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Archive for the ‘Chef Insights’ Category

Growing the Supply of Pasture Poultry in Georgia

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

By Michael Wall, Communications Director for Georgia Organics

The trend of consumer demand for local, sustainably produced food continues to grow in spite of a downturned economy. “Locally sourced meats” was identified as the No. 1 2012 trend among chefs nationwide, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Consumers and restaurateurs are increasingly looking to connect with the farmers growing their food and to identify authentic food sources that have a face and name beyond a glossy label on the grocery store shelf.

As evidence continues to surface from the medical community and public health advocates linking pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics used to grow food with cancer, consumers are looking to minimize their exposure to harmful environmental toxins. As a result, the United States has seen direct market-to-consumer sales of food and attention to sustainable and organic food sources increase significantly in recent years.

Growing Demand in Georgia

Since 2005, Georgia has seen a 600 percent increase in farmers markets. Organic food sales have grown at a similar clip, with an average annual growth rate of 19 percent from 1997 to 2008, while the rest of the food industry has stagnated and even shrunk.

Conscientious consumers are looking for poultry raised with the same value-based practices as vegetables and other meat, and restaurateurs, who continue to play a critical role in supporting the locally grown and organic food movement, are also seeking sources for a higher-quality chicken product.

Most importantly, farmers are entering this market, integrating poultry production into diverse farm operations, which can enhance the environmental and economic sustainability of their overall operations.

Some of the restaurants where you can currently buy pastured chicken include Bella Cucina, Cakes & Ale, Empire State South, Farm Burger, Farm 255, Five & Ten, Heirloom Café, Miller Union, The National and Yeah! Burger. Many distributors carry it as well, including Buckhead Beef, Halpern’s, Heritage Farm, Destiny Organics, Prime Meats, SYSCO and Darby Farms.

Moreover, a new group called Georgians for Pastured Poultry — made up of Georgia-based farmers, chefs, animal welfare advocates, environmentalists and health professionals — envision a Georgia that has become the leading state in the production and consumption of pasture-raised poultry, where animal welfare, human and environmental health, and farmer and worker well-being are as important as economics in the farming of chickens.

Whole Foods Market (WFM) recently became the first grocery retailer in the state to commit to stocking Georgia-raised pastured poultry. It has firmly stated that the higher-welfare poultry will be available on a daily basis, year round. WFM has committed to purchasing at least 22,000 pastured raised birds (both chickens and turkey) in 2012 and making these available on a daily basis, supply permitting, in all of their southeastern stores.

“Whole Foods Market is deeply committed to supporting Georgia farmers who raise pastured poultry and making pastured chicken and turkey available to our customers. We are proud to support Georgians for Pastured Poultry’s efforts by making this pledge,” says Stephen Corradini, regional vice president of purchasing for WFM’s south region.

The Benefits of Sustainable, Pasture-Based Poultry

Sustainable poultry production means reducing costs and maximizing productivity but also attention to myriad other issues. Large-scale production has led to geographical concentration of birds and their waste products, creating environmental concerns in water and air quality. Consumers have increasing concerns about food safety including food borne pathogens, pesticide residues, additives and antibiotic residues. In addition, nutritional value and production process concerns such as animal welfare, genetically modified organisms, environmental impact, worker safety and social justice are raising eyebrows.

Consumption of chicken meat by Americans has risen by 118 percent between 1970 and 2005, faster than pork or beef. Furthermore, the amount of chicken eaten by Americans now rivals that of beef. In particular, chicken has become much more economical over time. Poultry meat has a low retail cost at the grocery store in part because of the production efficiencies of factory farms.

Pasture-based poultry production provides a stark alternative to the chicken houses that cover Georgia’s rural landscape. The houses, which, according to a University of Georgia study, can contain more than 30,000 birds at capacity (in a 50’ x 500’ house), offer little or no access to the outdoors.

In contrast, pastured birds are raised with an all-natural diet, are not administered antibiotics or altered physically to survive the unnatural housing conditions of a traditional poultry house, and are often processed on or near the farm where they are raised. Medium- to slow-growing breeds are used. Birds are raised up to 12 weeks of age, and their slaughter (dressed) weight is 3-4 pounds. In addition, farmers are free to raise and sell their birds independently, without the need for contracts with large poultry operations.

There are numerous farmers in every part of Georgia raising pastured poultry. According to Georgia Organics’ database, there are more than 50 pasture poultry farmers of varying size and capacity in the state. Many drive to out-of-state processing facilities that are USDA-inspected to process their birds and return to Georgia to sell. Some process on-farm, even though a confusing regulatory framework arguably prohibits this activity.

Recently, Will Harris, a South Georgia farmer and leader in the sustainable farming movement, opened the first USDA-inspected on-farm poultry processing facility in the state of Georgia.

“Chickens were born to scratch and peck. These are natural instinctive animal behaviors,” says Harris, White Oak Pastures owner and founding member of Georgians for Pastured Poultry. “Unfortunately, industrial commodity livestock production removes costs from meat production systems by raising animals in mono-cultural confinement systems that do not allow these instinctive behaviors.”

The poultry raised at White Oak Pastures live on USDA Certified Organic pastureland and have constant and total access to the outdoors. They are chemical-free, meaning they are not given growth hormones or synthetic antibiotics. In addition, grass-based production systems are less reliant on external sources of feed, which can destabilize conventional production systems because of drastic feed price fluctuations.

Because of his effort to create a model of sustainable agriculture, Harris and White Oak Pastures have garnered many certifications and accolades, including the 2011 Georgia Restaurant Association Innovator Award, 2011 Winner of Georgia Small Business Person of the Year, 2011 Recipient of Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award, 2008 Winner of ‘Flavor of Georgia’ food contest, and 2008 Recipient of University of Georgia Award of Excellence.

As the largest private employer in Early County, Ga., the White Oak Pastures business model shows that pastured production methods can be commercially successful alternatives to industrial feedlots.

