upload videos of their back-room chicanery continues (now, to the point of Dominos apologizing and the duo facing felony charges) I’m reminded of his classic Down and Out in Paris and London and one of its themes, that the working class and poor have a special code amongst themselves binding them to reverence and respect when they’re in a service role for those at or equal to their station.
Early last month, as the historic nature of our presidential election set in and the national night light grew a little brighter, images and stories of people celebrating all over the globe flooded in. I got to wondering.
How many people around the world DON’T know Barack Obama was elected president of the United States?