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I saw the future in Newark, New Jersey. It was green. Really green. No GMOS, no pesticides and it was delicious. Aero Farms is a high-tech farm that has been working for a few years now. It not only is growing beyond it’s million pounds of greens, but is inspiring the community. In fact it has donated a small farm apparatus to the local charter school Phillips Academy. The academy has an amazing school kitchen program and a roof top garden. I was pleasantly surprised to meet one of ICC’s graduates there, Robert Wallauer, who is their chef and Food Service Director.  The program itself is run by Ecospaces Education, lead by the dynamic Program Director Frank Mentesana. It is no wonder that Michelle Obama chose the school last month to visit!

Robert Wallauer and Frank Mentesana

Now what really makes these greens exciting is that with lighting and patented growing medium technologies Aero Farm is making tenderer and exquisitely delicious greens. I for one, never hopped on the kale bandwagon but the baby kale I tasted in Newark was so tender, with a flavor that screamed out for a touch of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil that I instantly became a fan. The micro watercress as crunchy, refreshing and I popped like candy.

For us gardeners to hear that seeds germinate and grow in a matter of days, not weeks is nothing short of miraculous. Now, you might say you are committed to the earth and soil grown greens. As a lifelong gardener, I would have said that too until I think now of the plight of the world.

We have 8 million people living in NYC alone. We want them to eat fresh produce every day. In an ideal nutritious world that is 58 million servings a week. The land around NYC is developed and the few open spaces are too expensive for farming. If we are serious about fresh produce we need to look to the underdeveloped suburbs around our cities.
Aero Farms is leading the way. And I am fully on board that bandwagon!

A big shout out to Mark Oshima and the Aero Farm team for inviting me to Newark. They are changing the world.

Marc Oshima

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Firstly, let me apologize for such a lull in blog posts. As President of the Friends of USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano 2015, I have had my hands full. The Pavilion is so exciting that I just have share the developments. For those of you who might not be familiar with EXPO Milano 2015, there will be a World’s Fair (EXPO) in Milan from May 2015 through October 31 2015. Six months of wonder.

USA Pavilion rendering James Biber Architects

The theme is “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life.” Over 140 countries will participate. We have all been challenged with the daunting task of how we will responsibly feed the planet when our population explodes to 9 billion people. If we continue to produce, consume and waste food at our present rate, we will not only not have enough food but won’t have enough energy to produce the food. Climate change and dwindling natural resources like fresh water also will add to the dilemma. Each participating country will take a stab at demonstrating how to meet and solve these challenges.

The USA Pavilion theme, American Food 2.0 will highlight some of our greatest thinkers on the subject. ICC’s grad Dan Barber will speak to his Third Plate, and Dean Cesare Casella will be cooking at the JBF House Milano. Architect Jim Biber of Biber Architects has designed  a beautiful and transformative building: it is a true vertical farm. Thinc, the exhibits firm that designed and programmed the 9/11 Museum, will be designing our exhibits.

Harvesting the vertical farm, rendering James Biber Architects

The USA Pavilion will be three floors. The roof will serve as a bar/garden and communal meeting place. The middle floor is a boardwalk, boardwalks have historically been an avenues of food and community, and fun too! We were able to purchase the actual Coney Island boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy. That floor will have exciting stations speaking to the pressing issues, highlighting various points of view on how to solve them and introduce American personalities and institutions that will play key roles in solving the problems. The ground floor will be a visual delight of the great American foodscape from barbecue to immigrant food to Thanksgiving dinner.

Whew! If you are at all interested in food and the future, you must plan on visiting. This World’s Fair will be a benchmark in the history of EXPOs and will rival the best. We at ICC are proud and honored to be a part of it. Please visit USA Pavilion:American Food 2.0 website for information, social media and updates.

Roof Deck rendering James Biber Architects

A warm human touch will be the 120 student ambassadors who will serve as guides and docents. They will be bi-lingual and speak a polyglot of languages. These students are being recruited from colleges all over the country and trained by the University of Southern California.

We will also have a space across from our Pavilion that will contain food trucks. We will be showcasing American food in its diversity and deliciousness. Everything from lobster rolls to fried clams. Hamburgers to tacos. We want to bring the great bounty of American regionalism to our Pavilion and introduce the 25-30 million EXPO visitors to the real deliciousness of American cuisine.

Outside the walls of the Pavilion and the EXPO itself, we will infuse a bit of the States in the city of Milan itself. The Mayor of Milan, Guiliano Pisapia  graciously visited the ICC and is excited to welcome us to his city to showcase our top chefs and to liven the piazzas around the city with American outdoor eating events. Tailgating anyone? Also in the city we will hold TED-like talks (Beard Chats) and panel discussions to hear from a myriad of experts on the various ways we can overcome the big issues. Last but not least, we will run a James Beard House in central Milan and showcase the best and brightest chefs from the USA.

