America's Top Restaurants Shun Frankenfoods

March 9, 2000
Dow Jones
Lucette Lagnado, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
Chefs in some of America's finest restaurants are, according to this story,
ridding their larders of biotech ingredients, quizzing suppliers about
biotech content and banding together to publicly oppose the proliferation of
genetically modified food products.
At celebrated Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., owner Alice Waters has told
food suppliers: "Flat out, no genetic engineering." She has given her staff
a year-end deadline to go 100% "GM-free," setting her pastry chefs
scrambling to overhaul a favorite chocolate cake.
At Seattle's hip Dahlia Lounge, chef Matt Costello was cited as saying his
restaurant has eliminated most genetically modified ingredients and is
moving toward a total ban. In Philadelphia, the White Dog Cafe is also
trying to impose a ban, after a difficult hunt for GM-free ketchup and
cooking oil.
The chefs are adding heat to the crusade against biotech food, which has set
off a firestorm among European consumers but isn't on a lot of Americans'
radar screens.
In Philadelphia, the story says that in an event organized by the owners of
the White Dog Cafe, nearly 30 chefs will hold a press conference next month
to denounce genetically modified food and demand labeling of products
containing genetically engineered ingredients.
But becoming free of genetically modified food is a tall order for a
restaurant, which can have hundreds of ingredients bought from dozens of
suppliers. The changeover requires scrutinizing product labels,
interrogating suppliers, sundering longstanding relationships with those who
don't toe the unmodified line -- and even tinkering with cherished recipes.
The story says that for example, with new ingredients, Chez Panisse has had
to fine-tune the proportions and timing of some of its most popular
offerings. The recipe for Lindsey's Cake, named after Chez Panisse's
original pastry chef, Lindsey Shere, had to be completely recalibrated after
genetically modified chocolate was replaced by an unmodified variety.
To avoid genetically modified ingredients, some chefs switch to organic
suppliers. In itself, that isn't an absolute guarantee of unmodified
ingredients, purists say; but the move is even endorsed by Greenpeace, says
Charles Margulis, the environmental group's Washington, D.C.,
Organic products, however, are typically double or even triple the price of
their genetically modified counterparts. Stan Frankenthaler, chef-owner of
Salamander Cafe & Catering in Cambridge, Mass., has found farmers who can
guarantee that their poultry and livestock aren't raised on genetically
engineered feed. He has also changed the source of canned tomatoes. But he
says he had to abandon his quest for an affordable source of unmodified
cooking oil because the cost is "astronomical."
Kevin von Klause, executive chef and part owner of the White Dog Cafe in
Philadelphia, can relate to that as he tries to wipe out any trace of GM
food from his kitchen. "It is so hard," he sighs. The cafe, which considers
itself "very progressive" and features speakers on social issues, consumes
enormous quantities of ketchup -- burgers and fries are favorite items on
the bar menu. While a case of ordinary ketchup would cost Mr. von Klause $14
dollars, he pays $27 for a case of an organic variety.
Then there was the soybean-oil problem. The restaurant decided to stop using
soybean-based products because so much soy is genetically engineered. What
to use instead? "We can't go to peanut oil, because people are allergic to
peanuts," Mr. von Klause says. "We couldn't go to corn oil, unless it is
organic -- but then we can't afford it, and besides, it is not good for
french fries and chicken wings."
The result? The White Dog switched to canola oil, though that, too, might be
genetically engineered. "Either you pay so much, you can't afford to use it,
or you think you are getting GMO-free and it has GMO," he laments.
The story adds that legendary Julia Child thinks the move against
genetically altered food is "a very backward-looking point of view." Ms.
Child, 87 years old, calls genetic modification of food "one of the greatest
discoveries" of the last century.

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