4B Thursday, January 20 2011 // The B-Side
Thursday, January 20,2011 T - E 5B
Understanding the art of the roll
Roughly 70 to 80 percent of the selection at the People's Food Co-op is organic or spray-free.
Kerrytown's ow locally grow
People's Food Co-op
By EMILY BOUDREAU
Daily Arts Writer
On a cold and snowy Tuesday
morning, the People's Food Co-op
bustles with activity despite the
drifts pilingup outside. The shoppers,
immune to the pitfalls of Michigan
weather, simply dust off their bicycle
helmets and stomp the snow off their
rugged boots before entering.
Once inside, it's easy to see why
customers would brave tundra-like
conditions to make a weekly pilgrim-
age to this red brick Mecca in the
heart of Kerrytown. Put simply, the
Food Co-op gives off good vibes. It's
as if breathing the air, just looking
at the local apples and organic kale,
even considering washing your hair
with jojoba shampoo will perma-
nently rid your system of toxins and
allow you to contort your body into
the most fantastic yoga positions.
But this sense of balance and
integrity doesn't just spring out of
nowhere. For 40 years, the People's
Food Co-op has been catering to the
needs of the Ann Arbor community at
large - 15 percent of which are Uni-
The Co-op was officially started in
"That was the tail end of Viet-
nam, and (was) kind of a reaction to
the '50s, when everybody thought
science was saving the world and
people thought, why cook when you
can open a box and add water?" said
Kevin Sharp, the Co-op's marketing
and member services manager. "The
'60s and '70s were reacting against
some of that stuff. There was a real
movement back to nature and people
were looking to get away from all that
highly processed stuff."
According to Sharp, there are a
variety of legends surrounding the
Co-op's start-up, but the most impor-
tant part of its story and its success
is that it was a grassroots movement
that percolated up to satisfy the needs
of all of Ann Arbor.
"We're still here because of the
hard work, commitment and dedica-
tion of those who utilize the Co-op's
resources, because of people who
value what we've done," Sharp said.
"There have definitely been ups and
downs; it's come close (to closing) a
few times, but we're not here to make
stockholders wealthy or open stores
around the country."
It's this sense of openness and hon-
esty in the Co-op's approach to busi-
ness that has drawn members of the
community toward it. For example,
David Klingenberger grew up in Ann
Arbor and worked at the Co-op when
he was in high school.
Klingenberger now runs his own
local business, The Brinery, where
he makes natural, fermented foods
like sauerkraut that he describes as
"artisanal, ancient and delicious." But
it was his days spent working at the
Co-op that sparked his passion for
locally crafted foods.
"Ilove the strong connection it has
to the neighborhood and its dedica-
tion to local farmers," Klingenberger
said. "Especially since now, things
that are local and handcrafted are
kind of under siege in this country."
Indeed, Sharp can remember a
time when Kerrytown was even more
of, as he puts it, "an alterna-hippie
heaven." He remembers that years
ago there was a community-owned
bakery and even a spice co-op just
around the corner on Ann Street.
"I think now, people are really see-
ing what it's like when a local business
goes and then a big chain moves in,"
he said. "When I first started working
as produce manager, I used to scoff at
somethinglocal' being from a farm 15
miles away, but now, because of urban
sprawl, among other things, we'd
be delighted to have produce from a
farm 15 miles away."
It's hard to supply local produce,
especially in the winter, but the Co-
op's first duty is always to its custom-
ers. If the customers want bananas
(and there is no chance in Hell, Mich-
igan, that anyone is growing local
bananas, especially in January) then
the Co-op will carry bananas, even if
it means bringing them in from Cali-
"We still do have a commitment to
local farmers, and sometimes we do
get criticism for charging two dollars
for garlic, but we've made that com-
mitment," Sharp said.
At the same time, the people at the
Co-op are running a business that
they hope they can sustain for anoth-
er 40-plus years.
"We have to charge enough for rent
and pay our workers, but (as a not-for-
profit organization), the measure of
what's profitable and how we do busi-
ness is different," Sharp said.
Unlike Whole Foods, the Co-op
doesn't try to cater to a higher-end
shopper and instead wants to reach
out to all members of the community,
providing them with the opportu-
nity to incorporate local, organic and
healthy foods into their diet. How-
ever, even if a customer is stockpiling
bananas from California, a solid 70
to 80 percent of the Co-op's food is
organic or at least is no-spray.
