Michael Pollan Forages for Chanterelles, Doesn’t Sweat Unsustainable Sushi
Michael Pollan may have written several books about sustainable food, but that doesn’t mean he’ll refuse your kind offer of overfished tuna. “Social values count as much as environmental values with me,” he explains. He faced one such situation at Nobu 57 this week while promoting his latest book, Food Rules, a virtual pamphlet of 64 eating tips based on culture, science, and crowd-sourcing from New York Times readers. “Rest assured that my next book will not be a haiku,” he says. Pollan’s forthcoming project will mark a return to long-form journalism, but the writer sees the brevity of his Rules as a way to better connect with a resistant audience. “This book was an effort really to reach people who don't necessarily want the full story, and they really just want to know what to do,” he said. With a New York Diet filled with veggies from Lupa and a nice helping of pulled pork, following Pollan’s lead sounds doable.
Saturday, January 2
I was in Berkeley. My wife and I had some whole-wheat toast with some cheese left over from a New Year’s party, a wonderful raw-milk cheese from Dancing Cow Vermont. I know that sounds like a brand of Velveeta, but there's an artisanal producer named Dancing Cow. I have tea in the morning; any one of a couple different black teas.
Lunch was more leftovers. We cooked for 100 people on New Year’s Eve and made lots of different dips and things like that. I had a very good day hunting for mushrooms on Wednesday and found what must have been 20 pounds of Chanterelles. I had made a kind of spread on toast for this party — it was Chanterelles with herbs and crème fraiche. So Saturday we had homemade Chanterelle raviolis. My wife had the idea. We had some wonton skins in the fridge and had read in a magazine that you could use them to make pasta. We made these little triangular ravioli with the mushroom spread in it and boiled them up; it took 20 minutes. They were great plain, there was plenty of flavor inside them — and plenty of butter inside them. We had truffle butter in the mix.
Saturday night my sister was in town taking her son to college at Stanford, and we went out to have sushi in Menlo Park at a place called Kaygetsu. I had sushi a la carte and a seaweed salad. Yellowtail is my favorite, but I had eel, mackerel, and I don't remember what else. I do make an effort to eat sustainable fish. I don't think I've got a perfect record, but I tend to avoid tuna — though if you're getting a mixed sushi you end up with it — and swordfish and the big predators that are endangered and full of mercury. I had sake to drink.
Sunday, January 3
I made a lunch for the flight on JetBlue: a sandwich with the leftover cheese from the party. There's a couple alternatives for us for bread in Berkeley. This particular bread came from a bakery called La Farine, but I also get bread from the farmers' market on Thursdays; Morell’s Bread makes a terrific big, heavy loaf of multigrain bread. On the flight, I had the sandwich, water, and a pack of plantain chips.
I had dinner with my parents, my mother actually. They live on the Upper East Side; that's where I stayed. I went to Square Meal. It's a place my parents like in their neighborhood and it's pretty simple, home cooking. I had an apple-and-endive salad and then sautéed scallops in an apple-vinegar beurre blanc, and we had a Pinot Noir. I don't have much of a sweet tooth; I don't often have dessert.
Monday, January 4
I stayed at my parents. I had twelve-grain toast with smoked salmon that my mother had gotten from Barney Greengrass. She always gets me smoked salmon when I'm in town. I never think to buy it myself, but she knows I like it so it's always in the fridge when I come stay with them. I had that with ricotta instead of cream cheese, and tea.
Lunch on Monday was on the run doing interviews, so I had a little prepackaged sushi and a bottle of water from a fish store on Lexington and 88th.
For dinner that night we went to a French restaurant called Demarchelier. This was with both my parents. I had mussels meunier for a first, and dover sole with lemon. Again, no dessert. We had a bottle of Château Greysac Bordeaux.
Tuesday, January 5
Breakfast I had the salmon again.
I had lunch with my editor at Lupa and we shared small-plate appetizers: Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, octopus, and sardines with faro. And we had an escarole salad and shared an order of chard tortellini.
Dinner, I had a book event downtown at Barnes & Noble and afterward we went to Bubby's. I had a salad and pulled barbeque pork butt. The reason I had that was I had met the owner earlier in the day and I’d learned a lot about how he sources his meat; I know he's getting really good pork from small farms who are growing it sustainably, Snowdance Farm. Normally I don't have meat in restaurants unless I know that kind of information. The pork was excellent. It had been very slow cooked, eighteen hours or something, over applewood. We had a Cabernet. I don't eat like this at home. And normally if it's nice, I'll run in the park when I'm here. But forget it, it was like twenty degrees! I was bundled up and in cars the whole time.
Wednesday, January 6
The waiter at Bubby’s had given us a couple muffins to try so I had a blueberry muffin for breakfast with tea.
For lunch I was at Nobu 57. I was taking out a man named Steve Gold who is the president of Murray's Chicken. I had been asked by the American Humane Association if I would contribute a lunch as part of their fund-raising auction, and the deal was whoever bid the most I would take out to lunch somewhere in New York. Since he was in the chicken business, I thought we'd go to a pretty fishy place. We shared a couple things: yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, salad with seared tuna — there's a violation of my tuna rule right there — we had a lobster and avocado salad, and black cod and miso. We actually let the waiter direct us. We wanted two cold and two hot, and he recommended those, and the lobster was a gift from the chef. It's funny, avocados are in season where I live, so it didn't seem weird to see them on the plate. But you know this was a gift from the chef and one of my principles is — in addition to eating sustainably — to be a good guest and not reject what is served to you. Social values count as much as environmental values with me.
We talked about the challenges of selling antibiotic free, sustainable chicken. He was making the point that I had educated consumers to be very demanding and they were asking him a lot of hard questions, in a very polite way. It's a very competitive business. Organic feed costs twice as much as conventional feed, and it isn't really clear that in a recession the consumer is willing to pay that much of a premium, even though they'll tell you in a focus group that's what they want. They’re making an effort in the right direction, and it’s a unionized operation which is increasingly rare in meat production and they require all their farmers to pay minimum wage, but I can't say I know enough about everything they're doing. I don't make endorsements of brands. If I lived in New York I'd probably not eat very much chicken and what I did eat I'd probably get at the farmers' market. If I recall, there was a terrific producer at the Union Square Farmers' Market, Violet Hill; I remember having one of his chickens once and being kind of blown away. You don't get all this right every time you eat. It would be incredibly trying to do that and I do think the perfect is the enemy of the good. You get three votes a day when you're eating, and several votes within each meal, and you get as many right as you can, and that makes a real difference. I think if you set the bar too high for yourself or for other people you discourage people from doing anything. So I'm all in favor of either companies or individuals taking baby steps.
When I get home, I’m looking forward to some home-cooked meals. I've been eating out a lot and at home we cook most nights. I don't know what’s in the refrigerator, but I have a lot of lamb in the freezer. Someone gave me a half a lamb, so I think we're going to be eating a lot of lamb the next few weeks. I'll go to the farmers' market tomorrow. I don't want to lord this over New Yorkers, but my farmers' market is in full flower in the middle of January. I'm very lucky that way.