Updated: Jul 23

In December 1983, Thriller, the most expensive music video ever made at that time, debuted on MTV. The zombies dancing in the street with Michael Jackson were a hit, and Thriller also

became the best selling music video of its time.

Ibis was a band of six talented Black women from Brooklyn. Their Street Children video never played on MTV. The song was great. The musicians were terrific. MTV didn't support Black artists in those early days. In fact, Michael Jackson's Billie Jean was the first song ever played by a Black musician on MTV, also in 1983, two years after the channel launched.

But here's the thing. Street Children was released in the summer of 1983, BEFORE Thriller. This was one of A-Ray Productions' first projects. We made the music video with Ibis for NO BUDGET. Stylistically, it foreshadowed Thriller as a short story that takes place on urban streets, with choreographed backup dancers and actors setting the tone and dramatizing the lyrics. We had a blast filming it on location in our neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Parts of the video were shot on our rooftop on Chrystie Street. Not many people ever got to see it, and that's just a shame.

I like to think that if Ibis were together today, their music and their creativity would earn them the credit they deserved.

We've just dug some old 3/4" videotapes out of storage and had them digitally preserved by the conservationists at Standby.org. Happily, the Ibis video hadn't deteriorated beyond rescue. So never mind the glitches .... here's Street Children.

It's been so long, I can only remember some of the first names of the musicians. Carmen, and Sheri. And Konda Mason did the choreography. If anyone seeing this knows how to contact any of the Ibis band members, please put us in touch!

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Updated: Jul 19

Those of you who know me as the filmmaker behind Two Angry Moms and the author of Lunch Wars may wonder why you haven't heard from me in a while. Well, my kids grew up and my husband and I worked hard to put them through college. As a couple of documentary filmmakers, this was no mean feat. And then I decided I had to go back to school to get an MBA in Sustainability. I love learning.

We never stopped cooking for our family and friends though, and our passion for documenting and sharing what lies at the intersection of the culinary arts, food science and social justice has never abated. So a decade later, we are unveiling a new production: Cultured&Cured. It's a Youtube Channel (for now) with a growing list of video programs in two playlists: Asian Fermentation and The Quarantine Edition. Our goal is to be an accessible, trusted source for high-quality "living" food entertainment, instruction and recipes.

When I envisioned making the Cultured&Cured series, I was eager to learn from the experts about the science and art of making some well-known functional foods like lacto-fermented pickles, kimchi, beer, yogurt, kefir, kvass and sourdough bread. Even more fascinating though, are the unique flavor profiles and enhanced nutrition that chefs, researchers, cooks and scientists are developing using modern twists on traditional food alchemy techniques.

Watch the premiere of Koji Basics Part 1: That's a Fast Pickle

As a first subject, we asked our friend Chef Ken Fornataro to do a video on his work with Asian-style fermentation. He's been producing his own youtube videos for quite a while, and we wanted to distill his encyclopedic knowledge into broadcast-quality content with a narrative for newcomers as well as acolytes. I hosted, Alex filmed, and we had a blast learning about koji, natto, amasake, shio-koji, miso, and the incredibly delicious recipes he makes with these enzyme-activating living ingredients.

Watch the premiere of Koji Basics Part 2: Making Koji Rice with Chef Ken Fornataro

Instead of one video, we filmed an entire series (or Channel, or Playlist or whatever you want to call it) with Chef Ken. As both a Chef and a microbiologist, Ken explains how these Asian ferments interact with your microbiome to stimulate your senses, satisfy your appetite and restore good gut health. You can see what we've posted so far on the Cultured&Cured webpage, and more on our Youtube Channel, Cultured&Cured.

Watch the premiere of Foolproof Tomato Transplanting Secret with Host Amy Kalafa

Like most of the world this year, we are not traveling due to the pandemic. Instead, we're adding new videos weekly in our second series: Cultured&Cured - The Quarantine Edition. You can see how to harvest wild leeks and how to use them fresh in a tangy pasta recipe, or turn them into pesto and pickles. We're growing pears in bottles to make pear liquor in the fall. My husband Alex is making duck and pork prosciutto, and we've followed our friends Kate and David making amaro di nocino (green walnut bitters).

Watch the premiere of Curing and Caring for Cast Iron Pans with Chef Alex Gunuey

Once we can travel and film again on location, we'll feature more chefs, researchers, restaurateurs and local, small-batch producers in future episodes and series of Cultured&Cured.

Learn more about Cultured&Cured on our work-in-progress webpage.

Follow us on Instagram.

Watch our shows on Youtube and subscribe to our channel.

Read more blog posts.

We'd like to hear from you. What topics do you want to learn more about? Brewing? Baking?

Confit? Canning? Nixtamalization? Natto? Let us know!

Post your comments here, or contact amy@a-ray.tv.

Updated: May 23

Waaaay back in February of 2020, before the pandemic hit NYC and CT, Alex and I spent a weekend filming with my former college roommate and dear friend, Chef Ken Fornataro. "Kenny" (I think I'm the only person who still calls him that) used to cook fabulous meals in our dorm kitchen.

In addition to my attraction to his culinary skills, Ken and I also bonded over our mutual passion for social justice. Our freshman year, we fought for gay rights and protested against Tropicana's choice of homophobic Anita Bryant as their spokesperson.

