Continuing our short series on local food slingers, we have to include Chef John Skaggs along with his wife Kimberly, the dynamic duo behind Heirloom Café at the Wexner Center for the Arts on OSU campus.
John was born in Norwalk California and was brought to Columbus by his wife Kimberly who is a native and because we're cooler than California ( I added that last part myself, but seriously it does get colder here).
Before opening Heirloom a couple of years ago Chef John had been working as a cook and chef since 1986 and doing so in Columbus since 1995. Also John worked briefly as an intern at Northridge Organic Farm in Johnstown in 2007 which helped further nurture his love of true natural food as well as his simple philosophy that we should know where our food comes from and know who grows that food.
However, Heirloom does not rely solely on local and organic items. While John & Kimberly prefer dealing directly with food producers like Northridge (until their retirement from farming this year), they also have a mission of teaching their other purveyors what they expect and communicate the demands of Heirlooms consumers.
As anyone who has worked in the food service business can guess, The Skaggs' biggest challenge is finding that right balance of work and life. While outside of normal work, John is a part of Cooking Caravan. The Cooking Caravan is a group of chefs, artists, actors and musicians devoted to enriching health and feeding artistic hunger. Working with kids they try and teach as well as nurture interest in food music and most of all FUN!
While at work they also try and engage their local student community working with much older "kids" such as the OSU student farm and student groups growing food for Heirloom Café.
Last year a student group teamed with Heirloom to install a small garden on the premises of the Wexner Center producing food for use in the café, however, are no longer pursuing the endeavor due to some disagreements with commercial (non organic) sponsors of the garden space When I asked John about the decision to discontinue the project he said "Heirloom cafe will continue to develop relationships with OSU student farm and other community gardens including expanding our own home garden. promoting our restaurant and the Ohio State University's heritage of agriculture is paramount. We are not interested in promoting or green washing other company's who wish to co-op our initiatives and essence of our brand".
This makes sense when you consider where they would like to see their business in the next few years "creating jobs while continuing their pursuit of truth in labeling and representing a growing trend to make greener practices the new conventional wisdom".
We all believe there are important things the public should know or understand about food and John & Kimberly are no exception, they believe it is important for the public to know not only where our food comes from and who grows it but also what is in our food, what John refers to as being "consciously competent" and when asked what his biggest soap box is he replied
"Be an active participant in our food supply! we don't need more cook books; we need more cooks!"
And I think that's as good a note to end on as any.