We Are Chefs – The Official Blog of the American Culinary Federation
We Are Chefs is American Culinary Federation's blog focusing on issues affecting chefs, student culinarians and food from an industry perspective. Blog topics will focus on issues affecting chefs, students and food from an industry perspective as well as in-depth features on food and culture.
Even the best menus need a makeover from time to time. Sometimes a chef wants to try something new. Sometimes diners aren’t responding as positively to certain menu items as a chef hoped they would. Sometimes seasonal changes make a new menu necessary. Whatever the case, the following dos and don’ts can help chefs with their menu development.
Michael C. Brown
Do bring personality to the menu. A chef’s unique voice should shine through in their menu, especially if he is working in a restaurant. “I see many chefs following the crowd,” says Chef Michael C. Brown, Executive Chef of Barrel Republic and Jalisco Cantina in San Diego, California. “They have too many trendy items and not enough original items. Each restaurant concept should push its own boundaries and find its own uniqueness.”
Don’t forget equipment. Chefs may have the best, tastiest ideas for dishes, but if they don’t have the equipment necessary to execute them, it won’t matter. As a result, they should always create menus with what equipment they already have — or what they might need — in mind to make the dishes work.
Do consider vendors. Since the availability of quality products will play a huge role in the success of a menu, chefs should consult their vendors to ensure that they can deliver the ingredients chefs will need for the new menu, during the days they will need them.
Don’t overdo it. Less can be more when it comes to creating an effective menu, especially for chefs who are new to menu development. “Young chefs will always err on the side of making a new menu too large. In an effort to please and impress, they aim too high,” says Lisabet Summa of West Palm Beach, Florida, co-owner of Big Time Restaurant Group. “Making a menu too large is cumbersome. It creates too much prep that may be hard for the kitchen crew to handle.”
Do ensure staff members can make the menu items. Chefs should be sure to create menu items that their staffs either already know how to execute or can be easily taught how to make. A menu is useless if members of the chef’s team can’t prepare the dishes on it.
Don’t ignore cost. As chefs develop new dishes for their menu, it’s important for them to price out each ingredient to ensure their vision makes sense financially. If they work in restaurants, they should think about a proposed price they would sell the dish for and whether or not it’s in line with what their customers are likely to pay.
Do be patient. Creating a great menu can take some time, so chefs shouldn’t feel pressured to finish quickly. “It’s a process that takes time to develop. Some of the best chefs take days, weeks, even months to finally decide what is going to be on the menu,” says Chef Christian Kruse of Vergennes Laundry by CK in Vergennes, Vermont. “Trial and error. Test test test. Don’t put items on the menu until you feel confident that if you were to walk into a restaurant, you would order the item and be happy with it.”
Think you’re a lemon expert? Take the March 2019 Ingredient of the Month quiz for 1 CEH toward ACF Certification at acfchefs.org/CEHquiz.
Lemons grow on a small tree in the flowering plant family Rutaceae. The tree produces an edible fruit that is oval with a broad, low nipple. The outer rind, or peel, is yellow when ripe and rather thick in some varieties. The inside pulp is pale-yellow and split into 8 to 10 segments. Some fruits are seedless though most have a few seeds that are small, oval, and smooth. Due to the lemon’s acidity level, it has a distinct sour taste.
The origin of the lemon has not yet been confirmed, though science suggests it was in northwestern India. Lemons were introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to Hispaniola. Lemons were reported to be increasingly planted in northeastern Florida in 1839. By the 1960s, California and Arizona became the leading producers of lemons in the United States.
Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. The fiber and plant compounds in lemons also significantly lowers some risk factors for heart disease. The citric acid in lemons acts as an antioxidant and helps protect the body against free radicals.
Lemons and citrus squeezer
Healthy Ingredient Contribution
Values from NutritionData.com based on lemons, raw, with peel (one fruit without seeds: 108 grams)
Vitamin C One serving of lemons provides 139 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that functions as an antioxidant. Vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infection and promotes a healthy immune system.
Dietary Fiber 20 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber comes from one serving of lemons. Soluble fibers help control weight by making the stomach feel full. Insoluble fibers add bulk to the diet and help prevent constipation.
