Do I need school to be...

a sustainable chef? with Michellee Fox

August 19, 2021 Alex Villacís Season 1 Episode 4
Do I need school to be...
a sustainable chef? with Michellee Fox
Show Notes Transcript

This week’s guest is Chef Michellee Fox. Chef Michellee is sustainable Farmer, podcaster, chef and educator from Brazil but living in the US. During this episode we talk about her life in Brazil, learning about sustainable farming, her plans for the future and what made her want to become an educator and more. 

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Michelle Fox:

But I think that every single restaurant that I have ever worked on, I learned something different. Some of them are teaching me how not to be rude and mean to people, some of them or teaching me how to create food a certain way.

Alex Villacis:

Hello friends, and welcome to join me at school to be a podcast about creative education. In this show me Alex is going to sit down with people in the creative field to ask them about how they learned our trade and how they see education going in the future. We're all different and we all learn different ways. So naturally, we're all going to take different paths. If you want to know about how your favourite creatives or others in the creative field got to where they are today. Keep listening. And let's have some fun together. Welcome to Episode Four. Yes, we're in Episode Four. I feel so weird. I think because I dream about this podcast for so long. Now that I'm in Episode Four. It feels real, although it was always real. But now it feels more real. I'm ranting, I'm going to stop myself. So today's episode, I talked to me Michelle Fox, who is a chef. Yes, we also have chefs on this podcast. creativity can take so many shapes and forms and I think sometimes think it's only visual creatives, but no. Create. Making amazing dishes. Yeah, that's also creativity. So I got in touch with Michelle Fox, who's an amazing person. She's a sustainable chef. Are we staying on the topic of sustainability for next week? Maybe. But yeah, here we are now. And you'll enjoy a great conversation about her journey, how she got to where she is, and who she is as a teacher and all the effort she's making to not only change her own work, but change her industry. I know. Pretty impressive. So enjoy the conversation. Welcome to the podcast, Chef. How are you today?

Michelle Fox:

Good. How are you?

Alex Villacis:

I am very good. My allergies are going crazy. I am thinking about jumping out the window. But I'm here with you some great.

Michelle Fox:

I'm glad you're not jumping out the window. I'm glad I'm here to stick with you.

Alex Villacis:

Yes, it's gonna be a good time we're gonna have fun. So for the audience that is listening to Do I knew going to be Who are you and what do you do?

Michelle Fox:

Okay, so I am a sustainable chef. And a regenerative farmer, which is pretty rare. job right. Like I didn't chose just one that makes barely any money that gets barely recognised. I decided to choose two of them. So which gives me a very keen way of seeing the food system and how things are working for us and not working for us.

Alex Villacis:

Wow. So regenerative farmer

Michelle Fox:

Regenerative farmer.

Alex Villacis:

Can you elaborate, elaborate a little bit on that? Because I'm like you said it's a it's a new term. I've never heard it before. And I would love to learn more.

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, so regenerative farming means that instead of taking everything from the soil, or the nutrients and you know, someday becoming adustable, which happens a lot. We use permaculture we use Korean natural farming. So lots of you know, animal poop that goes back into the dirt. We use a lot of oggi I use I'm a teacher of Korean natural farming, which literally harvest the power of your surroundings to feed the plants back with ferments and, you know things like that. Like for example, if you look at a forest, right, there is not a man there, or a woman there that is like sprinkling nitrogen or sprinkling you know, any kind of nutrients the forest knows how to do that on itself. And he uses fermentation and also rotting the process of rotting. So we rot it turns into to do the plants eat it again. And so that's that's what we do here a lot. We take things like rice, I make a box full of like half cooked rice and I put about 1000 feet up from where my plants are and I let all the micro organisms of the surrounding area to come and eat the rice reproduce and that is what I mixed with her and and grains and then they eat that more and then I feed that back into the plants. That make sense?

Alex Villacis:

So it's like, yeah, it's it's like creating, recreating what happens in nature.

Michelle Fox:

Yes. 100%.