Advancing Poultry Policy

For four years, Georgia Organics has been working with growers, policy makers, researchers and business consultants to expand opportunities for producers to raise pastured poultry. The organization remains committed to working with key leaders and agencies to advance pastured poultry policies and solutions.

Current on-farm processing policies are obstacles for family farms, and this hurts the entire state’s economy. Restaurants have been some of our strongest allies in bringing more choice to the marketplace to date.

Most other states offer a safe, economically viable option for on-farm processing, and Georgia Organics restaurant members are consistently asking for tips on acquiring pastured poultry from local farms. Our research has shown that pastured poultry can create jobs and strengthen and rebuild rural communities and economies, uniting, if you will, the two Georgias: rural and urban Georgia.

We’re currently advocating for changes in policy to free up the market. We’d need a federal exemption status or new policies from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to provide small farms a safe, economically viable option for on-farm processing.

Perhaps the establishment of a fixed and/or mobile processing facility would fulfill the need. Georgia Organics is currently working on a feasibility study to determine which would be more ideal.

The mission of Georgia Organics is to connect organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. To learn more, visit georgiaorganics.org or call (678) 702-0400.

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Chef Guy Owen

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Chef and co-owner of The Blue Bicycle in Dawsonville

By Christy Simo

 

Guy Owens took a serpentine path to where he is now, as chef and co-owner of Dawsonville’s The Blue Bicycle with his wife, Kati. He started out as a heating and air conditioning unit designer for commercial properties, then decided to follow his passion and cook. After his first job at The Abbey in Atlanta, followed by more than 10 years working for Futren Corporation in private country club restaurants, the space for The Blue Bicycle became available. Tucked away behind the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, the restaurant opened in 2005.

Tell me a little bit about your restaurant, The Blue Bicycle.
It was a life-long dream to have my own place, like most chefs. This little place used to be an Italian restaurant, a mom-and-pop red sauce kind of place. They were retiring and were looking for someone to take it over, so we did. We call it a bistro. We started out with what we thought we wanted it to be, but pretty soon we found out that the customers wanted something else, and they’ve kind of dictated what we’ve become. We’ve evolved from doing real casual kind of food to a little more upscale. We don’t consider ourselves upscale. We consider ourselves comfortable food. But our clientele thinks of us as fine dining.

So tell me a little bit about yourself and your background before you opened the restaurant.
I spent about 10 years in my 20s and early 30s in an engineering business designing heating and air conditioning systems for commercial buildings. Cooking was more of a hobby, so it was a passion. It was what I loved to do. Somebody actually pointed it out to me one time, she was a grandmother. She said, “You know, God gave you a really good gift, and you’re not using it. You should really rethink what you’re doing.”

I thought about it for a little bit. Because I wasn’t what you would call passionate about designing heating and air conditioning units. It was just a job. So I took the plunge in the late 1980s and saved some money for about a year, then quit my job.

I went to work at The Abbey restaurant down in Atlanta for minimum wage. I got into the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, which I thought was a good way to get an education, because you learn so much on the job as opposed to going to culinary school and going into debt.

I was fortunate to have good mentors, and being a little older — I was in my 30s by the time I started this — I understood responsibility and being at work on time, and not staying out all night after work drinking. So I migrated to the top management pretty quickly.

Once I had gotten established as a sous chef and had a good reputation with some of the other chefs around town, it was pretty easy to find a good place to settle in.

So did you always know when you decided to go into the internship program that you wanted to have your own restaurant one day?
Yep. I knew that when I was 14 years old. I just didn’t pursue it at the time. I was kind of discouraged from it by my family. They said, “You won’t make any money doing that!” Because the idea then was you were a cook. The concept of executive chef was pretty far from most people’s minds. The only celebrity chefs in those days were Julia Child and Graham Kerr.

How would you describe your cooking style?
It’s Continental influence with a southern accent. We try to keep things simple. The ingredients list in many recipes, I like to keep to a minimum. I like to let the product speak for itself. I try to choose the highest quality I can get.

We try and shop local as much as we can, but we can’t ignore what our customers want. During the wintertime, I’m forced to buy tomatoes, lettuce, things like that, that I have to import from other parts of the country, because my customers demand it. They’re not satisfied eating canned green beans, even if I put them up myself during the summertime. But we still try to think locally first, then we stretch out from there.

After 5 years in business, we found somebody who can provide us with local, pasture-raised organic chickens. It’s not cheap chicken, but it’s good chicken. It’s a local farm – Joyful Noise Acres Farm. They’re out of Ball Ground, Ga. She delivers birds to us every Wednesday that were alive on Tuesday morning. That’s fresh.

What inspires you as a chef?
I like to eat, and I like to eat out. I like to see what other people are doing, and I like to be challenged.

What is the best advice or tip you ever received?
Probably local and fresh, and get the highest quality ingredients you can get — within your price range of course. I mean, the sky is not the limit. We have to be responsible to our community, and we have to fit into our community.

What is your dream splurge if you could have anything in your restaurant or kitchen?
I would gut my kitchen and I would put in all new sauté range, because we do a lot of sautéing and we only have six burners. And I would probably get an immersion circulator and vacuum seal and do a little bit of sous vide.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?
Other than a sharp knife and a good pan? We work a lot on our Robot Coupe, and of course our KitchenAid mixer.

What’s the one thing you would ban from your kitchen if you could?
Anything I would ban is probably not here, because we’re a pretty small operation.

What is your favorite ingredient?
Probably pig. It’s so versatile. We’re doing osso buco right now but with pork instead of veal. We make terrines and charcuteries, things like that. I make fresh sausage every once in a while, but it’s not something that’s on the menu all the time.

What is your least favorite ingredient?
I’m not a big fan of offal, tripe and stuff like that. Duck liver and chicken liver, I like those. It’s one of those things I used to veer away from that I’ve come to appreciate. But I still can’t get into kidneys and tripe, hearts and lungs and brains. I won’t cook anything that I won’t eat.

