Tag: food

Baking a Difference

By Adam Beard, Melinda Billingsley, Madison Hamilton, Omar Longoria and Landon Pederson

Some people “pay it forward,” but this organization “challahs back.”

It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. A student lugging a heavy backpack pauses for a moment to breathe in the tantalizing scent before crossing the street. There’s something cooking in the building on the corner of 21st and San Antonio St., but he isn’t quite sure what.

Through the doors of Texas Hillel, down a long hallway and past an extensive meeting room lies a kitchen. UT students donning chef hats are scattered throughout as 90’s pop music blares over the clanging of pots and pans.

By 6 p.m. the kitchen will be cleared out and more than 70 loaves of challah bread will be neatly wrapped and ready to sell in West Mall the next day.

This is how the national non-profit organization Challah For Hunger operates.

Cari Cohen serves as president of Challah for Hunger. One of her main jobs is to ensure the group has the right amount of ingredients the recipe calls for. (Photo by Landon Pederson)

“I think Challah For Hunger is a great because it’s both social justice and fun at the same time,” says chapter president, Cari Cohen.

The Texas Hillel is home to one of the many Challah For Hunger chapters across the United States. Founded in 2006, the UT Austin branch has raised thousands of dollars to help fight hunger in both Austin and Africa. By selling challah for $5 in the West Mall, they are able to give upwards of $200 per week to MAZON: a Jewish national non-profit organization, as well as the local food bank.

Members of Challah for Hunger say it only takes two hours to sell all of the bread they make for the week every Wednesday on the West Mall. (Photo by Omar Longoria)

Although challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on holidays, both Jewish and students of non-Jewish descent are invited to Texas Hillel to prepare, braid and decorate challah bread to help raise money for humanitarian aid.

“If they’ve never heard of challah before, we explain to them that it’s an egg-based, really sugary, awesome bread that’s based in the Jewish faith,” says Challah for Hunger member, Hillary Haspel.

Incorporating ingredients such as chocolate, cinnamon and their “fun flavor” each week, the bread has become popular among students from all backgrounds – even the ones who pronounce the “c” in challah.

“Not only does it taste amazing, it goes to a really awesome cause,” says Haspel.

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Not Just a Fad: Austin’s Evolving Locavore Movement

By Sara Cabral, Jane Claire Hervey, Larisa Manescu and Olivia Starich

 

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Pop-up tents form the aisles of HOPE Farmers Market at Saltillo Plaza in East Austin. Photos/editing by Olivia Starich.

 

 

On Sundays, Plaza Saltillo becomes more than a plot of concrete park.

 

The community space, nestled between the railroad tracks and a public housing complex on the intersection of 5th Street and Comal Street, transforms into a mosaic of booths and tents showcasing some of Austin’s local vendors. Called the HOPE Farmers Market, the weekly four-hour event (rain or shine) gives farmers and artisans a chance to sell their homegrown and homemade goods.

HOPE, which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere, debuted as a farmers market in 2009, but it only represents a small part of Austin’s local food movement. Typically, urban areas have their own local food systems that focus on the production and distribution of local food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local food is “defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics” and is “related to the distance between food producers and consumers.”

For Austin, the local food system includes five types of participants that buy and sell local food: small- and large-scale farmers; farm-to-table liaisons; local food retailers (farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores); local food awareness organizations and local food consumers. In Austin’s 2013 Economic Food Sector Report, all of these participants contributed to the more than $4 billion expended on all food in Austin in 2011. Although the amount spent specifically on the production, distribution and consumption of local food in Austin has not yet been quantified, those involved in the local food movement can speak to its impact.

 

John Lash, the founder and owner of Farm-to-Table LLC., created his company to help bridge the gap between Austin’s farmers and food retailers. In 2009, he began buying produce from small- and large-scale local farms to sell to restaurants. According to a 2007 U.S Census, there are almost 9,000 farms serving the Austin area; Lash aims to serve as many of these as possible with the goal of helping restaurants access local food sources.

“More and more restaurants see it as their obligation to serve their customers food that is good and healthy,” he said. “For the most part, but with some exceptions, they can get better-quality food from local producers.”

