A Tour of Sky8 Shrimp Farm, LLC: Engineering sustainable shrimp farming in Stoughton, MA

Even somJTranSky8eone with a Ph.D.…no one knows everything!” says James Tran in a hopeful, light-hearted tone during the beginning of our Culinary Guild tour Friday morning. Tran, a 39-year-old native of Vietnam, has spent the last two years in endless trial and error scenarios attempting the first shrimp farm in Massachusetts. Mainly a three-person team, along with frequent consultants and some investors, Tran combined his engineering background, his upbringing in the family shrimp business, and his entrepreneurial spirit to develop a method of shrimp farming that is sustainable, natural and chemical-free for the shrimp, and aims to have no environmental impact or disruption to Stoughton, the hatcheries, and New England’s coastal areas. We are happy to report that thus far, his goals and passion are slowly coming to fruition.

In a bare bones industrial park, lined with modestly staggered rows of brick buildings, Tran has nearly exhausted the space of his intimate shrimp farming facility from five tanks to eight tanks, and counting. Growing four different sizes of shrimp, he hopes to further expand his warehouse to answer the local restaurant demand for his gourmet Pacific White shrimp. Utilizing a zero water exchange facility, Tran takes fresh Atlantic Ocean water, trucked in from the coast of New Hampshire at high tide, and recycles this salt water after each consecutive shrimp crop. With high technology advanced recirculation, filtration, and temperature control systems, Tran can oversee every step of shrimp growth and has the ability to send messages to his phone if there is a problem with the tanks.

Tran engineered his own three-stage process controller system including advanced recirculation, filtration, and close temperature regulators, while others in the shrimp farming business use an unsuccessful one-stage method. He finds this to be more successful and efficient, while keeping with his goals to remain environmentally sound and have a lower carbon footprint. With regulation of salinity levels and warmer water temperature, the shrimp can sell to market in 85-90 days. Waste is incredibly low from the implementation of denitrification and mesh filters, allowing an annual total waste byproduct from the shrimp tanks at an average of 2 inches. Even more low impact, Tran’s shrimp grow in water around 82-83 degrees F, so this heated environment also supplies heat to their building and warehouse.

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Sourcing their shrimp larvae from an FDA certified hatchery in Florida, Tran knows that he is purchasing from a very controlled environment. From larvae size, which is smaller than a mosquito, it takes about 12 days for the shrimp to grow to about one inch in size. Throughout the tour as we listened to Tran and his team speak about the shrimp, their vision and desire to respect the shrimp and bring a new perspective overall to the shrimp farming industry is inspiring. Multiple times, Tran expressed that when they are harvesting the shrimp from the tanks, he never wants to stress them out. They are never frozen and are only delivered directly to restaurants on ice without the use of any preservatives or chemicals.

His optimum goals are to develop more circular tanks for easier net harvesting, providing more room in the tanks for the shrimp, and one day to build his own hatchery and feed the shrimp with a 100% vegetarian feed. The “8” in Sky8 may mean that James Tran started the eighth shrimp farm in the U.S., but it is also the luckiest number in Chinese culture. From witnessing disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill that have nearly destroyed shrimp ecosystems, James Tran is ready to take on the challenge and provide the shrimp industry with an ecologically responsible, local source for freshly grown seafood.

Jillian Bernardini
www.jilleats.com

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Culinary Guild of N.E. Opening Meeting

Commanders MansionSeptember 15th was a beautiful early fall evening, providing the proper ambiance for the Opening Meeting of the 2014-2015 season of the Culinary Guild of New England.  Our venue was the elegant Commander’s Mansion in Watertown and our featured guest speaker was celebrated chef and cookbook author Nina Simonds.

Board members had prepared a number of sumptuous spreads and delicacies in honor of the event.  A long table displayed a magnificent basket of fresh garden crudités and dips, along with a number of ripened cheeses, fresh breads and crackers.  These were contributed by Jen Verrill of Verrill Farm.  Guida Ponte served cups of her flavorful Mexican chicken vegetable soup.  Guests drifted throughout the stately parlors sipping glasses of Austrian Gruener Veltliner, or a delicious Chianti provided by Brix Wines.