What would you say is your favorite restaurant in Georgia outside of the ones you’ve worked at?
I really like Holeman & Finch. And Varasano’s Pizza – I really like what he does with pizza. It’s my passion at home. We make pizza almost every weekend. Chef Varasano has a link to his blog about dough making. I used to think I made pretty good pizza dough, but after following some of his advice and making some alterations, what I read on his blog improved my pizza 100%.

Who would you say is the most influential person to you in the restaurant world?
Probably Frank Stitt over in Birmingham. I haven’t met him, but I’ve dined in his restaurants on several occasions. It’s what I always wanted to do — to focus on regional food — and it’s kind of what I do here. I like the way he is able to elevate southern cuisine. He’s been doing it for so long, and he hasn’t missed a lick yet. His restaurants are really first class.

What would you say is your favorite thing about the restaurant industry overall?
The camaraderie. The teamwork. When I was 14 years old, my first job was working in a restaurant. I just had so much fun with the people that I worked with, and you spend so much time with them. So that’s probably the best part — the friendships that you make.

How is it different working at someone else’s restaurant as a chef vs. owning your own restaurant?
Well I’ve always been good about watching my boss’s nickels, but you watch them even closer when they’re your nickels.

I watch my nickels, but I also try to take care of my staff — pay everybody the best that we can, considering the business and all. I was fortunate when I was working for Futren Corporation that they taught me the business aspect of it. And that’s probably why we’re still in business today, because we’re not doing it strictly from the passion part of it, but we’re watching our dollars. It’s true what they say, that working for yourself is way different than working for somebody else. You resent that guy to some degree who’s got you working on Sunday because it’s Mother’s Day or Easter. Where now if I’m working on Mother’s Day or Easter, it’s my own choice.

What would you say is the most challenging part of being a chef/owner in the restaurant industry?
Staying afloat. Especially in the last year or so, it seems like every time I get an invoice from anybody, the cost of everything just keeps going up. But the pressure on us in the restaurant is to maintain our prices so that people still feel like they’re getting a bargain. And it’s getting harder and harder. We’ve already had to do a menu change and raise prices. And because we waited too long to raise prices, on several items we had to raise them dramatically.

What was the response from your diners when you had to do that?
We’ve had mixed things. Some people say, “Well it’s about time. We understand.” And other people are like, “You’re charging me $19 for this trout that I got two weeks ago for $16!” But prices keep going up. And there are costs built in that [trout] people don’t see. Insurance keeps going up. Every year my lease goes up 3 percent. The more people use credit cards, the more I have to pay the credit card companies.

What is your philosophy as a chef managing people?
Treat everybody with respect. Try not to order people around, but direct them and ask them politely. Use a lot of thank you’s and please’s. And then the golden rule — treat other people like I would want to be treated. Educate the younger people. I ask everybody who comes to work for me in the kitchen, what do you want to be one day? If it’s a line cook and they say, “I just see myself as always being a line cook,” well then, they’re out of the picture. But if someone says “I want to be a chef. I want to be running an operation one day.” Then that’s the one I want.

Education and respect, those are the biggest things in the kitchen. It keeps people motivated. I’ve been fortunate; I’ve had very little kitchen turnover, and I think it’s because I treat people with respect and I try to educate them. Hopefully when they do leave, they go on to something better. They’re not just going across the street because somebody’s going to pay them another 50 cents an hour more.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
Laying out on the beach, drinking margaritas (laughs). I really can’t see myself doing anything else at this point except for retiring.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?
Probably pizza. Like I said, it’s one of my passions. We don’t bake our own bread here — we don’t have the facilities for that — but I bake all our bread at home, and we make pizzas at home. So my last meal would probably be a fig and blue cheese pizza.

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Chef Keira Moritz

Monday, October 17th, 2011

A Southern Chef Comes Home

By Christy Simo

Chef Keira MoritzGeorgia’s big cities may seem to be the hubs of cuisine, but a slew of chefs are opening high-end, fine dining restaurants in smaller towns across the state. Keira Moritz, most recently of Pacci’s in Atlanta, recently moved back to her hometown of Valdosta to open a new restaurant. In September, Steel Magnolias was slated to open in the historic downtown area of Valdosta. Chef Moritz has put her heart and soul into the restaurant, purchasing the building and designing the interior herself. We talked about her new concept, her cooking philosophy and her love of lavender in this month’s Q&A.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a chef.
I was born and raised here in Valdosta. It’s been a decade since I’ve been back. I went through my first college career, then I ended up not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. So I took a job waiting tables at a dude ranch in Wyoming. One day the breakfast cook didn’t show up, and I was like, well, I might not be able to cook anything, but I can cook eggs. So I just cooked breakfast for 150 people. It was a buffet. You just go for it. They were coming one way or the other, and nobody wanted to call the ranch manager. So I ended up behind the grill. They ended up giving me his job and his great cabin. And from there, I jumped to a couple different dude ranches and decided I had found what I really wanted to do, and I should go to culinary school.  I went to Johnson-Wales Charleston followed by Johnston Wales Denver.

What is behind your decision to move back to Valdosta?
The restaurant in Atlanta, Pacci, the property itself was sold. Pacci was a really successful restaurant. I actually looked at the building I bought [in Valdosta] five years ago when it first went up for sale, and I couldn’t afford it then. It was kind of a pipe dream. Then when I was home, I happened to look and it happened to still be for sale five years later. They had rented it out but they still wanted to move the property. I put down a low-ball offer, and dang if he didn’t take it.

In the past 10 years, I’ve moved every 14 to 24 months. For 10 years. And it’s been loads of fun doing that. All the major cities I’ve done. I’ve loved it. But I guess when an opportunity arises, at least for me, to do my own on my own, and renovate it the way I want it, you don’t pass that up.

