Chef Blog: I Believe, by Jonathan Bardzik
August 16, 2018
I believe that life should be lived well. By everyone, every day. Really.
Growing up we didn’t have much. My Dad graduated with his PhD in plant and soil science the year I was born. Deciding he wasn’t built for academia (although he’d still be happy to talk to you about his doctoral thesis on corn) he opened a garden center, and he and my Mom had me. They didn’t have much but my Mom, a thrifty New Englander, planted a garden, growing most of our food. What she didn’t grow she bought from local farmers and put up for the winter, canning and freezing during the summer months.
When I graduated from college I didn’t have much. Finishing in January I found myself living with Mom and Dad for a few months. Suddenly at home without the company of 1750 of my fellow students, I was bored, so I started cooking Tuesday night dinner when I was off of work. The first week I made pasta. The second week was tacos. Starting the third week I found myself sitting in front of a stack of cookbooks pulling together a menu of six dishes. I would spend the afternoon shopping and, because I had no idea what I was doing and had never cooked any of these recipes before, I would often cook until 8:30 or 9 o’clock at night before we would finally sit down to dinner.
Despite the lateness I would carefully set the table each Tuesday and find a few flowers or branches from around the yard to decorate the table. Despite having little money, these meals were able to elevate life far beyond my current means.
So that’s why I believe that life can and should be lived well, and I believe that it is within our reach every day by preparing a simple meal, setting a table, and sharing it with the people we love – even, and maybe especially, when that is at a table for one.
Food then, and the work you do, brings joy. It is joy. Although lately it feels like, to many people, it also brings a lot of fear and confusion. What should and shouldn’t we eat? There are seemingly endless new rules and opinions about what will make you healthy and what will kill you. Eat this. Don’t eat that! So here’s one place I always try and take away a little of the fear.
My job today is as a storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author. Put simply, I inspire and cook in front of live audiences. I got my start seven years ago giving live cooking demonstrations at historic Eastern Market on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Being a farm market cooking guy, my audiences often ask my opinions about the chemicals – fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides – used in farming. Or, as they put it, “how important is organic?”
I never give them the answer they want.
See, I grew up around my family’s horticultural business, which was built on the land that my father’s family farmed when they moved to this country at the turn of the last century. Growing up around farming and gardening I heard the growing talk in the 80’s and 90’s organic. I learned that there are organic products I don’t want in my belly any more than many of the chemicals out there. And I learned about stewarding our environment with safe and skilled application of the right products at the right time.
The answer I give then is this: When you can, know your farmer. I go to the market each week and we look each other in the eye. I know they are selling me the same food they serve to their children and grandchildren. If they need to, they use fertilizer or pest and disease controls to get a crop to market.
They’re the professionals. I trust them. I also know those products are expensive and no farmer is interested in using any more than they have to.
So when I hit the market this weekend I won’t worry about the produce being organic, or non-GMO. I’ll trust my farmers and spend my time finding the joy in shopping for, cooking and serving that farm-fresh food to the people I love. Because every day should be lived well and every meal should be a moment of joy.
Jonathan Bardzik is a storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author. Based in Washington, DC, Jonathan inspires and cooks for live audiences from farm markets and private homes to tradeshow floors and conference rooms. His food is inspired by the fresh ingredients from his mother’s garden that he finds today at farm markets. His business speaking draws on experience in family business, an MBA and a ten-year career in marketing and communications for a national horticultural trade association. Find more of Jonathan’s stories, recipes, videos and his three books at JonathanBardzik.com.