We enjoyed talking and cooking with Chef Nico Romo of FISH in Charleston for our feature article on seafood sustainability, Scales of Justice, and were eager to reconnect with him when he returned from a James Beard Boot Camp for Policy & Change. Here’s what we learned:
TLP: So where did the Boot Camp take place, and how many chefs participated?
NR: There were fifteen of us, selected from all over the country, all camped out at the Costanoa Lodge about an hour south of San Francisco, with no cell phone service. I think they did that on purpose. Usually at conferences, people meet all day then split in the evening and go explore, but here we were stuck with each other. It made us connect.
TLP: What was the focus?
NR: Sustainable seafood was the focus of this Boot Camp, but the real emphasis was on advocacy. It was a forum to talk about things that bother us, things we want to change, and then how to do that. We talked through concepts, and realized how much power we have as chefs to get the word out.
TLP: Did the Boot Camp change you in any way?
NR: I feel like I’m part of a community. There have been a few Boot Camps hosted by the James Beard Foundation. Now I have a support system with past and present members of the Boot Camp. I can run things by them, and they can help put chefs in front of politicians. We can make changes not only for our customers but for our children.
TLP: What’s your biggest challenge with being sustainable?
NR: Chefs feel frustrated that no one really knows what’s going on with the oceans, especially our South Atlantic waters from North Carolina to Florida. Who is responsible for testing and research? We need to fight to get more funding for meaningful studies on water quality and fish populations. If suddenly we run out of trigger, everybody’s gonna look stupid!
TLP: What was the biggest surprise at the Boot Camp?
NR: Well, there was this musician there, just a cool guy who hung out and played and helped keep the conversation going. He introduced himself to me, and I said, “Who are you?” and he said “Jack Johnson.” I had no idea who he was, and now my staff is laughing at me. Jack Johnson was like our DJ for the weekend.
TLP: Best memory?
NR: We had a bonfire on the last night where we cooked a whole pig that we had to kill ourselves that day (it was an emotional experience for a lot of people, but it felt really important to connect with the source of our food). After a family-style meal, we all drank bourbon around the fire and Jack Johnson was playing until four in the morning. Everyone was singing together. It was a great experience.
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