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Eugene Weekly : News : 1.8.09





News Briefs: Oregon Troops May Have Been Exposed to Toxics | WOPR Gets Year-End Push | The FBI Wants You | UO Football Trails on SAT Scores | Norma Grier Steps Down | Citizens to Report on State of City | People's Agenda for Real Change | Will the Obama Admin Kill Fewer Animals? | Activist Alert | Nudity, Guns, Politics & Food | Cyclists Gear Up for New Year | War Dead |

Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes

Happening Biz: Ratatouille Bistro & Cafe


Oregon Troops May have Been Exposed to Toxics

Oregon National Guard Soldiers serving in Iraq may have been exposed to a toxic chemical, according to a U.S. senator investigating the exposure of hundreds of troops to the carcinogen while they were protecting a water pumping plant in 2003.

“There may have been some guardsmen or women from Oregon on the site that were exposed as well; we need to get to the bottom of that,” Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, told MSNBC Jan. 5.

Bayh said the troops, including more than 100 from Indiana, were exposed to highly toxic hexavalent chromium, used as an anti-corrosive agent. “There were piles of this stuff, big orange piles. It created dust storms there was so much of it lying around,” Bayh said on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

Last month 16 Indiana National Guard soldiers sued KBR, the contractor responsible for repairing the Qarmat Ali plant, alleging the company knew about the toxin but failed to warn or protect the troops from the carcinogen, according to press reports. KBR denied liability. KBR is the former subsidiary of

Halliburton, the corporation that Vice President Dick Cheney ran before

taking office.

 The lawsuit alleged that the exposure may have caused nasal tumors in soldiers and perhaps one death already. The toxin is the same chemical made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich, about a town in California exposed to the carcinogen. 

The U.S. Army has denied the troops were endangered by the exposure. But Bayh called for an investigation similar to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, a toxin that the Army denied for decades had hurt its soldiers. Type II diabetes and a long list of other chronic illnesses have been linked to Agent Orange exposure, according to the Veterans Administration, and may qualify vets for disability payments. — Alan Pittman

WOPR GETS YEAR-END PUSH

The BLM decided on New Year’s Eve to push through with the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) despite concerns from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Environmental Protection Agency about endangered species protection and clean water as well the comments from thousands of concerned citizens and environmental groups. The WOPR would dramatically increase logging on over two million acres of Oregon’s public lands, including lands around Eugene.

While disappointed, conservationists say they are still confident the WOPR can be stopped, either by the incoming Obama administration or through the courts. Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild, one of the groups that voiced opposition to the plan throughout the process, says “the last minute approval of the WOPR appears to be a parting gift from the Bush administration to the timber industry — like a big old-growth clearcut with a red ribbon tied around it.”

The timber industry has also expressed reservations about the WOPR, saying that BLM is protecting too much land. “More, rather than less, harvesting is needed to properly manage our federal forests,” according to the American Forest Resources Council. The AFRC also criticized the plan for not creating more jobs. “With Oregon facing unemployment already over 7 percent and a billion dollar budget deficit, this plan should have done more to sustain forest health, jobs and the welfare of our rural communities,” says AFRC’s Tom Partin.

Heiken disagrees: “The timber industry claims they want to help create jobs, but we can put thousands of people to work doing watershed restoration work instead of clearcutting,” he says.

According to Heiken, “The timber industry appears to be in denial about their role in the economic crisis. Just like the housing and lending industries, the timber industry got too big for their britches.”

He says that the timber industry and the economy can benefit from forest conservation. Of Lane County’s recent discussions of using the forests for cap and trade carbon sequestration, he says that while he hopes “there will be widespread public recognition of the need to conserve forests to help mitigate climate change,” he is “skeptical that federal forests will be included in any market-based carbon trading scheme.” According to Heiken, “the county should be working toward a political solution, not a market solution.”  — Camilla Mortensen

 

THE FBI WANTS YOU

Companies are laying off employees left and right, but rest assured, there is a job out there for you. The FBI is taking advantage of the pool of available job seekers the crashing economy has created and is advertising a hiring blitz, one of the largest in the agency’s 100-year history. The FBI wants to hire 3,000 people, and they want them now (or at least by Sept. 29) for a “variety of mission-critical roles.”