The hors d’oeuvres were bounteous, one of them being a tray of mini spring rolls prepared by Chef Lou Schorr, owner of the new Thai restaurant Maekha Thai in Revere.  There were also a number of Mediterranean-style dishes from ‘ester, a new restaurant in Dorchester. Chefs at ‘ester had made Tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip punctuated with cucumbers from their rooftop garden. ‘ester also provided Tabouli, a spread of fresh garden tomatoes and parsley as well as Muhammara, a dip of red peppers and walnuts.

Other appetizers had been strategically placed around the mansion. There were tiny cookies, “coins” of cheese and rosemary salt baked by Karen Ucuz. .  For dessert Lynne Gassiraro had made double chocolate biscotti, healthy brownie bites of walnuts, cocoa, and unsweetened coconut, as well as gluten-free double chocolate peanut butter bars. Sweet, crunchy white chocolate and pine nut meringues were the delicious work of Lisa Jacobs.

After an hour of eating, drinking and networking, it was time for the program.  After a brief update by Guild President Kris Piatt, and financial review by Treasurer Lisa Primavera,   Kris introduced our speaker:  Nina Simonds.

In her address to the Guild, Nina emphasized “the Optimum Healthy Pantry” and stressed the role of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sources of proteins in our diet.

Suggestions for healthy dishes with life-giving properties she stated, can be found at www.spiceoflife.com.  Among her specific suggestions for healthy eating were avocados, bananas, beans, lentils and other legumes as well as berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower–various cruciferous vegetables. Chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, cinnamon, cashews were mentioned as possible additions to numerous dishes with an emphasis on Yin and Yang. Foods with Yin qualities would be chilled summer salads and cool shrimp dishes with light summery flavors. Those with Yang flavors would be hot winter soups, thick stews, and chunky meat and pasta dishes.

Overall, stated Nina, the key to a healthy living lifestyle is balance with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits as well as less meat.  She stressed the important life-giving properties of herbs and spices, which are under- utilized in today’s cooking.  We should keep in mind that the objective is a “Healthy Eating Plate,” and we should each strive to reach that goal.

Isabel Chesak  

Culinary Weekend in Brooklyn, New York

Recently, The Culinary Guild of New England took a culinary tour of Brooklyn, New York. Here, CGNE member Isabel Chesak recounts all of the delicious eats, fantastic sights and interesting history we took in over our three-day stay there. 

Brooklyn is so alive! Here in Williamsburg, every block seems to offer some interesting restaurant, sight or shop. Everything excites my curiosity!

I have arrived here with friends from The Culinary Guild of New England on a Friday afternoon, and our first destination is Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens for dinner. It is a loud and hopping place with a butcher-block bar and a communal table. Conversation is difficult, but the atmosphere is colorful and inviting. Buttermilk Channel is supposedly named for a channel where dairy farmers used to drive their cattle across at low tide. It is said the waters in those days were so rough that the cows’ milk used to churn to buttermilk. Nobody seems to know the truth of the restaurant’s name, but it is certainly respected for its crisp and crunchy buttermilk fried chicken. I, however, am more interested in the grilled flatbread with its house-made buttermilk ricotta and in the succulent and briny oysters. I follow these with an entree of a parsley-crusted New England hake with fresh shelling beans and rainbow chard in an orange blossom broth with chili oil. It proves to be an excellent choice.

Breakfast the next morning is at Egg. This Southern and soul food establishment is enticing with its tater tots and southern-style biscuits. The veggies come from the restaurant’s own garden, and a popular item on the menu is the crispy duck hash where a seared duck leg, home fries and crispy green onions are smeared into a mash-up crowned with a softly cooked egg.

Heading into our Mast Bros. tour!

Heading into our Mast Bros. tour!

After breakfast we go next door to Mast Brothers Chocolate. As we enter the facility, the smell of melting chocolate is heady. I can almost taste it! We are given a tour of this brightly lit establishment where the chocolates are made using only cacao beans and sugar. After watching the chocolate production, from the bean to the final product, five different chocolates of various tastes and of different origins are offered to us. Each has a different flavor – the flavor is a result of the soil at the origin of the chocolate (there are no additional flavorings added). My favorite was the dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds made with Madagascar cacao.

Checking out the chocolate.

Checking out the chocolate.

Following our tour of Mast Brothers, our Williamsburg guides, Liz Pavese and Neil Piat, proceed to show us the funky boutiques and vintage clothing stores of Williamsburg’s Grand Street. This hip community with its backdrop of old industrial buildings has been home to old Jewish and Italian families for many years.

