A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chef John Foster: Time for reflection, recollection on why writing about cooking is rewarding, inspirational

Every year comes down to the end, a flurry of holiday celebrations, family gatherings and food. In the quiet moments between the rush there is also time for reflection and a bit of recollection.

New Year’s Eve interrupts, but also reinforces that pause, making it just a little more poignant. For some, the beginning of a new chapter is far more immediate than a look back; they race ahead into the new year looking for the challenges and adventures that await. For me, I am equally split between the old and new, and while I do enjoy a new challenge, I always feel that the past year holds lessons to be learned. Dishes that could have been done better, lessons taught more clearly, columns that could have had more energy behind them.

There is no regret, but more of a resolve to do better, be more honest with my cooking and knowledgeable with my students. Unfortunately, my column, which I’ve grown to rely upon to help with both of my goals, will no longer allow me that freedom. Because of shifting policies within the post-merger university, the funding for my column was cut so, sadly for me, this is my final column.

It’s a strange feeling for me to be signing off like this, with so much finality. While I won’t be posting columns, I do plan on continuing to write and research for the long-awaited cookbook, and as always, I’ll be posting specials and little notes on The Sage Rabbit Instagram page.

I want to thank Judy Clabes, the driving force behind Kyforward.com. She has been a patient mentor, studious editor and chief cheerleader for my work, even when I pushed deadlines past the breaking point! Together, and with others, we kept the recipes rolling, and hopefully gave you a bit of a history lesson as well.

I need to cite sources of inspiration such as NPR The Salt and Waverly Root’s massive tome, Food by Waverly Root. I gathered lots of important information from my students at Sullivan University College of Hospitality and gained valuable insight from my staff and patrons of The Sage Rabbit.

If you read my columns you were probably a bit frustrated with the lack of detail in some recipes, as to that I can only apologize with a wink and a smile. It’s my challenge to you to sometimes take a leap of faith. I’ve been warned that I’ll have to do better with a cookbook, but we shall see.

Food writing has always been a blank slate for me. I rarely have a topic in mind that doesn’t involve three or four other topics that interest me as well.

I’ll sometimes start with one thought and finish with a related but entirely different one for the column. I keep most of my recipes in my head now, so some go onto the page as a stream of consciousness piece while others are straightforward, crisp and clean. The ones that just flow are often my favorites, the others are my foundation. They are all meant to fill the articles with meaning and purpose, and hopefully nudge you on to step into the kitchen and cook.

And that is what I will miss most about writing a weekly column, the platform for advocacy that writing still creates. Far from being a soundbite or 140-character shot across the bow, the column was a lingering thought, a subtle dig, and in some cases a gut check for buying and cooking local.

This is my heart and soul and has been so for over 30 years. At times frustrating and at others exhilarating, the ride has never been boring. I’ve called out some heavyweights, taken shots at corporations and most importantly kept myself honest as well.

This platform that was so graciously given years ago was never modified, changed or threatened and for that I am grateful. I, in turn, remain professional about my content, going so far as to scrap whole chunks of writing that I felt may have gone too far. And I always felt that aside from the history, and the advocacy of my work, I needed to break the ice by offering something that could not only highlight my opinion, but also provide some comfort as well.

Recipes should always be the core of any good food writer, and they’re why I’ll continue to write about food, whenever I get the chance.

Until we meet again!

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John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

You will always be able to read Chef John Foster’s columns for KyForward, including his recipes, click here.

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