Pass The Perennial Plate, Please

Imagine being in your late twenties, working in some of the top restaurants in the world – The Fat Duck, Bouchon, Craft – and then leaving it all to move back home. Sounds crazy, right?

Crazy like a fox.

Daniel Klein left the world of kitchen whites and cooking lines and started up The Perrenial Plate, a food blog/video diary/documentary series. Klein’s site introduces you to the local Minnesotans who people who provide him with food – from fishmongers to farmers, from rabbit farms to wild game hunts.

Image courtesy of The Perennial Plate

Klein is not only a chef, he is also a filmmaker and a self-proclaimed activist. As described in his first post, Klein decided to start The Perennial Platein an attempt to combine my three passions… food, film and creating positive change in this world. More and more, what we eat is of paramount importance, and as I live in the Midwest, I’ve decided to make this show about the way I would like to eat here. I want to be eating delicious, adventurous and above all, sustainable food.”

His ideologies around food are not only present in the subject matter of his series, but in what and how he chooses to show his audience. In his first video, Klein points the camera squarely at himself as he kills a turkey destined for a holiday feast. Klein wants you to know where your food comes from, whether that’s a carrot dug out of the ground or the meat on your table. There is work, there is sacrifice and there is something noble in it all.

And people are taking notice. Klein is now writing for The Huffington Post and is gathering more and more recognition for his work. Although Klein lives in Minnesota, his model for eating – and the connections he makes with farmers/producers/etc – can easily be reflected and appropriated in a place like Nova Scotia. Passable interviewed Klein via email.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in St. Paul MN, when I was four my parents moved to Singapore because they wanted something different. After three years, they wanted something different again so they moved to England. My mom fell in love with the English countryside, and so I stayed there until college (my parents still live there). I went to college at NYU and stayed in NYC after.

How did you end up in Minnesota?

I have family here, so when i was tired of NYC (it can make you a little mean) – I thought of opening a restaurant in Minnesota. The endless debt and stress of that potential venture kept me away.

Tell me about you. What brought you into the kitchen?

I suppose my mother brought me into the kitchen. She runs a bed and breakfast and cooking school where I grew up in England. She taught me that you don’t need a recipe when you are cooking. A most important piece of advice. Her best meals were always thrown

What kind of meals were they? anything memorable?

I guess it is not thrown together, but roast chicken was a favorite, she would put lentils in the bottom of the roasting pan and they would cook at the same pace as the chicken, with the fat… incredible. I don’t know, she made a lot of salads out of leftovers – or some dish comprised of food that I might have given up on.

When I was living in New York I had the opportunity to work as a waiter at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, after a few months I asked if I could switch to the kitchen. They accepted my suggestion, but I had to take the train from way out in Brooklyn at 4am every day, pretty brutal. After working for TK, lots of doors open up for other opportunities.

What was it like when you started out?

They do things really well at TK restaurants, always cleaning, always labeling (with straight edges), always trying to do everything correct, and using great product. So it was the perfect place to gain a real base in doing things well.

What did you learn from your times at such restaurants as The Fat Duck, Bouchonand Craft?

The Fat Duck is an incredible restaurant and there is a lot to learn from Heston, but the actual cooking (and especially the stuff I did, is very mechanized)… I suppose one can learn to step out of Boundaries from Heston. St. John was just a very cool restaurant, great people making great food and not caring what it looked like. Craft taught me speed. I didn’t work at any of those restaurants for very long.

What made you decide to leave the restaurant kitchen and focus on your own kitchen?

I had thought about opening a restaurant, but decided against the years of debt and stress. Line cooking is satisfying but for me the
stress is too great for the payoff. I want to be having fun when I’m cooking, some people are great at that in a fast pace setting, I prefer to cook with a glass of wine, or outside.

Why start this web project?

I started the web project to marry my work in film, food and activism. Once I thought of the idea, it seemed sort of obvious that I should
be doing it. I wanted to continue to learn about where my food comes from, and this was a great avenue for that. As it grows, I see it as
having real career potential, both in the financial and happiness sense.

How did your interest in food politics evolve?

I think I am first and foremost an activist… that developed from travels I’ve been lucky enough to have and my parents, followed by the rebelious nature of any young person. Its all very connected, the choices you make in life and how it impacts your immediate surrounding and then the world, so as I developed philosphies on how I wanted to live my life, food inevitably became a part of that. That grew because I wanted to be working in an area that I enjoy (food) and so the typical activist response grew into something more substantial in my life.

The fact that you show animals being killed – in a very personal manner – is something a lot of people want to ignore. Why did you choose to show it on the videos?

I was also a vegetarian for I think 5 years, vegan for two of them. I went through many of the stages, environmental being the primary objection to meat, but also the killing and subjegation part. Anyways, I think less meat eating is a good thing, it shouldn’t be the center piece of meals. When we kill an animal ourselves, see how it is a life and also how it takes a lot of time and energy, you may think twice about where your meat is coming from and how often you should consume it. So, I’d happily turn people into vegetarians… but I really just want to connect people with where their food comes from.

What have you learned from this project?

I’ve learned so much, it’s hard to pin things down. Beyond the obvious stuff about how to cook a squirrel or spear fish (neither of which I
had done before), I learned a lot about people. That’s really what the show ends up being about. Sure, its about food and
sustainability, but its really about connecting with individuals, learning how they are all different, what’s challenging and inspiring
about their work and their lives. I’ve made lots of friends!

How did the interest in the Huff Po come about?

I was invited to speak at the IACP conference in Austin this year, the woman who invited me Jaden Hair is very well connected and she past on my series. I’m going to be putting out two videos a week for the Huffington Post, one old and one new. I’m really happy to be able to have that platform, it does great things for number of viewers. After the AOL buyout, its a little less edgy, but its a news source, a way of showing the videos I’ve made and sharing them with a large audience.

You’re getting close to the one year mark. Will you continue?

I will continue, I’m going to be announcing in March the next phase of the project, but I think people will be excited about it, I know that
I am.

You can follow Daniel Klein on Twitter at @Perennialplate.