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Q&A with Taste America All-Star Traci Des Jardins

Maggie Borden

October 02, 2015

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As we travel across the country for Taste America, our national epicurean tour, it’s easy to see the vast variety of cultural culinary ingredients that are thrown into the melting pot of American cuisine. At times, these myriad heritages can even be brought together in one chef, as in the case of Taste America All-Star Traci Des Jardins. Through her empire of San Francisco hot spots, Des Jardins crisscrosses the globe, infusing French, Spanish, Mexican, and more into the vibrant raw ingredients of her home state of California. Des Jardins will bring her internationally flavored cuisine to the East Coast for Taste America: Boston, where she'll team up with Local Star Matt Jennings for a weekend of exciting events. Read on for Des Jardins’s take on food trends that have overstayed their welcome, changes that are needed in the restaurant industry, and what food mecca she wants to visit next.

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JBF: What are you most looking forward to eating in Boston?

Traci Des Jardins: A dinner with my dear cousin, who is a professor at Wellesley, and a dear old friend I worked with over 20 years ago to celebrate some important birthdays!

JBF: What food trend do you wish would end immediately?

TJ: Kale salads. They’re good, but there are lots of good salads in this world.

JBF: Is there a technique or ingredient you just can’t get enough of right now?

TJ: I like the crunchy bits, toasted popped grains, seaweed, seeds, and salts that are topping so many things these days. That’s a trend that can stay, as far as I’m concerned. 
  

JBF: What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in San Francisco?

TJ: Zuni will always be a top favorite restaurant of mine. Bar Agricole. I love the new Aaxte.

JBF: What dish or ingredient is your culinary spirit animal?

TJ: Salt. 

JBF: Your restaurants draw from a number of different cultures, from French at Jardinière to American/British gastropub fare at the Public House, to Spanish at the Commissary, and Mexican at Mijita. What is the common thread between them?

TJ: I'm an American, trained in French cooking, and half-Mexican by descent. Mexican food is my soul food, plus I'm a California native and the history of the Spanish here is undeniable. I just love Spanish cuisine.

JBF: You spoke at TEDx San Jose Women a few years ago: what changes do you still want to see in the restaurant industry? Do you think it has improved in terms of gender and racial diversity?

TJ: There is much work we need to do in the restaurant industry, but most of all we need a sustainable economic model going forward. We are facing huge challenges with the rising minimum wage (which is still a good thing that I support), employer-funded healthcare, and the rising cost of good ingredients. But yes, we still have work to do on gender equality.

JBF: Where do you try to shop for ingredients when cooking away from home?

TJ: I try to shop at farmers’ markets to access the most seasonally relevant, freshest  products, and to support the people who raise, grow, and procure them.

JBF: What city is next on your "must-hit" list?

TJ: New Orleans—sadly, I’ve never been!

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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.

 
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