The Future of Food: New Orleans Transcript
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. Welcome to The Future of Food, a Radio Cherry Bombe miniseries. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond.
Kerry Diamond: The Cherry Bombe team toured America last year and traveled from Seattle, to Chicago, to Nashville, and lots of places in between, to ask women what the future of food means to them. Throughout this series, you're going to hear talks and panels that we recorded on each stop. You'll hear from ice cream gamechangers, restaurant OGs, and cutting-edge cocktail creators. These members of the Bombesquad shared their vision for what's next in their world, and the world around them. I hope this series inspires you to stop and think about your future.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our tour and this miniseries. Kerrygold is the iconic Irish brand known for its award-winning butter and cheese made with milk from grass-fed cows.
Kerry Diamond: For this episode, we're traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they just celebrated Mardi Gras. Our event was held at the Ace Hotel, the supercool space right outside the famous French Quarter. We're going to kick things off with Joy Wilson, the blogger and cookbook author known as Joy the Baker.
Kerry Diamond: Before we get the show on the road, let's check in with our sponsor.
Kerry Diamond: I don't know about you, but when I think about the future of food, there's definitely cheese in it. You know what I've never known, is how cheese is made. I got a chance to talk with Sarah Furno, a farmhouse cheesemaker based in Ireland, whose family created the delicious Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese. Here's Sara telling us a little bit about the process.
Sarah Furno: Well, it all starts with the milk.
Kerry Diamond: And the milk that Sarah uses comes from the cows on her family farm. What makes this milk so special?
Sarah Furno: We're very lucky. In Ireland we've got a very mild climate, so our cows are out on grass for most of the year. And why is that important to making cheese? Well, I know that the flavor that that gives our cheese is particularly sweet and creamy.
Kerry Diamond: But milk is only the first part of cheesemaking. Later in the show, Sarah will tell us more about how her incredible Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese is created.
Kerry Diamond: Want to give Kerrygold a try? Visit KerrygoldUSA.com to find out where you can buy their award-winning pure Irish butter, salted or unsalted of course, or their iconic Dubliner cheese. That's KerrygoldUSA.com.
Kerry Diamond: Let's welcome Joy the Baker to the stage.
Joy Wilson: I am a baker, as the name implies, and a blogger, a yoga teacher, and a teacher of baking. I opened up my Bakehouse home studio two years ago now. And not but half an hour ago, I made eight sweet potato pies with people, in my house, for Thanksgiving. And it has felt like a lot of my work is alone on a computer, and opening my house to people has been a really rewarding way to connect with people in and out of New Orleans.
Joy Wilson: So, my story and journey with food started, like anyone who's obsessed with it, in my parents' kitchen. And my dad taught me how to bake, and he is a very neurotic, enthusiastic home baker. It didn't give me any issues, so don't worry.
Joy Wilson: I also learned from my aunt, who was blinded by a brain tumor in her 30s, and she baked before and after she lost her sight. And she taught me a lot about being connected to your ingredients through touch, when you don't have all of your senses.
Joy Wilson: And then I started working in restaurants, which is an absolutely insane to do. You have to guard your spatulas, so they do not taste like onions. Nina knows this.
Nina Compton: I know.
Joy Wilson: When I think about the future of food, I think back to a future of food that happened, in my opinion, 10 to 15 years ago, that I was serendipitously a part of. I started my blog, Joy the Baker, about 11 years ago now, and I didn't know it at the time, but it was a big transition in the way that people have access to recipes and home cooks.
Joy Wilson: And it opened up a lot of different voices in the food world, and it opened up access for people to have interactions with different recipes, from different countries and cultures. And it was a cool time. And I still blog, and I might be the only one that still does it, and that's okay.
Joy Wilson: When I think about where we're headed, it feels daunting, and exciting. And it's impossible to know, but with all of that uncertainty, I want to distill it down to the things that are certain, like the idea that baking soda and buttermilk make the best biscuits. Or the idea that fried donuts are always better than baked donuts, and I don't even know why we do that other thing. Like, why? It's just a little cake. We don't need to do that.
Joy Wilson: And the certainty now, and in the future, that baking is a practice, and an art, and for the people that love it a lot, it's a meditation. But its aim is connection. Connection to the people that mill your flour, or the people that grow your strawberries. And a connection over a celebration, or over a loss, or seeking comfort.
Joy Wilson: And I think that the future of food is in the generosity of our connection in that way, and it creates space to know each other, to me. And I know it's just a cookie, or it's just a cake, but it is creating a space to be curious about someone, or to learn something.
Joy Wilson: And so, I think our future is in our intentionality behind that connection. Those are my words.
Kerry Diamond: So beautifully put. Thank you to Joy the Baker.
Kerry Diamond: If you are headed to New Orleans, check out the Bakehouse NOLA on Instagram. It's Joy's culinary studio, where you can take classes, workshops, and more.
Kerry Diamond: Next, let's welcome the writer and a Cherry Bombe contributor, Lauren Garcia. She's taking us back to the future.
Lauren Garcia: A few weeks ago, I found myself excruciatingly sad, for a number of reasons. Disclaimer: I am a grad student, and school had been particularly brutal as of late. There was also probably something really disheartening happening in politics. I can't remember what anymore, since every day feels like the worst day ever in politics. To quote Ted Danson in The Good Place, "In America in the year 2018, birth is a curse, and existence is a prison."
