Food writer Eugenia Bone will be at the Denver Botanic Gardens tonight, discussing "The Kitchen Ecosystem" as part of the Bonfils-Stanton Lecture Series. We recently caught up with Bone and asked her what it means to call your kitchen an "ecosystem."
Westword: Tell us about the title of your talk, "The Kitchen Ecosystem."
Eugenia Bone: Let's start with ecology. "Eco" from the Greek means "house" or "living relations," and "ology" means "study of." An ecosystem consists of organisms in a particular area, including non-living organisms. So in a natural ecosystem, there is no waste. And there are different kinds of ecosystems -- aquatic and terrestrial -- and there are also artificial, which are what humans make. So the kitchen ecosystem is an idea that you can apply to your kitchen that will help you understand why the food you make tastes the way it does, and with that understanding, you can improve the way your food tastes. Because the kitchen ecosystem is an artificial ecosystem where the kitchen is the environment and the organisms are the food, and it's all linked by the nutrient flow that comes to us. And efficiency is accomplished in this kitchen ecosystem idea by using all the secondary products -- stems from asparagus and bones from chicken. It's the same model that farmers and our great-grandparents used, but using this kitchen ecosystem metaphor allows the city and suburban modern liver to analyze why their food tastes the way it does, and to change it. And it also reflects not only your palate but also your politics and what you want to spend your money on, your purse.
The way this ecosystem idea looks is, if you look at your kitchen like an ecosystem, what makes for a complicated, advanced or otherwise -- in this case, very tasty -- ecosystem? And that has got two components. The secret to tasty food is eating fresh, seasonal, local, etc., which also has all these other benefits, and eating food that is homemade. So that component, the homemade component, means preserving stuff that's seasonal and replacing the store-bought products in your fridge over time with homemade stuff. So if you bought your tomatoes locally at your farmer's market, and then you canned some of it, you are supporting your farmer all year round, and everything you make with that food is going to taste better. You're making your system more complicated, you're putting your stamp on it more. Likewise, from those tomatoes you can also make ketchup. So you are again adding to the quality of what you cook. But taste is ultimately what happens, but there's also these residual fine effects. It's efficient, because you've got foods that are canned, you've kept your dollars local through the winter and away from multinational irresponsible corporate food conglomerates -- always a good thing. You have lowered your carbon footprints, the food you're putting in your children's bellies is more nutritional. And it's a time-saver, because if you're preparing the components of a meal, by the time you get to cooking your dinner, you've had the stuff done three months before. You cannot be making everything fresh every time you cook it up. You have to start to can or freeze stock every time you buy a chicken, just put the stock on overnight. In the morning you have the stock, next time you need it you have it, or you could use the stock as a base for a complete meal, so that you use that chicken several times.
WW: What will you be covering in the Botanic Gardens talk?
EB: I will be covering seasonal eating, not in so much depth because the terrain has been covered, people know this stuff. But I am going to be talking about nutraceuticals, which is a new way to look at eating from a health point of view. And then I'm going to be talking about preserving, and I'll definitely be getting into the whole bugaboos. You don't need to know math and you're not going to get botulism. And then I'm going to be talking about the benefits of all this stuff and the secondary products and how preserving and/or using secondary products is another way of making the system that is your kitchen ecosystem more complex. Because a simple ecosystem would be this fashion model I knew, who had rice crackers in her kitchen and cigarettes. That was a very elemental ecosystem, there wasn't a whole lot of nutrition coming out of that cycle, where a fancy restaurant, different story. That's why the restaurant food tastes so good, they've got someone making stock and confit and soaking sweetbreads for two days. You can make your kitchen reflect your palate, pocketbooks and politics if you start substituting non-you products and non-regional products in your kitchen. There's no mystery in it, it's just...I feel like it's hard to use a good paradigm, even if it's good it's hard to use it unless it speaks to the user, the modern person. The farmers' paradigm, how is a city person going to say, "Of course I can can!" That model doesn't work even though the ideas are the same. So you have to say, "small batch, replace the ketchup, you really reflect your eating habits." Things get more complex as you hold them longer and longer, at the same time as cooking something you'll be preserving it. It's this much more complex reflection of your values as an eater and a shopper. So that's what I'm after. I'm just trying to update the paradigm for urban and suburban people who are left out.
I like to look at my larder and say, "What can I take out of here and use my own thing?" You can get rid of the mayonnaise today, it takes five minutes to make mayonnaise and it holds for a week. No reason anyone should buy bread crumbs if they're eating bread. All those things make your food taste better when you use them in the cooking. Preserving's a really important part.
WW: What would you say to people who see time constraints to preserving their own food?
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EB: It takes a whole day to can a bushel of tomatoes. It takes like five minutes to can a pint. So what I recommend, and what I'll mention in this talk, is that when you buy your tomatoes next month, buy enough for dinner and then buy extra to can. And while you're making your tomato salad, you shove your tomatoes in your pint jar and process it with boiling water. If you do that every time you make a tomato salad, it's like multi-tasking in the kitchen. It's no more complicated. And when people are starting out and say, "What's the easiest? What should I make first?" I always tell them, "Make something you like to eat." Because if you like to eat it, you're motivated to make it. Home-canned food and condiments is qualitatively better. I don't care what the provenance. Plus, I guarantee your kitchen is cleaner than any industrial food-processing area in the world.
To find out more, read Bone's blogs at blogs.denverpost.com/preserve; she also suggests you contact any local extension office of the University of Colorado with any questions about safe canning in Colorado.
Tonight's activities start with a 5:15 p.m. tour of seasonal edible plants and a Slow Food Denver tasting at 6 p.m. Bone takes the stage from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is $20 to $30, or $110 to $140 for series tickets; e-mail your reservation to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Denver Botanic Gardens is located at 1005 york Street; for more info, visit www.botanicgardens.org or call 720-865-3580.
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