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The Balance of "THE BEST" Food

That Real Real

So I often get asked (sorry for the blogger cliche here), "Should I be buying Organic?" "What about Local?" "Are they really better?" "Is it worth the price?" Over my career, as occurs with most people, my thinking has evolved and will continue to evolve on this topic but I'll share where my thinking is at the moment to hopefully add something to your thoughts on this.

Buy as local/organic/sustainable/fair-trade/fair-labor/b-corp/living-wage/etc. as you can comfortably afford. BUT at the end of the day, fresh food, cooked responsibly by you will always be better than processed foods, fast food, and in most cases restaurant food.

Do Your Best and Don't Judge. Yourself or Others...

Eat as good as you can afford but definitely don't think that cooking your own food isn't worth it if you can't buy "the best". It's always better than eating chemicals in processed food! These questions begin to delve into resources and how much you can comfortably spend on food, which can vary widely by individual. Everyone has to make their own call as to what they can and are willing to spend on buying food. I used to be a major champion of local food (and spent untold time, money and energy chasing/sourcing/procuring ingredients for our rotating menu at Six Plates to have consistently "the best" food I could offer) but I kept hearing the disappointment/sadness/shame in people's voices when they would ask "is local really worth the cost?" Because everyone has limited resources, I've updated my views. My main goal is to remove hindrances to cooking real, unprocessed food for everyone in order to make them more inclusive and welcoming to people no matter their level of resources. No one should feel bad (a hindrance to cooking) about their produce/meat/dairy choices because they can't afford to 'only buy local/organic" based on that some chef said "they should be/needed to be" that in order to make great food. Screw that! Real fruits, veggies, and proteins are better than ramen and Mickey-D's every day of the week. Period.

Always Improving, Never Perfect...

Like almost everything in cooking, there is a sliding scale where we can always refine. Just like Knife Skills, there is no perfect end that you are trying to get to. Just do as good as you can and keep an eye out for where you can comfortably improve your food. If you just start eating a salad or veggies instead of fries or chips as the side to your meal, great! If you just start buying the organic tomatoes to slowly dip in that direction, wonderful! If you can get all your food from local farms/farmer's markets, awesome! If you can know all your farmers for years (and maybe even get to the point that you invite them to your wedding -Hi Tim and Helga!), fantastic! If you can personally grow everything you eat, beautiful! If you can have multiple farms in all the temperature zones around the world and personally grow everything that you eat in the perfect conditions, unbelievable! No, really, I don't believe that last one cause you can't do it. You wouldn't have time. But I put that one in the list to illustrate that no matter how "great" you think you are with buying/sourcing your food, there will always be a step further so don't even try to "be perfect" (because you can't) with where your food comes from. Just do your best and above all, COOK AS MUCH OF YOUR FOOD AS YOU CAN!

Local = Better??

One note about quality and local foods: local may not be better in quality just because it's local. This is where knowing what to look for (Peak Varietal Characteristics or PVC) to objectively evaluate the quality of the fruit, vegetable, or protein comes into play. Truly learning about each different type of food and what to look for in order to select the best examples is one of the main focuses of my Essential Class 1, because PVC varies by each type of food and good food starts with buying good produce/meat. Buying local is fantastic from a community aspect, a conservation of resources aspect, and a lessening pollution aspect, but it doesn't guarantee that what you are buying is the best example of the fruit/veg/meat that they are selling; only that it's local. Typically it is a little better because smaller farms/farmers put more care into what they are growing because high quality product sells the best. This is their life blood, their income, and in most cases their passion too. Bless and Thank all Farmers everytime you eat anything!!!!!!!!! Sometimes small farm produced food may be smaller in size or not as pretty, but may still taste as good (or in most cases better) than anything you can get in a grocery store. Learning about how to select good food is essential to buying good food, local or not. This concept dips back into a balancing of values, where each individual person must decide where they are comfortable with concerning their balance of supporting local farmers vs. only buying "the best" food. Sometimes local food doesn't objectively exhibit the best peak varietal characteristics. Sometimes buying "the best" isn't worth it if you want to support your community more than you want to have "the best."


the “ugly food” movement

There is an "ugly food" movement that is growing to combat food waste through buying food that isn't perfectly shaped/sized and I'm all for it!! Sometimes they are called "Seconds" or "Grade B" just because they are not in perfect shape and size. These imperfect foods taste just as good (or better) than their big, beautiful, uniform siblings. I am about "the best for all, not just me" when I look at food. I hate food waste! I hate it simply because there are starving people all over the world (a topic for another time) and it feels shameful to simply toss out perfectly good resources because we are "too good to eat that". On that note, I love turning food waste into other things. All our food waste that comes from producing our food at Season to Taste goes to my chickens, Gloria and Lulu, to supplement their regular food! They really love pepper seeds and sweet potato peelings!! :) I try not to just talk the talk…

Fine? Dining

After spending the huge majority of my career in fine dining, I decided to step back from only making beautiful food because of (among other things) the inherent waste in fine dining. If you are only eating the best parts, what happens to the rest? Ideally it gets used, but I can tell you from personal experience, it does not! Those perfect slices of steak beautifully arranged with perfect fingerling potatoes and a few perfect leaves of baby sorrel on that plate are amazing to enjoy! But what happens to the ends of that steak, the not perfect potatoes/leaves that come in or turn slightly off-perfect before they get served? The steak usually gets eaten by the cooks or turned into family meals for the staff but so very often there is way more waste and not enough time to account for/use all of it. Especially if you are making a 150 person party on top of 200 people in the regular dining room and you have a staff of 10-15 in the kitchen. There is just too much not-perfect food being produced for the staff to eat all of it or have the time to save it in the moment. When I was at Six Plates, I consciously chose to not put only perfect food on the plate because I wasn't going to waste the not perfect parts; I just couldn't do it. I was able to to this because we took great care to not mess things up or let them go bad, didn't produce insane amounts because we were a small restaurant/kitchen, I knew many of the farmers and wasn't going to waste their effort, and because I chose to have slightly imperfect food (whatever that means) in order to waste as absolutely little as possible. That was my choice and everyone has to make theirs as to where they are comfortable with food waste. All that being said, I love and unbelievably respect Chefs, their craft, and the Art of Food (hell, I've devoted the majority of my life to this pursuit!) and am not trying to knock them down at all. And especially now, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANTS AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN OR THEY MAY NOT BE THERE IN A FEW MONTHS!!!!! But as a former restaurateur, I feel for everyone who is doing their best to make it through! I just want to give you a little food for thought when deciding about your daily food choices. I think the experience of true fine dining is soul filling and one of the best experiences you can have, but like with all things, needs to be taken in moderation and context to truly feel "good" about the experience all around.

Do Your Best

All that being said, the takeaway is simply do your best and try to keep improving where you can. This is the epitome of a "Chef Answer" because there are no simple, straightforward answers. Being a good chef (as we/you all are) requires critical thinking and balancing of trade-offs because nothing is perfect and everything involves a sacrifice somewhere. Just try to do your best, improve and grow when/where ever you can. And ultimately all that matters is are you happy with what's on your plate? I certainly hope that all my ramblings help you feel happier with whatever you put on your plate!!

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