For Aleta Diederich, there were two possible routes her life would take her: doctor or chef. After working as an au pair in Australia following high school, she found the answer she was looking for. Shortly after, she enrolled in the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and began the journey to becoming a chef. While at the Boulder culinary school, she spent weeks working on local farms, feeding a love for farm-to-table cooking that carries through to this day. It was that love that brought her to a dream job with the acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant, the Herbfarm. Known for its constantly changing 9-course tasting menu, the restaurant is known for its inventive use of seasonal dishes fed by its own farm. It’s here that Aleta has been able to grow as a cook, testing her limits as a professional and growing her skills with each menu change.
Aleta Diederich works at the Herbfarm in Washington.
We caught up with Aleta about life after Escoffier, what she enjoys most about farm-to-table cooking and why it’s important to “find your family” in each place you work.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
Aleta Diederich: When I was little, I told my parents I either wanted to be a doctor or a chef. I took a year off after high school graduation and lived in Australia, working as an au pair for a family that owned a chain of restaurants. They were from the Middle East and at least once a week we would go eat at their family’s house. At these dinners, they would hand me things, and although I had no idea what it was, I loved everything and wanted to learn how to make it myself. That is when I decided going to medical school would be way too much, and I knew that I wanted to travel and experience food all over the world and recreate it in my own home.
AESCA: What do you love most about cooking?
AD: Using seasonal and local produce and proteins that create dishes that are not only visually beautiful but take your taste buds and mind to a place you haven’t been before. Also, being able to take those same products and proteins and turning them into items that can be used year around such as fermentation.
AESCA: Why did you choose Escoffier Boulder for your culinary education?
AD: It was close to where I was living and had a program that worked perfectly with what I was looking for: farm to table and lots of kitchen time.
AESCA: What were your favorite parts of culinary school?
AD: The farm to table block was my absolute favorite. Being able to get onto actual farms and then using what we collected in the kitchen the next day. Other favorite parts were the final dinner for family and friends where we created a menu and executed it with my team. I got very close to my whole class.
AESCA: You’re currently working at a renowned restaurant, the Herbfarm. Can you talk a bit about why it’s unique?
AD: We run through about 16-17 themes a year, ranging from one-day menus to mostly 3-4 week menus. All products are locally sourced from our farm about 1 mile from the restaurant. There is one seating a night and it takes about 4 hours from start to finish to enjoy the evening. My chef, sommelier and the rest of team come up with the menu and then each kitchen cook is able to pick what course in the 9-course meal that they would like to take on- savory or sweet.
Each night, Aleta picks one dish to prepare for the menu.
AESCA: What do you enjoy most about working there?
AD: With the menu changing so often, I get to practice techniques over and over with different produce and proteins. One menu may be fish another poultry and then another mammals. But I also have been able to learn pastry techniques such as hand making croissants, sourdough bread with a starter from years and years ago, and many other techniques that were only touched on in school. I am constantly learning about new produce and what it can be used for but also experimenting with other possible techniques not thought of normally. I am able to look at leaves, flowers, etc. and more quickly identify what they are while still asking and learning about new products never seen or used. This place has become a family to me and has opened doors whenever I want to open them.
AESCA: In your opinion, can you explain why you think seasonal and sustainable cuisine is important?
AD: Seasonal and sustainable is important because of the freshness: crispness, full flavor, color, etc. They all help how a dish will be executed. GMO’s and forced-to-be-grown plants and proteins will not have the same flavor and quality that the morning picked products do. The whole process of seasonal cuisine is to think ahead and be able to not only set yourself up for the current time but also the months where there is not as much to be picked.
AESCA: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with right now?
AD: Anything new! Herbs are by far my favorite ingredients to work with. Who knew there were so many kinds of basil? Or those weed dandelions would be absolutely amazing sautéed? I feel crazy but as I drive to and from work, I think about all the possibilities of every product we have in the kitchen and how I could transform it into something brand new, never wasting products.
AESCA: Where do you hope to see your career in 10 years?
AD: I have always been one to look 10 years into the future but right now just learning and being able to love what I do is what I focus on. However, I would love to move to a place where I can bring my mind set on seasonal foods and open up a small restaurant that is successful and opens others to travel different places with each bite.
AESCA: What advice do you have for other Escoffier alumni as they navigate their careers?
AD: Nothing is out of reach! I never thought working at the Herbfarm would be possible and I’ve been there for a year and a half now.
AESCA: Anything else you want to add?
AD: Find a place where you are always learning and pushing yourself. Most importantly, find somewhere that feels like family. You will be spending your weeks with these people, being each other’s support whether it is slow or busy. Be that teammate that is hard to replace, and you will always have that family.