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Loose Ends

December 26, 2011

Greetings from Pennsylvania. Again. Hopefully those of you who celebrated Christmas yesterday had a spectacular time. I especially enjoyed hearing about kater’s sour mushroom soup. Maybe I’ll have to hit her up for the recipe. Easy, sour and mushroom, are three words that get me pretty excited. Not to mention that it’s totally soup season.

As anticipated the Fussy’s were able to fulfill our recent Christmas tradition of Chinese dinner at Golden Wok in State College, Pennsylvania. Can you say deep fried pork chop? But while Christmas is finally over, we Jews still have two more nights on Chanukah. I love the holiday, but I’m ready for it to be over.

Or at least my gallbladder is.

Also I really am not looking forward to going out to the stores tomorrow to pick up the last two nights of presents for the kids. It’s time to move on and start focusing on New Year’s Eve. There is precious little time between now and this next major holiday. In the past I’ve jumped right into sparkling wine and festive cocktails on the heels of Christmas.

But this year Chanukah lingers on. Maybe that’s okay, especially since before I can move forward there are two loose ends that need to be tied up.

My little sister was visiting and she pointed out two glaring omissions in my gift guide. It may be too late now, unless you happen to exchange gifts on Tres Reyes. But she brought up a stunning box of chocolates and a delicious piece of cheese from The City. Great chocolates always make a wonderful gift. Cheese can be a bit more difficult, unless you can find a knowledgeable and talented cheesemonger. In some parts of the world, those can be hard to find.

I’ve mentioned my love for L.A. Burdick chocolates in the past, but I’ve never done a full post on them. This will happen in the New Year. I’ve made a note of it. So you can bank on it. Keep your eyes open at the beginning of February, because this story just screams Valentines Day.

There was one important question that was omitted from the last Ask the Profussor. Maybe you noticed, or maybe not. But occasionally there is a really thoughtful question that requires a bit of a longer answer. This was the case with Shawn’s and his concerns about my passion for Chipotle. This is what he wrote:

They publish very little about where things are actually sourced from and their food with integrity motto is more of what they strive to do rather than what they are actually doing.

“It means that whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.”

“And it means that we source organic and local produce when practical. And that we use dairy from cows raised without the use of synthetic hormones.”

Based on those statements, where is the guarantee of organic beans and sustainably raised meats that you speak of? It sounds good and I would hope they are doing everything they can to meet thier own standards but it leaves a lot of questions in my mind. This sort of reminds me of your experience at Jake Moon, but with Chipotle you are dealing with a large corporation that is beholden to shareholders, is growing rapidly, and needs to continue to increase profits.

Do you know why I believe Chipotle? Because I have personally observed their commitment to sustainably raised foods improve year after year.

The first time I walked into one of their restaurants was sometime around 2000 in El Cerrito, California. Then I noticed their carnitas were sourced from Niman Ranch, but their beef wasn’t anything special. Upon getting back home I wrote an email to the company and was told that there wasn’t enough sustainably produced beef available to supply the needs of the restaurant.

Frankly, I wasn’t convinced about that. But perhaps while there may have been adequate supply, it was not yet entirely reliable. That would make more sense.

Regardless, over time the beef and chicken have gotten happier and happier. Although still, they are not available in every market that Chipotle serves, the footprint of happy meat is getting larger and larger. In the stores where the happy meat is sold, the claims are more specific. But as a restaurant chain that has to find a way to talk about what it does on a system-wide basis, those claims can get a bit squishy.

Personally, I think Chipotle is still doing the best job with its pork product. I’m very impressed that Moe’s is using grass fed beef, which granted they have to import from countries whose beef industry is based on a grass fed standard.

But without a doubt Chipotle is leading the way. When they started, I couldn’t go in a supermarket and find sour cream or cheese made from the milk of cows that weren’t treated with rBGH/rBST. Now I can at least occasionally find those products in some better markets. And perhaps Chipotle doesn’t deserve all the credit, but I do believe they earn some for enlarging the demand for cleaner food.

Yes, they need to make money. But they do it for charging a premium for premium ingredients. Not by scuttling the integrity their brand is built upon.

Okay. Time to step down off my soap box and get on with vacation. I have children to abandon to their grandparents, naps to take and presents to buy.

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