Anyone who wonders how Americans got so pudgy and pasty-faced need only cruise the aisles of the local Quickie Mart, where the "Breakfast" foods rack is stocked with Pop Tarts and Hostess Donettes, and canned Vienna cocktail franks figure prominently among the dinner-item display. It's a national nutritional nightmare, one that could easily lead health-conscious observers to conclude that getting the average American to eat an apple, say, as opposed to a sack o' pork rinds, would be a major accomplishment. Expecting him or her to care whether it's an all-natural, organic apple is like asking a Public Square wino whether he prefers the 1995 or the 1997 BV Georges de Latour.
Against that background, it's downright inspirational to be reminded that some local farmers, chefs, and food activists are striving to improve both the way America eats and the way it produces its food. In fact, about 50 of them showed up March 19 at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Pre-Conference Workshop, in Delaware, Ohio, to share tips and techniques for raising beef the old-fashioned way -- in small, grass-fed herds, on natural pasture land.
Cleveland chef and natural-foods advocate Parker Bosley (Parker's New American Bistro) served as moderator for the afternoon workshop, which featured Wisconsin farmers Tom and Sue Wrchota outlining the "hows" of raising grass-fed beef, and Washington state author Jo Robinson (Why Grass-Fed Is Best) discussing the "whys." Together with colleague and chef Steve Parris, Bosley also closed the session by preparing a down-home feast, featuring grass-fed beef and other sustainable products from area farms.
While talk of "beef genetics" and the wonders of composting might not arouse your average foodie, even urban cowboys and -girls should be interested in the health claims for grass-fed beef. Foremost is the fact that grass-fed beef isn't dining on its kin or other nasty little additives like urea, cardboard, and chicken manure that reportedly find their way into the diets of industrially raised, grain-fed beef. As a result, the risk of contracting a brain-wasting disease from the meat is practically nil. And grass-fed, pastured animals rarely need antibiotics, since they live in healthful, humane conditions; this, many medical experts believe, can reduce the growing problem of antibiotic resistance among the bacteria that beset humankind.
In a more holistic sense, Robinson also observed that when cattle are raised on their natural diets, their meat is more apt to provide humans with the nutrients that we need, especially such healthful elements as omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acids, and Vitamin E. By returning to grass-feeding, she points out, "We're not adding something to the meat that wasn't there before. Instead, we are restoring something that nature intended to be there." (Visit Robinson's website, www.eatwild.com, to read more on the health and environmental claims for grass-feeding. Among other info, this clearinghouse for pasture-based farming carries a state-by-state roster of resources for pasture-raised farm products, including 17 farms in Ohio.)
For now, grass-fed cattle remain a minuscule part of the multi-billion-dollar beef industry. But though the meat is still a "niche product" -- most often sought out by natural-foods fans and environmentalists, and only rarely encountered on menus and in meat cases -- Robinson predicts that will change. "It's revolutionizing the industry," she claims. "It's going to have a profound effect on how we farm and how we eat."
A grand Canyon . . . Chef-owner Brandt Evans is counting the days until the opening of his new Twinsburg restaurant, Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern (8960 Wilcox Drive, just off Route 82 at I-480). At 11,000 square feet, the place is "a monster," Evans says, and he's been on-site every day lately, ensuring that the rustic, log-built complex (with its open kitchen, community table, fireplace, water features, glassed-in porch, outdoor dining terrace, raw bar, and large, lodge-like private dining room) is ready in time for the planned June 4 opening.
In the past two years, Evans (formerly executive chef at Kosta's in Tremont) and co-owner/developer Bob Voelker have eaten in hundreds of restaurants across the country, researching table fashions, food trends, and stylistic concepts for use in the development of Blue Canyon. "If nothing else," says the self-assured culinarian, "it's secured my belief that I'm a first-class chef. I look at some of the things they're doing in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, and I say, 'Hey, I did that three years ago!'"
Among the savory dishes rattling around in Evans's up-to-the-minute mind are dry-rubbed, BBQ-spiced shrimp on cheddar-scallion grits; braised, smoked pork-belly "bacon," with caramelized pearl onions and lentils; and butter-poached sea scallops, with roasted corn and maple-bacon ragout. Sounds first-class to us.
Small bites . . . Clifton Boulevard's popular Mise, the place that chef-owner Jeff Uniatowski once referred to as "my last restaurant," closed abruptly in mid-March, after a run of less than four years . . . A new branch of Mexican restaurant Mi Pueblo recently opened in Hudson (180 West Streetsboro Street); this is the third, and largest, location for brothers Gerardo and Adrian Ortega and Jose and Luis Medina. Lunch and dinner is served daily . . . A snug little wine bar has opened inside vegetarian Café Limbo (12706 Larchmere Boulevard). Serving wine, beer, and a selection of hearty apps, Liquid Limbo is open from 4 to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.