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Interview: Ask Ben Starr About the Future of Food 137

Posted by samzenpus
from the ask-me-anything dept.
samzenpus (5) writes "Ben Starr is a chef, travel writer, reality TV star, wine and beer brewer, cheesemaker, and ultimate food geek. Ben traveled all 7 continents in his early 20s, staying with local families and learning to cook the cuisines of the world in home kitchens and local markets. FRANK, his underground Dallas restaurant, has a waitlist of 3,000 and reservations are selected by random lottery. He is a passionate local and sustainable food advocate. Ben is a flag waver for the new generation of chefs who embrace modern technology, and his Camp Potluck feeds hundreds of hungry Burning Man attendees every year. Ben has agreed to put down his chef's knife and answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post."
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Interview: Ask Ben Starr About the Future of Food

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  • Long wait (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:11PM (#46881993)

    his underground Dallas restaurant, has a waitlist of 3,000

    Do you get one of those buzzing alarm thingies while you are waiting?

  • Gordon Ramsay is?

  • "his underground Dallas restaurant, has a waitlist of 3,000"

    Food that you have to wait that long to eat is not worth eating.

    • it's about being there and being a special snowflake.

  • Kitchen Knives (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cphilo (768807) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:17PM (#46882091)
    What knives do you recommend? I use Chicago Cutlery, but I have been told that Wusthof is worth the money.
    • Honestly, it really depends on what you do. But for the average westerner, I'd recommend a cleaver good long (~10") japanese chef's knife (but european shape), I like Shun but there are better brands that cost more. And a moderate size ceramic knife.

      I think wusthoff/henckels is just ok but not more than that.

      • by sribe (304414)

        And a moderate size ceramic knife.

        No. Too brittle. Chip at the slightest ding on a hard surface, so in a year or two the edge is really rough.

        I think wusthoff/henckels is just ok but not more than that.

        Yep, they're pretty good. But so are Chicago Cutlery, Gerber, Forschner, Update International, etc.

        • by hey! (33014)

          That's my experience with Henkels 5 star too.

          • by sribe (304414)

            That's my experience with Henkels 5 star too.

            Henkels vs Wusthof: Henkels uses a harder steel, which initially keeps its edge longer, but is harder to "touch up"; Wusthof uses a softer steel which loses the fine edge much sooner, thus needs touch up (steel or ceramic disk) more frequently, but is easy to touch up. I much prefer Wusthof.

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      We are quite satisfied with Shun knives, an 8" chef's and a 4" paring knife. Other than a bread knife those two do everything we need.

      They have drawn blood from everyone who has used them, they are so sharp that it is surprising at first. I sharpen them about once every 6 months, and about every year they need a light honing to clear up any edge abberations/dents.

      And I got them on a great sale (about $75 for the big one, under $50 for the smaller one, about 75% off).

    • In my experience in general knives, they do not need to be that expensive. Good quality steel is cheap, and the tools to work it in developed countries or the labour to old school smith it in the undeveloped are also both very reasonable (and shipping does not break the bank).

      It does not matter the size, if you are paying over 80-90 bucks, most of that is going for the brand. In my experience if you are looking for a good blade, you are looking for a blade that is between 60-90 bucks, a little less if it is

      • And if I were buying kitchen knives I would look for a company with a proven track record in general hunting/utility knives more than anything else.

        If I were buying kitchen knives, I'd look for a company with a proven track record of producing *gasp* kitchen knives.

        A company is just not going to lose their steel forging skills when they produce kitchen knives

        Nor will they gain the appropriate design skills when they add kitchen knives to their existing hunting/utility lineup.

        Kitchen knives

    • by xevioso (598654)

      CUTCO for the win! I love those knives. I bought some of them 20 years ago and they are as good as new. Really, really amazing knives.

      • CUTCO for the win! I love those knives. I bought some of them 20 years ago and they are as good as new. Really, really amazing knives.

