Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cheesy Connoissership

Courtesy Whole Foods Market

Sommeliers are wine experts and they can get the credentials to prove it. The equivalent when it comes to cheddar, Brie, Gouda, Gorgonzola and all the other forms that milk curds can take is to become a certified cheese professional, a status awarded by the American Cheese Society to those that pass a rigorous exam. There aren't that many of them − approximately 408 − and local cheesemonger Jim Shalala recently joined their elite ranks.

He works for Whole Foods Market at Cedar Road in University Heights, overseeing an array of over 400 cheeses, domestic and European, including many less familiar varieties and a selection from small artisanal producers. A former bread baker and graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Shalala came here in 2007 to help open the store and has been the cheese buyer for the past four years. He's often out on the floor, at the ready to answer customers' questions and offer advice on gifts, plating, storing and pairing with wine, meals, and even other cheeses. Right now, he's offering free personal cheese consultations on the weekends. Appointments can be made by calling 216-932-3918.

Bayley Hazen Blue, Courtesy Jasper Hill Farms

Asked to name a few of his current favorites, Shalala mentions Cabot Clothbound, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, Beeler Appenzeller, and Peluso Teleme. For this holiday season, he is recommending Mons Camembert with Truffles or CĂȘpes, Carpenedo Blu 61, Petit Vaccarinus, and Sottocenere.  

That's a professional opinion I have every reason to trust.

Friday, November 21, 2014

For Cleveland, by Cleveland: Downtown New Year's Eve plans announced

“Cleveland is on fire,” declared John Gadd, co-chair of Cleveland Rocks New Year's Eve at a press conference this afternoon. Yes, we've been hearing it all year, but Ohio Homecoming wants to show people that this is not a rage-and-fizzle comeback but a people-backed embrace of a city that believes in itself. Part of that is building the mentality that we are a city where people want to be on New Year's Eve. Or as reggae singer Carlos Jones said: “The city was treated like that girl in high school that everyone overlooks, and now guess what—she's modeling for Victoria's Secret and might even go on to run the company.” Last year's Cleveland Rock's New Year's Eve with Krewella and Drew Carey ranked No. 2 in TV ratings, second only to the Dick Clark version. This year's party is Cleveland-focused from the food trucks to music. Check out the upgrades below.

Movin' on up to the Lakeside: One of last year's drawbacks was the cold: a blizzard and 21 degrees. The new location at Mall B — a 12.5 acre green roof atop the Cleveland Convention Center — will provide a better space for party people to keep the blood pumping to the beats of Cleveland bands, while the switch to a ticketed event (reasonably-priced) means revelers don't have to spend the whole night waiting in the cold — like many got stuck doing last year.

Baby, it's fun inside: Freeze babies can take the party indoors with a festive VIP soiree in the atrium of the new Global Center for Health Innovation.

 2013 NYE celebration on Public Square
Local love: The bill has been cleared of national acts to make way for local heavyweights. The leader of the local reggae scene, Carlos Jones & The P.L.U.S. Band top it off. “He brings everybody out," said Alonzo Mitchell III, managing partner of Ohio Homecoming. "A little bit for the young people, a little bit for the middle, and a little bit for the late.” Rapper Machine Gun Kelly and DJ EV will also help build excitement for the countdown — and keep the party rocking into 2015.

For ticket information, visit the Cleveland Rocks NYE website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ad Nauseam Reconsidered

What's so wrong with repetition? There's some truth in the old adage "practice makes perfect." Why not do things the same way over and over again if nobody's complaining? In fact, there's a case to be made for continuity even if people do gripe and whine because kvetching offers its own weird kind of pleasure.

What's prompted this line of thought is the predictable annual onslaught of ideas for the Thanksgiving table. I've been swamped with press releases trumpeting products that will "kick it up notch." Everywhere I turn I'm encouraged to get creative and follow suggestions that are sure to lure and tantalize family and friends. I don't know about anybody else, but at my house nobody ever seems to need encouragement when it comes to eating. Wherever I turn, online and in print, recipes promise to liven up everything from side dishes to stuffing. I read headlines and teasers such as "tempting new creations to try," "fresh take on a classic," "change-up your usual menu," "make it memorable," and "break with tradition."

