by Kyra Martin
Now in its third year, the Chipotle Cultivate Festival travels to several cities around the country educating people on sustainability and the food we eat. It highlights local farms and offers cooking demonstrations from local and celebrity chefs alike. Cultivate seeks to bring healthy, local, and sustainable food into the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Golden Gate Park was the site of this year’s Cultivate Festival; its first time in San Francisco. The festival had three main stages: two showcasing chef demos and one for live music. Local breweries sponsored a tasting hall with samples of choice local brews; including one made exclusively for the festival. There was also an artisan’s hall featuring local specialty food makers of everything from cookies to meats.
Oh, the food! There were several stands offering Chipotle favorites like tacos and gorditas, as well as offerings from Chipotle’s new Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen venture. Currently only offered back east but hopefully making its way westward soon. The biggest draw for the crowd seemed to be The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Despite the chilly weather, their line was, and remained, the longest of the festival. Based on what I saw walking around, I wish I had time to try it.
At the press tent I was greeted by the friendly face of my festival organizer contact. She gave me my schedule and I was able to explore while I waited for my first interview. One of the more jarring displays at the festival exposed the vast array of chemicals that go into processed foods. It was eye-opening and left you with a feeling of trying to pay more attention to what you’re really eating.
The turnout was amazing and I was lucky enough to speak with Chefs Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo Lefebvre from Trois Mec in Los Angeles. Opened by the “three dudes” (trois mec means “three dudes” in French) just 2 months ago, it’s quickly gained a following in L.A. This is the first standalone restaurant for Chef Ludo who rose to fame with his pop-up restaurants Ludo Bites. This is the third venture for Chef Jon Shook and Chef Vinny Dotolo, who also own Animal and Son of a Gun.
Being surrounded by three such accomplished chefs was humbling to say the least. Their love and passion for what they do was almost palpable. Hopefully my star struck-ness was not…
This was Chef Jon and Chef Vinny’s second year with Cultivate, but their first in San Francisco. Chef Jon explained to me how they got involved, “Chipotle called us, told us they were planning on doing these Cultivate events and explained to us what they were about. They were, like, right in line with what we were about and we were like, ‘man sounds like fun let’s do.’ And we had such a good time last year that when it came back around this year, we said ‘Ludo you gotta do this event its super fun, people are good and it’s a good time’ and here we are year two”
Since the festival is all about sustainability and local, and with three restaurants between the group, I was curious how big a role that played when they were creating their menus. “They’re of the upmost importance,” said Chef Vinny, “We shop the farmers markets for all the restaurants and for Trois Mec, heavily, three times a week. Almost all of the produce is sourced from the farmers markets, local farms and people we know. There’s a great connection there. We’re lucky here in California to have farmers markets be such a huge part of our culture and know that a lot of the farms practice sustainability and they treat the earth and the ground and the vegetables the way they should be. And I think that’s important for us.”
Chef Ludo explained further what they really look for when they go “hunting for ingredients,” “It’s like all good ingredients, its taste. When we go shopping for ingredients, hunting for ingredients, that’s what we do, that’s our job. 80 percent of my job is to go find ingredients. We are looking for good taste, ingredients that taste [like] what it’s supposed to taste like. You want a tomato that tastes like a tomato. A peach like a peach.” It was wonderful to see chefs care so much not only about the end dishes they put out, but the ingredients that go into them. All of the chefs at the festival really had a love and passion for food in all its forms.
Being that our website has many home cooks that look to us for advice and tips, I was able to get some awesome ideas from three of California’s best chefs! Chef Vinny had this to say about an easy way to elevate your day to day meals, “Have good ingredients in your house, a few good condiments, few good vinegars, a few good oils on hand that you can always just grab, a good spice cabinet. You know keep things simple, don’t over think it. A few good things, 3-4 things on a plate or in a dish, keep it simple and make it easy. Have fun with it and love what you’re doing. You can make anything delicious, even peanut butter and jelly.” “Don’t complicate,” added Chef Ludo.
But what’s the one thing a professional chef can’t live without in their kitchen. The answer was unanimous and an overwhelming “SALT!” “[I prefer] Kosher salt, personally. But there’s so many out there,” explained Chef Jon. “Butter,” added Chef Vinny. And French born and raised Chef Ludo can’t live without his “Salt and mustard. French. Dijon.” “And he’s not talking about ‘French’s’!!” Chef Jon added laughing. And he definitely wasn’t. I don’t know where to find the mustards he was talking about, but they definitely sounded worth looking in to.
I concluded our interview with the question I was most curious about, what does a person who cooks all day, every day make on their day off? “Something for the kids,” answered Chef Vinny. “Roasted chicken and potato,” said Chef Ludo. He stuffs the chicken with, “Lemon, garlic, thyme, butter and oil. That’s it. And potato. I love it, I grew up with it. My grandma was always cooking roasted chicken and potato on Sunday. So I do the same thing for my kid. You know, its memory.”
And that statement, “Its memory,” is what stands out the most to me from our whole interview. Food builds memories, triggers memories, brings the ones you love together. It was such a pleasure being able to talk with three chefs who care so much about what they do.
In part 2, I talk with Evan and Sarah Rich of Rich Table in San Francisco, about their experience with the festival and how they work with farmers on a daily basis. And make sure to check out our Facebook page for a photo album from the event!!
If you’re curious about Cultivate, you still have two chances left this year to get in on the action. Check out the schedule for Denver and Chicago here: http://chipotle.com/cultivate/
And in case you missed it, here is our blog post about salt (hint: this was a common answer among all my interviews!!): http://blog.cookeatshare.com/index.php/2013/06/05/tis-the-seasoning/