Episode 36: Organic Gourmet | Leslie Cerier | Gourmet Chef, Author, Recipe Developer, Wellness Coach and Educator
Leslie Cerier, “The Organic Gourmet” is an internationally recognized vegetarian chef, educator, wellness coach, cookbook author, recipe developer, consultant, photographerand farm to table caterer. She specializes in local, seasonal, organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free cooking. Leslie is passionate about helping people expand their palettes and leads cooking workshops and chef trainings all over the world.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Internationally recognized as a vegetarian chef, an educator, wellness coach, I develop recipes for organic and natural food companies and individuals who might have some alergies helping them understand how can I make this delicious? Her expertise is in organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free cooking and baking for health, vitality and pleasure.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I grew up in NYC, so wasn’t growing much, but loved being in nature. I joined a CSA in the late 1980s, so I can go swimming while they are working in the heat and I can still reap my bounty. Maybe about 5-6 years ago I started working with some experts on permaculture in my neighborhood, started with 6 beds, and each year I add another bed, and then I have a wild blueberry orchard that I tame and add other fruit berries.
First thing during gardening season, first thing I do is to get up go out and graze, blueberries or raspberries, do a little weeding, and that’s one of my favorite ways to spend the morning.
Wild high and low bush blueberries, about 20 made paths around and to them going in and out of my garden, and back to the house.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
That just means lessoning my carbon footprint, by eating what’s local out my door,
Edible flower garden, herb garden, and a big garden.
Means being kind to the earth, kind to me, just a big organic feast as far as I can tell, it’s more about pleasure. Earth friendly for me means Im not missing out, because I want to deprive myself, its the opposite, I am thriving because of my earth friendly approach to living and the garden is an extension of that.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
Always interested in organic eating, living around the corner form an eco-village and close to many organic farms, seemed like time for me to not get in the car to go buy my organic foods. Living in a beautiful organic pine forest, thinking what can grow here? Had an expert come and help me site the garden and tell me about how to grow things, so trained by asking the experts and just doing it.
Tell us about something that grew well last summer or season.
Bumper crop of Jerusalem Artichokes. Didn’t understand how a few plants would multiply. In the fall when most flowers are gone they have a kind of sunflower that is growing after the others are gone. After frost you can dig up the root, and store so well.
Sharing with people. They are very versatile, can eat raw in a salad, eat like a potato, giving away plants and still had plenty.
Leslie has a blog post on how to eat organic on a budget that includes tips like growing your own, joining a CSA, shopping specials, lots of great tips, because if you’re eating in season organic food doesn’t have to cost more.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Thinking what would it be like to have some more fruit trees? Maybe a mulberry or a cherry, peach tree. Or maybe more beds. Still in dream stage and imagining what makes sense.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Basil, this past summer did not work very well. Wasn’t as warm a summer as basil wanted. My food insurance is to have a membership at the CSA, but in my garden I just didn’t have enough sun.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
Really well with salad kales, and different salad greens, lettuce, tat soi (Asian green) like spinach, arugala, cilantro keeps reseeding itself.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
In the fall, I don’t have any animals, sometimes some critters will get other kinds of kale. Be flexible. Some need more water or more sun. Love having cucumbers, always grow my own garlic, might not grow enough peppers, eggplant wasn’t warm enough in this climate last year.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Do help people to come fertilizer, young woman who know permaculture, not rototilling, let go of the big labor, in favor of maintaining and don’t mind weeding and love grazing. Don’t like watering, having to move hose around here and there everywhere.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
Eating, tomatoes and cucumbers, baby kale, and lettuce have my salad in the garden. Grazing on berries in season.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
Crop of jerusalem artichokes. Easiest and most abundant harvest and endless crop I ever had.
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
I suppose I’ve received lots because I’m always asking. My neighbor Tom told me to take some clippers and make paths around the wild blueberry bushes, a good work out and created a design that made it a accessible and nice to get to blueberry bushes. Where landscaping meets organic wild gardening.
Another thing, I remember buying a flat of onion starts, and a friend said you know you have to separate each onion.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
A big fork for aerating the soil, for digging things up and move them around.
Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
With fruit you want the fruit to come off easily into your hand. If your too busy, make time for it. Never inundated. Harvest and cook with joy.
A lot of times your growing things near each other that go good together in a dish.
See it as a bounty of pleasure rather then overwhelm! What is this, take a nibble, does it taste good to me? Tons of information on Leslie’s website for recipes etc.
Don’t pick more then you’re gonna use.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Make tomato sauce and freeze in good freezer job. Corn, all organic, just cut off the cob. Super cheap from CSA to buy extra corn. Berries freeze in a berry bag. Make things that I can’t buy. Flavored oils and vinegars, for ex I make a blackberry vanilla balsamic vinegar and a cilantro, cayenne basil oil which makes cooking fun in the middle of winter that I can sprinkle to add gardening flavors. Lots of fairly easy and delicious recipes in my cookbook Going Wild in the Kitchen, The Fresh and Sassy Tastes of Vegetarian Cooking.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
In late 70’s is how I like to teach, bring home or harvest something new, taste it, smell it, what excites you about it. You can go online, you can read gardening books. I knew it was like a potato and how many things can you do with a potato? Kholarabi, take a taste, so I never pick or bring home anything I’m not excited to have.
Go to CSA, and look at blackboard where it tells you what you can pick for your own vegetables, and what you can have off the tables, etc. There is also a farm shop where there are also lots of locally made organic products, like cheeses, miso, local organic tempeh and tofu, lots of staples, sourdough breads etc.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
One of my favorites is to have a fresh garden salad, some orange olive oil, fig vinegar and have some hemp seeds and walnuts on it. That’s a real fun quick lunch.
In fall make different kinds of roasted roots, with various different colorful vegetables, quiona, garlic, and other herbs, and wild mushrooms.
Greens in tahini sauce.
As a chef and a teacher I’m always creating something good with what’s in season.
A favorite internet resource?
Western Mass Gardening and Permaculture Group. Post to the group. work with community. Love asking local experts.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend.
Look at different ethnic vegetarian cookbooks for inspiration. Don’t read any gardening books. Usually call a neighbor, random google search, for example I’ve been raking up leaves, where can I put these leaves, can I put them on my blueberries.
Love my cookbooks
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
Known as the Organic Gourmet, in the process of creating organic gourmet weekends, starting to do weekends at my own home. Where people can come study, for the weekend. How to organize, stock, sleep better, more energy and stamina.
For health, vitality, and pleasure.
Learn how to cook from scratch.
Can incorporate hiking, swimming, knife skills, time saving tips, luscious
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the earth either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
Need to get rid of GMO’s let’s just outlaw them. Lessioning our carbon footprint. We can feed our world through organic and sustainable processes, and get rid of all the pesticides that give you cancer. Outlaw toxic chemical warfare in the soil.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
Well, just do it. Do it big or small. No matter where you live. Making your own sprouts. How to grow herbs indoors. Do you have sunny windows or sunny land. Everybody cna grow something, or get a community of people to get together.
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