Lauren Garcia: I was so sad, in fact, that in my mind, there was only one way to crawl out of this hole that both insecurity and whatever masochism had led me to cry in class the day prior had created for me. I had to go to that bougie grocery store on Saint Charles Street, The Fresh Market.
Lauren Garcia: Now, some of you may know about The Fresh Market, because The Fresh Market is a very special place. For starters, the outside of the grocery store resembles the white-columned Antebellum-era mansion from the Beyonce Formation music video. But instead of Beyonce on the front steps, there's a bunch of pumpkins, and an employee sweeping. There's always an employee sweeping.
Lauren Garcia: When you enter the store, soft jazz is playing, so you begin to relax. You begin to instantly feel safe. Is that a ripoff Duke Ellington song you hear? Have you just been transported to the bedding section of a Macy's? It doesn't even matter. You're suddenly the most emotionally secure you've been in years.
Lauren Garcia: And also, the entirety of the store smells like cinnamon, because cinnamon brooms are strategically placed throughout the building. Or at least I imagine there are cinnamon brooms strategically placed throughout the building, because it's either that or god is a cinnamon Altoid.
Lauren Garcia: And finally, they sell the good vanilla. Like, the Ina Garten-approved good vanilla. Essentially, it's a domestic American wet dream.
Lauren Garcia: I ultimately ended up buying the following items that day at The Fresh Market, and unfortunately this is not an exhaustive list: a six-dollar cottage cheese that was packaged in a glass jar; white acorn squash, which before then I had no idea was an actual thing; something called "blond chocolate," which is a made-up flavor that's just milk and white chocolate smushed together; and -- oh, this is embarrassing -- a gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake-flavored ice cream from Coolhaus, that literally says on the package, and I quote, "Calling all basics, this flavor is for you." Yeah. And then I went to my car and listened to Melissa Etheridge's I'm the Only One like five times in a row.
Lauren Garcia: If you think I'm about to say that the future of food and/or my happiness cannot be found at a bougie grocery store, but only from within, you are terribly mistaken. I felt fucking fantastic after my visit to The Fresh Market. I had just gone to a grocery store that doesn't sell dry garbanzo beans, but that does sell chocolate-covered Oreos in bulk. And I finally felt as if I understood the term "high on life," because I was. I was the most high on life.
Lauren Garcia: But then, almost just as quickly as my mania hit, the crash soon followed. I immediately felt dirty, cheap for what I had just done. I took a look at that jar of cottage cheese and was overcome with this wave of psychological filth, because I realized, "Oh, smokes. I'm in love with a grocery store so clearly marketed towards Baby Boomers."
Lauren Garcia: Which then turned into, "Oh, smokes. I am a baby Baby Boomer." Which then turned into, "Oh, shit. I'm my mom." And my mom, she's great. She's one of those real old-school Baby Boomers who's like the Hallmark Channel, and Ralph Lauren short-sleeve polos, and the Republican Party. She's really polite, and has some killer Lyndon B. Johnson-era cursive handwriting, and perhaps blindly believes The American Dream.
Lauren Garcia: But my mom would love a grocery store like The Fresh Market. And that may be wherein the problem lies. The Fresh Market encapsulates a sort of perfect American dreaming, because frankly, it looks like a grocery store out of a Nora Ephron movie: real romantic, and real '90s. The bougie grocery store on Saint Charles, as incredible as it is, does feel dated, familiar. Or at least my love for it feels dated, familiar, and of a generation I've already lived through before.
Lauren Garcia: The store does feel exclusive, like it's made for 50-somethings who are able to actually retire in their 50s. And the aesthetic does look like the set of the Parent Trap remake with Lindsay Lohan, when Dennis Quaid was a hot wine daddy, and nothing hurt.
Lauren Garcia: Yet all of these things beg me to ask the question: is the future of food in fact 1998? Are food trends but a sisyphean endeavor, forever going backwards and in circles? Am I, like the rest of America, falling into the nostalgia trap?
Lauren Garcia: 1998 was 20 years ago, which I'm only telling you so I can freak you all out. 1998 was 20 years ago, and there are obvious parallels that I and just about everyone else can make, that distinctly compare 1998 to 2018: we're still somehow watching Will and Grace; I and every single one of your fathers is still somehow watching Survivor; and we all really like plastic chokers again, and Archie Comics, and Winona Ryder.
Lauren Garcia: But then again, we're also still watching Martha Stewart and Ina Garten and Rachael Ray, who are all extraordinarily brilliant, and my honest to god heroes, not going to lie. But who simultaneously defined '90s domestic eating with their pristine television shows and their 30-minute meals, and their Jeffrey Gartens. How great is that? But also, how great is that?
Lauren Garcia: Nevertheless, I still had to discern why I felt such shame answering the, "Call to all basics," like my pumpkin cheesecake ice cream suggested. Why was I finding it so wrong to embrace this old-fashioned approach to American living?
Lauren Garcia: I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the southernmost point of Texas, just minutes away from the Mexican border. And by the city of Reynosa, Mexico. Because I was so close to our sister country from the south, I'd say a solid 90% of the population of my hometown is Hispanic, myself included. In a country where we're considered a minority, in the Valley, we're the majority. And a lot of our diet reflected that.
Lauren Garcia: Taquerias were prevalent, where you'd have bistec tacos wrapped in two corn tortillas, dripping with its own grit and grease and glory, covered in cilantro and white onions, paired with a small styrofoam cup of charro beans. Fruterias that featured sandia, jicama, coconut, mango, kiwi, and bananas, covered in acidic limon and chile, sweet and sour and salty and perfect.
