Chefs Collaborative is a 20-year-old organization with some serious names to drop. Founding members include John Ash, Rick Bayless, Susan Feniger, Nobu Matsuhisa, Nora Pouillon, Michael Romano and Alice Waters.
Today, the organization has hundreds of members, all working to promote conscious food consumption. They emphasize the system-wide power that chefs have in setting tastes and trends that trickle down from fine dining to the grocery fish counter. On April 28, Chefs Collaborative will be hosting Meat Matters: a fund-raising event open to the public (tickets are $200 each) featuring tastings and discussions with chefs the likes of Rick Bayless, Piper Davis, Howard Kalachnikoff, Stephen Stryjewski and Bill Telepan, among others.
We caught up with Chefs Collaborative executive director Sara Brito to find out what to expect at Meat Matters and how it all got started.
Edible Manhattan: Let’s start simple, what is Chefs Collaborative?
Sara Brito: Chefs Collaborative is a national nonprofit network of chefs and food professionals who all care about, sourcing, cooking and serving better food to create a better food system. Chefs Collaborative was founded over 20 years ago by a group of revolutionary chefs who understood the power or perhaps, at that time, the potential power that chefs would have — not only economic power, purchasing power and cultural influence in changing the way of people in America eat.
EM: It looks like you do a lot of training of chefs all over the country. Can you tell me more about that?
SB: Sure, I’ll say we have three key focuses as an organization. At the core of what we do is we connect people who are doing good work with other people who are doing good work, or other people who want to do good work.
Many chefs and food professionals work alone. They feel isolated because they are perhaps the only ones in their community who are struggling with various issues. They often work long hours in kitchens that don’t have access to fresh air and sunshine, and so it can be really isolating work. Everyone thinks of the chefs on TV or the chefs that are making an appearance in a dining room, smiling and looking very big-hearted and generous, and that is definitely who they are, but everyone forgets about the very hard work of chefs. So we give them opportunities to get out of the kitchen, share their successes and inspire others.
EM: Is the Meat Matters event coming up on the 28th part of the effort to inspire?
SB: It is. It is definitely designed to be educational and it is a celebration. It is also a fund-raiser for our education and scholarship programs, because a big part of what we do is create funds that enable chefs financially to take time away from kitchens and join these various things.
But beyond that, it is the launch of a new theory. We’ve long been active in promoting sustainable fish and seafood through our “Trash Fish” dinners, and we wanted to launch a series that will begin to explore the issues surrounding eating and producing meat. This is one of our programs that is both for members, as well as open to the general public — really anyone who wants to come and explore the issues around meat through a taste experience.
The idea is that each chef at their station will be serving different proteins and will have information, very high-level information that starts a conversation around one of the issues of producing and sourcing and eating that particular protein. The chefs are going to be actually cooking at their station, and so it is really meant to be very conversational, a dialogue about the issues rather than a lecturing environment.
EM: The chefs presenting are obviously fantastic chefs, but what are their qualifications in the area of sustainable sourcing?
SB: They are all long-term members of the collaborative and have been doing this work for a long time. We also have some of our partners, like an expert from Niman Ranch, talking about what sustainability means to them, so it is really no one perspective at this event. It’s really meant to bring people to the table and get them to start thinking about these issues. And if they are already thinking about them, to participate in the dialogue around them.