Podcast Episode 59: Chef Matt Jennings' Keynote Address at the 2013 Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference

Hear the keynote address given by Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead at the 2013 Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference.

Matt Jennings

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Matt Jennings

In this episode of the Find Dining Podcast, hear the keynote address given by Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead at the 2013 Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference. Matt was introduced by the Mayor of Providence, the honorable Angel Taveras.


Seth Resler: This is Episode Number 59 of the Find Dining Podcast. Welcome to the very first Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Food Conference.

Hello, and welcome to the Find Dining Podcast. I'm your host, Seth Resler. We're going to do something special today because it happened, it finally happened. We've been talking about it forever. The nation's first Food Tourism Conference, the Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference. It happened September 20th, 21st and 22nd in Providence, Rhode Island and it was absolutely fantastic. If you missed it, I'm so sorry because we had a great time.

This is an event that was designed for people who plan their vacations around food, not just people in the industry, but really anybody, any foodie who plans their vacation around going to wineries or going to check out the best barbecue in the south or going to, you know, find out what the best pasta in Italy is. Whatever that is, if it's you, if you like to travel and the first thing you do when you're going to a new place is find out all the great places to eat, this is an event that we designed just for you. And we've got lots of great recording on it that we will be sharing. You can also find photos on the website, TasteTrekkers.com/conference. You can find recap of everything that happened including photos.

There are so many people to thank for this event. It was absolutely wonderful and we'll thank them all on the website because there's no way I can thank them all here, but it was fantastic. We had a great time. And thank you to everybody who was involved. So like I said, go to the website.

In the meantime, here is the keynote address that was given by Chef Matt Jennings, a James Beard nominated chef on multiple occasions, a triple Cochon 555 competition winner and a guy who has -- who won numerous accolades. So we selected him to give the keynote address. So you're going to hear -- first, you're going to hear me just thanking everybody and giving a little introduction, then you will hear the Mayor of Providence who came out, we're very honored to have him, that's Angel Taveras who came out to introduce Chef Matt Jennings and then you're going to hear the keynote address that was given by Chef Matt Jennings at the Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference.

So please listen, enjoy and check out the website, check out all the photos, TasteTrekkers.com/conference.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you all for coming out to the Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference. This is the nation's first food tourism conference. My name is Seth Resler. I'm your producer. I've put this all together though I had a lot of help. So first of all, thank you all so much for coming out especially so early on a Saturday morning. We are thrilled to have you. Give yourselves a big round of applause for coming out.

Like I said, this is -- I feel like we've been talking about this for a year. This is a project that's been a long time coming and I'm really excited to have so many fantastic people involved. There's way too many people for me to stand here and thank all of them, but I do want to pick out a couple of people in particular, Kristen Adamo over at the Providence and Warwick CVB was the first phone call I made and was a huge supporter and helped us put this together; Katrina White who's here today, was absolutely fantastic; Allan Tear from Raleigh, Rhode Island who's doing some really exciting things tonight at WaterFire involving food, a lot of sampling. You guys are going to be full I think by the end of tonight. There's a lot of great food things happening tonight that they have put together around WaterFire.

Russ at GKT Refrigeration, I'm obligated to tell you that they are the premier restaurant and hospitality refrigeration company providing service for all of Rhode Island and Southeastern Mass, but really, what I want to say is that he has just been incredibly vocal supporter from very early on even in our kickstarter days, so big thank you to him. Lisa Webster from North Star Farms who's one of our speakers today and she put our kickstarter over the top; Sai Viswanath and all the folks over at DeWolf Tavern have been absolutely fantastic; Cindy Salvato of Savoring Rhode Island who you'll hear from later today on the panel discussion; Cynthia Leonard over at Sir Speedy; Matt Jennings, chef over at Farmstead who you're going to hear from today, absolutely fantastic supporter; Gail Ciampa from the Providence Journal who will be hosting our panel later today has been a huge help for all of this; and of course, my team, Ashley Keller, who's one of my favorite people that I've ever had the pleasure of working with and we brought on a Johnson & Wales graduate who reached out to me and volunteered, Ize Ahanotu, who you'll see around today and she's been fantastic.

