Last month, Bradford Heap, chef and owner of Salt in Boulder and Colterra in Niwot, announced that he had eliminated GMO foods from his restaurant. Around the same time, Eric Skokan, owner of the Black Cat and Bramble and Hare in Boulder, along with Black Cat Farm, planted a 6-acre field of dent corn for polenta in his restaurants.
Both had long been devoted to local and seasonal eating without a dash of pesticides, Heap through careful sourcing of local, organic and natural foods and Skokan with his own farm that provides his restaurants with produce, as well as much of its meat and poultry.
Fortunately for Boulder County residents, many restaurants buy from local farms and source meats from animals that are humanely raised on natural or organic feeds.
Eliminating GMOs, however, is a whole other level of difficulty. Many things have to be completely rethought. No longer can a server plop down a bottle Heinz when a kid asks for ketchup. The tomatoes in the ketchup aren't GMO, but the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens it and virtually every other kind of prepared sauce is. Heap, for example, makes his own hot sauce to avoid the bit of GMO sweetening present in many.
Milk products must be organic, cheeses either imported from Europe where GMOs are not allowed in agriculture, or screened carefully for milk sources. Then there's the dessert side of things. Cane sugar works, but powdered sugar, even if it's from sugar cane rather than GMO sugar beets that now rule the fields, must be organic because it has cornstarch in it.
"The whole GMO thing is incredibly frustrating, because as a chef I have no choice in the matter," Skokan says. "I decided to take things into my own hands and opt out of the GMO world. (But) it's incredibly hard to remove all GMOs from your restaurant. It works its way into everything."
Heap says he began researching GMOs a couple of years ago after emphasizing local food and looking for cleanly sourced meat in his restaurants.
"I was really upset to find out how prevalent (GMOs) are in our food supply," he says.
His bottom line: "If I won't eat it, I won't serve it."
Still, for a restaurant that's not diet-specific but, rather, serves a diverse clientele, getting to no on GMOs can be a heavy lift.
Heap says he scoured his menu and ingredients. Fruits and vegetables were OK, since they were mostly local and didn't include papayas, about 70 percent of which are genetically modified. Some of this meat and poultry, while humanely raised without hormones and antibiotics, didn't make the cut because they received feed with GMOs.
"I had to get a verification, an affidavit ..." he says. "I have one product that's grain-finished, but with no GMO corn."
Skokan says a big difficulty was oil for the deep fryer. Organic canola oil was 400 percent more expensive.
"I can't charge 400 percent more for your french fries," he says. "The workaround we're using is sunflower oil from South Dakota. It's only 200 percent more expensive. It's a bargain."
Then there's the polenta. Skokan could have purchased polenta from Italy, where GMOs are outlawed in agriculture, but he wanted a local product. Dent corn, the type generally used for grinding into meal and grits, is the same variety that is genetically modified. Skokan also found out that even if he could obtain a non-GMO variety of it, most of it was flavorless. After he decided to grow it, he searched forold varieties, but some of those were problematic in Colorado's inhospitable farming climate. A variety called Country Gentleman, for example, grows into stalks 12 feet high and would easily topple on a gusty day. Skokan still has to find a tractor appropriate for his size field and a way to mill it. But he's confident he'll have a harvest to supply his own restaurant and other locals
Heap says it's important for people who don't want GMOs in their food supply to become involved. He supports labeling all food products that contain GMOs and hopes showcasing his restaurant's efforts will help to raise awareness on the issue.
"We should be able to know what's in our food. It's a basic human right."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Cindy Sutter at 303-473-1335 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Hot Chili Pepper Sauce
2 cups tomatillos husked
1 poblano pepper
10 jalapeño peppers
5 cloves of garlic smashed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions peeled small diced
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 bunch cilantro
1 tablespoon cane sugar
2-3 teaspoons sea salt
Directions: Fire roast chilies and tomatillos until blackened. Place chilies in a bowl and cover to steam. After 10 minutes, peel off blackened part. Avoid using water, since it rinses flavor off chilies. Cut in half remove stem and seeds.
Place stainless steel saucepot on a medium flame and add the extra-virgin olive oil. When oil is hot, add onions and garlic and sweat until tender and translucent without burning.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool. Place in blender and purée. Adjust the consistency with water, if necessary. Place into a sterilized canning jar and keep refrigerated when not using.
Tips: Use organic produce, if possible. If you like a milder hot sauce use more poblanos and fewer jalapeños
Source: Bradford Heap, owner of Salt and Colterra Food and Wine.