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Asheville Transcript

 “Food For Thought: Asheville” Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. Welcome to Food for Thought, your radio Cherry Bombe mini series. I'm Kerry Diamond, editor and chief of Cherry Bomb Magazine. We wanted to know what's on the mind of food folk across the country, so we went on tour to eat, drink, and talk with hundreds of you and recorded the whole thing live. Today's stop brings us to Asheville, North Carolina where we recorded this episode at the AC hotel as part of the cities brand new Chow Chow food festival. It was a fun weekend filled with luminaries like José Andrés and Katie Button, great food, and the beautiful Appalachian landscape. Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our Food for Thought tour. Kerrygold is the Irish brand known for its award winning butter and cheese made with milk from grass fed cows from family farms all over Ireland. We'll be hearing more about their amazing product later, so stay tuned.

Kerry Diamond: First up, Chef Ashleigh Shanti of the restaurant Benne On Eagle. Ashley is one of the cities bright young talents

Ashleigh Shanti: Hello. Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming. It's super weird being in here with all of these people that I'm huge fans on. I have a lot of my favorite chefs in the building, hello. Cherry Bomb called me last week and first I was internally fingerling just at the fact that Cherry Bomb knows who I am and has my number, so that was pretty cool and a big deal. Once I got over that, I realized what this conversation was about. They wanted to know what I was talking about today. And at the time, I had no idea and I knew that Jessie from Cherry Bombe didn't want to hear that, so I gave her the first answer that came to mind, and I told her that I was going to rap. Yeah. Sorry, Jessie. Change of plans, I don't think I'm going to subject you guys to that. I cannot show you guys myself in my full awkward glory, but I did want to use this space I guess as an opportunity to kind of talk about the things that I feel like I don't get to talk about enough.

Ashleigh Shanti: As a new chef there's questions that I'm asked quite a bit. One of the questions I am asked a lot is what kind of food I cook. Everyone wants me to answer that question. I always find that after I answer it, usually they're looking for one or two words, something that they can neatly package in a little box and put in an article, and I find that very challenging. There's a phrase in French that I know I'm going to butcher, it's esprit de l'escalier. So, the phrase is mine of the stairs, and its just basically one of those thing where you just wish you can go back and reexplain and clarify what your intended answer was, so that's what I'm going to do today if y'all don't mind.

Ashleigh Shanti: What kind of food do you cook? This is a loaded question. This answer is incredibly complex but here it is. The food that I cook is the food I remember my great grandmother, Inez, making for me when I was a kid. She cooked food that was fit for kings though she called it desperation cooking. I cook food that reminds me of my summer in Nairobi Kenya, eating everything with ugali and my bare hands, or food that was inspired by that one week long road trip to West Texas eating my way through every state. The food I cook is from my heart and soul, but I don't like to call it soul food. I cook the food that would make my Appalachian grandmother from Dan River, Virginia proud. I always throw in a little extra black pepper for her.

Ashleigh Shanti: The food I cook is made up of traditions old and new, preserved family recipes, and from the studying of my culinary heroes. The food I cook is for comfort and storytelling. My food is my biography. Okay, so that's it. But in the spirit of being your best self and being... If y'all don't mind I will end with just a little rap if that's cool. Okay. All right. Here we go. I can't believe I'm doing this. All right, here we go. "Food for thought. Our industry in plagued with so many toxic tendencies it feels like a lot. But then mom's like Kerry from Cherry Bombe come stir it up and thicken the plot. The conversations we have won't change situations from the past but maybe lead us to a better path. No more sitting back and relaxing but let's turn these talks, this drive, and this passion into some action." That's all I got. That's all I can do. Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you, Ashley for your time and your rhymes. You're amazing. Next up Jael Rattigan from the local brand French Broad Chocolate.

Jael Rattigan: When I think of the intersection of food and thought I think about my favorite and most rewarding part of my job which is storytelling. Whether its sharing our journey or the stories of the people who make our work possible, be it our employees, our farmers, our community, and our producers, its such a meaningful way to connect with others. Storytelling is a fundamental human experience and from earliest recorded history was a method used to communicate, educate, share, and connect. Nowhere is this more relevant than in food. We want a connection to the source of our food, right? We shop at farmers markets and we know our farmers by name. We tour the breweries where beer is made, and we're informed about the origin of our morning cup of coffee. We want to know the story behind the food that we consume.

