Roadhouse Chef Alex Young Cooking at ExpoMilan 2015

Chef Alex Serves Up Dinner for 120 at the USA Pavilion

Alex Young, Executive Chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse and a member of the U.S. State Department’s American Chef Corps, has been recruited to join the schedule of guest chefs at the James Beard American Restaurant in the USA Pavilion at ExpoMilan 2015.

Alex at RH

Chef Alex Young

The restaurant, located atop the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a four-story double arcade and national landmark in central Milan, will provide a showcase for notable American chefs to show off some of the gastronomic delights of our country. The Beard Foundation has invited chefs from all over the U.S. to showcase the finest American ingredients and cuisine in a series of five-course, regionally focused prix-fixe menus. Chef Alex will step into the kitchen on Friday, September 11th, and Saturday, September 12th.

The theme of this year’s Expo is ‘Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,’ an idea that particularly resonates with Alex. “The planet’s population is estimated to be nearly 9 billion people by 2020. And we have to find a way to make healthy, sustainable agriculture work to feed all those people.” Appropriately, the James Beard Foundation selected chefs based in part on their commitment to sustainability, as well as their unique culinary talents.

Alex hopes ExpoMilan 2015 will help raise awareness of the importance of sustainable farming methods to help keep the planet fertile and productive for a growing population. With that in mind, he chose to focus his Expo menu on how grains can be made more nutritious by using traditional processing methods. “For example,” he says, “sprouting, fermenting, or souring grains helps to begin the breakdown of the grains, releasing all of the stored nutrients within.”

The planned fare for the evening will include such Zingerman’s Roadhouse favorites as BBQ oysters, goat cheese canapés with bacon-pepper jam, and fried green tomatoes. Entrées will include pulled pork served with Appalachia red grits and braised mustard greens, and planked river trout served with roasted potatoes and sautéed kale. And, in keeping with his emphasis on grains, Chef Alex will prepare a traditional New Mexico posole soup made with corn processed using the ancient nixtamal method, buttermilk-graham bread made with soured grain, and a salad made with soured, parched, and sprouted oats.

Chef Alex will have a full kitchen staff at his disposal at the James Beard American Restaurant, as well as the familiar help from San Street Chef Ji Hye Kim, and Ethan Young (Alex’s son), who works in the Zingerman’s Roadhouse kitchen.

If you happen to be in Milan this September, please stop in an say hello! 

Expo logo


2015 ZingTrain Speakers Series Coming Soon!

Hello from ZingTrain!2015 Speaker Series ZT

If you are looking for some of your upcoming Wednesday mornings to be filled with learning about Business, Leadership, Presence, Hope and Love(!), we’ve got just the thing for you.

Announcing the much-awaited Speaker Series Season 5! We’ve put together another luminous line-up for your learning pleasure. We believe that each and every session is well worth marking on your calendars. You can see the full list here.

Remember that you can buy season tickets if you think you’ll come to 5 or more sessions. Speaker Series Season Tickets are 5-packs for the price of 4. You can use any number of them for any session. You don’t even have to tell us in advance – just show up! Discounts don’t come easier than that.

We hope we’ll see you at the first session. And the last. And all the ones in between!

With much excitement,



Z-Pic of the Week

August 14, 2015

Angie and Crystal


Z-Pic of the Week

August 9, 2015

The Umbrellas of Detroit Street

The Umbrellas of Detroit Street


From Ann Arbor to Addis Ababa

Zingtrain travels to Africa

In May, ZingTrain had the privilege of being invited to teach in Ethiopia. And we’re not using the word privilege lightly here. Dr. Senait Fisseha is an inspiring and inspired doctor. Among the many roles Dr. Fisseha plays at the University of Michigan is the Executive Director of the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT). And it was in that capacity that she asked ZingTrain to be part of the life-changing work she is doing in her native Ethiopia. To quote from a University of Michigan press releases:

“Dr. Fisseha has learned that well-trained OB-GYNs work as leaders in the health system and generate positive public health impacts including increased family planning provision, better pregnancy management, more facility-based deliveries, and better surgical outcomes. Our center will help empower women to make their own decisions about their own reproductive health, thereby choosing whether and when to start a family. Our ultimate goal is to help train future generations of capable and competent health care providers in many parts of Africa and South Asia who can deliver comprehensive reproductive health services, and also be advocates for the safest and best healthcare possible at every stage of a woman’s life. ‘Today, our center begins its new role in the developing world as we work with our partners in Ethiopia to ensure that incoming doctors, midwives and other health professionals are equipped to provide comprehensive reproductive health care that will save women’s lives,’ says Dr. Fisseha.”

