Preeti Mistry Shares Thoughts On Top Chef and The Power Of Fresh Produce

Leaving the Top Chef
competition, I could not help thinking how much of a struggle it was to cook
without fresh vegetables and herbs that were not available in the Air Force
Base kitchen.  It made me think of the challenges
many Americans face to find fresh produce and healthy ingredients,
and the sad results for the nation’s health. I run an industrial size kitchen
feeding 2500 people a day, and despite the size and scope of the operation I
manage, everything we put on the table to feed our guests is made from

The Air Force Colonel had
made it clear that these were some of America’s finest Airmen and
Airwomen.  He told of their extensive
travels abroad that have enlightened their palates — yet sadly the kitchen
walk-in refrigerator at the base had very little fresh produce and their
dry-goods room was full of cans. I can’t imagine what these brave men and women
go through overseas, but I can imagine upon return they would be craving fresh
vegetables.  No doubt overseas kitchens
need many canned provisions to survive in a volatile environment, but in a city
full of great restaurants like Las Vegas, it’s very disappointing  to not have a least some fresh herbs and
seasonal produce available to feed our troops. 

As I watched President
Obama’s speech on health care reform, I was reminded that our country faces a
health crisis.  Part of this crisis,
which did not exist 30 years ago, is due to what our nation eats and is causing
the rates of obesity and other illnesses linked to eating a poor diet to
soar.  So it saddens me to see our troops
being fed a diet that is so lacking in fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits
that taste delicious and have been medically proven to keep us healthy.

What if the kitchen on the
Air Force base was stocked with seasonal produce, fresh herbs and sustainably
raised meats?  What if someone had been
able to plant a garden, like the Victory Gardens planted during World War II to
support our nation’s food security, or the garden on the White House lawn, or
the urban gardens springing up in food-challenged environments from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
to Oakland, California? Granted, pasta salad
may be the “kiss of death on Top Chef” as one blogger so eloquently put it, but
I can vividly imagine the many healthful and delicious salads Laurine and I
could have made with more fresh ingredients. Salads for the troops full of
fresh basil, Italian parsley, confited garlic, local cheeses, roasted summer
squash, heirloom shelling beans, toybox tomatoes… I could go on and on. 

Of course I would have
liked to have made just a few more meals featuring my passion for and commitment
to fresh produce on Top Chef, but luckily I get to come home to the beautiful
Bay Area with one of the longest growing seasons in the country and our
nation’s salad bowl.  Working for Bon
Appétit Management Company, a company that insists upon the freshest
ingredients and dishes made from scratch no matter how many people we feed a
day, has never meant more to me and fills me with the utmost pride for what I
do everyday.