Q&A with JBF Taste America All-Star Michel Nischan
Maggie BordenMaggie Borden
September 22, 2015
It’s hard to find a more passionate advocate for American cooking than JBF Award winner Michel Nischan. From his own career as a chef to the expansive efforts of his nonprofit Wholesome Wave, Nischan has worked tirelessly to increase access to fresh fruit and vegetables for Americans across the country. The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America®, our ten-city epicurean tour, is stopping off in Phoenix this weekend, where Nischan will promote his ethos of local and regional agricultural appreciation with like minded fellow Beard Award winner Chris Bianco, as well as the cream of the crop of the Phoenix restaurant scene. Read on to discover Nischan’s tips on starting your own vegetable garden, his view on our growing Chefs Boot Camps for Policy and Change, and just how much he loves eggs.
JBF: What food trend do you wish would end immediately?
Michel Nischan: Molecular gastronomy in the hands of anyone other than the few chefs who truly understand how to execute it well.
JBF: Is there a technique or ingredient you just can’t get enough of right now?
MN: I’ll never get enough of eggs, scrambled soft in a double boiler, or fried hard in super-hot duck fat.
JBF: What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Connecticut?
MN: Bill Taibe’s Kawa Ni in Westport, and Tim LaBant’s the Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton.
JBF: What dish or ingredient is your culinary spirit animal?
MN: Eggs straight out of the tuchus of the chicken (washed, of course).
JBF: What are food hubs, and why does Wholesome Wave support them as a means of improving access to fresh produce?
MN: Food hubs are small, entrepreneurial food businesses that make it possible to get more locally grown food into places that have trouble accessing it, while also providing more equitable supply chains for farmers and food producers. From aggregators to first-milers, co-packing, processing, and last-mile distribution, there are innovative ways to create small business opportunities to fill the gap between the ever-growing demand for locally and regionally grown foods and the current large-scale system’s inability to honor it.
JBF: You’re a big proponent of community gardens and urban farms. What are some of the first plants you recommend for individuals looking to start one?
MN: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants have been adopted and loved by all cultures and provide an immediate visual display of the miracle of nature turning a seed into food.
JBF: What inspired you to help start JBF’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change?
MN: Eric Kessler and his work with musician advocates inspired me to join him in creating this magnificent program. The James Beard Foundation’s move to take a leadership role in the broader food conversation was the galvanizing force in turning the idea into reality. It’s simply one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been involved with.
JBF: How have the Boot Camps evolved since their start in 2012?
MN: They just keep getting better and better. Because the settings are so special and the gatherings are so intimate (15 chefs at most), each camp has a special quality of its own.
JBF: Where do you try to shop for ingredients when cooking away from home?
MN: If I’m away from home and cooking (which is rare these days), it’s for significant events like JBF Taste America. All I need are buddies like Chris Bianco, Todd Allison, and Mark Tarbell who understand what’s important to us all. It’s magical to work with people who can finish each other’s culinary sentences.
JBF: What city is next on your "must-hit" list?
MN: Because my life is my work and my work is my life, all the cities I’ve visited have been as a result of a project or career calling. This November, I’ll be in Portland, Oregon for the very first time in my life! I’m part of a small consortium of school food and food justice organizations that I highly admire. We’re meeting there to discuss ways that we can work collectively to change the world through good food. I’ve always wanted to go to Portland—so many friends and so much good food there—but work never took me there. I’ll be thrilled to check that box.
Get details about Taste America and buy tickets here. Follow the festivities on Twitter with #JBFTasteAmerica. You can also follow the adventures of #bittybeard, our portable homage to James Beard, as he travels around the country.