Not surprisingly, then, no matter what topic was being discussed, the notion of authenticity kept cropping up. Often, the word itself was used; other times, the underlying concept was discussed without the need to even speak the word.
As just one example, panelists talked about greenwashing, a practice in which manufacturers, advertisers and so forth make claims that certain foods are sustainably produced, all-natural, environmentally friendly and so forth – when this may not be true at all. People at Roots clearly recognized the need for genuine food labeling, marketing and more, which is at the core of being authentic. (Don’t worry. We’ll delve into greenwashing in more depth in another post.)
The more we thought about it, the more we recognized that the concept of authenticity has been at the heart of every single Roots culinary conference to date, and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that’s been the overarching theme of the entire history of this multi-year conference.
So, in this post, we thought we’d share just a couple of examples of how authenticity wove itself throughout Roots 2018, while also sharing relevant highlights from previous Roots conferences.
To start, we just have to share more about our keynote speaker.
Keeping It Real with Andrew Zimmern
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to hear Andrew Zimmern speak, in real time, then you know that he speaks from the heart, pushing superficiality to the side. He is authentic. Despite being a four-time James Beard Award winner, he still speaks about the value of remaining teachable and of the importance of remaining transparent. He is also passionate about food transparency, crucial as the number of people on the planet continues to increase (and, therefore, the amount of food needed continues to increase).
Zimmern has traveled to 173 countries to date (and, no, he doesn’t count being in an airport as a “visit”) and has spent time with 14 of the 22 protected tribes left in today’s world. He shared how transformative he has found travel to be and stressed the value of preserving native methods of food cultivation. He called food sharing the ultimate manifestation of the human experience, believing that nothing is as powerful as sharing a meal together.
You can read more about Zimmern’s straightforward talk in another blog post about this incredible television personality, writer and chef who has connected with people all around the globe. He personifies the definition that Harvard Business Review provides about authenticity, as they note how “Most people associate authenticity with being true to oneself — or ‘walking the talk.’ But there’s a problem with that association; it focuses on how you feel about yourself.”
Truly embracing authenticity, then, is something much more than our personal feelings. Instead, it reflects Zimmern’s lifestyle and the ethos of the entire Roots concept: “Authenticity,” the Harvard article continues, “is actually a relational behavior, not a self-centered one. Meaning that to be truly authentic, you must not only be comfortable with yourself, but must also comfortably connect with others.”
Now, here is what other panelists shared at Roots 2018.
Authenticity and Buying Local
The value of authenticity underpinned the entire panel discussion titled Cultivating a New Perspective on the Buy Local Movement, with the following people participating: Catherine Golding, Daniel Huebschmann, Matt Pearce and Farmer Lee Jones.
Issues explored included how guests continue to want more transparency about their food, including how and where it’s produced, how ethically it’s being produced, how environmentally sustainable it is, if it’s natural/clean – and they want to know about its quality. And, at the heart of it all, what does it really mean to buy local, and how important should that factor be when buying and eating food?
The panel agreed that it’s crucial to provide food that exists at the intersection of quality and sustainability . . . but what role does the locale play? Here are insights.
When we were preparing for Roots 2018, we chatted with Catherine Golding on the phone. She is the North America Business Development Manager of Meat & Livestock Australia and, on our call, Golding willingly dove right in to answer this question: If food is “local,” does that naturally mean it’s better, whether “better” is defined as having better quality or as being better for the environment?
The answer, Catherine explained, has been scientifically shown to be no. Transport isn’t the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint, or to the energy or water use in the product’s lifecycle. Scientists from the University of Toowoomba, the University of Arkansas, and the Queensland University of Technology explored the lifecycle of grass-fed beef and lamb from Australia – and what they’ve found is that the majority of energy and water use, and the majority of the carbon footprint takes place on farms and processing plants. In fact, more than 95 percent of the carbon footprint occurs before a product ever gets on trucks or boats.
So, to be environmentally sustainable in your food choices, stop looking at where your food comes from and focus on how it is being produced. You can find more about our conversation with Golding here.
As part of the Roots conversation, Farmer Lee Jones shared how two-thirds of the fields in The Chef’s Garden lie fallow as they farm in accord with nature, not relying upon use of chemicals. Matt Pearce, an Australian fifth-generation beef cattle grazier, shared how they keep one third of their land closed to livestock at any one time as part of their strategy to create a better habitat for grazing. He also focuses on putting systems in place to create a calm environment for the animals throughout all cycles of life, grass feeding them to the highest of standards.
Daniel Huebschmann, the corporate executive chef of Gibsons Restaurant Group, has found the use of grass-fed cattle to be “super successful” on his menus, and he trains his staff to understand the grading and quality of meat and to be able to authentically share that, as needed, with customers.
