Nicole Klem might just be the Anthony Bourdain of Western New York.
She has dined with cattle ranchers in South America, small farmers in South Africa and native Alaskans near Denali National Park.
Klem grew up in a Southern California town, known for the world’s largest avocado tree, before moving in ninth grade to Cheektowaga, her father’s hometown. She’s been a pastry chef at Oliver’s restaurant, developed a taste for red wine while at William Smith College in the Finger Lakes and grabbed a master’s degree in dietetics several years ago at D’Youville College.
The timing could not have been better, as far as Klem is concerned. During a recent interview in her office at the Trocaire satellite campus – the Russell J. Salvatore School of Hospitality, along Transit Road in Lancaster – she marveled at the steps the Buffalo Public Schools, Nardin Academy and Kenmore Mercy Hospital have taken to serve more local foods in their institutions.
Klem swears by such a recipe, and has infused the locavore lifestyle into the curriculum for 11 students enrolled in the two-year Trocaire program.
“It’s a good time to know more about food and nutrition,” she said. “The word ‘wellness’ has become a recognizable concept and people are taking more control of their own lifestyle choices, realizing you don’t get healthy in a day, and that 1,000 choices in a day lead to health and success.”
Klem takes those choices to heart in her personal life, too. She and her boyfriend, Mark Jowett, an English teacher at Clarence High School, live in North Buffalo. They buy the vast majority of their produce, grass-fed meats and other foodstuffs at local farms and farmers markets.
“He came to me pretty food savvy,” she said of Jowett. “We’ve been dating about 2½ years now and he’s probably dropped 40 pounds just from eating food in the appropriate amounts, eating more fruits and vegetables, knowing that we’re spending a little bit more on meat, so reducing the amount in your diet in terms of portion size. Also, by cooking from scratch. Would he give me all the credit? Probably not, but I think I have helped him realize the place food can play in your overall health and lifestyle.”
Q: So if you want to lose weight …
You should date a dietitian – or just learn how to cook a little. Get five or 10 healthy staple recipes and stay at home and eat leftovers a little bit more. Turn eating out and grabbing a pizza on the way home as a bit of a luxury instead of a weekly thing. My philosophy, my mission, is to really introduce people to foods that are healthy, that can taste good, that are accessible; foods that are healthy, and also good tasting.
Q: How do you perceive the food industry based on your travel and studies?
It is interesting to see how places view food production differently. I spent some time in Buenos Aires, where their beef production is higher than most other areas, but still primarily sourced from small, true family farms where the herds are well maintained. What we are starting to see as couture food – grass-fed, pasture-raised animals – is their traditional way of agriculture. I spent six months in South Africa on a study abroad semester and did some research there. It’s interesting to see, when there isn’t such a big money influence on agriculture, that farming is still a way to keep your family on the land and make a respectable living. I think we’re losing that a little bit, although I see a slight resurgence. I am daily impressed with Western New York’s agricultural movement back in the other direction.
Q: Talk about the Trocaire program.
It’s a two-year program. They come for this broad base of human nutrition, community nutrition, food service. What I’d like to do is turn it into culinary. We understand diabetes and we understand kidney disease and gastrointestinal disease from the clinical and medical side, but now we can show people how to cook. And we understand feeding 50 in food service, but how do we do it with culinary focus, where it’s more than just a pile of greens, nuts and seeds, but it’s good tasting, you have the skills to show someone how to prepare it and tell them why it’s important?
We also have a two-year hospitality program here. We did an event last year called Food for Thought. We combined the two programs, so the hospitality students are suddenly realizing that the types of oils you’re using matters, the types of grains you use matters. There’s a culinary side, a taste side, but there’s a health side.
Q: What are the three most important things you look to underline with your students?
Cooking is not scary. Food is medicine; there is a way to treat even chronic conditions with food, and manage them without medication. And that the message needs to be kept simple – if you can demonstrate it, you can really teach someone how to change their life.
On the Web: Nicole Klem praises several restaurants for their local fare at refresh.buffalonews.com