Agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, food sovereignty, traditional knowledge, indigenous ingredients, and sustainable fishing techniques are some of the themes increasingly influencing menus around the world.
Restaurants play an important role in the food system, driving demand, changing people’s perceptions of food, and pushing food trends. Chefs nowadays are diving deeper into the impact of their choices, making socially and environmentally responsible decisions for their menus, as it has been the mission of the Cook’s Alliance for more than a decade.
With that same mentality, the Food for Change campaign in partnership with Relais & Chateaux celebrated its third year with two hundred chefs participating in the “One Chef, One Ingredient” challenge showcasing Ark of Taste products to raise awareness of the importance of protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change with our forks.
Four Relais & Châteaux chefs from different corners of the world shared their insights live on Instagram, each in conversation with food activist and educator Charles Michel. They taught us new techniques on how to use ingredients unique to their ecosystem.
HAWAII AND ULU
Kuleana – the Hawaiian word for “a personal sense of responsibility” is the basis of chef Krista Garcia’s food sourcing, to seek out and support ingredients that are locally grown and seasonal. Surrounded by lush green vegetation at Hotel Wailea, Krista delved into the importance of Ulu, or breadfruit, in the Hawaiian islands.
Krista explains, “Ulu is one of the key crops that can bring food sovereignty to the Hawaiian community. The tree is vital in biodiverse agroforestry as it is considered the elder plant providing shade for other crops. Plus its spiritual importance is tied to the Hawaiin cultural heritage, it is a sacred plant, and through it, we connect with the divine.”
Ulu’s intriguing flavor and textural evolution as it ripens allow for many applications, from the hard green fruit perfect for a gratin dish to the soft, mature pulp with a custard-like consistency. For this recipe, Krista harvested the green fruit, thinly sliced it, and baked it into a gratin with fennel, onions, garlic, and coconut milk.
‘ULU AU GRATIN
454gr Ulu firm, sliced ⅛” in a mandoline
225gr each fennel bulb and sweet onion, sliced ⅛” in a mandoline
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
400ml coconut milk
5 g sea salt
- Brush the inside of a 9×13-inch baking dish with coconut oil or butter. Layer the sliced vegetables, sprinkle with sea salt, and cover with coconut milk.
- Bake in a 375F (195C) until the coconut milk is reduced and the vegetables are knife-tender and begin to turn golden, finish browning under the broiler for one minute.
ARGENTINA AND AMARANTH
Amaranth, one of the world’s oldest crops, is one of chef Pedro Bargero’s favorite ingredients, and a way to connect the consumers at his restaurant Chila to the producers on the high altitude Andes Mountains growing and caring for this nutritious grain.
According to Pedro, “As cooks, we are a link, we can help bring about change with a more diverse diet and menu, showcasing the life of the producers, after all, they are the stewards of the land and protectors of biodiversity.”
Amaranth has been overshadowed by quinoa, especially after the FAO named 2013 “International Year of Quinoa.” However, Amaranth is just as nutritious as quinoa, and as versatile, as pointed out by Pedro, it can be cooked like risotto, used as flour for alfajor cookies, or other baked goods, or popped, like popcorn.
“AMARANTH POP” CRUSTED LEEK WITH YOGURT
- To pop the amaranth, place the seeds in a hot pot, cover with a lid and lightly shake, until the amaranth seeds start to explode.
- For this dish, Pedro cooks 8 young leeks in 250ml salted whey for 25 minutes to infuse creaminess, then grills them over charcoal, and dips them in the popped amaranth.
- Served with a quenelle of yogurt and pickled radishes, and drizzled with leek oil – made by blanching 50gr dark leaf tops, cooling, and blending them with 100ml of mild oil, and straining.
JAPAN AND SHOTTSURU
From sustainable fishing techniques to ocean acidification and the balance of the ecosystem, chef Shinobu Namae of L’Effervescence champions Shottsuru, a traditional Japanese fish sauce made by layering and fermenting salt and hatahata (sailfin sandfish), to raise awareness of the growing problems in our oceans.
Much like other fish, hatahata was overfished to near extinction in the 1980s. After a halt in fishing to bring the population up to normal levels, as chef Namae-san explains, now ocean acidification and warming temperatures are threatening hatahata’s survival along with the culture of seaweed, so ubiquitous in Japanese cooking.
“In Japan, we rely on seaweed as part of our diet, yet with the rise in temperatures the ecosystem is slowly dying, damaging habitats for fish spawning and breeding grounds, so the hatahata fish is endangered together with the tradition to make shottsuru, but so is the biodiversity of kelp we eat,” Namae-san warns.
Traditional shottsuru is at risk of being lost not only due to climate change, but also as producers switch to more modern production methods, chef Shinobu Namae has developed a close relationship with his shottsuru producer to support the production of this ancestral fermented fish sauce, and the ecosystem from which it was developed.
Get the full recipe for Shottsuru-Glazed Bonito Sashimi here.
ITALY AND CHIOGGIA MARINA PUMPKIN
The whimsical, green exterior of the Chioggia Marina Pumpkin, an heirloom autumnal squash, contrasts the deep, complex orange flesh, exhibiting sweet and mineral notes.
Chef Massimiliano Alajmo of Le Calandre, explains that “Suca Baruca” — the original name of this pumpkin — used to be prolific in the 18th century around the fishing village of Chioggia near Venice, where people consumed it as street food. Massimiliano brings food back to traditions and respect for the ingredients. In fact, the passing of time is itself an important ingredient, since traditions and nostalgia evolve over generations. In Alajmo’s own words, “sometimes it’s better to not speak, but feel.” Alajmo’s philosophy is to listen to the ingredient, let it speak its truth, interpreting the product to allow the farmer’s, and nature’s, work to shine.
For this recipe Massimiliano roasts the pumpkin and the seeds to incorporate it into the risotto, showcasing this humble ingredient, as he believes the art of cooking isn’t about the bells and whistles.
CHIOGGIA MARINA SQUASH AND CINNAMON RISOTTO
1 kg Chioggia marina squash
320 gr. Carnaroli rice
12 gr. extra virgin olive oil
70 gr. dry white wine
A pinch of salt
15 gr. white onion, minced
40 pumpkin seeds
2 lt. vegetable or hen broth
60 gr. butter
80 gr. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
5 gr. fresh lemon juice
A pinch of cinnamon powder
- Slice squash into 4 cm thick pieces and remove the skin. Roast in a 180 C degree oven for 50 minutes with pumpkin seeds.
- Toast the rice in the oil in a wide pot over medium-high, add white wine and let evaporate. Add about 160 grams of stewed pumpkin, onion, 24 pumpkin seeds, and a pinch of salt, continue cooking, adding hot broth, a ladleful at a time.
- Once the rice is al dente, add a bit more stewed pumpkin and stir in butter, Parmigiano, and lemon juice.
- Serve with a pinch of cinnamon powder, pumpkin seeds, and a spoonful of pumpkin puree.