A look at farming from an ACF Chef’s perspective

By Kenya McCullum

ACF’s online convention “Around the World in 80 Plates,” which was held on August 3-5, gave chefs the opportunity to gain a variety of new perspectives on their craft and their relationship to the products they use. Some of the sessions offered, which provided continuing education credits, offered a look at farming from a chef’s point of view.

In the “Chef and Farmer; Agriculture from a Culinarian’s Perspective” session, Farmer Lee Jones, Co-owner of The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, began the presentation by encouraging farmers to look at their work in a different way—especially in light of the conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID has forced us all to think outside of the box and look at things differently,” said Jones. “From a farmer’s perspective, we think you have to work within a system that says that, ‘this is how we’re going to eat a tomato’—it’s kind of one dimensional. But the reality is, we’ve learned from chefs that at every single stage of a plant’s life, the plant offers us something unique to the plate.”

The session went on to a discussion by The Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Chef Liaison and Executive Chef Jamie Simpson about how farmers can challenge the way they think of readiness. According to Chef Simpson, “When it comes to vegetables, and specifically from an agricultural perspective, farmers are taught that when the zucchini is big enough to really fit in the package, we’re going to ship it, or when it’s big enough to not bruise when we ship it, or when it’s large enough to last longer on the shelves at a grocery store. Inherently, that whole model generates an incredible amount of agricultural waste.”

In order to demonstrate how farmers and chefs alike can look at agricultural products in a fresh new way to help reduce this waste, Simpson showed the various stages of a zucchini and how different parts of the plant can be utilized. For example, the hollow stems of a zucchini plant can be used as drinking straws and the leaves can be fried and added to a dish. Similarly, Simpson illustrated how sweet corn can be used for more than just the kernels: Tea can be made from the silk, the cob can be used for stock, and the stalk can be prepared in much the same ways as artichoke hearts. 

Getting “In-Grained”

In the “Exploring World Flavors; Inspired Grains” session hosted by Chef Jay “Jay Z” Ziobrowski, CEC<—who is president of the ACF’s Chefs of Charlotte, Inc.—attendees were invited to “get in-grained” with knowledge on how to incorporate different grains into their dishes. For example, he looked at quinoa, pointing out that it’s a superfood that was once traded as currency because of the high regard ancient Incas had for the grain, which can grow in adverse conditions. 

Chef Ziobrowski, a research chef with InHarvest, went on to discuss how imported quinoa—which can be red, black, white, or tricolor—is grown in Bolivia and Peru, while white domestic quinoa is grown in Teton Valley, Idaho. The difference between these two products is not just related to color and geography, however. Domestic quinoa does not contain the natural coating known as saponin, which means it has the same high nutritional value without the bitter flavor of imported quinoa. This makes it a good choice in the kitchen because it doesn’t have to be rinsed to remove the bitterness and it can be used as a substitute for rice and stuffing. Domestic quinoa is also a good choice for the menu, since consumers are increasingly concerned about going to businesses that make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.  

“People want to know about that footprint, they want to know where their food’s coming from,” he said. 

Ziobrowski also offered some advice on the best strategies for cooking grains. He noted that one of the biggest mistakes he has observed chefs make when preparing grains is to use a metal spoon or spatula when stirring them. 

“The metal will actually break up the bran layer and the grain, and it will make it mushy in no time, so it won’t last as long when you’re holding it,” he noted, suggesting instead that chefs use a rubber spatula.

To view this and other recorded videos from the virtual convention, click here to enter your login information, and then select “On Demand Videos.”