November 2005

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The Co-op Shares Program

by Dan Moore, Deli Manager

Three years ago, my doctor recommended I get a dog. He said it would help me get some exercise, be outside more, and lose some weight. I, having wanted a dog since I first moved away from home 20 years ago, enthusiastically agreed. My wife had been slightly reluctant prior to this, but how could she argue with the doctor? Shortly thereafter, we were off to the Humane Society where we met and fell in love with our new dog—and thoroughly thwarted all the doctor’s good intentions. It turned out our dog was a Basset Hound. In case you are unfamiliar with the breed, imagine an animal two dogs long and half a dog high—then add about ten inches of ears to either side of the head along with a huge barrel chest. She’s not exactly built for speed and is never going to be my exercise partner.

Maisy has become my partner, however, if only in the kitchen. She’s taught me a lot about food and cooking. For example, she firmly believes and has passed on to me the following: that carrots are only a snack in case of dire emergency; that thorns are no reason to avoid fresh raspberries; that one can get equally excited over both meatloaf and vegetarian succotash; and that there is no food superior in any way to cheese. The most important lesson Maisy has taught me, however, is that there is no greater thing than sharing.

Sharing with other Co-ops
Which finally brings me to this month’s topic—the Co-op Shares program, part of the larger Co-op Advantage Program. One of the Co-op’s by-laws is “to cooperate with other co-ops by sharing the resources of experience, information, time and money through patronage and/or membership in local, regional and national cooperative organizations.” To that end, I began attending meetings with deli managers, kitchen managers, cooks, and national cooperative administrators from throughout the Midwest. Over time, this group has expanded to include co-ops from as far away as Texas and the East Coast. One of the first, and best, ideas to come from these meetings was the Co-op Shares program. We agreed as a group that recipe development was the one area we most wanted to work on, but due to the everyday trials and tribulations of running a Deli it was the one area we had the least amount of time devoted to. But now, we had a room full of people that loved food, and who all had entire cookbooks full of original, interesting, and varied recipes. Our fearless leader, Chris Ryding, put it all together with a plan for us to share these recipes.

Now, for those of you new to our Deli, you may not remember that our case once consisted of only ten or so items that we featured every day of every month—and our hot food selection was even smaller. We desperately wanted to be able to provide more choices, better recipes, and a sense of excitement and interest to both our members and our staff. It turned out we weren’t alone, and this cooperation amongst all our co-ops has become an incredible success. Each month a new co-op offers two of their favorite and most popular recipes for the use of the group. Sake Roasted Salmon, Creole Roasted Yams, Eggless Tofu Salad, and Tuscan Tuna Salad are just a few of our most popular items that came to us from this program. The best part is that since the research had been done, the recipes were efficiently written and freed up our staff to focus on improving our hot case—bringing us our award-winning Jambalaya, the Tofu & Chicken Potpies, Stuffed Shells Florentine, and two of our new favorites: Mango Seitan Curry and Provencal Squash Gratin.

Now it’s our turn
This November we get our chance to once again to give back to the program. Each time it’s our turn to share, we talk to the cooks and get their suggestions for recipes to submit as well as reviewing customer comments about favorites, and then fret over whether or not the recipes are up to snuff for the other co-ops. Admittedly, it’s a little intimidating to suggest to other chefs what they should put on their menus, and it has developed into a bit of a friendly competition among the cooks. This time, we’re pretty confident in offering the Mango Seitan Curry and Provencal Squash Gratin as our Co-op Shares. The curry offers a little sweet and a little spice using traditional Indian flavors, while the squash is amazingly flavorful for a recipe with only a few ingredients. For the first two weeks in November both will be available in the hot case, and as take home items in co-ops from Minnesota to Texas. So if you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, you can take home a little of each along with some Emerald Sesame Kale (one of our big successes) to make you feel at home—just don’t forget to share with the dog.