THE IDENTITY ISSUE
A FOOD AND CULTURE JOURNAL ISSUE â€” 02
In this issue, we explore how identity and cultural contexts shape our relationship with food and drink: how we consume it, how we talk about it, and most importantly, how we build our lives around it.
contributing writer Ethan Paik
contributing writer Alicia Chatten
contributing writer Sam Flaster contributing writer Briana Belfiore marketing director Emily Richardson art director Sachi Nagase
marketing assistant Katie Kim
contributing artist Nick Rogers contributing artist Jun Lee
contributing artist Grace Wang
contributing artist Katie Heider
contributing artist Dana Citrin
contributing writer Nick Fierro
contributing writer Matt Gleeson
layout director Noah Baker
assistant layout director Chantal Jahchan
contributing writer Marina Peng
designer Madeline Montoya designer Jack Frischer
Editors contributing artist Anna Deen
editor-in-chief Victoria Albert
editor-in-chief Max Bash
contributing editor Margaret Abbey
prev. page art Anna Deen written by Victoria Albert Max Bash _
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Letter from the Editors
n 1892, the french gastronomer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin proudly declared “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” In the early 2000’s, our parents told us “you are what you eat,” as they tried to convince us to finish the veggies we hated with promises of better eyesight and stronger bones. But even though our parent’s promises failed us--Victoria may never reach 5’3”, and Max will never play for the Boston Bruins--there is some truth to their words. Whether we like it or not, the food we eat is a crucial part of both our identity and our history. We might not know who our great-great grandfathers were, but knowing how and what they ate is one of the few connections we can have. Food links us to our history, and through that, to ourselves. 100 years from now, what will our descendants think of us? Will they judge us for posting Tasty videos of steak-stuffed garlic bread on Facebook? Will they scroll through our food-only Instagrams and wonder if we had any friends at all? Most importantly, what will they think of the fact that we elected a personified cheeto in 2016? They might note that the president-elect version lacks the cool sunglasses, or that his spray tan is the wrong shade of orange. And while we genuinely hope this is the worst they will say about him, we know this is un-
likely. November 8th sparked a nation-wide identity crisis that threatens to hold dire consequences, leading many to reconsider their conception of who Americans truly are. Food is one of only many ways to explore identity (both national and personal), but it is a valuable one. Regardless of race, class, or gender, everyone must eat—but the foods we choose are informed by and indicative of these identities. By thinking about the way we conceptualize and consume food, we can learn more about who we are as consumers and as citizens. We at Simple Syrup hope to inspire such exploration. What began as a pet-project for a graduating senior became a means for Washington University students to continue the conversation. To re-dig our roots, and think critically about the meaning of food, culture, and identity in 2016. To question the notion that the best Millennials can offer is a cronut. It may not be easy, but it will be worthwhile. For while almost everything our great-great grandchildren will read about 2016 will be phenomenally depressing, we should at least show them that we can do better than Tasty. —Victoria & Max
Overthinking Our Creature Comforts by sam flaster A Hedonist Manifesto.
by max bash How a college dropout created a restaurant empire.
by marina peng The oil that is pressed and extracted from sesame seeds is, to me, absolute magic.
Sprouted Radish Supper Club
by victoria albert Behind the scenes with Katie Yun and Sachi Nagase, the founders and chefs of a revolutionary new supper club.
Inside the Testicle Fruit
The Case Against Tasty
by anna deen The 7,000 year history of the avocado.
by nick fierro The social-media powerhouse has bite-sized food porn down to a scienceâ€”but at a price.
The Secret Life of Cheese
on the cover From childhood, we are taught what familiar fruits and vegetables look like. We wanted to subvert that identity.
by alicia chatten Curds, cultures, and culinary catastrophes.
table of contents
Frankenfoods: The Foodie Fixation on Mashups
by matt gleeson First the cronut, now the sushiritoâ€” what could possibly be next?
The Ketchup Theory by briana belfiore Why we live life more similarly to Heinz 57 than primates.
by noah baker An interview with Mike Spakowski, a designer and creative director behind some of the best restaurant branding in St. Louis.
by ethan paik How urban farming is revolutionizing the experience of immigrants and refugees in St. Louis.
What is Simple Syrup?
staff Who we are and how to join.
written by Sam Flaster illustration Dana Citrin _
Overthinking Our Creature Comforts A Hedonist Manifesto
as the world keeps turning, our culture and lives grow ever more complex. So, why do we worry so much about eating healthy? We can come up with no shortage of important concerns that take precedent over the fat contents of our dinner. Sure, unhealthy food might put a dent in our physical health, but to me, in the face of systemic oppression, nuclear proliferation, or any other cosmic evil du jour, reaching for a doughnut seems harmless, even proper. Humans keep racing along, and as we delineate the meaninglessness of our existence, build flying robots to deliver our toiletries, and tamper with the building blocks of time and space, we might be overthinking everything, especially our diets. The conscious mind will always devise new, masturbatory challenges to its own existence. For centuries,those in my well-fed minority have had so much to eat that we can choose between tastes and textures, once incomprehensible luxuries. But, in spite of this readily available opulence, we don’t devour our sustenance or rejoice in its availability, rather we cook it with less sodium. Now that we have enough food to worry about more than survival, we can’t stop tinkeringwith our diets. In today’s world, we’re all aiming towards self-actualization. This word we created, like all other words, to make room for an intellectual universe beyond our observable, biological needs. If life has any meaning, if we’re here for a reason, we’re supposed to find it for ourselves, on multiple dimensions. Regrettably, this intricate thinking justifies the spartan atrocities of paleo diets and juice cleanses.
