Experience is an award-winning magazine that tells stories about the intersection of technology and humanity — stories that look to the future; chronicle innovations in work, play, and human relationships; and examine solutions to global problems. In addition to our website, we publish a print issue three times annually. Single copies can be purchased here.
Three minutes to prepare a delicious, healthy meal: there’s a robot for that. So what’s missing?
By Heather Kapplow
Like many new urban lunch spots, Spyce, in downtown Boston, bills itself as serving quickly prepared, excellently flavored, healthful food at a very reasonable price. It’s one of those healthy “bowl” restaurants with a choose-your-ingredients menu in the grain+protein+veggies+
sauce style. But in one critical way, it’s different: At Spyce, robotic woks cook your food while you watch.
The restaurant is the size of a coffeeshop — a small,
fast-food-style coffeeshop. One wall is decorated with sketches of characters
from “The Jetsons.” The other has framed floral images that inexplicably exceed
their frames, extending to the walls between them.
A well-dressed human concierge offers me a menu and directs
me to a line, which moves quickly. I almost crash into a fellow customer named Vinh
K., who is using his phone to film a robot making his bowl of food. The robot
looks like a miniature dryer drum, tumbling food rather than clothing. Vinh
K.’s name appears on a round screen above his in-progress meal.
I try to choose what to eat as quickly as possible because I
don’t want to slow down the smooth flow of diners.
I’m navigating the subtle differences between the ‘Korean’
and ‘Latin’ bowls, imagining what ‘white sauce’ might be, and guessing whether
I’d like ‘freekeh.’
In one way, ordering is simple: I poke my finger at pictures on a tablet, next to six other people doing the same thing. In another way, it’s complicated: I’m navigating the subtle differences between the “Korean” and “Latin” bowls, imagining what “white sauce” might be, and guessing whether I’d like “freekeh.” The concierge is out of my sight line, so I guess yes, ordering a “Lebanese” bowl with freekeh instead of rice and salmon instead of chicken. That bumps the price up from $0.009 per calorie to $0.012 — still a marvelous bargain for actually-nutritious food.
Spyce boasts that every dish is cooked perfectly in three
minutes flat. It’s true. My freekeh, which turns out to be fluffy pearled wheat,
cooks so quickly that I miss it. It takes me longer to find the screen with my initials
on it — “Plating Lebanese Bowl for HK,” it reads — than it took the robot wok to
cook my food. I want to start again so I can watch my veggies and romesco sauce spin in the little teflon tub dryer-drum.
Instead, I watch the human garde-manger — a restaurant term for the cold-food chef
— add the salmon (which turns out to be lox), feta, and chopped fresh cucumber
salad on top of my cooked meal. He slaps a sticker with my initials on it onto
the bowl’s plastic cover.
I fill my own cup with Hibiscus Ginger Cooler, gather a fork
and napkins, then push my way to my seat.
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My receipt says I placed my order at 1:23 pm, and it’s 1:27
A robot just cooked me a sustainably-sourced meal based on a James Beard award-winning chef’s recipe.
The music pumping through the room is so godawful, I’ve
decided not to Shazam it because I don’t actually want to know what it is.
My fork is compostable.
A stream of diners proceeds through the maze of waiting,
ordering, watching, eating.
It’s the 21st century.
I take a first bite of HK’s Lebanese Bowl, and…
It is nothing special.
It’s perfectly cooked. I learn that I like freekeh well
enough. The feta and sundried tomato give everything a nice tang. The cucumbers
are fresh and crunchy. Though highly caloric for a lunch, it’s all very
healthy. If I could only eat one meal a day on a limited budget, this one would
do the trick.
But, like all fast food I’ve ever tried, it is soulless. It’s
not that the robots have eliminated some warmth I usually experience at
McDonald’s. Instead, their succinct replacement of human counterparts
emphasizes how robotic these roles have already been for so long. It’s a wholly
A cheesemonger talks about the female-driven profession — and how much cheese she actually eats
By Julia Beck
Jessica Affatato runs Northport, New York-based Harbor Cheese and Provisions.
