Thursday, November 29, 2007
Disclaimer: The following essay was written to fulfill a request by this blog’s author, my friend, chef Michael Walsh. Michael and I first became friends as we slogged through molecular genetics labs at college. I currently work in the field of clinical research and am familiar with the US FDA’s process of assessing the safety of medical devices – a very similar process used (in coordination with the USDA) in assessing cloned food-products. The following essay reflects my personal conclusions on cloning that are based on my research into the topic. This writer wishes that any criticism of these postulations be constructive and supply resources (if possible) so that we can all learn together.
”How do you feel about meat or milk from cloned cattle?” That was the question postulated by this blog’s author. In order to discuss this topic fully, we first need to clarify a few definitions:
· Genetically Modified Organism (GMO): an organism (animal, vegetable – not mineral) that has a genetic code that has been “fiddled-with.” An example of this is a tomato that has been “made stronger” by inserting a gene from peanuts – in order to have the tomato express a protein that would make it resistant to pests.
· Assisted Reproductive Technology (AST): In the field of animal husbandry, this pretty much incorporates anything that is done to produce offspring other than the old-fashioned “third date” bull-on-heifer tango-dancing. Techniques of AST include artificial insemination (used pretty much as the norm at most farms), in-vitro-fertilization (also commonly used), and cloning.
· Cloning: Common term for the method where the DNA from a full-grown animal is put into a single-celled embryo in replacement of the embryo’s DNA. Therefore the embryo grows up to be a “clone” of the original animal, in the exact same fashion as an identical twin. (Note: NO tinkering with the DNA occurs. A clone is NOT a GMO.)
Cloning has a bad rap. Let’s not mince words here. When the average person hears “meat or milk from a clone” – visions of horribly deformed versions of Susan Sarandon in Alien 3 pops into the front of the mind. (Wow – was that an impressively bad movie, or what?) That...or for the very few people out there who have seen the New Zealand spoof “Black Sheep” – you may fear armies of carnivorous cloned sheep who are out to take-out mankind. But let’s put Hollywood aside for a minute. Let’s address and debunk the common concerns one-by-one:
The meat or milk from cloned animals is unsafe: There are really two arguments/fears here. First and foremost of all concerns is that products from cloned animals are “Frankenfoods” and may have a bad effect on our health. While there is a legitimate (albeit currently theoretical) argument against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply (e.g. a tomato that has been modified with a peanut gene might express an extra peanut protein that would cause people with peanut allergies to have a reaction), there is really one simple thing to remember about clones: They are NOT GMOs. Cloned animals have no different DNA than the original animal. They are – in essence – the exact same thing as an identical twin. The second concern is that products from cloned animals is unsafe because the progeny from the cloned animals could have a higher rate of genetic issues that would cause concern. The FDA addressed both of these concerns in their review of data compiled from cloned cattle. Specifically, in the draft decision of 2003 concerning cloning in agriculture, the FDA noted specifically that “Edible products from healthy clones or their progeny do not appear to pose increased food consumption risks in comparison to comparable products from conventional animals.” The FDA opened this report and analysis up to the public for comment and concerns and in February of 2007, the Association of Food and Drug Officials officially noted their agreement with the FDA’s risk assessment only adding that “most of the products from cloned animals would come from the progeny, not the clones themselves.” This is not due to a safety concern – it is simply that the cloned animals are too valuable to use in this manner.
Cloning is an unnatural process. I want my food to be natural. Most meat and milk that you consume currently comes from animals that are bred by the use of assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination or IVF. (Did anyone see the “Dirty Jobs” episode where he had to artificially inseminate livestock – definitely not a glamorous job, but very common.) The food you currently eat is not naturally bred.
The process of cloning is cruel to the animals and therefore I will not support it. Critics pose that the cloning process results in a higher number of failed impregnations in cattle and therefore is ethically immoral as it causes animal (fetal) deaths. This is pretty much the only valid argument in the bunch, however it must be said that proponents of this argument are also against all assisted reproductive technologies in agriculture and would overall prefer their animals free-range, free-wheeling, with flower garlands on their heads. This author truly applauds this valiant belief as I’m a big proponent of free-range food and ethics in treatment of animals in our food production, however those who hold this opinion should be prepared to only consume farm-raised protein only once every two weeks (as supply and production would decrease radically below current consumption in the US) and witness a heifer be “put-down” after her hips and back legs are shattered to pieces by an over-exuberant bull. I assure you from my experience – it is a very sad sight.