Copper One serving of lemons contain 14 percent of the daily recommended value of copper. Copper is central to building strong tissue, maintaining blood volume and producing energy in your cells.
Calcium Seven percent of the daily recommended value of calcium can come from one lemon. Calcium is important for strong bones. Consuming calcium can help prevent osteoporosis.
Eureka The fruit has a skin of average to thin thickness, usually smooth, although it is a bit rough, especially if it is produced in Mediterranean climates. This lemon contains very few seeds, and its juice has a high level of acidity.
Libson The fruit is very similar to the Eureka variety. However, libson lemon trees produce fruit twice a year, whereas the Eureka tree can produce fruit all year long.
Meyer Meyer lemons are a hybrid of lemons and oranges. They are large and rounded. The skin is yellowish orange, smooth, soft and thin. It lacks the characteristic tang and smell of lemons, but it does have a nice floral aroma. Meyer lemon trees produce fruit all year long.
Lemons fruits and lemon buds on a tree
Selecting and Storing
• When selecting lemons, look for clear, blemish-free rinds. It should be heavy for its size and have a pleasant fragrance.
• A thinner-skinned lemon will yield more juice, while a
thicker-skinned one may be better for zest.
• Store lemons whole for use within a week or two
• Refrigerate or freeze lemon juice, lemon zest or lemon slices separately for later use. Note: The flavor may be less strong than that of fresh lemons.
• Lemon juice is used to make lemonade, soft drinks, and cocktails. It can be used to marinate fish and flavor desserts, such as lemon meringue pie or lemon blueberry muffins. Lemon juice is frequently added to pancakes in the United Kingdom.
• Lemon peel/zest is used in both savory and sweet dishes, such as pastas or marmalades. The lemon’s peel can be candied when cut into strips.
• Lemon leaves are used to make tea and for preparing meats and seafood.
• Each lemon tree can produce between 500 and 600 pounds of lemons a year.
• The high acidity of lemons makes them good cleaning aids.
• In 1747, James Lind’s experiments on seamen suffering from scurvy involved adding lemon juice to their diets, though vitamin C had not yet been discovered.
• A lemon festival is celebrated in Menton, France from February to March.
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“One of the chefs walked by me on the second day of the buffet, catering day, and he said, ‘Good luck Chef, you’re the only one left.’ I was like, ‘What?'”
That’s how Timothy Bucci, CMC, CCE describes the moment he found out he was the last man standing in ACF‘s 2019 Certified Master Chef® exam. After day two, Michael Matarazzo, CEC, had to withdraw from the exam. After day three, Seth Shipley, CEC, CCA and William Rogers, CEC did not score high enough to advance in the exam, leaving Bucci to face the next six days with all eyes on him.
“The good thing for me is I’m good at zoning other people out. Don’t get me wrong, the people watching through the glass, and the evaluators standing around… it makes you nervous,” he says. “I was [aware of the cameras], and I joked around with my apprentice when my towel kinda caught a little bit on fire. I said, ‘That will make some good TV.'”
If it’s a spoiler that CMC is right there in the letters behind Chef Bucci‘s name, then you were not among the thousands who were glued to YouTube during the live stream of the eight-day exam. He did pass — in dramatic fashion, of course.
“I’ve coached students and student teams. I tell them, just because [the evaluators] write something down, doesn’t mean it’s negative. But when you’re in the moment, when they come up to you and then go back to write something down, there’s no way you cannot think, ‘What did I just do? Was it right? Was it wrong?’,” he laughs. “You just have to keep on going.”
That’s a bit of advice Chef Bucci, a culinary arts instructor at Joliet Junior College, has been adhering to his whole life. Taking the CMC exam this year was the culmination of a dream that he’s held for 30 years.
“When I joined the ACF, I met Steve Jilleba at a Chicago chapter meeting. I started doing a little research and [the CMC exam] has been on the back of my mind for a while,” he says. “After I started teaching, I started getting more into the competition scene, really just trying to continue my growth and learning. … Just trying to find any way that I could to prepare myself.”
From 2000 to 2008, he competed in around 60 competitions and was on ACF Team USA from 2010 to 2012.
