Chef Al Rosas has spent a lifetime perfecting his cooking. As a boy growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he learned to cook standing alongside his beloved grandmother, who was a native of Colombia. She came to the United States later in life to be with Al's parents and their six children, and she brought with her the traditions of her home country. With his father's death when he was just two, Al gravitated toward the comfort and love of his grandmother's kitchen, and it was there that he began his love affair with cooking.
By the time he was in elementary school, young Al was doing much more than just helping out in the kitchen: he made the entire Thanksgiving dinner—think turkey and all the fixings—when he was just nine.
He launched his professional career at 15. Sure, he was just a dishwasher in a Greek diner, but he worked his way up the culinary ladder to become one-to-watch in the Milwaukee restaurant world. As a young chef at Mala Femina, he received rave reviews from patrons and critics, and a successful career was born.
PHOTO BY JEFF CAMP
But it was only with a move from Wisconsin to Florida in 1989 that Chef Al began to realize the importance of local, sustainable and artisanal foods. In Wisconsin, he had taken fresh, local food for granted; in Florida, he didn't find the same options. Even more troubling, Al and his wife Erin discovered that the symptoms of a condition she had suffered from since birth were made worse by the chemicals in most commercial foods.
Recipes alone weren't the key to a healthy diet. The proper ingredients were just as essential to a meal that successfully combined health and flavor. What could even the best chef do if his meat was raised on a feedlot and pumped full of antibiotics and his vegetables were tainted with pesticides?
Today Chef Al is known as The Organic Chef, and a leading proponent of sustaining Artisan foods and family farming. "I can tell you that we don't create our food," says Chef Al. "The ingredients design the plate. Mother Nature made the ingredients. I'm just here to arrange the meeting." To make that meeting as inspirational as possible, Chef Al uses only organic, sustainable and local products that are flavorful and nutrient-rich. Which might explain why he's a U.S. Wellness Meats believer.
"Eating grass-fed meat is the total package, and it's been a good long time since I've cooked with conventional beef (though I do remember the days of throwing a steak on flaming grill and turning up the heat). Grass-fed meat is not only beneficial to man and planet, it's the obvious health choice and the only sustainable meat: It's not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. It's known for its lower fat content and beneficial lipid profile. The intramuscular fat is much different, therefore cooking times are different and shorter. If treated with the respect it deserves—lower, slower cooking times and allowing the meat to rest—the result is an incredible meat with all the flavor and many fewer harmful fats. It's the best choice when buying meat."
So what advice does the professional chef have for the home chef when it comes to preparing delicious meals that everyone in the family will love?
First, he advises every cook to "know your farmer, know your food." Family farmers are just as invested in the quality of their product as you are, and you'll consistently know where your food comes from and how it was raised.
Second, get everyone in the family involved. By sharing the meal, from shopping to preparation, you ensure that everyone has an investment in the finished product. The more a family member has helped create the meal, the more likely they are to eat it!
Finally, Chef Al offers a simple tip for adding more richness to any meal: "Never cook anything in water, always use a stock. Layers of flavor make a great dish."