Sheila Lucero, executive chef of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, is making big waves in the push for more food sustainability. This September, Lucero joined 14 other chefs from across the country in Burlington, Vt. for the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change 2017, a special three-day seminar focused on teaching chefs effective skills for food system change. We recently caught up with Lucero for more information on the boot camp and improving food sustainability in Colorado. An edited version of the interview follows.
How did you get involved with the James Beard Foundation?
The foundation started doing these chef boot camps about four years ago and, basically, they wanted to change their focus from being all about awards to helping chefs find their own voices. … There were a couple of chefs from Denver who had participated, so I filled out the application. This year they invited me, which was such an honor because hundreds apply. I went to Capitol Hill earlier this year to speak about seafood sustainability and do advocacy work, which I think helped with my invite.
What was the boot camp experience like?
It was held at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, with a focus on how our communities trust us and that chefs have a voice. They wanted us to find something we’re passionate about and give us a voice in that area. They also focused on the farm bill , which is currently under reauthorization (it goes under reauthorization every five years). They had people from D.C. speak about it, giving us a ton of information and explaining different parts of the bill. They wanted us to focus on the SNAP program (food stamps), which a number of Americans are on. They explained what happens to parts of the bill if budgets get cut. While we were there it was during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, and one of the chefs was from the Virgin Islands and he lost one of his restaurants. So we did a lot of problem-solving in how we can help one another ou—like hosting events, fundraising and talking to Congress. We focused on networking with one another.
What does food sustainability look like in Colorado when it comes to seafood? We are pretty land-locked.
For us, it’s trying to do our part. Although we are land-locked, we still care about our fisheries. We still care about where our seafood is coming from and we want to tell the story of where it comes from. We’re getting seafood from all coasts. We’re actually very fortunate to be in a land-locked state with a big airport—Denver is a big hub where items from the West Coast being transported to the East Coast stop here and vice versa. We get access to a lot of things because we are kind of a land-locked dock.
Has the push for more food sustainability come from chefs or diners?
Chefs, but we have a lot of great, smart guests who are asking questions about where their food is coming from and who want to know the traceability of their food. It’s pushing us to keep us doing our due diligence by knowing the story behind the fish.