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Bruce Sherman: The Farm-to-Table Loyalist

National chair of Chefs Collaborative, chef/partner at North Pond, Chicago, IL
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Bruce ShermanNative Chicagoan Bruce Sherman discovered his passion for the culinary world while studying abroad in London. He began his career in restaurant management, and started a catering company in Washington, D.C. After selling that business, he and his wife lived in India for four years, where he immersed himself in the concept of seasonality in food. Rounding out his culinary education—and travels—in Paris, he returned to his hometown to accept the position of chef and partner at Chicago’s North Pond. He received continuous accolades and awards, including being named Most Sustainable Chef by Share Our Strength in 2008. Later that year he became National Board Chair of Chefs Collaborative.

Every summer Bruce Sherman hops in the car with his line cooks and takes a road trip.

They head for Illinois’ farm country to meet the farmers who grow or raise the ingredients for the restaurant. The trip is always transformative, says Sherman.

“It doesn’t take long for my cooks to realize that there’s a name, a face, a pair of hands that go with that tomato or corn … They can associate a turnip with Jennifer or a raspberry with Paul.” Once that connection is made, he says, “It’s hard to treat that ingredient improperly—to overcook or over-season it would be disrespecting the farmer.”

The customer, in turn, gets a better-executed dish, and perhaps won’t mind paying the extra for that corn succotash.

Sherman says he got involved with The Chefs Collaborative, a network of 1,500 chefs working together to make restaurants and chef practices more sustainable, because he believes, “getting to know your peers is as important as getting to know your farmer.

“It used to be that high-profile chefs wanted exclusivity from a farmer,” says Sherman, who was named most Sustainable Chef in Chicago by Share our Strength. “But that kind of thinking just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Last year, Sherman penned the voluminous Sustainable Seafood handbook, a bible for chefs wanting to do right by the dwindling fish populations. While he understands that many chefs “don’t get in this business for any other reason than to do cool stuff with food,” he says that’s no longer enough for him.

“I see myself as having a responsibility, both as a father and as a citizen of the world,” he says. “Selfishly, it makes me feel better about the place I hold in my community. Maybe, just maybe, I can have a broader impact than last night’s dinner.” —Pascale Le Draoulec

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Pascale Le Draoulec is a James Beard Award–winning author who has written about food and restaurants for more than 15 years.

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