The FBI says it is looking to hire 2,100 professional staff employees and 850 special agents. According to the FBI’s job website www.fbijobs.gov the agency, all you wannabe G-men (and women) out there can apply to be anything from a “special agent” to a fingerprint examiner to an official FBI woodcrafter. 

The FBI’s assistant director of human resources says that in addition to looking for people skilled in computer science and in languages, the agency is “also looking for professionals in a wide variety of fields who have a deep desire to help protect our nation from terrorists, spies, and others who wish us harm.”

If you’re a woman with that deep desire to protect people from vague harm-wishers as a special agent, the FBI’s jobs page has a special FAQ page just for you where you will be assured that you don’t have to know how to shoot a gun. The FBI will train you in firearms. In fact, according to the FAQ, the FBI prefers that you don’t know how to shoot, because non-shooters “don’t have any ingrained bad habits.”

And don’t worry ladies, the FBI is not hiring women just to fill quotas. The agency calls female agents a “tremendous asset” and says, “We have found that investigative teams composed of a blend of female and male Special Agents are much more effective at bringing complex investigations to a speedy and successful resolution.”

At least one Oregonian (a man) has already landed a job with the rapidly expanding bureau. Ronald C. Ruecker, former director of public safety for Sherwood, Ore. (population 16,115; named for Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest) has been appointed assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Law Enforcement Coordination. Oregon’s Homeland Security Advisor under Gov. John Kitzhaber from 2001-2004. — Camilla Mortensen

 

UO FOOTBALL TRAILS ON SAT SCORES

UO football players SAT scores average 147 points lower than the average SAT scores of other UO students, according to an investigative report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The average SAT score at the UO is 1,100, but the average score for football players is 953, according to the latest NCAA reports studied by the AJC. The UO’s average football SAT score ranked 17th among the 54 biggest college football programs studied by the newspaper. 

By comparison the football average at OSU on the 1,600-point SAT was 997, or 88 points less than the OSU student average. 

“Critics say athletes who arrive on campus unprepared to compete academically get shuffled off to easy majors and unchallenging courses and don’t receive much of an education,” the AJC reported. 

A recent investigation by USA Today found that the UO has an “extreme” concentration of men’s football and basketball players majoring in political science. The UO’s political science program allows “self-directed” courses, which have been a subject of athletic department abuse at other universities.

Critics also charged that lower admission standards for football players unfairly take class spots from more qualified students.

Big football SAT gaps “call into question the lengths to which schools will go to win,” the AJC reported. The paper wrote, “Five of the last seven public universities to win college football’s national championship ranked among the study’s bottom 20 in football SAT scores.” —Alan Pittman

 

NORMA GRIER STEPS DOWN

NCAP’S Norma Grier

Executive Director Norma Grier of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) retired at the end of 2009, but she will stay on as a consultant for the first six months of 2009 while the organization transitions to a new executive director, according to NCAP’s Communications Coordinator Aria Seligmann. 

NCAP works on pesticide reform programs in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California, and for 27 years published national magazines including The Journal of Pesticide Reform. 

Grier was one of the initial founders of NCAP 31 years ago. She became interested in pesticide reform while living in a forested watershed in Douglas County in the mid-1970s, says Seligmann. “During that time, Northwest lumber companies learned they could grow tree crops faster if they sprayed pesticides, and they used the same herbicide as those used in Agent Orange: a mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. As more and more of Grier’s neighbors fell ill, she became touched by their stories and decided she needed to do something about pesticide spraying. She has been working on pesticide reform ever since.”

Grier’s three decades of pesticide reform work chronicle the story of pesticide use in the Northwest, as well as its reduction. More information is available at www.pesticide.org 

 

CITIZENS TO REPORT ON STATE OF CITY

The Eugene Mayor’s State of the City address was held this week (1/7). But it’s followed by the Citizens State of the City and County (CSCC) report at noon Monday, Jan. 12, at Harris Hall, 8th and Oak. Local activists will talk about “the critical issues of our time,” says environmental educator and activist Jan Spencer.

