This is the interview with Chef Daniel Asher, about cooking and organic food, on Monday Night Radio. Monday Night Radio is an online (Internet-based) talk radio show where different experts are interviewed, and people around the world can listen via the Internet, and call in to talk with the expert, and ask them questions.
The Internet Patrol’s Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., is the host of Monday Night Radio.
This Monday Night Radio show with Daniel Asher was first aired on 8/30/10. In addition to reading the interview below, you can listen to the recorded show via iTunes – where you can also subscribe to the podcast of all of the recorded shows. Here is the iTunes link: http://www.MondayNightRadio.com/ref/MNR-iTunes.
Links to the guest’s website and book, if any, are at the end of the interview.
Male 1: You are listening to now you know; talk radio where you get to ask the questions. Call us now at 877-NYKRADIO.That’s 8776957234. And now here are your hosts, Anne Mitchell and Bryan McCullough.
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Bryan: Good afternoon. Good evening. Good night. How are you, Anne?
Anne: Oh, Bryan, I’m great. How are you?
Bryan: You know I have had a fabulous couple of days. I don’t mind telling you.
Anne: Well tell us about it.
Bryan: Well it’s the stupidest thing, and it’s something that I never thought that I would care about anymore, but we actually got a piano yesterday. I have just been eating this thing up. I haven’t played the piano in twenty years. We got it in the house, and all I can do is play this piano. It’s making me so happy and excited. That’s what I was doing two minutes before the show started. I was playing Jingle Bells on our piano.
Anne: Wow, it’s like Christmas in August.
Bryan: That’s right. My kids want me to work on the Christmas songs so hopefully I can have those in somewhat reasonable fashion by the time Christmas comes through. How are you? How has your week been?
Anne: My week has been really, really busy. We have some exciting new things that we have added to the show and the support around the show. So, we now have our very own facebook fan page. Let me tell you, that you actually have to jump through quite a few hoops in order to get a fan page that is in your name. But, we did it, so you can now find us on facebook at facebook.com/nowyouknow. How cool is that? There are discussions there about previous shows. So, you guys can join the discussion. You can interact with us on our facebook page. Of course you can also do that on our nowyouknowradio.com website.
Bryan: That’s very exciting. One thing that I love about knowing you, Anne, is that I feel in the social media arena that I always have to play catch-up with whatever is the latest and greatest thing. You always seem to be right on the very edge of it. So, I am very glad that I can pull on your expertise and you know how to do these things. I’ve just barely learned how to tweet. So, I’m glad that I have you.
Anne: Well thank you for reminding me to remind everyone about that too. You can submit questions to our guests through our twitter feed. It is @nowyouknowradio. Of course you can call in, and what’s that number, Bryan?
Bryan: That number is 877-NYKRADIO. That stands for Now You Know Radio. I don’t have the numbers written down in front of me. So, you are going to have to figure that out if you want to call in.
Anne: You can also Skype in. You can go straight through the link on our site with your web browser. So there are all kinds of ways to connect with us. You can also lurk in our chat room. We see there are a couple of people in there already. That is also available from the website if you are coming in from the site, so, so many different ways to connect with us. Speaking of connecting with people let me introduce this week’s guest. He is a wonderful, wonderful chef. I know this from personal experience. I first met Chef Daniel Asher a few years ago at a restaurant where he was the head chef. It was an organic restaurant where he made just the most wonderful dishes including quite a few raw things. I asked him if he would come on the show and talk about those things that chefs talk about. So, please welcome Daniel Asher, the eco-chef.
Daniel: Hi how are you?
Anne: Oh, Daniel, I’m fine. How are you?
Daniel: I’m excellent. Thank you for having me on the show. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Anne: Thank you so much for being here. As I said, I first met you back at a restaurant called Organic Orbit. I believe you had just moved to the Boulder, Colorado area at that time. Is that correct?
Daniel: Yes, exactly. I had moved from Chicago. I needed the beauty of the mountains and a poetic back drop to enhance my creativity. That’s exactly what I got and it was a beautiful experience.
Anne: So tell us a little bit about your background.
Daniel: I was actually born in Montreal, Canada. I grew up outside of Chicago. I grew up in a family where food was a huge focus of our lives. My mom is extremely talented in the kitchen. She had two beautiful gardens around the house. Cooking was just a huge of our focus as a family. My dad worked a lot, all the time. He was kind of a work-aholic. He always would kind of focus and find his peace at the dinner table. So I learned at a young age that cooking is a really important thing to bring people together and have wonderful conversations and memories with. At the age of around seven years old, I was side by side with my mom in the kitchen on a step stool. She was teaching me how to prepare different foods. When I was around nine or ten I started making dinner for the family every now and then. I’d watch Julia Child and Jeff Smith after grade school. I’d have my little recipe books and I’d write notes in. I knew at a pretty young age what I wanted to do with myself, which was quite a blessing. It also ends up being my career path as well. It’s a beautiful thing.