“Anybody has a chance.”
In 2014, he was scheduled to take the CMC exam, but cut his thumb and had to get stitches a week before it started. He was mentally ready in 2014, he says, but after the cut, he lost that feeling. Chefs whom he sees as his mentors, including Joseph Leonardi, CMC, Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE, AAC and Stephen Giunta, CMC, continued to guide him and help him prepare. It took a few years, but in 2017, Bucci’s confidence had returned and he began to sharpen his skills.
Even still, he walked into the Schoolcraft College kitchen in March 2019 carrying some lingering doubts — and perhaps the burden of fate.
“I remember telling Joe Leonardi [years ago] if I drew Dover sole and chicken that it was going to be a hard fabrication day,” Bucci says.
Chefs Brian Beland, CMC and Shawn Loving, CMC, CCA taste Chef Bucci’s Day Four plate.
Just by thinking he wouldn’t do well if he drew those items, “I had already set myself up for failure,” Bucci says. “That’s why I think this is so much more mental. … Being mentally ready to take the test is probably more important than cooking really good food.”
After three hours of cooking and a 30-minute plating window, Bucci served the required dishes in the classical menu. But it wasn’t enough. He failed.
According to the scoring methods, all of the exam majors must be passed to earn the CMC designation — but his average score was enough to earn him a retest day on Sunday. The rest is history.
“I finally started having fun after the day I failed. It was eye opening. That’s the day I turned the corner, and then from there it kept going uphill,” Bucci recalls. “By day seven, eight, nine, I was having more fun. … It was hard, but I remember telling my apprentice, ‘If I go late today, I’m going home.’ I just laughed and said, ‘No pressure, huh?'”
The grueling eight-day test which some of the best chefs in the world have tried and failed might seem like a nearly impossible one. But Bucci wants other chefs to know that it’s not.
“There are chefs out there that could pass this test. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ton of work, but work and effort and mentorship, it certainly makes it easier,” he says. “Reaching out to any of the master chefs for a mentor is so highly valuable. They are all willing to help you out. They want you to pass.”
“You have to put the effort in. You have to put the time in. But they are more than willing. I have emailed multiple chefs, chefs that didn’t really know me, and I got feedback,” he continues. “Anybody has a chance.”
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As chefs, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to prepare the best possible products and how to control costs. Something that we might not think about is how hard the work is on our bodies and our overall health. Working long hours, eating restaurant food all day, smoking and drinking to socialize with the crew — it all adds up to health problems later on in life.
One of the major barriers that chefs see between themselves and living a healthier life is their work environment. While it’s true that kitchens and restaurants can be unhealthy places full of bad habits, overindulgent lifestyles and rich foods, they are also workplaces with a solid sense of teamwork. Without this teamwork, we could never get the food out as fast, get the prep done and provide the customers with a seamless, pleasurable experience.
Our solid teamwork mindset in the kitchen gives us an incredible opportunity for change. Chefs can learn to leverage the power of their teams to successfully make changes to their diets and lifestyles, changes which could alter the course of their lives and their careers. Here are 10 ways that you can use your team to help you get on the road to a healthier you:
1. Start a water drinking competition and have the staff join in. Everyone can bring their health department-approved bottle (or you could provide bottles for your team with their names on them). You get a point for each day that you make your hydration quota.
2. Change family meal, or the staff menu, to include healthier options. Lead by example, and order the good stuff!
3. Start the shift off right with a powdered supplement like Emergen-C mixed with soda water on ice for everyone. It will replace soda drinking and help keep your crew and yourself healthy.
4. Implement a rotating lighter option on the specials menu and put your crew in charge of coming up with dishes for it. Have them make one for you for lunch or dinner some days.
5. Ban the use of energy drinks in your kitchen. They slow your brain function and cause you to need more caffeine to keep going. Seriously, these things are not helping anyone be faster or more efficient — not to mention the link between energy drinks and heart problems.
6. If you have to stick to an eating protocol or special diet for a period of time, assign one of your best cooks to be your honorary taster.
7. Get your crew outside whenever you can. Take the racks outside on a nice day to clean, put a smoker out back and run specials off of it. Install a screen door, and leave the back door open through shift. Fresh air and sunlight make a huge difference in our health and our mood.
