Chef’s Boot Camp Food Policy

Rick Bayless & the James Beard’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change – Fresh Ideas on Food

Monday, July 06, 2015 tgoandco

James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change
Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.


The term “Boot Camp” conjures up images of sleeping in pup tents, running laps, endless sit-ups or paddling up stream in a canoe. Camping on hard ground and paddling canoes isn’t exactly what was on this camp’s schedule of activities. Nor is a chef’s boot camp about learning new ways to peel carrots or cook a potato. This camp is really more ground-breaking, thought provoking and debate simmering. This camp provides coaching to people on how to present and discuss issues involving food policy.

“Are you a lobbyist or becoming part of a new superpac?” I asked Rick Bayless, celebrity chef and host of TV’s long-running Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Bayless, a multi-time winner of the James Beard Award and recipient of the James Beard Humanitarian Award as well as International Association of Culinary Professionals Humanitarian Award was a little surprised and chuckled at the bluntness of the question.

“I haven’t registered myself as a lobbyist but I do want to be able to get my point across when given the opportunity to speak. I want people to listen to what I have to say.” That was a very unusual answer coming from a man who has shopping bags loaded of awards, authored numerous books on the subject of food and someone who makes a living being the go-to guy for extraordinary Mexican cuisine. Discussing food is not something I would say is difficult for him. It is his forte and something he is very eloquent at. Regularly in front of the camera, I would not put him on the list of people to ignore when it comes to discussing food policy. He is very much in-the-know and understands precisely the nuances of this subject which is why he attended this conference/boot camp.

Chef Alex Seidel and Michel Nischan at the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change
at Glynwood in Cold Spring, New York, June 7-9. Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.

Listen up!

“You really only have 3 minutes to get a point across and get people to understand and get engaged. It is about cutting through the din and getting people to become part of the conversation. This camp was really getting like-minded chefs to come together to be more effective in communicating a message. As chefs, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. We are running businesses and concentrating on many things. In some respects, it is very isolative. So when we get the chance to get together, it really is an amazing experience. Many of the people at the camp are people I greatly admire — not just for their food, but also for what they are doing beyond their work in the kitchen. The camp gives people tools and guidance to be more influential and become effective advocates for better food policy.”

What exactly does “Food Policy” encompass?

Food policy isn’t just thoughts swirling around ideas of the food pyramid or how many portions of veggies to eat daily. It doesn’t necessarily concern itself with the number of glasses of water to drink but it does include that. That is only a piece of the puzzle. Instead; it is more concerned with how food is produced, processed, distributed and purchased. Food policies are designed to guide the operation of the food production and agricultural system. This includes the decisions made around production/distribution, food processing techniques, marketing, nutrition labeling, availability, utilization and consumption of food in the interest sustainability and health. Once more, food policy can be put into operation on any level — from a local farmer to global initiatives. It can be done on a governmental level, as part of business, or through civic/health organizations. This is where chefs come into play.  The celebrity chef takes center stage in many communities. Their restaurants help define what and how we eat (like the latest trend being craft beers or small plates), what is cool to eat (like fish tacos or bacon ice cream) or what/where and how the food we get is prepared (localvore slow food vs internationally made and processed fast food). In a nutshell, food policy is huge and affects everyone of us.

 Chef Steven Satterfield at the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change
at Glynwood in Cold Spring, New York, June 7-9. Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.
The James Beard Foundation allows foodies to keep up with the latest food trends and increases the visibility of favorite chefs across America.  It also teaches chefs the importance of making good decisions regarding food policy as well as teaching them how to implement positive food policy change. James Beard himself was an educator and taught cooking from the perspective of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome locally grown ingredients. He did so to a country just when people were becoming aware of its own food culinary heritage. He also talked about the necessity to take food seriously and not taking it for granted. James Beard was a contemporary of Julia Child. The impact the two had on food is immeasurable.

