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Bakery co-owner gets advocacy training at chef boot camp



PHOTO: KEN GOODMAN, COURTESY OF PIPER DAVIS - Grand Central Bakery co-owner Piper Davis rolls dough during a cooking session at the James Beard Foundation's Chefs' Boot Camp for Policy and Change last month.
For years, Piper Davis has been a kitchen activist.

The cuisine director and co-owner of Grand Central Bakery has sourced everything from bread and butter to dairy, meat, apples and nuts for her local family of bakeries — and by doing so, makes conscious decisions about what her brand will be.

Other Portland chefs do the same.

Here and nationwide, chefs are increasingly embracing their roles as change makers in the food system as the gamut of hot-button issues heat up — everything from genetically modified ingredients and antibiotics in pork to minimum wage laws and the Farm Bill.

Last month Davis became the third Portland chef to take part in a three-day Chefs' Boot Camp for Policy and Change, founded by the James Beard Foundation.

The boot camp includes talks on how policy happens, the power of cultural and social networks, and communicating with policy makers.

Davis, a native Oregonian, traveled to Shelburne Farms in Northern Vermont Sept. 13 to 15 with 13 other chefs from hot spots including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas and other cities.

The chefs were recruited for their regional diversity, interest in a range of topics and voice in their own community and on a national level.

"Many of us have struggled how to have pointed advocacy," Davis said shortly after the trip. She says most appreciated having the chance to network with fellow chefs who are dealing with the same issues, such as one she's especially passionate about: Eliminating antibiotics in meat.

"All over the country," she says, "we're going to talk about this at the same time and have impact."

Back at home, Davis also serves on the board of the nonprofit Chefs' Collective, a national group dedicated to improving the food system through chefs' purchasing power.

Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana, attended the boot camp in 2012 in Walland, Tennessee; and Naomi Pomery, chef/owner of Beast, attended in 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Pomeroy says she most loved harvesting a hog from the property, and being part of a collaborative whole-hog dinner with other chefs in the social justice arena.

Whims says she returned from her boot camp experience ready to rally.

"You're like ready to bust through a wall after something like that," says Whims, who also works with the Chefs Collaborative and has twice gone to Washington, D.C. with other chefs to advocate for national GMO labeling.

Rather than argue with Congress about the science of GMOs, Whims says they focused on the value of transparency in labeling. "I think it was a softer, more reasonable tactic," she says — something she learned at the chefs' boot camp.

Whims is also part of a group of the James Beard Foundation's "culinary diplomats," along with Pomeroy.

In the past year Whims was invited to cook at the World Expo in Milan, and at a soup kitchen in Romania.

Here and abroad, she saw a lot of similarity in the way people experienced food.

"As chefs, people really look to us as the people that have answers to their food questions," Whims says. "Every time a customer comes into a chef's restaurant they're entrusting the chef to feed them healthy, safe, well-sourced food. I didn't realize how much power a chef had in that way."

@jenmomanderson

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