Even worse, it connects dietary discipline and selfworth, skyrocketing rates of eating disorders. It isn’t enough simply to succeed socially, personally, or professionally in today’s world; we all need six packs and hourglass figures, too. What bullshit! We’re only here to eat and survive, but in our hyper intelligent world, we torture ourselves with trivialities like which hairpiece to vote for in a congressional election or what to write on a co-worker’s birthday card. This isn’t our choice; perhaps regrettably, we can’t just eat, sleep, and reproduce anymore. But, if we must preoccupy ourselves with the tough questions in life, or even with the mundane ones we can’t avoid, can’t we ease up just a little bit when it comes to something as simple as what we want to eat? The concept of a “healthy” diet is growing exponentially more complex and open to debate, and so is the array of different people we can become. A century ago, we ate whatever was in season, worked the same jobs for our entire lives, and married who our parents told us to. Now, we switch careers with digital clicks, love across racial, religious, and economic lines, and stress about the enzymes or GMOs used in different breads. This new swath of personal freedoms is almost certainly better for all of us, but it comes at the expense of certainty. I worry that the murky, philosophical dialectics that lurk behind all our life choices make happiness increasingly difficult to achieve. In balancing our culturally dictated needs to eat kale, read Le Monde, or provide for our families, I think we
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lose track of our most innate, evolutionary obligations, the ones that can still satiate us, however briefly, in an increasingly insatiable psychological reality. Eating is the best of our animalistic urges, the world’s original form of hedonism. There are more enjoyable, intoxicating, and fashionable behaviors, but no other vice combines sensory pleasure, distortion, social acceptance, and simplicity so effectively. Eating is inevitable, a required ritual in an increasingly nebulous modern life. Fried chicken and apple pie trigger our dopamine systems the same way drugs do, but with drastically reduced social stigma, risk of addiction, or health hazards. In an age of infinite conscious choice, economists tell us every decision carries a tradeoff. But, enjoying a milkshake or slice of pizza will hardly doom one’s attempts to self-actualize. Instead, the catharsis of delicious food may actually reinforce them. We worry incessantly beyond our own lives, too. We constantly question and redesign the structures of our world. While the rampant acceleration of human knowledge complicates our understanding of the social world, it is only making our food taste better. Eating, our most essential survival function, is perpetually becoming more accessible, more diverse, and more enjoyable. Culinary traditions regularly collide in new patterns. Economic competition ensures that only the best tastes will endure. Humans create an endless selection of synthetic flavors. This is probably a biological hazard, if you care about that sort of thing, but it’s also the clearest example of our godlike knowledge of the planet: we create sustenance out of thin air. In an increasingly human-affected world, capitalism destroys our planet, globalization destroys our cultural purity, and scientific discovery complicates our place in the universe, but man, do all of these conditions combine to make our taste buds happy. As everything around us grows more nebulous and worthy of skepticism, the simple joy of delicious, non-nutritional food should not be underestimated. We doubt everything about our world and ourselves, including our complicity in these labyrinthine social systems, but maybe we
can enjoy it, too, with a batch of warm chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of cold, creamy milk. My sister and I spent most of our childhood Sundays at our Cuban grandmother’s home, a post-communist haven of fried plantains, Coca-Cola, and freshbaked flan, where we freed ourselves of any parental or pediatric dietary restrictions. Abuela didn’t care for self-actualization and demanded that we enjoy life at its most natural, while we bounced in her backseat, sugar-high accomplices to her separate daily runs for McDonald’s fries and Burger King cheeseburgers, key elements in her brand of euphoria. Years later, on the precipice of adulthood, lost in a collegiate web of conflicting directions, I watched her cough up powdered nutrient shakes on her deathbed. She laughed about it, repeating one of her favorite old proverbs, “hoy soy la sombra de ayer.” Today, I am a shadow of yesterday. For better or for worse, I remember this chemo-riddled proverb every time I eat a salad, even a good one. As I catch my first glimpses of adulthood and maturity, it seemsto me that our higher cognitive functions can really be a drag. Finding daily joy, or love, or a lifelong purpose – finding our perfect principles and circumstances, our perfect tone and pitch – is damn near impossible. Trying, thinking, exploring – these processes are extraordinarily pleasing, but extraordinarily overwhelming; the stakes, our experiences in the world, are as high as they possibly could be. The big puzzles and choices in life are undoubtedly made up of smaller ones, like our diets, that we can always optimize and second guess. But when I bite into a cheeseburger, I don’t think about what type of person I’ll marry or how to fix immigration. I don’t think at all. I just feel, the same way I did as a kid, inhaling French fries and passively listening to my grandmother sing along to the radio. In a world that’s tricky enough already, it seems indefensible for me to overthink warm chocolate cake, extra crispy bacon, or anything else that can bring me such a pure, obvious joy when life surrounds me with the opposite sentiment.
How a College Dropout Created a Restaurant Empire written & photographed by Max Bash
don’t have much experience with countdown clocks, but I set one for the first time a few months ago. If it took me 19 years to finally use one, you’d probably assume that it was for a big trip or major life goal, but no. It was for the opening of Gerard Craft’s Sardella in Clayton, MO. I had missed the chance to dine at Niche before it closed—maybe that was the allure—and I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake again. Unfortunately, due to a variety of construction delays, Sardella didn’t open until a little while ago on November 2. But with the aid of Kate Woolverton, Craft’s office administrator, I scored the interview of a St. Louis food writer’s lifetime. It was a brisk November Saturday afternoon and Pastaria was booming as expected, but after I got a text confirming that the elusive Craft was indeed at Sardella, I snuck in next door as the team prepared for that night’s service. When Craft first introduced himself, I wasn’t entirely sure it was him. He was wearing a beanie and Patagonia jacket, but as we sat and sipped on San Pellegrino and chatted about the journey that led him to this moment, his professionalism became evident immediately. It takes a lot of trust for parents to let their child embark on the career path that Craft has experienced and his success to date has been immense. At 36, which is quite young for a chef of his caliber, Craft has revolutionized the St. Louis food scene. Whether he’s at Sardella (his new Italian restaurant), Taste (his modern speakeasy), Brasserie (his classic French Bistro), Pastaria (his approachable Italian concept), or Porano (his first casual concept), he’s always working with “humble” Midwest ingredients such as alfalfa. He has won the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award, and was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, and Inc. Magazine’s “Star Entrepreneur under 30.” Craft is far from your average chef, and he took a less than typical route to success. The D.C. native attended boarding school in northern Idaho to accommo-
date his “processing disorders.” His disabilities hindered him in timed evaluations, but cooking provided him with an outlet to utilize his brain in a different way. He’s “never been good at baking” as a result, but that didn’t stop Craft from becoming a culinary star. Originally, the food scene didn’t appeal to him. “My family has always liked food and my grandmother was super into food and French cooking and things of that nature,” he says, “but I was a really picky kid and I wasn’t into food.” Oddly enough for a picky eater, one of his favorite foods was Pão de Queijo, which is a Brazilian bread, that his nanny and second mother constantly prepared for him, which later became a dish at Niche. It wasn’t until Craft attended the Cedu School,
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Nduja-Taleggio Agnolotti, Sweet Potato, Peanut, Berbere, Cilantro
which “had the worst food that you could ever serve to a human being,” that he developed an interest in cooking. In his time at Cedu, he broke personal food boundaries and experienced hands on learning while working as an apprentice for snowboard and skiing photographer Doug Marshall. His addiction to the mountains eventually drew Craft to Salt Lake, where he briefly attended Westminster University. While he quickly dropped out, he never gave up—he earned a living by washing cars and cleaning dishes for a “nothing fancy, kind of like a cleaned-up pool hall, if you will” restaurant called Fat’s, that shut down earlier this year. Cooking wasn’t his initial intention. After mentioning that he “liked cooking at home,” Fat’s put him to work in the kitchen. Here, he discovered an “instant gratification” and “Zen about the process.” According to Craft, “you go in. You have a list. You knock out all this work. You meet a bunch of people. Get to see the effects of that work. You know people are happy and then you clean your space and you go home,” which he says he “needed at that time in [his] life.” With this renewed zeal, he enrolled at a community college culinary school, which eventually led him to Bistro Toujour in Deer Valley, UT, just in time for
Sardella offerings. Clockwise, from top left: Clams & Thai Chile, tableware, Carne Cruda & Maple, Charred Peaches & Roasted Garlic Custard
the 2002 Olympic Games. “Somehow I talked my way onto the line there…thinking I kind of knew way more than I did [after doing a summer cooking program at the Ritz in Paris],” he says, “and it was obvious. I mean this place was like ten course tasting menus.” His instincts were correct. Eventually, the head chef sat him down and conceded, “I don’t know how you got on the line, but honestly you know we can’t pay you what we’re paying you. Either you got to go or you can go down and work in the basement as a prep cook.” But Craft shocked the chef by accepting the prep cook job, immersing himself in the “the best culinary school experience [he] could ever have.” His determination did not go unheralded. Bit by bit, Craft worked his way up through every position on the line. After ascending to the pinnacle of Bistro Toujour, Craft detoured in New Jersey and humbly lived with his grandparents, while dealing with “the highest of fine dining” at the Ryland Inn. Yet eventually, he moved to Los Angeles to the Chateau Marmont. “When I went out there [the chef] said ‘what are your strong points and what are your weak points,” Craft noted. When he responded that the “only thing I hate is pastry,” the chef replied “perfect, we have an opening in the pastry kitchen.” After his stint in the pas-
try kitchen, he moved back to Salt Lake City and went to work on the line at Metropolitan by Perry Hendrix (the future opening chef of Brasserie), “which was doing the best food in Salt Lake City at the time.” Eventually, Craft worked through all the stations here as well. Now, we can embark on Craft’s beginnings to his St. Louis empire. After hearing about St. Louis’ affordability and recent fine restaurant openings, Craft got “a wild hair” and decided to relocate. He bought a run-down wine bar off Craigslist, and turned the dirt floors into his very first kitchen. The first few months proved extremely difficult. “It was really hard to get people to come out and so in the beginning I was just doing like twelve covers a night and there was no social media then.” But eventually, Craft found his big break. The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Joe Bonwich “wrote a really big review that just kind of blew [Niche] up.” Riding the coattails of this sudden success, Craft opened Taste, a nearby side bar for Niche’s waiting diners. Yet with the help of Ted Kilgore—who now owns Planter’s House—this too proved phenomenally successful, drawing three hour waits for a single sip of one of Craft’s cocktails.
