Good Food Awards 2017 Portrait Gallery

The weekend of January 20th, Good Food Foundation held its seventh annual Good Food Awards recognizing outstanding food producers around the country exhibiting excellent craftsmanship in responsible, sustainable manner.  I was happy the award ceremony was held on the 20th. I needed something to take my mind off what was happening on the other side of the country. What better way than to see old friends and familiar faces as well as meeting new people devoted to the cause of good food.

Of course, things are not that simple and compartmentalized. Throughout the ceremony and the weekend, the current political situation colored the mood and found its way into conversations. What I found heartening was that the tone wasn't defeatist. I felt instead the community had a sense of purpose and a commitment to standing up for integrity and equality.

As I did last year, I set up an area to take portraits at the ceremony and the Mercantile the next day. This is a haphazard operation, trying to get the people to stand in front of the camera. There is no official agenda or schedule for the portraits. Very few of the attendees are aware that I am doing this. Many of the people I should photograph, I don't know what they look like so it's a challenge to find them in a crowd. And some of the subjects I have to gently coax. It's a fun way to spend the two days, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones in five minute increments.

One more observation: With the Women's March held on the same day as the Mercantile the issue of feminism and gender equality was on my mind throughout the day. I couldn't help but notice again the prominent roles that women have in the food world, at least as represented by the Good Food Awards. If the future is indeed female, the food world is ahead of its time. And that's a good thing.

With that, Here are the portraits of some of the presenters, staff and participants of the Good Food Awards 2017.

Portrait Gallery from the "True Cost of American Food" Conference, April 15-16, 2016

I had the pleasure of attending the "True Cost of American Food" organized by The Sustainable Food Trust back in April in San Francisco. I use the word "attending" lightly because while I was there, I really did not see much of the conference. You see, I was there to take portraits of the speakers for the Culinaria project as the speakers scheduled for the conference included many leading thinkers and voices of the food world.

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Masumoto Family Farm, pt. 1

The first day of March, a pleasant warm day, I drove up to Fresno to photograph David "Mas" Masumoto and his family at their farm.

I'd met his wife Marcy Masumoto last Fall and I asked her about photographing her family for the Culinaria project. I had in mind photographing them closer to harvest time with peaches on the trees, maybe piggybacking the shoot with a trip up to SF to make for a more efficient production. Then I received an email from her in February letting me know that the trees were blooming. Peach blossoms!

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Portrait Gallery from Good Food Awards 2016

The sixth annual Good Food Awards was held at the Fort Mason Art Center on January 15-17. I attended as I was honored to have my "Culinaria" project shown as the featured exhibition during the Awards weekend. 

During the GFA Mercantile, open to the industry professionals, and GFA Marketplace, open to the public, I took portraits of some of the crafter participants, staff, volunteers, luminaries and friends who stopped by the pop up photo studio. 

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Sub Rosa Bakery, Richmond, VA

On a warm Sunday afternoon in September, I am driving along familiar roads from my childhood searching for something new. I am searching for a bakery that is run by a brother-sister team that is apparently doing some of the best work in the East Coast.

Exactly a week before, I ran into Richie Brandenberg of EDENS at the Good Food Award Blind Tasting event in San Francisco and I told him I'd be visiting Richmond for a couple of days. He suggested I look up Sub Rosa Bakery. He was adamant that the brother-sister team of Evrim and Evin Dogu are doing some of the most fantastic work in bakery in the East Coast at the moment. With that kind of recommendation, it was a no-brainer that I reach out.

After a quick search online, I found that Sub Rosa Bakery is located in the Church Hill district of Richmond, just a couple of blocks from where my parents owned their corner grocery store. I emailed them about participating in the Culinaria Portrait project and after a short email exchange, we set a meeting time on Sunday.

Church Hill is most famous for having the church where Patrick Henry gave his "give me liberty, or give me death" speech. From that historic moment, Church Hill saw its fortune go up and down through the years. By the time my parents got there twenty years ago, the area was moving away from its worst days and was seemingly in a delicate balance between reverting back to its old ways or moving towards something better. The residents reflected that; some young professionals, the old timers, low income residents. The area was too far from VCU to have a large student population but you would find students here and there. Couple blocks away were the sketchy areas my parents warned me about.

