Saturday, October 13, 2012

SOUPSTOCK: STOP THE MEGA QUARRY


Through a Chefs Collaborative connection I was recently invited by the Canadian Chefs Congress and Chef Michael Stadtländer to attend Soup Stock on Sunday October 21, 2012 in Toronto.

I will admit that although I had heard of this proposed quarry I did not know much about the details and the possible destruction it could cause. The quarry would be the 2nd largest quarry in North America .

The Highland Companies’ has proposed a massive limestone Mega-Quarry in Melancthon Township, 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

Backed by a $25-billion Boston MA Based hedge fund, Highland proposes to blast a pit deeper than Niagara Falls from beneath a landscape of great agricultural, cultural and ecological importance.

The Mega-Quarry would permanently destroy more than 2,300 acres of the best farmland in Ontario. It would also require 600-million litres of water to be pumped out of the pit each day — in perpetuity. This water is used by up to one million Ontarians downstream.

In September 2011, after months of public outcry and media scrutiny, the Ontario government ordered that a provincial Environmental Assessment be undertaken of the proposed Mega-Quarry. This would be the first-ever Environmental Assessment of a quarry operation in the province’s history.

The province now awaits confirmation from Highland Companies whether they wish to participate in an Environmental Assessment, or to abandon the controversial project.

The Canadian Chefs’ Congress, David Suzuki Foundation and countless tireless organizers, local farmers and supporters continue to demand that the proposal be rejected outright.

So I'm sure your wondering why my involvement and I too thought about the invitation when I received it and if my voice and participation was something that could help make a difference.

To be fair I studied both sides of the story. And I have always been a huge believer that there are 3 sides to every story, with the third typically being the most accurate.

 The Highland Company has prepared several documents backing their claim that the impact of the quarry would be minimal to none based on their plans. They claim the economic impact on the area would be beneficial to the area and would create more income to the local community than the local farmland currently does. And by reading their web site, I admit that they seem to be saying the right things.

Both sides of the story seemed to have valid points and positive impacts on the community and I encourage you to read as much as you can about this as I think you will come to the same conclusion I did and understand why I decided to support and attend soupstock and back the fight against the mega quarry.

The one thing that struck me right in the face was the fact that this proposed mega quarry is not sustainable. Meaning that once the limestone is gone, so is the quarry. And so are the farms that currently are a source of income for many families, so is the source of food that many Canadians rely upon. Gone are the opportunities that allow chefs to create local food from local resources and gone are the recreation areas that we as humans rely upon to stay connected to our planet.

Also, due to the magnitude of the proposed excavation, and the fact that it lays directly in a highly sensitive water recharge area, any miscalculation, oversight or other error could result in an environmental catastrophe of enormous proportions. Which the Highland Companies can not guarantee will not happen. The proposed quarry site is situated on prime agricultural land, to be excavated invasively 200 feet below the water table in the midst of the headwaters for a number of significant river systems that serve a large portion of Ontario’s population.


As a chef who has focused much of my career on sourcing from my local farms and waters, I ask myself if this was a proposal that would impact my community and my relationships with those that grow the food that feeds us, I know I would be the first in line in opposition of such a proposal. I thought about the Canadian chefs and their connections with the farms in harms way and understand the fear they have about loosing a major part if not the most important part, the source of a food system and the impact it will have through the entire chain.

I am not against hedge funds and the thought of investing my money to watch it grow, in fact if I'm ever in a position that I can invest in a business through a hedge fund and make millions, hell count me in. I too am after the American dream, right? But I will also think about the investments and the business that could harm people. I've said this many times, I truly don't consider myself an enviornmentalist or tree hugger in any essence of the term. But I do consider myself a peopelist , a person who cares about people, especially those that allow me to feed those willing to pay for my food. I am a cook who appreciates the food I use and respect the food I use more than many in my field. I care about being able to continue to cook local food and share this with my cooks and guests for as long as I can hold a pan, therefore I understand why this mega quarry is the center of opposition for Canadians especially those in the food service industry. I understand the impact it can have on the enviornment and respect that side of the story as well.

But as mentioned I cook...so I am proud to support Canadian Chefs and hope that my voice is heard here in Boston....that just because a Boston company is supporting this, doesn't mean a Boston chef does. And hope you will consider sending the same message to the Highland Companies... respect the land that feeds us, respect the families you are putting in jeopardy, respect the food and water system that may not impact you directly but will impact millions of North Americans.

I have an idea...lets invest in a restaurant group that is easily able to be duplicated in markets across North America. The concept..Regional Cuisine that supports local farms, ranchers and fisherman and makes a positive impact on the food system that only a large company with massive amounts of buying power can cause. We will support large farms, small farms and those looking to make an impact on a sustainable food system. Lets work together to regain control of a food system that is in need of repair. And I know whats important to the investors, money. I assure you there is money to be made without impacting the land that feeds us.

