Recently, a group of chefs, organizers and partners in a local collaboration called Local Organic Meals on a Budget gathered in the kitchen-class-dining room of the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The SFSC space accommodates 60 students, and a large mirror overhangs the countertop so that even those in the back of the class can see the ingredients, desserts, dinner or appetizers demonstrated before them.
This particular evening, the space hosts a reception of sorts for the beginning of LOMB's third season. On June 19, the $22 classes begin with chef Tracy Pikhart Ritter (pictured), who will demonstate how to create multiple affordable, organic meals from one locally raised chicken.
Local Organic Meals on a Budget is a collaboration between the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, Home Grown New Mexico, Kitchen Angels and, most recently, the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The "community endeavor"—as Tony D'Agostino, one of the founding members of the program, calls it—is a program that provides the public with tools to shop, cook and eat locally, organically and affordably.
Three years ago, D'Agostino began mapping out a way to provide community awareness about buying and cooking locally grown, healthy food.
"It was something that came out of my frustration with how difficult it is to avoid [genetically modified organisms] and pesticides in food," D'Agostino says of his idea to create a series of affordable classes focused on healthy, low-cost, home-based cooking.
Most people, D'Agostino says, don't realize how much of the food they consume contains GMOs and toxins. "When I found out how prevalent [GMOs and pesticides] were, I thought, 'What does somebody do [about it]?'"
The answer, he says, is to eat locally grown meals, talk to the farmers who grow the food and ask them whether their produce contains GMOs or pesticides.
But the big question—the one that keeps many people from buying pricier but less toxic foods—is, "How do I afford them?" Figuring out the answer to that question led D'Agostino and his original collaborators—former executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute Sarah Noss and executive director of Kitchen Angels Tony McCarty—to start LOMB.
It's cheaper to cook at home than to dine out, D'Agostino says. So, rather than pay inflated restaurant prices, spend a little more money on chemical-free, non-GMO ingredients to cook by hand. If the public has the tools to cook quick, inexpensive and healthy meals, "maybe there won't be a need for Kitchen Angels"—a nonprofit organization that prepares and delivers food to those dealing with challenging health conditions—McCarty adds.
LOMB's solution: offer classes taught by professional, local, health-focused chefs, with tips for buying organic, locally grown products on the cheap; teach techniques for cooking the food; and offer delicious recipes that serve a family of four for under $20.
This year's lineup of chefs includes Harry's Roadhouse owners Harry Shapiro and Peyton Young; Joe's Dining owner Roland Richter; Vinaigrette owner Erin Wade; and Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado executive chef Andrew Cooper.
LOMB, D'Agostino says, "is a way for us to come together as a community, support local farmers, change our attitude toward pesticides and really know where our food comes from." But the main impetus behind Local Organic Meals on a Budget is that it's a fun, creative experience that puts the Earth's bounty into our hands and bellies for, as D'Agostino puts it, "a whole new lifestyle" that can "turn the tide against GMOs, unhealthy diets" and preventable illness.
Sam Baca, program director of SFFMI, puts it best: "You can pay the farmer now or the doctor later."
The Mediterranean Table:
One Chicken, Many Healthy Meals
5:30-7 pm Wednesday, June 19, $22
SF School of Cooking, 125 N Guadalupe St., 471-7780