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Diary: October 23, 2002

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Tuesday, October 22

This morning was the first time I felt unable to ignore the Washington sniper: he attacked in a neighborhood between my home and L’academie right before 6am, causing a Beltway closure and other traffic snafus as authorities attempted to capture the criminal. I had left home at 6:30am with the intention of baking croissants today (breads must be started in the morning), and fortunately heard en route to school about the attack and subsequent traffic problems. I cut across Montgomery County on state roads rather than taking the Beltway as I normally do, and I arrived at school around 7:30am. I was lucky that my alternate routes weren’t backed up, and I was only the second person to arrive at school. Chef Peter beat me to school, which was amazing since he lives in Virginia and crosses the American Legion Bridge to get to L’academie daily…and the American Legion Bridge was closed in both directions by police by the time I heard a traffic report.

The students who live near the school largely arrived before 8am, but students coming from greater distances took much longer to get to class. The last student came in around 9:45am. Chef Peter put off the morning demo until 9:45 and set us to working on stocks, grinding meat for the day’s consomme course, and baking bread.

By the time we’d completed our demo, it was a little after 11am. Chef Peter broke us into 3-person teams and told us to make lunch happen by 12:30 as usual. The menu included chicken-tomato consomme, a composed salad, veal saltimbocca with grilled polenta and sauteed artichokes, and poached pears in port wine with sabayon. I was paired with Ivelisse and Marta, and I immediately got busy with the polenta so it would have time to firm up before grilling. Marta worked on the meat entrée and helped me with the artichokes, while Ivelisse made the consomme and the salad. It was fun to work with two people again, something I’d enjoyed back when it first became the norm…the time crunch made today’s menu a challenge.

Wednesday, October 23

Today was our second field trip. We started our morning at A.M. Briggs, L’academie’s meat supplier, in Northeast DC. I carpooled with Chris, who lives down the road from me, and we met up at the Briggs warehouse around 8am for a tour. One of the Briggs managers handed us all hair nets (we’d been instructed to appear with chef’s jackets and baseball caps) and Jonathan and Chin were given beard guards to put on. Almost the entire warehouse is kept cold, and few of us were prepared for the chilly conditions. I’d worn a lightweight silk sweater and my denim jacket in addition to my chef’s jacket and found myself shivering after a half hour or so of walking about. I was sorely missing my gloves and a real winter hat. We all looked equally like dorky lightweights in our white nets and stamping cold feet.

I had expected a terrible smell at Briggs, partly because Chef Peter had alluded to the unpleasant stench of the dry-aging locker a number of times. (“You’re gonna walk in there and want to walk right back out right away.”) The warehouse did not smell like much of anything, and the sight of all that meat thankfully did not follow my Rule of Food-Service Quantities (things which are tasty in small quantities become disgusting in food-service quantities). Many things were secured in boxes, but there is one large room where people butcher and break down meat. Their efficiency is astounding to watch. Briggs has several machines that remove the silverskin from meat in the amount of time it takes to place the meat on the pins (I wonder what those things cost?). We checked out their cryovac machines, and got a brief tour of their fish processing facilities.

After we finished up with the tour at Briggs, we drove to the nearby National Arboretum and checked out the herb gardens. I’ve lived in DC for six years but had never visited the Arboretum for some reason. The herb gardens are beautifully planted and clearly labeled. I liked the “please touch!” signs; most gardens prohibit handling the plants. Many herb labels gave brief descriptions of the plant’s history or properties. The herb gardens are organized by categories: culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, herbs used as dyes, and my personal favorite: the industrial herbs, those used for industrial applications.

We had plenty of time, so many of us wandered over to check out the remarkable bonsai gardens and the fish fountain before eating lunch. The fish fountain reminded me of the ponds at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, where the well-fed fish follow visitors as they walk by in hopes of extra snacks. Chef Francois once told us that when he sees an animal whose meat is edible, he sees its steaks and chops and primal cuts. I found myself looking at the larger fish in the same manner; I saw filets and supremes and steaks.

We sat in the sun and ate the lunches we’d packed for ourselves yesterday, and then we took off for Lanham, MD, home of Eco Farm. L’academie purchases micro greens and some herbs from Eco Farm, which is a tiny organic 2-acre farm just beyond the Beltway. Eco Farm sells only to restaurants with rare exception; the manager/owner explained that he lives in Takoma Park, MD (very near me) and occasionally sells extra tomatoes and such at the natural foods co-op where I shop. This combined with his commitment to producing an excellent organic product naturally endeared him to me quickly. He encouraged us to sample the micro greens in his greenhouse as we walked around. I liked the baby shiso, the corn shoots and the radish greens particularly. He then took us around the outdoor beds, where I sampled delicacies such as borage, lime basil, spicy Greek oregano, and the same black mint Wingding pointed out to me at the NY Greenmarket.

He explained his methods of farming, which include composting, digging deeper beds without disturbing natural flora for planting, and careful planting design for optimal growth. These methods had some similarities to those employed at the much larger Sunnyside Farm we visited a few weeks ago, and like the farmers at Sunnyside the ones at Eco Farm try lots of new approaches to see what works. I am sorry that Eco Farm does not sell at any area farm markets. I am considering purchasing some Eco Farm products through the school for my family Thanksgiving celebration next month.

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The herb gardens are organized by categories: culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, herbs used as dyes, and my personal favorite: the industrial herbs, those used for industrial applications.

Could you explain this further? Which herbs are used for industrial applications, and what are those applications?

Great entry, as always, thanks.

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I don't remember too many specifics. I know there was a rubber tree, which has obvious industrial uses. There was a whole bed of plants with natural insect-repellent properties, and no it didn't include citronella. I know rosemary was in that bed. There were a few plants that produce resins used as gums for adhesives, that type of thing.

There was a Native American bed, and a Colonial Period bed too. The Native American bed had rushes, which the sign said some people used to make paper. Which is sort of like an industrial use.

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