Cooks With A Conscience: Three Chefs Make Dining Out A Sustainable Affair
By Elizabeth Ellis/Food photos by Rita Maas
It's no secret that eating well is about more than just great taste. Our food choices affect our vitality, our longevity and the well-being of our communities and environment. But eating is first and foremost a pleasure, a sensual satisfaction to be enjoyed both at home and while dining out. Thanks to growing awareness and activism among professional chefs, there's no need to check your food values at the door when you enter a restaurant. Since 1993, Chefs Collaborative 2000—a nonprofit group of professional chefs across the country—has been working to ensure that the rewards of responsible food choices can also be found in professional kitchens nationwide.
The 1000-plus members of Chefs Collaborative support sustainable, regionally reliant food practices through an array of education and networking programs. The Collaborative is committed to strengthening the bond between chefs and the farmers and producers who supply them, honoring the community-based "field to table" cycle of sustainable cuisine. Though most members of the Collaborative are chefs and other culinary professionals, the organization also welcomes participants from the larger food community, including farmers, environmentalists, consumers, purveyors and journalists.
Though widely diverse in background, style and regional focus, the three chefs featured here—along with their recipes—embody the principles of sustainable culinary practices. Peter Hoffman of New York City's Savoy restaurant celebrates simplicity with clean, wholesome dishes based on ingredients gathered from the city's many markets. Odessa Piper glorifies and preserves fleeting seasonal treasures at l'Etoile, her restaurant perched at the edge of the Madison, Wisc., farmer's market. Seafood expert Greg Higgins funnels a deep love for his Portland, Ore., community into an exclusively indigenous menu at Higgins Restaurant. Each of these restaurants is intimately entwined with its local environment and culture, serving up seasonal specialties that delight the palate while nourishing the community.
Chefs Collaborative National Chairman
Savoy/ 70 Prince Street, New York, N.Y./ 212.219.8570
For urban chef Peter Hoffman, concrete and asphalt pose no obstacle to a natural, environmentally conscious culinary approach. Though his city lifestyle might seem far removed from agricultural toil, his commitment to local products includes plenty of physical labor. On a specially designed bike, the chef pedals to market up to four times each week, carting several hundred pounds of organic fruit, vegetables and grains back to the Savoy kitchen. "It costs nothing, makes no pollution and I get some exercise," says Hoffman.
A reverence for local products forms the culinary cornerstone of Savoy, the European-inspired eatery that Hoffman has owned and operated since 1991. Among the many rewards of supporting local growers, Hoffman cites the daily education that comes from working closely with farmers and other producers. "Shopping at the market, you always learn something about the food," he explains. "When you know that these cherries are extra special because this year's crop was tiny, you get inspired."
Today's mega-suppliers make it possible to stock an entire restaurant with a single phone call—a convenience that often comes at the expense of freshness and quality and that overlooks the inherent value of locally grown foods. "Seeking out the very best sources and prioritizing regional products makes everything more complicated," Hoffman admits. But while Hoffman's purchasing operations may be complex, his recipes are not.
"We just cook the food," Hoffman modestly insists. "We don't manipulate it. I look for the preparation method and seasoning that shows off the ingredient in its own right—I don't try to turn it into something else."
Niman Ranch Pork Loin with Plum Chutney and Wilted Greens
Serves 4 / "Niman pork is one of the brands of meat that really marries both sustainable farming practices with great taste. These free-range pigs have more fat in them because they have to face the weather (both hot and cold) but they cook beautifully and offer real flavor without being fatty," says Peter Hoffman.
1 red onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
1 ounce olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
10 prune plums, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick
Salt, to taste
1. In a medium saucepan, cook onions in olive oil until lightly browned. Add wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Then add plums, sugar and spices. Cover and simmer until plums are soft and mushy (about 15 minutes). Let cool and season with salt.
Spice Mix For Pork
1/4 cup pimenton (a smoky, not-too-hot Spanish paprika) or regular paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin seed
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1. Combine spices and set aside.
4 Niman Ranch pork chops, 1-3/4-inches thick
Salt, to taste
2 teaspoons spice mix (recipe above)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Liberally dust each pork chop with salt and spice mix given above.
2. In a heavy-bottomed pan add olive oil and sear chops. Cook on medium-high heat, allowing chops to brown but not burn. Turn after 5 minutes and repeat on second side. Do not overcook.
3. Allow pork to rest at least 5 minutes before plating. While pork is resting, prepare greens to finish the plate.
"Hardy greens are at their best in the late fall when cold nights and a few frosts have developed the sugars in the leaves," Hoffman explains. "At this time of the year, I sometimes eat the leaves raw, they taste so good." The greens provide a nutritious and attractive base for the seared pork chops.
4 large handfuls of greens (kale, chard or mustard)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Wash greens and shake off water, but do not dry completely or spin. When cooking greens, the evaporating water will help wilt the greens and cook them quickly.
