Sustainability savant: The Crustmaster as Compost Master
White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses takes on the role of dirt expert in a new video, as he gives an up-close tour of the "biocycler," the special three-part composting system that's part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden project.
"Composting is what this garden is really about," Yosses says. "And the whole question of sustainability and using natural ways to replenish the land."
Yosses' biography of the biocycler is embedded in the latest edition of West Wing Week, the chatty weekly video produced by the White House. The featurette begins 56 seconds in, after an opening message by Mike Kelleher, the Director of Presidential Correspondence. Kelleher happens to be eating onscreen, as he advises citizens that they shouldn't send food gifts to the White House. Then it's time for Yosses' quick but comprehensive lesson in sustainable microbiology. (Above: Yosses with the biocycler)
Making the chemical-free soil amendment takes patience...
In his star turn as soil savant, Yosses tosses fruit scraps into the biocycler, then rakes the compost as he explains the White House's sustainable, conservation-minded approach to creating good soil and a complete food chain. All kinds of edible scraps from the White House kitchen end up in the biocycler for the compost, as do inedible stalks, roots, and leaves from the veggies growing in the Kitchen Garden.
"The whole purpose of composting is to improve the microbiology of the soil without adding chemicals...to return the minerals and the nutrients to the soil," Yosses says.
To set the record straight yet again: The Kitchen Garden is NOT certified organic, as Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass recently reminded a group of Ag reporters when they visited the garden. But NO synthetic chemicals or fertilizers are used, so the best possible compost is critical.
Soil and beneficial worms and spiders are also added to the biocycler, and the process of making the compost, which includes aerating the mixture, then letting it cure as it is transferred among three conjoining boxes, takes between three and four months. (Above: Yosses and Kass with a wheelbarrow of greens during the Chefs Move To Schools harvest and picnic)
When the Kitchen Garden was planted for Spring 2010, it was the first time that the biocycler had produced enough compost to be spread over the entire garden, according to Kass.
An unlikely Compost Master...
Yosses has become one of the biggest Kitchen Garden enthusiasts at the White House, and he said last week that he visits every morning after the daily White House staff meeting, to see what is ripe and to do some weeding. In the video, he points out that gardening is a new development in his life as a chef.
"I'm the least likely person to be working on this garden," Yosses says. "I spent most of my life life in a small apartment in New York City, where I couldn't even grow geraniums. Maybe that's why when Mrs. Obama started this garden I got so interested in it."
For his White House desserts, Yosses uses berries, sweet potatoes, melons, squash, rhubarb (although the rhubarb crop is over as of this writing), and all kinds of herbs, among other very local produce. Yosses is also a big fan of the White House Beehive, and frequently uses its honey for his desserts, too. (Above: Yosses with Cat Cora during the Chefs Move To Schools harvest and picnic)
Related: Another new Kitchen Garden video stars chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Rachael Ray. Yosses' recipe for Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp, created for the harvest, is here.
*White House video; photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama