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This week’s guest blogger is Charlie Ayers, best known as the Executive Chef who developed Google’s trendsetting food program. His restaurant, Calafia Café & Market A Go-Go in Palo Alto, CA, epitomizes the idea that “being green” is good for the producer, consumer, environment and local community. He brings this same pioneering spirit to his work with the Chowbotics team and to Sally’s recipes, which are designed to keep people energized and at their best.

IN THE BEGINNING

It all started a long time ago in the mid-80’s while attending Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, located in Providence, RI. During culinary school, I worked at various high-end restaurants in Providence, Newport, and Boston, all of which featured local and organic produce, game, meats, fish, and dairy.

I had never experienced anything like this before. My previous restaurant experience was at a local mom-and pop diner on Route 46 in New Jersey, where I grew up, and later at Hilton Hotels. At that time, these weren’t products that everyone had access to, like today.

As a young cook in New England, I noticed chefs and restaurant owners charging guests a slightly higher price for menu items featuring local and organic ingredients. My impression then – without asking the chef why – was it cost the local farmer more to grow than the big corporate farms, simply because he was the little guy. Keep in mind, I knew nothing about organic farming, supporting local economy, or that foods taste better the fewer miles travelled.

I did not know the term “organic farming.” I was truly unaware of the difference between a small local organic farmer and a small local conventional farmer, and why it was important to support both.

 

MINDFULNESS: LOCAL, ORGANIC, FERMENTED FOODS, AND BEYOND

Fast-forward to 1997. I was working for Whole Foods Market, cooking for the prepared foods team. I volunteered to help cook backstage at a charity concert in Golden Gate Park. I remember having a conversation about organic farming with Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. He explained it simply, the idea of eliminating petroleum from your diet. Organic farming is free of pesticides and herbicides, most of which are derived from a byproduct of oil. That’s when it all totally clicked for me on every level.

While working for Whole Foods Market, I learned the value of supporting local farmers, and the importance of cooking with – and eating – local, organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Whole Foods Market had a strong, mindful program which we applied to the daily prepared food operations. A vast amount of thought around wellness went into our menu planning. The very first time I heard the term “superfoods” was in an employee food knowledge handbook test. At the time, every member of the prepared foods team had to pass the test in order to work in the department.

At Whole Foods in the 90’s, wellness prevailed! We made fermented foods which reduce inflammation, promoted mental clarity, and energized our bodies. We prepared raw foods that excited the senses. We were creating a vibe and a feeling with what we were creating and delivering a definite sense of a healthy investment in your daily diet. We were delivering a lifestyle in addition to wholesome food. This was the 90’s, and, of course, no one used the word “lifestyle” back then. We were cutting edge and mindful in all that we did.

After I left Whole Foods Market, I borrowed a bit of their own ethos and applied it when I cooked.

Organic, local, and natural foods became something I was passionate about and promoted whenever I possibly could.

Fast-forward just a few short years later. I found myself cooking for a small search engine startup in Mountain View, CA. I applied much of the natural, organic food knowledge I’d acquired to this young company. This company, of course, was Google.I wrote a cookbook on my experience – Food 2.0, Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google. The book was published in 2008, but the insights and heathy recipes still resonate today.

In 2009, I opened my own restaurant, Calafia Cafe & Market a GoGo. The menu is influenced by Latin and Asian cuisines, with a heavy emphasis on vegetarian foods. Wellness values are heavily incorporated into my recipes. For example, I make a nut-free pesto using hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds. Hemp seeds are high in amino acids while pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, both of which we need in our daily diet. I use turmeric in my vegan almond butter sauce, and cod liver oil in my caesar dressing. Essentially, we serve California cuisine.

I truly believe – and live by – the ethos food is my medicine. I bring this philosophy wherever I go, to whatever I cook, whenever I can. We do the same thing at Chowbotics. We cook and embrace superfoods, local foods and seasonal foods in our test kitchen. We cook foods that taste good, we cook foods that are good for you, we cook foods that are familiar and exciting.