Jael Rattigan: So, at French Broad Chocolate we create long-term relationships with the farmers and producers who are the source of our chocolate. Whether it's a cacao farmer, a transparent change making cacao importer, an artisan malt house, or a local Rastafarian pepper farmer, we tell their stories in our marketing, our packaging, and our chocolate factory. In order to share the connection to the source with you and everyone that visits us. So, stories about people like Daniel Enrique South of Costa Rica. I lived in costa Rica for two years and it was in a cacao growing region of the world, so I got to really connect with and know the weird and amazing fruit that is cacao. And Daniel started with us as a dishwasher. Having never opened an oven in his life, we trained him to bake and two years later he was the head baker. We sold the restaurant and 13 years later that restaurant still exists in Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica and he is still the head baker.

Jael Rattigan: But more meaningfully, we've reconnected with Daniel in a new way. We've partnered, and Daniel has returned to his agricultural roots in cacao. So, his family was in cacao when he was a child, there was lots of shenanigans in Costa Rica in which a fungal blight kind of wiped out the entire export crop of cacao, so it's kind of a lot of it has gone fallow but its having a resurgence and Daniel's part of that. And so, we worked with him to build a fragmentary and drying operation on his family land, and he is buying cacao from local farmers, cultivating it himself, and he's exporting it to us. Its pretty amazing to have lived there and to still be connected to this area where actually my first son was born, so its really great to stay connected to the community there.

Jael Rattigan: The craft chocolate industry has put a lot of attention on cacao farmers and telling their stories as of late. Craft chocolate meaning a group of makers following in the footstep of craft beer and specialty coffee have sort of been working to take chocolate out the hands of industrial manufacturers and pay attention to people, and place, and artisan process. We're stepping into a scene that ain't so pretty, and cacao farming there's a lot of hardship. Globally, cacao farmers earn hardly anything. It's mostly the business of small family farmers and most farmers are earning $2 a day for their work. So, I think at first our industry, we're tiny, were like a fraction of a percent of the overall global chocolate market, but our intention is to work to help solve this global issue. But I think our understanding has evolved and we recognize that we're small and its really hard to make an impact, so the first step that we're taking as a community is towards transparency and shining a light on the darkness, and making people aware of how the money transfers through the supply chain, so that is what's on my mind in cacao.

Jael Rattigan: I'm super excited to be sharing stories here at Cherry Bomb as part of the inaugural Chow Chow festival. I've been lucky enough to be on the board with Katie and a whole devoted group of volunteers who have worked so hard to create this amazing event for a first year. Its pretty great. We're going to screw up a lot, were going to make a lot of mistakes, we're going to do better next year but our storytelling was a huge part of the vision of this event as well. We wanted to create a platform for all the talented makers, artisan food, and food adjacent businesses here in Asheville and Appalachia to elevate folks who are working hard with their heads down, who don't have the benefit of a huge PR company, and to share their awesomeness with the communities and with people like you directly. The spirit of Asheville community is collaboration and so far I've really felt that here at this event.

Jael Rattigan: Storytelling brings up together and each of our stories is uniquely ours. And I encourage you all to bring you stories into the world without apology. We need you and I can't wait to connect with you.