I'm not buying it. I think there's value in putting out the same feast year after year, a comfort in familiar ingredients and flavors, a compelling reason to pull out the old, tattered, grease-stained recipes for dressing and gravy that have been used for years. It doesn't matter how you do your turkey or your sweet potatoes, just that they don't change much over time. Experimentation and adventuresome cooking have their place. It's fun to find different and better ways to prepare foods, but not now, not for this occasion. I'm convinced that a big part of what turns a holiday dinner into more than a meal is the ritual of recurrence and reappearance.

That's why I'm not out to impress anyone with twists on the standards. There won't be surprises at my house. There won't be any cranberry gelee or pumpkin pie spiced with chipotles. I'm confident no one will have a problem with this. We don't need pancetta and hazelnuts in the green beans to be be happy — though I am sure it would be tasty.

The real truth — the dirty little secret of all this seasonal fuss and bother — is that the food is secondary. It's really about the who's sharing it. This is the 44th Thanksgiving my husband and I have celebrated as a couple. Our three sons and their wives, who live in three different cities around the country, will gather in Cleveland. My mother, who will be 90 years old in a few weeks, will be here too, along with one set of in-laws from out of town. Being together — and not how original or even how delicious the vegetables are or how moist the bird — is what matters most to all of us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Russo Brothers' Sister to Launch New Education Nonprofit

The Russo Brothers are coming back to Cleveland. Don’t worry, West Side commuters, it’s not to close down any streets. It’s to host a fundraiser for their youngest sister Angela Russo-Otstot’s new nonprofit preschool and support center, The New Foundation for Children, which uses a fresh curriculum based on the latest research in early childhood education.

Angela Russo-Otstot
“For all the great things about Cleveland ... one of our most challenging areas has always been education, especially urban education,” Anthony Russo says. “To find new and innovative ways to better our schooling experience, that’s a really noble way to spend your time and energy.”

On Nov. 22 at Michaelangelo's in Little Italy, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., Russo-Otstot will present her vision and help raise money for to develop a preschool curriculum that requires parental involvement and can be open-sourced to classrooms across the region. New Foundation plans to open a support center for parents and teachers in spring 2015 and its first school in fall 2015. We asked Russo-Otstot to teach us what the nonprofit is all about.

Q. Why did you get involved?

A. Like many parents, I started out being concerned about where my son was developmentally. Is he going to be able to read by kindergarten? Soon, it became apparent the things I was truly concerned with were character-based. I wanted my son to be motivated, to develop a deeper understanding of other people’s feelings and to communicate his feelings better. An assistant to a teacher at my son’s Montessori school had this wonderful idea to start this new school and form a curriculum that focused on building up characteristics, such as perseverance, independence, understanding of others.

Q. How is this different from other high-quality preschools?

A. This type of early childhood education is very expensive to implement. We believe we have a more cost-effective, sustainable solution. And we will use all of our profits to basically gift this cost-effective curriculum to schools throughout Cleveland. We will give them the materials and train their teachers on our methodology and provide them with continued education. The more support centers we open, the more classrooms we can gift. We want to make this curriculum accessible to everyone.

Q. What does your curriculum aim to achieve?

A. Children develop 90 percent of their brain by the age of 5. This period is very critical for setting the stage for the rest of their life. We hope to equip them with the tools they need to face any sort of challenges that life throws at them, whether it’s economic or personal. A child who doesn’t have those tools mastered may not be able to thrive in certain situations. And we want to equip the parents with the tools to help their children throughout their life.

If you're interested in attending, call 216-30-CHILD for more info.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mmm-mm-M Cellars

I'm a wine drinker, and I enjoy discovering new bottles and vineyards just as much as I like to sip on old favorites. I'm also a bit of a locavore and will go out of my way to get meat, fruits, vegetables and products made locally over imported or national brands. With that in mind, I was all for the 40-minute drive to check out M Cellars in Geneva at their last wine dinner.