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Sunlight trickles into Sardella as the bartender prepares for evening service
Metaphorically, Craft had found a cocktail for success—one that he repeated with three more restaurants. Catering to the recession of the time, Craft decided to provide “more affordable food then Niche” by opening Brasserie in the Central West End (CWE). He noted that it was “just kind of at the right time and the right place, when people needed comfort food and cheap prices.” Yet despite Craft’s proclivity for fine Italian dining, his latest venture, Porano, is something entirely different. A blend of fine dining and fast food, Porano originated from Craft’s realization that “it’s really hard to go out and get a quick bite to eat that’s affordable and you feel good about and you feel like somebody who made it actually cared about it.” However, he admits that “it’s probably the hardest restaurant I’ve ever opened,” and that making fast, quality food is a daunting task. Despite Craft’s four other restaurants, he still cooks at Sardella, his newest venture, almost every night. “I like to cook next to people and see the challenges,
taste the food, and get hands on with everybody,” he notes. But while Craft is a grinder, he makes sure to not overwhelm himself. He points to a strong support system with an executive chef in every restaurant. “I’m not one of the people who tries to claim to be the guy that does it all.” The same logic applies for his family—he relies on his wife the majority of his social media support. At home, the Craft’s cook very simply. “I’m actually a terrible home cook,” Craft says. “I just don’t know all the home dishes. I didn’t grow up cooking with my grandma learning how to make casseroles… so I think it’s daunting for me to like cook at home without the systems of a kitchen.” As surprising as this confession may be, it is yet another reminder of the incongruity between his history and his rising success as a St. Louis icon. An avid cyclist, Craft will continue doing laps around the St. Louis food scene for some time, proving that even a college dropout can start an empire. You don’t have to get A’s in school to be an A-list chef.
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written by Marina Peng lettering Chantal Jahchan _
he oil that is pressed and extracted from sesame seeds is, to me, absolute magic. It is the scent of sesame oil that captures me, long before a drop is even tasted. That warm, nutty scent that emanates from the bottle as it is poured over a bowl of noodles or into a pan of waiting vegetables elicits a nostalgia that only I know. When I catch the scent of sesame oil unexpectedly, I pause. After years of growing accustomed to my motherâ€™s cooking, the scent lights up something buried deep within my memory. I think of three hot dishes set out in the center of the table, still steaming. I see four bowls of jasmine rice waiting impatiently. The Simpsons gurgles in the background. I hear my dad slurping. Itâ€™s dark outside the window, and the light indoors is warm, almost orange. I see wooden chopsticks, their tips worn down to blunt ends from overuse. I relive the way that my house looked and felt before my family changed from four members to three. Alternatively, I think of afternoons after school. I hear the sound of the bus groaning as it pulls away from the curb, while my younger self walks down the street and up our steep driveway. I see myself turning the key in the lock, opening the door, and smelling the scent of a lukewarm bowl of noodles covered in plastic wrap. It waits on the beige kitchen counter in a spot of sunlight coming from the window. My dad has left it there, just over an hour ago, and is napping upstairs to recover from jetlag. I trip over my dog as I go to claim it. These pictures are vivid, but vague. They are just glimpses. They are muddled. But they flicker in my mind when I catch the scent of sesame oil. Scent conjures these indescribable scenes. While you can listen to another person describe a memory at its surface, you can never receive the entire memory, the complete package. How can I describe exactly how I feel about sesame oil? How can I communicate the time of day, how the light looked, the season, the temperature, the mood, and the feeling in the air when I catch the scent of sesame oil within the span of a sentence and the limits of English? I feel defeated, knowing that I cannot share these specific and vivid associations I have of sesame oil with others. I feel gipped that I cannot partake in their favorite scents either. There are times when I feel frustrated by the limits of language, both verbally and visually. Language, though, is our common ground. Through the language I use, I can try my best to help you catch a glimpse, even a flicker, of the scent of sesame oil through my disorganized memories of my childhood home.
written by Nick Fierro illustration Katie Heider _
The social-media powerhouse has bite-sized food porn down to a scienceâ€”but at a price.
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t a time when our social media feeds are characterized by fear and frustration, and news can be unpredictable, there’s often no better comfort than cheerfully framed depictions of food. In fact, ‘food porn’ is proven to actually make us feel better. Like a culinary beacon through the dark enters Tasty, Buzzfeed’s viral series of cooking shorts that crop up on your news feed with alarming regularity. Whoever was responsible for creating Tasty—be they a Buzzfeed exec; a squirrely, patch-bearded intern; or a cabal of downright Machiavellian supercomputers—should probably consider a 2020 presidential run because, as we’ve seen from the current election, the bar is clearly low enough for the personification of clickbait to be nominated electable. The brand of bite-sized cooking videos has enough charisma and hypnotic, handcrafted appeal to gain an electoral majority: the channel has amassed over 74 million likes in its 16-month lifespan. In a three-way race, it would have trumped Clinton and trounced Trump, by garnering 38.5% of the popular vote to win (over its opponents’ 31.1% and 30.8%, respectively). The videos, sandwiched between quizzes that guess your mood based on photos of Beyoncé, and articles on how belly rubs are giving your dog cancer, can provide a minute of hunger-inducing “eater-tainment,” scientifically designed to be liked, shared, and generate hunger. Facebook has become a stage for viewers—namely millennials with neither the patience nor the resources to follow a conventional recipe—to quickly consume pared-down depictions of food. And, to Tasty’s credit, it works. Even I, an embittered, webweary traditionalist who stops to smell the culinary roses, cannot deny that Tasty’s format is practical. With that out of the way, I’m going to air some grievances.
When it comes to food in media, Tasty is the cinematic equivalent of a frozen dinner. Its pre-packaged, dinner-for-one clips evoke a feeling of inauthenticity that home-cooked food frankly doesn’t deserve. Its disgustingly pretentious hipster aesthetic makes me cringe. Most videos rely on a perverse use of stop-motion animation which, frankly, could be better applied to a new Wes Anderson film. The grating “oh, YES” closing each video makes me question whether I’m watching a recipe for twice-baked mac and cheese, or I’ve somehow found my way to PornHub. Some of the concoctions are so outrageously vile that I wonder if the team behind Tasty—yes, the same ones who will inevitably run this country—was under the influence of some illicit substance while making them. Last month, I stumbled across a video for ‘grilled cheese infused vodka’ and wondered which of my poor life choices had brought me there. It was like if an episode of Giada at Home turned into a snuff film during the commercial break. I’m not alone in this. As one Facebook user put it:
I'm sorry, but this is the most terrible thing I've ever seen in my life and I want to die now thanks yall Like • Comment
Quality and edibility aside, Tasty, along with its knockoffs like the British Proper Tasty and mixology’s Bottoms Up, has built a recipe empire that is arguably hit-or-miss, with some videos bordering on bizarre. But they have made their formula clear—brevity and clickability instead of authenticity take top billing. In a way, clickbait is the essence of viral social media and demonstrates the kind of profit it can generate. And who can blame Tasty? After all, their videos hit the “most-trending” status within hours of posting; a beer-batter onion ring recipe featuring Martha Stew-
pen over a meal. We can get all that on Facebook, sure, but it’s often under layers of toxicity: the extent of cultural commentary on a gyro and tzatziki video takes the form of ‘this isn’t real Greek cooking’ which, after a brief back-and-forth, turns into a heated debate on the refugee crisis. Some platforms have realized this and are making an effort to combat it. Websites like MealSharing.com have created a network of home cookers and mealsharing hosts, and local groups like Sprouted Radish Supper Club have created spaces for community and dialogue through the cooking and eating experience. In the meantime, the formula that Tasty has devised—the disembodied hands, the pristine staging, and overhead framing—merely hints at the possibility of enjoyment. Because the videos are so sped up, there’s no context for how long each step takes relative to the others. It takes the often meditative exercise of cooking and cleaves it, reducing the experience to a chore. In short, it’s food in a vacuum. When it comes down to it, the problem with Tasty isn’t that it is concise, or popular, or how, like a virus, it exists for the express purpose of maximum coverage. It’s not even that its homogenously hip aesthetic lends to it the same pompous uniqueness as people who needlessly pepper in vaguely French words, or how it paves over any semblance of a dish’s context or raison d’etre. It’s that it eliminates the subjective, and distills the cooking practice to its most cold-cut, bare elements. It leaves no room for the unpredictable, the personal, or the changeable. It is a one-way street. It makes no mistakes and no apologies for what it is. It’s the random and the unexpected—the little screw-ups, experiments, and tiny victories— that make cooking such a special experience. It’s the process of learning and understanding why a dish is the way it is that makes one a better cook and, by extension, a better person.