Lauren Garcia: And tamalerias where, during the holiday season, the drive-through line literally circles the building in concentric circles, like our SUVs are some sort of old-timey Disney cartoon vultures. Every year, we aggressively battle for dozens of foil-wrapped tamales. And then every year, we end up with too many, so we freeze them and sustain off of them through the winter. It's truly a Christmas miracle.
Lauren Garcia: And yet, there is one thing that could and did disrupt our diet. Or to be specific, could and did disrupt any diet from any region in the United States. It's maybe the one thing that can transcend race, creed, gender, and religion. It is, to come to our full, sisyphean circle of life, food trends of the '90s.
Lauren Garcia: Americanization through eating habits was seemingly at its peak during this time, because sure, you could eat Mexican food, but wouldn't you rather be ultra-American and eat like everyone else? Pizza bagels, Hamburger Helper, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Funfetti cake, Lunchables, Pop-Tarts, Dunk-a-Roos, and Velveeta American cheese singles, which my mom would alternate sandwiching between either white bread or flour tortillas.
Lauren Garcia: These were all major parts of the lexicon that made up my childhood eating, and I'm almost certain that Molly Yeh, the Chinese-American Jewish goddess wunderkind cook who is arguably the food world's answer to A Star Is Born, has remade some rendition of all these items via her blog and her TV show. And as I watch her every Sunday on the Food Network whipping up some casserole topped with tater tots, the most ultra-American thing ever, I am filled with so much filthy glee. Her victory feels like mine. Like the Spanish proverb says: "Mi tater tot casserole es su tater tot casserole."
Lauren Garcia: But for years, long after my childhood had ended, my upbringing didn't feel victorious. Rather, it felt shameful. I felt guilty for going to the American dreamy grocery store, because I was ashamed of the Baby Boomer dream. I was ashamed that my family allowed us to become maybe too often peer-pressured into a homogenized culture, in order to obtain this faulty American Dream. To, say, take vacations we couldn't afford, or to put on a façade that didn't match our reality. I was ashamed that I wasn't taught Spanish as a child, like my parents, or my parents' parents, and so on, ever struggling to fit in, to feel like enough. And I was ashamed that I was named Lauren, as if I were part of the Baby-Sitters Club.
Lauren Garcia: Yet, despite the shame, I couldn't help but crave for the foods of my past, so to speak. Or maybe just a way to fit into my past that wasn't so compartmentalized. I craved both the tacos and the boxed mac and cheese, the Mexican and the American, because alas, I was both these things. And for that, I didn't have to be ashamed, because there was nothing to be ashamed of.
Lauren Garcia: The best part about Molly Yeh and her show is that, in the next scene after finishing up that casserole, she goes on to make hummus, or potstickers. Or challah bread covered in halvah spread, a real international mouthful.
Lauren Garcia: Because that's the difference between 1998 and 2018. We may be wistful for a past America that united us in pop culture and Hot Pockets, but we're suddenly refusing that nostalgia to homogenize us. We're owning both our American-ness and our otherness, our nostalgia and our present. It no longer feels like an either/or situation.
Lauren Garcia: After all, Julia Turshen is feeding the resistance. Padma Lakshmi is the voice of the MeToo movement. Christina Tosi is making cereal milk, and making us all look really bad with her killer work-it ethic. Jessamyn Rodriguez is baking, and breaking, bread with immigrant women. Soleil Ho is talking about racist sandwiches. Samin Nosrat is teaching us salt, fat, acid, heat, on freaking Netflix.
Lauren Garcia: Joy the Baker is putting Drake on cake. Martha Stewart is cooking with Snoop Dogg. Leah Chase is in Beyonce's lemonade. My hometown nonprofit, Neta, which rallies for immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, and women's healthcare, is making a Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor. And Ina Garten is still just the most perfect. She's just so darn perfect.
Lauren Garcia: And maybe this speech is all just a metaphor about how we still romanticize a good version of the past when our present reflects a bad version of that same past. Or how sometimes it feels like we're living in constant agony, our progress going backwards and in circles, like Sisyphus, no end in sight.
Lauren Garcia: In times like those, which is to say, a lot of the time, may these women, and all women embracing their whole selves, even if those selves are other or unique or different, be reminded that even when it feels like we as a community are static, or worse, failing, that that is not the case. We are always pushing forward. We are always willing to improve.
Lauren Garcia: For 1998 and 2018 are, in fact, two different years. And the future of food is not 1998, or even 2018. The future of food is to be ourselves completely in a world that sometimes doesn't want us to be. And how to use those selves to keep moving ahead, full steam, even if moving ahead is owning a culinary empire, or just buying gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake ice cream and listening to Melissa Etheridge like five times in a row.
Lauren Garcia: Thanks, y'all.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to Lauren for that blast from the past. And for reminding us it doesn't have to be either/or.
Kerry Diamond: Next up is Caroline Rosen, the executive director of Tales of the Cocktail, the nonprofit organization known for its annual gathering in New Orleans that brings together more than -- ready for this? -- 20,000 hospitality industry professionals.
Caroline Rosen: My work comes from nonprofits traditionally, and I'm so excited to be at this helm. But to really discuss where we're going with the cocktail community and the spirits community is to look how far we've come. We definitely have a ton of work to do, but I think it's important to phrase a little bit of where we are specifically around Tales.
