My interest in cooking started in the 90's when I learned about man's best friends, fire and red meat, while living in Ft. Worth TX. Up to that point, oatmeal with raisins was a cooking adventure for me. I experimented with brisket, ribs, BBQ sauce and Lone Star beer with my friends. But, when no one with a Texas bloodline was looking, I reverted to my California roots with grilled chicken and vegetables.
2002 was a culinary watershed year for me. I divorced my business partner and took my first cooking school sabbatical at the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute in Lyon, France. Charred meat and BBQ sauce were swept aside by Volaille Farcie aux Morilles and vintage Chassagne-Montrachet.
I learned that fat in any form – beurre blanc, fois gras, or crème – should be the first ingredient of any recipe. I don’t remember a single recipe from the schooling, but sophistication, nuance and saveur were principles learned and indulged with pleasure. I also learned how to call a taxi in French when leaving the local disco at 5 am.
If 2002 was about the French palate, 2007 was about a sensible healthy diet. New York City's Natural Gourmet Institute countered traditional French cuisine with a whole food approach that eschewed processed foods and fats in favor of nut milks, reishe mushrooms, and protein packed quinoa. They and their kin were my new BFF’s of food. My cooking pendulum had swung from one extreme to another.
I followed New York with an externship at Hell’s Backbone Grill – an organic restaurant in the middle of No-Where, Utah. Blake and Jen’s menu of organic comfort food brought my needle back to center. The union of the two cuisines reinforced my 80/20 perspective on food. Eat as healthy as you can as often as you can, but never deny yourself a 20% splurge for the fats, chocolates and wines in your life.
Which brings me to the Ceres Community Project. Ceres is a non-profit that prepares and distributes nutritional ready-to-eat meals for individuals and families during a debilitating medical treatment or recovery. Often these situations prevent families from preparing any meal much less a healthy one. Ceres’ philosophy of providing food and community as medicine sustains these people in trying times.
My participation in Ceres centers on an adult prep group. Every Wednesday morning, our group of 6-10 adults scrub, peel and chop big buckets of carrots, kale and other vegies. After their classes, local teens volunteer their afternoons in the Ceres kitchen to cook and package meals for delivery to clients that evening. Their commitment to the kitchen is six months and many extend it beyond.
The teens are backbone of the Ceres Community Project. Without them, the system fails. Most do not have any kitchen experience, but all contribute and learn from the process and social interaction between fellow teens and clients. Some discover they have a desire to pursue a career in nutrition or the culinary arts, but lack the resources to do so.
I'm well aware fortune has given me time and money to develop skills that help the Ceres kitchen. I also realize that at 65 years, my interest is more a personal indulgence than a vocational one.
So I added to The List of 65 a scholarship for someone whose goal is a culinary career with an interest in food as medicine and lifestyle. Someone for whom cooking is not a hobby, but a passion to help others with their dietary health.
Recently, we selected a Ceres teen with the potential, desire, and need to receive a scholarship to start them on their culinary education. This person envisions a restaurant with tasty, life affirming food in a communal setting. My kind of restaurant as long as Old Fashions are on the cocktail list - gotta keep that 20% indulgence at hand.
For more information on the Ceres Community Project and the tremendous contribution given to the community of health compromised individuals and families, go to ceresproject.org.
Ceres also has a vocational class for teens interested in a culinary career. The final exam is a team Iron Chef Contest where I assist as one of the team coaches. The secret ingredient this December was Jerusalum Artichokes. Team Triangle (my team) came in only one point out of first place.
Update: December 2017.
Diego Maldonado graduated from the Culinary and Dietary Program at Santa Rosa JC. He is now employed at The Ceres Project as a chef. Congratulations, Diego!