"So like with the garlic example, if
the local is too expensive, we'd also buy
cheaper garlic and put both kinds out,
clearly labeled, and let the customer
make their own choice," Sharp said.
The Co-op is particularly custom-
er-oriented because it's owned by the
people who shop there. Anyone can
walk in and become a member.
"Right now, we have around 7,000
members who've invested to main-
tain a place where they know the
food has integrity and that we're not
trying to get rich off their tofu and
sprouts," Sharp said.
What the Co-op is trying to do is to
bring people together to meet a need
in an egalitarian and honest way.
"Co-ops have been around for-
ever," Sharp said. "It's how a lot of
indigenous cultures operate. Even
after the Industrial Revolution, when
corporate interests took advantage of
people in a community, people band-
ed together in response to that ... We
want to promote the Co-op as a model
of doing business and hope others
look at it and say, 'Hey, that works.'"
"When I first started The Brinery, I
knew that the Co-op would be a perfect
place for my product," Klingenberger
said. "It's supportive and welcoming
and more than any other place repre-
sents the local food ... (That's) some-
thing I want to be a real economic force
in Washtenaw County."
The People's Food Co-op isn't the
only force pushing for a return to
local foods in Ann Arbor. Even here
at the University, people are moving
to make the way students live more
"For many years now we've been
trying to bring in more local foods
(to the housing system)," said Kathy
Whiteside, University Housing nutri-
tionist. "We're lucky that we've been
able to formalize it and have it grow
...We can't purchase everythinglocal,
but we have the option when it's
affordable and available in the quan-
tities we need."
It's hard to find local farmers who
can supply the school with the enor-
mous amount of produce required, but
luckily, the more the University wants,
the more the local farmers can expand.
Yet the dining system isn't just lim-
ited to incorporating more sustain-
"Sustainable development meets
the needs of the present without com-
promising the needs of future genera-
tions," said Sandra Lowry, director
of the Residential Dining Services.
"And that's what we are trying to do
here. We've got the tray-less initiative
in East Quad right now; composting;
we recycle our cooking oil; we recycle
plastic, aluminum, glass and our nap-
kins are all recyclable."
Of course, the success of these
initiatives depends on the students'
willingness to participate. Students'
requests and input play a large role
in the University's movement to a
more sustainable future. In 2007, a
student contacted Whiteside to ask if
the milk at the school was rBST free.
Whiteside was able to work with the
University's vendor, a local farmer
co-operative, to remove the additive.
It's changes and initiatives like
these in the University's dining sys-
tem that ally with the People's Food
Co-op's mission in responding to
changes in the technology, environ-
mental practices and legislation in
America that surround the way our
food is produced.
"I don't know how we can do any-
thing but continue to nurture the
community, reduce our carbon foot-
prints, support local farmers and pro-
mote sustainability ... It's a complex
web we've woven to feed ourselves,
and these concerns aren't going
away," Sharp said.
Ann Arbor chefs
provide a taste of the
secrets of sushi
By JACOB AXELRAD
Philadelphia roll with smoked
salmon, cream cheese and avocado.
Dragon roll with shrimp tempura
topped with eel. Geisha roll with
tuna, salmon, Tobiko and Ponzu
sauce. These are just a few of the
names found on the menu of Ayaka
Japanese Restaurant on South Uni-
Sang Paik, head chef at Ayaka,
carefully cuts and prepares the fish
that will go into these rolls. He works
in silence, with his head bowed at the
neck and an expression of intense
focus painted on his face. His hand
methodically moves the blade as he
chops and peels, chops and peels, all
the while making sure to greet and
bid farewell to every customer. He
makes his work look simple, but in
reality, this couldn't be further from
the case. After all, the work of a sushi
chef takes the utmost precision and
Sushi is a traditional form of Japa-
nese food that varies in style and taste
depending on the region. According to
Paik's wife and Ayaka's owner, Kazu-
mi Paik, the popular Osaka style of
sushi is known for its variety in ingre-
dients, while the Tokyo style is known
for its seasonings.
But the basic process of sushi roll-
ing begins with the fish. Sashimi, a
plain fish, and nigiri, a fish with rice,
are the two original kinds of sushi.
Yet according to LSA senior and
Sushi.com waiter Isaac Kim, the most
popular form of sushi in this country
is maki, or rolls. This contrasts with
Japan, where the customary sashimi
and nigiri continue to dominate the
"(Maki) is more of an American
thing," Kim said. "But by now (in this
country), it's all just sushi."
