Meet the 2019 Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner Featured Chefs

August 8, 2019

We are grateful to have an award-winning and talented culinary team visiting Iowa in September for the 21st Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner. The lineup consists of a Top Chef Finalist, Iron Chef Winner, Food Network Grand Champion, 10 James Beard Award nominations, two James Beard Awards, and additional recognitions including best new restaurant of the year, “Top Ten Dish” by Food & Wine and many other accolades. We’re so grateful for the support of our partner chefs who support our farmers in their restaurants and at our dinner. Learn more about the five great chefs below:

Chef Anita Cartagena

Chef Anita Cartagena, owner of Protea restaurant in Yountville, California, embodies the kind of contagious positive energy that makes you want to spend your days suspended in her orbit. It even shows when you ask what her favorite kitchen tool is and she tells you that it’s her Sonos sound system and then adds that if you come by her restaurant any night around 10:00pm, there will be lots of dancing going on.

She evens turns a negative into a positive when joking about her worst kitchen accident, which wrecked an ankle and still causes her pain and swelling after long days in the kitchen: “I wear Uggs to cook in everyday because they are so comfortable but people think I’m making a fashion statement.”

For Cartagena, who left her native Puerto Rico at age 10, when her family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, life is a series of events, whereby, you just keep showing up and things happen naturally. In fact, it was a meal at the French Laundry in 2008 that inspired her to enroll in culinary school. Even as a mother to a newborn, she was undaunted by the challenge of taking on something entirely new to her. Thankfully, growing up in a family of terrific cooks gave her the foundation she needed to persevere. After finishing culinary school in Chicago, Cartagena returned to Yountville, where she initially worked with chef Polly Lapettito at Ciccio.

Fast forward to 2016 and Cartagena opens her own restaurant, Protea, where she creates a new menu each and every day. Yountville itself actually comes alive as a character in her daily menus: “The whole farm-to-table thing is huge here, obviously. We are blessed with such seasonal abundance, it’s really incredible. I actually have the good fortune to be able to decide what I want to cook each day once I see what’s available.” Her originality and creativity also come through when she adds that she often looks at the menus from other restaurants in the area to make sure she’s not duplicating anything anyone else is doing. And of course, with a repertoire packed with Caribbean inspired global dishes, that’s not likely to happen anyway.

Of course, any chef who starts each day at 5am and ends well after closing, needs support from those around them. Chef Anita credits her business and life partner, Dwayne Gosselin, with being her constant source of support and inspiration. “He’s always there for me. He always encourages me to take the plunge!” And in addition to Gosselin, Cartagena also credits Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, Alex Guarnaschelli, Dominique Crenn, and Thomas Keller as being inspirational mentors for her.

When asked what advice she would give to young women who want a career as a chef, she responds immediately: “Never ever ever take no for an answer! Today I am the only woman chef restaurant owner in Yountville. If I can do this, you can do this! And, I always tell them to train with a chef who will inspire you in what you are passionate about.” Good advice indeed.

 

Chef Carrie Baird

Chef Carrie Baird, of Denver’s renowned Bar Dough restaurant, found her way to Colorado because of a love for downhill skiing. A native of Idaho, Baird grew up with parents who both worked full-time and a grandmother who canned everything she grew each year, so her experience of food back then was quite different than what she has experienced since putting down roots in Denver. “Here in Colorado, we have melons, peaches and corn that are so incredible.” Baird then adds, “it helps us stay seasonally focused, which is really important for the restaurant. We not only utilize local ingredients; we also redefine them and keep pushing ourselves to change things. That is also why we use Niman Ranch products on our menu – they are transparent, you know what the farms that raise their animals look like, you know who the farmers are, and the product itself is very consistent and really nice.”

Baird credits her friend and mentor, Denver’s Jennifer Jasinski, winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Southwest, for being instrumental in helping her achieve success as a chef and for propelling her career forward. Anthony Bourdain also influenced her, as do April Bloomfield and Alice Waters. “I read too much,” Baird quips as she considers all of those who inspire her regularly.

