Women Chefs and Restaurants, a national culinary organization founded by chefs such as Lidia Bastianich, Elka Gilmore and Barbara Lazaroff, awarded local Forager Valerie Broussard of the W Hotel and TRACE the 2013 Catherine Brandel Fellowship.
Eater caught up recently with Broussard, who departs today for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley to complete the last leg of the fellowship's training. The only official Forager throughout any of the W Hotels worldwide, Broussard applied for the fellowship largely for the opportunity at a weeklong internship inside Alice Water's Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., (a major culinary icon to any food nerd) earlier this summer.
Culinary masters and novices alike have spent up to a year landing one of these coveted internships or "stages." Once there, Valerie's tasks included anything from peeling five-gallon buckets worth of onions and making mirepoix to butchering rabbits for their Buttermilk-Fried Rabbit with Sweet Corn, Zucchini and Chiles.
The first things she noticed? "The culture of respect. Respect for the ingredients, the farmers, the environment, each other," said Broussard. "People didn't curse like in most kitchens. Maybe it's because Alice might walk in?sort of like your mom, you wouldn't want to offend her."
Sitting in regularly on the menu writing meetings, she was impressed that they changed on a daily basis just hours before lunch was served.
Despite the neat title, Broussard doesn't actually wander the Hill Country literally foraging for wild mushrooms. Rather, she works with local food producers weekly to source the fresh ingredients that eventually end up on their menu. "TRACE is so named because of the idea of 'traceability' of ingredients," commented Broussard.
Since arriving back from Chez Panisse, one of the big lessons Broussard has taken from the experience is labeling all local produce in the kitchen to delineate its family of origin.
"I want our cooks to have a sense of place. I want them to know that the Simmons family grew these Padron Peppers. They're not just local peppers. They are from the Simmons. I think that gives a greater understanding that people grew this food. Not just any people, but people with a name and a family grew this for us. I feel like by labeling it even more specifically will take it a step further to give them that information, so we can take pride in knowing."
[Photo: Valerie Broussard/TRACE]
— Ashley Cheng