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Back to Basics

In our over-stimulated world of 3-D cinema, technological reliance, fast trains, and even faster microwave dinners, it’s easy to forget how to slow down and take a little more time living, rather than racing.

March 13, 2014

Chefs Sanford D’Amato and Jeff Michaud bring simplicity, patience, and seasonality back to the table.

In our over-stimulated world of 3-D cinema, technological reliance, fast trains, and even faster microwave dinners, it’s easy to forget how to slow down and take a little more time living, rather than racing.

And what’s more, there’s a chance our lives may actually depend on it.

In a recent study done by the American Psychological Association, less than 40 percent of adults claim to be excelling at managing stress or eating healthily. And according to a report by the National Research Council, Americans across the wealth spectrum live comparatively shorter lives than their international neighbors.

With this sobering news, maybe it’s time to think about not just what we do with our lives, but how we’re living them, too. So what better way to slow things down than by putting down the smartphone and picking up (dare I say?!) a good book.

Lucky for you, the Tucson Festival of Books will be in town this weekend on March 15 and 16 on the University of Arizona Mall. In addition to the literary, scientific, and artistic festivities that will be in full force all weekend, the Festival is also bringing back its wildly-popular Culinary Schedule, which will feature local and national award-winning cookbook authors giving talks and conducting cooking demonstrations.

Two of the renowned chefs in the Festival lineup, Jeff Michaud and Sanford D’Amato, are sure to provide all the necessary inspiration required for slowing your pace and savoring new priorities.
Habits that, they believe, can also start at the dinner table.

Table Transformations

Michaud, Executive Chef of Osteria in Philadelphia and author of the book Eating Italy: A Chef’s Culinary Adventure, is also an active member of the Vetri Foundation for Children, an organization founded in 2008 that emphasizes healthier eating habits in youth around Philadelphia.

Together with Marc Vetri, Michaud developed Eatiquette, a school lunch program that exposes children to healthier foods and, perhaps more importantly, new ways to eat them.

“It wasn’t just about eating fresh food, it was also about the style, the way that they were eating,” said Michaud about the program. “We have them eating family style. So we put in large round tables, everything served on large platters, they learn how to pass, they learn table manners. The program’s a whole process.”

Michaud explained that, in today’s busy environment, parents may not have the time to prepare fresh, varied meals, let alone have the time to serve it à la Leave it to Beaver.

Through Eatiquette, kids are introduced to the taste of real food, nothing processed or prepared with the use of a microwave oven (for example, the difference between a real strawberry and the artificial flavor additive). And while they enjoy their new taste experiences, they learn how to interact and share a dining table. As a result, they reap both the physical and mental benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

“I think by serving family style like that, that they got to see other kids trying things,” said Michaud. “It definitely gets the kids very interactive while they’re sitting at the table.”

The Good Life

Sanford D’Amato and wife Angie are intimately familiar with the concept of “life on a slow simmer.” After owning and operating the award-winning Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee for 23 years, the couple sold their venture in 2012 and moved to Massachusetts to open Good Stock Farm and cooking school on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Five years in the making, the school is situated on a two-acre farm that produces the fresh, seasonal ingredients used in D’Amato’s dishes and classes. Most of the crops on the property take a while to “come around and mature,” and include sixteen fruit trees, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb, and berry bushes.

“So the idea of the school is we’ll do small, probably maximum 10-12 people at a time, classes,” explained D’Amato. “Hands-on, where we can just go out in the fields and pick whatever is at peak at that time and then go ahead and cook with it.”

Should they need anything their own property cannot provide, the D’Amato’s look to local farmers and vendors for fresh products. The Pioneer Valley they call home offers meat, veggies, and the opportunity to support local agriculture. In an area of vibrant homegrown culture and CSAs, support of the tightly-knit farming community and its seasonal fare is all-important to D’Amato.

“My philosophy has been the same since…I started cooking. It’s to, you know, find the best in season product.”

And according to D’Amato’s new book Good Stock: Life on a Slow Simmer, storytelling is about as important as seasonality when it comes to good food.

“Every good chef puts in, not only their techniques that they’ve learned over the years and the experience that they’ve learned working for different people, but they have to put in their own taste memories.”

D’Amato insists that without a few culinary anecdotes, of which his book has many, the recipes would probably not exist at all.

“Recipes are soulless frames unless you really understand where the recipe came from,” said D’Amato.
“That’s what the book tells; it gives the story behind the recipes. So that people, after reading it, they have an idea of where my food is coming from and it would make it easier for them to prepare it.”

For more information about Eating Italy and Good Stock, as well as the chance to meet the chefs behind the stories, check out the Tucson Festival of Books this Saturday and Sunday. In addition to talk-backs and book signings, both Michaud and D’Amato will also conduct live cooking demonstrations with other local and nationally recognized chefs from around the U.S.

(Photos above of Michaud and D’Amato, from left to right, by Kelly Campbell and Kevin J. Miyazaki)

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