It’s clear that Baird’s mission for Bar Dough comes from a very sincere place. She strikes an almost reverent tone when saying “we serve proteins that had only one bad day in their lives. We don’t now, nor will we ever serve commodity meat. Even with vegetables, I get to make choices about what I serve. I am passionate about working with local farmers and ranchers to develop my menus; those relationships are very important to me.”

In fact, for younger people entering the culinary field, Baird recommends learning through relationships rather than going to culinary school, “Get a job with a good chef who is patient and willing to teach you. Keep your head down, work hard, don’t just think about big jobs and big money. Do other jobs where you learn things even if you don’t make a lot of money. The money will come later on. Just find the best person to work for and learn all you can.”

Today, Baird’s life seems to have a pretty nice balance. She tries taking two days off every week, although that sometimes isn’t possible. But on the days she does work, she starts off in the quarter-acre garden she tends with her boyfriend before heading to the restaurant to handle prep, ordering, hiring, creating specials – all the usual activities a restaurant owner handles each day before dinner service begins .

Clearly, Baird herself has worked hard and has learned a lot over the years, and from some pretty incredible mentors and experiences. When thinking about where she will be in five years, she says “I would like to have a couple more restaurants here in Denver with different concepts. I like breakfast. It would be fun to do a breakfast place.” We look forward to being able to make that reservation.

Chef Charleen Badman

We caught up with chef Charleen Badman, while she was on vacation in Idaho and on her way to a local farmers market there. Not surprising at all for a chef known to her loyal Instagram followers as @veggiebadman. Badman’s devotion to sourcing the finest ingredients available is well known by devoted fans of her cooking and is also what undoubtedly has brought her so many Best Chef nominations from the James Beard Foundation, an accolade she brought home in 2019. Her win marked the first time in 12 years the coveted award was won by an Arizona chef.

Badman admits that when growing up in Arizona, food wasn’t all that important to her. “You just ate and then went back out to play or to ride your bike.” Her mother, who is of Hungarian descent, is an excellent baker so Badman’s most beloved food memories are of the desserts her mother would indulge her family with during the holidays. She also loved Mexican food, although she’s quick to add “but Mexican food in Arizona is nothing like what you get in Mexico City or New York!” Today, she’s primarily vegetarian although she regularly tastes every meat dish on her menu to ensure it’s up to her standards of quality and flavor.

When you learn that the legendary Anne Rosenzweig, of New York’s Lobster Club and Arcadia, whose cooking revolutionized and defined New American Cuisine in the 1980s and 90s, is Badman’s mentor, everything suddenly comes into focus and makes sense. In fact, it was from reading an ad Rosenzweig had placed in the back of the Women Chefs and Restauranteurs newsletter, saying she was hiring cooks that compelled Badman to give notice, hop a plane and move to New York without a second thought, on New Year’s Day in 1996. Upon arrival, Badman was hired as Rosenzweig’s sous chef, which eventually led to a chef de cuisine position and six years of incredible experiences.

Badman credits Rosenzweig with teaching her more about the business than just food. “She taught me to make sure you know how much money is in the bank, how payroll is done, what the electric bill is each month. In this business, you have to align yourself with people who will teach you how to do it right. Anne taught me all of these things. She taught me how important your bookkeeper is, how important your lawyer and accountant are. Having the opportunity to work for her and learn these things has helped me be successful ever since.”

Known for her ability to bring out deeply complex and satisfying flavors from vegetables, which are often featured at the center of the plate, Chef Badman is quick to credit some of Arizona’s best farmers for doing most of the work. “Arizona’s seasonality is so different than other places. By May, much of our farms have come and gone, and by July, we’re really done. The farmers I work are always trying their best to improve things, to lengthen a season, to grow something different. This can be a challenging environment.” Her compassion for some of those challenges are obvious, “every now and then a farmer comes in to say he’s lost an entire crop due to flooding, or that 150 of their chickens were killed by a bobcat. It’s getting hotter and it’s affecting us all. Wild animals are hungrier. There’s less rain, it’s hotter. Seeing a farmer lose a whole season that way is just heartbreaking.” Thankfully, there are chefs like Charleen Badman there to support them in any way she can.