Our contribution to Senait’s amazing work was to share our thoughts on Leadership, Change, and Organizational Culture with the visionary and determined healthcare professionals she works with in Africa. It is our hope that we contributed in some small way to their massive and much needed undertaking.

I interviewed Ari and ZingTrain’s Ann Lofgren who traveled to Ethiopia to teach. It was clear to me as we spoke that our conversation could have gone on for days. They were teeming with recognitions and realizations that came from this amazing opportunity. They saw how cultural differences play a role when you are training in a different nation, and came to understand the challenge in translating our values and techniques across that difference. They recognized the role that access to resources play in our success and were humbled by the honor of being able to contribute to such great work. What follows is a distillation of that conversation that could have gone on for days.
Gauri: What were you doing in Ethiopia?

Ari: We were teaching ZingTrain content in collaboration with the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) and the Center of African Leadership Studies (CALS).
We did 3 sessions at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College (SPHMMC) and one session for the directors of all the Ethiopian government ministries—from Agriculture to Transport to Health.

On Day 1 we taught Zingerman’s 12 Natural Laws of Business to about 35 members of the St. Paul’s Leadership team. On Day 2 we did 2 sessions on Servant Leadership—one for all the head nurses and the second for members of the hospital administration. What we presented to the directors of the ministries was a mix of the 12 Natural Laws and Servant Leadership.

How were those training topics chosen?

Ari: Well, the answer begins a while ago. Teddy Araya, who founded and runs the Center for African Leadership Studies, came to the U.S. as a part of his work with the University of Michigan. This was about a year and a half ago. He attended my ZingTrain Speaker Series session on Creating Creativity and after the session we got to talking and Teddy said to me, “ One day I will get you to Ethiopia.” And he did.

Dr. Senait Fisseha and Teddy Araya

Dr. Senait Fisseha & Teddy Araya

Teddy teaches Leadership and has been working with the cohort at the hospital on Leadership. He is an incredible teacher and trainer—he practically co-taught the session with me. And he’s doing great work with the team at St. Paul’s Hospital. Recognizing that the team he has been working with has not had the opportunity for extensive Leadership training, Teddy wanted to widen the range of Leadership ideas and concepts that they were being exposed to, he wanted to bring in a new perspective. And that’s the role we were playing.

Teddy is very committed to service—both internal service that co-workers give each other and external service to customers. The Ethiopian economy is booming and Teddy believes that for it to keep growing in a meaningful way, the next focus has to be on Service. Being a visionary, he is also very bought into the idea of Visioning and how we apply it to projects of all scales. That’s how Zingerman’s 12 Natural Laws of Business became part of the training we delivered. Because they touch on everything from Visioning to Service to Organizational Change.

Ann: I would reinforce that an important aspect for Teddy was to bring in someone from the outside because people listen and accept differently when they hear a fresh perspective from what they’ve been hearing over the years.

What resonated the most with your audience?

Ann: Going in we were just not sure how our ideas would translate across culture and language. We know that the way we use Visioning here at Zingerman’s is a pretty radical thing, Even when we teach it here in the US, with no cultural or language differences, we present the idea, we talk about how we do it, we set it all up and then we kind of hold our breath and wait.

Ari and Teddy Araya

Ari & Teddy Araya

We did the same at St. Paul’s. Ari explained it to them. Teddy translated it into Amharic and helped with some of the cultural differences. And then we held our breath and waited, unsure that it was going to work at all.

But it did! Visioning was definitely what resonated with the group the most.

Yemisratch Abeje is a lovely woman who was in our training session on Day 1. On Day 2 she stood up and said to the team, “Yesterday changed everything.” And then she explained what she meant. She explained Visioning to her team. It was all in Amharic and we couldn’t understand a word she was saying but we all had goosebumps. She was almost crying. We were almost crying.

Ari: That moment really reinforced the statistic that over 90% of what we hear and learn is not the words. It really was pretty great – when we presented Visioning, they said the same things people say here. “It changed my life.” “Nothing will ever be the same again.” “I can’t believe I got this far without it.” “I can use it for anything—even my personal life.”

What resonated the least? What was hard to translate? Where did you have to change how we typically teach something?

Ari: The hardest thing—and it wasn’t that different from teaching in Slovakia—is that the audience all speak English but they understand it better than they speak it. Learning new ideas in a group is awkward anywhere. Learning in a language that is not the language you speak in is more so. And on our end, teaching in a culture that is not our culture is challenging. Metaphors don’t translate well. You’re concerned about being respectful in a culture you don’t understand, even if you studied it. And the humor, the humor doesn’t translate well!

