Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holier than Thou? Going Local at Whole Foods

It's now been more than two weeks since New Times critic Lee Klein called out local chefs for being part of an "unholy alliance" due to their participation in a series of promotional events at Whole Foods, on account of the chain's supposed lack of support for local farmers. I detected a faint whiff of hypocrisy, in light of said critic's touting of New Times' "Iron Fork" event just hours later, an event sponsored by none other than Whole Foods and attended by some of those very same chefs. Then Professor Klein felt obligated to give me an education on hypocrisy. I'm not a very good student, but we each made our feelings known and hugged it out.

In the meantime, what seems to have been forgotten along the way was the promise to deliver on those accusations about Whole Foods in the first place. Back on September 14 we were assured "more specifics on this in upcoming posts" and as part of my lesson plan on September 16, there was more reassurance that the subject would be picked up "soon enough." Two weeks, and 15+ posts from Mr. Klein later, and still no more info.

I can only wait so long, and so decided to take matters into my own hands. I visited the Aventura Whole Foods this weekend, and paid some attention to what was locally sourced. The local pickings in the produce section were indeed pretty limited, but this should come as no great surprise this time of year as there's not much that's in season yet locally. I was able to score some very nice pea greens from Green Garden Organics, which lists a Miami address. The seafood section was abundantly stocked with local product: Key West pink shrimp, whole yellowtail, snapper, mahi mahi, spiny lobsters ... I'd hazard a guess that roughly 25% of what was in the seafood case had a "local" sign on it. There was also a large selection of locally produced honeys on the shelves, with at least three different producers offering Florida tupelo, saw palmetto, avocado, lychee, orange blossom, wildflower and other honeys.

So, I'm still left wondering what could be the basis for the skewering given to local chefs a couple weeks ago.

Anyway, investigation gave way to hunger as the spiny lobsters at $10/lb. seemed too good to pass up, and I brought home a few. As for what to do with them, I drew inspiration from a dish I'd had at Sra. Martinez earlier in the weekend - a "late summer vegetable salad" with a gazpacho sauce. What follows is not so much a recipe, since I'm not big on measuring and such, but more of a post-hoc reconstruction. It's also perhaps an attempt to debunk the beliefs of those who think I eat out for every meal.

Spiny Lobster & Vegetable Salad with Salmorejo:

First, the salmorejo (an Andalusian dish that is like a gazpacho, but thicker and creamier, and used more as a sauce than a soup). Took the crust off about 1/3 a loaf of peasant bread, chopped in big pieces and soaked in water. Four tomatoes (I used some slightly over-ripe vine-ripened tomatoes that were on sale), cored and quartered. Into the blender they went, then next into the blender a couple cloves of chopped garlic, 1/2 a red pepper chopped, a glug of sherry vinegar (1/4 cup?), a generous amount of salt, and good olive oil until it started to look shiny and creamy (1/2 cup?). Done. You'll probably have extra.

Next, the veg. Four white asparagus cut on the bias into about 3/4" pieces, about a cup of English peas, 1/2 of a small bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced, and a radish, sliced thin. The asparagus got big-pot-blanched (big pot of boiling water, good amount of salt) for a few minutes till tender, then into an ice bath to stop cooking. Same treatment for the peas. Drained them and tossed with the fennel and radish. Salt to taste.

Finally, the lobster. Since spiny lobster are not kept alive, you will not be able to duplicate the Annie Hall lobster scene, but as my kids noted, if you hold them and wave them around, their antennae will still move pretty convincingly. Poured off most of the blanching water from the pot, leaving a couple inches, and dropped the pasta insert into the pot to use as a steamer. In went the lobster for 15 minutes. Pulled them out, and as soon as they were cool enough to handle, I pulled the tail from the body, split all the way through the tail lengthwise with a sharp heavy knife, lifted the tail meat out and removed the sand vein. Chop the tails crosswise into medallions.[*]

To plate: dress the veg with a little olive oil and mound on one side of a shallow bowl (Sra. Martinez used a ring mold for a prettier presentation). Pour salmorejo into the other side of the bowl. Lay the lobster meat over the salmorejo. Drizzle with good olive oil. Present to your awed significant other.

I was pretty happy with how this turned out. The salmorejo had a bright tomato flavor and a creamy texture, with the sherry vinegar providing a smooth subtle tartness. The lobster was outstanding. Often I find that Florida spiny lobster can be tough and bouncy, but this was perfectly tender, briny and flavorful, interestingly needing no additional salt. Nice yield too, with a tail providing plenty of meat for one person (the picture above uses only 1/2 of one tail; the lobsters were about 1 1/2 lbs. each, or $15 a head). And the vegetables, some just barely cooked and others still raw, provided a nice complement to the lobster and the salmorejo.