Spencer says the annual CSCC is an effort to “draw attention to the critical failures by the media, governments, business, educational institutions and nongovernmental organizations to address the fundamental causes of the ecological, energy and economic crises.”

Key issues will include regional food security, transportation, land use and  restorative forestry. Detailed information on the CSCC will be posted after Jan. 12 at www.sustaineugene.org



Aleta Miller will discuss how the city and county can cooperate to strengthen food security through relocalizing food production and  developing infrastructure for processing, storage and distribution. The CSCC report includes a proposal to use the Lane County Fairgrounds as a hub for a new initiative to help make our region’s food supply more self sufficient.

Blogger and activist Mark Robinowitz will talk about why federal, state, county and city governments want massive increases in highway funding to stimulate the economy, despite peak oil and peak traffic. He says our priorities should shift to road and bridge repair, upgrading regional rail service and preventing planned cuts in LTD bus service.

Robert Emmons, president of LandWatch Lane County, will describe the consequences of weak regulation, lack of enforcement and the state’s “Big Look” land use task force for city and county planning efforts

Samantha Chirillo of Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates will highlight how clearcutting, large-scale native public forest thinning and forest biomass extraction for electricity and liquid fuel would destabilize our climate and economy. 

Spencer will present a “letter from the future” that describes a 2025 scenario greatly benefited by timely region-wide policy changes in 2010. 

 

PEOPLE’S AGENDA FOR REAL CHANGE

The 2008 elections energized and mobilized millions of Americans to political action, but will most people now just sit back and wait for the Obama White House to “fix” our nation’s problems? Activists in Lane County have a better idea.

Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) is hosting a series of public forums “to help build popular momentum behind the progressive goals of President-elect Obama’s campaign,” according to Dan Goldrich of CALC’s Progressive Responses program. 

“Now that the election is over, it will take continued outreach, organizing and popular involvement — including pressure on Congress — to enact the progressive changes that brought Americans to

the polls to elect Barack Obama,” says Goldrich.

The first forum will be at 7 pm Thursday, Jan. 15, at Harris Hall, 8th and Oak in Eugene. The topic is “Afghanistan/Pakistan/India: Time for a New U.S. Peace Strategy.” Speakers will be Goldrich and Stan Taylor. LCC instructor Nadia Raza will be the moderator.

Following programs will be on globalization and immigration Jan. 24, “Removing the Nuclear Option” Feb. 4, and Guantanamo and torture Feb. 18. The series is expected to continue in March with presentations on climate change and other major issues.  

See more details in next week’s EW or check the calendar at www.calclane.org

 

WILL THE OBAMA ADMIN KILL FEWER ANIMALS?

Barack Obama isn’t in office yet, but the enviros are already lobbying his cabinet choices in an effort to undo some of the effects the Bush administration has had on lands and wildlife. On Jan. 2, a coalition of 115 groups, ranging from humane societies to environmental groups, faxed a letter to the President-elect’s appointee to be the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack asking that he put an end to the government slaughter of wild animals.

The secretary of agriculture heads the USDA, which develops and executes policy for farms, ranches and stockyards as well as some public lands. The USDA oversees a little known agency called Wildlife Services, also known as Wildlife Damage Management. According to the letter, Wildlife Services kills millions of animals a year “primarily on behalf of agribusiness.” 

Josh Laughlin of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands Project, one of the signatories of the letter, says, “It is long overdue that we take the cloak off of the ill-named Wildlife Services.” He says that the agency “has been aggressively trapping, poisoning and gunning down America’s iconic wildlife for decades for the exclusive benefit of big industry.”

Wildlife Services spent $100 million in 2007 to kill, among other animals, 90,262 coyotes, 2,277 gray foxes, 2,412 red foxes, 2,090 bobcats, 1,133 cats, 552 dogs, 577 badgers and 340 gray wolves. Gray wolves have recently begun to make their way back into Oregon. They were eradicated from the western United States, primarily by government programs in the 1940s, and have only recently been taken off the endangered species list. 