2. In a wide pan, sauté garlic in olive oil. When golden, add greens and cover for a few minutes only.
3. Remove lid and mix greens so that any top greens unwilted get to bottom. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
4. Place greens on the plate first, and then either place the whole chop on greens or slice it into 1/2-inch pieces. Place a dollop of chutney on top of meat and dig in.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 574 calories Fat: 40g % fat calories: 62% Cholesterol: 109mg Carbohydrate: 22g Protein: 38g Goat-Cheese Cheesecake with Autumn Berries
4 ounces superfine sugar
9 ounces goat cheese
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water
5 egg whites
1. Combine half the sugar and remaining ingredients except for egg whites.
2. Beat egg whites and, when half peaked, add remaining sugar and finish beating to stiff.
3. Fold whites into cheese mixture and pour into buttered, 9-inch springform pan.
4. Bake 40-45 minutes in oven heated to 325°.
Macerated Fresh Autumn Berries
1 pint total of mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon kirsch
1. Combine ingredients and allow to stand together for 1-2 hours.
2. Serve with a slice of cake, placing berries both on and off the cheesecake and adding a thin drizzle of honey to the plate as well.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 308 calories Fat: 13.5g % fat calories: 39% Cholesterol: 197mg Carbohydrate: 34g Protein: 13.6g
Chefs Collaborative National Board Member
l'Etoile/ 25 North Pinckney Street/ Madison, Wisc./ 608.251.0500
"Love your ingredients and they'll love you back"; a heartfelt suggestion from Odessa Piper. Chef and proprietor of l'Etoile in Madison, Wisc., Piper brings to her work a lifelong tradition of respect and deep love for nature's culinary treasures. Even the name of her restaurant (French for "star") makes reference to one of her favorite metaphors: the magical image of natural ingredients as "edible stars that have come to Earth.
Committed to sustainable agriculture as early as the 1960s, Piper spent her early career working on organic farms. But her culinary roots run deeper still, to her childhood on the New England coast. From fresh bread with wild berry jam to cider gleaned from an abandoned orchard, Piper warmly recalls many family food traditions. "Gardening and foraging were just part of family fun growing up," she says. "A vivid sense of season and spirit of place were utterly integrated into my life at a very early age."
Today, the "spirit of place" flourishes in the intense interdependence between l'Etoile and the Madison farmer's market, which is located just outside the restaurant's door. "The relationships with the growers are the soul of the restaurant," Piper says. "They bring me their overflow crops because they know I'll find a use for them. That, in turn, drives my creativity." Piper welcomes each seasonal twist with imagination and delight. She also preserves summer crops for use throughout winter, saying, "Farmers win through your support, your pocketbook wins because you're buying in bulk when ingredients are cheap, your palate wins, and the ecology wins."
l'Etoile's Method for "Putting By" Oven-roasted Tomatoes
In many regions of the United States, tomatoes are still peaking in September. These tomatoes of early autumn are super ripe and the price is right. These are ideal conditions for "putting-by," or preserving. Use them throughout winter in recipes that call for canned tomatoes.
Nonreactive baking sheets with raised edges to hold in juices
Whole garlic, peeled, large cloves halved
Assorted sprigs of thyme, oregano, rosemary,* chopped into 2-inch pieces
Large quantity of juicy, ripe tomatoes
Cracked black peppercorns
Large bowl and large saucepan
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Zipper-top freezer bags
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Spread 1/8-inch layer of olive oil over baking sheets and scatter some garlic and sprigs of herbs onto surface. *Use a quarter as much rosemary as other herbs because it has a stronger flavor.
2. Rinse tomatoes, cut away stem and any spoiled spots and cut in half. Place tomato halves cut side up, so edges just touch, directly on top of oil, garlic and herbs. Sprinkle more olive oil over tomatoes; add cracked peppercorns and more herbs and garlic.
3. Fill oven racks with sheets of tomatoes and roast at 325° for about 3-4 hours. Check tomatoes several times and turn trays to roast evenly. Tomatoes are ready for the next step when juices run and skin pulls off easily.
4. Set out a bowl for the fillets and a saucepan to collect skins and pulp. When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off skin and place in saucepan. Cradling roasted tomato half in your hand, spoon seeds and pulp into saucepan. As you work, set fillets aside in the bowl. Scoop all remaining juices, roasted garlic and herbs from the baking trays into the saucepan with skins and pulp.
5. Simmer pulp and juices on medium-low until reduced by half and flavors have intensified. Push the mixture through a sieve, allowing the garlic to mash through to thicken the elixir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Add elixir back to tomato fillets and pack into zipper-top freezer bags. Fill bags about 3/4 full, push out air and seal tight. Freeze in single layers, flat on their side so they will stack neatly for long-term storage.
Autumn Raspberry and Apple Streusel
1/4 pound butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon orange zest
1. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.
