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New market manager may inspire new flavors

The new manager of a local market could change the way we eat.
Posted on Aug. 6, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Dining A La King

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The Maple City Market has a new manager.

This may not seem like big news. But it might be bigger than you think.

Kum Ng (pronounced “Come Ung” or just “N-G”) is the new manager of the natural food co-op at 314 S. Main St., Goshen.

He's been hired to oversee a small store that specializes in organic and bulk food, but also offers local produce. The store is a nonprofit with about 1,500 members who pay to get price breaks, but the store is open to anyone. It has more than $1 million in sales each year, but it's still a fraction of what other local grocery stores sell.

The board of the market found him in a national search to replace Richard Elmore, the last manager.

Ng doesn't live here yet. He's living in Madison, Wis., with his family and will commute to Goshen several days a week.

He has Chinese heritage and moved from Malaysia to the United States. He studied at the Indiana Institue of Technology and the University of Wisconsin. After returning to Malaysia for 12 years, he came back to the United States and started working as an apprentice chef.

He became a chef and has spent the last six years as a consultant, trainer and teacher. He has a book called Framework Cooking that outlines how to cook within the framework of a cuisine.

So why's he taking a job in Goshen?

He said he and the board of the store have a common vision. They want Maple City Market to have a bigger impact.

Everyone wants impact. Of course they want more sales.

But in this case, Ng wants to help change how people eat.

He wants them to think about what they're buying and eating.

A lot of people want that. Eating local, eating greener and seeking out organic food is trendy right now. People who never cared before now want something to be local and authentic.

Organic snack foods can make you fat as fast as Twinkies. But Ng understands how to promote healthy eating and good habits. The copy of the book he gave me isn't flashy, but has a lot of good information.

For the past 10 years, he's promoted by himself and now wants to do it in a community.

“Goshen is a small town, a small city, but has big potential,” he said.

He plans to introduce new items and offer classes. He wants to coach and teach, one bite at a time.

As a food columnist and restaurant critic, I think he's a kindred spirit. I want people to enjoy food, to find the best food. Often, that means fresh local foods or locally owned restaurants.

I try to think about eating healthy and do it some of the time. I have a lot more to learn. Maybe I can learn from him.

“If I can influence the public to change some eating habits, I have done the job,” he said.

Maple City Market is a good place from which to do that. It's been around more than 30 years. It has a staff of around 20. It offers items that for many years were impossible to find other places and still offers a broader range of organic items than most conventional grocery stores.

Its customers enjoy the bulk foods, but also the prepared soups, sandwiches and salads that are in the deli case. It bakes fresh bread and cookies.

The food isn't cheap, though I'd argue in many cases that it reflects the real cost of raising and selling food. That doesn't always include government-subsidized high fructose corn syrup.

It's not an easy process. As he and I talked outside the market last week, a woman pulled up in a vehicle and went inside. A child stayed in the vehicle, eating out of a McDonald's bag.

We've put our trust in major corporations who have industrialized food and focus on feeding us in ways that aren't always good for us.

Organic food isn't the automatic answer. And when the kids are hungry or money is tight, it can be difficult to think about the healthiest choices.

But a bag of potatoes, even organic ones, doesn't cost more than an order of fries or bag of chips. And it goes a lot farther.

Ng is just starting. It'll be a while until he moves his wife and two children here. But he's excited to be in a place where he can help others find answers to eating with an eye on nutrition and the environment.

“I feel I belong,” he said. “I found my destiny.”

I'm excited to see what flavors develop around his work at the market. And we'll see if he can influence how people eat in this part of the world.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5806, mking@etruth.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/diningalaking.




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