How did you become a cheesemonger? I had worked in the New York City restaurant and high-end spa industries. But when my husband and I moved from New Jersey to Sag Harbor on Long Island, I took a job in a local cheese shop, and it was magical! I knew immediately that I had found my place.
How do you not eat all the cheese? I do manage to taste everything. I have some personal favorites — Hooligan from Connecticut, Dutch Knuckle from New York, and freshly cracked Parmigiano Reggiano. When those show up, I do consume a bit more than otherwise! I will eat a little bit every day. We keep cheese in the house. We make it a part of our regular regime. We do not hold out for anything even close to a special occasion.
“I will eat a little bit every day. We do not hold out for anything even close to a special occasion.”
Tell me more about the artisanal cheese scene. It is exciting and growing, and it is, interestingly enough, female-driven.
How did it become female-driven? Cheesemaking has [historically] been a female profession, such as a milk maid on the farm. It’s also the result of opportunity. Because of the lack of culinary prestige, there was less competition and fewer barriers, so women could step in and thrive. In the 1970s and 1980s, a core group of women emerged across the U.S. who are considered the mothers of the American artisanal cheese movement. They’re still involved and quite active.
It feels like your job has become more professionalized in recent years. Unlike a sommelier with wine, or a chef with food, the world of the cheesemonger offers much less of a uniform body of knowledge. Cheese certification is relatively new. The American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional test is only offered one time a year. Industry leadership is working to create a more comprehensive and regimented body of language and clear terminology.
What’s the hardest thing about cheesemongering? I need to be quick on my feet to adjust to a customer’s needs. One big trick is to open a conversation with a customer, to understand their base knowledge and reason for coming to purchase cheese.
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There’s so. Much. Cheese. How do you help customers choose their favorites? For a customer with a limited sense of their cheese palate, I pick a starting point and offer two tastes, A and B. From there I move on to something that I feel will interest their palate. For people who are more familiar with cheeses, I explore what they love and taste from there.
Are there secrets that every good cheesemonger knows? I know when a woman is pregnant! I can tell you if she is keeping it quiet or if she is sharing the news by how and what she orders! She will say, “I can’t have raw cheese” if she is pregnant. She will whisper if it is brand-new, secret information.
A restaurateur on why he mixes food with an interactive experience
By Alix Strauss
Brian Landry is the owner of Jack Rose restaurant in New Orleans’ Garden District.
Who is Jack Rose, and why name a restaurant after him? Jack Rose is a Tennessee Williams reference. The name comes from two of the main characters’ names in The Rose Tattoo. Jack Rose recently replaced the Caribbean Room in the Pontchartrain Hotel, which is where Williams stayed when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. Our bar, Tin House, which is on the hotel’s roof deck, is a nod to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
You’ve implemented a number of interactive activities at Jack Rose. Why? In the pursuit of creating memorable moments, we use spontaneity as our secret weapon. People quickly learn that Jack Rose is where you can have that quintessential good-time New Orleans experience paired with a progressive menu.
I’m told a special liquid offering has become synonymous with the restaurant. Each evening we choose certain guests to receive a number of goodies, like our “Chambong.” It’s a champagne flute with an L-shaped hollow stemglass, and we pour about a half a glass of champagne into it. The end of the glass is hollow and works like a traditional beer bong, and you drink out of the small hollow stem. We give out about 150 to 200 a night, which is about 12 to 15 bottles a night. The locals all know they’re starting their evening with a splash of bubbles.
All these little extras create a feeling that anything can happen. I’m not just here to fill my belly.
You also include a lot of creative extras. What are some of the most popular activities? To include a guest, we will ask them to flip a small switch on the wall that controls our disco ball, suspended among greenery in the skylight. At the end of the evening we give out a “Favorite Guest…Today” trophy. We’ve also added music, so during Sunday brunch we have a pop-up drum line appear and do a lap throughout the dining room. We also work with a local florist that donates all of the rose petals that fall off the arrangements he makes. Our staff will shower them on guests at the end of their meal if they’re celebrating an anniversary or birthday.
What do you hope a guest gets out of your restaurant experience? All these little extras create a feeling that anything can happen. I’m not just here to fill my belly. People come here because it’s not just a dinner; it’s an experience. I don’t want them to go home with the trophy; I want them to try for it. I want them to want the interaction. We’re asking them to trust us, to become part of the play.
