Slow Food Nation
Eco-friendly chefs take eating well to a whole new level
By Amy Zavatto
From west coast bastions of the organic movement to small farming communities in the heartland, diners around the country are becoming more aware that what we eat and where it comes from affects the world around us. This awakening comes thanks in part to green-minded chefs, who have become stewards of good food—good to eat, good for you, good for the environment, and good for the economy. With their farm-focused menus, eco-friendly practices, and strong ties to everyone from the farmer to the hungry diner, these foodie forerunners are the bright lighthouses who guide us to a land where a meal’s origins matter as much as how it tastes. Here are eight toque-wearing, torch-carrying culinary leaders, ready to inspire your appetite for carefully crafted cuisine.
John Stewart and Duskie Estes
Chefs and owners, Zazu and Bovolo
Sonoma county, CA
Husband-and-wife chef team John Stewart and Duskie Estes are less interested in what’s easily available than in what’s good and good for you. “We grow up to 30 percent of what we serve, and emphasize the local farmer,” says Estes. The committed environmentalist also uses whatever scraps she can’t compost as feed for their chickens, lays old cardboard boxes in the garden as a natural weed prevention, and uses sustainable practices to grow grapes for Zazu’s very own house wine. Stewart, on the other hand, focuses his attention on the multitude-of-patience task of creating salumi—cured, preserved pork, handmade in the Italian tradition. He uses only naturally-raised, free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free heritage breeds of pork, and the process (which he learned from Mario Batali) can take years. Recently Stewart and Estes went on a tour of butcher shops in Italy to learn more about the technique. At first, many of the old proprietors didn’t take the young American couple seriously—until John rolled up a sleeve and revealed his tattoo of a butcher’s eye view of a pig. “That was the pass code,” says Estes.
Chef and owner, Cookshop
New York City
It ain’t easy being green in a concrete jungle, especially one that slows down for no chef. Marc Meyer, though, is willing to step back and make sure his American/Mediterranean menu features sustainable ingredients and that the restaurant itself respects eco-friendly practices. He has outfitted Cookshop with bamboo furniture and a recycled wood-beam ceiling and stocked it with eco-friendly provisions, like straws made from cornstarch. He also tips his toque to local growers by featuring them front and center on his menu.
Chef and owner, Lilly’s
Kentucky is well known for its beautiful horses, its pure limestone water source, and the bourbon that is made from the latter. But ask anyone around Louisville, and they’d add one more thing to that list: Lilly’s. More than a source of delicious sustenance, Kathy Cary’s eclectic eatery is also a place of local-product pride. Having grown up on a nearby farm herself, Cary works directly with organic and sustainable Kentucky farmers—around 12 during peak season, including Duncan Farms, whose rabbit she crafts into croquettes drizzled with a sauce made from Woodford bourbon (there are almost 40 labels on the bar list). “I’m a firm believer in the dirt,” she says, “and planting the seeds and watching them grow.” With that in mind, she began Seed to Table in the early ’90s as a tribute to her farming grandmother and former sous chef, both of whom died within days of each other. Through the program, Cary teaches inner-city kids not only how to grow and cook their food, but also that what goes in the earth is as important as what goes into their bodies.
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