In preparation for Vox's annual farm-to-table dinner, Columbia Grown, we're running a short special series called "Here's The Dish." Each week, we'll spotlight a local seasonal ingredient or a talented local chef working with farm-to-table foods. Watch this space for interviews, recipe ideas and quick tips as we gear up for the big night.
Jess Bowman might be a young chef — she's only been cooking in a professional kitchen for two and a half years — but her love for food has always guided her. Before she graduated from college she thought she was headed for a career in dentistry (her degree is in health professions), but cooking was "too natural" for her. She couldn't keep away from it.
Today, Bowman is serving as the head chef of this year’s Columbia Grown farm-to-table dinner. Vox caught up with her to learn why she feels the farm-to-table movement should unite farmers and foodies alike.
Describe your journey to becoming a chef. Where did you start?
I just decided that I wanted to cook in a professional kitchen, so I asked (Café Berlin), and it’s the only place I’ve worked. I’ve done a lot of outside work on my own, but as far as a day-to-day regular job, this is the only place. I knew someone here, so I sort of wagered — because you can’t just start working in a kitchen. So I barista-ed half the time and worked in the kitchen half the time because they needed a barista. I did that for like six months (in 2017), so I was only there half the time. As soon as my mentor, who was the kitchen manager and chef before me, left a year ago, that’s when I became the chef.
How would you describe your style of cuisine?
I like to cook really fresh and feel really good with what I’m eating. I cook with a lot of greens and vegetables.
I’m doing a plant-based dinner two days after (Columbia Grown) out of Blue Bell Farm. I think that sort of describes my style. ... Like seasonality meets feel-good.
I approach food more from a macrobiotic perspective. Everything is more whole and rounded. I like messing with fermentation a lot. I’m really inspired by a lot of young women chefs in New York and Los Angeles, and I’m hugely inspired by their beautiful food. I definitely try and make things very colorful and very beautiful.
If you only had one night left on Earth, what would you eat for your last meal?
Oh my God! Okay, I would hopefully have leftover sushi rice, and I would crisp it. So single layer, pressed with oil. (I would have) crispy rice, a bunch of either steamed or sautéed vegetables, and the softest scrambled egg. That’s what I eat and crave all the time. (And a) matcha latte. I make really good matcha lattes.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
It totally depends on the time of year; it’s always rotating. My favorite food for sure is eggs, so working with eggs in any capacity, and then there’s always one vegetable that’s coming up that’s really exciting to me, and for now that’s watercress. I think it’s really beautiful and delicious. But that changes very often. I very much have a love affair with food. It’s a relationship, and it changes all the time.
What's an unpopular opinion you have about food?
All I can think about is this health sweep with no carbs. It feels unpopular to be so grain- and bread-heavy, but I’m really passionate about those things, and I eat them a lot.
What does Columbia Grown mean to you?
For me, this is all about working with the women that I’m working with. It’s something so rare — I work with all guys, mostly. ... To get to be around (these women) and soak up their wisdom and eat and cook with them, it's such a treat.
It’s (also) about tying community together, and just showing everyone how thoughtful and beautiful a woman’s touch in food is.
Why is the farm-to-table movement important to you?
I think it’s kind of do-or-die at this point. For a lot of reasons — politically, sustainably — for all those reasons I think it’s important. Also I think it’s just fun to utilize your surroundings and feel like you’re supporting your friends. It makes sense to me in a lot of ways. Also, we can’t just be in food paradise all the time, in grocery stores where we can get anything. We need to shift our frame of mind to what we have around here, for the sustainability aspect of eating and growing food.