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!