Simone Shifnadel is the owner of Zenbelly, a 100% gluten-free, Paleo-focused catering company in San Francisco. Her own serious sensitivity to gluten inspired Simone to prove that gluten-free, Paleo cuisine can be gourmet, refined, and artfully presented. She firmly believes that healthy food can be delicious enough to impress the most serious gourmand, and she offers a chef’s perspective on Paleo recipes on her blog, zenbellyblog.com, where she also shares grain-free recipes and encourages readers to roll up their sleeves and have fun creating simple, delicious, healthy food. Simone’s debut cookbook The Zenbelly Cookbook, will be on shelves in August 2014, and is available for preorder. (under the name Simone Miller)
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
I grew up in a very food-centric family, and by food-centric, I really mean serious food snobs that knew their way around the kitchen. So, good food has always been something I’ve appreciated. Loving to cook came later, and with some resistance. I never planned on being a chef, and despite my many jobs in restaurants starting at the age of 19, I was always attempting to do something else for a living. It wasn’t until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and found a market for a specialized catering company that could be an outlet for my love to cook, while still keeping the ability to be creative and cook the type of food that I felt good about feeding people.
Q: Why is eating grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish different? How does it affect your cooking?
To me, it’s an entirely different... animal. When I (rarely) go out to eat, I relax a bit and enjoy what the restaurant has to offer. But as far as what I purchase for my family and catering clients, it’s grass-fed and sustainable, always. I believe strongly that what an animal eats has everything to do with the quality of the meat it produces, and have no interest in supporting atrocity that is the factory farm industry. How does it affect my cooking? It makes my job easier. Starting with quality ingredients means a lot less work for me to compose an excellent dish. It makes it about allowing the ingredients to shine, as opposed to forcing something to taste good.
Q: Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
It’s way more than that. I used to be a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, and still hold on to those values. I have a really hard time being okay with supporting the factory farm machine. I just can’t do it. I’m obviously a carnivore now, but feel very strongly that animals should be raised humanely.
Q: How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
I think I learned about humanely raised meat first, years ago when I lived in Ithaca NY and frequented the incredible farmers market they have there. I was able to speak with farmers and ranchers, and realized that there was meat that was raised properly. That’s when I stopped being a vegetarian. And then years later, while attending a nutrition education program at Bauman College in Berkeley CA, I learned more specifically about grass-fed meat and how it was different that the grain-fed variety.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
It’s everything. It’s why the words “menu subject to change” is at the bottom of every catering menu I write. If there’s an ingredient that I can’t get the caliber of quality I want, the plan’s got to change.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
I’d say loving what you do is number one. Allowing yourself to learn from other chefs and home cooks that know what they’re doing. Experiment.
Q: What is your favorite recipe using grass-fed meat?
I really love the balsamic braised short ribs I created using US Wellness Meats boneless short ribs. I originally made them for a paleo book release party, so needed them to be 100% paleo. Instead of using wine, I used balsamic vinegar and chicken broth. Sometimes with braises, the sauce takes over, but these are so balanced; the sauce is robust, but the flavor of the beef remains center stage.