So I will make the trip on Sunday October 21, and serve soup at soup stock in Woodbine Park in Toronto, side by side with Chef Michael Stadtl√§nder and 200 of Canada’s best, including Jamie Kennedy, Anthony Walsh and John Higgins, who will concoct original soup creations to celebrate the Melancthon region’s rich agricultural, cultural and natural history. top chefs. I'm proud to show my support, but more excited and to me more important, to meet and learn first hand about the people and culinary community of our Northern neighbors in jeopardy of loosing the land that feeds them.


“We want Torontonians to join us for an epic event in support of stopping the Mega-Quarry,” said Chef Michael Stadtlander. Well Chef...I hope you don't mind a Bostonian in the mix.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Chefs Collaborative Flavors Of A Foodshed : Seattle Recap

This year Seattle played host to the 2012 Chefs Collaborative National Summit and killed it! Fisherman, Farmers, Chefs and Restauranteurs from around the city opened their "homes" or as we know it... ranches, farms ,oceans, rivers, restaurants, kitchens and drinking establishments to show off and show us what the gateway to Alaska has to offer our countries culinary community from both a culinary perspective and a sustainable perspective.And if ever a place to hold a sustainable food summit, Seattle is it, since it has literally become a hub for "green" industry and a model for sustainable development.

The schedule of presenters and panel discussions were filled with some of the countries heavy hitters in our industry. Tom Douglas & Ruth Reichl started us off with their accounts and "oh shit!" moments of our industry loosing focus on where our food really comes from and how we can be major part of restoring Americas food systems. Rowan Jacobson and Michael Leviton made sure that we were focused every step of the way with the Chefs Collaborative Mission , Principles & Vision.

The breakout sessions were all incredibly informative and that made it difficult to choose only 4 out of 14 to attend. Everything from learning how to use heritage grains, Bruce Aidells taught us what to do with goats from its liver to meat. James Beard nominated author and journeyman meat cutter Kari Underly, led a demo on modern day meat cutting among other great discussions on the first morning of the Summit. The afternoon sessions included panels on sustainable food sourcing and what that means to food cost, Marine Stewardship Council helped us trust in the ever changing and confusing seafood certifications and we went Beyond The Restaurant to tackle real food system reform, and how we as chefs are crucial in changing the way Americans eat.

Barton Seaver gave one of the highlight speeches of the event where he talked about fisheries sustainability and made it clear that we need to include the human element ..the fisherman.


Don't think for a minute this was all business though, it never is when 300 food service professionals get together in an area with some of the most amazing local food and drink on the planet! The discussions and debates overflowed into classic cocktail bars where one of the countries ( yes the entire USA) most respected bartender mixes drinks using only his taste buds and memory.  We talked about sustainable seafood over a true Pacific Northwest representation of what this lands local farmers and fisherman have to offer and made it a point to eat way more than was needed in order to spend time together as chefs....eating, drinking  and relaxing together...something we just don't get to do enough.
I flew back to Boston on a red eye Tuesday night, never once experiencing a drop of rain. In fact we had weather more reminiscent of a warm spring day in Boston with clear skies and temperatures in the mid 70's.
My body dehydrted from forgetting to drink water in between absinthe shots, my stomach not able to take any more food, filled with everything from chinatowns hottest dim sum  including beef tendon, pig stomach and shrimp and cilantro dumplings that rival the best in the country. The local flavors including heirloom grains, marrow bones, pig ears and late summer veggies were all just plain delicious and the local brew was flowing non stop at many of the local meet and greets and receptions hosted by the cities finest chefs.

As I drove to the airport directly following a memorable meal in the beautiful private dining room at Emmer & Rye, with guests whom I was humbled to be breaking bread with ( I believe these were some of the most influential industry professionals in the country today) the message to me was clear...

PEOPLE & RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT (OFTEN FORGOTTEN) KEYS TO A SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM. In our confused efforts over the years since we realized that we all had to do our part in an effort to have a responsible and sustainable food system, we lost focus on one of the most important elements of achieving our goals. People....

We have long focused on the environment and the animals, but forgot about the people responsible for the land and products we crave. We forgot about our own sustainability, the fact that we need to also run a business in order to have an outlet for the products we so wish to continue to serve. We forgot about the "other" fish in the sea that can help relieve the pressure of the declining stocks and keep the fisherman fishing in a time when they, the people in the entire fishing chain are suffering more than they ever have. We forgot about rewarding those people for doing the right thing or honestly doing the best they can while they still, like us, need to put food on the table at their homes.

We need to remember that we can make decisions that might be "red listed" as long as we know why those decisions impact the sustainable food system in a positive way. We have to remember we can and will break the rules sometimes and not always be 100% proud of all of our decisions because we too have to sustain in order to be sustainable. We have to remember that relationships are the foundation to a transparent food system and without building trust and confidence in our relationships, we will never have the confidence to ask the questions in order to truly know & even more important, understand where our food comes from and be able to accurately tell the amazing stories that are associated with the food we serve our guests.

See you in South Carolina!