art accumulated nearly 10 million hits in one day. Even the grilled-cheese abomination managed to break 1.4 million views and 12 thousand shares. Social media is a Vine culture—and I’m not talking about grapes. We have become inundated with socalled ‘life hacks’ and lists of facts that can be swallowed in line at lunch, or during the morning commute. We speak a language of retweets, gifs, and emojis that would puzzle any of our ancestors, save perhaps the Ancient Egyptians. Social media is designed with sharing in mind, in the way that food isn’t. That is to say, it takes no effort or heed to ‘share’ a video or Instagram post, whereas sharing a meal requires interaction and discourse with another human being. You can tell plenty about a person from their Facebook profile, but until you sit down with them to have a meal, you haven’t yet gotten to know them. Forgive me for being a purist. Language and social culture may know barriers, but food does not. It’s a universal medium that contains history and effort that anyone can appreciate— there’s some truth to “love in every bite.” There is an undeniable part of the culinary experience you miss when it is taken in bite size chunks (whether through Tasty, Snapchat, or Instagram). In all its flashiness and novelty, social media has eliminated the personal from cooking and eating. Cultural exchange, conversation, and even love can hap-
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I will concede that there is some validity to what Tasty offers—much in the same way that a packet of Easy Mac has validity to my stomach at one in the morning, which is to say not much, and rarely satisfying. So we can enjoy the recipes Tasty cranks out (at least, some of them) and share them and comment on how cheese-infused vodka should replace ipecac as doctors’ emetic of choice. But that enjoyment is hollow. If I had my druthers, everyone would learn to cook from their family at a young age, and as they got older, they would add their own experience and touches to classic dishes. Of course, I’d be a fool to think it’s such a simple feat, and to ignore the fact that not everyone has that kind of family dynamic, or that not everyone has the time, energy, or resources to thoughtfully prepare an elaborate meal every night. For many, one minute is all the time they can dedicate to learning and making a dish. But I’m not making the case for saving time—I’m making the case for saving the cooking experience. If Tasty truly reflected the cooking process, there’d be so much I wouldn’t know about my family, about my heritage, and about the world around me. Life would be utterly devoid of the banal, aimless conversations that occur when I cook or consume with friends. If every dish was made in a snappy, stylized one-minute montage, it’d be no victory at all.
ra dis h
written by Victoria Albert photography Jun Lee _
Behind the scenes with Katie Yun and Sachi Nagase, the founders and chefs of a revolutionary new supper club.
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o you think that these vases are too tall? Should we use the brown ones instead?” yells Katie Yun from the adjacent dining room. Sachi Nagase, Yun’s best friend and business partner,replies “whatever you think is best!” The bond between the two is obvious. Nagase then returns to her own tasks for the hour: steaming sprigs of lavender in bubbling milk and kneading a heaping pile of dough. Their workstation is littered with knives, coffee grinds, and a gram scale; every burner sports a pot or pan. Clouds of flour erupt from Nagase’s hands and float above the green tile floor as she meticulously portions eight balls of dough—the raw material for tonight’s beef tendon bun—onto compact squares of plastic wrap. Chef Nagase glances at the clock. It’s 2:30pm. In only five hours, eight lucky students will fill the dining room, and Sprouted Radish Supper Club will commence. Sprouted Radish, Yun and Nagase’s fledgling supper club, began with a simple mission: to make fine dining accessible to everyone. Annoyed by the exclusivity of other fine-dining supper clubs, and encouraged by their experiences cooking for friends and family, the two decided to create an alternative establishment. Here at Sprouted Radish, everyone is welcome. Diners are not chosen from a carefully curated pool, but rather, via an equitable Facebook lottery—anyone can enter, and anyone can win. Despite the noticeable lack of highbrow elitism, Sprouted Radish certainly provides a true fine dining experience. I sampled a homemade mochi dusted with black sesame powder—which would later be featured in the strawberry daifuku—while perusing the night’s menu: oxtail soup, miso broth, and roasted shitake. These were only a few of the several plates you’d never expect to see coming from a kitchen run by college students; but, they somehow emerged, eight at a
time, with the finesse of a five-star restaurant. Sprouted Radish’s dishes are as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious—a testament to Nagase and Yun’s artistic backgrounds. “I think our art education has shaped how we think about how one thing can influence the next,” notes Yun. “When you enter a gallery space, it’s very much curated to which piece you experience first and how that feeds into the next piece. We don’t want you to ever have the same sensation.” But for the fine-dining duo, the experience of developing Sprouted Radish involves far more than the food on the plate. The dining club has transformed into a venue for Nagase and Yun to explore the cultural heritage they left behind in adolescence. “We’re cooking the food and the smells that we grew up with but lost,” notes Yun, “maybe out of embarrassment, or maybe just trying to fit in.” While they live hundreds of miles away from family and the only on-campus provider of Asian food is “WashU Wok,” cooking Korean and Japanese food has reconnected the pair with fond memories of their childhood. “It’s like a happy nostalgic feeling,” says Nagase, “when you’re like ‘this smells exactly like how I remember it, but I haven’t ever made it myself.’ It can evoke feelings towards your past, which sounds really cliché and broad, but it’s true.” Time is not the only barrier that food has helped the duo to overcome. “I was raised by a bunch of old Korean women,” Yun adds, “and there was always a language barrier because they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Korean, but they would only cook Korean food, because that’s all they knew how to cook. That’s why I have nostalgic feelings towards Korean food. It was very much an act of love for them, even though we couldn’t communicate.” This unique opportunity to connect with their heritage has influenced not only the meals they serve at Sprouted Radish, but also the food they prepare on their own. Yun notes that “for lunch, and breakfast
I think, for us, the supper club became more of a venue for exploring our identities that we’ve lost assimilating. _ katie yun
and dinner we eat Asian food now, because I think we missed it so much, and we didn’t realize that until we started cooking it.” Yet these new adventures have taken them far beyond their parents’ kitchens. Building on their artistic and creative backgrounds, the two have added their own personal inspirations and twists to the food they remember. Drawing inspiration from food blogs, recipe books, and cultural icons, Nagase and Yun have transformed traditional recipes into their own innovative creations. “We’ll go to Asian supermarkets and it is so fun,” says Nagase. “We’re like: ‘What’s this? What’s that?’ On Thursday night, I was cutting up some pig skin, and it had hair follicles on it.” This creativity has led the two into unexpected territory. “The first time we tried to make tofu from scratch,” notes Nagase, “we boiled soybeans, and Katie spent an hour squeezing hot soybeans in a canvas tote bag to try and get the milk from it. We went through this whole two day ordeal, and we tried to make it, and we realized that because we had boiled the beans instead of soaking them for six hours before, the congealent had cooked out of the beans and they wouldn’t congeal into tofu.” “It was like three-o-clock,” adds Yun, “and we only had four hours, so we ran to an Asian grocery store to just buy the mix.”