Caroline Rosen: I was lucky to come on this past February with Tales of the Cocktail. It is the first year that we became a foundation, and it's our 16th year here in New Orleans. As I talked to a lot of the veterans here in town about 10 years ago, everyone said, "If we could just have quality craft cocktail bars in every city in the U.S., and have a community where we could support each other, that would be a victory."
Caroline Rosen: I can safely say that now, whether you're in Montgomery, Alabama, or whether you're in Little Rock, Arkansas, or anywhere in between, you can find a quality cocktail. And it's conferences like Tales and the many new conferences that are coming out that have created this community.
Caroline Rosen: The most wonderful thing about the spirits community is they're at the front line. For many years, I worked with chefs. For many years, I worked with the passion of the food in the back. But to be able to see people day in and day out that care about the spirits, and even as we move forward, the non-spirit cocktail creations, it's unbelievable.
Caroline Rosen: When I was asked to come work with Tales of the Cocktail, I took a step back and said, "This is going to be one of the toughest things I will ever do, because this isn't about me. This is about giving people that have worked so hard, for so long in our industry, a platform to speak, and a platform to talk and move forward."
Caroline Rosen: Every day, we joke with any of our favorite bartenders that they're not only a friend to people, they sometimes act as a doctor or psychologist. They go back and forth, and they're there when you lose your job. They're there when you've been harassed. And they actually are the ones that hear that first and foremost.
Caroline Rosen: And as we look forward, this passionate community is the one that I really believe will help us continue to make the best changes, not only in the hospitality community, but in the greater community. Because these are passionate people that every day show up, and they're there to not only make sure that you have a quality experience, but also learn a little something. And now that they're having that voice, we want to use them as agents, and work with them as agents of change.
Caroline Rosen: So this year, there are a lot of different changes, when you move from a for-profit to a nonprofit entity. And one of the things that we did is, we started a grants process. And listen, have you ever worked on a committee before? Anyone in here? Working by committee is not the easiest way to work. Can we all agree with that?
Caroline Rosen: But it's important. Because we need to have the voices of every different group of people at the table. And I've got to say that here in New Orleans, we are extremely lucky that people have stepped up to this challenge. This is a challenge that is going to not only change us, but I think change the greater community. This year, we had an opportunity to give back $250,000.
Caroline Rosen: So, all this to say, what is the future? Well, I believe the future is in the people. The people that have created this community. I think that as we can see, this past year ... I don't know if you're aware, the wonderful people at William Grant curated one of the big cocktail parties that happens every year at Tales. And this is literally an opportunity for not just people here in New Orleans, or in the South, or in the U.S., this is an international stage. And the fine folks at William Grant threw a party without any alcohol.
Caroline Rosen: And I can't applaud them and this movement enough. They're saying, "There's more to this. We are the leaders. We are the people that are going to not only support cocktails, food, and the culture behind it, but we want to create a whole system." I think we're in good hands if we can continue to support each other, and learn a little bit.
Caroline Rosen: Thank y'all for letting me share with you today.
Kerry Diamond: Cheers to Caroline Rosen. Thanks for telling us about Tales of the Cocktail, and for showing us around New Orleans. We'll share more about our adventure with Caroline, later.
Kerry Diamond: Before we get to our panel, let's return to my conversation about the award-winning Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese.
Kerry Diamond: Earlier, we heard from the farmhouse cheesemaker Sarah Furno about the first steps in the cheesemaking process for Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese. That first step: getting great milk. But what comes next?
Sarah Furno: It's a fermented product, cheese, so you have to start the fermentation process. Initially, when we did this, we used to just work with homemade yogurt. It's called a "starter," to acidify the milk. You can sour it, there's lots of different ways of doing it.
Sarah Furno: And then, you also have to add in a coagulant, to separate the fats and the proteins. We work with vegetarian rennet, it's a plant-based rennet.
Kerry Diamond: Once all the ingredients are in, you and your cheese are in for the long haul, with days of turning, shaping, and separating.
Sarah Furno: And then we have to let the blue mold develop for a number of weeks. And then we wrap it, and we keep on turning it. And then it takes another three and a half months before it develops its full flavor and character. So it's a long, long process. Cheese is not made in a day. I always say, "The cheese is the sum of its parts."
Kerry Diamond: And trust us, those parts are delicious. Want to try Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese, or the savory sliced cheddar cheese, for yourself? Visit KerrygoldUSA.com to find a store near you. That's KerrygoldUSA.com.
Kerry Diamond: Welcome back. It was an honor to sit down and talk with our New Orleans panel. You are about to hear from Chef Nina Compton of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, Chef Kristen Essig of Coquette. Caroline Rosen of Tales of the Cocktail sat down with us as well, and baker Christina Balzebre of Levee Baking Company.
Kerry Diamond: We're going to start with Chef Nina on this one.
Nina Compton: Well, I think the future of food now, it's in a beautiful place, because now people are more open-minded with different cuisines. When I first moved here, I was petrified cooking what I was cooking, because I'm like, "I don't have gumbo on my menu. I'm doing corn croquettes and curried goat. How are people going to approach this?" So I think worldwide people are more open-minded when it comes to those cuisines now.
Nina Compton: Immigrant cooking, now that it's been recognized, which I think is great, because when I was a cook, French food was the highest. And then was Italian. I think we're at a place where people can actually be unified and be recognized, and it's not just, "It's only French food," it's everybody is cooking food from the different backgrounds.