However, supplying restaurants with local food comes with its own set of problems. Seasons, drought, freezes and other environmental factors can keep farms from producing year-round (or at all) and crop availability varies. Despite the large impact of the environment, Lash said that the biggest barrier to supplying locally-sourced food is distribution.

“The challenge is less being able to provide and how to get it from the farmer to the customer,” Lash said.

Lash coordinates with multiple farms each week to provide local food to his clients, which include low-price restaurants like P. Terry’s and more expensive establishments like Vespaio on South Congress. He either accepts deliveries or picks up produce from the farms himself. He also sells to seven Austin schools, so the cafeterias can incorporate fresh produce into the schools’ lunches.

“Hopefully, more and more schools will demand that, so that all of a sudden students are exposed to the idea and understand the [connection] between X and Y [farmers and food on the table] as they grow up,” he added.

Other organizations, like Austin’s Urban Roots, have tried to intercept local food ignorance by exposing the public to local food at a younger age. The non-profit, which had its beginnings in East Austin, offers 30 local youth paid internships to run a 3.5-acre farm every year. The project typically harvests about 30,000 pounds of produce per season to be sold at farmers markets or donated to local food kitchens. Max Elliott, Urban Roots’ executive director, said that the program aims to connect kids to agriculture, while teaching them the values of hard work and sustainable lifestyles.

“What we’re trying to do with Urban Roots is trying to provide young people with opportunities to really amplify their voice within the food movement and have the community celebrate them as youth leaders,” Elliott said. “For me, it’s about power. How do you ensure that there’s more diversity within the local food movement? Have leadership.”

To maximize their impact, Urban Roots also takes young students on farm tour field trips, and the group plans to visit classrooms this year to spread local food awareness. Elliott said that although Urban Roots has had its successes, Austin’s local food movement still largely lacks accessibility.

“If you really look at where food is being consumed and being purchased, 99 percent of food is being bought in grocery stores, corner shops and restaurants. There’s not a lot of food that’s really moving through the local food community,” he said. “If we want to improve access, we’re really going to have to look at the bigger players, looking at the grocery stores, corner stores.”

Austin is also home to groups that try to promote awareness of local food among adults. Slow Food, the Austin branch of a national organization that considers itself a response to fast food, focuses on reconnecting people with the food they eat. The group hosts free, open educational events to teach the public about various food topics, such as gardening, seasonal food and the importance of food appreciation.

“A lot of our programs grow organically from either the feedback we hear from members in terms of educational topics or areas where we know there is a lot of need locally for fundraising or awareness,” Ashley Cheng, Austin Slow Food representative, said.

For HOPE Farmers Market manager Matthew Olson, local food system awareness and communication between farmers, citizens and the city are important for the survival of their market. For example, citizen complaints in December of last year concerning local, urban farms resulted in radical changes for Austin’s urban farm codes.

“What that’s been doing is burdening those farms, these small, urban farms in East Austin with having to attend city ordinance meetings, having to potentially pay legal fees for attorneys to help draft code compliance literatures,” Olson said. “In the big sense, it takes them away from being farmers.”

Raj Patel, a local food activist and author of the novel “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System,” said these conversations between farmers, the community, and local government are important for developing any urban area’s local food system. The more that grassroots movements such as small urban farms get people talking, the more inclusive the conversation about local food becomes, he said.

“There’s a dialectical relation between what the government does and what grassroots demand and how people demand it,” Patel said.

In this sense, the conversation which drives Austin’s local food system is expanding and local food is now incorporated into many of the city’s communities and institutions. Similar to HOPE Farmers Market, the Sustainable Food Center hosts multiple farmers markets in various Austin areas, from downtown to the Sunset Valley.

To provide access to various socioeconomic demographics, these markets offer the Double Dollar Incentive Program (DDIP), which allows families and individuals who receive SNAP benefits (which were formerly food stamps) to double the dollar amount that they can spend on fruits and vegetables.

Even the University of Texas at Austin has made a move toward local food, with the development of its own student-run micro-farm, which plans to provide the campus’ cafeterias with organic, locally-grown food.

No matter how Austin’s local food system manifests itself, the movement is bound to grow. In a recent report published by the USDA, consumers have shown a significant want for more organic, local food in their diets.