While the learning curve is steep, the duo notes that they have only grown stronger—as cooks and as people—from these setbacks. “It’s so important to grow these muscles that you haven’t experienced,” says Yun. “Like, when I’m cooking kimchi, I’ve never done that before, but something about it really connects you to your culture that you haven’t felt in a long time.” Recently, these muscles have been tested in unexpected ways. On October 29th, Nagase and Yun partnered with the Central West End membership network TechArtista to provide a ten-course meal, at $35 a ticket for 37 guests. It was by far the largest project they had undertaken, and was heralded by guests as a resounding success. For the sake of both myself—for despite my best efforts, I have not yet won a seat at the Sprouted Radish table—and the St. Louis dining scene, one can only hope that these muscles will continue to grow. Although neither Nagase nor Yun knows where they will be next year, this opportunity to explore their heritage with their best friend by their side is certainly a special one.
sprouted radish supper club
— ten courses — onsen egg, salmon roe, homemade ponzu, no roe (v) pork rinds, kimchi dust, rice paper "rinds" (v) burdock root, grilled kimchi green onions, soft tofu oxtail soup, seaweed soup, rice crisp (v) beef tendon bun, cucumber and thinly sliced onion, sriracha mayo bean curd fried spring roll, spicy sesame dipping sauce (v) uni, tarako udon, miso eggplant, wasabi mashed potato (v) roasted shitake, pickled ginger, lotus root, chinese chive miso broth, kombu broth (v) mochi, strawberry, sweet red bean, green tea ginger syrup, coconut cream whip tea
with rockwell beer co. featuring art by edo rosenblith
written by Anna Deen illustration Noah Baker _
Inside the Testicle Fruit The 7,000 year history of the avocado
he avocado is the gold mine of the health food and food porn world: any restaurant that gives you additional guac for free is automatically worth returning to, health-conscious foodies use avocados in recipes from brownies to flan, and you can eat the avocado on toast like jam while paying $10 to do so! Avocados are simultaneously ubiquitous and coveted, expensive, yet an appropriate addition for any brunch item or sandwich. But why is that extra slice
of avocado on your sandwich like hitting the jackpot of the culinary world? Avocados have been grown for over 7,000 years, so why have they only become nationally renowned in the past two decades? The rise of popularity of the avocado in recent years can be traced back to several factors, including economic circumstances, as well as explicit actions taken by the avocado industry and its advertisers to promote the fruit, making the avocado a nationwide phenomenon.
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The avocado did not have a promising beginning in Western markets. Originally called “alligator pears” in the early twentieth century, the notorious fruit faced a distinct lack of success. The California Avocado Growers’ Exchange, anxious to create a more marketable produce, developed a more pleasing name, calling it the “avocado” based on the Aztec word, “ahuacacuahatl” (which should be noted translates to “testicle tree,” resulting in the avocado’s according nickname of “testicle fruit”). Californian avocado growers were desperate to find a niche for their newly-named fruit, experiencing difficulty with convincing consumers that everyone needed to cook with the squishy, savory, green produce. Eventually, these growers decided to market the fruit as a luxury item, since they were expensive to produce due to growing in few American regions. The avocado soon came to play the role of the elegant garnish and side, often associated with expensive foods like lobster. Besides name and cost, a third factor that delayed the avocado’s coming out into society, was the prevailing belief in nutrition in the 80’s, namely that all fats, both saturated and monounsaturated (the latter of which is now believed to have health benefits, including reducing the risk of cholesterol), were dangerous for one’s health. Avocados found themselves at the top of the “most wanted” lists of fatty foods that doctors railed against. Once again, those California growers were in anguish, as they actively pushed back against this criticism. Determined to find the nutritious merits of the avocado, the California Avocado Commission formed a Nutrition Advisory Committee that strived to find health benefits to the avocado. And find health benefits they did: according to the Committee, the avocado allows consumers to absorb nutrients found in other vegetables. Today, the health streak of avocados continues as they are marketed as a nutrient-rich Superfood, as they contain monounsaturated fat (which
supposedly promotes healthy levels of cholesterol), vitamins E and B, folate, potassium, fiber, and protein. But the American public was still not convinced. How could the California group possibly incorporate this fruit, which certainly did not resemble the more common apple or pear, in their everyday cooking? So along came Mr. Ripe Guy, the avocado mascot and cheerleader developed by the advertising agency Hill & Knowltown. As Mr. Ripe Guy increased national awareness of the fruit’s existence, the lifting of international trade restrictions in 1994 (due to NAFTA) increased national access to the avocado. Lifting international trade restrictions had the effect of allowing for the year-round importation of avocados from Mexico, the biggest worldwide producer of the unusual fruit, and also a main source of avocados eaten in the United States. The final nail in the metaphorical coffin that was avocado’s unpopularity in America was in taking advantage of the rise in Tex-Mex food and Superbowl Sunday. Guacamole was becoming a game-day staple of the culturally-conscious Twenty-First Century American household, a fact that advertisers took advantage of, creating marketing strategies that centered around guacamole recipes and contests. Their efforts culminated in the largest scale advertisement in avocado history as Avocados from Mexico placed an ad for this key guacamole ingredient on a Super Bowl commercial last year. Now, avocados and avocado derivatives, ranging from the addictive guacamole available in every Chipotle across the United States and avocado’s unique appearance in select McDonald’s chains, mark avocado’s capturing of one of the last and most important bastions of public popularity: successful commercialization. If that’s not mainstream, not much else is. So finally, after decades of strategic marketing efforts, avocados have finally made their way into the minds of the masses and the stomachs of the everyday American.
