Nicole Pallante is not your average food blogger. Her clever blog, A Local Choice, explores Ohio’s abundant local foods one destination, one ingredient, and one recipe at a time. I asked Nicole to share with us the story of A Local Choice, her journey thus far, and of course, a tasty drink for this fall.
Tell us a little about yourself and A Local Choice!
While growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, food took center stage at every family event. We would congregate in the kitchen for everything from the smallest of gatherings to the largest of celebrations; and I was lucky to be introduced to a variety of cuisines including foods rich in Italian and Southern American influences. Shortly after my college graduation, I moved to Chicago, Illinois to pursue a design career. While living there, I was fortunate for the opportunity to attend the multidisciplinary design school Archeworks. My team’s project was to help “green” the massive Museum of Science and Industry. As we worked our way through various areas of the museum, my focus was directed on the Food Court. I engrossed myself in researching local food systems, gardening, composting, food miles, and everything that could aid the museum in teaching its visitors about food. I knew when I moved back to Ohio that I wanted to do something that carried on the passion I developed for food during my time with Archeworks and MSI. My husband suggested I start a blog and soon after A Local Choice was born. A Local Choice aims to reconnect readers with their food one destination, one ingredient, and one recipe at a time. Each post tells the story of a specific destination within 100 miles of Columbus, focuses on an ingredient either grown or produced at that destination, and then uses that ingredient in a recipe.
How did your passion for food transition into a passion for sustainable origins?
As a child, my parents and grandparents exposed me to the mystery behind how various foods grow and taught me seasonal recipes showcasing these ingredients. As an adult, doing my part to reduce my environmental impact has been in important to me. Naturally, food and sustainable choices go hand in hand. Choosing local not only helps the locally community as well as the food producers and growers, but locally sourced food has a smaller carbon footprint and is nutritionally better than food that has been harvested prior to being fully ripened and traveled thousands of miles to get to your plate.
What have you learned about the food culture in Columbus since your relocation?
Prior to living in Columbus I didn’t realize that, as a result of the diversity of our population, we are a test market for new food products. It is this diversity that results in the numerous cuisines represented throughout the Capital City and makes it a great place to explore through food.
What has surprised you the most on your journey thus far?
During the beginning stages of designing and conceptualizing my blog (over 3 years ago) I knew I wanted to give myself parameters and rules under which I would develop my concept. I came up with One Destination, One Ingredient, One Recipe as a way to simplify each blog post and give readers baby steps to work towards going local. One of my earliest surprises was discovering just how plentiful the destinations were in Central and Southern Ohio which I could visit. My original thought was to keep the destinations within a 150 mile radius of Columbus, but as I began researching the numerous places I could go, that distance quickly shrank to 100 miles. My second, and just as surprising revelation, was and continues to be that most of the people I meet know each other. I compare Ohio’s food system to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game – there are only a few degrees of separation between each destination.
Have you heard of the term “locavore?” How would you describe this movement, and your place within it?
Yes, of course. I have mixed feelings about the phrase locavore movement. On one hand, it is exciting to witness people reconnecting with their food and genuinely caring where their food comes from, but eating local and seasonal is not a new concept and the word movement doesn’t sit well. Calling something a “movement” designates that this is a fad that will eventually die off. I believe that through my blog I can teach readers, even if they are outside of Ohio, to seek out locally produced food and teach them that local eating is here to stay.
As a chef, do you have a favorite ingredient? — A secret weapon, if you will.
As I did not attend culinary school, I would not label myself as a chef, but merely a home cook experimenting and learning as I blog. It’s hard to choose a favorite ingredient since Ohio experiences all of the seasons and the variety of crops grown here is vast, but if I had to pick one I would say garlic. The strong, pungent bulbs are abundantly grown in Ohio, and because it can be added to a variety of foods it is something I always have on hand. A few years ago I discovered garlic scapes at a farmer’s market and was surprised to learn that this often discarded part of the plant can be used in numerous manners, such as infusing butter or olive oil with a rich garlic flavor, or even made into a garlic scape pesto to top a pasta dish.
What would you love to see accomplished through your efforts with A Local Choice?
My initial goal was to discover local food in the city to which I relocated. As the years have passed, this goal has become secondary to sharing the individual stories about the destinations I visit, helping raise awareness to ingredients that have traveled less than 100 miles to Columbus, and arming readers with a rolodex of recipes in which they can use these ingredients. I hope that individuals read each blog post, seek out these local ingredients, and at least try what local can taste like. Each time I support the men and women who are growing and producing local food by inspiring readers to choose local I feel like my mission has been accomplished.
What do you think is Ohio’s best kept (food-related) secret?
Hands down I would have to say pawpaws. The pawpaw’s creamy texture and mango/banana like flavor tastes like something that grows in a tropical jungle. I grew up near Cleveland and never heard of this indigenous fruit once well known by our Ohio ancestors, but it is definitely experiencing a revival. From the ever gaining in popularity Ohio Pawpaw Festival held in Lake Snowden each September to more and more frequent spottings in local markets, it won’t be long before this food secret is out.
Photographs accompanying this article were provided by Nicole Pallante.