Top | The Culinate Interview

Eric Stenberg

(article, Roz Cummins)

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p(blue). Eric Stenberg is the executive chef at The Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre guest ranch in Greenough, Montana, not far from Missoula. There he makes use of local fish and produce, including trout and, in the summer months, fresh-picked huckleberries. 

p(blue). He is also on the board of Chefs Collaborative. Although at Culinate we focus on cooking at home, we are big fans of the work Chefs Collaborative does to increase awareness of food consumers all over the United States.


h1. Chefs Collaborative, in their own words

"Founded in 1993, Chefs Collaborative is a national network of culinary professionals and food producers committed to sustainability in our food supply. Its members recognize the impact that local, seasonal, and artisanal foods have on our lives, the well-being of our communities, and the integrity of the environment. 

"Chefs Collaborative is the only culinary organization that provides its constituents with tools for running economically healthy, sustainable businesses. Through education and communication about current issues, the Collaborative inspires its members to embrace seasonality, preserve traditional practices and agricultural diversity, and support local economies."

"Chefs Collaborative’s vision is for every chef to be aware that food-purchasing choices affect the environment and their communities."

What’s life like at Paws Up? What’s the origin of its name?
Life at Paws Up is great. I had never lived in a rural area before, and it is great for our kids to experience it. The name was the brainchild of the owner, who has a dog; some dogs greet their owners by rolling over on their backs and putting their paws up so you can scratch their bellies. The fishing here is great; there are lots of hidden spots for good fishing that I cannot reveal.

What foods are available to you on the ranch, and what do you miss about living in the city?
It actually is easy to get food where we are. We have a great growers' cooperative that supplies us with most of what we need. Besides, as you develop a menu, utilizing all parts of the animal is very exciting. I really miss the good ethnic foods, though, and that is why I like to travel frequently.

Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. We left when it started to really get big, but Portland has that small-town feel and always will to me. 

Talk a bit about your career path.
I started cooking in the seventh grade at a friend’s tavern on Sundays, typical bar food. I had always been into helping my mother cook, especially family meals on Sundays. My grandmother and great-grandmother were very good cooks as well. 

We would spend summers in northern Michigan on the family farm, and we’d have the freshest meals every day from the garden my grandfather tended. I then went to college and, just short of graduating, packed up my car and moved to San Francisco to go to culinary school.

What kind of work are you doing for Chefs Collaborative?
I am currently working with Chefs Collaborative on two projects involving cooking-school curricula. Chefs Collaborative is beginning development of a sustainable-agriculture curriculum. 

One project is the Chef and the Land Curriculum, which is devoted to trying to get culinary schools involved in sustainable meat practices, whole-carcass breakdowns, and understanding the focus of good local meat. The other is the Chef and the Sea Curriculum, which deals with sustainable fishing practices and how we need to protect our resources. 

Are there any cooks or cookbooks that have been important to you?
My mentor is Greg Higgins, who owns Higgins Restaurant in Portland. I have known and worked for Greg for 17 years. He's the one who steered me in the direction of supporting local agriculture and the preservation of good food. 

As far as cookbooks, none really come to mind. It is more books on the history of food and the future of food that interest me.

What is your happiest cooking memory?
My happiest cooking memory is one that is ongoing, so it’s more of an experience than a memory. I find no greater pleasure than watching people eat the food that I have prepared while they are also enjoying conversation. 

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Food is so fundamental to our lives. Somehow we have gotten lost. We think that food coming out of a can is an acceptable way to eat. Whatever happened to family meals? 

What inspires you?
I am inspired by the fact that I can use good, locally produced food from a person who I know and have a relationship with. There is nothing more important than putting a name on the face of the person who grew your spinach.

What ingredients that were new to you have changed your cooking the most? And do you have any advice about tackling new ingredients?
Heirloom varieties of produce have changed the culinary scene. When you go to the farmers’ market and see people who are shopping looking perplexed about certain items, you feel compelled as a chef to go over and walk them through a simple recipe. 

Is there a junk food that you like?
My soft spot for junk food is tater tots that have truffle oil and fontina cheese on them, a late-night inspiration from a fellow chef friend.

And what do you cook when you’re too tired to make a meal?
When I'm too tired to cook, I usually will search for the heels of bread from our local bakery and make a grilled cheese sandwich.

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?
My favorite kitchen gadget is my sausage stuffer. I like making my own sausage.

What advice would you offer to readers trying to incorporate cooking and eating styles that are healthy for them and for the planet?
My advice to people trying to incorporate healthy eating into their lifestyles is easy: Support your local grower. That way you know where your food is coming from and this, in turn, supports a healthy planet.

Do you think that everyone should make food a central part of their lives?
As I said earlier, food is fundamental to life. Think about the fact that we have to eat everyday. We have gotten into the habit of grabbing and going. 

The next time you are out to dinner or lunch, check out your surroundings and listen to people talking while they are eating, observe the time spent on preparing that food, strike up a conversation about the food and where it may have come from. Because at the end of your meal you might go home thinking, “Man! That grass-fed beef skirt steak was great!” Think about who raised it and who cooked it and the passion they have for their craft.

p(bio). Roz Cummins is a food writer based in Boston.

stenberg, l

reference-image, l