Every month, owners Matt and Tara Meineke host a catered five-course meal paired with their wines. Nearly all of the grapes are grown on the 13-acre property that's about 10 minutes south of Lake Erie, including riesling, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay (among others).

Slightly stiff-legged, I parked the car and crossed the large gravel lot to the front door of the 5-year-old winery. The air smelled of Concord grapes, though M Cellars doesn't grow any themselves. (There are five other vineyards within a 2-mile radius of M Cellars, so it makes a great place to winery-hop.) The interior is beautiful, new and bright, with lots of natural wood accents and stone. Up a wide, short set of stairs lies the dining room, where 30 or so couples were seated.

Dinner was catered by Bob Sferra's Culinary Occasions, featuring lots of fall flavors such as sweet potato, pecans, beets, radicchio and apple-cranberry stuffing.

First course: sweet potato and olive pizza; paired with Cuvee
(a white blend of Chardonnay and pinot noir)
Second course: Stuffed roasted beet with Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese
and smoked pulled pork; paired with a dry rose wine
Third course: Fingerling and roasted corn salad and grilled radicchio;
paired with Rkatsiteli, a dry white varietal
Fourth course: Chicken roulade with apple-cranberry stuffing, chicken confit and
roasted Brussels sprouts; paired with smoky pinot noir
Dessert: Almond-mascarpone cheesecake with apricot compote and pistachio glaze;
paired with a late-harvest Traminette

The food was good even if the portion sizes were slightly on the small side. And overall, the wine was excellent. Even though I'm beginning to expect high-quality wines from local markets, it's still a surprise to see what Ohio growers are doing with the short growing season. What surprised me the most, however, was learning about an entirely unfamiliar type of wine: a dry, white wine that's slightly tart with notes of anise, vanilla and pineapple called Rkatsiteli. It's one of the oldest varieties of grapes in history, with archaeological evidence that it was grown in Georgia more than 3,000 years ago. Despite that, I can't recall ever coming across it on a restaurant wine list.

The Rkatsiteli wasn't my favorite of the evening — that goes to M Cellars' smoky pinot noir, which is perfect for red wine lovers. But I will be seeking it out elsewhere in the future (if I can remember how to pronounce it, "rkah-tsee-tely"). And I'm hoping for another visit out to M Cellars at the next opportunity. They've only got a few years under their belt, and I'm looking forward to seeing what develops as they mature along with their vines. 

The next dinner is this Friday, November 14 and is wild game-themed. See the menu below. Call 440-361-4104 to make reservations. 

M Cellars Fall Flavors  & Game Dinner
Friday November 14th, 2014
Event Time 6:30 - 9:30
$145 Couple, plus tax and gratuity(prepaid/reservation only)

Passed Small Bites
Goat Cheese and Fig Bruschetta
Cocktail Meatball and Roasted Tomato Skewer

Plated Dinner
First Course
Warm Cream of Watercress Soup
Roasted Chestnut and Herbed Crema
Paired with Chardonnay

Second Course
Venison Backstrap Medallion, Parsnip Puree
Sour Cherry Gastrique
Paired with Pinot Noir

Third Course
Smoked Trout Vol au Vont, Pickled Red Onion, Balsamic Reduction
Paired with Dry Rose

Fourth Course
Braised Rabbit Ragout, Wild Mushroom Cream
Herbed Spaetzle, Braised Fennel and Fennel Fronds
Paired with Meritage

Wine Poached Ying & Yang Seckel Pears
Citrus and Star Anise Anglaise
Cocoa Pizelle
Paired with Dry Riesling