So those are the things that I have to do. I would never do this before getting rush off to stage by the music at, you know, at the Oscar's like I would never make that. But I do want to thank all of those people and so many more for coming out. This is really the first event ever in the country aimed around both travel and food. And our goal is really to help people explore the world through food and discover new places.

I am not going to talk to you about food today because everybody else is and they are going to talk about it far, far better than I will, but I do want to talk to you a little bit about place. Those of you who know me, know that my history is actually in alternative rock radio, so I moved from city to city to city. I've lived in Seattle and Boston and I worked in New York. I was raised in California. I was out in St. Louis for a while. But I spent most of my adult life here in Providence, first as a Brown student and then came back to work the radio station 95.5 WBRU here.

What I always loved about place is that every place has its own personality, its own character and I first saw that in music. You know, in this area, people love their Dropkick Murphy's and their Mighty Mighty Bosstones and their Guster. You get out to the West Coast and it's Oingo Boingo and it's Social Distortion and it's Dramarama and things like that. And I found early on character in music, but I also started to see it other places.

Is anybody from Boston here today? Oh, good, good showing from Boston. One of my favorite things to do is just drive down Storrow Drive when the sun is first coming out in the spring and all those boats and crew teams are out there on the Charles River, I love that. I lived in Seattle. I love standing up on Queen Anne and looking over downtown in the space kneeling the distance and Mount Rainier even behind that. I love driving Route 280 up to San Francisco from San Jose and that moment when the mountains part and you can first see the bay and the sun shining on it.

And so we really wanted to showcase different places here today and we wanted to do it through the lens of food and I'm really excited about the lineup we have doing it. We have people -- it's hard to cover the entire world in 12 sessions but we have a wide range everything from places that are close and easy to get to. Vermont is drivable. Durham is fantastic and just an hour flight away. I don't know how many of you will make it to Madagascar to have some chocolate, but we invited them as well.

So we're very excited and I just wanted to, you know -- if there's one thing I want you to walk out of today, it's the connection between place and food and how much, you know, I think over the last generation, we've lost that context as we've become sort of the Olive Garden nation and I want to help reestablished that connection and so do a lot of the speakers here today and so that's why I think we've gotten the support from this community that we have.

I want to introduce our next speaker who is the 37th mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. I'm very honored that he came out to this event. He's been a huge supporter of tourism and the food community and the fantastic chefs and restaurants that we have here in Providence, Rhode Island. Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Mayor Angel Taveras.

Angel Taveras: Thank you, everyone, and thank you, Seth. I think that he said something that I would say a little differently and just that I think cities have souls. They have a spirit to them and food is but one way I've seen that and I think that as you visit Providence, I hope you have the chance to experience our great city.

We are thrilled to have you here. I'm very excited that you've chosen Providence and that's why I'm here this morning just to welcome you and also to introduce one of our great chefs as well. I just want to let you know, some of the things that we're doing in the city, I'm sure that you've heard we're the number one food city according to Travel + Leisure and that's something that obviously I'm very proud of. I like to say it happened during my reign, so it's a good thing. But we're very excited about that.

And Seth also mentioned Johnson & Wales. I think we're very fortunate to have Johnson & Wales here and they continue to provide us with such great culinary talent year after year after year and so we're very fortunate with that as well. But the other thing that we're doing and I don't know if you will talk about it while you're here is we have a lot of urban farming and that's something that has made a big difference in our city as well and so we're very proud of the work we're doing not only at the Southside Community Land Trust, but with so many groups around the city and state.

And one thing that I've really enjoyed about urban farming is that it brings together people. Food can bring together people from all different backgrounds and that's something that's exciting to see especially in the city as diverse as Providence, Rhode Island.

As I said, our city is a special place and I think we have a very special spirit and I think you're going to see it tonight when you visit WaterFire and I know that there's a special food event tonight as well in honor of your presence here in Providence. So, I hope that you have an opportunity to go out there today and really enjoy WaterFire and enjoy Providence. I think it will be an experience like no other that you've had.