“People [in Austin] are ready to look out for one another and to take fairly unusual steps to be able to put their money where their mouths are,” Patel said.

But, as with any local food system, Patel said that the continuation of the movement goes beyond asking simple questions about local food’s production, distribution and accessibility. The true questions lie in making an urban area’s local food system a profitable part of the city’s economy.

“If the workers [in the local food system] are being paid properly, not only at Wheatsville [a grocery store], but also the people in the fields, it’s going to be expensive. So what do you do? Either you screw the poorest people in America out of money, or you pay more,” Patel said. “That’s something that I want to see the local food movement tackle. Because I think everyone should eat that way, and the fact that not everyone can is an indictment of the way we eat in America. What’s wrong with dreaming that big?”

Austin’s local food system has only gained momentum throughout the last five to six years and the direction and success of the movement is hard to pinpoint. However, community members within Austin’s local food movement, like HOPE’s manager Olson, believe that more people are bound to catch on.

“I think ‘local’ is the new buzz word and what you should be looking for if you are a conscious consumer,” Olson said. “You’re voting with your dollar. You’re supporting your local economy when you do that.”

Looking for local food on a night out? Check out this interactive map of Austin’s locavore scene, which includes UrbanSpoon ratings, prices, and website links:

The Omelettry says goodbye to Burnet Road after 36 years

By Chris Caraveo and Taylor Prewitt

Flipping omelets under the same roof for 36 years never got old for Kenny Carpenter. Come this fall, he and his crew will have to whip up eggs somewhere else.

The Omelettry, a breakfast restaurant located at the tri-street intersection of Burnet Road, Woodward Avenue and 49th Street, will likely close its current venue in October and move to a new location two miles away on Airport Boulevard near In-n-Out Burger. Its lease expires in 2015 but Kenny Carpenter, The Omelettry’s owner, wants to get a head start at the new spot.

However, Carpenter is not ready to bid the current location adieu. His son Jesse basically grew up there. When Jesse was small his mother set up a crib in the office and read to him. Carpenter’s daughter, now a doctor in Galveston, also worked there. Jesse has since become a co-owner with his father.

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Kenny Carpenter may not have made the memories he did without advice from friends when he first though of opening a restaurant.

Prior to opening The Omelettry he had spent six months in Santa Barbara, California cooking omelettes. When he came back to Austin something was missing.

“There’s no place like that in Austin,” he said.

 

The only breakfast places were Denny’s, IHOP and a little venue called Flapjack Canyon.

He originally wanted to start up in Denton, but his girlfriend—and now wife—was headed to school at the University of Texas in Austin. His friends recommended that he go to Austin too.

“They told me if you open a restaurant and you’re going to be anchored someplace for a long time, it ought to be somewhere you like,” Carpenter said. “I said ‘yeah I like Austin.’”

So he settled on the Texas capital and found the Omelettry’s location on a whim.

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One day in 1978 he drove down Burnet Road and came across the building he now calls his second home. He saw a “For Rent” sign on the window. He approached the place and looked inside.

“Cool man! It’s got dishes and equipment and everything!”

Satisfied with the property he called the landlord and rented it.

That same year The Omelettry opened, serving traditional omelettes like the Vegetarian or

Mushroom. Since then, Popeye’s Favorite, a mixture of fresh spinach, crisp bacon and sautéed onions inside a cheese omelette, has become popular among customers.

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Hot food has always been the priority at The Omelettry. Waiters team up at every table.

“We don’t have sections,” Carpenter said. “If someone needs their order taken one of our waiters runs over and takes it.”

Tips eventually even out among workers despite sharing customers.

Carpenter started some of his own competition. A year after opening he bought out the owner of the old Jolly J restaurant on Lake Austin Boulevard for $10,000. He found partners in Kent Cole and Patricia Atkinson–who were married at the time–at that location. They renamed the place Omelettry West.  One year later, however, the couple divorced and the Atkinson opened Kerbey Lane.

“But I stayed partners with her ex-husband for six or seven years and finally I got tired of having a partner,” Carpenter said. “He bought me out and changed the name to Magnolia Café. So I ended up creating a lot of my own competition.”

Spending 36 years in one city, Carpenter has seen the change in Austin. Back then there was a lot to do in Austin. But at the same time it was very simple, laid-back and affordable, unlike today.