Anne: That is a really cool story. So, I have to ask you, because you mentioned Julia Child, have you seen the movie Julie and Julia? If so, what did you think?
Daniel: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance yet. I’d like to very much. I’ve tried a couple of time. I haven’t been able to find the time. I’ve heard wonderful things about the film. I’d love to see it. She’s just an incredible inspiration on so many levels. So I’m sure it’d be great to see that film, definitely.
Anne: Well we already have…
Daniel: Have you?
Anne: I did see it. I’ve seen it three times. What I can tell you is that I would have loved to have seen a whole lot more of the Julia Child storyline and a whole lot less of the Julie Powell storyline. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were just absolutely fantastic in it. So let me ask you, we already have callers with questions for you, but can you just talk a little bit about what your general philosophy is and also your expertise? You call yourself the eco-chef. Tell us what that is about. Talk to us a little bit about your philosophy.
Daniel: Sure. I definitely have always been into cooking from a natural foods perspective. That’s how I grew up. That was my parents’ philosophy. We never had processed food in the house unless it was a special treat. Most things were homemade from scratch. When I went to school I had all sorts of little homemade sandwiches and even homemade potato chips, homemade cookies. My friends had Ruffles and Doritos and bologna sandwiches on white bread. I was lucky enough to be able to get really amazing wholesome foods prepared with a lot of love. That’s kind of what I always associated with being normal for people to eat. Then, when I became a professional chef and entered the restaurant world I saw all sorts of junk that restaurants were feeding people. It didn’t match up at all with my personal philosophies and I didn’t think it was appropriate to eat differently than what I was feeding people. Being a chef you have a certain role of nourishing people and it is a very specific responsibility. You need to know how to handle it properly. You can’t just grab whatever is around and cook it and throw it on a plate. There has to be some sort of consciousness involved and some sort of ethics. I am a huge believer in the organic foods movement, the local foods movement, connecting with local farmers. Finding seasonal items that are grown in local soil, from farmers, producers, and growers that care about what they are doing, preferably smaller operations as opposed to these large scale commercial farms. Because, it’s harder to stick to certain ideals the bigger an operation gets. I just think our food supply has become so horribly contaminated because of our need to eat quickly and eat conveniently. I think people are changing and philosophies are moving more, luckily, in a direction of sustainability and slowing down a little bit. Movies like Food, Inc., and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma are kind of helping to shift the consciousness to the more natural foods arena. When I was cooking natural foods ten or fifteen years ago when people didn’t even know what that meant. I said I don’t cook anything with chemical additives or preservatives. I don’t use foods that have been highly processed. I don’t use anything with high fructose corn syrup. At the time people didn’t even know what I was talking about but I knew what I was talking about. I knew people that cared and people that were already into these things appreciated it. It was just a matter of time before it evolved and became what now is this huge trend in the culinary world to be local, to be organic, and to be sustainable. The restaurant I am with now, Root Down, we have gardens surrounding the entire restaurant. I go outside with a pair of scissors and snip kale and squash blossoms and fresh herbs. Then I walk back inside the kitchen and throw them in a pan. It’s the greatest feeling. It’s the best way to connect with the local soil, by growing your own food and preparing it. Luckily, I’m blessed to be involved with a restaurant that has such a high level of integrity. The owner Justin Tucci (?) has such a philosophy of food and it’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of his kitchen team because my ideals don’t have to be in conflict with what we are doing. It’s completely in harmony. It’s great. It’s an absolutely wonderful environment. I think people really need to stop and think before they eat, before they even make a decision to eat, who’s going to prepare your food? Where does it come from? What was involved in the preparation of it? Because what we feed ourselves with and how we nourish our bodies dictates the course of our entire day. Whether we are content or stressed, a lot of that has to do with what nutrients we take in and what chemicals we consume. The better balanced our diet is, the better balanced our minds, bodies and spirits that are handling this crazy world that we are living in.
Anne: That really makes perfect sense. I have to tell you when you are talking about walking out into the garden and picking squash blossoms and kale you were making my mouth water. We have callers as I said. Let me just say please call in to ask Chef Asher a question. The number is 877-NYKRADIO, that’s 8776957234. Let’s go to Rob calling from California, from Silicon Valley, and Rob has a question for you.
Caller #1: Hi, Chef Asher.
Daniel: Hey, how are you?
Caller #1: I’m very good, thank you. My question is what is sustainable food and why should we care about it?