8. Start walking or biking to work when you can, and give out small prizes to staff members who do the same.
9. Make kitchen-wide stretching breaks mandatory. People who stretch their bodies are less likely to injure themselves and have more energy throughout the day.
10. Keep the music, conversation, and mindset positive at all times. Nothing brings a group down faster than a bunch of negativity or smack-talking. If you want to feel your best, physically and mentally, and have a clear mind to get the job done, surround yourself and your crew with calm, positive, upbeat energies.
Implementing any or all of these ideas will make a huge difference in the health and happiness of everyone in your kitchen, your whole restaurant and especially in you.
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In the late 1800s, legendary French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer Auguste Escoffier was setting up kitchens and recruiting chefs for such legendary hotels as the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London. It was during this time he met a young chef by the name of Charles Scotto.
Scotto was born in 1887 in Monte Carlo, where he began his career in the pastry department at the Casino de Monte-Carlo. In 1900 he went to England, where he continued to work and learn.
Escoffier and Scotto • image courtesy of Robert Hendry, oldcooksbooks.com
“At the turn of the century Scotto had been a commis chef in the brigade at the Savoy Hotel London where Escoffier was Maitre Chef de Cuisine,” writes collector Robert Hendry on his website, oldcooksbooks.com. “Scotto helped Escoffier all [through] his professional life with planning and opening many new kitchens and restaurants. … He represented and helped Escoffier in the setting up and the opening of many of his other ventures over the years, including the famous Casino Dieppe.”
It was at the Casino Dieppe in France in 1927 that the photograph above was taken. Escoffier is in the dark suit, seated in the middle, with Scotto on the left. “While photographs of Escoffier are quite common, those of Scotto are scarce and signed images of both chefs together are rare in the extreme,” Hendry writes.
Chef Charles Scotto • image courtesy of Chef Rico DiFronzo, Epicurean Club of Boston
While we don’t know much else about the conditions which surround the photo, we do know that during the time it was taken, Escoffier had retired from the kitchen and Scotto was head chef at the Ambassador Hotel in New York. Scotto went on to serve as president of the Vatel Club of New York and the Chefs de Cuisine Association before becoming one of the founding members of the American Culinary Federation in 1929.
Upon his death in 1937, the New York Times referred to Scotto as Escoffier’s “favorite pupil.”
“[He] gave to his art a personal touch which won him friends in gourmet circles the world over… [he was] the perfect picture of a chef, with his white starched hat cocked slightly over one ear.”
• Content sponsored by the National Restaurant Association •
The2019 National Restaurant Association Show announces its centennial education program, five tracks designed to improve every aspect of your operation. For 100 years, the National Restaurant Association Show has provided foodservice professionals the latest innovations, techniques, and technology to grow their businesses and satisfy their customers, and this year’s Show is no exception.
In the on-floor education sessions, you’ll learn the recipes to find great employees in a vice-tight labor market, enhance your operation with new innovations and technology, market your revamped menu, and much more. Education is served à la carte so you can mix and match the learning you need for your career and business. Check out all the education sessions at the Show.
In the Hiring and Retention education track, gain tips to create a robust workforce and increase profits. In the “How to Become an Employer of Choice” session, you’ll identify the most effective ways to recruit and retain employees, from front- and back-of-the-house to management level.
Prep the business strategies that will keep you make doors swing in the Marketing Matters track. “How Retailers Intend to Eat Your Lunch (and Breakfast, Too)” provides tactics to keep your restaurant cooking as convenience stores, checkout-free shopping, and even hard-good retailers intensify their efforts to steal meal occasions.
Discover the cutting edge in menu development, food trends, and more in the Culinary Insights track. You’ll find out how to maximize your operational benefits and reduce costs while attracting today’s waste-conscious consumers in the session “The Benefits of Waste Reduction and How to Achieve Them.”
The Tech and Innovation track introduces you to the latest business solutions shaping the future of foodservice. In “The Cloud Shift: Line-busting, Kiosks, and Tableside Ordering for Enterprises,” you’ll hear from an expert panel on how cloud POS technology is increasing sales by 20 percent and transforming the guest experience.
