Monday, April 12, 2010

Top Vegetarian Chef Concerned about San Francisco's 'Monday Vegetarian Days'

One of the city's top vegetarian and vegan chefs has expressed concern about the political approach of enshrining a Vegetarian Day in an official resolution.

For today is the first-ever Vegetarian Day in San Francisco. No longer Monday but renamed last week by the Board of Supervisors. Their goal, to encourage San Franciscans to have one meatless day per week and eat more vegetables.

'It's kind of odd. I'm not opposed to it, not at all, in that it calls attention to people's diets,' said Chris Tucker, Executive Chef of the city's fine-dining vegan restaurant, Millenium.

But he has qualms about the effect the resolution will have on people and what it will do for the image of the city. He thinks people will see it as ''just more of that nanny government as before. And,' he said, 'just another thing that people will look at San Francisco and say "Oh, that's San Francisco! An island of craziness!"'

He went on in lampooning vein, 'I hear the naysayers. Monday is Vegetarian Day, Tuesday should be Foie Gras Day, Wednesday.....!!!'  ...'San Francisco is a bunch of crunchy sprout-eating's just funny!' he said. He had taken time out of his working day for the interview and was sitting in the empty restaurant inside the Hotel California on Geary, a few blocks from Union Square.

The resolution, passed unanimously last Tuesday, is designed to encourage restaurants and schools to serve vegetarian food on Mondays, for grocery stores to promote the sale of vegetables, and for the population to eat vegetables in a bid to improve people's health and have an environmental impact on the planet.

How, he queried, was it going to be enacted? Were they going to send round the vegetarian police?! Or spend city money promoting it?

'To me, politically, I think the Board of Supervisors spending time on this is a little strange,' he said,  concerned also about the financial health of the city and its predicted budget shortfall of $483 million.

San Francisco was elitist, he said, and also made it very difficult for small businesses and restaurants to survive, being one of the most expensive cities in America to work in.

The resolution would be a good thing if it changed people's eating habits and made them aware of where food came from, he said. But, 'Monday, Vegetarian Day. Great!' Just a name would achieve nothing. He wanted to see the 'trickle down' effect.

'There should be some curriculum in schools about diet, and the impact foods have on yourself and the environment, and that's where we should be targeting things, on education.'

Surprisingly, perhaps, while he and his staff obviously have a lot of positive things to say about vegetables, they are occasional meat-eaters.
'A lot of people in this restaurant are not vegetarians or vegan, we just like this food and eat it most of the time,' he said. 'I'm not vegetarian.' He eats 'sea food once in a while and a little bit of meat, but I eat this way most of the time because I like it.'

As a restaurateur, Chris loves working with local farmers. He grew up in farm country in New Jersey at a time when 'there was a real disconnect' with what farmers grew and restaurants served. But the 'local cuisine' movement has changed all of that.

How will the resolution affect restaurants?

It might attract new clients to vegetarian restaurants, he said, but although most chefs in San Francisco produce meat-based cuisine, there were so many talented chefs and many already producing regional Italian cuisine which is fairly vegetable-based, he said, that he thought it wouldn't make much difference.

'Everyone in this town can cook great vegetables.'

Millenium, who provided the food for the private party in Supervisor Sophie Maxwell's office after the resolution was passed, combine a sophisticated, fine-dining cuisine with a casual atmosphere.

'The depth and scope of what we can do with vegetable-based products is endless,' Chris said. 'When I step away from it, I hope it will be the best-ever in the history of restaurants because of what we have done.'

When he opened up, people didn't give him one year to survive. He is thriving after 16 years.

No comments: