If you’ve seen the film Food, Inc. (2008)—and if you haven’t, you should—you’ll know that industrial farming is ruining the food chain. The health and welfare of the planet, unchecked by government regulations, is being held hostage to corporate greed. It’s up to us to stop it. Not through petitions or demonstrations, rather, we should just opt out of the system. Each of us can make a difference.
One way to do this is not to buy the products that are bad for you and that contribute to environmental degradation. Buy local produce, grown on small farms, organically. We worry about climate change, but as food activist Anna Lappé explained in her article “The Climate Crisis at the End of the Fork” (2009), few of us realise that the global system for producing and distributing food accounts for one third of human caused global warming. The livestock sector alone is responsible for 18 percent of the total global warming effect—“more,” Lappé points out, “than the emissions produced by every plane, train and steamer ship on the planet.”
So we need to opt out of this system. We need to be aware of where our food comes from, who grows it, and how they do it.
Fortunately here in Cairo we have Chef Jane Hernandez. Chef Hernandez runs Trio, a new Zamalek restaurant that is exceedingly conscientious about these things. In a certain sense, she worries about it so you don’t have too.
Trio offers California Coastal Cuisine, which revolves around fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. It’s a philosophy nurtured in the San Francisco Bay area by Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), one of Chef Hernandez’s cultural heroes. Hernandez went to culinary school and was trained professionally in the San Francisco area, but for some reason, Cairo has “grabbed her.” Lucky us. Let’s not let go.
Chef Hernandez cooks with passion. She says, “you’ve got to put your love and care into your cooking.” But there is a lot more to it than that, especially in this project, where the owners of Trio—Ramy Rizk, John Basta and Mohamed Farouk—have dedicated their time, money and hard work to a restaurant that delivers quality food that is good for you and good for the environment at the same time. (In next week’s column, I’ll let you know if it tastes good as well.)They see a niche in Cairo’s market—more of a gaping chasm really—that they are filling with organic, locally produced, seasonal food grown in an ecologically sustainable way.
The foodies on the social media networks debate the merits of their favorite restaurants on a daily basis, posting recommendations, pictures, complaints, new finds. Not surprisingly given the age cohort, there are lively arguments, among other things, about where to find the perfect burger. The competition is brutal and (Lucille’s aside) it centers on Zamalek, with more than a few arguing that Grizzly Diner has the best in town. And there are new entries in the market seemingly every few months. Mince Burger has just opened almost directly across the street from Trio, and Lido (“nostalgia burgers from the Gezira Club”) is due to open next week on Shagarat El Dor next to Good Cals.
But what are the criteria for best burger? Size, flavour, price: in that order. Nothing is ever said about the quality of the ingredients, mostly because consumers haven’t a clue as to where their restaurant food comes from. But at Trio, like I said, you can let Chef Hernandez and her team worry about that for you.
Trio’s Southern California burger features beef that is purchased from local producers and ground fresh at the restaurant every day; the buns are made fresh daily at the nearby Flamenco bakery; the onions, tomatoes and lettuce come from a small, organic farm near Dashour; the aioli sauce is handmade by Chef Hernandez herself.
Most of Trio’s customers are unaware of the eco-friendly nature of the restaurant’s ethos: they come for the burgers and the steaks; but I’m hoping that when they print their new menus, the owners will highlight their slow food philosophy.
Us consumers could do more as well, namely, we should all make an effort to reduce our red meat carbon footprint. Seriously, be good to yourself, be good to the earth, know where your food comes from. Try the sea bass next time. The fisherman who catches it off the coast near Alexandria puts it on ice and delivers it to the restaurant himself.