Daniel: Sustainable food. There are a number of different philosophies as far as what sustainable food involves. From my personal perspective, sustainable food involves contributing to a system, contributing to a network of sustainability where there is some level of thought and ethics every step of the way. From how individual ingredients are grown, if we are talking about animal proteins, how an animal has been treated, how spinach or corn has been grown, basically dealing with what is behind the farm, what is behind the person that started the farm. It starts with that decision. Who’s growing the food? Who’s growing the food leads to who’s harvesting the food? Where does it go from there? Where has it been raised? How far has it traveled to get to the dinner plate? Most food in our grocery stores, I think the statistic is travels an average of 1500 miles to get to the produce display. Whereas you’ve got some wonderful farmer’s markets, in every community there is a great farmer’s market depending on where you are at. Ultimately that should be what you are experimenting. There are some great stores that source foods within a certain radius. You’re always eating locally. You’re always eating seasonally. You’re supporting small farmers that enhance the soil as opposed to depleting it in these large agricultural farming operations that have hundreds of thousands of acres. It’s very challenging to maintain integrity with what you are growing. On that level, you are using all sorts of technology, you are using all sorts of fertilizers and chemicals to monitor crops and keep things consistent. Sustainability is creating a system where everything is returned in a circle. The whole concept of grass fed cattle, it’s a perfect ecosystem. The animals graze on the grass. It feeds them. It nourishes them. Then the soil is fertilized with their manure. Then more grass grows. You are not carting in grain that’s grown specifically to feed the cattle, that’s given to them and then their manure doesn’t do anything because they are sitting in these basically cement pens. Their manure has to be disposed of in a certain way that can contaminate other things down the way. It is basically having a harmonious ecosystem within the decision that you are making, either as a consumer or from a commercial standpoint in a restaurant. In my mind sustainability should be a part of everyone’s decision, whether it’s going out to eat or whether they’re brushing your teeth. You have to think what toothpaste am I using? What toothbrush am I using? Where did I shop to buy these products? Sustainability isn’t just about food. It’s about everything we do in our lives. Ultimately what we do should be in harmony with nature as opposed to fighting it.
Anne: Wow. Those are so many things that I never really thought about, and I consider myself a pretty savvy person when it comes to these things. As you know, because we’ve talked about this, I was a raw foodist for quite a while. But, those are things I just haven’t even thought of.
Daniel: I was just going to say it’s interesting how there can be different perspectives on so many different things. When it comes down to it, you always have to return to nature and see how things happen in the natural world. It really gives us a good illustration of how we should live our lives. I think there is no better example than the pastured, grass-fed cattle concept, because that is just the most perfect system ever. What we have created with these huge factory farms is the complete opposite of that. You create more problems and then you try to find all sorts of technologically advanced ways to fix these problems that we’ve created all because the first decision was made not in line with what is natural for the animal. So it’s amusing and it’s sad, because we’ve created this crazy system, completely, absolutely crazy system of food that we now have to fight ourselves to go back to the way things were which was fairly balanced and fairly in harmony. That’s why there’s all these crazy things going on in the world, with factory farms and e coli outbreaks and salmonella now with the egg recall, which is one of the largest food contamination situations we have ever experienced in modern agriculture. You would think that as we get more advanced and as we get more scientific about things, you would think there would be less to worry about. But, if you look at the statistics there is a heck of a lot more to worry about which makes us wonder where have we gone wrong? What is the problem?
Anne: Mmm-hmm. That actually leads to a question we just got in by e-mail. First let me just say, Rob, that was a great question and I certainly learned something about what sustainable means. Thank you for that question. The question that we have that has come in by e-mail has to do with genetically modified food. I don’t know if you know anything in particular about that, but someone was asking. What does this really mean, and should we be concerned about it?
Daniel: Personally, I think we should be very concerned about it. Genetically modified organisms are basically at the seed level there has been some sort of modification to the gene of the plants to have certain characteristics or to be “naturally” resistant to certain types of pests or certain types of issues that the plant may experience. It has better resistance. It’s almost like a vaccinated plant. It grows this way. However when you manipulate anything on cellular level on a genetic level, and then you ingest it into your body, you need to wait a good amount of time to see what the consequences are. So, what’s happening now unfortunately is we are all kind of lab rats. We are being tested with different types of food. These things aren’t specifically labeled that way. There was a whole attempt to get these foods labeled as contains genetically modified ingredients and that didn’t necessarily go well, because from the marketing stand point I don’t think that would help consumers as far as making these choices. It wouldn’t help these companies, it would help the consumers. So, we don’t have these foods labeled properly. Certain foods can say “contains no GMOs”, and that is something individual companies can label its food with. But, you don’t have all these warning labels as you walk down the aisles and you are looking at cereal or whatever. It doesn’t say with some catchy little bright label, “Hey this contains genetically modified organisms.” That’s why it’s so important to really know the companies that you are supporting and the way we vote is with the dollars that we spend. That’s why every decision that we make at the grocery store contributes to this maintenance of these ingredients being on our shelves or contributes to them being pulled. Because consumer demand dictates what these companies decide they ought to do. Yeah, genetically modified organisms are all over the place. They are rampant in highly processed foods. It’s really creepy. We could get a tomato that has been modified so that it has a specific hue of red, or that gives off a particular scent. It’s freaky. A friend of mine refers to them as Franken-foods which is totally what it is. It is laboratory created seeds that turn into these mature ingredients that are then processed and used all over the place. It’s not just in the vegetables. It’s all over the board. It’s really important to be aware of, and it’s our responsibility as consumers to research who these companies are and what is in our food and plan accordingly and dine accordingly.