Apple of my Eye

Photo from Rittman Orchards
Lots of apples look good but many don't deliver on their promise. Sinking my teeth into one that is mealy, mushy and relatively flavorless is a particular kind of disappointment. I'm always on the watch for varieties that are all an apple should be, especially this time of year when local ones are available. And I just found a new favorite at Zagara's Marketplace in Cleveland Heights.
Called Macoun, its creamy white flesh is crisp, juicy and sweet-tart. The pros, using the language of wine writers, describe it as "complex" and "aromatic" with "hints of berry, strawberry and spice notes." The skin splits and snaps like the casing of a properly made sausage when you bite into it. A hybrid of McIntosh, which I generally find insipid, and Jersey Blacks, an American heirloom varietal, the Macoun was developed in 1909 and named after a Canadian pomologist. It's a real all-rounder, great for eating fresh, cooking down into sauce or baking. I am definitely using them for my Thanksgiving pie this year.

Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group

Unknown by me until now, I discovered that Macoun's have something of a cult following in various parts of the country and their seasonal arrival is eagerly anticipated. I did some asking around and learned that a few area growers have them for sale on site and at the weekly markets they attend: Sages Fruit Farm, Eddy Fruit Farm, Huffman Fruit Farm and Rittman Orchards. Keep your eyes out for these dark skinned beauties — it might be love at first bite for you too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The 11 Markets of Christmas

Our Pinterest-obsessed world has made us covet the crafty. So head to a market this holiday season to impress your friends and family with handmade and upcycled goods and shake the hands of the makers who shaped them. With more than ten markets to choose from, you’re sure to cross a few names off your list.

Photo courtesy of Cleveland Bazaar

Heights Arts Annual Holiday Store
More than a dozen new artisans have joined the 13th annual event at Heights Arts, bringing one-of-a-kind ceramics, leather works, watercolors and more. New this year, make reservations select weekends to bring the entire family for festive workshops to create hand-stamped holiday cards or paper pinwheels. Now thru Dec. 30, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-371-3457 

Rocky River Avant-Garde Art and Craft Show
Shop for a good cause by selecting items from more than 100 crafters. A portion of the proceeds from your holiday haul benefit Project Night Night, a nonprofit group that donates thousands of care packages to homeless children, each including a security blanket, book and stuffed animal. Nov. 15 & 16, $3 admission, children under 12 free, Rocky River Memorial Hall, 21016 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, 440-227-8794 

Cleveland Flea
Busy families and hipsters alike have two chances to browse popular flea makers and food vendors this year. Bonus: This round is indoors, so stay toasty while browsing with a cup of cocoa. Holiday Kickoff Market, Nov. 21-23, tickets available soon for Nov. 21 private event, 6555 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland; Holiday Maker Market, Dec. 12-14, tickets available soon for Dec. 12 private event, Slovenian National Home, 8653 E. 80th St., Cleveland

Collective Upcycle
Leisurely and eco-conscious shoppers, this one’s for you. This pop-up boutique of more than 30 artisans has a Rust Belt vibe by showcasing the creative repurposing of clothing, furniture, jewelry and more. On Nov. 29, the collective starts the season at Gordon Square Market and continues in Matt Zone’s old offices every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until Christmas. Nov. 29, Gordon Square Market, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland; Dec. 4-20, 6501 Detroit Ave., Cleveland

Beary Merry Christmas Craft Show
This midweek market features holiday entertainment, door prizes, a Chinese raffle and handmade gifts to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure Northeast Ohio. Dec. 3 & 4, $3 admission, Normandy Party Center, 30310 Palisades Parkway, Wickliffe 

E.J. Thomas Hall Holiday Arts & Crafts Show
For nearly 30 years, the University of Akron event has showcased artisans from Ohio and throughout the country. Dec. 5-7, $4.50 admission, children under 12 enter free, E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St., Akron, 330-972-7570

Manly Mart Holiday Market
What do you get for that dude in your life? This market, presented by Crafty Mart and Cleveland Bazaar, is teeming with male vendors selling manly items your guy will love. Dec. 5 & 6, 5th Street Arcades, 530 Euclid Ave., Cleveland 