The James Beard Foundation’s boot camp is part of the educational arm that continues on with James’ legacy. The people who attend the boot camp are those concerned with providing food that is sustainable, affordable to all and above all healthy and want to get involved in building smart food policy.

Chef Kevin Fonzo and Chef Bradley Ogden at the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change
at Glynwood in Cold Spring, New York, June 7-9. Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.

Yum — Areas of agreement

“There were many issues on policy that we could agree upon including the farm bill, sustainable foods and responsible use of antibiotics in the food system. The aim was to empower people to do their part to cause change — whether through their congressman or even at your local supermarket. We learned to craft a better message suitable and targeted for either a congressman or someone who happens to be listening in on the conversation.  We learned how generate support and build buzz. It is important to get the message out. Many times, you only have a short space of time to be effective. We have to be efficient. We learned how to craft a better story so people are inspired to continued listening but also inspired to act.” Said Rick Bayless.

Rick Bayless was just one of the many people participating in this 7th Annual Boot Camp. Some of the greatest chefs and major names in the country flew in to participate in this three-day event.

  Chefs at the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change at
Glynwood in Cold Spring, New York, June 7-9. Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.

“There were so many people together talking around the table — the most important message was incredibly clear.  Childhood nutrition is a big problem and needs to be addressed. We need to teach our children not only what to eat but how to feed themselves. We have got to fix a system that is broken.”

This most recent Boot Camp took place for a second time at Glynwood in New York's Hudson Valley, June 7-9, 2015.  Glynwood is a non-profit farm model that uses regenerative farming practices. The model farm helps farmers by providing business strategies and training/teaching new farmers. It promotes regional food, farming practices that help energize local economies by means of agritourism, training and land conservation. Glynwood as acts as a resource. As a 225-acre farm that practices rebuilding the soil fertility, it acts as a testing ground for revitalizing pastures and farmland techniques. The farm has also achieved Animal Welfare Approved Certifications for virtually all it’s livestock including: pigs, cows, goats, sheep and range-free chickens/hens.

Chef Rick Bayless and Chef Evan Hanczor at the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change
at Glynwood in Cold Spring, New York, June 7-9. Photo Credit: Ken Goodman.

 This Boot Camp was conducted in partnership with the Chef Action Network (CAN), with support from Glynwood, the Osprey Foundation, and JBF board member Eric Kessler. Eric is founder and managing director of Arabella Advisors — an advisory board that helps to provide philanthropy strategies, evaluates non-profits and offers back-office management services. It specializes in family philanthropists, professional foundations and corporate donors around the world. He has impacted billions of philanthropic dollars going to issues from food and nutrition policy to education reform to global health. The Osprey Foundation is a small family foundation that strives to empower individuals and communities through education, health, economic opportunity and human rights in a sustainable way. Their aim is to inspire global citizens to realize their own potential to tackle the social, environmental, and economic challenges.

“Many of us prefer to look at the problem from the perspective of making relationships with the farmers who grow the food we prepare. As a chef, I want to know who they are. I want to know that they use sustainable practices and they are not contaminating the soil, the ground water or using practices that are not helpful to the environment. I want them to have my best interests at heart and do their best to make good decisions on providing good nutritious food and do so sustainably. When I know that, I have a lot more respect for their food when it comes into my kitchen because it is something they worked hard to provide.  My other chefs and I have a lot more respect for the food and how we prepare it. It allows me to be more creative as I know this food was grown with a lot of care and love.”  — Rick Bayless

To find out more about the James Beard Foundation, the Foundation’s Boot Camp or watch a video about the boot camp, go to: http://www.jamesbeard.org/education/bootcamp
While you are there, check out the other educational opportunities PLUS find out how to to dine at James Beard’s historic townhouse in Manhattan. The roster of guest chefs is very impressive and changes daily. It is most certainly something that you will want to put on the bucket list next time that you’re in the Big Apple.




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