Anne: You are listening to Now You Know Radio. Remember, you can call in to ask our guest, Chef Daniel Asher, the eco-chef, your questions at 8776957234. That’s 877-NYKRADIO. You can call in just to listen that way and if you want to ask a question, just push one on your touchtone pad or your dial pad. Chef Asher, you mentioned something earlier when talking about the sustainable aspect of food, to think about, for example, how far it’s being trucked into wherever you are. That made me think about something that I had heard and I was wondering if you could comment on this. What I had heard, in fact I heard this from someone in my local organic grocery store, and I was looking for something, I think it was organic corn, and they said well you know it’s not in season. We don’t have any but we do have some frozen. The frozen organic produce can be even more nutritious and fresher than the “fresh” stuff because it is frozen right before it leaves the freezer factory or whatever you call the packing place. Whereas the produce that is in the produce aisle even at an upscale organic market may have spent days on a truck and may have been sent unripe and ripened in place and all of these other things. Really my question is, is there any validity to that and also just what you look for when you’re selecting fresh, organic produce or do you go to frozen? How can we get the best produce short of growing it ourselves for those of us who have a black thumb?
Daniel: Sure, that’s a great question. I don’t know from a nutritional standpoint the difference between frozen organic produce versus fresh. What I do know as a chef is it is far less romantic to cut open a plastic bag with a bunch of corn kernels in it than it is to grab a fresh ear of corn and to shuck it and take it off the cob and throw it in the sauté pan. That to me is romancing the food so to speak as opposed to the very clinical process to grab some scissors and cut open a plastic bag and dump whatever it is out onto the counter. As an artistic person, I always go for what’s more of a beautiful process, what process involves more connection to the food with my hands, my eyes. As far as frozen goes, I guess in certain aspects, it makes sense. I don’t want to deny the merits of frozen food. It is a great technology. It is a great way to store food and to keep things from spoiling. I always think fresh is best. As far as how I shop and decisions that we make at home, it’s basically as fresh as possible as local as possible. Every community has a local organic farm, probably a number of them that are doing a CSA box program. A community supported agriculture where you basically buy a share of the crop harvest for that particular season. There’s usually a sliding scale based on income level, what time you buy into the share, and basically you get a gorgeous box of organic produce delivered to your door or close to it. It is whatever is seasonal; whatever the farm decides makes sense to put in that box. It’s usually as fresh as you can get. It is phenomenal food. It is always the route that I encourage. That’s always the best besides going to your local farmer’s market, or a lot of markets that have organic produce sections will say where the food is from. Of course when you are making a decision, obviously if you are in Washington, why would you buy apples from Chile? Here in Colorado, why would I buy a peach from California when there are beautiful peaches being grown forty miles from where I am now? It’s just a matter of knowing what is best at the time.
Anne: I don’t know how you are doing this. You must be psychic or prescient or one of those things. Do you moonlight as a medium? Because, you keep saying exactly the thing that I need to lead into the next question, it is uncanny. We have a question coming from the chat room, from Phil in San Francisco. His question is can you explain the meaning behind when it says at a restaurant or such it says “when possible” when it pertains to them using organics and such. I’ve seen that before on the menu as well. It says we use organic things “when possible”. Or the potatoes are organic “when possible”, that sounds like the kind of weasel words that we lawyers use. Can you explain that?