Roots 2017 Culinary Conference Highlight: Authentic Cuisine
At our Roots 2018 conference, the subject of what makes a cuisine authentic came up – as it likely does every time that two or more chefs get together to talk about the industry – and so we decided to share highlights from 2017 on that very topic.
In 2017, we had a panel that discussed how diaspora drives innovation, and that naturally led into how such migrations caused cuisines to evolve. At what point, then, does a meld of traditions cause a certain cuisine to no longer be authentic?
Chef Asha Gomez believes that, yes. Chefs should honor tradition, but innovative ones can’t be afraid of how food is evolving. This evolution, she pointed out, is happening every single day. For example, she makes fish pickle in a way that’s reminiscent of how her mother did in India. But, her mother had different fish available to her, so the dish has naturally evolved based upon available ingredients.
Chef JJ Johnson, meanwhile, shared his experiences creating Afro-Asian cuisine in Ghana. Originally, he didn’t even know what that was; upon reflection, he realized it was an authentic progression of culinary influences because of immigration.
Chef Carlo Lamagna believes that cuisine is really an accumulation of a chef’s experiences, and he doesn’t like to otherwise label a style of cooking. Andy Ricker believes authenticity in cuisine is in the eye of the beholder. He actually banished the word “authentic” (as well as “traditional”) from his menus, believing them to be loaded words. If a dish is authentic to you, then he believes it is authentic.
In 2016, chefs shared their thoughts on this subject in a panel titled Cooking Authentically: How Do You Translate A Cuisine Once Its Removed from Its Origin?
Roots 2016 Culinary Conference Highlight: Exploring Justice for All
The official theme in 2016 was empowerment, which naturally led to a discussion of justice. And, as we look back at our coverage of this topic, we realize how much it dovetails with what Harvard Business Review said about authenticity: to be truly authentic, you must not only be comfortable with yourself, but must also comfortably connect with others.
This ties in well with what Katherine Miller from the Chef Action Network (CAN) discussed in 2016 at Roots. CAN is a 501 c (3) non-profit organization that has “increased chef engagement on Capitol Hill and beyond in an effort to transform food policies across the country. CAN gives national chefs the tools and resources they need to become better advocates for issues affecting food policy, such as nutrition standards, sustainable seafood, food waste and more.”
Practically speaking, CAN connects individual chefs with causes that resonate well with them, and then provides the resources they need to serve effectively as advocates. As of 2016, 140 chefs had already gone through the program.
Also on this panel was Executive Chef Zane Holmquist from Stein Eriksen Lodge, who shared his involvement with Three Squares, Inc., a program that partners with an afterschool program in Salt Lake City to teach children about healthy food and otherwise provide them with food skills. Topics have ranged from making good food choices on a limited budget to food safety to how to scramble eggs.
Executive Chef Mourad Lahlou of Mourad & Aziza, meanwhile, advocates for restaurant sustainability, which includes a focus on sustaining people in the industry who aren’t making a living wage.
Authentic Sustainability at The Chef’s Garden
And, this is the perfect time to share our own philosophy of sustainability.
We are committed to practicing sustainable farming techniques. The foundation of this philosophy is our soil, which we are continually replenishing with nutrients that are depleted over time in order to produce the most nutritionally dense fresh vegetables possible. By replenishing our soil naturally and giving it the time it needs to do so, it delivers to us products of unrivaled quality and flavor.
We recognize and embrace traditional farming philosophies and techniques that have sustained our farmers for generations and since we recognize the profound importance of growing crops through a natural, environmentally friendly way, we are deeply committed to “growing vegetables slowly and gently, in full accord with nature.”
One of the ways that we revitalize our soil is to let it rest in fallow fields and by planting specific cover crops to enrich it with nutritionally-dense compost. Strong, healthy plants are able to naturally fend off weeds and insects which enables The Chef’s Garden to avoid the use of harmful pesticides and other chemicals that are commonly used by other farms to control them.
One analogy we use at the farm to explain conventional farming methods is to compare this to a mining process where soil is detrimentally depleted of vital nutrients and requires the introduction of damaging chemicals to rectify it. By implementing sustainable farming practices, we replenish our soil with vital, life-giving nutrients, resulting in hand-harvested fresh vegetables, microgreens, herbs, edible flowers and more packed with extraordinary flavor, optimal nutritional profiles and a long shelf-life.
The Chef’s Garden’s mission is to shape and redefine sustainable agriculture in our country by creating a template that will attract, inspire and retain young farmers. Through our own traditional farming practices and philosophy, we hope to encourage the next generation of farmers to value, protect and if necessary, restore America’s farmland in order to ensure that our fields continue to produce the safest, most nutritious and flavorful products possible. We hope that our legacy will be the establishment of a national farming model that ensures safe and sustainable growing practices that serve to protect and enrich the consumer for generations to come.