Bradford Heap, chef/owner of Boulder's Salt Bistro, isn't waiting around for a vote or for the government to take action on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He's already implemented a GMO-free kitchen, or what's as close as possible. "We should say 99 percent -- there's so much (environmental) contamination that it's impossible to be certain," he notes. Still, this past May he made the move from sourcing everything but the meat from GMO-free producers to going whole-hog, so to speak, by also ensuring that the animals ending up on his plates have not been fed anything genetically modified.
For the menu, this dedication means change. "We've had to stop serving duck," Heap says, because he couldn't find a supplier who could guarantee the quality of the duck feed. So the confit on the menu is now chicken instead of the traditional water fowl. He also had to drop a local lamb supplier because he learned it was finishing the otherwise grass-fed meat with corn.
The kitchen also started bringing in whole hogs and, as a result, had to take a popular pork chop and peach dish off the menu -- you can only get so many chops from one pig before you have to start bringing them in pre-cut and packaged. Now, Heap and his staff break down the whole animal, using every bit of it for head cheese (téte de fromage on the menu), sausages and other creative ways to not let anything go to waste.
"It's time for us to stick our heads out the window and shout, 'We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!'" says Heap, with a touch of humor. But he's serious about making a change -- for his family, his restaurant and his customers. Heap and his wife, Carol Vilate, also own Colterra in Niwot and are dedicated to serving non-GMO products there, too.
No matter how you feel about GMOs, it's clear that Heap is passionate about food and food production. "I don't think of restaurants as concepts or do this as an 'angle,'" he says.
So how are customers reacting? Despite a slight uptick in the menu prices because of more meticulous sourcing, Heap says summer business has been stellar. Part of that could be an overall boom in the restaurant business, but it could also be that Boulderites have been waiting for this sort of stance on food production. And Heap isn't just content to buy GMO-free; he's also growing vegetables that way. In partnership with Dave Asbury of Colorado's Full Circle Farms, Heap started the Soul Patch, a ten-acre organic farm custom-growing organic produce for Salt and Colterra.
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"I'm not a scientist," adds Heap. "I don't know if GMO food will make me sick." But he doesn't have much faith in the industrial food-production industry, which has proven that it can produce food cheaply, but not necessarily safely or humanely. "It is unethical to ask us to be 'experiments' for genetically engineered food that has not been tested or regulated."