Cooking up change with compassion, collaboration and sustainable food

Cooking up change with compassion, collaboration and sustainable food

This chef is helping fight for a sustainable food system through a truly sustainable process of collaboration.

From 2012-2014, chef Samuel Monsour partook in a fascinating activism project called The Future of Junk Food, where he and fellow chef Mark O'Leary recreated beloved American junk food with thoughtful, locally sourced ingredients--like beet Doritos, or a "Snickers bar" made from chicken liver pate, thai basil and dark chocolate.

It was all in the name of starting conversation around food grown with integrity, making it fun and making it accessible. The Culinary Institute of America graduate will join Chefs Collaborative Executive Director Sara Brito and board chair Matthew Weingarten (also culinary director for innovative solutions at Sodexo), and Sylvia Tawse from Fresh Ideas Group, for a discussion on the future of food at Expo West. In the meantime, he shared what he's been cooking and what restaurant trend we might be seeing more of.

What’s your favorite thing to cook, and why?

Samuel Monsour: Soul food. I love to cook it. I love to eat it. I love to serve it. It may sound funny or cheezy, but, it keeps me happy, humble and content. It provides me with a daily affirmation to lead with my heart, which I believe makes my kitchen a warmer, more compassionate place. I love how comforting and nourishing of a cuisine it is, and nothing brings me greater joy than to satisfy someone’s soul with a plate of tasty, honest, stick-to-your-ribs food.

I know you’re involved with the Chefs Collaborative. Can you share a little bit about the power of collaboration and what you’ve gained from being a part of that?

SM: I’ve always gravitated toward collaboration with any project, idea or initiative, whether work or personal life related. When I became a member of Chefs Collaborative I gained access to an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom while also being given the chance to contribute. Working with CC has expanded my knowledge on many extremely important matters including antibiotics, aquaculture, GMOs and waste management (to name a few). CC has also helped redefine the meaning of collaboration for me, which, after working with them for almost five years, I now view a sustainable cycle of give, receive, nurture and protect. That’s what’s I think is so dope about CC—we strive for a sustainable food system, and the way we fight for that is through a truly sustainable process of collaboration.

Expo West appearance:
Cooking up Change: Heroes of the Good Food Movement
Friday, March 11
12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Marriott, Grand Ballroom F

While the food industry has spent the past several decades getting us addicted to what some might call “food-like products,” it seems that consumers, especially younger generations, are really coming back on board with demanding and appreciating fresh ingredients and beautiful presentation. What do you think is driving this?

SM: I think that this is one of those scenarios where technology is truly aiding in our progression, especially when considering the younger generations who’ve grown up with instant access to information while also understanding the importance of vetting the source. I can’t imagine the impact it’s had on the human brain to be born into the world we currently live in (in terms of technology), but from what I understand, it’s creating a new and exciting process of thoughts, standards, morals and values. There are other stances that say otherwise, but I chose to remain optimistic. Despite the overwhelming effects of our current “information overload,” I think it’s clear that we have every tool needed (an iPhone) to be fully informed conscious consumers. There’s simply nowhere to hide—anything and everything you do will be discovered and shared for all to know. Aside from great books and documentaries, there are online articles published daily along with candid photos of gorgeous/sustainable foods being proudly shared via social media by millions. Hashtag sustainable. People have learned that better food choices are better for their health, the health of the planet, the health of all life, and plus, it just tastes more betta’.

We’re seeing a lot of retailers get into the foodservice business. Can you offer any wise words of inspiration to our retailer readers who might want to step up, and/or just start, their foodservice game?

SM: Offering customers cold-pressed juices and prepared foods is a great avenue to increase revenues while cutting down on loss of inventory due to spoilage. You’ve already got the goods, and odds are you’re wasting a lot of food. From what I understand, juice bars can utilize the bent-broken-bruised (to quote Robert Egger) fruits and vegetables that have been determined to be un-sellable—despite the fact that they're still edible and nutrient dense—and turn them into a simple, healthy, delicious and profitable beverage for your customers to drink while perusing your aisles.

It seems that many packaged food product and flavor trends originate in the restaurant/foodservice sector. Anything good we should be watching for?

SM: I’ve noticed an interest in funky, outside-of-the-box fermented foods from chefs over the past five years. From sunflower hozon to Moxie vinegar to cellared piccalilli, fermented foods are heading into an extremely fun and outside-of-the-box direction. There’s def a growing interest in fermented foods for their prebiotic and probiotic gut-health benefits, plus, they add a delicious umami bomb to any dish. I think that given the popularity of foods like kimchi, kefir and kombucha, we’re going to see an interesting growth in this field.

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