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written by Alicia Chatten illustration Anna Deen _
The Secret Life of Cheese Curds, cultures, and culinary catastrophes
heese is a lot like music—everybody loves it for different reasons, and we’re all staunchly loyal to our favorites. When I was a kid, my mom would keep a Costco bag of Mexican shredded cheese blend in the fridge to dump on my dinner if I refused to eat. My best friend piles extra-sharp cheddar into her homemade macaroni and cheese, her biggest food-based weakness. Cheese also lets our tastes develop with it. As we get older, we pair the more expensive, longer-aged versions of our childhood favorites with the finest wine that Trader Joe’s can offer and call ourselves sommeliers and maîtres fromagers. On such wine nights, I let my macaroni-and-cheese loving friend pick the wine—but there’s only one person I’ll trust with the choice of cheese. Evan grew up in Wisconsin. Cheese isn’t just his favorite food, it’s his state mascot. You don’t have to go back very far in his Facebook albums to find a picture of him in a Green Bay Packers t-shirt–he’s a cheesehead in every sense of the word. Even though he moved across the country after the 5th grade, he still surrounds himself with cheese whenever possible, whether it be made of foam and on his head or made of milk and on the dining table. So, when an advertisement popped up on my Facebook news feed for a cheese making class, I bought two tickets without a
second thought and invited him along. Cooking, to me, has never been a solitary sport. On a late Tuesday evening, we walked down Manchester Road to find our cheese making class. Larder and Cupboard, a small specialty foods shop, was the only place lit up in downtown Maplewood at 7pm on a Tuesday. We were welcomed into the unfamiliar shop by the familiar ding of a small shop bell and made our way through the crowd to find our seats. On our right sat an older woman sporting a t-shirt for the 2016 International Horseradish Festival. A few seats over, a younger man had tucked a different colored pen behind each ear, one of which disappeared into his beard. Nestled amongst a conglomeration of hipsters and older white ladies, Evan and I reached towards the center of the group for our tasting spoons. Despite the eclectic mix of people, we were all here for the same reason: we wanted to eat cheese, and lots of it. Once we were all seated, a woman who worked at Larder and Cupboard gave us the backstory of Slow Food St. Louis, the organization responsible for hosting the event. In 1986, McDonald’s planned to open a franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome, but the Italians completely rejected the fast food invasion. They protested, but instead of picketing with signs they stood with bowls of penne. One of these protesters was Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist and political activist. On
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December 10, 1989, he founded Slow Food as part of his mission to preserve local cuisine and the sustainability of local farms, and the organization has been
to promote not only local, sustainably-produced food and the preservation of food traditions, but also to encourage the practice of enjoying homemade food with friends and family. Most of the instructors at Slow Food St. Louis, who host cooking classes, documentary viewings and talks, are your relatively typical foodie fare, but others come from unexpected places. Steve McGhee is a bird scientist, a St. Louis native who worked at the zoo as a teenager but now teaches cheese-making classes every few months. When he returned home four years ago to take care of his parents, he decided cheese making would be a worthwhile hobby to pick up. He makes his cheese in his basement, due to his lack of a more traditional cave. He’s now on the Board of Directors for Slow Food St. Louis (and The Center for the Study of Tropical Birds). His discussion of the cheese making process began the same way the cheese did: milk. There are many dairies and family run farms that produce milk in and around St. Louis, and Steve has been to most, if not all, of them. Over the past four years, he’s tested milk from each of the farms in his cheese, eventually deciding that Rolling Lawns Farm was his favorite producer. Conveniently, Larder and Cupboard stocks their milk, so that’s what he heated up on the induction burner on the demonstration table.
— WE WERE ALL HERE FOR THE SAME REASON: WE WANTED TO EAT CHEESE, AND LOTS OF IT. — growing ever since. The St. Louis chapter is just one of over 1,300 in more than 150 countries. Linking education with farm-to-table food, Slow Food St. Louis aims
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Steve likes to experiment. As an ornithologist, he traveled the world and ate homemade cheese in ten different countries. His interest deepened in Mexico, when he realized that each region has their own version of queso fresco, and that the variances in the milk create distinct flavors that can be traced back to the region in which the cheese was made. He believed that the personalities of the different regions could be showcased by the way its inhabitants topped their tacos. To Steve, the cheese told the stories of those who made it: sampling a farmer’s cheese yielded information about both the cows and the farmer who fed them. Steve tries to capture some of these unique histories in his personal experimentation. After passing around five cheeses he made in the past week (with different vinegars and added flavors, such as lemon thyme and marjoram) Steve showed us the rest of the process. We watched him pour the vinegar into the pot, and noticed the curds that started forming as he stirred the mixture and continued the stories of his travels. The art of food and consumption is always evolving. Millennials, including myself, now document their brunch escapades on perfectly-curated Instagram accounts, and have taken an interest in molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine from watching “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you’re at brunch, you’re probably with a group of friends. If you’re studying molecular gastronomy, you’re learning about how our world works along the way. My favorite way to get to know a city is by exploring the local farmers’ markets. I somehow always leave with something I’ve never tried before, or even something I’ve never heard of. It is always accompanied by a story, and occasionally a side of advice. A story about the farmer’s family, their favorite donut shop in St. Louis, how they discovered their favorite vegetable, or even about a new
way to cook said favorite vegetable in a way that I must try at home. These farmers are the reasons I cook the greens on my beets and boil my corn in a mixture of milk and water. That’s what makes the Slow Food movement so special: when we talk to people or sit down to eat with them, we learn about more than just techniques. Evan went into the evening thinking he preferred all his cheese at room temperature, with the exception of mozzarella balls straight from the fridge. Steve’s fresh cheese, straight off the burner, with the whey still draining from the curds, offered a salty bite that changed his mind. Fresh cheese, we learned, is better when it’s warm. It’s not just the creating that makes the experience more special; it’s also the consumption of that creation. If something goes wrong, you can always laugh it off and grab the emergency macaroni and cheese. I completely wrecked a bourbon chicken dish with my best friend when I was just starting to learn how to cook. We somehow managed to mess up the broccoli salad too, even though it was prepackaged. But I was still with someone I love, and I’ll never forget the appropriate vinegar to oil ratio for salad dressing ever again. Ever since, our experiments have gotten riskier. Every once in a while, we’ll find something neither of us has cooked with and throw it in just to see what happens. Food is something we need to survive, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t live a little while making it.
written by Matt Gleeson illustration Chantal Jahchan _
Frankenfood: The Foodie Fixation on Mashups First the cronut, now the sushirito…what could possibly be next?
Pop-culture culinary phenomenon have been appearing with increasing frequency in recent years, creating waves of even lower-quality spin-offs in their wake. From the sushirrito to ramen burger, these mainstream food trends have been competing for demand with the real thing, winning over Millennials with their catchy blended names and Instagram popularity. As restaurants strive to keep up with demand for trendy and ‘instagrammable’ dishes, they lose focus on quality of ingredients and preservation of traditional recipes. Since when did a pizza pot pie become better than a good old fashioned neopolitan? The social media websites popularizing these trends are also declining in quality; anyone with a basic knowledge of knife skills starts to wince after watching a couple of videos on the Facebook page for Tasty. These videos exist less for the purpose of teaching recipes and more for the sake of viewer entertainment. And as the following of these kinds of medias grows, the appreciation for more traditional recipe books and professional restaurant reviews declines. If anything, the food porn trend represents a reevaluation of the tradeoff between quality and novelty. And with restaurants furiously trying to invent the next big food trend, who knows what the next viral food phenomenon will be?
even if you haven’t tasted one, you’ve probably heard of the cronut. The cream-filled croissant-donut abomination took social media by storm back in 2013 and draws hour-long lines to Dominique Ansel Bakery, the franchise where it was created and trademarked. In the weeks following the cronut’s sudden rise to fame, bakeries around the US rushed to create knockoffs with the hope of capitalizing on the trend.