Last year at this time, I was actually in Rome lighting WaterFire on the Tiber River and I was concerned because I said, you know, when you think of Rome and everything that it’s seen, what could we bring to that? And it was amazing to see people from all around come out to see WaterFire. So today, please enjoy it here in the City of Providence and have a wonderful time. I also want to let you know, if there's anything that I can do while you're here to make your visit better, please feel free to tweet at me Angel_Taveras, T-A-V-E-R-A-S or you can call me or text me at 401... I hear them laughing over there. You never know, you never know. So, but anything that we can do, please make sure to let us know. We want to make sure you have a great visit, that you enjoy our food, that you enjoy our restaurant, that you enjoy the spirit here. But also that if you have any issue whatsoever, you let us know. I don't want you to go back home talking about Providence and we want more people visiting. That's very important to us.

I want to take a moment now to introduce Matt Jennings from Farmstead. Matt is a wonderful member of our community. His early days, he was a prep cook on Nantucket and went on to learn more about the art and preparation of food through years of intensive culinary schooling. He rose to Executive Sous Chef at 121 Federal Restaurant and developed a passion for using local ingredients and seasonal products and then went on to open Boston's famed Salamander Restaurant with a business partner.

He eventually left the world of restaurant kitchens to explore the origins in artisan production of the foods we eat, fostering knowledge and life-long relationship with local farmers, fishermen and artisan producers and even more importantly with his wife, Kate.

And in 2003, he opened Farmstead, a Providence-based artisan cheese and specialty gourmet shop and in 2006, a small bistro with honest seasonal handmade foods. He's known as Providence's pied piper of cheese, the “Prince of Pork” and one of the most sustainable chefs in America and he's one of our proudest contributions to the world of culinary excellence. So it is my pleasure to introduce to you one of the finest chefs we have in our city and that is Chef Matt Jennings.

Matt Jennings: Did the Mayor just drop his Twitter handle? Is that what I heard? Well, we live in a new time. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I'd like to thank Seth Resler and the whole crew at Taste Trekkers for working so hard on putting this thing together. It did feel like it was so far away and then all of a sudden, here we are. Also, the City of Providence for hosting this really exciting first time installation, celebration, festival of all that is food, travel, and traveling for food.

Everyone of you here today are in this room for the same reason: you've made a conscious decision that food is one of the aspects of your life that is worth your personal investment. You've invested your interest in food in the various facets that it can be found. You've invested your time to fit this conference and festival into your schedule. You've invested your money to purchase tickets to this weekend's events as well as your travel and your accommodation while you're here in Providence.

But really, it is food that has been your investment. You've made an investment into your food community. One of the things we all strive for is the sense of community, a sense of place as Seth discussed. This is part of the human condition, right? We want to be surrounded by some sort of social group that shares simple values or at least most of us do.

There are different types of community, there's geographic communities or communities of location. These can range from a global perspective all the way down to the community of neighborhoods, down city, west side to South End…South Providence rather, Fox Point, et cetera. Community comes in another form, organizations, these ranged from informal family networks to more formally incorporated and perhaps even professional associations or businesses which can exist at a small national or even international scale.

And lastly, there are communities of culture, ethnic groups, religions, cults. These communities may be included as communities of need for identity. We need to identify with something. And in that identification process, we create relationships in a cohesive group of like-minded individuals. Here you are.

This last group that I was discussing of communities where all of you are, the food community. You are, whether you like it or not, a card-carrying member of the food community, whether it is a food community here in Providence, the food community in New England or the food community of somewhere else, you dedicated a substantial portion of your life to being a member of the food community and investing in that community.

The concept of investment is that you put something in to get something out and your investment in the food community can come in different forms and on different levels… financial, sure. Although not everybody can, I suspect most people in this room can probably afford to shop at a farmer's market on occasion, purchase some fish off the docks in Narragansett, or even make a yearly donation to a land trust, like our beloved Southside Community Land Trust here in Providence.

But your investment doesn't have to be financial. You can also invest by virtue of offering your time, your skills, or your passion. You can put on an apron at a food pantry, design a website for a farmer's CSA, pick up compost from a local restaurant- it's ready, you can come get it.

Plants an herb garden, these are all investments into your food community. Oh, yeah, and there's that other aspect of investment, right, what do I get? Well, beyond material returns, the gorgeous leafy greens bringing into your -- in refrigerator after a trip to the farmer's market or the CSA share and return for your website development. You get personal fulfillment, the sense of being attached to something, the idea and concept that you are a piece of the machinery that drives the local food system and this gives you a sense of community, of belonging and of love. So there, I make the connection today that food is love.

