By Sarah Sekula, published in FirstMonday magazine
It’s a rainy Thursday morning at the Enzian Theater in Maitland. Executive Chef Josh Oakley enters the lobby toting his carrying case full of fancy kitchen knives. Opera music coming from the theater wafts through the building. In another eight hours, the place will be hopping with activity.
For now, it’s quiet as the 32-year-old foodie pulls up a bar stool. As he explains the cinema pub’s unique ideals, his sense of satisfaction is apparent. Since taking charge of the Enzian’s kitchen in 2003, Oakley has ushered in a new way of thinking and eating. For starters, he completely flip-flopped the edible fare from Tater Tots and frozen cheese steaks to tasty dishes made the old-fashioned way — from scratch.
It makes complete sense to Oakley, a guy who demands the utmost in quality. In the mornings, he sips freshly roasted organic, fair-trade coffee rather than the Starbucks flavor of the month. On the weekends, pesticide-free produce is delivered to his doorstep. And every day, he laments the erosion of regional cuisine and chooses to support local farmers and artisans.
His work and life values clearly explain his involvement in the Slow Food Movement, a revolution of sorts that began 22 years ago in Rome. Picture this: A group of Italian gourmands revolt against the arrival of McDonald’s in the city’s historic Piazza di Spagna. They fight to preserve the heritage of food, tradition and culture, pushing people to rediscover the flavors of regional cooking and the joys of leisurely meals. There you have it — the birth of the internationally recognized movement, which now has 83,000 members in 122 countries.
“For me it is about getting back to the basics of cooking and preparing foods,” says Oakley in his surfer-style cadence, “even when it’s not the easiest way. For example, we make our own dressings and sauces and cure our own bacon.”
Oakley keeps the ideals in mind as he whips up new dishes. “We do as much as we can to use Florida produce,” he says. “It’s just ridiculous for me to buy oranges, strawberries and tomatoes from California or South America.”
Each week, he places orders. He gets sweet Cuban breads from Longwood’s Florida Bakery. There are sorbettos and gelatos from College Park’s Trio Gelato & Desserts, and the blue cheese is straight from Winter Park Dairy. “It’s a great product made by a local guy who milks the cows himself,” he says.
Oakley, always a fan of forging relationships with local farmers, recently met Jim Wood, owner of Palmetto Creek Farm in Avon. Now, Wood stops by every other week to deliver prime cuts of all-natural, free-range pork. “It’s pretty awesome to get your meat personally delivered to you by the guy who raised it,” Oakley says. “That’s the way it should be.”
Given all this, fresh, quality food made with love should have instant appeal, right? Not always the case. Earlier this year, the Enzian offered an organic grass-fed beef burger from Rosa Farms in Ocala. “We actually had a handful of people ask if we had any ‘just plan old regular beef that isn’t organic,’” he says. “There’s some weird notion that organic food is ‘rabbit food’ or for hippies. To people like that, it doesn’t get any better than a McDonald’s burger, no matter what you tell them.”
On the other hand, the complaints were equally balanced with glowing compliments. Many even requested the recipe. “They were convinced that I had a secret ingredient that made it so tasty,” he says. “In actuality, the only ingredients were beef, salt and pepper.”
Great food really is that simple: quality ingredients. Who would’ve thought?
Slowly But Surely
Other Central Florida advocates of the Slow Food Movement include:
- Dandelion Communitea Café, Orlando
- Gaylord Palms–Old Hickory Steakhouse, Kissimmee
- Get Green Organics, Orlando
- Harmoni Market, Orlando
- Heart of Christmas Farms, Christmas
- Homegrown Co-op, Orlando
- Lake Meadow Naturals, Ocoee
- Olde Hearth Bread Co., Casselberry
- Infusion Tea, Orlando
- Primo by Melissa Kelly, Grande Lakes
- Sustainable Synergy, Orlando