Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Did Your Kitchen Design Get That Way? Psst - Find Out at MoMa

You’d think with all the kitchen photography for the Homegrown book, not to mention my own obsession with cooking, that I’d be less than eager to visit the New York Museum of Modern Art - MoMa’s “Frankfurt Kitchen.”
But nothing could be further than the truth.

The description in the Arts’ section of The New York Times noted the exhibit is “a point of reference,” and explained the show “explores the 20th –century kitchen and its relationship to food, labor, consumerism and female identify.”

I couldn’t wait to see what was cookin' at the museum about this unique topic.  

So right after it opened in September, I eagerly made it an afternoon at MoMa and a respite in the musuem's unparalleled sculpture garden.

By today’s McMansion uber designs, the kitchen dynamic curated in this exhibit might seem puny.
Long before the kitchen became the center of many homes with “aspirational” kitchen technology that rivals industrial kitchens, there was the kitchen that was buried down below for the kitchen staff to maneuver, or tucked away where women toiled. 
(I say aspirational for today’s kitchens because so many homes are outfitted with amazing culinary gadgets only to sit idle.  People too often eat out or order in or use processed food.)

That phenomena is changing, right?!

I learned that standardization after World War II was a defining feature of modern kitchens. 
There was a hopefulness about the promise of technology.
Adjustable stools allowed women to sit and peel vegetables without standing. 
Progress is glacial J 
The kitchen was also moved closer to the living quarters to Mom could keep her eye on the children while working in the kitchen.
Architects aimed to show the admiration for scientific reason and the desire for a more utopian society as well as transform daily life.
Generally, government and society looked to improve the collective social well-being.

I observed so many of the exhibit-goers pointing out kitchen items and images on the scrims that reminded them of their childhoods spent in the kitchen.
Squealing, some were elbowing others in their group, saying, “I should’ve saved Mom’s ___, fill in the blank; whether it was the blender, Tupperware or Melmac.

I got a mixed message reading the goal at that time was that “every available piece of land must be cultivated.”   That's good. (And I loved the show's posters.)

But I couldn't help think this also led to the Levitt-towning of America with all those cookie-cutter tract houses along with ripping the heart out of our small, local farms...

I recommend visiting the exhibit. It explores food culture – it helps explain a lot of what one of my book’s Homegrown chefs described as a food generation lost to Betty Crocker!

In many ways, the mid century kitchen did indeed become the heart of the home.
It did accomplish the goal of transforming society. 
With the benefit of hindsight, not all that change made life better though.
I could see the timeline of processed foods, diabetes, and fast food, just, well, fast-forward before my eyes. 
But for the time it takes to view the exhibit, you can’t help feel the happy promise that the new kitchen and “liberated” Moms and food technology would not only fuel prosperity but also imbue the “Kitchen Debates” of Nixon and Khrushchev and the entire culture.

MoMa curator Juliet Kinchin and Davin Stowell, founder and CEO of the design consultancy Smart Design were both on the Leonard Lopate, WNYC radio show discussing the exhibit.
Kinchin’s curated a show that produced a combination of a heretofore-unexplored issue fusing history, feminism, architecture, and food.

MoMa’s description of the exhibit is as follows:

Counter Space explores the twentieth-century transformation of the kitchen and highlights MoMA’s recent acquisition of an unusually complete example of the iconic “Frankfurt Kitchen,” designed in 1926–27 by the architect Grete Schütte-Lihotzky. In the aftermath of World War I, thousands of these kitchens were manufactured for public-housing estates being built around the city of Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. Schütte-Lihotzky’s compact and ergonomic design, with its integrated approach to storage, appliances, and work surfaces, reflected a commitment to transforming the lives of ordinary people on an ambitious scale. Previously hidden from view in a basement or annex, the kitchen became a bridgehead of modern thinking in the domestic sphere—a testing ground for new materials, technologies, and power sources, and a spring board for the rational reorganization of space and domestic labor within the home. Since the innovations of Schütte-Lihotzky and her contemporaries in the 1920s, kitchens have continued to articulate, and at times actively challenge, our relationship to the food we eat, popular attitudes toward the domestic role of women, family life, consumerism, and even political ideology in the case of the celebrated 1959 “Kitchen Debate” that took place between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. 

Featured alongside the Frankfurt Kitchen is a 1968 mobile fold-out unit manufactured by the Italian company Snaidero. These two complete kitchens are complemented by a wide variety of design objects, architectural plans, posters, archival photographs, and selected artworks, all drawn from MoMA’s collection. Prominence is given to the contribution of women throughout the exhibition, not only as the primary consumers and users of the domestic kitchen, but also as reformers, architects, designers, and as artists who have critically addressed kitchen culture and myths.

