chefs collaborative 2017 summary

Scholarship winner: Page Pressley

When I arrived in Atlanta, excited and bit unsure of what to expect, I found myself questioning what I was seeking. Why was I there? Our little restaurant in Austin certainly does it the right way, and in many ways is a leader in ethical sourcing and waste management.  We seek to change the modern model of a restaurant as a conduit to better serve and connect farms to guests in meaningful ways. Something was still missing. There needed to be more purpose; greater impact. How can caring about doing the right thing so consistently feel like we are not doing enough?

Oftentimes in kitchens, our tunnel vision can be such an integral part of daily success that we forget to turn it off and see the forest for the trees. The purpose of the modern day chef, at their best and most influential, has evolved from tastemaker to revolutionary. As chefs demand more of themselves outside of the restaurant, the bar of social impact continues to be raised. Just as the rigorous standards we set forth for ourselves in our kitchens drives our daily progress, this same fervor must carry over to our community.

That was it. That was why I had gone to the summit.  We have the ability, as chefs and proprietors to affect our community in so many ways. We have a responsibility to do a better job making sure we see and pay equal attention to all of the issues our industry grapples with. While profitability and serving an ethical and delicious product in an engaging setting are imperative to sustain success and long-term impact, these operational standards should be a baseline expectation and not something we continue to pat ourselves on the back for. It’s time to do more.

The Summit shined a profound and poignant light on many social and racial truths that demand the attention of all of us. Here I am, back in Austin, with so many more questions than I left with. How do we serve underprivileged communities better? How do we create multi-generational education and economic opportunity? How do we do a better job of making real change in a food systems and lifestyle choices a conversation and not a lecture? How do we stop trying to help and start empowering? How do we get non-profits better resources to collaborate to maximize their resources and impact? How do we build a future, brick by brick, where everyone can have affordable access to good food and the knowledge to prepare it?

These are uncomfortable conversations. Uncomfortable questions that will cause us to awkwardly stumble on the search for answers. For a group of people that consider themselves socially conscious, American food, in theory and practice, is largely a white enterprise. The history of American food is extremely multi-cultural and yet the most famous black chef in America isn’t American. These conversations need to get a lot more diverse.

These are conversations with questions that we, as chefs, have never been asked to answer. We have a responsibility to the history behind us and within us,  to build a future that is better than the present. A responsibility that dwarfs avoiding conflict and saying, “I just want to cook.” We’ve been given a platform, we should be ashamed of ourselves if we do not use it to do more then sell food.