Food for Thought: Nina Clemente Takes a Stand Against GMOs With a Pop-Up Restaurant
Since the 1990s, crops of all kinds — soy, corn, cotton — have been genetically engineered to resist pesticides, herbicides, and harsh weather conditions. There is, however, cause for alarm. The USDA doesn't require genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have been known to cause cancer and food allergies, to be reported on food labels. And that's not sitting well with a growing number of people, some of whom are in a position to do something about it.
From January 29th to 31st, chefs Michael Reed and Nina Clemente, the daughter of artist Francesco Clemente and his wife, Alba Clemente, along with hosts Marisa Tomei, Shiva Rose, Peter Glatzer, and Adrian Grenier, will present “Reclaim REAL Food.” The three-night pop-up restaurant, held at The Standard Hollywood, offers an alternative to GMOs with a dinner made only with fresh, organic ingredients. Nina Clemente spoke to ARTINFO about reclaiming real food and creating a GMO-free menu.
How did the idea for the pop-up restaurant come about?
The Standard Hollywood has always been immensely supportive of me. Although I've done a couple of pop-ups in the past, they've always been for my own creative fulfillment. This time around I wanted to create three truly special evenings by incorporating two causes near and dear to my heart. The first is raising awareness about GMOs and the Just Label It campaign and the second is raising funds for the Garden School Foundation. I knew the Standard would be behind me 100 percent as these are causes they believe in as well. This pop-up is the culmination of all I've worked hard to build within the past five years as a private chef in L.A. I've involved so many wonderful people I've met through the years, and together we plan on executing three memorable evenings that we intend to nurture the body and soul.
Why is it important to reclaim real food?
The concept of reclaiming real food is to embrace how generations of people ate before processed food and convenience eating. It's all about shifting the overall food mentality. We as consumers must demand that we get better, more affordable access to organic real food. Only then will the big corporations that mesmerize us with their GMO-packed burgers and sugar-filled sodas begin to shift as well. If you consume processed food you are sure to be filling up on GMO-packed additives, thereby making your body work harder to figure out how to digest all of these foreign, toxic components. We forget that the human body is made to regenerate. I am convinced that if people consumed real food on a daily basis and kicked processed food to the curb that the terrible cycle of sickness that is escalating in our country would diminish greatly.
Tell us about the menu you developed with Michael Reed.
Chef Reed is an incredible chef. We come from the same school of thought. Good food is simple, clean, real food. We looked at our lists of produce provided by our beloved One Gun Ranch and Maggie's Farm. Although it's been a hard cold month for our farmers, we're still blessed to have the California sunshine to help our farms thrive. We wanted to incorporate all our local farmers could provide us with, so their raw ingredients pretty much dictated our menu. We wanted to really focus on the vegetables and winter fruits. It was a lot of fun building this menu together. I'm completely obsessed with vibrant colors and texture and Chef Reed is a technical expert and perfectionist, so this menu will be full of flavor, visual stimulation and goodness, while still maintaining real-food simplicity.
What is your advice on avoiding GMOs?
This has been a challenge, especially being that Prop 37 (which would have required labeling of GMO food) did not pass in November, thanks to the big GMO producing companies that spent $45 million to defeat it. The top crops containing GMOs are corn, you, canola, cotton, and sugar beets. So many additives used to preserve food are sourced from corn and soy. I avoid non-organic milk and cows fed corn feed, which is not their natural diet, therefore they become sick. Then are pumped with antibiotics and guess who ends up absorbing all that mess? We do! I say if you're looking at processed food in the grocery store and the ingredient list is a paragraph, don't buy it. Eat organic as much as you can, and try not to order anything cooked in canola from restaurants as chances are it's GMO-packed canola. Try making your own real food. I know how hard it can be with the fast pace of a busy life, but it's worth the effort. To truly know the dangers of GMOs, listen to Robyn O'Brien's Ted Talk. It changed my entire life. She doesn't scare you, she awakens you. Educate yourself. The only way the system will change is if we come together as consumers and demand real food.
How did growing up in a creative household influence your cooking?
I grew up in a household with Italian-born and -raised parents. Real whole foods was a given in my home, as my mother cooked everything from scratch. I was completely unaware of how most of the country ate until I went to college and was exposed to the compulsion that processed food provides. The GMO-packed processed food was easy, fast and cheap and I quickly became addicted. Thankfully having had the foundation my folks instilled in me I shook the habit pretty quickly. I can't say most of my friends were as lucky. It breaks my heart that real food is presented in this country as an accessibility challenge. Being a private chef in Los Angeles for the past five years, most of my clients hire me because I deliver the simplicity and goodness only real food can provide. I want to make it my mission to transform the mentality towards REAL food. Let's make it easy, fast and inexpensive for everyone! The blessing of growing up in a creative household is that I bring aesthetic beauty to my simple dishes. I thrive and am inspired by nature's inherent beauty. Being in California and having accessibility to year round spectacular fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, seafood, meat and herbs makes my job as a chef/artist easy. I've always seen food as the best form of art as it indulges all the senses.