Forging a More Sustainable Path

Chef's Lunch at Cafe Brauer
Fred Kirschenmann, Bruce Sherman, and Rink DaVee at the closing session. Topic: the next steps

This week marked the first summit of the Chef’s Collaborative in nine years, and what a great couple of days! Chefs, producers, suppliers, and journalists were in attendance from all over the country as we had workshops, round tables, and lectures on the subject of sustainability. The Shedd Aquarium held a reception Monday evening featuring sustainable seafood and cocktails prepared from Death’s Door Spirits by mixologists from Chicago restaurants. Given the state of our oceans, sustainable seafood was a major topic and one of the main things we learned is that lists such as the Shedd’s Right Bite guide to sustainable seafood are a great starting reference, but within many of these seafood fisheries, even those that are roundly condemned, there are fishers who are doing all the right things and have taken the correct steps to ensure the health of their fisheries, and that these fishers need to be supported in order to promote the right practices in fishing and farming the oceans. We’ve already learned about Laughing Bird Shrimp and Big Jones will soon be offering sustainably fished red snapper (for real!) with more to come.

This morning in conjunction with the Green City Market the Collaborative did an adopt-a-farmer, and we prepared tastings from Genesis Growers’ produce to serve alongside their farm stand this morning. We prepared a roasted sheepnose pimiento soup with crowder pea relish.

The Roasted Sheepnose Pimiento Soup went fast!
The Roasted Sheepnose Pimiento Soup went fast!

We served about 130 tastings before we ran out. Both sheepnose pimientos and crowder peas are on the slow food Ark of Taste, selected because of their uniquely delicious characteristics and threatened status as food crops. The fun thing about crop conservation vs. wild animal or endangered fish conservation is that we actually have to eat the crops in order to do our part. This is to provide farmers with an economic reason to grow the crops.

Besides being delicious and different, crops like sheepnose pimientos and crowder peas are important to all of us because they represent part of the available gene pool for crop breeding and development. They also represent our farm and food heritage, something we hope to preserve for future generations. We believe that a good food system goes beyond taking good care of the soil and producing nutritious food, to being careful stewards of our heritage crops and animal breeds, and this is something in which chefs have to play a major part.

Chickens at Kline Creek farm
Chickens at Kline Creek farm

A handful of us joined Chicago area slow food and apple enthusiasts organized by Lynn Peemoller on a field trip to Kline Creek Farm, a restored 1890’s farm in the DuPage County Forest Preserve District with heirloom breeds of chickens, geese, an old icehouse, beekeepers, and an orchard with some pretty rare apple varieties.

Sampling rare heirloom apples at Kline Creek farm
Sampling rare heirloom apples at Kline Creek farm

This is only a small part of what we are doing at Big Jones to educate ourselves about our food system and our environmental impact. We’ll be using this blog more and more to tell the story of our suppliers, to show you where your food comes from, and the steps that we take every day to make our business more sustainable. I personally have a strong interest in rare and endangered crops, as also evidenced by our involvement with Anson Mills, so you’ll be hearing about our crop choices, but just as importantly, I want to discuss meat and seafood, both very hot subjects where the environment is concerned. We will continue serving meat and seafood, and I am very proud of the work we have already done on sustainability, but we have much work to do, and I hope to share with you my thoughts and the stories of the people we are working with to achieve our goal of total sustainability.