ROC United’s Mobile App Guides Diners to Restaurants Using Ethical Food and Labor Practices
PLUS: Where to score a reservation (yes, there’s still time) for Valentine’s Day and eyeing up Comb/StillTheOne Distillery and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s plans for whiskey production.
By Julia Sexton
Anyone who watches Portlandia knows about Colin, the woodland-raised, heritage-breed chicken that Dana the waitress attempts to serve Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. Let’s see… Colin was locally raised on four luxurious acres and enjoyed a vegan diet of locally raised hazelnuts and soy. He is USDA organic, and, according to his dossier (handily supplied by Dana), he led a happy life filled with many friends. Here’s the clip.
Sure, the exaggeration of this signature Portlandia piece mocks us, but it also exposes the reality that many diners are asking more questions about the origins of our food. We want to know if the vegetables that we buy support local farmers—or whether, with unnecessary food miles, they contribute to greenhouse gasses. We want to know whether the chickens we eat were raised in cruel, filthy tenement cages, or, maybe (if not quite like Colin’s), led reasonable lives. And we’re willing to put our money where our mouths are. We volunteer extra cash for organics, free-range eggs and poultry, and fair trade coffee so that we can consume in relatively good conscience. I myself recently wrote a screed about buying local whiskey, because, well, each to his ability. Yes, we are mockable, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not also right.
But for all of Fred’s and Carrie’s empathy with Colin, neither express any interest in Dana the waitress, not to mention the unnamed and faceless dishwashers in the kitchen or any of the prep and line cooks that prepared their meals. Was a prep chef forced to come to work with the flu because only 10 percent of kitchen jobs provide paid sick days? Are a portion of Dana’s tips stolen by her employer? And will Dana ever be offered a shot at promotion, or will her restaurant’s GM always be male?
Here’s a sad reality: We care more about the ingredients in our food than about the people who grow, cook, and serve it.
The good news is that some things are changing. ROC United, an organization started after 9/11 by displaced workers from Windows on the World, recently released a diner’s guide and iPhone/Android app to help diners choose restaurants according to employment practices. When you’re in New York City (and a few other select places), you can search and filter restaurants by criteria like whether the restaurants offer paid sick days, advancement opportunities, and a living wage. The guide offers diners who might already be seeking out local, organic, and fair trade ingredients the opportunity to locate and patronize the spots that treat their workers well. And the good news is that diners won’t be suffering for their ethics. Look for all of Top Chef Tom Colicchio’s restaurants and all of the Union Square Hospitality spots in the guide. For more information, check out ROC’s site.
Oh, no, folks—you will not get lucky on Valentine’s Day if you try to walk into a nice meal on Valentine’s Day. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Along with Mother’s Day, Vee Dee is the biggest restaurant night of the year. And, speaking of your restaurant-worker friends, expect a lot of waiters staggering around with post-traumatic stress disorders in the days following the dreaded Vee Dee. Check out the deals and tables still left with this handy Valentine’s Day feature on OpenTable that searches all of Westchester for a table.
Westchester Whiskey Is Here! Comb/StillTheOne and Captain Lawrence Collaborate!
Dammit, I told you so. I have been hinting for the last few months that it was only a matter of time until Westchester County has its very own whiskey. I just read on Facebook that Comb/StillTheOne Distillery and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company will join forces to produce the County’s first modern whiskey (well, legal whiskey). I immediately rang up Ed Tiedge, distiller/owner of Comb, and, People—it’s true. Comb is currently distilling Captain Lawrence’s Freshchester Pale Ale and will be aging the resulting spirit for about one year in charred, new oak barrels. Look for the first release to be available at the end of 2013, but there will be fewer than 100 cases in the first release (so you’d better get on the good side of your local liquor store right now). We’re talking waiting lists—and, given the history of Captain Lawrence releases, God knows how momentarily this whiskey will rest on store shelves. In the future, Comb will be offering periodic releases as the whiskey ages, so, every two to three years. The as-yet-unnamed Westchester whiskey won’t be the first time that whiskey has been made from beer. Locally, on Long Island, Blue Point’s Old Howling Bastard barley wine has been distilled and aged into Pine Barrens Whiskey to much acclaim.
PEI Mussel Billi Bi with Brioche Croutons From Moderne Barn
This sunny yellow shellfish soup yields a killer surprise: a sexy, yolk-enriched texture that gives it the mouth-feel of very expensive velvet. Sure, there’s some seafood in there that quietly alludes to healthfulness, but this dreamy liquid from Chef Ethan Kostbar is all about luxury.
Julia Sexton, restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA award-winning blogger, is a rampant traveler who will go anywhere to try anything. When not furtively sneaking cinghiale sausage past airport bag sniffers, she cooks and writes at her home in New Rochelle. A regular in Westchester Magazine’s pages, where she reviews local restaurants, Sexton’s food writing has also appeared in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. This fall, look for the debut of Sexton's book, Hudson Valley Chef's Table, published by Globe Pequot Press. She'd love to hear from you, so email any rants, questions, and comments to the Eaterline, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Julia Sexton on Twitter @JuliaSexton