By Nancy Smorch
I came across this series of interviews between one of my heroes, Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley California, and someone new to me, Carlo Mirarchi, founder of two restaurants in Brooklyn (Roberto’s and Blanca).
If you’re looking for a little inspiration in terms of food, cooking, or farming, then take a few moments to watch this series of 6 two-minute videos.
Alice Waters basically started the whole farm-to-table movement. When she started her restaurant in 1971, she decided to include, on the menu, the names of the farms that the food came from. She realized that without the farmers and the attention that they gave their “crops,” she wouldn’t have the key ingredients to the dishes she and her chefs prepared for their patrons at the restaurant. She wanted to give them credit, and wanted people to have a better understanding of the connection between what they were eating and where it came from.
She also started a program of school gardens where schools would get their students involved in starting and nurturing a garden and then using that food from the garden to prepare meals. It’s a program that has since been modeled across the country. She understood, years ago, that by getting the kids involved in where their food comes from, it would give them a feeling of ownership and empowerment.
Carlo Mirarchi, as I mentioned, is new to me, but just as much an inspiration. He started two restaurants in Brooklyn, and wasn’t happy with the quality of the ingredients he had access to for his menu, so he decided to start a garden on the roof of his restaurants. It was quite a process for one of the gardens - hoisting everything up 25 flights, soil and all - but he did it, and pays careful attention to the nurturing and growth of the food.
Both Carlo and Alice agree that you should cook with the seasons, a big theme the last couple of weeks for me. Tomatoes have a small window in the summer time, and while they are here, you incorporate them into your menu and you thoroughly enjoy the perfection of them. Then they are out of season, poof. Some may see that as unfortunate and sad, but this just makes you appreciate them that much more when they are in season. And, when they are out of season, it forces you to look at the other foods available, and makes you appreciate them as well.
Quite honestly, just the other day I was thinking that it had been a long time since I had had a fresh, great-tasting tomato. In fact, we just went to a luncheon the other day where they had a tomato and some cucumbers with some hummus as an appetizer, and I didn’t eat the tomato because I knew that it wouldn’t taste good, and chances are, it was genetically modified. Thinking about tomatoes, however, did remind me that I had canned a bunch of tomatoes this summer, so I pulled some out last night and made a delicious tomato sauce with fried polenta and pasta! I'm so grateful that I took the time to can some of our bumper crop of tomatoes this year - SO GOOD!
Watching these short interviews reminded me, again, of how important long-term vision is. In our world of instant gratification, it has become a bit of a challenge to maintain a long-term vision for things such as growing food in a way that is conducive to the immediate and future health of our land and the environment, and for those eating the food.
We tend to look at people like Alice Waters and Carlo Mirarchi and think, “That’s so cool what they did. I would love to do something like that.” But would we really be willing to delay the flow of revenue and hold true to the vision like these individuals did? Would we be willing to put the effort, time, resources into doing things the right way, even though it would mean that we wouldn’t get the recognition and cash flow right away?
It’s like the person who watches Prince or Santana play the guitar and they say, “I would love to play the guitar like that.” Would they really? Would they be willing to put the hours of practice that it takes or the hours of creativity and visualization and implementation that they put into learning the art of playing the guitar? Probably not. Most want the end result without the hard work and focus.
I just want to thank Alice and Carlo for being “trail blazers” and laying the groundwork and showing what is possible, and for sharing their vision and inspiration with the rest of the world. Thank you!