FERN’s Friday Feed: What happened when two famous chefs got sober

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Turns out that the legendarily raucous Joe Beef was bigger than the party

Bon Appétit

Joe Beef, the Montreal restaurant, has been known around the world as a place to party — to eat and drink very well, and to excess. That reputation was inseparable from David McMillan and Fred Morin, the co-owner chefs who led the bacchanalian charge. Now they’re both sober, and things have changed. “As I started taking care of myself, the staff started mimicking me,” McMillan says. “All of these young cooks who came to cook at Joe Beef, who look up to me and Fred, saw, well, David’s not drinking anymore, and he’s going to bed early, and he’s talking about what’s cool on Netflix. Then my staff was going to bed early and watching Netflix. My comptroller said staff drinking is down like crazy. We have the numbers. We used to give out 30 or 40 glasses of wine at the end of the shift, and it’s down to 10, and half the staff is drinking kombucha.”

Don’t Miss FERN at SXSW!

Next week, FERN’s Leah Douglas heads to Austin to moderate two panels at SXSW. Get up to speed on the events with our Q&A with panelist Ken Ward Jr., an award-winning reporter from West Virginia, and a list of four reasons not to miss our panel on The Future of Big Food. Both stories are in front of the paywall at FERN’s Ag Insider, so even if you’re not an Ag Insider subscriber, you can read up (and then subscribe here!). And if you’re heading to SXSW, drop us a line!

A scientist calls BS on the happy talk about food waste and ugly produce


The rise of companies that claim to be helping solve the problem of food waste by finding uses for the imperfect fruits and vegetables that are too “ugly” for restaurants or supermarkets, has been widely celebrated in the media. Sarah Taber, a crop scientist, has a less-generous view of the phenomenon, insisting that those companies just “found a good hustle that makes them look good and makes money.” She goes on: “I think they’ve painted this idea that the food just tragically rots and that’s that. But when a crop is complete, farmers plow everything back into the soil. Some of it ends up as organic matter that is supporting soil health … And a lot of ugly produce ends up being fed to animals … but then you have people going, ‘Oh, my god, it’s wasted!’ But somebody ate it. So is that really waste? No.”

The deep culture of homemade yogurt

The New York Times

“Yogurt is central to many of the world’s cuisines,” writes Priya Krishna. “But in South Asia, where geographical divisions run deep, it is one of the few ingredients that figure prominently in the cooking of nearly every region, from the subtle, vegetable-heavy foods of Gujarat in western India, to the light gravies and fragrant biryanis of Sindhi food in Pakistan.” In Krishna’s home, “I can’t recall a single day, growing up, when the fridge was without yogurt, or as it’s known in Hindi, dahi. We ate it alongside every meal, as a cooling respite to the spices in our dals and sabzis. Yogurt provided body and lift to my mother’s shrikhand, a sweetened cardamom-yogurt dessert, and the animating tang to her kadhi, a spiced soup made from chickpea flour.”

Why grapes catch on fire in the microwave


For reasons previously unknown, microwaved grapes, prepared appropriately, will create a small fireball. The internet is full of videos of the phenomenon. “Popular online explanations usually say that the grape halves act like an antenna, and they somehow direct microwaves onto the small bridge of skin to ignite the initial spark,” writes Sophia Chen. “But nobody had actually done the math to prove it. After several summers of microwaving grape-shaped objects and simulating the microwaving of those objects, a trio of physicists in Canada may have finally figured it out.”

The possibilities and limits of packaging-free grocery stores

Smithsonian Magazine

More zero-waste stores are popping up, where you can bring your own containers to buy food and body products in bulk. The concept works well for some, but logistical challenges remain. “No packaging means no shelf-stable food,” writes Emily Matchar. “On the retail side, no packaging means you need to move inventory quickly before it spoils — sealed Cheerios last much longer than open bins of granola (and spoiled food means food waste, another environmental problem). It’s also challenging to reduce waste on the supplier’s side, as food needs to be shipped in bags and boxes.”