King Corn

The Salted Cod recently viewed a screening of the new documentary King Corn and we were inspired to try to dig deeper and reach out to the creators of King Corn.

We had the great opportunity to ask Ian Cheney of King Corn 10 questions.

"King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm."

1. What was your goal going into making King Corn?

Ian: Growing up on the East Coast, I had a decent understanding of where apples, blueberries and cranberries came from, but the majority of what I ate came from elsewhere. Put simply, my goal in developing King Corn with Curt and Aaron was to tell the story of where our food comes from -- by growing it.

2. How was King Corn financed? Were large donations made to the making of the film?

Ian: King Corn was a grassroots operation. Small foundations and dozens of generous individuals buoyed us through the first several years, until the Independent Television Service (ITVS) came on board with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

3. Did you have any previous education or experience in the food industry or agriculture going into this film?

Ian: In college I became very active in bringing local farmers to campus to supply their produce to the dining halls. Like many of my peers, I had an almost instinctual desire to forge a better connection with the sources of my food. As this work developed into the Yale Sustainable Food Project, I also completed a Master's degree studying the ways in which consumers become disconnected from the sources of their food. But it wasn't really possible to study food or farming at my liberal arts college, and most of the calories in the dining hall were from cattle ranches or processing plants thousands of miles away.

5. Did you ever raise enough to buy the acre of land? Was it left empty or was something else planted on it?

Ian: We couldn't afford to buy our acre of corn, but we're still hoping to -- although Chuck is more likely to sell us an acre on the edge of a field, as opposed to the middle of it.

6. Why did the farmer you stayed with end up leaving Greene? Was he forced out, retired, etc...?

Ian: None of Chuck's seven sons really wanted to be farmers, and I'm not sure Chuck feels that there is a lot of value left in farming, either. In fact, I read recently that in a recent survey of current Iowa farmers, more than 50% advised their children against farming for an occupation.
7. What does your diet consist of now? Have you tried to make an effort to modify your diet and/ or eat less corn byproducts after the completion of this movie?
Ian: Being on the road a lot, it's been tough to eat the way I want to. So much of our "foodscape" is made up of the same stuff -- junk foods and fast foods. I want to eat better, but on the road it takes a lot of time and money to find the foods I consider healthful or sustainable. Curt and I are actually trying to avoid corn-derived foods for the entire month of November -- so far so good, but I'm wishing we'd chosen a shorter month. Check our website for updates...

8. Do you believe that the average person would pay a higher premium for grass feed cattle if it was just as easy as buying corn fed cattle, knowing it was healthier and better for the environment in the long run? For example: if your local chain restaurant had two menu options, an organic grass feed burger for $12.00 and a corn feed burger for $7.00 with accurate descriptions of each item.
Ian: Some will pay more, some won't. That's true with everything. But corn-fed beef is artificially cheap. We subsidize it with our tax dollars, and then pay for the health problems it creates through our health insurance bills. And rural communities pay for all the problems the feedlot waste creates. So maybe if the menu said $7.00 + hidden costs (sick cows, fat people, polluted waterways), then the $12.00 burger would look a little cheaper. (Also, I just had a grass-fed beef burger at a bar-restaurant in San Francisco for eight bucks, and it was great.)

9. How did you connect with Michael Pollan? How large was his role/influence in the making of King Corn? Was the King Corn concept born before Michael Pollans omnivore's dilemma was published?

Ian: In my college days I met Michael at an event at Yale, and several months later he agreed to be an advisor to our film project. He'd begun work on his book, and was naturally very talkative about corn -- one of the reasons we honed in on Zea Mays. Throughout the process he was a wonderful help and inspiration, generous with his time and insights. We were in the final editing stages of King Corn when his book was published.

10. What is the best way average people can change the way our food system is currently set up for the better?

Ian: There's a lot to be done -- but I'd like to say, "Ask." Ask your waiter where the beef or pork or chicken comes from. Is it grass-fed? Pasture-raised? Local? Are there local options on the menu? Ask at the grocery store, at the convenience store -- and if you don't find what you want, ask why not?


View the King Corn trailer

You’ll soon realize how dependent the American diet and food system really is on corn. Read food labels and ask questions. Try to get out there and see a screening of King Corn while you can, it will be well worth your time.

Please check
http://www.kingcorn.net/ for screening times and cities.

The Salted Cod would like to thank Ian Cheney & Naomi Starkman for this great opportunity.