“That’s what I miss, the simplicity,” he said.

Carpenter has tried buying the building for 25 years. But the owner refused to sell it.

Now, development along Burnet Road has caused property values to double in the last three years at an amount Carpenter cannot afford to purchase the place. After the owner passed away five years ago, his daughter took ownership and is ready to cash in on developers who can purchase the lot.

“It’ll sit here and probably get covered with graffiti until it gets bought and demolished.”

Carpenter has repaired electrical and plumbing issues nearly every week. Seeing this place torn down will not be easy for him.

The new location will give The Omelettry a more diner-like look with curved, glass windows.  But Carpenter wants to maintain its funkiness.

“And that’s the trick,” he said. “How do you keep it really simple and have that funky stuff in a newer building.”

They will bring the same equipment they have right now in order to keep it that way. Some of the pictures plastered on the walls will go up in the new building, especially family photos and the Omelettry’s early days.

The Carpenters, their staff and customers will soon say goodbye to The Omelettry’s 36-year-old home.

Regulars who reside near the current restaurant won’t have the luxury of proximity.

“We have to get the cars out. We got to ride our bikes. We used to walk there.”

Those who live around the new location will finally get the breakfast diner that has been absent in their area.

“Cool, you’re moving closer to us!”

Despite the move, Carpenter has no doubts The Omelettry will continue to thrive.

“We’re feeling pretty confident that most of our customers will come over there.”

UT student uses sweet tooth to create business

 

Sam hard at work in the kitchen. Photo by Joanie Ferguson.

By Chelsea Bass, Joanie Ferguson, Rachel Hill and Britini Shaw


There’s a star on the rise. Young entrepreneurial UT sophomore, Sam Cade, has managed to bake and sell hundreds of cakes out of her high-rise apartment, filling a niche many would not expect from a busy college student.

“I started off making them for my friends and then I was doing it for a bunch of people,” Cade said.

The 20-year-old Business Management major says that she could “live off dessert and breakfast food,” and has had a sweet tooth ever since she could remember, which is what sparked her love of making cakes.

Her love of baking was further solidified when she started working at Tart Bakery in Dallas at 16. During her time at the bakery, she performed small cake decorating tasks and took orders, and from there eventually started making cakes for her friends.

“When I got to college, I never expected it to take off as much as it did,” she said of her business, Cade’s Cakes.

Once she started posting pictures of her homemade cakes on Instagram, her popularity skyrocketed. She went from 400 followers to a little over 2,600 in a matter of a year.

Her prices have gradually increased as well. She went from charging $20 per cake, which didn’t turn a profit, to charging anywhere from $50 to $70 per cake.

She says it’s hard balancing school and baking, and admits that her grades have suffered a bit, but, “It’s what I love to do,” Cade said.

Her daily schedule includes waking up at 7 a.m. and baking cakes until her class at noon. When she gets out of class, she goes back to her apartment to decorate the cakes. Then she uses the little time she has left to study.

“I bake a dozen cakes a week, but I also turn down a dozen,” she said.

She manages to squeeze in a healthy social life, but says she often doesn’t sleep after she comes home from a party and bakes until the morning. She uses her own recipes that she cultivated three years prior while in high school.

“My friends surprised me with a Netflix-themed cake for my birthday,” Kathryn Hanson, UT sophomore said. “I was so surprised that it actually tasted good. It looked too good to eat.”

She has business cards, personalized stickers for her cake boxes, and her own website where customers submit cake orders. She also has a food handler’s permit for legal purposes.

A day in the life of Sam Cade

She says she can pretty much make anything, and does, from cakes shaped like liquor bottles for 21st birthdays to fairy castles for a child’s birthday party.

When she graduates, from UT, she plans on attending a 10-month pastry school program at the International Culinary Institute in New York and then opening her own bakery in Dallas. But in the meantime, she seems excited to have expanded her word-of-mouth business.

Though Cade is busier than she might like, those who have seen her cakes probably wouldn’t be surprised to see her with her own show on the Food Network in the coming years.

A sample from Sam Cade’s Instagram

For more information on Cade’s Cakes click the image below to check out her website.

http://www.cadescakes.com/