From his work as Culinary Ambassador for Duda Farms Fresh Foods to his efforts as Founder and Vice President of Culinary Operations for Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Chef Todd Fisher envisions fresh produce in nearly every dish he creates. With the versatility of fruits and vegetables becoming more recognized across menus than ever, I sat down to ask a few questions of this culinary leader.
Jordan Okumura: As Duda’s Culinary Ambassador, how do you see your role impacting the way people approach fresh produce and incorporate it into their meals and recipes?
Chef Todd Fisher: I think my role as Duda’s Culinary Ambassador encourages a sense of adventure for people when it comes to incorporating more fresh produce into their menus. I believe my approach, that fresh produce adds delicious flavor, crunchy texture, and a feel-good appeal to all recipes, is inspiring for the industry and for the consumer.
JO: How do you see the role of fresh fruits and vegetables evolving at the restaurant table and the home chef’s table alike?
TF: More and more, chefs and home cooks are considering fresh produce as a main ingredient. Techniques like charing, roasting, braising, and grilling are just as easily applied to fresh produce as to meats and seafood at today’s tables. Fresh produce has, in many cases, replaced the carb-loaded, starchy sides that used to crowd the dining table, and it is refreshing.
JO: What is it about fresh fruits and vegetables that not only elevates the health aspects of a dish, but also its flavors, textures, and uniqueness or complexity?
TF: Fresh produce offers exactly that: freshness. It contrasts heavy fatty meats and adds texture to otherwise mono-textural foods. Fresh produce also adds a natural sweetness that can’t be mimicked with sweeteners and often refreshes the palate while you are dining.
Being a chef here in California, and in Monterey County, specifically, we have some of the best produce in the world. So, my philosophy of incorporating fresh produce into meals also has a regional feel and a pride that I believe really comes out in our dishes at Seventh & Dolores. We use the best, serve it simply, and let it shine!
"I believe my approach, that fresh produce adds delicious flavor, crunchy texture, and a feel-good appeal to all recipes, is inspiring for the industry and for the consumer."
–Todd Fisher, Culinary Ambassador for Duda Farm Fresh Foods &
Executive Chef, Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse
JO: What can fresh produce suppliers do to become more involved in promoting the food artistry that can be tapped into with fresh produce?
TF: Fresh produce is a very forward-thinking industry, as a whole, in all aspects of business—value-added cuts, repurposed by-product, and extended shelf-life practices are all evidence of that. Getting involved in culinary-focused events and organizations is important. It is through these organizations that fresh produce companies will meet the chef someplace other than their walk-in. It is where brand awareness will become brand partnerships, creating relationships that stretch beyond the kitchen.
JO: How can retailers and foodservice partners tap into this growing movement to bring, and appreciate, more fresh produce on the plate?
TF: Most importantly, feed the trend. Keep fresh, vibrant offerings on the shelves and order guides. Deliver excellence with every order. Spread the word and create a buzz; a social presence is more important than ever. Social media is the way this generation of home cooks and the next generation of chefs find inspiration. Pin it, friend it, and hashtag it.
JO: Chef Todd, you were recently graced with the amazing honor of cooking for guests at The James Beard House with the help of Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Tydeman, Chef Danny Leach, and Pastry Chef Adam Wulf, who also call Seventh & Dolores home, as well. What path brought you to host and participate in the Dinners at the Beard House event this past spring?
TF: Cooking at The James Beard House (JBH) has truly been a dream of mine since I first worked in fine-dining restaurants. I remember buying my first cookbook about sauces to learn more and increase my kitchen IQ. The book I bought had a gold seal on it for an award of excellence from the James Beard Foundation (JBF). Although I didn’t know exactly who or what the JBF was, that gold seal resonated with me and would be an inspiration for what has been my entire career. The catalyst for cooking at the JBH came from what I considered an attainable goal—to receive a James Beard nomination for Seventh & Dolores. As we researched the possibility of being recognized, the invitation to cook at the JBH was presented.
JO: What were some of the details of the evening and what inspired your menu choices?
TF: The greatest highlight would have to be standing in the middle of the kitchen hoisting a glass of sparkling wine in celebration of the exceptionally executed dinner. Simply walking into the kitchen and standing on the culinary hallowed ground was inspiring, then to stand there knowing how many chefs had stood there before me was incredible.
The menu was designed around my personality and the team that made the trip to New York City. The goal was to showcase the uniqueness of Seventh & Dolores and Folktale Winery & Vineyard. I created a menu that told the story of the West Coast and the region we live in. It was also important to me to showcase the long standing relationships I have with my partners like Duda Farm Fresh Foods and Niman Ranch. Hours were dedicated to making certain all the details were thought out and all obstacles were accounted for.
As fresh produce continues to become an even more versatile tool for the culinary trade, chefs will play a greater and more impactful role in bringing fruits and veggies to the consumer. For me, I am always looking at what the possibilities of produce are next, and a menu is a great way to find them.