Notable Edibles

The Root of It All: The Chef's Garden

By / Photography By Michelle Demuth-Bibb | September 15, 2015
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Chef’s Garden, Chefs prepare for The Roots conference dinner
Chefs prepare for The Roots conference dinner

The Chef’s Garden bringing chefs from all over the world to Cleveland to talk food solutions

Lauded by Forbes magazine as one of the 11 greatest hotels in the world, the Mandarin Oriental hotel of Hong Kong is sending several of its chefs to Milan, Ohio—and Disney is following suit, bringing 12 of its resort chefs.

The occasion? To eat trash. Well, that’s only part of the reason. A trashthemed dinner featuring foods that would normally be thrown away as a way to counteract the fact that Americans waste 40% of the food they produce, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, is just a part of the third annual Roots Conference.

The conference will take place September 21 to 22 and feature 20 speakers and 10 moderators speaking on a range of topics that all prove alike on one thing—taking action. The venue for the conference is the Chef’s Garden, a Milan, Ohio, family farm focused on meeting chefs’ needs. As for the number of attendees, initiator of the conference, farmer Lee Jones, the son of the family farm’s founder, Bob Jones Sr., expects to host 200 to 300.

“Lots of conferences leave you all inspired and you go back and go back to work,” says Lee. “This conference isn’t just feel good—it’s about real issues.”

The seed for the Roots Conference grew in Lee’s mind only after taking a step back from the average American’s relationship with food. After visiting the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, a conference that blends the importance of a good meal and healthy environment, Lee wondered why similar conferences in the States weren’t happening. Named after the Danish word for food, MAD is spearheaded by Danish chef René Redzepi of Noma, voted 2014 number one restaurant in the world by, giving Lee big footsteps to follow.

But it didn’t take long for the family at The Chef’s Garden to find their niche in stressing involvement rather than inspiration in food issues concerning farmers, chefs, and everyone else. This year’s conference will pose solutions to the problem of depleting resources.

Prannie Rhatigan of Ireland will speak on some unexpected food sources as it becomes more difficult to sustain the world population on farm produce. “She wrote this book [Irish Seaweed Kitchen] that has amazing but weird delicious-to-cook-with seaweed recipes,” says Lee. “We are running out of food, so we are looking to be sustainable and eat things we wouldn’t normally eat—things that come from the ocean.”

Lee notes that chefs are crucial to starting trends that can then catch on to end up as a dish on the average Joe’s table. He is hoping that chefs can do just that to save endangered plant species.

“Chefs are a huge component in making that demand [for plant species]. This year we have 200 different heirloom varieties where we only have three or four seeds of each from Seed Savers Exchange because they’re so rare,” says Lee. “We could end up with several 1,000 seeds, it just takes a chef to say, ‘This is really cool, I want to work with this.’”

Lee is hoping that the third time for the conference is even more of a charm. Last year, Alexander Rapaport of Masbia soup kitchen in New York City came to the conference as a speaker, expressing how important patrons’ pride is at the soup kitchen he co-founded. Patrons are given menus and dine at white-clothed tables. In addition, it is the only free soup kitchen in New York City that serves kosher meals.

Nearing the end of last year’s conference and wanting to support Masbia’s cause, The Chef’s Garden was able to partner with FedEx so that the farm can regularly ship produce that it would normally waste, though edible, to the soup kitchen without any shipping costs.

And as for attendees’ actions after each Roots Conference, Lee says they are unpredictable—in a good way.

“The attendees are so interested in food and so empowered by food and empowering others. I’m amazed at what I hear back from this networking process—I can’t predict what people will do, but the conference has a ripple effect,” says Lee.

In other words, however big issues may be—the conference knows that every bite matters. “How do you eat an elephant? You eat it one bite at a time,” says Lee.

The Roots Conference: A $350 entry fee pays for the two days of events, two breakfasts and lunches, and one dinner. Registration is available on

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