Sustainable Food Systems, Part 1
John Turenne first spoke those words a relatively few short years ago and is now a nationally recognized for breaking new ground in the food industry. Chef, President and founder of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC, John is now a leader in the national movement for healthy sustainable food systems. It was our pleasure to speak with him recently and learn about how he got his start in creating sustainable food systems.
AH: How’s everything going John?
JT: Never had it so good. No, seriously, things are going very well. I’ve taken on a challenge or a career now for the last almost seven years. I don’t know how much you know about my background, but I came from the dark side of 25 years in institutional food service working for a large corporate food service contracting company, and then had gone through this change and epiphany while I was the executive chef at Yale. And realized that those of us in institutional food service had a huge responsibility and could do things a whole lot better, and after doing it myself now I’m on a mission to help others do it – so.
AH: So was there a moment, an epiphany you had at some point?
JT: Yeah – no, no, I’m chuckling because there was. I mean, there was kind of a big picture moment, and I can even point to a clear moment were I realized food had a face, I guess, is the way that I put it. So, again, just to understand the background of working for 25 years for Aramark, which I’m not sure if you know who they are?
JT: My career was based on how well I performed fiscally, bottom line, profit and loss driven, and I worked my way up to significant roles and responsibilities running several large private school, or college and university food service programs; whether it was Wesleyan University or Yale University. I’m to the point where I still tell people on Friday afternoons I get the ticks in my neck because that’s where every week I would come to realize whether or not I made my forecast for profits for my company, or for my clients, for the schools.
JT: You know, that’s all I knew, and it all kind of changed one Friday afternoon while I was working at Yale University – it was late November, a day in 2001, which I was out at the Yale Bowl – the Yale football field – studying up for the Yale-Harvard football game which was going to take place the next day. My cell phone rang, and it was my boss, you know, saying, Meet me at the president’s office, we have to sit down and meet with a parent. I said, you know, my first reaction was, You know, time out a second here. You know I’m pretty busy here, and it’s your job to meet with parents, and I’ve never been called to the president’s office. What the heck’s going on? Who is this? He said, It’s Alice Waters. Do you know who Alice Waters is?
AH: Yes, of course!
JT: Okay. So I knew her very well from having had a chance to get to her restaurant, and also that month’s issue of Gourmet magazine had ranked them the top restaurant in the United States. And this is the woman that wanted to meet with me to talk about how I was serving and feeding her daughter. So the first thing I had to do was pick up my cell phone off the ground, and the second thing was to stop stuttering and say, you know, What does Alice want with me? I had to give her a tour and meet with her and talk to her about the food service program that we had a Yale to serve the kids. Well, she had just convinced the president of Yale that we needed to look different at the type of food we were serving – 6,000 students, you know, three times a day, seven days a week for about 200 days a year – 230 days a year – and start considering the more global impact that that food had besides the cost and financial impact on our budgets.
AH: So what happened?
JT: So the president was enamored by what she was talking about and decided he would charge Aramark with figuring out what this wild, passionate, crazy woman from California was talking about, and how can we do it here in our world, you know, serving our students. So the proverbial stuff, Nancy, rolls down hill, as you can imagine, and when the president of Yale went to the president of Aramark, who in turn went to the vice president of Aramark, and it eventually got to the executive chef who was yours truly, and I had nowhere else to turn, and it was, well, figure out how can we make this happen, this sustainable food program – which is what Alice talking about – here at Yale? I loved challenges and always took on whatever the latest fad, trend, fashion was, and I assumed the same. And I said, I’d be happy to, but I have one question: “What the heck is sustainable food? Someone help me out here. I literally and figuratively had to go to school and understand the bigger impact that food has.
To be continued…..