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Obamas’ chef headed to Wolfville

Sam Kass, who worked for former president Barack Obama, is headed to Devour! Food Film Fest in Wolfville.
Sam Kass, who worked for former president Barack Obama, is headed to Devour! Food Film Fest in Wolfville. - Contributed

Sam Kass talks about his White House vegetable garden, his new cookbook, and teaching healthful eating

Former White House chef Sam Kass likes his interview answers the same way he likes food: to the point. During a short conversation in which Kass pointed out that he didn’t have much time to talk, and lauded the no bull approach to food in his hometown of Chicago, he was asked what he knows about Nova Scotia.

“I know that it’s spectacular, and beautiful, and that I’ve never been there before and I’m very excited to come,” said Kass, who will appear at next month’s Devour! Food Film Fest in Wolfville. “I’ll be viewing different films and having conversations about them with people in the audience. I will not be cooking.”

While he was the White House chef, Kass also served as President Barack Obama’s senior policy adviser for nutrition, as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, and was a co-creator of the White House’s first major vegetable garden.

“I was with the Obamas in Chicago, but I’d been working on food policy issues for quite a while. I came with them after two years with them in Chicago, and was in the White House for six years,” said the chef/activist/cookbook author. “I did mostly the family dinners. Sometimes there’d be guests, but there was nothing crazy.”

“It was a great honour, the honour of a lifetime, to work for the president and first lady, especially to do all the work toward improving the health of our country through good food, with a focus on young people. We had a big impact, we got a lot done, so that was a pretty spectacular time.”

This year, Kass released his first cookbook, Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, promoting healthy and sustainable eating. He said his strongest memories of his White House years are of creating the vegetable garden, a first-time thing for him, and from the times he got to educate children about food.

“We would do the fall harvest and cook with the kids, so we’d have 20 or so young people, like 10-year-olds, come and help us plant the garden and then after that they would come back and we would do a big harvest,” he said. “Then we’d prep all the food and cook it, and those kids really stand out to me, getting them to try new food, like cauliflower or kale, because they had participated in growing it.”

The executive director of Devour!, Michael Howell, said Kass is a natural for this year’s festival, with its regional focus on Chicago’s chefs and culinary films.

“Sam Kass is a change-maker who has tackled the issue of childhood obesity, helping to dramatically improve the nutritional value of school lunches America-wide and has challenged the way people think about food,” Howell said. “It’s only fitting that he help open this year’s festival as our guest curator.”

Devour! will showcase the depth of Chicago’s food scene, and go beyond deep dish pizza, with guests that range from Michelin-starred chefs to BBQ experts.

“Chicago’s food scene is one of the great food scenes of the world, and I would describe it as a real reflection of the culture, which is real, authentic, not full of a bunch of fancy nonsense, big flavours, very honest, a lot of integrity in the food,” said Kass. “It’s based on community and the farmers that surround the area.”

Festival tickets range in price from $10 to $999, and Devour! also offers a round-trip shuttle from Halifax to Wolfville for $20. For more information or to purchase tickets visit devourfest.com.

There’s also a newly launched festival app, Devour! The App to plan, purchase tickets and dig into the event. The festival Oct. 23-28 and includes more than 90 events.

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