Steel Magnolias is in downtown Valdosta. We’ve got about 80 seats on the first level, banquet space for 100 on the second. It happened to be a pitched roof. Both of the buildings on either side have no windows on them, and they’re both one story higher than my building, so we’ve put in a rooftop bar. The first rooftop bar in Valdosta.

How would you describe your cooking style?
It’s changed. I landed in an Italian concept right off the bat, and that’s where I pretty much stayed. With this restaurant, I guess I’m doing my own concept. It’s Urban Southern. We’ve got pimento cheese, mac and cheese and grilled cheese. So my style would be comfortable ingredients, easily recognizable and non-confusing.

A lot of downtowns across Georgia are seeing more fine-dining options.
Yea. We have a great downtown area, and it’s beginning to pick up in the downtown. I think in the next five years, this downtown area is just going to completely change. I’m excited to have something to do with that.

What would you say inspires you as a chef?
I like to eat. I think that’s my inspiration. If I found out I had a gluten allergy or Celiac Disease, I don’t know what I would do.

What’s the best advice or tip you’ve ever received?
If you do what’s right, it will never let you down.

What would be your dream splurge if you could have anything in your kitchen or restaurant?
Could I have another hood vent and a bigger kitchen? I’d say size. I believe in functionality. I don’t need too much; I just need everything I have to be functional and get the job done. I’m very simplistic.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?
It’s simple. I really have to have a grill. If I don’t have a grill, it really changes everything on my menu.

What’s the one thing you would ban from your kitchen if you could?
We don’t have radios. We’re there to do business. If you’re focusing on who’s playing in the background, then you’re not focusing on the food in front of you.

So with the new restaurant, will you be working with local farmers down in South Georgia?
Yep. We’ve got some people doing some great venison sausage, we’ve got Sweet Grass Dairy doing all of their items a town over. We’ve got a grass-fed beef company in Madison, Fla., about 45 minutes away. We’ve got a pork place headed out toward Thomasville. So we have a lot of local producers. And we have a lot of unrecognized local producers. I’ve come home to my parent’s house, and my dad is sitting there with venison summer sausage that is made out of venison that he killed. You can’t get much more local. And these people, you drive up their driveway, and they’ve got it all set up. It is some of the most amazing product I’ve ever seen or tasted.

What would you say is your favorite ingredient?
Lavender. That’s my favorite ingredient right now. I make a lavender brown sugar rosemary syrup. It’s so simple, and you don’t know what it is when you put it in your mouth. I’ve never had anyone put their finger on it, because it’s unexpected, and I like the unexpected. It’s a sweet savory note, which I love so much. I’ve got a glazed pork belly served over creamy polenta with the lavender brown sugar syrup. And then I’ve turned that around and done it on my brunch menu – a big hunk of pork belly with the glaze on it with two poached eggs and cheese grits.

What about your least favorite ingredient?
I hate fish fumet. I hate it. Lobster stock — hate it. I use lobster stock, but I don’t really use fish fumet much. I think it comes from having it spilled all over me once, and then I had to walk around the entire day smelling like it. It might slightly make me gag. Every time I’m around it.

What is your favorite restaurant outside the ones you’ve worked at?
There’s a restaurant in Oakland, California called Pizzaiola. I used to live a block from it. I got used to walking over to it and sitting at the bar to have dinner by myself or meeting friends there, and I think they do a fantastic job. The menu changes daily.

In Atlanta, 4th and Swift does a great job. JCT does a great job, and then the one place after my own heart is La Tavola, because they are a small set up and they do what they do well, and it’s consistent. I really appreciate consistent.

What is your favorite thing about the restaurant industry itself?
The amount of love people put into it. If you’re in this business, you’re in it for a reason. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be in it. And those who do love it put a lot into it. It’s a lot of work, and you gotta love it. So for people to have that kind of love is pretty impressive.

What is the most challenging part of being a chef in the restaurant industry?
Finding that balance. At my last restaurant, I truly achieved balance. And right off the bat at this restaurant I’ve been really focused on making sure I aim for that balance from the beginning.

How has it been different working at somebody else’s restaurant as a chef vs. owning your own restaurant now?
You know, I’m fully invested. Maybe that’s how it’s different. I’ve worked really hard and did it for so many other people. To be able to give everything that you got to get in the door and be able to do your own, that’s the love that restaurateurs have, right there. Because we could work for other people all our lives, but there’s still that one thing that says, nope, I’m working so that one day I can have my own. Then to be able to do a renovation on a place is insane — insanely fabulous. To see it come along and it be everything you’ve thought about from Day 1 with you saying you wanted to have your own. If you look at that restaurant and you look at me, you will know me. And that’s what’s done me so well in the past is that I’ve had that relationship with not only my guests, but my staff and my team.

What is your philosophy as a chef managing people?
Every place I’ve ever left, I’ve left behind a really great team, and I’ve always hated to leave the team that I have behind. That’s a really tough one, but every time I get to a new place, for some reason I build another great team.

I expect people to work hard. I expect them to enjoy coming to work. And for that I create that environment where we work hard, we take care of each other. We do what’s right. They make decisions on their own, because they’re allowed to make decisions on their own, based on the simple philosophy that I will support you if you do the right thing. I think that goes a long way with people.

Even the hiring process — I have not put a single ad out. Everybody that I’ve hired thus far has been word of mouth. Everybody has different things going on in their lives, and they all have questions about what about this for me, and what about that for me. And I say, you know what? We’re going to take care of that. Everybody here is going to be working hard. You’re going to get to do what you need to do for yourself and your family, and you’re going to be able to do it because so and so is going to do this for you, and you’re going to return the favor when it’s time to return the favor.