Alex Villacis:

That's awesome. And how and you're also a chef, how did you get how did you get into this path? Like what what put you in it?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, so I'm Brazilian, right originally from Brazil. I left Brazil when I was 22 years old. I'm now 41. So I'm almost being the same amount of time here in the US as I'd been in Brazil. My grandmother always my mother passed away in a car accident when I was four. So I was raised by my grandmother, my maternal grandmother. She was an amazing cook. She was also what we call it a generational herbalist, meaning that she learned from her grandmother to learn from her grandmother. And so, every day, she'll be like, Okay, you guys had dark leaves this Tuesday. So next, you know, tomorrow, we should have more carrots because you're missing some carrots. So she always kind of focused all the way around on what you know what we needed to eat the next day to make sure that patrician was complete, to run after us, which will run from her as far as we could to drink like cod liver oil, and like crazy things like that. You know, and so that's the omega three, later on, went to find out wasn't just because she was crazy mean, it was just because we needed that. So about seven years old is when I started learning how to cook with her. The reason was, was because she was grooming me to become an excellent wife coming from Brazil is a very chauvenistic country. So I learned how to cook, rebelled, became a skateboarder and a chef, instead of I'm also a wife now, but at the time, I was like, You know what, like, I can just be whatever I want. And, you know, so yeah, that's where all my my culinary journey started. There is this debate that I've seen online between self taught chefs and formally trained chefs. And apparently there is I'm not in the Lord knows that I don't cook, I survive, I survive with the things that I cook. Where are you? What's, what's your stance on self taught versus formal training as a chef? Well, you know, I was self taught in the fact that I went to a course, in Rio de Janeiro, which I thought it was for culinary. To become a chef later on, when to find out again, here I am being groomed to be a wife who was kind of like home add in a way. And so I learned a lot of the techniques there. And so like, for me, I think it's like person by person's journey. You have the natural chef. And then you have the thought, like, learned in school to be a chef, I think that there was a there's a big difference, but at the same time is the same thing. So if you learn how to be, I don't know an artist, right? You go to art school, you learn everything from them, but you don't spend every day drawing and painting, or whatever your medium is, you literally going to know what the book says. But you're not going to know who you are as an artist. So I deeply urge anyone that's getting to be classically trained, you know, to adventure out there, take jobs in kitchens and really learn what is to be on that line. And literally go to wars where we say you know, in the kitchen, because by the time you're done with a service, you're like, Oh my god, I feel like I just went to war. So learning those things, and discovering what your passion is because you know, reinventing, you know, we using French technique every day all day. There's so many chefs out there and there is a space for them. But I think what we're really looking for in this food revolution that's happening is the new wage of understanding how what food does for our body. You know, changing the idea that you know, you just eat it because you just enjoy it but also understanding that every time you put that fork in your mouth, you have one the responsibility for how far that food travelled to get to your mouth. In two is are those empty calories? Are those is that food have no nutrients whatsoever is your body going to expel it really quickly right after. So for me I call myself a sustainable chef. And the reason is, is because I pay attention on not just how I can make a delicious like you can throw a pound of butter and you know Filet Mignon on in there and do a French take technique and you're going to get a very delicious meal. That will because of all that butter will make you all sluggish and weird after. So when I cook I cook to make you feel good after like I want to after you eat my food. You're like Like, oh my god, I just feel amazing. And that's that's kind of my focus and also the focus of paying attention. Like, you know, I say this on many podcasts by now, I love the raspberry connotation, which is, you know, if you are one of those people that are as a chef or a consumer, and you're eating, for example, raspberries in the winter, that Raspberry probably travelled to three 4000 miles by truck by boat to get to your mouth, it started as a green fruit. They got all sprayed up, and then got sprayed again. So then it become red. So you're literally paying the price of that raspberry, but you're not getting the benefits of it. So that's what I like to bring attention to.

Alex Villacis:

And that's the chef's side and the regenerative farmer side. Where did that come from the drew learned from somebody or has your education on that site being purely through your own research and your own experience?