Enjoying Brooklyn Brewery.

Enjoying Brooklyn Brewery.

After poking around in various eclectic shops, we tour the Brooklyn Brewery where we are refreshed with a welcome stein of Hefeweizen beer and learn some of the traditions of this popular brewery. Williamsburg, a haven for immigrants in the 19th century, had a vigorous tradition for beer brewing due to its extensive German population. The Germans have always had stringent beer codes of using only hops, wheat, barley, yeast and water in their productions, and although this tradition died out in the middle of the 20th century, Brooklyn Brewery has managed to reignite the culture of beer brewing. During the 19th century, it was not unusual to see children making their way home in the early evenings with pails of beer for their overworked parents. These pails were termed “growlers.” The brewery likes to use this term when describing their various mugs of beer.

Later it’s on to Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. The latter is a gigantic market of food carts producing decadent edible treats, a real locavore food festival. There are fiery tacos, fresh sausages, homemade pimento cheeses, bagels and breads, brisket with chili and cornbread, Asian and Indian temptations, and other tasty treats.

That evening we have dinner at Glasserie in Greenpoint. This former glassworks was significant during the 19th century for its celebrated cut glass. The walls of the restaurant are decorated with prints from the glassworks’ 19th century catalogues. Because Glasserie is noted for its large rustic suppers, I order the chicken with snow peas and pistachios. This is delicious, but prior to that we feast on griddled bread served with labneh (yogurt cheese) as well as tahini, hummus and harissa (a picante Middle Eastern condiment).

We end our evening by viewing the film “Chef,” a story of a washed-out father who finally makes his mark by opening up a food truck where he is able to spread his culinary “wings.”

The following day, we tour Bensonhurst with our guide Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours. Our first stop is Villabate Alba where we are treated to shatteringly crisp cannoli filled with fresh ricotta from Palermo – a great beginning to our tour. There are also sfogliatelli and Sicilian pastries creamy with marzipan.

Villabate Alba

Villabate Alba

At Pastosa Ravioli, we enjoy watching the white-clothed workers, pulling and stretching the dough in huge pasta machines. The flavors are endless. There is spinach pasta, lobster pasta, pasta made with squid ink, with tomatoes, pumpkin etc.

Several CGNE members at Lioni's.

Several CGNE members at Lioni’s.

Afterwards, in the shop of Lioni Italian Heroes, we marvel at the assortment of imported Italian olive oils, pastas, specialty meats and other prepared foods. Lioni offers over 150 types of hero sandwiches all named after famous Italians and Italian-Americans. In the shop, we are tempted to buy fresh artisanal prosciutto, roasted peppers, extra virgin olive oil and fresh breads. Before we leave, we are each given a full-size ball of the shop’s creamy mozzarella.

Later we visit Panino Rustico, where platters are overloaded with sumptuous Italian panini. One is of sopressata, tomato and arugula, and another of grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and basil pesto.

Our visit concludes with a stop at the New Utrecht Reformed Church, which was organized by Dutch colonists in 1677. Among the settlers who used to worship here were members of the Benson family, buried in the church cemetery for whom this area is named.

Touring this area has really been a trip back in time as the neighborhood is a memory walk through a bubble of the past. It is a reminder of an Italian neighborhood of the 60’s and 70’s not unlike the one where I grew up. I treasure the historical and gastronomic adventures that I have had in Brooklyn. It is a colorful, vibrant, eclectic area that I encourage everybody to visit.

*Photos courtesy of Kris Piatt, CGNE President.

Making Mozzarella at Fiore Di Nonno

On March 4th, Guild members and friends met at Fiore Di Nonno in Somerville to see how a variety of cheeses are made. Lourdes Smith, owner of Fiore Di Nonno, and her team, taught us how to make mozzarella, burrata, and a slew of other fresh cheeses – just like Lourdes’ grandfather used to make.

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Lourdes Smith.

Lourdes’ cheese has been taken to the James Beard Awards twice, and has received media attention in national outlets such as The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, to name a few.

Lourdes and her team make all of their cheeses by hand in small, delicious batches. Guild members were lucky enough to see the process up close, and we were even luckier to get to try everything that was made that evening.

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Lourdes’ team of mozzarella-makers.