Daniel: Yes, certainly. That’s actually a fantastic question. It’s very disturbing for me when I go out to eat to see that on a menu, because it alleviates any level of responsibility usually depending on which restaurant it is and what the philosophy behind the restaurant. Unfortunately we have reached a point where being green and being sustainable and cooking organically is a fabulous marketing term. It’s a great way to draw people in. It’s a great way to have people feel better about what they are eating when what’s going on behind the scenes may or may not be the case. It’s an individual restaurant responsibility to use that philosophy in a manner that is in line with the kitchen concept, the food concept. So, you’ve got a lot of restaurants that have basically never ordered anything organic and they can just throw that on menu and say if it’s convenient. What does when possible mean? Probably when it’s cheaper, when it’s more convenient and when we are in the mood. That’s usually in most food service operations what that means. On the flip side, being a food service professional myself, I know how hard it is to source certain things at certain times. At Root Down our focus is to use as many organic ingredients as we can possibly get our hands on. Unfortunately that’s not always as easy as it seems based on availability, so we might be using organic zucchini, organic zucchini, and then all of a sudden literally can’t get any organic zucchini in for a particular week so we have to make the next best choice based on what’s available at the time. So in our situation, when possible means pretty much all the darn time except when there is a conflict with supply issues or problems with crops. We’ve gotten in some organic corn in last week from a local farm and it wasn’t sweet at all. It really wasn’t what we had been getting in regularly. So we had to make a decision at the time, what are we going to do? We weren’t going to get conventional corn because conventional corn in my opinion has a whole bunch of issues attached to it. Also with GMOs and other things corn is one particular ingredient that I always feel needs to be organic and sourced responsibly. So we just added some extra agave nectar to the dish which is a natural sweetener to bring out a little bit more sweetness in the dish because the corn wasn’t hacking it so to speak. In that situation that’s what we had to do. Another restaurant might be in that same situation and say, “Oh my gosh we’ve got to get some delicious sweet corn so let’s just get whatever we can get in.” Which may end up not being very organic or it might be. You never really know. So, that whole concept of when possible on the menu can do one of two things. It can alleviate responsibility for a particular operation that doesn’t have a tremendous level of integrity. Or, it can alleviate stress for a restaurant with a high level of integrity to know that in certain situations you just can’t always make that decision. You can’t always be organic, but you try as hard as you can to make it right in every situation. So to have a fully organic certified restaurant that uses every particular ingredient that is particularly certified organic is not only challenging, it’s incredibly expensive. To be able have an appealing price level for consumers to come in and have a dining experience that they feel comfortable enjoying without feeling stressed themselves financially there’s a balance there, there are certain decisions that you make. Obviously certain ingredients or certain produce items contain higher levels of pesticide when they are not grown organically than others. There are lists people can find online to see what these ingredients are. Obviously root vegetables that are grown in the soil should always be sourced organically because they absorb very high levels of nutrients and contaminants from the soil, etc. There is always a priority list of what you should always get organically and then what you get organically when you are able to. In the restaurant world it translates in a similar way. Personally, myself, when I’m out dining in a restaurant and I see that, I always ask, “Where is this from? Can I talk to the chef for a second?” Then, I always make a judgment call based on what the response is. You’ve either got someone that is incredibly well educated and knows exactly what is going on in the kitchen. Or you’ve got someone that is a little embarrassed and is stumbling over their words a little bit, and then you know that maybe this is more of a marketing logo as opposed to a true path of integrity that the restaurant has adopted.
Anne: That is so important to know. I think as consumers we just assume that either the government is requiring them to be fully truthful or just that people have integrity and businesses have integrity. By the way, Phil, who asked that question would like you to know and that he says hello and that you will recognize him by his last name of Dough as in bread dough. Does that mean anything to you, Chef Asher?
Daniel: Um. I think so.
Anne: I think he works for someone named Justin Tucci. Or maybe not. In any even, Will from Tyler, Texas has sent in a question. Will would like to know how someone starts if they want to get educated on how to eat organic or just making better food decisions. I’d like to add on to that how do they really start doing it and cooking organic. Is it very involved? Of course you are a chef as well. I don’t want to use you just as a nutrition expert here. I’d love to get some tips on how to get started. It sometimes seems daunting to people. First let’s answer Will’s question, which again is where does someone start if they want to get educated on how to eat organic or how to eat better. Also, let me remind our listeners that you can call in and ask Chef Asher your questions directly you can call 877-NYKRADIO, which translates to 8776957234. Or send us your questions through Twitter @nowyouknowradio. So how do you get started, Chef Asher?
Daniel: That’s a great question. I think the best education someone that is kind of curious about these decisions can get is just walking down the aisle at a local farmer’s marked. Spend a Saturday afternoon walking around, asking questions, finding out how things are grown, finding out where they are from, what’s in season at the time, and just connecting to the food at the same time you’re connecting to the farmer that grew the food. That’s a very inspiring experience. Beyond that, there are tons of books. There are some great resources either on the Internet or at the library to go and just do some research. A great film that I’ve enjoyed is called The Future of Food, by Deborah Koons-Garcia. It is great film. Food, Inc. is very eye opening. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is great. Fast Food Nation, these are books that give us a little insight into what is really going on with our food supply and different ways we can act as consumers to move things in a better direction. Like I said, go to your local bookstore. Go to the cookbook section. There are all sorts of great resources there as far as cooking organically, cooking vibrantly. You’ll know the titles that are more in line with what you are looking for. They will kind of pop out of the shelf. We usually find what we are looking for at the appropriate time. So if you wander around the bookstore, wander around the cookbook section at the book store. Wander around the farmer’s market. Then grab a couple of these films and spend a weekend kind of immersing yourself, not only will you have a heck of a weekend and you’ll be eating some great food, but you’ll also learn a lot about nutrition, health and wellness in general.