        My parents have one of their cheese knives, and I can't recommend it highly enough. That thing is spectacular.

      • As long as you are ok with a company that sells its product by exploiting poor college students. I worked for Cutco for a while, and while it is true that their knives kick ass, I think the techniques they use for sales are shady at best... somewhere between the power games of car salesmen and the relationship exploiting, pyramid-scheme shenanigans of Multi-level marketing.
    • by alen (225700)

      i think mine are wusthof. there were $500
      and they are falling apart in the dishwasher

      • by Onuma (947856)
        The dishwasher will kill quality knives. Handles dry out, the blades are banged around against other knives & dishes or the racks in which they're held...the only thing worse you could do is to utterly neglect them.

        I have a $60 Kitchen Aid set which has lasted me for years. Hone the blade on a honing steel every time you use it. Hand wash and dry immediately. Once in a while, maybe 1-2 times a year, get the set sharpened by a local butcher (if you use them regularly). The steel will last a lifet
      • by geekoid (135745)

        The only knifes that go into a machine to wash are the plastic handled(Dexter Russel, I think.) commercial kitchen knives. Unless you are Micheal J. Fox*, everything else should be hand washed. And it is easy to hand wash knives.

        Too Soon?

        That said, the Dexter Rusell knives are inexpensive, and do a really good job. They aren't a life time knife, but more then worth the money.

    • Never spend more than $40 on a knife. Expensive knives are for show. A good knife will last longer than you want it to if you manage to not leave it in the sink overnight and don't try to use it as an impromptu screw driver or whatever. Just get it sharpened properly when needed.

      Never buy a ceramic knife. It will chip the instant it hits something hard. The shrapnel can easily maim or blind, and will shred your poo pipes to ribbons if it lands in your food.

      • by _Ludwig (86077)

        You’re right that ceramic knives are bullshit, but your price point for a decent real knife is way low. $40 knives will cut things, but they won’t hold an edge and they feel awful, except maybe meat cleavers and paring/utility knives. For a main 8-9" chef’s knife don’t go below $150. Also avoid stainless steel if possible. Carbon steel is harder to take care of (no dishwasher, rub with oil before putting away) but dulls pretty much never (and it looks cool.)

    • by hey! (33014)

      I've used Wustof, Henkels and Chigago Cutlery, and have settled on Chicago Cutlery as the most practical choice *for me*. There's no doubt that the more expensive knives are lighter, better balanced and more elegant, but the Chicago Cutlery knives work every bit as well for most people, and that includes very serious home cooks.

      Why spend the extra money for a fancy knife made by laser-wielding German craftsmen? Well, I suppose if you spent eight or ten hours a day cooking like my Dad and older brothers did

    • by geekoid (135745)

      http://www.japanesechefsknife.... [japanesechefsknife.com]

  • Which wine, red or white?

    • by HappyHead (11389)
      More importantly, what do you think about Soylent [wikipedia.org], the food substitute?
      • More importantly, what do you think about Soylent [wikipedia.org], the food substitute?

        Um... that if I wanted to eat tasteless gruel, I'd try out for the local theater's production of Oliver Twist.

        • Hey. My suggestion to the Ars guy who tried it out. Add sugar free coffee syrup.Then tasteless gruel becomes tasty gruel.

          Or you could simply add some fruit/fruit juice to it.

          • Hey. My suggestion to the Ars guy who tried it out. Add sugar free coffee syrup.Then tasteless gruel becomes tasty gruel.

            Or you could simply add some fruit/fruit juice to it.

            Or I could not waste energy turning every potential meal into baby food.

            Not saying that "soylent" isn't something worth pursuing (sure seems like it would be far more nutritional than the heavily processed garbage that's commonly eaten by the masses these days), but to quote a terrible character from a terrible movie, "it's just not my bag, baby."

            • PS If you're wondering about the quotes I put around the word "soylent..." it's because I think that it's a terrible name, and will most likely hurt any attempt at mass adoption, thanks to the mental connections people make when they hear that word.

  • I live in San Francisco, and live near a number of Asian grocery stores. We get all sorts of interesting fruits and vegetables year round that are hard to find anywhere else, and these stores often import them from Asia, often from China, the Phillippines, Thailand, etc....

    Do you have any information on the status of the US relaxing additional import restrictions on fruits and veggies from SE Asia and other parts of the world? For example, now that Burma is supposedly a bit more democratic, can we expect

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:36PM (#46882337)

    It says you went to all 7 continents "staying with local families and learning to cook the cuisines of the world"

    Wouldn't Antarctica just be canned food. As the locals are only there temporary. Or is there a really good Penguin Soup?

    • by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @03:47PM (#46883141) Journal

      Wouldn't Antarctica just be canned food. As the locals are only there temporary

      It depends a bit on where on the continent you are, and during what time of year. All the (sizable) bases have cooking facilities, mess halls, and full-time cooking staff. There are fridges and freezers, so the cooking can be a lot more sophisticated than opening a can and heating over a flame. During the summer, fresh produce comes in with just about every flight - even to the South Pole station. Some places grow their own greens year-round. Some more details can be found in Werner Herzog's documentary Encounters at the End of the World [imdb.com].

      That said, the facilities are run by subcontractors, not restaurateurs. So it's probably a lot like base food you would find anywhere. Hunting the local wildlife (such as it is) is banned, and there isn't local vegetation to speak of.

  • Food? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:37PM (#46882343)

    [snark]We already know the future of food; it's going to be eaten :P [/snark]

    What's your take on the whole "vertical farming" and "hydroponics" thing?

  • by Dissenter (16782) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:37PM (#46882349)

    As a chef that embraces modern technology, do you think that the 3D printed food technology is something you will have in your kitchen some day or is it just a fad?

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:37PM (#46882353)
    World Hunger is trending towards going away, and a catalyst for eliminating it is for individuals to work hard and donate to the poor.

    What are some strategies you have for elimination of World Hunger?
  • by mlts (1038732) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:46PM (#46882463)

    What do you think of replacing the stereotypical front yard with some type of garden and some home raising of animals (chickens come to mind)? I'm nowhere near a farmer, but having the ability to have food available a few feet away seems like a wise idea, especially with food prices skyrocketing.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      What do you think of replacing the stereotypical front yard with some type of garden and some home raising of animals (chickens come to mind)?

      I seem to recall reading that a potential drawback of this would be the difficulty in containing the spread disease. Thousands of 'farms' just a few 10s of feet from the next one over, each managed by a total amateur during evenings and weekends who already has a real day job.

      Writing this I think the article I specifically read was in reference to running bee hives, b

    • As an "urban farmer" myself, I can't recommend the practice highly enough. Not only will you save significant amounts of money on not having to buy common produce, eggs, etc., You will know that it's fresh, and not tainted with whatever blood disease the poor illegals who sliced/bagged it happened to have.

      • by mlts (1038732)

        For plants, I'd rather have a garden than a front/back lawn, because it means less to mow, and it puts a (rather limited) resource to use. Plus, I have a grey water reclamation system [1], so having the water go into food production makes more sense than just having it making an end product of grass clippings that go into the city landfill.

        For animals, basic sense comes to mind. Chickens go to the avian vet yearly or when sick. If it is respiratory, they get yanked away ASAP. I'm not a farmer, but there

        • by geekoid (135745)

          you're gray water is going into you plants?

          I don't care f you were offering me directions out of hell, there is no way I would take your advice.

          • by mlts (1038732)

            Right now, nothing edible... but better gray water on a tree than a dead tree with local water restrictions. A garden with edibles is different, and I wouldn't be doing this type of system.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Don't.
      Chickens a make noise, all the time. They poop FAR more then you think, they're are stupid and do stupid things. They get diseases, there are predators, they die, they can fly over fences.

      Unless you have and acre, they will cost you more then you save.

      Where are food prices skyrocketing?

      • by serbanp (139486)

        Chickens a make noise, all the time. They poop FAR more then you think, they're are stupid and do stupid things. They get diseases, there are predators, they die, they can fly over fences

        .
        I usually appreciate your comments but you're dead wrong about this subject.

        In my block of SFH there are 4 people keeping chicken (myself included) and there is hardly any noise related to the chicken. The only noise they make is after they've laid an egg. No rooster allowed though.

        If you keep the run dry (roof against rain and covered with absorbent things, such as straw), there is no smell at all from their poop, which anyway is not an issue.

        Chicken are not stupid, especially if they live in decent condi

  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:52PM (#46882541)
    How can mass farming of cattle be made sustainable?
    • by pubwvj (1045960)

      Instead of having big farms each with lots of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, etc we would do far better to have many small farms with fewer animals all out on pasture. All of those animals can be raised on a diet of mostly to all pasture. No commercial grain feeds are needed for any of them. The rise of CAFOs and feedlots was due to an excess of nitrogen and grain. It was all a mistake. Time to correct it.

    • Google Alan Savory

  • What is the most efficient, and ordered, way to assemble a world-class kitchen?

    Many of us don't have the budget (especially when coming out of college) to buy all the crazy-awesome tools that make for a world class kitchen in one go, so we have to slowly purchase items as our budget allows and/or old cheaper items get used up. Do you have a recommended order, from a batchelor/ette's first egg pan to elaborate computerized sous-vide, in which someone can build their own world-class kitchen over several years

    • by serbanp (139486)

      In the order of importance (for a residential setting):
      1) good range or rangetop. The burners better be open style and capable of at least 15kBTU (22k and up to do wokking right)
      2) good rangehood. At least 600-700CFM, baffle filters.
      3) good oven, either in a range or stand-alone. Size is important, but evenness of baking is much more so. Steam capability optional.
      4) good set of utensils. Many competing schools of thought regarding pans (I personally prefer cast iron in almost any situation), just avoid the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How do you feel about products like Soylent [soylent.me] and the community building around such products? Do you think this is something that could catch on?

    Other interesting article: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2013/08/20/soylent/ [fourhourworkweek.com]

  • Instead of using a random lottery to select your customers, wouldn't it make more sense to simply raise your prices until demand falls to meet supply? Or, alternatively, add some space for more tables, so supply rises to meet demand?

    • by vux984 (928602)

      , wouldn't it make more sense to simply raise your prices until demand falls to meet supply?

      Until he only ever cooks for rich people? Maybe that's not what he wants to do.

      Or, alternatively, add some space for more tables, so supply rises to meet demand

      http://frankunderground.com/ [frankunderground.com]

      "At FRANK, youâ(TM)ll be seated around our massive communal table of century-old reclaimed wood, surrounded by new friends who share your love for fresh, local food and the fellowship and storytelling that naturally spring fro

    • Maybe he doesn't want to serve only millionaires?
    • by geekoid (135745)

      NO, that is a common misunderstanding of economics. one free market crazies often make.

      Lets say you can seat 200, and 300 show up every night. So you say, lets go from 49 dollars a plate, to 50. You could loose 200 or more customers, over a dollar.
      Add to that he uses it to accelerate a hip persona, it make sense.

      This is more of a service where he comes to the home, and not an actual restaurant per se. I just used a restaurant as an example.

  • Mr. Starr, thanks for taking questions.

    My question: When will we see a scalable local/organic logistics solution for delivering food to a large metro area? Ex: The size of Denver...we see stories of "innovative tech solutions" all the time here on /., but usually they are limited to one "green" building, one research team's "urban farm" concept, one restaurant chef applying these in one restaurant in Brooklyn... I'm asking when will we see one of those solutions applied at scale? I ask because in my mind that is the threshold or 'tipping point' in the industrial food situation.