It’s funny, because one restaurant I worked for in San Francisco, that team was all family, family, family. And I worked at another restaurant where it was business, business, business. And then my last one really combined both. And it was a really great harmony. So it has to be a great combination of people who are willing to do within those four walls for each other, and care about each other, and work hard and enjoy working with each other. It’s mutual respect.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would be an architect or designer. I can put it together in my head and can see it. And I’ve had a great time designing this restaurant. I don’t have a designer. It’s me putting it together, and it’s going to be a really pretty place. If I could do that for a living, that could be my next life, for sure.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?
Fried chicken. I would probably have some fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas. And cherry pie for dessert.

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Chef Steve Hartman

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Fine Southern Food in the North Georgia Mountains

By Christy Simo

Chef Steve Hartman

There are scores of chefs and restaurant owners across the state doing new and different things, cooking interesting food and creating exciting restaurants. This month, we talked with Steven Hartman, executive chef at Le Vigne, Montaluce Winery’s restaurant in Dahlonega. Born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Steven has a culinary arts degree from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. He is also the former chef de cuisine for the Hermitage Hotel, a five-star, five-diamond icon in Nashville.

Chef Hartman has been at Le Vigne for two years. It’s a young winery and restaurant – the vines are on their sixth year of the rootstock, and the winery has only been open for three years.

Following is the highlights of our conversation. Be sure to also check out his blog, Hogballs & Mountain Dew at http://levignekitchen.blogspot.com/ or follow him on Twitter @hogballs.

Tell me a little bit about Montaluce Winery and the restaurant itself.
Monteluce Winery and the restaurant is located on 400 acres in Dahlonega. We’ve got 17 acres planted in vineyards and 2 acres for an organic garden. We’re staying true to the whole local and sustainable movement. We started with offering the local wine and vegetables from our garden. We want to stay true to that by supporting the local artisans and producers and try to do our part and give back to the local community.

Why did you decide to become a chef?
My mom is a fairly accomplished southern American cook. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen growing up, so I began to appreciate food traditionally prepared and prepared well. And I grew up with a large garden in the yard. When I was a young teenager I began working in the foodservice industry and really began to enjoy the buzz and the excitement. It’s not a desk job by any means. It’s like, what’s going to happen today? There’s always something going down.

How would you describe your cooking style?
I’d say what I do is refined Southern regional. We take elements and techniques of traditional southern cuisine and try to add a sense of refinement to these and present them in a higher-end fashion. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it makes sense.

As a chef, what inspires you?
I’m very ingredient driven, and right now it’s awesome seeing beautiful produce coming in from the garden, things I haven’t seen since last spring. I always get excited about seeing morels again.

What is the best advice or tip you ever received?
At first when I was really struggling working the line and having a hard time staying on top of things, the chef said to me, “You know, you really need to think about things and work smarter, not harder.” It’s pretty simple, but at the end of the day, I tell cooks that more than anything else.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?
I would say the Vita-Prep is essential to what I do.

What would you ban from your kitchen if you could?
Aluminum sauté pans. It’s hard to replace 100 sauté pans that are aluminum.

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Vinegar plays a crucial role in my cuisine. Not only for preservation, but it’s a major part of the balancing act with what we do.

What would you say is your least favorite ingredient to cook with?
I really despise the smell of truffle oil. It’s one of those things. Truffles are fine, but truffle oil itself …  I don’t know if it’s too many times I’ve smelt it or too many people have overused it, but it’s just so strong that anytime anyone opens up truffle oil, it’s like, “Ahh, I wish we could just get away from this product and just use real truffles all the time.” But it’s hard for me to justify spending the money sometimes.

What is your favorite restaurant (outside your own, of course)?
The menu and style of cuisine at Holeman & Finch is fun for me as a chef and a diner. I’ve found it to be the most consistent and enjoyable dining experience in Atlanta or the surrounding area. It’s the opportunity to see chefs use products from the same producers and artisans that I use but presented in a different way. They’re using the whole animal similar to what we do here, but it’s fun seeing the different spin.

Who is the most inspirational person to you in the restaurant world?
Probably the chef I worked for at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, [Tyler Brown]. He’s the executive chef there and I was his head chef de cuisine for a number of years. We built a strong relationship and found a good cooking balance between the two of us.

What is your favorite thing about the foodservice industry?
I love and hate the hours at the same time. It’s a labor of love being here, but it’s awfully time-consuming. I love working and the challenge of working in a kitchen and the rush, but also it’s tough watching my baby grow up and think, well, I’m going to be gone for 15 hours today. My wife is going out of town this weekend to a birthday party, but I’m going to stay back and do a wine dinner tonight. So I’m really pumped up about the wine dinner, but I’d love to see my friends and family back in Nashville.

What is the most challenging part of heading up the kitchen?
I think cooks are super tough and super sensitive at the same time. So figuring out the mentality of all the different cooks is a balancing act. It’s interesting. Everybody has their own style of management, but everybody has their own learning style and respond better to different techniques and avenues.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d guide fly-fishing trips. I’ve got a lot of opportunities for fishing up here. Our winery is located on the Etowah River, so we take clients down and do basic fly fishing casting and fly-fishing instruction, then we’ll harvest our catch . We’ll do a demonstration on cleaning and cooking the trout by the river. It’s neat and fun and something different for them to do.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?
Collard greens with grits and a slow-roasted pork shoulder. Hearty Southern food with a lot of flavor. I grew up eating greens but didn’t enjoy them very much, and now it’s one of those things I can’t get enough of.

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Southern Foodways – Consuming the South

Monday, July 11th, 2011

By Christy Simo

Southern food. It’s a complex term, weighted down by centuries of upheaval and discord, influenced by diverse cultures and lifted up by cookouts and family meals.  It’s fried chicken and greens, grits and barbeque. And bacon. Lots of bacon.

Over the past several years, there’s been a renewed focus on Southern food, be it from culinary critics, TV shows, or people visiting who want to experience a taste of the South. But Southern food is not a trend. It’s always been here, entwined between the pine trees and mountains, flowing through the streams and along the sandy coast of Georgia.