In this demo, we learned how to make – and tasted – Fiore Di Nonno’s mozzarella, string cheese, stracciatella, and burrata. We washed our samples down with some fresh bread and wine. It was a fantastic demo with great company and tasty bites!

To try Fiore Di Nonno’s cheeses for yourself, you can find Lourdes and her team at several farmers’ markets throughout Massachusetts, as well as at several stores and restaurants. (View the full list here).

*All photos courtesy of Jen Verrill from Verrill Farm.

An Evening with King Arthur Flour

by Michelle Collins, CGNE member

BonnywithPie

On Monday evening, CGNE members, friends, and guests learned how to make pie dough from King Arthur Flour’s resident “pie queen,” Bonny Hooper. Hooper taught the sizeable crowd how to make an all-butter pie crust. The 90-minute demonstration – also led in part by King Arthur’s Marketing Manager, Julie Christopher – was informative and interactive.

The event was held at Everett High School’s brand-new Culinary Center, and we were treated to an impressive spread of bites for the CGNE crowd prepared by the culinary students. We munched on delights like Spanakopita, assorted mezze dips and spreads, cheese and crackers, and Lemon Mousse Shooters before and during the pie crust demonstration.

Food Spread combined

Hooper clearly knows her stuff when it comes to pie crust, and she taught us a lot of interesting and new-to-most-of-us information about the tricky dough. Some noteworthy lessons learned:

  • The most accurate way to measure your flour is using a food scale
  • If someone in your family can’t ingest butter, the butter in this recipe can be replaced with olive oil
  • Roll the dough with a rolling pin from the middle out, going in clockwise direction with each roll. This will keep the dough in a uniform shape and thickness
  • When rolling the dough, place a piece of plastic wrap between the dough and the rolling pin. This will result in not having to flour the dough as much, and you won’t have to flour the rolling pin at all

Hooper then filled her mile-high pie with King Arthur’s Apple Pie Filling (recipe below). We were all lucky enough to try a slice of the finished product, and it basically tasted like apple-filled, buttery heaven. The crust was delightfully chewy and flaky, and the apples were cooked to tender perfection. Tasting the pie was a fantastic way to end this fun and educational evening!

ApplePie

Apple Pie Filling

-8 cups sliced apples

-2 tablespoons lemon juice

-3/4 cup sugar

-2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

-2 tablespoons cornstarch

-1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 teaspoon cinnamon

-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

-1/4 teaspoon allspice

-1/4 cup boiled cider or undiluted apple juice concentrate

-2 tablespoons butter, diced in small pieces

Directions:

In a large bowl, stir apple slices with lemon juice; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples, and stir to coat them. Stir in the boiled cider or apple juice concentrate.  Spoon the apple filling into the pie pan (with bottom crust already in it). Dot the top with the diced butter, and cover with top pie crust. Place the pie on a parchment-linked baking sheet. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 40 minutes more, until you see the filling bubbling inside the pie.


Michelle is a CGNE member and a Boston-based freelance food writer and blogger, who is a big fan of eating well without spending a ton. Keep up with Michelle  on her site — The Economical Eater, on Twitter, and over at Local In Season.

DIY Recap: How to Make Chocolate with Taza

by Marshall Bright, CGNE youth member

When I was a kid, my favorite part of Mr. Rogers were the segments when we got to visit a factory and see how things were made, so when I heard about the opportunity to go to a DIY event where we got to visit a real-live chocolate factory, I knew I had to go.

Touring the Taza Chocolate factory was a dream come true for both the Mr. Roger’s fan and food nerd in me. Located in Somerville, MA, Taza offers daily tours led by their super-knowledgeable guides. Taza makes Mexican-style organic, fair-trade chocolate, which is a far cry from the milky, super-sweet stuff sold at grocery store counters.

We began the tour learning about what chocolate beans get up to before arriving in Somerville. Our guide explained how the cacao beans are harvested, and how Taza works directly with farmers to get the best quality beans possible in their chocolate. We also learned what makes Mexican-style chocolate so different from what Americans typically eat. Mexican chocolate is stone-ground and typically sold in rounds. No milk is ever added, instead, just coarsely-ground cane sugar. With much more of a crunch and complexity than many European-style chocolates, Mexican-style chocolate is most often used in Latin America to melt into drinks much more comparable to coffee than hot chocolate.