Kerry Diamond: We certainly believe in the power of storytelling. Thank you Jael for sharing that. Our final solo speaker is Dr. Cynthia Greenlee, journalist, writer, editor, and historian.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: Hi y'all. Okay. I'm feeling a little self conscious because my mother told me to wear cute shoes and I wore sensible shoes, but yes mom, I wore lipstick. I just want to attest to that. So, you can see my sensible shoes here. A couple weeks ago, one of my moms dear friend who is a white woman, really well intentioned and also what we might call woke, asked us a question over our dinner table in Black Mountain. My family has been in Buncombe County since the end of the 1700s, at least the white part of the family, and so she asked us. She said, "How in the world did your black family end up in the Mountains?" And my sister and I looked at her because we're both academics, and I'm a historian, and we both at the same time said the same word which was slavery.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: So, I am the great great great granddaughter of a man named Joseph Step. May have been Irish immigrant slave holder, and one of the women he owned or believed he owned, Myra. And so, they had a dozen children and when freedom came to the Mountains he freed Myra and the children they had together, and he left her with one thing, a skillet, and told her to go about her way. I tell this story because it's my families founding story but it also talks to us about the black presence in Appalachia and also about the not so pretty side of food. When I come here, I grew up in Greensboro but I used to come to Black Mountain and Ridgecrest in Swananoah which are little smaller towns to the east of here, 20 minutes basically, where my family is from. We would come and I experienced this place in food but never in restaurants. We had a particular lineup. My dad had 11 siblings, and we has children had to go in our big station wagon with our Picanese dog, and we had to eat at everyone's house because you could not not eat at any aunts' house because she would be mortally offended that you ate at another sisters house.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: The first thing we did was we stopped at my Aunt Leane and uncle Martins' house on Cragmont Road and we always had pinto beans, whatever the meal is. There were also pinto beans and lemon meringue pie which was my dads favorite. Then we crossed the street to my aunt Margaret's house who knew what we were going to eat there. She didn't cook but we always had a Coca Cola. Then we would go up the street to aunt Lib, Lib Harper, who was one of the leading women in the Democratic Party when there were no black women leading the Democratic Party in Buncombe County. She was a vegetarian before vegetarian was cool, before you had all these restaurants here, and so she always fed us tomatoes. Then we went to my aunt Johanna's house, and then we had pancake, or if it was not morning time we would have pound cake. And then we would go to grandma Grace's house, and grandma Grace was a poet, she used to send all of her grandchildren birthday cards with poet. And for a short period of time, she was the poet laureate of Buncombe County. And she didn't really cook either but we always used to feed tomatoes to her chihuahua.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: That was the end of our trip and it really wasn't a trip if one of us children had not thrown up at some point because we were trying to eat all of these things. I say all of this, and some of it is funny, and I came here to tell you a sweet nostalgic story, but actually when I come here, and my parents now live here. My mother bought a house basically on land that my family used to own. But when I come here I don't actually feel very sweet because I visited one of my uncles who is 92 and he recently passed away. I decided to interview him and he died three weeks later. I was interviewing him about his food ways, and he didn't want to be interviewed. He was like, "I have nothing to say." And I said, "You have everything to say. Don't let all of this new Beau people tell the food story here." And he didn't care about that. And he didn't want to be interviewed because he had a rabbit box set out in the backyard, and so he was checking the rabbit box to see if he caught one all during our interview, and I kept stopping.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: But one of the things he said was, "When I die, no one will ever remember we were here." And so, when I come to events like this, and I started to tell my uncle Marvin Hamilton who is angel, I mean he was my favorite uncle. He's how I learned about love and food really. His door was always open, his table was always full. He let you go in his refrigerator. He sent you home with strawberry wine and trout that he had fished himself, and venison from deer he had shot himself, even when he was in his 90s, he was still going really strong. But when he said that to me, it broke my heart because I look at events like this and I wonder and I visibly look around the room and I don't see many people who look like me.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: I also wonder when you come to events like this, and I come to them and I love them, and I want to go eat nice stuff and have good conversation with people, but I wonder about the story we're trying tell about this region. And because when I go to restaurants, people often ask me, "Are you from here?" And I say, "Yes," and they look surprised. And then I have to tell them, "You flew here, I grew here." But they don't believe it and so how do we use events like this, and how do you use your food work to actually talk about a history that goes unrepresented. And yes, I know that African Americans are a tiny sliver of the population here but we are here. We've been here. We've been here for a long time. And yes I dropped the verb. We've been here. I'm saying that really emphatically so you understand.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: So, what would happen? I took some notes about some questions I want to ask, and I'm throwing these out a little rhetorically but also I want you to wrestle with them. So, what would happen if we honored those home chefs, like my aunt Leane the way we honor chefs? What would happen if we talk about the Haitian of other migrant workers who picked apples in this region? What would happen if those of you who live here buy a fish dinner to support the maintenance of black cemeteries in Black Mountain? What if popular supper clubs collaborated with black churches and reinvented some of the famous recipes of their cookbooks and their congregations? So, really, the question I want to ask you is what would happen if Asheville, this foodiest of food towns, loved preserving black history as much as it loves breweries? And what if it loved talking about our past, the real past, not just the past of your Meema and your buttermilk and cornbread, even though my family ate that too. Okay, y'all.

