At one point in time, all I wanted to do was be a chef and work with the best ingredients and people. By the best, that meant the most unique or expensive ingredients and the most well-known chef. It was so fun to cook with truffles, or foie gras, and for some time I thought that that was worth more, even if it meant shipping in ingredients from all over the country.
My training taught me that people eat out because they want an experience they could not rival at home, and are therefore willing to pay top dollar for that experience. However, due to the dramatic economic change in our country and around the world, many of us have had to rethink how often we eat out.
Another awareness began to take foot around the same time. We began to ask, “From where does our food come?” In an unprecedented movement known as Slow Food, people began demanding to know what farm grew the spinach on their plates, whether the chicken is organic and free range, and was the beef grass-fed? How did this food get from the farm to my table? The concept of Slow Food is the antithesis of fast food; quality is not sacrificed for quantity, cooking should include fresh ingredients, take time, and serve as a social activity. The food we eat reflects upon how we value our environment, the farmers who feed us and the health of our community.
Chefs in even the smallest cities have latched onto the farm to table mentality because it is much more exciting to cook with fresh, seasonal, unique ingredients, rather than the standard Sysco fare. Unfortunately, it can also be expensive to eat out sustainably, as chefs and restaurant owners have to account for the higher food and distribution costs accumulated due to buying from a smaller farmer.
Fortunately, many St. Louisans are opting into the cost effective Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, such as the one Maude’s Market offers. And some folks are growing their own produce. These options allow eaters know the origins of their food while also saving money.
It is this opportunity that has lead to my dramatic turn in my career. It’s time to get back to the basics and empower ourselves through knowledge. Learning how to cook not only what’s in season, but in general, will help affect the changes we want to see in America’s food systems. That is my ultimate goal.
As the Head Chef at Maude’s Market, I have the opportunity to assist CSA members every week with this concept. It is highly innovative and useful to have a professionally trained chef work at a market with a CSA share. Maude’s Market customers have instant access to answers for any food-related questions. The Food Network has made millions of dollars using this concept, but places like Maude’s Market take it even further by making the recipes seasonal with the emphasis on sustainability and working within a local food shed.
As someone who has focused her career on food, I feel it is my responsibility to not only participate in the Slow Food movement but to teach people what I know about seasonal food so we can even out the playing field, so to speak. Chefs play an incredibly important role in developing relationships with local farmers and vendors. They provide a steady, reliable source of distribution so you’re patronage to establishments that specialize in local, seasonal food is worthwhile and important.
Saturday, September 10 was a perfect example of chefs showcasing local fare. Maude’s Market participated in the Art of Food, a fundraiser for Slow Food St. Louis celebrating local, seasonal food along with a silent auction to raise money. It was a true meeting of the minds and hearts who care for this cause.
You too can play a roll in supporting this important effort. It is time for a dramatic shift towards ‘inclusive cuisine’ — community-driven with active participation from individuals. In this world, everyone could make the meal they pay $15 for at a restaurant. In this world, families and neighbors would cook and create together while also supporting local food establishments and farmers.
This Thursday the 29th at 10am you can participate in a seasonal cooking demonstration at Thomas Dunn. For $10, you can learn to cook a simple, delicious and healthy dish using local, seasonal ingredients and we will conclude the demonstration with a tasting. If you can’t make this week’s demonstration we will host another cooking class at Thomas Dunn on Saturday, November 19, click here for more details.
I look forward to seeing you there!