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Chefs Collaborative in New Orleans

Chefs Collaborative

To run an environmentally and socially responsible restaurant focused on serving delicious food AND still make money, you need to….  The 300 chefs and food purveyors in New Orleans for the Chefs Collaborative National Summit don’t have a pat answer for how to finish that sentence.  But through this non-profit community, chefs are helping each other achieve that perfect balance.

The group’s leaders are an impressive collection of people at the top of their craft – Susan Spicer of New Orleans’ Bayona, Michael Leviton of Boston’s Lumiere, Donald Link of New Orleans’ Cochon, Sean Brock of Charleston’s Husk and Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill’s Lantern, to name just a few.  And most claim they aren’t trying to save the world.  “We’ve learned that a commitment to make and serve the best food,” says Leviton, “inevitably comes back around to accomplish the same thing.”

No one starts out in the same place, however.  “Depending on where you are in the food chain, your view of sustainability is different,” he says.  “What to do to be sustainable is not always clear or easy.  It is about getting on the path, taking baby steps that hopefully will lead to the great leap forward.”

The first day of the two-day conference was a packed schedule of small group sessions.  One group debated the definition of sustainable seafood. Down the hall, the topic was climate change and farming.  Another group learned about new native grains that have recently become available.  How-to sessions on butchering hogs at Domenica restaurant and lambs at Cochon were crowd pleasers.

But before Leviton dispersed the crowd, he paused to read Chefs Collaborative statement of principles:

1)   Food is fundamental to life, nourishing us in body and soul.  The preparation of food strengthens our connection to nature. And the sharing of food immeasurably enriches out sense of community.

2)   Good food begins with unpolluted land, air and water, environmentally sustainable farming and fishing, and humane animal husbandry.

3)   Food choices that emphasize delicious, locally grown, seasonally fresh and whole or minimally processed ingredients are good for us, for local farming communities and for the planet.

4)   Cultural and biological diversity are essential for the health of the earth and its inhabitants. Preserving and revitalizing sustainable food, fishing and agricultural traditions strengthens that diversity.

5)   By continually educating themselves about sustainable choices, chefs can serve as models to the culinary community and the general public through their purchases of seasonal, sustainable ingredients and their transformation of these ingredients into delicious food.

6)   The greater culinary community can be a catalyst for positive change by creating a market for good food and helping preserve local farming and fishing communities.

Tomorrow, I lead a panel on how to do all of this and still keep the lights on.  Zester Daily is proud to be a sponsor of the Chefs Collaborative National Summit.

Corie Brown, the co-founder and general manager of Zester Daily, is an award-winning food and wine writer. "Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery," a book she wrote with reporting from Zester Daily's network of contributors, was released by Entrepreneur Books in June 2015.