Sessions and mixology demos in the Beverage/Alcohol track will have your customers raising a glass. “Design Drinking: Creating a Beverage Menu for the Future” sheds light on the better-for- you options and novelty consumers will be demanding.
And this year’s all-new special programming lineup leaves nothing on the table. Technomic joins Nancy Kruse at the most popular session every year, “Menu Forecast: 2020 and Beyond.” You’ll pick up tips from leading brands who’ve successfully implemented digital media in the Digital Media Slam’s rapid-fire presentations, and listen in as leading female chefs and restaurateurs discuss navigating the path to the top of the foodservice industry in the Women’s Leadership Panel.
The National Restaurant Association Show is the place to explore everything that’s happening in the industry—from equipment and supplies to food and beverage to technology, it’s all here. Register now to learn, experience, network, sample, and test all the latest things at the Show May 18-21, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.
Culinary students come from all backgrounds, are all ages and all ethnicities. The one thing they all have in common is a passion for cooking. In each installment of Sizzle‘s Slice of Life, we provide a snapshot into their world.
Tell us about yourself.
I am currently a student enrolled at the Culinary Institute of Michigan where I am studying food and beverage management. I recently just returned from Italy where I was studying under a chef learning all about Italian cuisine and the ingredients they have to offer. In my future I hope to own my own business, I am a big advocate for locally sourced, and sustainable ingredients so I would like to incorporate that into what ever I plan on doing.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Cooking has always been something I enjoyed from a very young age. It is a great way for people to express themselves. You can almost create a story and bring your guests along for a journey. By being a chef you can create unique and exciting experiences for everyone.
What’s your favorite part of learning to cook? My favorite part of learning to cook is that things are always evolving and changing. It is a profession that I could never get tired of there are always new and exciting things to discover. The different cuisines are all so endless, you can travel the world and experience so much just through food itself.
Rachelle Murphy (center) with her Knowledge Bowl team at ACF National Convention in 2018
Do you have a job or any other responsibilities outside of school? What are they?
I currently work for a catering company. Where I have worked the past four years, I love catering because each event is different and you are able to be apart of the event its self and see how people react to the food first hand.
Are you involved with your local ACF chapter, any competitions or other organizations?
Yes, I am on the student board at my school and I also participate in the Baron H. [Galand Culinary] Knowledge Bowl. My team and I actual won Regionals this past year and were gold medalists at the National Competition.
Want to be featured in Slice of Life? Fill out the form (include lots of details, and don’t forget to include a picture!) and you could see yourself here.
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When people think about communication in restaurants, they may only consider how workers interact with diners. However, no matter how good your customer service is, effective communication in the kitchen is a must to keep your business running smoothly. Without this ingredient, a kitchen cannot truly function—which can ultimately be a recipe for disaster.
“Communication is the key for success in every kitchen,” says Cesar Garcia, Corporate Executive Chef at Rise & Shine Restaurant Group. “It is what can make kitchen teams better, and everyone is on the same page and is working towards the same goal.”
The following kitchen communication tips can ensure that you meet these goals and serve up unity among your team.
Encourage team members to be vocal. When it comes to effective kitchen communication, it is important that every member of the team has a voice—and isn’t afraid to use it. “It is best to always be vocal in the kitchen. Mistakes happen, but communication is the difference between a successful service and a disaster,” says Colten Lemmer, Executive Chef at Union Kitchen & Tap Gaslamp. “One cook not being in communication with his team is much bigger than one might think. One dish will slow down an entire table. One table being behind affects the next table, and tickets start to drag. This leads to a snowball effect and only gets worse. It could have all been solved by a few key words at the correct time.”
Be a good listener. Some think that good communication is just about what is said, but being a good communicator also means being a good listener. You should make an effort to actively listen to your team in order to understand and address their concerns. In addition, having good listening skills helps you learn details about what your workers do outside of the kitchen, and by knowing this information, you can show that you care about them.