Next we got to see where the beans are roasted. Roasting brings out a lot of the nuttiness in chocolate, and is a vital part of the process. This was also the step in the tour where we got to don our super-stylish hair nets. In the roasting room we got to try chocolate nibs, which is the shelled and roasted product halfway between cocoa beans and chocolate. Biting into it was a lot like sneaking a bite of the baker’s chocolate your mom had in the pantry when you were a kid. I knew no sugar was added, yet I was still taken aback by how bitter it tasted. We were then handed chocolate-covered nibs–much better.

Next, we got to see where the chocolate is wrapped and packaged. One thing that makes Taza unique is that, in one location, the chocolate is made from beans to bar. Many chocolate companies will start with “chocolate product,” not cacao beans. The “bean to bar” method is just one way that Taza ensures the highest quality ingredients go into their chocolate.

Photo by Finn of Eyes Wide Stomach: http://eyeswidestomach.wordpress.com/

Our last stop was getting to see the cacao beans turn from bitter nibs to sweet, rich chocolate. The chocolate is stone-ground by hand-carved wheels. These wheels were made by Taza founder Alex Whitmore, who fell in love with Mexican-style chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca. The hand-carved stones can only be made by master carvers and the tradition is typically handed down through family members. These stones, however, are carved right here in Somerville. He earned the title of master carver after apprenticing in Oaxaca for a year after his revelatory experience tasting Mexican chocolate.

After grinding the nibs and sugar, flavors are added like cinnamon, or salt and pepper. Surprisingly, that’s it–no waxes, gums, or preservatives (but you don’t have to worry about Taza going bad on you, it has a shelf life up to a year). Next, the mixture is plopped into molds (this was my favorite part) by a donut machine to make either circular or bar-shaped chocolate. The chocolate then goes to the packaging room where it is wrapped up and shipped out of the factory… or eaten up by hungry tour groups before it ever gets a chance to leave.

We ended the tour at the gift shop, sampling chocolate and grilling our ever-knowledgeable and gracious guide with more chocolate trivia. I was impressed they knew everything from the nitty gritty of fair trade certification to chocolate throughout history (I was a history major, I had to ask!). We even got to sample some drinking chocolate, a mix of the regular Mexican chocolate and chocolate seasoned with peppers for a kick.

We all left happy and full of free samples, having learned something about science, history, culture, social justice, and food. All in all, a highly successful way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.


Interested in joining us for a future DIY event? Visit the CGNE website to learn about future events.

DIY Recap: How to Brew Beer

By Paul Masters, CGNE youth member

Recently, Amy and I had the pleasure of visiting the Cambridge Brewing Company with other beer-minded folks under the auspices of the Culinary Guild of New England. If you haven’t heard of the Culinary Guild before, you should absolutely check out their website and events. If you’re interested in craft beer, you’re probably interested in other awesome foods/beverages, and if that’s true, these folks are for you! Not to mention that, if you’ve been dying to meet the intrepid drinkers on this blog, we’ll be at a Guild-hosted event at Taza Chocolate in Somerville on November 1. Register now to save your space!

Anyway, enough of this shameless plugging. At the CBC we sat down with Lead Brewer Jay Sullivan to sample beer and talk about the process of making it. As it turns out, brewing beer is a complex process involving a lot of science. Water, yeast, malt, and hops have to be carefully held in balance, and a brewer has to know and understand the effect that each has on the flavor profile of their beer. Of course, there are many, many, types of malt barley, hops, and yeasts to choose from. The character of the beer you brew depends on which of these you choose, so things can get pretty complicated.

At the CBC they brew all their beer in-house, using lots of fresh ingredients (I recently tried a delicious creation using heirloom pumpkins and a healthy hop-profile called White Widow), and as a result they get to create a lot of excellent brews with unique flavor profiles. The talk was informative and tasty, and I highly recommend you head down to the brew-pub to grab a sampler paddle of your own.

On Paul & Amy on Beer, we’ve tended to focus mostly on the product we receive from great local brewers like the CBC, rather than on the process they use to get our (very important) beer to our favorite local beer stores (Like my personal favorite, The Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA). Every so often though, it is important to recognize how difficult and time intensive brewing beer right can be, and how hard it is to stay innovative in a market increasingly full of really, really delicious beer.

And that’s where we come in. As Amy and I continue to pour through our local beer scene, we raise a glass to the breweries (like the CBC) that make a blog like this, not just possible, but necessary. Go to your local brewer!