The coalition, which includes CWP, Ranchers for Rural Responsibility, the Humane Society of the United States, Oregon Cougar Action Team and more than 100 others suggested the use of nonlethal solutions that the coalition says are both cheaper and more effective than killing. They suggested to Vilsack that funds be used to educate and aid farmers and ranchers in these nonlethal methods like using guard animals, penning livestock at night and other predator deterrents. They also asked Vilsack to end the grazing of domestic animals on public lands, another source of livestock-predator conflict.

Vilsack’s appointment has already met with protest from conservationists and activists who object to his support of genetically engineered crops and support of factory farming. — Camilla Mortensen

 

ACTIVIST ALERT

A town hall meeting with Sen. Vicki Walker and Reps. Chris Edwards and Nancy Nathanson will be at 6:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 8, at North Eugene High School Library, 200 Silver Lane. The elected officials are expected to talk about the upcoming session of the Legislature.

• Opponents of liquefied natural gas (LNG) met in Eugene Jan. 6 and 7 in advance of a “Rally for a Clean Energy Future for Oregon” planned from 11 am to 1 pm Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the Oregon State Capitol steps in Salem. Three LNG facilities are now being proposed in Oregon. The events are sponsored by Global Exchange, Rising Tide, the Sierra Club and the UO Survival Center. For information and transportation, call (866) 211-7335 or visit www.NoCaliforniaPipeline.com

• A community gathering to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy will be at 10 am Tuesday, Jan. 13, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Ave. in Eugene. MLK Day is Monday, Jan. 19, and most government offices will be closed. Speakers include Mark Molina, human rights chair of the Commission for the Advancement of Human Rights, and Carla Gary, assistant vice provost for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity at the UO.

 

NUDITY, GUNS, POLITICS & FOOD

Just when you thought you were done with end-of-the-year lists, we’ve got some more for you. Just what did Eugeneans (and anyone else surfing our website) decide the top stories of 2008 were?

Actually, as it turns out, according to our web guru’s results, the news is not the first thing people surf to when going to www.eugeneweekly.com The most visited site on EW’s webpage is the Chow! listings, followed by the Calendar, leading us to believe that Eugeneans are concerned first and foremost about where to go to eat, and second, what to do afterwards.

Our cover stories come in with the third highest amount of hits, followed by news stories. Movie reviews come in fifth and Swizzle, our annual nightlife guide, ties with letters to the editor in sixth place, showing Eugeneans deem the opinions of their fellow citizens as equally important to what to drink at night and who the sexiest bartenders are.

When it comes to the news, the story most surfed to in 2008 according to our web stats was “Back to Iraq” (5/22), the story of James Burmeister, a Eugene soldier who was court martialed and given a bad conduct discharge for going AWOL when he was unable to face killing Iraqi civilians. This story was picked up by a number of blogs and war protest websites across the country.

A Hard Look at Nude Eugene,” (6/5) brought in the second highest amount of readers. Eugeneans apparently appreciate having a guide to where to get naked. That issue, featuring naked Barbie and Ken on the cover, was also the most picked up copy of EW in 2008. (Or it was the most recycled, seeing as that several individual stores including a WinCo and Market of Choice on Franklin declined to display EW’s clothing-free edition.)

In third place is the Best of Eugene issue (10/30), because what’s more fun for Eugeneans than reading about how cool we are in Eugene? 

Lane County residents don’t just care about naked people and fun, we care about politics. Coming in fourth and sixth in popularity were our election endorsements for the general election (10/16) and the May primary (5/8).

The loss of the UO wrestling program (5/15) was the fifth place top story of the year, and seventh was “Downtown Parks Can Drive Development” (1/24).

Moving from local sports and parks to something a little more racy, the recent (12/4) “Bang Bang Shoot Shoot” ricochets into eighth.

