Hopefully you, Chef.
It’s no surprise that chefs have long been viewed as educators. Chefs share their knowledge of the terroir with those in the kitchen, and expose customers to new flavors and ingredients that would be otherwise unknown. And in this new era of the “celebrity chef,” the public spotlight on the chef is bigger and better than ever. The once private, unseen world of the commercial kitchen has now become front-and-center among critics and would-be critics alike. In today’s world, what chefs do both in and out of the kitchen is watched and scrutinized, which means that cooking good food is no longer enough—it must be sourced responsibly.
Recently I had the pleasure to listen to Daniel Asher (of Edible Beats and the upcoming River and Woods in Boulder), Alex Seidel (of Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provision) and Kyle Mendenhall (formerly of The Kitchen) during TastyTalks at the 3rd Annual BrüFrou event. Freshly returned from the Chef’s Collaborative Summit in New York City, the chefs shared the findings of a recent study which analyzed how the decisions that chefs make affect local communities. Chefs are able to seriously impact the food system in your area. For example, in the past 10-15 years, Denver, CO has seen tremendous growth in its food system. During a time when there was only one source of heritage breed pork, organizations like Cochon555 helped to raise awareness and education about these animals by building a substantial network of chefs. As demand for heritage breed pork grew, so did the amount of farmers ready to supply it.
Indeed, it’s about pushing the local food system to be better than it currently is, which means sourcing top quality ingredients and eating proteins from a background with a story that resonates. Since opening Fruition in 2007, Seidel has consistently sought the best quality ingredients, and that meant sometimes sourcing beyond local purveyors. (In 2009 Chef Seidel purchased a farm to learn more about animal husbandry and soil science composting.) These initiatives aren’t without their challenges, for maintaining an approachable menu price while still committing to one’s sustainability objectives is challenging. Consumers have been conditioned by dollar menus—in order to meet such a low price point cuts must be made elsewhere, like animal welfare. “We need to understand the true cost of food,” Asher says, “$12-$14 is the cost of an intelligent, mindful burger.” Education and awareness is key to change, and chefs can help push everyone to be better.
The Chef’s Collaborative is a national nonprofit network that connects hundreds of like-minded chefs and food professionals across the country who care about sourcing, cooking and serving better food. The organization firmly believes that these industry leaders are powerful change agents, and this culinary community can be a catalyst for creating positive change in our food system today. The Chef’s Collaborative offers online and in-person programming throughout the year like scholarships, and other learning opportunities on topics surrounding sustainable meat and seafood.