Give constructive criticism. Giving criticism is a natural part of being in charge of a kitchen, but in order for the criticism to be useful, it has to be constructive. When giving criticism, it’s important to focus on the specific areas of someone’s performance that need improvement, rather than letting the conversation get personal. In addition, be sure to mention what the person is doing right, which makes it easier for them to take in the constructive criticism because they don’t feel like they’re being bombarded with negative feedback all the time.
Be brief. When people are working in a hot, busy kitchen, there’s no time for elaborate explanations of what needs to be done. In order to communicate effectively in that environment, give brief and clear instructions, rather than providing long explanations that slow everyone down.
Encourage repetition. “The best way to better your own communication is to repeat everything you hear,” says Lemmer. “‘Hot.’ ‘Hot, heard.’ ‘Corner.’ ‘Corner, heard.’ ‘Walking in, New York Medium rare side of grits.’ ‘Heard, New York Medium, side grit.’ It should become second nature to the point where when I am walking through a grocery store, I will catch myself saying the always popular ‘Behind.’”
Always keep the lines of communication open. Communication is not just something that happens in the kitchen during a busy service, it’s an ongoing process that needs to be nurtured on a regular basis. “I recommend meeting on a weekly basis with those that need the most attention and provide as much visible information possible,” Garcia says.
Show appreciation.Everyone wants to know they are valued, so when workers are doing something well, let them know in the moment how much you appreciate it. Saying thank you to team members on a regular basis can go a long way toward building morale and getting them to repeat desired behavior.
Happy International Women’s Day! It’s the perfect day to announce something we’re very excited about. On August 8, 2019, during ACF National Convention: Orlando, the ACF will host a four-hour symposium, “United in Food: Women Leaders Of Today and Tomorrow.” The day will include panel discussions and keynote presentations with some of the leading female voices in the culinary industry.
Clips of the film “A Fine Line” will accompany related discussion led by the film’s director and producer, Joanna James of Zoel Productions and the MAPP Campaign. “A Fine Line” explores why only six percent of head chefs and restaurant owners are women, when traditionally women have always held the central role in the kitchen.
Click to view slideshow.
In addition to the Symposium, women in culinary leadership will be a big part of ACF National Convention 2019.
Welcome to the ACF We Are Chefs Book Club! Our March 2019 book is Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, we encourage you to pick up a copy at your local library and read along with us. Update us on your progress with the hashtag #ACFbookclub on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and we’ll hold a Facebook discussion at the end of the month.
Americans are quite familiar with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Yet few are as familiar with his son-in-law, David Fairchild, who helped to shape our modern diet.
Before Fairchild’s amazing plant discoveries, American cuisine was restricted to only the produce grown seasonally on local farms or preserved through canning or drying.
Fairchild dedicated his life to proving that America’s diet could not only be different — it could be better. His belief was based on the need for a free and open exchange of food plants, preferably new colorful tasty ones, from the different regions of the world.
As a young scientist, he lobbied endlessly for his belief and finally convinced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sponsor a series of daring overseas explorations to locate and bring back foreign plants to enrich the American diet.
Amanda Harris’ book Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters (University Press of Florida, 2015) vividly documents his nearly forgotten exploits and the small band of equally inspired botanists who traveled with him to the remotest regions of Africa, Asia, South America and Europe in the early 20th century.
Their search led them through remote dense jungles, past desert oases, and deep into lush mountain valleys to discover and return with new and flavor-rich plants, including navel oranges, Meyer lemons, honeydew melons, soybeans and avocados, to name just a few of their diet-changing discoveries.
Their field research led to, not only a renaissance in the nation’s kitchens, but also to a revolution in agriculture, ensuring a continuous food supply for the nation through the diversification of crops and thereby established an enduring economic base for America’s farmers for decades to come.
Then, as now, there were those who fought against this broader, more inclusive view of world trade. Some individuals feared the new foods would contaminate America’s native crops, while others believed the enjoyment of “foreign foods” would lead Americans “morally astray.” Yes, there was a time when some Americans thought melons and avocados were too sinful to be savored!
Thankfully Fairchild fought against such repressive beliefs. As a result, today chefs can delight their guests with dishes that include ingredients from around the world. Harris’ well-researched book captures both the adventures and struggles of this largely unsung hero, whose courageous plant-gathering efforts continue to shape American menus to this very day.