Dr. Cynthia Greenlee: What if we wanted to talk about a different future? We have the opportunity to rewrite it and to write it in way that we make people who are invisiblized, and I say invisiblized as a process. So because Eagle Street did not disappear on its own, okay. But we're still here and we're still doing things but most of us don't ever come to these places. Most of us don't ever come to a place like Chow Chow. So, what would Asheville do if it loved black history as much as it loves breweries and what would you do?

Kerry Diamond: Thank you for that challenge, Cynthia. You certainly gave us a lot of food for thought. Before we get to our panel, lets hear a word from Kerrygold.

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Kerry Diamond: Please welcome Katie Button of Katie Button restaurants in Asheville, Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer in Kingston, and host of the award winning PBS show, A Chef's Life, and Cheetie Kumar, of Garland restaurant in Raleigh. If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would that word be and why?

Vivian Howard: Enthusiastic because I'm very enthusiastic.

Kerry Diamond: Deep thoughts from Vivian this morning. We're going to go back to that. All right, Cheetie what's your one word?

Cheetie Kumar: It's a word that used to make me feel bad about myself. But now I own it, different.

Kerry Diamond: So why different?

Cheetie Kumar: Well, I was a kid when we moved to America. So it was different because I was an Indian kid in the Bronx. And there weren't that many of us actually, there was nobody. There was like one woman, one girl from Sri Lanka. And she didn't wanna have anything to do with me because she was born here. I don't know it felt different then, and I'm different from everybody in my family because I don't have a PhD or an MD. I just kind of have done my own thing, despite the terror that lives in my heart every day.

Kerry Diamond: All right, Katie, one word.

Katie Button: I sat here this entire time because I got to go last and I was thinking about what that word would be. And I was trying to like keep it positive in my head. I'm like, spinning and there's only one word that I could think of which is not positive. But I feel like there's nothing else they're, overwhelmed would be my current word right now. Life, work, this Yeah. I can't get any other word in my head, that must be my truth at this moment.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you for sharing your truth with us. I'm going to kick it back to Vivian, your word like how do you maintain your enthusiasm with all that you do?

Vivian Howard: I have been very lucky in my, I guess, life to be able to take a lot of different turns professionally, and I love like, creative endeavors and even tiny things. I love brainstorming, I'm really just very... I'm also overwhelmed. But I'm very optimistic, probably to a fault. And so I choose enthusiasm. I know I don't sound like that right now.

Kerry Diamond: All right, Cheetie I want you to tell us about your company slash organizations slash restaurant, and what it's all about.

Cheetie Kumar: So my husband and I own three businesses that are housed in one building, in order of opening Neptunes, which is a basement bar, which we opened about two months before the music venue on the second floor called Kings and it's a small 250 capacity independent event music space. It's not really a like a wedding event space, It's more of a weirdo event space. Then the big looming project that was the restaurant on the street level that took me three years to get off the ground because we open those two spaces and kind of was running both of them and then just like, again, terror because I'd never really cooked professionally before and just figured out how to open Garland.

Cheetie Kumar: We're in our fifth year, we turn five in December. I'm the chef there and my husband and I own it now we had partners when we open but now it's just the two of us like the song goes. But it's not all that romantic. We both also play in a band together, although we're not a very active band anymore called Birds of Avalon. We both play guitar and fight over parts.

Kerry Diamond: How did you find your way to the kitchen?

Cheetie Kumar: I've always been in the kitchen as a little kid. I mean, it's kind of a cliche thing like "Oh, you know I used to cook with my grandmother" but our grandmother lived with us when we were in India. She was not that great of a cook and in fact, my mom taught her how to cook and I don't know how my mom knew how to cook because she didn't really grew up in a... She was orphaned when she was young, but she always like she has this magical skill in her hand. I don't think I'm alone in that feeling where I was just found myself in the kitchen and absorbed it. When we moved to America, my mom worked. And so she kind of let me start dinner every day, and that was my job. And I loved it, and then I hated it, and then I loved it again.