“The South has the most storied and eloquent history of food in this country,” says Kevin Gillespie, executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. “I think it’s because we have a longer lineage and a longer history than most of the other regions in this country can claim.”

“I think the South, as far as food goes, is one of the more influential parts of our country,” says Todd Ginsberg, chef and co-owner of Bocado in Atlanta. “The South has a plethora of indigenous ingredients and a back story. The South has an abundance of dishes that means something to the United States.”

But what does it mean to be Southern? What does it mean to cook Southern? And do you have to be Southern to cook Southern?

“Southern food has begun to embrace a lot of characteristics about it that lie underneath the surface—the fact that it isn’t always an incredibly heavy cuisine style, and it isn’t always about deep-frying things,” Gillespie says. “For a long time, when people said Southern, that’s what they wanted, and that’s what they were looking for. And inevitably chefs in the South—I’m sure often times to their dismay—made those things because they felt like it was their only option.”

Today’s southern food continues to evolve, recognizing new influences while rediscovering old traditions and ways of cooking.

“I don’t think the concept has changed; the perception of southern food has changed,” says John T. Edge, executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. “I think that a new generation of chefs have helped a new generation of consumers see value in the food of our collective forbearers.”

“People have taken the charge and have decided that we’re going to cook the things that we want to regardless,” Gillespie says. “And people are trying things and experiencing traditions that they didn’t know about before, so it’s given Southern chefs an opportunity to dig a little deeper into what our food traditions really are.”

“Southern cooking had a bad rap for a long time,” Edge adds. “Some of it was deserved, but not all of it. But I think now we as a region take pride in our food in the same way that we take pride in other cultural creations that come from the South, like architecture, like music, like all forms of art.”

What Southern Food Is
The south is a mix of people and foods, and it’s always been that way. Native American, Western European and African cultures have all played a part in the Southern food we eat today.

When people came to Georgia, they often tried to cook the foods they were used to back in their homeland, but adapted them, using the different foods available and cultivated in the south. It was a way of preserving something that reminded them of home when they found themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

As people migrated elsewhere, they took their cooking techniques with them, melding them with whatever types of food and cooking styles were in their new place to live. In that way, food migrates and melds together as well. This is what we call foodways.

Foodways encompass not just what’s served on the plate, but the ideas and behaviors related to its preparation, serving and consumption. The physical, social, cultural, economic and spiritual activities that surround a plate of food could be different from one region to the next, even if it is basically the same dish. Not only that, but how you procure the food, prep and preserve it, then present the food is central to a culture and often has heavy symbolic meaning.

Although there is not one particular food that all Georgians eat in common or that we only eat or drink, there are two pillars of Southern food that are usually incorporated in some way: pork and corn.

“There are some exceptions—pork and corn are less dominant along the Gulf Atlantic coast—but the bedrock of our food culture is pork and corn,” Edge says.

Native Americans taught European settlers how to grow and cook corn, and Spanish explores brought pigs with them in the 1500s, introducing pork to the region for the first time. West Africans brought some of their traditional foods with them as well, such as eggplant, collard greens and okra, starting in the 1600s.

Eating With the Seasons
By its definition, Southern food is seasonal. The South has an agrarian history, and people ate what was available, when it was available, whether it was fresh tomatoes and okra, black-eyed peas or peaches. When the food was in season, it was on the table.

“It was certainly one where meat showed up constantly or meat products at least, like lard, ham bones or smoked pork. But it was driven by vegetables more than anything, because it was about what you had available to you, what you could take out of your own garden, and what you could best use to feed your family,” Gillespie says. “It wasn’t fancy, but it was truly driven by availability and economics.”

That thought process dovetails into the current local foods movement, where chefs buy local produce and procure local products through nearby farmers and merchants.

“If you’re going to cook southern, you’re going to want to use Southern goods. That mantra of buying local and eating local, it sounds like something that was handed down from on high from Berkley, California, but that’s not the case,” Edge says. “To eat local is something that many grew up doing and something that your grandparents did.”

“Cooking southern is this understanding that Southern food is about truly being seasonal and truly representing your region—almost your sub-region—by embracing the ingredients that are grown around you and having that sort of utilitarian purpose to the way that you handle them,” Gillespie says. “Southern food has always been one that is about flavor over fashion. It’s about a cuisine that is extremely satisfying before anything else.”

“People want to bring in local produce [into their kitchens]. And what do you have in the wintertime in Georgia? I’ve had collards on the menu all winter, I’ve had chard, greens and root vegetables,” Ginsberg says.  “So if you’re trying to stay local and you’re trying to stay true to the principle of cooking locally, obviously you’re going to try [to cook the local cuisine]. If you’re buying the grits from a local mill, you’re going to put it on your menu.”

“It’s all local,” says Jamie Cadden, head chef of Blackwater Grill, a Cajun-Coastal Southern restaurant in St. Simons. “I have a seafood purveyor here from St. Simons and I also have a purveyor in Jacksonville, Florida. This is a shrimping community, so we get all the Georgia White shrimp we can handle down here.”

But Southern cuisine is more than the food and where it came from. It’s about hospitality and how the food makes you feel. It’s pleasure and solace on a plate.

“Southern cooking means it’s comfort food,” Cadden says. “The collard greens, the macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, things like that. It’s a lot of bacon. It’s a comforting type of food. Everybody comes in and says ‘Man these are just like my mom’s collard greens.” It takes you back to the family Sunday dinners.”

A New Type of Southern
As new groups of people come to the south, the concept of Southern cooking continues to shift and expand.

“The idea that you have to be Southern, to be born in this place, to be an interpreter of this place, is short sighted,” Edge says. “There was a time when the South was a very provincial place, and you were either from here or you weren’t. That time’s past.

“For the longest time, even though we think of the south as influenced by West Africa and Western Europe, there have always been new ethnicities coming to the south,” Edge says. “You get these honest fusions of food from multiple cultures. That’s beautiful stuff. And it’s not an insult to Southern food. Culture evolves … and you see changes in the south, by way of new immigration, by way of new ideas.”