TerraVista Studios Holiday Sale
For 15 years, TerraVista Studios has opened its doors to offer silver, gold and leather jewelry, organic clay wares and handmade crochet hats. Dec. 5-7, 1400 E. 30th St.  Suite 401, Cleveland, 216-523-1387

ArtCraft Holiday Show
Located across the street from TerraVista Studios, the ArtCraft Building is hosting their 27th annual holiday sale the same weekend, turning the two warehouses into one, big holiday party. Dec. 6 & 7, 2570 Superior Ave., Cleveland, 216-407-3685

Cleveland Bazaar Holiday Show
Formerly called the Bazaar Bizarre, this annual holiday show has called 78th Street Studios home for ten years, and more than 100 crafters are ready to celebrate its anniversary and the holidays. Dec. 13 & 14, Early admission and 10th-anniversary merchandise is available with $20 ticket purchase, regular admission is free, 78th Street Studios, 1300 W 78th St., Cleveland 

Last Minute Market 
Procrastinators, challenge yourself to not wait until the very last day before Christmas to do your shopping. This last-minute event, where Screw Factory artists and other makers sell, gives you a healthy five-day lead. Dec. 20, The Lake Erie Building, 13000 Athens Ave., Lakewood

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dancer, Blogger and Activist Ragen Chastain Speaks at Step Out, Cleveland This Weekend

When Ragen Chastain became a competitive ballroom dancer in 2004, she thought she’d be judged on her skill.

Instead, a judge told her it was a waste to be so talented at her size.

A judge at one competition told Chastain she couldn’t stand to look at her because of the spaghetti straps she wore. Chastain told the judge she wouldn’t change her dress.

“I kind of realized in that moment that I wanted to be a fat dancer,” Chastain says, “but I was going to have to be a fat activist to get that done.”

Now, Chastain writes on her blog Dances with Fat about her journey as a dancer. She also speaks publicly, as she’s doing at Step Out, Cleveland, a free community event exploring the culture of dance through discussion, workshops and a party. The event starts at 11 a.m. at the Global Center for Health Innovation on Saturday and continues through Sunday. Chastain will hold a workshop session entitled, “Taking up Space: Dance for Every Body” at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Being thin is part of dance culture, which encourages women to have poor relationships with their bodies, says Chastain.

“I think it leaves out people who are amazing dancers, but they don’t have a ‘dancer’s body,’” Chastain says. “I think that the dance world ultimately suffers because it doesn’t see all of the amazing dancers who exist.”

Her workshop will explore dancers’ relationships with their bodies and dance.

“I think if you want to dance and you have a dancer’s body that you love, and respect your body that you have,” Chastain says. “And that you’re going to dance with that body and you’re going to find avenues to do that.”
By Alyssa Flynn

Reclaiming Womanhood: Laverne Cox Speaks at Case Western Reserve University

Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox spoke about gender issues at CWRU. Photo Credit: Ryan Zymler

From the moment Case Western Reserve University president Barbara Snyder  introduced Laverne Cox to the time the actress stepped off stage, she commanded attention. Cox delivered a speech at the campus last night. Her role as prisoner Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black has thrust her into the national spotlight and helped her break barriers from being the first transgender person to get nominated for an Emmy to being the first transgender person to grace the cover of Time Magazine. And on Monday, she will accept a Woman of the Year award from Glamour Magazine — a publication that celebrates women of beauty and power — alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Chelsea Clinton, and Samantha Power.

"I stand before you this evening a proud African-American transgender woman," she said upon approaching the podium. "I stand before you tonight an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter, and I believe it is important to name the various intersecting components of my multiple identities because I'm not just one thing, and neither are you."

Cox then highlighted alarming statistics to set the stage for discussing transgender issues. For example, the homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest among trans women, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects. In 2013, over 72 percent of all LGBT homicides were trans women, 67 percent of which were trans women of color.