Chef Rachel Yang

Chef Rachel Yang came to the United States from Korea at age 15. Later, she studied fine arts and urban studies at Brown University before going to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York. Today as chef and owner of four highly regarded restaurants, Revel, Joule, Trove in Seattle, and Revelry in Portland, Yang is putting her artistic talents to work in everything she does from cooking, to running her business, to raising her two young sons.

It was in a New York City kitchen, run by French chef Alain Ducasse that Yang met and fell in love with chef Seif Chirchi, who is now her husband. Together the two have built the Relay Restaurant Group based on their shared personal vision: “The food we do is creative and our own. The evolution of people’s perception of food and how they eat today has changed so much over the years. Instead of diners having enthusiasm for ethnic food, now it’s more like micro-ethnic food. They don’t just want Korean food, they want food from Jeju, the southern island of Korea,” says Yang. “Eaters are more sophisticated today. Food in 2019 is very different than it was 10 years ago. You don’t just put a fish on the menu, you name the fish, say how it was caught, tell where it came from.”

Known for bold, unexpected Asian flavors in her own restaurants, Yang admits to loving Korean food when growing up in Korea but also to enjoying American food like burgers and pizza after arriving in the U.S. When asked about her culinary influences, she cites Thomas Keller as one of her mentors. “He is one of the most important people to me in terms of my career. His food, his cooking, his kitchens are all incredible, but his humility is what really impresses me about him. For someone of his status and place in this industry to remain so humble is really something.”

Yang also credits her husband, Seif, for providing a sense of balance in their very busy lives. “By default, I like being a busy person and filling up all of my time. If not for Seif, I would have burned out from work, but he makes it so that when we are home, we are one-hundred percent home. I get to focus on my kids, my family life — they calm me down.”

When discussing the role of women chefs in the restaurant industry, Yang says they always think about this and try and find ways to support female cooks, “There are so many talented ones,” she adds, “I’m always impressed by the drive and skill they have. I tell them all the time they just have to do more. Work 14-hour days, handle the intense labor, overcome hurdles… Being able to multitask and organize is key and women’s brains are wired better for this. I tell them to just get over the first big hump and then they will enjoy the ride.”  Enjoying the ride is something Rachel Yang knows a lot about, and her grateful customers get to enjoy it too.

Chef Sophina Uong

We caught up with chef Sophina Uong in New Orleans, just a short time after she and her family had decided to claim the crescent city as their home base for a while. Uong regularly does contract work as a chef consultant for restaurants and was taking a breath before deciding on her next move. A Cambodian-American who grew up in Long Beach, California with a mom who owned a chain of donut shops, Uong taught herself to cook at an early age by creating meals for her father and brothers. Fast forward 30-plus years and she’s had a string of successes in some of the Bay Area’s top kitchens and was the Grill Masters Grand Champion on Chopped in 2016.

“I’ve learned from every chef I’ve ever worked for —their management style, cooking style, whatever,” says Uong, “they have all been great teachers, especially Dominique Crenn — I admire her just for what she stands for and how she does it.” For young women at the possibility of having a career as a chef, Uong recommends learning every aspect of the business and to read books, do research, dive into the industry however they can. “Our business is hospitality — you need to know both the front and back of the house and how it all works. Learn how to tend bar, learn to be a server, do things that make you scared.” She also suggests changing jobs every couple of years to gather more experience. It has been some of those experiences in different jobs, different locations that have driven Uong to be the chef she is today.

When looking ahead to this year’s Niman Ranch Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner, which Uong is one of the lead chefs for, her enthusiasm takes over: “I love that we get to cook for the farmers – it’s really all about them anyway. Niman Ranch does such a great job supporting farmers and treating animals in a humane way. Everywhere I’ve worked used Niman Ranch products – it’s consistent, it’s affordable, and the flavor profile is there.”

 

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