Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is there magic in this?

(For more background, please check out my first (!) published (!) story here)

As many of you already know, I published by first real story last week, covering what is probably one of the coolest places I have found in Portland–Salt, Fire & Time. It’s a community supported kitchen, or CSK (the name is a play on the ever-popular CSAs, but, besides the connection to local and sustainable farms, the connection is pretty thin). I first read about Salt, Fire & Time on Serious Eats and was instantly curious what it would be like to join in. Luckily, my editor agreed.

I spent a day in the kitchen hanging out, cooking and shopping with owner Tressa Yellig, two other volunteers, and Yellig’s kitchen companion, a woman named Abby who cooks vegan/raw/gluten-free healthy stuff. It was actually totally hilarious to witness the combination of the two cusines in one kitchen–on one side of the kitchen, Tressa was cooking down 30 pounds of pork to make rillettes, and on the other side, Abby was prepping a raw kale salad. Both of them said that they really liked the balance. They’ve got all the food groups covered.

Anyhow, because I volunteered on a Wednesday, the day before orders are distributed, most of the work involved packaging and labeling already prepared food. Even though it was a bit tedious, I got the opportunity to see a lot of different things that come out of the kitchen.

See and taste, that is. Tressa loves to share. It’s a good thing, too, because I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about her cooking style when I first came in. Tressa trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is a super hippy-dippy, mostly vegan/macrobiotic cooking school. One of their most famous graduates is Morgan Spurlock’s wife (remember Super Size Me?). They teach natural food remedies, emphasizing the healing powers of things like garlic and naturally fermented beverages. Called a traditional whole foods diet, it calls for a return to “traditional” eating practices, whatever they may be. As a former biology major and someone who lives in a house full of scientists, I generally scoff at such things.

I scoff no more. Tressa’s food is awesome and totally not what I, or anyone, would call hippy. While volunteering that day, I tried citrus beef jerky (amazing, and I usually hate jerky), orange-clove lacto-fermented soda (alive and effervescent), coconut truffles (I crave these every day now), a couple kinds of sauerkraut, and a left-over pork and beet greens dish from a dinner party. More than sated, I remained full for the rest of the day, but it wasn’t one of those gross, stomach-achy kinds of full. It was a satisfied, energetic kind of full.

That’s the whole idea.

Not only is this food sustainable on an environmental level (Tressa sources only from local and organic sources), but it is sustainable on a personal level as well. Her foods are nutrient-dense–with every preparation, Tressa works to preserve and promote as much of the good stuff in food as possible. Her food is rich and fatty, but your body consumes it slower, so you burn sugar slower and stay fuller longer (kind of like the low-glycemic index trend). She advocates frequent use of fermentations in order to balance out your body’s digestive system (scoff if you like, but those of us who are lactose intolerant and still eat yogurt have already bought into this theory). As Tressa told me, though, it’s difficult to convince most people to buy into her food until they’ve tried it. So she holds weekly dinners with famous foodies from around town in order to draw in wider customer base. I’m lucky enough to be able to attend one such dinner next week. I’m totally pumped.

In fact, I’m planning on spending as much time as I can at Salt, Fire & Time. Despite the fact that I am not a natural foods person or that I have no plans to begin brewing my own kombucha, I feel very much at home there. The community aspect was readily apparent to me the first moment I stepped inside. The space buzzes with energy, enthusiasm and encouragement. I felt a part of something game-changing.

During my interview with Tressa, she talked a lot about her problems with the restaurant business, frequently bemoaning her time spent as the “invisible back end slave” not able to have any relationship with her customers. This thought crosses my mind frequently, as friends and relatives ask me when I’m going to go cooking school on a regular basis. I too do not want to be the invisible slave. I want to be able to cook for people, but I want to see them, to know them, and to be able to give them the best of me and of my ingredients.

Community supported kitchens seem like a great way to do just this, whatever their particular cuisine. They require strong relationships with eaters, cooks and food suppliers in a way that most restaurants just don’t. Like I said before, they bring sustainability to a whole new level.

As Tressa says, is there magic in this?

No, but there’s love, and without that, this new food revolution is going nowhere.


  1. Don't go to culinary school. Waste of money, waste of time. Just go work in the industry.