They say "You are what you eat," but personally, I don't remember eating a sexy beast this morning! But as always, I digress... Next week, our favorite LA-based chefs, Nina Clemente and Michael Reed, alongside their friends Marisa Tomei, Shiva Rose, Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer, are taking over The Standard, Hollywood for a dinner series to end all dinner series.
The dinner, Reclaim REAL Food, is a stance against Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, as they are more commonly known. Food that has been unnaturally altered to serve a purpose not intended by Mother Nature is the enemy. Wholesome, all natural, garden fresh food is their friend. Clemente & Reed have been nurturing this friendship for years and have been making new friends at the Garden School Foundation which is a garden-based organization meant to educate our next generation on Seed to Table farming.
In anticipation of the series, I sat down with Clemente and asked her to walk me through her world of non-GMO fare. This is what she had to say...
Why are GMOs such an important issue for you? Why should people care?
I've been a private chef in LA for the past 5 years. The food I provide my clients has consistently been made from scratch using local organic farmers bounties. I grew up in a home where my mom provided the same for us. At a young age I realized that having access to real food in this country is a privilege not a right. I have always found this to be unacceptable. It is inconceivable to me that scientists would cross DNA of pesticides and other toxins directly with food we are supposed to consume. This is a simplified explanation of what GMOs are. Would you feed your children cereal, milk and candy if you knew if was packed with these GMOs? All we're asking for right now in this country is the right to know! Major corporations that make endless money on these products won't give us that right. People should care because awareness and demand is the only way to create a change in our current broken food system.
Was there a particular experience where it all clicked and you realized you had to take action?
The second I watched Robyn O'Brien's Ted Talk exposing the statistics on GMOs relatively new immersion into our food system, I was blown away that this was publicly accessible knowledge. Yet when I started asking around I realized few people truly knew the facts. This is the moment I realized I had to do whatever I could to raise awareness.
This isn't just another foodie fad, is it?
I am going to do everything within my power to make sure it is not just a fad. Once awareness is raised about the long term effects of GMO crops both to our environment and our bodies, I am confident people will begin to reject them. Once the demand for 'real food' increases, the major companies that push this fake food will have to alter their ways to meet our needs. Doing our best to avoid GMO food has to become ingrained in our mentality, only then will this 'fad' become a way of life.
Is it possible to cut out GMOs entirely? What would you suggest to someone who wants to but isn't made of money?
This is the most frustrating battle so far. The best way of avoiding GMO food is to eat organic, but obviously this is a very costly option. Another more simple way to avoid GMOs is to read the labels on food. The top GMO containing crops are Corn, Soybeans, Cotton (Cottonseed oil), Canola, and Sugar beets. Most processed food contain some form of one of these ingredients. Our conventional livestock is also fed GMO packed feed. It's hard to avoid completely but the less we support the companies making these products, the more they will start to take notice. Major companies are altering ingredients in their products for other countries where GMOs are banned, we are not getting the same consideration because we need to demand it.
What is the Garden School Foundation and why is its work so vital?
The Garden School Foundation is the leading garden-based learning organization in Los Angeles focusing on how schools can best access the powerful and transformative potential gardens have for students and their families. Their ¾ acre garden classroom at an elementary school in South LA serves as the premier model for the city, with students there visiting the garden every day of the year for classes in everything from cooking and nutrition to Science and Social Studies. They are currently publishing their Seed to Table curriculum and working to expand their groundbreaking program to many thousands more children in 2013.
I first started teaching in the Seed to Table program last February, and was immediately hooked. I was impressed by everything I saw, from the huge and beautifully maintained garden classroom with hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables to the passionate and professional GSF staff. It was the excitement and jubilance of the kids, however, that made me realize beyond any doubt that there was something really special going on here. After just a few weeks working with the kids, I would call out "What's the best candy?" and the kids would reply "Nature's fruits and veggies!". Through my experiences here I've recognized how important it is to expose kids to nature and growing food, and the impact that has on many aspects of their lives. While I'm still frustrated to see vendors outside school selling candy and highly processed foods, I'm that much more inspired to do everything I can to make sure all kids have access to this incredible program and see that cooking real food is easy, delicious and fun!
Did growing up in the art world influence your decision to become a chef?
I'd say more than growing up in the art world, it was growing up in my family. My parents exposed me to the best food in the world, primarily rooted in my moms home cooking. The two things I am most thankful for is the extent that I was able to travel as a child, and the real food I was always fed. Majoring in Anthropology in college, and then becoming a chef after may seem like a disjointed transition. For me it was a natural progression. I love culture. I adore food. I thrive on expressing my art by feeding people. I've always seen food as the best kind of art as it indulges all five senses. So in addition to my family, in retrospect growing up in the art world absolutely influenced my decision to become a chef :)
What's your favorite side dish?
Any seasonal vegetable from my local farmers market sautéed in some extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and red chili is always a sure bet.
In celebration of their efforts, The Standard, Hollywood is hosting the chefs and their friends for three nights, January 29-31, for a six-course meal highlighting their wholesome culinary creations. As always, you are expected and can reserve your dinner here.
See you in Hollywood, Friends!