Cheetie Kumar: But I've always just been fascinated by food and after we moved to the US, in the Bronx, though I didn't have Indian friends, I had friends from all over the world that were either recent immigrants or first generation. We would have lunch at each other's apartments and explore the refrigerator and the smells in their hallway and eat kimchi and Greek food and Puerto Rican food and have lots of ball soup and amazing bagels. Food was like the happy anchor of our family too. That was something that my parents never compromised on. Even if we didn't have the right clothes or the right sneakers, we always had good food on the table that was made by hands.

Kerry Diamond: That's awesome, Vivian, how did you find your way to the kitchen?

Vivian Howard: I was living in New York, I also did not grow up cooking with my family. Cooking was like a burden for my mom because she was ill. I started cooking because I was a server in a restaurant. And the concept of the restaurant was Southern food via Africa. This was in 2001, that was way ahead of its time. And the chef was really an incredible storyteller. I found myself and the week before opening, he would bring out dishes and explain the story behind the dish and where the dish came from and why it existed, and I was the only Southerner in the group and I thought, "Gosh, I'm from the south but I don't eat any of these things." It really made me very interested in the history behind my food and I decided that I would try working in the kitchen there before my shift on the floor at night, as a means to translate that experience into a career in food writing.

Vivian Howard: So 15 years later, I kind of got to do that. But I found working in the kitchen that I loved, like the camaraderie of that experience. I had never played team sports, and so it was the first time I'd ever worked toward a common goal with other people. I liked making things, I liked the beginning and the end, the opening and the close of the experience every day. I kept cooking, because it was, at that time a lot easier than writing easier to get a job doing that.

Kerry Diamond: So that's so interesting. I just always assumed you wanted to be a chef.

Vivian Howard: I think we all do things that we feel like we're good at. I immediately felt this sense of accomplishment because I was good at it, and so I kept doing it and I got a lot of positive reinforcement, but that's not ever what I set out to be.

Kerry Diamond: You made a lot more money as a server though, I bet,

Vivian Howard: I did.

Kerry Diamond: Were you a good server?

Vivian Howard: I was the best.

Kerry Diamond: Switch over to Katie, because you started as a server. You did not intend to become a chef at all.

Katie Button: No, yes, you're right, not originally.

Kerry Diamond: You've got a crazy long story. I'm gonna have you condense the story of how you were not supposed to be in the food world at all in any way, shape or form?

Katie Button: Yes. Short version is that in high school when I was planning my future path, I kind of thought what success meant and headed in the path of science and math because I was pretty good at it. So I went to school and studied engineering. I have a master's degree in Biomedical Engineering and got into a PhD programme actually in neuroscience before I quit and switched directions completely into cooking. Basically, it's not that I had never cooked. My mother had a catering business, she ran out of our home and I cooked that entire time. But I think because she was doing it out of our home, she wasn't the primary, like breadwinner for our family. I didn't think of it as a career. I just was thinking I was cooking and something you loved. And I also thought that you did what you loved is like a hobby, and then you did your work, right? That you kind of hate it and just trudge through. So that's why I got so far because I just kept thinking, "Oh, this is normal that I like, hate what I'm doing." But everybody tells me I'm really successful. And this is the path I should be on and they're like, congratulating me for moving forward and studies in something that I really didn't like, " And don't do that." It makes you really unhappy.

Katie Button: I finally had had enough and realized and just I think looking at the PhD program, it felt like that was my forever in front of me so I quit and I didn't know what I want to do, it wasn't like I quit. I was like, "Yes, I want to be a chef. This is my dream is what I want to do." I just I had no idea what I wanted to do. I needed a job and I was in DC and had this apartment. And so I just started immediately. I did think about restaurants though, because I knew I love food knew a lot about food. I found a job as a server working for José Andrés at Café Atlantico/Minibar and that because his team was the only ones who would take a chance on me-

Kerry Diamond: You quit me right before your program started though.

Katie Button: Oh, yeah, like two weeks? No, it was like I was supposed to start this PhD like two weeks later, and I just like burned the bridge. It was the first time I'd ever just totally dropped out of something and didn't tell my parents because I was worried they were going to convince me like back into it and I was like, "I'm done. This is over. I will destroy it all and then figure it out later."

Kerry Diamond: Were you as good a server as Miss Vivian Howard?

Katie Button: I was good.

Vivian Howard: We should compete.

Katie Button: We need a server

Vivian Howard: I serve circles around you.