In fact, there are some that would argue that the process of cloning animals is more ethical in the treatment of the cattle. If the healthiest and strongest animals were cloned to populate the following generation, then it would be theorized that the next generation of cattle would need less medical intervention (like the current over-usage of antibiotics) and they would live healthier, more disease-free lives based solely on the basis of good genetics.
My conclusion: So where does that leave us? Based on the currently available information and with a full understanding of the cloning process, this writer says “bring on the burger.” Instead of worrying about whether or not my burger was once a cloned animal, I’ll instead concern myself with bigger and true safety concerns such as whether or not I’m ingesting a slew of antibiotics or growth hormones that could hurt me or (on the animal cruelty angle) whether my beef came from those horribly inhumane holding pens you see on the California Highway 5 where there is no more than 4 inches of space surrounding each animal. Besides – if my burger is Bessie’s clone, it doesn’t really matter as I probably ate her twin last week. Same thing.
1. FDA draft decision on cloned livestock (full data): http://www.fda.gov/cvm/Documents/CLRAES.pdf
2. Association of Food and Drug Officials opinion
3. General information websites on cloning:
Monday, November 26, 2007
Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America and an assistant secretary for food at the Agriculture Department under President Jimmy Carter, called the recent FDA study "limited in scope" because of the small number of animals involved and because it did not address such issues as whether the clones were more susceptible to infection or other microbial problems, as some critics suspect.
Social and ethical questions also persist, Foreman said. "This study does not address the big issue . . . which is: 'Is this what we want to do as a society? What do we think about having a clone burger?' We still need to have a national conversation about that."
The Humane Society of the United States has asked for a ban on milk and meat from clones, noting that many clones die mysteriously during gestation or soon after birth. Others have wondered aloud why it is necessary to clone cows that produce huge amounts of milk when surpluses, rather than shortages, are the main problem facing the U.S. dairy industry today.
But Barbara Glenn, director of animal biotechnology for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said it is time to allow the new products on the market. "These are the best and healthiest and highest-producing animals," Glenn said, adding that "the science is clear" that clonal meat and milk are equivalent to conventional foods. In terms of animal welfare, she added, clones "are basically the rock stars at the farm . . . and are receiving the best veterinary care that an animal can have."
Aside from the health issues are questions about animal welfare, because cloned animals die in higher numbers during pregnancy and right after birth. A National Academy of Sciences panel looking at cloning raised the issue in a 2002 report. The Humane Society of the United States urged the FDA to keep the ban in place. In a letter June 28, President Wayne Pacelle wrote that cloning "carries too high a cost with regard to animal suffering, yet offers little benefit to humans and animals alike.''
"Critics still claim the process will create monstrous new hybrids in some kind of barnyard 'Boys from Brazil.' Nothing could be further from the truth," said Gregory Conko, director of food safety for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The process of cloning is not capable of producing anything other than that which nature itself is capable of producing.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I wanted dearly to remove the tomato & motz salad, for obvious reasons, but from a financial standpoint it’s far and away our best selling salad, at a price point that couldn’t be ignored. I have matched it against a very hearty Greek Salad. Classic Greek salad ingredients, lettuce less, but instead of an oily vinaigrette we are dressing the vegetables with honey, and a red wine reduction.
Boneless beef shortribs are a no brainer this time of the year. I really enjoy the vegetables used in the braising, the ones we usually throw out. Instead I peel and clean them exceptionally well, and serve them as a "mashed braising vegetables" under the meat. Very nice with a drizzle of soy-truffle vinaigrette.
Truffle veal meatballs are a dish I’ve done before, and it tastes exceptionally well with a sage cream sauce. The cream sauce is heavy enough you can forgive me for leaving out the starch, but if you’d like a starch we would be happy to prepare a bread basket, or some spaghetti noddles for this dish.
The grilled shrimp as it appears on the current menu is gone, but not forgotten. It is a very nice dish, simple, easy to prepare, and very well received. I felt we needed to mix things up at the top of our sales chart though, and I felt comfortable changing a dish like the shrimp because customers who are looking for shrimp are willing to try it in various preparations. After all that, I got my arm twisted into adding back the grilled shrimp in conjunction with the tuna satay. The new version is as a soft taco with banana-bacon ‘guacamole’ a very fun flavor combination that went off fantastically well as a special.