Michelle Fox:

Yes, so. So my, it's funny, it's a long story. And I'll keep it short. So my grandmother had beautiful citrus, you know, in Brazil, beautiful citrus, beautiful roses, I mean, her garden was amazing. And she used coffee grounds, egg shells, and banana peels to feed the plants. And so I grew up with that, just thinking it was normal. And when Let me see I was shopping in San Francisco. Kind of was like, man, I can't stand this like hamster wheel. Like, I could make 60 to 80 grand in San Francisco. And by the end of the year, I had nothing to show for and so and the plates are getting smaller and more expensive. The butter was pouring in, you know. And so I was like, You know what, like, this is not what I want to do. I'm kind of losing my passion for cooking. So then I moved to humble California, which is self entitled capital of cannabis capital of the world, and became a cannabis farmer for eight years. So in the cannabis industry, there's a lot of like, you just go to the store, you buy a big jug of nitrogen, and then you dump it on your plants. And you call it organic. And then you know, we came all the way from the Netherlands, for example. So you trucked all the way there. And so it was like, man, there's got to be a way. So remember, I reminded myself of my grandmother, in started researching, and that's when I found Korean natural farming, started using Korean natural farming to grow cannabis. And then two years ago, my my husband, which is I just got married about a year and a half ago. His father was ill got sick, and it was by himself here on 90 acres in eastern Washington, we're literally 20 minutes from the Canadian border. And so because I left Brazil, I wasn't able to take care of my grandmother, which has passed now and so I jumped on that opportunity. Hey, let's go take care of your father. So here I am, you know, 90 acres, not a good restaurants, miles like probably good 100 miles from me in so I started putting all that knowledge that I had into turning this farm into a regenerative Pacific Northwest herbs, you know, Raven, and so, so I kind of got dumped in back into the farming because of family. And so today, I do a lot of pop ups. I go around the world. I was just in Tulum, Mexico cooking for 40 people in the jungle and so I get to leave and cook and then I come back and here I am on 90 acres, which is a lot of work. And then I got a just got my certification. So now I am a certified teacher of Korean natural farming. And so I'm bringing that out there in the world because it's not very well known to people so they can understand how to use you know, food waste, and how to harness the power of nature to grow more food for us.

Alex Villacis:

That's amazing. And I have to say I personally love your Instagram. I love the food photography that you do. Like I'm a huge fan of garlic I would comment I commented on that black garlic picture and I found some black garlic in the health food store near my house. I was like, Oh my god, this is amazing. And I just learned that you can so I roasted I got I got some fresh garlic. I roasted it and now I am adding it to everything that I eat and I'm like, Oh my god, this is amazing. I love garlic. It's my favourite thing in the world. Oh, it's so good. It. I've always like for my grandmother I always remember that she would put a garlic nail polish with garlic on it. They was like translucid Sorry, I translucid coat, and then the colour and then again the transposing code. And I didn't understand why that was like, no, it's really good for you. It's, it helps you out and I started doing it and I hated them my nails became like coloured from the nail polish. And now they're perfect I and those that that the wisdom from grandmothers. It's so valuable. And sometimes we forget it, we forget that there's there was a time back what but way back when when things weren't, were not as accessible as they are now people had to just figure it out.

Michelle Fox:

Well, also, the times were sorry to interrupt the times where if everything wasn't provided to you in a bottle, that you had to figure it out how to make things for you how to be healthy. I used to think that my grandma was like, you know, a witch witch she was Catholic, she would do things like for example, I love this one where if you had a fever, and if you ever have a fever, you can try this. You take the white, the egg whites, about four or five egg whites, and you beat them up into a fluff. And then you put it on a towel and you put it on your foot. And then the fever goes away. It doesn't cure what the fever has done. You know why you having a fever, but but it definitely brings it down. And I used to think like, Oh my god, that is magic. And then as a chef, I learned that egg whites cook at such a low temperature that literally what's happening is the fever is cooking the eggs therefore coming away from the body.

Alex Villacis:

Wow, you know, my grandmother on my, on my mom's side, she always makes us this potion. I remember also thinking oh my god, what is she giving me it was this. Every time she came to see us she would make us these are radish concoction was a very thick syrup. And it would cure because he's also has allergies like me, I got my energies from her, it would clear up your allergies in this second.

Michelle Fox:

Well, it looks like you have your answer to feel better today.

