Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Lunch with Chef Graham Kerr
I recently had the great pleasure of participating in a lunch with Chef Graham Kerr. Tulalip Resort’s Executive Chef Perry Mascitti had held Chef Kerr as an inspirational figure who helped move him into the culinary arts. What Chef Perry remembered most about The Galloping Gourmet series with Graham Kerr was the passion that Chef Graham had for food, and the pleasure he obtained from cooking.
Turns out Chef Graham Kerr lives close by, so they talked on the phone and set-up a meet & greet luncheon with Graham Kerr and the Tulalip Chefs, which includes me! I had watched his shows some as a kid, and remember his big smile and English accent. But meeting the man in person left a much bigger impression upon me than his TV shows ever did. He is a genuinely gracious and humble person with a palpable passion for food. I very much enjoyed the person I met in Chef Kerr. And he wore his classic suspenders in case we wanted to take photos! (which you can tell we did!)
So, a little history: about 20 years ago he changed his culinary focus from “everything French” to using “plant foods”, and now he spends time promoting the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables into our diets. This change was the result of health concerns both for his wife and himself, and the proof of how well these dietary changes have affected him is evident by his robust energy and enthusiasm at the golden young age of 79! True story…he’s 79, but he seemed soooo much younger than that!
He shared stories and examples of how important “plant foods” are, especially to off-set the typically poor American diet and intake of free radicals in our diet. The average American eats less than half of the quality fruits and vegetables that they should for a healthy lifestyle. “I’m not saying that everyone should become a vegetarian. I’m saying that we should eat more of this (vegetables and fruit) and less of that (proteins and processed foods).” It’s a matter of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diets, which in turn will help counter the effects of the free-radicals we consume in the normal American diet.
We discussed how, as chefs, we promote to our customers, and the public at large, what to eat. We establish the trends and support their continued trendiness by what we put on our menus and on our plates. Chef Kerr explained how he was on a Harley, racing down the road at full throttle, life and cuisine flying by him at a rapid pace, enjoying every second. Until he came to the end of the road, locked up the brakes, and came to a careening stop at the edge of the cliff, half over the edge and staring the 1000 foot drop in the face.
Now he is following his course backwards, saying to friends, colleagues, people in general…”slow down! There’s a cliff up ahead!” But like most chefs, and indeed most people, we think we will blaze down the road enjoying life all the way, eating whatever we want, doing whatever we will, and have a sudden end at the last moment. But the reality is that sicknesses set in which are a result of our diet or lifestyle, and our end may not be as fast and glorious as we had imagined. Chef Kerr’s passion of the past years is to educate people how to live and enjoy life longer with better health through the consumption of flavorful “plant food” recipes.
So, for the lunch I selected a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables to lay out in a farmer’s market fashion so that he could choose what he wanted and start playing. I had red and gold beets, sea beans, assorted mushrooms, chicory, chard, snap peas, squashes, heirloom tomatoes, shallots, salsify, and many other “basic” items available, plus an assortment of fresh herbs. Six of the Tulalip Chefs (including Chef Perry and myself) gathered in the Blackfish kitchen with Chef Kerr. He looked at the assorted produce (smiled), decided what to make, and asked us to dice a variety of specific vegetables while he and Chef Perry hit the stove to start preparing the dish which he referred to as a Skagit Skillet, a play on an old French recipe.
Food and Beverage Director Lisa Severn attended the lunch and presented Chef Kerr with a Tribal blanket, and “raised her hands” to him, which is a symbol of friendship and welcoming. And the dish, although “simple” (chefs classify most vegetarian dishes as “simple” because they lack protein preparation), was complex in flavor and perfectly prepared…very enjoyable and satisfying.
Then we sat down and enjoyed good company and good food!