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How Denver's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

The Tasting Room at Leopold Bros.
The Tasting Room at Leopold Bros.
Adam Larket

Amanda Faison, food editor at 5280 Magazine: Teaching more people how to cook can change the world. When people are more in touch with what they’re eating, they often become more aware and interested in the origin of their food. That interest can pay dividends in more sustainable farming and ranching practices, and possibly a better understanding of GMOs. Cooking at home usually isn’t elevated or gourmet—and it doesn’t have to be to make a difference. Consider this: If you make a BLT in August and you make the exact same sandwich in January, your senses automatically know whether that tomato is or isn’t in season. If we listened to—and then acted on—those small, daily truths, our awareness could go along way in changing the food landscape.

Governor John Hickenlooper: Colorado has embraced and nurtured the farm-to-table movement with typical gusto, and I would encourage others to do the same. You can taste the freshness and pride bursting from locally-sourced ingredients, whether you’re preparing them yourself or enjoying a meal at a farm, food stand or restaurant. Supporting local agriculture is not only a delicious endeavor, it’s an investment in your community and like-minded communities that value quality food products and the people who produce them.

Steve Redzikowski, chef and owner at Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth: I would continue to bring people together with food. Community and family are good things. They make us better as a society, and nothing can really bring people together like a great meal. When I was growing up our entire family had to be at my grandmother’s for Sunday supper. I’m not sure if traditions like that are as common these days. So, whether it’s at a restaurant or at home, get together and share something good to eat. We’ll all be better for it.

Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier, owner at Frasca Food and Wine: I want to change the world of food through hospitality. Hospitality is a forgotten art that we weigh on the shoulders of fine dining restaurants, but in reality it can be used in everything from a doctor’s office to a rental car facility, from an invest bank to college admissions. Hospitality is different than providing service. Providing service is something you do someone, hospitality is how you make them feel. Great hospitality involves not looking inward, but always looking outward - at the guest, at the people you work with, and the environment you are in. It involves you constantly thinking about other people. If we can learn as a society to use hospitality, this will be one of the biggest management style shifts and game changes of the last 150 years. Being a great manager is about looking outward and focusing on other people, and the best way to do that is through hospitality.

Jeff Osaka, chef, owner at Osaka Ramen: As a fairly new parent (a 3-year old daughter), I think the change has to start early. From the eating habits we create at home, to the habits we carry with us when we dine out, we need to show our children the basics of what is good and why. It helps to shop with your child, as I do as much as possible. Taking a tip from Michael Pollan who tells us to "shop/eat from the perimeter" all the good and wholesome foods are what's outside the aisles - produce, meat, fish, dairy, etc. "Inside" the perimeter is where food stops being food, with some exceptions, but for the most it's refined sugars, chemical additives and preservatives. Child obesity carries into our adulthood, and in the U.S. we are the most obese people in the world. I myself am guilty of this. It’s cheaper to eat right at an early age than to spend the money on medical bills later in life. My young daughter is actually opening my eyes to become a better person. She is changing my world.

Vajra Rich, master roaster, owner of Boxcar Coffee Roaster: As a coffee roaster, we are in a unique position to create change in the world. We buy an agricultural product that grows mostly around the equator and mostly in third world countries. Americans drink more coffee than any other country and in general expect to pay 1 to 3 dollars for a cup. What they don't know is that it takes roughly 100 hours of labor to produce that single cup of coffee. If Americans continue to think that coffee should only cost a buck then the people who produce the crop will never rise out of poverty. Our mission is to raise awareness of coffee. We feel that if we strive to serve the highest quality coffee in an inclusive and positive way, the public will gain a genuine curiosity. If we can create a deeper appreciation for quality coffee, we can carefully charge more per cup. If we can charge more per cup, we can start to pay higher prices to farmers. If farmers get more for their crops and we work together, we can raise the quality of life in producing countries.

Hosea Rosenberg, chef and owner, Blackbelly: Transparency in the marketplace is the way to change the world. I think that most of us are still clueless as to where their food comes from and how it was handled. This summer, my team and I have had the fantastic luxury of picking vegetables and feeding them to our customers within hours. There is nothing better. Realistically, most people in our world cannot gather their dinner from a garden. However, they should have the right to know where it came from, how it was grown, how long it has been out of the ground, if there are pesticides on it, the conditions of the laborers who gathered the food, etc. More importantly, people should have knowledge of how their proteins have been handled. There still remains a vast chasm of humanity between locally sourced, well-raised beef, and large-scale cattle operations with very little sanitation and no regard to the health and well being of the herd. If there was some sort of grading system, it might shift our collective perspective on what is "right and wrong" with our food supply. Do you think most parents would buy their children hamburgers if there was a big "F" printed next to the menu? Food for thought.

