Duskie Estes of ‘Next Iron Chef’ Defends Snout-to-Tail Cooking

Duskie EstesThe next Next Iron Chef premieres on tomorrow, Sunday October 3rd, on the Food Network and each challenger will be bringing their own special flair to the table as they battle to become an Iron Chef.

One of the contestants is Duskie Estes, a mom, and hef/owner of Zazu Restaurant + Farm, Bovolo, and Black Pig Meat Co. in Sonoma County, California.

She is a die-hard locavore, and is a firm believer in the "snout-to-tail" concept of cooking.

Between slicing and dicing, Dustie took some time to chat with us about the importance of using local foods, her refusal to waste (seriously, this California gal doesn't waste a thing!), and balancing career and motherhood.


How did you become so involved in using local foods? Were you brought up that way or exercise it on your own as an adult?

I have had many influences in this direction. Everything grows well in Sonoma County and my ever-lasting curiosity to learn has taken me in that direction. I grew up in San Francisco and saw my father eating out in San Francisco restaurants once a week.I worked at Greens in San Francisco and Baywolf in Oakland, both with many local farm connections. My mentor Tom Douglas, in Seattle, has farmer meetings once a year to discuss planting.

A lot of people argue that buying locally is less convenient and more expensive. What is your response to that?

It is more expensive. Americans have, for too long, supported ‘cheap food.' This is not long term and workable for the land, animals, or people. THERE IS A HIGH PRICE TO CHEAP FOOD. Cut back elsewhere and pay more for the food you put in your body. You are responsible for the path of your financial support.No one should support CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). It is wrong.

What is your advice for someone who wants to buy locally grown but doesn't live in a convenient area for it?

Know the face that feeds you. Seek it out. Go to farmer's markets. Grow it yourself. Eat within season. It is a commitment. It is the right thing.

I know a lot of chefs who use the "snout to tail" cooking concept do it because it gives them a sense of connection with the food. What is your drive behind doing it?

Snout to Tail: I was a vegetarian for 22 years before meeting my salumist husband, John Stewart. We came together with an agreement to use only non-confinement hogs and to use every part. Respect the life given. We have raised our own hogs and I cried the day they went down. The whole time. It puts an exclamation point on using every part, and never ever burning or wasting anything. I love our pigs. They have so much personality and the voracious appetite of a chef. When I walk down the hill with their bucket of restaurant scrap every morning, they come running up the hill to greet me, ears flapping, cheeks flapping. They want to get rubbed and they talk to us. We take the same philosophy to the garden. We try to use every part of vegetables too. We use the fava leaves and flowers in salad and the chard stems with our steak. Because our cooks have to harvest every day as a part of their prep, they gain an appreciation for how long it takes things to grow, and how much work goes into the whole process. We feed all the vegetable scraps and leftover breadbowls from the restaurant to the rabbits, goats, sheep, turkeys, chickens, and pigs.

Do people ever think it's odd that you use all parts of an animal, even ones that are usually discarded? If so, how do you respond to that?

You are not allowed to just eat the tenderloin - this animal gave its life.  I believe everyone should have to watch a slaughter if they are going to eat meat.

Were you able to stick to your principles on the show?

I tried. I named all my dishes ‘wish it was sonoma county' lamb, goat cheese, red wine, my husband's bacon, etc... Who knows what will end up on the editing floor. I tried to choose proteins I felt most likely were treated kindly without my doing the sourcing myself. I stuck within season. When it came to plating style, I had a challenge. The judges were east coast-centric in my opinion, and they were looking for perfect-looking food, which sometimes can be wasteful -- cutting things in perfect shapes puts a lot in the garbage. In our restaurants, we feed any excess to our animals, but we also have an appreciation for the natural beauty of things. I tried to walk the line between staying true to myself and pleasing the judges. You'll have to watch to see how it goes ...

Is it ever a challenge working with your husband in the restaurant?                                                       
I am so lucky. John is amazing. He is so patient. We have opposite skill sets, so it works for us. He does everything patient (makes the pasta, desserts, salumi, bacon ...) and I do everything impatient and crazy (cooking on the line on busy nights, changing the menu all the time). We have seen other couples unable to do it. There is no one I would rather have watch my back. When I got the advantage in one of the contests on the show, they asked me what I wanted for my advantage and I said, "John."

What's your secret to balancing a career and motherhood?

This is the toughest thing. There is nothing that matters more to me than our girls and I always want more time with them. I never regret time spent with them -- I only regret too much time away from them. It continues to be my goal to work on that balance of life. Luckily, with our career choice, we can incorporate them into much of our life with farm chores: gathering the eggs, watering and feeding the animals, watering the garden, picking the peaches or figs, selling the bacon at an event, organizing the payroll. I know I am modeling a crazy work ethic.

Best of luck to Duskie! Are you planning to watch The Next Iron Chef? Who will you be rooting for?


Image via FoodNetwork.com

Read More >