by Tiffany Maleshefski
When we sat down for a morning cup of Joe with Americano's executive chef Paul Arenstam, we only expected to get the details on his new Americano Mondays menu, where for $20, guests get an appetizer, entrée, and glass of wine. Instead, we walked away with a new goal of becoming the country's Secretary of Agriculture. Say what you will about Americano's typically terrible and shallow bar scene, there's a lot of depth and substance to be found in the restaurant's kitchen, thanks to the likes of Arenstam who is working his but off to see that everyone eats a shot at decent, hormone-free, pesticide-free food, grown food that doesn't spend the bulk of its life in the back of an open-air truck on a pallet in some warehouse. We dished on the slow food movement's image problem, corporate patents on food, and keeping locally produced food a cost-effective and accessible choice for everyone, not just the people who can shop at Whole Foods. Arenstam was hand-picked to attend the international food event known as Terra Madre in October and played a key role in Slow Food Nation '08.
Arenstam has been in the food industry for a long time now, so we wanted to know if the "slow food movement" had always been kicking around. Apparently, slow food is very much a new thing, gaining more widespread popularity only in the 21st century. Its proliferation into the mainstream, thanks to food apostles like Michael Pollan, whose "Farmer In Chief" letter printed in the New York Times Magazine, where he built an incredibly compelling and bulletproof argument for sweeping changes to existing food policies, is furthered through local chefs, farmer markets, and word-of-mouth. He talked about how the slow food movement can be a confusing maze of information, but slowly folks are starting to connect the millions of dots that connect the food on our plates to international change.
I think the argument about it was laid out terrifically by Michael Pollan in the . I think that would be the reference point for a lot of people to try to connect all the dots that seem to be out there. People feel a certain way, but yet have a very hard time with expressing how to connect why it all seems to work together and I still struggle with that today. I am in a position where I make choices about purchases for food. We're a very large operation here, we serve breakfast lunch and dinner, and I have the power to make those choices. We're also a business. We have shareholders and we have budgets that we write and I'm responsible for those so I have a framework. I just can't take something and say I am going to purchase it without regard to price, so I have to find something in the middle.
When you started out in LA how were the kitchens different? Were you even considering going to local farms or farmer markets?
Yeah we would—but not to the extent that we do now.
And why was that? Was it just not in the consciousness? Was it not accessible?New York Times