Lastly we are adding a cheese plate consisting of 3 international cheeses hand selected from Dion’s Cheese Shop at the West Side Market. We receive most of our cheese from the Cheese Shop already, but I wanted to put a focus on a select few very upscale cheeses to offer people. Dion carries probably the nicest selection of cheeses around that are available in small quantities like you would buy for home. We will keep things simple with warm walnut bread and a fruit compote rounding out the cheese plate.
As for lunch, I’ve added 3 additional hot items to the menu, as well as a soup and sandwich combo. Lunch has been very challenging as of late, but I insist that our quality and standards are just as high for lunch as they are for dinner and everything is made from scratch, and nothing is deep fried.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Wonder Bar Chicken & Crawfish Chili
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 pound cooked chicken things, pulled or pulse in food processor
1 pound cooked crawfish meat, try the Asian grocery store
1 28oz can tomato, chopped or stewed, or whole peeled that you chop
2 cups chicken stock, or base
1/4 cup each Worcestershire, apple cider vinegar
1 tsp each cumin, smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
4 oz un-sweetened chocolate
pinch of saffron
salt and pepper
Everything can go in the pot together and simmer for an hour or so. We just started holding the crawfish out and adding it to order since they stay much more tender this way. While there isn’t any hot sauce in this chili, there isn’t anything overly sweet so it’s stays balanced nicely by just ignoring those two extremes. I prefer mine with some croutons in the bottom of the bowl, then topped with cheese, and raw onions.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
The start of the week was highlighted by the departure of 2 servers, one who was caught red handed stealing from the restaurant, and her friend. It’s a good thing, this type of thing keeps everyone on their toes. There is no way to weed out a thief until they’ve already ripped you off. There has to be a lack of trust, in a twisted way it is the only way there is any respect between people. The bigger issue was that those 2 bodies represented exactly half of our service staff. Filling those shifts is the real dilemma now.
Joe and I have begun a very pleasant tradition of visiting the West Side Market every Friday between lunch and dinner service. On Fridays we both work a double shift 10 am for lunch, not finishing until after 12 hopefully. It makes all the difference to leave those four walls of the Wonder Bar for 2 hours and see the world. Luckily we are very close to the market. We are able to find those finishing touches to our specials, and find inspiration for next week at the same time.
This week-end specials played out very nice. I got back in touch with Ed and Betty Frank from Veggie Valley Farms in Sandyville, Ohio. We have done business together in the past and they grow the most tasty potatoes, and some unique squashes, and beets as well. This week I used the beets. First I roasted the beets covered with a little water in the pan for almost 2 hours at 350 degrees. Separately I made a syrup of balsamic vinegar and maple to dress the beets. The beet salad was served warm, glazed with the syrup and topped with pickled red onions, blue cheese, parsley and fleur de sel. I already like beets, but I think the added sweetness of the glaze, and the bite of the blue cheese enhances the flavor of the beets without overpowering it.
Squash soup was another special. I’m so happy to have Joe working with me because he is very capable of making something creative, and wonderful with only the slightest guidance from me. I asked him to make a squash soup and spice it up... I suggested some caraway. Well, Joe made an amazing soup with caraway, cinnamon, coriander, and the texture was right on. A little roux helped hold everything in suspension without turning thick and gluey. We sold plenty, and the uniform response was, "I really liked that, it’s different." That is a perfect response.
Lastly I was infatuated with curry banana and bacon combination. I twisted things around in my head for a day or so, and came up with using the mashed mixture in a soft taco in place of a traditional guacamole. After spicing up some pulled pork with smoked paprika and cumin, we combined that with our curry banana and bacon "guacamole" topped with some crunchy lettuce and a squeeze of lime juice. The flavor combos came off just right. The sweetness of the banana really balanced everything out by keeping the curry flavor in check. I was so happy with how this turned out I think we are going to work it onto the new menu somehow.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Michael Symons repitoire with the Plain Dealer seals it for me. The Plain Dealer could possibly function as the single source of restaurant information, but that would not allow for the checks and balances that occur when different voices have a platform. For this reason we all will continue to re-read the same information in other outlets, just to make sure the facts are straight.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
We made a large batch which is drying off here.
I really like my spatzle with a crunchy side. I let a sautee pan get nice and hot, with only a glaze of oil the spazle go in, then a pad of butter right away. Don't toss the dumplings, just let them sit and carmalize. About 2 minutes in toss in a handful of herbs and toss, off heat add some cheese, and that is it. I like to garnish with some crunchy Fleur De Sel.