Sometimes we Creative Types need to mix it up! This spring I was inspired by the Gualala Arts Center 2019 Chowder Challenge where I joined two dozen other professional chefs from restaurants up and down the southern Mendocino county coastline.
Friday morning I began in the East Bay by BARTing to Oakland’s Chinatown and buying a slew of foodstuffs; then bussed over to Sprout’s in Pinole for the remainder of the 22+ ingredients. (Nope, no recipe, folks. Remember, I’m a scientist! We do experiments!)
Following a Saturday 4:30AM wake up, with five hours of chopping and chopping (and even more chopping – you can ask sous-chef Timothy Lee Brown [pictured to my right] how he felt about that) and mixing and deep-stirring the chowder in an enormous pot that almost swallowed me up to the elbow…we ran over to the Arts Center in time to set up our table.
We served our gluten-free, lactose-free, organic, kosher, halal, and organic vegan chowder to over a hundred people – including folks who never tried a vegan recipe before (and returned to rave about it!) and a band member who was grateful to finally be able to eat something that fit his dietary restrictions.
And we won! First place, Amateur “Open Class” (i.e., non-traditional) chowder. Mmmm yes, there were left overs…guess what we’re eating for lunch/dinner for the next week. (HA!)
How does vegan chowder contribute to biocultural diversity conservation, you might ask?
Well, the special topping that I introduced every single person to – the topping that no other chef thought of – was a locally sourced, native species of high cultural significance: nori seaweed.
Gathered by hand from tidal rocks along the Mendocino Coast together with a Pomo friend of mine, the seaweed I served was sung to, rinsed with sea water, and dried in the sun before being shared with everyone.
Educating chowder-eaters about nori is one way I can “sneak” an ethnobotanical lesson into a social event, while promoting healthy eating and the recognition of traditionally harvested foods.