I just returned from a three-day trip to the Hudson Valley with the James Beard Foundation as they invited 10 chefs from around the country onto the rolling, stunningly beautiful property of Glenwood Farm in Cold Spring, New York for a retreat that they called Chefs Bootcamp. Our mission for the weekend was to talk sustainability with regional and national experts and to design advocacy campaigns and presentations to policy makers in Washington on behalf of food-focused, causes and networks such as Oxfam America.

In this instance, creating our alter egos as chef activists was the goal. Glenwood Farm offered the perfect background and provided plenty of kindling for our discussions as Glenwood's mission is to "save farming by strengthening farm communities and regional food systems." There's that word again, communities.

Throughout the course of the weekend, we discussed how to make good food available and affordable for everyone regardless of their beliefs, the color of their skin or socioeconomic status. Naturally, such lofty goals create heated conversation and ours were that, but it was engaging conversation that we have, breaking off into focus groups to discern what the opportunities were currently for strengthening our food systems in this country and ways in which to talk with policy makers about supporting those bills that are sustainably driven.

It was only on my drive home that I was able to make the connection between the events at Glenwood and this weekend's Taste Trekkers Conference. I had traveled for food. I had invested my time in pursuit of trying to make some sort of incremental change. By traveling to a working farm in a small community in Upstate New York, I had met with the livestock manager, the fields operator, relatively big titles for people who at their based were simply advocates, activists and members of my food community. That was why I was there. I was linking the two things that are crucial in my life, my professional focus to try and promote and save small family farms and the ability to do this with other impassioned people, my community.

This community, Providence, is changing by the minute. Having lived here for over 10 years, I've watched the ebb and flow of businesses, residents, students and others as the city swells with creative juices and gustatory delights. What world class opportunities await those visiting Providence? Truly, vibrant arts and culture, historic sites and attractions, parks, seashore, farm land and so much food.

Last year, Providence was voted as number one food destination in the United States by

Travel + Leisure Magazine. This amazing honor is reflective of the strong food community which exists here, the hard work done every day by our farmers, fishermen, delivery services, servers, cooks, dishwashers, shop owners, chefs and you, the diner. None of the success of the food culture in Providence could be possible without the diner.

I've benefitted from the renaissance of the Renaissance City and felt a creative heave from the creative capital, at times, a magical inspiring community to work and reside in. Of course, every community has its problems and Providence is no exception to that rule. For us in this state, parochialism and neophobia still reign supreme. The little state known for its attitude with an accent needs to find ways to support the people's new interests in this burgeoning food community that exists here, but is surely the crowning jewel and a crown on a city who spend far too much time fighting laughable battles and not small supporting its small businesses.

At some point, Providence needs to inspire a critical massive advocates within city government to take small business seriously and to work through our differences another round while positively contributing to the conversation that is the progressive food movement in the state because it does exist.

If Providence wants to continue to achieve accolades like the one it did last year with

Travel + Leisure, then it needs to give back. That concept of investment that I mentioned earlier has never been more prominent than it is in the small business community and climate here in Rhode Island today. As this small business owners and restaurateurs have invested in our city, so does the city need to invest in us.

However, what outweighs to bureaucracy in little Rhode Island is the devotion of the consumer here and the unbridled affection they feel for their food whether it is a gagger from New York system, a clam roll from FLO's, some thinly sliced capicola from the Hill, or a chunk of cheese from Farmstead, people here feel definitively passionate about their food and their food experiences. This is one of the many reasons my good friend Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods decided to make Rhode Island a stop in his nationally broadcasted award-winning show on a chilly few days this past December.

Andrew and his team understood that the food culture that exists here is strong, so strong in fact that a whole show could be dedicated to it. It was with pleasure and pride in my state that I was able to host Andrew during those days and to take him on to some of the best places Rhode Island has to offer, from the Farmers Market in Pawtucket, to the Food Trucks down to the docks to see some fish. It's a shameless plug if you did miss it, you can find it on Hulu.