Kerry Diamond: I know you competed in Top Chef: New Orleans. Is that how you came to choose New Orleans for your home, your business?
Nina Compton: I did, I did. I wanted to come on my honeymoon, but it didn't work out. And when they were casting, they were telling me, "Oh, yeah, we'll let you know the place it's going to be." And then they called me, and they said, "Okay, you've been selected to actually make the final cast." And they said, "You're going to New Orleans." And I told my husband, "Oh my god, I'm finally going to make it there. I finally made it."
Nina Compton: And when I came, I fell in love with it, because it just ... It's enchanting. 'Cause it really does bring you in. I mean, I travel a lot now, and when I tell people where my restaurant is, people are just like, "I have been to New Orleans, I love it." I have never heard a single person tell me, "Eh, it's okay." You know what I mean?
Nina Compton: And for me, to live here, make it my home now. And when people say, "Oh, you live in New Orleans? I love it, I've been there for Jazz Fest, I've been there for Tales," their eyes light up when you talk about New Orleans. And I think it's just ... It pulls you in. It definitely does.
Kerry Diamond: Chef Kristen, how about you? The future of food, what comes to mind?
Kristen Essig: So, when I think about the future of food, I actually don't think as much about the food as I do about the people who are talking about it, writing about it, serving it, and transforming it. And our responsibility to try to make a safe path for the journey that we're on right now, to make our industry better. And then, doing that in a way that creates a safer route for those of us who are coming behind us.
Kristen Essig: So, that's what I focus on primarily, is really, "How am I affecting not only the people that eat our food, but the people that serve it?" I do feel like we've made strides to do things for our team. We're working on financial literacy, we're working on how to save money for a home. We're working on health insurance, and when we couldn't provide health insurance yet for our staff at Coquette, we're working with a local nonprofit that actually provides platforms for people to have healthcare on a sliding scale.
Kristen Essig: People have a lot of work to do. I think that people need to be a lot more vocal. And quite honestly, I think people should be a lot more disappointed in the way that we, as an industry, and the way that our diners and citizens of New Orleans, actually respond to what's going on in the city.
Kristen Essig: A lot doesn't change. A lot just keeps staying the same, and, "It's fine, and we're just going to keep going there, and no big deal." I'm like, "Are you actually thinking about the people that are working there? Are you actually thinking about how they're treated?"
Kristen Essig: And that, to me, keeps me awake at night. That's what really upsets me, and it makes me not able to focus on food as much as I would like, because I think we have a lot of work to do until we can just make food the priority again.
Kristen Essig: Food now deserves much more work, and much more attention, and it just can't be a place of refuge anymore for people. It needs to be a safe place, for everyone, whether you're the diner or the employee. That's where I am.
Kerry Diamond: Chef Nina, I see you nodding a lot.
Nina Compton: It's the truth. I think a lot of people, it's been passed on for generations where it's been accepted to be in a kitchen that is male-driven. You get talked down to. I've worked in kitchens where I'm the only woman, and it's a bunch of men, and they talk down to you, and they treat you like you're nothing.
Nina Compton: So it's one of those things that, when I had my own restaurant, I said, "I don't ever want people to feel that way. I want people to feel like it's an even playing field, not because you're a man, or you're a woman, or black or you're white. You're a cook. You're a chef." And that's how I treat my staff. It's not because he's a guy or she's a woman, I have treated them differently. And that's how I always looked at me in the kitchen as not a female chef.
Nina Compton: Because I've been interviewed for dozens of things about, "How do you feel to be a woman in the kitchen? How do you feel to be a black woman in the kitchen?" And I tell people this all the time: you don't hear people saying, "How does it feel to be a white male in the kitchen? Or Chinese female in the kitchen. So why am I getting those questions?"
Nina Compton: Because I don't treat everybody as, she's a black chef, he's a this. You're my cook, your name is Laurie. You're my cook, your name is Kristen. That's how I treat you. And once you have that environment in your kitchen, it makes the day go by so much easier.
Nina Compton: Instead of it just being a gender thing or a color thing, it should be, it's a personal thing. Having a connection. I talk to all my staff, "How was your day off?" Making people feel like I care, because I do care. And making people feel like, "Hey, Chef, how are you?"
Nina Compton: I travel a lot, and I come back, and they're like, "Oh, man, Chef, we missed you." And I'm like, "I missed you guys too." Because you spend 14, 15 hours together, make it worthwhile. Not where it's like, "Ugh, I've got to go to work today. I've got to deal with this, because I have to pay my bills."
Nina Compton: That's the reality of it.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, we're going to talk about bread. Do you work by yourself?
Christina Balzebre: No, I have a bread baker who works with me part time, and then another part-time kitchen person.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. I was trying to picture you when you were in your workspace. All right, so, for you and Levee Baking Co, when you hear "future of food," what do you think?
Christina Balzebre: I think of community building, and emphasizing what you were saying, about building relationships with people. Not only the people who I get to work with every day, but where we get all of our ingredients. And being able to be transparent about that process, and knowing where everything is coming from. All of our dairy, eggs, and vegetables are from farmers that I've built relationships with by being at the market, or going every week. So, that's ...
Kerry Diamond: Tell everybody how you got into baking.
Christina Balzebre: I just have always wanted to work in kitchens, since I was a kid. And I saw my mom build a business in hospitality, and glorified the chef life. Really just wanted to be a part of it.