Alex Villacis:

But I don't have radishes. I have to figure it out. I'm borderline going to like just start inhaling whatever brew I can find on the internet. So when going back to my to the topic of the podcast, sounds like your grandmother was a key teacher for you. Yes. But you're also learning from nature. That also sounds a career from is also how does nature already do it? How does the forest regenerate itself? And that has had a huge effect on you. Where any other teachers that you had the word like this is a teacher that made an impression on me good or bad? Or have you had any teachers tell you that you're going to completely wrong route?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, no, I don't never have that happened. But I think that every single restaurant that I have ever worked on, I learned something different. Some of them are teaching me how not to be rude and mean to people, some of them or teaching me how to create food a certain way. Some of them are teaching me how to, you know, to price food and make sure that when you're putting food in your restaurant, you know, you're not losing money, or you're not charging too much. So yeah, I think that I had many teachers during my journey as a chef, to become who I am. And recently, Jason Kitterman, which is who gave me the course for Korean natural farming, I will consider him a teacher for sure. He's the one that gave me my certification. But yeah, I think that instead of looking for that one teacher in your life, I think that everyone like your family, your friends, your neighbours, everywhere you're working, even if it's not a place you like, super excited to work on, they're always teaching you something. And if you can take that lesson and become better, that's when we are you know, actually living.

Alex Villacis:

I love that. And I every time I say the word teacher on these podcasts, I mean it in the loosest sense of the word, because anything can be a teacher, you can learn from an experience. And I said this a couple of times with other people that I do yoga, I've been doing yoga for six years. And I really love the concept that the yoga teacher when they're teaching, they're also students, because they're learning from the students. They're learning about different bodies. They're learning about different styles of teaching, they're learning what works for some people, what doesn't work for others. And we just say, do you think or would you agree that the teacher title is situational or interchangeable?

Michelle Fox:

100% i think that that idea of like the teacher high above you and you're right below and and they're just looking down and pointing their fingers and being this is how you do it. You know, that's kind of an old model that you know, with internet. Google is the biggest teacher of everyone these days. I mean, back in the day, you'll be Like, oh, you know, there was 12 countries in blah, blah, blah and somebody be like, I don't think so somebody would be like, Yeah, I think so. But there's, we have to go find an encyclopaedia to go try to find the answer for it these days, you know, you just say, hey, Google, what is this and there'll be like, Here's 300 pages of information that you can look through. So I think that that dynamic is changing. I have an 18 year old son, and a eight year old step daughter. And I really wish that the public system in schools will started to pay attention that by looking because every person is different, thank God, right. Because if we're all the same, this world wouldn't work. So to really pay attention, some kids don't want to learn how to write critically, right, but they are amazing in math. And then should they do more math in last of the other one, because that's what they're focused on. But these days, we have one single curriculum that goes for everyone. And a lot of the kids get kind of disinterested, because they're like, Oh, I don't care about whatever. And so, but they're forcing me to do it. So they kind of just eliminate themselves, if we could push it towards what they want to do. And then focusing on that, since they're younger, imagine what would happen by the time, you know, an eight year old like Robin, where she's 18. And she had focus towards math, which is her thing all the way across since she was young. Imagine where she would be in 10 years, you know, instead of like, in a way wasting time on things that she's not interested on.

Alex Villacis:

Yeah, and I think that specially applies to creative education in when you're learning how to, for example, these design or cook, it's providing a path. And I think, I think that's the role of the teacher, the teacher is a guide. It's a guide to help you find your fascinations. And I had this discussion with one of my cousins who has a four year old, I want to pay for it. Well, I don't I honestly have never had the kid. But he has a step kid. And he's talking about No, like kids today. They're so like, into technology. And he's just spends his time in YouTube. And I'm like, it's your job, then to find out what fascinates him what he likes, and then put as much of it in front of him. It'd be like, if he likes animals, take them to the zoo. Show him book about animals show him animal videos.

Michelle Fox:

And also, you know, spending the time thinking like, oh, back in the day we used to, and we didn't have, you know, this is what our parents kind of did to us in a way when we started, you know, listening to CDs and walking around with this thing that was playing music on our year, things like that. So instead of being like, Oh, this is not how we used to do it. I think that the elder, older people need to understand and embrace that the new generation has this whole completely different universe, that they're a part of, and kind of being supportive instead of being judgmental.