“Like anything, people put their own play on it, their own creative forces behind it,” Ginsberg adds.

“People come to the South to look for something honest, something real, to look for the unvarnished America,” Edge says. “They think that this is the homeland of perfect barbeque and exemplary fried chicken. They think they’re going to look for honest American foods prepared with care and prepared with a kind of respect for the past. But I would argue that in doing that, they’re missing what’s going on here in terms of new ethnicity. Some of the best crawfish I’ve had in a long time was cooked by a Vietnamese family in a crawfish shack on Buford Highway.”

“The southern food culture is one that is definitely a melting pot of all the people who have passed in and out of the South,” Gillespie adds. “The South has been incredibly accepting of people’s food cultures and has absorbed them into their own and made them a part of something that already had so many variations.

“We’re creating something new while being inspired by the traditions of the past,” he says, adding that restaurants like his “embrace the new generation of people who are going to have to carry forward our traditions of the south. [Our generation is] going to be the ones to tell the story of Southern food. So I believe that hopefully this is a new chapter in the life of Southern food.”

Will Travel For Food
Traveling to eat somewhere new is big business, and millions of Americans come to Georgia every year to try something Southern. A recent study by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with the Gourmet and the International Culinary Tourism Association says 27 million travelers in the United States engage in culinary or wine-related activities while traveling, and Georgia is listed as one of the top 15 destinations in the country.

These travelers are younger, more affluent and better educated than non-culinary travelers. And they’re not just eating out.

They take cooking classes and visit farmers markets, gourmet food shops and food festivals. They go on winery tours, drive wine trails and attend local wine festivals.
They also spend more money than the ordinary traveler. On average, food travelers spend $1,194 per trip, with more than one-third of that budget going toward food-related activities.

“People [used to] travel and they would go see museums and grand fine homes with columns along the front,” says John T. Edge, executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. “Sure they may want something pretty good to eat between those Doric columns and museum shops, but that was it.”

Now, Edge says, “People travel to eat. Then they detour to go to the museum or look at the house with the big Doric columns.

“For many people, entre to a culture comes by way of food. If you go to a museum, you are seeing a staged semi-lacquer of a region and how it should be represented,” he says. “If you sit down in a barbeque joint in South Georgia, you are in that culture, you are of that culture, and that is the best kind of cultural tourism. It doesn’t rely upon the mediators. You’re living it. You’re in it. And that’s how people want to travel.”

Perhaps that’s why travel-food hybrid shows have leapt in popularity over the past few years and people are creating trips around visiting restaurants featured on TV. Last year, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visited Blackwater Grill in St. Simons, showcasing the restaurant’s Boudin Fritters, low-country boil and Grouper Daufuski. The show aired in June 2010, and Blackwater Grill is still seeing people come to the restaurant as a result.

“As soon as that show aired, people were lining up and our sales for those three dishes skyrocketed,” says Jamie Cadden, head chef of Blackwater Grill. “Every time it reruns again, we get another surge of people coming to the island to eat where he ate and to eat those dishes.

“People heading on their way to Florida, they’ll just detour here,” he adds. “Right now our business is really good, and we get people in here every week saying ‘We saw you on TV, we’d like to make reservations.’”

“I find more and more, that people plan their trips around what they’re going to eat,” says Kevin Gillespie, executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. “Food tourism has become something that is really huge. They’re not always necessarily looking for fine dining. They’re just looking for places that are really going to have really great food.”

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Chef Jonn Nishiyama, Cherokee Town and Country Club

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Chef Jonn Nishiyama of Atlanta was recognized as the 2010 Chapter Chef of the Year during the ACF Greater Atlanta Chapter’s President’s Gala and Awards Dinner. Chef Nishiyama also received the 2010 Southeast Region Chef of the Year award during the 2010 ACF Southeast Regional Conference held at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, Birmingham AL.

Currently Nishiyama works as garde manger chef at Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta, under Chef Kevin Walker, CMC. The Chef of the Year award recognizes an outstanding culinarian who works and cooks in a full-service dining facility. This person demonstrates the highest standard of culinary skills, advances the cuisine of America and gives back to the profession through the development of students and apprentices.

Prior to joining the staff at Cherokee Town and Country Club, Nishiyama worked as executive chef at Marietta Country Club, Keenesaw, Ga. and as executive chef at Druid Hills Golf Club, Atlanta, among other restaurants in Georgia and Hawaii. Nishiyama earned an associate degree in foodservice and a certificate in culinary arts from Kapi’olani Community College, Honolulu, in 1986, and an associate degree in culinary arts from The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1993. He has earned numerous awards throughout his career, including more than 10 gold and silver medals in culinary competitions. He is a member of ACF Greater Atlanta Chapter Inc.

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Liz Cipro Named A Legendary Event’s Executive Chef

Monday, June 13th, 2011

A Legendary Event announced the appointment of Liz Cipro as Executive Chef.  As Executive Chef, Cipro will oversee all aspects of A Legendary Event’s culinary department including menu design, daily kitchen operations, food preparation, and purchasing.

Cipro began her career with A Legendary Event in 2001 with experience in both restaurants and catering kitchens and was quickly promoted to Sous Chef.  Eventually, she moved into the position of Catering Sales and was promoted to Director of Catering Sales.

Cipro is a member of Les Dames D’Escoffier International and has been a member of the Atlanta Chapter of NACE since 2004.

Tony Conway, CEO and Founder of A Legendary Event said, “We are extremely honored to name Liz Cipro as Executive Chef of A Legendary Event.   She will oversee our entire culinary team and continues to be an outstanding addition to our company as we strive to provide our clients with a legendary experience.  Liz is extremely well respected in the industry and we’re delighted to have her leadership.”

Formed in 1997, A Legendary Event has grown into a multi-million dollar full-service event enterprise, handling more than 2,500 events a year.