    • When will we see a scalable local/organic logistics solution for delivering food to a large metro area?

      Never. When you're supplying a large metro scale area, you're supplying in industrial quantities. You're simply changing the nature of the industry, not replacing it.

      Setting aside of course that proving fresh vegetables in winter to many cities in the US requires energy - whether for transporting it from a distant and more clement clime, or for providing heating and possibly lighting for local growth. S

      • yes exactly...it's about providing the all-season bounty that everyday people like in a Denver suburb have come to expect from a supermarket

        in order to compete they have to cover alot of ground...litterally

    • by jmkaza (173878)

      In Denver, Mile High Organics, Door to Door Organics, Walmart to Go, The Organic Dish, Growers Organics, and a few others all offer a large variety of organic and local produce and packaged/prepared foods delivered directly to your home. Since your question was when, the answer is a few years ago.

  • Do you agree with the following statement, and would you comment?

    Industrial livestock production and the high meat consumption diet of the industrialized world are unsustainable and are causing great damage to the Earths ecosystems,
    and that the only real solution being that the amount of meat being consumed must drop considerably.
  • What will space food be like?

    I'm thinking of the first orbital hotels in space-stations in Earth orbit for very rich space tourists. Presumably there will be a need for exciting, high-quality novel cuisine in this environment? And cooking facilities?

    Then will come the tourist trips to the Moon and eventually Mars.

    What ideas do you have?

  • What are some of the most interesting and promising recent innovations available to the home brewer?

  • Does that make him:

    A) Yet another very rich nerd trying desperately to be remembered for something - ANYTHING - else other than being yet another very rich nerd.

    B) An extremely evil nerd trying desperately to be remembered for something - ANYTHING - else other than being an extremely evil nerd.

    C) All of the above.

  • Current society focuses more and more on technology to make cooking easier, quicker, make prepared foods more readily accessible, etc. One area we have not really changed is butchering, except to say that there are far fewer butchers today than a generation ago. There could be no quality cuts of meat without them.

    Do you think butchers are a dying breed, or will we see a resurgence within that profession?
    • by geekoid (135745)

      I can get a custom cut at almost every grocery store within 15 miles of my home.

      Did you ask anyone at your meat dept.?

      • by Onuma (947856)
        I don't particularly have a problem, but I also know where to go. I've just noticed the trend of butchers' shops becoming more centralized. It's more difficult to find a small business or butcher who isn't located in a large grocery store than it was in the 80s or 90s. Granted, I can still go to Costco and get things cut any which way. Availability is there, just not as readily as it once was. Could merely be my perception.
        • by hguorbray (967940)
          San Francisco -foodie, slo food, and localvore place that it is is undergoing a real butcher/charcuterie renaissance with celebrity butchers and local butchering classes

          https://www.google.com/search?q=sf+butchery+classes&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb

          https://www.google.com/search?q=sf+butchery+classes&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb#channel=sb&q=sf+butcher
          • by Onuma (947856)
            Not popular in the DC metro area yet. We have tons of good food, but not that...
        • It varies largely by region and by what parts you're looking for. If all you're talking about is getting a particular cut of steak, that shouldn't be a problem for most places although I don't call that butchering. If you want something a bit more exotic like pig liver, caul fat, etc. your options quickly become limited. Some places will let you special order less common parts (i.e. sweetbreads, kidney) if you meet minimum increments, and some cuts (tripe, tongue, oxtail, etc.) you can more easily find a

  • Why should I care about what some random guy/pseudo celebrity has to say about the future of food?

  • I've been watching some documentaries lately, along the lines of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead & Food Matters (both worth watching).
    The common theme (which I have heard for many years now) is to eat raw and stay away from processed foods: the reason being; most chronic disease is caused by the lack of avaiable micronutients. You may be getting energy from processed foods, but all the complex biomechanics for healty cell life is being starved, causing heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, etc etc.
    From your

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