In the ever-expanding world of organic foods, there are so many terms thrown around these days that it can be hard to know what anybody is talking about. Free-range? Certified organic? Biodynamic? Polecaught? The minutiae of the industry can be a challenge to decipher and it’s even harder to know how to stock your own organic pantry at home. It would be great if organic food was widely available and cheap enough to always rely on, but that isn’t always the case. That’s why we decided to talk to Chef Jeremy Fox about the best ingredients to buy for your organic pantry.
Fox knows a thing or two about organic cooking. The 2008 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef was the man behind the stoves at Ubuntu in Napa, CA, where he was able to garner an elusive Michelin Star – a feat made more impressive by the fact that Ubuntu is entirely vegetarian. Formerly chef and partner at Barnyard, in Venice, CA, where organic ingredients take center stage, he has recently opened Old Soul at Square One in Los Angeles.
What’s your experience with organic ingredients? Do you use them exclusively when you cook?
I do try to use only organic or beyond organic in regard to my produce. However, if you need to control your spending, many of your dry ingredients will not suffer by being conventional.
Why do you think cooking with organic ingredients is important?
Organic not only tastes better, but it’s important to support the artisans providing us with this great stuff. And choose local, not because it’s cool, but because you don’t want your food to taste like auto exhaust.
What are the most important organic items everybody should have in their home kitchen and why?
• Milk, whole!!! I hated milk as a kid, but I can drink my weight in organic whole milk. Like custard.
• Coffee that is not only organic, but certified fair trade. So much easier to enjoy my morning ritual knowing that the coffee made it to my cup free of negativity.
• Eggs from a local producer. In LA, I love Kinder Farms Eggs available at McCall’s Meat & Fish in Los Feliz, right near my home. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s may offer local organic eggs as well.
• Chicken Stock, make it rich and intense, and you will certainly notice the difference organic makes. I’m a broth guy, so I’ll use it for anything from a pot of spicy albondigas (meatballs) to matzoh ball soup to cooking fresh-picked vegetables.
• Butter, I mean, c’mon.
• Lemons for juicing into iced tea or vinaigrettes and zesting into sweet and savory applications.
• Tea, for iced or hot. Seeing as you’re really only adding water, use the good stuff.
What’s your favorite organic pantry item and why?
Chicken Stock. Until recently, I never cooked much at home. Now, I always have really good chicken stock on the stove. It’s so useful for a large array of possibilities, and you can just slice some scallions and pour the hot stock over for a healthy snack.
Are there any items that you feel don’t necessarily have to be organic?
I recommend organic whenever possible, but pick your battles. Many small farms just cannot afford organic certification, so keep an eye out for those farms at the market not using any sort of pesticides or chemicals.