I’m a maker and a collector of ceramic pots, and they are beautiful objects in their own right, but they also have a life that is intrinsically connected with food.
Using hand made pots at every meal in my own home seems to ‘charge’ the most simple meals, it causes us to slow down, it effects how we lay the table, how we present the food, we become more aware of our movements, we seem to take greater care and we’re more mindful of the meal.
Last year I had the pleasure of spending time in my kitchen with whole-foods chef and educator Jean Martinez. In a world gone mad with hipster food fads, Jean is a down-to-earth country girl with a simple passion for teaching sustainable food skills. I was struck by her methods of gathering and preparing ingredients, and her obvious enjoyment of the processes involved in making a meal seemed to ‘charge’ our meal with an ‘energy’ (C’mon, I do live in Byron Bay) much the same way good ceramics does.
Jean describes her business Artisan Wholefoods, as a moving-feast-small-cooking-school, that takes her to regional halls, churches and homes throughout Australia teaching sourdough bread making, fermentation and wholefoods baking and cooking.
She trained in New York at The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts and has two culinary degrees, a Bachelor of Business, an adult education teaching qualification, and for many years she worked as a teacher and joint co-ordinator of The Whole and Natural Foods Chef Training Program in Perth with Wholefoods educator and author Jude Blereau.
Jean is a fabulous chef and I’m excited that she has agreed to cater for our April 11 workshop Artisan’s of Instagram. Today, Jean joins me from her off-grid, spring-fed, solar powered cottage in the stunning rainforests of Northern NSW.
Claire Atkins: Welcome to the cyber studio Jean!
Jean Martinez: Thank you Claire, it’s a pleasure to be here and chat with you!
C.A Tell me Jean, what are your first food memories?
J.M My parents were definitely what you would call hippies back when I was born. They were living on the land in a remote rural area in New Zealand and were living the ‘good life’ growing as much of their own food as possible, dying and weaving their clothes and generally living outside of society.
By the time I was 2 we had moved to Darwin, post Cyclone Tracey, where life for them was quite different – they both had jobs for one thing!
The food influences that stand out for me was their commitment to whole and natural ingredients and a pretty wholesome life in general. All of our meals were cooked from scratch, we used real cookware – stainless steel and cast iron. ‘Fast Food’ or takeaway meals were an occasional treat – and one that was enjoyed together as a family.
It was certainly far from perfect, but when I look back I see a life with balance. The ‘good life’ is what I have always aspired to, and I am grateful to my parents for providing me with this.
C.A I really wanted to be Tom and Barbara Good from the BBC TV series ‘The Good Life’ when I was little! When did you discover that this is what you wanted to do too when you ‘grew up’?
J.M I sort of fell into cooking as a job and stayed with it because I was good at it. It wasn’t until I decided to go to cooking school in New York that I truly found my passion for food and chose it as my career – which sounds a bit backwards. I think that the seed of what is now my business, Artisan Wholefoods was formed then, and everything I have done since has sort of gently guided me along the path to where I am now (which was 16 years ago by the way!!).
Learning about traditional food philosophies really lit my fire at cooking school. This continues to inform many of my food interests and the classes that I teach. In particular fermented foods and sourdough bread.
C.A Tell me more about Artisan Wholefoods, what makes it tick? What’s its driving passion?
J.M The thing that drives Artisan Wholefoods is my desire to educate people as to what good food is. It is truly a simple thing, and something that our ancestors followed as this was what was available to them, and this was what they learned at home. Our modern world is a very different place. Foods today are far more refined and convenience is king. We have an overwhelming amount of options and information available to us. Add to this, OPINION and marketing and you have a wild and confusing soup.
When I was growing up the promise was that scientists would get to the bottom of this ‘perfect health’ quandary – tell the farmers how to grow food, tell us how and what to eat, and things would be sorted. The reality is a mash-up of self-interest on behalf of multinationals, flawed science that can be bought and an increasing loss of our own food culture that used to be learned at home. To top it all off as a society, we are sicker than ever.
I have a deep scepticism of the status quo and a desire to save what is rapidly being lost. My answer to this is to revive traditional food skills – fermentation, sourdough bread making, understanding healthy fats, how to treat grains, nuts and seeds, and how to cook with enjoyment and deliciousness. I also believe strongly that we need to support the farmers that support the soil and us through organic and biodynamic farming, raising old breeds of animals and using ethical practices.
C.A Can you let us in on present plans or visions for the future for Artisan Wholefoods?
J.M My dream is to bring my classes home and send the roots of Artisan Wholefoods down into the soil on the land that I live on. My partner and I are in the process of making this happen by turning our sweet rainforest home into a cooking school, and building ourselves a new home nearby.
I already grow some of the food that is used in classes, but the vision is to provide as much of the fresh produce and eggs for classes that we can and to extend the sustainability of this school as much as possible. This will be Australia’s first off the grid wholefoods cooking school.
In the meantime though, it is such a blessing to be able to roam the region teaching from Brisbane to Dubbo. Plans are in place for classes in Sydney too.
C.A So the question on everyone’s lips is, what will we be eating at the Artisans of Instagram workshop?
J.M I love the opportunity that catering presents to prepare whole meals that showcase just how delicious whole and natural and organic ingredients can be.
The workshops will have a gorgeous inclusive morning tea (catering for people with food intolerances), featuring a gluten free welcome cake, low gluten poached pear scones and fresh fruit.
I love any opportunity to include fermented foods and it’s often a surprise to people how diverse the flavours can be. There will definitely be home-made crème fraiche!
It is important to consider the time of year when catering too. So, our Autumn themed lunch will have substantial salads and a lovely large roasted vegetable and goats cheese tart. There will also be some cultured and lacto ferments vegetables with lunch, some homemade sourdough and cultured butter too.
C.A I’m getting hungry just thinking about it, I can’t wait Jean and thanks for the chat!
I do hope you’ll join us in the studio for a workshop and to share an artist’s lunch with Jean, our excellent workshop hosts and me! Please visit the workshop page for more information or dive right in and book in the online shop!