My cooking style has developed organically from two, simple fundamentals: first, what grows together goes together, and, second, that food simply tastes better when you eat where your food lives. Eat where your food lives™ interactive cookbook comes out of my 18-year journey of cooking in one place - Houston, Texas - and shows readers everywhere how to cook simple and creative meals using local produce.
Cooking this way is not a new concept – but cooking this way in Houston, Texas is revolutionary. The media has dubbed me “the Alice Waters of the Third Coast,” but I am really the next generation of chefs who have come up under Alice’s influence. As an intrepid Texas culinary pioneer, I have paradoxically spent my career cooking with as many local and organic ingredients in a region dubbed the Chemical Coast. Houston is a place of extreme opposites: it is a concrete jungle, a refinery coast and an air-conditioned oasis. For over thirteen years, I have worked hard to revive the true nature of this city by supporting local farmers, ranchers and food producers, and helping found the popular Midtown Farmers Market.
One of the mantras at my restaurant, t’afia, is “season and place.” Season. Not only does every recipe end with “Season to taste,” but I cook only with what the season gives. Place. I cook literally from the source, this place, Texas. The ingredients for my simple, seasonal food have been planted, harvested, foraged and discovered by local farmers, growers, ranchers, customers and artisans within 200-300 miles of the city. These are the people who have influenced my cooking style, and their efforts ultimately form the heart and soul of t’afia.
At t’afia, diners discover that not everything about Texas is larger-than-life -- rodeos, bbq, big hunks of steak on a grill, mountains of food at every meal. Instead, they enjoy an entirely different kind of Houston dining experience -– a true expression of Texas Terroir. A prominent feature of t’afia’s menu is the five-course Local Market Tasting Menu. This menu changes every week to highlight the produce from the Midtown Farmers Market as well as from producers across the state.
Here in Houston, we have a unique, year-round growing season that offers us a diverse bounty of produce, from persimmons to meyer lemons to asian greens. It is also a place of seasonal extremes and imbalances of supply and demand in a community that is only now beginning to recognize the importance of being connected to their food sources. The season for each of the many fruits and vegetables is either breathlessly short or interminably long; either way, at t’afia, we make the most of what nature gives us.
Eat where your food lives aims to inspire and educate readers to shop locally and seasonally and connect with their local food providers. If I can cook with mostly local, fresh produce and products in a place that is, in reality, as contrary to fresh and local as Texas’ Southeast Coast, anyone can do it in Anytown, USA. The movement towards a more meaningful, rich life begins with the food revolution that is growing rapidly in this country. Each small step taken towards cooking with local, fresh ingredients is a small step towards a better environment, a more conscious, happy, healthy society and a sustainable life.
Monica Pope is a 2007 James Beard Award Nominee/Best Chef Southwest and the only Texas woman chef to be named a Top 10 Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine (1996). Her Houston restaurant that celebrates all things local, t’afia, has received local and national accolades and has been featured on 7 different Best New Restaurant lists, including Bon Appetit Magazine, Gourmet Magazine & Texas Monthly Magazine. T’afia was also chosen Best New Restaurant in 2004 and Best Restaurant in 2005 by The Houston Press.
Chef Pope is currently working on her first memoir, entitled Eating Hope (and Other Things I’ve Had to Stomach), an insightful, poignant and humorous look at a woman’s place in the (restaurant) kitchen.
About Keeper® Collection
In an effort to remain on the cutting edge of the culinary industry and educate the world on the value of cooking and eating locally and seasonally, Chef Monica Pope joined the Keeper® Collection family. Together, we set out on this innovative project to shed a new light on modern cooking world through this web-based interactive cookbook, eat where your food lives.
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