Here are a few of my predictions:
sriracha milkshake – chopped cheese bánh mì – ramen burrito – pumpkin spice grilled cheese – kombucha donut
written by Briana Belfiore illustration Nick Rogers _
The Ketchup Theory Why we live life more similarly to Heinz 57 than primates
e don’t usually think too heavily about the condiments we slap on our food. Mindless at the condiments bar, we don’t bat an eyelash at the assortment of relish, ketchup, and mustard. But have you ever thought a little bit deeper about condiments? Is all ketchup created equal? When you go to the grocery store and peruse the spices and sauces section, do you look for something in particular or just grab the nearest option? We’re just talking about condiments after all, it’s not that complex. Or is it? While sitting on a plane for twelve hours, I became engrossed in my probably one and only literary crush, What the Dog Saw by Malcom Gladwell and its multiple research stories. I couldn’t stop thinking about one story in particular: “The Ketchup Conundrum.” Gladwell dives into the food world, and wonders what was unbeknownst to me before—Why are there so many types of mustard, spaghetti sauce, relish, etc., yet Heinz ketchup has managed to dominate the market since its inception? Surely there must be a clearcut answer. Yet as I sped through his essay, I found that there were many nuances of the condiment industry that I was never aware of. Take for example extra-chunky spaghetti sauce. Seems mundane, right? However, it hasn’t really
been on supermarket shelves for that long. For those who indulge in tomato chunks in their sauce, you can thank Howard Moskowitz. Described by Gladwell as “sixty, short and round, with graying hair and goldrimmed glasses” he doesn’t seem like someone who you would imagine might revolutionize the food industry, but he did. Moskowitz came up with the idea of the “plural nature of perfection” relating to food, in that the more variability in a food substance, the better. When Campbell’s came to Moskowitz seeking help to advertise its Prego brand in 1986, Moskowitz got to work and found through multiple taste tests with almost forty-five varieties of spaghetti sauce that everyone “had a slightly different definition of what a perfect spaghetti sauce tasted like.” Some of these people really enjoyed a chunkier sauce; however, at that time it was a completely untapped market. Three years later Prego launched its extra-chunky sauce, and it became an instant hit. So, what does this all have to do with our beloved condiment, the holy ketchup? Well, if Moskowitz’s theory is right, why doesn’t ketchup have other varieties? Why is it that we have at least three options for every food product under the sun that we would buy, and yet only trust Heinz for ketchup? This question perplexed me. I questioned everything I knew about the handy red sauce I doused
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on my fries, trusted with my burgers, and turned to in times of crisis with underwhelming food needed a little more kick. The finale of my quest, though, was anti-climactic, with ketchup just being an anomaly, something we grew up, found works, and never strayed away from. Yet, we have preferences, and one thing that stays with me after reading Gladwell’s work was the end, proclaiming “happiness, in one sense, is a function of how closely our world conforms to the infinite variety of human preference. But that makes it easy to forget that sometimes happiness can be found in having what we’ve always had and everyone else is having.” When you see your friends and family enjoying something that you don’t mind, why would you change that? We always say variety is the spice of life, but does this apply to everything? This essay is not meant to be a review of Gladwell’s analysis, but rather a passion piece on the idea of questioning or settling into our world around us. We are more comfortable and accepting than we realize, and when something is familiar, it is quite hard to stray from that. This is quite contradictory though to the idea that humans are attracted to novelty. Can we live life following both maxims? Obviously, we can, and they work in an interesting interplay that I feel we sometimes forget. Think about college for instance. After high school, I relished (pardon that condiment pun) to get out of my small town in Maryland, and while I wasn’t aiming for Missouri, St. Louis is quite different than my east coast suburb. I craved something new. Most of my peers thought the same thing. I’ve met people from all over who like to travel and explore. That same drive that led me to Missouri was probably present in some of you as well.
Still, we also have an urge towards the familiar. We miss our friends from back home, and search for the same sort of stable familial relationships we left behind. In fraternities and sororities, we have “bigs” and “pledge fathers”, adding oneself to a family, not meant to replace, but to mimic a family setting that we lack when we’re away from our actual family. This isn’t limited to Greek life and exists in many other clubs and honorariums. Lineage and grouping through similarities in personality is ubiquitous. This can also be found in who we talk to, what clubs we join, and what interests we decide to pursue. We crave novelty, but at the same time yearn for a sense of familiarity. Is this a stretch from condiment preference? Maybe. Will this change our minds about how we approach our preferences in life? Probably not. Do you think you’ll stray from beloved Heinz and try something different? Studies say, absolutely not. Apparently, we have a lot more in common with ketchup than DNA tests will account for.
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interview by Noah Baker photography AtomicDust _
people like Gerard and come up with something that everybody’s excited about.
You’ve seen AtomicDust’s branding and design work if you’ve ever eaten at Pastaria or Niche. I spoke with Mike Spakowski, who co-founded AtomicDust 15 years ago and is currently a partner and Creative Director there about their latest work for Start Bar, an arcade-bar hybrid in St. Louis. _
Let’s talk about a separate food and drink project you guys worked on this year, Start Bar. Yeah. So Start Bar is an arcade bar concept opened by the guys who own Wheelhouse [a huge downtown “fusion” of sports bar and nightclub]. They wanted to do a retro arcade game bar, and they brought us in to do it.. I think some local reporter tweeted that, “There’s this new restaurant coming and it’s called Start Bar, and it’s gonna be like Chuck E. Cheese with beer.” And that just really made me mad. Because I grew up in arcades and at the time, when I was a teenager it wasn’t— Chuck E. Cheese to me is like, silly. But in my mind the nostalgia of it was always cool. And like a little edgy. And a place to meet girls. It was just more than this silly, campy thing. So we wanted to do something that was representative of how we felt about arcades. We took things that we were into at the time, like comic books and video game art, Wu-Tang clan and hip-hop, we just wanted to mash it all together. The retro 90s to us, wasn’t just like Mario! It was David Carson and graphic design styles of the period that we would find cool then and find cool now that weren’t campy. So the whole idea was to build this video-game-hip-hop mash up art gallery.
What does AtomicDust do? We’re a branding and marketing company in St. Louis, and we do visual design, brand design and lots of websites—recently we’ve been doing a lot of what I call interior branding. We’re not really an interior design firm but people are starting to use us along those lines, which is weird, but fun. Is that always an extension of the other branding work and design you guys do? We never do interior design separately. It’s always like an extension of brand. So we just look at it as if everything’s a branding project, but sometimes the best way to express the brand is through the physical space. It’s always part of a bigger project. What is your relationship with Gerard Craft and his restaurants (Pastaria, Niche, Porano, Sardella)? We started to talk years ago about a new concept he was doing at the time called Pastaria, and we started to unpack how we’d work and how we’d focus on language first, and then visuals. We did that project, and that was successful. So then it just spawned into, “How can we be useful to his other restaurants?” We worked with Niche, then his fast-casual concept Porano, which got a lot of press and awards, then most recently he closed Niche and opened a place called Sardella. So yeah, we’re just lucky, every time he opens something new he gives us a call and we talk about it. It’s the type of work where the hard part’s the concept. It’s fun and challenging and rewarding and frustrating and it’s great to be able to work with other creative
Awesome. We wanted to make the experience a little strange, we didn’t want people to be able to figure it out, so we had lots of layers and just weird stuff. We wanted it to be as cool as we remembered it. There’s such an eclectic mix of styles from neon, to big gold-framed paintings, to some more graffiti and graphic art of these cheat codes— Yeah. We actually have more of those paintings we’ve never hung up yet. But we wanted to take these programmers and developers and artists and game design-
Some local reporter tweeted that, “There’s this new restaurant coming and it’s called Start Bar, and it’s gonna be like Chuck E. Cheese with beer.” And that just really made me mad. mike spakowski, creative director at atomicdust
ers from like the 70s and 80s, these people that really started this industry, we wanted to make them heroes through these gaudy gold frames to celebrate these people that nobody’s really heard of. It’s another layer of meaning for us, and also another weird layer of art.
signers will try to trump their original idea, and then trump that, and they’ll just keep going—maybe they’ll have a better idea tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. So sometimes you just have to cut it off and move forward. With Start Bar there was so much stuff that eventually we had to pick a direction and start making things.
What was your personal involvement? I always hate taking credit for things—I work with a really talented team of people and our ideas just bounce off each other, riff off each other, so my role is always blurred. Really my role was concept, then visual direction and then a lot of the execution stuff. I did everything from help with the actual concept to spray-painting frames gold in my backyard after I sourced them from Goodwill on the weekend so I could hang them in the secret room. I came up with the idea of art in the secret room, and printed all that stuff out at two in the morning one night and put it all together. We really throw ourselves into our projects—which is not always the most healthy thing to do financially—but we get excited.
Speaking of making things, one of the applications that stands out most to me is the coins. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so they have coins. You know, those old machines where you put in money and get the coins out, so we wanted to make our own tokens. When I was growing up, all the arcades would have their custom tokens that would only work on their games. It was super cool. What is it about restaurant and bar projects that attracts AtomicDust as a studio? They’re so public. You can get a reaction from your work immediately, positive or negative. A lot of times designers will make things for clients and they don’t really have control over who will see it, but with public spaces, restaurants and retail you have this anticipation that a lot of people are going to see it. And all of Gerard’s projects are usually higher profile in the press. Start Bar was higher profile in the press—so it’s really this opportunity to do something cool, but it’s also tremendous pressure to do something cool. Is this crazy, or terrible? How’s this going to go over? I like the restaurant work because if you’re pleased with it it’s rewarding to see it out in the world, but it’s also pressure to make something that isn’t just mediocre. They’re great and terrible.
With the mashup aesthetic, I can’t imagine what the brand guidelines or system you guys created would feel like. How did you keep it cohesive? So a lot of corporate standards want to define something rigidly. We always like to give people a set of tools and directions to use. So even with Start Bar where it’s kind of insane, we break down the elements of what makes it right. Most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, but we went through three different visual iterations. We only present one to the client, but internally we’re trying to figure out what the video-game graphic cheat code looks like, some were more polished, some were more neon, but ultimately we just went with the most grungy, gritty version. Especially as a designer, you need a deadline. If you say you have a week then they’ll take a week and say, “Okay, I have an idea”, and then you say, “You have two weeks to come up with an idea,” a lot of time de-
Check out Mike and his team’s work on their website, atomicdust.com, or visit Start Bar in person at 1000 Spruce Street.
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written by Ethan Paik photography Grace Wang _
Growing Together How urban farming is revolutionizing the experience of immigrants and refugees in St. Louis
greater st. louis is home to a variety of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Not only does the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area contain more than 125,000 immigrants, it also had the largest percent increase of foreign-born residents of any major U.S. city from 2014 to 2015 at 8.9%. However, even with such a diverse population, many groups in St. Louis face structural disadvantages due to a lack of access to socioeconomic opportunities. How can we provide disadvantaged groups with more socioeconomic opportunities as well as promote intercultural understanding and connection in St. Louis? The answer may just lie in urban farming. Urban agriculture isn’t new; it has been a part of city living for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the rise of industrial agriculture in the early 20th century that farming was almost completely eliminated from most metropolitan areas in the United States. Improved transportation and agriculture technologies enabled agribusinesses to mass produce livestock and crops and transport them quickly to anywhere in the country. Along with escalating population density, it simply was no longer efficient to have a farm in the big city. However, there’s a new movement to implement sustainable food production facilities throughout the urban United States. This recent increase in the popularity of urban farming is in some ways a response
to the desire for more environmentally-friendly practices that ensure greater food security, particularly for those living in the city. A few weeks ago, I got in contact with the International Institute St. Louis to visit one of their urban farms in the St. Louis area. The International Institute’s Global Farms program aims to provide food and economic security for immigrants and refugees as well as help those groups acclimate to living in St. Louis. I toured their newest urban farm, a substantial but unimposing rectangular plot of land, which lies at the intersection of Hodiamont Ave. and Suburban Ave., about a ten-minute drive north of campus. The land is still currently being prepared to be used by local refugees and other community members in the future. A healthy, green, vibrant layer of growth masks most of the surface of the farm, interspersed with a few larger amaranth plants (a type of plant grown worldwide as a leaf vegetable or a grain). The borders of the farm aren’t demarcated by a fence or a sign; the soil extends all the way to the sidewalks, alleyways, and the plots of adjacent residential properties. Nearby are small, two-story brick houses and two to three-story apartment complexes, many of which are home to immigrants and refugees from Burundi and the Congo who will likely be given parcels of land in the new farm sometime in the spring of 2017.
Specialist at the Global Farms program, to learn more about the progress and setbacks with the International Institute’s urban farms. Getting the newest farm to a suitable state, was not an easy feat to accomplish. The plot of land originally contained several abandoned houses and was then converted into a community garden, which was also eventually abandoned as well. The International Institute ended up purchasing the plot and turned it into a suitable place to grow crops. However, the soil was full of carpet and plywood left from the abandoned houses. Urban farming requires cultivators to take into account the quality of the soil. So, Walker is working with remediation and biology experts from Saint Louis University and Washington University to identify plots of land which are most suitable for agricultural development. Furthermore, the Global Farms program plans to use three detoxification and fertilization processes on its urban farms to improve sustainability and productivity. While plans are in place to improve the soil, these weren’t the only issues at hand. The farm was also met with resistance by neighboring residents. Many were worried that the farm would create too much of a rural, country atmosphere in the neighborhood. Others were concerned that the crops on the farm would result in an increased number of pests; however, improper garbage disposal brings more vermin into the neighborhood than urban agriculture.
I visited the farm with Cultivating Connections, a Washington University organization that was founded in 2015 by Samantha Pitz, Erica Sloan, and Jessica Thea. Cultivating Connections works with the International Institute’s Global Farms program to cultivate and maintain the urban farms, as well as foster greater interaction and collaboration amongst Washington University students and immigrant and refugee communities. Cultivating Connections meets at one of the International Institute’s urban farms every other Saturday, and I decided to tag along with them as they worked the land. The tasks for that day were to start planting a ring of cover crops (specifically winter peas), strawberry bushes, blueberry bushes, and peach trees along the edges of the farm. Students sowed small, circular winter pea seeds on top of the soil, planted the various fruit bushes and trees, and fertilized those plants with coffee grounds and mulch. As the members from Cultivating Connections worked on the farm, I talked to Joel Walker, the Senior
On some of the other urban farms, which have already been handed over to immigrants and refugees, local residents who do not own plots of land on the farm have begun stealing produce. Walker has observed that over time, immigrants and refugees have stopped growing common crops and have instead switched to more exotic crops to deter stealing. To solve this problem, the ring of crops around the edges of the new farm is going to be used as a community garden that anyone in the local community can contribute or take from. The community garden buffer will hopefully deter people from stealing produce from the interior parcels of land, which will eventually be used exclusively by immigrants and refugees. While the International Institute has run into some obstacles cultivating the farms, the Global Farms program has largely been a huge success. The newest farm is one of three urban farms to serve immigrant and refugee populations in St. Louis. The other two farms, which have already been turned over to local immigrant and refugee communities have helped those disadvantaged groups immensely. The North Side farm in the West End neighborhood is a few blocks away from the site that I visited on my trip. Families from Mexico, Uganda, Liberia, and other East African and Latin American countries grow a variety of native crops. Meanwhile, immigrants and refugees from Burma and Bhutan (typically of Nepalese decent) own several parcels of land in the South Side farm in the Botanical Heights neighborhood, growing bitter eggplant. The Global Farms program enables the agriculture-based skillset of many immigrants and refugees, who often come to St. Louis without the language and professional skills that are necessary to access most high-paying jobs in America. The urban farms allow immigrant and refugee communities to retain a part of their farming-based culture and way of life, as well as provide a sense of self-sufficiency with respect to food security. To help support families who wish to
generate additional income, the International Institute provides entrepreneurial services that helps farmers interact with and sell their products to small-businesses and grocery stores in St. Louis. Some of the families who own plots on the farms have been able to market their crops to local food establishments and vendors. Beyond providing economic and food security, the International Institute gives immigrants and refugees opportunities to become more integrated in the St. Louis community. A major event that the International Institute plans in conjunction with Cultivating Connections is a potluck for immigrant and refugee families who participate in the Global Farms program. Each family is given $30 to create a food dish native to their respective homeland for the potluck. Members of Cultivating Connections cook and bring American dishes to the potluck as well. The last potluck was quite successful and attended by about eighty local community members. All attendees had fun, learned about each otherâ€™s cultures, and built lasting relationships. The International Institute and Cultivating Connections will continue having these potlucks, with their next one scheduled for December 11. Given the gridlock in America, it will be necessary to mitigate divisiveness and foster greater cross-cultural understanding. St. Louis, which is a very diverse city, but at the same time a very segregated city, is going to have to find new, creative ways to deal with increasingly disparate and divided socioeconomic populations. Our city also has to come to terms with climate change and look to implement more environmentally-friendly, sustainable practices. Urban farming is a solution that has the potential to change the city for the better, one neighborhood at a time.
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