It's been 18 years since I've been in this neighborhood. Some parts are still clear to me as if I drove down the road yesterday. Some parts of the neighborhood, I'd never been to before. The GPS guides me through both as I navigate the road closures due to the UCI World Cycling races being held that same week. I drive down East Broad Street past the familiar old houses, cut over to Marshall then to Jefferson looking for the bakery where this brother/sister team is supposedly doing fantastic work baking bread and making pastries.

Sub Rosa Bakery is a tastefully designed cafe filled with light. Prominently situated to the left of the counter is the wood fired bread oven. Evin and Evrim both receive me warmly. They take time to hear about the portrait project and look at the prints. Evrim makes an herbal tea for me then they give me samples of their pastries. Oh man! Croissants, pain au chocolate, quiche, a savory pastry with jalapenos. They are all great! The most interesting is a savory pastry made out of corn masa. It has the mild sweetness and the gritty texture that I love in cornmeals. Evrim explains that the fermentation process involved in making masa helps with the digestion of corn. Then there's the bread.

Evrim and Evin's process in baking starts with milling their own grain. This allows them to incorporate grains grown by local and regional farmers. The end result is something quite special; full flavored, moist and chewy. The flavor of the grain is prominent and rich in ways that makes the bread bought at grocery stores seem like mere placeholders for the contents in between.

Despite their busy schedules, Evin and Evrim are generous with their time for the photoshoot. We shoot in front of the wood fired oven, move to the grain mill stored in another building then move to a table in the bakery. During the process of photographing, the personalities of the two become evident. Evin the older sister seems to be the sensible one of the two. Grounded, a bit reticent, with an air of protectiveness developed from a lifetime of watching after the younger brother. Evrim has a boyish charm befitting the baby of the family. He is quick to clown around. Yet, at the same time, he has the intensity and introspective focus befitting the religious studies major he was.  

After the shoot, Evrim and I get into a long conversation about the art and aesthetics of baking and doing it in Richmond. It is evident he's spent a long time not only baking but also thinking about baking and its place in our society. I wonder what kind of effect the bakery is having on the neighborhood? And I wonder if the community will sustain an artisan driven business like Sub Rosa bakery?

During the time I lived there, Richmond seemed to lack the ability or the interest to grow and foster new ideas. Now, when I visit, I sense a city changed and energized, as evidenced by the many public works projects and revitalization of different communities. Childhood friends who stayed all tell me the city has changed and isn't like what it was when we were growing up.

I don't know if a craft-focused, artisan-driven business like Sub Rosa Bakery would have thrived in Richmond of old. I think it's chances are better today. I'm heartened that people like Evin and Evrim thinks so. I hope they do. They certainly have the goods.



Field Trip to Blue Bottle Oakland

After three weeks of traveling, no sooner had I dropped my duffle bag on the floor that I found myself on the road again, unexpectedly heading back up to the Bay area for another round of photoshoots. Four weeks prior, when I was up there for the Good Foods Blind Tasting event, Jen Apodaca, the West Coast production manager of Blue Bottle Coffee and coffee roaster extraordinaire extended an invitation to stop by their Oakland offices the next time I was in town.

A company like Blue Bottle is clearly doing something right if they're able to raise $70 million in VC funding. Obviously, it's impossible to know in a single trip what that is but I was curious to at least catch a glimpse of the process. Take a peek behind the curtains.

The day I visited, Jen and her team of buyers and tasters were in the cupping room putting some coffee beans through their paces. Blue Bottle was in the middle of auditioning a new supplier of beans to incorporate into one of their blends. This coffee testing, called cupping, was but one of many steps in evaluating the beans. Jen explained all the work that lead up to this moment. Let's just say the decision in purchasing beans is not made lightly at Blue Bottle!

This was my first time seeing the process of a coffee bean being tested and it was pretty cool! On the two long tables were rows and rows of identical cups of coffee in groups of five and stacks of empty cups.

At first I thought they were testing several different beans. Nope. Turns out all the cups were the same coffee. They were testing just one bean!