What are some things about the décor that stand out? Really everything. The interior design is a masterpiece by Andrew Alford. His personal motto is “F*ck Beige.” It’s colorful, eclectic, and highlights local artists. The Main Room is black and showcases everything from a stuffed peacock to a disco ball to a hanging fern. The Rose Room is hot pink. And the Mile High Pie room is painted turquoise, has wallpaper on the ceiling and a sculpture of phallic mile-high pies.
What are your favorite moments during the evening? It’s when the kitchen feels like a ballet and the dining room feels like a rock concert. I get to walk back and forth between the two rooms as they interact with one another. I helped create that. All of the hard work has culminated into that moment.
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Do you have a food philosophy? To paraphrase Maya Angelou people will not remember what they ate or what they drank, but they will remember how we made them feel. We like to tug on people’s memory and emotional strings to help transport them. We use food and drink as the vehicle.
When a Southerner gets homesick, the details matter.
By Schuyler Velasco
When I decided to find the best fried chicken in the East Village, I was listening to my mother on the phone from my parents’ house near Jacksonville, griping about the cold. She had to bring the plants inside, she whined. There was frost on the windshield. For three nights in a row, the temperature had fallen below 40 degrees.
Normally I’d agree — a brutally frigid stretch. But at that moment, 40 degrees sounded downright tropical. I’m a fourth-generation Floridian on both sides, and until that October, I had never owned a scarf. Now, in January, I was headlong into my first real winter.
I had moved to Manhattan for grad school and found it thrilling and disorienting in the usual ways. But the cold made me unbearably homesick, and it threw the more minor differences between New York and northern Florida into sharper relief. Wearing a jacket every day exacerbated the claustrophobia brought on by tightly-packed streets and buildings. I missed Spanish moss and vast, winding oak trees. I missed decent oranges. I missed calling people “ma’am,” and driving on wide, straight roads.
I also missed Southern food. But it occurred to me, as something called “wintry mixNot a delicious ice cream treat, I was sad to learn.” crawled across my TV screen: I was in the self-proclaimed “food capital of the world.” Maybe finding one great plate of fried chicken would anchor me in place, give me something familiar in a sea of newness, help me survive New York.
My love for fried chicken is passed down from my mother, and the two of us are veritable connoisseurs on the matter. We share a set of precise, unflinching criteria:
• Boneless chicken doesn’t count. Chicken nuggets aren’t fried chicken, nor are chicken sandwiches.
• The skin should be crispy, like a first bite of cereal, to provide a proper contrast to the overwhelming juiciness contained within.
• A little spice is crucial; cayenne offers the best flavor.
• It has to be served scalding hot; the average mortal should have to wait at least 2 minutes or so for the chicken to cool to an edible temperature.
At first glance, finding the perfect fried chicken didn’t look like it would be too tough. This was 2009, and Southern-inspired food joints were becoming New York trendy. High-end restaurants like Momofuku and Locanda Verde were booking $50-a-plate fried chicken dinners months in advance.
But in the South, the best and messiest fried chicken tends to come from the most desolate, remote places: roadside stands, the back ends of gas stations, run-down shacks off forgotten highway exits. For that reason, I refused to rely on Yelp!, instead starting with the fried chicken closest to my apartment and working my way out.
The first stop was Kennedy’s, a justifiably obscure fast food chain on 14th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B. Beware of food joints boasting multiple cuisines. Kennedy’s, according to its signage, also served hamburgers, seafood, and ice cream. The chicken was an alarming reddish-brown color, and the meat was completely raw near the bone. A sense of grease-laden regret is part of the fried chicken experience, but fear of salmonella should never enter the picture.
The best and messiest fried chicken comes from the most desolate places: roadside stands, the back ends of gas stations, run-down shacks off forgotten highway exits.
As bad as Kennedy’s was, it didn’t offer up the particular flavor of seasonal affective despair brought on by Mama’s Food Shop on 6th Street and Avenue B. Mama’s menu was full of the New York approximation of soul food that you typically got in those early days of Southern food’s national takeover. The chicken seemed fine at first — temperature, crispiness, juices — but something wasn’t quite right. I realized that the slightly acrid aftertaste I was picking up in the skin was rosemary.
