Inspiration from the Beginning
I often get asked about the idea of Farm to Fork 101? Most people want to know what inspired me and how did I come up with such a great idea. Well, first of all, I would like to set the record straight and say that farm to table is far from my idea. I have just put my own spin and energy toward a different way that people might be able to learn about the movement. Farm to table has been around since well before I was even a thought. I have just taken what I have learned and seen and put my own spin on it. They say great ideas come from true inspiration. Throughout my life, I have been inspired by many great people and never even realized it until I put it all together.
If we are to start at the beginning, I would say that my grandmother and mother were my first true inspirations! They really created a solid base for cooking. My mother cooked most nights some delicious dishes and my grandmother wouldn’t let us go two minutes without trying to feed us some homemade
Ukrainian pierogis or some other ethnic dish. It was also my mother that told me I needed a job when I was 15 and decided to reach out to some family friends about it. And with that, I started out in my culinary and restaurant career with washing dishes. Even though Top O’ the Hill in Camillus, NY doesn’t exist anymore, it set a solid foundation for everything to come. I have come a long way since then but it really goes back to those humble beginnings.
Afterwards, I went from restaurant to restaurant, learning about cooking, waiting tables, hosting, bussing tables and everything else you could think of, including management. In this time, I worked for mostly corporate restaurants and saw how things were organized and saw how they made things as consistent as possible. I really saw how Corporate America for restaurants really dumbed down the food system. We would consider ourselves line cooks and prep cooks, but we literally were opening up a bag of soup and putting it in a pot and warming it up. I was very talented at the warm up method, if I do say so myself!! But as I realized what was happening, I also saw that some of these restaurants were closing down and it forced me in a different direction. That direction was going back to school at the ripe old age of 32, to pursue a different field. In doing so, it made me step down from management and start to wait tables again, in order to support myself in college. Little did I know at this time that, this would introduce me to some of the greatest chefs and minds in the Syracuse culinary and food world.
In walks my first inspiration in the idea of delicious food, Chance Bear. Chance was doing some great things at the time. I had asked him if I could come to some of his events and volunteer so that I could
see what he was doing. He had a competition at Syracuse University called Iron Fork in 2012. It was the first event I got to see up close and personal. I escorted chefs, judges and patrons from one side of an event to another. As simple as it sounds, I truly was in awe of the whole idea! I got to see everything from the inside out. To this day, it is one of my favorite events that I have ever been a part of. Chance had a few other events that I volunteered as well, including the sunflower dinner at The Inn Between, Syracuse Pop Up Dinner series, Homegrown Throw Down Competition and the start of the Salt City Battle Chefs. Each event was a creation of Chance Bear and I really just loved being a part of something that was so delicious and mouth-watering to watch.
The second inspiration came from going to school at Syracuse University in a time where a program called Food Studies was in its infancy. We were the guinea pigs of a program created and taught by Evan Weissman. He had a class called Farm to Fork that was taught by 2 chefs and himself. There became the final piece in the idea of Farm to fork 101.
The class consisted of 15+ students all willing and ready to learn about food access and about farmers and their CSA programs. It was the first class that brought you to the farmers to pick out your own food and then cook with it. In that class, I realized that there was such a huge disconnect to our food system and more importantly, I met so many kids that couldn’t make any food unless it was Kraft Macaroni and cheese! Although it was a sad moment, it was also my aha moment. They were in such awe, when I cooked a quesadilla on the first day using only farm fresh ingredients. I felt like I was in a class of 10 year olds that have never seen a kitchen and have never seen a knife. I knew right then that people didn’t know how to cook, definitely didn’t know how to grow their own food and thirdly didn’t know what half the food was that was in their own backyard. They say, in order to fix a problem, you have to actually know there is a problem. This was my realization that everything about food and the system was a problem. I had sensed it for a while but never realized how far gone people were. This is where I thank Evan for opening my eyes to the problem and letting me see that there are ways to combat it but it was going to take a whole movement and community to even scratch the surface.
You know it has taken me awhile to understand what I wanted to be when I grow up but all along there were hints and glimpses of what I should’ve seen a long time ago. It just goes to show you that if you are on a path of purpose, that even if you wanted to deviate and go elsewhere, the universe has a weird way of telling you NO! My path was never straight and there were a lot of ups and downs but I know that it is the right one. I am happy to have met all the people on my path with similar interests. The ones that inspired me and the ones that made me cringe with disappointment. They all have, in one way or another helped create my contribution to the farm to table movement. Throughout my days in restaurants and food I have met many other chefs and restaurateurs that have inspired me in many ways. I have met many people that I would have never met if it wasn’t for food. I hope when everything is all said and done that I have returned the favor and have inspired a few of my own.
Photo Credit : Jen Hudson Photography & Laurence Ford Photography