Krista Roberts, executive director, Slow Food Denver: If I could change the world through food, I would: Prioritize teaching children about food - where it comes from, how to cook it, and the simple pleasure of enjoying it with others. I would also decrease hunger by making sure everyone could have good food. Then, I would reduce our reliance on an industrial food system, even a little, by encouraging support of small, local growers and producers. And lastly, I would build community and acceptance by celebrating culture through food traditions, diverse tastes, and shared meals.

Patrick DuPays, chef and owner at Z Cuisine: It would be a good start to support your local community of farmers and farmers markets. That's better than the thousands of miles the trucks of the 'low cost distribution food service' carrying low grade food which comes from the other end of my world without respecting the seasons. Keep educating the young eaters by creating good food habits, at home & at school. Ban high fructose corn syrup which is in part responsible for America’s obesity. Defeat Monsanto GMOs and to vote yes to label GMOs. Understand the seasons and nature sustainability. Plant an urban garden in your neighborhood community. Go to the farmers market, talk to the farmers, exchange recipes, cook for your friends. Buy less food, waste less food. There is a lot we can do individually, as a family or as a team; it's up to us to change our food habits; it's up to us to know where our food comes from; it's up to us to get educated on that crucial matter. You are what you eat, so are your kids. My hero and inspiration on that subject and who has been changing the world and my world thru food is Alain Passard at L'Arpége. 10 years ago he had an epiphany, a radical change of heart, "I was lost" he told me "I need a radical change, I want to be a Cuisinier fermier." I'd like to make gardening the profession of the future" and "every vegetable will be a grand cru." It's not easy to change the world; it's very hard but it's possible, very possible and it's your choice.

Frank Bonanno, chef and owner of Bonanno Concepts: Dining is ritual by nature--part of a communal cultural experience, a shared magic. We pass techniques from one generation to the next; we utilize the expertise of neighbors and neighboring businesses. I can’t force the world to see the magic of a good meal, but what I can do is my own small part in my own city. As a restaurateur, I can choose to serve whole, real food and spirits made with loving hands and fine ingredients. As a cook, I can choose not to cheat quality or take shortcuts with technique. I can teach others. I can try to help like-minded folks go forward in the world to do the same: cook, serve, teach. Maybe inspire someone to open a Congress Park or LoDo deli; perhaps a small restaurant in Park Hill, an Italian venue in Lone Tree, a burger place in Wash Park. I can work and teach and just be as good as I can be, with the hope that others go forward in the world to do the same. Change Denver; change the world.

Jay Fletcher, master sommelier, Executive Director of Fine Wine, Southern Wine and Spirits of Colorado: Grow your own when possible, eat organic when possible, cut down on meat when possible and exercise when possible. Always avoid processed foods and drink good wine. It might not change the world but it will make you feel better.

Jennifer Jasinski, chef and owner of Crafted Concepts Restaurant Group: I would definitely limit the "weight" of big agriculture giants in the US and their influence. I worry they will literally plow over everything small, precious and delicate. But maybe if more people had full bellies, they would not be killing each other.

William Porter, restaurant critic, the Denver Post: I would like to see agricultural scientists and international monetary institutions work to help establish Africa's arable regions, such as the central highlands, as viable, self-sustaining farmlands for the rest of the continent. Essentially help Africa become its own breadbasket, encouraging trade between countries through ecologically sound farming practices.

Mark Fischer, chef and owner at the Pullman, Harman’s, and Phat Thai: This shit's gotten out of control; things are far too complicated. The only way we'll be able to manifest meaningful change is to trend back towards simplicity and honesty in our cooking and sustainability in how we run our restaurants and mentor our our teams.

John Imbergamo, restaurant and PR consultant, Imbergamo Group: I would change the world through education and community involvement. A Denver non-profit I have supported for years, Work Options for Women, changes the world through food training - teaching foodservice skills to impoverished women. One out of 3 of WOW students was homeless and did not finish high school. 50% have been victims of domestic violence. 80% of the women that graduate from the program are still employed one year later. 60% will earn a raise or promotion within 12 months of employment. The challenges facing many of these women have prevented them from working before or holding a job for any length of time. The three restaurant/cafes operated by Work Options provide various levels of training from basic culinary skills through barista training and supervisory skills including the American Culinary Federation Sous Chef certification program. When they leave, they’ve gained the skills and confidence they need to work their way out of poverty and become gainfully and permanently employed in the foodservice industry.