The news page on June 6 was the ninth most visited of our stories. It features several stories, but our web guru thinks it’s the tribute to David Minor, a young bicyclist killed by a car, that people are reading.

Our top 10 is rounded out by another news page, this one is Aug. 3 edition, and we’re guessing it’s the story on accusations of anti-Semitism at UO’s Pacifica Forum that’s the draw. 

So there you go, nakedness and violence mixed in with a little love, politics and parks, that’s what EW readers wanted to read in ’08. Want to know what the top 10 blog posts were? You’ll have to go online for that at blogs.eugeneweekly.com  — Camilla Mortensen

 

CYCLISTS GEAR UP FOR NEW YEAR

Bike riders in the Eugene area started the new year off with Eugene’s Polar Bear Ride Jan. 1, meeting at Fifth Street Public Market and riding north for 20 miles and back. The annual event happens rain or shine. And a number of events involving biking and supporting alternative transportation are planned for January and the rest of

2009.

The city of Eugene is planning a River Road workshop from 3 to 5 pm and 6 to 8 pm Thursday, Jan. 15 at Trinity United Methodist Church at 440 Maxwell. The two sessions will focus on redesigning River Road to better accommodate bike traffic and connections to the bike path along the Willamette River. 

Planning efforts are also continuing this winter and spring on the Rasor Mixed Use Center, an area that includes River Road from Chambers to Hilliard Avenue, and property on the east side of River Road to the river. The goal is to create a mixed use area with higher housing density options, and enhance preservation of the Willamette River Greenway. Commercial services may be included as a way to encourage more walking and biking in the area. See www.eugene-or.gov/rasorpark for more information, or call the city Planning Division’s Ken Guzowski at 682-5562.

Across town in the south hills, Eugene transportation planners are working this winter on a collaborative process to identify options for new and improved bike and pedestrian traffic in the area. The Greater Eugene Area Riders (GEARs) is meeting with city staff, the Crest Drive Community Team, and people from five neighborhoods in the area. The plan is to identify problem areas and possible solutions for improving pedestrian and bicycle transportation.

Suggestions for alternative transportation improvements in all parts of Eugene can be logged at www.eugene-or.gov/pwprojects and workshops will be planned for later. The website also has a link to the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master

Plan.  

Coming up is an all-day 2009 Bike/Ped Summit at 9 am Saturday, Jan. 31, at South Eugene High School. The event is organized by Eugene’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will be there to lead a conversation regarding “support of active transportation as identified in the 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation for the Eugene/Springfield metropolitan area,” according to the GEARs website, www.eugenegears.org The national Rails-to-Trails group is organizing grassroots support for shifting more federal transportation dollars from highways to bike paths and walking trails. — Ted Taylor

 

WAR DEAD

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):

• 4,221 U.S. troops killed* (4,219)

• 30,920 U.S. troops injured* (30,904) 

• 167 U.S. military suicides* (167)

• 316 coalition troops killed** (316)

• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)

• 98,521 to 1.1 million civilians killed*** (98,413)

• $585.7 billion cost of war ($583.7 billion) 

• $166.6 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($165.9 million)

* through Jan. 5, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly

** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil

*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)

 

 

SLANT

Letters to Obama are coming in for next week’s issue, but there’s still room for more. Send to letters@eugeneweekly.com by 5 pm Friday, Jan. 9. What would you like to see, generally and/or specifically, from the Obama administration in the next few years? We will be bundling up copies of next week’s issue and mailing them to the White House just in time for the inauguration Jan. 20.

• On a related note, we’re pleased to see a growing interest by local people in working with and supporting the Obama transition team and administration. What a change from an eight-year focus on fighting the Bush administration! The Obama administration also needs to be held accountable, and one way to do that is for us as individuals to become educated on the issues and organize grassroots efforts for positive change. A good example is the upcoming public forums planned by Progressive Responses, a program of Community Alliance of Lane County. The first forum is Jan. 15. See “People’s Agenda” in News Briefs for details. 