That rosemary threw me into a fit. It was a small thing, but it was everything wrong with Mama’s fried chicken. It was everything wrong with New York. The city felt, in that moment, like a poor imitation of a million places — like Epcot Center at Disney World, with all the little countries lined up on a half-mile loop: Norway next to China, China next to Mexico. A Moroccan walking through Epcot’s Morocco feels farther from home than ever. Mama’s Food Shop’s rosemary fried chicken left me more homesick than no fried chicken at all.
This was the epiphany, the tragedy, of my fried chicken quest: The real existential longing sneaked up in the small stuff. It was in fried chicken dinners served with instant mashed potatoes that (even worse) came without gravy; in “biscuits” that weren’t biscuits at all, but pre-packaged dinner rolls. There wasn’t a drop of sweet tea for miles. More than even the relentless cold, the devil of my missing home was in the details.
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Still, my odyssey plodded along through the dirty snow. I visited “home cooking” and “farm to table” restaurants that served breaded, boneless breasts and had the gall to call it fried chicken. I did something that I had long-vowed never to do again, and ate at a KFC.
Happily, after an interminable string of days with temperatures that never climbed above 40 degrees, I ventured out of my own neighborhood and found some fried chicken that, while not the eating experience I was used to, was quite good on its own merits. Pies ’n Thighs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn had the best in the city — scalding hot, crispy, and a little spicy, swerved with sweet tea (gasp) and a scoop of goopy mac and cheese, the jumbo elbow noodles tangled in a net of stringy cheddar. It came on a plate no bigger than a teacup saucer, with no napkins, so my standard of messiness was wildly exceeded.
And back in the East Village, I eventually found The Redhead, a bar that served real Southern fare and had a fried chicken dinner so juicy that I even liked the white meat on the breast, which I usually don’t.
Neither were perfect. The Pies ’n Thighs sweet tea was made by Lipton, with the fake-y added lemon flavor. At the Redhead, the fried chicken was served with (shudder) a salad. But at this point, I was willing to compromise.As I settled into the Northeast, the Southern food improved as chefs moved up from North Carolina and Memphis. But of the restaurants I journeyed to that first Manhattan winter, only Pies ‘n Thighs remains. I had just spent weeks traversing my newly adopted city, learning to sometimes appreciate the cramped sidewalks and endless bustle and the variety in everything — food, people, even seasons — that I never had experienced in Jacksonville. New York had served me a taste of home that would do, for now. Besides, spring was on the way.
From 3D printed pizza to robot delivery services, innovations that will shape how and what we eat
By Glenn McDonald
Whatever else we may disagree upon, across eras and cultures, we can count on one shared experience: eating. Food is good. But the world is changing fast. And the food of the future might look less like what you’d come across on an Anthony Bourdain road trip, and more like what you’d find in a science fair exhibition.
Here are some emerging trends and technologies likely to impact the experience of eating within the next few decades. Bon appétit!
Generally speaking, “extrude” isn’t the kind of word you’d want to associate with eating. But 3D printers are everywhere now — extruding unlikely items like 3D-printed musical instruments, cars, even body parts — so it’s perhaps no surprise that we’re entering the era of 3D-printed food.
Several hardware manufacturers and food companies now sell machines for extruding edible materials, layer by layer, that coagulate to approximate specific foodstuffs in shape, flavor, and texture. For instance, Barcelona-based Natural Machines markets a 3D printer called the Foodini. Using stainless steel capsules, users put in their own ingredients — typically liquidated via food processor — and the Foodini prints out different dishes according to a library of digital recipes: pizza, quiche, hash browns, pasta, burgers, cookies, what-have-you. The restaurant model currently sells for around $4,000, but the company is developing less expensive models for home use.
Kelp is the new kale
In recent years, forward-facing ecologists and farmers have been pushing hard to promote seaweed farming as an eco-friendly solution to a decidedly serious problem. No matter how we crunch the numbers, land-based agriculture will one day be unable to feed Earth’s rapidly swelling population. We will need to return to the sea.