Scenes from December Milan and site visit, with Amb Reeker and, at the site with Mitchell Davis

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Dan Barber of Blue Hill NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my radio show, Chef’s Story. It wasn’t the usual interview where I ask all about his childhood, background, influences etc. I dove right into thorny topics with him. Dan as you might know has written a seminal book, The Third Plate. It is unapologetic. It cautions, enlightens and instructs us on the dynamic and evolutionary trajectory our food system is on. It is as frightening and exciting as a Transformer movie.

Dan Barber, The Third Plate, photo of Dan: Mark Ostow, photos courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

One aspect of our talk really struck me and I want to share it with you. Vegetables are not benign to the earth. They need a lot of water, fertilizing and human labor. They take a lot of land. Dan is not an opponent of vegetables, but he is first and foremost a responsible guardian of the earth. He believes we can all live sustainably, if we live an educated, humbled and moderate life. We should understand not just the nutrients and calories in our food but what I will coin here, its earth factor (EF). What does it take from our earth to produce a tomato, a pound of beef, an acre of GMO corn?

Dan used the term ‘the tomato is the hummer of the vegetable/fruit world.’ It uses a massive amount of water: 13 gallons per tomato. So can we be righteous eating a tomato from drought stricken California? Over eating a marbled 16 ounce T- bone steak? Should we avoid both as excessive EF? Interesting.

I do think socially conscious people want to know what they are eating. And they have a right to know. But next to the ingredients and nutrition labeling, don’t we need and want to know the EF factor too? I would.

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We are brimming with excitement at The International Culinary Center because we are introducing a groundbreaking Farm to Table program for aspiring chefs. At each of our campuses (New York and California) we have designed unique and compelling curriculums for career students who also want a deep understanding of responsible farming.

On the east coast, our course will focus on local, four season gardening, urban roof top gardening, ecologically sound dairy practices and other important product related issues. Among the field trips students will visit an urban roof top farm, Brooklyn Grange , a dairy farm, a North Fork vineyard and other model farm programs.

The highpoint of this course will culminate with an ICC exclusive, a one week total immersion program at The Stone Barns Center in Westchester, New York. Chef Dan Barber, a grad and James Beard Outstanding Chef, was chosen by David Rockefeller to create an educational haven for sustainable farm practices at his Westchester estate, Stone Barns. Chef Barber along with his Blue Hill team has received world class attention for their work. (Dan was chosen as one of Time’s most influential people).

Chef Dan Barber, Stone Barns Center

L: Adam Kaye, VP of Culinary Affairs, Blue Hill with students

Brooklyn Grange, urban roof top farm, field trip

Macari Vineyards, Mattituck, Long Island, field trip

Dan has designed a special course for our students to spend a week at Stone Barns and study everything from understanding soil to breaking down animals. We are thrilled to provide this exceptional educational experience for our students.

Our inaugural class begins on December 18, 2012. There is limited availablity, so enroll quickly if you are interested,! Take a peek at The International Culinary Center: Farm to Table.

At our west coast campus, we have designed an exciting course focused on the unique assets and bounty of the Pacific coast and California’s extraordinary growing seasons.

In designing this course we have tried to take full advantage of the diversity of farming in the state. From cattle ranches to the Monterey Aquarium, from a responsible industrial farm to the Zen Center at Green Gulch Farm, the ICC in conjunction with Karen Karp Resouces has created a dynamic and unique program for the ecologically responsible chef. Here is the exciting outline.

Core Issues in Agriculture and Sustainability

A hands-on, interactive, and practical introduction to core issues in agriculture and sustainability that links primary food production and sustainability principles to the learning objectives of the ICC culinary arts and kitchen management curriculum.

Students will learn:

  • How food is produced;
  • Culinary implications of agriculture production;
  • Principles of sustainable agriculture;
  • About claims & certifications;
  • About consumer expectations & concerns; and
  • A chef’s policy and advocacy platform

Through an introduction to the agricultural landscape, including vegetable production, fruit production, viticulture, animal product production, aquaculture, wholesale market, and public education.

The goal is for students to visit 6-10 sites over 5 days.  Below are confirmed sites and their focuses:

Monterey Bay Aquarium: marine biology, climate change and the marine ecosystem; principles of wild fish harvest and aquaculture production; environmental implications of wild fish harvest and aquaculture production

Love Apple Farms: small-scale, biodynamic, chef-centric farming, farm to plate

Alba Organics (Salinas Valley): organic; understanding/training farmers to become entrepreneurs; labor issues

Bolthouse (Salinas Valley): 2nd largest carrot producer in the U.S.; large-scale production – harvest to store, growing, processing; understanding soil issues

Bolthouse Carrot Farm

Ridge Vineyards (Cupertino): organic vineyard; viticulture; water use issues/biodynamic; understand grape harvest, post-harvest and production activities

Ridge Vineyards

San Francisco Produce Market: procurement, how food moves locally and globally; marketing food; advocacy; policy; consumer expectations; certification

Ferry Terminal Market: run by CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable

If you or any of your friends are committed to working and understanding our land, this is the course for you.

Now I’ll get back to munching on my organic, Napoli carrot!

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