The Archimedes Movement is meeting in Salem this week as we go to press, and on the agenda is trying to figure out how to get all the various groups and factions to find common ground in solving our health care crisis. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber is providing leadership in this effort, and it’s a monumental task. Obama has a plan for universal health insurance, Hillary Clinton has a plan, Sen. Ron Wyden has a plan, different state governors have different plans — just about everybody and her dog, and her dog’s vet, have a plan. 

One key to creating cheap and equitable health care for the 21st century is reining in the uber-powerful health insurance industry, but it’s a tricky business. Even the federal government’s Medicare program is administered in part by private insurance companies. Wyden wants to keep private insurance and just regulate the hell out of it. Kitzhaber is thinking Oregonians should have the Oregon Health Plan as an option to private insurance. Many physicians’ groups and individuals are calling for a single-payer plan, with private insurance still available for those who can afford it, or as a supplemental plan. 

The biggest problem with private health insurance is that it doesn’t just skim off the top; it takes a ravenous bite. Ross Perot calculates that about 35 percent of health care expense goes to private insurance companies. That’s higher than some other analyses, but all the estimates overshadow by at least 20 points the single-digit overhead of Medicare, Medicaid and the Oregon Health Plan. Our nation is spending about $2.3 trillion a year on health care, and it’s getting worse. Can we really afford to continue the waste, greed, corruption and injustice that pervades our current private health care system? 

The timing for change has never been better: reform-minded leadership moving into the White House; a more willing and committed Congress; a public outcry for substantive change; an economic crisis that demands broad cost-cutting measures; and innovative work on health care reform at the state and local level, demonstrating what can be done.   

To participate in the process, visit www.wecandobetter.org or call the Archimedes Movement offices at (503) 709-8574.

Battle of the clinics? The independent upstart Eugene Urgent Care is working to build up a nice and friendly clinic for walk-in medical care seven days a week at 13th and Patterson, a response to PeaceHealth closing its urgent care facilities at 12th and Willamette. PeaceHealth must be worried about the competition because we’re now seeing big color ads in the R-G for urgent care at RiverBend, a fine and large facility but inconveniently located in north Springfield, far from Eugene’s population center. We can’t help but cheer on the little guys.

• Makes us proud, and so sad, to read the cover review in the Jan. 4 New York Times Sunday book section. It’s about The Mercy Papers, a memoir by Robin Romm, who grew up in Eugene, went to South Eugene High School, and clearly has launched a brilliant writing career with two books and many short stories. Scribner published this “furious blaze of a book,” to quote the reviewer who gently recounts Romm’s story of her last three weeks with her mother, Jackie Romm, who lost her nine-year fight with cancer at age 56. Jackie was a tough, respected and often feared Eugene lawyer. This review suggests that her daughter is fiercely building on Jackie Romm’s strengths, this time in letters rather than law.  



SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, editor at eugeneweekly dot com

 

 

SEBASTIEN, ANAHID & ERIC BERTRAND

OF RATATOUILLE BISTRO AND CAFE

“It’s a family business,” says Eric Bertrand, proprietor and chef at Ratatouille on Willamette Street, a Parisian-style cafe where the food is vegetarian, organic, fresh and locally grown. “It’s about sustainability, a community goal in harmony with the earth,” Bertrand says. Raised in Aurignac, a village in the French Pyrenees where people grew their own food, Bertrand got started in restaurants at age 13 and had his own restaurant in downtown Toulouse by age 24. After an illness and five years of recovery in the Marquesas Islands, where he was adopted by a local tribe, Bertrand moved to San Francisco in 1992. He learned English and met his wife Anahid, an Armenian from Bulgaria and a confirmed vegetarian who was studying music at Sonoma State. Together they took over Sparks, a vegan eatery, and made it the top-rated vegetarian restaurant in the Bay Area. When Sebastien was born in 2005, they moved to Eugene. “I found Eugene when I was a flight attendant,” says Anahid, who now teaches music to children. Eric was executive chef for Sundance before opening Ratatouille in 2008. “We cook for the Sundance deli,” he notes. “We have their reserve wines and spectacular wine tastings once a month.”