Ann: The way we introduce the Zingerman’s 12 Natural Laws of Business is by talking about the Energy Crisis in the American workplace. The Energy Crisis was a challenging idea to convey. The great thing was that when they got it they totally got it but we had to go about it a different way.

Ari: There’s also this. In any place that has a lot of poverty, the notion of Energy Crises and choosing to do good work is hard to translate because the opportunity for people to create good work for themselves is much smaller. Sheer necessity plays a much bigger role in your choice of work. Our support systems, our opportunities, our advantages here are just so much more significant. And consequently you find a lot of good energy being directed at the infrastructure rather than creating good work.

Ann: I think that despite the lack of resources, despite the language barrier, despite the cultural challenge, what came through to us was their determination.
They truly appreciated the opportunity to be at the training. Because their resources are limited, I sensed that they appreciated the opportunity far more than their American counterparts might have. And that was big. That made what they were hearing even more important and it is clear to me that they are going to do something about it!

Ari: The truth is that they are trying to change the face of healthcare in Ethiopia. Senait is an awe-inspiring person, a testimony to the what one single person can achieve with vision and determination and drive. As I was prepping to teach the Natural Laws, the obvious dawned on me. Senait is a living example of all the Natural Laws. She is living in harmony with all of them. She provides Vision. She does the hard work no one else wants to do. She envisions and values and brings together the contributions of really diverse resources. Under her leadership, they are clearly building a cathedral, not just laying stone. They are changing the quality and focus of healthcare in terms of both content and attitude. They are trying to treat patients with respect and competence.

And that is what we were contributing to.

group shot


Learning and Growing

A visit to Anson Mills

Chef Alex Young thinks a lot about Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, the farm next to his house in Dexter where we raise much of the food served at the Zingerman’s Roadhouse. He thinks about sustainable and organic farming practices. He thinks about growing heirloom vegetable varietals and saving seeds to improve the quality of the yield. He thinks about the future of the farm, and what that will look like for his son, Ethan. And he thinks about grain.

In the past year, Chef Alex has welcomed a long list of special visitors to the Roadhouse kitchens for the much-lauded special dinners. Most share his enthusiasm for high-quality ingredients, traditional foodways, and, of course, a full-flavored meal. But two visitors in particular reflected Alex’s commitment to a higher ideal when it comes to growing food for our tables: Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer, author, and creator of the Holzer Permaculture farming method; and Gary Nabhan, a founder of the modern seed-saving movement, author, and holder of the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center. Clearly, it’s not just about a nice meal made from high-quality food; it’s about the big picture.

Alex at RH

Chef Alex Young

Earlier this spring, Alex and son Ethan took a trip down to South Carolina to visit one of the sages of the sustainable farming movement, Anson Mills founder Glenn Roberts. The mill has long been touted as the epicenter of an heirloom grains revival, and Roberts its chief evangelist. Alex has been using Anson Mills grains for over 12 years, and thinking a lot about grain these past few years. He has a vision of Cornman Farms heirloom varietals used to create delicious breads at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. He wants to grow enough to feed the animal herds at the farm. And he dreams of producing enough to sell to Glenn Roberts and Anson Mills. So they went to the source, and traveled to South Carolina to meet Glenn at the fabled mill for a tour and a conversation.

The mill still does things in much the same manner as it was done a hundred years ago. Glenn takes in grain from all over the region (and the country!) from farmers who grow his heirloom, or “land-raised” grains, as the seed men say. The farmers agree to grow the grain using sustainable, traditional, organic methods. In return, Glenn guarantees a certain per-bushel per yield and price and for their harvest – no matter what kind of year they’ve had. In particularly bad seasons, this has been a lifesaver for some of the growers. It’s an incentive – a kind of subsidy – which helps balance out the costlier, more labor-intensive growing criteria that Glenn insists upon. The result is very good grain, and a dedicated and loyal community of farmers all over the country.

On the morning of the Young’s visit, the mill was busy allocating various land-raised grains to their network of growers. The allocation process is fairly intensive, and involves a complicated set of metrics. These figures take into account such diverse elements as the system of crop rotation a farmer uses, and the geographic location of the farm, among many others. These allocation criteria are often crucial to the heirloom’s ultimate survival, and therefore taken very seriously.