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Sustainable Shopping Tips for Chefs

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Contributed by Georgia Organics

Shopping for organically grown foods can be as confusing for chefs and restaurant owners as it is for anybody else. The different legal terms and jargon that companies use to market their foods can make it seem like their products are sustainable and humane, but it takes a detective to really figure out whether the food is what the farms say it is.

Georgia Organics put together this handy list to help you be as educated a shopper as possible. Note: some of these terms are regulated, and some are just plain bull.

“Natural” for non-meat products (FDA): In 1989, the FDA issued a definition for “natural,” stating that it meant “nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”

“Natural” for meat products (USDA FSIS)
: Can’t contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. In addition, the product could only be minimally processed (FSIS, 2006). Under this ruling, the definition of minimally processed includes: a) Traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or make it safe for human consumption, or b) Physical processes that do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or that only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs into albumen and yolk, and pressing fruits to produce juices.

“Naturally Raised” (USDA AMS): “Naturally raised” on livestock and meat derived from livestock would mean that “(1) no growth promotants (hormones) were administered to the animals; (2) no antibiotics (other than ionophores used to prevent parasitism) were administered to the animal; and (3) no animal by-products were fed to the animals” (Agricultural Marketing Service, 2009).

Free-Range Eggs: There are no legal standards in “free-range” egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Free-Range Chicken: The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled “free-range.” Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; “access” is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house-type production and be labeled “free-range.” Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this.

Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Knowing these terms will help you navigate through product purchasing and help you decide what’s worth paying extra for, and what’s worth avoiding.

5 Tips for your first trip to the Farmers Market

More and more chefs these days are going straight to the source to get their produce, meats, breads, and herbs. Farmers markets are one of the easiest ways to assess the quality of several farms in one morning. Here’re some tips for first-timers.

1) Get there early. Check the farmers market website to see what time the market opens. Good farmers have very devoted fans and may sell out of food.

2) Ask questions. Get to know your farmer, and don’t hesitate to ask about his or her farming methods, tips for cooking or chemicals they may or may not use.

3) Look for certified organic or certified sustainable farmers. Certification means the farmers use natural methods to avoid chemicals that could harm your health and the environment. Learn more about what organic means here, and why organic foods are better for you here.

4) Bring your own reusable bags. Most farmers markets don’t have grocery bags. Don’t forget the chilled bags for your meats.

5) Check out what’s in season. Consult with a harvest calendar to see what’s in season, and then plan your menu accordingly. (Check out www.georgiaorganics.org/calendars/harvestcalendar.pdf for our version.) But don’t be afraid to try new things. Farmers are helping to keep heirloom varieties around, most of which aren’t sold at a typical grocery store anymore, so they may look weird at first glance. Don’t be scared of purple carrots!

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Tabasco Recipe Competition Worth $10,000 Prize

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Chefs across the United States are challenged to rise to a new recipe competition showcasing the popular street food trend sweeping the foodservice industry.  For a chance to win a cash prize, contestants must submit their entries by July 18, 2011 online at TABASCOfoodservice.com or by mail.

The “street foods” themed contest invites professional chefs, sous chefs and lead line cooks at restaurants and non-commercial foodservice establishments, as well as chefs-in-training, to create an original entrée recipe inspired by some of the world’s most popular ethnic cuisines found in street foods today — like Latin American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean.  Qualifying entries must be easy to prepare in a foodservice kitchen, incorporate easily sourced ingredients, and include one or more of the following three flavors from the TABASCO Family of Flavors®:  Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce, TABASCO® brand Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce, and TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce.

The contest awards a $10,000 grand prize to the professional chef with the winning recipe; one culinary student will be awarded $2,500 for the winning recipe in the contest’s student category. In addition to winning cash and merchandise prizes, the professional and student category winners will be featured along with their winning recipes on TABASCOfoodservice.com.  Paul McIlhenny, President and CEO of McIlhenny Company, maker of TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce, and top New Orleans chefs will comprise the judging panel and select the professional and student winners on September 14, 2011.

For more information, contest rules and the contest entry form are available at TABASCOfoodservice.com or by calling 1-888-HOT-DASH.

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Chef Doug Turbush’s New Venture: Seed Kitchen & Bar

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Doug Turbush, formerly Executive Chef with Bluepointe restaurant in Atlanta, will be opening a new restaurant in East Cobb named Seed Kitchen & Bar.  Turbush will be the owner/operator and executive chef. The tentative opening is this summer.

Seed Kitchen & Bar will feature a casual dining environment. The menu will reflect the chef’s culinary experience and global travels, highlighting a passion for bold and flavorful foods and a commitment to sustainability.

“I envision Seed as a place where families and friends will meet to enjoy modern comfort food, unpretentious service, a sleek setting and excellent value. Sourcing locally has been core to my approach to food since I began cooking. I want to create a fun neighborhood restaurant with a well-priced menu and a progressive wine program,” says Turbush.

To implement his vision for Seed, Turbush is collaborating with Ai3 of Atlanta, an Atlanta-based architectural firm specializing in retail and restaurant design. With planned seating for 135 patrons, Seed Kitchen & Bar will also have a bar, lounge and additional seating on the adjoining patio.

Chef Turbush’s culinary background includes a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of American (CIA) in New York and a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality & Tourism from the University of Wisconsin. His restaurant career began at age 15 at a steakhouse in Wisconsin, after graduating he moved to Minneapolis based Goodfellow’s restaurant before heading to Bangkok, Thailand to explore the exotic flavors and techniques of Southeast Asia.

In 1999, Turbush joined the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group as chef tournant at Nava under Chef Kevin Rathbun and for the opening of Bluepointe, where he worked under the direction of Chef Ian Winslade. In 2001, Turbush was promoted to Executive Chef at Nava. He went on to take the helm at Bluepointe where he has been Executive Chef for the past six years.

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