So while we wait for the dirt to be dished on Whole Foods, I'll happily eat what local products they do have available.

Edited to add: Look, here's the dish I was trying to knock off - not bad, right?

[*]There's plenty of good meat in the rest of the body if you want to go digging, I decided to make a lobster stock with mine and split the heads lengthwise, rinsed out the tomalley, and tossed them into a pot along with the tail shells, some carrot, onion, garlic, the rest of the fennel bulb, parsley and peppercorns, covered with water, simmered for about a half hour, removed all the solids and then reduced it by about half, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface. Still haven't determined the stock's ultimate destiny.


  1. First the food-amazingly, here in DC, where I am stationed for the moment, I can walk to my local Harris Teeter supermarket and get Gulf shrimp, with the heads on, for $6/lb for U20's. There is an abundance of seafood at great prices-something mostly absent from Miami's supermarkets. Glad to see you 'researching' and promoting the purchase and preparing of local seafood.

    One moment on Lee Klein-Hey Frod I'm sure you remember when he wrote a review of a place (I promise I'll do the research later--it was about two years ago) and promised that from then on, in every review, he was going to call restaurants to task on locally sourced/organic, etc., ingredients on their menus? And how he mysteriously never mentioned that again?

    It just seems to me (and apparently to a lot of other people whose writing/posting/comments are well-respected in the real foodie world of Miami, like Blind Mind, L2M, you, etc.), that for some reason when Lee wants to be taken seriously, he huffs and puffs. But when he is called on his promises, he just says, hey, why are you taking me so seriously-it's just food writing? That is the basis of his hypocrisy. And apparently the basis of yours, according to him, is communicating with me. Or "allowing" someone like Blind Mind to call LK a douchebag. It's really sad, as I've said so many times, as have you, when someone who is paid for his critical judgements and opinions is so thin-skinned as to start whining when he is called to task for those judgements and opinions-especially when they can affect the very livelihood of the people he may be criticizing. And especially when a critic may have the facts wrong.
    And his pathetic shot at you for your use of "Mrs. F", "Frod, Jr.", and "Little Miss F." to describe your family, was sad and unfotunate.
    So to sum it up, you have cute names for your family and you consort with "web-villians". You bastard!
    (Incidentally, Jose Andres has an amazing recipe for Spiny Lobster which I believe he prepared on one of his 'Made In Spain' shows.)

  2. Fortunately, Family Frod are all pretty thick-skinned and quick to forgive. And LK and I have kissed and made up, though my consorting with folks such as yourself might jeopardize that. But honestly, what's frustrating is that if there actually is a Whole Foods story there, I'd like to hear it.

    The review you're thinking of is this one of Il Gabbiano, by the way.

  3. Yes, thanks, that's it. FYI...in DC I have drunk the incredibly expensive Ferran Adria beer, INEDIT, at Jose Andres's Jaleo. Tasted like regular Estrella, but was like $25 for 750ml. Comes with a cute little souvenir bottle hanger though...Jose also has the good hams, Frod, the pata negra.

  4. Wow... Spiny lobster @ $10/lb is ridiculous, especially considering you basically only eat the tail. I was just in Boston this past week and also took a trip to Maine to visit a customer where they had MAINE lobster (far superior to spiny IMHO) for $3.89/lb for chicken ("baby") lobsters and $5/lb for the big 'uns. Not sure what the price in MA was but this summer it was fluttering around $6/lb when we did the family clam/lobster bake down the beach in Rockport.

    Having just been in DC this past weekend and having been to markets in Philly, NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc, I agree w/ Danny that Miami and/or SoFL may have local product but it comes at a premium at the markets here. DC has an AMAZING restaurant scene that I cant even say that I barely scratched the surface of in 1.5 short days. Ive also had the INEDIT and thought it was a great beer. Cant really say that I think it tastes like regular Estrella Damm though but I admit its been awhile since Ive had that...

    As for LK, I was waiting for that follow up article too. I didnt respond to him feeling the need to call out my anointing him with the title of "douchebag" and its detriment to our food community (LOL) frankly because I didnt really feel the need to explain myself. Since the statement "I didnt really feel the need to explain myself" is followed by an explanation 99% of the time, I guess I will now. I thought LK took something that was a total positive (WF+Chefs) or a total non-factor (parking at Casale) and crapped all over it. That, to me, was a douchebag thing to. Its exactly like when Danny criticizes the writing of the NT staff (crapping on a positive/non-factor), which LK hates, so add another ingredient to the pot of hypocrisy we've got boiling here. While I dont really get why Danny does what he does with the NT critiques (dude, there's gotta be a more productive use for that time slot...like drinking bourbon :)), at least I can respect Danny for openly acknowledging his blatant douchebaggery and not crying that our food community is going to come crashing down if his comments are labeled as such.

