Culinary Improv: TriC event

A dynamic conference bringing together internationally known performers, artists and scholars in an exploration of improvisation across the arts – cuisine, music, literature, visual arts, politics and oral history.

Zarouhie Abdalian | Courtney Bryan | Ben Burkett Mel Chin | Theo Eliezer | Randy Fertel | Ham Fish Paul Goussot | Chris Kaminstein | Richard McCarthy | Stephen Nachmanovitch | Davia Nelson Jenna Sherry | Gwen Thompkins | Rob Wallace | Alice Waters | Matt Wuerker

First up: A special presentation with Chef, author, activist, and founder/owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California ALICE WATERS, BEN BURKETT, farmer/activist and president of the National Family Farm Coalition and oral historian DAVIA NELSON, co-host/producer of NPR’s Kitchen Sisters. Moderated by RICHARD MCCARTHY of Slow Food USA.

Richard McCarthy: Farmers markets in New Orleans started from an improvisation: the city wouldn’t allow open air markets to operate again, so we called it a food festival instead. Yes, a weekly festival 4 days per week. In 4 different neighborhoods.

Let’s start with Farmer, mentor Ben Burkett: what did you think this weekend was all about for a farmer?

Ben Burkett: I didn’t know but I came because of the people involved.

We’ve been bringing food to the city for almost 50 years. Farming is all improvisation.

We do markets because we wanted to defy the Get Big or Get Out mantra.

To do that, I reduced my scale and my methods to rethink for the markets.

Next up, Davia Nelson NPR host, “DJ for the night” and question asker, we want her to tell us how does scale work in food.

And Alice Waters, mother of the food system.

RMC: reading the preface of Waters memoir.

“I look for aliveness, color. I listen to the farmer to hear what is happening in the fields. I think we forget that food is alive.”

Waters: we didn’t know how to run a restaurant when we opened at Chez Panisse.

And we couldn’t find the ingredients.

So we went to the doorsteps of the organic farmers coming to market.

We had to use what they had. It gave us the ability to come up with special dishes, to improvise, still relying on classic recipes.

We had to use ingredients available that day; had to adapt to what was available.

Sometimes we had to reprint the menu between the two seatings, either because we didn’t like the first try or maybe because someone brought in a flat of raspberries in between the two seatings.

Davia: tell us about your fathers role in improv:

Waters: my father was a businessman but a farmer at heart. When he saw us struggling to find farmers, he and my mother went to Davis the ag school and asked for the list of all organic farmers within an hour of CP. Went and visited all of them over 9 months and said:

“Found 3, and only one is crazy enough to work with you.”

That farmer leads the menu and keeps the restaurant completely alive.

Question for Ben: How have things changed over 23 years in going to the market?

Burkett: things change. Kale used to be for the horses, now it’s on the table. We have a cooperative member growing mushrooms. He did great this year. Never did that before.

Nelson: is this climate improvisation?

Burkett: absolutely. There is definitely an effect on the crops that I am seeing. I’m 100 miles into MS, but can grow lemons, mirlitons, things we have never could grow before.

Waters: this is true in California too now. The food is ripe before it has full flavor in it.

About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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