The MoMa kitchen exhibit runs through March14th.  212-708-9400

After touring the exhibit, I visited the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sculpture garden, naturally. 
It is a quintessential urban garden, punctuated by all those sensual Picasso and Giacometti.

Designed by Philip Johnson in 1953 on the same site as Ms. Rockefeller’s town house, it is an outdoor room. 

(As an aside, recently I read, "Angeology," a thriller of a story where Abby Rockefeller's guiding help and the garden at MoMa play a critical role.  A great read.)

In 2004   architect, Yoshio Tanaguchi redesigned the garden, expanding it yet again.
The garden area is sunken with water reflecting pool or ‘canals” as Johnson called them, weeping birch and beech trees.

It is a peaceful place.  A contemplative garden where one can think about and reflect upon the fine art exhibit one has just experienced.

On this day, I saw that Yoko Ono had placed her Wish Tree where visitors could write their wish and place it on a tree branch; with the “promise” the wish would come true.
That was too irresistible and I made a wish for my father…


Next up “must see” at the MoMa is Paula Hayes, Nocturne of the Limax maximus now through February 28, 2011.  It features incredible work of landscape designer artist Hayes.  Curious and gorgeous living gardens in glass!
According to MoMa:
Since the 1990s, New York–based artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes (b. 1958) has produced botanical sculptures—organically shaped vessels made from blown glass, silicone, or acrylic and filled with a rich variety of plant life—that expand upon the classic terrarium, both through their imaginative containers and the microcosmic universes within. Hayes has conceived an installation for the Museum lobby that includes a fifteen-foot-long, wall-mounted horizontal sculpture for the west wall, and a free-standing, egg-shaped, floor-to-ceiling structure nearby. Organic in form and containing a variety of living plants, the vessels will add a joyful vitality to the lobby, enlivening the space during the winter season.

And Garden Design magazine just wrote about the exhibit too.  Kudos for spreading the good word about beautiful gardens.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Great Grain Lecture at The New School

Great Grains 

I was excited to see the invitation to The New School lecture in New York City for three reasons:  it featured Gramercy Tavern restaurant Executive Chef Michael Anthony, who is a featured master chef in my book, New York City Homegrown that celebrates Gotham’s culinary revolutionaries and leaders of the farm to table movement. 

Second, the topic was “The Educated Eater: Regionally Grown Grain.”
Now, a grain may be just a tiny thing, but, hey, size is not everything.
The fact is grains are Big news. They are important.
I can’t make my breads without them, after all. 

I have written about Cayuga Pure Organics, a local grain grower in upstate New York.  (
 -- February 4, 2010)
The Cayuga Pure Organics miller was on the panel for the evening. So that was another plus. 
My curiosity to learn more about grains is unabated. I wanted to learn more.
And lastly, the New School is a mere half a block from the apartment.
Perhaps that is four reasons…

In any event, as Eloise would say, I “skibbled” down the street on a lovely late autumn evening, past the movie-set Gothic beauty of the First Presbyterian church across the street and on the way down the block.
There was lots going on at the New School.  I found I had to cross back over the courtyard and up to the top floor

Signing in, I could see the panel discussion drew a fairly good-sized audience.  

And the session was being videotaped.

It was disappointing Chef Michael was not able to make it, according to the New School registration.  
The good food news though was Registration provided flyers announcing Food Studies at The New School: A Cutting Edge Discipline.  Citing "Food as a subject of study is becoming increasingly popular... from TV to blogs :) to food-related issues from safety scares to environmental concerns, to Mrs. Obama's campaign about obesity, Food Studies at The New School will include courses on food history, food policy and politics, the environment, sustainable food systems and media...
For more information visit: 

The panel was composed of inspired experts, moderated by June Russell

June’s bio on the handout says she joined Greenmarket in 2004 and learned the market system through managing neighborhood-based markets across the City. For the last four years she has been the organizations Farm Inspections Manager and has traveled extensively within the region, visitor producer farms and production facilities.  These experiences have given her background and insight to think strategically on behalf of growers and about steps to rebuild or local food system. Her recent work on facilitating the production of grains and processing in the region highlights Greenmarket’s capacity to be a progressive force in driving farm viability in the Northeast.

