Turning over a new leaf with San Francisco’s Studio Table
Chef Ben Roche talks about finding cooking inspiration in the healing power of plant-based food.
To celebrate the launch of aromaArt High Tide and our collaboration with artist Heather Day, we joined forces with Studio Table in San Francisco to share in conversation and community building. Similar to our passion for building community by sharing wellness, Studio Table seeks to inspire community and creativity by bringing new faces together to share a common experience. Drawing inspiration from the healing power of natural world, the evening was a time to connect with new friends and plant-based wellness over an incredible meal, prepared by Chef Ben Roche.
Like art and nature, cooking and community-building go hand in hand—something Ben knows very well. A Michelin-star chef and TED speaker, Ben is passionate about creating great food, enjoying good company and discovering new sources of inspiration. We sat down with him to learn how he brought the idea of food as medicine into his first-ever plant-based Studio Table dinner.
Cooking as a tool for discovery
Your passion for innovating with food is obvious. What inspired you to become a chef?
There’s a strong technical and scientific aspect to cooking that gives me so many opportunities to learn and discover. The amazing thing about working with food is that you don’t need expensive scientific equipment; you just need a few pots and pans. You can run through test after test in your own kitchen and learn something new in a day, or even an afternoon.
Cooking is so multidimensional because it connects to every sense, especially our sense of smell, which can then trigger memories. Scent memory is such a powerful force in our lives. When I was a kid in South Carolina, there was a certain scent in the air when the leaves started turning and the days got longer at the end of summer. When the weather starts to change towards fall, I’ll have a distinct memory of my mom smoking oysters over wood fire. I am immediately taken right back to standing beside a fire as a kid.
Inspired by plant-based ingredients
This was your first-ever plant-based Studio Table dinner. What inspired you about this project?
I was excited to have an opportunity to put together a vegetarian menu. Vegetables really are my favourite food to create with, especially when I have such a strong guiding theme like ‘Inspired by Nature’. When I learned more about Saje, I was intrigued by the idea of food as medicine, and thought about how our food choices can help heal our bodies.
When I looked at the different health concerns that Saje products address, it seemed like a natural fit to build the menu from foods that support our well being in a multidimensional way. For each course, I chose a category—like Stress, Sleep and Skin—and then discovered ingredients that worked together to help dinner guests feel better.
Finding everyday inspiration
For some, finding inspiration to make meals can be challenging. What advice would you give for those looking to inspire their at-home meals?
Adding inspiration into your cooking routine is simpler than most people realize. Here’s a few tips to take your cooking to a new level:
Go with what you know
Pick a few familiar ingredients that you really love and then try something different with them. Maybe pull a recipe from a cookbook you’ve been wanting to try or find something online that seems easy and fun.
Tap into your community
Share a meal with others and learn what your friends are doing to expand their cooking horizons. Maybe they follow a blog you’ve never heard of, or maybe they’ll share an old family recipe. Just getting together over a meal can spark conversation about cooking inspiration.
Expand your horizons
Head to your local farmer’s market and look around at all the vegetables you’ve never tried before. Maybe there’s a beautiful vegetable that captures your eye, but you’ve never used it before. Follow through on your initial interest and find a recipe to learn how to use it. Everything will be fresh, seasonal and local, so you can’t go wrong with anything you choose.
Food as medicine
Here are a few of the ingredients Ben used to create the beautiful dishes he presented at our Studio Table dinner:
Avocados add a beautiful, creamy element to a dish, and can also support stress relief. Known to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation, avocados support your digestion, brain and heart. It’s full of antioxidants like vitamin E, C, B and folate that keep your blood sugar levels balanced, which helps relieve anxiety.
Tomatoes add layers of flavour (flavor) and texture to a dish. They are also full of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that’s great for your skin. The lycopene levels go up when you cook tomatoes, increasing their ability to support your skin’s health.
This leafy green can add texture and colour to everything from salads to sauces, and are also known to calm your headaches. Rich in riboflavin and magnesium, spinach has been shown to reduce blood pressure, tame hangovers, combat dehydration and in turn, prevent chronic headaches and migraines.
Understanding that nature connects us all is something we love to celebrate. We are inspired by the connections that are created when we challenge our expectations, share our artistic visions and connect with the healing power of plants. Many thanks to the Studio Table team of Heather Day, Ben Roche and Michelle Wei for collaborating with us. Cheers to building community and celebrating the healing power of plants with new friends.
Part proceeds of each aromaArt sold will benefit Drawbridge in San Francisco. DrawBridge provides art programs for homeless and other underserved children in an environment that inspires creativity, joy, self-confidence and hope. DrawBridge art groups provide a safe and supportive environment for each child’s own expression. Avoiding expectations, they believe that there is nothing that needs to be fixed. Find out more.
Images courtesy of Margaret Austin Photography