CHEF OF THE MONTH: 'Cooking is an act of love'

PAM GRIFFIN 654-8444 | @DestinLogPam
Chef of the Month for September is Joyce Jean Sedersten, executive chef at Cultivate Café.

A new restaurant opened in March and in a short time has become a local favorite ... a little different from the usual Destin fare.

"Cultivate Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant with meat options," Executive Chef Joyce Jean Sedersten told The Log. "We source everything that we can locally, or from a sustainable source. Everything we serve is fresh and from scratch."

The menu changes with the season, with the chef's creativity, or with availability of ingredients.

"Our main suppliers are vendors at the local farmers market, so we cook based on what they can provide," Sedersten said. "Our summer menu has nine items, with five of them vegetarian, and nothing is fried."

Favorites include things like her signature recipe Shrimp Tacos, Beets and Greens Salad, and Caprese Panini.

"We rotate through a meat option such as a Cuban sandwich or a Rueben sandwich. Both the pork and beef are no hormones, no steroids and no antibiotics. We also make the sauerkraut here."

Although Sedersten is mostly vegetarian, she will eat fish and a little meat on occasion as long as she knows where it came from.

"I hate everything about industrialized animal farming for so many reasons. I just don't agree with those practices ethically, environmentally and economically, so I won't eat it. I hope to see a change for the better in our food system."

Sedersten's cooking experiences began by spending time in a family kitchen.

"I don't remember the first thing I ever cooked, but my earliest memories in the kitchen were with my sister, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother," she said. "Every year before Christmas we all went to my Grandma's house to make the Christmas candy. Things like homemade snickers, cherry mashes, and peanut butter balls."

Looking back at those times, Sedersten said having four generations of women cooking in the kitchen is just simply amazing.

"Cooking is an art of love. Moments like these made me realize how much heart goes into cooking."

Although Sedersten always enjoyed cooking, she didn't know she wanted to be a chef, but went to culinary school at Colorado Mountain College just to learn how to cook.

After graduating in 2010, she worked at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Fla., Blue Moon Bakery in Silverthorne, Colo., and then in a work exchange program in Panama.

Sedersten suggests that if you are a beginning cook, first learn the basics and traditional recipes.

"It makes you understand flavor, texture and balance. Once you get the old school stuff down you can experiment more. That's the fun part. Pairing the flavors and teaching yourself by doing it."

Q: What is your favorite food to eat?

A: It depends on the season. Right about now, nothing beats a ripe juicy peach.

Q: What is the most necessary ingredient for the majority of recipes?

A: Salt and pepper, of course. We go through a lot of onions, and garlic and I put red pepper flakes in almost everything.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook?

A: My favorite thing to make would probably be bread. It's such a transformation. Literally watching it grow and become something different. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Q: Best piece of advice you would give a home cook?

A: Get a cookbook with lots of pictures. Make sure it's something on your style and cooking level .. and something that looks like fun. Pick out a few recipes and start to work your way through them. Everything you make is only going to be as good as the ingredients you put in. The farmers market is a great way to insure you are getting the freshest, most nutritious product. Along the way you'll learn so much more than the recipe.

1 medium yellow onion diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

3 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. black pepper

1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. dried oregano

1/2 cup white wine

1 quart cold water

1 bay leaf

3 russet potatoes, diced

2 quarts vegetable stock (or make your own)

1 can white beans or 1 cup dried beans, soaked and cooked

1 1/2 cups packed greens of your choice (kale, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard)

1 Tbsp. garlic chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh thyme chopped

If making your own vegetable stock save all your ends and peels from your carrots, onions and celery. Bring to a simmer in 2 quarts of water for about 30 minutes.

In a large pot add diced carrots and cook 5-10 minutes until starting to soften. Add diced onions and celery. Stir occasionally and cook over medium heat until slightly browning. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half. Add 1 quart of cold water, the diced potatoes, and bay leaf. If using already made vegetable stock add it now. If you're making your own, and it's still hot, wait for the potatoes to start cooking before adding the stock. Once the potatoes have cooked, add the beans, greens, garlic and thyme. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Tuscan Potato, White Bean and Greens Soup