Devotees of Japanese and Korean cuisine will already be familiar with the delights of seaweed; the cultivation of ocean plants as a food source dates back to the 8th century in Asia. Kelp farming has a long history in Ireland and Iceland, too. Now, seaweed is serious business and the industry is growing fast. Farmers are harvesting 8 million tons of seaweed per year, according the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, with total global value at around $5 billion annually.
Independent kelp and seaweed farms are proliferating rapidly in the U.S., selling mostly to health food stores. And global non-profits like GreenWave are dedicated to teaching both farmers and fishermen how to produce high crop yields with virtually no carbon footprint. According to GreenWave, anyone with 20 acres and a boat can be up and running in a year.
Spherify your food
If we’re going to be eating a lot of seaweed in the future, we’ll want to explore some different texture and flavor options. Enter the Spherificator, one of the most intriguing advances in consumer technology to hit the foodie community in recent years. The concept: Turn all your food into tiny, edible, space-age spheres.
Spherification has actually been around for a while, as both a molecular gastronomy trick and an industrial food prep process. For several years, a small company in Quebec called Imperial Caviar & Seafood has been making a vegetarian caviar substitute called Kelp Caviar, turning seaweed into “pearls” — tiny liquid-filled gel balls. (Interested chemists will note that the technology is based on an old trick using calcium and alginate.)
Imperial recently brought the process to the consumer market when it developed a handheld device for the kitchen. It’s not just for seaweed, either. The machine can turn just about any edible substance — fruits, vegetables, proteins — into easily digestible future-food pellets. Just the sort of staple item you’ll want for your survival bunker in the floating city of New Atlanta.
Food replacement products
In the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, pollution and overpopulation have left Americans dependent on food rations and a protein-rich meal substitute provided by the shady Soylent Corporation. Things get interesting.
From there, the Soylent name had nowhere to go but up. It did in 2013, when the California-based company now called Rosa Labs began marketing “Soylent” as a liquid meal-replacement product that promises to provide 400 calories per serving: all the daily vitamins and minerals your body needs, plant-based proteins and, if you like, bonus caffeine. Soylent can be purchased online or in stores — you can get it at Wal-Mart now — and comes in individual bottles or in packets of “powdered food.”
Meal replacement products are nothing new, of course. They’ve been regulated by the FDA since the 1960s. But the popularity of the Soylent line and its competitors suggests that such products will continue to find a market in the go-go 21st century. One last note: Rosa Labs representatives assure us that the protein in their products come exclusively from plants, unlike the rather unsettling protein source in the movie.
The business of food shopping has changed radically in the last couple of decades. With advances in online purchasing, shopping will only get more convenient in the coming years. For one thing, you won’t have to go to the store anymore. Instead, the store will come to you.
The Swiss company Wheelys is currently working with partners in China and elsewhere to deploy the Moby Mart, a mobile retail store that can drive itself around and be summoned, like an Uber, with a tap on your phone. If you’re subscribed to the Moby Mart service, you can whistle up a Mart, grab your purchases off the shelf, then pay with a phone app. No employees. No cash. No problem.
And the Moby Mart isn’t just a space-age concept. A prototype Moby Mart has been prowling the bustling streets of Shanghai for more than a year, combining recent advances in digital payment systems, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and solar power.
According to Wheelys spokesperson Per Cromwell, Moby Marts will eventually sell all sorts of things, but the initial wave is focused on corner-store type staples. “First we will aim at products for immediate consumption, like ready-made food, groceries, and coffee,” Cromwell says.
Everyone’s talking about the impending robot revolution, and food service is considered one of the industries most vulnerable to automation. In the fast food business, robots are now involved in making everything from burgers to pizza to sushi. And lately, food companies are developing entire restaurant models where humans need not apply at all. The Japanese hotel and restaurant Henn-Na, outside Nagasaki, uses robotic chefs, robotic servers, and robotic bartenders — a little gimmicky, to be sure, but pointing the way to the future.
