food diplomacy through the story of a meal


On Friday, I participated in my Southern California Leadership Network L.A. Leaders Fellowship.  The theme was art and culture.  There is plenty of content for this topic, but the specific speakers and site visits organized were simply engaging.  What each of us was charged to find is how we can incorporate art and culture in our leadership tool-box.  But, I also think that the more critical issue was looking at ways that creativity inform who we are, what we stand for, our civic values, and then how we engage with individuals in our personal and professional life.

From an examination of the creative sector in Los Angeles (for more information see the OTIS College of Design Creative Economy Report 2011), to arts and education or rather “art equity” from kindergarten to higher education to civil entrepreneurship in the business sector and finally community-based art and cultural experiences the underlying theme is that the huge cuts to the arts in Los Angeles (direct costs and elimination of programs) will severely put our communities at a global disadvantage.  For too many years, the decrease in arts funding and the lack of creative solutions were thought to be something that would “solve itself”, however, we are at the crisis point and there is nary a solution in sight.

From the growing global influence in higher education (South Korea, Asia, Gulf Region), to a third-world public education system, to communities who are too busy surviving and can’t afford (time or money) to participate in local art initiative, we have shifted from the creative innovators to “followers who cannot compete in a global workplace.

As sad as this is, the most troublesome aspect is the impact that the elimination of arts funding in K-12 education.  Art is not some ancillary aspect of eduction.  Having a well-rounded, critical thinking, civically engaged person must include all subjects from reading, math, art, sports, sciences, etc.  My site visit was to Inner-City Arts, a non-profit that brings art education to children in the inner-city (within a 3-5 mile radius from their site).  They have been visited by royalty (Prince William and Kate) and honored by governments.  Their sole focus is to bring arts to kids who would never have access.  While the origins of the organization came about in a very spiritual manner, they have not lost sight on what their core mission is and how creative leadership gets them to fulfill their mandate.

After a long day, the creative take-aways were succinctly shared by Charmaine Jefferson, Executive Director of the California African American Museum.  With arms like Michelle Obama and the energy-level of an impassioned and engaging politician, she wove a passionate narrative from her time as a public pool attendant to dancer to attorney to civic leader and how each of these points on her life’s timeline have been an act of creative engagement.  The most effective creative leaders know how to connect the dots in all aspects of their life and those connections create synergistic benefits.  When you begin to demonstrate creative leadership, then you are showing your authentic self.  Each job, action, civic role presents opportunities to find our inner-performer and then to show the world what we are good at.  It is at once personal and professional.

Lastly, Laura Zucker, Executive Director, from the L.A. County Arts Commission came to us to talk about how art (any kind of creative expression) makes us who we are, as citizens, producers, consumers, and moral citizens.  The County is undertaking a food diplomacy and cultural project with the organization, Fallen Fruit, to bring fresh produce to the diverse communities of Los Angeles.  Parts of Los Angeles are a food desert (area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are prevalent in rural as well as urban areas and are most prevalent in low-socioeconomic minority communities. They are associated with a variety of diet-related health problems. Food deserts are also linked with supermarket shortages.  This certainly does not surprise the civically engaged Los Angelo.  However, to have an arts and cultural entity taking on both food issues and public art project is amazing.  The Del Aire Park arts project is an installation that functions as a public fruit park with a planting of over 400+ fruit trees.

Walking out of the session left me feeling inspired in so many ways.  From how I can implement the ideas into my blogs, my work, and in my kitchen.

I realized that my artistic expression comes from my cooking.  Like many other artists, I have to cook.  It is just something that I need to do.  I drove home thinking about what I could do at home to express myself creatively.  So here is what I came up with and the result was on park.

Leek Asparagus Ricotta Chick-Pea Fritters
Makes 8-10 Fritters

1/2 cup skim ricotta cheese
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed of woody ends and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 leek, cleaned and sliced from the white section only
2 TBL butter
2 eggs
3 TBL multi-grain pancake mix
3 TBL chick pea flour
1 TBL marjoram, finely diced
1/4 TSP salt
1/4 TSP pepper

Sautee leeks in (1) TBL butter until soft.  Add marjoram, salt & pepper and sweat down until leeks are soft and translucent.  Meanwhile roast asparagus is 400 degree oven and slice into 1/2″ pieces.  Put all vegetables in large bowl and let cool 20 minutes.

In a mini food prep, process the two eggs and ricotta cheese until smooth.  Add to the vegetables and mix together.

Add multi-grain pancake mix, chick pea flour to the vegetable mixture and incorporate until it is a thick pancake batter.

Heat large skillet with non-stick spray and remaining TBL of butter.  Using a 1/4 measuring cup, place (4) fritters in the pan and let cook under medium flame.  Watch the fritters to see when then begin to set-up.  Or you can sneak a peek at the underside to see if they have browned.  Flip them over (one flip is needed) and cook on the other side.  Make sure the inside of the fritter is cooked through.

Place on a paper towel and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.  Keep warm on a sheet tray in an oven at 200 degrees until ready to eat.

I eat them plain or with a bit of marinara sauce and parmesean cheese.  They are amazing for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

And that is how I was an innovative and creative cook after my leadership session


1 Comment»

  Diane Brigham wrote @

So glad you were inspired by the Arts & Culture session. I’m an arts leader from SCLN 2011. The state of arts education today is a real concern. Check out a very effective public arts participation project we are involved with: http://www.thebigdrawla.org. Ryman Arts (www.rymanarts.org)

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