We’re All in This Together
Chefs and an array of food industry professionals gathered at The Chef’s Garden’s Culinary Vegetable Institute for two days of inspiration, education, camaraderie, food and plenty of laughter. Steady and abundant rain didn’t dampen the spirit of the event or hinder deep dives into the topics, issues and struggles facing our industry.
Lively panel discussions and an inspiring call-to-action message from keynote speaker Andrew Zimmern set the stage for an unforgettable gathering of forward-thinking, like-minded individuals dedicated to being caretakers of the future of food.
But . . . Seriously
While the carnival atmosphere was decidedly fun and amusing, the topics of discussion inside the tent were all business.
Zimmern, a four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer, traveler and teacher, discussed how science, education and initiative are fundamental to a successful and healthy food future.
“The exchange of ideas is what this is all about,” Zimmern said. “It’s not about one or two solutions. I think that’s ignorant. In our modern world, we have to tweak a lot of options. There are a thousand different approaches to the problem. We need science – new ways to grow food.”
As an anthropologist who has spent significant amounts of time embedded in cultures throughout the world, Zimmern also focused in on the importance of preserving fundamental and native food-ways throughout the world in order to preserve the elemental and cultural importance of shared meals.
“Food is the ultimate expression of the human experience,” he said. “I don’t think anything is as powerful as sharing a meal and breaking bread. If you start taking food away from people … that’s how revolutions start.”
Zimmern said he saw hope in the faces of Roots attendees and commended them for being “doers.” “I think we could take this group of people and literally do anything,” he said.
The Future of Food: Today’s Pressing Topics
Zimmern’s advocacy for indigenous peoples took a pendulum shift towards discussions about the “local food” movement and how buyers should beware of purveyors “greenwashing” their brands with unfounded claims.
Millennials, “Instagram moments” and dining as an experience were also common food-future threads in the comments of panelists addressing a number of subjects. Conversations revealed how the younger generations are establishing trends and shaping the future landscape of restaurant dining.
“Don’t underestimate the consumers of the future,” advised Farmer Lee Jones. “They’re smart, and they’re savvy.”
Taking care of customers gave way to self-care during a session on cultivating personal wellness in an often demanding and exhausting industry. The attitudes of today’s chefs lean more toward meditation than intimidation. Shouting, berating and hazing are things of the past in more and more kitchens.
“Your happiness is not determined by someone else’s opinion,” Chef Justin Carlisle of Ardent told the audience. “I’m responsible for my own happiness. Find your balance, or it can consume you.” Chef Justin said he tries to impress the self-care message on younger chefs who work in his kitchen, “so when they leave they can take their career on their own path.”
Dining preferences, trends, working with the media and the role of chain restaurants rounded out the sessions.
That’s What It’s All About
Chef Tony Dee of Landry’s called Roots “easily the best food event I’ve ever been to before.” He also had a direct message for Farmer Lee Jones.
“I have a lot of things I’d like to say to Farmer Lee, and all of them are different levels of thank you for everything you’ve done for myself personally, and also for our industry and also, too, for the culinary community as a whole,” Chef Tony said. “You’re a giant in it, and we’ve gotten a great view from your shoulders.”
Underground chef David Anthony Temple said, “I think being able to be around people who are as passionate as we are and having that support system of everyone working together was absolutely magical. And it was so much, so much fun.”
Sharing tips and tricks, renewing connections and running into old friends were added bonuses.
“I walked in, saw a couple of people I haven’t seen in years,” said Chef Matt McMillin of Cooper’s Hawk.
Chef Adam Moore also appreciated the personal perks of the conference. “Just the camaraderie with all the chefs, the educational piece, just being curious seeing what everyone was doing − it was just an absolute blast to be in the kitchen with all of these guys.”
Chef Jill Vedaa of Salt+, who was enjoying her first-ever Roots conference, called the event “a great learning experience because all of these people are here from all over the United States to speak on what is happening in this industry, and how to steer the narrative and to make it a better place.”
Chef Peter Barlow had a direct message for Farmer Lee about future Roots culinary conferences. “Don’t ever stop. Ever. Thanks Farmer!”
Of course, Roots wouldn’t be Roots without incredible food. Thank you to all of the participating chefs, including: Jamie Simpson, Dario Torres, Tristan Acevedo, Billy Buck, Justin Carlisle, John Clark, Adam Moore, Daniel Huebschmann, Gabe Kennedy, Brad Kilgore, Pat McElroy, Angus McIntosh, Yoda Olinyk, Bradford Thompson, Tony Dee, David Dickensauge, Maneet Chauhan, Richie Farina, Peter Barlow III, Melania Castegnaro, Vishwatej Nath, Cristal Gonzalez, Jeremy Umansky, Adam Wilson, Kashif Brown, Charlotte Voisey, Vance Henderson, Trevor Schneider, Jamie McFadden, Austin Beeman and Julie Spitzer.
Special thanks as well as the crew of student chefs from Lorain County JVS who assisted in the Roots kitchen.
We’ll Be Back
Roots will take a hiatus next year but will return in 2020. The next culinary conference will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, and planning is already in progress to come back even better than ever. It’s never too soon to start thinking of topic suggestions and ideas. So, keep ‘em coming!