Up close and personal with Jamie Kennedy
Chef Jamie Kennedy is all about the food. Granted, it may seem logical for a chef to be focused on food, but the reality is, in an age of corporatism, licensing deals and TV-series ambitions, not to mention the usual bottom-line concerns that drive the restaurant industry (50-80% of new restaurants fail within their first three years, according to the feds' Canada Business department), Jamie stands out for his obsessive concern with 'big picture' issues that focus entirely on food. Where it comes from. How it's grown or raised. When it's at its peak. How to ensure its integrity for future generations.
The chef-owner operates three standout Toronto restaurants, the casual Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, the refined Jamie Kennedy Restaurant and his newest digs, Jamie Kennedy Gardiner at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts. Besides overseeing his restaurants, he keeps busy promoting Slow Food (the international movement preaching local farming, humane livestock raising, ecologically responsible farming methods and passion for gastronomy: an anti-convenience food movement, of sorts). He's a supporter of the Endangered Fish Alliance (endangeredfishalliance.org), an organization of food professionals dedicated to raising awareness about the need to protect marine ecosystems, which are being threatened by over-fishing, pollution and habitat damage.
Styleathome.com had a chance to ask the activist-chef a few questions both about the politics of food, as well as this fall's fabulous harvest. Here's some of Chef Kennedy's food for thought.
styleathome.com: So, you joined the boycott of Newfoundland crab, owing to the province's seal hunt. Can you tell us a bit about how you see your role as chef and activist?
Jamie Kennedy: Chefs are positioned in our society in such a way that we can potentially influence people about the choices they make around food and where it comes from.
sah.com: How did you become a supporter of regional and organic cuisine? Was this an interest that developed over time for you? Likewise, when would you say diners seemed to start becoming aware of these issues?
JK: This is an interest that has developed over time. In 1989, Michael Stadtländer and I formed an alliance of environmentally concerned chefs and local organic farmers called Knives and Forks. We had an organic market that convened once per week, and an annual event called Feast of Fields that was a harvest celebration, held in a rural location that symbolized the relationship between chefs and farmers.
Photography by Mary Armstrong
sah.com: As big-box stores like WalMart are increasing in prominence in the grocery world, proving that, for a huge segment of the population, price and convenience seem to matter most, what's your argument for things like organic, slow food and regional cuisine?
JK: It is an alternative approach which extends beyond price and convenience. It's more like a philosophy about responsible stewardship in all things that, when related to food, means sourcing higher quality local food than the status quo.
sah.com: As a champion of local cuisine, what are some of the local produce and food products you're most excited about this fall?
JK: Yellow filet beans from the Kawarthas. Watermelons, squash, and heirloom and sauce tomatoes.
S@H: In what form will some of them show up on your menus?
JK: Celebration of Tomatoes is a dish that offers many types and textures of tomatoes accompanied by an herbal vinaigrette.
sah.com: Scenario: You're at Whole Foods and you have two options - the locally produced non-organic apple or the organic version that's traveled cross-country to reach us. Which do you buy?
JK: Certainly not the organic traveler, but probably I would buy my apples from a farmer at one of the local farmers markets.
sah.com: What's hot right now, from a culinary perspective? What kinds of things can we look forward to seeing on your menu come fall?
JK: Local, local, local!