Alex Villacis:

I love that. And now that we're in the with this mentality, my question to you would be you as teacher. So now you have the certification, to start teaching these revolutionary technique for farming? How do you see yourself like, how did you make the decision to certify yourself to become a teacher? What is something you always wanted to do that you see yourself one day teaching? Or were you just so fascinated by the topic? You wanted to spread the word? How did you get into this teaching path?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, so I wanted to get the certification because a few reasons but one of the reasons is, I suppose to be in Africa right now. But because I have a Brazilian passport, I have, you know, an American green card for almost 20 years. But I still am a Brazilian citizen. Nigeria, which is where I was going to enter through put a ban on Brazilian passports because of COVID. And I don't seem to be able to explain to the embassy, hey, I'm in America. I haven't been in Brazil for three years, let me and the whole plan there are, amongst many other plans was to bring Korean natural farming to Africa and help women, female farmers, learn that and by being a teacher, I'm able to then certify them so then they could teach somebody else. I'm also a mentor to a girl named faith in Nigeria. She has she's an amazing girl. She's 22 and she's going for agriculture, school college, university of Benin. But also you know how it is in Africa. People have to like triple work to be able to even survive so she created a little business called tasty treats so she serves healthy smoothies and sandwiches to her colleagues. And friends in the university. So I've been mentoring her set from the very beginning from like, creating menus and Instagram and everything you can think of her logo, I raised, I think it was about $300 to help her buy all the things in which $300 go along way up there to help her buy equipment and things like that. And she's doing really well, her little business tasty treats is doing super well. So I love to help and I do focus on women only because women has such a little amount of people that are interested on teaching them because we for so long, supposed to just be wives, your mom's supposed to teach you that. Whatever, right? So I'm always focusing on women, female farmers, for example, like on clubhouse, I have a club there since I think it was January 8 of this year called female farmers unite. We have over 1000 members there. And we do a lot of rooms talking about like becoming you know, a better entrepreneur doing better online, things like that. So my whole focus is women around the world.

Alex Villacis:

That's, that's great. That's amazing. I love that you're with COVID, now that you mentioned COVID. And so many people decided they were going to become teachers, because they wanted to put a course online, they they saw it as a business opportunity. And I think it's so interesting that for you, it came from a place of I want to help people. And the way that I can do it is by teaching them. I especially and I've been in a few conversations about this, how many times when we people go to third world countries, like like Latin America, like in many parts of Asia, like Africa, they think it's just about pouring money in and like money is going to fix the problems. And many times it's not that mentors, just giving them the tools, giving them the tools to help themselves. And that's exactly what you're doing. You're giving them the tools. That's, that's wonderful. And then we're talking about the future of education. And I see that from the fact that you are turning that like certifying this women and turning them into teachers themselves to spread the word and caring this ripple effect. And you were also talking about how like technology and how the curriculum should be more flexible and adapt to what people need or where their interests are. Do you think that will continue to happen in the future? Or where do you see that create education going?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, yeah, that's where I see education going, hopefully, is going more towards what are you interested on other than one single curriculum to every child, in America or in the world, really, catering to who you are as a person, and kind of uplifting you towards that, what you don't even know it's a goal yet, but someday, it will become a goal. Because, you know, as children, we're not thinking about paying bills, but someday, you're gonna have to start thinking about that. But you know, just a catering to individuals instead of catering to a single model that is used on everyone.

Alex Villacis:

And I love that I totally agree. And I think something else that should be taught is curiosity, like encouraging people to be I, my personal belief is that when you put this rigid system on them, these are the points that you need to learn. This is the lesson This is the syllabus. You're not letting them have space to be curious, to to follow. There are tangents like getting to these squiggly lines, because life is not a straight line, life takes a lot of twists and turns. And I think some of that will be taught in creative in creative and creative education and other occasion is to be curious isn't that not everything needs to have a set goals. Sometimes we just try something and prove that you don't like it. Maybe you don't like it. And that's also fine. He says the goal should be the process. I read this book by Seth Godin is called the practice and he's like the process should be at it's not about how, where you're going. Because the goal is going to keep moving. It's like the horizon is going to keep moving forward. Right and ever stop. You should exactly just just keep moving forward. Which would you say is your next little goal like in the next step for you as a teacher like what do you want to teach? Do you want to become the world renowned teacher or do you want to become the have the programme the world or not? What do you see the goal for a teacher today?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, so I you know, I haven't thought of that too strongly. I am part of a group of many people out there that is trying to change the way we see food in the world. Part of this Food Revolution, after COVID kind of you know, the system's all broke down. Food wasn't getting to where it's supposed to, you know, food was rotten everywhere. So my main focus today is to find the like minded people that are ready to change the way we see food, our responsibility on food. And through that being able to teach others that are not a part of, you know, the ones that are taking charge, but wanted to be like, hey, how can I help like I, I draw super well and and be like, okay, you can make a flyer for this or, you know, like kind of bringing people, whoever wants to be a part of it, bringing the main not necessarily like I teach you, but more like here come and be a part of the revolution with us.

Alex Villacis:

That's incredible. This teacher is not only a person who teaches is also the guide and the people, the person that puts things together. Yeah, like, and they're, you know, yeah, helping people hone their skills and be like, Hey, this is how I'm going to show you the path that you can take to be a part of this and as long as you want to. That's incredible. I love that. We have made it to the end, I have all my questions we have made to the end, is there anything you would like to plug right now or to tell the audience about?

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, so I have a couple of projects, which you can all find it on my website, which is the centre of it, which is www dot michelly. Two L's to ease the box comm I also have a podcast called craft food, podcast, craft and food together podcast where I interview people from all over the world that are looking towards that mission of, you know, undoing what 70 years of industrialization have done to our food systems. Actually, I just had Heather on my last episode that just came out a few days ago. And she's creating bioplastic out of hemp, which is fully compostable, like, you can throw those in your compost bin, and it will just decompose. So I'm always looking for people that are making change, and you know, bringing information so you can listen to him be like, you know why, like, maybe I should use less plastic, maybe I don't need to buy every food that is wrapped in plastic every time maybe I can cook my own tomato sauce, or whatever, you know, so. And also, I have another project that is on the food Game Changer lab for the UN, which is called lift hubs. Lift hubs are, let's say in a small form, it would be a building that is in the middle of a conglomerate of small to medium farms. And in that building, you'll have a commercial kitchen, a canning processing facility in an hour. You know, what to say and out production. So what happens is because until the day farmers can only produce ingredients, the farmers are never going to make it the farmers, the old farmers are dying, the new farmers don't want to be farmers, the new people, new young people. So once we give them the power to create products, instead of just ingredients, that's when we start giving them a way to make money all year long, and things like that those buildings would be a cooperative that would be owned by all the farmers in the area. So yeah, that's one of my big projects right there.

Alex Villacis:

I love me a good cooperative. I think it's I think it's a it's a really good business model that people are not, it's, it's capitalism at its best to be honest. That's amazing. So all this information will be definitely in the show notes. And yes, thank you so much for this interview. And I hope you have a great and lovely day.

Michelle Fox:

Yeah, same to you. Thank you.

Alex Villacis:

So how do you feel about that? This was a great episode a really fun conversation. I'm feel very honoured that I got to talk deeper with Michelle about how she got to where she is and all the amazing work that she's doing right now. I think many times A lot of us feel kind of paralysed when thinking about the problems in the world. And we think there's nothing I can do. But if nothing else, Michelle, it proves as there's always something you can do in your industry, because only you have those insights and become a teacher and what the power of teaching is and how it can really change lives. I hope you're inspired to this conversation as I was. And I hope that you will go into Michelle the social media into her website and her podcast. Yes, she also has a podcast that is linked in the description down below. That will teach you more about what she does, why she does it and how you can change your industry from the inside by following her example. Thank you, dear listener for joining me again today on this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. You'll find links to my guests information like their website or Instagram to that maybe the recommendations they made on the show notes as well as a couple links That you may use if you want to support us in any way. But we appreciate anything you can do. If you give us a review that would be great if you share it with your friends that will be awesome. And you'll find also links to our social media accounts if you want to just get in touch and give us your feedback. It is amazing to be able to make the show and to be in your ears. Stay curious. You'll keep learning and to talk again next week. Bye