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What do 50 chefs and managers, world famous baguettes, cocoa oil-coated cheese wheels, and 130-year old olive trees have in common?  They were all part of last month’s exciting Chefs Exchange Tour, a fun, educational experience for Bon Appetit chefs and managers to learn more about food (they already know quite a bit) and to meet and mingle with colleagues from different sites. Early Saturday morning our bus headed toward Sonoma Valley, California, an area known for its gourmet food and bountiful vineyards.  First stop: Artisan Bakers.  Here we received valuable lessons about bread-making by founder Craig Ponsford, who was the first non-French baker to win first place in the Baguette and Specialty Breads competition of The Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie ("the world cup of baking").  Needless to say, the baguettes we sampled (and purchased without hesitation) were […]

If anything seems easy to define, it should be the word "normal." The more you think about it, though, the harder it becomes. Apply this word to food and beverages and it gets harder still. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Nora Pouillon, chef/owner of Restaurant Nora in Washington, DC, an establishment described as "America’s first certified organic restaurant." Growing up in Austria, Nora consumed food and beverages produced organically (though there wasn’t a fancy term for it): they were just normal. When she moved to the U.S. 30 years ago, "normal" food was defined by technology: hormones for animal growth, processed corn as feed, keeping animals indoors year-round. Far from being viewed as an advance, these practices clashed with Nora’s idea of what was normal and the restaurant was eventually born. Fast forward three decades to a lunch […]

Mid-month lesson: Our food supply chain is much more complicated than I thought. Bon Appetit kitchens are already virtually trans fat free.  In 2004, we converted all our frying oil to non-hydrogenated canola oil.  Also, since our chefs always cook from scratch, we don’t rely on many manufactured products (where trans fats are commonly found). Now we’re aiming to completely eliminate trans fats from our kitchens so I thought, how hard could that be?  Turns out, it’s not that simple.  My mission to find trans fat free margarines for our kitchens goes something like this: begin my search online and realize that not all companies post trans fat information and that I don’t know all the existing margarine manufacturers go directly to the grocery store, examine Nutrition Facts labels of approximately 30 individual margarine products, identify which ones are trans […]

One of the questions I’m asked frequently by reporters is some version of "Is Bon Appetit’s model of sustainability scalable?" Well, we’ve taken a big step towards answering that query with a resounding "yes!" Our purchases from local farmers or artisans have topped $55mm annually. That’s up 80% from our previous year’s $30mm. Bon Appetit’s model of empowering our chefs and managers to connect with local purveyors and source fresh ingredients is working. We have been able to support the communities in which we operate, provide our guests with great tasting, local food and maintain profitability. This is a trifecta that many doubted was possible. Naysayers suggested we would have to turn to organic agribusiness and low cost overseas producers to keep up with our growth. That local purchasing could not be done on a large scale. I think we’ve […]

Commenting on my post about Bon Appetit Management Company joining the Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance, Diana asked why we serve Boca Burgers which are made from GMOs. Unfortunately, GMOs are so pervasive in the US food supply that, short of going 100% organic (which would bring up a whole host of other issues including having to give up many of our local suppliers in exchange for supporting organic agribusiness and raising our prices) we can’t avoid using some GE ingredients. That’s one of the big reasons we joined the Alliance. We want a mechanism where we can be educated about and support policy that curbs, eliminates, or at a minimum labels, the use of GE seeds. I applaud you for being such an educated consumer! I wish more people we are thoughtful about what they eat as you are. – […]

Our October Eat Local Challenge is still getting attention! John Feffer wrote a thought provoking article on the event for Salon.com’s new food section. For most readers, the "thought provoking" aspect of the piece was probably the idea that a large company like Bon Appetit can buy locally or what our industrialized food system has done to our small family farms and the security of our food system. However, I think about those ideas everyday, so for me the thought provoking part was the comment about students lamenting the loss of "Taco Tuesday." Are Bon Appetit’s ideals getting in the way of giving our customers what they want? Are we thinking too much about where our food comes from and not enough about where it’s going (in many cases to college students)? After some reflection, my conclusion is that the […]

I’m an adventurous eater always in search of new preparations I can try to imitate. Show me something I haven’t had before, and I’ll usually opt for it. Rarely do I find what I seek in a San Francisco taqueria. I get so bored with "vegetarian burritos" that consist of "Spanish" rice, mushy pinto beans, tasteless shredded cheese, "fresh" tomato salsa and shredded iceberg lettuce (no matter what the season). Who took actual "vegetables" out of "vegetarian" tacos? And why should salsa be defined by degrees of heat rather than by flavor? With memories of a few great casual Mexican meals I’ve had (a grilled vegetable burrito in Livermore, CA of all places but, then, why not?, a fresh salsa bar with 18 varieties in Davis, CA, and a dish of grilled corn, heirloom beans and tomatoes, all fresh from […]

Ever since Director of Culinary Support & Development Marc Zammit and I saw the film the Future of Food, we’ve been discussing how Bon Appetit can take a stand on genetically engineered food. Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary really opened my eyes to the environmental devastation being caused by GMOs as well as the potential health consequences and how far seed companies have gone to “protect” their patented material. Marc and I were both outraged by the way farmers are being treated and varietals are being lost forever. However, sadly, without labeling, it is almost impossible to know if products we purchase are made with GE plants. Bon Appetit’s made from scratch cooking philosophy insulates us somewhat as we have control over most of the ingredients we use but it seems soy protein and corn syrup have found their way into […]

In the somewhat big business model that Bon Appétit works in ,  we value relationships with suppliers as a true partnership. Especially with the smaller, local, non-corporate types like our farmers, ranchers and artisans.  The cultures are very different and we work hard at understanding each other.  We forgive when them the strawberries come in a bit over-ripe or the greens a little dirtier then usual. They understand when we get a little huffy about late deliveries. We are grateful when a farmer calls at the last minute to tell us they are sitting on 500 cases of beautifully sweet ripe peaches  that need to move.   We believe we’re getting something special and we act quickly to create a region wide promotion.  They are grateful when we send our managers to the orchards to pick up and deliver the peaches […]

The community of people who care about our food supply is growing by leaps and bounds. I think we are approaching an important "tipping point." Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to two groups of people who one might not traditionally think of as food activists. The first was Net Impact – MBA students and professionals interested in using the power of business to make a positive net social, environmental, and economic impact. It was refreshing to hear traditional business people ask questions about transparency, CSR reporting, and sustainability as a business differentiator. I spoke on a panel entitled "The Future of CSR" alongside representatives from Starbucks and Office Depot. Then, this past weekend I gave the keynote at the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Kansas City. What an interesting and inspiring group of […]