As a town known for its cultural
diversity, Ann Arbor boasts a vibrant
sushi scene - evidenced by the
numerous sushi bars and restaurants
littering the edge of campus. Though
a lot of things have changed about the
practice of making sushi through its
transplantation from Japan to Amer-
ica, some of its original attributes are
still present today in Ann Arbor -
most notably gender distribution of
"In Japan, it's much more tradi-
tional to have men as sushi chefs,"
Kazumi Paik said.
This custom has its roots in the
old Japanese thinking that men, by
nature, have a lower body tempera-
ture than women, making their hands
cooler. Thus, when men touch the fish,
they're transporting the least amount
"When you make sashimi or nigiri,
you're supposed to touch it the least
amount of times as possible," Kim
said. "That's also why the portions are
so small. As opposed to serving sushi
in large quantities, you're supposed to
eat it in small portions so you can eat it
quickly before it gets warm."
The process of making sushi dif-
fers from restaurant to restaurant, but
there are a few common trends.
"First we make the sticky rice," said
Haeri Lee, manager of Totoro on State
Street. "Then we marinate and mix it
in with a special vinegar sauce. Once
this is done, we roll it in sea'eed,
and finally you can add whatever you
want, like salmon or tuna."
The important part comes with the
preparation - sushi can either be of
excellent or poor quality depending
on the way it's treated and cut, espe-
cially when it comes to the raw fish
"The way you can tell the quality
of a sushi chef is by how he cuts the
fish, and by the color," Kim said. "A lot
of our chefs make the rolls, but only a
couple are allowed to make the nigiri
Sushi is seasonal and thus depends
upon external factors for quality and
quantity. Whether a restaurant has a
certain fish in stock is largely reliant
on the popularity of a certain item and
"What a lot of people don't know
about sushi restaurant culture is that
just because an item is on the menu
doesn't mean it's really there. There
are different seasons for different
fish," Kim said. "Certain fish are what
one might call an acquired taste,
like sea urchin, and these are really
expensive. So we might not order a lot
of that type."
Sushi has taken on a life of its own
since its spike in popularity in the
United States. These innovations can
be found here in Ann Arbor, both in
the style and in the ingredients that
go into the recipes.
"American sushi is so different, in
a good way," Kazumi Paik said. "In
Japan, we would never think to use
cream cheese or avocado or to deep
fry our sushi. These are all American
The creative aspect is something
that's also distinctly American. New
York rolls that tower with seasonal
decorations and caterpillar rolls using
avocados as the body and soy sauce
as the eyes and mouth are just two
examples of items that can only be
found on the menus of American sushi
According to Kazumi Paik, the sin-
gularity of American sushi has even
begun to influence what's occurring
back in Japan.
"My family came here from Japan,
and they were so impressed with
this kind of American sushi that they
asked me to come back to Japan to
start an American-style sushi restau-
rant," she said.
But the artistry goes deeper than
cultural influences. It begins in the
kitchens themselves. Chefs are the
ones responsible for developing new
rolls, both in taste and in aesthetic
At Totoro, when chefs come up
with a new roll, they begin by tast-
ing the ingredients themselves. Then
comes the design. They've been
known to incorporate anything from
spicy sauces to apples and carrots
for decoration. Finally, the new cr
ations are brought to customers to see
whether a warm reception is in order.
If not, it's back to the drawing board.
"We always eat food with our
mouths, but first we see it," Lee said.
"So if it looks terrible, people are more
hesitant to eat it. This is why we tryto
make it as attractive as possible."
As a college town, Ann Arbor has
shown itself to be more than hospi-
table to sushi culture. The diverse
student population and University
community have allowed for numer-
ous restaurants to sprout up right
along the edge of campus.
"Around here, it's mainly students
and families, so we try to accom-
modate for them," Kim said. "On
Wednesdays, it's 20-percent off fee.
everyone (at Sushi.com)."
This symbiotic relationship works
out well for the restaurants and the
Beyond the cultural and tradi-
tional aspects that comprise the sushi
scene in the country and Ann Arbor,
good sushi rolling aims to prepare
and present the best food possible.
In a brief break from his work, Sang
Paik noted his personal favorite roll -
Ayaka's rainbow roll #2.
"It's so good. It melts in your
mouth," he said.
The joy Paik takes in his craft par-
allels the level of customer satisfac-
tion found in the sushi restaurants
in Ann Arbor - in this town, people
simply love sushi.
Most sushi chefs are men, following from a traditional Japanese view that men have lower body temperatures, which keeps the sushi cool.