Christina Balzebre: So I moved to New Orleans, and I went to school here. As soon as I graduated, I started working in kitchens, and I got into baking at Satsuma Café. And then learned how to make bread, I had a bread mentor for a couple of years before I did it on my own. And then just started doing popups. And I'm still obsessed with it, so.
Kerry Diamond: I love the idea of a bread mentor. I think we all need a bread mentor. I'll be looking for one in 2019, that's on my to-do list.
Kerry Diamond: So, all the different things you're talking about ... I always love that term, "Be the change you want to see." So I was curious how you think you're being the change that you want to see, either in this world, or in this industry.
Caroline Rosen: I think it goes back to, there was a committee with the previous ... They had a diversity committee, the previous ownership of Tales. We disbanded that committee. The reason we did that is, everything we do should be diverse and inclusive. And if you need a committee to do that, there's a problem.
Caroline Rosen: And so, one of the things that we're doing is, we've not only created committees around our grants process, this year we're also creating very inclusive committees that have power, around our educational process. So with that, Beyond the Bar, the Culture, as well as the Business tracks that we educate, with about 85 seminars per year, each of those tracks now has a committee, with voices from four different continents on each, writers, industry professionals that see it. And that was the one thing I was pushing for, and I just got it approved. So that's like the ...
Kerry Diamond: Congratulations.
Nina Compton: Congratulations.
Caroline Rosen: Yeah, thanks.
Kerry Diamond: Chef Nina?
Nina Compton: I can't compete with that.
Caroline Rosen: You do so much.
Nina Compton: I mean, with my restaurants ... I have two restaurants. But again, it's creating that environment where people can say, "Hey, Chef, can I talk to you?" Whether it's something personal or something with work, I feel like I'm the Mom of the restaurant. But it's just making people feel like they're worth something, because they really are, because those are the people that are actually executing your vision every single day. And just mentoring them, and making them feel like ...
Nina Compton: And I tell my staff this all the time, "Whether you work with me for six months, two years, whatever else it is, but I want you to leave here, and I can say you've actually grown when you leave here." And that's one of the things, I take that mentorship role very serious, where I'm constantly with them in the kitchen, on the line, doing this, doing this. And it's not just to bust their balls, but it's to make them a better cook at the end of the day.
Nina Compton: So when they leave here, and they say, I worked at Compere, or I worked at Babs, I can say, "I'm glad that you worked with me, because you learned something. You took something away," whether it was something that's work-related or work ethic, just to build them as a better person. So when they actually leave, I can say, "You've grown as a person."
Kerry Diamond: Chef Kristen, how about you?
Kristen Essig: So, we take a little bit of a different approach, only in the way that we're sort of trying to go out of our way to ensure that not only are we inviting a more diverse group of people to have an opportunity to come and work with us ... Like seeking out members of those communities that we feel like need to be represented, and should be in places of power, and they're never going to be in places of power unless we give them an opportunity to work with somewhere that has a little bit of cred ...
Kristen Essig: Which is not my cred, the restaurant's been going for, we'll have out 10-year anniversary in December, and we're really excited.
Kerry Diamond: Wow, congratulations.
Kristen Essig: But Michael's been running a really successful restaurant, and I was happy to jump on board with him.
Kristen Essig: I think allyship is a really important thing. We get caught up a lot in ... I 100% believe that the future is female, but I don't believe the future is female without male allyship, and I think it's really important to have that, only because, you know, it's all of us. We're not just trying to feed one channel, or one system. We've got to include everyone in the conversation.
Kristen Essig: We just had a really interesting opportunity at our restaurant come up where we were replacing a sous chef. And we had three people, that were really phenomenal at their jobs, and we were like, "Who are we going to pick?" And we had an amazing young woman who's from Mexico City, and we had this amazing young man who's from Metairie. And I was like, "Well ... They both started at the exact same time, how do we do this?"
Kristen Essig: I'm like, "You know what we do? We create two positions, and we allow them to both come up, and that's what you do." And you have to go out of your way to make sure that yes, I appreciate everyone's sense of saying, "I don't see that, I don't see that." I'm like, "I want people to see that."
Kristen Essig: I want people to see diversity, I want people to see nonbinary people. I want people to see African-Americans, or Latinos, or whatever, in our kitchen. It's important that there's a diverse makeup, and we need to go out of our way to invite those people into our kitchens.
Kristen Essig: And then let them know that there's advancement for you here. It's important that you are given that opportunity, but if I can't get you in the door, then I'm not doing my job. So we are just trying to make sure that everyone knows that they are welcome, and to please come and work with us. And that's how we want to do it.
Kerry Diamond: Christina, how about you? How are you being the change you want to see?
Christina Balzebre: Well, we're still a very small company. So one of the biggest things that I was saying earlier is, really our environmental impact is really important to me. And where is the best way that we can be sustainable?
Christina Balzebre: A lot of that is knowing exactly where our stuff comes from, but also composting, and recycling, and making sure that the products that we use are coming from an informed decision. That is one of my main things, and the common kitchen ethos of, "You can use everything. You can use your scraps, you can make that a part of your daily work."
Christina Balzebre: But that, and accessibility to people, which is one of the main reasons I love being at the farmer's market, because they create programs for people who don't have access to fresh food. They do a food stamp program where you can buy double the amount of produce.