"It is my belief that one of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community are points of view which disavow our identities," she said, "points of view that suggest that no matter what we do, we are always and only the gender that we are assigned at birth, points of view that suggest no matter what I do, I'll never be a woman yet. Ain't I a woman?"

She went on to talk about how she was bullied growing up, often beaten by her peers while she ran home from school, and how she attempted suicide in sixth grade. She also talked about how she persevered, devoting herself to dancing and acting classes, clinging to her twin brother for emotional support, and ultimately undergoing hormone therapy and starting her transition into womanhood 16 years ago.

"As long as we live in a culture where people have to prove their womanhood or their manhood, we are not living in a culture where we are all truly free in terms of gender," she said. "We have to begin to create spaces of gender self-determination for all of our youth and all of our society."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Twinkle Twinkle Little Coffee Bar

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
It makes me really happy to see a long shuttered piece of real estate return to use and come alive again, especially in my own neighborhood. Theresa's Italian Restaurant closed about 20 years ago and the space has been an empty eyesore ever since. Now the corner of Murray Hill and Edgehill is bright with lights, energy and a classy caffeinated buzz, courtesy of Kim Jenkins — founder, brewer-in-chief and true bean counter of Rising Star Coffee Roasters. After extensive renovations that left the place looking likes it's been there for years, he recently opened this second outpost. Like the original location in Hingetown, on the edge of Ohio City, only the best is good enough to pour.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
But there's more seating here, at tables and a long U-shaped bar. The look is post-industrial — exposed brick is paired with natural wood and some bold splashes of red and green paint, accented with vintage restaurant chairs. In the basement, identical signs on the men's and ladies' rooms read, "Please use the restroom that you identify closest with."

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group

If you're drinking-in rather than getting it to-go, coffee is presented on a little bamboo tray accompanied by a shot of sparkling water. There's pastries from Zoss the Swiss Baker, a bowl of local apples for sale and friendly, knowledgeable folk behind the counter. Coffee choices, with wine list-like descriptions, and various preparation methods require thoughtful decision making.
At 7 p.m. Nov. 6, the Little Italy location is hosting TNT (Thursday Night Throwdown): Dia de Muertos Edition. The featured event is a friendly competition among local baristas, but everybody's welcome to dress up, socialize and enjoy some top shelf java.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cleveland's LGBT Community Has Momentum

Luz Pellot, Co-Chair of Gay Games 9 Party and Social Events Committees, poses in front of "Hands Across the Community," a mural sponsored by Graffiti Heart and composed of handprints of those who participated in the Games.

When 8,000 Gay Games participants came from all over the world to Cleveland in August, more than 1,300 participants from Northeast Ohio joined them. The city welcomed them with open arms and pride flags waving.

For Cleveland's LGBT community, 2014 has been a year of growth and change. This year, the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland has helped more than 530 people per month, nearly double its average from 2013.

To keep this momentum going, the LGBT Center hosted an event in the Gordon Square Arcade last night to showcase its programs and advocate for change.

With Gay Games memorabilia lining the halls of the arcade and DJ Zoe Lapin keeping the party going in the atrium, visitors mingled upstairs, Below, in the Center's space, people recorded and archived stories about how Cleveland has changed for them in the wake of the Games.

"The energy was palpable after the Gay Games," said the Center's communications coordinator, Ryan Zymler. "The queer community in Cleveland saw what it was like to have a queer-friendly city during the Gay Games. That energy is translating into wanting to make that a permanent place, as opposed to the seven days of queer paradise that we had."

During the event, activists gathered signatures to send to Cleveland City Council in support of new LGBT civil-rights measures. The activists are calling for legislation that would offer more thorough protections for gender identity and expression in the workplace, eliminate the cost difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in city employees' benefits, and extend non-discrimination protections to include the trans community's right to use restrooms.

