Why I Do What I Do

Organic Eats Are Cool
Chef Jesse Cool has been committed to organic ingredients for nearly three decades. Now, owner of two organic restaurants plus a catering company and author of four cookbooks—including her most recent Your Organic Kitchen: The Essential Guide to Selecting and Cooking Organic Foods (Rodale Press, 2000)—Cool still remembers the roots of her organic epiphany.

Cool was opening her first restaurant in Menlo Park, California, in 1974. One day while watching her staff wash the produce, she realized how dangerous the pesticide residue could be for her guests. She resolved then to serve only food that wouldn't harm the community. "People thought I was crazy," she says. Cool persisted, however, and in 1982, she opened Flea St. Café, also in Menlo Park, which to this day serves seasonal and mostly (85 percent) organic dishes.

A career in the restaurant world was an easy choice for Cool, who grew up in an old-world Jewish-Italian family in which "food was just everything." What hasn't come so easily is honoring her commitment to serve healthy, organic dishes, which tend to cost more. When people suggested that she instead purchase less expensive conventional produce because no one would know the difference, Cool refused. "I do. I know the difference," she says. "[My clients] trust me. I'll go out of business before I betray that."

Cool's restaurants have thrived thanks to much love and support, shining restaurant reviews, and a clear vision. Experience tells Cool that a meal means more than sustenance. "Food is at the heart and soul of where community begins," she says. To her, this means working together with the farmers, distributors, and patrons to make sure that "clean food" nurtures all. "If everyone connected their work to their passion, and to meaningfulness and hard work, they couldn't help but succeed," Cool says.

—Emily Rosenblum