Make mealtime a relaxing and enjoyable event.
Tim West grew up in New York's Hudson Valley, close to the city lights of Manhattan but far enough away to feel like the country. Two-thirds of a set of triplets, he and his brother Chris both got their first jobs at a pioneering farm-to-table restaurant called the Flying Pig Café. "It was there, sitting down to a staff meal and looking left to see the chef who prepared the food and right to see the farmer who'd grown it, that I had an epiphany," says West. "I knew exactly where my food had come from."
After his time at the Flying Pig, Chris went off to culinary school. Tim went another way. "I really wanted to achieve my own identity, so I headed out west," he says. He enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder where he jokes that he "majored in rock climbing and snowboarding the first semester." West had his second food-related epiphany after he got food poisoning at a Taco Bell. "I called my brother and said, 'How do I cook chicken?!' " he remembers. "I cooked, and my friends down the hall wanted to share, and soon I was making food for a gathering of 10 people. I realized that if I learned to make my own food, I'd be healthier, I could make friends and I could travel with my skill set-that was important to me." Soon West joined his brother at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, not far from where he grew up.
His family would play an important role as he studied and developed his love for sustainable foods. His grandfather, Arch West, invented Doritos tortilla chips in the early 1960s. Tim watched as, over the decades, Doritos went from a very simple product to becoming "so processed they're completely nutrient void," he says. "We in the U.S.-if not globally-have embraced a monoculture that has resulted in a drop in biodiversity. Slow Food is a movement dedicated to the preservation of food tradition, the pleasures of the table and ensuring agricultural biodiversity, which will ultimately result in a more strong and durable food chain."
Slow Food means a lot of things, and the "slowness" of the idea refers to less mass production-growing things more carefully and slowly, savoring what we eat. It's the anti-fast food, if you will. Among the movement's chief goals are: promoting the preservation of heirloom seed varieties, establishing eco-regions all over the world in which local foods and their lore are celebrated and protected, creating small-scale processing locations and educating people around what they're putting into their bodies.
These are all ideas that West incorporates in his own life, as well as in his business pursuits. He spent a year as a chef at Facebook's headquarters in Palo Alto, California, then embarked on a series of Internet ventures aimed at using online social networking to create meaningful dining experiences in the real world. The latest is event-planning site Cosemble.com.
He hopes that by encouraging people to sit down and think about what they're eating, he can help make the world a healthier-not to mention happier-place. "What it comes down to is that our cells are made from what we eat," says West. "If that's genetically engineered foods or pesticides on inorganic produce, our bodies will incorporate those."
In other words: The simpler and cleaner you can eat, the better. Here are West's beginning guidelines to clearing your plate and filling your body with healthy, delicious foods worth savoring:
Try cooking with fewer than five ingredients. "Use a great, fresh main ingredient, then add seasonings, a complimentary vegetable, a healthy cooking oil and voila! In 12 years as a chef, I've learned the most common mistake people make is overcomplicating the meal-adding too many ingredients, stirring too much, overcooking. Let one main quality ingredient shine."
Eat less processed food. "Go back to foods your grandparents would recognize and eat fewer things with labels."
Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. "You'll find fruits and vegetables, plus fresher breads and meats."
Eat less meat. "With one or two vegetarian days a week, you'll learn about the variety of foods that contain protein, like quinoa!"
Eat seasonally. "Think about tomatoes, for example. In winter I'd rather not eat a tomato that was likely shipped across the ocean to get to me. During summertime's abundance, make tomato sauce and freeze it, or sun dry a batch."
Make friends with foodies. "People who value food and spend their lives seeking out great eating experiences will join you in savoring mealtime."
- by Melissa Walker
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