What is it that makes people who passionate about their food and culture and community? What makes them travel for miles away to attend the food festival in a town that they've never been in but have only heard about? This type of food patriotism is what makes the food culture in our state so strong. Flags are great and marching bands are fun but I don't think they taste very good, so we show our food patriotism through picking up our forks. Nothing gets internalized both literally and figuratively the way food does. That is why we go out of our way and travel for great food experiences.

True food travelers are people who love food and travel and believe like I do that eating local, regional foods can help you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for a place, whether you eat juicy whale blubber in Alaska, aged salumi from the moldy walls of a Tuscan farmhouse, sweet yet mellow maple syrup right out of the vat in Quebec or potato taco with salsa arrosto in the streets of Guatemala. Authentic regional food connects you with the history heritage, people and the culture unique to that place.

Certainly, knowing how to travel for food is to know how to live well provided it is for leisure and not for necessity as it is in so many other parts of the world. We are blessed in this country to have the opportunity to have food abundant, so abundant that we promote it, commercialize it, tweet it (guilty), and Facebook it. This, of course, is not the case in other parts of the world and so I think that it is important for us all to remember how lucky we are.

When we want to travel for food, we do so knowing that it will be there when we arrived, that is not so in other lands. For many of the world's billions of tourists returning to familiar destinations to enjoy tried and tested recipes of traveling or traveling further afield in search of new and special cuisine, gastronomy has become a central part of the tourism experience. Against this background, food tourism has gained increasing attention over the past years. Tourists are attracted to local produce and many destinations are centering their product development and marketing accordingly, including our own city and state. With food so deeply connected to its origin, this focus allows destinations to market themselves as truly unique and appealing to those travelers who look to feel part of their destination through its flavors.

If you rarely leave your neighborhood and travel across town to a new neighborhood, to go to a special grocery store or to eat out, you're a food traveler in your own backyard, of course. The act of traveling is implied because most people travel at least across their own town, if not the region, the country or even the planet. The distance covered is not as important as the fact that we always are on the move. We are all travelers of a sort and we are all eaters, therefore, we can also all be regarded as food travelers.

But serious food travelers get into the nitty-gritty of their adventures. They geek out on the details, when and what they will be eating and where, will it be oysters on the half shell at Pike Place market in Seattle, that favorite taco truck in Los Angeles or maybe the destination is a broader appeal like we have here in Providence. Other cities that come to mind immediately as some of the best I have visited for food include Portland, Maine; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon but none as delicious as little Provi.

In order to travel for food, you better have resources. State websites like our own Providence and Warwick Convention Bureau are a great help, a wealth of information if coming to our city about where to eat and what to look for while you're here. Magazines and periodicals about your dining destination, those are important, too. A favorite that comes to mind is the Edible Communities publication. There it is again, that word communities.

Did you know that with over 80

Ediblemagazines across the country and in Canada,

Edible magazines now have more readers than the top three national food magazines?

Edible has become one of these food travelers' go-to resources for handcrafted, sustainably raised local foods and restaurants. Readers are seeking out the

Edible brand with its hyper local content as a food travel Almanac.

Most importantly, we have each other. Within this community in the room today, we could easily assemble the greatest treasure map of tasty adventure ever compiled at one time. We seek out the reviews and suggestions of our peers, some of us make notes, keep diaries or whatever it takes. But it's with engagement like this in our food community that we all continue to promote dining destinations and in turn, those folks behind the scenes who work so tirelessly to put a quality product on the plate every time.

I am frequently asked by media and customers alike what my favorite dining destinations are and why and while my answers can vary depending on my tastes of the moment, I tried to focus on what aspects of food community are important to me, cities that boast culinary innovation, dedication to excellence and service, and a variety of experience are constantly things that make the top of my list.

On Monday, I'm actually headed out of town for the opportunity to promote a state I think is on the precipice of culinary greatness, Vermont. I have been asked to film a television documentary food series on some of my favorite producers and the stories behind the food that these folks create. I'll be traveling with a small production team to explore the heritage behind the new American movement of regional food stocks ranging from a cheese maker in West Cornwall, Vermont to a chocolate maker in Middlebury, a brewer in Waterbury and a salumi manufacturing company in South Plainfield.

