We’ve partnered with a host of talented bloggers from around the web to let you in on some of the stories behind the wide range of talent at this year’s festival. From profiles and interviews to recipes and previews, follow along for the inside track on all things AFWF.
This week Tim McDiarmid of San Antonio’s Tim the Girl talks with Mike Lata and Monica Pope about their farm-fresh culinary craft. Monica Pope shares her passion for connecting local farmers and consumers with cooking classes, an online cookbook Eat Where Your Food Lives and through her restaurants, Sparrow Bar + Cookshop and Beaver’s.
Join Chef Monica Pope4/26: Rock Your Taco
4/27: Demo | Dumplings To Live By
Tim: When and why did you become passionate about using locally-sourced, responsibly-raised ingredients?
Monica: A friend once asked what I was going to do after high school. I answered that I was going to “open a restaurant and change the way Houston eats.” I am not sure why I even uttered that statement and made it my life’s work; I’ve been trying to figure that out for 34 years. I worked in kitchens around the world always fully intending to come back to Houston and “open a restaurant and change the way Houston eats.” It seems obvious now that it would be Alice Waters-y and focus on farm to table, but it was not so obvious then in Houston, since I didn’t know any farms, farmers and/or tables….
Tim: Is there a specific moment that inspired you to embrace the career path you are on now?
Monica: Not just one moment, but a lot strung together to move me along for 21 years: a Chef’s Collaborative photo op/preamble signing in ’93; an Urban Harvest meeting that I was asked to host in ’94 (and where I pledged to start a garden in every zip code 66); and the start of our farmer’s market hybrid restaurant t’afia. Houston didn’t have a permit for us prepared food people to join a certified farmer’s market, so we put ourselves inside our restaurant and the farmers outside. Breaking laws and effecting change propels one often.
Tim: Can you explain a little bit about your creative process when coming up with new dishes?
Monica: I was just explaining this to my wife this morning on our school run with four kids…. It starts with what grows here, what is at the farmers market, but also from years of eating, experiencing and reading. I make lists, a rolodex of food epiphanies, and CSI it basically. (Like that large google glass looking thing on CSI where they put music to it and connect the dots and solve crimes.)
Tim: Where do you turn to maintain fresh inspiration? Travel? Cookbooks? Long bubble baths?
Monica: I love to read, travel and take hot baths. Most of my inspiration comes on my walks though or doing my CSI lists. I’ll pull a few books down and “process” but it starts with the local larder and my staff and what we can execute well.
Tim: How do you balance your career with your personal life? Or are they one in the same?
Monica: Hmm, I don’t know what you’re talking about — balance. I married my wife Sara in 2013 (a year to the day after I met her at Sparrow). She brought three kids with her to my one kid (ages 13, 11, 8, 6) and an awesome amount of talent in the design world.
We live what we do – food, family, home – and try to balance work with it – restaurant, community, design – and we hope our kids will get it.
Tim: What would you like to see happen with food/restaurants in the future and how do you want to be a part of that? What would your dream culinary world look like?
Monica: My wife and I have four projects we’re working on right now. I want to stay relevant after 21 years with my own restaurants and 34 years cooking in this business. She gives me hope. My dream culinary world is color curated and staged by Sara.
Tim is a chef, writer & consultant transplanted to San Antonio from NYC. timthegirl.com