A New Chef’s Journey to Become a Selective Omnivore

“For me, it’s about being a selective omnivore. We live in a time when we have amazing choices, but picking the right plants and meats for our meals takes some thought."

-Taylor Drew, Chef

By Aaron Drew

The saying goes, "if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." But to aspiring chef Taylor Drew, harsh temperatures have not been the biggest challenge in his culinary arts training.

“Food is something we mostly take for granted. Where it comes from and how it gets to our plates is not always on our minds when we sit down to eat. As I learn more about creating cuisine, I see the need to develop an intimate understanding of the food I’m preparing or eating. But this shouldn’t just be the case for chefs. Knowing how something was grown, or where it’s from, or whether it was harvested in a sustainable manner can tell you a lot about the environmental impact of our meals,” says Drew.

All the food we consume has a story, from our own pantry shelves to the dinner Taylor helps prepare at Denver’s award-winning restaurant Mizuna. But most of the time, we just dig in and enjoy.

“For me, it’s about being a selective omnivore. We live in a time when we have amazing choices, but picking the right plants and meats for our meals takes some thought. This is something we are working on at Mizuna by using more local farms, seasonal ingredients and even sea bass raised in Colorado.”

Lively conversation has always been a staple at dinner tables. So, next time you are enjoying a delicious meal with friends or family, strike up a discussion about where your meal comes from. You may learn a few things to help you select foods that are good for you and the planet.

Taylor’s Tips:

Eat Smart: Get to Know Your Food
Throughout history, people have had a close connection with the way their food is grown, prepared and cooked, but this has changed over the past 100 years—especially in the United States where our direct relationship with where our food comes from has almost vanished. Because of this, eating smart takes some planning. Most of us can’t just open up our cupboards at dinner time and whip together a culinary masterpiece that is good for you and the planet.

My suggestion is to start with one dinner a week where you learn the story of each ingredient. Before you know it, you will be reading labels, asking more questions, spending Saturdays at farmers markets and making meals that you can take pride in preparing.

Eat Local: Meet Your Grower
Advancements in packaging and shipping allow us to enjoy food from around the world, in any season, for relatively low prices. This has resulted in a frustrating reality—sometimes it’s easier to get food from 5,000 miles away than it is from your own state. Fortunately, local food movements such as community supported agriculture are changing this paradigm, and it’s becoming much easier to enjoy local fruits, vegetables and meats.

Even if you live in a major city, organic delivery services and urban community farms are providing new opportunities to eat local year-round. In Denver, it’s not rare to see an old abandoned lot now growing arugula or to hear about someone using their back yard to grow carrots for a local co-op. Check out Agriburbia for a great example in Colorado.

Eat Sustainably: Plenty of Fish in the Sea?
When it comes to sustainability, seafood is one of my chief concerns. In many cases our oceans, seas and estuaries are being depleted at a rate that will lead to some items disappearing from our markets and menus if we are not careful. Most of the time it’s hard to know what you shouldn’t eat. Fortunately, there are resources that can help.

The Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch provides a pocket guide that breaks down seafood regionally into good choices, good alternatives and what to avoid. It’s often more complicated than eliminating one particular fish. Whether it’s line caught, farm raised or where it’s from can make a difference. That is why seafood guides can be such a big help. Seafood Watch now has an iPhone app so you can be informed just about anywhere.

Eat Green: Canning is Key
Most of us could use more fruits and vegetables in our diets. Unfortunately, a good portion of the country is too cold to grow these staples year-round. If it’s a cold wintery day in the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy for me to realize that there are probably not strawberries growing nearby. Most of the time it’s fun to take this as a challenge and concentrate on making food that fits the season.

However, our favorite fruits and vegetables are still a reality in our coldest months thanks to the wonders of canning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a great website with instructions on safe canning.

Western Colorado has some of the best peaches you can imagine, so I spend a little time in the fall making sure I am stocked up when winter sets in. Canning, pickling and preserving everything that is produced during the summertime allows us to be selective about where our food comes from year round.

Eat Out: Picnic for the Planet
Picnics combine my two favorite things—being outside and enjoying good food. This Earth Day, April 22nd, I will take a cue from The Nature Conservancy and appreciate our natural world with a Picnic for the Planet. People around the world will be heading outside to celebrate the planet and the food it provides.

It’s still pretty early in the season for most of our favorite picnic foods, so I will be bringing a bacon potato salad made with local and canned ingredients.

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