Artificial intelligence is getting into the food business as well, developing recipes, powering vending kiosks, even directly preparing our food. And expect robots to continue their infiltration of the home kitchen: Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are already dispensing recipes via voice command, while companies like Chewbotics are developing the next wave of food service robots that will eventually migrate to your countertop — like Sally, the Salad Bot.
The dark side
For a darker vision of the future of eating, consider artist Allie Wist, a New York University professor who specializes in visual narratives about food culture and ecological concerns. Her photo essay Flooded, which recently appeared at the Visions of the Future exhibition in Hawaii, imagines the kind of food we might be eating soon if we don’t reverse global ecological degradation. Like a dark reflection of those endless online foodie photos, the Flooded images show plates full of gray shellfish, dubious-looking sea greens, and chunks of mushrooms and fungus.
A second photo essay, called Drought, is currently in the works. If the images are disturbing, that’s entirely on purpose. “The series aims to inspire people to become better acquainted with their natural landscape and how to source food from it,” Wist says. Climate change is going to be the challenge of our lifetime. And one thing we have to consider is how climate change is going to impact our food system.”
That red, jellied mold is a symbol of the American experience — but not in the way you might think
By Glenn McDonald
Turkey. Pumpkin pie. Those pilgrim hats with the buckle. Ironically, most of the traditions and iconography we associate with our biggest culinary holiday weren’t at the first Thanksgiving feast at all. But one food item was there from the beginning: the cranberry.
And the story of how a bitter fruit became one of the most controversial items on the Thanksgiving table — something people either adore or think of as red mucus in the shape of a can — might be the most quintessentially American thing about the holiday.
At the time of the first Thanksgiving in 1621, cranberries were a staple food for Native Americans. The Algonquin, Chippewa, and Cree harvested wild cranberries in what is now New England. The Algonquin called them “sassamenesh” and used them for food, dye, and even as certain medicines — including laxatives.
But cranberry sauce is a decidedly modern phenomenon, first sold as a consumer product in 1912. And canned cranberry jelly was the financially-driven invention of a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur named Marcus Urann, a Maine native who switched careers to buy a Massachusetts cranberry bog.
Fresh cranberries can only be harvested and sold for about two months out of the year. Urann discovered that, by way of industrial cooking and canning, he could extend that short selling season.
The idea was a good one. Urann made crazy money, and a change in the way cranberries were harvested helped him along: In the 1930s, farmers began flooding cranberry bogs, making the berries easier to pick more quickly.
But Urann soon sensed competitors sneaking up from behind. So in an effort to corner the market, he convinced his competitors to form an agricultural cooperative. By way of arcane legal maneuvering, the co-op model protected Urann and his new business partners from anti-trust laws that would have otherwise scuttled the plan.
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The canned cranberry log, as we know it today, achieved nationwide distribution in 1941. Savvy marketing convinced the American people that jellied cranberry — love it or hate it — was an essential part of our treasured annual holiday.
The rest is history. Urann’s cranberry cooperative changed its name to Ocean Spray in 1957. Now, Americans consume more than five million gallons of canned cranberry jelly every holiday season.
And Urann’s innovation fundamentally changed the economics of cranberries: just five percent of the U.S. cranberry crop is sold as fresh fruit, with the rest going into sauces, juice, and yes, that shape-holding canned jelly mold.
So next time you spoon a chunk of jellied cranberry on your Thanksgiving plate, give a moment of thanks to the estimable Mr. Urann: for his dubious addition to the national palette, his victories for the cranberry economy, and his defeat of antitrust consumer protections. America!
Glenn McDonald is a writer based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Kate Buckens styles food to be photographed for magazines, cookbooks, restaurant websites, and advertising.
When people hear ‘food stylist,’ do they immediately think of blow-dried turkeys with shoe polish? A fair amount of people assume it’s all still fake, using Crisco for ice cream and that kind of thing. It hasn’t been that way for a long while. That was the product of a time when people were shooting with film and the lights were really hot. I have been known to darken up a turkey with Kitchen Bouquet, but everything we work with is real food.
People often assume I work with a chef, but almost all the time, I am the chef. I’m given recipes by the client, and do all the grocery shopping, and cook everything.