Anne: You are listening to Now You Know Radio with Chef Daniel Asher, the eco-chef from Denver, Colorado. You can call us at 877-NYKRADIO. Chef Asher, you recently joined this restaurant called Root Down. Am I right in thinking that it is a new restaurant? Or you just recently joined?
Daniel: Root Down has been almost two years going strong, I’d say. Then I came on board with the restaurant about a year ago, or a little more than a year ago. It’s just gotten a phenomenal level of response from the community. Actually, we were just in The New York Times this past Sunday. We were one of the restaurants in Denver that were highlighting farm to table practices, and highlighting (inaudible) and organic cooking in the Denver area. That was a huge experience. We’ve just gotten a tremendous amount of fabulous press. Justin has done an amazing job of creating a tremendous arena where people can come and eat regardless of your dietary needs and regardless of you dietary path. Everyone can sit at the same table. We have a gluten-free menu, a vegan menu, a vegetarian menu, a regular menu full of ethically sourced animal protein: fish, lamb, beef, and bison. So he kind of sought out to solve what Michael Pollan presents, the omnivore’s dilemma. How do we solve this equation in our food supply? Also when we go out to eat, I was a vegetarian for twelve years until very recently actually, whenever I would go out to eat it was always an afterthought. “Hey can I get this vegetarian.” I always felt like I was inconvenienced, like I needed to get special treatment or something to be accommodated. It was uncomfortable. You’ve got people that are dealing with celiac’s disease. We were just at the celiac’s fair doing some gluten-free sampling with a local bakery that has just done a gluten-free bread line called Rudy’s. We created a restaurant where you can come in regardless. You are in a group with a vegetarian and someone that needs to eat gluten-free, and you yourself are just looking for a nice steak. You’ve got another person who only eats fish occasionally. Everyone can come and eat and everyone has their own fabulous menu to choose from. Everyone feels accommodated and respected and honored.
Anne: And welcome. You touched on something that really is one of my pet peeves, speaking as a vegetarian. I am a very strict vegetarian. Almost at times leaning to vegan, but not always, one of my pet peeves, talking about truth in advertising along the lines with when available with organics, is so many restaurants will have a dish or several dishes that they call vegetarian with cheese in it. They have no idea about the issue of rennet and whether their cheese has rennet which would render those dishes not vegetarian. I don’t know what can be done about that other than being a vegetarian asking and as you said you feel like you are being a pain in the neck, and you are putting them out. Really, it’s about educating them, but you just feel like you are a real pest. It’s wonderful to hear that in your own restaurant where you are working that that is something that you’ve thought about and you’ve taken into account. Jennifer from New Orleans has sent in an e-mail and Jennifer would like to know are there particular types of restaurants that would be more aligned with using organic and sustainable food, how do you find those places? Which I think really translates to, as a diner if you want to make conscious choices about the type of food you eat when you go out what is the best way to go about finding a restaurant? Are there particular a particular type that is more likely to be careful with using organics and ethically sourced meat? You mentioned that, and I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about that and what that means.
Daniel: Sure. That’s a great point to bring up. As far as seeking out these restaurants, the best thing to do is usually there is a local paper or a local guide to the community and there will be restaurants listed in different categories. Now the organic category is a very popular place that restaurants want to fit into. An easy way is if you are dining at a chain restaurant that has hundreds of locations nationwide, for the most part it would be very hard to fit an organic philosophy into that. However, there are a lot of chain restaurants right now in the market place that are doing a phenomenal job at raising awareness with our food supply. It is kind of a double edge sword in that respect. Bigger necessarily isn’t worse. But, when it comes down to it, you really want to support where you live. If you are living in a certain community, you want your dollars to be cycled back into that community. So, when you dine at a restaurant that has a headquarters located ten states away and they have hundreds of locations and whatnot you are not necessarily making a decision that goes directly into your local community but when you’ve got an owner established restaurant, the owner lives in the community, also part of the community. You’ve got a team of people that have created a space based on where they are at and things they love. You are usually in for a great dining experience that’s been created with a high level of passion and excitement for that specific community. I am a huge advocate of finding some great local restaurants, knowing the owners, knowing the chefs, really finding out who’s touching your food behind the scenes and what is going on at the back door which you may not see. What food trucks are pulling up to make deliveries? A rancher in a cowboy hat coming in with a couple of unmarked cardboard boxes, and you’re like, “Oh that’s looks kind of cool.” Or do you have one of those big corporate trucks pulling up with a bunch of commodity beef and pork inside? It’s a matter of you’ve got to do a little research as a consumer. That’s the thing. To follow this lifestyle isn’t necessarily easy and it’s not necessarily convenient in the beginning. Once you mentally click in to doing the due diligence so to speak of research and experience and seeking out these things, then it becomes very easy, because you create this beautiful network for yourself. You say, “I’m in the mood for Italian food. Oh, I’ll go to that guy Greg’s place. He’s such a great guy and he grows organic basil in the back that he puts in the lasagna, bla, bla, bla. You kind of are a part of what is going on and that is what you want. You don’t want to be detached from your dining experience. You don’t want to be detached from even grocery shopping experience. Do you want to shop at a giant chain store, or do you want to support your local co-op? Or do you want to support your local farmer’s market? These are decision that again we vote every time we pass a dollar onto someone when making a conscientious decision as to how the world falls.