Kerry Diamond: Who's here from the Chow Chaw Planning Committee, I think next year...

Katie Button: I think there's something though about serving it is multitasking, it's running around thinking about a million things at the same time. It's very similar to working in the kitchen and that energy and things. I think it makes sense that Vivian and I would kill it on the floor, and then also love cooking in the kitchen.

Cheetie Kumar: I'll be the bartender.

Kerry Diamond: All right, so you're like, I'm gonna go work for this dude named José Andrés, who nobody's really heard of, but I bet he's going to win a Nobel Peace Prize one day, and save the world. No, you weren't thinking that?

Katie Button: No, I had no idea what's his trajectory? He'd already had a few restaurants when we start working, but it's grown an insane amount and he is a role model for sure. And somebody who I think I would love to be when I grow up.

Kerry Diamond: So you're a server but it doesn't stop there. What happens next?

Katie Button: No. When I'm there... Everything after that happened really fast. When I'm there... Team from El Bulli restaurant would come when it closed every year for six months. And it was one of the best restaurants in the world for five years and legend. And they would come over to the US to be with Jose and his team and like help because they had that connection. I all of a sudden got to meet all these chefs from El Bulli, who were like doing crazy things with liquid nitrogen and scales and stuff. And I was like, "Man, I've been doing this for years in the lab." It was kind of a cool moment for me. And then I met my husband Felix, he showed up to manage and train the front of house staff. So yes, he was my boss, I guess for a little bit, I mean, whatever it is. He was wasn't technically my boss. He was the consultant training the Front of House staff.

Katie Button: And then he invited me to go back to El Bulli with him and work and serve, and I did that for a year and it was the six months that they were open, and it was amazing, it was a mind blowing experience. I knew then that what I really wanted to do was cook. That was really what I had been doing all along and all my spare time. I came back, worked in a couple of restaurants, and then went back to El Bulli to work in the kitchen. And then from there, we moved to Asheville, and then opened a restaurant which is crazy. It was like, "Okay, we'll just do this, and we'll run and we'll see what happens." And I had been nothing more than a line cook. So it was a lot to learn, and it was incredibly stressful and hard. But I have learned everything. I was always open to learning, asking questions and just being okay with my vulnerability and the things that I didn't know. And I think that's how I've been able to, learn and I just learned on the job.

Kerry Diamond: And you also... So this was nine years ago, right?

Katie Button: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: And you also convinced your entire family, not only did you and Felix move down here, but you convinced your family to move down here and do this with you.

Katie Button: Actually, the story is that we moved down here to help my mother open her restaurant. It was because she had a catering business been a dream of her stoner restaurant when I got into the food decide and Felix was a front of house service master, we moved down here to help her open her restaurant. Then she's very smart, I think she had it all like worked out ahead of time. And then as soon as we moved down here, she was like, "Katie and Felix, let's just share ownership will go into this together." So as soon as that happened, Felix and I took over it became a Spanish Tapas Restaurant. And the rest is history, but that's not why we originally... So she and I kind of found Asheville but I was never intending to be here forever originally and Felix had never seen it, actually he moved here having never been here at all.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Alright. Right, since this is the food for thought tour, I want to know what is a food related topic that is really weighing on your mind these days. And again, why so Vivian?

Kerry Diamond: What's on your mind these days?

Vivian Howard: So much. I think that we're in such a specific time, and that we're all very interested in where our food comes from, why we eat what we eat, why we eat how we eat, but we're also all very uncomfortable about talking about it. This show that we're making we touch on a lot of very tenuous subjects and an hour. The reason we're doing it is because we want to open the door for more conversation. But the deeper we get into it, the more dangerous it feels. I'm very concerned about that, and also very disheartened by it. Because I think that we're very suspicious of everyone's intentions. And I've always thought, if my intentions are good, then that what people will see that and that will shine that will be what will shine. I'm not certain that's the case.

Cheetie Kumar: I'm going to use the word sustainability. And most people think of that in ecological sense, but I think in the restaurant world, it's way more than that. Sourcing is obviously a really important part of what we do. Cooking food with conscience is really crucial at this point. We're at a really pivotal point, but I think the economics of restaurants and this whole industry it's at a crux, labor, is it sustainable to have a 65 seat restaurant that's not fine dining and not fast casual? It's something that maybe it's a neighborhood restaurant, who's going to work in these places? Every city has gentrification or economic stimulating regions that people building mixed use housing. Where do the people that work in those restaurants where they live? And how do they get to work? And do they want that job? And then you go deeper, and who is catching our fish and who is picking our tomatoes? Are we really sourcing locally? I don't know. Is this the way Americans are going to eat in five years?