Glenn then walked Alex and Ethan through the milling process. The grain is offloaded and sucked up through a complex drying machine which aerates the grain. The grain is “live,” which means that it’s a whole grain, and still contains the active germ, source of the grain’s vitamins, proteins, minerals, and healthy fats. It’s important that the grain’s temperature not be raised, as it can cause the seed to germinate or spoil. After the grain has been aerated, it’s ground and simultaneously blasted with CO2 to freeze it. The cooled grain is ground as close to its harvest time as possible, and kept frozen all through the packaging and shipping process. This helps preserve the grain’s nutritional value and robust flavor, the very reasons people seek it.

Alex and Ethan spent several hours talking with Glenn about the growing process, types of seeds and grains, and what might work best in Michigan, then moved on to visit a nearby 800-acre farm that sells to Anson Mills.

The farm was an impressive operation, with a huge drive-in barn dedicated to grain processing. The trucks come to the barn from the grain elevator, and the cargo is pumped to the top of a sorting tower roughly 15 feet tall. The tower uses gravity and a series of screens with sized openings to separate chaff from grain. The chaff goes back out to the field as compost, while the separated seeds go into a huge walk-in cooler filled with stacked pallets, each containing heirloom varietals awaiting shipment to the mill.

One of the farming practices that really caught Alex’s eye is Glenn’s use of polycropping, or polyculture, to help build and sustain his field soil. Simply put, polycropping is the cultivation of multiple crops in the same field. As plants use different micronutrients from the soil, they also create different micronutrients, thereby enhancing the soil with a greater overall nutrient density. Thus, polycropping is a sustainable, organic way in which a conscientious farmer can improve the fertility of his land without the use of chemical fertilizers. The result is healthier, stronger plants with more flavor in the crops themselves.

Alex will use this season to build the nutrient value of the soil through polycropping with several “cover crops.” A cover crop is a beneficial plant used to prevent soil erosion, build up the soil, and eventually act as “green manure” for planting season. Alex plans to use Abruzzi rye, dwarf sunflower, wild flax, native legumes, and dutch white clover. These cover crops will help restore the land, which has not been organically farmed for decades. It’s a rebuilding year, and these plants will grow, nourish, and ultimately provide fertile, organic matter for the soil.

After the farm tour, Alex and Ethan headed over to St. James Island, part of the Sea Islands archipelago, and home to the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center. While there, they were introduced to Dr. Brian K. Ward, a research specialist who focuses on crop rotations that benefit soils, grains, and vegetables. The research center applies modern science to help further the benefits of traditional agriculture, and provide more information about the building blocks that make up crops. Alex and Ethan were shown a robot that splices grafts to tomato plants, watched as scientists freeze-dried a slice of broccoli then analyzed its nutritional makeup, and were introduced to composter that utilizes bovine enzymes to break down plant waste into liquid fertilizer.

Then they were treated to a demonstration of a flame-weeder, a propane system that shoots a small, directed flame at the roots of weed plants, but fast and precise enough not to burn the crops themselves. Next up was a “roller-crimper” which is used to flatten, and crimp (or break) the cover crops into a fertile biomass prior to planting. The contraption looks like a big steamroller drum faced with 3-inch zig-zagged pieces of steel. The farm would then use a “vacuum drill” to punch through the green manure and plant seeds in the protected and nourished soil. The advantages to using this process are the fertilizing aspect, increased water retention for the soil, and weed-suppression. Both Clemson and Michigan State University are woking to adapt this method for widespread use. Alex and Ethan came away from their day of tours and education with heads full of ideas for Cornman Farms.

But the time had come to push work aside and enjoy the evening repast. There are numerous oyster beds surrounding St. James Island, and as the sun dipped low over the tidal flats along the coast, the Youngs found themselves seated in a small shack awaiting the arrival of the day’s catch. The boats came in, and delivered their bounty. Bushels of sea-fresh oysters were pressure-washed on a wide slab, then put into enormous pots to steam-cook. In a little while, the steamed oysters are spread over another wide slab to cool a bit, then scooped up with a flat gravel shovel (truth!), and delivered to the table. Clearly, they don’t stand on formality here.

Alex and Ethan feasted on oysters that had been in the water an hour before, thinking about what they’d seen and how it would work at Cornman farms. The ideas are laudable, a wonderful vision of a self-sustaining farm, and by extension a community that nourishes the people, the economy, and the future. Ethan says he wants Cornman to grow to rival that 800-acre farm they visited – but with the cutting edge research of the Clemson Coastal Center. “I’ve got big plans,” he says.
And Alex smiles.