    In LK's defense though, Danny, I dont think it was he that left that nasty comment to Frod. While I dont agree with most of his opinions in his articles, I gotta assume he is a decent and respectable dude.

  5. The Adria beer's nice, though more subdued than I expected. In Corte Ingles though it's about $8 (6 eur).Definitely a let down at $25.

    MD, I hope you made it to Gibson, the seating room only "speakeasy" in DC. Nice bar and very friendly service.

    Seriously, let's bury the hatchet on LK and what I assume he embarrasingly acknowledges as a waste of cyberspace and people's time. Reading about food should be enjoyable, and not just because of his florid style. Still, when the Herald doles out more negative reviews than your platform does, there are issues.

  6. Hey BM-I'm not sure to what 'nasty comment' of LK's you are referring-I was talking about this...."mocking a writer for being overly clever might also be seen as something of a double standard coming from someone who refers to his family as Mrs. Frod, Frod Jr, and Little Miss F." I don't think that's nasty, just mises the mark and falls flat. If that's what you're talking about.
    CAB-Yeah the beer is only available, as far as I know, at Jose's restaurants-thus the strong markup. But I could be wrong. Been to Gibson many times-good Manhattan.

    Incidentally, the reason I write what I write on PressChops is right there on page one. Calling the media to task is a time-honored tradition. Whatever you want to call it-lack of substance, bullshitting, douchebaggery, I stand by everything. No one from the MNT or the Herald or anywhere else has ever challenged the veracity of my posts. DailyCocaine still gets tons of hits even though I have pulled back on blogging. And my non-blogging writing has been published all over town, so obviously, many talented editors agree that I have something to say.
    Not trying to sound like an asshole (I know, too late), but I have tried to move the discussion forward, and in many ways, I have succeeded. That, and only that, has been, and remains, my only goal.
    And BM-Yeah-you are correct about drinking Bourbon. Much better than blogging.

  7. And I thought the $10/lb for the spinys was a reasonably good deal!

    Here in So. Fl. I've been told Inedit is distributed at Total Wine and Publix (!). I don't see it in the Aventura TW beer catalog though. It's got some spice and orange rind notes to it that I wouldn't expect to find in a regular Estrella, but I've not had them side by side. Maybe it's just the power of suggestion - when we had it at Dos Palillos in Barcelona, they poured it in a wine glass and kept it in an ice bucket. Makes it seem like it's worth quite a bit more.

    My last visit to DC, I hit Jaleo after doing 25 courses at minibar and put away a platter of some fine jamon iberico. Hey, I was only in town one night!

  8. Frod, you're right, they are carrying it in Total now. We were shocked when we saw the price tag, though Rogue now carries some 750 ml monsters for $20 (ie http://www.rogue.com/beers/morimoto-pilsner.php and the XS series)as well. Don't pour those in a white wine glass though

  9. Sorry Danny, I thought you were talking about the guy who left the other nasty comment.

    I looked for Inedit last time I was at Total in Aventura but came up empty.

    Danny, I recently discovered a smooth bourbon that Im told is no longer in production - I.W. Harper. At 80 proof, its easy goin down but with a bit more of a spice to it than Basil Hayden, which is my favorite everyday bourbon. I also purchased an Old Rip Van Winkle (not Pappy) 15 year, 101 proofer at Crown Liquors in South Miami that is great, as with most Van Winkle bourbons.

  10. Thanks-I will be looking for it, BM. There are some great liquor stores here in DC, BTW. And Frod, while I know you were only here one night, next time follow your minibar experience with some Mt. Pleasant pupusas. They will fill your belly.

  11. I now see that Norman Brothers has spinys for $7/lb.

  12. BM, Total must be sold out b/c I purchased several bottles there a few weeks ago. I think they were $8ish. MD, check out the latino dim sum brunch at cafe atlantico on Sunday

  13. http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/shortorder/2009/08/fieldtrip_to_a_certified_organ.php

    Green Garden Organics is Miami as the day is long, and are in WF's all over Florida

  14. Where did you guys go in DC? I was there last weekend for 2 days and did my best but they have A LOT of delicious looking options.

  15. My last DC trip was a 24-hr affair, and I managed to get into minibar, and then swung around the corner for a plate of jamon iberico at Jaleo, and that was it. May be heading back in a month or so though.

  16. Whole Foods Florida Region has been buying the bulk of our certified organic avocado crop since 2006, when they first did a field trip to farms in Redland/South Dade.They're also buying from other local farmers. Sometimes local (but not organic) has beat out local AND organic, and when the local organic growers have called them on it, they made sure they included the organic product as well. Yes, there's room for improvement - there always is - but our local WFM region does a creditable job of emphasizing local as much as they can, and if it's organic, so much the better!