Seven Strikes: Cleveland's Women's Softball Team and Silver Medal Winners: Lindsay Kimora, Kristin Kozel, Kristi Andrasik, Phyllis 'Seven' Harris, Lisa Hopps, Deidre McPherson, Jessica Lancaster, Ali Brawner, and Carey Gibbons. Photo Credit: Rachel Kalayjian
Michael and Colleen Sliwinski, Alana Jochum, Deanna Bouchahine, Nick Komives, Maggie Stark, Michelle Tomallo and Mary Zaller. Photo Credit: Rachel Kalayjian

Gail Adoseofg captures Nicole Thomas of Equality Ohio on camera for the One Word Forward photo-installation to show how Cleveland got better post-GG9.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

TownHall Promises to Vanquish Franken-foods

Yesterday was Halloween and also marked the end of GMO Awareness Month. As you gobble your kids' candy bars, take a minute to ask yourself if you really know where your food is coming from. TownHall co-owner Bob George does, but only because he's been relentlessly tracking down every item in the kitchen in his mission to weed out any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by 2015.

It's a controversial topic. Altering the genomes of plants and animals through selective breeding for desired traits (sweet corn, for example) has occurred for years. But recent genetic advances have allowed scientists to incorporate new genes directly from one species into another to improve agricultural performance. The practice has created arguments on both sides of the aisle: Supporters say GMOs will help feed an increasing world population, while opponents say it's largely untested, unregulated and potentially harmful.

"TownHall's menu is based around trying to create an anti-inflammatory diet," says George. "You can be eating clean foods — clean meats and vegetables — and a low-glycemic diet, but if you're eating GMO products, it's going to have the same effect on your intestines and your body and your mind that processed foods do."

George and his business partners understand that this switch will affect their bottom line, but the issue is important enough to them that they're steaming ahead, adding new dishes and pulling favorite menu items that don't measure up.

"People loved the pork chop I took off, but it's just like, Sorry, it doesn't fit our brand," George says. He struggled to find a suitable replacement for the pork, which is considered GMO because its feed has been genetically modified, that once starred in this dish. 

"I don't want to feed my family [GMOs]," he says. "And if I don't carry a product at my house, I'm not going to serve it at my restaurant."

Management at TownHall takes this issue so seriously that George even assigns new employees homework, asking them to watch Genetic Roulette, the movie, then having them write an essay and take a test on what they've learned. 

Curious how your own knowledge of GMOs measures up? Quiz yourself with some of TownHall's own questions (below), then read this essay by Alex Di Iori.

TownHall's Brand ID Quiz

  1. Since the time GMOs were introduced into the American diet, the occurrence of food allergies has increased. (True/False)
  2. Why are pesticide-producing GMO crops potentially dangerous? (A: If the pesticides produced by the plants are killing insects, they may be bad for human consumption; or B: Because the plant has been modified, the nutrition is not the same.)
  3. Since the introduction of GMOs, fewer pesticides and weedkillers are used? (True/False)
  4. GMOs have been linked to which disease? (A: Ebola; B: Epilepsy; C: Mad Cow Disease; D: Autism)
  5. GMO crops do not have greater yield. (True/False)
  6. Who paid for the testing of approved GMOs? (A: The companies that developed the GMOs; B: A non-biased, third party; C: The USDA; D: The FDA)
  7. In Europe, how much did food prices increase when GMO labeling became required? (A: 2%; B: .02%; C: .002%; D: .2%)
  8. Why do some experts believe the introduction of GMOs has led to an increase in food allergies? (A: They were introduced at the same time the frequency of food allergies exploded; B: There can be no other explanation; C: Since the GMO food contains foreign DNA, the body does not recognize it, and therefore, attacks it in the form of an allergic reaction; D: GMOs are being unfairly blamed for allergic reactions)
  9. Most GMO crops are modified to _________. (A: Be more nutritious; B: Produce their own pesticides or be resistant to weed killer; C: Grow larger; D: Grow faster)
  10. What year was GMO corn and soy introduced into the American diet? (A: 1994; B: 1996; C: 1995; D: 1997)
Post your answers in the comments. We'll post the cheat sheet once you've devoured all the Reese's peanut butter cups.

(Image courtesy of Emily Crawford)