At intervals, one of the testers would pour a new brew of the coffee.

Then the team would smell the coffee, their noses just inches from the cup.

After allowing the coffee to rest for a bit, they cleared out the grinds from the surface.

Next, they would nose the coffee again and each testers would quickly slurp a spoonful from each cup, spit the coffee into a cup, and dip their spoon into a cup of water before moving to the next cup.

The speed, the precise movements, and the repetition of the spoon moving from the cup of coffee to the mouth to the rinsing cup and next was almost hypnotic. Scoop, slurp, spit, rinse. Scoop, slurp, spit, rinse.

Almost hypnotic because the noise made from the slurping was pretty startling; loud and violent. Definitely not okay in polite company under normal circumstances. I asked Jen why they slurped the coffee that way. She explained it was so that the coffee would instantly cover all of the insides of the mouth so that you are tasting the flavor fully. I could see in my mind the liquid atomizing as it is slurped, covering the mouth in a mist of coffee.

After each round of tasting, each member would jot down their thoughts on a score sheet divided into many columns and rows and filled with numbers. Again, a bean is not selected flippantly by these people. 

While the rest of the team continued their tasting, Jen took me back to the production room where the beans are stored, roasted and bagged. She showed me the different bags from different countries, pointing out that each country has a distinctive design on their bags to quickly identify the origin of the coffee beans; a single stripe of a certain color, for example. She also explained the many different ways the beans are processed washed and fermented, each step affecting the taste of the coffee before it's even roasted and brewed.

Two green coffee beans from the same plantation, prepared differently...

It's mind boggling to think of all the different permutations of the variables that can affect the flavor of a coffee bean. 

Next in the show and tell was the giant beast in the middle of the room. The Probat drum roaster is a behemoth of a machine, with the large cogs, heavy cast iron doors, iron levers and details that attest to its mid century birth during the age of machine.

There is an "x" in espresso, but only if you're French...

German machine with instructions in French, working in the US...

Its control looks like it came straight from a NASA control room circa the Gemini missions of the 60s, with the rows of large translucent plastic buttons of different colors, plastic signs with functions etched in utilitarian sans serif font and industrial digital display showing various times and temperatures. 

I love the last button on the lower right. "Acknowledge"!

The Probat isn't the only roaster in the room, though. They also have a Loring. A modern iteration of the drum roaster.

Whereas the Probat has the logos and design elements cast into its thick iron parts, the Loring has them cut out of the Stainless steel sheet metal exterior.

I love the beautiful rosewood handle of the tryer on the Loring. The tryer is a cylindrical scoop that allows the the roaster to scoop out a small amount of beans during the roasting process to sample.

The Loring, befitting its modern construction, features computer-controlled touchscreen and allows you to use it remotely using computers or ipads. As expected, it's more energy efficient than the Probat. If I remember what Jen said correctly, the energy savings from running the Loring would go a long way in paying for itself versus running the Probat but the Blue Bottle team were still getting the feel for the machine as they wanted to override the many automated processes.

More efficient or not, the Luddite in me can't help but prefer the looks of the old cast iron beast of the Probat with the oversized cogs and levers. They remind me of the old Stanley iron planes and machines from the last century built to last and endure.

Probat Five barrel sample roaster used to test small batches of coffee...

One thing I did not photograph was the training room for the baristas. Each barista hired by Blue Bottle receives 27 hours of training! I can't remember any of my previous jobs devoting anywhere near that kind of time to training. It was usually "figure it out as you go" method with varying amount of assistance and supervision. This kind of training helps to explain the quality of the Blue Bottle service.

freshly bagged coffee ready to be shipped out to the members of the subscription service

After the informal tour she and I talked the business of coffee and the food world in general. With all the exciting things happening and exponential growth of interest in good food from the general public, we had many issues to talk about and consider.

I want to thank Jen Apodaca and the team at Blue Bottle, Charlie Habegger and Stephen Vick, Green Coffee Buyers and Judith Mandel, Quality Control Specialist, for taking the time to explain their world to this coffee noob.

(L-R) Stephen Vick, Judith Mandel, Jen Apodaca, Charlie Habegger...