Each of the producers I have chosen to highlight on this trip share one very important ethos, quality. These are foods that are made by hand, typically inspired by the generations who have come before focusing their efforts on making food that is honest, seasonal and made completely from scratch. They are not interested in flooding the marketplace with their product and maximizing their potential sales. Alternatively, they are interested in doing their craft justice, making just enough products to satisfy themselves and their families and allowing the quality of the food to speak for itself.

Sometimes the best products are those which aren't available everywhere, another reason to travel for food, to discover the hidden gems, the recipes, the techniques and traditions that can only exists in certain environments. To me, this is real food. I am traveling to them because their products won't always travel to me.

On the other end of the scale, we have foods in the marketplace that are much more abundant. Take a stroll down any grocery aisle and you'll find ubiquitous cocktail of commercial foods that sit on many American shelves. To me, this is food that is typically soulless and of compromised quality.

Did you know that only 500 major brands account for 70% of food in the marketplace? The industrialization of food is driving the small farmer out of business and the small scale food artisan out of business and right into foreclosure. We are losing our food heritage in this country every year at an alarming rate, but New England remains strong and an important voice in the national food conversation. In fact, at the latest 2007 USDA consensus on food, yes, that was the last one, within New England, the number of farms increased from 28,000 to 33,000 and land in farms increased 3.9 million acres to over 4. However, the average farm size decreased from 142 acres to 122 acres.

Rhode Island saw a sharp increase, the highest to New England and likely the United States and the number of farms and total land in farms, farms grossing less than $50,000 in sales make up the majority of the increase, however the number of farms in New England grossing more than $50,000 in sales a year also rose from 168 in 2002 to 173 in 2007 and most recently 190 in 2009.

Nationally, Rhode Island ranked third in direct marketing sales on a pro forma basis and Providence County is the 50th highest county in the country. Fruits, vegetables and livestock have also continually increased. Some of this good news can be attributed to our strong systems in the state. Farm Fresh Rhode Island is growing a local food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters.

Part incubator, part activator, Farm Fresh is programmed, grows the local the food system by building capacity in three areas: supporting producers, creating demand in markets, and helping to educate eaters. Farm Fresh's objectives are clear, preserved Rhode Island farm land and our agricultural and culinary knowledge, build healthier communities, there's that word again, increase access to fresher tastier food, improve impact of food production and distribution on our environment, strengthen the community-based businesses.

It is with the help of organizations like Farm Fresh -- sorry it is with help from organizations like Farm Fresh that Rhode Island is climbing to the top of the New England sustainable food chain, showcasing how individuals can make a difference in securing wholesome, local and delicious foods. Food is all around us, it unites us at the table, it provokes conversation and it inspires some of us to get out there and see the world.

We celebrate with food. We mourn with food. We use food to mark both milestone events and plain old ordinary Saturday afternoons. And so on this plain old Saturday afternoon, I encourage you to be anengaged member of your food community, an investor. Don't just travel and indulge, think, research, join the discussion on how we can improve our food systems and in turn, celebrate our regional and seasonal food culture. Then, the biggest job you have can be considered your action item or your homework, if you will. Inspire others. Getting involved can require little to no investment. Share your food. Feed each other. Rinse, repeat.

The conversation taking place in small cities across the country like Providence is of a new unified consumer-base who is demanding more. We want to know where our food comes from, who makes it and the culture you help promote and create is replicable in other places.

So seek out those organizations who are working hard to promote the preservation of food systems in this country and carry a lot of power by voting with your fork, organizations like Feeding America, Oxfam, Share our Strength. It seemed overwhelming, well it is, so focus locally, make a call to local food bank, find out what you can do, write a letter to the editor, engage. You owe it to your community. Consider it to be part of your investment and then feast on the rewards of your involvement.

On behalf of myself and my staff and my company, Farmstead, I thank you and I think your tummy will thank you, too.

Seth Resler: So there it is, Chef Matt Jennings giving his keynote address at the 2013 Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference. Thank you so much for listening. Again, you can find photos and more information on everything that happened at the conference at TasteTrekkers.com/conference. Please check it out and enjoy. Thanks for listening.

Published October 3rd, 2013