Anne: True enough. We had a co-op here in Boulder, Colorado, and very sadly it folded. But, we do have a wonderful farmer’s market. I just want to tell our listeners that we have Chef Asher for just about fifteen more minutes so get your calls in now at 877-NYKRADIO. That’s 8776957234. Or Twitter us @nowyouknowradio, or ask us questions from the chat room which is available through the site, which you can link through to from nowyouknowradio.com. We have another question from e-mail, but before we get to that I want to ask you, well actually this is partly his question, and I am just going to put a little twist on it. You mentioned you can’t see what’s going on behind the scenes at the backdoor. Again, you are prescient you must have just somehow known we were going to go in this direction. We did call this segment Kitchen Unconfidential, so can you tell us without naming names some of the more unbelievable things that you have seen go on in a restaurant kitchen?
Daniel: Yeah, what goes on in the food industry in general, I think can be quite shocking, which again is why I encourage everyone to really find out what is going on. Who’s making your food? Who’s preparing things? What decisions are being made? Exactly. This is really why I kind of removed myself from mainstream restaurants so to speak because so many places are just getting highly processed food. It’s delivered frozen in boxes. You cut the box open. You’ve got this pre-portioned box of whatever it may be, I used lasagna in the last example so we’ll stick with that. You’ve got this frozen lasagna.
Anne: Because it’s frozen, if it falls on the floor, that’s ok, right? You guys have a five second rule in restaurant kitchens.
Daniel: Right, yeah, exactly. (laughing) If the frozen lasagna falls on the floor it’s not going to be damaged at all because it is usually wrapped in twenty layers of plastic and it is an aluminum pan. You’ve got this ingredient list that now has 75 different ingredients in it. You think, what goes into lasagna? You’ve got pasta, tomato sauce, zucchini, some cheese, a couple other different vegetables and herbs. When you make lasagna at home you are not grabbing 75 different ingredients. But somehow…
Anne: Actually I am.
Daniel: Yeah, they fit all these crazy additives and stuff into this food. You open this box and you cut a little portion and throw it in the microwave. And then, on the menu it will say my grandmother’s famous lasagna, and that’s it. No one really knows the difference. They think, “Oh this is amazing.” It’s the same lasagna that thirty other restaurants in town are serving because they are buying from the same place. That’s it. To be a scratch kitchen, to basically cook everything from scratch, not only takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication but also a lot of energy.
Anne: But you do that, when you are doing a raw meal.
Daniel: Yes. When I do a raw dinner, now we are doing them at Root Down every Tuesday night, we do a four course raw vegan menu. It is intense. It takes a tremendous amount of preparation. I start a couple days ahead of time. Food has to be marinated and dehydrated and soaked. There are all these processes that go into it. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. A lot of restaurants are just looking for what’s quickest, what’s convenient, what’s cheapest, and what’s the most consistent way to go. Usually that is premade product. You’ve got so many restaurants that have got great reviews; people think they’ve got these amazing food items. They very well might taste fantastic, but the bottom line is they are not being made in-house. They are not being prepared with any sort of consciousness other than throwing them in the microwave and putting them on a plate. Maybe throwing a couple of sauces on the plate, some of which might be homemade, some of which might be completely pre-packaged. Unfortunately early in my career I worked in a lot of kitchens that were completely pre-packaged restaurants. All you did was assemble things on a plate. There wasn’t any sort of cooking going on. There was basically reheating. Clever plating and clever reheating was basically what was going on.
Anne: They do say that presentation is everything, so what’s wrong with that?
