Cooking up a Fresh Feast

Leslie Cerier in her kitchenZoe Helene interviews The Organic Gourmet, Leslie Cerier. Photo by Tracey Eller.

There’s a reason Leslie Cerier teaches at some of the finest spas and retreats, and there’s a reason her classes are so popular. Twenty plus years of wisdom and amassed expertise, authenticity, warmth and passion certainly help. Leslie’s classes are informative and fun Leslie specializes in whole foods and organic cuisine. Her cookbooks are packed with information about how to eat local, seasonal and organic foods that are delicious, good for you, and good for the planet.

Leslie Cerier is the author of five cookbooks: Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook*Going Wild in the KitchenThe Quick and Easy Organic Gourmet*; co-author of Sea Vegetable Celebration*; and editor of Taste Life! Organic Recipes.*

She has earned the trust of wellness professionals and students alike, especially for her expertise in healing foods, grains and gluten-free cooking, and transforming potentially dull special diets without sacrificing flavor and satisfaction.

What exactly is ‘seed-to-table’?

Seed-to-table cooking is a celebration of the earth’s bounty. It’s about adapting to fit what’s fresh. It’s about creating recipes from what you just picked from the garden or what the farmer just harvested. It’s about composing a dish by walking through the organic farm or garden and letting the beauty and the bounty inspire you, then taking that happy feeling into the kitchen and cooking up something luscious. I love baking pies with fillings that reflect the bounty of the season. I just posted a blog about that.

What are some of the benefits?
You know your food. You follow the chain of the food from the ground to your mouth. You understand its origin, its quality, and its potency. I want to know what’s going into my body.

Then what would be the ideal food scenario?
The ideal is local, seasonal and organically grown.

OK. Let’s break that down. Why local?
Local is the most fresh you can get, and there’s nothing tastier. Plus, fresh is more nutritious. Also (and this is important) buying local supports local farms and people who love putting their hands in the soil. The heart and soul of the gardener goes into the food that goes into your body. And of course local also means you don’t truck it across the country, so next-to-no carbon footprint. The goal is to be part of the solution and respect the environment by making the lightest footprint while still feasting.

Feasting sounds great. OK, so why seasonal?
Seasons are different everywhere. In certain places in California you can harvest most of the year. I live in New England where seasons are distinct and often extreme. We’re seeing fascinating innovation in local greenhouses to prolong seasons, especially now we’re already experiencing climate change and weather is getting more and more unpredictable. There are some foods that store well, like root vegetables from autumn harvest and some things like parsnips and carrots that can be ‘over wintered’.

What’s that mean, ‘over wintered’? That’s new to me.
It means leaving ripe vegetables stored in the ground over the winter, because they do well there if you know what you’re doing. When the ground softens in April you pull them up and the ones I’ve had are super sweet and juicy.

And why organic?
Organic is essential when you’re looking at the highest good and the bigger picture. If you poison the soil you poison the planet and you poison yourself. That’s common sense. There’s plenty of scientific research proving that organic is better for you, let alone the planet and the other life forms living on it. If you’re interested in the science of organics, The Organic Center is a great resource.

So does it taste so darned good?
Because of the love and devotion that went into growing and cooking the food. The produce is coming from the heart of the Earth and the heart of the farmer. Then you put your heart into it when you make a meal and then the person who gets to eat it does so with love – so it is combined love, and you can taste that. There’s a lot of gratitude too. So its love and grace you’re taking into your body and that’s healthy.

I love the idea of urban gardens and kitchen gardens. 
Sprouts, mushrooms, and herbs you can easily grow in your apartment. You can start from seedlings or seeds. Some like sun, some like partial sun, but you find that spot in your home. That’s an easy, inexpensive, incredibly abundant way to have fresh food right at your fingertips.

Your cooking class credits read like a wish list of eco-luxury spas and retreats. What is it about these places?
They’re about expansion and supporting authentic self. And they’re just so exquisitely beautiful that you just feel well. You get to that place of exhale—like coming home to yourself.

How do you see your role as teacher?
I show people that it’s easy and simple and they can do it. That it doesn’t have to be super complicated to put healing, healthy, delicious food in your mouth. It just requires being stocked with some great essentials and knowing how to work with those essentials. And people have fun in my classes.

And do you eat the food you make in class?
Of course! We make this amazing food in class and then we eat it together. At Esalen we eat outside on a deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. How much better does it get?

I have to say, Esalen really calls to me.
My friend Charlie (who used to be head chef) calls Esalen an acupuncture point on the planet. And it’s true.

You’ll be teaching at Rancho La Puerta this month (
March 10 – 17). Is it as beautiful as it looks?
Yes. Yes, it is. Everything is first class without being pretentious and in my mind that’s because it is earth-based. Same with Esalen and Kripalu and Omega. Your whole heart opens. It’s very special.

And Kripalu is more about yoga?
They’re a center for yoga and wellness. The yoga is gentle and deep. They’re renowned for their yoga. I’ve been practicing since I was a teenager so I love that. Yoga is about unity and wholeness and about being present. My way of teaching and cooking and eating is like that. Cooking and eating is a lot like yoga. It’s all about the Yum.

And Omega is more focused on integrating mind/body/spirit?
Omega was co-founded by a medical doctor who is a pioneer in the field of holistic medicine, so my classes there are geared towards working with health practitioners. For instance, I’m going to teach with a celiac nutrition expert, Melinda Dennis. Celiacs are people who can’t digest gluten so we help them learn to live gluten free without sacrificing flavor, satisfaction, energy, or overall health—that’s the sort of classes I tend to teach at Omega. My approach is about plenty. How can we find substitutions that work in place of what the person shouldn’t eat. So even if you have serious restrictions with diet, there’s still plenty.

You’ve got quite a lifestyle, Leslie.
I’m blessed. It’s true. I’m blessed and I’m grateful.

So how do we find all this glorious, locally grown organic food?
If not from your own garden, look for farmers markets. If you can’t get to farmer’s market it’s great that you can go to Whole Foods or Natural Retailers to get organic food. But the small scale, the artisan heart-to-heart connection is where it’s at, and buying direct supports your local economy.

Tell me about community supported agriculture.
CSA’s all work a little differently. With most, you commit to a fee so they can focus on growing the food and so they know what to grow. Some of them deliver, some don’t. I like to go to the markets and the farms myself, but whatever it takes to make sure you get the right food, do it. If that means you have it delivered, go for it.

Going to these places is fun for you—they’re destination points?
Absolutely! I love going out to the CSAs and chatting it up with the farmers and whoever else shows and just being in the scene. It’s a community, and they have community events around harvests like strawberry pick potlucks or potato dig potlucks. Ways to bring people together around food. This is true grassroots as in we’re going to make it our own.

Leslie’s Essentials

Stainless steel cookware is light and versatile. Stainless steel ladles, tongs, pancake turners, measuring spoons and whisks are preferable to silicone- or plastic- coated kitchen tools.

Cast-iron is the original non-stick cookware. Griddles, pots and pans, and Dutch ovens cook food slowly and evenly while releasing small amounts of iron into the food, making it more nutritious.

Glass cookware retains heat for a long time and allows you to watch foods cook inside.

Wooden cutting boards are preferable. Keep them in good condition with a fine mineral oil.

Glass jars are great for storing grains, beans, salt crystals and leftovers.

Leslie’s Pantry

Leslie’s favorite staples are made with wild-harvested and organic ingredients.

Bob’s Red Mill offers a wide variety of whole grains, whole grain flours and nut flours, including gluten-free products.

Frontier Natural Products Coop has a full line of Fair Trade, certified organic dried herbs, spices, vanilla and other extracts, flax seeds, sea vegetables and more.

Lotus Foods focuses on exquisite, exotic heirloom varieties of organic certified rice.

Maine Coast Sea Vegetables has certified organic sea vegetables such as dulse, kombu, kelp, wild nori, alaria, sea vegetable snacks and seasonings.

Navitas Naturals is a reliable source for gourmet organic cacao butter, cacao paste, cacao powder, cacao nibs, goji berries, maca powder, coconut oil, hempseeds and more.

Nutiva products include organic hemp seeds, organic hemp oil, organic extra-virgin coconut oil.

Selina Naturally offers sustainably produced Celtic, Hawaiian and Portuguese sea salts, olive oil, ghee, nut and seed butters.

Shiloh Farms offers organic grains, beans, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, sweeteners and much more.

South River Miso has superb organic, aged misos.

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