Which foods work best for styling? Produce is a big challenge. Cilantro wilts so fast. I shop at the farmer’s markets in-season, where things are just really, really fresh. Otherwise, it’s a lot of little things you might not normally buy. Cool Whip will hold up forever; if you’re shooting a milkshake with whipped cream on top, you really want Cool Whip. I like Swanson chicken broth, which has a clear, golden color that photographs well. Some of the others are a weird yellow under the lights.
The backside of that sandwich is full of all kinds of tricks: toothpicks, wobble wedges, paper towels, you name it.
And which foods work worst? Sandwiches can be a food stylist’s nemesis: trying to get each ingredient to look good and not too smushed. From the front they look great, but the backside of that sandwich is full of all kinds of tricks: toothpicks, wobble wedges, paper towels, you name it.
What kinds of things can go wrong during a shoot? We were doing a shoot for a premium ice cream brand. With premium ice creams, all the goodies tend to sink down into the pint. So we’d have to open up 30 or so containers to get one perfect scoop that showed off all the ingredients. We were shooting in January and we had all the windows open to keep the ice cream from melting.
Another time we were shooting actors at a party with a product that had just been recalled. We ran out of samples, so I had to drive around L.A. trying to buy up food that had been yanked from the shelves. I was like, “We’re not going to eat it, it’s a prop!”
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When you’re off-duty, are you still mentally rearranging everything you see on the table? If we’re having friends over for dinner, I’ll be making a cheese plate, and I’ll find myself styling it, trying to make it look a certain way. I hate that, because I really appreciate when dinner is ugly and delicious.
What are some tools you can’t live without? Tweezers and a spritz bottle of water. And I have a collection of heating elements — a heat gun; a steamer for melting crappy American cheese, which responds better to wet heat; a charcoal starter to put grill marks on food. And a really big propane kitchen torch — that’s what you use to make a pizza look bubbly and delicious.
Darren Goldin is co-founder and head of farming operations for Entomo Farms, which raises crickets for human consumption. The crickets are ground into powder, then sold in products including protein bars and baked goods.
What was your career before you started farming bugs? My younger brother and I started a business that manufactured percussion instruments. That closed down when the economy crashed after 9/11. Then we started Reptile Feeders, which produces insects for pets and zoos and rescue centers. We had been doing that for about eight years when we started Entomo Farms.
What was the inspiration for farming crickets as a human food source? The biggest impetus was a U.N. report in 2013 on global food security. Insects have an incredible potential to sustainably feed 2 billion more people expected [on the planet] by 2050.
In response to someone saying, “That is gross,” I will remind them where steak and hamburger come from.
What’s your most persuasive line to get someone to taste a cricket? If someone’s not interested, I don’t try too hard to convince them. But in response to someone saying, “That is gross,” I will remind them where steak and hamburger come from.
What’s the most interesting insect you’ve eaten? A sakundry. It’s a very fatty, delicious insect. It tasted like bacon. It’s native to Madagascar but probably no one else outside the country has tasted it.
How much has the edible insect market grown since you got involved? We launched in 2014, and at that point there wasn’t much of an industry. It was a handful of startups. But the growth has been tremendous. Here in Canada, Loblaws has a store brand called President’s Choice, and this spring they launched a pure cricket powder. That really legitimized the industry and created access to the product in a way that has never existed, certainly not in North America.
How is your farm set up? We have three barns of about 20,000 square feet. Each houses 40 to 50 million crickets. It’s similar in setup to a chicken farm. Like chickens, our crickets take six weeks to harvest. One of the cool things about insect farming is we harvest them at the end of their natural life. Compare that to chickens, cows, and pigs — all those animals we eat as infants.
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Describe a typical workday. In the morning I meet with my manager, and we do a full walkthrough of the farming operation. Crickets are finicky, so we have to change things pretty frequently. Our goal always is to increase the density to drive down the cost. I spend a fair amount of time researching other types of farming and how they’ve mechanized and scaled.
What’s a weird tool you use for work? The egg flats made for [industrial] chicken farmers and the partitions used in the wine industry. We use them both for growing the crickets on.
What’s for lunch? I’m eating one of our partner’s cricket protein bars, CrickStart. It has 12 grams of protein.