At Farm to Fork, Former Obama Chef Sam Kass Serves Up Far More than Just Food | Food

At Farm to Fork, Former Obama Chef Sam Kass Serves Up Far More than Just Food

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Ross and Jillian Mickens at their Open Door Farm, which they launched after receiving vital support from Farm to Fork-backed programs. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Ross and Jillian Mickens at their Open Door Farm, which they launched after receiving vital support from Farm to Fork-backed programs.
At the start of Farm to Fork’s dinner on Saturday at The Durham Hotel, as wine fizzed and jazz hummed, guests looked around the lobby for two things: the server carrying the platter of one-bite, open-faced tomato sandwiches, and Sam Kass.

No offense to the sandwiches or the next day's big picnic, but it is safe to say that Kass was one of the most anticipated aspects of this year’s Farm to Fork. He has worked as the White House’s senior policy advisor on nutrition, the executive director of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and the personal chef to the first family. Like The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), Kass represents a leader and innovator in food sustainability and progress.

At the start of the dinner, he spoke about our food system as it is—and as it should be. Here are a few highlights from his talk:

—“I was a very young chef, training in Vienna, and the chef was teaching how to make a rhubarb sauce. He called me ‘Yankee’, and he said, ‘Yankee, blend the rhubarb and—I can't say this word, because he used profanity—put in a whole lot of butter.’ You can imagine what he said. So I said, ‘OK, got it.’ I went, and I did it. He watched me, and he said, ‘No, no, no. No, I said—the butter.’ I said, ‘OK,’ took another huge thing of butter, and then he stormed up to me—now, I love this man, he's the best chef I've ever known—and he said, ‘If the guest walks out of here and drops dead of a heart attack, that's not my problem. The guest is asking me to make the food taste good, not be good for them.’ And he was totally right. The moment he did that just rocked my world.”

—“This organization [CEFS] is doing some of the most vital work that I've seen—and been doing it since 1994, before these issues were hip and sexy and everybody was into it. The hard work was being put in when there was not much fanfare and very, very little support—in fact, a lot of pushback. And for that, a tremendous amount of credit is due.”

—“We focus a ton on policy and, coming from Washington, I get the importance of policy. But food is one of the deepest expressions of who we are—as a people, how we understand ourselves, how we understand who we’re not, how we show love. These issues all play out from our culture. Ultimately, our politics are a deep reflection of our culture. We're not going to be able to change our politics and change our policy until we continue to shape and change our culture.”

—“Between marketing and education, I'll take marketing every day and here’s why: Right now, we're telling our kids to eat broccoli because it has fiber and vitamin B. The other side is saying: "Open happiness." Or, get the sexy lady or man. Or, be full of love. Love and happiness kick fiber’s butt every time. So how we talk about this and project and inspire people to want to live this different value system is really important.”

—“Doing the perfect thing for a few people means nothing. Doing pretty good for everybody is the goal. And we’re going to have to use every tool in our toolbox if we're really going to meet the challenges of the future.”

—“I’ve seen a lot of stuff across this beautiful country, but there's really something special and something quite powerful here. A lot of it is because of the work that's happened here since 1994. This is the work of the next generation if we really want to continue to have a thriving, vibrant society that we hand down to our kids and our grandkids. There aren't more important issues than this.”


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