Fishing For Change
Star chefs lend a hand to the Aquarium's celebration of sustainable eating.
Thursday, May 23, 2002
Photo by Catherine Coburn; Get Fresh: Tony Baker of Montrio and Alice Waters of Berkeley''s Chez Panisse joined other chefs at the Aquarium to sing the praises of healthy cuisine that won''t break the ecosystem.
Study Eric Schlosser''s intensely researched best-seller>, Fast Food Nation, and you''ll get an idea about just how insidious and far-reaching are the ways in which much of the food that we eat is produced and consumed. Those are costs that are exacted on our health, and the health of our environment.
The good news is that there is a groundswell poised to change all that. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium''s three-day higher-consciousness culinary marathon proved it.
"Cooking For Solutions" brought out some of contemporary cuisine''s glittering stars: Alice Waters, Rick Bayless, Deborah Madison, Susan Spicer, Jim Dodge, Rick Moonen and many more chefs and winemakers who preach and practice environmental sustainability in their restaurants, wineries and businesses.
The event was the brainstorm of the Aquarium''s Ginger Hopkins.
"It started with the Seafood Watch program," Hopkins says, citing the wallet-card campaign that provides information consumers can use to make ecologically responsible choices.
Jennifer Dianto heads up the program. "The cards are tailored to specific kinds of seafood found regionally at restaurants and markets throughout the country," says Dianto, pointing out that there are 58 varieties of fish that consumers on the West Coast can enjoy in good conscience.
"Then we got the idea of hosting this event," Hopkins says. The result was a festival that included live cooking demos, celebrity book signings, and information panels made up of fishermen, farmers, and winemakers, celebrating sustainability as the way of the future.
This first-of-its-kind gala offered the chance to visit with chefs that have become household names. The last time I got to speak with Alice Waters, it was when she was visiting the Carmel River School, contributing her enthusiasm and advice to parents, teachers and kids who were interested in expanding the school''s garden to make it part of their school lunch program.
"It''s amazing what''s happening right now," Waters said. The Edible Schoolyard program that she began several years ago around the corner from her landmark restaurant, Chez Panisse, is a resounding success story. "It''s very likely that the city of Berkeley is going to allow us to put it in every school-all 17! That''s about 12,000 kids."
Waters is also active in a group known as the Chefs Collaborative, an organization that has about 1,000 members nationwide. Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy Restaurant in New York City and president of the Collaborative, was on hand to explain what his group is all about.
"We get information out to chefs about sustainable cuisine, so that not only they can make better choices, but they can then pass the information on to consumers."
A lot of a chef''s job is to watch the bottom line and keep food cost under control. "And what we''re seeing is that as the demand for better produced products gets out there, the more we''re going to see prices come down, whether we''re talking about organic produce or local meats.
"I used to have to get stuff Fed-Exed into New York City. Now there are trucks that bring us the stuff every week," Hoffman said. "I don''t think it''s more expensive to be sustainable. What you''re really seeing is the true cost of food. We pick up the cost when we end up with cancer or diabetes, or when our waters are foul, or when our kids are obese."
Rick Bayless, the Cooking Network''s wizard of regional Mexican cuisine, is also ardently involved in the Collaborative''s mission. "We''re trying to get our message across to chefs, to provide them with support, and a network so that they can make their own educated choices," he says.
As it turns out, it was the tenacious interest of our own community of local chefs that inspired the concept that became Cooking For Solutions.
"We couldn''t have done it without the local chefs," Dianto says. "People like Tony Baker from Montrio, and Ted and Cindy Walter from Passionfish. They have literally gone above and beyond the call of duty, made changes to their menus, done their own background research, and trained their staff to know how to answer questions from consumers. So many of our local chefs who participated are taking this tremendous step."
And it''s a step, we may all agree, taken in the right direction.