Cheetie Kumar: I just don't know if things as we see them is actually sustainable. Are we going to have any fish left? Are we going to be able to think of dining out as a right? Because it's actually quite a luxury and if people are not going to connect with the food that they eat and not understand what goes into making it I'm not sure if... It really should be viewed as a luxury and a privilege. I don't know, I don't really have an answer, and I don't really have a very concise way of explaining it. But I do feel like, even in the five years that I've owned the restaurant, things have changed a lot. There's at least three farmers that I was working with every season that have decided to get out of it, because it's too hard. And somebody who's designing websites and somebody like work, consulting at a restaurant, and somebody is actually doing something completely different and going to school. It's hard work on all of the ends, and I'm not sure if people can sustain that kind of life and have a happy life for a very long time.

Cheetie Kumar: I think that's something that we all talk about in these conferences about balance, but really when the day today happens, and you walk in and your fire is broken and somebody calls out and it just happens over and over again. It doesn't just weigh on The person who's the owner, it weighs on the whole staff because somebody is doing more than they really want to, or they really should. That gets in the way of them evolving themselves as a cook or a culinary professional. I don't know, it's getting harder.

Katie Button: The thing that's top of mind for me right now in this industry is like, how do we make working in the restaurant industry a career that takes people through their life so that they can have kids, have a family, be a woman and work through all of that, and have child care. I mean, think about childcare when you work in a restaurant, who's going to take care of your kids from four to midnight? It just doesn't exist so that is like... And I think in an industry that there's a lot of government policy that makes it hard for restaurants to do what they need to do and to take care of their employees in the way that they need to take care of them. I do think in an industry that is known for lower pay and no benefits on like a base level. I mean, there are people who are doing a lot more it's how do you make it? How do you live? That's why it ends up being such a transient job right? A lot of times we're young people come in and then they come out and they like move on to something else, because only a few people will make it into the sous-chef or the Chef de Cuisine position and are able to like grow their career. So how do we make it so that the person working the line can have a family and through their life.

Katie Button: I think that is really important, and I'm focusing really hard on doing everything that I possibly can on employee benefits, and not growing in order to pay better and offer more to help the people because if you just think about money and growth, you're missing out the people who work for you are missing out. But there's a whole lot of obstacles, right? The cost of offering health insurance to your employees, the cost of... Just what happens to the tips that come in your doors and how those get distributed in the end, and what you have what you're able to, like basically, you don't have any access to that. The discrepancy between the front of the house and the back of the house. It's not a simple solution, I don't know, things have to change and it's not.

Kerry Diamond: Well, it is changing in some places. I mean, some states now you can pull tips is North Carolina, not a state where you can pull tips?

Katie Button: Well, I mean, I can't share them with the back of the house.

Kerry Diamond: You can.

Katie Button: No.

Katie Button: Okay. Some states can now though.

Cheetie Kumar: As long as if the servers are not making minimum wage, then you cannot, and you can also not... The law is that you can't supplement the back of house salary with front of house tips. So you can't pay your cooks 550 an hour and then say, "Oh yeah, we'll just tip you out." Obviously nobody would do that, but maybe some people would I don't know.

Katie Button: But you can't even use that tip money to pay for more benefits or things like you just don't have access to that. I know there are some places that they don't make enough tips, so in the front of house and that makes sense, but there's the opposite side like my restaurant where there's this huge pay discrepancy and I can't like giant pay discrepancy that I have no ability to control, and it's because of tipping.

