Moderne Day Woman
NATALIA OLENICOFF-OSTENSEN // SUSTAINABLE CUISINE
By Roxana Vosough
From the Mediterranean coasts of Greece, Italy, France and Spain to northern Africa, Natalia Olenicoff-Ostensen is undeniably a citizen of the world. Through her world travels, she has become an avid restaurateur and sommelier who brings sustainable cuisine to her community through her grand restaurant, Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails.
Known around town as simply “Andrei’s,” the restaurant is a non-profit organization in the U.S. built in honor of her brother, Andrei, who was afflicted with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a disease causing life-altering vision impairment or loss. One hundred percent of the restaurant’s profits benefit the Andrei Foundation, which seeks to help find a cure for these degenerative diseases and help those currently affected.
Andrei’s strives to serve locally grown, sustainably farmed, and fair-traded ingredients at every given opportunity, with the intention to not only enhance the quality of the food, but also to support a responsible attitude towards the world around us. Natalia says, “this attitude and commitment are the norm in many parts of the world and it is exciting to see this movement returning to the U.S. We have a multitude of wonderful locally grown fruits and vegetables right here in California.”
Natalia continues the discussion with MMJ. as she spoke with us about the rise of sustainable and innovative cuisine.
Roxana: What sparked your interest for the diverse and international cuisine at Andrei's?
Natalia: The menu at Andrei's was – and is - a great collaborative effort between myself and our chef, Yves Fournier. So much of it is inspired by our travels and memories of dishes and flavors that captured our attention on previous experiences. I wanted to create a restaurant with approachable California cuisine, but also to push the envelope with our ingredients and flavors, so guests leave having experienced something new and conversation-worthy. Whether it is more unusual dishes, like Bison and Wild Boar, or a North African spice like Harissa, we try to bring something novel to our guests' palates.
Roxana: What is your favorite comfort meal in summer?
Natalia: Tough question, but I would have to go with steamed clams. We make our clams with chorizo and coconut-curry broth, so they're extra decadent with a good level of spice. Add a chilled glass of Rose and you have a perfect summer afternoon.
Roxana: From an international perspective, what other countries would you say are also quite avid in this notion of sustainable, conscious cuisine how is that similar or different than the US?
Natalia: I actually derived much of the idea from a trip to the Greek Islands about six years ago. While the idea of organic, local and sustainable food was starting to gain ground in the U.S., it was much more palpable and easy to grasp in Greece because the food there is all of those things at their most basic level. The restaurants literally had gardens behind them where they picked all of the daily menu's ingredients, as well as cows and chickens and anything else they might need. There were no trucks dropping food at each restaurant. What they had is what they served and the quality of the ingredients was like nothing I'd ever experienced before.
Roxana: Fruits and vegetables have their seasons. Are there any particular wines that you would suggest for certain seasons?
Natalia: Absolutely. As I mentioned above, I always suggest a Rosé in the summer. It's very food friendly and has enough depth and character to substitute in place of red wine on hot summer days. Fall is the most versatile, especially with our moderate climate in California, but I would suggest a medium-bodied Pinot Noir, as it's also the most versatile wine. Winter is the time to go with bold reds: heavy Cabernets, spicy Zinfandels and inky Petit Syrahs. Spring is a chance to celebrate the return of the sun with refreshing whites. My new favorite is an “unoaked” Chardonnay from New Zealand; it's soft and buttery without any overpowering oak. Cheers to that!
Roxana: How would you define your commitment to sustainability at Andrei's?
Natalia: We think about sustainability in all we do. There is so much waste in the restaurant business, so it's a challenging commitment. It stems from the smallest choice, like using recycled paper products to the more significant choices like buying local meats, cheeses and produce and using only sustainable fish. It limits our menu in some ways, but is really a blessing. We discover the most interesting new ingredients from our local purveyors.
Roxana: Sustainable practices with innovative cuisine, seems like a trending topic in California. What are you doing differently?
Natalia: I am thrilled that serving innovative, sustainable cuisine has become the norm in California restaurants. It wasn't like that when we started planning Andrei's in 2006. We're not the only sustainable-focused restaurant anymore, but I celebrate that and it pushes me to stay imaginative. One thing that continues to be unique about us is our decision to donate all profits to local charities. That has perhaps been the most rewarding part of this restaurant journey. Since the Andrei Foundation was created 6 years ago, we've raised over $300,000 for non-profits in the fields of vision impairment, children's health and ecology.
Roxana: What would you like to see in the next decade, in terms of sustainable cuisine?
Natalia: I would like to see non-sustainable seafood removed from more, if not all, menus. I am disappointed by so many wonderful restaurants that continue to serve non-sustainable fish. Many of our fish populations are in serious trouble right now and it upsets me that more restaurants and markets don't recognize that and take action against it. It is such a simple change as there are many fantastic sustainable fish to choose from. This is an issue that everyone, worldwide, will need to face in the next decade.
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