2. When fluffy, add salt and baking powder, then oats, flour and orange zest. Mix well.
6 baking apples, sliced and peeled
1/3 cup sugar (add more to taste)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons orange juice or cider
1 pint raspberries
1. Toss apples with sugar, cornstarch and juice and set aside for 15 minutes to draw out juices.
2. Pour into a buttered baking dish, large enough to fill at least 1-inch to 1-1/2-inches high.
3. Sprinkle raspberries over apple slices.
4. Crumble streusel dough over fruit mixture.
5. Bake at 375° for 40-60 minutes or until fruit bubbles clear and streusel is golden brown. Serve with whipped cream.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 511 calories Fat: 17g % fat calories: 29% Cholesterol: 41mg Carbohydrate: 89g Protein: 5g
Chefs Collaborative National Board Member and Local Chairman
Higgins Restaurant/ 1239 Southwest Broadway/ Portland, Ore./ 503.222.9070
Though he bears the title chef, Greg Higgins—a charter member of Chefs Collaborative—is as likely to be found hefting a hoe as wielding a whisk. Higgins is an avid farmer, using his large organic garden in Portland, Ore., to test food crops for use in his restaurant. When his research yields a winning product, he shares the discovery with area growers, who then raise the crop on a larger scale. "The growers, producers, and chefs are very connected, very environmentally conscious, and very supportive of one another," he says of the Portland region.
Higgins lives his philosophy, feeding his family from his garden throughout the year, honoring this connection to food and nature both for its health benefits and for the greater spiritual rewards that come from participating in the cycle of growth and harvest. "Plant a small garden, raise a couple of chickens...visit a 'you-pick' operation," he urges. "Rediscover that sense of celebration that fades away when we distance ourselves from our food."
Higgins is dedicated to the "field-to-table" philosophy, serving exclusively indigenous products in his restaurant year-round. Rejoicing in the Northwest's diverse climate and legendary seafood riches, he regards regional reliance not as a challenge but as a happy opportunity for culinary creativity. "Our restrictions are an inspiration," he explains. Asked to name a favorite seasonal specialty, Higgins responds with an enthusiasm born of true passion: "That's easy," he laughs, "it's always the thing that's coming into season next!"
Seared Pavé of Salmon with a Warm Salad of Potatoes, Peppers and Feta in a Citrus Vinaigrette
Serves 4 / If available, choose Alaskan Chinook salmon — its flavor is richer and more complex. Fingerling potatoes or other heirloom types are also recommended.
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 portions of fresh salmon fillet (pavé or square cut, about 4-6 ounces)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 head romaine lettuce
1. Cook diced potatoes in salted water until just cooked but not mushy, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and hold warm in pot.
2. Zest or grate the peel of the lemons; squeeze out juice and combine zest, juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil and oregano; season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Season salmon portions with salt and pepper. Heat sauté pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and when it just begins to smoke, sear seasoned salmon portions in it—turning when well browned—3-4 minutes per side.
4. While salmon is cooking, drain remaining liquid from warm potatoes and toss with red pepper, feta and enough vinaigrette to moisten well.
5. Arrange some romaine leaves on each plate, top with potato salad mixture and then a portion of cooked salmon. Drizzle with more of the lemon vinaigrette if desired.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 601 calories Fat: 39g % fat calories: 56% Cholesterol: 121mg Carbohydrate: 27g Protein: 40g Grilled Ricotta Salata with Flame-Roasted Peppers, Walla Walla Sweet Onions and Fennel Slaw
2 each red, yellow and green bell peppers
2 Walla Walla onions, cut in wedges with root on
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek (hot chile paste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 ounces Ricotta Salata, cut 1/2-inch thick
1. Char peppers using a propane torch or by placing on a hot grill. Peel, seed and julienne.
2. Sauté wedges of onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.
3. Marinate cooked onion and peppers with 1/2 cup olive oil, one tablespoon of garlic and red wine vinegar to taste.
4. Thinly shave or slice bulb fennel. Finely chop two tablespoons of fennel greens and toss with shaved fennel, remaining garlic, Sambal Oelek, 2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar.
5. Grill Ricotta Salata on each side 1-2 minutes.
6. Fan a cooked onion wedge on each plate. Cut root flush to hold fan intact.
7. Place some marinated peppers and fennel salad on plate. Top with grilled ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a sprig of fennel top.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 549 calories Fat: 40g % fat calories: 64% Cholesterol: 66mg Carbohydrate: 29g Protein: 23g
Looking for a local restaurant with sustainable practices? Chefs Collaborative 2000 has active chapters nationwide. To find a member restaurant in your area or simply to learn more, call the national headquarters at 617.236.5200, or visit the Collaborative online at www.chefnet.com/cc2000. You'll find event listings, membership information, educational articles and links to local and regional chapters.