Christina Balzebre: And those programs ... When you spend your money there, that money is going towards that program. And I feel very lucky that I get to be a part of that, and see that happen.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, you know what, I wanted to go back to the environmental thing, 'cause Caroline and I talked a lot about that last night. If anyone listens to Radio Cherry Bombe, you know that I'm trying to lessen the amount of plastic in my life, which has not been that easy. And I have got so much work to do, I know New Orleans has a lot of work to do.
Caroline Rosen: Whew, yes.
Kerry Diamond: And poor Caroline, as if she doesn't have enough to worry about with those 20,000 people who come to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail ...
Kerry Diamond: Which makes me break out in sweats, just thinking about it. I was like, "What the hell do you do?" The whole French Quarter, it's just the to-go cups, and the straws. I said, "What the hell are you doing to make a dent in that?"
Caroline Rosen: I know. And we have to start with baby steps, right? And so, one of the things that the Tales foundation did this year is, we asked every single partner that we had to go strawless. And I had a couple of really tough conversations with some institutional powerhouses, as you would say. And they were like, "People are going to pitch a fit." And I was like, "It's a week. It's just a week, it's just a week."
Kerry Diamond: And you're like, "It's a straw."
Caroline Rosen: "And it's a straw, dammit." So we were lucky to go strawless this year. And again, it's by no means the end-all, be-all, but you have that conversation. And two of those restaurants continued to stay strawless, or they continued to do non-plastic straws. And that's what we as a team have to do, is we have to set a standard that we know we can meet this year, and exceed it next year, and how do we grow on that? But it seemed silly to some people, but it was definitely a move in the right direction for us, for a week.
Kerry Diamond: Absolutely, and I think so much of what everybody on the panel is talking about is small, actionable things. If you're in this room, you probably want to change the world as much as we do up here, but it's really those things that you can do, rather than just bang your head against the wall all day that you can't change anything.
Kerry Diamond: How is New Orleans in terms of environmentalism?
Caroline Rosen: I mean, it's ...
Kristen Essig: Very low.
Caroline Rosen: Yeah.
Kristen Essig: I mean, I think-
Kerry Diamond: You have ... Is there recycling?
Kristen Essig: I think if you're making a concerted effort to do it, it's available to you. I mean, we compost, we recycle glass, cardboard, and plastic at Coquette. We're getting ready to open up our second restaurant, and our second restaurant is being based off of what everyone likes to call "waste," from our original restaurant.
Kristen Essig: So, Coquette is a 120-seat restaurant, and we're opening up a 30-seat restaurant. And the reason we're opening up such a small restaurant is 'cause we want to have something that's neighborhood and community-driven, but also we can make specials off of the duck carcasses, or all of those things.
Kristen Essig: It's like, I can fry fish collars for a whole night at a 30-seat restaurant. In the 120-seat restaurant, I sell out in the first 10 minutes, and then it's over, and it's no longer special. It's just not there, and everyone gets upset.
Kristen Essig: So, I think there are a lot of creative ways, and there are quite a few people doing phenomenal work. We work with a really great composting company called Schmelly's, which I love.
Kerry Diamond: Schmelly's.
Kristen Essig: And it makes me really happy. We've removed all straws, cocktail napkins, plastic cups. Anything, pretty much, disposable. We got rid of bags. Bags was a big thing for Michael and I, for to-go food, or for people taking their leftovers. And I was like, "What do they need a bag for? Put it in your hand."
Kristen Essig: Also, I carry a duffel bag around with me all the time as my purse. "Just put it in your bag, it's going to be there, you're going to go home in five minutes." Or do you really need to take it?
Kristen Essig: So, all of our products are also recyclable. The compostable thing was a big thing. Everybody's like, "Buy compostable." I'm like, "No one composts. What's the point, it's just going to go in the garbage. It takes just as long for it to biodegrade in a landfill."
Kristen Essig: So yes, I think if you're going out of your way, sure. Is it something that anybody in the city maybe necessarily cares about? Unfortunately, probably not.
Caroline Rosen: Probably not, yeah.
Kristen Essig: But we can get them there, and you just have to lead.
Caroline Rosen: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. We're going to jump ahead to the year 2028. I've asked everybody on the panel to think about what they envision for themselves, and the food world, in the year 2028.
Caroline Rosen: I think it's going to be here before we know it. I think that in 10 years from now, we're going to have a really strong female-run ... These entities that have typically been male-dominated here in New Orleans. And I've got to be honest, I still don't know where in the hell I'll be. I think it's exciting, and I think that this is the first time in a long time where you can start to feel that swell coming together, and people that have the systems and availability to make change are now aware. And that's important. And so, I'm hopeful for what that means in 10 years.
Kerry Diamond: Where do you see the cocktail world, in 10 years?
Caroline Rosen: You know, it's interesting. I am still relatively new to the cocktail world. But I think that now, there is an emphasis on, again, creating delicious things that can have alcohol or not alcohol in it. I think that we're going to get to a point where you're able to have those types of scenarios, if you think of like a Seedlip. I see that that's where the cocktail world is going. But that just may be me.
Kerry Diamond: Chef Nina?
Nina Compton: I think in 10 years, I think you'll see more of a varied climate in the industry. I think you'll see more immigrants being showcased, more women. I think more women will actually be owners, businesswomen. I think owning is something we're actually pushing for.
