My Lifelong Green Mile

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 For me, going green is a continuous search.

Green: it’s not just an idea, it’s the way we should be living now. It’s the way we should be thinking. It’s our survival period; the way everything’s going, it feels like the final countdown. It’s time for us all to wake up.

Today, it seems like everybody’s interested in what they’re putting in their bodies, and they’re really interested in everything that is alternative. We’re all reinventing ourselves and the ways that we relate to our environment; I do that in the restaurant all the time. So, for me, it became a question of getting my products, and everything that I use, as locally and as ecologically sound as possible.

Some might claim that it’s too difficult and complicated to create and successfully operate a restaurant that moves beyond the green slogan stage into a viable business. I don’t really buy that. All it takes is the care and desire to be responsible. How hard is it to put in bamboo floors? It only depends on how willing you are to go down that road. I don’t think it’s the hardest thing in the world. But I do think you have to be willing to take apart the whole model of how your restaurant works and put it back together again thinking green. So we all earn a little less money, but when are we going to realize all the facts that are in our face?

At Simon at the Palms Place in Vegas, I’m aiming for sustainability. We put in a live herb wall that has basil, fresh rosemary, basil, chives, cilantro, and mint plants. We use seafood that isn’t over-fished. We’re still learning, though. I have a sushi bar, and we’re still learning where to find the particular fish that are going to be equal to the Japanese varieties that we usually bring in, and, little by little, we’re kind of getting there. We just keep talking to people, keep talking to our fish suppliers, keep bugging our fish purveyors, and they tell us we’re getting stuff closer to home all the time.

We have a dish now that is a raw pasta. We take zucchini and we shave it really thin. We cut it like pasta and toss it with heirloom tomatoes and some orange juice, with a little bit of olive and lemon juice and radishes. It’s all organic products, which is kind of the way we are going.

Someone who’s trying to get on board with this concept is Snoop Dogg’s wife, Shante. She’s trying to learn how to get more raw and organic foods into their diets. So she came to visit me for a cooking lesson and I showed her how healthy dishes can taste really good. One that I showed her was an avocado/chocolate-based pudding. It’s unusual, and at first people are skeptical to try it. But when you show them how to make it and they see how simple it is, and then they taste it, they’re amazed. You take your avocado and puree it, then you add raw chocolate, soy sauce, balsamic, and maple syrup. It’s really rich. When I whipped it up for Snoop and his assistant, Kevin, they just couldn’t believe it was avocado. It was a huge hit.

I also did the raw pasta, and I showed them how to cook fish and a tuna tartare, as well. I wanted to give them something other than just raw food, because I recognize that it’s probably just a little too much to just throw into people’s lives. Yet, I want to alter the the negative vibe that it’s “hippie” or “rabbit food.” It’s so easy to go to the market and pick up some raw vegetables. When you get home, slice them really thin, toss some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and let your creativity go from there. When Shante and Kevin saw how easy it was by getting involved with a hands-on cooking lesson, you could see that they felt like they could do this everyday. It was very satisfying.

For me, going green is a continuous search. It all started because I personally like to eat raw vegetables. I like sauces made with juices, and it’s a question of always exploring and experimenting, trying new combinations until I find something that works together. And the funny thing is, it’s usually the most simplistic thing that clicks. There’s a tendency to overcook, but when chefs make it more complicated than need be, it often doesn’t touch people the way it’s intended. Sometimes it’s just a mix of a few ingredients that gets the “oh that’s awesome” response. So the search for me is to continue to strive for the simplicity and purity of food-its essence.

I think that’s kind of the exploration of life. And it’s not just a chef that needs to do this. I think all individuals should experience it. Don’t hesitate to gravitate towards it, with whatever you do. And when you get hungry, come discuss your evolution over a great meal at one of my restaurants.

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