Having one of the most amazing, stressful, labor intensive, exciting weeks of my life this past week, I quiet myself, regroup and get even more clarity about the message of a plant based lifestyle I am so eager to share.
First though, I get the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams as a “progressive modern” chef. I am asked to be the feature chef of Conscious Bite Out, a monthly dinner held at Sacred Space whose philosophy encompasses all of my beliefs: stay local, educate guests to make better food choices, encourage healthier options in restaurants and most of all, they bring awareness to our future generation by donating to Edible Garden Schoolyard Projects.
This dream of feeding guests, in a formal dining experience, the absolute maximum nutrient dense flavor profiles that nature has to offer is something I have not been able to explore up until this point. I honestly put the idea on the back burner and told myself that it is going to wait until I launch my own concept here in Miami.
Well, wouldn’t you know, one of the founders of Conscious Bite Out, happened to be at a tasting that I did and gave me the honor of leading this last event of the season before the Sacred Space undergoes renovations for the summer.
I didn’t tip toe around my ultimate motivation to nourish my guests and chose “superfoods” as my theme. I took things like fresh local bee pollen, goji berries, coconut, raw chocolate and an abundance of nutrient dense-local-organic fruits, vegetables and grains that most people do not even know exist and made them the star of the show.
This casual/upscale event started with an hour of passed hors d’ouevres; coconut and mamey with cilantro, Jamaican jerk roasted boniato with nutty local honey, small spoons of quinoa with sweet potato and maple toasted pecans, bok choy and pineapple skewers with tahini and toasted cashews.
Jordan, a good friend of mine, came to the event representing Whole Foods South Beach, who also donated most of the dry goods. He was juicing shots of ginger, cucumber, mint, etc, and coating the rim in honey and the most buttery bee pollen you will ever taste, also donated by a local bee keeper.
The 65 total guests then were seated in a separate room minimally decorated with white candles and just golden light illuminating from the floor. I started with a bee pollen salad. Just when you thought it was only good in smoothies or on top of yogurt. This amazing, complete protein was put into a dressing with sesame and lemon and then coated onto the mango turmeric paint on the plate. red and golden beets, swiss chard and pickled mango were also there to accent the flavor.
Next course: White corn and zucchini cake with pistachios and a superberry “crema” Organic corn being in season here now influenced this concoction. For the “crema” I started with cashews and mamey as a base and rehydrated gojis and mulberries.
Entrée: Lentil arancini, tomato broth, jalapeno “butter” and roasted rainbow carrots The broth was reminiscent of where my heart lies, in the North End of Boston, and the lentils were like a rich stew of mushrooms, vegetables and herbs.
Dessert: I decided to do a “semifreddo” duo: Chocolate hazelnut with salty hempseeds and strawberry guava. Jaboticaba is also at peak season here now so I made a caramel with this deep purple exotic tasting fruit to drizzle around the plate.
I came out to talk to the diners and express how blessed I felt to be feeding them in this way and also some Q+A about the meal they just experienced. I hit them with so many flavors, textures and most likely added on a year or two to their life along with a boost in their libido for that night to say the least. The look in their faces and overwhelming gratitude that they expressed fueled my motivation all the more to continue this journey.
After an event like this, the “Progressive Modern Chef” in me is left with this question, “What has happened to a guest’s perception when they dine out and what is my role as a chef that is feeding them?”
Most people lose sight of our most predominant survival instinct and why they are eating and more about what kind of emotions they will feel when experiencing their favorite flavor or texture or even the thrill of who the name is behind the restaurant and, in Miami, the celeb they are sitting next to. This I could shout from the rooftops and at the same time would be frowned upon by my fellow chefs making a killing off of their patrons lost instinct to nourish their bodies.
Hey, don’t get me wrong, no one respects the history of food and the many cuisines as a chef does and I will forever refer to those that came before me for the technique, execution and passion that they demonstrate. But, the bottom line is that chefs are feeders. That’s what we do. We feed people in many ways. Casual “grab and go” ways, “fancy” ways, in ways that people will never forget as it is what molds many, many traditional celebrations. No matter what caliber you are at or what recognition you have gotten, if you are a chef, you feed people. Period.
When a therapist provides services to a patient, the results of their work will show after some time, No? If they are misdiagnosing them and keeping them on medication to keep the money rolling in and the patient inevitably is taken for a ride, what kind of therapist are they? Although the person can surely make the decision to not listen to the therapist and walk away if they know what’s best for them, is it still ok to take advantage of their distorted perception and falling to manipulation?
Same goes for a chef. If I go to eat at your restaurant on a regular basis, eat your food and then end up overweight, diabetic and full of dietary disease, who is to blame? What if I just go sometimes and just get a little sick each time whether I know it or not?
I know, I may be a little harsh here, especially on these chefs running French bistros and diners and what not that may not have two micro-nutrients to rub together, but I am making a point based on my own awakening. I was not taught this, necessarily led this way in any one conversation, it is a strong intuition that pushes me to bring this awareness to chefs and anyone that dines out.
This country has a serious “eating” problem. You can blame the media and advertising that manipulates kids while they watch their Sunday morning cartoons all you want, but as a chef, what can we do to contribute to slimming down this obesity epidemic and educating not only our guests but our peers on what foods will benefit them most and which ones may be killing them slowly? Let’s put our cost sheets down for a second and put some morality behind what is on the shelves in our store rooms and walk-ins.
I have a lot of love for the restaurant business and even more love for those that not only dine and keep me employed but look up to us chefs like we are God sends, admiring our talent and constantly patting us on the back. I say, it’s time to give back and maybe in an anonymous way. A sincerely good deed is left unsaid. If we pay attention to what we are serving, the guests are more inclined to be aware. Awareness like this on a global level will reshape the entire food industry and more importantly our ever increasing “eating” problem.