She demonstrated her acumen and passion for the subject – and for the panelists’ participation and devotion to their craft.
The discussion was a high point – part of Greenmarket’s Grains Week, November 14-21, 2010.
The moderator, June, provided an overview of grains; how we got to where we are today with pretty much a monoculture of grains used for food production. 

Soon, she introduced the three panelists, 

starting with Alston Earnhardt, Grower, Lightning Tree Farm, Dutchess County, NY.

After raising bee, pork, lamb and chickens and growing the grain to feed his animals, Alston “realized there was more interest in the organic feed he was producing than the livestock.” He was soon “committed to growing organic grains for animal feed.” 
Seems Alston was consumed with grains. 
So it wasn’t too much of a stretch when he started “growing food grade grains for his own consumption!
In 2003 he started he started working with Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm Bakery to scale up this production.” 
2010 is the first year the sales of food grade grains have surpassed the sales of grains for livestock, according to The New School material.
Alston pointed out the most common grains used are oats, wheat, barley, and rye. 
He saved seeds to grow and clean. He replanted the seeds himself.

Describing his first challenge, Alston said he was told,  ‘You can’t grow hard wheat in the east,’
“But that’s what I wanted to do!” he chortled
“For home baked bread, most seed varieties are still for arid Midwest, whereas the east is humid.”
He learned he had to get seeds to work with the climate here in the Northeast. 
Now, the varieties of hard and soft wheat he grows are most likely what would have been what was grown here in the 1700’s.

Next up was Greg Moll, the head Miller for Farmed Ground Flower, the “local business that mills grain grown by Cayuga Pure Organics. 
Greg told the rapt listeners what grains he’s been milling.  “It’s a challenge with spelt, rye, buckwheat, saffron, and hard wheat.  I’m still figuring out oats,” he said.  Greg went on to explain that oats need to steam and, presently, they don’t have the money to invest in the equipment to be able to do that. He doesn’t have any infrastructure to remove the hulls.  “The cost is to truck and have work done, so consequently many growers and millers don’t explore ancient varieties. 

The good news is he reports demand is up for greater/more grain varieties.  “People feel passionate about new, rediscovered grains.  So he is bullish the infrastructure will come.

Moll described how moisture makes modern milling tough to do.
He said milling wheat is most complicated.  “Rye and buckwheat are so easy to mill- and they are sustainable. “Eat more buckwheat!” the panelists admonished.

I found it interesting when Greg pointed out that grain growing involves multiple constituencies, including farming and agriculture, millers, and the baking sciences. 
“Whatever bakers ask us for, we’ll work with them,” he said, with what sounded like a lot of respect and artisanal pride.

Moll pointed out that the Greenmarket has been “totally instrumental” in making it possible to expand and provide the flours that bakers and chefs and the public are now asking for.  Plus, he was able to migrate from part time to full time Miller!  He now has the tools at his disposal to offer a greater variety of milled grains and flours.

Panelist Nathan Leamy, Baker and Grains Specialist, provided the International perspective. 
He looks at how people study food. He works for Slow Food USA, teaches bread-baking classes and has traveled the world studying and reporting on food science and agriculture policy.
He first got interested in grains while in college. 
At that time he was keen to learn how alfalfa and Ag policy were changing what we eat in the States.
He was also focused on food consumption and production around the world. 
Eventually he transitioned to home baking. 
And he’s been spreading the word on grains and bread ever since

According to the literature, Leamy studied politics and managed 152 acres of organically grown alfalfa.
He then attended Oberlin College where he worked with the student cooperative association to develop a housing and dining coop, which focused on educating students to eat well.  Upon graduation, Nathan completed a Watson Fellowship studying how global changes in agricultural and economic policy have altered the consumption of traditional breads in Mexico, India, France, Italy and Egypt. 
He currently works as the Associate Director of Operations and Human Resources for Slow Food USA. 
Leamy emphasized how unique grains are. Using an apple as an example, he said all apples basically have the same genetic makeup, whereas grains change a lot with soil, moisture, etc.
On top of that, grains have to be turned into powder stuff then take to another expert.
There were expert bakers and chefs in attendance :) 

“You eat what you have locally. Eat what’s local” were statements echoed by all the panelists.
And now that there is more of a variety of grains being grown locally, there is a choice.  
We don’t have to settle for just more white flour. .
And as growers, these leaders know they can set themselves apart in a crowded, overused white-flour world.

So many variables. 
Bread today is very different from 100 years ago, the panelists pointed out.
Most notable, they commented that breads today are not heavy breads.

Except for my bread.