Daniel: That’s true. If you create a plate that people are excited about and tastes great, that may well be fine in that particular situation. If people pay a fair price and feel full and content and tell their friends about it, that’s great. But at the end of the day, what are you specifically feeding people? What are in these items? Not to say there’s not some great pre-packaged foods that are completely clean and well executed. The process of cooking is a very important thing. When I go out and spend my money in a restaurant, I want to know that what I am eating has been lovingly cared for and thought out and has been involved in some sort of a process in that particular kitchen that illustrates what’s going on with that team of culinary professionals. Going out to eat should be like going to an art gallery. You’ve got all of these different paintings to choose from, which one are you going to enjoy? Should you want the painting that’s been just printed off on a commercial printer and it’s a print that’s available online and you’ve got fifty different art galleries in the same city that have the exact same painting? Or do you want something that is more unique and more special to what the vibe is in that particular kitchen or gallery. I want to go to an art gallery that has beautiful paintings that are one of a kind. So, when I go out to eat, I want to eat a dish that I’ve never really had before that has been assembled in a way that really makes me think about food and the flavors are something that I find completely exciting and exhilarating as opposed to your standard level of excitement that comes with processed, reheated food. So, I guess that’s an interesting way of looking at food. But, that’s how I look at it. It’s like a genuine art gallery. It’s just that you are eating the masterpiece as opposed to…
Anne: That is a wonderful way to look at it I think. I’ll probably never look at going to a restaurant quite the same way again as indeed I felt when I went to the restaurant where you are working. We have just a few more minutes now with our guest, Chef Asher on Now You Know Radio. Give him a call at 877-NYKRADIO. Chef Asher, Tom from Tulsa would like to know just how accurate Food, Inc. is and relatedly Anne from Boulder would like to know just how accurate Kitchen Confidential is.
Daniel: Those are a couple of great questions. As far as Food, Inc. is concerned, I haven’t had time to really research the farms that were represented in the film. I haven’t specifically delved into it. I think a lot of concepts that are brought up in that film are very well illustrated and it’s a very well done film as far as our food supply is concerned. There are truths and there are conflicts in everything on both sides of the equation. To play devil’s advocate for a second, there are a number of farms that may be certified organic or may say that they practice cage free practices or free range practices, and if you were to actually physically go visit the farm, you wouldn’t feel very good about the food that is coming off of that farm. On one hand these standards are in place for a reason. On the other hand people are people. They are going to do things. They are going to make certain decisions in a moment that may make sense at the time that don’t really represent the philosophy that they should be following. There are pros and cons in everything. I can’t sit here and say if the entire film is completely true. I personally from first hand experience know that a lot of things that are presented in that film to me are completely valid and true. But, someone else may watch the movie and say that’s completely not right. I went to visit that particular space and that’s not what was going on there. So, I can’t represent that in any other way, nor would I want to. I wasn’t physically at these spaces. But I have has some experience with certain companies mentioned in that film and I’ve had a certain amount of knowledge in the natural foods industry for a good amount of time now to know that a lot of what is in that movie is completely on point with what is happening right now with our food supply.
Daniel: There’s fact and fiction in everything in this world and it is up to us as individuals to decide what our specific truth is and what is in our harmony with our personal life experience.
Anne: In other words take responsibility for what you are putting in your mouth and what goes down into your stomach. We have just a couple of minutes left with you. This would not be a show with a chef if I did not put you on the spot and ask you if you could give our listeners one of your favorite, quickie few ingredient easy to make some kind of a recipe that we can leave them with so that they can go home or go into the kitchen and say, “Wow, that was so easy and so amazingly good, I want me some more of that.”
Daniel: Absolutely. On the Kitchen Confidential point, Anthony Bourdain is an absolutely brilliant writer and that book is definitely an accurate portrayal of the lives behind the scenes of food service workers. Granted, when he came up in the business, things were much crazier and a little more chaotic and a little less regulated so to speak. So there are a lot of things in that book that are hard to imagine but easy to picture I guess you could say.
Anne: I just need to tell you we only have literally two minutes before the show is…
Daniel: A great easy thing to do is cook off some wonderful black lentils if possible or French green lentils, cook them off so they are pretty much all ready to go. Throw them in the sauté pan with a tablespoon of organic coconut oil which is one of the greatest ingredients to cook with, is coconut oil. Sauté the lentils really quick in some coconut oil. Squeeze a fresh lemon. Chop some fresh chives in there and a little bit of tarragon or thyme, a little bit of sea salt and black pepper. That will be one of the greatest dishes you have ever had. You will become instantly addicted to lentils. I think the world would be a better place if people ate lentils like they eat potato chips.
Anne: I love lentils. I’ve got to tell you now my mouth really is watering. Well, Chef Asher, thank you very much and if people are lucky enough to be in the Denver area they can look you up at, tell us where you are.
Daniel: Rootdowndenver.com is the website. We are located right on the corner of 33rd and Osage in Denver. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I encourage everyone to really find your local farmer and support natural, organic agriculture because it is a really important thing to do.
Anne: Well thank you again and please will you come back? We are already having listeners ask to have you back.
Daniel: Oh, for sure. It’s been wonderful. I’d love to come back on the show. Thanks so much.
Anne: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you ever so much for joining us. Next week be sure to join us. It’s our Labor Day show with yours truly in my capacity as a father’s rights lawyer and as always we hope you leave our show saying, “Now I know.”
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