We make it easy for you to access fresh, healthy, nutritious foods on the go, or while working a late night at the office to make that deadline.

Below, I’ve included some of my favorite recipes and tips from Food 2.0 for you to enjoy.

Veggies – you can’t live without them!

Keep crudité (aka cut vegetables) in your crisper at all times, ready to go—while you’re listening to music, or waiting for your dinner to cook, cut up a huge bag of vegetables. Make carrot and celery sticks, and jicama and cucumber spears. Wash up some cherry tomatoes. On a lazy day, all that and a bowl of hummus or guacamole can pass for a meal! One exception: don’t eat raw cauliflower or raw broccoli. Your body doesn’t digest them well and you won’t get the whole nutritional value out of them. But don’t overcook them either. If you blanch them lightly, they’ll keep that delicious crunch and the flavors will peak, too.

A great salad to keep in the fridge

Toss together some jicama, radishes, lime juice, and a little cayenne pepper. Then drop in some orange segments. In a salad, I try to go for that sweet-salty-sour synergy and I want to be sure it’s going to have some crunch to it. This one hits all those elements at once.

Chili-Infused Vinegar Recipe

Toast 1 tbsp chili flakes in a pan, then grind them up in a coffee grinder. (A very important note: only do this if you keep a separate grinder for spices. Otherwise, your coffee will forever taste like pepper spray). Funnel the powder into 1.5 cups of vinegar, add 1 tsp salt, and let it sit until ready to use.

Hot Chicken Wings Recipe [made with Chili-Infused Vinegar]

Heat an oven-safe sauté́ pan, then toss in your desired amount of wings plus some salt and pepper and a small amount of ketchup or hot chili sauce. Give the wings a good coating, then roast at 400°F (200°C) for 20—25 minutes. Return them to the stove top. Turn up the heat. Shake your chili-infused vinegar and give the wings a good squirt. Stir with a wooden spoon, then remove the wings with tongs to a serving platter. Add a small amount of beer and 2—3 tbsp butter to the sauce in the pan, and serve it with the wings. Drink the remaining beer with the wings.

People get hooked on chilies because the brain responds to the burning taste by releasing endorphins that make you feel happy!

Cool and Spicy Tomato Soup Recipe

Pulp (pass through the grinder attachment of an electric stand mixer) 4 peeled and seeded tomatoes, followed by 1 cup peeled, seeded English cucumber and some serrano or jalapeno chili (seeded). Soften 1 minced shallot in 4 tbsp olive oil. Add the vegetable pulp along with 2 tbsp Banyuls vinegar and 1 tsp freshly ground cumin. Bring just to a boil. Puree in a blender until super-ultra-smooth (or leave it chunky). Pour into freezer container(s), cool, and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, thaw the soup and season with salt and pepper. For each portion, puree 1/2 cup arugula leaves with 1 tbsp vegetable stock and 1/4 tsp lemon juice until smooth—not too long or the heat from the motor will turn your arugula black! Garnish with soup with the pureed arugula in the center, and serve with a a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and shaved Parmesan. Serves 4.

Caramelized Mushroom Sauce Recipe

Slice cremini mushrooms and sauté in 1/4 cup olive oil. Add a pinch of black pepper. Once the mushrooms are golden brown, add 2 small minced shallots and 1 small minced leek (use the white part only) and cook until translucent. Add 1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika, a small pinch of celery seed, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground fennel, and 1 tbsp grated orange zest, followed by 1/2 cup sherry vinegar. Stir well, then reduce until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Add 3 quarts chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer to reduce by two-thirds. Strain. Pour into 2-cup freezer containers, cool, and freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat to serve, then taste and season. Whisk in 1 tbsp chilled butter for the Frenchy effect or olive oil to go Mediterranean. This sauce goes really well with roasted pork, chicken, turkey, or lamb. Makes about 8 cups.