Kerry Diamond: It’s… tipping so complicated. We've been talking about it a lot at Cherry Bombe and New York State. It's one of those states where you can't pull tips. So you could literally have employees like working 12 inches away from each other separated by a thin wall and one is making like, double what the folks in the back of house are making but conversations are being heard. There is legislation around the country in terms of tips and what you can do with tips-

Cheetie Kumar: We've made some great strides as an industry. I mean, I grew up in a restaurant culture where I clocked, I came to work three hours before I was allowed to clock in. I don't think that's okay anymore. So that's good.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, look at the progresses in terms of harassment. Like young women who go work in restaurants now, you know you can't be treated a certain way and you can speak up and I'm not naïve, I know [expletive], it still goes down in restaurants. But you can talk about it now, before people didn't even talk about that. We're going to go to a speed round. Now. I know it sounds very bleak, but I am like Vivian, enthusiastic, I think. I think I'm heartened by traveling around the country and hearing what different people are up to and in all of these amazing cities and these food towns and I would say the future is bright because of people like our panelists, and our speakers and all of you in this audience today, my little assessment.

Kerry Diamond: All right, so we're going to do a speed round. We're going to turn things up a notch. Okay, Vivian Howard, your favorite thing to make bake or cook?

Vivian Howard: Why don't always go first? Make bake or cook a mess.

Kerry Diamond: Cheetie.

Cheetie Kumar: This week the watermelon rind and green tomato pickle that I using my mom's mango pickle recipe to use local ingredients.

Kerry Diamond: Katie.

Katie Button: I would say learning something new. We're doing these large pie is like five foot ones. I've never done that before, it's really challenging. I'm learning a lot and I enjoy that even though it's stressful too. So I like stress I guess.

Kerry Diamond: Five foot Pie. I love that. Are you making them at the restaurant?

Katie Button: No, they're in the park. Damn.

Kerry Diamond: Miss Vivian, who was your culinary hero.

Vivian Howard: I've been thinking about this, Cheetie. I really mean this like Cheetie and I have been friends for a while, the way that she entered the restaurant world with such grace and she's vulnerable, but also confident. I know you don't think you are, and you work so hard at these things we need to talk so I can tell you how many events you should do.

Kerry Diamond: You heard that right. Alright, Cheetie you are under no obligation to say Vivian Howard is your culinary hero.

Cheetie Kumar: Well now I'm all teary-eyed. A tie between Madhur Jafrey and Deborah Madison.

Cheetie Kumar: Well, Madhur Jeffrey is an Indian woman who moved to England in the '50s. And if you know anything about Indian history, that's crazy. She moved there to be an actress and ended up writing all of like, the best Indian cookbooks and it's really hard to get Indian food down in recipes because usually it's Indian moms and they're like, "No, you just put some cumin like how much are some just enough like idiot? Why don't you know that?" But she's the first one, like that was a cookbook that I could actually read and go okay because anything that's not in my mom's repertoire was revealed and she really explored originality. Then Deborah Madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone was my Bible for a long time because I was a vegetarian for a while, and it made it possible to make, like it was just very revelatory to cook seasonally in that way, in a very simple respect the ingredient way. That was something that was like an aha moment when I was like, 18. I didn't really read every recipe in that giant tome.

Kerry Diamond: Awesome. Katie.

Katie Button: Might seem a really obvious but maybe not for the reason, José Andrés. He's this amazing humanitarian and his turned his chef path into helping people, and it's wonderful but more than that it's that he shows up for the people that he cares about and for me that has meant a lot. He showed up for me when we open Curate and I was overwhelmed and stressed with opening a new restaurant. He came two days before, I'm gonna cry, with like a team of three people to help us open. And then this weekend, the Bahamas, I'm sorry I want to cry over, this is the overwhelmed. This weekend, with everything that's going on the Bahamas, he's canceled pretty much everything else he was doing but he made sure he was here, for us. That just means a lot, so that's my person.

Kerry Diamond: Usually, it's Vivian who's crying What's going on?

Cheetie Kumar: I'm the only one who hasn't cried up here, ask me a question.

Kerry Diamond: Alright, Vivian, where do you do your best thinking?

Vivian Howard: The shower.

Kerry Diamond: Cheetie

Cheetie Kumar: The beach.

Kerry Diamond: Katie.

Katie Button: I don't know I can't think anymore.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you to our speakers, our attendees and to chef Katie Button and the entire Chow Chow festival team for hosting us. We had such an amazing time at Chow Chow, and we can't wait for this year's festival. Also, a big thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our tour and providing us with beautiful butter and cheese at each stop. The show was produced and edited by Jess Zeidman. Thanks for listening every one. You're the bombe.