Earlier this week I had the privilege to listen to Chef John Ash. If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ll know that we visited Sacramento, California—USA’s farm-to-fork capitol—at the International Food Bloggers Conference (hashtag IFBC). I’ve been writing about food since 2009, and I decided it was about time to crawl out of my Utah shell and meet some other food bloggers.
So far, so good; the bloggers are nice peoples. Go me. I’m literally patting myself on the back right now. Yes, literally, not figuratively. Literally.
I’m amazed at how many fun, good-hearted people there are who gather at IFBC over a common love: food. It seems in the past decade that the online food community has really taken off, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve said it before, the kitchen is my favorite room. The more people I can share it with, the better.
About Chef John Ash
The keynote speaker at IFBC this year was Chef John Ash, who is known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine.” John is a passionate advocate for ethical, sustainable foods. Sounds good. I’m down. (On an unrelated note, he also looks like my mother-in-law’s hubby, who’s a pretty cool dude. So really, how bad could he be?)
I was expecting to hear a lot about the restaurant industry and his experience in it, or even about the farm-to-fork process for which he so heartily advocates. Not so. Instead, he talked about how his cooking mentors shaped his life. I loved it, and felt like it was worth sharing with you.
Mentor 1: Julia Child'I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I put it in the food.' —Julia ChildClick To Tweet
Yeah that’s right; the Julia Child was his mentor. Cooking alongside that amazing woman would be a dream come true.
(Image Source: VIA Record)
I’ve always known she was a bit quirky, and it was fun to hear some personal experiences from John’s time with her. He says, “She was nuts in a good way. She was one of the brightest people and had a wonderful vocabulary.” Some of the things he learned from her are:
Another couple things about Julia Child that I learned are that whenever she swept her food off the table (watch some of her videos) in one large push of her arm, it actually went onto the floor. There wasn’t ever a basket or garbage there. Also, she encouraged people to chew with their mouths open. During one presentation, she paused and waved her finger over the crowd, proclaiming loudly, “You must chew with your mouth open! You must thoroughly masticate your food!” Maybe for her it was a sign of appreciation for a good, hearty meal.'You must chew with your mouth open! You must thoroughly masticate your food!' — Julia ChildClick To Tweet
The things you learn at IFBC, am I right?
Mentor 2: M.F.K. Fisher
Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher was an acclaimed food writer. She was also eccentric. I love the eccentrics and the off-beat. They’re my type of people. She loved meaningful conversation, and apparently wasn’t one to waste time mincing words in idle chit chat.
She taught Chef John Ash a few awesome things as well:
During his IFBC keynote, John shared this story about M.F.K. Fisher. Every week, John would meet up with her for lunch. Every week they’d cook or eat something new. One week, it was Mary’s turn to cook. John shows up and nothing has been made yet. Mary pulls out a boule (the round bread loaves) and cuts it in half. She then proceeds to pull out a large portion of the insides.'If you can’t carry on a conversation, you can’t be here.' — M.F.K. FisherClick To Tweet
From there, she slathers the halves with mustard and spread, then adds cheese and meat and other toppings. It was a hefty sandwich. She then proceeds to wrap it in multiple layers of plastic wrap. John at this point is rather confused, as they then proceed out to the porch. Mary sits down, but just before John does, she says, “Wait, sit on this.” John does.
Thirty minutes later, M.F.K. Fisher states, “Lunch should be ready now.” John hands her the massive sandwich, and Mary cuts it into fingers. Sounds weird, but apparently it’s delicious. John later nicknamed the sandwich the “Bunini.”
Mentor 3: Wendell Barry
Wendell Barry is a novelist and farmer. It was interesting to hear how different the lessons Chef John Ash learned from him were compared to the ones from Julia Child and M.F.K Fisher.
John’s keynote address helped me reflect on my own mentors and how some of them came from unexpected places, teaching me skills that continue impacting my life. I expect to be writing about some of them soon and sharing the reasons they are important to me.
In the meantime, who are your mentors, and how have they affected your life?