by Rob Booz
You know what happens when you give a bunch of chefs purple, alcohol-drenched slushies? I do, and I’m not telling you a damn thing.
New Orleans might be one of the most laid back, welcoming, and fun places that I have ever been to. It’s a good thing too: for one thing, this environment provides a good draw for overworked food professionals. For another, it makes the heavy topics that we tackled there slightly less daunting.
I was in New Orleans from October 23rd-25th, joined by approximately 300 other culinary world
professionals and luminaries, for the Chefs Collaborative National Summit. I’ve worked for Chefs Collaborative since January, beginning as an intern and eventually working as their Farmer-Chef Network Coordinator. Over the course of the summit we had plenary talks from people like Dana Cowin, editor of Food and Wine, Ken Cook on the upcoming Farm Bill, and the now legendary Joel Salatin. We gave praise to those like Gary Nabhan and gulf oystermen Sal and Al Sunseri at a wonderful awards dinner. We had panel discussions with Barry Estabrook on farm labor issues, heard from chefs like Tenney Flynn about using gulf seafood and eating invasive species as a way to control their populations, and chatted with board chair and chef Michael Leviton and farmer Will Harris about sourcing and using grass-fed beef. Then there were the demos: pig butchering at Domenica, lamb butchering at Cochon, and charcuterie-making at Emeril’s Delmonico, because in order to be more sustainable, many restaurants have to look at how to process whole (or at least larger) cuts of animals.
Even after all of that name-dropping, my list of activities and names is by no means exhaustive. This was a veritable meeting of the minds from all facets of the culinary world on how we can move the industry and our country in a more sustainable, more responsible direction. The energy was palpable, the testimonials inspiring. I don’t think that a single person went home without a personal mandate to influence change in a positive way. When you’re sitting with your peers among the splendor of the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, surrounded by trees covered in Spanish moss, sipping on Bloody Mary’s, being treated to a tasting menu from the city’s best chefs at the closing festivities, and farm worker Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokkalee Workers stands up to say that he feels like Cinderella at the ball but soon it’s time to go home, how could you possibly sit there and do nothing? Together as food workers, we can help make our communities the kind of places where people don’t have to be sick, overweight, underpaid, exploited, undernourished, and in constant peril.
If there is one thing to take away from New Orleans, it is that by working together towards a common goal, the industry can help to re-shape our world into a better place. And as Gastronomy students, we must remember: we are all part of this.