Fornino: Williamsburg

Fornino, Margherita Classica
Originally uploaded by Slice
We really love pizza. We’ve been known to go on long pizza binges, sometimes so desperate we'd fry a pizza slice to reheat it out of necessity. We've also been known to anger others with our intense pizza cravings. Luckily for us, we found heaven at Fornino’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Fornino’s is artisan pizza at its very best. As far as we know from reading the menu, everything is made in house, including the mozzarella. They also have their own garden space to grow herbs and tomatoes. The wood fired oven gives the crust a nice, crispy, slightly charred flavor. This is the only way too cook a pizza; we’re thinking of starting a petition to have the government mandate this.

We actually visited Fornino on two consecutive nights. On our first visit we ordered (and engulfed) a pie called the Al Roker. This was ordered partly due to the hilarious nature of the name, being the only celebrity pie on the menu. More so because we were craving caramelized onions on our pie. In addition to the caramelized onions, the Al Roker included sopressata, garlic, rosemary and fresh mozzarella. A winning combination, the rosemary really accents the sweet smokey tomato sauce while the sopressata is just salty enough to make you crave more.

The next night we truly tried to find a new joint to check out but we had to face the facts, we wanted another slice of Fornino. We order the Margherita classic as pictured. So simple, so good. Some great olive oil drizzled on at the end was a nice touch.

We’re already craving more; maybe we’ll hit up Emmas in Cambridge this week…


Hired Gun.

The Salted Cod was recently asked to cater a party. This was both exciting news and an honor to be asked. I cordially accept this offer.

(Starting at the top from left to right: Caprese, arugula & shaved carrot salad, balsamic & oil, lemon garlic vinaigrette, sauerkraut & apples braised in apple cider, meatballs, kielbasa & lasagna)

After accepting this offer I had around a month to plan a menu with my client, purchase all items for the event and finally and most importantly prepare the menu. This was my first time catering such a large event and quite honestly I was not too sure on how much food was really needed. We agreed on a menu which we both thought would be more than adequate for the number of people attending. I am going to take you through each item along with progress made.

The party menu is as follows:
Caprese salad with balsamic & oil
Arugula & shaved carrot salad with lemon garlic vinaigrette
Grilled Kielbasa marinated in Sam Adams Oktoberfest & Fresh pressed apple cider served with a side of sauerkraut & apples braised in apple cider
Birthday cake provided by host

I left work at 4:30 with the massive shopping list; I had a few stores to go to acquire all of the needed ingredients. I arrived back home at 7:30, unpacked and sorted a trunk full of items and get to work.

First thing first, I had to make two massive batches of tomato sauce for both our meatballs and lasagnas. This is my basic sauce minus the chili flakes that we make quite often. It is like by most people so we didn’t mess around. I had a hell of a lot of San Marzano tomatoes, onions, a bit of sugar, olive oil and basil. Once the two massive pots of sauce started bubbling away we moved on to our meatballs.

I found the meatballs to be the most challenging part of the hire. We decided on two trays for the party with a total of 10 pounds of meat. I split the meat right in half, half beef, half pork. The meat was seasoned with salt, garlic, and parmesan. We also had some day old crusty bread which we soaked in milk to help keep the meatballs moist. We flash fried the meatballs just enough to keep them together before simmering in the sauce to finish.

At this point I'm ready to call it a night, its 1 am and the sauce and meatballs are complete. We have one last quick thing to do. Stick all the kielbasa in a pot to marinate with the Oktoberfest and cider.

First thing first crank that oven up and pump out 3 trays of lasagna with enough time to rest each tray before serving. We mixed our ricotta with 3 eggs per 2 quarts of ricotta, parsley, black pepper, salt and parmesan. Each tray had 5 layers of sauce, pasta, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan, with the middle layer receiving a splash of green with some fresh basil.

Lasagna done.

I purchased the Kielbasa at Euromart in Dorchester. Euromart is a great polish deli with lots of homemade goodies and great meats.

The kielbasa was grilled with no problems at all, about an hours worth of work. I also had a small spray bottle of cider to constantly spritz the meat while grilling. The drained sauerkraut and diced apples were braised in cider to serve as a side.

I had a great helper for the salad who did most of the prep for me while I made the dressings.

Everything is now packed and ready to go 3 hours before show time.

What a whirlwind of a weekend. I clocked in 10 hours of kitchen time without counting trip the store. It turned out to be quite a feast. The meatballs were a bit on the bland side, theys to could have definitely used more salt. I found it on the harder side to control the quality with such a large batch. Next time we will be making mini balls to test along the way. The rest of our dishes came out great and were well received.

I got home and fell directly asleep with my clothes on, exhausted at 9:00pm. It was a hell of an experience.