Closing thoughts from Chef’s Collaborative

Cajun rice farmer Kurt Unkel summed up what’s happening in the local food movement all across the country when he speaks about what is happening in his little corner of the world, Kinder, LA. “There’s a big change underway with the people on the ground, the mothers and the young people and the choices they’re making. The government has no idea what’s happening, the giant food companies can’t stop it, but it’s coming.”

Seeing the explosion of local foods in Louisiana over the last seven years has been tremendous and in the last three years it seems to be accelerating, just as it is back home in Chicago. The problem now is going to be finding enough farmers to supply the swelling demand. Everyday folks, it seems, are realizing the absurdity of shopping for parsley in the grocery store and finding a label that says “produce of Peru” or looking for apples and seeing only labels of “Grown in Argentina” or “Produce of New Zealand.”

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm stated plainly “Frankly I’m not out to feed the world, I’m out to feed my community” making the profound connection that only in communities of loving family and neighbors can folks make sure everyone has enough to eat.

The funniest thing in retrospect was how a conversation with a few other chefs over late night cocktails in the hotel bar led to what we all do with lard and pig trotters. Such are the challenges we face as chefs who choose the sustainable path and go all the way by using whole animals. We face these challenges in addition to all the challenges everyone else in this business faces – an economy in atrophy, a fickle dining public, and an industry that is challenging and risky even in the best of times. I couldn’t help but be consumed by the sense of resignation in our voices as we talked through these pressing problems. We are resigned to care.
We’ve made some fantastic connections that will lead to some ingredient changes at Big Jones, notably the rice we serve but also shrimp and seafood. Stay tuned!