Nina Compton: And now, the platform is very open. I think people are able to talk about things more openly, about depression, drug abuse, alcoholism. Those things were never talked about, or actually finding a solution. In terms of people having those real issues, they couldn't talk about it. I think now it's something that's on everybody's radar.
Nina Compton: I think that work environments are going to be more enjoyable, because people are like, "I can't work 16, 17 hours a day, I'm going to break. I need to have time with my family." I think people are actually listening to that now.
Nina Compton: When I was a cook, I would never say, "Ah, Chef, I need Saturday and off." They would be like ... It was never a thing. And I think, as I own a business now, you have to be more accommodating to those staff, because that's how they feel like they actually care.
Nina Compton: So I think those things are ... People are listening more, people are being a little more aware. And just people are having a conversation, where it's not just a one-way thing. It's like, "These are the issues, how are we going to fix them?" And I think that's very important now, because before, it was just, all bets are off.
Nina Compton: And I think the wages need to go up. That's another issue, and I think that helps the environment, and just working in restaurants. Because I think cooks are underpaid, I think dishwashers are underpaid. And I hate to say it, but I think the waitstaff are overpaid.
Nina Compton: And I think that, when you look at the checks and balances, what the back of the house does, as opposed to the front of the house, they get paid nothing, and they're actually doing a beautiful craft, and they're passionate about those things. And when you hear things like, "Oh, so-and-so only tipped me $120." And the cook is like, "That's what I make in probably two weeks," or a week, or whatever else it is. It's very disheartening.
Nina Compton: So it's one of those things where creating an environment where it's more of an even split, and hopefully Danny Mayer can find a way to break that. I think that would really help the restaurant industry in terms of getting people that want to be there, not just because they feel like, "I have nothing else to do, I'm just going to be a dishwasher," or a cook, or whatever else it is. But it's more of a true craft, where people can say, "You're not just ..."
Nina Compton: Because this is the kind of thing that I get. When you're the head chef, everybody's like, "Oh, you're the superstar." But I'm not the superstar, my staff are the superstars. I don't cook every single goat. I braise it, I cut it, but Matthew cooks the curried goat every single night. He's the guy that executes the dish, he puts it on the plate.
Nina Compton: So they need to get a little bit of a nod, and get compensated. And I think that's the thing that a lot of restaurants are having a hard time, because I talk to so many people in the city, where they're like, "I can't find cooks. I can't find this." But it's also because country-wide, the wages are just so uneven. And it's just hard to run a business where you can pay a cook $20 an hour. You can't do that. So there needs to be something that needs to be changed.
Kerry Diamond: The tipping thing is a big issue. We spent a lot of time talking about that in some of the other cities.
Kerry Diamond: All right, Chef Kristen. 2028.
Kristen Essig: 2028. I mean, I hope that the future in 2028 is based a little bit more on equity, and less on equality. I hope it is based on less wage disparity, but I think that that again is something that we have to choose to involve ourselves in. I think that hierarchy will continue to, not completely dissolve, but to sort of level the playing field across the board, as far as the classic: chef, sous chef, line cook. I just don't think that that's a practical way.
Kristen Essig: I see fine dining sort of taking a little bit of a hit. I mean, I work in fine dining now, and I can't wait to open up a 30-seat casual restaurant. I just think that there's much more opportunity.
Kristen Essig: I also hope that there is a lot more professionalism in our profession. You know, you can't have a profession without being a professional. I'm really tired of all these people saying that they work in the hospitality industry, and they're a hospitality professional, and they are the least professional people I've ever met. So I'm looking forward to seeing that change.
Kerry Diamond: Christina? 2028.
Christina Balzebre: So, the first thing that pops into my head is climate change. Because we're all at risk with that, especially being in the ... We're in the agriculture industry because we're buying directly from farms, or that's where our food is coming from.
Christina Balzebre: So, as pessimistic as that sounds, I have a lot of thoughts about that in terms of, "What are we going to look like in 10 years?" Because I am from a place that's going to be flooded. New Orleans is at risk, in so many ways too.
Christina Balzebre: But looking at it with the most optimistic viewpoint, I think small communities will be able to create a sustainable economy. And by keeping that in check, and by having larger restaurants buy from smaller farms, or making sure that our local economy is working together? I think that's what I see happening. I think that's the best outcome.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to the panel for giving us a lot of food for thought. We had such a great time hanging out with the New Orleans Bombesquad. New Orleans is one of the most unique cities on the planet, and you should all plan a visit.
Kerry Diamond: We packed a lot into our short trip. We biked through the Garden District. We had black and gold chicory ice cream at Creole Creamery. We had pimento cheese with deep-fried saltine crackers at Kelly Fields' Willa Jean -- and yes, you can deep-fry a saltine cracker. We had dinner at Chef Kristen Essig's Coquette, and Chef Nina Compton's Bywater American Bistro.
Kerry Diamond: We stopped by Joy the Baker's Bakehouse, and we had a fun evening with Caroline Rosen at Arnaud's French 75 Bar, one of my favorite places in New Orleans. Arnaud co-owner Katy Casbarian even gave us a private tour of Arnaud's New Orleans Mardi Gras museum, and our minds were blown.
Kerry Diamond: Our show was produced by Jess Zeidman, and supported by Kerrygold. Thank you to the team at the Ace Hotel for hosting us, and for not having any single-use plastic in my hotel room. And thank you to all of our speakers, and to the amazing members of the Bombesquad who joined us for this taping.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you for listening to the Future of Food miniseries. Here's to a delicious tomorrow.