(Anita Bryant getting pied in the face by gay rights activist Tom Higgins.)

Ken left college at 19 to become the head chef of the world-famous Hermitage Restaurant in Boston. There he met and worked with some of the avant-garde of the food world. He learned macrobiotics from the masters - Michio and Aveline Kushi. Thus began his exploration into the art of Asian fermentation, which he has passionately expanded upon over the decades.

(Aveline and Michio Kushi, macrobiotic advocates and founders of Erehwon - "nowhere" spelled backwards - one of the first health food stores in the US.)

In the mid-1980's, ever the activist, Ken formed The Network, which became home to The Access Project, a database of Aids information that connected patients with clinical trials and affordable treatment options. I served on his board for over two decades, until the organization merged with NYC's Housing Works several years ago.

That merger gave Ken the time to begin his next social venture, Cultures.Group, a platform from which he hosts specialized webinars and Meetup groups and posts almost-daily videos of his koji, sake, miso, shio-koji, natto, pickling and scores of other research and recipes. The day he dropped his iphone into a vat of moto (sake yeast starter) while filming, I realized that perhaps I could help make his culinary science more accessible to a wider audience.

(Ken's koji and shio koji products)

Alex and I had been kicking around the idea of creating a culinary video series of our own. Our experiences in the food world included founding the first certified organic poultry and game bird farm on the East coast (Animal Farm), winning awards for Martha Stewart and Lidia Bastianich's TV series', and producing the independent documentary film Two Angry Moms, about connecting children with their food. I am also a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Alex is a darn good French chef.

We wanted to focus on the culinary artistry as well as the science of traditional and non-traditional ways of preserving, preparing and curing foods for enhanced nutrition, flavor and health. We decided to name our series Cultured & Cured. Both words have double meanings, and together they embrace the spirit of what we hope to bring to the world. We want to convey the pleasure in the making process, the immediate gratification of delicious cuisine, and the long-term benefits of a balanced micro-biome and good health. We didn't have to search very far for our first guest expert.

Watch our our first full episode!

Ken shows Amy how to make a flavor-enhanced meal using koji-coated mushrooms in kasha varnishkas, served with sautéed golden beets and lamb chops spiced with coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and his powerfully pungent powdered mushroom miso. We'll soon release an extended segment that demonstrates the full process of making the koji-coated mushrooms. And more segments that explain the basics of koji and what to do with it.

Ken's work is complicated. He's a microbiologist, an artist, a chef, and an overall brilliant person. It's a challenge to communicate the essence, the results and the replicability of all his research. But Alex and I are story-tellers. And TV producers. So we packed all our gear into the Prius, and set up a multi-camera studio in Ken's lab in NYC. It was a long, chaotic, exhausting weekend for the three of us.

We emerged with enough material for several shows. Coming Soon: Shio-koji overnight pickles, miso from scratch, and, because it was Super Bowl Sunday, miso barbecued chicken wings, baby greens with miso dressing, and a surprise favorite, miso butter croissants.

Watch Ken make a Four Cultures Golden Beet Borscht

A couple of weeks later, Ken came to CT for ten days, and set up a lab in our home kitchen. We filmed a few more shows and segments, and we learned some of his koji-making secrets. We made mushroom koji, chickpea koji coated with sorghum, brown rice koji, koji chicken, shio-koji sautéed broccolini, preserved lemons, and pickled Asian vegetables. We now have three jars of soy sauce marinating on our countertop, ready next winter.

There's still time to sign up for Chef Ken's ZYMES 2020 Zoom Conference on May 23! It's a 9-hour, multi-part event, and you can register for all or part of it. Featuring some of the world's most renown fermenters, brewers and curers. https://cultures.group/register/

Then came a global pandemic. Which, if truth be told, was the only way in hell we would have ever had the time to stay put and edit this material. I was let go from the Executive Producer gig I had just started with an agency. Alex had recently completed his sixth season editing a show for Discovery. The universe was reminding us that life is short and precious. We dove in and began the process of branding and editing Cultured & Cured.

As we dug into the rich content with Chef Ken, Alex and I were inspired to document some of our own culinary endeavors. The discovery of a field of wild leeks in April led to the launch of another series of Cultured & Cured videos - The Quarantine Edition. We filmed ourselves pickling ramps using a sous-vide technique, making ramps pesto, cooking a 10-minute pasta dish with ramps, preparing seeds for planting, and curing cast iron pots and pans. This week we'll be attempting to grow pears in bottles.

We're now editing both Ken's series and our Quarantine Edition, and filming more of our at-home projects. There's still many more hours of material to sort through. We're having a blast. As long as we can, we'll keep putting out content. Our goal is to release two short segments each week, and one feature show (15 - 20 minutes) every month.

It's frustrating though to work without a crew, a food stylist, or post-production assistance (and we would really appreciate a bit of hair and make-up help). And we're eager to travel again to film the work of fermentation, brewing and curing innovators in Nashville, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and L.A. We would love to partner with a sponsor, another production company or a network that could help us make these series' as visually and emotionally powerful as we know they can be. For now, we're making do with the resources we have. We hope you find these videos entertaining and inspiring.

For more information about Cultured & Cured, please visit our webpage.

Contact us at amy@a-ray.tv.

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